2017

Normally I publish a series of photos as my year end synopsis, but this year most of my hard drives are in the hands of an MIA computer repairman so I’m missing a massive block of this year’s photos. So instead I’m going to flex my literary muscles, tendons and synapses.

2017 on a personal level has been a rather epic year of transformation. The year had barely begun when I found out that my beloved workplace Adolph Gasser Photography would be closing. I worked there for most of my time in San Francisco and it was a real fixture and institution in the city. I really enjoyed working there, even if it was in many ways behind the times and a relic of times gone by. Maybe that’s part of what I liked about it. It had a lived in feel and a clientele as quirky as they come. Working through the liquidation was a fascinating experience, from the initial rush of bargain hunters to the silent days in a mostly empty store, exchanging stories as ghosts whisked through shelves.

Around the same time as I learned that the store was closing I got a call from the photographer Eric Pare to see if I was interested in joining his Xangle team in Madrid, Spain to help build and run his 360 degree light painting bullet time rig. The day that Gassers closed I brought a suitcase with me and set flight for Europe for the first time. It was an amazing experience with a wonderful team and it really helped me to feel like everything was going to be okay. A few weeks later we did it again in Macau, China and again, I saw what could happen if you applied yourself in the industry, and maybe had the right luck at the right time.

From then on out I was as busy as I could handle. I did a lot of architectural/Real Estate photography this year. Its not the most artistically thrilling work, but it certainly pays the bills and every shoot improves my skills, my eye, my knowledge of my equipment. Even when I foolishly left my camera on the tripod next to a door which then got knocked to the ground and broke the lens was a learning experience that I handled with a cheap rental and a quick mailing to the Canon service center. It was fine.

In August Stella and I flew to Ohio to visit her family, but also to witness the total solar eclipse. That was certainly a highlight of the year. We drove to an athletic park in a small town in Kentucky. We sat under a tree with our eclipse glasses and watched as the sun shrunk, eaten up by an invisible moon until… until everything came to a stop, stillness filled the air and we saw something truly magical. I immediately started planning for the next one.

I kept working after we returned, and I kept worrying about money until the moment Stella as I were seated on a plane, bound for London, England. Once we were in the air all my fears evaporated and I was thrilled to be on a real vacation. I could write a million things about our European wedding anniversary vacation. We fought, we laughed, we walked, we cried, we ate, we drank. It was wonderful. We really deepened our relationship and we saw and experienced so many things, yet let so many things undone. London, Cornwall, Berlin, Toulouse, Paris and Dublin. It all happened so fast, and I can’t wait to go back again.

As 2017 has concluded I’ve just kept working and working. What seemed like it might be a difficult financial time at the beginning of the year turned into something that feels really really good. We had numerous amazing experiences that will be with us for a lifetime, and now we’re preparing for our next chapter.

2018 also holds a lot of new things on the horizon. Like I was nervous before boarding those flights I’m nervous now on the precipice of a new year. What will happen? Am I ready? What do I want?

I know that I want more experiences like I had in 2017. I don’t want to live in scarcity anymore. I want love and adventure, and I’m sure to get it. I want to create more art and to challenge myself more, emotionally, intellectually and in all the other ways that make me feel alive. I feel like I spent much of the past few years just surviving, doing what I had to do more often than what I wanted to do. In 2018 I feel like things will continue to re-balance. My life is more than paying bills and doing “what needs to get done.” I’m excited for the journey, both inner and outer that’s to come.

Here’s to a new year.

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Social Media

Many of you have seen the recent articles about former facebook exec Chamath Palihapitiya expressing regret and concern about the effects of social media on society. I’ve been feeling the same way lately. I’ve noticed myself getting angry & depressed after spending time on facebook lately, as well as seeing the way that it can make me spiteful and argumentative. As I scroll through my feed or look at my notifications 90% of it either bores or annoys me. I don’t really get much value out of it anymore and this is not what I want to spend my spare time doing.

A couple of years ago I took a month off from facebook, and overall it was great. Sure I missed a few things, but surprisingly little, and I think I more than made up for it with my own self-directed discoveries and activities. When I was on vacation this autumn I barely logged in and didn’t feel like I was missing anything. I think its time to do that again, but this time for much longer. Maybe the whole of 2018.

Because facebook has become such a portal, such an aggregator of what’s going on out there I’m going to be a bit more strategic about this longer sabbatical. I’m going to return to using a feed aggregator to bring me updates from my favourite websites and blogs. I’m going to judiciously subscribe to email lists of people and organizations that I like. I’m also going to pay more attention to posting on this blog and my flickr stream, so that if anyone out there wants to know what’s going on with me they’ll have an easy way to stay abreast of what I’m doing.

Not being on social media means having to make more conscious, concerted effort to stay in touch with people. This is a two way street. If I call you or send you an email I really hope that you pick up or write back. Likewise if you reach out to me I’m going to try my best to get back to you in a timely manner. Social connections are a social skill, they require work, let’s put some effort into this.

I plan to go dark on facebook on New Year’s Eve. That means there are a couple of weeks to exchange emails, phone numbers, snail mail addresses, etc. I hope to see you soon in the “real world.”

Last Page, First Page

gassers-front-9340Its the end of an era, the end of a chapter. After five years working at Adolph Gasser Photography in San Francisco, the time has come for something new.

John announced his retirement and the closure of the store a few days ago. It was both a surprise, and no surprise at all. Business is difficult, John is getting older. I sit just steps away from his office and heard snippets of phone conversations, about selling, about moving on. So I’m not surprised, but still, surprised. The question wasn’t if, but when. Now I know when. When is March 31st, soon.

Years ago I knew that time was limited for the store. The world is changing, San Francisco is changing. There’s no space for a family owned, local business that refuses to embrace cutthroat capitalism, not in the age of iPhones and online shopping. Even I buy more photo gear online than I do with my staff discount. I told myself that I wanted to be there when it happened, to go down with the ship as it were. Now I am doing exactly that, and it feels strange.

Some of it is relief. It was hard fighting to stay alive in this economic climate. My passion isn’t retail, I’d rather be making photos and videos. Still, helping people with their projects and problems gave me a lot of pleasure. I’d literally click my heels or do a little dance when I felt like I’d just saved the day for someone and didn’t think anyone was watching.

I met a lot of great people, both customers and staff. I hope to continue some of those relationships, and those that don’t, I’ll still treasure. I was exposed to so many people, ideas, history, so much technology and talent. It was a run down building, full of crazy characters, leaky roof and old memories. It was a special place, and now it’ll be sold off, piece by piece until its nothing but a memory.

I’m going to launch myself headfirst into freelancing for myself, a pool I’ve been wading in for years, but never committed to. I have savings, and we’re getting severance packages, so there’s some time and freedom to spread my wings and take that risk. Its time. I’ve been preparing for this for a long time. I’m buying some microphones and lenses from the rental department so Adolph Gassers will be a part of my work for years to come.

I have so many feelings right now. The fear and uncertainty surrounding what’s next for me. At the same time excitement for the future and the new possibilities that open up in front of me. I can work on projects I’ve long wanted to work on, I can take more classes, go on more trips. The risks are great, but so are the opportunities.

I also feel guilt and sadness that our loyal customers will be left without their local photography store. I love our customers, both the regulars who come in year after year and the wild eyed newcomers who marvel at our time capsule of a San Francisco that’s quickly fading away. I saw one of them at the Chinese New Year’s parade last night filming as his band marched by and I burst into tears.

We haven’t been able to talk about it with anyone until the official announcement today. Its difficult to listen to people thanking us for our help and expressing their gratitude that a store like Gassers is around to help them with their photographic and video making needs. I choke up a bit when I think about it. Even the talkative old man who brings in old VHS porno tapes to be converted to DVD. Where will he go now?

I’m proud of where I worked, and the help I’ve been able to provide. Its an honor to have worked someplace that’s been such a fixture since 1950.

There is still much work to be done. The remaining merchandize isn’t going to sell itself, and there are many more problems to solve and conversations to be had. It isn’t over yet. I’m glad for this transition period. It would be much worse if it were to be cut off like a hatchet. This process will likely be both painful and ecstatic, and everything in between.

I wish John a happy and healthy retirement. He was a great boss and he deserves that for everything he’s contributed to the community. Similarly my best to my co-workers, whether this means retirement, new careers, travel or anything else they chose to do. Finally I hope that our customers take advantage of our blowout sale and can find the resources, advice, inspiration and connections they need to make their own photographic and filmmaking projects.

I feel honor, pride and gratitude. Onwards to what’s next, but never forgetting the people and the places that have fed me. Thank you all.

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What Day Is It?

Days of the week lose all meaning when you’re working as much as I have been. January and February are traditionally sleepy months in the photo and video business, and this year was down right comatose. Then the numbers came in, that said I owed the IRS my first born. It has been a trying time in the corridors of cash.

Its little wonder then that over the past month I’ve said yes to every job or gig that wandered my way, such that I don’t know the last time I had a legitimate day off. The best I can think of were days where I only had ONE job to do. Last night I finished up at SF MOMA at 2am, and then took almost another hour to get home, before getting up and coming here to Adolph Gassers. Luckily today I finish at 6pm.

There are so many cheques in the mail right now that I expect the sky to go dark in a few days as they fly over head and come in for a landing in my bank account. After so many months of financial gloom it feels good to have streams of cash coming back to water the roots of my life. I’m slowing down the work schedule now, being more judicious and saying “I want more money.” when they offer a gig, and being totally fine if they say no to just reject the job.

My self-respect is back. I hope.

As with all things it will go up and down. But for the moment at least I’m feeling better about my prospects for a decent life/work balance.

Thoughts on a facebook fast

Rather spontaneously, when my parents were in town around Ash Wednesday, I decided that I would give up facebook for lent. At the time I wouldn’t have called my facebook use problematic. I already have StayFocusd installed which is set to limit my facebooking to 20 minutes per day on all of my computers. I gave up drinking for January, and I guess you could say that I’m just in a phase of investigating how I live my life, by taking things out and noticing what’s different. facebook was just another experiment.

facebook certainly has utility value. Its become the de-facto way to find out about engagements, pregnancies, promotions, parties and friends visiting from out of town. That said, I find that I use it more often than not as boredom relief. Nothing happening at work? Check facebook. Avoiding a deadline? Check facebook. Waiting for the wife? Check facebook.

So what did I learn from cutting it out? Well for the first week or so I found myself unconsciously starting to type “fac…” into my browser without even thinking about it. That’s a clear sign of an unconscious habit right there, but after about a week it went away. Instead when I found myself feeling bored I would pause, and think about things that interested me, or questions I had about the world. Then I’d type that in instead. If I was curious about something that one of my friends might know about, or if I just wondered how they were I’d pen them an email.

I discovered that my Internet usage became a lot more self-directed and conscious. The facebook timeline seems like its curated for our particular interests, but in reality its really more of an indiscriminate firehose of shallow clickbait. Instead I found myself visiting websites I hadn’t frequented in over a year like the wonderful BLDGBLOG.

Emailing and chatting with friends directly rather than through facebook was nice as well. I didn’t get daily selfies or “what I had for breakfast” posts, but what communication I did get had more depth and emotion. I also found that my writing improved since I was giving myself time to properly compose my thoughts rather than just responding to the torrent of posts, comments and likes that makes up the facebook timeline.

I started a photography blog that I’ve been quite happy with. I’ve been getting out more in my local community and just generally more active and productive. When I see someone else on facebook, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything, in fact I kind of laugh.

If I had to summarize what I like most about being off of the ubiquitous social network, it would be that I am once again the master of my own attention. I pay attention to the things that I care about, and I spend as much or as little time as I feel appropriate to them. facebooks’ infinite scroll doesn’t threaten to crush me with endless updates.

Lent is over, has been for almost a week, and I’ve yet to return to facebook. I just haven’t felt the need or the desire. Eventually I’ll get back, to get in touch with someone I don’t have an email for, or to promote an event or crowdsource something. Will I return to using it as I did before? I don’t think so. Even after I started drinking again, its been much much less, and so I hope it will be with facebook. I hope to be mindful and strategic about how I use it, not just typing “fac…” when I start to get bored…

Success/Failure

A week ago I set out to do something exciting, bold and a little bit crazy, to walk along the coast from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Well I failed. At least in as much as I’m writing this from my couch and not an Internet cafe on the beach in Santa Cruz. I feel a bit embarrassed and a bit disappointed, but I also feel proud of what I did accomplish, and determined to finish what I started.

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The temptation is to write a blow by blow account of the adventure, but here’s what it boils down to. I couldn’t do it. By the end of my first day my feet were wrecked, sore joints and a few terrible blisters. The next morning I started walking again but within the first few miles it became clear that I was in rough shape from the day before. I tried to do too much too soon. Nearly 20 miles in the first day with 55+ pounds on my back was more than I could handle. By the time I reached a roadblock in the form of no trail and a highway with no shoulders I decided that it was time to regroup and reassess.

I stopped in at a local taphouse in Pacifica for a pint and some salad to celebrate the distance done and caught a bus back into the city.

I determined that I wouldn’t let this be a success or failure, do or die kind of moment. Yes I stopped, and yes I was in rough shape. It was embarrassing to come home after only a day and a half on the trail, but it wasn’t the end. I rested up and a couple of days later with a smaller day pack set out for the Golden Gate Bridge and walked the section that I’d missed the first day from the Bridge to the end of Ocean Beach (earlier I had walked from home to the beach). It was a beautiful hike and made the whole endeavour feel more complete, and it also meant that I was still doing it. One piece at a time.

That left me sore, so I spent a couple more days resting and then yesterday I got on a bus and went back to the place in Pacifica where I’d given up days before and walked all that I could before the last bus home. I had the beautiful ocean bluffs to myself and put a few more miles under my belt.

This isn’t over. I’ll make it to Santa Cruz if I have to head out every weekend this summer to do it. So I’m not doing it as a heroic odyssey, one man alone against the elements. But that’s never what it was really about. It was about getting into nature, about challenging myself, about doing something outside of the every day. Am I sad that it didn’t work out as planned? Hells yeah, but its also reminding me that I have limits, that great endeavours require great preparation, and sometimes no matter what you plan, you get a blister between your toes and it all goes out the window.

I consider myself really lucky that I could turn around, that there was a bus stop only a mile or so back, that I wasn’t so stubborn that I tried hiking up that road with traffic whizzing by. I’m lucky that I’m not a pioneer or a refugee stuck in a hundred mile march, blister or no blister.

I understand my limits and my abilities better. A sixty pound pack is excessive, especially on a trail where food and other amenities are regularly available. Hiking twenty miles in a day might be possible, but it isn’t worth it and isn’t sustainable. Twelve miles feels a lot better.

I stayed off the Internet all week even when I was home in order to maintain at least the time to be alone and introspective. To be honest I’m a bit scared of returning to that world and getting caught up in the swirl again. That will subside and I’ll be just another fish in water soon enough.

The trail, though I spent less time on it than I’d hoped was a great place to be. Nothing but one foot in front of the other, deciding when to eat, when to rest, and a million beautiful plants, animals, rocks and sea.

Buy Nothing

As I travel through life often I find it useful to take a moment to look at behaviors and ways of being that have become habit and are so rote that I don’t even see them. The last time I posted here I was taking a month off of facebook. A few months ago I cut pornography out of my life. Last month I abstained from drinking (and celebrated its conclusion with some great wine). Now I would like to try another experiment, inspired by two young people from my home town of Calgary.

The Friday after American Thanksgiving has the ominous title of Black Friday, when hordes of crazed shoppers trample one another for dubious deals on consumer goods. The progressive response has been to reclaim the day as Buy Nothing Day. The Calgary roommates took this concept one step further and had a Buy Nothing Year. Reverend Billy would be proud. Stella and I have decided to split the difference between these ideas and have declared November as Buy Nothing Month. It will be interesting to see how our consumerist training is challenged and exposed over the next few weeks.

Of course there are limits to the idea of buying nothing in the city. We obviously have to pay for rent and utilities, and nice as it would be to grow our own food neither of us really has the space for that sort of thing. We will therefore exchange dollars and cents for housing, food and to an extent transportation (though I plan to bike as much as is practical), but that’s it. No eating out, no fancy baubles from the store, and no movie or theatre tickets unless they’re free (thank goodness for FunCheapSF).aaaaaaa

Truth be told I think I’m living pretty close to Buy Nothing Month already, but I suspect that there are a lot of little money leaks that I’m not even really aware of that will become blindingly apparent over the course of this little experiment. I’m sure going to be cooking a lot more.

So here we go. Wallets sealed. Onwards to Buy Nothing Month!