The Five Dollar Shake

The other day, in an effort to wean myself off the political crack I’ve been smoking in ever-increasing amounts, I was scrolling through a gallery of photos. It was an attempt to motivate myself to maybe take a picture again someday. Anyway there I am scrolling away,  every once in a while stopping to click on a picture that grabbed my attention. I started wondering what is it about a particular photo that reaches out and triggers something in the brain? All the photos were technically accurate and well done. Many were similar scenes or subjects. Why does one out of many grab you?

It would be a curious experiment to take a hundred photos and let a bunch of independent folks pick their top 10. How many people would pick the same list? There’s something about that “it” factor that’s so hard to quantify. We know it when we see it, but none of us can explain exactly what “it” is. Probably because it is often different for everyone. This applies to art, music, food, writing…

I don’t know what the right word is to describe this phenomenon. How does one restaurant or bar capture that vibe or buzz, where a very similar one a block away sits empty? We have a local business that, after a gazillion (I’m too lazy to look up how many) years, is closing at the end of the summer. This place is basically a “beer garden”. It’s way out of the way. A limited menu of mostly fried food and simple non-craft beer. A run down, biker bar looking place, with nothing more than a giant dirt “patio” and a bunch of rickety wooden picnic benches. It does not have one element going for it that would indicate any possibility of success. It would be listed under marketing 101 as exactly what not to do.

During the summer months – packed. Score of cyclists make it an end of ride stop. It’s practically a requirement to go there after floating the river. Flotillas of people make multiple pilgrimages there every summer to drink beer and bake themselves in the dust. How is it possible that a place like that creates a vibe that works, without advertising, and the fancy new million dollar brewpub downtown goes out of business in six months?

It’s a strange thing. The marketing folks spend a significant portion of our GDP trying to artificially capture or create it. Sometimes they get it right. At the risk of the implying to the Taylor Swift army that they’ve won the battle, her new ad spot for Apple struck me. It’s simple, unexpected, and funny. Why did that ad grab me and not the 2.7 million others we see on a daily basis?

As is the on-going theme of my life, I have very little point to this. I think it’s worth spending time looking at art, or writing, or something outdoors, and trying to figure out of all the images we see each day – which ones grab your attention? Now go find more of those.

VINCENT: Did you just order a five-dollar shake?
MIA: Sure did.
VINCENT: A shake? Milk and ice cream?
MIA: Uh-huh.
VINCENT: It costs five dollars?
MIA: Yep.
VINCENT: You don’t put bourbon in it or anything?
WAITOR: Nope.
VINCENT: Just checking.
_____________
VINCENT: Can I have a sip of that? I’d like to know what a five-dollar shake tastes like.
MIA: Be my guest. You can use my straw, I don’t have kooties.
VINCENT: Yeah, but maybe I do.
MIA: Kooties I can handle.
VINCENT: Goddamn! That’s a pretty fuckin’ good milk shake.
MIA: Told ya.
VINCENT: I don’t know if it’s worth five dollars, but it’s pretty fuckin’ good.

On Art. And Bacon.

Once I came to grips with the fact that I wasn’t going to win American Idol this year, I had to find something else to do with my time.  Lately its been taking pictures.  Or, ‘capturing photographs’ if I want to sound all fancy.  There is an odd side of me that needs to be creative.  It’s a strange feeling since I have almost no artistic ability (except that diorama I made in 3rd grade – 1st place!) and very little knowledge of art.  As the saying goes, “I can’t tell you what art is but I know it when I see it”.  Or was that pornography? I get them confused.

Posting the pictures I take makes me feel somewhat awkward.  On one hand, what’s the point of taking them if nobody ever sees them?  Am I turning into a Kardashian-like creature desperate for attention and trolling for compliments?  On the other hand there are 2.3 billion (approximately) other people out there doing the exact same thing.  And a fair percentage of them are actually creating stuff that’s damn good.  Heck, take a mediocre snapshot with your cellphone, slap an instagram filter on it and you’ll get a bunch of people on Facebook all liking it and commenting “wow, great shot!”.

So why bother publishing pictures to the various social medias du jour?  I’m never going to be an “artist” (I don’t even own Birkenstocks and I’m not a fruitarian).  I’m never going to be a professional photographer.  Other than baby and wedding photos, I’m not even sure it’s an actual occupation anymore.

From a technical perspective I’m at about a 5th grade level in the photography world.  I have visions of real photographers looking at my stuff and saying (always in a heavy French accent) “how cute,  someone found a copy of Photoshop”.

So why do it?  Because I can’t paint.  I can’t draw.  I can’t sing.  I can’t carve wooden bear statues or ice swans with a chainsaw.  Sometimes I see an image in my head and taking a picture is the only hope I have of getting it out.  Most of the time they don’t match what I was thinking.  But every once in a while… it feels like you get one right.  And if just one person out there sees it and thinks to themselves “hmm, that’s sorta cool” then I suppose it was worth it to share that brief image I had floating around in my skull.

The problem I have, as a non-artist with limited brain cycles devoted to creativity, is that the majority of the images in my head are about bacon (don’t worry, I’m in a twelve-step program for my addiction).  And bacon, while a delicious super food, doesn’t photograph well.

http://troutdogphoto.wordpress.com/

Paparazzi Failure

There’s a long list of things I’m not good at – gardening, polite chit-chat at parties, picking the shortest line at the supermarket, coordinating shirts and socks (Garanimals for men, please!), to name just a few.  Let’s add paparazzi to that list.  Ok, not paparazzi exactly.  If someone uber-famous wandered by… like maybe Michael Bolton or Flo from that Progressive Insurance commercial, I’m pretty sure I’d be able to take a picture.  But taking a picture of a complete stranger frightens the bejesus out of me.

You may be asking yourself, wait I don’t think this guy is a private eye so why is he stalking strangers and taking their picture?  Yes there is a bit of a creep factor here, and as long as no one mentions it to my parole officer we’re all good.  The real reason is that I’ve long admired the raw, unexpected, sometimes gritty images, that the truly talented street photographers capture.  There’s something about real people going about their lives that’s just captivating.

I wanted to challenge myself to learn something new, something I was uncomfortable with.  Poodle grooming is out so street photography seemed like a logical next choice.  The problem is that I didn’t anticipate how hard it is to take a picture of a complete stranger – being relatively close and obvious.  It just feels… invasive and a bit weird.  Of course I could resort to one of those gazillion dollar lenses you see at sporting events and stand two blocks away, but that defeats the purpose.  You can’t really capture emotion or the feel of something that way.

I’m not sure yet how I’m going to get over this irrational fear.  And it is irrational.  It’s not like someone is going to yell at me or chase after me.  Even if they do, I can be pretty fast when I need to.  I’m sure all that zombie apocalypse fitness training will pay off when that irate old lady gets all up in my face and wants to throw down.

So why can’t I bring myself to point the camera at a stranger and press the shutter?  I don’t know.  Maybe I need to print out a fake press pass?  Dress like a tourist?  Enroll in an expensive on-line course?  One way or another, I resolve to overcome this fear.  Sigh… maybe I’ll just go practice with more pictures of cows.  They’re not too scary.

 

Taking Pictures

I find myself with some free time these days, so I may as well be productive.  Photography is something I’ve always enjoyed, but never had the time for.  I’ve started a new site specifically for my photo experimentation:

troutdog Photography   http://troutdogPhoto.wordpress.com

Taking a good picture is like my golf game – I’m always surprised when a good shot happens and I usually have no idea how I did it.  I’m looking forward to figuring out what I’m doing and moving past the feeling of being such an amateur.  I don’t know where the photo thing is going… but what the heck, it keeps me off the streets!

Morning Hike

Went for an early morning hike on Christmas day.  Took a few photos.  I’m running into a problem with my camera batteries – in the cold they only last about 45 minutes.  I need to find a way to keep the camera warm, yet accessible.  The light was amazing later on in the hike, but those images are confined to my head since the battery went kaput.

 

City Snow

We had a pretty good snow yesterday, so I walked around last night and took a few photos. I made some serious rookie mistakes and have little idea what I’m doing.  I’ll probably put the night-time photography off until I learn a bit more. I’m reasonably happy with the composition.  Note to self – batteries only last about 30 minutes in 18 degree weather.