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I decided a couple of days ago that I needed to get away from the facebook. Hence I have declared November my no-facebook month. I abstain from drinking for one month every year, why not also cut out another of my damaging addictions?

Its interesting to notice that there are photos on my camera that I took specifically to put on facebook, to elicit a response. The whole thing is very much a system of levers, and we’re the mice desperately seeking those tasty food pellets. Or perhaps that’s a simplistic view. Indeed I think much of the 24/7, always connected, soundbyte, animated GIF, hashtag world is about reducing everything to binary simplicity. You either like something or you don’t, there’s not much room for real discussion or nuance.

My hope is that this month will be one of more art and more learning than the usual facebook month. As soon as I feel “bored” I tend to open a new tab and type “F” – that’s all that’s required. My browser knows that “F” means facebook, not fastidious, friendly or fun. Maybe these four weeks will change that.

For starters I haven’t written here for a long time so perhaps some summarizing of things going on is in order.

I’m cat sitting Carmella’s cutiecat Niblet for the month while she’s off in Europe. He’s delightful, even when he tries to sleep on my face and lick my eyeballs with his sandpaper tongue. The cuddling and playfulness is great as are the refresher lessons in non-linguistic communications with another living being. I can’t tell Niblet what I want, anymore than he can tell me, but we can communicate. Its pretty cool.

I’m feeling better financially. I felt a bit flush last month due to some good photo/video gigs as well as a refund from an employer who made some payment errors last year. I used some of that to wipe out what I owed Revenue Quebec as well as a much of my credit card debt. I’ve also started squirreling some away in a rainy day fund which is prudent but boy would I rather spend it! I am spending some money on myself though, or rather on my career. I’m buying a little bit of photography gear, but mostly I’m buying stuff to work on some experimental light painting techniques I’ve decided to play with.

I’m taking my photography and videography business a lot more seriously, as well as my art. I can thank my course at CCSF for that, but also just the realization that I need to get on course to the rest of my life in my chosen fields. Life at the photography store is okay, but its not going to last, and even if it did I have a lot more potential than this.

Speaking of which I’m at work right now so I should probably get off of here and do something “productive.”

Agent K., signing off.

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Pay me

As a budding photographer and videographer I’ve definitely taken my fair share of low or no paying gigs. It comes with the territory. That’s how you learn, make contacts, get known. I’ve noticed though that when it comes to these pro bono gigs that I can barely muster the energy. Even doing a shoot for a friend like I am tonight I just don’t feel like it. Its not exciting. Standing behind the lens, snaking through the crowd, its fun sometimes, but a lot of the time its just work and I expect to get paid and paid reasonably well when I work. Sure there are times when a job is just fun, exciting, challenging, but my standards and my expectations are definitely on the rise.

The trouble is that during slow months like this one I tend to say yes to jobs that I shouldn’t – those with little to no pay that also just aren’t interesting enough to warrant the effort. Maybe I’m still generating goodwill and contacts, but if I’m not having fun or there isn’t a decent amount of money on the table its hard to take things seriously and deliver the best work. I think sometimes I’m shooting myself in the foot.

Fortunately I’m not alone. When I read about famous actors, comedians, artists and entrepreneurs rarely did things go smoothly for them from the start. Usually it was a jagged progression of successes and failures, excitement and drudgery. I’m in good company and will just keep doing what I love and what I’m good at. Photos tonight, even if I don’t really feel like it.

La Carre Rouge

It seems that I left Quebec just before things really got interesting. I felt that the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement would help spur on more action, but I had no idea that this was brewing in Quebec. Or perhaps I did. The Quebecois are a politically active people, they pay attention and they are not quiet or passive when they don’t feel heard. There is a passion there that is lacking in the rest of North America, which is why it should come as no surprise that Quebec has become ground zero for the continuation of what Occupy began last fall.

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The issue of student debt is emblematic of the larger systematic problems that exist in contemporary globalism. It shows a roadmap for where the world is headed if our course is not changed. What happens to youth today is an indication of what shape society will take in the future. Crushed by debt from the moment they leave home they will become a class of indentured servants to a small financial elite who hold the promisory notes that bought their education, their homes, their cars. People will live from the age of majority to death in perpetual debt and therefore not the true masters of their own lives. Meanwhile bankers, politicians and mafiosos will smoke cuban cigars and sit on golden toilets in their 55th floor corner offices. Enough.

Though Quebec students have been some of the first and most vocal, they are by no means alone. The same problems plague students across North America. Canadian tuition is on course to more than double in the next few years and US student debt has cleared $1-trillion. Defaults are increasing. Just like the housing market. Things are headed for a crash.

I encourage students and supporters around the world, not just in Quebec to take up the symbol of the student strike, the “Carre Rouge” or red square, referring to the debt being accrued by so many students before entering an increasingly bleak job market. The path has been laid out, there is room for many, many more to join the movement. Make your voice heard. Offer up your own ideas and solutions, just don’t sit by and do nothing.

Incubator

So it seems to be the least I can do with my ample spare time devoid of work, a social life and even not very much volunteer work to do (though I have taken on a role with Burning Man – more on that later) is to develop my art.

I haven’t really put a ton of effort into my photography in some time. Sure I’ve been taking photos pretty much constantly over the past few years, even going so far as doing a 365 project called 1625, but I haven’t really pushed myself artistically. I haven’t had a vision, a thesis or anything that I was really digging into. Consequently I don’t really feel like much of my work over the past four or five years is any better than what I was doing back in 2006 and 2007. In fact my favourite pictures are still from that era.

Now I’ve learned a lot of technical skills since then and perhaps that’s what’s dulled the edge of my artistic blade. When you think too much about the nuts and bolts you start to forget about the intangible soul that links all of the tissues together. Its a world of rules, of thirds, of “proper” exposure and focus. All of that is important to know, and technically I’ve improved, but I don’t feel like the images are as moving or as ambitious. Its as though life is happening and I’ve just been catching snippets of it, as though by chance.

What I think helped to highlight this for me was the paid gigs I’ve been doing recently. As I gain competence in the technical details the things I really need to figure out how to do is the concept and how to execute that concept. Particularly when working with non-performers and non-artists the onus of creativity and interest really comes from me. People don’t know how to pose, what the best setting or lighting would be. That’s my job. On top of all the technical stuff.

So its time for art school.

Not actual art school mind you. I can’t afford that. Rather the virtual, do it yourself kind. Internet enter stage left.

I’ve just watched documentaries on Annie Leibovitz and James Nachtwey and have more in the queue for inspiration. I’ve begun to look for photography contests to enter. I’ve started thinking about series to shoot. I also have a great big list of YouTube lessons and tutorials on everything from framing to lighting or post production.

I’m contemplating a Tumblr or Pinterest stream to continue the 365 idea, though with a different twist than the one I did last year. I’ve started playing with different ideas for exhibition. If I’m truly an artist then I need to exhibit my art in more interesting ways than just posting it on a website.

Well, this post seems more trite than I’d originally envisioned. I do have some meditations on photography, creativity and art brewing, perhaps its just not yet time to put quill to parchment on the subject. It makes sense to take advantage of this idle time however. I’m sure once I’m working more regularly again I’ll fall right back into my resentment of my lack of time. Best to use it while I’ve got it.

The Land of Milk and Honey?

I haven’t really written since I arrived in San Francisco more than half a year ago now. In part its because I don’t want to be a downer, the transition has been a difficult one and endless woe is me entries in this blog wouldn’t exactly be endearing to you faithful readers. I feel like I can at last unload and debrief about the past few months, the challenges and the victories and the potentials for the road ahead.

To say that I’m settled in, cozy and warm in my new environs would be a lie, but I don’t hate it anymore. Yes I hated San Francisco. Many out there consider it a kind of high tech, counter cultural nirvana, which is something I used to buy into as well, but its just a city like any other. I think the fairy tale version of San Francisco is in part the cause of my dissatisfaction. The street level reality of San Francisco can never match its mythical extolled virtues, at least for me.

There’s lots of income disparity, public transit isn’t great, there’s not as much green space as I’m used to, the job market is insanely competitive (due to that fairy tale vision), there’s a bit too much flakiness in the air and speaking of the air, the weather is rarely bad, but rarely good.

It feels good to have that off of my chest. Phew.

All of that said, if I were to list my top ten cities to live in San Francisco would still be there. I no longer hate it here and the longer I’m here the more I come to understand and appreciate it. Many of the disadvantages and frustrations are also what makes it great.

The high cost of living here and the competitive nature of it is hard to cope with sure, but it also summons you to bring your best to the table. It wasn’t until arriving here that I really started to get serious about being a photographer. Its an uphill battle, slow moving and sometimes frustrating, but I’ve been making ground, picking up jobs and making connections. I’m not really making a living (and that’s a big source of pain) but I’m getting close to it and I can imagine a day when I do thrive as a camera for hire. Its the best and worst of America, you can achieve a lot if you work hard, but nobody is going to pick you up if you fall.

The flakes and the wierdos come with San Francisco’s extraordinarily accepting nature – everyone is welcome here and they’re welcome to do and think whatever they like without judgement. There’s definitely a lot of stuff that pushes my buttons (both good and bad) but I love that so many possibilities are open as a result. If you’re into it, chances are there’s a community here for it, even if that also means crazy cultists and geninuely crazy people roam the streets. It also means that there are people here working on truly groundbreaking and challenging new (and old) ideas. It can be overwhelming, but its an amazing form of democracy and diversity.

Finally San Francisco’s geography wreaks havoc with its attempts at public transit and a well integrated park system, it also crams a lot of density into a small area (in a way that can sometimes feel stifling to this prairie boy) and traps crummy weather right overhead. When the sun shines though, hot damn, its gorgeous here. San Francisco is a beautiful city, if you’re here on the right day and go to the right places. Most of it is concrete jungle, but the parks and waterfront and hills are tremendous. The many historic landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz and the rest are pretty stunning, I just wish I could take the Metro there. 😉

There’s a lot more pluses and negatives to go around. One of the biggest challenges for me is being underemployed, not having my own space and no real disposable income. Slowly that is changing and I’m sure that as it does my resentment of hipsters in designer toques will wane (though really, toques in the summer is just dumb). I’ll be talking more about SF and digging into it. Its a fascinating town, but for me this relationship is off to a rocky start. I think it was just bad timing, so let’s do it.

We are the 100%

Occupy Wallstreet protesters are angry, and with good reason. A very small number of people, the purported 1% has in their hands the overwhelming majority of the money and power in the world and the gap is ever widening. But, as this image so aptly points out, the imbalance is a lot bigger than comparing their multiple mansions and yachts to your two bedroom rental apartment (or wherever you live).

[And of course now I can’t find the image that several people posted on facebook recently so I’ll describe it. Basically its a motivational poster style image with a picture of Occupy protesters on the left and starving children in sub-Saharan Africa on the right. Below it reads – “You are still the 1%”]

So let’s take that image in for a moment and think about its implications. The obvious implication is that despite it all we have it pretty good compared to most of the world and we’ve got quite the responsibility to help those who are less fortunate than we are. If we dig a little deeper and think a litter bit harder thought we’re led to another realization. Most of us, most of the time don’t think about the fact that most of the rest of the world deals with much harsher relative conditions than we do. In fact we take it for granted and even feel entitled to things like clean drinking water, education, roads, etc. We feel that way because we were born into a certain class, in a certain part of the world. Its just how we live. Making due with less is scary, and its frustrating when we see others who have so much more.

Now for the leap.

If you were born as one of the 1% of the 1% you’d feel the exact same way. Think about it. Born with a silver spoon in your mouth, always having servants, getting a BMW for your 16th birthday. Many of today’s uber-wealthy if not born into their fortunes got a pretty good head start compared to the rest of us. From their perspective the system works pretty well, and the idea of giving up the summer house in Nice or drinking $75 wine is downright terrifying. It must seem like the world’s being turned upside down. When you’re raised to think that you’re special, that you deserve everything you have, that somehow you earned it, why would you question that?

Here’s an interesting documentary that probes into exactly that, what its like to grow up uber-rich.

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/born-rich/

This is where the 99% vs. the 1% really breaks down. Ready? They’re human beings too. They’re scared of losing what they have. To them, taking the bus and eating bean soup would be like living in a shanty. They’re understandably defensive and afraid. Just like we’re reluctant to give up our cars or live in a smaller house. Some of the 1% are self-made and many of them sympathize with the Occupy Movement like Warren Buffet. Of course there’s sure to be a few genuine psychopaths amongst the uber-rich as well, but that’s a totally different bucket ‘o bolts.

99% or 1% we’re all really just playing out a game predicated on a set of rules that was written nearly half a millennia ago when central currency, major banking institutions and chartered corporations all got started. Now, those old rules about money, value and trade have snowballed into an avalanche that’s carrying us all away, poor, rich and middle class alike. That the system has treated certain members of society better than others there can be no doubt, but its reaching the point now that its starting to squeeze everyone (in relative terms of course) but its been in place for so long that hardly anyone is even aware of it, let alone trying to create a new alternative.

That is what we need to do, 99% and 1% together. Build a new system that doesn’t force us to be at each other’s throats.

There’s a lot dystopian sci-fi books and movies about a future where computers take over the world and enslave humanity. I suggest that this is already happening, except that the computers aren’t ArpaNet or Cybermen or Matrix Machines, rather its the increasingly complex “program” of financial systems, corporations and laws that are dictating how we do just about everything. Its not about metal and silicone robots dominating us, its about corporate ledgers and law books. We’ve written our own prison, our own doomsday scenario. Ironically all we need to do in order to escape is write a new one.

Writing a new scenario, a new script to follow (or better yet to improvise!) will take imagination and courage. This is why youth are so important. They have less invested in the old system and therefore can see and do things the rest of us have forgotten were even options.

The Great Protest

They used to call WWI the war to end all wars. Then they called WWII that. We all know what came next. More wars.

The Occupy Movement is stressing me out and I think its because at some level I’m under the incorrect impression that its the protest to end all protests – that somehow if we really apply ourselves and do an absolutely stunning job that we’ll manage to solve everything. What a ridiculous thought. And yet I can’t help myself – I’m a romantic and an idealist.

That’s why I want to be there all the time, obsess over strategy, because I feel like its an endgame move. We either win it all, or we lose everything. In some respects this is true. Social and ecological systems on the planet are definitely on a course for disaster and given our huge technological power as a species today we could really trash the whole place. We could also unwittingly dismantle centuries of progress in social spheres, justice, social welfare, health, etc. So understandably the stakes are high.

But let’s be honest, even if we achieve a lot, there will still be problems. Most revolutions go in fits and starts, some things get better, other things get worse, some people settle, some people take advantage, then things destabilize again. It takes a while.

What concerns me most and keeps me up at night is knowing that MOST people don’t understand the underlying mechanisms of the injustice and inequality found in our current political and financial systems. As a result we’re likely to accept band-aid measures rather than the sweeping changes that are truly needed to create a better and more just society for EVERYONE and the PLANET. I’m afraid that all we may do is buy some time, make a few more people more comfortable, just enough to quiet people down but not enough to actually make any lasting or deep changes.

I do have hope though. There ARE people who understand the underlying issues. One of the great strengths I’ve found in the Occupy Movement is that its a community as much as its a protest, and its a community that’s eager to have dialogue to discuss not only what we’re not happy about, but also how we might build something better. In fact the very structure of the occupations, providing their own services of food, education, communications, sanitation, etc. demonstrates that we don’t really NEED government or corporations, and that’s the first step in getting them to really seriously negotiate with us, from a position of being equals rather than supplier and consumer. (No self-deception that the tents and food and computers don’t come from corporations, but there is something distinctly non-commercial about these Occupy “villages.)

Its also vitally important that this revolution is for the benefit of everyone. Getting to the root causes of corruption is a way to do that, not by passing laws to protect a few middle class white Americans, but by fundamentally changing the way we produce and consume on a global scale, from Wall Street to Harlem to Haiti to Hong Kong. That’s why the global(ish) nature of this revolution is important. We all have to recognize that we’re in this together and that we need to collaborate, rich and poor, black and white, east and west, north and south. Otherwise new systems of domination will simply replace the old ones.

So all of this is a big order and probably not what we’ll get from this first wave of revolt. But who knows? We really should be trying to do that anyways. That way, even if we only achieve 1/10th of what we set out to do, there will at least be seeds planted for the other 9/10. Seeds planted will eventually grow, and if this boulder keeps on rolling, pushed by those who are never satisfied – well, just try and stop a boulder that’s going in the right direction…