Saturday, January 25, 2014

Blogging for the Baron: Tintype Tinsel Town

Yeah... sorry Spiders, I don't have anything this week. That's why the post is so late. I haven't been doing much art (it's way, way too cold when it isn't raining and miserable) and I haven't had a lot of things to talk about. Classes are proceeding well, though!

This week, I'll just leave you with a fun project some of my friends on Facebook happened to locate:
Sundance 2013 Celebrity Portraits in Tintypes.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Sideline: It's Not All Bad!

I just realized that my blog has been really a bummer the last two, maybe three weeks. I don't want to seem like such a gloomy dude. Things are actually going well! I've applied for grad school at two amazing universities and hope to hear back with positive results. I'm teaching again, even if there are rocks in that road. I have two classes that are going perfectly at the university, one that's going great at the gallery and hope for more at the gallery very soon!

It just happens that while I'm busy with all that good stuff, I haven't been doing much art. It's also been largely terrible weather, and bloody freezing. So I haven't had much photographic stuff to discuss on here. I'm going to work on that this weekend, while also putting together some new lesson plans for the troublesome class.

Blogging for Thor: Tough Times Teaching

I love teaching and I've been amazingly fortunate to get the opportunities that I have. I'm teaching at a university and a nationally-recognized art gallery. My students, for the most part, are engaged and enthusiastic about learning. The people I work with are supportive and have just as much love for the subject as I do. They're friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. Generally, my job is awesome. I would never willingly give it up.

Today, though, was not awesome. It was terrible. I felt entirely unprofessional in front of my class. I felt like an abject, utter failure. One of my students walked out of class and I almost don't blame her. I do blame her, though, because even if the teacher is having a bad day, you just suck it up and stay put. The class is a three hour block and after an hour, I wanted to just send the students home so I could regroup. I probably should have, but I dragged on and tried to make things work. I don't know if they did, even at the end of the class.

The root of the problem is that up until this point, I've largely been an outsider in the program where I work. I don't know what the other professors cover in their classes, because I teach a different group of students. They cover the Fine Art majors, I get everyone else. Since my classes are entirely separate from theirs, I don't have a strong understanding of what a student learns in each of their classes. This semester, though, one of the other professors is on sabbatical and I'm covering a class for him. I asked as many questions as I could think of, but it appears I didn't ask the right questions.

My students came into class without knowing, for example, anything about a light meter other than to take a picture when it registers at the center. They'd never seen an equivalent exposure chart. They didn't know how to define a "stop" of exposure, or the progressions of f-stops and shutter speeds. I was assuming, that seeing as those were the very first thing covered in photo classes for me, they would know those things. As a result, my attempt to start off the day with an 'easy' assignment to photograph their own Zone System grey scale was a miserable failure. They had no idea what I meant when I said they needed to level out their light meters, then calculate five stops less light. They didn't know how to calculate a stop difference. As a result, I only confused them. I only confused myself because I didn't know how they could be misunderstanding me. They weren't misunderstanding me; I was practically speaking a foreign language to them.

So after a very stressful hour of trying to sort out their (wildly different) types of cameras, light meters and lenses while still thinking they knew what I was talking about, I finally got frustrated and drew out an equivalent exposure chart. They were blown away. It was entirely new to them. At that point, I knew my lesson was out the door. I had to teach them about exposure. I had not planned for that. I had nothing prepared. I had no notes, no lecture, no examples. I looked like an idiot as I tried to pull together a way to explain a very complex subject off the top of my head without just reading out of a textbook. I felt humiliated and inadequate.

It sucked. I think by the end of the class, the four students that didn't just leave had grasped the very basics. They were able to at least explain stops and progression to me, and hopefully follow step-by-step directions I gave them in order to make their exposures. I had to modify things a bit, but I think their film came out alright. Turned out we didn't have any fixer remover (the box was empty), and there wasn't really time left to develop film. That's next week. We'll see what they got and see how much they actually know about developing film and printing in a darkroom.

Today was my worst experience yet as a teacher. I still want to teach. I learned a lot from the mistakes I made, and I will do better next time. As bad as today was, I know that next class will be better. What did I really lose today? I lost one class worth of time, and maybe not all of that if the exposures from the end of class come out. I lost some dignity, standing up there looking like an idiot. But, I gained experience and I can fix my mistakes. When I go back, I can be prepared.

So, it might have sucked, but it's not the end of the world.

Hey, I even got my weekly blog up before 10 PM! That's probably a record.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Blogging for Thor: Tis the Season (for Gloom)

Hello, my little internet spiders. I'm doing well, I suppose. Graduate school applications on schedule, getting things done, taking care of business. Just not art business. I can lay some of that down at the feet of the season. It's cold, so going outside sucks. The light is mostly indirect and dull, so exposures take longer even when there are sunny days to do them. It's winter, so all the plants I use for my images are dead anyway.

I can't blame everything on the season, though. I have projects I could be working on. Just out of my photo-related projects, I have a whole friggin book I'm supposedly working on and have made very little headway with. I was supposed to be putting together a guide to different papers for lumen printing, and another guide to different dyes for anthotypes, and yet another guide to different methods for cyanotype toning. All of those consist mostly of organizing existing material, formatting and writing. I can do those in the dark, so I can't blame the weather. That's not even touching the non-photographic projects I have on the back burners, like pure writing projects and a calendar I've been meaning to design and send off to a Kickstarter company that I'm a big fan of, just to see if they like the idea and would be interested in working with me.

My motivation for creativity is pretty shot. This happens every so often, and it's always a bummer. I think it's a build-up of anxiety, and it doesn't do any good since losing my creativity just makes me more anxious and unhappy with myself since there's all these things I want to do that I'm not doing. Right now I'm worried about grad school, about being able to teach this new class I've got for the upcoming semester, about being able to get students for my museum classes so I can make extra money. Not to mention worries about my elderly dog's health, making sure my Obamacare goes through properly (it isn't Obama's fault anymore, now I'm dealing with a purely private company that is underwhelmingly prepared to handle the influx of new policy holders), paying off recent car repairs, wondering how to do taxes... oh, and of course the general looming dread that even once I get past grad school, I still have to somehow surmount all the obstacles between adjunct-hood and tenured professorship.

So, yeah. Anxiety might be the opposite of creativity. Creativity is work, guys. It's really hard work, and it takes a lot of effort. For me at least, it isn't like on TV where I just "get inspired" and the creativity flows out of my eyeballs and just makes art happen. Even if I'm feeling creative as balls, it's still a massive amount of time and energy invested in the work part of creativity. Coating paper, making exposures, rigging new exposure frames, making new dyes, research, writing, planning, prepping, doing layout, formatting, researching, editing (photos and writing)... not to mention all the shooting involved in any project needing illustrative photographs to demonstrate processes. That's a lot of work. It's not easy, even when I'm overflowing with creative brainwaves.

When anxiety attacks, it drains all my energy. It's like living inside a lead suit, where even the normal activities of daily life seem like labors, and accomplishing basic human tasks like showering and going to buy food seem like such incredible accomplishments that I should earn a reward just for keeping myself going at a basic level of civilized competence. It's being exhausted, constantly. It's spending whole days in bed because just trying to plan out your day becomes an hours-long task that sends you spiraling into worry and dread.

This ended up pretty gloomy. Allie Brosch puts Depression in perspective, but I don't know if I have depression. I've never checked; Obamacare doesn't cover depression anyway. If I do have it, I can't tell and I can't afford to have medical conditions. That's extra gloomy.

Fuckit, in three days, I'll be back to teaching at the university. I'll have a whole batch of new students, a new class to teach and for at least a month, I'll be teaching seven classes a week. I always feel better when I'm teaching. Here's hoping!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Blogging for Thor: Dust in the Wind

Six different anthotype dyes in their raw forms.
Man, I'm really bad at remembering what day things are. I was so happy with myself today, too. I ran errands and got things done. Like an adult. Then I came home, forgot it was Thursday and went to bed. Thankfully, I tend to wake up at 3 AM or so, stay awake a few hours and then go back to sleep. I've convinced myself that so long as my blog is up before dawn on Friday, it's still Thursday. Totally sound logic, right?

Today's blog is going to be short, though. It's mostly a plug for something else I'm doing. I decided to start photographing the different dyes that I use to make anthotypes with! Starting with the dry powders, I'm taking proper photographs of each dye. I'd really love some kind of big, interactive website where you can click on a picture of the dye and have it bring up a sample sheet showing what the dye looks like before and after exposure, with comments on how to prepare it. That'd be pretty awesome, but I have no idea how to make that work. Maybe some sort of weird eBook internet sorcery.

On other fronts: the weather has just been terrible lately. Clouds, rain, fog, clouds, rain, clouds. Even on 'bright' days the light is so filtered and low-contrast that there's hardly any UV light at all to expose prints with. It's officially the off-season for sun printing. As a result, I need to do something else and it seems like a good time to work on articles (haha, not this blog, no one reads this blog) and that vague idea for an anthotype book I keep telling myself I'm writing. Or the visual reference guide to lumen printing papers. For right now, though, I'll be focusing on the anthotype dye documentation.

The complete set of current photographs for this project is here, on my Flickr.