“They should have sent a poet”

Posted in Uncategorized on March 10, 2011 by brynforbes

Dining room above iconic Philly Cheesesteak place
In high school, I was assigned a paper that involved picking a poem to analyze. I was frustrated because I didn’t understand so many of the poems and the first one that I “got”, was rejected by my teacher as too simple. The most frustrating part was that I couldn’t see a path by which I could put in effort and get results out. How do you research the meaning of obscure references from a time past or describe the effect of the use of adjectives that all began with the same letter.

Later, I found poets that I were very compelling. Without a paper due, I could relax in to the poem and just the enjoy the effect, like a nice glass of whiskey, I may not be able to describe the components of the “nose” but I can still enjoy the warmth and the complex unindividuated tastes.

As I have read more poems, the ones that hit me over the head, I appreciate less, because “I get it already”.

When I am writing in a journal, or writing about myself, I find what I’m trying to convey too cartoon-mallet-to-the-head, and it sounds wrong. By writing more obscurely with more references and allusions it feels less ugly, less egotistical.

When seeing an incredible sunset that smacks me silly, and I lose my words and I stumble around saying “WOW just WOW. WOW” I think to myself of the scene in the movie Contact where Jodie Foster’s character says “They should have sent a poet”

Like poems, my appreciation for photographs started with working to remove all the unessential elements and get to the feeling of the photograph. But now those images feel “mallet-y”, and I long for the complex, and the unknown, the mystery and the allusion.

May all of us appreciate the situations we are in, that so simply full of life, in all its complications that we wish we were poets.




Posted in observation on February 11, 2011 by brynforbes

I used to say one of the major reasons that I took pictures was because it kept me looking out the window.

I am a huge reader. Not quite the epic reader that my sister is, but still. On car trips as kids we used to read the whole way. People would always ask don’t you get car sick? Nope, not even on highway 1 through big sur, though that ability has diminished somewhat, though I was able to survive the Nurburgring at super high speeds looking through a telephoto lens bouncing around aimed at the car in front of us, but I digress. I read instead of looked out the window. My mom would always be trying to get us to look at something interesting.

Once I took up photography, the type A part of me knew that there were interesting things out there, and now that I was fitted with a camera, I could record them. Huge type A so suddenly it was a game, so suddenly I was looking out the window. I may not have gotten great images, but I was getting the reward of looking out the window and seeing.

I’d see cool textures, or notice graffiti, or funny signs. The sort of thing you do while travelling in a foreign country, but don’t do in your home town.

But somehow I’ve gotten jaded with my photography. I used to notice professional photographers that wouldn’t photograph because it wasn’t the best light or it was just a “nice” waterfall. I think this comes with constantly trying to top your portfolio, rather than record the interesting things you see. You develop a callous filter that says “nope not interesting” “not portfolio worthy” and you take so many pictures anyway, that’s it such a nice break to give yourself permission to just read.

So now I play a game I call “I notice you” when I’m in the car by myself. I actually say out loud or just the narrator in my head “I notice you stop sign with bullet holes”. “I notice you broken railroad crossing gate”. I do this especially when there isn’t anything interesting to notice. I force myself to say it, because it’s legitimizing the discovery and adding value to the act of noticing.  Whereever my eyes land, I plant my verbal flag on the moon and declare it noticed in the name of The Bryn or for Brynlandia.

Anyway, by playing the game with myself I can practice observation, much like I practice holding my 500mm lens. It’s a workout for the eyes and the brain and sometimes it gets me warmed up enough that I see things that I want to photograph at some point.


I notice you horses sheltering behind graffiti building.


I notice you blog readers.

Yes And…Click (part 1)

Posted in creativity, improv with tags , , , , , , , on February 5, 2011 by brynforbes

Yes And…Click

I strive to be a creative photographer, but some days it’s like pushing rope. Recently I realized that improv has taught me ways to be more creative at a moments notice. In this series of posts I plan to share some of the lessons and games that I find useful.

A few years ago, despite my attempts at crosswords and sudoku, I felt like my brain was getting sluggish, not enough exercise. At the time I was playing in a regular ultimate frisbee pickup game, and a number of us decided to go to an improv comedy show to support a fellow disc player who was performing that night. Watching the show, I thought wow, that looks incredibly challenging, maybe I should take a class as mental exercise. Never imagining performing myself, I found myself taking class after class because I was surrounded with people that made me laugh, and was learning techniques that made improvising easier. Having been invited to join the house team upon graduation I was too honored to turn them down. Since then improvisational theater has joined photography as one of my great passions in life.

When you are not feeling very creative, or are having pixel block, try improvising!

Walk through life with your lens cap off

I was in a workshop where an actor was given a scene suggestion and stopped to ask what his character’s motivation was. Improv is so fast paced that you have to take shortcuts if you will. The camera has to be on, and the lens cap off. Improv is sort of like trying to take pictures on a train. The scenery is moving so fast, you can’t decide that you want to take a picture after you see something interesting. You have to have the camera out of the bag when it’s boring scenery so you can be ready in case something comes along so you can seize that golden moment. And yes, you will sometimes scratch your lens, but isn’t that better than a missed opportunity? Is a well kept lens, or ego, better than a great picture or an audience’s uproarious laughter?

Agreement — Yes, and…

One of the first lessons taught in improv is called Yes And. The lesson is all about agreement. Learning to agree with your scene partners is crucial to not ending up in a Am Too, Are Not argument scene which everybody gets enough of at home, they don’t need to see it on stage. The problem with an Argument is that it has 3 possible endings 1) it keeps going, 2) I win 3) you win. Once one person wins the scene is over, but the payoff is only for the winner not the audience. So, the Yes And exercise forces you to start every line with “Yes, And…” So you agree, and add details. The details then in turn give your scene partner something to play off of and it heightens the scene’s interest by allowing progress to be made.

Stan: You look terrible.
Tina: Yes, and i hope not sleeping for three days gets me the part in this zombie movie.
Stan: Yes, and for good luck, I’ve cooked you veal sweetbreads to put you in the mood.

The forced construct is stilted, but it trains us out of our natural instinct which is to be on the defensive, to argue, or to at least try and communicate our own self view, rather than accept the character other people put on to us. The actor playing Tina may be a vegetarian, and would never eat cow brains to prepare for a zombie movie, but she should pretend she does for that scene! Who knows it may lead to a future scene where she is running a restaurant that has Type O smoothies on the menu.

Can your model not successfully pull off what you were planning? Switch gears and go with that they can pull off. Is their too little light to make a sharp photograph? Accentuate the blur and make the image about motion or underexpose and make it about the darkness.

So no matter what your subject matter is giving you, harsh light, a grumpy look, take it for what it is, and add something of your own to it. Or just stop and take time to notice what the first few shots you are taking, are adding to the scene, or trying to change the scene.

Part 2 – Get the creative blood pumping with warm up games (coming soon)

Painting with Lasers! [video]

Posted in Uncategorized on January 15, 2011 by brynforbes

Check out this video I shot with Russell Brown (Senior Creative Director at Adobe Systems) on using lasers and flatbed printers to add multidimensionality to “prints”. You can add texture to a picture using the information in the image, carving out relief to show individual hairs on a person’s beard, or just add paint brush like texture.

It was a blast getting to videographer for such a creative guy like Russell, constantly exploding with ideas.

Having done all the editing on Adobe Premiere, After Effects and Soundbooth, that the CS5 version is really really great. I would recommend it to people using more expensive editing software. You can preview edits and effects in real time with a NVidia graphics card and their CUDA drivers (that technology came out of my friend Ian Buck’s graduate work. Go Ian!)


Here’s the adobe blog post with the video: http://blogs.adobe.com/photoshopdotcom/2011/01/russell-brown-teaches-fans-his-extreme-painting-technique-using-photoshop-cs5.html

You can click “watch on youtube” on the player, to watch in HD

Inspiration — what do I do with this?

Posted in Uncategorized on January 11, 2011 by brynforbes

I just finished looking at a book my parents received for christmas. Ansel Adams in the national parks. To look a print of Ansel Adams for me is both inspiring and humbling. It makes me want to head out in to the field spending weeks waiting for the perfect light, and it also makes me want to head to the digital dark room to perfect my technique aiming for wall sized tack sharp prints. It makes me not want to spend time marketing my prints, or working on logistics or ads. Partly because I’m always looking for an excuse to put those aside, but also because I feel like I have such big strides to take, so much to be learned, not because I need to be at Adams’ level, but because those strides are there to be taken (tho my photographic stride is much shorter than Adams and I may never reach “the end”).

What use can such amazing inspiration be for us? Whether it be an amazing house to an architect, or a picasso to a painter, I imagine it is difficult for artists to wrestle with their relationship with such stunning works of art. For me, Adams’ work is so high on a pedestal, so Helen of Troy unapproachable, that my usual envy for a gorgeous image is nowhere to be found. Dewitt Jones and Lynette Sheppard, husband and wife artists, have been heard to say “I hate you” so lovingly when seeing an image the other has created. I have definitely been heard to appropriate their phrase with a twist “I hate you in the best possible way” (said with a grin of course). I think there is something inherent in many artists to want to create something incredulous, and when we see others’ images it reminds us of how far we are from that inner goal. Of course we are always enchanted with the new, and our work has been seen by us many many hours before it sees the light of day so we are biased in our perception of others work.

Leaving the unassailable greats, I ask myself again, how can I relate to great images that I see? That image on the web that makes you say ooooh and turn green with envy. Envy of wanting it on my wall.  The desire to possess, even though my walls are getting full. This desire to possess is even difficult with my passion for architecture. Seeing a beatiful is much more attainable than the $10 million pavilion style ocenfront house featured in a magazine I saw recently. That desire to posess, is the subject of many cautionary tales, consuming some men (often in the apprecation of beauty in the female form). It’s also partly jealousy of the creation. I wish I had created that image, its beauty a reflection of the talents I desire to have. Artists often measure themselves as people by their works, so we are jealous of the piece of the people represented by the image rather than just being envious of the image itself.

Can I get beyond Envy and Jealousy to Inspiration? Yes we can.

Inspiration, that energy rising from the chest, smells like caffeine, and excitement. But sometimes instead of inspiration, comes a nagging doubting gollum saying “You’ll never get there, why even try” and accusing inspiration of being appropriation of ideas. But that too must be tamed as after all Adams was inspired by Steiglitz and Strand.

Maybe I can work this out further in my head by breaking it down on the page more. Let’s split inspiration in to two parts.  General, and specific. “Wow that’s amazing work, I’m inspired to hone my craft so I can make such inspiring works” -> General. “I really want to work on my rich blacks and whites and sharpness a la Ansel Adams, perhaps I’ll get a beefier tripod and use HDR for B&W” -> specific. To me general inspiration goes to and is needed for energy. That get up and go. the off the couch activation energy defeating momentum. Specific inspiration is useful for knowledge to seek, and guides you in the path to go once you are up off that couch. Though often by being inspired to tackle difficult things I find myself careening back to the couch -> negative general inspiration. “Oh God, what am I doing? I’m worthless at art. etc etc etc” I often get this when trolling flickr. So many amazing images out there it’s easy for me to get filled with a sincere lack of relevance to society given how many great images are already out there.

Ok, so we don’t want to get negatively inspired, we do want to get generally and specifically inspired, and we need to find some way to capture that inspiration. Sometimes we can’t strike while the inspiration is hot. We need to save it in a leather pouch like the pioneers did with embers, so that we can when the time is right we can light our own fire. For example, I’m thinking 1107pm with shoes off and feet up is not the right time to tackle my Ansel Adams quest. So the next trick will be remembering to go back to that ember when I’m feeling blah, and unmotivated.

So remember, when that blah feeling hits, there was something you were supposed to remember. What was it…hmm can’t remember, maybe I’ll just go look in the fridge. oh right, inspiration leftovers!

Sally Forth!

Context [Image of the moment]

Posted in Image of the moment on January 10, 2011 by brynforbes

Photographers have problems evaluating their own work. For one, we are too close, it’s very personal. Two, we know the context of the picture. Perhaps we had a really good time that day, or we remember the whole trip as being great, and the image is emblematic of that. The viewers of the image don’t know the context and are connecting (or not) in a vacuum. They bring their own histories, that the image may evoke, but they don’t know, that when I see this image, all I remember is constantly swatting at the darn biting flies on the west side of new zealand. I have to remember to reject that, and see the beautiful ocean and the striations, just about to tip over and break. What do you see? Have I ruined it for you by mentioning biting flies?

Rock outcropping, Kangaroo Island, Australia [Image of the moment]

Posted in Uncategorized on January 9, 2011 by brynforbes

We can see an instant but not minutes. The camera can see minutes but not years. Our memories can see years but not centuries.