Monthly Archives: September 2012

Visual Design: Intentionally Invoking the Senses

So, my communication teacher wants to know why I picked the layout colors of my blog.

Let me address this in the most possibly meandering way I can.

I don’t usually think about it consciously — why I like the certain aesthetic properties I do.

I know, I know – we’re a visual culture… and it’s kind of my job. I kick myself, “Shouldn’t I already know this?” I really should start paying more attention.

so here goes.

Well, for starters, I was given some pretty awesome tips from my South Africa director, Justin Zoradi, about the art of simplicity.  [ — he’s also a really great, recognized writer! Check him out!]Justin Zoradi

I’ve been thinking about making a website for my photography.

One of my graphic designer friends, Tiffany, said she imagined my website would be something which would look…..clean. (hence the plain wood & tan/grey background). Ya, I like that. Keep It Simple Stupid, right? But seriously, simplicity and ease of access is what we aim for in our culture, right?

By the way, Justin’s blog is a perfect example of this kind of professional layout, better than mine.  He really “gets it,” as we like to say.

Well, aside from the “graphic design bifocals” I have to admit I often see through as a communication major,…. I just really dig the look of the wood paneled background.

The house I live in right now was built in the 1930’s. It’s really old. In fact, it had push tube electricity when we moved inIf you don’t know what that is….there’s a good reason. It’s not allowed anymore. Something about houses catching on fire because of the thin, exposed wiring….

but anyways, it’s a beautiful, rustic 7 bedroom house, completely wood flooring. It’s got that awesome distressed quality to it. It’s the kind of stuff you just can’t fake. Only the years gone by produce that smell and feel.

I guess, it kind of takes me back to another time period when I enter the front door. It’s like a portal to another world. We tried to keep the majority of the house (minus kitchen appliances) the same when we restored it.

and the photoshop edited banner “Wordplay Revolution”?….well that’s my creative techie/ graphic art side coming out. I used to have a blog called “The revolution” or something. Can’t remember.

The picture on the banner?

Oh, wait this is a good story. (remember, behind every picture is a story)

I took that picture on a road trip with my dear friend and mentor, Andrew.

It was a snowy day. The first fall of the winter actually. Well, half sleet, depending where you were in Oklahoma. It was Thanksgiving. I didn’t have a family to spend it with, so he invited me up to Oklahoma City to eat with his family. We took the back roads – the whole way. He said I could take as long as I wanted and we could stop every time I wanted a picture. There was no rules. No schedule. No time deadlines. We could take as long as we wanted and do whatever we wanted along the way. My reaction was like a little kid high on a multiple bags of skittles.  This creative junkie was about to get 150 miles of endless fixes.

UM HELLO! Have you met me?! haha I’m not sure if you’ve ever ridden in the car with me….but I hope you don’t plan on getting there anytime soon.

Needless to say, Andrew is a good friend.


I guess, that banner picture means a lot to me because it brings with it that familial sense of longing. It automatically takes me back to the bitter frost of that oddly half-sunny Oklahoma day, his red truck, abruptly shaken from my depressed weekend I had planned to spend by myself, to Andrew’s phone call, pulling me from the couch and promising we’d stop to get syrupy french toast somewhere along the way

I can remember… standing in the middle of the lonely highway for a good photo as he watched for oncoming cars, mother nature’s science experiment of orange leaves still trapped under the flash freeze, the smell of coffee and cigarettes with every stop, 40’s bop raging on the radio in between long conversations, warming my numb hands in front of the heater, his mom’s home cooking and family albums, watching the sunset and backyard bird-feeders — feeling completely content after an awesome day. Feeling….safe. Happy. Relieved and removed from all the complicated mess of my life…..even if just for a day.

It was a simple day really. By any standard. Just a road trip. Nothing fancy. Nothing elaborate that would strike most people as particularly “memorable”. Just…simple.

But sometimes I have to remind myself…..I need simple.

We all do.

It’s a welcome relief for our eyes and heart, from all the stressful, twisted mess of our complicated lives.

As a general rule, good design is simple and easy.


But I’m a very “visual” person, and this is my blog, so I’m biased.

So all ask your opinion– does it have that calming effect on you? Even if for a completely different reason.

What does the layout make you think of?

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Pictures & Perspective: Notes from East Africa

Stringer/ Reuters

“An aid worker using an iPad photographs the rotting carcass of a cow in Wajir, near the Kenya-Somalia border, on July 23, 2011. Since drought gripped the Horn of Africa, and especially since famine was declared in parts of Somalia…”

This picture says so much.

From the fancy shoes to the i-pad, it makes me wonder just how much people like him “relate” with such hardships. It says “objectifying” all over it. Like he’s a tourist, about to upload it to Instagram or something…

Groups of photographers unloaded from buses and swarmed the Kenya-Somalia refugee camps in July 2011, to cover the famine. You might remember some of the raw pictures of starving children.

but….none of them turned out like this.

this picture has more depth and and a deeper story we immediately get pulled into.

I know, this picture doesn’t look significant at first.

What’s the big deal? It’s the carcass of a dead cow.

Well, it has to do with perspective.

It has to do with our approach, and storytelling.

Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images

[For the sake of those with a weak stomach for such hard-hitting images (myself included), I’ll just post the link to other pictures. I found this news website to be well-balanced, with a range of picture styles, but you will still see what I am talking about in terms of human portaits. —–  ]

I know it may sound odd, but I’m inspired as a photographer every time I see the the first picture.

Not the second. (child)

It’s not that there’s inherently anything “wrong” with the second picture. It’s a great portrait. It’s just that there’s more than one way to tell the story.

Pictures are a lot like words. Like writing.

If you always said the first thing that popped into your head….it might be “truthful”….but not always appropriate for the situation.

Like our words, there is a difference between immediately reacting to a situation’s intensity and intentionally gathering our thoughts.

Also, this hasn’t even breached the topic of “telling half the truth”. I won’t try to cover it, because it would take too long. Besides, I doubt I need to explain it.

In journalism — you may not necessarily be “hurting” the subject per say, if you choose to tell the story by attacking viewers emotions. But you aren’t telling the whole story.

Thousands of photographers went to cover the Kenya-Somalia famine in July of 2011.

So why was Stringer the only one who didn’t do the usual emotional appeal pictures? (extremely emaciated African babies)

Stringer reminds me to be bold, to think outside the lines, to not immediately objectify or stereotype a situation, to search for the whole truth, and to due justice in telling the whole story.

I think Stringer’s blog/video will help explain it more:

Stringer says,

Through my video “The children of Dadaab: Life through the Lens” I wanted to tell the story of the Somali children living in Kenya’s Dadaab. Living in the world’s largest refugee camp, they are the ones bearing the brunt of Africa’s worst famine in sixty years.

I wanted to see if I could tell their story through a different lens, showing their daily lives instead of just glaring down at their ribbed bodies and swollen eyes.

It was a challenging project. As one senior photographer asked, how else can we tell the story without showing images that clearly illustrate the plight of the starving millions? Few photographs cover all aspects of life in the camps.

Let me know what you think.

Does the 1st picture compete with the second? Does it tell the story of starvation as clearly as the second?  (remember, starvation is the subject)

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Polaroid. Instagram. It’s all the same. (for real)

First, before readfing, Check out the link:

(one of the latest and most “modern” Polaroid cameras.)

Ya, that’s right. I’m part of the Polaroid cult-phenomenon. This is a post about cameras.


But before you jump to conclusions, wait! I actually did grow up with Polaroids in my house growing up. Don’t worry, this isn’t a hipster fashion hunt for “vintage” accessories.

I promise, this blog is still completely relevant for you. As long as you haven’t lived under a rock for the last 50 years, you realize that everyone who has a phone…..already has a camera. The technology is crazy good now. (In fact you might be reading this on your new i-phone 5)

Access to digital image taking AND sharing is easier than ever. Hence Facebook’s wise (billion dollar) investment of buying Instagram.

As requires for my business, but also curiosity, I keep up with the latest tech news about new cameras and software. But I guess….I’ve reached a chasm…a kind of brick wall in my research.

To learn more about why we love things like Instagram, led me back to the start. I had to go back to the basics.

I realized that everything in digital photography….is based off our knowledge of film photography. You can’t understand the first without the second.

In fact, cameras haven’t changed much. They’re built exactly the same, except with a digital sensor instead of a film backing, where the light hits when the shutter opens.

So what is it that we really love, amidst the thousands of kinds of cameras…..and lack of need for fancy ones since the creation of 8 megapixel i-phones?

What we really love is the instantaneous quality it provides.

Notice the  aesthetic style of the portait is still mimicked to this day:


….So if we can combine that look…with printing ability, we’re starting to get somewhere.

I think the future is already here: digital + instant print.

Yes. That’s right. It’s already here.

Everything makes its way back ’round. Instagram is actually becoming a camera. Check it:

As I write this, I have to laugh with you a bit though at the irony. I admit, I just bought my the original Polaroid camera at an auction today.

Good news.

It turns out that a company called Impossible is creating the film again! (Polaroid went bankrupt) Looks like you might just have the best of both worlds soon! As it turns out, there is still a growing hunger for instant film, uniting several generations and creating an entirely new community of photographers. See site:


The Camera Works Like Your Eye

My job is kind of like being an optometrist. I produce a sort of corrected vision.

So, does the type of camera used matter? Well, yes and no. But for sake of simplification right now, just pretend all cameras are equal in artistic or aesthetic quality.

Here’s the key to understanding all of it. Seriously, I can sum it all up for you.

The camera is like your eye.

It’s simple really. You ever notice, when it’s really bright outside, you squint and your pupils get smaller? That’s the aperture of a camera.  Increasing the exposure speed….is like putting on sunglasses.

[If you’re really tech savvy and curious like me, check out this interesting article which explains in detail:  ]

When you get older (or have naturally crappy eyesight) and need glasses — well, that’s like the lens on a (non-phone, interchangeable SLR) camera.

The reason for different ranges of lenses is for the same reason my pops has bug-eyed bifocals half an inch thick (for his 20-200 vision) and my mom has fashionable, thin reading glasses. You need to adjust the focus for short distance and long distance, according to need.

As you go throughout your day, think about your eyes as cameras. It’s a cool exercise, which nobody will be able to tell you are doing…….unless you’re super awkward and squinting at random people. In which case, that’s funny. So please do so and tell me afterwards.


Let’s just admit it– we’re all “photographers” now.

Sorry, i have to mention this footnote. My mind has recently been changed about this, drastically.

I have an ongoing joke with one of my best friends Dan.  He likes to make fun of me by saying, “All I need to do your job is my smartphone…..Ya, just hold it right there…” {Insert dramatic camera framing and click}. “See- Art.” [Insert huge grin and good-natured laugh}  ——-Don’t worry though, I always get him back and say “All I need is my phone calculator to be a financial analyst like you! haha”

But seriously, I’ve now educated you. What’s your opinion? How does this advancement/regression of technology strike you?

and within the 30 seconds it takes for me show my friends how to use the Instagram app, you are now a “photographer”.

So, with everyone being a “photographer” now, is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Well, I think the question is complicated. The answer is simple.

It’s a loaded question, because taking a picture may make you a “photographer” in the most literal sense of you + camera = camera operater = photographer.

But regardless of all the other professional photographers who get their panties in a bunch every time someone whips  their 8-megapixel photo-lab from their pocket—we should be happy. That is the simple answer. I say, the more the merrier.

If the amateur’s work is annoyingly horrible and he’s still creating a Facebook page — so what? He shouldn’t be “competition” then. Besides, I don’t buy into the whole “competition” mindset. I enjoy helping young and aspiring camera enthusiasts truly learn more about the field.

My personal theory?

There are two kinds of “photographers” within this generations new-found community. One is not “better” or “worse.” One is simply more educated. I think that, just like the printing press, getting the accessible and affordable technology into the hands of the common people is always a step in the right direction.

It’s controversial because of this– there will always be those amateurs who do not understand a piece of mechanical equipment does not equal instant skill.With access to cameras more readily available than any society in the history of the world, the problem isn’t really the camera. Most every “tech literate” person under 70 (shout out to Mimi), understands how to merely operate the tool.

“A Photographer went to a socialite party in New York. As he entered the front door, the host said ‘I love your pictures – they’re wonderful; you must have a fantastic camera.’ He said nothing until dinner was finished, then: ‘That was a wonderful dinner; you must have a terrific stove.”

I’ve come across some good example of the two different extremes:

1. The “Hipstagrammers” : Instagram plus object = Art.

I really hope I don’t have to further explain this one! haha

2. The “Pro I-phoners” : Dammit, these guys actually get paid for this??!! What am i doing?

——Collin Hughes (commercial photographer):

——–Ben Lowy (international photojournalist)

Well, I hope I’ve left you plenty of rescources for further reading! As always, thanks for tuning in.

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