Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Revolutionary Thanksgiving - Celebration of Independence

Freshly Prepared Thanksgiving Food At Jabez Smith House, Groton

I am spending my first Thanksgiving holiday in many years in the USA.  I am spending my first Thanksgiving of many many more years with my parents in their home.

Whether I was in Algeria, Malaysia, Thailand, Canada, Brasil, or Vietnam, I always managed to celebrate this special holiday.  There is something about celebrating that has a universal appeal and relevance no matter where in the world that you find yourself.  It is a holiday that transcends national sensitivities.

Ham, Chickens, and Corn on the Cob Over An Open Wood Fire

Recently I attended a local event here in Groton.  The event was a "Revolutionary Thanksgiving" and was held at the Jabez Smith House.  Participants reenacted a traditional late 18th century holiday celebration complete with traditional foods and methods of cooking.  The participants are ordinary people who have a passion for American Colonial history.  They dress and re-enact daily early American life at special events throughout the year.  I had first encountered some of them at the event which recognized the 230th anniversary of the Fort Griswold Massacre also known as the Battle of Groton Heights.  Besides dressing, and demonstrating skills from the past, the people are a source of information regarding daily colonial life.  It is always nice to see young children at these living history events.  It is an opportunity for them to see some of what they read about in schools.  In this area besides these events there is Mystic Seaport and Old Sturbridge Village where history comes alive.

Documenting the event and listening to the reading of personal diaries from Colonists as well as French soldiers who had come to assist them in the War of Independence, I could not help but be impressed with the self sufficiency of the people.  During that age, men were more of "jacks of all trades" rather than the specialists that we have evolved into today.  A man was a hunter, fisherman, carpenter, farmer, tailor, as well as doctor to ensure his and his family's survival. Women were also fully engaged in multi-tasking with activities such as sewing, weaving, cooking, gardening, helping with the farming and caring for the animals, as well as educating the children. The women also were involved in doctoring and preparing medicinal herbs for the family's use. In Colonial times there was little time to be bored.

Today it is all too easy to rely upon others for our safety, welfare and comfort.  Yes we need to rely upon the knowledge and skills of others for many things.  However, it is often too convenient and the path of least resistance to place our blind trust and welfare in the hands of the others - often misguided.

The financial collapse of so many prominent investment firms in recent years as well as swindles like that perpetrated by Bernie Madoff should lead us to question just how smart these "experts" are or were.  I have always handle my own investments and done acceptable.  I have made spectacular returns but then again I have not been swindled or wiped out like MF Global.  The point is that today with the wealth of resources available to us on the Internet, we should never blindly accept and follow the advise of financial "experts".  If you don't understand it from your own research or understand from the advice of an "expert", you should not invest in it.

The same is true with Doctors.  When I was younger, all Doctors were held in unquestionable esteem - an air often cultivated by the Doctors themselves.  Having lived overseas, you learn to question and evaluate the advise that the doctors give you.  It is important to realize that WE are our own Primary Health Care Provider.  In our culture, doctors only fix what is wrong with us once something happens.  It is our responsibility to prevent that something from happening in the first place.  I know a woman who was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis by the best doctor at the best hospital in an upper class city in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Through a fortunate circumstance she ended up in a third world country where she contacted Amoebic Dysentery.  She was given standard medication for the dysentery and soon noticed that her colitis symptoms had disappeared.  Research into her travelling companion, "The Merck Manual" strongly suggested to her that she had "Antibiotic Induced Colitis".  Interesting enough the medicine for curing Amoebic Dysentery is the same for Antibiotic Induced Colitis.  The doctor in California was notified of the possible misdiagnosis but stood his ground and stated that the Ulcerative Colitis would return.  Fifteen years later she is still awaiting the return of the Ulcerative Colitis and she no longer takes a prophylactic antibiotic prior to dental work.  I am certain that had she remained under the care of the experts she would now be dealing with the ravishes caused by prescribed steroid treatment for Ulcerative Colitis.

The aforementioned can also be said with dealings with lawyers.  Do not just take their advice without first doing your own research and asking yourself as well testing their advice to determine if it makes sense - for YOU.  For you - yes because in the end you will have to live with the results and consequences of their work along with their advice that you take.  They will earn their fee and move on to more clients.  You will live with the results for the rest of your life.  back in Thailand a vast majority of issues between people are dealt with directly rather than acquiring the services of a lawyer.  Matters such as purchasing land, homes, automobile accidents, divorces, and name changes are handled by the involved parties with the appropriate government agencies merely recording and maintaining documents related the resolution as in the matter of real estate, divorces, and name changes.

This week I had the "experience" of dealing with technical support related to my computer VOIP service.  As people sometimes reply if they are involved in a relationship, "It's complicated".  A long time ago I had Internet service through SBC =, a spin off at the time of AT&T.  Like the theory of the Universe that it expanded at the time of the Big Bang and will eventually contract, SBC merged into AT&T once again.  AT&T developed a special working relationship with Yahoo which lead me to use Yahoo Messenger. Yahoo Messenger developed a premium service called Yahoo Voice - Phone Out which allowed me to call phone numbers from my computer at very good rates i.e. call cell phones in Thailand for $0.10 USD a minute rather than around $8.00 a minute using a traditional land line in the USA.  I have forgotten which came first, remember I wrote that it was complicated, but two things happened AT&T and Yahoo stopped their special working relationship and the servicing of Yahoo Voice - Phone Out was taken over by a company named Jajah.  Jajah was recently taken over by Telefonica something or other - just to show how complicated finding someone responsible has become in the tech world.  Any how, life was good using Yahoo Voice - Phone Out.  For the past six months I had been getting messages that I had an outdated version of Yahoo Messenger.  I ignored it until earlier this week when I succumbed to the fear that I might be missing out on something - foolish me or perhaps greedy me.  I downloaded the latest version of Yahoo Messenger and promptly lost access to my Voic-Phone Out Account.  I sought help through the programs and kept getting into FAQ that answered nothing close to my personal problem.  I tried AT&T and got referred to Yahoo.  I decided to call Yahoo support on the phone and after punching some numbers and waiting, found out that they do not do support over the phone.  I ended up contacting Jajah "Live Chat" support.  At first over texting they tried to pawn me off with my problem to AT&T.  I spent a great deal of time in a painful noxious texting ordeal going over my problem with a rep to the point that I thought that I was dealing with either a robot or a computer.  It was obvious that we were going through a standard troubleshooting routine oblivious to any statements that I had previous conveyed to the rep.  Some of her solutions recommended had absolutely nothing to do with my problem.  I thanked her for "help" and got away from her.  I did some more Internet research and found serious issues with Jajah support for the past three years.  Undeterred I contacted support via Live Chat once again - guess who?  Yep it was Zoe once again.  Luckily or rather more indicative of her consciousness she did not seem aware of my previous comment that "I am sure that you may be a nice person but you are absolutely of no help to me. I am signing off"  Well we started down the same road once again - after awhile I just hung up.  I tried a couple of things on my own to no avail.  I went back to tech support and got a man who was more on the ball.  I never suspected that he was either a robot or a computer.  He gave me a possible solution which in the process of implementing required me to shutdown and restart my computer thereby losing contact with him.  His solution did not work so I contacted tech support once again only to get a third "expert".  We went down the same path as the previous times and had no success.  After 7-1/2 hours dealing with Jajah tech support the last rep wrote that he could not solve the problem and that he would refer the problem to their "Software Engineers" and that I could expect an email from them within 24 hours (110 hours ago).  I have yet to get that email. I found a website that would solve my problem for $48.  It appeared to have been a Yahoo website but I am not sure - I was having trouble seeing through my rage at that point.  I was sure not going to pay Yahoo a penny let alone $48 to solve a problem with their software which I had upgraded to at their request.  I also did not like the fact that only after you wrote about your problem did you find out that it was a pay for solution site.  Flustered that I could no longer cheaply call my wife back in Thailand, I did what we should all do , I voted with my feet and pocket book - I went and set up an account with Skype.  In less than 30 minutes, I was on the phone with Duang and able to make unlimited calls around the world for the next three months - cost?  Around $39 for the three months. I was still left with the issue of almost $20 remaining in my Yahoo Voice- Phone Out account.  After cooling off for a couple of days I decided to try to solve the problem on my own.  From the Tech "Experts" it had been determined that I still had a valid account but for some reason my new version of Messenger did not connect or recognize the account.  I decided to go to the library and see what happened if I logged on to Yahoo Messenger from a different machine - Voila (There it is) I was able to access my Voice account from the library through an even older version of Messenger than when I started this fiasco.  I went home optimistic that I could solve the problem.  I uninstalled Yahoo Messenger like I had done at least 8 times previously as instructed by the "experts".  However this time I was not going to rely on the software to remove it for me.  I went into my hidden files and removed all folders associated with either Yahoo, AT&T, and Yahoo.  I then used Norton 360 Premium to clean up my registry file - sure enough it found 65 lines of code associated with Yahoo even though it had been uninstalled automatically.  Only then did I upload the latest version of Yahoo Messenger.  To my delight, it recognized and accessed my Yahoo Voice - Phone Out account.  My point being is that we have the ability to solve our own problems most of the time.  We need to trust in ourselves and not blindly follow those who are called "experts"  "Experts" are like any tool, they can be used by us to achieve a goal but on their own they can not resolve our issues.  We have to take the responsibility and live with the consequences to solve our problems.

So on this American Thanksgiving in 2011 let's reflect upon all that we have been blessed with and let's strive to be more self sufficient in our lives just as our ancestors were during the Revolutionary Thanksgivings.  Let's all be especially grateful for our ability to think for ourselves and to make our own decisions - truly blessings to be appreciated and used every day.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Every Picture Tells More Than One Story

It is difficult to grasp that it has been a month since I last wrote anything of real substance on this blog.  Time has flown by and I have been extremely busy.  In the past two months some interesting events have occurred and as is often the case in "Allen's World" there is a common thread connecting them and which is also applicable to the outside world.

Recently I sold two prints from my gallery of photographs documenting a journey to Laos.  In thanking GD of Arizona for their support I wrote: "They say that every picture tells a story.  I actually believe that every picture tells more than one story dependent upon one's perspective and experience"  I attached a copy of the blog entry that was associated with the two prints that he purchased.  The blog entry was my story that the pictures told to me.  This story, my story, would go along to his story related to the photographs.

Photographs are like facts in that they create a reality for each one of us, a reality that is defined by our individual perspectives, experiences, and bias.

I take photographs back in Asia of people, places and things that are interesting to me, - different from what I am accustomed to.  To the people that I photograph, they consider themselves to be ordinary people doing ordinary things but, to them, it is me who is exotic and interesting.  It is all is just a matter of perspective and experience - for all of us.

Photographs like facts can be manipulated and processed to achieve a desired effect or perceived sense of reality.

Interpretation of photographs just as with facts is highly subjective and greatly impacted by our prejudices; prejudices that can be either good or bad.

I recently signed up for a seminar about glamour photography.  In Southeast Asia I never have a problem in finding and photographing "... extraordinary people doing ordinary things."  Here in America, it is not so easy.  People in the United States are more suspicious of being photographed and in general greatly more paranoid of their children being photographed.  Just as I respect the cultural mores of SE Asia, I respect the culture here in the USA and greatly restrain my photographic activities.

However the difficulties of photographing willing subjects here has not lead me to pack up my camera and put it away in the closet.  I have decided to take advantage of resources readily available here in the USA to better educate myself regarding photography.  My hope is to increase and improve my skills in taking MY photographs.  I want to better understand and be more familiar with the tools as well as techniques to better capture my visions to share with others.  I don't want to learn how to and I definitely do not want to take other people's photographs.  As I have written before - one Ansel Adams is enough and one Anne Geddes is most likely one too many - I don't need or desire to take "their" photographs or photographs like theirs.

One area that I would like to become educated with is the use of studio lighting.  In late September, I rented an equipped photography studio to take photographs of my wife.  It was an opportunity for me to experiment with studio lighting.  It was a very educational afternoon and I am still post processing the 1200+ photographs from that session.

I signed up for the Glamour Phototgraphy Seminar given by a well known photographer in order to learn more about the use and control of studio lighting as well as to gain more experience in taking the types of photographs that I would like of my wife.  Although I do not intend to become a studio photographer, I believe the knowledge and experience will enhance my documentary portraits that I typically take while on location in SE Asia.

Due to circumstances beyond his control, the photographer was unable to give the seminar as originally scheduled.  Wishing to demonstrate to the people that signed up and paid for the seminar that he was a real as well as honest person, he offered to meet us at the home of his friend for a day of photography discussion and shooting of a Playboy model - all at no extra cost to the seminar participants.  At the informal gathering, we all would decide when to reschedule the original seminar.

Well the informal gathering was quite an event.  We met at the home of a prominent Boston photographer.  The Boston photographer has 75 magazine covers to his credit and has covered every Presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter.  All six of us strangers were welcomed into his home as if we were all old friends from university.  He was occupied preparing for a fashion shoot later that day, so we went downstairs to his kitchen area.

Our glamour photographer spent the morning and early afternoon in a free, open and animated discussion with us regarding many aspects of glamour photography.  After lunch, which he graciously paid for, we returned to his friend's home.  The Boston photographer created some time to spend with us in his office.  Spending time with him was very informative.  He openly shared his experiences as well as techniques with us.  We learned many details behind some of his pictures that we had seen on covers of magazines.  Some of the facts that amazed me were how little time he has to take the photographs of important people - some people he has only 5 minutes to take their photograph at a location determined by the subject - i.e. in the Board Room, at the Mall, in the office.  He had better fortune with the renowned actor, Anthony Hopkins - 20 minutes at the photographer's home.  I had always assumed that most of these wonderful portraits that grace publications were studio shots which lasted 1 to 2 hours.  As it turns out these photographs were taken under conditions and circumstances that I am all too familiar with.

The photographs, in general, were not taken with 1, 2, 3, or even more studio strobe lights.  Most of the photographs were taken with speedlites, what we used to commonly refer to as "flash guns".  The difference, and oh what a difference there is, between his photographs and the ones that most people take is that he does not have his speedlite mounted on his camera, he utilizes more than one speedlite, and he uses a knowledgeable assistant to position reflectors or speedlites to get the appropriate light.

Appropriate light?  There are two types of light involved in photography; soft light and hard light.  Just as facts can depict and create a perceived reality, so can light.  Soft light creates low contrast portraits with soft edged shadows and conceals blemishes.  Soft light is created by large light sources.  The closer that a light source is to a subject the softer it light becomes.  Soft light is very complimentary to the female face and form.  In the natural world the sun creates soft light on an overcast day or in the very late afternoon during the "golden hour".  The light is diffused and flattering.

Hard light on the other hand, like some facts, can accentuate the features and blemishes in a photograph.  To a certain degree hard light is more typically used in male portraits.  Hard light is created by a small light source at a further distance from the subject.  In the natural world the sun creates hard light on a clear day during the middle of the day.  The light is sharp and focused which often makes it not very flattering.

Facts just like lighting can be used, manipulated, or modified to influence our perceptions and experiences.  The subject or object of our attention is what it is but through the skillful exploitation of light or even facts, people's perceptions and sense of reality or "truth" can be greatly influenced.

During our time together in Boston, we got to take photographs of a Playboy model.  This was a new experience for me.  She is a professional model.  Unfortunately, she did not provide Model Releases and asked that we not share our photographs because of her current employment.

She is a very attractive young woman but more importantly she is a very skilled model.  For our photography session, we did not go to any specialized studio.  For our photo shoot, we did not have 2, 3, 4 or more studio lights. We used on studio strobe with a large soft box attached to it.  The photographs were taken downstairs of the Boston photographer's South Boston apartment.  We utilized a seamless paper background behind the model with a single chair or no chair at all.  Many of our photographs were actually poses in the apartment back doorway leading out to a small garden area along with parking.  The lesson learned here was that you don't necessarily have to have an exotic location or sophisticated equipment to take excellent photographs. The Boston photographer stressed that often in photography you have to make do with what you have.  The skill and art of the photographer is to communicate his vision  with the environment and circumstances that he is faced with for the shot.

We were very fortunate to have a professional model to work with on that afternoon.  With very little direction, she worked to provide us with interesting opportunities.  I informed her during one of my sessions that I wanted to focus on her eyes and lips.  Yes, it is absolutely true - when photographing a model in lingerie - I was focused on her eyes and lips.  That was my vision of her.  Of course I saw other things but at that moment my vision was of her yes and lips.  She listened to me and focused on what I wanted to accentuate in my photos.  The shots came out great and it all seemed quite easy.

Being a professional model, in addition to being comfortable posing in front of a camera she also had a very good understanding of makeup.  In reviewing my shots I was very impressed with her makeup.  However during post processing of her shots as well as shots that I have taken of my wife, it was very apparent the effect of light has on a person's complexion.

First of all I am not aware of any adult who has a perfect complexion.  We all have some degree of blemishes, spots of different colored pigmentation, and "character" or "smile" lines commonly referred to as WRINKLES.  To a certain extent these identifiers can be minimized with the proper application of makeup.  Soft light is also of great benefit to minimize and obscure these details.  On the other hand, hard light can accentuate these details as well as highlighting any efforts that were made through the use of makeup to eliminate them.  Facts can also be used to obscure or influence our sense of reality - hard facts can cast a disparaging light on a person if not tempered by additional soft or more flattering facts.  The person remains the same in both lights but our sense of realty regarding them is heavily influenced by the balance between hard and soft facts.  We react to the facts from our personal perspective and experience to create our own "truth".

During the Playboy Model shoot some of the light accentuated blemishes to her complexion.  It was the same model with the same makeup as before but with the different light, the photographs were not flattering at all.  Well, the photographs did end up being flattering in the end - through the use of post processing software such as Adobe Photoshop Elements to remove offending details.

Last Sunday I attended a historical recreation of a Revolutionary War Thanksgiving.  As part of the celebration an authority on the French involvement in the Revolutionary War read excerpts from contemporary diaries from both sides.  When the French first arrived in the Colonies they were not very welcomed.  The Colonists did not have much experience with Frenchmen.  The view who knew of Frenchmen their experience was from that of being adversaries during the French and Indian Wars - wars that the Colonists and British Army fought against the French and their Native American allies.  At the onset of the Revolutionary War, Great Britain attempted to split the developing alliance between the Colonists and French by capitalizing on old prejudices and fears. However, once the Colonists actually had the opportunity to meet, socialize, and do business with the French, they realized a new reality - the French were not like their fears and prejudices had lead them to believe.  For their part the French diaries are filled with the praises of the people and lands of the colonies.  The Frenchmen wrote of wonders and marvels that were all so strange and different to them but ordinary to the Colonists.

So I find myself often doing when I write of life in Isaan; writing of wonders and marvels that are all so strange and different to me but common everyday life to the Lao Loum people.

 To the extent that I can provide a glimpse into the life, culture, and beliefs of Southeast Asia to give a different perspective to the readers of my blog and viewers of my photographs, I am pleased to provide facts that will allow others to form their own reality.

I will always remember that every picture tells more than one story and that facts only tell part of the story - until all the facts are known and their context understood, the story is not complete.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A New Gallery Is Available for Viewing

A new gallery, "Two Funerals and An Exorcism" is now available for viewing on my photography website

The gallery is related to a previous blog that I wrote with the same name.

They say that every picture tells a story.  I think that every picture tells several stories  - but that will be the subject of my next blog entry.  However to learn more about Buddhist funeral rituals or more specifically the Lao Loum peoples funeral rituals, you can refer to these blog entries.


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