Monday, September 30, 2013

Dragon Boat Racing: A Rising Team Sport

 I've seen Dragon boats before and enjoyed the colorful nature of the boats gliding across the water in exotic places in Asia. But, I was surprised to learn that it is now one of the fastest growing sports here in America and a race was being held in my city. I always welcome a chance to get a little sun and if I am able to take along the camera, then it really becomes something special. As usual, click each photo for a better view.

I arrived at the Jacksonville Landing to find the various teams in arm straining practice on the St Johns River as they prepared for their specific race. Watching the groups it became easy to understand why the sport is growing... it is work that is just plain F-U-N. Their I said it, the magic word: fun!

Unlike rowing in the Olympics, Dragon Boat racing does not require loads of experience, and getting together once or twice a week allows people to interact with others, develop stroke rhythm,  and most important group spirit. Throw in a touch of whimsy as coxswains can have all manner of headdress and I could see myself laughing with each stroke.

Competitions have taken place annually for more than 20 centuries in parts of China, but dragon boat racing has emerged in modern times as an international sport, beginning in Hong Kong in 1976. Little by little the sport has spread over this country as more people like me are drawn to the team/fun aspect. I noticed several companies have gotten into the act and developed their own teams

If your team did pretty good in your competition, a line of congratulation was formed to high-five  each member for their work in the effort. I really liked this team. They really had spirit.

They had a pretty great Coxswain headdress as well. 

There were trophies that made the heart pound for the more competitive,

and champagne toasts for the group that stuck together to enter the race. 

There is so much to love about the sport...

especially when you consider it was a beautiful day, that offered a chance to ride down the St Johns River, under your own steam with a group of friends.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Mandelbrot Set

I have written in the past about my love of fractals and always welcome the chance to illustrate my latest find. I ran into this YouTube video that is simply amazing and could not resist showing it. The complexity of such simplicity is amazing. Keep in mind as you watch the figures flow that each movement is a mathematical formula that is ever shifting.

I stumbled upon it while looking for something else (isn't that always the way) and was taken by the work involved . I think you will be too.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Mayor of Hemming Park

It's easy to not see people who are homeless because to see them reinforces our own worst fears regarding health, safety, and the sometimes fragile nature of our own lives. Despite our desire to avoid, we encounter them in cities large and small and sometimes wonder what caused them to fall off life's highway and end up homeless. The reasons are numerous from drugs, mental health issues, or financial set backs; but once there, it is ever so hard to climb back out of the hole that homelessness becomes.

 Every city has an area where the homeless congregate and for my town it is Hemming Plaza. It is a park in the heart of the city which rests in front of all places City Hall. The park itself harkens back to a time when downtown was bustling but has fallen on hard times because for the most part it is now a place for the homeless to watch the day flow by. My photography group decided to do a give back project and hand out personal hygiene products to people in the park while doing street scene shots in the area. An interesting way to watch the day flow by for photographers.

I encountered Roy, who I call the Mayor of Hemming Plaza, because he was personable, and seemed to go out of his way to help the other men who frequent the park. I didn't ask for a story of how he ended up homeless and he didn't feel the need to provide one. It is what it is as the saying goes, and we bonded over stories of the different cities he had drifted through which made for good conversation.

He went into the grim details of the dance involved in living on the street and bouncing from shelter to shelter while working odd jobs to maintain a small day to day existence. Gaining a foothold was a difficult task even sometimes when he had money in his pocket. He didn't mention the mental processes he went through to one day decide no matter the challenges he was determined to get off the street, but one day it simply came to him.

He mentioned he was a military vet and used that as an opening for temporary shelter and later began to build on the sense of stability that provided. He ultimately was able to get a little place with a bed, a few
pieces of furniture, a TV, and his prized possession a refrigerator. Simple things by normal standards but for him the act of being able to take a shower when he felt like it, watch a TV show, or walk over to get a snack from his "box" without having to depend on anyone else, were major accomplishments. 

He still does odd jobs to support himself and enjoys his little creature comforts, but in between the lines I could hear that the pull of the street is still strong despite it's struggles. The way he describes it you just know that Roy fights an ongoing battle to stay off the street. Returning from time to time to Hemming Plaza I guess is his way of scratching that itch. 

I was glad my group had chosen this project because it opened my eyes in a number of ways. That fact alone allows me to say:  The next time you encounter a homeless person before you turn away, put yourself in his shoes. I say that because Roy is a small success story that is still being written.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

El Galeon The Sailing Ships of Spain

I recently attended a celebration of the 450th anniversary of the founding of St Augustine Florida with my photography group. There were no bands or fireworks but the big attraction was a working replica on the 16th Century sailing ship El Galeon. These were the ships the Spanish used to bring in provisions and haul off gold and other materials from the new world. The ships were fast and carried big guns to defend themselves from pirates or other countries that might try to take their treasures. As usual, click each photo for a better view. 

The El Galeon was representative of the sailing ships of the era. The Galeon was a scaled down version of the Carrack ships which were primarily fighting ships. The smaller size of the Galeon  allowed it to serve a dual purpose of transport and fighting ship.

Despite the history of the ship type, what really fascinated me were the various knots required to work the sails and swiftly move the ship from port to port. Sailor's knots were an essential for any crewman worth his wages. Knowing the knots allowed the ship to effectively use the wind at a time when there were no machines and understanding how to manipulate the elements was a major achievement. There were 40 basic knots that every sailor needed to learn. You might sign on as a cabin boy and begin your training that way, or learn the skill to pass the time during long voyages as a form of entertainment. Sailors learned to use knots to make almost anything that could be held together by the knots. 

Ropes were the glue that held the sails in place, allowed sailors to climb the mast, secured the cannons, in addition to allowing men to move heavy treasure with the use of various pulleys. Ropes did it all and knowing how to tie the knots to make it happen gave a sailor a trade.

The Galeon was a narrow ship, so close quarters were the rule of the day. The Captain and Senior Officers  were part of a cast system that allowed them small creature comforts that were better than the rest of the crew. But, after so many days at sea, you have to wonder if it really mattered. They too were subject to knowledge about knots. Their very lives might depend upon it.

This map show the areas of exploration and dates. circling the State was a major undertaking and it becomes apparent the Spanish were actively involved, through various expositions, in the exploration of Florida from 1513 until 1565. Their skill at sailing the fast ships gave them an early foothold in the new world.

You truly had to admire the bravery of these men because the work was hard, conditions were quite rough, and if you made a mistake in the knot making skills needed to move the ship, the chances were good that you would not return to friends and family. It seems amazing now that something as simple as learning to tie a knot was a major factor in  creating what we now know as St. Augustine and the United States.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The little Church Down The Lane

Moving to the South I have always been drawn to churches that seem to be everywhere (the call it the Bible Belt for a reason). During a film project I passed a street I've gone down a number of times, and this time allowed myself to look around; and there hidden in plain sight was this little church oasis right in the middle of a busy area. As usual, click each photo for a better view. 

The church is very near the San Marco area which is a great hang out section of town, but sits back off the street so it is easy to miss as you hurry some place else. I wondered what was the history of the church because it is a quite old Craftman style structure that deserved to be preserved.

What I discovered it is that it was one of the early Episcopal churches in the area and the Rotary Club resisted the forces that wanted to tear it down. They paid to have the church transported by barge over to the current location along with the pastor's house that sits next to it.

The two sit next to each other as symbols of a bygone era of dignified simplicity. The feel you get from the location almost reminds you of New England and Sleep Hollow. Can Ichabod Crane be far behind?

The church from different views, takes you back in time. I say back in time because churches today almost appear to be in an arms race with each attempting to become bigger than the next. Here is this modest little structure that seems to have so much grace. 

Even the bell atop the structure reminds you of  an English village or an old West town. I thought the tiny bit of moss added the perfect little touch of  time long ago.

Either way, the church and it's surrounding grounds offer an island of solitude from the world rushing by just outside it's gates. You can stop and ponder what might have happened within it's walls in addition to the people who graced it's doors years ago. 

I have written before about creating relaxation islands where you can take a moment to leave the worries of the day behind. This is a perfect example of such a site and being so close to a highly traveled area makes it a great place to take your lunch and float back in time.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Tennis, Laura Mvula, And The Need To Go Outside

It seems the month of June has been consumed with Tennis. First came the French Open (Roland Garros for French readers) which seemed to slide right into Wimbledon. As a result, tennis, the heat, and a film competition I entered, have left little time for photography adventures.

But I am here to testify that spending time inside watching a little ball fly back and forth does have a payoff, despite the fact my heart was broken when Nadal was eliminated in the first round of the English drama. ESPN had this catchy little tune that periodically plays after commercials or before play, and after hearing it a number of times as I entered or left the room it finally got my attention.

The catchy little tune was sung by the lovely Laura Mvula, who has this  haunting voice which channels Nina Simone and made me want to know more about her music. The catchy tune I was drawn to is her single "Green Garden" and it truly highlights her musical depth.

She is a breath of fresh air in an era of manufactured singing stars who depend more on controversy or wardrobe choices to promote what should be their vocal gifts. I have been blown away by the complicated simplicity of the sound she is able to produce.

And so, as I sit here held hostage by the little ball; I thought I would give you a chance to go outside to a green garden to experience the real deal: a voice that cannot be ignored!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Mad Men And Their Cars

I recently watched seasons I, II, and III of the series Mad Men, broken down by all the buzz to finally see what friends have at times gone into great detail to describe. Watching a few episodes I instantly understood the attraction, despite the cringe factor regarding the treatment of women, a sense of a time of innocence where we didn't know everything about everything; and a feeling of boundless optimism of bigger and better days ahead. Couple that with the inner turmoil of the lead character, Don Draper, and it is compelling TV.

Last weekend I attended a car show with my photography group and all that I described was apparent when you looked at the cars of that era. Below are a few that illustrate that sense of "the sky is the limit" optimism. As usual, click each photo for a better view.

The Chevrolet Bel-Air was the forerunner of the era in that it was a "full size" car, chrome was everywhere, and it boasted the luxury of an automatic transmission and the option of power steering. Just riding in it gave the feel of  having arrived because there was now less work involved in driving.

We jump a few years to the Cadillac Coupe de Ville which truly embodies the Man Men mindset. It is huge and could almost be considered a land yacht. The long sharp tail fins with dual bullet tail lights telegraphed a shark like "top of the food chain" image. I could see Don Draper wanting one as part of his list of things he thought he needed to live the life he thought he wanted. He was not alone in that feeling because it represented 37% of all  Cadillacs sold in it's first series year.

And, what the Coupe de Ville said on its own the convertible seemed to scream. It was the height of excess piled upon excess to let those around you know that the "big dog" had arrived ready to play, either himself or his wife as proxy. 

Not to be outdone, Ford decided to enter the arena with their luxury model Thunderbird. While not a land yacht, it provided the luxury image only with a sleek and nimble feel. The Coupe de Ville might telegraph money, but the Thunderbird said: "Money that was cool!"

Didn't want the moneyed Thunderbird image? Along came muscle cars like the Mustang that spoke power for the common man. They were sleek with big  engines that roared when you stepped on the gas. Driving was not only for the moneyed class but also hinted at a different kind of power, the power of the streets! If you have ever watched Steve McQueen in the classic "Bullitt" car chase sequence, you  realize the person driving one of these muscle cars had no desire to sit behind a desk. The Mad Men world was gradually changing as the country finally drifted into the 70's.  

And, with the 70's came the realization that things were not limitless. The Mad men would go on, only now in a different form. Gas shortages reinforced the concept that there were excesses and order had to be restored. In restoring that order, the new car of the era was the Volkswagen. It was not flashy, but rather small and simple. Gone were the long fins and miles of chrome. The people's car of Germany was now one of the most popular in America, based on its humble simplicity and ease of operation.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Good in Man

Russians have mastered the immediate sense of the dash cam for obvious reasons: when there is a dispute regarding who did what in traffic. A lot of time and effort goes into outwitting the "evil doers", but the following video illustrates that the dashcam can also be used to view the good in man. Thought I would share it with you.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Flowers In An Exhibition

I always love this time of year because so many of the things I like about the area occur in the Spring. One of my favorites is the St. Augustine Garden Show. This year they had several themes that seemed to really  inspire exhibitors and as a result had some breathtaking displays.

I took loads of  pictures and could not bring myself to exclude anything. And so, I did the next best thing, which was a video where I could include a sizable number of the displays and plants!

I think after viewing the video, you too will realize why I love this time of year. Prepare to be amazed...

Monday, April 22, 2013

Stumbled Upon Surprises

I'm always pleasantly surprised when I go out to take photos and discover something that really peaks my interest and turns out to be even better than the normal street scene! Jacksonville was hosting it's first ever "One Spark" inventor and creator festival. I carried my smaller camera expecting to take photos but once on site discovered there was such vibrant activity that video was a better way to capture it, and I did not have my HD camera. But, no matter, I was still able to capture the fun atmosphere of the event.

The rules of the competition were that each presenter had a number and if you liked their project then you could vote for them to win the competition in various categories. That said, I decide to let you see who I voted for and also provide a chance to relive the event through each video. As usual, click each photo or video for a better view. 

I first encountered the group Elestical Sound and thought they were great. They played everything from New Age type to music you would expect to hear on Smooth Jazz radio, all under this wonderfully funky canopy. My video of them was not that great so I decided to include a photo of them in a video along with various sights of the festival and use their music as background.

Next came the Cel Project, an environmental group that uses containers to build schools, nurseries, and housing in under developed countries. The presenter was very personable and loaded with information. Each time I watch her on the video I have to smile because she is so passionate and bubbly!

I could not resist this guy because he had the novel idea of renting and providing bike valet service.He was into the fun of the event and had all kind of bikes for anyone tired of trying to walk the different venues.

The Jacksonville Zoo was also a competitor and was seeking votes for its new Tiger Trails, which would provide ranging room for a new tiger habitat. They wanted votes and were nicely hunting down people to get them.

Another competitor I fell in love with was the very inventive number 767.  they was seeking funds to place murals around the city. I thought their bill board high above the festival was a great marketing idea. And, I have to give them props for having the chops to back up their very high profile.

Their mural speaks for itself! I love the way the frog is holding a fisherman in his hands after swallowing his line!

But the absolute hit of the festival was the group Fathom Sphere and one of it's performers AJ! This group was amazing in putting together their own promo videos and then presenting one of the most engaging performances of the festival. I watched their performance and could not resist thinking that I had had the pleasure of viewing an up and coming buzz band. Others seem to have thought the same because Fathom Sphere won first prize in the music category. Just a hint of things to come for this group! Take a listen and you will understand why... 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Photography Is Light!

I've mentioned before that I joined a photography group and I am really enjoying all the things I'm learning. One of the main things that has been so wonderfully illustrated to me is that "photography is light." I will admit I considered light as I went about taking pictures, but the group has demonstrated to me what an amazingly powerful thing it is and how it can be used to make good pictures better. As usual, click each photo for a better view.

The group recently attended a light studio to learn how to create your own light sources for things like light boxes, overhead lighting, and even how to use everyday items to make light work for you.

I was really taken with the light circle above because it accomplishes so much and yet there is a subtle simplicity to it. The instructor explained that he simply bought plywood, cut it into a circle, and then attached light sockets to create the perfect lighting for portraits. It made all the difference as we watched his model move closer and then further away from the light, and watched how her features softened at a certain distance. 

This was my first chance to work with a model and the other thing that really struck me is that the camera really does add pounds. I say that because this particular model was the thinnest person I had ever seen, and yet looks almost a normal size in the picture. 

I won't give away all their tricks but there were a few I know you will appreciate. First, was the mixing bowl converted into a light reflector. Here are two of the same type only one has been painted and the other left clear. All that was required was to cut out a portion of the back and put in a small pizza dish to reflect the light back into the converted reflector. Neat idea huh?

Next, a simple method to create a light box. A similar process applies of cutting out a portion in the back to insert your light and have it amplified in the foil covered inside to shine on your subject. Again, simple and yet elegant to inexpensively work with light.For those who want to spend their money on a good camera but don't have the finances to cover all the other expensive items it can be a life saver!

And finally, if you don't want to wrestle with filters, you can set the tone with lights and something as simple as a Japanese lantern. For this scene you almost expect to see a Jazz singer lounging on the couch, the mood has been set so perfectly.

I really enjoyed the event and learned a great deal that I will incorporate into both my photography and the short film I am putting the finishing touches on (yes, what works for photography is pretty much the same in film). Lights, camera... action!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

My Own Fried Green Tomatoes

It has been a few weeks since the death of my father and like many others who have traveled this path; you walk slowly down a road that says for you this person has reached an end. It is an end, at least in a physical sense, that cannot be altered no matter how we attempt to shift our focus.

The other day I was helping my sister pack up things of Daddy’s that she wanted to keep, and the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes” came to mind. There are a number of things to like about that movie but the phrase that came to me was “It is possible for a heart to be broken, and keep right on beating.” This fits my sister at this point. She was the one who provided most of the care for Daddy and to a degree in all our minds catered to his wishes.  I stand there watching her lovingly decide and have to ask myself: “How does life go on when doctor visits, time to take pills, special arrangements for bathing and all the adjustments that went on for years, suddenly come to an end?  Yes, the heart is broken but truly does keep right on beating. 

Major questions that now present themselves are: What to do with all those hours given over to checking on him? How is life now to be ordered once the light we all seemed to revolve around has gone out? Who would we share rounds of laughter with as we made fun of navigating life?

Despite the fact I focused on my sister, I realize now that all of us have had our hearts broken in different ways, but just as the narrator of the movie says “It just keeps right on beating.”   

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Random is...

Periodically I like to check which blog posts are the most popular with viewers, and in doing so recently discovered that a slideshow service I used back in 2008 was no longer working. Someone attempted to view the page and simply received my intro to the slide show but no slide show.

And so, in my never ending attempt to please the customer (or simply too much time on my hands), I went back and reworked the slideshow into a short video and updated it with more pictures. I will admit it was a fun project with the overall attempt being to add a little whimsy for the eye. I hope you find it entertaining as it gave me a chance to just throw in photos that I thought were interesting.  And, maybe I repaid in some small way the person who encountered that empty page.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Scottish Highlands In Florida

My photography group decided to attend the 18th Annual Northeast Florida Scottish Highland Games which held a great deal of excitement for me, both as a photographer and a McKenzie. There was a lot to see and I enjoyed every moment. As usual click each photo for a better view.

A good number of Police Associations take part as Scottish band members. This rather serious looking guy is a drummer from the Clay County Pipes and Drums Corp. He was practicing and noticed that I was taking his picture.

Of course bag pipes are a major item in the event, and I had no idea that they had to be tuned. I spent a great deal of time watching as each bagpipe was put through it's paces to get the right sound.

I also learned that drummers are the ones who add flair in addition to keeping a beat. The drummer's flair is based on how they are able to swing around the stick as they strike the drum.This group was also practicing in anticipation of the big arena march where all the clans march and is the highlight of the event.

I really liked the look of this drum major who seemed very majestic as he led his group.

I guess I followed him around so much that he finally asked someone to take a picture of me with him. So much for being a stalker... I mean groupie!

There were all kinds of competitions, but one of the exciting events for me was the weight throw. I found this guy an interesting subject because he had a Mohawk which added to the mystic. Here he is preparing to throw the weight over a bar above him. Everyone seemed to have a particular style that involved lifting the kilt to throw the weight!

I really liked this shot because there are a number of contrasts: the Mohawk guy, the weight lifting guy with his back to the camera, and the big guy in the background deciding what he is going to do.

Kilts were everywhere and this Kilt wearer in training caught my eye. He seemed right at home and plans to work on his weightlifting.

There was also a demonstration of sheep herding by a group of very eager dogs. They put spoiled  Sunny-Girl  to shame as they appeared glad to perform their job and kept the sheep contained to a limited area.

And then the big event: The march in of the clans! This drum major was as majestic as the previous subject as he brought in the clans.

It was a sound to end all sounds as the bands marched in to the sound of hundreds of bagpipes and drums. It filled the entire arena right up to the rafters and made your heart pound and your feet want to dance a jig. It truly was amazing!