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A view to the future November 18, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, creativity, learn, life, technology.
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6 comments

picwomencameraCameras capture time. Whether film or digital, still or movie, they are recording the profound or insignificant moments of our lives.

As I recognize how much I feel at home behind the viewfinder, and begin to gain a sense of the stillness at the centre of each photo, I am also seeing how — even as I watch — the way I think of photography is slipping into the stream of time. Photography, like the printing industry it is still mostly dependent on, is becoming outdated and antiquated.

There have been so many changes in the history of photography, from calotypes and Daguerreotype to magic lanterns, from the first mass-produced box cameras to the sophisticated computers with glass and mirrors we are used to seeing today. Now it is commonplace for people to take photos with their cellphones, and shoot videos with their digital cameras.

Of course, these days you can also buy a miniature camera no bigger than a thumbnail if you’re in the spy business, or if you want to snap the martians at play and don’t want to spend two years and a few million getting to Mars, you might be able to afford a monster-sized 1700 mm (5-1/2 foot) lens for your camera instead.

But I’m trying to simplify my life. I’m fascinated by convergence, by the iphone approach which incorporates music, phone, camera, organizers, becoming an electronic catch-all for the stuff you used to keep at the bottom of your purse or wallet or desk drawer. My cellphone can take photos (I’ve used it twice) and play music (I haven’t tried that function at all) as well as store task lists, phone numbers, and I’m sure it has many other bells and whistles I haven’t bothered to explore. But the fact is, I want to use it as a phone. Period.

browniecameraI have the same relationship with my camera. I use it to take pictures. I’m glad it’s digital, so I can see the images right away, and don’t have to pay for film and processing. But many cameras now are designed to do so much more than take pictures. Even the new high-end cameras are beginning to feature high-definition video capability, along with all the other must-have doohickeys. How many functions does your camera have? How many do you use?

I don’t want to be a luddite about this, but I’m afraid that what I see as the point of photography is getting lost in the race for bigger and better equipment, in the competition for the electronic-savvy consumers who want a camera that’s fully-loaded, whether or not they possess the will and skill to master it.

I’m not a camera purist. I don’t think that you have to use a square-format view camera and shoot in black-and-white (and process it in your own darkroom) in order to be considered a serious photographer. But I do want to draw a line between photography and videography, between single eloquent images and multi-frame movies. For me, photography is about stopping and seeing, about observing and contemplating a moment in time. I’m talking about still photography, plain old-fashioned pictures. Come to think of it, I prefer plain potato chips, too.doo-lough-ireland

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Related links:
Geist Magazine: “My Father’s Hands”
New York Magazine: “You must be streaming”
Jacki Schklar: “Video vs Still Images”
Technology Review: “Crossover Camera”

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Sideswiped by happiness (and other detours) June 26, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, communication, creativity, energy, explore, journey, learn, life, nature.
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11 comments

boulder born
Janet (aka Lavenderbay) took this photo of me admiring the wonders of nature in New Zealand.

I know, it has been more than a month (wordpress courteously calls it “a while”) since I’ve posted, and a lot of water has galloped under that bridge.

I’ve thought from time to time of ideas that would make interesting posts, but thinking doesn’t always translate into doing. And doing has taken up all of my thinking lately. There was the 10-day trip to Paris, then the 4-day trip to New Brunswick, and all the jet-lag, catching-up, mental hiccups, etc that accompany changes of scenery and daily routine, not to mention time zones. But that’s another blog.

The occasion for writing is a prod from a friend, Goodbear, who awarded me with a “Tree of Happiness” and tapped me for a meme. It’s a simple task, at first glance, just the sort of thing to get me back into writing again: list six things that make me happy; name six blogrollers as recipients of this award; and link to the giver and the givees.

And, hey, I like a challenge, so…. hmm, maybe that could be my First Thing… so here goes, six things that make me happy (but not necessarily in order):

Trail ride in Paradise1. A challenge overcome: Yes, I can be competitive, but I my natural contraryness compels me to compete most fervently against the naysayers and despairers. Most of all I love games or problems that I can apply my Gillian-patented blend of humour, intuition and wiggly lines to come up with a possible solution (or even better, a choice of solutions from several possibilities). This is a highly satisfying pursuit, and I will drop my own boring work at the merest whimper from one of my co-workers in order to spring to the rescue. (But it’s strange how my work never gets finished on time…!)

play again?2. A doggy grin: I will admit it, I am now a total dog convert. Of course, I still love cats, and Cuca has no complaints when I stop to skritch him at that dry spot along his jawbone and behind his ears, but only a dog can make me smile when I’m all pouty inside. All it takes is that happy panting goofy grin to cause my droopy mouth to turn up at the corners, and before I know it, I’m grinning right back.

dapple path3. A forest path: I love the hush of the forest — where the ever-present hum of the city is drowned out by bird song and the sound of the wind in the trees. This is the song of the unwound road, which I have written about here, so I won’t repeat myself, except to say that this is one pleasure that I all too seldom allow myself. In fact, I have been doing way too little physical activity of any kind lately, so I hope we’ll have lots of time during our upcoming camping trip in Bon Echo for trail tramping!

family fun 34. A good meal with good company: I may be good at multi-tasking, but all too often I’m trying to read or work on the computer while I’m eating… or should I say, “wolfing my food”. I seldom take time for breakfast at home, ending up most days with a muffin and coffee at my desk at work, and that’s where my lunch often is as well. Then at home, there’s blogs and e-mails and other computer business to swallow up yet another meal time. How marvelous then when my partner and I actually take the time to sit down and eat and talk and spend a meal together, whether at home or at the pub, with friends or by ourselves. Sometimes it’s only then that I truly relax. (Or maybe that’s just the glass of cheer talking.)

the cat and the piano5. Music: I’m a trained musician, but I’ve stopped playing music myself, at least for the time being. (That’s another blog for another time.) Yet I can’t help being moved by music. I love so many styles, and I don’t always know what’s going to hit me in the heart on a given day, whether it’s the sublime “Summertime” from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (that we were so fortunate to see in Paris), the joyful skip of a medieval dance tune (as played by the Toronto Consort, for example), the full-throated folk-song world fusion composition (such as a song by the Finnish group Värttinä), the aching pain-pleasure balancing act of a Puccini aria, or one of those comfortably familiar ’70s tunes that we can croon along with in wobbly harmony. Music touches me and moves me; it picks up my feet and my heart and my hopes.

green walk, receding6. Photography: I take photographs. If I am seeing something — anything — for the first time, and there isn’t a camera attached to my face, it’s hard for me to fully enjoy the experience. I use a camera to record what I see, urban juxtapositions and natural wonders, friends and family, the world around me. I take photographs to make sense of what I see, and to help me see and appreciate the small delights that lift life away from the mundane. Sometimes when I’m behind a camera, when I’m focusing on a huge vista or tiny flower, time flows by like a dream, and I am completely absorbed by my task. After viewing and enhancing these photos I’ve created, it is a huge reward (and often ego-boost) to choose the best and share them with others. It’s like that with words, too, although they aren’t as immediate — so thanks for taking the time to read these!

Phew. I did manage to find six things, and I haven’t even mentioned chocolate. Wow. I have a lot to be happy about. Thank you, Goodbear, for the invitation!

Now, since I haven’t been active here for a long while, I don’t know whether my blogfriends will notice if I tag them, but I guess it’s worth trying. So, here’s a Tree of Happiness — and an invitation to list six happy things — going out to: haiku-ist extraordinaire Shaw Malcolm, world-explorer Richard, Devon organic farmer Paula, and… oh, Lavenderbay has already tagged the others I would have asked. Oh well. Three Trees of Happiness is a good start, and maybe I’ll find some more recipients later.

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Imagining the world March 19, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in art, communication, creativity, diversity, explore, language, learn, life, science, technology.
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7 comments

Twisted Conditions, ©2007 by Cesar Hidalgo

New discoveries are always the top of my news reading. Every explorer, scientist, and researcher is out to discover something, whether it’s an archeological “find”, a new biological species, or a technological advance.

Discovery is what makes science interesting for me, because I can continue to “discover” so many new things for myself. I’m particularly fascinated how innovation and imagination work together in the realm of science, not only in generating a hypothesis but also in providing the means to prove or disprove it. My own theory is that little would be discovered at all without imagination and its cousin curiosity.

I have no doubt that factors such as knowledge, discipline, training, persistence and painstaking tracking of detail — and heaps of previous failed experiments — make up 99% of the work of science. But it’s the accidents, the leaps of imagination, the long-hoped-for but unexpected breakthroughs that will be remembered.

Please Listen To Me, ©2006 by Zach Vitale

As a trained musician who has given piano lessons to students from age 5 to age 75, I am intrigued by the human ability to make a leap from the known to the unknown.

The inter-related skills of playing a musical instrument — note-reading, coordination of eye and hands, strengthening fingers and learning fine motor control, developing tactile memory, practicing patterns of movement, using hearing to provide corrective feedback, learning the mechanical abilities and limitations of the instrument, reproducing written notation in terms of time and volume — these skills can be learned by almost anybody.

But the difficult point for many students, especially the older ones, is learning how to trust these skills, to step back, as it were, from the complex task and just play. When all these skills come together under their creative control, when the person playing the piano can listen to the whole sound and “feel” the notes forming under their fingers, then music is the result.

When I taught piano lessons, I tried to describe this leap of trust in terms of driving a car. I remember my early lessons, my nervousness, and how I was paralyzed in the middle of a road once because I couldn’t figure out how to flick on my turning signal, apply the brake, check the mirror and turn the steering wheel all at the same time. Yet now I can do all these (and many more complex) tasks at once without thinking about more than the single act of “turning the car”.

Circuit Board Butterfly #16, ©2006 by Laura Hewitt

Imagination is important for me in almost every area of learning. When someone at work asks for help with a computer problem I have never seen before, I can often use my imagination to “intuit” the solution. When I have a difficult task or conversation ahead of me, I depend on my imagination to “visualize” a successful outcome. And when I plan my holidays (or daydream about being on holiday), I use my imagination to “picture” being in a wonderful environment. And I’m trying to use my imagination to leap that gap between my French lessons and the ability to think and speak in French, but I haven’t succeeded… yet!

Innovative thinking and imagination — the ability to see beyond a complex problem to an exciting solution — this is where science and the arts meet.

All images from the Digital ’07 Art Exhibition “Pattern Finding” organized by Art and Science Collaborations, Inc (ASCI).

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Related Links:
The Seed: “The future of science… is it art?”
NewScientist: “The art of science”
Art and Imagination
ASCI
Art and science