Pittsburgh Beginner’s DSLR Workshop DATE CHANGE

Big news!! After a few requests and a lot of comments we have decided to change the MARCH 1, 2013 PITTSBURGH BEGINNER’S DSLR WORKSHOP to MARCH 2, 2013. We hear this will allow a lot more people to take advantage of the class because they won’t have to take the day off of work. Understandable!


Beyond the Camera ~ A Letter to an Artist

Being a creative, there comes a moment when you realize that the camera is not that important.

Last week I attended my first art opening. I walked into a room that had bright white walls that displayed the works of six different artists. Rows of lights lined the ceiling aiming down on the art; lighting the work, leaving the room slightly dark to enhance the exhibits. The crowd, the art, the lights...definitely looked like an art opening.  Men with black-rimmed glasses, scarves affixed around the neck.  Ladies with their hair pulled up atop their heads, wearing high tight black boots that reach beyond the top of their knees. The crowd mingled, taking time to stand and stare at the art.  Wine and cheese held in their hands as conversation about the night flowed.

For myself, I had the black-rimmed glasses upon my face and hat atop of my head; no scarf..I felt like an outcast.  I drank water.

Being a photographer and coming off of my first private show you would think that I would be a patron of the arts. Sadly I am not. But I will be attending an art opening this upcoming Saturday night. Will be sure to wear a scarf.

As I walk through the crowd admiring the work I was enthralled by the photographs that were created without a camera. In my workshops I preach the words “the least important thing that you need to create a photo is the camera”. Yet it is important even if it comes in last.

Quick lesson: Photographic paper works a lot like film.  When light hits the paper it causes a chemical reaction that causes silver-halie in the paper to turn when processed with developing chemicals.

These prints were abstract, minimalist, rich in depth and color. Here were photos looking very much like my “ambient art” that were created without a camera.

To stand in front of camera-less photos and take in the beauty of light was breathtaking.

A week later came my next learning experience in “Beyond the camera”. Take a close look at the photo that is in this post.  Click on the photo to see it as a complete photo with a black background and no other desktop noise to distract you from viewing it.

This photo was taken with a camera but the camera was not that important in creating this image.  The camera only stored the vision; it held the digital bits of information. I dare say that light was not that important in creating this photo either.

This photo is beyond the camera and beyond the light and into a moment of pure creating. This photographer saw into the light and created beyond the norms of exposing.

The second guiding principal that I beat into the heads of those who attend my workshop is “photograph the light first and compose the subject second”. This is good advice.  This photo is beyond that type of thinking.

The photo was created by my wife, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is a well established creative photographer who daily teaches me something new. This photo left me speechless, motivated, inspired and humbled.  There are many, many things that I love about this photo: composition, framing, tones of colors, motion, fluidity.  What I love the most about this photo is that I could have never created it; I could never have conceived the vision.

As you read this you may think that I am a bragging husband.  That is true. As a working artist myself I am inspired to create a photo that is beyond the camera, that is beyond the light to create a transcendental photo.

I have spent twenty years in the photography business.  Ten years in the analogue world and ten years in the digital world.  Either decade the lesson remained the same:  learn the rules of creating and learn to use your tools.

In the digital decade photographers all too often use their tools to cheat.

With new technology there is new responsibility.  Do not think of technology as the easy way out.  You will never reach a transcendental experience in you art.

Use technology purposefully to complete your vision, not to fix it.  Real creativity is full of mistakes.  Creating should borderline between unpleasant and ecstasy.

Going back to things that I love about Elizabeth’s photo is that it could have been created in any time throughout the history of photography.  No post production was needed in creating this photo….big lesson to learned is that no amout of technology can help you conceive the creative process.

Yes, this photo was edited in Lightroom: a photo does not become a photo until it is selected and toned in the darkroom, be it digital or analogue.

Giant disclaimer: This is not anti-anything-tech. Tech is good. Ok, let’s move on.

It is about using your tools to create rather than fix.  Easy example is in music.  There is a tool called auto tune, it is used during the recording process when either a singer can not sing in tune or does not want to be bothered to go back and re-do the vocals.  This is cheating.  All too often in photography Photoshop has become a repair shop rather than a well-intended software tool where you could complete your vision and finalize you work.

When creating we are all too often searching for a resource; a way to make it easier for us (be it Photoshop, actions or auto anything). Resources alway get depleted, used up and outdated.  Technology is a resource.

Be the source of your own creativity.  A source, be it the sun or yourself is an inexhaustible inspiration.

Be the source…..

This is what Elizabeth’s photos has taught me.  No amount of resources, technology or cheating could have created this photo.


Cinematography & Others Random Whatnots

Rough cut, and it's my first.

Started working on a promotional film for the wife (see here) and this is my starting place.  Not too shabby, don’t you think?

Lesson learned: Pre-planning is not conversation over coffee.  Sketch it out. You can never have too much footage, especially of close ups. Racking focus takes practice.  If you have ever listened to me talk to a group of up and coming photographers I preach "never practice on game day."  Same goes for cinematography.  Licensing music can get expensive, fast.

Other random whatnots about my life:

I will be having my second show sometime in late 2013 or early 2014.  I will be having a meeting with the gallery owner next week. I have previously written about displaying my work directly to the people and bypassing the gallery route, but having a gallery owner call and offer to hold a show for me….sounds like too much fun to pass up.

Also on the gallery front, I went to Panza gallery (not the gallery that contacted me, but here's to hoping) to an exhibition titled "PLAY". If you are in PGH check it out, extremely good work...

Lastly, I have recently become addicted to vinyl albums. Quick history lesson: a vinyl album is what came after music that could only be heard if performed live but before the reel-to-reel, 8-track, cassette tape, cd, dat tap, MP3, streaming music and all other devices that have destroyed the sound quality of recorded music.  Cons of my vinyl addiction: the cost.  The pros: better sound quality and the paying off of my digital karma sins of the past 30 years.

Enjoy the show…...



Current Reading: The Icarus Deception By Seth Godin
Current Music: Copper Blue by Sugar
Sounds: Paul McCartney on the iPod
Smells: Chamomile tea, it reminds me of my Grandfather
Mood: Recovery
Temperature: 22 degrees
Thoughts: I started cinematography school ~ The blending of my loved for cinnamon and photography.


Completing The Vision / Permission To Be Ugly

Completing the vision and giving yourself permission to be ugly.

I think about things like this due to rambling statements that are whispered into my ear.

The whispers come from my right side, never the left and it's always my own voice doing the talking.  This voice is not my inner voice or that voice that you are using right now while reading this.  It's a real live actually auditory voice speaking from about three inches from my right ear, as if I was standing next to myself giving sage wisdom that I (John) have failed, yet, to understand.  I have no idea how this mystical apparition of my own self can sit on my right shoulder whispering advice to myself, yet this is how it happens. Trust me, the higher me does not always preach insightful words.  Read on.

Misdirection is a path. Most artists know this to be true. You sit down to do one thing and something else appears. This is one of the reason that schizophrenia is rampant among the great-of-greatest artists.  You sit down to complete one thing and during this process you realize that your work is complete shit and next you restart the restarting process all over.  Maddening, isn’t it?

Hence, the struggle between completing the vision and permission to be ugly is born. First, let me explain what ugly is….ugly is the practice of failure.  If you're not failing then you're not doing and if you're not doing then you're done; done for good in life, art and the transcendental beyond.

We create. There is never a non-creating moment (right side mystical voice talking there).

Too often we struggle to look good.  I want my downward dog perfect when I practice yoga; I want my music to be angelic and otherworldly; I want to never have to use spell check again or ask my wife “how do I spell this?"  I want all my photos to be spot on, not having to filter through the crap for the solid 20% that doesn't suck.  You have to give yourself permission to be ugly and to do the work. It's just that simple. Ugly before beautiful.

Do the work. Be ugly. Create. This all takes effort and purpose.

When I run I hear my whispering self coaching me on. The first two miles takes effort then next however many miles will take purpose. I have to run through the ugliness of my body hurting and my mind telling me to go home.  Odd interjection here: My own inner voice is a downer, without fail telling me to stop or take the easy way out. What is up with that? This begs the question of "who am I?" If my inner voice is a downer then where does the mystical whisper come from that is ever so motivating?

Quit calling yourself a perfectionist.  That is an excuse to never finish.  That is an excuse of why you can not commit to share your art.  It's an excuse.

Ugliness does not need an excuse to complete the vision.

Last night I reconnected with an old friend.  He handed me two cd’s that he recorded completely on his own. He told me the story of writing the songs, the struggles of learning how to record; he told me of proud stuff, he told me of the ugly stuff.  He completed the vision by doing the work, by not being afraid to be ugly while creating.

The work is great. I played the cd in my car on my drive home and enjoyed the music.

I heard only the beautiful music.

That is the lesson learned: The permission to be ugly is only for you, but the completing the vision is for the rest of us.

Create, Connect and Grow



Current Reading: Waging Heavy Peace by Neil Young
Current Music: Don’t Tell a Soul by The Replacements
Sounds: My daughter being crazy while getting dress for school.
Smells: Coffee
Mood: Ready to run
Temperature: 26 degrees (was 70 degrees on Sunday)

Thought: Suffering is part of being human. The "doing" is the narrative of being alive.



Information or knowledge; which would you rather have?

Information is microwave cooking. Knowledge is homemade spaghetti sauce.

In today’s world we have lots and lots of different information sources.  We can ask a search engine whatever our heart desires and a list of thousands of information sources will appear.  But, that is not knowledge.  It’s only a list of information.

What if the web search engine asked you a question back? Engaged you in a dialogue, asked you why? “Why” is a good starting place for knowledge.  People do not ask why enough; we accept thing just as they are.

Why is mystical. Why is life-changing. Why is the birth of knowledge.

Technology has not yet moved towards asking the question “why” of the users (but the singularity is near). Until the merge of silicon and carbon two-legged homosapiens there is still a place for discovering knowledge.

Have a conversation.

Go deep into a conversation with someone and you will learn something new.

Once a month I have a coffee meet-up with a friend. He’s sort of a tribe elder to my mystic heart.  We talk life, Zen, business and books. I ask questions and he shares from his experiences. Being the tribe elder he has many more life-experiences than I. As my graying hair slowly takes over my face I too hope to be a tribe elder to some young artist-monk type; someone to whom I can share my mistakes with.

Information has no mistakes.  That is why it is an avalanche of crap to sort through to find the whatever you are searching for.  Knowledge, that bugger, is filled up with mistakes.  You got to mess up to get to the truth.  

Conversation is dying I am sad to say.  It’s hard enough to get people to listen to you.  Expecting feedback and engaging dialogue...that may seem prehistoric to some, in the search engine world to often the machine become our trusted savior and society turned into the fallen form grace crowd.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the search engine. If it was not for the magical powers of Google I would have never been able to spell homosapiens or avalanche.
I would have chosen lesser words like man or lots. We both know that this blog post needs a little creative flare.

Blog posts are sort of conversation-like.  Most blog posts start out with a question or a curious thought.  Then we as the writers hope to engage you the reader in a dialogue via comments or e-mail. Personally I am bad at both.  I turned my comments off years ago because I did not want to referee arguments between budding artists that read my work and rarely do I return e-mails. But that’s just me.  There is stampede of bloggers who want to go deep into a conversation with you.

Go Forth
Go Deep
Have a Conversation



Current Reading: Mud & Water by Bassui 
Current Music: Silver Age by Bob Mould
Sounds: Music, typing keys
Smells: very weak coffee
Mood: Good:
Temperature: 28 degrees 
Thought: Freeing ourself is easy..the path to freedom is difficult.


Doing or Not Doing

2013 the year of doing or not doing, which side are you on? 

Goal is a word that I do not like. I try seldom to use it.

I like setting experiences for myself. To enjoy experiences you need to do the work.  The experience is the grand celebration for all the effort. Yet all too often experiences seem to get expensive, (travel the world, Everest, Chicago marathon). The Chicago marathon is my experience that I am going for this October. For me, I need to say my experiences out loud for them to happen.  When I say the words out loud then the doing part becomes part of who I am.  That's how it works for me.

Running is the doing and the marathon is the experience...simple, purposeful.

Doing is fun. Doing is affordable. Doing never lets you down. Doing is good for your soul and your waistline.  When you are doing you are definitely not-doing.

Not-doing is where disease, fat, depression and all those other random ghosts in your life come from. Demons never seep into the do’er life. Ever notice that? Doing is good.

The practice of creativity is simply the act of doing something. I love that.

No need to go out and buy a bunch of motivational crap to fill up your bookshelf, or iPad or whatever digital device that you bought as the catalyst crutch to the new you. When you're doing you do not need stuff; or at least not too much stuff.

My workshops are filling up fast. The first one is sold out.  Teaching these workshops are one of the highlights of my year.  The class is filled up with a bunch of doers.  I love these people.  Dreamers of creating simply for the purpose of doing something new.

2013 f-the new year resolution. Become a doer…..