Reflections

Posted in Mixed Nuts on July 26th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

Sometimes I just want to write, to let it flow. One of the things that has to be taken into account when one keeps such a personal disclosure of one’s life open to every Tom, Dick and Harry on the web is that not everybody wants to read the same material. Most of my posts are about things which I feel might be of general interest to a large audience. I try to use the same approach which I would use if I were sitting down to write a magazine article. Foremost in my mind is, “Don’t put them into a deep slumber.” Well, this one might be a slumber number for some, but that’s okay.

I have had some thoughts ruminating in my mind for some time. They have digested now and I’m nourished enough by them to have the chutzpa  to put them forth for judgement.  So, in no particular order, here they are, some Reflections:

The World – This shot is a bridge in Florence. I chose this series of thirteen photos more or less at random because they gave me images upon which to focus. I’m a very visual person. Images help me to put my thoughts in order.  I’ve been blessed by a life situation which has made it possible for me to travel to a great many places. The scenery changes. Some of it is breathtaking, some desolate, even hopeless. What does not change, however, is that most of it is filled with people. The amazing thing about people is that most of them are very much the same. We all have largely the same concerns. Nearly all of us have the same basic values. In every place I have visited I have seen those who were reflections of myself. This is not ego talking here. It is empathy. If all of us are so fundamentally the same, how can there be such strife? As the King said in Anna and the King of Siam,  it is “A puzzlement.”

Me – This could not be a MadDog post without, in some way, featuring MadDog. Everybody knows that “blogging” (BLOG – oh, how I hate that nasty four-letter Anglo-Saxon word) is simply an exercise of ego. At least I’m honest about it. Who am I? I don’t have a clue. All that I can know is that I am the sum of everything I have ever thought, done, or hoped for. There is good and bad there in each category. I think that there are few of us who do not wish to be loved and respected. Yet we sometimes act in ways that do not generate those emotions in those with whom we interact. I like to say that I have no regrets in life. This is a lie that I tell myself. Regrets? I have many. Why do we so often act in ways that are not truly in our own self interest. Possibly it is because we don’t understand what truly is beneficial to that end. I do not believe that human beings are naturally perverse. I believe that we are filled with a capacity for love that we simply cannot comprehend. I believe that we are easily confused by what life seems  to offer. We see the lies as truth and are seduced by them. Maybe we will grow out of this in a few thousand generations.

Friends – If there’s one thing (probably one of the few things) that I’ve really learned about life it is that relationships are all that ultimately matter. Good fortune, the trappings of the material life, health and even life itself come and go in ways that puzzle us. The only things that we can really control are our relationships. We can treasure them, nurture them and make them blossom and flourish. There is nothing else in life over which we have so much control. Therefore, we must be good stewards of them. All else is like grass. (I can’t take credit for that one. It’s a Biblical reference, slightly out of context.)

That’s my good friend Ian Dosser there examining a particularly fine brew. We seldom see each other these days, but friendship knows no distance or time.

Nature – Nature, which was formerly called, in more gentle times, “Natural History”, but has largely been consumed by the word “science” has always been a comfortable subject for me, though I did not have the patience and discipline to do the math. Yes, I’m a failed scientist. How I got through a university degree in Computer Science is a study of minor miracles. Without the constant tutoring of my old friend Daryoush Khalladeh I would have never gotten through the Calculus. I forgot it all as soon as I passed the course. How, as a person of faith, can I find ease and confirmation in science? Well, it’s simple. I believe in a very, very big God. Nothing that I believe has to be true simply because I believe it. Nothing that I disbelieve must be false simply because I can’t swallow it. I’m “seeing through a glass darkly.” Nature, for me is a reflection of something so big, so profound, so otherly, that it can only remind us of how much we don’t know. This is the great adventure, the great quest for truth about our world.

Family – Having been estranged from my parents for decades and having virtually no relationship with my brother, the very notion of family never acquired its proper dimension in my mind. Eunie’s clan became my surrogate family and I was adopted by them. After reconciling with my parents, I began to realise all that I had missed. There’s an old saying, “You can choose your friends, but you’re stuck with your family”. While true, it is not an excuse for cheating yourself out of the benefits of family. I should have tried harder to be tolerant when I felt rejection. I should have been less prideful. I should have taken the lessons I learned from Eunie’s family and applied them to the situation with my own. It’s sad that I did not do better. At the same time, I’m sad that much of the family seemed as dysfunctional as I. So much sadness . . . This is the last image I have of my father.


For nearly half of my life, while I’ve lived in Madang, my friends have been my family. If a group of friends who are geographically isolated from their biological families can get into this mode of thinking, it can be very rewarding. We love and care for each other as a family. The difference is that we chose  each other!

Animals – The relationship which we humans enjoy with animals seems one of the most magical things in life. The interactions with and the emotions I feel concerning my dog, Sheba, are inexplicable. When I’m riding a well-trained horse I feel a shared experience that escapes my ability to describe it. I know that these emotions are well beyond the thinking abilities of dogs or horses. They are simply reacting in ways which are a result of their conditioning. They also have the genetic codes built into them by thousands of generations of breeding to react to us in ways which please us. They really have no choice. Therefore is is our responsibility to be kind to them and respect their nature. In a very real sense they are our  creation. They are human-designed artificial animals. They are, if you will, our children.

Fun – What can I say? What would life be with the simple pleasure of play? Often an image speaks better than I can. Here Is my wife, Eunie, surprising our good friend Trevor Hatterrsley with a turn-around shoulder rub. Trevor is famous for his shoulder rubs. Note the hat. It is the same hat that is featured on my noggin in the side bar. Sometimes we have Silly Hat parties. Everyone is required to bring a silly hat or choose one from our growing collection. Enough said.

Moderation – The older I get, the more I think that excesses of nearly every kind, except those regarding love and kindness, are probably bad for me. We have so many gifts from which to choose. All of the good tangible things in life are available to us fortunate ones who live lives of relative comfort and financial security. Learning to partake of this plenty in ways that do not ultimately reduce the quality of my life has sometimes provided hard lessons for me. Another aspect of this is moderation of thought. My first impulse, upon seeing this image was to speak of the balance between optimism and pessimism – the old “half-empty half-full” quandary. This is yet another aspect of moderation. My attitude concerning how life is treating me needs to be balanced between hope and despair. I spent most of my life swinging wildly between the two. I’m blessed now that the swings are less jarring, less disruptive.

Beauty – Ah, beauty. It is no accident that the word came to mind when my eyes were scanning about 2,000 images while I was considering my thoughts for this post. Karen Simmons is a good friend, a lovely lady and the wife of Trevor Hattersley. I had the pleasure of presiding as the Celebrant at their wedding. It was one of the happiest days of my life. This image, though technically imperfect, is one of my all-time favourites and illustrates one small aspect of my concept of beauty. I can’t possibly explain all of the things that fit into the ideal of beauty for me. Certainly, much of the natural world is beautiful. Humans are beautiful – the human form has been celebrated as a focus of beauty since cave men carved Venus figures from stone. As a believer, it is only natural that I find the human form beautiful. Surely the “image of God” creation is not to be taken literally, but why should not the physical form reflect some tiny hint of the magnificence of the maker?

Home – The concept of home is another which came to me late in life. When I was a child, we lived in a house. When school was over for the day, we came “home”. However, to me the concept was ephemeral. I had no attachment to any particular place. Indianapolis, when I was growing up, was a hideous, coal-stinking, socially desolate place. It was highly segregated and racial tensions simmered always just under the lid. Coming to Madang nearly three decades ago modified my concept of home. I have a genuine attachment to a place. Madang feels like home, smells like home, tastes like home. Home is where my woman is. Home is where my friends are. Home is where my nest is made.

Tolerance – If I could pick one trait to erase from the human character, or at least tone it way down, it would be intolerance. I make no secret of my beliefs as a Christian. However, I don’t shove them down your throat either. It may seem odd that I chose this image of a fat-bellied, smiling Buddha half seen through the window of a Vietnamese restaurant in Honolulu with reflections of a hair salon across the hall to illustrate my premise. My babbling on about the evils of intolerance and the suffering which it causes would be not only pointless, but boring. Look at the world around us. How much grief is caused simply because we can’t stand the idea that somebody else has a different view of life or different opinion about some issue than our own? What if we could simply respect each other and focus on the issues on which we agree? The more we can find in common with each other, the easier it becomes to reason concerning our differences.

Everlasting Love – Yes, kiddies, it does exist. I could not possibly wrap up this pathetically sentimental collection of random thoughts without including this image. Keeping love alive for decades is sometimes hard work. But the payoff . . . Wow! There is simply no way you can appreciate the value of it when you’re starting out. Learning so many skills takes a while. Giving in when you know you are right. Forgiving mistakes that break your heart. Accepting forgiveness when you feel you don’t deserve it. Remembering that kindness and love are living, growing things which need constant nourishment. Learning to share, in the depths of the soul, the joys and  the despairs of your mate. Much of this does not come naturally to the human heart. It is learned behaviour.

To this list I would add a healthy dose of grim determination.  Sometimes the only thing that helps is to remember that a promise is a promise. There is a certain dignity and satisfaction that comes from deciding that you are simply not going to give up. No matter what. Not ever.

And that’s when you know that you are really in love.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Florence and Siena – Tuscany Revisited

Posted in Photography Tricks on January 5th, 2009 by MadDog
No Gravatar

It’s hard to think of anything that I did not like about Tuscany. Much as the rest of Italy and Sicily, it is a photographer’s wonderland.

I could do a dozen posts containing photos of the region, but I’d quickly run out of prose. Most of the snaps would be of things that most people have seen many times before. How many times do you have to see a photo of Michelangelo‘s David, before you have it memorized?

Instead, I’ll do a couple of cheap tricks for you and have some fun with winged rats.

Here is a perfectly awful photograph of the lovely villa where we stayed about forty minutes from Firenze – the proper Italian name for Florence:

A badly exposed little villa near Firenze, Italy

The distant background is properly exposed, but the main subject is horribly blocked by underexposure .

In this image, I used the Photoshop Shadow/Highlight filter to balance things out and then used the Watercolour filter to disguise the fact that the photo had been heavily doctored:

A watercolour of a little villa near Firenze, Italy

It captures the memories of the place even better than a properly exposed photo would have.

Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is the oldest bridge in Florence crossing the river Arno. It is, of course, much photographed. This is a poor example. The light that day was miserable – flat, listless, lazy light:

Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is the oldest bridge in Florence crossing the river Arno.

Rather than blame the light for a bad photo, why not take a bit of that photo and jazz it up? Here is a section that has been massaged with the same care as the villa shot above – with a little extra saturation to give it more life:

A Ponte Vecchio watercolour

Sometimes I can hardly wait when I get home from holiday to find all of my bad pictures and turn them into artwork.

I have the obligatory cathedral photos from Siena also. But, what I found more interesting were the pigeons:

Pigeons dissing baby Jesus and his sidekick, John the Baptist

Little baby Jesus and his infant sidekick, John the Baptist are treated most disrespectfully by the winged rats.

Moreover, only a pigeon can stand on its head while drinking water spewing from a dog’s mouth:

Pigeon stands on head to drink from spewing dog - Only in Siena!

Ah, the wonders of pestilence!

Tags: , , , ,

The Rule of Thirds

Posted in Photography Tricks on November 13th, 2008 by MadDog
No Gravatar

The ancient Greeks did a lot of thinking. So much thinking, in fact, that much of it still affects nearly every aspect modern life.

The Greeks thought a lot about what was good. They thought about what looked good. Greek mathematicians came up with an idea that they called the Golden Ratio. There’s a lot of fancy maths involved, but we don’t need to be concerned with that.

It boils down to the idea (hugely simplified) that square stuff and round stuff and stuff in the middle of other stuff doesn’t generally look as good as rectangles (especially the Golden Rectangle), odd shapes, and things that are off centre.

The Golden Ratio turns out to be close enough to one-third for our purposes. (Well, actually  about 2/3, but, never mind . . .)

So, how do we put this time-honoured secret of ancient artists of all stripes to work for us in our point-and-shoot camera? As it turns out, it doesn’t make a hill of beans difference what kind of camera you have, because it’s all in your head.

One gets so used to thinking about the Rule of Thirds that it becomes automatic. When I took this photo of a cute little hermit crab this morning, I wasn’t thinking, “Remember the Rule of Thirds.”I just snapped what looked good to me: (Thanks for the identification of the species Coenobita cavipes (juvenile)  from our correspondent ‘Curlz’.)

A little Hermit Crab demonstrating the Rule of ThirdsHowever, as you can see, it does comply:
A little Hermit Crab demonstrating the Rule of Thirds (with lines drawn in) - Jan MessersmithSo, what is  it?

Well, as you can see from the second shot with the lines drawn in (please don’t check the accuracy of my lines, I was guessing), the idea is that the photo will be more interesting if you place an important point of interest (usually the most important) near a point where two lines cross or along one or more of the lines.

Why is  this? Don’t ask me. It just works.

When does it work? Well, almost always:
Some guys demonstrating the Rule of Thirds by pouring cementI could have centred the workmen and the cement truck. It would have been okay.

But, look at how the negative space of the poured cement forces your eyes towards the workmen and the truck. The cement has its own story, but because there’s so much of it there and it’s so uninteresting, it pushes your attention to the real subject of the image.

Here’s another example of when it works nicely:
A young man looking out a window in Florence, Italy demonstrates the Rule of ThirdsThe wall was pretty much the same everywhere. The young man looking out of the window (In Florence, Italy, if you’re wondering) is the focus of our interest. I could have cropped it differently so that the man in the window and the window above were both on intersections. I tried it. I didn’t like it.

In this shot of a blacksmith at a cultural show in Prague, I’m using two of the vertical lines:
A Prague Blacksmith demonstrates the Rule of ThirdsThere are two points of interest here: the blacksmith and the people watching him. To accent the watchers, I blurred everything but the faces that are turned toward the blacksmith. It’s easy to overdo this sort of funny business and I nearly did so here.

Here’s a shot that uses two intersections:

I'm sitting in front of the Elimo Hotel in Eriche, Sicily demonstrating the Rule of Thirds
It was very hot in Sicily that day. I had to have a rest.

Sometimes the Rule of Thirds works even if taken to extremes. The kind of cropping that you see here is extreme:

Friends demonstrating the Rule of Thirds in the Vienna Woods
The shot works. The couple said that it is one of their favourite photos of the two of them together.

I really had no choice. The couple was standing next to some other people. I had to crop very closely on the man to get rid of a beer can in someone else’s hand. It was a misty morning up in the Vienna Woods. I wanted to get the mood of the scene. The couple seemed to be almost intrusive. I took the shot anyway, thinking that I could crop them out later. When I saw it on the screen, I said, “No way.” They look as if they belong there.

It takes a little time to begin to think of composition when taking snapshots, but sometimes it pays.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,