The most recent text through which I slog on a semi-regular basis is Eva Hoffman’s “Lost in Translation.” This dense tome is a lot to consume. The author is one of those writers who executes her craft at a level that will delight the literature professors among us and befuddle the common reader. Her prose is more Dickensian than is generally palatable but hidden in this spacious detail we can find a lot of strong concepts. The one that occurs to me most potently is one from a few days ago in which she points out her strong aversion to the phrase “you’re welcome.” Her objection does not arise from a refusal to show gratitude but from the idea that the phrase itself implies, most distastefully, that there was actually something to be grateful for. It strikes me that this is not an uncommon tendency in the Western World. We want to feel good about whatever it is that we’ve done. In Europe the preferred statement seems to be one that implies that whatever was done was a mere nothing. A trifle. This invites the receiver to ask again. For, after all, if it was really nothing, then why shouldn’t I ask again? The competing phrase, “you’re welcome” seems to imply the opposite. That the giver has actually given something but that that should not impede you from asking again for this non-trivial something. It’s funny the power that simple and oft-repeated words wield.
My second observation for this day is more timely in that it occurred to me mere hours ago. As I was letting the remaining hours of the weekend wash over me like so many waves from an angry and impatient ocean, I stumbled upon something in my Netflix queue. The 1960 series, Thriller, is hosted by Boris Karloff but until today that was the only thing I had found to recommend it. I’d watched enough of the first episode to come to a somewhat negative conclusion but before I deleted it I determined that I should watch the last episode just to see how things had progressed. Like most shows of this timeframe and subject, the cast consists of a host and a series of guest stars. Who should I find in the last episode but James T. Kirk and Mrs. Howell of Gilligan’s Island fame? Suddenly my entire outlook on the series had changed. Here were the same predictable stories but with these familiar typecast actors. They were comforting. They were a rock upon which to base my credulity or suspension thereof. And what is more impressive, they were playing basically the same roles for which we know them today: Mrs. Howell, the rich woman, though an author, and Shatner the overly-dramatic young accessory to the story. Perhaps this is the foundation of 60s television. We look back today and see the stories as static and predictable but an assiduous observer will find the same characters in the same role in series after series. Is it possible that the compensation for story and technical execution in the early decades of television was familiar actors in familiar roles that helped us to attune ourselves to what was being shown to us?
Since it’s been a long time since I’ve written an entry that collects my random thoughts, we’re forced to play a bit of catch-up. Several months ago, I heard an NPR story that recollected a woman of Middle-Eastern descent. She was telling the listeners of a tradition in her native… Iran(?) in which visitors to her parent’s home were pounded by requests to drink, eat or take something after their visit. The bit that stands out to me most notably is that if a visitor admired something in the home then the hosts would practically demand that they take it home with them. Can you imagine that if you said to a someone, “Oh, what a wonderful painting!” that they’d spend the next 20 minutes absolutely INSISTING that you take it home with you? Such is life in the Middle-East.
Lastly, I’ve been asked repeatedly about the camera equipment that I use and my recommendations for same. I’ll start by saying that I am the furthest thing possible from a name-brand snob. I will absolutely NOT regale you with reasons why Canon is better than Nikon or vice versa. I fundamentally believe that the absolute most important piece of photographic equipment you possess is your own eye. Your photos are as good as your ability to envision something unique and the patience to capture it. So first of all, don’t get hung up by equipment. YOU are the most important part of your photos.
So, now that you know that the equipment isn’t important, let’s talk about equipment. The camera I use is a Canon 60D. At 18 megapixel, it’s just a brilliant camera but the pricetag is nothing to sneeze at ($1200). The benefits of newer technology are several including insane resolution and very fast recording speed. This thing can rattle off 5 maximum resolution photos in a second. So even if you don’t QUITE get the picture you want, you can get close and crop or just hold the button down and rattle off photos. In the grand scale of things though, you do NOT need this. Save your money for a lens or some sort.
The most common lens that I use is a Tamron 18-270mm. This thing will cost you about $600 but is the most functional and versatile lens I’ve used. As I understand it, the Tamron brand is fairly close to being considered a ‘generic’ but it’s much less expensive than the name brand equivalent and from what I’ve seen there are no drawbacks. A few caveats, however. This thing is HEAVY (as I suspect most zooms of this power are). If you’re walking through the forest looking for shots, be prepared for this. I generally start with it around my neck and by the end of a stroll the strap is wrapped around my wrist. This thing is powerful but nothing to sneeze at as an item to be carried about. That said, it’s a lot less weighty than the lenses it replaces. It is NOT a macro, so you can’t do crazy close-ups but the zoom-from-afar makes up for most of that. Also, if you are a fan of manual focus, then forget it. This lens is beastly to try to handle manually. Just let the auto-focus do its work. Failing that, I’ve found you have to pull outward on the focus ring and THEN focus.
The other lens I sport about is a 60mm macro Tamron lens. At another $600, this one isn’t really worth it unless you really love the detail-oriented shots. If you’re planning to use this or any macro, it had better be on something that you can be sure is going to sit still. The Tamron lens is brilliant but the mechanics of the whole prospect are relatively impossible. Any movement makes focus impossible and the focal length is tiny. This is a fun lens to play with but you’d better have a LOT of patience.
So, in short and in order. First of all, don’t bother with new equipment. Figure out how to take photos first. Second, when you think you have that down… like REALLY down… buy a nice zoom. Remember that you get what you pay for. It’s going to cost you some serious money to buy something nice. Don’t be surprised. After you get a zoom, you can upgrade your camera and when you’re ready to just play around, then you can buy more specialty lenses. Make sense? I should say also that I’m a fairly determined advocate of such things. Want an opinion or advice on your shots? Want someone to come and shoot your event (I work for free) then drop me a line. This is art, not science. I’m ready to serve and help out as you advance your own work. ‘nuff said.
Lastly, a feature of these posts is a listing of new words I’ve picked up or determined definitions for in the past few days. I’m a big believer in words. They do, after all, represent the entire world.
deracination – to uproot or figuratively to remove one from one’s natural environment
Immigrants resented the deracination that learning the English language represented.jeune-fille – an unmarried girl or woman
Laura gave her best jeune-fille smile as she greeted Rob from across the room.mot juste – the exactly appropriate word
Grant, though not known for his tact, had a tendency to provide the mot juste when anyone seemed at a loss for words.puissant – mighty, potent or potent
The Japanese soccer team, while far from puissant, managed to win the world cup by assiduity rather than dominance: a trademark of their cultural heritage.inimical – adverse in effect or unfriendly
Rob’s delight in the failure of team USA to win the world cup proved inimical to his popularity with his friends and co-workers.congeries – a collection of pieces and parts in one aggregation
Blogs, some have posited, are mere congeries of the thoughts of random anonymous people with nothing better to do than to write.foursquare – firm, steady, unswerving, frank or blunt
John’s foursquare and outspoken determination that the management at his company was composed primarily of idiots was the eventual cause of his termination.Sobriquet – a nickname
Rob impatiently assigned that windows update that demanded repeatedly to reboot his computer the sobriquet of “that fucking stupid-ass thing” and hoped that it would silence its request for at least 10 minutes so he could finish his blog entry.