Category Archives: making

a new toy

Not sure if this is a Good Thing or a calumny, but it’s progress of a sort.

The new iPad arrived yesterday, and I’ve been playing with Adobe Illustrator Draw, attempting to actualize an idea I’ve had for a few months. Take an image in which I see something that I want to call other viewers’ attention to. Sketch the outlines of what I see on a new layer, then export the sketch. Here’s an example, raggedy but clear enough to show the potential:

Start with an unfolded image (what I call a tessellation, though it’s just a single mirroring), like the one I labelled “voracious blue-eyed goddess”:

voracious blue-eyed goddess

sketch in the lines my imagination sees:


and turn off the background:


Who is it?

Hillary Clinton.

I had no idea…

perhaps a coloring book?

Some of my photographs and tessellations are just plain overwhelming, with too much going on for a viewer to parse without some sort of guidance to what I see that makes an image worth promulgating:



god of the tidal margins

What to do by way of assistance is something I wrestle with, and betimes I suffer notions of what I might do to build explanations and on-ramps for my more enigmatic photographs.
Andy Ilachinski, always worth attending to, quotes Vladimir Nabokov:

I confess I do not believe in time. I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip. And the highest enjoyment of timelessness―in a landscape selected at random―is when I stand among rare butterflies and their food plants. This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain. It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love. A sense of oneness with sun and stone. A thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern―to the contrapuntal genius of human fate or to tender ghosts humoring a lucky mortal.

Vladimir Nabokov (1899 – 1977)

My eye went immediately to “I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip,” which seems apposite to my pleasure in mirroring images to find out what else they have to tell us [as Minor White might have said]. Putting aside the butterflies, or substituting rock and wood for “rare butterflies and their food plants”, the whole rings pretty much true, but of course what I like to do is unfold the magic carpet. And visitors are most welcome to trip.

I venture out on a photographic adventure and see thing after thing, possibility upon possibility, line and pattern and design, reminiscence and allusion. Many of my digital captures only develop on the computer screen as I recognize unanticipated (or anyhow unconsciously expected) graphic elements, and some only mature once I’ve lived with the results for a while. That’s especially true of those I decide to try tessellating: few images are taken in expectation of their products once mirrored (that is, I rarely see the potential mirror image in the camera’s viewfinder), and I can’t often predict what the result will be until I try the old flip-copy-join recipe.

And there a difficulty arises. My fevered imagination draws upon a lifetime of images seen and takes special pleasure in graphic analogy. I see things that are manifestly not there. Broot (adept as she is at the abstract) summarizes the difference between our approaches to photographic exploration, “you make something out of nothing; I make nothing out of something.” She also notes, sagely, that if she saw all those faces, she’d not be able to see the abstract.

So how can I convey what I discover in my images to audiences? The enigmatic or whimsical title, often alluding to something I draw from the image, is a happy affectation, but doesn’t convey its message very clearly to puzzled viewers. I know what I need next, but I’m not sure how to realize it. Herewith an outline, thanks to a book that rolled in a couple of days ago, By the Glow of the Jukebox: The Americans List II [Conceived and Compiled by Jason Eskenazi (Author), Jno Cook (Illustrator)]. This is just the sort of tiny-niche bit of bijoux fugitivia I love to discover and possess, but it needs a bit of explanation.

Robert Frank’s The Americans is arguably one of the most influential photographic books of the mid-20th century (first published in 1958), and is still making waves among photographers, still being discussed and influencing the work of new discoverers of its singular (well, multiple) views of America. Here’s the Amazon description of By the Glow:

While working as a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Eskenazi began to ask photographers he knew visiting the Looking In exhibition [2009] about Robert Frank’s The Americans, to choose their favorite image and why. In the years since he quit, as he himself got back out on the road again to shoot, he complied hundreds of photographers’ answers in this unique book destined to become a classic in photography education…

I got the first edition of By the Glow a few years ago, and hadda buy the second. I was delighted to find Jno Cook’s spare but effective drawings of Frank’s photographs, which are just the sort of thing I need to convey to viewers what I see in my photographs and tessellations. Here’s one of Jno Cook’s renderings of an iconic image from The Americans:

I didn’t know it until a Google search just now, but am delighted to find that Jno Cook made a Robert Frank Coloring Book (now long out of print and very pricey!), so Kentlee’s notion that I should make a coloring book was prescient as well as brilliant.

But how exactly to proceed? How can I make the drawings that reveal what I see? The technology surely includes Layers in Illustrator or GIMP, and probably the Wacom tablet I bought a while ago with high hopes, but haven’t yet managed to tame to my purposes. And of course the skills to create a workflow that I can actually live with…



A factoid that got me thinking:

Upwards of a trillion photographs will be taken in 2017, the vast majority on mobile phones (only about 10% [still 100 billion] with digital cameras); and something like 4.7 trillion photos will be “stored” by the end of 2017. Around 50 million are uploaded to Flickr (120 million “users”, many inactive) each month.

If a trillion photos are taken each year, how are we to think about the hundreds or thousands we might take? If the world has 7.5 billion people, how shall we think about being just one?

Those questions provoked this note-to-self, scribbled just before the lights went out last night:

Strive for consistency and principled engagement, and to build things that express the qualities you respect and admire. Fashion a legacy, by working to be clear about what you’re doing. Presence, engagement, candor; shun the ignoble and the invidious. Don’t succumb to pride. Practise humility and honor, don’t waste time or energy. Make things. Engage with people. Serve.

Sort of a tall order, but most of it seems entirely relevant to photography and to writing.

Adobe and Amazon Hell

On May 7th I bought a 12-month subscription to Adobe InDesign via Amazon, at $16.99/month. I installed the software and had been using it for almost 2 months. On Sunday June 26th I exported a pdf of my current project. When I then tried to use InDesign I got a message from Adobe saying that my account was cancelled for non-payment of the monthly subscription fee. The Amazon page showed that the payment had been made and that my subscription was active.

What to do?

I called Adobe’s Customer Care and spent more than half an hour on the phone with an agent in India, who told me that my only option was to CANCEL the suspended subscription and buy a NEW subscription—the cancelled account could not be reinstated.

I contacted Amazon and was told that everything on their end was correct: I had an “active” subscription for the product. So I cancelled that subscription (they waived the “early cancellation” fee and refunded the last month paid) and bought a NEW subscription, at the NEW price of $19.99/month (Adobe had raised the price without telling me and apparently without informing Amazon, so that [I deduce] Amazon’s payment of my subscription fee was $3.00 less than Adobe expected, hence the cancellation by Adobe of my access to InDesign).

My account information page at Amazon shows that the new subscription is paid and active. The Amazon Licenses page has a button labelled “Access Product” but the link is broken (“Trying to find something? The page you specified could not be found.”). Evidently THAT link is supposed to authenticate my purchase to the Adobe server; without that authentication, Adobe has no record of my License.

I’ve talked with Amazon Customer Care people in Cape Town (twice, two different reps) and somewhere in the US, and have been assured that the Problem has been Escalated. I tried again to use InDesign this morning, got the same message, called Amazon, and actually achieved a three-way call (me, Cape Town, India) and am assured that the issue will be resolved in 24 or 48 hours. I’m not holding my breath.

All of the people I talked with were friendly, professional, helpful… but not really able to DO anything. The connection between Amazon and Adobe (who are after all business partners in this) seems to be defective or worse: the arrogance/greed of Adobe’s subscription model is surely part of the problem (I thought I had what amounted to a contract for a year, at $16.99/month), but it seems the quality control on Amazon’s Web page link management is at least as much of a problem.

To add one more annoyance, when I open LightRoom there’s now a message from Adobe saying that they have found a problem with my payment for the Creative Cloud Photography package (LightRoom and Photoshop), which I ALSO have via an Amazon subscription, and that if I don’t straighten it out in 13 days, my access to THOSE products will be cancelled. It develops that Adobe has raised the price for that package, again without telling me or, seemingly, informing Amazon: $9.99/month instead of $6.99. Amazon knows about the issue and, I’m told, has a Team working on it.

It’s not about the money. I NEED those products (they are, in effect, the Only Wheel In Town), so I’m over the barrel and I’ll pay them the additional 20-25%. It’s about the Service. And the complete absence of recourse. I’ve now lost 3 days on my project with InDesign, and spent several hours on the phone (mostly on hold) trying to straighten out a problem that I certainly didn’t cause myself. And I very much doubt that I’m the only person in the world with this problem.

Dreams of Glory

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to shop stuff, as I scheme the renovation of the barn and plot the reconstitution of my woodworking environment. Bought an upgrade for the table saw fence a week ago, and a serious planer a couple of days ago, and so kicked off a flurry of thoughts about tools and sharpening and still more necessary additions to the array (real dust collection… better lighting… more attention to precision… and so on). My instrument-building fantasies are alive and well again. Two videos exemplify resources that weren’t available a few years ago, when I was last thinking about luthierie:

Oud construction:

Oud as object of beauty:

Brad wrestles a bass

Brad Fulton, fiddler, luthier (proprietor of SeaStrings, in South Ohio Nova Scotia), Development Officer/ Building Inspector/ Fire Inspector for Municipality of the District of Yarmouth, sometime member of the Yarmouth Shantymen and the Yarmouth Orchestra, teller of tales, author of The Saga of the Stove Wicks, and friend of 34-some-odd years, sent this picture a week or so ago. Just the picture, with the subject line A Thousand Words:

Bass buzz

So I wrote back, knowing that there would be A Story to accompany the image. A few days ago he responded with the text below, and subsequently granted permission for me to blog the Story. I’ve bolded a few especially choice bits:

There’s something about string basses. They aren’t one of us. They’re too big and ill mannered. They don’t fit well in my studio. I confess I’ve always tried to have an arms length relationship with them. In the surgery the table itself and the patient thereon have to be moved every time to correspond with work station space needs. All the basses to date have been just a little less than welcome, and I think they knew it. They had all arrived via “ok, yes, well I guess I can likely fix it” situations. All have proven difficult. There hadn’t been a one I’d rather not have bothered with. I came close to using my rubber mallet on one. Up to this point there’d been three. Inviting number four in was actually my idea, not that it mattered any. He ended up being just like the others. Too much work and bother for too little instrument. I’ve half a mind there may not be any more basses ever again. I near lost this wrestling match, and I’m not sure I could do it again with any more of them. Truth is I don’t have a great deal of time for string basses. I’ve since learned (the fiddle elves had never warned me) there are bass trolls out there that prey on guys like me.
I have to say up front it’s only the least grade basses I’ve ever worked on. Non instruments really. The laminates. Tugboats in the wood instrument flotilla. Clever veneers over plywood in the shape of their real cousins, overweight by quite a bit. This latest one was made in Germany circa 1955. It was purchased by the town band in ’57 from Herb Deveau’s long since gone bankrupt music store on Main St (good old Herb). It once had its neck wrenched out on a band trip and was sent back to the factory for repairs. Its last 25 years had been spent on Williams Street in John Hood’s back room in pieces.
John, retired high school teacher, was at the baton year one when I joined the Town Band in ’78. He conducted the high school band his entire career, and is our resident tuba in the orchestra. Every year or so John would slide his old bass into a casual conversation or two and wonder out loud if it could be fixed up and sold. There are folks who do such things in Halifax I’d always tell him.
This tale all began when my cello student Dan e-mailed out of the blue about his friend Warren in Digby who had smashed his bass up in an accident and was looking for a replacement instrument. Bingo … I just happened to know where there was one. Opportunity knocked and I ran over and opened up the door. John was surprised and delighted I’d finally taken the bait, and he then told me “it’s a real wooden bass you know”. My turn to be surprised and delighted. It only needed its fingerboard to be refit (more blunt trauma), a new nut, endpin work, bridge and setup. We struck a deal for seastrings to restore, and be suitably rewarded at sale. Now John has been around music and instruments all his life, and I didn’t give a moments thought when he made the bass claim. The sad truth was band instruments he knows all about, string basses not so much. Turned out it was all wood all right, all cleverly laminated together looking for all the world like the real thing.
A deal was a deal though, and so began the task of putting it together and playable again. My first discovery was the fingerboard hadn’t come off quite as cleanly as one might have hoped. A few good sized slivers of ebony were left glued on the neck, and a few slivers were missing … a little big job. The second was the tailpiece setup (previously coat hanger wire rigged) couldn’t accommodate a proper fix without serious alterations. Old familiar bass repair issues all over again. One step forward, two steps back. And so he lay there on the worktable, taking up all the room in the shop and being stubborn. My feelings toward laminate basses hadn’t changed one whit.
Just for good measure the endpin lacked the holdfast ring and screw mechanism to lock the pin. I had no luck despite an exhaustive search through my entire stable of ‘nuts and bolts’ bins, including the half dozen from my Father’s basement shop. I believe I heard a smug grunt of satisfaction from the bass beast after the last bin came up empty.
Off to Waterview. I don’t doubt you might have gazed upon it at some point, having perhaps stretched your legs whilst waiting for the ferry. It’s very near the terminal north. It’s a true blue all Nova Scotia rough and ready working waterfront machine shop. Fix everything metal mostly for boats they do. There’s a hunk of pig iron on a rope which acts as the external pulley rigged counterweight closer for the slightly oversize and unmarked rough entry door. One never knows what lies on the other side of that funky door. I treasure the place. Inside was a huge excavator in the midst of an autopsy. The only people in the place were somewhere among the massive sections of the thing working torches. A great day at Waterview Machine Works. Protocol dictates standing looking hopeful being respectful until one of the guys finishes up and comes to deal with your petition. In for a penny, in for a pound. I requested a brass ring fitting for tubby’s endpin. Impress buyers. A small touch of class never hurt anyone. He may sound like rubber bands stretched over cardboard, but he’s going to have a spiffy new well-fit endpin.
Bass buzz
Tying off as it were with black electrical wire tailgut on the lardy monster led to a rousing all night battle. Lord but there’s a lot of tension on a bass tailpiece! The first two attempts ended in pull out failure. There wasn’t going to be a third. It was him or me. With tailpiece in vise I toiled like a sailor, heaving and grunting fighting to knot the wire to hold. Site built wood forms for concrete can be wired together with less effort.
There is a truly wonderful ending to this epic, however it wasn’t at the preferred time of tune up. That’s always my favorite time in the shop, when my bow brings a restored instrument to musical life again. Fats just didn’t cut it. He’s a looker but he wasn’t a sounder. Good thing he had his good health and an outstanding endpin.
His final insult to SeaStrings was a doozie. I gotta hand it to him. After I won the tailgut fight and he was at last tuned up I decided the flotsam rattling inside his belly needed purging. Wish I’d had a garage station air compressor hose so I could have just blasted him like mechanics blast engine grime off motor parts. Cleaning out fiddles is a snap. Cellos too can be handled quite easily, however what does one do to clean out a bass? I lied down on the floor and raised him up over me belly to belly with my arms and legs thinking I’ll just tip him gently side to side and all the stuff will dribble out of the f holes. I rather underestimated his weight and girth though, and at the end of a very long evening of tailpiece wrangling I was almost out of gas. I simply didn’t have the physical strength to pull off this stunt. With the whale hovering at arms length above me, my feet up in the air spread wide supporting either side of the lower bout, the absurdity of the situation overcame me and I began to laugh … not the wisest thing to do when you have a bass raised over your prone body. Panic at the seriousness of the situation came next. What if I lose it off to one side and it crashes onto the concrete studio floor? More laughter. My muscles burning, my arms shaking, the bass wobbling precariously and I’m either going to crack it into pieces or be crushed by it. What’s a poor luthier to do?
Survival instinct is a wonderful thing. I simply gave in. Folding like an accordion I let the beast squish me, hugging it safely when it came to rest on my chest then carefully rolling over to rest it on its side beside me. All in a day’s work at seastrings.
Now Warren plays jazz bass with a professional guitarist. In the interim his quite wonderful bass was repaired by the bassmaster George Barkhouse in Halifax, and this old second rate laminate sure wasn’t going to be finding a new home in Digby as per my original scheme. Go figure. My local bluegrass contacts didn’t even consider him worth coming to meet in the flesh either. Not even when the set of photos I’d sent included a nice shot of the endpin. I was having nightmares of this monstrosity hanging around the studio for months.
My cousin Murray, Mom’s sister Vera’s oldest boy lives in Pictou and plays bluegrass bass. Murray just might know someone who wants a beginner bass. He e-mailed back saying he forwarded my e-mail (complete with endpin shots) to Jerry’s Bluegrass and Old Time Music website somewhere in East Hants. Two days later at 8 in the morning Shelly from Tantallon calls up and asks if he could come down in his station wagon to see the bass. It’s always a good sign when a buyer thinks things through. Let me tell you Shelley was no slouch at setting the endpin to his own height neither… another good sign.
We were all happy to see it go. I’m almost feeling sentimental about the old fart. One more for the elves.