New Nicaragua “EMag”

Best ten bucks I ever spent. Okay,I have probably spent ten bucks on something even better say…a twelve-pack (Milwaukee’s Best) while I was in college or a dinner of for a girlfriend I was hoping to dazzle with my smoothness. (Sorry honey, we are talking YEARS ago.) But I have to say this electronic, digital, Nica thingy is a pretty good use of my time and money.

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Am digging this new toy. Yes, the answer is yes. OF COURSE there is the print version, which I just paid my hard earned Cordobas for, and it’s on the way. It’s a small, 20-pager, less than six bucks. I used to think I would make extravagant Ebooks and mags, but then I remembered I don’t know how to design anything like that. Also, something else happened. I showed one of these babies to a friend, on my third iPad before it broke, and something funny happened. A FRIEND mind you. Let me say this again…A FRIEND. Someone who I THOUGHT would have spent copious time pouring over my BRILLIANT work, only to have them spend about 45 seconds, flip, flip, flipping through, listening to HALF of ONE audio file and then hand the iPad back to me AND THEN BEGAN TALKING TO ME ABOUT THEIR OWN WORK.
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So I did this Nicaragua Emagazine. The difficult part here is that I didn’t have much imagery to work with. I didn’t want to use anything that was workshop related. You see I have no real goal with this thing. Not trying to sell it or promote it etc., just doing it to enjoy it for myself, and to play with the stills/audio situation. I am still a novice here folks. What I design today are VERY simple Emags or Ebooks. The reality is most people have very little attention span. Sad but true. So, I design for the modern brain, not my ideal brain or the brain of 1985….a brain which had little more to do than wait for the next episode of Miami Vice! Now, this isn’t to say I don’t design more complicated or sophisticated work. I do, but I don’t necessarily put that work up front and center and ask people to consume it. The second version of this, and the print piece, are already in version two in terms of design, and I’m certain there will be at least a version three.
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This particular Emag is just single image per spread and single audio file, most which are thirty-seconds or less. Remember when a three-minute YouTube video was considered the “sweet spot?” Ya, try that now. Even Yoda can’t hang for three minutes….just TOO BUSY apparently because every single item of every single day now is CRITICALLY IMPORTANT. Me, I spend hours watching gun videos and people 4x4ing across swamps in the southern part of America. What else do I have to do?
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Even in 2014 I’m still running into vast amounts of confusion when it comes to something as simple as a digital version of a print piece. Still. No joke. I run into the “Oh, I can’t do one of those because it will kill my print sales,” people. In short, I’ve NEVER ONCE seen this happen. Also, I’ve never heard this expression from someone who actually made anything “E.” Never. Not once. I also run into the “What am I going to do with that?” crowd. I can only do so much. Make one, think for 15 seconds. You can and will figure it out. And finally the “I would never use that,” crowd. Lots and lots of art schools students in this crowd who cling to their “I’m an artist and I’m a print person” call to arms. I know this because of my job, but also because I was one of those people. I even dropped the “I would never show my work on a phone,” lines. (My chest is puffed out even now.) Until I started showing work on my phone. Granted, not to anyone I was really trying to impress, but handy situations like being on a plane and my prints are in my checked bag kind of thing.
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Emags/Ebooks are fun, and they make me think about my work in a very different way. They also make me think about audience. For $10 I can acquire the first copy then distribute for free, globally, or sell if I so choose.(Read up on Ebooks in general and you will know what a hot topic this is at the moment.) I’m in a house right now, right this second, with three other people who are all on laptops with Mavericks. I can email them this little baby and boom it’s in their iBooks. However….they also have a stack of unread magazines on their kitchen counter…so Uncle Dan isn’t going to ignore that little reality either. But let me restate….UNREAD magazines. Undivided attention and time is what most of us are after, and it is at a premium people. I don’t have enough work to make a book from this trip, so it will live in magazine and Emag form only. Again, just for me. When I finish the mag, get it where I want, I’ll print a few, leave them around till my wife throws them out. Because that is what I do. This Emag, Estory, Ebook world is SO NEW and SO YOUNG that I feel it brims with excited. I don’t understand it all, don’t yet know what will work and what won’t, at least with any degree of certainty, but the game is very intriguing to me. I am purchasing a new book, “augmented.” A novel. Massive undertaking available in both print and “augmented” version. I’m diving in, and JUST reading the intro I’ve already figured out a new direction to take on my NEW Emag I’ll be starting in the new week. The world is a hybrid place now, where the straight and traditional still have a solid home but the “anything” is possible is always within reach. I say we go for it.

If you make one of these email it to me and I’ll load it on my phone/laptop and will show it to folks when I’m traveling the world. I get tired of looking at my own stuff.

Photography note: The cover image, the all black first image with streaks of white, is an image of embers from a fire drifting up into the night sky. The title page image is a reflection of me in a stainless steel outhouse door. The rest are self explanatory. PS: you can click on these files to make them slightly larger…

Nicaragua Notes: Free Shoot

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Toward the end of the workshop week we had an afternoon staring back at us as wide open. Well, let me rephrase that. Those of us who were not responsible for the technical and production side of the workshop, meaning editing, sequencing, rating and producing films were staring at a few hours to kill. It felt odd due to the frenetic pace of the prior days. The kids were buzzing around like mosquitos, shooting around the lodge and trying to make pictures of each other. We decided to just walk, down the camino tierra leading from the lodge, downhill through farm properties and out into the jungle. Not really knowing what we would see, we just went.
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Remember, photography was still new. Still unexpected, unsuspecting and illuminating. I was amazed at how positive, how forward thinking and how excited they were to shoot anything and everything. There was a purity to their action that reminded me I need to keep things in perspective with my own work. After you do this photography thing long enough you suddenly have an agenda. Some people call it career, but either way it changes you. The kids reminded me about purity of thought and purity of action.
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No matter what we do the world moves along at the pace it chooses to move. Things happen and our job is to be there and witness. A small farm, the foreman with his radio and machete. Moving his cows down the road and suddenly there are a dozen kids in a full-court-press of photography, working the scene from every angle. Helping each other, pointing things out, making suggestion. “Make a color photograph in black and white,” I said. Suddenly they are shooting and rushing up to show the preview screen. Easy.
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Cows on a road might not be your cup of tea, might not be inspiring to you, but I am saying it should be. This little scene reminded me that I’ve taken far, far too much for granted. Star players don’t just play the final match and hold aloft the trophy. Star players grind it out through round after round. They might be the star but they are also part of the foundation. Just as everyday images are to us photographers. Being with these kids and watching them work made me realize the cows, and this road, were the most beautiful thing, and most beautiful place, in the world. What was I waiting for? A Yeti to appear? A dance troupe? Something exotic? No silly, the cows are exotic. The road, the landscape, the foreman, the kids and the MOMENT it all came together. Forget agenda, forget career, forget all that which means NOTHING in the long run, or even the now for that matter.
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Just shoot. Shoot what’s there. Enjoy. Record and reflect. Study. Admire and respect. It’s very, very simple if you get out of the way and just let it be.
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For those of you reading this post who are thinking I’m posting about photography you might be missing the point. This post isn’t about photography, certainly not good photography, so slow down and think about what I’m saying. Life is a seesaw battle, back and forth. Learn and unlearn. Learn and unlearn. I’ll admit, most of the good things that have happened to me in the last five years with a camera in my hand have all been from unlearning. Baggage. Leave it behind and just look. It sounds easy but it surely isn’t. I know this might sound like a sermon, but I keep seeing so many folks go down the road of being liked, being trendy, etc, and what it gets you is simply, at best, a short term gain. All you have to do is channel the feeling you had when you FIRST picked up a camera, like these kids, and use that to your advantage. It had nothing to do with success, a career, books, magazines, galleries, museums or anything else. It was about the hunt and the moment. Crediting what is in front of you and how fantastic that is, long before the idea of filtering it became a reality. Don’t filter, just enjoy. And realize you might not ever walk those same steps again.
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Since returning from this trip I’ve continued to unlearn the things that Nicaragua, and the kids, proved to me I no longer needed to know, or at least respond to. It’s liberating actually. I hope these posts have meaning to someone outside of the guy striking the keys. There is much to do in the photographic world. No time to waste. All we need to do is connect and forget.

Nicaragua Notes: Quality of Light

Remember the day you first picked up a camera? What were you thinking about? I’m guessing the camera. I did. I remember thinking if I could just understand the buttons I would be on my way to becoming a photographer. I remember thinking about my vest. Yes, I had a vest. Didn’t everyone at one point in time? I also remember thinking if I just had the right film, the right strap, the right tape in the right place THEN I would be on my way to being a photographer.

I had no real plan in terms of what I was going to photograph. I remember a landscape shot from the roof of my parent’s house, directly into the setting, South Texas sun. I remember a long exposure night shot from a strange Austin neighborhood with only the moon for illumination. I remember a motor drive sequence of my father who was a competitive shooter at the time. (Pistols not cameras.)
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Typical scene from where the kids were completing their daily assignments. This was a school in El Cua, Nicaragua.

What I don’t remember? I don’t remember ever thinking about any of the things that are truly important when it comes to actually being a photographer. Things like light, timing, composition and perhaps most importantly meaning. Why am I doing this? What am I trying to say? Why should people care?
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Our classroom in the mountains of Matagalpa, Nicaragua.

I, like many, was distracted by all the trivial gadgetry of our photography universe.

Over the years I began to understand the bones of what comprised great photography, and for me it all begins with light. I can’t stress this enough. I’m serious people, don’t make me threaten you. LIGHT is the catalyst for my movement in the field. The SECOND my mind flips to “photographer mode” the first question I ask is “What is the light?” If the light isn’t great, I’m not moving. At least not to actually work. I might scout, interview, wander, sit and watch, speculate, articulate or attempt to be productive in another way, but unless the light is working for me I don’t burn film.

Quality of light is a phrase that gets tossed around these days, like passion and storytelling and all of the other catch phrases of our time, but I actually think “quality of light” is worth repeating to yourself at least twelve times a day. Even when you aren’t shooting you can practice by asking yourself about the conditions you are in and whether they would work if you had to make pictures.
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Managua cemetery, midday, and not a photo I would normally take.

Here is the fun part. Quality of light various tremendously. State to state, country to country, season to season and second by second. Noon in New Mexico isn’t the same as noon in Los Angeles. Your style can take advantage of certain light while ignoring others. Light is a language, a nuanced language of the most intense beauty you can possibly imagine, and when the good light hits it can and will stop you in your tracks. Ever been with another photographer when great light happens? Suddenly everyone is frozen. “Oh God, look at the light,” as people fumble for ANY recording device. Sometimes when the light is good enough it can carry a picture on it’s back. Moments of great light carry with you, the same way your “life” images do.
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Near sunset, shot wide open and into the light to accentuate the flare and beautiful light. (Flemming, that IS a spaceship in the sky. FYI)

Nicaragua and the workshop presented moments of wonderful light. We were stationed in Matagalpa, in a coffee rich mountainous area, and were greeted by a range of weather from intense sun to torrential rain. There were clouds. Often times the sky worked as an enormous, broad source, lightbox style diffusion system. The kids were on assignment, so picking and choosing shooting times wasn’t possible. They shot what they needed to shoot when they needed to shoot it. Thus, they had to learn how to spot the moments happening in the light that worked for them. Imaging putting together a puzzle while someone sat next to you with a timer. That’s what this reportage life is all about.
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Arguably the coolest and funniest translator in the history of the world taking a short, afternoon, backlit break.

All of the images in this post reflect what I consider to be a good quality of light. This is the light I continually hunt for when I’m navigating the world with a camera in hand. Once you set a bar for yourself you get greedy with light. When it’s good nothing else matters. And when the light is bad you have plenty of time to reflect on all the lacking portions of your life. That’s what I do.

Nicaragua Notes: Radio Oscar

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Meet Oscar. He’s thirteen. He shot this the first day he ever touched a camera.

Let me set the record straight. I was a complete and total mess at thirteen. Hopeless, worthless, adrift and constantly on the lookout for my father’s boot headed in the direction of my backside. When I met Oscar in Nicaragua I knew he wasn’t your typical thirteen-year-old, and over the course of the workshop class I learned even more about him. I even had a chance to sit down for a quick interview, translated for you non Spanish speakers.

In essence Oscar’s radio program deals with bringing awareness to, and fighting for the rights of children in Nicaragua. Oscar is a good representation of the kids were were able to work with during our time in country. Smart, funny, focused and looking to the future with hope and direction. Have a listen.

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