Black and White

My experience with photography started with me purposefully taking bad photos to correct them in photoshop, or to find things to play with trick photography. Having a lousy camera never held me back, because it was all intended for the web. Or at least, that’s what I told myself to make me feel better. My limited equipment is really probably why I only ever dabbled in it occasionally over the years.

Now I have a 4k camcorder that takes still images clear enough to enjoy on a large screen. My eyes limit me more than my equipment. I can actually approach photography/videography as a hobby for it’s own sake, even if it’s just to capture things that will illustrate my fiction.

This is all to let you know why yesterday was the first time I’ve ever tried limiting myself to shooting in black and white. I mean, I figured if I wanted a black and white photo, I could just edit a color photo to suit what I wanted.

I so wish I tried this sooner. I’ve been in such a funk every time I look around me and try to find something to photograph. This time of year, the grass is patchy where the summer heat sucks the life out of everything, temperatures in the hundreds over plains full of hard-packed, clay filled soil. Then autumn brings some rain, and a little flush of green, but mostly everything is still a dull olive fading to brown and everything looks a little frayed around the edges.

Taking the dreariness out of our landscape by only seeing it in light and shadow was awesome. I mean, I like dreary, when it has atmosphere. But a color photo needs a little something interesting about those colors, and that’s been a little scarce lately.

Being able to ignore color completely freed me; I began to enjoy interacting with my surroundings. My lousy little trailer (so disappointing a subject after spending the summer in a small mansion) started looking gloriously shadowy, and my lousy housekeeping started looking interesting and expressive instead of embarrassing. That’s fucking magic, right there.

I took my daughter to the park for some fun shots to send to daddy, and the ugly landscape and scenery this time of year didn’t hold me back. I got a ton of great photos of her, and the cracked pavement and tattered buildings were fun to collect along the way. I’m looking forward to more outings with my camera now, and it’s definitely eased my funk.

All in all, I have decided black and white photography is cheating a little, by making the medium simpler to use. And that is fine with me.

The Instagram Game

Oh look, even though my welcome post was more than “Hi, world”, I have another post for you already. Don’t let this set a precedent, I swear my posting here will likely be sporadic, as working on my first book is the priority. My flash fiction blog will still always post on Tuesdays, but I reserve the right to go on hiatus if the novel looms large.

As the stay-at-home mother of an adventurous and energetic toddler, I can’t wake up and do leisurely morning pages. I can’t even maintain an uninterrupted thought. When you throw a new puppy in to the mix, well… I just find it so hard to believe something has more energy than my baby girl.

I’ve found my ways to adapt, choosing my mental focus with my morning coffee and carrying a notebook with me everywhere helps. I find creative projects that allow me to zone out with an eye on my toddler to get that inner muse to start speaking when she won’t let me write. Some pursuits generate more ideas than others, but when we moved we only brought one car load of things with us, and most of my toys (why did I leave my knitting and coloring books?) are back in the trailer.

Except for the 4k camcorder Mom gave me, and my little camera that was used to chase bugs around the yard. No way they weren’t coming to New York. Photography wasn’t really a pursuit that generated a lot of ideas for my fiction, but it is something that I enjoy.

And then I had a fortunate accident. My toddler decided the above mentioned camera I used for macro shots could fly, but instead it fell two stories and bounced on the cement patio below. So, I was limited to a cell phone and a camcorder that I still barely know how to use, and I’m in a beautiful new home within a stone’s throw to a nature preserve. Cell phone photography. The opposite of my quest to see the world in glorious definition.

I decided to see it in the best way possible. At the time, we didn’t have WiFi yet, so it would be easier to get images on my blog, now I wasn’t feeding them through the computer and Gimp for adjustments. Instead, I could try that Instagram thing all the kids are doing, and simplify my editing process. After all, I’m not a professional photographer, and I wasn’t taking pictures of a lot of interesting subjects. Just tarot cards and local plants or insects so I could see them more easily with my horrible eyes. The eyes that made me laugh when editing and I saw the first sentence of this paragraph.

The process of adding a little mood to the photo was so simple, it began to feel a little like a video game to find and collect bits and pieces of the world around me. Kind of like the simplistic form of photography in one of the Sims games, where you go on vacation and get a camera, then it gives you “collections” you fill by having your sim take photos. In the process, you see the game through their eyes. Thinking of video games while taking pictures, specifically the sims where you play real life, started making connections with my creativity, and a little magic happened.

Next thing I know, that experience led to me being a photographer through my character’s eyes, or through the eyes of a private detective investigating them, or a cop investigating their murder. The muse within me lit up, stopped taking photography so seriously, and started playing. Awesome. So much awesome.

Sometimes my daughter is still so distracting that the experience doesn’t flow that well, but the game is a habit that is a constant reminder for my mind to play with my environment without the need to come up with words and phrases; putting the pressure elsewhere, letting me keep my observation focused on the dreary or haunted in the well-manicured lawns of the new ‘hood, finding the decay even when the neighborhood would rather I didn’t, the twisted heart in the gleaming homes around me.

Because no words are needed, talking to her doesn’t interrupt the train of thought as badly. If words do come, my notebook is always handy so I can record the initial idea and then set it aside.

I saw a pattern emerging. When trying to play with my new camcorder, it is all I’m focused on. I enter a calm, meditative state while enjoying interacting with the natural world in any small way I can. The kind of relaxation I try to work into my writing routine, but it wasn’t producing story ideas or words. I’ve had ideas for video projects that might help me promote my writing, but it wasn’t interacting with the writing process itself.

It was the Instagram game that was stimulating my creativity, enhancing my observation and refining ideas for making images interact with my stories. Like playing in adult coloring books rather than attempting to draw a masterpiece. Also, of course, always with me when my camcorder wasn’t.

It made sense. Photographers talk about telling stories with photos, and writers use photos as prompts to help overcome writer’s block. I’ve browsed a few articles on Instagram, but being new to it, I’ve not run across a lot on using it in creative exercises. Yet, it’s happening in one of those synergistic ways that is just magic. I’m thinking about ways to express the element of air rather than how to improve my camera’s focus, and words expressing air are happening right alongside of it.

Naturally I’ve decided every bit of flash must now have a photo from the game, which means that walks with my baby have turned into something that keeps me focused on my fiction rather than the beauty of small treasures in the flowers and hollows of trees, where nature will trap my attention. It’s a perfect fit for the way I’m living my life right now.

RIP, Craigslist freebie camera, my old and dear friend. You will be missed briefly, and eventually replaced with something cooler.

P.S – If you have a toddler and you stop frequently for pictures or writing, be prepared to reward them for their patience with a park or somewhere else to run around wild for a while, or they will not be happy campers, even if you brought along toys and snacks.

P.P.S. – This shit directly led to a film. Like, newbie film student level film.

I’d embed it, but apparently if you are silly enough to pay for an upgrade, it becomes more difficult to embed a video so enjoy your old-school link.

P.P.P.S. – I am working on self photography, and it’s making me feel a little creepy. Because of who I am, this tells me it’s something I need to do more, and it’s time to put my own image out there.