On not catching a break.

2020 truly is a bottomless pit of despair.

After spending two months in quarantine, worried for the world, it feels almost anticlimactic to be worried for family and self. But here it is. The slow erosion of the past weeks has left our resilience in tatters. As the rhythms of the personal and the professional are at the lowest ebb, we still need to trudge on and believe that everything is a cycle.

Now is the time for care: care for self, care for others, time to not reflect and to simply survive. Time to be thankful, as well, that our family has managed to weather storms before and has grown, improbably, stronger at the core.

But damn is it tiring, right now.

Collapsing world

It’s 6 in the morning. This thing that’s going on around the world is starting to mess with me in insidious ways. 

Because I have it easy, I thought my only job was to stay at home, take care of my family, be strong, and go on working remotely. 

But there’s a weariness that’s creeping in from reading about the train wreck that is the US, and that’s probably not going to stop, or the less dire but still worrying train wreck that is Europe. I’m already tired from the fight that’s going to happen AFTER all this. Because I can see the reflexes: the closing in, the xenophobia, the stupidity. And the voices calling for reason and maybe a bit of change in the way we do things are few and far between. 

Because I have it easy, I feel I can’t give in to these feelings of dread and angst. After all, my trash collector, my baker all have it worse. They have to work outside, unprotected. The ladies I still see on the infrequent busses, whose job is probably to clean hospital rooms –  the nurses and doctors in the emergency wards  (and again, I’m in a region that’s not been hurt as hard as it could have) – these people are allowed to feel sorrow and anxiety. Me, maybe not so much. My job is secure for now, my wife’s job is secure. My kids don’t have issues at school. 

But that’s maybe part of the problem: I have too much time on my hands, and it leaves me no choice but to look at the slowly collapsing world we’ve built for ourselves. 


I’m sure some of you have seen the latest announcement by Lytro: they’re coming up with version 2 of their “light field” camera (well, version 10.0 if you believe the PR hacks).
There’s going to be the usual battle, flinging names like “gadget” and “game-changer” around (it gets serious when someone says “paradigm-shift”).
I don’t really have an opinion for now. It looks interesting from a physics perspective. This light-field thing sure is fun, and I kind of like the images they have on their website.
My problem is from an artistic perspective. I don’t see how we’re going to view these images, how we are going to visualize them, to consume them.
In film, the contract between the artist and the spectator is that you devote a period of time to a narrative, and the artist controls the pace.
In photography, the contract is similar, but the spectator controls the pace of viewing. It’s up to the photographer to guide the eye through composition, light etc … but he can only do so indirectly.
All examples I’ve seen of Lytro-graphs (whatever the accepted term is, I like this one) break that contract. Either they are not much more than animated GIFs, where the focus-change or pseudo 3D movement grates against the path of my eye in the picture, or I need to interact to “animate” the picture, which disrupts my relation to the image.
To me, this is the greatest obstacle to these images becoming “game-changers” in the near future: I simply don’t think there’s a market for them.

Of course, that kind of statement can become claim chowder very quickly, and I’d happily be proven wrong. But for now, I really don’t see how.

GPP Kool-aid

The Mamiya C630 is a perfectly acceptable point and shoot. The Mamiya C630 is a perfectly acceptable point and shoot.

So my last tweet got retweeted by @zarias, and he even took the time to tweet a thank you note.
To (mis)quote @bruko, I’m as giddy as a kindergartner at a birthday party, because it’s awesome and it’s never happened to me., and because I’m getting to spend the next week rubbing shoulders with him and a dream team of photographers.

Last year, a fellow student took me aside during a class, and said to me: “we’ve spent all this money, and all we do is follow this guy around. He’s not teaching us anything.” I felt sad for him, but it kept nagging me. Had I and others really drunk some GPP Kool-aid, and been blinded to something more sinister?

Then I realized what the answer should be. My first year at GPP, I went home to Abu Dhabi every night. It was good (Zack, and David N. were my first instructors). But the second time, when I stayed at the hotel every night, and made some friends, it went from good to great. Because what we get that week is more than just “classes”. It’s access to the creative minds of people who are at the top of their game. We’re not getting an MFA at GPP University. We’re spending a week around these people while acting like sponges. Can you imagine what breakfast is with McNally, Heisler, Burnett and Harvey? Yeah, that. Then when you think it can’t get anymore awesomer, Keatley walks up and takes this in front of your eyes, in a dingy Holiday Inn corridor.

There’s a catch, of course. There’s effort on our part, as students. And I’m not talking about the effort of turning up to class and absorbing the material. I’m talking about the effort of being gracious to people who are so open with their time and knowledge, of not treating them like mere vendors [1].

So yes. You can look at it as a simple transaction, and bemoan the value you’re “not getting” from Dave Burnett not telling you which setting he’d use on your camera (maybe he can take the picture as well, right?). Or you can suck it up, spend some time talking to him, and get this awesome portrait from my pal Keith Rogers.

Your call.

  1. chances are, if you’re doing this, your photography doesn’t have much soul, so it doesn’t matter to you. It does to me.  ↩

Another one bites the dust

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It wasn’t as bad as this Rihanna concert, but Muse succumbed to the same syndrome a lot of these A- list players do: “*It’s a captive audience of idiots who live in the desert and have too much money – why would we get out our A game?*”

Well, for starters because we paid a an arm and a leg to come see you, and just because we don’t live in New York doesn’t mean we’re hicks.

And second, because it’s starting to show. Jay-Z is a top notch entertainer. I really can’t stand his music, but he’s an absolute pro at interacting with his public. The result? the largest audience my wife’s ever seen at Du Arena, and she had a blast even though she didn’t know his act. Muse, on the other hand, was the highest exodus of spectators we’ve ever seen at a concert here. despite the -admittedly impressive – pyrotechnics; I could’ve put the radio on a bit loud in my garden, and it would’ve been exactly the same – nice background music to have a chat with friends.

My theory is that, contrary to other venues, Abu Dhabi and Dubai probably offer very attractive packages to artists to perform – as an incentive to come to these untested waters. I’d bet they guarantee revenue even if attendance is low, or something like this. And some performers probably see this as an excuse to give a “relaxing” gig. The Grand Prix probably skews this even more, with the promise of a captive audience.

What I don’t get is how, in an age where album sales are increasingly irrelevant, and notoriety is built on interaction, bands can continue to take this short sighted view of things.

That said, judging from yesterday nights twitter feed, the die hard fans where really happy. But the fact that – arriving late – I managed to walk up with no effort to the middle of the stadium tells a different story: even Abu Dhabi fans are starting to tire of being fooled.

Here’s to hoping tonight’s Dépêche Mode concert is better.

A first post on concerts in Abu Dhabi

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Abu Dhabi rarely plays host to A-list artists at the top of their game. We tend to get big names that are definitely on the downward leg of their careers, or finding a second wind.

In some cases, it works really well. When Prince played the closing Formula 1 concert in 2010, it was one of the best performance I’ve ever seen, period. Madonna didn’t stint either on her show. She was 3 hours late, but she gave her usual polished, professional appearance. Sade is another case inpoint: a clear has-been, she was playing with no pressure, obviously enjoying herself and giving us – pretty unexpectedly – a great time.

But then you have the others. Those who so obviously come for the check it’s painful. Three come to mind in particular: Sting, Shakira, and tonight, Rihana. They don’t even pretend to be their to entertain, and they certainly bring no polish nor professionalism to their performance. It’s their job, and they’re phoning it in. It’s insulting to the audience, and it’s demeaning to them. It assumes that we’re so starved for culture that we’ll buy tickets to anything. It may be true, but it’s no reason to give half baked performances.