Category Archives: Insights from Photography

Sometimes photographing teaches you things that are applicable outside of photography, to a larger canvas, to a broader life. When my travels in photography yields these larger or deeper insights, this is the category I put them in.

Where Am I? Micropia

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“When you look from really close, a new world is revealed to you. More beautiful and spectacular than you could ever have imagined.”

Welcome to Micropia.

I wasn’t worried about my mascara at first.

Micropia is a museum that shows the invisible world of microbial life. It is the best museum ever and no wonder. Micropia was awarded  the most innovative museum by European Museum of the Year Award (EMYA) and it also earned the highest recognition, the Kenneth Hudson Award.

When we entered, the docent explained that Micropia is a bridge between the scientific community and the public. It was established because the knowledge about microbes was held by scientists and not well understood by the public. We were instructed to get a stamp of the microbe at each station and promised that at the end we’d be able to do something with it.

Every single part of the experience was intentional. 

The docent waved a key card in front of the elevator which had no buttons. It opened and we entered a deep black freight-sized elevator also with no buttons. The door closed. The ceiling of the elevator had been removed and 2 stories above a video played of eyelash mites and the microbes that live on the mites. As we rose inexorably closer, the mites got bigger and bigger. Then I worried about my mascara. But I still wasn’t worried about my toothbrush or floss picks or fixing dinner.

When the elevator opened, it was dark. Each exhibit was lit internally. After examining a DNA family tree showing how we all share some DNA, we moved onto the first of many Zeiss microscopes.

Each microscope had live microbes under it. To the right of the microscope there was an interactive panel with tabs: more details on the microbe – almost a product description, a claymation or flash video showing the impact of the virus were two of the tabs. One video explained thrips and nematodes. Thrips are an insect that strips leaves and flowers of their top layer causing leaf drop. If you put nematodes (a microbe) in the water, they enter the thrip, secrete a bacteria which dissolves the thrip’s insides. Then the nematode eats the thrip from the inside out. The plant can regenerate over time.

Microphotographs of each bacteria and virus appeared enlarged to gigantic proportions so we could see it. (The following photographs are iPhone photos that I took through the microscope lens of someone else’s micro photographs so I have not added my copyright. There was no credit at the museum so I don’t know who the unsung hero(es) are.)

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At each station, I collected a stamp. Eventually I was able to put my passport under a light and see a 2 story version of each beast displayed across maybe 20 screens mounted on a wall. They were simultaneously hideous and beautiful. I was fascinated and horrified. Imagine each of these images at least 1 story tall.

 

 

I didn’t think about my toothbrush until I saw this…the bacteria that grow on a floss pick:

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Yew! I wasn’t thinking about cooking either until I saw a video of a couple with a baby furiously cooking, passing their baby back and forth. In the display case, everything they touched from olive oil to salt shaker was on exhibit as having been contaminated. Ewww!

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At the end, my passport was full of stamps representing various microbes.

I went out and bought a new toothbrush immediately, new mascara soon after, sterilized my makeup brushes and began scrubbing down the countertops in the kitchen and bathrooms daily whether used or not. If the Micropia organizers had wanted to make a bridge between the scientists’ understanding of the microbes and my Jane Q Public’s understanding of them, they did an outstanding job.

A New Look

I was playing around with some apps and found a new look. An IG friend @tesswyatt told me she thought it looked like Polaroid emulsion transfers and encouraged me to do more.

So I did. Using Snapseed to set the base, TangledFX to create an over the top version and Blender to blend detail with abstraction, I played my way through a series of close ups.

Each one turned out a bit differently depending on the level of detail native in the original photo.

I also used Shock My Pic to add texture and sometimes an Instagram filter. Warning: Shock My Pic cuts your photo size in half.

While the subject matter is similar, flowers and plants, the results of applying roughly the same apps yielded surprising differences.My next step is to have each of these images printed through Artifact uprising, assemble them into cards and send them to friends.

If you had a favorite image, would do me a favor and let me know in the comments? Thank you!

Why Don’t You Stop?


The sun picked out this dandelion and made it bright with its rays. I noticed and inside I said, “Wow!” But I ran on. Another prod came. “Why don’t you stop…and take a picture?” I strode purposefully on but began to waver. Two workmen painting the curb red for No Parking were ready to help me cross the street safely. But I stopped, turned on my heel, and parked myself in front of this blaze of glory and took not one but several photos. And this moment of noticing and embracing turned out to be the best part of my day. Why don’t you stop?

7 Takeaways from Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

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I love this book. Read it twice in 2 weeks and am making some serious changes as a result. My key takeaways along with a very impressive illustrative quote from Gilbert:

1. Be your own patron. “To yell at your creativity, saying, ‘You must earn money for me!’ is sort of like yelling at a cat; it has no idea what you’re talking about, and all you’re doing is scaring it away, because you’re making really loud noises and your face looks weird when you do that.”

2. Chose your shit sandwich. “Every single pursuit–no matter how wonderful and exciting and glamorous it may initially seem–comes with its own brand of shit sandwich, its own lousy side effects…The question is ‘What are you passionate enough about that you can endure the most disagreeable aspects of the work?”

3. There is no enough. There is only do. “Most individuals have never had enough time, and they’ve never had enough resources, and they’ve never had enough support or patronage or reward…and yet still they persist in creating….They persist because they are called to be makers, by any means necessary.”

4. Give your mind a job. “Possessing a creative mind, after all, is something like having a border collie for a pet: It needs to work, or else it will cause you an outrageous amount of trouble. Give your mind a job to do, or else it will find a job to do, and you might not like the job it invents (eating the couch, digging a hole through the living room floor, biting the mailman, etc.)”

5. Forget about perfect. “Putting forth work that is far from perfect rarely stops men from participating in the global cultural conversation. Just sayin’.”

6. Your ideas need you. “The earth is not indifferent to us, but rather calling for our gifts in return for hers–the reciprocal nature of life and creativity…Nature provides the seed; man provides the garden; each is grateful for the other’s help.” Later “If the only thing an idea wants is to be made manifest, then why would that idea deliberately harm you, when you are the one who might be able to bring it forth?”

7. Work with stubborn gladness. “Inspiration is always trying to work with me. So I sit there and I work, too. That’s the deal. I trust it; it trusts me…..The work wants to be made and it wants to be made through you.”

There’s much more of value in there. There’s the antidote to every wrongheaded though historical concepts that plague artists. Like pain? There’s an antidote in here. Think your art needs to destroy you? There’s an antidote in here. Think it’s all about your genius? There’s an antidote in here. Seriously, if you are an artist or know an artist, this is a must read. It will help you continue to create art in partnership and with stubborn gladness.

3 Great Reads for the Holidays

How to be Interesting in 10 Simple Steps by Jessica Hagy was on an end-cap at beloved Powell’s in Portland. It’s a great sketch noted thought starter for how one might want to approach things differently in the new year or anytime, whether you want to be interesting or not. For example, Step One: Go Exploring (practice noticing) and Step Two: Share What You Discover (not everyone got to go with you!). Both of these chapters are full of simple spacious sketch notes and the wisdom within is great for photographers or anyone wishing to live at the “intersection of wonder, awe and curiosity.”

3 Great Reads for the Holidays

3 Great Reads for the Holidays

I bought Small Victories, Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott at Lifeways, one of the few remaining Christian bookstores in the Bay Area 30 minutes away. The book is a compilation of musings on big questions and small and usually end in a very flesh and blood vignette. Many of these stories had me in a good cry at the end. Anne has such a nice was of tracing the path between abstract thinking and a real live human who likes the way an orange rind peels from the orange.

Though I have read Bird by Bird and Traveling Mercies also by Lamott, I enjoyed Small Victories so much that I looked for more of her recent work also at Powell’s and selected Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair. Again, fantastic weaving together of abstract and the real like the steam rising from my morning coffee.  Enjoy!

Get Up, Dress Up, Show Up and the Growth Mindset

Last week, I heard a talk by inspirational speaker and ex-baseball player, Mike Robbins. He’s a pretty cool guy with some great clips on YouTube about the power of appreciation. In the talk, he referred to the work of Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford, on the Growth Mindset.

Dweck says that some individuals have a fixed theory of intelligence and believe that success is based on innate ability. Dweck calls this a Fixed Mindset. Others believe their success is based on hard work. This is called a Growth Mindset.

This matters when we fail. A fixed-mindset person thinks that failure is a negative statement on their basic abilities. Growth mindset people don’t mind failure as much because they realize they can learn from it.

So what does this have to do with photography?

A client had asked for me to make a classicly beautiful color photograph of the topside of St. John’s Bridge in Portland, Oregon suitable for interior decor. He had already ordered and installed a photograph of the bottomside of the bridge that I had made and he was pleased with that work.

I rented an Olympus OMD EM-1 (a micro 4/3rds with 5 stop programmed HDR) from BorrowLenses for the occasion. Lighter weight meant crisper hand held exposures. Greater MP files meant I could print larger. It was my third time renting the camera. It was a third date with intent. I wanted to see if I would marry this camera after a long monogamy with Canon.

The weather forecast was for drizzle and throughout my stay, that’s what was on offer. The bridge was 30 minutes away and I doubted that the weather would change  but I decided to exercise my mantra, “Get up, dress up, show up.” and see what would happen.

Sure enough, 30 minutes later, it was still drizzling. I got out of the car and walked up the hill to the scouted spot. And began to shoot. I had a hard time explaining to the client why I was going to shoot anyway. I was not hopeful of “success” meaning an image that would work for my client’s purposes. For him, the images would be a “failure.” But I was there in town, I could use the shoot to learn important things for that perfect time.

The Olympus 5-stop HDR feature was a dream. However, critical things like finding the aperture and shutter speed settings were not simple. Fortunately, I had downloaded the manual on my iPhone and was able to look this up while standing in the rain. It is my firm belief that setting these 2 features should be intuitive, memorable, easy to do with one hand. The user interface feels mostly awkward despite being my third time out with the camera. I will not marry this camera. 

Nonetheless, the Olympus also has some interesting “artistic filter” features. I used 4 or 5 of these shooting in JPG and RAW when I had given up on the main approach. These single RAW exposures ended up becoming the most interesting of when I worked with them in Photomatix.

St John's Bridge on a Rainy Day by Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson ©2014

St John’s Bridge on a Rainy Day by Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson ©2014

None of the images met my client’s needs. However, in shooting, processing and editing the images I learned a few things:

  • to use the de-ghosting feature on Photomatix as well as a strangely placed sharpening feature. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t born knowing how to use either one of these.
  • to design a folder structure/ workflow to simplify editing given the Olympus’ naming convention
  • If you’re open to possibilities, you may get what you’re not looking for and it may be good even.
  • I need to look for a different micro 4/3rds or just upgrade my Canon
  • A telephoto would have yielded better images from that vantage point
  • In the fall you can actually see the bridge from the side. Reminds me of the Emily Dickinson: “Tell all the truth but tell it slant””
St. John's Bridge Through the Trees by Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson ©2014

St. John’s Bridge Through the Trees by Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson ©2014

The shoot overall was a failure in terms of achieving my client’s immediate objective. But getting up, dressing up and showing up anyway gave me the chance to learn some things that will make the shoot better next time. That’s a growth mindset.

When Things Change

For a few weeks in the fall my running schedule and shorter days made it possible to see some glorious sunrises:

Glorious Dawn by Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson ©2014

Glorious Dawn by Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson ©2014

The colors were amazing and I was stunned into stopping, filled with awe.

Not all days have been so vividly colorful. Daylight savings meant getting up later in the sun’s path through the day. But the weather also changed to foggy so even if I had gotten up earlier, there would have been no visible sunrise.  Shades of gray became the main color.

Shades of Gray Dawn by Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson ©2014

Shades of Gray Dawn by Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson ©2014

Rather than rush out to a great spot in time to view the sunrise, I felt both disappointed and suspended in time, going nowhere in the dense fog. But after a while, I realized the gray morning was arresting in a different way. Textures and shapes became the focus.

These two photos remind me of changes in life. The colorful vision we have looked for (in a job, relationship, city, fill in the blank) and even had before may have changed. But there’s something beautiful in the foggy gray places if we look. That insight can redeem an experience for us.

Notice what is there in the “fog” and it might become beautiful.