Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Parallell World of Photoshop

A few weeks ago I was at the Photoshop World Conference in Las Vegas. It was three days of Photoshop and Lightroom workshops, as well as an expo where they displayed lighting, must-have photo software, and other pricey photography equipment.

There were amateur photographers, professionals, and the world’s leading experts on Photoshop, who were the teachers, the workshop leaders, offering such sessions as “The Eyes are Window of the Soul, taught by Fay Sirkis. She showed us how to enhance the eyes in a portrait, like I tried to practice on the model below.

More than a computer program, Photoshop is a matrix, where unlimited reality is created, where anything you can imagine can come to be, if you know how to navigate the controls.

A friend mine told me that the photographer David Smith said Photoshop is way of life.

I can spend hours in Photoshop playing with images, just for fun, just to be creating images.

In Las Vegas I took classes on things like using raw in Photoshop as a smart object, and how you can reenter a raw image over and over, play with the tone and color and all those other things that need to be decided before you make a jpeg.

I wasn’t the only one to not know that you could use raw in Photoshop, because like most users, I played with the image-as-a-whole in raw, adjusted things like white balance, fill light, sharpening, and then I opened it as a psd in Photoshop and played around, the raw possibilities of the image having long been chosen, never to go back again.

But I learned how to use layers of raw in Photoshop, enhancing the blue of the water in this image, without having to enhance the blue in the rest of the image, and without touching a pixel, without changing a thing of the original image.

Am I sounding geeky? I hope not.

I sometimes lament the role I chose as a fiction writer. It doesn’t matter how much money I don’t make, I still have to write fiction.

I’ve been lucky, but it doesn’t matter if the book I’m working on now comes out with a big New York press and is reviewed by The New York Times, I’m still going to write it.

Along with millions of other people who need to write.

There are more excellent fiction writers (and poets) than ever before. More books now than ever before, more independent presses, more self-published books, ebooks, so many writers desperate to get published that they’ll pay for the chance to do so.

Like all the other writers, I don’t care how many books I sell, I write.

Writers write.

I don’t care if ten or a thousand people read this sentence here, this one, now, I’m still gunna write it, and I’m still gunna re-write it, until it sounds just right.

I will release no syntax before its time.

And now, for my hobby, I have chosen the sins and pleasures of my father, my father the photographer, who back in the 1970s kept thousands of dollars of equipment in the trunk of our 1964 Impala, and who shot weddings for extra money, who built a dark room in our garage, who, after he retired from working as an electrician, went to Mexican bars and snapped Polaroids of drunk couples and sold them for five bucks.

I’m into photography, for better or for worse.

And I‘m not alone.

Photoshop world was like another conference I regularly attend, AWP, thousands of creative writers and wanna-be writers and teachers of writing. Here, there were five thousand photographers and graphic designers and those who have made it big in their world.

In our world, there are millions, pero millions of photographers, and there are more images in the world than there are people, billions upon billions of images.

Walking to the conference each day, on the pedestrian overpass connecting the MGM and New York, New York, I saw a constant blur of people taking pictures of the strip, of the fountains of Bellagio, the false Towers of Manhattan, and many of them had nice cameras, SLRs with professional level lenses.

It’s not like in the days of Henri Cartier Bresson, one of my favorite photographers, when few people could afford to buy or figure out how to use such instruments as he had, because like using Photoshop today, the darkroom of Bresson's time was always a large part of the creative process.

But theses days, almost everyone has a camera that can perform better than Bresson’s best Leica 35, and even the most popular and user friendly photo editing software can crop, play with color, tone, contrast, what would have taken hours and immense know-how in the dark room.

Technology has given us better resolution cameras on our phones, computers, iPads, and we have point-and-shoot cameras and SLRs, and we shoot thousands of images and store them on our hard drives.

There are more images in the world than there are people to look at them.

But it’s an impulse, isn’t it?

This creating imagery, capturing imagery, showing the world what we see?

Can’t help it.

So I went to the Photoshop World Conference, and I was exposed to a lot. I sat among thousands of other photographers and wanna-be photographers who care about their images. These people truly believed they would capture something that mattered. They want to create images, want to show you something that will make you tremble.

Monday, August 29, 2011

True believers at the Albuquerque Cultural Conference

Everyone there was a true believer. They believe in justice, equality, women’s rights, the need to fight racism, but mostly, they believe in poetry.

They believe in the healing and changing power of words, and some of them believe even in it’s revolutionary potential.
The Albuquerque Cultural Conference took place on the weekend of August 26-28, 2011.

The weekend began with a poetry reading, fifteen poets, who read from their books, much of which have been published by West End Press and Wings Press. In fact, the two presses publishers, John Crawford of West End and Bryce Milligan of Wings, were co-organizers for the conference.

Over fifty true believers stayed for three days for a series of workshops and panels, in an old building near downtown. There were high temperatures and with little air conditioning , but it didn’t seem to matter.

They didn’t even seem to sweat. At one point, one of the participants couldn’t hear a speaker very well, so he got up from his metal folding chair walked to the window air conditioning unit and turned it off, so everyone could hear her better. He was saying with his actions that her words meant more than their temporal comfort.

These believers not only attended sessions back to back for over ten hours a day, but they also participated in every discussion, had something to say. And many of them were accomplished writers with multiple books, such as Margret Randal and Gerald McCarthy, but still, they stayed to say what they had to say and to hear the others.

And it mattered. What they spoke of, whether about the resilience of the oppressed, the e-book, or the need to increase awareness of Chicana consciousness and move away from indigenous fundamentalism, which has traditionally been used as an agent of male dominance, what they said mattered, not only to them, but to the pending cosmic energy that is reality. They believe in dialogue.

These writers and activists are salt of the earth, people who assert positive change, who believed that their voices, like all voices, are important to move toward change, toward justice.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Clint, Texas? Oooo, doggie!

Sounds like a the kind of town where everyone’s named Bubba and Slim and Mexicans just ain’t welcome unless they work in the fields or dance like Felina at the local watering hole.

But like the rest of the border here in West Texas, just about everyone is Mexican and even the few non-Mexicana around here speak Spanish.

Last weekend I went to the Festival San Lorenzo in Clint, something the local folk have been celebrating for 97 years.

"Six Tickets"
(Everyhting required tickets, drinks, rides. Here a clearly hardworking man buys tickets for his daughter or granddaughter. He carries a candle with him, of a saint.)

Of course, I brought my camera.

Everything was perfect, the beer cold, the food delicious, and of course, at festivals around here, the Gorditas were the best.

"Holy Gordita"

What stuck me most were the people. How friendly they were. No one whom I asked to take their picture said, no, and some of them wanted to pose for me.

"Not so Lil' Homies"

"Young Brother"

I’m doing something different this entry. I’m naming the photos. I don’t know why I’m doing it (although I know why I’m doing it), and I don’t know if I’ll ever do it again.

"Everybody's Happy"
(These kids are beautiful. They remind me of my sister and cousin when they were little. And look how happy there are. In fact, everyone in this picture is happy. Click on the image to make it bigger, and you'll see that even the guys you can see through the screen behind the booth are happy.)

I don’t know, maybe naming the photos is kind of crony, like naming a memo.

"King of the Taco Trucks"

"Basket Balls"

I don’t think real photographers name their images.

Some do.


This one below is simply called "Family." The man on the right was very nice to me and he asked me to take a picture of his family.


"Jesus et al"

(This woman in the wheelchair was so sweet. You can tell by looking at them what a nice couple they are.)

"Fish Lady"
(I love this lady. She kept wanting to pose, always smiling. She worked a game booth with little fishing poles, where kids fish for prizes, like a little pig made of paper mache)

"Fish Lady 2"

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Images of Juárez: Light does not stop at the border.

I’ve always admired photojournalists, but I’ve never wanted to be one. I like being a professor and a fiction writer, and I’m excited every time I start a new book.

But I love photojournalism.

I love how the images say something not only about what is going on at the time, protests in Libya, riots in Greece, earthquakes in Haiti, but they also say something universal, something about us. I admire how photojournalists risk all for the perfect shot.

I spend a lot of time on New York Times Lens, clicking through the images like I was walking through a museum.

I live in the twin cities, one of which the media constantly reminds us is dangerous, and anyone can end up killed. Recently a UTEP lecturer was killed there. Children are regular victims of bullets.

If I were a photojournalist, I would take my Nikon to the streets of Júarez. I would follow the police and get shots of bodies under sheets on the streets outside of crime scenes where children are looking on.

But when I go to Júarez these days or nights, I don’t bring a camera. I just go, usually with friends, to marches, to drink beers at the Kentucky Club, to eat a taco, and the images of the city that sketch themselves on the walls of my memory usually find a place in my prose.

When I first began to travel parts of the world, Havana, Warsaw, Marseilles, I didn’t believe in taking a camera. I was dead-set against it.

I thought if I brought a camera, it would steal the souls of the images, and there wouldn’t be enough energy left to release into the conduit of my sentences.

Of course now I know that the glow behind any point in space, thus behind the archetypal outline of any image, is infinite energy.

Still, I’m not a photojournalist. But I love that photographs can capture something that would take a thousand words to express in writing. ☺

Of course, in evoking the cliché, “A picture paints a thousand words,” I might very well be making fun of it, but that doesn’t negate any truth the statement might make.

All the shots above and below I took recently in Júarez, nuestra querida ciudad gemela, our beautiful sister. Like all human beings, the landscape within which we live in the twin cities is a passage way into dreams, El paso into imagination, into death and into the distortions fear can warp around reality. Daily we walk into beauty, into ugly, into endless possibility, into endless dead-end streets.

On both sides of the line we breathe in the same air, and the light shines and reflects equally from one side to the other.