I have always enjoyed visiting new places and, more or less, living life by the seat of my pants, but I’m happy to to stop, breathe and take in the sights… for once.
I drove through Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California last month, enroute to Washington after three years in Baton Rouge.
Sometimes when I’m driving, I can feel my heartbeat coming through my t shirt. It is soft and rhythmic. The feeling is unsettling. My own mortality is gently beating under a thin piece of cloth, wrapped in a couple layers of flesh, cruising across state lines at 80 mph as semi trucks and other death mobiles weave in and out of traffic for 3,000 miles.
Louisiana is maybe one of the few places where the accordion is taken seriously, not merely as some kitsch novelty in a hipster band.
There was a comic from a while ago:
“Welcome to heaven,” an angel says to newly arrived souls. “Here’s your harp.” The panel below, “Welcome to hell, here’s your accordion.”
I really like the accordion, actually. It’s such a bizarre instrument. But like it or not, it’s hard to take seriously, unless you’re a big fan of traditional European polkas. It looks and sounds so goofy.
It’s hard to visualize what happens during a flood unless you see it for yourself.
Perhaps this is why the national news media was slow to pick up the story in Louisiana over the last couple weeks. Watching footage of the flooding or seeing images of it in the newspaper only gives you a surface experience of the disaster.
This summer I had the opportunity to follow a trail ride in Louisiana. Being a native-born Washingtonian who’s only lived in the South for a little more than a year, the experience was one of the most uniquely Southern things I’ve ever done.
There is so much to say about the trail riders, especially from my own personal perspective, but alas, there is only so much room to write in a magazine. My piece details the history and culture of the trail ride, how it has modernized over time, and how it is, at its core, a family tradition.
Traveling in the dead of July in South Louisiana (easily 110 fahrenheit or higher), I rode in between convoy of horses, golf carts and pickups, taking photos and chatting up some of the riders. The thing that got me about the event was how paternal the tradition was. As I saw fathers, young and old, riding alongside their sons, I was reminded me of going to “fish camp” with my dad back in Washington state.
Don’t stop exploring. A camera is a firearm. Shoot well, write well. Some of the best knowledge I gained through college.
This spawned from a brief college workshop with Bettina Hansen, a photographer at The Seattle Times, and Josh Trujillo, a photographer at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. If you’re in a creative jam, Hansen said, pick up a new device or a new medium and learn something new. For me, that device was a DSLR camera.
I’d owned cameras in the past, but never seriously considered pursuing photography. Prior to Hansen’s class, my technique (if you want to call it that) was to snap as many pictures as I could and sort through the ones I didn’t like. It was the same effect as shooting a 50-meter target with a shotgun as opposed to a long-barreled rifle.
Cameras are technical the same way firearms are. This was something Trujillo had told us. To shoot well with either, you must have good posture and know-how of the mechanics behind the device. Simply snapping (or firing off rounds) is a sure way to fail.
The technical knowledge I gained from Hansen and Trujillo planted a seed that developed into a passion. I learned how to make good pictures (sometimes), by finding the right angle to line up the shot, the right source of light, and the right ratios on the camera.
A year into photography and I found the same technical approach can be applied to writing.
As journalists, we are trained to mash the subject and the conflict together until they peter out into a conclusion; to beat the story into submission, like a butcher tenderizing meat. This is the core lesson of most early news writing classes. Reporters suck in every sight, sound, and word that they can and then regurgitate it onto a Word document.
But this takes away from the artistry of writing. After it’s done so many times it’s not even fun. It’s the equivalent of a shotgun blast, or a hells-chance blast from a machine gun. It‘s messy.
As with shooting a photo, or shooting a target, it takes focus, concentration, and most importantly, skill.
The theme of this “photo essay” – if that’s what you want to call it – is water. The photos are close-ups of different types of water in different locations around Bellingham, Wash.
Most of these had a more artsy or abstract look, rather than what might be typical in photo journalism. These were taken within an hours time Nov. 9, 2013.
Droplets of water hanging off of a trashcan near a bus stop on Indian and Holly streets.
An unconnected garden hose at an apartment complex off of State Street.
Western Washington University’s fountain. The fountain stops running during the colder months.
A small pool of water clinging to a leaf at the Wailing Goat Espresso stand off of State Street.
A driftwood log floating along the beach at Boulevard Park. The park was pretty busy with families and joggers despite a chilly and cloudy sky.
A broken water fountain near the restrooms at Boulevard park.
Water from a drain reflecting a cover on E. Laurel Street.
The photos were taken during a camera phone photography class at WWU taught by photographers Josh Trujillo, of the Seattle Post Intelligencer, and Bettina Hansen, of the Seattle Times. Both photo journalists showed us some very interesting (and fun) apps to use for camera phones:
Videolicious: an app that allows users to create slide shows with audio recording in the background. You can include good old fashion video too.
Camera!: Not my favorite app, but still very cool. Allows users to edit photos – not always for the better.
Hipstamatic: Hipstagram, Hipsterama, Hipstacam. I keep forgetting this apps name. But it’s hardly important. The app is essentially Instragram, but a thousand times better. Hipstamatic allows users to select different film and lens types.
Try out these apps. One of the best pieces of advice Mrs. Hansen gave us was to try new technology. Get inspired by new gadgets.
Photosynth: Allows users to create panoramic and 360 views using multiple photos.