Review: Finding Vivian Maier

I suffer from SLAM (Spouse that Likes Art-house Movies).  I’m sure you’re familiar with this common affliction. It strikes when you want to see Spider-Man 2 but, because you dearly love your spouse, you settle on some “uplifting work of art” that can only be seen in a cramped, look around the pretentious fathead ahead in front of you, dingy art-house cinema. SLAM suffers get a break in St. Louis; there are only two art-house cinemas and their usual yard-sale like fare is dull even by art-house standards. But, as any yard-sale addict will tell you, there are diamonds in the debris and Finding Vivian Maier is a gem.


Vivian Maier 1956. Vivian enjoyed self-portraits and mirrors. This is not vanity. All photographers fall prey to self-reflections. I am certainly guilty.

Finding Vivian Maier is a documentary about a great street photographer, Vivian Maier (1926 –2009) that you have probably never heard of. I had never heard of her and I’m a keen amateur photographer with a nagging interest in the history and technology of photography. I’ve read all three of Ansel Adams classic camera books, plowed through many giant histories of photography, and endured as many Photoshop and image restoration tomes as I can stomach.  I’m not an artist; I’m a technisté! A technisté is someone who has technical artistic skills but is not phony enough to be an artiste. Vivian Maier is an anti-technisté. She’s a true photographic artist that showed astonishingly low levels of interest in the craft and technology of photography.

Her story, as one lady in the film noted, is more interesting than her work. Nobody had heard of Vivian before 2007. She isn’t mentioned in giant histories of photography published before 2007 so it’s not surprising I missed her. She worked most of her life as a nanny. She didn’t hang around with other photographers and she apparently never made a serious effort to show her photographs. Even stranger, she rarely printed her pictures and shot thousands of frames that she never developed. She must have been content to look at her negatives if even that. This astounds me!  I cannot tell if I have a good shot until I “develop” it.  For most of her long life she snapped away in the background and it’s likely that her astonishing body of work would have vanished if John Maloof hadn’t bought a lot of her negatives at an auction in 2007.

For Vivian the act of capture sufficed and what wonderful captures they are. Her work is being exhibited around the world. I will certainly be looking out for the next show coming my way. You can see some of her pictures here and, for those of you that care, Finding Vivian Maier is much better than Spider-Man 2.

Minnie’s Pictures

Minnie E. Raver 1881-1977

While going through my late mother’s pictures I came across a box of my great-grandmother Minnie’s old photographs. When my great-grandmother died in 1977 my grandmother Hazel took her pictures and stuffed them in her Hoarder’s level junk filled basement.1 After Hazel’s death my mother recovered Minnie’s pictures from Hazel’s hoard and promptly filed them with her pictures where they remained until I found them. Minnie’s pictures have already seen off three generations of my ancestors and I’m next in line. Are they worth it?

Many of Minnie’s pictures are over a hundred years old. The oldest probably date to the 1870’s or 1880’s. Despite their age they’re in excellent condition. Obviously Minnie took care of her pictures and thankfully Montana basements and attics are often high and dry. I spent an entire day studying Minnie’s pictures. Her old portraits are superb examples of small studio 19th and early 20th century photography, see the following wedding portrait, and her snapshots are candid shots of the people she knew and loved. All of which brings me to my current problem. I don’t know who these people are!

Callie Davis Frank Smelser wedding 1905

Callie Davis (Minnie’s sister) and Frank Smelser wedding portrait 1905.

I have never had much of an interest in family trees or the entire quasi-delusional undertaking of genealogical research for the simple reason that most of it is bullshit. The basic genealogical problem is simple: people have always screwed around and then lied about it. When you get right down to it you cannot be certain, without DNA testing, that your own parents are your biological parents. There are good reasons to suspect that at least 1% to 5% of children result from cuckolding and for some social classes it may be as high as 30%. In other words your daddy may not be who you think it is! Cuckolding varies with culture, time, socio-economic status and so forth but it’s rarely zero. A cuckolding rate of 5% implies that by the time you’ve traced your ancestors to the great-great-grandparent level there is a 19% chance that an alleged, perfectly documented, ancestor is not really an ancestor. By the time we get back to the time of Christ, roughly 100 generations, there’s a 99.99% chance that any alleged ancestor is not really any ancestor. Genealogy without DNA is a hollow dead-end.

As bad as cuckolding is it’s the least of our genealogical problems. Genealogical records are incomplete, contain serious errors and are often complete frauds. As late as the 19th century the settlement of estates was very sensitive to birth order. If you were a first-born son you got everything while your baby brother got squat. It was even worse for women; they got less than squat. In such an environment there is a powerful incentive to forge records. Old handwritten documents may look official to modern eyes but you cannot assume they’re accurate. With a well-placed bribe first-born Johnnie suddenly disappears from the record. People have always lied about the important things.

Given all these obvious problems I usually ignore people going on about the exploits of their glorious ancestors. Your roots are unreliable people! You really don’t know who your great-great-great granny was and if you insist on telling tales about her I will insist on DNA evidence. I know that many of the dead in Minnie’s pictures are probably blood relatives and some are probably direct great-great or greater grandparents. I cannot be 100% sure they’re genetic ancestors but I can follow obvious document breadcrumbs and learn enough about these people to attach stories to their pictures.

I wasn’t looking forward to the giant chore of scanning, restoring and researching Minnie’s pictures2 but following breadcrumbs was more interesting than expected. It turns out that there’s a lot of dead people on the internet. When I started looking for death and marriage records I immediately came across a cemetery record for my own recently deceased mother. It was surprising to find her so soon. There’s an active world-wide ghoulish group of people photographing cemetery monuments and posting their findings online. It’s ironic but a Facebook for the dead preceded the Facebook for the living. Starting with my mother I backtracked through my alleged ancestors looking for a “Lydia.”  “Lydia” was scrawled on the back of what looked like the oldest of Minnie’s pictures.

Lydia Jane Ayres

Lydia Jane Ayres 1839-unknown

If the records are correct I believe this “Lydia” is Lydia Jane Ayres. There is a very good chance that Lydia is one of my great-great grandmothers. Lydia married Albert F. Raver in 1863 in Brant Ontario. Albert was the mother of Minnie’s husband Bert Raver.

I didn’t find any pictures of Albert Raver in Minnie’s collection and that’s too bad because I suspect Albert had an eye for the babes. I looked for his death record and found this confusing census entry. Here was an Albert F. Raver with exactly the same age and birth origin remarried to a Lydia L. Raver. At first I thought it was a mistake but Albert’s marriage to Lydia L. Ayres was in 1906. That did not compute. Then I remembered a story my grandmother Hazel told me years ago when we were talking about her grandparents. She told me that one of her grandfathers married twice to two women with the same first and last names. She complained about how difficult this made sorting Christmas and birthday cards. I cannot remember if the name was Lydia Ayres but what are the chances? It seems Albert married  Lydia Jane Ayres in 1863. Somehow they parted ways and later, at the age of 68, Albert remarried in 1906 a younger Lydia L. Ayres. Having been divorced and remarried myself I can only marvel at Albert’s ingenuity. The last thing you want to do in your senile dotage is call a second wife by your first wife’s name. Before social security that could have been a fatal mistake. Randy old Albert neatly dodged that bullet.

The randiness was not confined to the Raver branch. Equally intriguing is this old portrait of “dad’s old sweetheart.” Here Minnie is likely referring to her own father and my great-great granddaddy Howell Cobb Davis. Screwing around, contrary to boomer mythology, wasn’t invented in the 1960’s.

Dad's old sweetheart

“Dad’s old sweetheart.” Probably an old girl friend of Howell Cobb Davis.

Minnie lived to 96. I was in my twenties when she died so I remember some of the people in her snapshots. Here’s Minnie with her first-born son Vernon standing in Marble Canyon Arizona in 1949. I knew Vernon as a boy. He always posed exactly like you see him her.

Vernon and Minnie Raver Marble Canyon Arizona 1949

Vernon and Minnie Raver Marble Canyon Arizona 1949

You can read the poor guys mind. “Do you really need another picture? Well if that’s how it’s going be I’m going to assume my petulant spoiled fat boy pose.” You cannot blame Vernon. His photographic life got off to a dreadful start. Look at this gem.

Vernon F. Raver 1904-1964

Vernon F. Raver 1904-1964

In the early 20th century women liked to dress up their baby boys as girls. Vernon got the full girly treatment. You cannot blame him for being scarred for life after such trauma. Here’s a clue ladies. Boys are not girls. Gender is not arbitrary. People that assert the contrary are idiots. Sorry if that sounds like mansplaining; the truth is not always polite.

I doubt I’ll ever get through Minnie’s pictures. There are hundreds of images to scan, restore and research. I just don’t have the time or energy but in the years ahead I will occasionally pick out and upload attractive images. Here’s the gallery to follow if you’re interested.

  1. If Hazel was alive today she would be a star on TV’s Hoarders.
  2. Despite their good condition it was still a lot of work to restore the images posted here. To judge what I had contend with browse this gallery of before and after diptychs.

Yellowstone and Me

Mali by the Yellowstone Roosevelt Gate

My wife in front of the Roosevelt Gate that marks the northern entrance to Yellowstone. The road to Mammoth Hot Springs and the Lamar valley are open during the winter. Most of the park is snowed under.

I have moved so often that I am no longer from anywhere, but if asked, one place, Livingston Montana, has the strongest claim. Every summer, from infancy to late adolescence, I spent long happy months with my grandparents in Livingston. If you look at a map you’ll see that Livingston is close to Yellowstone National Park. In the late 19th and early 20th century the town billed itself as the gateway to Yellowstone. In those days most people reached the park by train and the train went through Livingston on the way to Gardner and the northern park entrance where the famous Teddy Roosevelt arch stands to this day.

Being close to Yellowstone we made frequent family trips to the park. I don’t know how many times I’ve entered Yellowstone. We’d make at least one trip every year and some years we went two or three times. We thought of Yellowstone as our own private national park and we were intensely proud of the place. This hasn’t changed. People that live near the park today are as fiercely devoted to Yellowstone as my grandparents and parents ever were.

When I was a child the park service did things differently. In the 1950’s and 1960’s rangers didn’t chase bears into the woods so they hung out on park roads begging food from tourists. Seeing bears closeup was always a thrill. Of course, you weren’t supposed to feed bears. Signs were everywhere reminding Boobus americanus that bears were dangerous wild animals, but the largely ignorant public ignored the warnings with predictable results. Every year at least one moron was killed by a bear. In good years two or three would succumb. Since most of the dead were clueless tourists locals viewed Yellowstone bear attacks as a form of imbecile euthanasia. We were sad when rangers had to put down offending bears. You don’t see a lot of bears in the park these days. When they show up the rangers shoo them into the woods; it’s easier to train bears than tourists.

Family outing in Yellowstone

In the summer of 1967 I snapped this photo of my parents, maternal grandparents and siblings with an Instamatic camera. I was only a teenager but I was already a veteran Yellowstone visitor. We made frequent trips to the park and we all loved the place.

After bears geysers were the next biggest thrill. Yellowstone is world-famous for its geysers. Some estimate that half of the world’s active geysers are bubbling away atop Yellowstone’s massive caldera. The immense size and power of the Yellowstone super-volcano was not fully understood in those days, but you could see the park was a special, almost magical, place with your own eyes. One geyser, Old Faithful, is emblematic of Yellowstone and most of our park trips included a stop at it.

Old Faithful is not the most spectacular large geyser in the park, but it’s the most dependable. By some rare geological quirk Old Faithful has been venting at regular intervals ever since it was named in 1870.1 The interval changes a bit from time to time. The Madison earthquake tweaked the frequency and times vary more than many believe, but if you go to Old Faithful and invest a few hours the geyser will not disappoint. The most dramatic eruptions occur during the winter when super-heated geyser steam blasts into freezing mountain plateau air. Old Faithful in the winter is pure bucket list material. I’ve watched Old Faithful shoot off dozens of times. I’ve seen Old Faithful with my parents, my siblings, my grandparents, my children, my nieces, in-laws and some good friends. My experience is not unique. If you’ve seen Old Faithful I’m betting it was with someone special.

There’s more to Yellowstone than bears and geysers. It harbors the largest high altitude lake in North America. It is home to a variety of North American plants and animals. It has one of the most spectacular river canyons and waterfalls anywhere and it shelters, in scalding geyser waters, rare ancient extremophiles that are among the oldest life forms on Earth. The park doesn’t need me to sell it. It’s one of the world’s very special places.

My kids waiting for Old Faithful

My kids waiting for Old Faithful to erupt in the summer of 2000. Watching Old Faithful is like a family reunion for me. I’ve seen it shoot off with most of the special people in my life and even when I was by myself I was always thinking how others would love this particular eruption.

As I entered my teenage years we moved to Iran where I spent a year before moving to Lebanon for school. During this time I saw large chunks of the Middle East, Egypt, Turkey, most of Western Europe and England. We returned to Canada. From Canada I moved to Ghana, then Denmark, then Barbados, then western Canada, then eastern Canada, then back to the US. I’ve seen dozens of national parks in many countries and many are spectacular. With so much to compare it against I started thinking of Yellowstone as, “a been there, done that”, “nothing to see here”, “not worth the hassle,” bore! Doesn’t everyone have a boring old Yellowstone in their backyard? I was blasé about Yellowstone for years until two notable events and advances in geology made me reassess my feelings about the park.

Remember the great Yellowstone forest fires of 1988. Dramatic images of vast fires filled newscasts for weeks. The park service endured abuse from all quarters for letting the fires rage. Fire has always been important for North American evergreen forests. Years of fire suppression in the US and Canada slowly produced dense tinderbox forests that blaze when set alight. The great Yellowstone fires of 1988 punctuated this point. We now understand that fire is necessary for the long-term health of forests, but explaining this to outfitters, tour operators and other businesses that depend on moving tourists in and out of parks remains a hard sell. A few years after the great 1988 fires I visited the park with my young children. I was expecting a burned out wasteland, but I was surprised by verdant undergrowth and the largest fattest elk herds I had ever seen. Between the black timbers lush ferns and other plants burst forth by the billions. It was a good time for ungulates. I know it pisses people off when experts are right, but the experts were right about forest fires. Fortunately, the braying nitwits soon had something even more controversial to whine about.

The most famous animal in the park these days was absent during my youth. I am talking about wolves. Wolves had been exterminated in Yellowstone for the usual fallacious bullshit reasons in the early 20th century. When people started seriously entertaining the idea of reintroducing wolves to the park every brain-dead rancher in the west decided to go on TV and show the world that westerners are every bit as ignorant as Yellowstone bear-food tourists. I remember one particularly eye-rolling twit going on about how kids waiting for school buses at lonely winter ranch gates would fall prey to bloodthirsty wolves. It didn’t matter that there have been very few authenticated wolf attacks on people or that there were good ecological reasons for reintroducing wolves. Ranchers the world over subscribe to what I call rancher ecology. If it’s not a cow or a rancher shoot it! I’ve endured this sentiment in the US, Canada, Brazil and Ghana. Grow up people; you’re embarrassing us! If you’re really this stupid having bloodthirsty wolves pick off your idiot spawn would help us maintain our species IQ.

The park service ignored the loons and brought the wolves back. What happened, just the biggest and most successful species reintroduction in national park history? Watching wolves reestablish themselves has made it crystal clear how important top predators are to functional ecosystems. Before the wolves came back the elk and deer, like welfare recipients, had gotten stupid and lazy. Their biggest problem was avoiding traffic. The wolves changed all that. Now if they’re not on their hooves they’re probably going to get eaten. The presence of wolves has had many unexpected benefits. The elk no longer clear out the underbrush near streams; this has led to a profusion of wild flowers and other plants that were rarely seen before wolves. The denser plant growth has provided habit for insects that feed birds. The slower moving waters are more suitable for native fish and beavers. The park is in better shape than it has been at any time in my life and we can credit the work of Canis lupus for a lot of it.

Bison on the high plains of Yellowstone National Park.

Most of Yellowstone is a high elevation plateau. It’s great habitat for deer, elk, bears and now wolves. There are mountains in the park but they are not as impressive as the Tetons to the south or the Absaroka range to the north.

And, despite the western whining, the biggest beneficiaries of wolf reintroduction have been, you guessed it: Homo sapiens. Lots of people are making money on Yellowstone wolves. Every winter thousands of people make their way into the Lamar valley to watch and hear wolves. People come from far and wide and occasionally the wolves put on a riveting show for them. Yes they occasionally stray from the park and there have been livestock losses. Whenever a sheep of calf gets eaten the rancher press covers it like a mini 9/11 terrorist attack. In some cases the attacks occur in the park. It’s not widely known that domestic animals graze national forests and parks. Hey, if your cow is eating state subsidized grass stop whining about occasional losses to wildlife. You’re damn lucky the stupid public tolerates grazing on public lands. In pure economic terms wolf introduction has been a rare government money-maker. Perhaps if Congress assholus were reintroduced to their natural habit, prison, similar benefits would ensue.

Wolf reintroduction put Yellowstone back in the news but advances in geophysics and geology vaulted the park’s status to global icon. There aren’t very many super volcanoes in the world and there are even fewer active super-volcanoes. This is probably a good thing. Too many of these puppies blowing off would seriously depress the market and no amount of quantitative easing would excavate your baked ass from cubic kilometers of volcanic ash. Geologists have been aware of Yellowstone’s violent volcanic past for decades but it wasn’t until the age of high precision GPS monitoring and satellite radar that the alarming dynamism of the park made headlines. We’re not used to landscapes “breathing” but something like that is going on in the Yellowstone caldera. The entire plateau goes up and down in amazingly short times. It takes a lot of energy to move a few hundred square kilometers of rock in a matter of years. Yellowstone ground movements have been monitored since the 1920’s and they are so marked that even the public notices. Now that we better understand the monster that lurks under the park everyone expects it to wake one day and blow the joint sky-high. Maybe we’ll get lucky and see it blow in our lifetime. The last time the Yellowstone super-volcano erupted Homo erectus walked the Earth. They we’re on the other side of the world but super-volcanoes make themselves felt at great distances. I’m willing to bet that evidence of large Yellowstone eruptions will eventually be detected in ancient African or Asian hominid fossils. Yellowstone’s super-volcano gives the park real sex appeal. Let’s face it, chicks dig bad boys, and bad boys that can waste entire countries are volcanically hot!

View of Yellowstone Lake from West Thumb.

Yellowstone Lake from West Thumb. Yellowstone Lake is large and deep and most of it lies within the Yellowstone caldera which covers an area three times larger than the lake. Imagine this entire landscape erupting. They’re not called super-volcanoes for nothing!

Yellowstone’s enduring importance has nothing to do with landscapes, geysers, bears or volcanoes. Its major contribution is the idea of a national park. In 1872 the US Congress took time out from their usual whoring and profiteering, work they assiduously pursue to this day, and accidentally did something worthwhile; they created the world’s first national park: Yellowstone. Despite modern whitewashing this wasn’t an act of a farsighted and wise people. Yellowstone was too far away, too high for agriculture, had no known mineral deposits and wasn’t even in a state at the time. How the hell can you deliver pork to nonexistent districts? Congress couldn’t see how to pillage and profit from Yellowstone so they gave in to a small but determined movement that wanted a park. The congress of 1872 was probably less corrupt and venal than our modern degenerates but they weren’t freaking saints and it annoys the hell out of me that partisan revisionists are constantly citing Yellowstone as a wonder of big government. Yellowstone was a product of the corrupt and incompetent Grant2 administration for Christ’s sake. The same dolts that brought you Custer’s last stand.

Judging the motivations of the long dead is pure hubris but evaluating the results of their actions is how we learn from history. By any standard Yellowstone was a glorious result. The congress of 1872 set a precedent that spread worldwide. Ken Burns argues that national parks are the single best idea the US government has ever had and I agree. I shudder to think what Yellowstone would be like if it wasn’t a national park. It would probably be the biggest hive of luxury spas and posturing celebrity scum on the planet. Imagine Aspen, Cannes, Bath, Monte Carlo, Dubai and Hollywood all whored up with natural boiling mud and geyser waters. Instead of being proud of Yellowstone I would be advocating nuking the place. The nukes wouldn’t damage the super-volcano but they would cauterize the celebrity infestation. Thank the all squiggling FSM that this nightmare was aborted in 1872. National parks have aborted many such nightmares all around the globe.

In my ideal world parks would cover at least a third of Earth’s lands and oceans. We’re not there yet, but when we are, people will still look at Yellowstone, the world’s first national park, and my personal favorite, as one of the very best.

  1. Nobody knows who first discovered Old Faithful. It was known to Native Americans long before it was named “Old Faithful.”
  2. Unlike the current occupant of the White House Grant did something that mattered before he was elected president.

The New SmugMug

Websites compete in a brutal Darwinian struggle for eyeballs and clicks: adapt or die is an understatement. Every few years users get “upgraded” whether they want it or not. Generally things move in a better direction. Even twenty-something web programmers aren’t completely stupid but setbacks and complete disasters are not uncommon.

My new SmugMug layout

My new SmugMug layout – click to view.

My relationship with SmugMug started about five years ago when my Flickr account was suddenly declared “mature” by some faceless administrative ape that couldn’t tell the difference between innocent nudes and pornography. I was so incensed I sent Flickr administrators a message they couldn’t ignore. I painstakingly deleted all my images, mass deletion was oddly not supported by the Yahoo’s that ran the joint, and dropped my account. How’s that for maturity? I consider it my sacred duty to punish companies that screw customers. After dumping Flickr I searched around and found SmugMug.

There were things I liked and didn’t like about SmugMug. SmugMug did a better job of displaying images than Flickr and you could select your own damn background color. On the downside, SmugMug has more of an empty art museum vibe than Flickr’s busy social whorehouse milieu. For a few days I missed complete morons dropping snide asides on my pictures. The only comments I get on SmugMug come from family members and energetic strangers that find something they like enough to breach SmugMug’s spam fortifications. The silence is welcome. This is an art museum after all.

SmugMug offers a number of account types. I am a “power” user. A power account falls between basic and pro accounts. This account differentiation makes sense. SmugMug users fall into three classes.

  1. Basic: plain folks that want a no fuss picture website.
  2. Power: nondelusional keen photographers.
  3. Pro: delusional “serious” photographers.

Only paparazzi, porn, wedding, fashion, sports and National Geographic photographers are making any money taking pictures these days. If you don’t fall into any of these classes my guess is that you are spending more on photography than you are making. SmugMug harbors many photographers attempting to sell their pictures. I would never buy a picture nor would I expect to sell one. I see many shots on sale that aren’t as good as many I’ve made for free. There are billions of cameras in the wild these days. Photography is not exempt from the law of supply and demand. When the supply is nearly infinite what do you expect the price to be? This is why newspapers are laying off staff photographers and small photography studios have mostly gone out of business. As a keen amateur photographer this saddens me but as a right-wing libertarian death beast it warms my dark evil heart that most of the “photographers” being discarded are rent seeking nitwits playing Henri Cartier-Bresson. Still photography is no longer a viable personal business! We’re deep into another age people. Now that you see where I’m coming from let’s get on with what’s good and bad about the new SmugMug.

Let’s start with the good stuff:

  1. Stretchy layouts: The new website does a better job of automatically adapting to a variety of display devices. I’ve browsed my own site on phones, tablets, laptops and giant desktop displays. It looks OK on all of them and great on tablets and laptops.
  2. Easy customization and layout tweaking: It took me all of ten minutes to figure out the new layout controls. Programming easy nontrivial customization is hard. Here the SmugMug programmers have brilliantly succeeded. I know enough about JavaScript, CSS and HTML to roll my own designs but photography is a hobby; I’d rather spend my time taking and refining pictures that writing JavaScript to display them.
  3. Better overall site organization: The new site organizer is a significant improvement on older methods and allowing deeper directory paths will be appreciated by many.
  4. An improved and better integrated mapping facility: Displaying geotagged images on old SmugMug was somewhat jarring. The control was clunky and it didn’t match your site design. The new control adapts to your layout and “circle” area browsing is slick and intuitive.

Now for the dark side:

  1. Website migration has hiccups: My site has over two thousands images. I didn’t expect the migration to the new layout to be without problems and it wasn’t. For me the biggest problem was the handling of keywords. The new site does not properly display keyword strings if the “;” delimiter is used. I have thousands of pictures with “keywords” like:

    The “;” character delimits separate words. It should be displayed like:

        5x5 | capillary | glass | microscope | polywater | ultra

    When you click on the “;” string it is interpreted as a “find all images with all these keywords” request which is usually the very image you are browsing. This is mostly a display problem. The individual keywords were properly parsed and loaded.

  2. Custom API applications break: I use a custom application I wrote to synchronize my SmugMug online galleries with my offline ThumbsPlus databases. This application issues SmugMug REST API calls to collect and update image metadata. When I migrated I expected this application to stop working and it did. It looks like I need to authenticate my application with the new SmugMug site. There are no easily found instructions on how to do this. I hope this is just an oversight and that power users can still run custom API applications.
  3. The new map control is limited to one hundred images: The slick circle browser map control will only display one hundred images and there is no easy way to set it to map pictures in a particular gallery. The old clunky control allowed two hundred pictures and it could display arbitrary galleries.

I could go on but I program for a living. I know users always whine about change and seldom express gratitude for all the hard work the code monkeys of the world do to keep the lights on. Overall the new SmugMug is better than the old. There are problems but for a first production cut this is fine work. It certainly merits one prestigious Analyze the Data not the Drivel attaboy award. See the following to print your award.

Dilbert almost gets an Attaboy

Dilbert almost gets an Attaboy. What would we do without Dilbert? For more click and enjoy.

Too Busy to Blog

Blogging is like going to the gym. You tell yourself you’re going to do it everyday and then you don’t.  The last two months have been all about my mother’s death and work.  Any remaining hours  were siphoned off by my other hobbies: photography and reading. Yeah I count reading as a hobby.

If we’re going to have the long happy writer-reader relationship that we’re all looking for you are going to have to put up with my ticks. I will enumerate them for you:

  1. I blow hot and cold on things. I am either all in or all out. If I am blogging that’s pretty much all I am doing. If I am taking pictures or programming that’s pretty much it. Balance is for rocks on pinnacles not me.
  2. I always return to my passions. I never give up on things I just put them aside. My affection for amateur astronomy has not gone away it’s just difficult to indulge it in the wretched quasi-opaque low altitude skies of St. Louis.  This city has many charms but clear skies is not one of them.
  3. I don’t give a crap about what people think. This is a problem for anyone that pretends to write. Authors, even lowly bloggers, cannot ignore their audience or they won’t have one. My manly impulse is to ignore you, but  I will, on occasion, profusely apologize and beg you to keep reading. It’s all crocodile tears. My apologies are as insincere as Obama’s: another guy that doesn’t give a crap about what you think.
  4. I will never change: at least while alive. Guys get this instantly.  A few women have vainly tried to correct my bad habits; they didn’t succeed.

To end June on a happy note and, more importantly, to test a nifty WordPress layout feature here’s a collection of recent images.  Click on any one to enlarge. All these images, and thousands more, are always on view on SmugMug. Next month I will be a better boy and write the epoch defaming rubbish you all love and crave.

More Photographic Waybacking

There are three things I like about funerals: meeting old friends and relatives, unlimited quantities of food and browsing old photographs. A few weeks ago my sister and sister-in-law went through my mother’s closets and found a stash of old photographs that had eluded my frequent attempts to catalog and archive family pictures.

I have a thing about family pictures. If you want to piss me off make a big pile of your family’s pictures and set them on fire! For reasons that are utterly inexplicable to me many of you don’t seem to give a damn about your family pictures. My wife’s father was a very organized photographer that took hundreds, maybe thousands, of black and white snapshots in Iran from the 1940s to the 1970s. Apparently he took the time to meticulously label each print with where, when and who information. I would love to paw through his pictures but that’s not possible because his kids, my wife’s siblings, trashed most of his pictures. The few that survive, like this one of him sitting and reading a newspaper, hint at a never to seen again world.

My wife's father reading a newspaper 1955.

My wife’s father reading a newspaper 1955.

Such crimes against imagery are common. My maternal grandmother was also a keen unorganized photographer. She didn’t label prints or neatly file slides but she shot everything that caught her eye. Over six decades she piled up thousands of images, but when she moved into town, she accidentally sold stacks of what she thought were empty slide carousels to yard sale strangers. Some of the carousels were empty but the rest held the bulk or her slide collection. The surviving images, like this old Kodachrome of my great-grandmother and her sister, constantly remind me of all the great shots I will never see! Don’t trash your family pictures you will grow to regret it.

My great-grandmother (light blue dress) and her sister 1950s.

My great-grandmother (light blue dress) and her sister 1950s.

My mother’s recently recovered stash held a few gems I had never seen like this great little snapshot of my maternal grandmother with her two daughters: my late mother as a pouty girl and my aunt as a baby. The old car in the background would be marked down as a “distracting element” in many photography classes. This merely shows how bad the advice and guidelines dispensed in such courses can be. The car is an essential element; it turns a nice snapshot into a sweet period piece.

Hazel, Alberta (baby) and Evelyn 1940.

Hazel, Alberta (baby) and Evelyn 1940.

Here’s another snapshot of my mother and aunt with a puppy. This picture is almost seventy years old but I still see the same expression on my aunt’s face. Your smile is a lifelong affliction; I would recommend getting used to it.

Evelyn and Alberta with puppy 1944.

Evelyn and Alberta with puppy 1944.

Along with the amateur snapshots a number of professional studio portraits turned up. The following is a hand tinted print of my mother as a ten-year old. Color photography obliterated the art of hand tinting. It is rarely seen outside of photographic art classes today. Tinting is often unnatural and hokey but it sometimes lends an eerie painting quality. Here the tinting works. Tinted prints are becoming rare and valuable. Don’t throw them away!

Evelyn age ten hand tinted 1945.

Evelyn age ten hand tinted 1945.

Finally, here’s a wonderful never seen portrait of my mother as an eleven year old. This may be the best portrait of my mother at any age. The studio photographer caught her in the middle of a great smile. This picture was taken over six decades ago but I doubt that modern imaging technology could significantly improve it.

Evelyn age eleven studio portrait 1946.

Evelyn age eleven studio portrait 1946.

Finding this portrait shortly after my mother’s death took away some of the sting. I had a great mother, and because I treat family pictures with the respect they deserve, I have the photographic evidence to prove it.

RAW development rubs me Raw

I’m exhausted. For the last four nights I’ve been up late Lightroom’ing the pictures I took on my little Arizona annular eclipse trip. I’m a new Lightroom user and I’m not entirely impressed with the program. It’s a first class general RAW developer but I don’t think it’s as good as Capture NX when working with Nikon NEF files. For the nonce I will keep Lightroom’ing away; you have to master something before you can have a valid opinion about it!

lake powell boat at dusk

Lonely Lake Powell boat at dusk

As annoyed as I am about Lightroom I know, from bitter experience, that when I first process images I only see problems. The composition sucks. The colors are off. Things are too dark or to light. After a few dozen disappointments the mood darkens and I wonder just who the fuck took all this shit? But I solider on, waging relentless pixel warfare, because in few years, when I’ve forgotten about light curves, sharpening parameters, edge masks, color spaces and all the technical hoo-hah that goes into digital image making, I start seeing the pictures not the flaws. I sometimes catch myself looking at my old pictures and wondering just who took all these great shots. You change your mind about pictures!

This is why I don’t use “star” ratings. Most image management systems have ratings. Lightroom has a five-star system, Thumbsplus does something similar and every image management tool I’ve looked at has a comparable feature. Obviously the masses expect and demand ratings. Too bad the masses are wrong. In the long run ratings are meaningless. You really see this with restoration projects. I’ve spent days restoring pictures that what I would rate as total crap if I had just shot them. Yet here I am spending long hours on yesterday’s crap.

Restoration work also changes your attitude about duds. In my film days I ruthlessly pruned my slides and negatives trashing exposures that didn’t meet my standards of the time. Now I curse that delusional jackass for throwing away my precious originals. It’s surprising how useful duds are; they fill in missing details and remind you of your ever-changing opinions.  Save your duds I guarantee you will feel differently about them in a few years and, of course, others will have completely different takes.

eclipse fans

Annular eclipse fans