31 December, 2017

Moments In Between: 25 Hours of Light and Darkness

There's a saying in motorsports: "fast is slow; slow is fast." And while it's questionable advice for the actual technique of driving, it's still relevant for the driver's mindset. Actions that feel fast tend to be reactive — something happened and you were fast enough to catch it and respond. Like if you trip while walking and you catch yourself — it certainly takes a bunch of skill and experience to avoid a spill, but tripping and recovering still slowed you down.

By contrast, a feeling of slowness tends to accompany actions that don't even require a reaction. Maybe you predicted the problem and avoided it entirely — you saw that raised edge in the pavement and you adjusted your stride to walk right past it. When a driver has a feeling of slowness during the race, it often means that they're actually moving fast. They are relaxed and in control of the situation. Their actions are precise and proportionate. Deliberate.

But the specific memories that we retain about an event tend to center around the fast moments, and the slow periods tend to be compressed and forgotten. We anchor on the things that were exciting, and everything else fades away.

31 October, 2017

Community (pianissimo, part 3)

Part of the magic of a piano is that they are always surrounded by art. But art has a way of summoning forth old communities, and of spurring the creation of new ones. This move was no exception.

The night before the move, I took a picture of the space, because I wanted to see how it would transform.

30 September, 2017

The Delivery (pianissimo, part 2)

Part one of "pianissimo" argued that moving a piano is an art. With many works of art, there is a particular scene, or moment, or passage that comes to embody the greater work. A part that symbolizes the whole. For me, the sight of a grand piano flying above a small San Francisco skyline was that moment.

Let's take a step back. "Pianissimo" is the story of how my friends' cherished piano made it from their old home to their new one. So how does this scene fit into the big picture?

12 September, 2017

Timber, Day 2: Jenga

In the first day-two post, we got the tree down to a height short enough that we could fell the remainder all at once. All that was left was to make it happen.

Because trees widen near the base, Matt planned to switch his standard saw to a longer bar and chain to get some extra reach. That plan had to change once he discovered that the longest chain he could find wasn't quite long enough for the bar he needed. Plan B was to fire up an old Husqvarna 3120XP that Mark had previously acquired for his chainsaw mill. It hadn't run in awhile, but some coaxing and old timer magic got it up and running.

31 August, 2017

Wherefore Art Thou…? Contemplations on the nature of art

A few weeks ago, I watched a performance by the Top Shelf Big Band, directed by my friend Robert. I loved it. Hearing big band music takes me back to my flute-playing days in middle school band, when a love for the music compelled our director to sprinkle a little swing into our standard diet of classical and pep band music.

During the concert, I danced my way around the venue, taking photos when the mood struck. And other members of the audience were movin' too, sometimes standing to hit the dance floor as soon as they heard Robert announce certain upcoming songs.

31 July, 2017

pianissimo: How to move a piano (part 1)

Part of the magic of a piano is that they are always surrounded by art. Designing them is an art. Playing them is an art. Recording them is an art. Tuning them is an art. And, it turns out, moving them is an art as well. Recently, I was able to watch as a grand piano was moved from a San Francisco apartment to a house. As always, it was enlightening to watch people who were experienced in the art.

As I noted in "Timber!", tools and infrastructure make jobs like this significantly easier, and provide more margin for error. For this move, the movers mounted the piano to a wooden sled (think of a dolly with no wheels), and used the sled as an interface with the world. They let the sled ride down the stairs, and not having to keep the piano off the floor allowed them to focus their efforts on staying centered in the narrow interior staircase, and keeping the descent under control.

30 June, 2017

A Tall Ship's Long Shadow

Last week, I and a number of other Googlers answered the Call of the Sea, volunteering time, labor, and a bit of ingenuity to further the construction of the Matthew Turner, a historically-inspired tall ship being built in Sausalito.

At the time of our visit, the ship was already in the water, but was still lacking essential components like the masts and sails.

14 May, 2017

Portfolio Brainstormin'

As I've been working to update my portfolio for the first time since 2013 (when I took this picture), it's again occurring to me that the traditional sense of a portfolio as a collection of images-that-stand-alone doesn't really fit the kind of work I do. I feel like my dedication to storytelling and my focus on everyday moments are two distinguishing traits of my work. I try to get the aesthetics and style down as well, but I feel like they're less central to what I do.

But presenting those characteristics as part of an online portfolio still seems challenging. Among other things, phone screen aspect ratios make it challenging to lay out images and text together, such that the text is legible and the details of the image are still visible.

30 April, 2017

Timber, Day 2: Tetris

In the months that passed since the first work day, the entire demeanor of the terrain had changed. Drought, wildfire, and clouds of dust had been replaced by rain-induced landslides and a smattering of beat up, rerouted, and sometimes-closed roads.

As the dappled sunlight and scattered logs of the worksite came into view, I was also greeted by a miniature creek running along a 10-foot section of the gravel access road. Which, I remembered, was one main motivation of embarking on this adventure in the first place — Mark wanted to reroute that road, to reduce the impact of that erosion, and the tree was in the way.

27 March, 2017

A Glimpse Behind the Curtain (Behind the 25, part 8)

Evil lairs are always inaccessible. Impenetrable. And the constant distance creates an aura of mystery about the place. A handful of interactions grow into a half-true caricature of the people who actually reside there.

I had seen the view above many times over the years, and a similar kind of caricature had grown in my mind. In my imagination, the people working in the tower were sticklers for everything. They loved rules, order, and nothing else.

Finally, in 2016, I was able to take a glimpse behind the curtain. And I can say for certain that the notions that I had were not the full story, and they were not a fair depiction either.

Of course, I should have known that. As with any fractal, the traits that I came to appreciate about the pit marshals, the flaggers, and the safety crew also reflect the traits of the race control team itself. And vice-versa. This is definitely a race where the details show you the bigger picture. But the opposite is also true: the big picture can show you hidden details.

13 March, 2017

Muscle (Behind the 25, part 7)

As the race-day sky turns from black, to blue, to red, orange, and finally, sunlight, the members of the Safety crew awake from their last moments of guaranteed sleep during the race. Safety is the last of the trifecta of teams that represent Race Control outside of the tower: the pit marshals are the eyes, ears, and voice along pit lane, and the flaggers fulfill a similar role around the track.

Safety is the muscle. When a car has to get moved, or a dangerous situation needs to be disarmed, Safety is called to the scene. And just like a fire company, they rest between calls, and they work when they're called. But during the 25, they're on call all race long.

26 February, 2017

Enforce and Protect (Behind the 25, part 6)

Flaggers are the second manifestation of Race Control. Just like the pit marshals on pit lane, the flaggers keep watch, enforce rules, and relay observations from around the track. They communicate with the drivers by way of a set of flags, and they use radio to communicate back and forth with Race Control, and/or with other flag stations.

The flags encode a small set of relatively terse messages, including things like "caution," "faster cars approaching," "dirt or oil on track," and "you did something bad; pit now." The flaggers also use motion to convey urgency — a waving flag is more urgent, a still (or "standing") flag is less urgent. Anything more nuanced will likely come over the radio, once the pit marshals talk to the driver's crew chief.

21 February, 2017

2016 Year in Review: July through December

I started off the second half of the year with a surprisingly cathartic lamentation about a moral trap of documentary photography: regardless of how much you do, regardless of how many stories you tell, what stands out on reflection are the stories that you didn't tell, and the people you let down by not telling those stories.

For my own part, I think I've also managed to use Instagram as a somewhat effective coping mechanism against the sense of doing nothing about a particular thing I covered. A short Instagram post acknowledges that the event happened, that I was there, and that it's something that I care about. Moreover, my focus on writing haiku with my IG posts also forces me to at least partially digest some of the story of what I captured.

(From "Life, Death, and Lack of Closure: The perpetual struggle of the inadvertent historian", published in July)

12 February, 2017

Like Hawks (Behind the 25, part 5)

In nearly every sporting competition, there exists some group to set and enforce the rules. They make sure that every team is playing fair, so that each team has a chance to excel. At the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, that group is Race Control. But they work via an old-timey kind of magic.

Race Control is the proverbial group behind the curtain. They observe the race, and when needed exert their influence, by way of three other groups: the pit marshals, the flaggers, and the safety crew.

The pit marshals wear bright vests and patrol pit lane. Like hawks. When they spot an issue or a violation, they report it to race control. And when Race Control wants to communicate to a team, the pit marshals act as their mouthpiece, finding the team's pit box and delivering the message directly. But that communication method only works in one direction — if the teams want to talk back, they can call or visit the tower.

06 February, 2017

2016 Year in Review: January through June

This review is a tour through the year 2016, as illustrated by one image from each of the 17 posts I published that year.

2016 was a year of continued growth, both for myself and for Doppler Photo. It was a year of unprecedented stability, as I figured out just how much I can photograph, write, and publish without burning myself out. But at the same time, it was a year of expansion and evolution, as I investigated new ways to find and connect with new audiences, as well as novel ways of telling stories to the folks who are already watching (I appreciate y'all).

I set some goals and made some plans that didn't quite pan out, and I also followed some whims that were more important than I could have known. I failed to predict the future very well, but I've put in enough work that things are still moving forward, and the momentum is growing.

The year started off with an amazing concert that made me grateful for the friendships I've already forged, and hopeful for the ones I strive to invest in every day. It reminded me that my perspective arises, in part, from past experiences that I no longer remember, but that nonetheless influence the moments I notice and the compositions that speak to me. It reminded me to search more actively for the people who have shared those experiences, and to see if my perspective speaks to them as well. That reminder is one that I'll be carrying forth into 2017.

(From "Ms. Lauryn Hill Breaks It Down in Brooklyn", published in January)

28 January, 2017

Speed or Precision (Behind the 25, part 4)

Dawn... I've got to be there by dawn.

So I pack, I check, I re-check, and I finally hit the road. Inevitably, I'm late — as I drive North on I-5, I glance right and see the first embers of the dawn already reflected in farmland that, for once, is more marshland than dustbowl. The thought crosses my mind that maybe… maybe being late isn't so bad… Maybe I could stop to take a quick photo; to enjoy a last moment of procrastination before the real work begins…

But no, the work doesn't wait, and I'm already running late. I arrive to a paddock that seems still mostly asleep. I park, don my gear, and start looking around for pictures.

This was frame number 9. The AIM Tire crew was already motoring in high gear, because the work doesn't wait, and tires make the race go 'round.

14 January, 2017

Food and Shelter (Behind the 25, part 3)

Baby, it's cold outside. Well, chilly, at least. So what are you gonna do about it?

One of the most human ways to deal with the elements is to find food and shelter. At the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, you can find both at the Thunderhill Grill.

08 January, 2017

Run the ground game (Timber! part 4)

The history of the forestry industry spans ages, continents, and cultures. And for certain, these four chapters have been but a glimpse into one microcosm of that tradition. But even in that glimpse, I've learned so much about the process, and I hope you have as well.

We started with a 200-foot-tall Redwood tree. In part one, we saw how Matt, the arborist, erected infrastructure to move himself and his tools up and down the tree. In part two, he completed the "limbing" process, forming a bed of branches, and also removed the top of the tree (which was too narrow for him to safely climb). Part three took us through the hinge-cutting technique, which Matt demonstrated at ground level, and then put into practice 100+ feet in the air.

Of course, the process doesn't end there. Once each log reaches the ground and Matt declares the all-clear, it's time to get back to work.