Sunday, August 06, 2017

The Ripple Effect.....

I'm sure we've all done it. The surface of the lake or pond is absolutely still. No breeze. No fish biting in the early morning sun. And we pick up a pebble or small rock, and we toss it into the water, just to see the waves that emanate from that spot, creating perfect circles that eventually will reach the opposite and distant shore. 

Over the last several months I have felt almost helpless. No, not a fearful sense that my life is spinning out of control, or anything of that nature. If you've followed my blog you've known of my conviction that we as Followers of Christ are to be Christ - really God - in this world. And that's where my sense of hopelessness is based: I don't feel like I'm doing enough, or even ANYTHING, to "better" this world. I have grown more cynical, more anguished, at what I see as a growing lack of compassion amongst us. And sadly, much of this has been from those who call themselves Christian, and who work hard to make sure that a gay couple cannot marry, or a woman cannot have an abortion, yet they ignore those who are helpless or homeless. This has only exacerbated my anguish and feeling of helplessness. 

The only consolation that I seem to find is that while I cannot change the world, I CAN change my little part of the world.

And that was spoken to me in the clear loud gentle voice from the pulpit this morning. 

The Gospel lesson for today was the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 (Matthew 14:13-21). We know this story. There were 5000 men and probably thousands of women and children as well. They scraped up 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread. Somehow, miraculously, Jesus feeds them all, and after the feast, they gather 12 baskets of leftovers! As our pastor spoke, he pointed out something I'd never thought of: through this act, Jesus didn't solve hunger. He just fed a few thousand people. 

And it hit home to me, almost to the point that I started to cry. As Followers of Christ, we cannot change the world (yes, some do, but it's very few). We are meant to change OUR world. Our sphere of influence. 

We are to be the ripple in the pond

The Ripple Effect is such a true analogy of what it means to be living a life of service to God. For if we can change or positively impact the life of one person, that one person can go on and touch the life of someone else, and soon, from our simple act of compassion, the circles of compassion and kindness will go out from us and touch lives. I don't have to try to run the entire campaign for feeding the hungry or getting a national homeless network established. But I can do something here, at home. Maybe it's teaching the kids to be kind and have compassion. Maybe it's just saying hello to someone at the supermarket. Maybe it's just helping my elderly neighbor get her paper in the morning. This is how the Ripple Effect of God works. It's not in the grand statements like a huge waterfall. But in the small ripples that go from one place and soon, reach out across the pond. 

"I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples."
Mother Teresa

Saturday, July 29, 2017

My personal vision

Death Valley, sunset, March 2017 Canon 7D 24mm lens

With the explosive growth of social media, in particular Facebook and Instagram, those of us who appreciate or participate in the art of photography have never had a more suitable platform for displaying our images. 20 years ago, when I was photographing landscapes with my Zone VI 4x5" camera my hope - a wish really - was that someone would purchase one of my images as wall art. Making color prints was expensive, and making black and white prints in my dad's darkroom was limited to 8x10" finished images. Trying to get even a print selected for a gallery showing was even more of a pipe dream. And the thought of doing a book? Well, did I have $10,000 just laying around?

Now, being a photographer and having your work "published" in both digital and print media is so much easier, and less expensive. And I've never been an equipment snob, because I see images that were done with a smartphone that could rival what I used to do with my 4x5" camera! Photographers of all skill levels are sharing their work on multiple platforms, and even within a single platform like Facebook, they can share their work on different pages that each represent a different audience. 

This morning as I was browsing through Facebook I viewed some images of a photographer that I was not familiar with. The images were very dramatic, some soft focus, some sharp detail. The pervading theme in the images was tight framing of natural and man-made objects to illustrate line, shape and form. They were more abstract. I liked them. But it brought something to mind that I have been trying to articulate for the past few months: What is MY vision? 

Decades ago, when I was showing someone my black and white prints, this person said "So, you're the next Ansel Adams?" My response was, "No. I'm the first John Prothero." 

Photographers are all influenced by the images they see created by other photographers. Yes, Ansel Adams has been very influential to me, particularly in my black and white work. So has John Sexton, Edward Weston, Bruce Barnbaum and Elliot Porter. These primarily 20th century masters (Sexton and Barnbaum are still very active in the large format black and white community) all had unique visions of their own, but studied and learned from each other. They were and are all masters of composition and tonal range, which is key to black and white photography. I have long loved the work of the color masters David Muench and Jack Dykinga, both contributors to Arizona Highways Magazine, a publication that mastered the art of publishing color images. Their influence on me has been more profound because they are steeped in the large format color space, yet in the case of Dykinga, he's transitioned to the digital space, and his images are still masterworks of color and strong composition.

All of these photographers, though, had something in common: an eye for razor sharp detail. And as I think of how I want my work to look - the essence of my personal vision - I want it to be sharp. As humans, when we see a landscape, we don't see the foreground out of focus while the distance is sharp, or vice versa. It's all in focus. For many photographers, selective focus is part of their vision. For me, that would be a rare exception. I want the viewer of my image to "feel" like they were there. I want them to be drawn into the image, and if I do selective focus, then the viewer instinctively will look at the object that is in focus. They are stopped there. They are not drawn in. Yes, this is a personal view, but this is my personal vision.

During the explosive growth of Photoshop I was asked "do you think Adams would have liked Photoshop, or the images heavily manipulated by someone using Photoshop?" Well, I cannot speak for Adams as far as the level of manipulation that someone may do using Photoshop. But I do know that Adams manipulated his images in the darkroom, sometimes to such an extent that if you were to see one of his images printed straight against his final image, you'd see vast differences. Here is his famous "Moonrise over Hernandez", taken in 1941. The left side is the image printed without any darkroom work - a straight print. The right side is the final image that we all know and love. 

You can clearly see that Adams heavily worked this image with various darkroom techniques. I have seen his prints and noticed other post-darkroom techniques that he'd use as well. Adams was an unabashed image manipulator, because he would envision the final image as he photographed it. The end result was a completion of that vision.

Sometimes, when a photographer is in nature, they are responding to the raw visceral impact of the landscape around them. The skill in capturing that and distilling that to a small frame takes more than just a click of the shutter button: it takes an ability to frame that emotional response, and use the natural compositional elements around you to enhance or elicit a response from the viewer. Some photographers heighten the sense of emotional impact by manipulating their images heavily: creating more dynamic shadows or saturating the color more. That is is their personal vision. To me, that is not real.

For me, I strive to stay true to my personal vision. Sometimes I think I am still in the process of defining that. But when I look at the images I have taken in the past 30 years, I do see a cohesive story. My vision has always been about two things: capturing what I see in a way that will resonate with the viewer; and using nature's own compositional elements to create something within that image that brings the viewer in. As I've processed images in Lightroom, I have done some manipulation, but only to achieve the results that I saw when I captured the image, not to over-dramatize it. I don't want there to be any suspicion in my viewer's eye that the image is not authentic, and particularly since my audience will be made up of other photographers and lovers of nature, to have an image that is unauthentic will turn them away. 

And that is my personal vision......

Saturday, March 18, 2017

I never thought about this....

I read something recently in a magazine that my brother, Jim, shared with me. As we approach and observe the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, this article laid out a supposition that the Reformation had unintended consequences that "injured the church's life and witness, continuing to this day." There were two paragraphs in particular that stood out to me, and in light of the current administration's budget that would cut the National Endowment of the Arts completely, I felt these two paragraphs explain a great deal.

I've always wondered why there is such a hesitancy to fund the arts more substantially in our country. I don't have any facts to back up my point, but my perception is that Europe does a much better job funding the arts. Japan and even China have a vibrant arts presence. Again, I do not have any data to state that those countries have an active government funding of the arts. But when I looked at what the 2016 United States budget for the NEA was, I did find that it was .012% OF THE ENTIRE FEDERAL BUDGET!1 The actual dollar amount was $148 million. That's an M folks, not a B. 

So, why is there such a backlash, nearly a hatred for arts funding? Granted, I do believe that it is the responsibility of the patrons of the arts (which includes me) to support them. I support them because I believe in them and their value. Like the great British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, I believe the arts are vital to our very survival. But why do we as Americans feel this antagonism for supporting the arts, while we'll subsidize athletic teams wanting to build billion-dollar stadiums? When reading this article, and the specific paragraphs, I now understand: 

Rejecting Art and Beauty

    The Reformation bred a mistrust of aesthetics. This is particularly true of those branches following Calvin, and certainly Zwingli. One sees it most in architecture and worship style. Reformed church building shunned art, rejecting the "idolatry" they saw practiced in the unreformed church. Walls were blank. The focus was on the pulpit, to hear the words of the Word. The emphasis, here again, was on right articulation of doctrine. "Smells and bells" were dismissively forgotten.

     In some ways, protecting the church from the influence of art and aesthetics derived from a strong division between the spiritual and the material worlds. The appendix to "The Westminster Directory of Public Worship" even declares, "no place is capable of any holiness." This reflexive desire to keep matter and spirit detached from one another continues to infect much of Protestant thinking. The more recent movements toward liturgical renewal, including even sensory-saturated worship, as well as the recovery of liturgical arts and dance within mainline and even evangelical congregations, can be understood as finally rejecting the Reformation's war on aesthetics.2

I found this to be extremely revelatory. Our national spiritual heritage was even more anti-aesthetic than this author states, because the Pilgrims came over to the north american continent to escape the religious persecution they were subjected to in England. They believed that anything that could give one pleasure, such as the arts, sex, or even expressive (liturgical) worship, were the works of Satan. We have in our national DNA, you might say, a fear or even a paranoid fear of the arts and artistic expression: it is born of the Calvinistic ideas of asceticism, or the rejection of anything that might bring pleasure. And, even after nearly three centuries, we cannot seem to shake it. 

It is my hope that there is an awakening in the arts community on a national scale, but an awakening as well in those that are patrons that enjoy the arts, but do not contribute of their time or money. Therefore, if we loose the NEA funding, the loss will be mitigated by those who believe in the arts and their value. 


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Putting it into focus....

I have to admit - I've been feeling like I've been out of focus the last couple of months. There's been so much going on, from de-Christmasfying the house, to planning my church's upcoming 60th Anniversary, to work I've been doing as a board member of Choral Arts Initiative, and feeble attempts at dating - I just seem to have not had much time to do what I LIKE to do. 

And through all of this has been the steady drone of work, with strategic planning for 2017. There's been time spent with the kids that included a short 24-hour trip to Joshua Tree in late January with Colin. And finally, my birthday late in February. 

But through it all, I've not been content. I find that I really want to spend time on my passions - the things in my life that give me joy. I don't have any Pacific Chorale obligations until May, but being on the board for Choral Arts Initiative, with the release of our first CD later in March, has kept me involved with my passion for choral music. But my photography has not taken as much of a center stage as I want it to. 

Well, this morning, at breakfast with my brother Jim, things came into (no pun intended) focus. And I feel energized and feel the passion returning. 

During breakfast, Jim was telling me about a fine art painter that he knows that does workshops, and makes enough money to cover the expenses of art supplies so he can continue painting at his leisure. It reminded me of the days when I used to do wedding photography, which would pay for my photo trips with my dad or by myself, or the occasional photo workshops I'd go on. And my mind went back many years ago to the idea of running my own photo workshop. 

Lorrie's grandparents used to live in a small community named Walker. It's located up highway 395, in the northern Sierra, near Tahoe. In January of 1997. the northern Sierra had a warm spell followed by a warm storm system that not only rained hard, but caused premature ice melt, and the Walker River became a raging torrent that took out part of highway 395, and part of the town of Walker. Lorrie's grandparents were fine, but they knew of several townfolk who lost homes and businesses due to the flooding, along with the complete devastation of the fishing on the Walker River (which has recovered). The area around Walker is beautiful, but Walker is only a short drive north of Bridgeport, and the Twin Lakes area near there. A ways past Bridgeport is Bodie and then the Virginia Lakes, and even farther south is Mono Lake and the Tioga Pass. 

So, after one Thanksgiving trip I thought of doing a photo workshop, with Walker as the base. I had contacted a hotel there in town that had both rooms and a small meeting room, and told them of my plan. They agreed to host the participants. Unfortunately, my dream never came to full fruition, but it never went away either.

And as Jim and I talked during breakfast, I realized that I could start planning something again. Something that I could do that would encourage photographers who are seeking a way to see beyond how they see now. Take them to the places where nature, in all its artistry, can bring about creativity. 

It's a dream, and it's one I will put my focus on, perhaps running something out of Walker in the fall of 2018. 

And now I'm content again.........

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Out with the old, in with the new....

As I write this, it's hours away from a new year - 2017. I have many of my social media friends lamenting 2016 because of all the celebrities we lost in this past year, notably Alan Rickman, Prince, and most recently, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. But for me, 2016 has been a challenging year because of personal loss. And yet, I find myself buoyed in spirit and cheerful, because those days are behind me, and I am looking ahead.

Many of you know that earlier this year my mom passed away. And many of you shared in my grief through this blog and my social media posts. Her passing was difficult - more so than I had thought it would be. But the grief was intensified by another loss in my life: the end of my marriage.

Some of you are aware that Lorrie and I divorced this year, but many of you may not be aware of it. We both have done our best to keep it from being publicized on Facebook, and I have probably been more vocal about it in person than she has. But I have been more vocal because I want to move on, and I had many work and church friends that cared and wanted to be a support to me and the kids. Our marriage ended amicably, and we are dedicated to co-parenting the kids. But I knew as it ended that I would want to move on. And I feel that I have. Oh, sure. There are still remnants of Lorrie here in the house: the decor; her computer is here; and some of her clothes are here. This house still reflects her. Thankfully, I am for the most part comfortable in that, because I do like the decor. It's warm. It's familiar. And for me and the kids (who are still with me, including Justin), it's home. 

But I know it's time to move on. And, it's also time to rediscover myself. I have returned to my passions (singing and photography), and have received a great sense of joy and fulfillment in those activities, just as I felt 20 years ago when they were such a major focus of my life. I have plans for my photography that are measured. I'm not trying to do it all at once. And in a small way I'm involving Colin with it as well. It turns out he has the Prothero love of road trips and seeing things. And so while I do my passions, I can build relationships with the kids.

Part of the rediscovery of myself is learning how to balance work, my time with the kids, my time for my passions, and my time for dating. I have been dating, and find that I'm not ready for a relationship, or the "boyfriend/girlfriend" thing. I find that there are too many women that I wish to go out with. Yes, I'm on a few dating sites, and so far, they've been fruitful. More importantly, though, I realize that I am not wanting to get into a relationship yet, because I need to go through this journey of defining myself not as "Lorrie's husband", but as John. As Colin and Audrey's dad. As the photographer, and as a musician.

So, here's to an unknown but anticipated 2017!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Like riding a bicycle

You know the old saying "It's like riding a bicycle: you never forget." Well, this past weekend for me was like getting back on a bicycle after being off of one for years.

I have shared in many previous posts about my passion for photography, and how I love to be in nature. To me, the two are symbiotic: I go out into nature to be inspired to create images, while at the same time I desire to create images as a means to be out in nature. 

This past weekend I loaded up my Outback and took Colin, my 16-year old son, on a trip to Death Valley. The purpose of the trip was to do some stargazing. But I took the opportunity to take my camera along, just in case I had some time to do some photographs. And the trip rewarded me in three very distinct ways.

First of all, I did take some time to do some photography. In the morning of our first full day, Colin was not quite awake, and it was daybreak, so I headed into the park, stopping at a location that gave me a tremendous view of some hills that soon would be touched with sunlight. I set up the camera and as I did, I felt something. There is, for me, a certain oneness of being out in nature. I don't have these feelings often, and when I do, they are confined to those times when I am free, and out in the open, and setting up the camera or just standing there. But while I'm out there, I feel as if the surroundings speak to me, and try to tell me things. Sometimes I feel like they're voices to help my creativity. Sometimes they're voices that tell me to listen to and trust myself. And often, I feel that they are the voice of God, speaking to me in the stillness of that time and place. And I listen, and I allow the voices to guide me to see and understand. I have, in my photographic travels, been in places of intense quiet, and have felt a presence, which I only can attribute to God. 

The second reward was the realization that even after years of absence from photography, the eye is being fine-tuned to seeing things again. Sure, we all "see" things, but do we really SEE them? One of my favorite things to do is leave the camera on its tripod and walk around, hands behind my back, looking down. I look for various things: colors contrasts between objects on the ground; graphic shapes and forms; juxtaposition of colors and textures; variations of tone and shade. All of these things can be seen by just looking, and as I walked around, I felt myself seeing things, and in seeing them, I did capture some good images. But it was that acknowledgement that I was SEEING again which gave me an intense feeling of joy. I felt I was "back". The old John. The creative John. He had not gone away. 

The final reward came in seeing Colin's reaction to Death Valley. I have to admit that as we were leaving that morning for the drive to Death Valley, I was concerned about whether he'd enjoy himself or not, or if he'd be bored. But neither of those things happened. Colin has an interest in both geology and astronomy, so seeing these vast expanses of desert, with the fascinating rock strata, volcanic cones and lava flows, and rocks strewn all over the side of the highway, were exciting for him. And as a travel companion, I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed his company, because just like I was with my dad, Colin was with me. He didn't speak much (my dad only spoke when he saw something to talk about), and when we'd stop, Colin would get out of the car and explore a bit. I know a return trip is in order, but for me, it was the passing on from one generation to the next of this love of seeing and observing. 

I am glad that, because of life changes, I am returning to my passions. But I'm even more pleased that my kids wish to be a part of this as well. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Journey Continues - Confirmation

Pastor Taylor with Confirmands Andrew, Erika and Aidan, 2016
I must confess that being raised in the Presbyterian church, I missed out on some of the more liturgical aspects of worship, one of them being Confirmation. Oh, sure, when I was a teen and I went to a Youth Orientation Class, being run by our youth pastor, I learned about the basics of the Presbyterian denomination, played some trust games with my fellow teens, and in about 4 weeks, I could join the church as a member, rather than just a kid on my parent's church membership.

But today was Confirmation Sunday in our church, which we choose to observe on Reformation Sunday, making it a celebratory day. And even though both of my kids have gone through Confirmation themselves (Colin was Confirmed in 2014, Audrey in 2015), it wasn't until today that the significance of Confirmation made itself evident to me.

I look back at my own faith at this time, and place it in a shadowbox that was encased by my mother's faith, and held in it as well the faith that my two older brothers had. Church was never forced on us, but we were still expected to attend. Then, when my brother Jim went to college and began to stretch his wings, mom felt he was backsliding. I look at my oldest brother, Donald, who has embraced a life of science to the point where he seems to fight the faith he was raised in. So as I watched these three teenagers today, who stood in the pulpit and made their statements of faith, I realized how important this seemingly innocuous Rite is. And it is called a Rite - the Rite of Confirmation.

You see, my brothers and I never had the chance to stand in front of a group of folk and state what we believed. Oh, sure, we may have had through various youth events to give testimonies, but never in such a public forum. And even though I listened to Colin and Audrey's statements of faith, I never saw it any other way than the perspective of being a proud dad. 

But today I heard something different: I heard three young people publicly state and profess the reason for their faith. These were carefully crafted messages, and even though none of them were over 3 minutes long, they spoke volumnes of the journey these young people have taken, and more importantly, the foundation that has been built to carry them through their continuing journey of faith. But more importantly, I realized that what they were saying was that their faith was now their own. The claimed it from their parents. They are now stewards of that faith. And to me, that is so exciting!

And I thought of my own kids, whom I told that I WANT them to have their own faith, not mine or anyone else's. It's theirs, and theirs alone. I have told all three of the kids that I want them to continue to go to church and then when they're 18, they can do as they please. Because I want them to get that core truth: that solid foundational belief, so as they travel in their own spiritual journeys, they will have that firm set of beliefs to hold them as they face challenges and other belief systems. And, so today, I think of my kids, and the statements they made, and the hope that they choose to take a journey that will lead them to a place where their faith is strong and truth-filled.

Soli Deo Gloria