Night Owl

October 11, 2005

Somehow it is almost 2am again. Try though I might I never seem to be able to get to bed before 3. It has been this way for a very long time. As a kid I would play possum until my parents were safely downstairs, construct a decoy with pillows and read under the bed with a flashlight. Later it was Letterman back in his first seasons. I would watch on a small black and white television set with the volume very very low and stifling my laughs with a pillow, later still I would sneak down to my Apple //e clicking away and connecting to far away BBSes. And there was one of the great joys of my adolescence: the late night listen to the full album (while wearing big headphones of course) in a darkened room. Long evening phone calls with girls came around junior year in high school and made me forget music and computers and everything else for a while...

In college, well it was college... and nobody ever sleeps. I tried to never schedule classes before 11 in the morning to compensate.

Then in those giddy first years in NY it was Elsie's Oke Doke Pub, a speakeasy run by the 80 year old Elsie Rene-an anachronistic little bar where the most recent song on the jukebox was 30 years old. Elsie often wouldn't open her doors until midnight and even then the place wouldn't get going until 2 or 3 (the truth is the doors were never open, she only let you in if she knew you). We would sit at the bar together sipping Jagermeisters ("It's medicinal," she would say, "full of herbs. Sip it.") as she told me stories of New York in the 30's and 40's. The entire geography of her life was contained in just a few blocks of Yorkville and after a few drinks she would always launch into tales too tall to be fiction. I would stop by virtually every night and eventually my picture hung on the wall. One of my great disappointments on moving back to the city last year was walking up 84 street and finding the place shuttered and dark.

Now of course there is a baby who fills so much of the day that many of the things I should be doing do get pushed until he is asleep and the house is quiet. It is very quiet now. I should get back to work.

Late Night Neruda

October 8, 2005

I am headed to bed, but before nodding off I thought I would fill my head with a bit of Neruda, actually picking up a book, instead of scanning the usual internet dreck. I always say I don't understand poetry (and secretly think most of it is unreadable), but Neruda's words always wash over me and make me feel the beauty and sadness of the world all balled up together with impossible grace. His poetry also reminds me of my courtship with Jenn and that long hot summer when we first met... he was always my secret weapon...

Anyway, a bit of Neruda is a nice way woo someone... and if you've found that someone, it's a nice way ease yourself into dreamland. Goodnight all.

NY Film Festival Mini Reviews

October 6, 2005

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
The audience seemed stunned by the bleakness of this Romanian film about a dying man being shuttled from hospital to hospital in a nightmare of red tape. I was less distressed than most and found the film funny and occasionally brilliant but I heard lots of grumbling as we walked out the door. This one's not for everyone.

The Squid and the Whale
It opens this weekend. Just go see it, you won't be sad.

The President’s Last Bang
Probably the best film I saw at the festival. The Dr. Stranglelove comparison in the film festival's official blurb is apt. Finding deep comedy in assassination of Korean president Park Chung-hee the filmmaker pulls viewers through a roller coaster of a movie with a self confident wit that kept me hooked throughout. I hope it is released in the states so I can see it again.

Three Times
I'm a big fan of Hou Hsia-hsien. This film featuring 3 short stories about love is brimming with cinematic grace. Each of the stories is told quietly almost wordlessly. They each start slowly and work up to subtle moments where profound emotion is telegraphed with the slightest of gestures, but ultimately the 3 stories (all set in different eras but featuring the same 2 leads) didn't add up to much. Still if you are in right mood just turn off the left brain and let it all wash over you.

Something Like Happiness
What is it about Eastern Europeans making films that leave you feeling utterly depressed? Is crushing the soul their idea of a good time? Is life in the Czech Republic really so grim? I'm sure this is a wonderful film but after the ended all I could think about was having a stiff vodka tonic.

Who’s Camus Anyway?
This Altmanesque Japanese comedy did something I don't think I've ever seen done properly on film-it captured the feel and texture of college life without descending into camp. Part of secret was that the actors were actually college aged (and not 25 year olds), part of it was that the kids always seemed to be running everywhere, and part of it was the messy web of relationships spun by director Mitsuo Yanagimachi. This film sort of ran out of steam in the end, but I enjoyed the ride. My only major criticism--muddy camerawork.

Tale of Cinema
I didn't see this film but Jenn did and she loved it. We became big Hong Sang-soo fans after seeing some of his films in LA. Jenn calls Hong Sang-soo the first Korean auteur and I don't think it's just ethnic pride talking. This guy is good.

3 Facts

October 3, 2005

1. Before 1847 the word gorilla does not appear in the English language.

2. Most mammals regardless of size have about a billion heartbeats in a lifetime.

3. Left unsupervised I can scarf down an entire package of gingermen cookies.

cuter every day

October 1, 2005

One of the most fascinating things about being a first time parent is watching things click in your kid's head. One day they they are trying to eat the pages of the book... then one day they start turning pages... then pointing out people and animals in pictures... and then, finally, sitting quietly and turning all the pages and going back to the beginning to see everything again.

Rita

October 1, 2005

These are pictures of my family's house in Lufkin. It took a pretty good hit with Rita. Almost more shocking to me than the damage to the house was the fact that a giant Magnolia tree out in the yard was uprooted. I planted that tree and watched it grow from a small thing to a 60 foot high beauty. I thought it would just always be there.


NY Film Festival Tickets

September 29, 2005

Jenn can't accompany me to the NY Film festival tonight so I have a single extra ticket. The film is Something Like Happiness and it starts at 6:00pm. If you want the ticket email me at raul at mexicanpictures.com. First come first serve. I will also have single tickets available for Monday night's doulble feature, The President's Last Bang and Who's Camus Anyway as well as Three Times on Wednesday.

Update: Something Like Happiness is spoken for. The rest are still available.

Diner on Smith Street

September 28, 2005

Conversation in the booth behind me from a few minutes ago:

Guy Number 1: But you have to understand I love her. I LOVE HER. I am straight up serious. L. O. V. E. Man. Its hurts. It hurts like I'm on fire or something.

Guy Number 2: I understand already, you're crazy about her.

Guy Number 1: Crazy? You see you just don't get it. It's LOVE. I think about her in the morning , at work all day long man, at night. Right now. Just being here is making me bug out. It's deep man. I understand songs now man...it's like every song is about me. It's like the whole world is opened up and raw. Love, man. It's ridiculous. Ridiculous. Look at me. I want to see her tonight. I want to write her name all over my body that's how I feel (he had the name Isabelle written all over his arm in blue ink in large cursive). It's deep man. Real real deep.

Guy Number 2: But she doesn't even like you.

Guy Number 1: Yeah man. That's the whole point. What am I supposed to do? Love is crazy. What am I supposed to do?

[Then stifled tears, then real tears. Then silence for the next 15 minutes as they ate their sandwiches, paid the bill, and walked out into the night.]

Scott Rudin

September 25, 2005

Several people have pointed me to the Wall Street Journal article on Scott Rudin who I worked for many moons ago. You might be able to access it via this link (you have to go to the page and copy the link shown into your browser... blah I hate subscription sites). The article sugarcoats the stories quite a bit. If you ever want to hear much better stories, invite me out for a beer some night.

Rita hits Lufkin

September 25, 2005

The eye of hurricane Rita passed directly over Lufkin, Texas (where I grew up) up last night. Damage was limited, mainly to houses hit by downed trees. Also the big rotating bull atop Bryan's Smokehouse and BBQ was knocked down. Sad yes, but I am sure the bull will rise again. The Lufkin Daily News has more details and photos. Trees fell on our house there. We don't know the full extent of the damage yet.

Rosalinda

September 23, 2005

That's my dad hiding under the N. He was on a trip with some of his medical school friends which would date this picture to around 1959. I especially love the background of this picture... reminds me of one of those Pedro Infante movies my grandfather and I would watch together on late night TV... also for me it recalls great Trios we would play on my grandparents record player. Here are some songs that bring it all back: Novia Mia, Lloren Guitarras

Rats

September 20, 2005

If you were walking in the vicinity of Hicks and Atlantic this evening you might have heard a long loud man scream. A rat, one of the large armadillo-like ones that come up from the river, jumped off a fence using me as stepping stone on the way to the ground. So yeah, that was me. Inelegant I know.

North Koreans on Xylophones

September 18, 2005


Yes that's Kim Jong Ill on horseback. I should explain. I was googling information on The Bern Institute for Xylophonics when I came across some fascinating quicktime movies from North Korean TV: Mo Kin, 3 year old "genius" plays the xylophone, Mo Kin sings!, Kim Jong Ill's Roses, Potato Pride, & North Korean High School Girls. All these videos are from the Roppongi Video Happy Hour a wacky variety show in Japan. There are more videos both North Korean (including the horseback one) and Japanese (some very very silly) available on the main robpongi thumbnail page.

I never found the page Xylophonics institute, if you can track it down, drop the url in the comments.

After the Flood

September 18, 2005

When I lived in LA I would often drive aimlessly around the neighborhood just to hear the end of a This American Life broadcast. Now of course, it's on the web, always available. Listen to After the Flood, last week's show on New Orleans, and you'll know why I never miss an episode. (real audio required)

Early Color Photography

September 17, 2005

Boing Boing has a nice link to early American color photographs from the Great Depression. Most of those images are Kodacolor or Kodachrome (as an aside, check out this page on how to date early Kodachrome slides). I've long been fascinated with early photography from the generation before this, ie from the turn of the century. Most of these are Autochromes, the first widely available color photo process invented by the Lumier Brothers.

This is a pretty good timeline of the development of color photography.

The image below is from WWI for me it shows why Autochromes are compelling... there is just something so tangible and accessible about them versus early black and white or hand colored images.

Some linkage: early Russian photography, early French photography, World War I color photography, & a sampling of Lumiere Studio work. More WWI photos here and here (pages 6-8). This gallery of framed autochromes shows how saturated and "real" they can be.

Autochromes are often available on ebay, just search for Autochrome.

Update: Exhibition at UK's National Media Museum: Autochome- The Dawn of Color

File System Events, OS X

September 16, 2005

Hardcore Mac geeks read on, everyone else: as you were.

Recently I've been tormented by some mysterious preference files that keep showing up in my system folder with jibberish names. Tracking down which app has been writing these files as been difficult. Also my hard disk has been spinning seeming at random when I'm not doing anything. This too was hard to troubleshoot.

FSEventer to the rescue. This little program opens up a graphical display window that shows you every file written to disk (including invisible files) and gives authorship information with a click. Despite the esoteric name it features a friendly interface and is fun to watch (to see it go nuts fire up a browser and hit some MS sites which write a million cookies). I managed to track down both of my mysterious problems in minutes. This is a good little program for your toolbox.

Recuerdos

September 16, 2005

My mom's birthday just past. She would have been 60 which is hard to imagine. She was only 45 when she died, 21 when she had me. In my mind she is always young, although always still my mother, the adult. Her voice rings clear in my head and I'm sure it will remain so when I am an old man. The Mexican side of me holds death close.

My grandmother had 10 brothers and sisters, nine of them preceded her in death, and yet she always spoke of them as if they were guests expected at any moment. She would catalog stories of their lives, but would always end by noting their burial places often lamenting the fact that they were not together to more easily talk in the afterlife. From the age of 3 until I was in my 20's at the end of every visit she would whisper, "hug me tight because this is the last time you will see me in this world." She would often press pictures of herself in my hands so that I wouldn't forget "when I am gone."

My mother's pictures, letters, and other small things scattered around the house do not provoke melancholy, but instead remind me how much I have to live up to for my own son. It is a strange bargain knowing that the more we give of ourselves, the more open we are to pain, but the more alive we become.

Octavio Paz, one of my favorite poets writes, "To the inhabitant of New York, Paris, or London death is a word that is never uttered because it burns the lips. The Mexican, on the other hand, frequents it, mocks it, caresses it, sleeps with it, entertains it, it is one of his favourite playthings and his most enduring love."

Photo Notes 2: Photography Advice for Ruby in Minnesota

September 14, 2005

Another photography related email comes from Ruby a junior high school student who asks: "What advice do you have for me so that I can take pictures like yours? I want to post them online."

Hmmm. Well Ruby I think the goal would be not to take pictures like mine or someone else's, but to take pictures that are your own, that show a little bit about how you see the world. For me photography is not about what you choose to shoot, but about what you choose to leave out. And ultimately it's all about emotion. What do you love? Or hate? What things do you see that other people miss? What moves you?

Highly biased advice:

I've been taking pictures most of my life so it's pretty much organic. Know your cameras. Feel comfortable with them. Get to the point where you don't have to think about how to make the camera do what you want it to do.

Tell a story.

I always tell myself to get closer. The closer you get (within reason) the more emotion you will find.

Long lenses are not a substitute for getting closer.

If you are shooting people look your subjects in the eye.

Slow down. Hang out with your subjects. Try waiting 10 minutes before pulling out the camera, or better yet, an hour.

Wait for the light to get better.

One of the silliest comments I see again and again is "nice depth of field" (ironically usually posted when the depth of field is shallow. People have gotten so used to digital cameras with high ISOs that stop down and keep everything in focus that they have forgotten the possibilities of wide aperture photography. Ditto for slow shutters speeds and motion. This said, don't let the wide aperture become a crutch. Just because you've focused on something at f 1.4 doesn't mean it's interesting.

Don't post pictures of cats (dogs are ok, dogs show emotion, but be sparing).

Avoid clichés. Some common clichés: zoo pictures, pictures shot and then modified with stock Photoshop filters, sunsets, flowers (unless your audience is full of horticulturalists nobody cares), abandoned buildings, graffiti, mannequins, people in clown makeup (or some other silly costume), fall foliage, water on glass (usually shot with a wide aperture), random people walking down an anonymous street, people in wacky t-shirts, pretty clouds, silly signs, empty roads, seagulls, swans, ducks, water reflections, couples on the beach.

Just because you shoot with a macro lens/holga/polaroid doesn't make it interesting.

When taking travel photos try to avoid the touristic. What is touristic? If you see a gaggle of tourists shooting in a particular spot, the images taken from there will be touristic. If it should be on a postcard, it's touristic. Photos of "natives" in tribal dress shot with a long lens, usually smiling at the photographer are touristic.

Turn off automatic stuff: auto-focus, auto-exposure, auto-whatever. Make some decisions.

Edit. Edit. Edit. (I am horrible at this.)

Shoot black and white now and then.

When I choose a picture to post I ask myself "so what?". If I can't answer that for myself, I figure it's not worth posting.

Experiment.

Have fun.

Photo Notes 1: Camera To Web

September 14, 2005

I've had a 2 or 3 requests recently via comments and email to explain my process from shot to post on my photoblog. It's not complicated:

Digital

1. Take picture

2. Use Photoshop's Raw import to select white balance, bump up sharpness, etc. (usually I just use the default settings).

3. Resize in Photoshop

4. Post to Movable Type.

Film

1. Take photo. (Usually w/ Nikon FM2 or FM3 & 24mm lens)

2. Develop negatives.

3. Scan negatives with Nikon Coolscan 5000.

4. Resize & unsharp mask if needed.

5. Post to Movable Type.

In some interior shots I use Photoshop's autocolor to correct for tungsten.

My scanner doesn't deal well with negatives with wide exposure range and the dark part of the photos often come out looking underexposed so in those cases I use Photoshop's "curve's" tool to adjust.

Most of the stuff I've posted recently was shot on film.

Jenn in taxi

September 12, 2005

After a night of hanging out with Jay and listening to The Rivals, a local band whose lead singer is a doctor by day.

It's a beautiful day out.

September 11, 2005

But while wandering around Red Hook with my family and looking out over the water towards Manhattan I remembered it is September 11th. "September 11th" has been so co-opted by our president and his party for crass political gain and war mongering that even the silent mental recitation of the phrase made me feel queasy. But of course it is absurd to allow the petty vainglorious machinations of the current administration interfere with remembrance of what is all of ours to bear.

I was not here in 9/11/2001. I had left town on September 5th on one of my sojourns half a world away. On the eleventh I was in the mountains cut off from all communication. I didn't hear about the attacks until almost a week later, and even then the information was incomplete. It wasn't until I landed in Hong Kong almost a month after the fact and walked into a newsstand in the deserted airport that the full scale of the destruction hit me. The rows of magazines with pictures of the towers, the victims, and the aftermath was shattering... almost incomprehensible, but of course everything was over.

Never did I have to suffer the urgent fear of not knowing what was going to happen next so prevalent on that day. It was much later still that I discovered a friend of mine, Suria Clarke had been working for Cantor Fitzgerald and had perished in the North Tower. She had been in a division of the company known as eSpeed and I didn't know it was connected to Cantor. I tried to contact her on my return to New York and found her phone dead. I had assumed she had moved and that I would hear from her soon. Only after suggesting to a mutual friend that she be a guest at a dinner party did I learn the awful truth.

Suria had a quality one so rarely finds in New York: she was an utterly reliable friend. I could call her late on a Monday night for dinner and she would arrive within the hour in good spirits and with 2 or 3 good stories to tell. She was always up for a movie or drinks or an exploratory walk around an unknown neighborhood. As both a Brit and a new arrival she had sharp eye for the absurdities of this city which she loved dearly. She of all people would be horrified by so much of what has been done in the name of the victims. Any tragedy becomes amplified if you have some connection to it and Suria's loss even more than the holes in the sky made it all hit home for me.

...
Photos from that day from the nonist.

Nazar: Photographs from the Arab World

September 7, 2005

This show of photos from the Arab world opens tomorrow. I've admired work from several of the featured photographers for years. Should be excellent.

Exhibition opening:
Thursday, September 8, 2005
6 p.m.-8 p.m.
Aperture Gallery
547 West 27th Street, 4th Floor
New York, New York
212-505-5555


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