Category Archives: Journalism

Vermont Church Before and After Photoshop

 

“Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?”

(“Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen)

island-pond-church

This is my photograph of the Episcopal Church in Island Pond, Vermont, after removing electrical wires and poles and adding a watercolor filter in Photoshop. Click on the photo to see it in a larger size.

On a recent trip to Vermont, my fantasy was to find a quintessential New England church that was surrounded by trees glowing with brilliant Autumn colors.  I found the tree in the Northern Kingdom of Vermont, but it was also surrounded by more than a dozen strings of electrical wires and one large utility pole.

As a long-time journalist, I hesitate to change reality in a photograph, even though the camera does lie somewhat with lens distortion, not capturing true color and other defects,  but as an artist I didn’t hesitate one second to remove all of the electrical debris.  Easier said than done, though.  When you remove an element from a photograph, the deleted spots must be replaced by pixels that look natural. I used the clone brush to make the changes.  I didn’t do it all at once, but in about half-hour increments over a series of weeks, because the work was incredibly tedious. I also straightened the photo a little to fix lens distortion.

After many hours, I’m happy with the result. Hope my fantasy looks real!  And thanks to my husband Mike and friend Phil who were very patient while I wandered around Island Pond with my camera. There was a gorgeous shot everywhere I looked! I posted these photographs on a couple of websites.

Be sure to click on my post “Fauxtography” Altering reality in a photograph, linked below.

dsc_0372-002

This is my original photograph of the Episcopal Church in Island Pond, Vermont, before I did any editing. Note all of the wires and the guardrail of the street in front of the church. I removed all of that with Photoshop.

Island Pond, Vermont, Church, Autumn Poster

This is a version of the church without the Watercolor Filter.

Island Pond, Vermont, Church, Autumn Poster

“Fauxtography” Altering reality in a photograph.

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The Rainmaker in San Diego

“Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”  Mark Twain made famous this quote by his writer friend Charles Dudley Warner.

According to an account in Wikipedia, the citizens of San Diego so appreciated Warner’s flattering description of their city in his book, Our Italy, that they named three consecutive streets in the Point Loma neighborhood after him: Charles Street, Dudley Street, and Warner Street.

Interestingly, San Diego leaders later proved Dudley’s quote wrong by actually hiring someone to change their weather.  In 1915, the San Diego area was suffering a drought.  They asked Charles Mallory Hatfield to produce rain to fill the Morena Dam Reservoir. Hatfield, who was from the San Diego area, had already achieved some acclaim for bringing rain to other areas, including Los Angeles. Hatfield was a “pluviculturist,” a fancy term for rainmaker.  By 1902, he had created a secret mixture of 23 chemicals in large galvanized evaporating tanks that, he claimed, attracted rain. (He took this recipe to the grave.) Hatfield called himself a “moisture accelerator.”

The Original Rainmaker, Charles Mallory Hatfield was hired to cure California's drought.

The Original Rainmaker, Charles Mallory Hatfield was hired to cure California’s drought.

A Kansas native, but raised in California, Hatfield traveled western North America promising to bring rain to areas suffering a drought.  One of his biggest “successes” was San Diego, although he didn’t get paid because he “created” too much rain and was lucky he didn’t have to pay for damages.  Hatfield was hired by the city to fill the reservoir, which was only a third full.  Not long after he set up his apparatus filled with his secret chemical connection, it began to rain, and eventually the reservoir was filled  to overflowing and other areas flooded.  At least 20 people were drowned.

It’s likely the rain wasn’t the result of Hatfield’s efforts, but it was certainly a coincidence that more rain fell than usual.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), rain is most likely in November through March, with January, on average, measuring 2.28 inches.  NOAA didn’t mention January 1916 as being particularly rainy, though. When I visited my daughter in Huntington Beach, California, in January 2010, we had several days of perfect weather during which we watched a surfing competition and then a couple of days of really hard rain and high winds, something I’m no stranger to in Kansas, but golly, I came to California for the sun!  There was even a small tornado on the beach, which flipped over a car. (Click the link to my “Outgunned” post at the bottom of this post to see surfing competition photos.)

This car flipped over in a Long Beach, California, tornado in january 2010.

This car flipped over in a Long Beach, California, tornado in January 2010.

From the text associated with the YouTube video above about Charles Mallory Hatfield: “In 1915 the San Diego city council, pressured by the San Diego Wide Awake Improvement Club, approached Hatfield to produce rain to fill the Morena Dam reservoir. Hatfield offered to produce rain for free, then charge $1,000 per inch ($393.7 per centimetre) for between forty to fifty inches (1.02 to 1.27 m) and free again over fifty inches (1.27 m). The council voted four to one for a $10,000 fee, payable when the reservoir was filled. Hatfield, with his brother, built a 20-foot (6 m) tower beside Lake Morena and was ready early in the New Year.

On January 5, 1916 heavy rain began – and grew gradually heavier day by day. Dry riverbeds filled to the point of flooding. Worsening floods destroyed bridges, marooned trains and cut phone cables – not to mention flooding homes and farms. Two dams, Sweetwater Dam and one at Lower Otay Lake, overflowed. Rain stopped January 20 but resumed two days later. On January 27 Lower Otay Dam broke, increasing the devastation and reportedly causing about 20 deaths (accounts vary on the exact number).”

Despite Hatfield’s flood, San Diego is said to have one of the most ideal climates in the world.  When I learned that my paternal grandparents lived in the San Diego area in the 1920s, I took an interest in the area’s history.  My grandfather Jack Sherman was a civil engineer surveying projects there, including orchards. My grandparents left California when my father and his two sisters were still young, returning to the Sturgis, South Dakota, where my grandmother’s parents owned a hotel. My grandmother missed home and her mother was sick, but when I first heard about that, I thought, leave sunny southern California, hmmm?  They had good reasons to leave. In addition to my maternal great-grandmother’s poor health, my grandparents’ Escondido house had burned down after a worker knocked over a lantern, but the Black Hills of South Dakota are cold! Of course, had they stayed, my parents wouldn’t have met, and I wouldn’t be telling this story.
My blog post on the Surfing Competition called “Outgunned.” My lens envy.
Wikipedia History of Charles Mallory Hatfield.
San Diego History Journal Biography of Charles Mallory Hatfield.
Charles Hatfield is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California.
Southern California Tornado in January 2010.

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UFO Cattle Crossing Sign in New Mexico

Pranksters have placed UFO stickers on cattle crossing signs on US Highway 68 between Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico.

Pranksters have placed UFO stickers on cattle crossing signs on US Highway 68 between Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico.

My friend and fellow photographer Lynn and I recently returned from a thousand-mile (probably more) photography road trip, starting from Kansas City and making a round trip through New Mexico. I took about 4,000 photos, some great, some lousy, most were fun, especially this one of a UFO sign on a cattle crossing sign on Highway 68 from Santa Fe to Taos.

Pranksters placed the stickers on signs, which officials remove and then more stickers re-appear.   Click the link if you want to know the less humorous history behind the stickers… (I don’t recommend it.) Cattle Abductions.

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It’s a Chelsea Morning

Hotel Chelsea, New York City, Print print 

I was in third grade when I decided to be a novelist.  It sounded so glamorous and important.  You and your books are studied in school.  People discuss what you were thinking, what you meant when you wrote “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”  They pay money for your thoughts!  There’s a catch, though.  To be a novelist you have to finish and preferably publish a novel.

I did pursue a writing career as a journalist, but nearly all of those hundreds of thousands of words have crumbled into dust, barely remembered the day after they were read. I never achieved that third-grade hope of writing some soul-stirring, enduring piece of work, like that of Ernest Hemingway or Jane Austen.

My novels still reside in my head and on scraps of paper and in numerous files on my computer.  I’m sure there are millions just like me. My son recently forwarded me a link on how to publish a book on Kindle.  Now, I have no excuse for not finishing the work that everyone has been breathlessly waiting for! No publisher or agent stands in my way.  I am my only obstacle. (Which so far has been a HUGE obstacle.)

One good thing is that I no longer have delusions of grandeur.  The New York Times Bestseller List?  Who needs it!  The Nobel Prize for Literature? A farce!  A Pulitzer Prize?  Don’t make me laugh! I just want to finish something readable and absorbing. My goal is to have a novel finished and on Kindle by the end of 2011. You heard it here first. Hold me to it! If you want to write a novel, join me in this goal. We can download one another’s books. We can have our own book club. (Kindle link at the bottom.)

I was looking through my zillions of photographs and came upon the above photograph, which I took from the balcony of the Chelsea Hotel, a mecca for creative people. I’m going to tack up the photo as an inspiration to write.

I took the photo in 1989, when I visited my friends Jan and Richard in their apartment at the Chelsea Hotel.  Jan and Richard are both extremely talented and creative people, so it was fitting that they should live in a building that had been a home to so many writers, artists and musicians. Among the writers who have lived there are Mark Twain, O. Henry, Dylan Thomas (who died there of alcohol poisoning), Arthur C. Clarke (who wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey there), William S. Burroughs (who later moved to my college town of Lawrence, Kansas), Leonard Cohen, Arthur Miller, Quentin Crisp, Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac (who wrote On the Road there), Robert Hunter, Brendan Behan, Simone De Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Thomas Wolfe, Charles Bukowski.  Among musicians who lived there were Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and Patti Smith. The Grateful Dead stayed there.

The Chelsea is at 222 West 23rd Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea.  The 250-unit hotel was designated a New York City landmark in 1966, and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

About the Hotel Chelsea.

How to publish your book on Kindle.

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All the News That Fit to Print

President Thomas Jefferson.

President Thomas Jefferson.

I’m a news junkie.  I can’t get enough, but it’s also a curse.  I don’t like being addicted and sometimes I get p.o.’d at what I read, but I can’t help myself.

Thomas Jefferson, one of my favorite presidents, had a love-hate relationship with newspapers, which were as full of scandal, calumny and innuendo in his day as they are in ours.  Nevertheless, he defended his firm beliefs in freedom of the press against attacks against the First Amendment of the Constitution.  He was often the object of a newspaper attacks, but he also knew how to use newspapers to advance his political career and that of his party, according to Willard Sterne Randall’s biography of Jefferson.

Here are some of Thomas Jefferson’s quotes, which show his mixed feelings about the “press.”

  • Advertisements contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper.
  • Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.
  • Information is the currency of democracy.
  • The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.
  • Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.
  • Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.
  • Wherever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.
  • The abuses of the freedom of the press here (Washington) have been carried to a length never before known or borne by civilized nations.
  • I have been for some time used as the property of the newspapers, a fair mark for every man’s dirt. Some, too, have indulged themselves in this exercise who would not have done it, had they known me otherwise than through these impure and injurious channels.  It is hard treatment, and for a singular kind of offence, that of having obtained by the labors of a life the indulgent opinions of a part of one’s fellow citizens.  However, these moral evils must be submitted to, like the physical scourges of tempest, fire, &c.–
  • Were I to undertake to answer the calumnies of the newspapers, it would be more than all my own time and that of twenty aids could effect.  For while I should be answering one, twenty new ones would be invented….But this is an injury to which duty requires every one to submit whom the public think proper to call into its councils —
  • Our newspapers for the most part, present only the caricatures of disaffected minds.
  • I have given up newspapers in exchange for Tacitus, and Thucydides, for Newton and Euclid, and I find myself much happier.

   Here are some bonus Jefferson quotes on the current economic situation:

  • I sincerely believe that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies, and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.
  • I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.
  • It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.
  • Never spend your money before you have earned it.

And lastly, a Jeffersonian thought about political candidates:

  • Whenever a man has cast a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct.

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Newspeak

George Orwell

George Orwell

Since this current United States presidential campaign began, trillions of words have been spoken, written, blogged….

I won’t add to the cacophony with my take on the candidates, their followers, the media, the voters and the onlookers.  Instead, I’ll point to the master political wordsmith, George Orwell.  

George Orwell was the pen name of Eric Blair, a British novelist, literary critic and essayist who was passionate about the importance of honest and clear language.  He warned that misleading and vague language could be used to manipulate thought and politics.  He railed against “vagueness and sheer incompetence” and criticized his contemporary political writers for preferring the abstract to the concrete.  Doesn’t that ring particularly true today?

The language and ideas of Orwell’s dark, satirical novels, Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) have become part of our culture.  Who hasn’t heard of “Big Brother is Watching You” and “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”?

His Down and Out in Paris and London was very moving.  He was fiercely anti-totalitarian, anti-Communist and anti-imperialist.  He described himself as a democratic socialist.  

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the main character Winston Smith recognized that he had to live as if the “Thought Police” were tuned into his and everyone else’s every movement and sound.  The Ministry of Truth developed “Newspeak,” a very limiting and restrictive language, which included “doublethink,” in which you hold two contradictory beliefs at the same time, passionately believing both.   This is epitomized in the party slogans: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength.

I’ll paraphrase Orwell’s six rules for writing:

1.) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech that you commonly see in print.

2.) Never use a long word when a short one will do.

3.) If it is possible to delete a word, always delete it.

4.) Never use the passive voice, where you can use the active.

5.) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

6.) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

 In typing this list, I thought of my college editing professor, John B. Bremner, who was formidable in pounding the rules of grammar and usage into my head. I can still hear him bellowing the rules whenever I struggle to keep my writing clear and concise.  In fact, he would have barked at me for using “formidable.” Couldn’t I find a shorter word?  His rule was “never use a Latin-based word, when a nice, short Anglo-Saxon word would work.”  As an example, I could have used “suffice,” rather than “work,” but his ghost wouldn’t let me — this time.  I do think a little variety is good. (I used “cacophony” above instead of “noise.” I like the way it sounds as if something’s stuck in your craw.)  I studied (very inadequately) Latin and French, so it’s too easy to incorporate (more Latin) those languages into my writing — probably badly and inappropriately!

Back to Orwell.  He was a prolific writer. Some of Orwell’s everyday observations in his diary are now being made available in blog form at www.orwelldiaries.wordpress.com  I’ve added Orwell’s blog to my blogroll, too. Orwell’s blog has a lot of interesting sites on his blogroll, so don’t miss it.

A link to an article in the New York Times about Orwell’s “blog” is What George Orwell Wrote, 70 Years Later to the Day  A link to my post about two other essayists about contemporary life, Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, is There Will Be Blog. When you jump there, you have to click on the title to get the story.  I’m trying to get more use out of that post!

John B. Bremner wrote a great book on writing, “Words on Words,” which is still available.  I also like the new “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty tips for Better Writing” by Mignon Fogarty. She helps me with pesky punctuation questions, among other writing problems I face.

UPDATE: George Orwell is in the news again! (Along with Evelyn Waugh.)  He’s in a new book, reviewed here Two of a Kind in the New York Times.

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Fauxtography

 

People have always wanted to chaneg reality.  Joseph Stalin is shown here with a comrade, Nikolai Yezhov.

                                                                                                                                                                        My friend unveiled her family portrait at a neighborhood party.  In the photograph, she, her husband and their five beautiful children — teenagers and young adults — were bathed in a glow of filtered sunlight as they casually stood in a courtyard.  They looked so happy to be there together.  

There were oohs and ahs all around, but this is what we were thinking.  What did she have to promise — or threaten — to get everyone together at the same time — and smiling, too!  Before any of us was bold enough or rude enough to ask her, my friend confessed. The daughter on the left had thrown a snit about the photo appointment and had shown up too late.  She was later photo-shopped seamlessly into the photo. 

No kidding?  So this family had warts, too.  Then we marveled at the photograph.  The tardy daughter blended in so well with the rest of the family. The same lighting, the same shadows, the same stance, the same size — everything in the same proportion.  I’ll never trust a family portrait again, although I should have been wise to this long ago.  A recent New York Times article discusses this phenomenon in this article. Here’s the link: I Was There. Just Ask Photoshop.

This is a flat wall!

This is a flat wall! There is no gallery here. This is an example of "trompe-l'oeil," which means trick the eye.

Humans have been doctoring reality since the days when Cro Magnon man drew out-sized bison on the cave wall to brag about his hunting prowess.  Artists throughout history have been fooling the eye in “trompe-l’oeil,” making you think something is real when it isn’t.  One of the first movies was of men rocketing to the moon, not that anyone was fooled.

Equally difficult is photographing things as they are. The camera lens distorts.  Neither film nor digital can capture reality the way the eye can.  The eye is more sensitive to color and can see more hues than the camera can capture.  I’ll write more about this later.  In the meantime, don’t be fooled

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