Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Smashwords Reconsidered

I wrote an article in February regarding self-publishing on Smashwords.  The conclusion I came to was that in most cases there were too many problems with the site to make using it a viable option.  I still stand by what I wrote then.  Formatting a document for submission to Smashwords is tedious and frustrating and the end product often unsightly.  If the only ebooks I intended to self-publish were those I planned to offer for sale, i.e., my three novels, I would skip Smashwords altogether and go with only Amazon and Barnes & Noble, the two major players in the ebook market.

Recently, though, I've been thinking of offering my two photo books, Pictorialist Models and Era of Vice, to readers at no charge.  Both are fairly short works, too short to allow any reasonable expectation that anyone will actually purchase them no matter how high the quality of the photographs themselves.  On the other hand, if offered for free, they might work as marketing tools that would create enough buzz to interest readers in purchasing my novels.

The problem is that neither Amazon nor Barnes & Noble permits authors to list the price of their books as $0.00.  The minimum price that can be set is $1.99.  This makes a certain amount of sense, of course, since retailers earn no profit from giving books away no matter what the advantage to the individual author.  Smashwords, on the other hand, does permit authors to offer ebooks for free.

Even if an author does not want to make a book free on a permanent basis, he or she can still publish the work on Smashwords and then periodically offer a "giveaway" (yes, another marketing ploy) for a limited time.  At the end of the set period, the author can then raise the price back up to the original amount.

Authors who decide to go this route should bear in mind that my reservations regarding Smashwords remain intact.  The site lacks the resources of Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and its interface is accordingly much less user-friendly.  Reading through the lengthy (103 pages) Style Guide is an ordeal in itself.  Moreover, the Guide lacks certain pertinent information.  For example, I can't recall having seen anywhere in it the necessity of saving one's MS Word manuscript in .doc rather than .docx format.

Finally, while Smashwords's "Meatgrinder"- their term, not mine - did an acceptable job of converting a Word document to mobi (Amazon Kindle) and pdf formats, it botched the conversion to epub (B&N Nook) format on the two occasions I attempted it.  If one wishes to offer one's work to readers in epub format, one should do the conversion beforehand using the free Calibre tool and then upload the resulting document separately to Smashwords.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Opinions on RAW:artists

I recently received an unsolicited email from one Ryan Smith who described himself as "the Showcase Director of an international arts organization called RAW:natural born artists."  It was fairly lengthy but the gist was that Ryan wanted to "call and discuss featuring your art in our February 18th showcase at The Warsaw in Greenpoint."  He described how he had come across my work:
"I discovered your work through Behance then made my way to your website. Your photography is haunting, mercurial, and visually striking. I would be honored to give my audience the chance to see your expression in person and I'd be thrilled to see it myself."
I wrote back:
"I think you're confusing me with someone else.  I never put any of my work on Behance."
I did take the time to do some (very) brief research on RAW:artists.  I found a discussion board on Etsy that had quite a bit to say about them.  Apparently, in order to be in one of their shows, it's necessary to sell a few hundred dollars worth of tickets to the event.  If the artist is unable to sell the tickets, he or she has to eat the cost and pay for the tickets themselves.  The shows, according to what I read, are not juried but are held in nightclubs often too dimly lit for the artwork to be properly seen.  While it seems the organizers shoot headshots, feature the artists in a video and give them a plug on their website, the quality of the artists shown is questionable.  One woman who had second thoughts wrote: 
"I don't think they 'curate' the shows now, as I previously did. The 'artist' they added to their website right after me, is a balloon artist. Seriously? They 'curate' and can only come up with a balloon artist?" 
To be fair, the reviews on Etsy were mixed; but even among those who had positive things to say I didn't see anyone who claimed to have made significant sales through participation in the shows.  

Whether or not it's worth taking part in such an event is up to the individual artist to decide.  Personally, it's not the way I want to market my work.

Caveat emptor!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Publishing Advice from a Top Selling Author

Like many other authors and book lovers, I'm a member of the Goodreads site where I recently took part in a discussion hosted by the Crime Detective Mystery Thriller Group.  The talk focused on the novels of David Morrell.  David is an extraordinarily successful suspense/thriller writer whose most famous book is First Blood, the novel on which the highly successful series of Rambo films was later based.  Over the years, I've read several of David's books and took advantage of his participation in the discussion to ask him a question that had come to mind when reading the foreword to the uncut edition of The Totem, a truly excellent horror novel I've long admired.
"David, the first of your books that I came across was Totem. I still think it was one of the all-time best horror books I've read. What stuck with me, though, was the foreword in which you spoke about the changes your publisher wanted you to make. In general, do you feel publishers are unreasonable in the demands that they make on new authors in order to make a novel "sellable"? Would today's new authors be better off self-publishing on Amazon instead of going the traditional publishing route?"
David replied almost immediately with a highly detailed response:
"Frank, THE TOTEM was one of my early novels, and I didn't yet have the confidence that I've now acquired. I should have stood my ground and said that I was willing to make changes within the context of the book I'd delivered but that I wasn't going to rewrite the book from page one. That's the only time in which I encountered this problem. As for going the indie route as opposed to the traditional route, with the contraction of the number of major publishing houses since 1999 (from dozens to five), the limited marketplace has made it difficult to get the attention of those big five. But if an author can manage to get that attention, it's a terrific environment, with (usually) excellent editing, cover art, distribution, online marketing etc. I emphasize "usually." Many traditionally published authors have their favorite "how could things have gone so wrong" complaint. Nonetheless I believe that a new author should first try to acquire an agent and an established publisher, because of the support group and the wisdom that can be learned. If that fails after a genuine attempt in that direction, then becoming an indie author is the way to go. I say this with experience in both camps. I was one of the first established authors to e-publish an original novel (in 2010 at the start of the e-book revolution), and I continue to e-publish my backlist, so I have considerable experience in both areas. I believe that it's essential to have a serious professional advisor, such as an agent and an editor, who provides an outside view of a project. And the effort of self-promoting an indie book can be exhausting. I know many indie authors who spend half of each day promoting themselves. True, a traditional publisher expects authors to promote themselves, but at least that traditional publisher can provide advice, along with (more or less) help. This is a volatile issue. Authors who feel abandoned by the traditional route respond angrily to someone who says there's merit to the traditional system. I have the benefit of a long career behind me and have the luxury of a choice. To put this in perspective, one of my upcoming books, a collection of my non-fiction magazine articles about books, movies, and music, isn't suitable for today's traditional marketplace, and I'll self-publish it myself. Not all books are for a big market. I should add that so many new authors are now publishing e-books (400,000 this year), it's difficult to get the attention that indie authors received from 2009-2013. The e-market for romance novels and erotica remains high, but otherwise, I've spoken to many indie authors who say that with increased competition, their sales have declined."
I was, to say the least, extremely impressed that a writer of David's stature would take the time to give such a thoughtful and in-depth reply to a writer who was after all a total stranger to him.  He displayed true courtesy and altruism in his willingness to help new authors achieve success.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Photoshop's Glowing Edges Filter

In general, Photoshop's native filters should be used sparingly and with a great deal of caution.  When they are put to use, they should almost never be used at full opacity.  The "Fade" command is the photographer's most useful tool in such situations.  Applying the Watercolor filter to a given image at 100% opacity will not make it look like a watercolor painting - it will make it look like hokey piece of kitsch.  Having said that, one can sometimes use the Glowing Edges filter to great advantage by masking a brightly lit area and applying the filter to it in order to give it a neon glow.  For demonstration's sake, I applied the filter to the entire image at top.  The result is an abstract neon pattern that, in this instance at least, I find quite attractive.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Museum of Feelings

I went downtown on Monday afternoon to visit The Museum of Feelings.  Although I don't think the organizers were deliberately trying to create a retro experience, the exhibit nevertheless reminded me quite a bit of the many "mind expanding" shows I attended in the 1960's.  The high tech light displays could very well have been successors of the old Joshua Light Show at the Fillmore East.  But the location was incongruous - staid Battery Park City is the last place I would normally have expected to encounter any form of psychedelic experience.

The Museum is a temporary installation and closes on December 15th.  Admission is free.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Photo Book Review: Diane Arbus: Revelations

Diane Arbus: Revelations is one of the most lovingly designed monographs I've seen. Its reproductions are uniformly excellent and faithfully reproduce the warm tones of the original Portriga Rapid prints. Unfortunately, the book designer is nowhere credited in the volume, though I did search. 

Any large format "art book" that reproduces the photographer's contact sheets and provides technical information is to be commended. When photographers peruse monographs, they are looking not only for inspiration but also for insight into the means the photographer used to create his/her individual style. This book provides that. There are detailed discussions of the cameras with which Arbus worked as well as the differences the use of these cameras made in the final images. There is also a detailed essay by Neil Selkirk on the methods and materials Arbus used in the darkroom that is unusually informative. Arbus's technique was somewhat idiosyncratic (e.g., no dodging or burning) and allowed her to make prints that were immediately recognizable as her own and that complemented her shooting style very well.

It is only in the "Chronology" section that the book's design fails. The layout here makes the biographical content difficult to read, and the tiny reproductions of an arbitrary assortment of images become increasingly annoying. I suggest readers skip this section and instead purchase the biography by Patricia Bosworth. Although that biography is unauthorized and its reliability has been questioned, it contains details of Arbus's personal life that are essential to understanding her development as an artist and are not to be found in the thoroughly sanitized "Chronology."

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Changing Soho

While walking through Soho recently after a long absence, I took a few digital street photos on my Lumix GH2.  To a native New Yorker, it's so sad to see how completely the neighborhood has gentrified.  If one looks carefully at the photo below, the Corner Deli's overdone attempt to recapture some of the neighborhood's grit by painstakingly reworking its marquee to look old and neglected is readily apparent.  Unfortunately, it's a total fail.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Photo Book Review: The Noir Style

The Noir Style by Alain Silver and James Ursini is a seminal book for anyone interested in creating atmospheric photographic lighting and should be part of any photographer's library, most especially those who still shoot with black & white film.

The book consists of publicity stills, largely taken from the golden age of Hollywood film noir. The authors carefully analyze each photo to show how lighting is used to create an atmosphere of dread and suspense. Along the way, the book pays tribute to the masters of noir lighting, particularly the great John Alton, whose contributions have not received nearly the credit due them.

As anyone who has read Cornell Woolrich knows, there is an existential component to noir as it follows its protagonists down a rabbit hole, watching as they are pulled from their everyday lives and entrapped in a senseless world of crime and violence. Almost always, this fall takes place in a big city environment where individuals are reduced in size among towering skyscrapers that symbolize the megalithic forces threatening to crush them. And the action is almost always set at night in order to better emphasize the protagonists' distance from the sunlit workaday world where all is neat and in order.

The photographs included in The Noir Style are definitely not a nostalgic tribute to the big stars of Hollywood's studio era. Most of the films were intended as "B" movies and star character actors whose hardened features are hardly flattered by the films' harsh lighting. This is entirely appropriate since noir films were never intended as escapist fare. Instead, they show the underside of the American dream and the ease with which an ordinary person can slip off track into a milieu where murder takes the place of law.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Corel Painter: Saving Files Without Original Source Material (Third Example)

In my third example of saving files without source material, I proceeded a bit differently.  I went directly to Painter and opened there the original image shown above.  Note that in all three of my examples on this topic, the term "original image" refers to a full size (i.e., high res) jpg that has already been edited for color balance, brightness and contrast in Photoshop using the Levels and Curves adjustments to create a finished "straight" photograph.  Once I'd opened the image in Painter, I again used the autoclone feature with the image itself chosen as the clone source on the clone panel.  (If the image is not chosen as the clone source, Painter will default to whatever pattern was last used.)  This time I stopped the autoplay feature very soon after it had begun so that all I obtained when I saved the file as a jpg without the source material was a series of squiggly lines that corresponded in color to the cloned areas on the original image.  See photo shown immediately below.

Back in Photoshop, I opened the new image that showed only the Painter effects.  To heighten the color effect, I applied the Saturation adjustment at +20.  I then opened the original file, selected the entire image, copied it and pasted it as a layer on the Painter image.  After having made a few adjustments with Curves, I flattened the layers and obtained the final photo shown below.

Prints of the final image are currently available for purchase from my page on Fine Arts America.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Corel Painter: Saving Files Without Original Source Material (Second Example)

In my last post I discussed saving files without the original source material and want now to provide another example of the method I used.  To arrive at the final image I first opened the original image (shown above) in Photoshop and applied to it the Find Edges filter, then used the Curves adjustment to emphasize the dark edges, and finally saved the result (see image below) under a new file name.

Having done this, I opened the original image in Painter, did a Quick Clone and applied a few broad strokes of the Watercolor cloner (with the Tracing Paper turned on) to give back to the image some of the coloration in the leaves that had been lost when applying Find Edges in Photoshop.  I then saved the file as a jpg so that only the effects generated in Painter remained.  The result can be seen in the image immediately below.

Returning to Photoshop, I opened the Painter file shown above and then used Apply Image with blend mode set to Normal in order to partially place the Painter effects within the file that had been saved after having applied Find Edges in Photoshop.  I then used the Curves to adjust the contrast and arrived at the final image shown below.  Compare that with the original image to see the full range of changes effected.

Prints of the final image are currently available for purchase from my page on Fine Arts America.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Corel Painter: Saving Files Without Original Source Material (First Example)

I recently began experimenting with Corel Painter 12.  I've had the software on my hard drive for years but have rarely used it, preferring to make all my edits in Photoshop instead.  When I began to explore Painter's features, however, I discovered I could create effects that were not possible when working with Photoshop alone.  In one such situation, I found that if I opened a file in Painter, then chose the command "Quick Clone" from the File menu and went to save it as anything other than a RIFF file, I would get a warning that the source material would not be saved in the resulting jpg (this also applies to tiff and PSD formats).  In other words, only the effects created in Painter would be saved in the jpg.

I actually liked the original image shown above and thought it quite satisfactory just as it was.  But I wanted to see what alternatives were possible.

I began by opening the image in Photoshop CS6 and then applied to it that program's the Oil Paint Filter, which incidentally had a much more pronounced effect on a reduced size image, i.e., the filter created more radical distortions on the reduced size photo content, than on the full size.  The result is shown immediately below.

The next step was to open the Oil Paint image above in Painter and make use of the Auto Clone feature.  I made sure the photo was selected as the source in the Cloner panel and chose Camel Oil Brush as the cloner to be applied.  I stopped the autoplay before the process had finished and then, disregarding Painter's warning message, saved it as jpg.  By looking at the image immediately below, it's readily apparent exactly how far I let the autocloning progress before halting it.

Once I had saved the above jpg without the source material, I went back to Photoshop and used the Apply Image command (using blend mode Normal) from the Image dropdown menu to arrive at the final image shown below.  The total amount of alteration effected can be determined by comparing the original image below to the final image shown at top.

Prints of the final image are currently available for purchase from my page on Fine Arts America.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Photo Book Review: The Artist and the Camera

The Artist and the Camera: Degas to Picasso is, in spite of its often abstruse text, a fascinating look at a number of late nineteenth century artists who interacted with the relatively new medium of photography and whose work was thereafter strongly influenced by it if not totally transformed. Based on an exhibit held in 2000 at the Dallas Museum of Art, essays by several scholars trace the revolutionary impact photography had on the nineteenth century art world. The stories of several of the most prominent artists, such as Degas, Rodin, Brancusi and Picasso are already well known; but the influence photography had on a number of others, such as Moreau, Munch, Khnopff, Mucha and even Gauguin, has been more obscure.

What's most interesting is the artists' almost unanimous insistence that photography was not an art form in itself but merely a mechanical means of reproduction that could assist traditional artists in the development of their own work and document it more thoroughly than had hitherto been possible. This was true even of artists, such as Degas, who vigorously pursued photography for its own sake and built up a considerable body of work. What comes across here is the fear these artists had that photography could one day supplant their own processes to offer a more faithful vision of the world about them. Perhaps the best known case is that of Rodin who began by totally distrusting photography only to arrive at the conclusion that use of the medium by a great photographer like Steichen could result in a collaboration that would create new levels of meaning to those who viewed both his sculptures and Steichen's photographs of them. Certainly, Steichen's nighttime photographs of Rodin's Balzac are masterpieces in their own right. The gum bichromate and direct carbon printing techniques that were used in creating the original prints are incredibly complex.

The reproductions of both artwork and photographs in the book are of high quality and present their arguments much more forcefully than does the accompanying text. Unfortunately, many of the essayists, while no doubt quite knowledgeable on the subject at hand, write in a forced academic style that can be quite difficult for the general reader to follow. This is a shame because so many of the ideas presented are of interest not only to scholars but also to photographers and artists who wish to learn more of the interaction between early photography and other forms of artistic media.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Hans P. Kraus, Jr. Gallery: 19th Century Landscape Photography

The following review was also posted on my blog The Aesthetic Adventure on November 6, 2015.

I walked across Central Park on Thursday afternoon to view the exhibit of nineteenth century landscapes from the Jay McDonald collection now on view at Hans P. Kraus, Jr.  The gallery specializes in showing work from the very beginning of photography and so offers visitors a rare opportunity to see images otherwise locked away in private collections or only occasionally put on display at the Met Museum.

The photographs shown at the current exhibit were all landscapes, most of them taken in the 1850's less than twenty years after Talbot's invention of the medium.  The process still in use at that time was Talbot's original "salt print" method in which paper was hand sensitized with a solution of silver chloride.  This was a printing out process (POP) distinct from the calotype negative, a developing out process (DOP) in which the paper, after having been first sensitized with silver iodide, was dried and then coated with potassium iodide before being allowed to dry a second time.  The calotype method was preferable for use in negatives because it greatly shortened the necessary exposure time in the camera.  The earlier salt print method, on the other hand, was generally used for positive prints because it was easier to use, less expensive and, at least in Talbot's opinion, gave more attractive results.

Obviously, the taking of landscape photos was much more problematical in the mid-nineteenth century than it is today.  The equipment - consisting of large format view camera, tripod and plate holders - was cumbersome to carry even to a nearby location in the countryside.  How much more amazing then are the photographs of Ernest Benecke - represented here by Coptic Village in Upper Egypt (1852) - who worked in the Mideast and Linnaeus Tripe who created portfolios documenting his journeys in India and Burma.  The primitive conditions in which these photographers were forced to work, not to mention the extremes of heat to which they were exposed, were much more arduous than any faced by modern day shooters working for National Geographic.  

Benecke and Tripe are celebrated today for having been among the earliest travel photographers. In spite of this, little is known of Benecke's life other than the bare facts of the Grand Tour he took through the Near East in 1852.  It was only in 1992 that a portfolio of his work was located and the extent of his accomplishment in ethnography made clear.  A 1994 New York Times article details the discovery and the subsequent purchase of the portfolio by the German collector Werner Bokelberg.  More is known of Tripe who was an officer in the British East India Company and official photographer of the Madras government.  In 1855 he accompanied an British expedition to Burma where he photographed sites previously undocumented by Westerners.  Tripe was also incredibly proficient at his craft.  Though he also used the salt print process, he achieved greater sharpness by apparently treating the prints with a coating of albumen.  (Though I have a working familiarity with some of the alternative photographic processes, I have never come across a description of this particular method and am curious to know how it is achieved.)  Also, in contrast to other photographs from this period in which the sky shows no detail at all, only a blank white surface, Tripes's prints - The Hill Fort at Trimium, Poodoocottah, India (1858) and Beekinpully, Veerabuddradroog, Madras, India (1857-1858) - have a great deal of detail in the sky area.  When I asked at the gallery how this was possible, I was told he touched up these areas of the print with watercolors.  If this was indeed the case, Tripe was masterful in his use of paints.  Even on close examination, no trace of brushwork can be seen in the finished prints.

The works of many other photographers were on display at this exhibit.  The most notable of these were Charles Nègre, who once studied painting under Ingres and whose medium format (9,3cm x 10.8cm) Woman at the Seashore (1860's) was my personal favorite among the images shown, and Roger Fenton, who shortly thereafter gained great acclaim for his photographs of the Crimean War.

The exhibit continues through November 20, 2015.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Día de Muertos

I took this photo today in honor of Día de Muertos.  I put myself at an odd angle and got in close at maximum focal length (equiv. 250 mm) and aperture at 5.6 to keep the depth of field as shallow as possible.  I wanted the skull out of focus to keep the viewer from realizing that it was just a leftover Halloween decoration.  I edited the jpg in DxO FilmPack 3 using the filtered Kodak HIE effect.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Mission San Xavier del bac

While staying with family in Tucson, Arizona last week I had the opportunity to visit the historic Mission San Xavier del bac.  Shown are a few of the snapshots I took while there.  I want to emphasize that these are most definitely not professional photos.  (I was shooting on the mirrorless Panasonic Lumix GH2 which does not render acceptable images at high ISO's.)  Nevertheless, I found the unique Southwest sculpture so unusual that I decided to share the images anyway.

One of the guides inside the church identified the flower growing outside as "the bird of paradise."  I do not know if this is its official name but it certainly is descriptive.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

US Copyright eCO Submission System Down

EDIT (9/6/15): The eCO system was finally restored this morning and is now available for use.  Hopefully, this will end the matter and there will be no further interruptions of service.

Before recently publishing my novel The Dark Veil online, I first attempted to submit it to the US Copyright Office for registration.  When I attempted to sign on, though, I found that the electronic system used for such submissions was down.  Today, I returned to the site and discovered that the agency had issued an updated announcement that read as follows:  
"Due to system outages at the data center maintained by the Library of Congress, the U.S. Copyright Office's eCO registration system is offline. The Library of Congress informs us that it is working to resolve the problems as expeditiously as possible, but we do not have an estimated time for service resumption. 
"Please note that during this outage, you can still file a copyright registration for your work using a paper registration form..."
It should be noted that the paper submission process mentioned above does not really present a viable alternative for most creative artists seeking copyright protection.  Not only are such submissions more cumbersome (only imagine printing out a full length novel, packaging it and then determining the correct postage), they are also processed much more slowly and are far more expensive ($85 rather than $35 or $55).  These are obviously only to be used as a matter of last recourse.

As for the cause of the problem, the agency issued the following explanation:
"Over the weekend, as part of routine maintenance, the Library of Congress shut down a data center that hosts a number of U.S. Copyright Office systems, including the online copyright registration system, eCO. The Library of Congress attempted to reopen the data center on Sunday evening, but has been unable to restore access to Copyright Office systems. As a result, eCO remains offline, and Copyright Office staff are unable to access internal shared network resources."
It's astonishing that in the twenty-first century any site - government or private - should be out of service for so long a time, let alone one so widely used by the public.  How is it even possible that there can be no estimated date for service resumption?  One would imagine the US government would have access to the most advanced technology available.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Published Novel "The Dark Veil"

Three years ago, I decided to devote myself fully to writing fiction.  That had always been my great ambition ever since my college days as an English lit major.  Accordingly, I put aside my work as a photographer and concentrated on producing a first-rate book, one I could be proud of having written.  It was quality that was my primary concern, not income.

My first idea was to write a noir murder mystery in which the victim was a photographer.  The fact that I was a black & white film photographer myself made the noir genre an obvious choice.  And I did actually write the story.  Unfortunately, as is the case with many first novels, the book I produced was awkward.  In particular, I found that I had recounted in it too many details of my own experiences and as a result had inserted myself too obviously into the story.  In the same way, in attempting to create other characters, I had based them too closely on friends and acquaintances from real life.  Beyond that, though, the real problem was that I had failed to sufficiently appreciate that noir is, by definition, dark and violent.  The original draft went too far in that direction.

Earlier this summer, having in the interim written and published two novels, I went back to my first attempt and completely rewrote it.  The first thing I did was to devise a new cast of characters, all of whom were now entirely fictional.  More importantly, I toned down down the mayhem and the darkest aspects of the story.  Although there are still depictions of graphic violence - this is, after all, a noir novel - there remains nothing in it that's unduly disturbing.  Finally, this book is much more readable than its predecessor.  I learned a lot about the art of writing from my two published novels and have put this knowledge to as good use here as I was able.  The result is the current novel, The Dark Veil.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

More Photos of Flowers

I often joke that the real reason I enjoy photographing flowers is that they're so much easier to deal with than models.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Celebrating Equality

I may be heterosexual myself, but I've always strongly supported gay rights.  As an American, I believe every individual should have the right to seek happiness however he or she sees fit.

I wasn't able to make it to the Pride March here in Manhattan this past weekend, so I'm posting photos I took at a prior year's march to demonstrate my continued support.  It's time to put an end to bigotry and to embrace tolerance.

These are scans of black & white prints made in a traditional wet darkroom.  I was shooting TMax 3200 film through an orange filter.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Performance Photos with Available Light

I took my mirrorless camera with me yesterday when attending my friend Chiemi's recital at Global Labo on Eighth Avenue.  I'll soon be posting on my other blog, The Aesthetic Adventure, my thoughts on the performance itself, but in the meantime I wanted to put here a few of the photos I shot while part of the audience. 

The greatest difficulty I encountered was in the ambient room lighting.  As you can see from the shots here, there was an entire wall of floor-to-ceiling windows behind Chiemi.  Bright sunlight poured through them that completely overpowered the overhead fluorescent light fixtures and shone directly in the eyes of the audience.  As I have always had an aversion to using on-camera flash, I ramped up the ISO to 800 (which I've found by experience to be the highest usable setting on the Lumix GH2) and, ignoring the backlighting, exposed for the performer's skin tones.  This, of course, resulted in the background being completely blown out; but as there was no usable detail there anyway I didn't feel that was any great loss.  Instead, the absence of background removed from the frame any distractions that might have prevented the viewer from fully concentrating on the photos' main subject.

I was particularly pleased with the group shot I took at the recital's end.  Photographers always hate this setup because it's almost impossible to photograph a group this size without catching at least one individual yawning or talking or simply not paying attention.  Everyone here, though, was wonderfully alert and made sure to give the camera their brightest smiles.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Autoharp Performance Tomorrow

Just a reminder that my best friend Chiemi will be giving her autoharp performance tomorrow, Saturday, June 13,  at Global Labo on Eighth Avenue.  Check the Facebook posting regarding the event for full details.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Spring Flowers

I actually took these photos at the end of April in Central Park and only now have had the opportunity to post them.  I'm fortunate to be located so close to such gorgeous floral displays as the Conservancy landscapers are constantly preparing to delight visitors to the Park.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Autoharp Performance

My best friend and former model, Chiemi Aoki, will be visiting from Tokyo and giving a rare autoharp performance here in Manhattan on Saturday, June 13th, at Global Labo on Eighth Avenue.  More information can be found on the Facebook posting regarding the event.

The autoharp is not a common instrument in Japan, and this will be an excellent opportunity for those with an interest in contemporary world music to enjoy a totally unique experience.  It should also be a great deal of fun for everyone.  I hope to see you there.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The End of Sakura

I've always thought the cherry blossoms most beautiful in their final days just when the green leaves begin to sprout on the tree branches and the last petals prepare to scatter in the wind.  It's such a perfect metaphor for life.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Published My Novel Lucid

I'm happy to announce that I've just published my new novel Lucid. It's currently available as an ebook at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble and can be ordered by clicking on either of the links below.

It's been almost exactly three years now since I put everything else aside in order to devote myself to becoming a full-time novelist. I'm very excited by the direction my life has taken while on this journey and am grateful to all the wonderful people I've met along the way. Writing fiction is something I've wanted to do ever since my college days as an English lit major and I've found great satisfaction in finally realizing my decades-old dream. Even so, I realize that I still have a great deal of work to do in improving my writing skills.

Here's a brief description of the novel's plot.

An amazing account of one man's journey into the depths of his unconscious mind. Connor, an unemployed ex-con, eagerly agrees to take part in a university experiment that employs advanced technology to investigate the phenomenon of "lucid dreaming" - the ability to control one's dreams and give them direction. At first, all proceeds as planned in a carefully monitored academic environment. Soon, however, strange events occur that suggest the project may have crossed beyond the bounds of the purely scientific into that of the paranormal. The first hint that all is not as it seems comes when Connor finds himself reading in his dream a play that in the physical world has long been considered a lost work. Then a mysterious young woman appears and inexplicably offers to become Connor's guide in mapping the shadowy terrain of his dream life. As he gains ever greater mastery of his new found talents, Connor discovers that he possesses psychic powers that enable him to revisit past lives. Together with his beautiful guide Deirdre, he travels through time to scenes as diverse as New York's East Village rock scene in 1970 and a serene temple in ancient Japan in the year 1004. Meanwhile, in real time, a bitter enemy plots to put Connor back in prison. Who'll be able to stop him?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sakura in Central Park

After a particularly harsh winter it was a relief to see spring finally arrive in New York City.  Perhaps nothing so poetically marks the change of season as the sakura now fully in bloom in Central Park.  I took these photos yesterday while walking about among the tourists who thronged the pathways.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Using Photos in Book Cover Design

The importance of having an attractive cover when publishing a novel cannot be overstated. When it comes to selling a work of fiction, whether online or at a physical location, it's very often the cover that determines whether a reader will purchase a given work or move on to the next.  The decision is usually made within a matter of seconds.  While in non-fiction, it is the content of a given work that is of primary importance to the reader, this is not the case with a novel. Here it's more a matter of appearance. The reader is not buying the book so much to obtain needed information as to have an enjoyable literary experience.  The purpose of the cover is somewhat analogous to that of a movie trailer - in the most exciting manner possible, it must offer a preview of what's to follow. 

If a reader is considering purchasing a novel by an unknown author and for which no critical reviews are available, he or she really has very little to go on in making a decision.  This is why proper cover design is mandatory.  To be truly effective, it must catch the eye of the reader and hold it.  In other words, the cover must not only reflect the mood and tone of the work within but must also be enticing enough to induce the reader to part with his cash.  It thus becomes the primary marketing tool available to the author.  

As a photographer, I have one advantage when designing covers for my self-published ebooks and that's that I have an extensive supply of images at hand from which to select.  It is usually not necessary for me to set up a shoot solely for the purpose of photographing a cover.  Instead, I can often find the right photograph simply by browsing through the large number of prints already available.  In deciding which to use, I try to find the that which is most in accord with the spirit of the novel.  After all, this is not a gallery show where the work displayed is that which best represents my skill and artistry as a photographer.  Instead, it is the image deemed most appropriate to accompany the text that is chosen.

Show above is the cover of my novel New York Sonata; immediately below it is the photo I decided to use in its design.  The emphasis here, as in the title of the work, is on the city itself.  The rainy evening weather parallels the opening paragraphs of the novel.

The photographs themselves, both those above and below, were originally shot on black & white film and printed in a wet darkroom before being scanned.  Although I wanted to preserve the integrity of my photographs, I didn't hesitate to colorize them to create a more appealing visual effect.  A book cover is more graphic design than fine art.

Above is the cover of my novel Lucid and the original photo chosen for it.  I wanted something dreamlike, and the use of infrared film conveys that impression very well.  It is not an image that is clear and sharp so much as it is evocative.  Here the model seems to be inviting the reader to participate in the dream itself.  Her pose holds out a promise of mystery.

It should be noted at this point that when using a recognizable likeness of an individual on a book cover, or for any other commercial purpose, it is essential to have that person sign a full comprehensive model release that grants all publication rights to the photographer.  For this purpose, the release shown on the ASMP website is an excellent choice.