Mansion Mention

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As I stated in a previous post, I had yet to post any photos of the 1890’s Davis Victorian Mansion from my trip to the George Ranch Historical Park – so, here they are!

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Still not sure this would qualify as a “mansion” by today’s standards, but for time period and the location, this certainly was one fancy structure. Many of the buildings on this ranch were originally located several miles away in Richmond, TX where I live, but were moved as the town started to develop and grow in the 1970’s. I can’t recall for certain if this was one of the ones that got moved, but I’m pretty sure it was. It took three days to move the buildings, because they had to wait until late at night when they could shut down the traffic on the farm roads to get it moving.

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Th city of Richmond has a historical area where our city hall is, so buildings like this are a pretty familiar site out here. But this one has been restored to it’s original floor plans and decor, which makes it unique. Some of the houses in Richmond like this are residential, but many of them have been converted into businesses like law offices or tea rooms and museums.

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As some of the international tourists who were on the first tour I followed pointed out, the US doesn’t have the sort of ancient history you’re going to see elsewhere around the globe – and Texas has even less history preserved than most states. Texas doesn’t seem to have much tolerance for old buildings, for some reason, and tends to tear them down in order to replace them with a ton of concrete and glass. Perhaps that’s why we get so excited over any building that’s over 80 years old around these parts.

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The interior of the mansion was tricky to photograph, since I couldn’t get full shots of the fairly small rooms, but I did my best. There were a lot of lovely floral arrangements and place settings around, as you can see – even if all the flowers were fake. Easier to maintain I guess when all you have to do is dust them off!

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All the rooms were roped off as well, so I could only get a few decent angles to shoot from in each room. And since I was so focused on taking pictures, I didn’t pay much attention to what the guide was saying about the house, but it was mostly the usual stuff about how people were expected to behave and how a mansion like this functioned at the time.

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While the Polly Ryon home had no air conditioning and had all the windows open to keep the place cool (which didn’t work very well), this place fortunately had been updated with AC. Otherwise it would have been sweltering – and the Ryon home made me terribly nervous to wander around in due to all the  wasps that had gotten inside and were flying around everywhere. Sadly, I am terrified of insects – unfortunate, since Texas is known for having some real doozies when it comes to critters.

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There was also a family cemetery outside; the first time I visited it was closed off, and we couldn’t get in to look at the stones. But on my second visit, there were some employees in there cleaning things up, so I got to wander in and snap some pictures. I haven’t processed any of them yet, and I may not ever do so since in the end they were kind of boring, but I did a decent shot of the entire plot that would have been perfect if there hadn’t been that one woman in the shot who was not in costume. Oh well. From this distance, you probably can’t tell that the other guy was in costume anyway.

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And lastly, here’s a lovely shot of a very old tree; I just liked how it was framed by the front porch pillars. You’re welcome.

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I know this wasn’t a very informative post, but I’ve said so much about my visits to this park already that I’m out of ideas. Hopefully the pretty pictures will be enough!

 

Park Pics Part 2

As mentioned previously, I went back to finish up my trip through the George Ranch Historical Park two weeks ago. This is in no way the extent of the photos I took during both visits, but it’s what I have processed for now.

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The prospector telling tales outside his shack

The first time I went, I piggybacked onto a decent-sized group of tourists through as much of the tour as I had to time to attend; on my second trip, there were two elementary schools holding field trips, but no big groups of visitors for me to follow around. This didn’t seem like a big deal at first, but it did make parts of the tour a bit awkward.

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In theory I like this photo of a gardener sweeping up around these benched statue-people, but the composition itself annoys me. But you can see, in the upper left side of the shot, the edge of a really nice tree house that looks over this part of the property. 

At every stop of the tour, there are employees on site, dressed in the attire of the times, ready and waiting to tell stories and answer questions. When I wandered from site to site with a fairly large group of people, there was always a crowd willing to sit and listen to all of this, which left me free to wander around and snap photos without being bothered. The question and answer sessions also slowed the whole tour down, so I had plenty of time to snap all the pictures I wanted.

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Kitchen scene from the 1930s Ranch House, one of two large houses on the property you can only walk through on a guided tour. 

It was a different scene when I went back the second time and was the only person showing up on the employees’ doorstep. Especially in the two big houses, the guides were really rushed, and even seemed a bit put out at having to stop whatever else it was they were doing to walk this one person through the rooms and rattle off their well-memorized spiel. When there’s only one of you, and you’re clearly not interested in asking questions, the tour moves along at a fast, awkward clip, I don’t mind telling you.

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Chandelier at the 1930s Ranch House

Also awkward to me, for some reason: probably due to the lack of distractions, I was able to notice this time around that there weren’t really that many employees monitoring and working the sites; therefore, someone you encountered at one location might also pop up somewhere else an hour later, to walk and talk you through some other park site. I’m not sure why this felt weird to me; perhaps because I wasn’t in the mood to be chatty so running into the same person you’d been fairly disinterested in talking to an hour before somewhere else, and having to pretend to want to talk to them again, made the whole experience a little awkward.

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For example, the cowgirl in the blue shirt here was rounding up cattle for the elementary schools to watch at 10 AM, and at noon she was my tour guide through the 1930s mansion. For some reason, this dampened some of the magic for me. It didn’t help that I was sitting on the porch of the mansion, patiently waiting for the next tour to start at 12:30, but she rather hurriedly busted open the door at 12:15 and asked if I want to view the house. I felt a bit like a nosy neighbor showing up uninvited on her doorstep and looking for gossip.

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I’m not sure what this little house is for; it has window units on the side so the park uses it for something, but it wasn’t a part of the tour. Maintenance shed, probably. I peeked in the windows as best I could, but I couldn’t see much.

Then again, it could be they were short of tour guides on this day due to the elementary school kids that were galloping their way around the park. I saw one of the women who’d been sitting in a chair telling stories inside the Ryon Prairie Home on my last visit leading a huge group of fifth-graders up the walk to the Davis Victorian Complex; she was wearing the same long skirt and bonnet she’d had on the previous Tuesday, and it was pretty warm and humid outside – she looked hot, and grumpy, and I can’t much say I blame her for that!

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Remember her? She was not smiling this time. 

There were also alligators everywhere.  There are several creeks that run through the park, some of them quite wide and full, and gators were all in the water and even sunning themselves on the shore. I started out walking the tour this time instead of riding the tram, but I admit I got pretty nervous crossing the first creek bridge and seeing a huge, fat gator hanging out right at the edge of where the creek met the bridge. Alligators do not hunt humans and don’t see us as food; they hunt creatures that walk on all fours, so unless you bring yourself down to their level by crouching down, or for some reason decide to start crawling in their presence, you’re generally safe (your kids or your pets might be a different story, though, and of course this is all assuming that you are going to walk past them when you see them and not actually approach the hungry bastards). However, generally safe doesn’t mean entirely safe, so after my first close encounter I decided I would be riding the tram across the creeks from that point forward. As such, I got no photos of the gators: I tried, but I was too intimidated (i.e., terrified) to really stop and get a good shot, and they came out blurry.

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Windows inside the prospector’s shack; the sky and airplane in the distance are totally fake. In reality, they were just dirty windows looking out over some brush. 

I also tried to take some video of the park while riding the tram, but the roads are gravel and the tram is pulled by a tractor, so it was all way too shaky to be of any use. My videographer skills, once again, were lacking.

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Post and pans in the prospector’s shack. Another fake sky.

As it turned out, I hadn’t missed as much of the park the first time as I’d thought anyway. There was the other big house to tour, and in the end it wasn’t all that thrilling. It was amusing to hear the guide try to make the details sound like something awesome though; the house was built in the 1930s, so it wasn’t all that unique from loads of other old houses in the area, except for the fact that it’s a lot bigger than most. So, the tour guide kept having to point out things like all the Texas-themed ceramic doodads and geegaws  the owner of the house loved to collect – wee little cowboy boots and longhorns and shit you could go into any antique or resale store in Texas and buy by the boatload for five bucks each (although I’m sure the ones in the house were more expensive). Again, the guide on this part of the tour was rushed, and probably tired from roping cattle all morning in front of squealing sixth graders, and who knows, maybe she was either messing with me or making things up because she actually never gave the tour and didn’t know any of the interesting stories. But whatever – hey, look at that ceramic goat! Isn’t that cool?

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A scene from the stables; I don’t actually have any photos of ceramic goats.

There was one stop I really enjoyed though; the blacksmith’s shop. There was one kid working inside when I wandered over, and he was not only knowledgeable about what he was doing, I could tell he really enjoyed doing it and loved talking about it, so I didn’t at all feel like I was intruding upon his time. Not only that, but I didn’t feel much need to ask questions or struggle to make conversation; he just kept happily talking away about the history of the blacksmith shop and how they used to make things vs. how they make them now (they try to do everything as authentically as possible, but some of that authenticity would be either dangerous or cruel in the Texas heat, so adjustments have been made).

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This guy’s hands caught my attention right away; they were perfectly grimy and he had really long fingers that he kept using to point at this and touch that; I took a ton of shots of his hands while he yammered on, but the one above was my favorite.

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See what I mean? Great hands!

Here he was explaining something to me about this anvil that I no longer remember. The chalk line is important for some reason. That’s all I’ve got for you, sorry. It was something to do with the weight of it; there were three anvils on the site and he was explaining to me what was unique about each one. I’d be a terrible tour guide, wouldn’t I? Where are the ceramic goats again?

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This is metal and it is hot. Now give me ten bucks for the tour!

Although these two posts have at least touched on each part of the park I visited – except, I just realized, for the 1830s Victorian Mansion, which is probably the biggest stop on the whole tour, oops – I still have a ton more to process when I have the time. But I think I’ve covered everything now (sans mansion), even if only briefly.

To be honest, my favorite parts of the tour were riding around in the tram just watching the park roll by, and sitting on the big wrap-around porch of the Victorian mansion, waiting for the tour to start and feeling the breeze while looking out over these huge, hundred-year-old oak trees and listening to the cows and cicadas. I didn’t grow up on a mansion, but growing up in Texas I’ve still spent a fair amount of time riding around in tractors (even though they weren’t doing tractor-stuff at the time) or sitting on old front porches listening to the sounds of cows and bugs and begging for a breeze; I don’t think anyone else on the tour with me (the day I had company) was able to just sit there and feel nostalgic like I was, but also, when it comes to what constitutes a nice day for me it always has more to do with sitting and listening and being still than it does touring things and talking to people. It left me with a feeling of wanting to go back just to sit on the porch and stare for a while, but in the end this isn’t that sort of place; you can’t sit on a porch there too long without someone coming along and either shuffling you inside or sending you on your way. And although I did have a nice long chat about alligators with the tram driver when I hopped on and told him I just wanted to ride with him while he made his rounds, I felt I would have worn out my welcome had I asked to be a passenger a second time.

So, this was a cool enough place to visit once, and I got a lot of nice photos to work with while I was there, but it’s not somewhere I’ll be going back to anytime soon. Speaking of going back, it is time for my yearly summer visit to the Ruah Center at the Villa de Matel, which I am very much looking forward to; perhaps it is that impending visit that is making me long for a place I can just stop and sit and be still and listen; I do always start to crave that this time of year.

Ranch Dressing

First of all, thanks to everyone who offered feedback on my previous post about dealing with asshole neighbors. I decided to take down the post, though, since our situation with them is ongoing and well, you never know. So for anyone wondering what happened to it, that’s what happened. Moving on.

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My self-portrait-taking manic phase ended as suddenly as it overtook me; one day I set up the camera to take photos and felt bored halfway through, and that was that. I also became interested in taking more shots outdoors after processing the photos from my niece’s prom and enjoying playing around with the light and color in them, but taking self-portraits outside has always been complicated for me, so last week I decided to just focus on taking pictures of things outside other than myself, and made a last-minute decision to visit the George Ranch Historical Park, which is about 10 miles from my house, and bring my camera with me.

GR2Heavily edited; I might as well just admit that the sky in all of these shots is fake. In reality it was grey and cloudy out, and also high noon

I’d never visited, even though I’ve lived out here for 17 years, and in thinking about where to go take photos I landed on this park because I knew there would be volunteers there working the farm in character, and I figured I could get some interesting portraits. Being primarily a studio shooter who doesn’t venture out much with her camera, I also figured taking photos at a park like this would be more comfortable for me than going somewhere photographers aren’t already expected to be wandering around snapping pictures of everything that moved; I still tend to get self-conscious and/or nervous street shooting because I don’t want to offend or upset anyone by taking photos. I did get some good portrait shots, but I didn’t expect to enjoy the park as much as I did, or to photograph as many other things as I did, or for the park to be as HUGE as it was (20,000 acres, to be exact). In fact, I only got halfway through the park before I had to turn around and go home, since my phone had quit working and I knew Doug would be getting worried having not heard from me for several hours, and I had errands to run later in the day.

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The ranch has several historic sites on the grounds, spanning from the 1830’s through the 1930s, and focusing on several different families who were key to developing the area. At the majority of these sites, visitors can walk around freely, talk to the ‘interpreters’ who are really volunteers/actors dressing, working, and living as they would have during the time period – to walk the entire path linking all these sites together covers about a mile.

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I went by myself, but there were three other groups of people who arrived around the same time I did (all three groups were, interestingly, in groups of three), so I basically wandered the park alongside this big group of people. One group was from Italy, another was from France, and the other one was from Illinois – I was the only local out and about that day. I started out walking the trail on my own, but this is Texas and it’s already getting hot outside, as well as being terribly humid on this particular day, so after the first stop I ended up riding the tram around (which is pulled by a tractor) to the other sites, along with the rest of the group. Kind of sad that I wasn’t up for just walking the mile, but I didn’t want to get too sweaty since I had errands to run later. Excuses!

GR4We had about 30 minutes at each site before the tram came back around, and most of the guests would gather around the actors and listen to them tell stories about what life was like during their time period. I didn’t do much of that, choosing to wander around the site instead and take photos without having to navigate around too many people. As such, I ended up taking all sorts of photos I didn’t intend to take. In fact, I took way more photos of ‘stuff’ than I did of the people. No real reason for that, just that there weren’t too many people around (maybe 1-3 at each site) and once I’d taken one photo of them, well, I had to move on to other things. It was funny though, because I could tell they are so used to people taking their photos that they did have a tendency to “pose” rather than just stand around – like this guy:

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He just stood there until I got my shot, and I didn’t have to say a word

This was another reason I was comfortable taking so many pictures here; my subjects were expecting me to take their picture and giving me some nice setups in the process. You can tell they know how to provide people what they’re looking for! When not telling the visitors stories or posing for photos, the volunteers are doing chores around the site and basically working, for the most part, as they would have back in the day. So, someone at the site might be churning butter, or herding cattle, or – whatever the hell it is settlers would have been doing way back when.

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Not sure what’s she doing here, but it involved fire. You’re welcome.

The first stop in the pictures above was a stock farm, which represented a farm that had — livestock, I guess? I dunno, I have a brochure somewhere but I never read it. The next stop was the Ryon Prairie Home, which sure looked like a mansion compared to the stock farm:

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Yep, the sky is fake in this one too

At least, it looked like a mansion until the next stop, where I saw the real mansion. Still, the volunteer dressed up as Polly Ryon, the owner of the home, had a pretty interesting story to tell, at least the part I listened to – when she married her father actually made an arrangement that the family money would stay in her name instead of transferring to her husband, and throughout her life she was influential in capitalizing on the family’s considerable fortunes and preserving their legacy. It was kinda funny – one of the men in the group from Illinois was asking a ton of questions at every stop and creating this really anachronistic atmosphere, which was interesting to watch the actors navigate. He was particularly interested in this aspect of her story: “So, it was an early form of a pre-nup?” and then the woman had to acknowledge what he asked while at the same trying to stay in character. I’m sure they get that a lot, but this guy was so uber-inquisitive it made me wonder if the actors are under pressure to stay in character and might get in trouble if they do break it. I guess they are all volunteers, so the pressure can’t be too great – although, maybe I’m wrong, and they are all paid workers on the ranch. That would actually make more sense, as it sure would take one hell of a dedicated volunteer to dress up in all those layers of pioneer gear and stoke fires in 100-degree heat when she didn’t have to.

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Well, if pre-nups existed, then I guess you could call it that, but since they don’t…

There were some great shots to take in the Ryon house; I’d been unsure of which lens to take on this trip and ended up choosing my 50mm, which all things considered I think was a good choice.

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The 50mm has a shallow depth of field, which makes for prettier portraits and is why I chose it, but it’s also good in low light and works for most photography I might want to take in a walkabout situation. I don’t get as crisp or clear shots of architecture or landscapes, and I definitely could have used my wide-angle lens in the small interiors of these buildings, but overall I think it was the right choice. I say all this because I am going back to the ranch tomorrow to finish out the tour, and after considering different lenses I could use this time, I ended up deciding to stick with the 50mm. Of all my lenses, it’s the most versatile, even though in a lot of these shots I didn’t get the clarity I could have gotten with either my 40mm or my 17-40.

GR9I also chose to take my inexpensive Canon SL1 instead of my 7D because of how much lighter it is. I bought the SL1 several years ago for just this reason, when walking around with a camera for hours the 7D gets really heavy, and the SL1 is the smallest DSLR on the market right now. If I use my 40mm, it’s even lighter and smaller, but since I knew I wanted the DoF of the 50mm I sacrified a little of the lightness to get better shots. Still, it’s a great little camera for just this purpose, and it worked fine. It’s noisy, as is the lens, so in the one stop of the tour where we all had to follow a guide and couldn’t just wander around I did notice it was probably annoying to hear my camera going off so much. But other than that, it’s nice to get some real use out of this little camera since I haven’t used it too much since I got it. As I do more outdoor and walkabout photography, it’s likely to finally get some real use.

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That pink shot is my favorite so far; obviously because of the color, although it was much more mauve in the original. Also, I didn’t actually get a good centered shot of this (one of my weaknesses when taking non-studio shots is I often forget about things like getting a subject centered in front of background stuff like a fireplace) so what I had to do is take the left side of the fireplace, copy it, and paste it over the right side to make the shot better-framed. This is why if you look at the right side, you can actually see a curtain draping into the fireplace that appears to be growing out of the wall. In the original shot, that curtain was falling over into the fireplace from a nearby window, but I covered that up when I pasted the other edge of the fireplace over it. I couldn’t figure out how to realistically correct this, so I said to hell with it and left it. There was also a small mirror hanging over the fireplace that was also off-center, so the easiest thing to do there was to cover it up with more wallpaper.

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Once we left the Ryon house, we stopped off at the sharecropper’s shack shown above. The guy narrating at this site told us a family of TEN lived in this shack at one time. He had some photos of the family inside to prove it, too. I’m sure I took pictures of those pictures, but we’re about to the end of what I’ve processed from my trip so far, so it may show up in another post. I did get a few good shots of the friendly sharecropper though, because he was really embodying the spirit of the time period:

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And so did his shack:

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I’ll have more shots from this stop in the next post, and then it’s on to about half of the ‘real’ mansion – I ended up bailing on the tour halfway through that house. But since I am going back tomorrow, you really don’t need to worry about that, because by the time I get those shots processed I’ll have a whole new batch to add to them to fill out the rest of this set. For now, I’ll close with one of my favorite shots from the day – it’s out-of-order here; I took it when leaving the stock farm and heading over to the Ryon house (which you can see in the distance):

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Another fake sky! 

Tutoring My Own Horn

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I’ve got a lot of photos to share, as usual, and some thoughts on my tutoring endeavor, so I’m going to combine the two even though they don’t go together. But first, on the photography front – I have held several more sessions this month based in part on trips to the new Goodwill store that opened up recently in my area; this is a great place to get clothing for photoshoots as they get tons of great stuff.

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Including little kid tutus!

I also tried out using the live view technique I learned last month wherein I can attach my camera to my laptop and set up a shot – and take it – while looking at it on my computer screen. However, I actually found that this technique is often more trouble than it is worth, and while it’s useful, I think it’s only really needed for me when I’m shooting self portraits in more difficult situations (such as trying to pose lying down, for example) and for what I usually do, I’m better off just sticking to my old methods. I did discover that setting up a light stand with a bulb in the spot where I intend to pose helps me focus the camera AND helps me stay situated where I need to be to get in the frame of the shot: I often use a light bulb on a stand behind me when I shoot for some nice backlighting anyway, but I don’t always, and I never thought about how much it helps me focus to have it there. Now that I have thought about it, I just put the stand there even if I don’t intend to light it up, and voila – better focus in my photos.

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Tutus – they’re not just for covering your butt with tulle anymore

I also am playing around with more aggressive editing techniques on my self portraits just because. I tend to not like editing that imposes itself too much on the shot (unless the shot has flaws I’m trying to conceal) because I put so much effort into having the right makeup and costume and hair that I feel it rips all that effort off to then go and add so many overlays and filters to the photo that you can’t see those details. But often times, those effects can look very cool if done properly, and I certainly see other people’s edited photos and think how awesome it looks, so I’ve been trying to let go of some of my attachment to pseudo-realism.

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The shirt was a steal from Goodwill; both the shirt and the wig are actually orange

Also on the photography front: I agreed to take photos of my niece for her prom (which is not the sort of thing I usually agree to, but hey, every once in a while you gotta do the family a favor), and surprisingly, I found I really enjoyed editing the photos of her (and her date) that we took in the park near their house. Normally I am far from a “location” shooter; for self portraits the reasons are obvious (I like privacy when I’m doing my self portraits and would feel silly taking posed pics of myself anywhere in public) and some that are less obvious (I am just not accustomed to doing it and often mess up things like lighting, AND I have always leaned towards neutral backgrounds that don’t pull focus from my subject). But in this case, they wanted outdoor photos, so I acquiesced.

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He’s carrying her because her heels were sinking in the wet grass; I didn’t tell them to pose this way, but I love it. Thanks, wet grass!

And lo and behold, I found I really enjoyed editing these outdoor shots! They had me take some indoors too, and I made my usual mistakes there (I made some rookie moves like not positioning them properly in front of the fireplace and stuff like that), but I found that editing the outside stuff was quite fun, because I could work with light in interesting ways I can’t do with studio work – mostly sunlight and shadows.

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Composite shot here – in the original her skirt wasn’t flowing in the breeze like this; it was flowing in another photo so I stole the skirt from that pic and attached it to her dress in this shot. If you look down near her ankle, you can actually see a weird bit that almost looks like a pocket; I didn’t notice this until after I was totally done with the editing, but that’s an error from blending the two skirts together. 

This has me jonesing to find a model and get out and take more location shots, something I’ll need to do soon if I’m going to do it at all as it’s getting hotter here by the day and soon will be too hot and muggy for productive photos out-of-doors.

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Just another nice candid catch 

So that catches us up on photography. As I share the rest of my stuff, let me tell you what’s going on with tutoring. It’s been up and down – mostly up, but transitioning from full-time teaching to part-time tutoring (and I’ve got more business now, but not enough yet to call myself full-time, which is fine by me, honestly) has been an adjustment on so many more levels than I expected. For starters, re-scheduling can be a real bitch. Most of my students are involved in extracurricular activities, and as the spring rains start here in Texas, a LOT of canceled or re-scheduled games are cutting into my tutoring schedule. It’s not such a problem when people just cancel, but what most people want to do is RE-SCHEDULE, which is a pretty big pain in the ass. I get why it happens, and I get wanting to still get tutoring fit into the kids’ week, but on my end it kind of sucks. I actually like having a set schedule from week to week, and can get really thrown off by even one student requesting a last-minute change, much less 2 or 3 of them. I’m really committed to giving myself two guaranteed days off a week, with a third one on reserve as a backup, and more than once I’ve had to choose between sticking to that commitment and telling a student I just can’t meet with them that week, or scheduling kids on days I have set aside not to tutor to keep the money flowing and keep the kid caught up, but losing days off in the process. Boo.

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At first I was just telling everyone no if they could only meet with me on days I committed to taking off, but this has started to bump against another aspect of tutoring I hadn’t given much thought to until now: wanting to keep the money coming in. When I tell a kid I can’t re-schedule, I’m losing that week’s pay for that kid. That isn’t such a big deal when my schedule is full, but lately I’ve been awakened to the reality of tutoring’s revolving door; while I may have been able to get enough clients to keep me busy and pay me a nice amount of money, keeping them is a different story. Not that I’m losing kids left and right because I suck, but some kids only need intermittent help – one college student only calls me for a session when he has an essay due, another one only wanted academic coaching which wraps up after ten sessions, and still another one really just needed temporary help to get through one particularly difficult portion of his English class. So, I recently went from 8 clients back down to 6, with another one starting to taper off also, so then I’m down to 5. So, yeah. That whole I-really-hate-networking-and-I-hope-to-never-have-to-do-it-again-once-I-build-up-a-client-base dream didn’t totally come true. At least, not yet, and I’m looking at needing to put out some more advertising and peddling my wares a bit moving into the summer months (although I do also have three kids whose parents have already told me they want to work me in summer also).

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Which leads me to another big adjustment I am having to make: planning. This one is a bit trickier to sort out, but one thing I’ve hit upon lately is how big the whole concept of time is to my life. Not having the time to wake up peacefully in the morning or go to sleep when I wanted to when I was a teacher was always a huge reason why I felt dissatisfied doing it. Schools here start so damn early (7 or 7:30 AM) and since I didn’t live close to the schools where I taught, I always had to get to bed by 10 PM so I could wake up at 5 AM (and if you look at the time in which this posted you can see how much I love staying up late and, consequently, sleeping in). So tutoring providing me the time to structure my life the way I want has been truly miraculous and makes me really happy. But this time issue has manifested itself when working with students in less miraculous ways.

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I got word today that a student I’ve been tutoring since February did not pass her state exam; this is bad news because it is what I was hired to help her with. Not only that, but she failed by a wide margin; she wasn’t even close to passing, and in fact did worse this year than she did last year when she took the exam and also failed. After working through my guilt and panic about how I failed to help her, I realized many things (including the fact that while I clearly didn’tget her to where she needed to be before this test, it was not all my fault and I can find ways to remedy the parts of the situation which are my responsibility). I also had a conference with the parents of another student I tutor recently, and when they requested to meet with me I had this moment of realizing that I, in fact, wasn’t really sure what to tell them about the kid’s progress, because I hadn’t really been monitoring it all that much. I was basically showing up every week, doing some tutoring, and leaving, without putting nearly the proper amount of forethought and planning into the process. As such, I at first didn’t feel like I could tell the parents where the kid was progressing and where he was still behind. This was not at all a good sign.

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Wig and shirt in original color

Now, I ended up going back to my notes that I’d made on the kid when I first started tutoring with him, then I pulled out my calendar as well as the work we’d done and I’d kept in a folder (thank God) and, from all that information, managed to pull together and good summary of where we were, where we were headed, what weaknesses he still had, and how we might get there. Fortunately, the parents agreed with me, and there were no complaints (in fact, they ended up asking me to tutor their younger child next year, too). The meeting worked out fine, but it was the first wake-up call for me that as a tutor I need to be sure I am not just teaching, but also evaluating and assessing my students and making plans of action for progress – something that is naturally worked into the curricuum of a teacher, and is fact often dictated by administraton, but as a tutor there’s no authority around breathing down my neck to make sure I’m doing what I should be doing to address the needs of my students. And especially since my first few clients were kids who mainly just needed me to help them with homework, it makes sense it would take me a while to reach this realization, becuase my first few clients didn’t require me to plan and evaluate (and still don’t).

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In thinking through what happened with the girl who failed, I realized our sessions shared a similarity with my sessions with the other kiddo: I have a tendency to plan for my lessons in relation to time more than content. This is a holdover habit from teaching: when I taught 5 classes of 30 each a day, I became obsessed with time, because I believed the key to a well-behaved classroom was keeping everyone busy (this is actually true, at least in part). Therefore, my lesson plans had to teach concepts to kids, sure, but they also had to occupy an entire 55-minute segment of time, and they had to do that every single day or I was not comfortable. So every plan I made involved a time breakdown – how many minutes would the warm-up take? What about the reading? And the quiz? Then what does that all add up to? And if the things I planned did not equal 55 minutes, well then, I planned ways to pad the lesson and in some cases just kill time with busywork. I was a good teacher with some of the best-behaved classes you’ve ever seen (subs always loved to work in my classroom because the kids were so well-trained and I kept them occupied every second with activity) but it is not at all the way I should be approaching tutoring. And yet, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Consciously or not, I have kept my time-management attitude that makes KEEPING THEM BUSY a priority  over everything else, and well, it’s not a good look for any of us.

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I’ve been planning my tutoring lessons from this stance of: OK, what can I do that will fill an hour? And then, my second thought has been, OK, what do they need to learn and how will I teach it? And that hasn’t been the right approach. Much like with the boy whose parents asked for a conference, when I look back over my work with the girl who failed her exam I can see where at times, I worked on lessons with her that weren’t all that good at addressing her needs but were good at filling the time slot I was getting paid for. I never did this consciously, it’s just so ingrained in me to panic at even the thought of ‘not having enough to do’ that I was making this a priority without noticing it. And in the case of the girl who failed, I should have spent more time concerning myself with what she was going to learn from an activity than concerning myself with whether or not the activity would fill the time slot. It’s not that I wasn’t considering the content at all, it’s just that my perspective was warped towards filing time so the content wasn’t getting the focus it needed.

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I am certainly not proud of this, and I’ve spoken already with the mother and am going to do better moving forward. This is all still trial-and-error, live-and-learn stuff for me right now, and I am comforted by the thought that I didn’t do this intentionally and that my heart is and has always been in the right place. But I definitely need to do better. We have a meeting set up with her teacher right now, because I want to see what observations the girl’s teacher has and if they match up with mine.

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As I said, there are other reasons the girl failed that are not on my shoulders, but at least in part I need to learn from this and do better moving forward. It’s amazing to me how many unspoken assumptions I have made about this whole tutoring thing without questioning whether or not they are accurate at all; I want to go easy on myself because I am new at this and still learning, but the idea that I didn’t do more to help this girl pass her state exam is an awful feeling nonetheless (again, it isn’t all my fault and there are a lot of other circumstances in play, but I don’t want to come off like I’m making a bunch of excuses so I’m not mentioning them).

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And in general, I need to watch my obsession with time and check to make sure I am not making decisions from that perspective – in all aspects of my life and career, and not just the ways I’ve mentioned here, because there are a lot of other ways in which this obsession sets me back. It’s something I do in other areas, also, and those other areas also need work, but that’s probably a post for another time. Especially since I’m finally out of photos to share.

Forward, March

MAN did I process a ton of photos last month! So many that I doubt I have enough to say about them to fill the post if I upload them all here, but that doesn’t mean I’m not gonna try.

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This is a wig I bought from wigisfashion.com. Not bad for the price but the shipping took forever.

The first discovery I made in March involves using my laptop as a live view screen when shooting photos. I had some distant knowledge of the fact that I could connect my laptop to my camera and view the photos on my monitor after they had been taken, but for some reason I never investigated this far enough to learn that I could actually use my latop as a live view LCD screen and see what a photo was going to look like before taking it. Discovering this was a pretty big deal, since getting my focus and framing right has always been a major problem when shooting self-portraits.

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This is mostly my own hair, but I do have a little clip around the bun that has spiky hair attached. it’s a really easy way to add a little more oomph to an updo. It’s by HairDo and is pretty easy to find – Ulta has them here

After one particular shoot where so many good shots were ruined by either being out of focus or out of the frame, I became obsessed with getting a new camera that had an articulating screen, like my little Sony vidcam has, so that I could see the shots I was about to take when using my remote. In all my researching (which was frustrating, because higher-quality DSLRs don’t use them) I finally stumbled across some instructional videos showing how to use a laptop as an LCD screen and see what you’re going to shoot in a live-view mode. In short, this was a huge leap forward for me as a photographer, because it meant I could finally take shots of myself without purely guessing whether or not I was framed and focused properly.

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Figuring out where to aim the camera and then managing to lie down in the proper spot is a real bitch when using a remote. Normally by the time I get it right, I am no longer smiling like I am here.

The shot above is a great example of this, as taking a picture of myself lying down, when working blind from a remote trigger, had been impossible before, but with the use of the laptop screen to get into the frame properly, I was not only able to pull it off, but to get myself focused beautifully. And this was using my 85mm lens, by the way, which is already a tough one to focus properly for self-portraits.

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It’s not a perfect method, and I don’t think it’s useful in all situations. If what I want to do is fling a wig around and take photos that capture the movement of the hair, taking the time to get the shot framed properly on the live-view screen isn’t worth the trouble since I don’t have a set idea of what I’m going for anyway and tend to pull the focus back far enough to get all of me in the frame no matter what; full-length and jumping shots probably also don’t need the extra bother to get framed right either. But definitely any portrait where I want to pose in a manner other than standing and looking straight at the camera are much easier to pull off this way.

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Just another test shot using the laptop – one issue is that what I see on the laptop isn’t flipped, so when I move left it appears on the screen like I am moving right, which is a MAJOR bitch to manage. 

I can not only see the shot I’m about to take before I take it, but I can also color-balance the shot right there on my monitor, which is pretty awesome. And I can set the focus where I want it, although this is tricky when shooting self-portraits and I still miss the mark at times.

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Fake ponytail from HairDo that I hated – it’s hard to apply and so heavy it falls right off. So I wrapped it on my head like a dead animal and took some photos, then threw it away. It’s useless. 

I will say using this method is a completely different way to shoot than I am accustomed to, which is why I’ve realized it’s not necessary in every situation.  First of all, there’s the issue of my eyesight again – yes, I can see exactly where I am going to be in the shot, set the focus, and adjust the white balance. But at some point, I have to take off my glasses and hit the trigger, and many times that still messes me up. Moving even the slightest bit from when I set up the shot via live view can screw up the shot by shifting me out of focus or off the mark I was going for; this happens more than you would imagine just by taking off my glasses and setting them down (which is why in all these awesomely-focused shots I am wearing my glasses) .

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Fake bun, also from HairDo. This one is OK as it’s a banana clip, which is what I prefer for ease of use – but matching the color of hairpieces to the color of my hair is always a problem, which is why I don’t normally use them.

And, I am very used to my shoots being free-wheeling affairs, where I move about a lot and take a ton of shots in the hope that at least a few of them will end up being usable; this laptop live view process is completely different in that each shot is carefully constructed and posed before I click the shutter. So it feels much more planned and methodical than what I’m used to doing. And the truth is, sometimes I don’t have much of a plan for what I’m going to shoot, which can make working this way frustrating. So, this is a good technique for me to keep in mind for self-portraits, but not necessarily something I need to use every time. I will say that while it slows down the actual shooting part of the process, and makes me think and plan more about what I’m doing than I’m sometimes comfortable with, it makes the processing part quicker because another benefit to hooking the laptop up to the camera while I shoot is that the program immediately downloads the shots to my hard drive as soon as I take them.

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Random old shot I processed at some point this month. I don’t really care for it.

This means I can stop during the middle of the shoot and pull a photo into my RAW processing software to mess around with it and be sure the shoot is headed in the right direction – is the makeup right, is the lighting working, is the color balance correct, etc. Again, while this is great on one hand, it slows me down on the other, and makes a shoot more about precision than spontaneity. Working this way is slow on a shot-by-shot basis, and I end up taking a LOT less shots as a result, because every step of the way is slowed down and analyzed rather than being evaluated after the fact. It’s not a bad thing at all, but it’s not always what a shoot requires, so it’s made me think more ahead of time about what I’m trying to do and how best to do it – which mostly serves to remind me how little technical knowledge I really have about what I’m doing at all. My lack of real skill isn’t so evident when I’m just screwing around and worrying about the end results later. Oh well.

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On the processing end, I got the idea one night to play around with taking two photos of myself and merging them into one shot, as you can see here. This is a bit tricky, since I need to find two shots of myself where my head is positioned almost exactly the same, and in order to really work the mouth needs to be similar, too (in fact, in this one I just used the full mouth from one of the shots, since in the two separate portraits they didn’t match up). In the end, I wasn’t super-thrilled with this first effort, since the two sides I put together don’t really make much sense in one photo – I don’t think the two looks play off each other in any meaningful or interesting way, but hey, it was nice practice. Getting two shots where my face was positioned close enough to match each other was harder than I thought it would be, so in the end I just went with what I could find. Moving on.

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What this experiment really led to was me taking one portrait shot, then cropping it in half and mirroring that side by flipping and pasting it onto the original. In this way, I could create some really cool symmetry and interesting shapes, particularly out of flowy wig shots.

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Harder to do when the eyes are looking to the side like this than in the one above where I am looking dead ahead

As with the live view screen on my laptop issue, I’m not sure why  I never thought of this before, but for whatever reason I never had, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to do. Especially when I have SO MANY wig-flow shots where there’s some cool shape created on one side of the wig that was originally ruined by something boring happening on the other side.

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I’ve already edited this photo as an original but I loved how the hair moved on that right side so much edited it again as a mirrored shot. Also, from a different picture I added those waves around the hairline because in the original the hairline was really wiggy.

It also makes my face just a little bit freaky, which I am always down for. Going back and looking at old photos where I can apply this technique has been a real eye-opener; a LOT of lost shots that I never processed because that one interesting detail wasn’t enough to save the whole thing can now be seen in a new light.

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For example, the shot above, before it was mirrored, was pretty boring. It was a test shot for some fabric I thought about using (the fabric is actually a shawl from Anthropologie); I just draped it over my head and hit the shutter, and on one side it was hanging down awkwardly and my face was really plain. But once I mirrored and flipped it, holy cow – it looked REALLY cool. So, for the past week, I’ve been seeking out old photos to flip and mirror – but then I got distracted by another discovery!

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A few years ago, I did a big shoot with my friend Candace where I rented out a studio and took a ton of shots. I processed quite a few at the time, but then I lost track of the folder on my hard drive and at some point assumed I’d deleted it or lost it somehow and that all those additional photos were dead to me forever. I keep all my originals on external hard drives, and although I’d combed through them looking for this set I’d never found it – I have thousands upon thousands of old photos, though, so the fact that this one eluded me when I was looking for it specifically isn’t much of surprise.

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I was thrilled to find it though; not only is my friend is ridiculously photogenic, obviously, but she is also game for anything and comes up with really creative ideas for posing so that all I have to do is shoot. She also doesn’t mind at all if I edit her photos to near-unrecognizable proportions (although she does tell me that those pics freak out her kids a bit, LOL).

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Candace has what I think of as an ‘anime’ face – big, round, wide-set eyes, a round face shape, and narrow, really full lips. After working with my own face for so long, it’s really interesting to work with someone else’s, especially someone who shares exactly ZERO similarities with my own face. I actually had to stop myself from over-editing her eyes and mouth because those are two areas that I work the most on my own face –  my eyes are small and close-set, and my lips are really thin, but I am amazed at how rather perfect this woman’s lips are naturally. I did no enhancement to them in these photos AT ALL; neither did they require any lipstick as they are naturally a rosy red.

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Other things I tend to notice when working on portraits: Candace has a really interesting nose. It’s long and narrow, but the tip of it is an almost perfect upside-down triangle, again, almost the opposite of my rather short and pudgy one. In fact, in looking at and working with the different parts of her face, I’m miffed as to how anyone could accuse of being sisters, or mother (me) and daughter (her) as sometimes happens. There just seriously isn’t one facial characteristic we have in common!

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Although I felt the need to do a lot less ‘work’ on her natural state than I do myself, I of course couldn’t help myself from doing some retouching and mucking around. And since I was finally working with a different face, I made a few before and after collages for the hell of it:

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Candace’s skin is significantly younger than mine – she is 33 and I am 47 – so skin retouching was MUCH easier, and where my complexion tends to be sallow, her skin tone is very peachy in tone. In a lot of shots, she had one eye that tended to squint more than the other – something I’ve noticed in my own photos, too – so I had to work a bit to even that out, and I lifted her eyebrows in a few shots like I do to a lot of my own; it makes the subject look younger and also makes the eyes look more expressive. It can give the photo a odd or phony quality, though, so on someone less open to my manipulations I wouldn’t have done it, but I knew she wouldn’t mind.

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We shot these photos in March of 2014, and it was already quite warm outside, but I’d brought along that funky faux-fur vest anyway, and after the shoot was done Candace threw it on and we took some quick pics in the alley behind the photo studio. It was the middle of the day, so the light was horrid in  the original, but I managed to play around with it until I got a goth-y, winter-y look I liked. In the portrait, I really wanted to make her look like a china doll, so I widened her face to make it more round and lifted the brows again. I wanted to transform her into a total blonde, but when I went too light it looked fake, so I settled for a lighter brown and then added tons of light and texture to give the photo an antique quality.

So, that’s it for the photos I’ve been working on lately, and I have a lot more face-flipping and Candace-editing that I want to do. Also, in spite of my damn self I am REALLY DYING to try this new Jon Renau Sarah wig that retails for a ridiculous price; I didn’t notice originally that it was a fully hand-tied cap, so that explains the crazy $450 price tag a little bit (but not much). Name Brand Wigs has a 30% off sale going on right now, and I am super-tempted to buy one even though at 30% off it’s still a stupid amount of money for a synthetic wig. In fact, I haven’t been tempted to try either a Renau or a Raquel Welch in a long time due to their price increases, but man, that Sarah is really calling to me. I’m about 99% convinced at this point that I need to try her, so a new wig video may be on it’s way in the next week or two. I think I can justify it if I buy it in a really photogenic color and tell myself I can use all that long wavy length in photos (which is true). Stay tuned!

The Art of the Spiel

That title only slightly makes sense in relation to this post, but coming up with clever titles is hard, y’all. I’m sure you feel my pain.

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If not, then feel this photo instead.

First of all, I wrote a really long post yesterday about an experience I had with a former blogger-friend of mine a few years ago, left it up for a few hours, then decided it wasn’t a good idea to say all that I did publicly about someone else even though most likely no one would have known who I was talking about anyway and took it down. So, if you read that post yesterday and are wondering where it went, then no, you have not lost your mind. I moved it back to draft status while I decide whether or not to let it stand (I am leaning towards not re-posting it). Moving on.

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No, the dingo didn’t eat your baby. I did. 

I also had a ton of new photos in that post, so I will be working them in to this one now, and they most likely will not relate in any way to the topic at hand, but so be it. Everybody up to speed now? Then let’s get started.

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So let’s discuss this instead: A while back, I posted about some more art opportunities that sort of came my way. I say sort of because, as was the case with art opportunities I’ve had in the past, these new ones also involved a bit of work on my part to make them happen, mostly because there was an assumption on behalf of the opportunity-provider that I know way more about all this photography stuff than I actually do. Because what I know is next to nothing. Which will become evident to you by the end of this post if it isn’t already.

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Green-eyed monster, anyone?

I recall another opportunity that came to nothing a few years ago, wherein the art gallery owner ranted on and on to me about how photography wasn’t real art (not really surprising, then, that this opportunity never came to fruition). Her observation was that, basically, the technology of photography is such that one doesn’t have to have much real talent or skill to be a decent photographer, and that in the end photography is just a matter of ‘standing around long enough with a camera until something interesting happens and then clicking the shutter.’

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Oh, THE DRAMA…

Not gonna lie, but this description, rude as it was, was also shockingly close to describing my entire creative process, so I had to give her credit for that while still considering her pretty bitchy and losing interest in working with her immediately. But I digress.

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Which leads me to a similar experience I had after being given the opportunity to submit a proposal to a local arts organization for possible inclusion in their programs, as I wrote about here and here. When I met with this woman initially, she was super-enthusiastic about my work and had lots of ideas of what I could do with it. I told her I’d mull her ideas over and see if I couldn’t work something up that fit into this organization’s structure, and over the weeks which ensued I tried my best to come up with something I liked.

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I sent her a few versions of my ever-changing proposal, and occasionally asked questions, but I tried to learn from past experience and not ask for help from her too terribly much. But in the end, two things happened to put a stop to the whole thing before it ever got off the ground anyway.

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First of all was the familiar fading of enthusiasm for my lack of experience. Sure enough, after the first round of questions or two, she started taking longer and longer to respond to my messages – which again, I tried not to make too constant – until eventually she stopped responding altogether. No surprise there.

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But the other thing that happened was this: I finally realized, after well over a month of trying to take what I do and fit it into what this arts organization did and failing miserably, that I actually did not want to work with them at all. I had no enthusiasm for it, and was simply trying to make it happen because, once again, I’d fallen prey to the belief that if I’m good at something, I have to turn it into a thing – a career, a job, a moneymaker, a thing that I do instead of the other things I do to make money that other people see as less glamorous or fulfilling or interesting.

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This happens to me quite often. I’m not talking about people who see my photos and, as a simple compliment, say that they think I could/should sell my work professionally and own my own photography business. I understand that when people say those things, they are being complimentary and nothing more, and I take it as such.

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But there are other people who take it a bit further, by comparing the job I actually do work at and comparing it to my art, and finding my work lacking. Why are you an English tutor and not a photographer? they will say. Why are you wasting time being a teacher when you could be a full-time, paid artist?

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I’ve noticed that the people who want to guide me away from teaching and into photography as a career are of two types, generally: people who absolutely HATE their own jobs, and people who absolutely LOVE what they do. The people who hate their jobs look at the way I have this totally separate thing that I do that looks so creative and fun and think, man, this woman must be crazy to do a boring old working-class job like teaching all day when she could go out and just take pictures instead; if I had a hobby like that I could easily turn into a full-time job, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

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And the people who just LOVE their jobs look at my photography and can’t imagine how something like teaching could be as awesome as taking photos, and they feel sorry for me because they imagine I must only feel passion for the thing that looks super-fun and relaxing without understanding that the fact it isn’t my day job is a big part of WHY it’s super-fun and relaxing in the first place.

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Found this dress at Goodwill for $25, and it was SO TINY I almost ripped it in half just trying to get it on. It did not survive the shoot.

Again – to any of you who have complimented my photos and said you thought I could have a career at it if I wanted one, please do not think I am talking about you. I am not. I’m talking about the people who see what I have chosen as a career as some sort of cop-out because I’m chicken or something, or lacking in motivation, or selling myself short because I lack confidence. Because that truly is not the case. Knowledge I may lack, but confidence I do not – or at least, no more than the next person.

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It became painfully evident to me while I tried to force myself to work up a proposal for this arts organization that it simply didn’t speak to me at all, and that I was only trying to force myself into it because I was giving in to the voices that told me I was doing myself some sort of disservice by not pursuing it. The woman who originally came to me with the idea – and she was a very nice person, who no doubt was trying to do me a favor – even told me that day that I wasn’t “hanging out with my people” and that I really needed to get connected to this local art community of which she was a member. Which was – odd, to say the least.

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See the wide neckline of the dress? It was NOT wide before I put it on. In fact, it came all the way up to my neck. I had to rip myself into it! Also, I couldn’t get the side zipper more than halfway up, but I think I concealed it well here.

I mean, really this woman didn’t know me at all, but the fact that I had artistic talent meant she somehow knew with whom I should have been hanging out. Interestingly enough, one of her biggest contacts she felt I should definitely be getting to know was the owner of the other art gallery, the one who insulted photography all the while knowing she was talking to a photographer. I disliked that woman immediately and immensely, yet because she was into Art-with-a-capital-A of course we should be hanging out and getting along.

Sorry, but I just HAD to include this

When I wrote poetry back in the 90’s, I often found myself at odds with what I was doing. I loved to read poetry, but I never cared much for reading it aloud, or hearing others read it. I wanted to hear it in my own head, and I really needed to see the words because the visuals were important to me (line breaks, etc.). But being a “poet” meant being a part of the poetry community – and while workshops always floated my boat because I loved picking poems apart and getting feedback about my own – listening to people at poetry readings or hanging out in coffee shops talking about how important poetry was always a bit boring to me.

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To love reading and writing poetry is one thing – but in my opinion, to feel that poetry is essential to life and that it held within it all of the secrets of the world was just too much. It was fine if someone else felt that way, but I didn’t, so eventually, my connections to the poetry community faded and dissolved (for this and other reasons not mentioned because they have nothing to do with the subject), and after a stint in the 00’s writing poetry online with a fair amount of success, I discovered photography, and that became my much-preferred creative endeavor.

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OK, I’m rambling here, so what is the point of all this? My point is this: number one, I am not only a good photographer, but I am also actually a very good teacher, and i very much enjoy tutoring. I am not only fine with it being my job, but I have actively chosen to make it so, and I continue to stick by that choice. It is rewarding and worthwhile and I am quite good at it. So, there’s that. And number two: just because I am good at photography does not mean it has to become my job or else I’ve wasted my talents. My art is my passion, but it’s mine, and no one owns it but me. It has nothing to do with how I pay my bills, and that is just the way I like it. When I shoot, I do exactly what I want, when I want, and how I want to do it. There are no demands – not on my time, or my level of effort, or my results. And often times, my results just suck, and that’s okay (good Lord, if I knew I had to get good results out of a shoot, it would be the end of me). The more people try to put my art into boxes that make them comfortable, the more I learn about where my own boundaries are around it. I don’t even feel much like I’ll ever want to take photos of other people at this point – for whatever reason,  I like using myself as my model, and so be it.

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And one more thing – I am just not a ‘joiner.’ I’ve found this in the current political climate, too. As I think I’ve made very clear, I did not vote for our current president. And after the election, I was as motivated as anyone to get more politically involved. However, what I’ve found is loads of groups that, while they do good work organizing and focusing on very valuable issues, also have a huge social component I just don’t care for. I struggled with this at first, until I realized that I just simply don’t need these big groups of people with whom I have some common bond, especially when that common bond results in large gatherings of people sitting around talking about the subject.

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When these groups go out and do things, I am game for coming along, but I don’t really want or need to have dinner with them once a month, or meet at their houses for lectures and meetings. So what that makes me is a much less active member in these communities, which before I really thought about all this made me feel like a slacker who wasn’t doing her part. But now I see it as being a ‘doer’ instead of a joiner. Let’s face it, if all that’s going to happen is a meeting where people talk about issues over dinner and drinks, I’d rather be at home in a wig taking pictures anyway. And so it is.

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Lessons Learned

Lots to discuss. Mostly photography nerd stuff, but some other odds and ends as well, so let’s get to it.

On the tutoring front, things are going well. Surprisingly, I have enjoyed working with my two new elementary-school students (grades 4 and 5), so much so that I plan to pick up more younger clients down the road – I just haven’t done it yet as I currently have 5 clients total and am happy with my workload for now. But when I am ready for another wave of networking, I am going to send out my information to the elementary schools in the area, which I have not done yet, and offer my tutoring to the older-level kids; I don’t think at this point I want to work with emerging readers at all, but by fourth grade kids in general are definitely reading on their own, which is the point at which I can step in and help.

And on the art project front, a longtime blogger and follower Charlotte Hoather presented an idea to me in a way that really made sense to me, and gave me a path to follow with some of the opportunities that are on the horizon.Not that I’ve actually put a package together yet; I am still working out the kinks of functioning productively with my new schedule (meaning for the most part, I am still wasting WAY too much time goofing off as opposed to working on projects) but even that is getting better. It’s been almost a year now since I left my former school, after all, so at some point I was bound to get used to my new life; it seems to finally be happening.

So now, on to the photos:

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I have been in a SERIOUS photo-taking mood lately; partly because I have had whole days to myself here and there, partly due to making some cool purchases lately I’ve been excited to work with (of the prop, costume, and software variety), and also due to learning some new techniques I am still perfecting. The results of all this have been mixed for various reasons, but the photo above is one example of a slam-dunk I’ve pulled off recently. Everything about that shot just works for me, and I’m really happy with it. Let’s get down to the specifics, for those that care. Or if you don’t, stop reading and just scroll and view the pics.
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There’s two wigs on my head in this shot

As far as props and costumes, back in December I purchased a few of these face crystal sets from Free People and I loved them, but they ran out and didn’t replace the few styles they had with anything new. The brand name FP was selling was called Body Baubles, and a quick Google search turned up a website where I could buy more sets to work with. I had a hard time choosing, but in the end I picked up 3 or 4 more sets to use (I can’t recall off-hand exactly how many). These first two shots above are using some of the “baubles” from that purchase. They are really great little accessories; the adhesive is pretty tacky (although I haven’t found them wearable more than once, and haven’t researched if there’s a way to extend their shelf life) so they definitely stay on for the duration of a shoot. I do wear them with a ton of makeup on, so maybe with lighter makeup they last for more than one wear. When editing photos, they are really easy to manipulate and move to different areas of the face, which is fun – I can put them on once and use them for several different looks, then change up where they are placed on my face via editing later. Sweet.

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A processing issue I’ve been addressing lately is my ongoing struggle with skin retouching. It’s so difficult to get it right, and for the most part the skin in my portraits has always come out too soft. It’s been bugging me for forever, but a few weeks ago I finally decided to do some internet research to try and add something to the skills I’ve already acquired via YouTube that could up my game. I found a pretty easy, albeit tedious, technique from another photographer that was pretty astounding in its simplicity – basically, you take a section of the skin that has good texture, copy it, run it through a few filters, and then paste onto sections of the skin that have lost texture and look too smooth. Not sure why I didn’t think of this before, except for the fact that it is very time consuming and boring to execute.

The idea is for the skin to be retouched so that unwanted wrinkles, shadows, and pores are minimized, which is what loads of filters will already do, but to keep the texture that makes skin look like, well, skin. Here’s an example of really amazing skin retouching, of the sort I still cannot do:

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And here is an example of ‘bad’ retouching  – no offense to the lovely ladies in the photos, of course. This is also what most skin smoothing filters will do to your skin, such as the ones you can use in a phone app or a basic photo editing program.

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I always say that portraits like this look like the subject has been sculpted out of butter; when you lose all the skin’s texture, and yes, even all the lines and pores, you end up with a photo that looks unnatural and blurred. So how to keep the lines and shadows and textures that you want, while still getting rid of the wrinkles, blemishes, and large pores that you don’t want? Well, that’s been my question forever; usually I end up somewhere between the good photo and the bad ones, but still too close to the latter for my liking.

The first thing I realized was that I needed to soften the photo less when working with the raw file, so I have more texture to work with from the beginning. The tendency is always to soften a portrait because in general that’s more flattering, but if a RAW file is softened too much you can end up without enough texture to use later. So, in my last batch of shots I was sure to keep the original sharper than I usually do, even though that means my original shots of my 47 year old skin are less complimentary than I would like. No one but me ever sees those, anyway.

The second thing I’ve been learning to do is add the right sort of texture back into the skin after attempting to retouch OUT the textures I don’t want. As I said, this can be tedious, especially if I have only really small patches of texture to work with and re-distribute over the face, but once I get this down I think the end results are going to be worth it.

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Some early attempts; I keep them bigger so hopefully you can see the skin. I think the second one is better than the first. I actually really don’t care for either one of these shots all that much. Nothing wrong with them, I just think they’re both kinda boring.

By the way, back to props: in the two photos above I am wearing this faux alpaca-fur scarf I saw a while back at Nordstrom; it really is that bright, and it is huge – when throwing it over my shoulders it looks more like a big, long fuzzy vest than a scarf. I saw it at the Galleria store and was dying for it, but it was too pricey for me at the time; later on I saw it on sale half off online and snatched it right up. I am glad I did, even though we have had NO winter here this year and I have had no reason to wear it out of the house.

All of this skin retouching stuff got me excited about working with portraits, so last Friday I decided to try another shoot and give myself some newer stuff to work with. I’ve got my Portrait Pro software down to the extent that, in most of these photos I’ve already shared, I had nothing but foundation, highlight and contour, and powder on my face in the actual shots. ALL of the color on the face, including the mascara and the eyebrows, has been added digitally. This really helps me with prep-time for taking self-portraits, as so often the amount of time putting on a full drag face is so long that by the time I am done applying, I don’t much feel like doing the work of posing for the shoot. Now I can slap on the basics fairly quickly and get to work, although applying more makeup on the front end is always going to be preferable  – something I REALLY learned in this last shoot.

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So, my basic idea was this: I’ve had some luck in the past taking half my face from one shot and layering it over another face to get the “perfect”look – in one case, for example, I loved the movement of the hair in a shot, but there was so much hair in my face it wasn’t usable as it was. I figured out how to take a section of my face from another shot and paste it over the hair-covered one, and not only did it solve the problem, it actually created a new-looking face that didn’t much look like me, but was still cool:

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You’ve seen it before, but here it is again

I am always looking for ways to make me look less like me, so I got this idea to take a bunch of shots of myself standing in the same exact position, wearing exactly the same thing, but making a ton of different faces, with the plan being to use my facial features like a digital Mrs. Potato Head during editing and just steal a nose here, a mouth there, and create all these different-looking people out of them. However, this did not end up being nearly as cool as it sounded.

The basic ‘pose’ was like the one above where I have on the head scarf: I wanted to be looking straight ahead as that is the easiest way to edit using Portrait Pro as well as being the easiest way to pose in general, which I thought would help me keep all the different shots uniform. It didn’t though – you’d be amazed how much you actually move your damn head around even when you think you’re being perfectly still! So, there was actually a lot of variation among the different shots as far as exactly where my head was positioned, which altered the light and shadows hitting the faces, too.

But that could have been worked with – here was the real problem: these shots, even though they served their purpose of having at least somewhat interchangeable facial features to play with, were basically, well, boring. I am not sure why I decided to go with a head scarf instead of a wig, except that I must have thought the presence of wig hair would either be too limiting visually or just get too much in the way of the face. That makes sense, but then I should have gone on to do some shots looking at the camera wearing some sort of hair, because while it was interesting to mix up my facial features on different shots, the end results were just lame. Just me staring at a camera with a head scarf on, period. Very little color and no point of interest, unless like me you are able to look at them and appreciate the subtle differences in my face taking the Potato Head approach renders. Which, honestly, wasn’t even THAT interesting to me! So, I found myself spending a TON of time Potato-Heading myself only to end up looking at a pretty boring photo. As a result of that, I started to add a ton of weird textures and overlays just to cure my own boredom, which isn’t really something I care to look at in the end. I love filters and overlays, but I prefer to use them subtly so that the end result still looks somewhat ‘natural’ – in other words, the filter enhances the photo without overtaking it. In these shots, I got so bored that I let the filters take over.

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You’ve already seen this one, but I’m showing it again because it’s the best example of the problem I created for myself. Although, I WAS briefly interested in the fact that I inadvertently made myself look like Ivanka Trump. 

One other thing I did during the shoot to liven things up, but that also didn’t work out all that well: a few times I held up some props to my face, thinking I could edit those elements out of the shots and apply them to my experimental faces as well – sort of like Mrs. Potato Head bonus features, if you will. But even that was primarily a fail; even though there wasn’t much going on in the initial shots that I had to deal with when compositing later, there was enough that it made it hard to use the props without them being obviously pasted onto my face. For example, I thought sticking a peacock feather over my eye would be kind of awesome; on its own it’s not such a grand idea, but if the peacock feather could look like it was actually growing out of my face it could be kinda cool. Except, when I held the feather up to my eye I didn’t center it properly, and when trying to move it around on another head shot, all the places in the original photo where the head scarf and parts of my face showed through the spines made it impossible to work with without looking totally ridiculous and I am not talented enough to highlight and copy something this intricate without screwing it up royally. To compensate for that, I filtered it to death, and what I ended up settling for in the final version was pretty much laughable and lame – when I look at this, I just think, and why does this photo even exist, exactly? It literally serves no purpose whatsoever, except to confuse the viewer as to why the photographer even wasted her time on such foolishness:

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So, Ivanka Trump, in what appears to be a swim cap, sticks a peacock feather in it and then, what, takes a shower? Gets caught in the rain? WHY AM I LOOKING AT THIS?! And why is that peacock feather looking so much like a fish skeleton – I NEED ANSWERS!

Then there’s this beauty – that’s a Christmas tree ornament I held in front of my face in one shot, that once again I failed to put properly over the eye and had to adjust for that error:

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For fun, I actually took the pink center of the star, stretched it out into a lip-like shape, and stuck it over my real lips. Then I stretched it out even more and put the glitter pattern of it into the head scarf. All of this took a crazy amount of time, and in the end helped the photo not one bit. Still boring. Although, I continue to be impressed with how good I can make fake makeup look.

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Over-edited heavy filter compensation photo. There are actually elements of this one I like, but still, they don’t go together at all. Once I got the idea to use these different wall textures on it, I wished I hadn’t worked so hard to get that star placed on my face, because it literally makes no sense with what else the picture has going on.

Now, this next one I think was somewhat more successful. The placement of the silver tree branch was more workable, and the end result of putting it up against my face in a different shot is more interesting. My goal was to make it look like the branch was actually growing out of my face, but I’m not skilled enough at Photoshop to have made that happen in any convincing way, so I kind of abandoned the idea and decided to just say, hey, here’s me with a silver branch in my face. Enjoy.

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At the time of editing, though, I wasn’t as satisfied with this as I am now, because I actually kept going with the filters until I’d gone WAY too far. Remember, I’m still getting used to the novelty of being able to use all my software on my new laptop, so I do tend to get carried away. Thankfully I saved a copy of the version above and didn’t totally trash it without having a backup to that previous, much less chaotic version.

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Sinead O’Connor hiding out in the forest? Stop, already. Just stop. 

However, all hope was NOT LOST! Apparently I’ve learned something over the years I’ve been doing this (well and now, I’ve actually learned more, namely, that taking 50 photos of myself standing in the same spot wearing a swim cap is a bad idea) because I did take the time to throw on a few wigs, and some of the new Goodwill costume purchases I’ve made lately, and get some interesting shots before I packed it in for the day. So at least I can have fun editing those. Although – I can’t say editing this one was an easy ride:

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It seemed I was just determined to make life hard for myself on this day, because right before I called it quits I decided to throw on some crazy makeup and take a few shots with it – I managed to draw those thick black lines onto my face PERFECTLY, then decided to try and blend them out a little with black eye shadow and effed that one over the eyebrow COMPLETELY. I was able to fix it in Photoshop, but it was a huge pain in the ass and took forever, so I’m not sure I’ll edit any more shots from this part of the shoot. That’s probably fine, though, because this is a pretty distinctive look, and I don’t think anyone needs to see more than one of this. Not sure I should have kept the brick wall effect on the orange and yellow eye shadow, but I am a bit obsessed with that particular texture and how I can cleverly incorporate it into shots without allowing it to take over. And that top is AMAZING for photos – it’s big and sheer and very caftan-y and it was only $3.99 at the Goodwill up the street.

Now, last but not least – from the ashes of a basically failed photo session comes this lovely Phoenix!

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BOOM! Take THAT, Mrs. Potato Head! In reality, this wig is a dishwater-looking blond with a very drab green, although a bit of teal and yellow shows up in the underneath side of it. But using Photoshop I was able to draw out a ton of beautiful color, plus I feel like I really got the skin texture right here, if maybe a bit TOO textured. All of the makeup was added in PS, and the hair is actually taken from two different shots of it while I was blowing it around with a fan (the bit where it’s curling up towards the ceiling is from one shot, as well as the bit that is swooping over my forehead and back over my shoulder; that big swoop at the top is from another shot where it was almost falling back off my head, as well as all the strands coming forward onto my shoulders). Even the cheap cotton-knit yellow dress I’d just picked up at Goodwill and put on backwards (since that’s where the interesting detail was) really worked with the wig far better than I thought it would. I absolutely love this shot, at least as much as the very first one I posted in this long-ass thread, so, lesson learned – when it comes to portraits, I really need to start with some color, and some movement and interesting poses that I can enhance in Photoshop, rather than starting so basic that I have to rely on editing to do ALL the work. A little bit of PS magic is fine and fun for me, but if it’s ALL the photo has to work with to make it successful, it just isn’t my bag. Some people are really great all of that image manipulation, but it turns out that I do have my limits. So, onward and upward; more wigs it is!

Speaking of wigs, I did buy three new Rene of Paris ones over the weekend – a Zuma, a Sonoma, and an Evanna. I got one of them in the new pastel blue, then the others are in some of the new brunettes they came out with. The prices are very nice, which helped me decide to make the purchases. I should have them in to review soon!

Valentine’s Fray

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For starters, I’ve been sick with one thing or another since January 1st, and it’s getting old. First there was the shingles, which was miserable, and after that there’s this recurring UTI I can’t get rid of that I’ve dealt with twice already,  and then this week I picked up a wicked head cold that has me sneezing and snuffling and feeling generally miserable. My tutoring business is finally picking up, and there are a few potential projects I’d like to be focusing on right now, so constantly feeling like crap is both slowing me down and pissing me off. Not to mention the ongoing daily Trump assault that often finds me darting out of the house in no time flat to go protest some new executive order President Steve Bannon shits out over breakfast.

Speaking of projects, I’ve had this thing that keeps happening to me and it’s starting to work my last nerve. Someone will contact me about my photography – either offering to put me in a show or asking me to participate in some project – and when I express interest but request assistance because I’ve never had a gallery show or engaged in a photography project, the person who proposed the idea will be super-helpful for a day or two, then steadily lose interest in working with me until communication is cut off entirely and the whole idea fizzles. I am not sure why this keeps happening, but I can only assume it’s because these people don’t want to work with me if I need a lot of help to meet the requirements of their project, and while I can understand being hit with a bunch of questions over something you thought you could just throw out to someone and have them run with it is annoying, I hardly feel like the questions I’ve asked or the assistance/information I’ve needed has been excessive.

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For example, several years ago a friend of mine contacted me about possibly having a show at this gallery of which she was a board member. I was excited about the idea, but never having had a show I had no idea what it entailed, so I asked her how such a thing would come together. She informed me that when the gallery worked with artists, the framing (or in the case of photography, the printing and framing) of the pieces would be taken care of by the artist and delivered to the gallery. OK, so what are the requirements for printing? She didn’t know, but directed me to another photographer who’d had several shows at her gallery and said this person could probably help me. So, I contacted that person and after hearing back from her I asked several questions, such as – what size prints do you use, and how do you frame them, and what service do you use to get these things printed? She answered me noncommittally – something like, well I think I’ve done it this or that way, but I don’t really remember – and then she disappeared. I had a lot more questions for her, but after emailing her two more times I figured she wasn’t so game to help me out, and by that time, neither was the friend who’d originally made the offer. So, that was a dead-end.

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Now I feel like the same sort of thing is happening again. Three weeks ago, someone I follow on Facebook contacted me to ask if I ever did anything professional with my photos, and a conversation struck up around that. She was very enthusiastic about my work and asked if we could meet for lunch. We did so, and during that lunch this person was insistent that there was a market for my photographs through this nonprofit that offers art workshops to places like women’s shelters, halfway houses, nursing homes, etc. That may sound strange, but a perusal of their website shows that artists get hired by these places to offer workshops about, say, sculpting or poetry writing, where they teach the participants to do these things over the course of several hours. There was a wide variety of workshops offered, and it sounded like a cool thing to do that not only could pay me well for my time and provide me opportunities to photograph people other than myself, but that it was performing a nice service for people in need as well.

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My ‘workshop’ would have to be a bit different, though, because instead of having the participants make something, they’d just be posing for a portrait; a portrait I would work my Photoshop magic on and give to them as a fun picture of themselves looking in some way unusual and fun. It’s a nice idea, but I’ve struggled a bit with how to structure such a thing, and I’ve had some questions and I’ve been trying to put a proposal together for my friend to show to the organization. Logistical stuff, mainly, like how long can I really spend with each client if there’s just one of me and I have to shoot 10-12 people in a session, and how do I get their makeup done too without it taking forever to pull off? And how can I personalize these photos so that when I work with them I can incorporate the subjects’ personalities into them? Should I provide some sort of lesson or lecture about my portraits, portraiture in general, or sit down with each person and get to know them a little so I can include what they tell me in the final product? How much input do I want these people to have in the final result, and how much input is realistic given the time constraints?

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I also had questions about the proposal itself – how much should I charge, what additional fees should I include? How does any artist put a proposal like this together? How do you package and promote your artwork for different audiences without your art becoming something you no longer enjoy doing? OK, that last question is more just for me, but all of the others are genuine confusions I have about putting something like this together, so on occasion I’ve asked my friend some of them to see what she thinks. Keep in mind she was very, very enthusiastic about my chances of finding a niche with this organization when we met for lunch, so I’ve assumed she’d be willing to help me out as far as getting things together, but I may have been wrong about that, because in the last week or so I haven’t been hearing from her much, and her responses have been pretty brief. I’ve only contacted her with questions twice since we met, although I could definitely have asked her more, but I’ve been trying not to overwhelm her with requests for assistance.

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Still, I think I may have derailed this project somehow anyway, without meaning to do so, and I’m not sure why this keeps happening. Maybe because they like my photos people assume I know more about marketing, promoting, or even just printing my photos than I do, or that any 47-year-old woman should be able to figure this shit out for herself without needing help – I dunno. It’s not like I’ve been sitting around dreaming of the day I was able to work for a nonprofit taking portraits of people in nursing homes or shelters, and had an entire proposal at the ready  in case I was ever asked. It’s not like I’ve been preparing for the day someone gives me a gallery show, either, so when someone asks me if I want to do such a thing I’m all ready to do that, too (in fact, when it came to the gallery show, I did learn that I hadn’t even been editing my photos properly for printing anyway, and nothing I had up to that point would have worked).

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Come to think of it, though, I bet that’s exactly what these people have assumed. They see me as a photographer, not a hobbyist, so they do assume I already know these things and are ready and waiting to jump at the first offer I get. In fact, that’s probably what they would expect of any artist, since for many of them they are ready and waiting for someone to ask; I just never have been. I’ve never given these sorts of propositions any thought at all, so when someone presents me with an opportunity I expect them to help me get my shit together to pull it off – which I guess isn’t really the deal.

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On the flip side of that, though, is the thought that I’m not really sure this nonprofit thing is something I want to do. I’m not sure what I do is as right for their purposes as my friend thinks  it is, although she herself gets work through them and thinks I am a good fit. I just feel lost trying to put something together for it for one reason or another  – one reason, for example, is the fact that I think I’d have to bring a makeup artist with me to these sessions, and I don’t know any makeup artists. I’d also have to supply all the costumes, which includes accessories and wigs, and I’m not real sure how to package all of this stuff into a workable, time-efficient program. I feel like I need someone to bounce the whole thing off of, and my friend clearly isn’t going to be that person (one recent feedback she gave me was that my prices were “VERY reasonable,” which I took to mean I wasn’t charging enough money for my services, but she didn’t tell me what she would have considered reasonable).

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Lordy, I just don’t know, but I feel like my window of opportunity for this is narrowing, and I still don’t have a clear picture of how it should work. And this is on top of being sick in one form or another for a month straight, dealing with a sick father-in-law who is in the hospital, the daily Trump outrage, and juggling new clients, so that days go by right now where I haven’t even given the project any thought and don’t much feel like doing it, either. I don’t feel I’ve got any sort of grasp on it at all, which knocks it down to the bottom of my to-do list on a daily basis. You know how that goes.

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Anyway, in other news, I’m excited for Rene of Paris to come out with several new wig styles this month. There are several I’m waiting to try, and the company has some gorgeous new colors they’re adding to the line also (a pastel blue that looks fabulous and several delicious new brunettes). And as usual, they are keeping prices reasonable, which is great. I really want to try Sonoma and Evanna even though, being Rene of Paris wigs, they will probably be waaaaay too huge on me; ROP really goes overboard on the curls and swirls, but whatever. I haven’t made any videos in quite a while because I haven’t bought anything lately, but I will definitely be trying these two out and filming them in the future.

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As you can tell from these photos, I’ve been enjoying playing around with some of the Photoshop plug-ins I purchased but just couldn’t use with my old laptop; the Topaz Glow, Impressions, and Textures plug-ins in particular are really floating my boat right now, and I’m so happy to be able to use them again.

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I think this about catches me up for now; hope your February is moving along nicely and that you are having some sort of winter wherever you are. It was 85 degrees here today, which is depressing; aside from one weekend of freezing temperatures we’ve had no cold weather here at all this year, and I can’t remember the last time winter was so warm (that’s actually because it’s never happened; we’re breaking records for highest winter temps almost daily, it seems).

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New Year’s Devolution

Welp, 2016 finally pissed off, but not before bitch-slapping me one last time on the way out the door.

Over the winter break, Free People kept having all these awesome sales, and I ended up buying WAY too much stuff but it was all really inexpensive so no harm done. Of the many things I bought, there were these “body baubles” I kept scrolling past on the sale page; they were little face jewels pre-packaged into interesting shapes, and after much hemming and hawing I eventually put some of them in my cart – they were on sale for about six bucks a bauble, so I figured why not. They came on a thin adhesive strip, so all I had to do before the day’s shoot was peel them off their backing and stick ’em on my face. Easy-peasy.

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I took all of these on December 31st, and this was one of those shoots where everything worked – I used the right lens, my lighting was on point, and I went ahead and used my DermaBlend (which I usually just use on my neck and chest)  on my face since last time out my Smashbox foundation didn’t work so well, and it did the trick. I put on a decent amount of foundation and highlight/contour, as well as lot of liner and mascara, but I purposely went light on the rest of the cosmetics so I could really play around with PortraitPro’s makeup effects on a cleaner canvas than usual (foundation is always a must, though – I’ve learned that the hard way).

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I didn’t just play around with makeup in PortraitPro, though; I broke out a really long wig and really flung it about when posing – something I don’t do as often as I used to because, quite honestly, it’s a pain in the ass. You have to stop and re-brush the wig every few shots or you end up with an ugly, tangled mess, not to mention all the wig hairs that get in your eyes, your lipstick, the fan that’s blowing your wig around (it doesn’t just happen to Beyonce), and, of course, it gets hot. My laziness lately has pretty much led me to forgo long wigs for shorties that are colorful and easy to play around with, but this long ombre pink one made for some amazing movement shots – in fact, I have already edited a HELL of a lot of the long wig photos and am still going.

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PortraitPro can also change haircolor, so even though all these long hair shots are the same wig, I managed to make it look a bit different using the software. I really can’t explain how much fun all this stuff is for me to do – as a kid, I used to get fashion magazines and lay them out on the floor, then get colored markers and ‘improve’ all the models’ makeup and hair. So with Photoshop, I basically get to do what I enjoyed doing so much as a kid, only with more effective results, which I think is pretty damn cool. Technology, yay! Although, I still do miss the JC Penney catalog I used to deface year after year. Moving on.

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I made sure to do a few costume changes so I’d have lots to work with, but I didn’t really think about switching out  the ‘body baubles’ once I got to the multi-colored set you see in most of the photos above. I wore the silver ones with the blonde wig and the polka-dotted PJs (yes, they do have feet in them, something someone on Facebook guessed without me telling them – is it that obvious?) and then switched to the colorful ones for the long wig, and kept that set on for two more costume changes, leaving out the green set I got entirely (after a few hours with the adhesive on my face, it was starting to itch, so I decided to stop and save the green baubles for another shoot). So, while I had some different wigs and outfits to play around with when editing, I had the same bauble-face in most of them. Enter Photoshop again:

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Aside from eyeshadow/mascara, I didn’t add any makeup to this shot – I started to, but for some reason it worked better without added blush and lipstick

Yep, I realized that it was super-easy to copy the face baubles in PS and paste them onto other parts of my face as much as I wanted. Score! So that gave me plenty more ways to take shots from the same set and make them look a bit different. I also worked the hell out of the makeup tool in PortraitPro – when using the tool, you can only add one eyeshadow color at a time, so I usually use it to add to existing color and move on. This time, I kept using and re-using the tool to get all these different colors of eyeshadow on my face – it’s tedious work, because every time you load PP you have to move the guide points around the subject’s face to get all the outlines right, and on my poor old laptop (got a new one on the way, thank god) the software slows to a crawl. But using PortraitPro and Photoshop’s blending tools, and a LOT of patience, I was able to create some pretty realistic and different makeup effects from photo to photo.

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I purposely left off any eyebrow liner or pencil when putting on my makeup, because I knew I wanted to play around with my brows, and I do not like using the glue-stick drag-queen trick to block my natural brows out and draw them on higher (tried it once and it yanked out a lot of my already-sparse eyebrow hair). In some shots, I was able to remove the brows entirely and use copied and pasted face baubles in their place (like the photo above with the short purple wig), while in others I used Photoshop to raise them high, drag-queen style. In the shot directly above, all of that eyeshadow was done via editing: my first round with PortraitPro added the green-gold shadow, and then I went in a second time to add the copper color on the lid. You can choose whether or not to make the shadow matte or shimmery, and you can see in that shot how realistic the shimmery shadows look. Each photo took hours to work with this way, but as I mentioned already, I was having fun doing it, so no problem there.

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You can imagine how long this one took to edit, with not one or two but THREE eyeshadow colors happening. My dedication is real, people. Another fun PortraitPro makeup fact: Because I lined my eyes using white in the waterline and bringing the dark liner down below (another drag queen trick to make eyes look bigger and change the shape), I was able to use the software to apply lashes and mascara below the dark eyeliner – something I could not have done on my own (drag queens can do this with false lashes, but I was already risking it with the bauble-adhesive on my sensitive skin and wasn’t gonna go there). I think if you scroll back up to some of the previous pictures, you can see the effect of this better than you can in the shot above, but it is amazing how realistic the eyelashes look. I also used PP to over-whiten the eye area to increase the big-eyed effect. So fun.

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OK, I already had a strange look on my face before editing this shot, but by the time I was done, I literally looked NOTHING like myself. And I didn’t even edit this one nearly as much as the others! Go figure. I think it’s because it’s an angle and an expression I don’t normally do. 

But wait – I started this post saying 2016 kicked me in the ass one last time on December 31st, but so far everything sounds hunky-dory. So what happened? Well what happened was this: after I took about 400 shots, and my face started to get itchy, I called it a day, uploaded my shots, and removed all the makeup from my face so I could start editing. And a few hours later, I started to get – itchy. But on my chest, not my face. I was so focused on the photos that it took me awhile to notice that I’d gotten SO itchy I was scratching my right side, right around the rib area. Then I felt a big old bump, like a huge mosquito had bitten me (not an unlikely thought, since it was about 84 degrees around New Year’s, and there actually WERE mosquitoes outside). I went to the mirror to see how bad the bite was, and YIKES. It wasn’t just one bite – it was whole cluster of them! No wait, upon further inspection – there were TWO clusters of bites on the right side of my chest.

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I realize this photo in no way goes along with the story I am telling – but trust me, THAT photo you don’t want to see.

I showed Doug, and he agreed that they looked like some kind of bug bites, which was freaking me out more than the itching. I hated to admit it, but they sure looked like bed bugs. Bed Bugs! Ugh! I freaked out and washed a LOT of shit in hot water that evening, not gonna lie, even though it was not logical that I would have been bitten by bed bugs all over while my husband had none anywhere, or that I wouldn’t start feeling them until four in the afternoon. Could we have fleas? How was this possible with all the money we spend to keep our totally-indoor pets flea-free? Or – was it actually an allergic reaction to the adhesive, and if so, why was it on my chest and not my face, where the baubles actually were glued? The mystery, and the itching, deepened.

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One of my faves from this set so far – I love the tones in this one

As I’m typing this, I’m wondering if it’s even a good idea to share it at all – but, the real story turned out to have nothing to do with bugs. I loaded up on Benadryl to get through the night, then realized in the morning when the bites hadn’t changed a bit (they hadn’t gotten worse, but certainly were no better) that I was going to have to hope against hope that a clinic somewhere was open on New Year’s Day so I could find out what was going on (isn’t it always the way that you develop some weird something or other on a holiday, or a weekend when doctors aren’t open?). Thankfully, a RediClinic was open in our local HEB and I headed up there, along with every other sick man, woman, and child desperately looking for emergency care on the first damn day of 2017.

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Lots of added face baubles in this one, and you gotta give me credit for using PortraitPro to create that ombre lip. Fake makeup takes work, people!

Anyway, long story short (too late) – the doc takes one look at my chest and identifies the rash immediately as shingles. Something I have never had – and three days in, I hope to God I never have again. The rash has not spread – but oh my GAWD is it painful. Not to draw too clear a picture, but I eventually had to cut the right side out of a t-shirt just so I could be somewhat covered up around the house because I cannot stand to have any  fabric touching my chest right now. And of course, it finally decided to get cold here in Houston today, so I not only have on a t-shirt with the right boob cut out of it, but a legwarmer stuck on my right arm to keep me feeling somewhat covered since I had to cut the sleeve out too. That’s right people – the glamourpuss in the photos above is currently typing this blog post in a green, half-ripped t-shirt, with her rashy right boob hanging out and a brown legwarmer on her right arm. Earlier, one – ONE – hair from my head fell onto my chest and it felt like someone rubbed sandpaper on it, that’s how bad it is right now. If ANY fabric from this ripped-up shirt comes close to the danger zone, I feel it, and it feels awful.

So, day one of 2017 found me in a clinic getting diagnosed with shingles. And I was so ready to hit the ground running this week too, to finally buckle down and get my tutoring business up and running. Instead, I’m hiding out in the house dedicating all my time and energy pampering and protecting my chest. I blame Donald Trump. But hey, I’ve had plenty of time to play around and edit my pictures! Notice I’ve already processed ELEVEN of them, and I just took the shots four days ago. That’s gotta be a new record for me.