Oct 29, 2009

Monty Python and being silly

Congratulations Monty Python on the occasion of your 40th anniversary.

My first impression of Monty Python’s Flying Circus was to wonder what all the fuss was about. To me, these guys weren’t very funny, they were just a wild bunch of juvenile and amateurish grown-ups acting silly, like I used to do at school.

The school kids in England, where I grew up, were all silly. We used to do the silly walks and play around with stuffed birds, like the parrot sketch, way before Python was ever thought of. In fact, those of us who were arty and who liked theatre were even sillier. It was really quite normal to act silly in England, to talk in puns and to be able to banter back and forth in non sequiturs and (almost clever) funny, non sensical dialogue. However, I remember one of our teachers telling us that as maturity was a major part of learning and growing up, we shouldn’t be acting like silly girls. “Get to it lads, and act like real men.” Of course, in North America (USA and Canada) boys were taught to be macho. Build your muscles, pretend you like stupid sports, don’t become like a sissy or you’ll be beaten up in the school yard. But it could be like that in England too, where somehow silliness was accepted. When I moved to North America in 1969, I put away some of my childish things and as I worked my way up in the film and entertainment business, I became more serious.

As for Monte Python, even though some of my friends were rolling in laughter at films like The Holy Grail, I really didn’t appreciate their style until I saw The Life of Brian in 1979. By that time it was ten years later and I was now into my profession as a cinematographer in Canada, and I began to appreciate any movie that was different from the regular Hollywood fare. I loved foreign films and I especially loved French films. Then a girl friend dragged me to see The Life of Brian. Well, who can fault a movie where the theme is to always look on the bright side of life? This was my attitude entirely. And the silliness? Well, I'd missed it.

The film parallels the story of Jesus but it takes us on a different journey, to follow the life of another individual who people want to flock to as a leader. Here we see a population who can't seem to think for themselves. They must have a Messiah to follow and they think they have found one in Brian (no relation). But Brian isn't interested in being their Messiah.

My favorite line is when a crowd calls for Brian to come to the window and show himself. His mother opens the window and tells the crowd: "He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy."

It was great to laugh at situations that, when seen from the Python’s satirical point-of-view, were quite nutty and funny. I no longer minded the silliness. The film focused on humanities longing to belong and to follow a leader. We are all sheep. We must flock and we must follow. We are all constantly searching for that Messiah to lead us. And yes, we see it in the modern world where good leadership is quite deficient. The crowds roar together, "Yes, we are individuals." "Yes, we must think for ourselves." But do we?

The film reinforced my philosophy as a free thinker and I will always thank the Python’s for that. Blessed are the free thinkers.

I have now learned to appreciate the Python series and when last in Las Vegas, we loved Spamalot. Yes, congratulations to Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Terry Gillium, Michael Palin, John Cleese and Graham Chapman. Thank you for showing the world that we can all let our hair down and be really silly.

“Silly is you in a natural state, and serious is something you have to do until you can get silly again.”
- Mike Myers

“If I can get you to laugh with me, you like me better, which makes you more open to my ideas. And if I can persuade you to laugh at the particular point I make, by laughing at it you acknowledge its truth.”
- John Cleese

"We don't deliberately set out to offend. Unless we feel it's justified."
- Graham Chapman

"I always wanted to be an explorer, but - it seemed I was doomed to be nothing more than a very silly person."
- Michael Palin

Oct 24, 2009

Free Thinker

October 24/2009

I don’t think I could ever be just a Liberal or just a Conservative or just anything. That idea goes against everything I hold dear. My freedom. Freedom to be a free thinker.

To be so one-sided and closed about differing ideas and opinions, no matter how good, well-intentioned or true the party line claims to be, could not attract my total way of thinking or my loyalty. I am very curious and I need to know all sides of an issue. The world is not black and white. I see it in multi shades of colour. So, no, I firmly believe that I could never be so rigid so as to block out other opinions.

I do search for the truth of an issue, however difficult it is to find. But many people can’t change from one side to another, even if the truth hits them in the face; even if they are thinking or voting against their own self interests, even if they discover deception, lies and corruption. So, in effect, they are cutting themselves off from the freedom they were given: The freedom to think openly, rationally and with thoughtful reasoning.

Throughout most of our lives we’ve been told so many “truths” by others, and we mostly accept them without reason. But who are we not to question these “truths”, beliefs, prejudices and assumptions? Nothing is as it seems in this world. Nothing is cut and dried. When so many untruths are thrown around without people questioning, then individuals, corporations, political parties, religions, culture, governments, etc. corrupt or not, get away with telling you anything, and you will believe it.

Within us all, is a free thinker. It is what we were given by our maker.

The Universe. The big, wide, abundant, undiscovered, Universe. So is there life out there or not? I think we can presume that there is. But how far away? How long will it take to find, the others? And will they be like us?

We live on a planet brimming with life. Everywhere on the planet is alive with organisms and micro-organisms. We share this planet with life of all kinds: animals, fish, birds, bugs. micro-things we can’t see. We have also been given an intelligence, of sorts. By this I mean a built-in intelligence that governs the way we are; our genetics, our makeup, everything that keeps us going without us knowing. In fact, we have very little control over the way our bodies keep us alive, and all living creatures have this. It’s under our radar, like the battery in the Energizer Bunny.

All life is steadily employed. We all go about our daily lives programmed to live and to survive in whatever situation or climate we are given. And if that’s all we had, this simplistic complication of life, life on earth would be very simple. We would all be like robots, programmed to do whatever we were here to do. However, in all the Universe, as we know it, in all the world, in all our minds, we homo-sapiens, human beings, were given something extra. We were given the power of creativity.

More than the animals, more than the trees, the birds or the micro-organisms, we were given the power to think creatively. To analyze, to examine, to deduce and to reason. To come up with ideas and solutions, for everything.

It’s an extraordinary gift - to be able to think up ideas, to communicate with each other, to plan, to dream, to create whatever comes into our heads or our hearts. To create our own future with new ideas. The whole world is an open book for us to do and to be anything we want to be. Think of the endless possibilities and opportunities.

Yet, we get lazy. We want to do the same thing, the same job, meet the same people, listen to the same music, the same TV and worship the same religion and politics. And most of us do things just to "look good" to others. We find our comfort zone with the people who surround us, our community: culture, religion, politics, tribe. Then we conform and spout other people's opinions to "look good" to others in our tribe. We live in a sleeping state and we give up any potential for the opportunity with which we were born. We become robots without a reasoning brain. Unless something happens to shock us and wake us up.

So let's wake up and be.

I am espousing that we open up to our free thinking minds and be more curious about the world and it’s charms: Walk away from the small corners we choose to live in. We live in a mansion yet, we choose to live in a small dark corner of the basement of that mansion. We must be like the turtle and stick our neck out into the world and discover that it’s not such a scary place after all. More important, we must discover ourselves. Self discovery. Who are we? And once we discover who we are, who is our authentic self, we must embrace ourselves, open up to the real human experience we were given. We must open up to the world of discovery, to find our own world views, values, integrity. And our own voice. Then we can steer away from the small-minded, tribe mentality that rules our rigid ways and be open to the world and the Universe that has made us.

As free-thinking humans we can teach ourselves and others to be more creative, compassionate and thoughtfully open to new knowledge and intelligence. In this way, we set ourselves up to openly respond to the junk we are continually being fed, and make better choices and judgments based on our own awareness and reasoning of the things that concern us. So my call to action is: be curious, speak up, try new things, don't copy others, be inspired by others, be creative and don't just follow the crowd. Be the free thinker and the inspiration you were born to be.

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”
- Oscar Wilde.

“Every human has four endowments- self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom... The power to choose, to respond, to change.”
- Stephen R. Covey

“These things will destroy the human race: Politics without principle, progress without compassion, wealth without work, learning without silence, religion without fearlessness and worship without awareness.”
- Anthony de Mello

“What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.”
- Abraham Maslow

Oct 21, 2009

The Third Man (favorite films)

October 21/2009

Film Noir at it's best. A web of mystery and a begrimed adventure winds through shadow then light and back into shadow. An air of tension, ambiguity and corruption. Across a canvas of Vienna following WW2, American novelist Holly Martins, a pragmatist, innocent abroad, prances like a bull in search of veneer, only to find horrific meaning from the characters and the atmosphere of a bombed shell of a once great, yet now divided city. He came to see his friend, Harry Lime, a charismatic, charming friend who’s life seems to extend and captivate beyond his accidental death, but from the time Holly arrives he is being lead in search of Harry's ghost and is stabbing at shadows.

Then there's the girl. She loved Harry and she morns his allure. British Army Captain Calloway investigating Harry's death, finds Martins at Harry's funeral. He wants to know more but realizes Martins has nothing to offer. Martins is just a very ordinary guy getting mixed up in something so totally over his head, and Calloway wants him to leave Vienna before Martins succumbs to the danger of it all. However, as Martins learns more about Harry's death, certain inconsistencies begin to unravel. The story unwinds compelling him to stay and discover that truth and justice take on a greater meaning.

This is a great film with such atmosphere that old Vienna is a main character. And of course the ubiquitous zither music that never ceases. Fog, shadows, wet streets and underground tunnels are the background to this Graham Green fantasy. Well acted by Joseph Cotten, Trevor Howard, Alida Valli and of course Orson Welles playing Harry Lime. Graham Green's great story and screenplay, Carol Reed directing at his finest and the best cinematography by Robert Krasker.

The most famous line in the film has the self-righteous Harry Lime try to rationalize his own evil.

“In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed. They produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace. And what did they produce - the cuckoo clock.”

- Harry Lime (Orson Welles)

“The truth has never been of any real value to any human being - it is a symbol for mathematicians and philosophers to pursue. In human relations kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths.”

- Graham Green

"I started at the top and worked my way down."

- Orson Welles

Oct 20, 2009

Ten basic tips for a short video

January 4/2009

Producing videos is a very competitive business and I’m often asked, “Why should I hire a production company to shoot my video rather than get a friend or a student with a camera to make my video for less money?”

Most people have no idea that getting someone to shoot a consistently well photographed, editable production with a camera and then edit the footage into a creative and succinct video that incorporates the nuance of story, feeling and character, is like asking a nurse to perform brain surgery or hiring a high school band to replace the Orpheum Symphony on Beethoven’s Ninth. There is a learned skill, creative talent, artistic flair and years of producing films and telling stories that come with a professional.

This being said, I will try to provide some tips and pointers on producing a short video. These ideas may help you understand ways to focus yourself toward creating something for an audience, and for you to find your own basic storytelling needs, and the needs of getting your message out in the best possible way.

One - Communication.
I belong to an organization called Toastmasters, which not only teaches people to get up and speak, but how to formulate a message through structure, theme and practice. The first speech manual is a foundation for good communication skills, and it guides people to think through how to formulate their first ten speeches. To me, these communication ideas are an excellent example and the cornerstone for making good videos, or presenting any kind of storytelling idea, display or performance. I modify them to illustrate the basic steps in learning to tell stories well.

The basic steps:
1. Break the ice with your audience and tell them who you are and what your message is.
2. Organize the structure of your story. Beginning, middle, end.
3. Get to the point and be succinct with your message and what are you trying to say.
4. Ensure your script is well written, delivered and your performance is proficient. Both as a film maker and whoever is on screen representing you. Remember to "direct" your on screen talent.
5. Your visual presentation should sparkle. How do you look and how do you present your ideas?
6. Tell your story by using a variety of emotions and feelings to grab your audience.
7. Research your topic well and give plenty of information. Get the facts and get them straight.
8. Be proficient with all the technical devices, camera, lights, editing software etc., and learn the creative side of photographic arts, editing arts and dramatic pacing.
9. Use powerful ideas to persuade your audience.
10. Inspire and motivate your audience. Make them want to come back for more.

Two - Story.
A film maker/video producer is a storyteller first. Know the story you want to tell. Know what you are trying to accomplish with your presentation. Know your audience. Although this all sounds very obvious to the experienced storyteller; many people don’t know what they are trying to say. What kind of ideas do you want to implant in your audience? What do you want them to take away from your message? Do you want to inspire them to be better, follow your teachings, carry your message to others? Find the significance of your message and work on inspiring the people who you want to receive and remember it. And remember, you do not have the option of boring people to death.

Three - Inspiration.
A communicator's job is to get a point across by inspiring his or her audience. As a film maker you must grab an audience with inspiring content (a good story), visuals, sounds, music and feeling. This is what a film, a video, a PowerPoint or any kind of presentation is: It is something for people to experience. And the way we all experience is through feelings. Grab at the heart of your idea and express it with passion and inspiration.

Four - Style.
An audience will make the first and the fastest impression about something based on what they see. The look of the subject is very important. You don't have to be Cirque du Soleil but it may help. In a corporate film, for example, is the person on camera dressed smartly? Do I trust this person? Do I trust this film maker? Is he or she communicating to me personally and visually? What are the colours of the backgrounds? What does it sound like? Are the locations speaking to me?

Five - Environment.
The environment is where you place your subject. What do you see behind your subject? The location. Are we in the desert, the ocean, the mountains? Do we see a view of a whole city outside a window in the background or is there a white wall? If there is a white wall, has it been lit and shaded so there are some shadows that contribute to a pleasing atmosphere? Do you have the opportunity to place your subject in the setting of your choosing? It doesn’t take much nudging to ask the subject to sit on a park bench or stand in an atrium with plants in the background; perhaps on a sofa or at the kitchen table. The point is, the world is filled with interesting environments that will help bring your video to life.

Six - Lighting.
Make sure your subject’s face is lit correctly. Invest in a lighting kit with at least three lights: Key light, fill light and back light. Bring the sparkle to their eyes. Bring the image quality up to standard with the help of lights. Among many things, there are two large stand-out things that make a bad production: The lack of good lighting and bad sound. No one goes out to make a bad video, but, THEY DO. Usually it’s because of ignorance and lack of control of the medium. There is no excuse not to invest in good lighting.

Seven - Sound.
Hearing is our second most important sense when it comes to participating as an audience. Hollywood spends a huge amount of money making sure that the soundtracks are up to excellent standards on their productions. In video, sound is much more than just hearing or listening; it is comprehension. Bad sound means bad production and audience dissatisfaction. Especially when it comes to recording a speech, an interview or an on camera personality, sound is (almost) everything; Invest in a good lapel/lavaliere microphone, clipped at about one foot from the subjects mouth, either with a long cord connecting to your camera or recorder, or a radio lapel/lavaliere microphone that lets your subject roam. Sound, like lights, must help sparkle the production. Invest wisely.

Eight - Camera.
Cameras and technologies come and go, and next week you will probably find a better camera for the same price that you bought your latest camera for last week. It doesn’t matter; Buy the best you can afford. Or rent the best you can afford. You need a camera that is going to give you good image quality. It should have a good optical zoom lens (not electronic zoom) and you should be able to alter the aperture and sound inputs separately (plug in a separate microphone). Also, invest in a good tripod with a fluid head. Steady pictures with smooth pans and tilts will help keep your product looking professional. Aim for good composition, size of shot, look of subject, lighting of subject, background behind the subject and overall feeling and quality. The photography should be based on the story you are telling.

Nine - Editing.
Story, presentation, photography and sound. That’s it. Right? Well, no. Then comes your editing and that is a whole different story. Editing your footage and piecing together scenes and sequences that bind together into a succinct, and skillful story-line, that grabs, excites and entertains your audience, is the essence of film making. Editing is the art of reaching out to your audience through the manipulation of select and focused information, and, like a composer working at a symphony, the film maker is constantly molding, carving and building the shot footage, sound and other media to produce a clear uncomplicated yet nuanced idea. Yes, controlling and influencing a point of view, to lead the viewer on a journey to wherever you, as a film maker, want to lead them. More than any other aspect of film making, please read up on editing, study the editing of movies and TV programs you like.

Technically, editing depends on the computer and software you are comfortable with, and of course, your storytelling abilities. There are many software programs like Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere and these will help when it comes to creatively assembling your shots. So plan to shoot good pictures with lots of angles. And make sure your story is told completely.

Ten – Use of the medium.
The technicalities of producing a video are about creativity, art, photography, sound recording, lighting, environment, editing, music etc. The idea is to stimulate through the quality of the story, image, sound and use of the media. These, in turn, help manipulate feelings.

On You-Tube you can see some of the finest films ever made. You can also see most of the worst. With visual storytelling, you need to be better than the next guy. There is no way your production is going to look like ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ but that is what you are competing with in some people’s imaginations. You must be able to propel your message with good photography and good sound. Look at print advertising or fashion photography and see how one image tells the story. Many times the message comes from what you don’t see; through nuance, imagination and metaphor.

When it comes to producing a video, there is a lot to learn, but after the basics you can then study the arts, sciences, theatre and the business to produce good videos. You can become quite proficient with much practice. Like learning the piano: listen, read, try new things and practice, practice, practice.

Remember, producing a film or video is always about your audience and how you inspire or motivate them. Know the story you are going to tell, and tell it with quality, style and creativity.

It takes great skill to tell a compelling story in under 60 seconds. These five directors have mastered the format, using their talent, craft and imagination to provide us with some of the most innovative filmmaking out there today.
- Michel Apted

A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet.
- Orson Wells

Eighty percent of success is showing up.
- Woody Allen

Oct 16, 2009

Tea at the Empress

October 16/2009

Last weekend we wanted to create a lasting and fond memory for someone special in our lives, so we went to Victoria for tea.

There are certain places in the world that evoke nostalgia. For instance, when one hears the name of a certain hotel, the imagination is transported to a different time and era, and that folklore and fantasy is sometimes kept alive by the hotel that created it. A few years ago before I left on a trip to Singapore, my father planted a $20 dollar bill in my hand and said, “Have a Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel, on me.” Raffles is where the Singapore Sling cocktail was invented in 1915, and the hotel has catered to the daily ritual of tourists wishing to partake in the romance of the British colonial era, and the original drink at the Raffles Long Bar, ever since. In fact, hundreds taste the drink every week and many wander around the old hotel building and inner courtyard in awe of the place where writers like Noel Coward and Somerset Maughm wrote many of their stories and novels. Novels my father loved to read.

Tea service at the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia evokes a similar feeling and it’s just as popular. The idea of Tea at the Empress, conjures up old world charm, expensive opulence and train travel across a continent to a far away place. In truth, the Empress is just that sort of place where people journey from around the world to enjoy the experience of afternoon tea and being treated like Royalty. A simple idea lasting over a hundred years, were Royalty, world traveling celebrities and adventurers have congregated since it's inception.

Although much more expensive than a Singapore Sling at Raffles, Tea at the Empress is from the same era. But rather than just a drink, customers are treated to a complete tea service: A continuously filled pot of the special Empress blend tea served in the Empress China tea set that has been around since King George the Fifth, a three tier tray with small sandwiches of BC salmon, cucumber and other delicacies, traditional English scones with strawberry preserves and cream, and an array of little deserts, cakes, fruit tarts and treats of many shapes and tastes. What more could one ask than to be surrounded by the beautiful setting of the charming Victorian front lobby tea room, and a wonderful view of Victoria’s harbour? All this adds up to a magnificent culinary delight and an atmosphere of fond memories. And the extremely courteous servers usually deserve a large tip for the process.

The $20 dollars my father gave me for my drink at the Raffles bar, wouldn’t go very far at the Empress, yet, if you are in the vicinity and have the money, spend it on a memory that will last a lifetime. Memories are important and if you have the inclination or the passion to live with special moments, shared or alone, then Tea service at the Empress is a really good idea. Remember to make a reservation. And if you like it, go again.

“A Proper Tea is much nicer than a Very Nearly Tea, which is one you forget about afterwards.” - A.A. Milne

“Each cup of tea represents an imaginary voyage.”

- Catherine Douzel

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the

ceremony known as afternoon tea.”

- Henry James

Oct 10, 2009

What is a Hero?

October 10/2009

The word hero is thrown around so much. People get caught up in sports figures, actors, politicians and others as heros. But the best description of a hero came from an internet dictionary that described a hero as: “A man or a woman distinguished by exceptional courage, nobility of purpose and strength, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, and the will for self sacrifice for a greater good. So the hero is an ordinary person doing extra-ordinary things.” We all have it in us to do what is right. However, many of us do what is wrong.

There was a hero, an American hero. A man named Hugh Thompson. He died a couple of years ago. We could have brushed shoulders with him. He was a helicopter pilot – a captain of men in his charge.

It was a day like any other, but just different enough to make a real difference in the lives of so many. And it change the course of history.

Captain Thompson and his crew were flying a reconnaissance mission over a Vietnamese village when he heard gun fire below. He decided to investigate. As they landed they found a scene, so dreadful that it defied comprehension. American soldiers were firing on unarmed citizens. Women and children. Babies. Old men, old women. People were lying dead in ditches, fields and on roads. Some who weren’t dead were being systematically shot by a company Captain.

Thompson and his men entered the village and confronted a Lieutenant who was preparing to blow up a hut full of cowering and wounded Vietnamese. He ordered his own men to cover the company with their heavy machine guns and orders them to fire on any American who refused the orders to halt the systematic massacre. None of the officers dared disobey, yet Thompson was outranked by all the commissioned lieutenants. Thompson then ordered two other helicopters to ferry the wounded Vietnamese to hospital. Some children who were still alive were extracted from the bodies and taken with the rest of the Vietnamese to the hospital.

The village was called My Lai. It was a massacre of over 500 unarmed civilians including women, children, and the elderly.

Lt. William Calley had ordered his men to enter the village firing, and according to eyewitness reports, several old men were bayoneted, praying women and children were shot in the back of the head, and at least one girl was raped and then killed. Calley was said to have rounded up a group of the villagers, ordered them into a ditch, and mowed them down in a rain of machine gun fire.

There was a trial and one man, Lt. Calley was convicted. He testified that he was ordered by his Captain to kill everyone in the village. Until Captain Hugh Thompson and his men arrived on the scene, there was no one to stop them. They saved the lives of hundreds.

So was this man a hero? Some said no.

For years, the U.S. military tried to cover up the My Lai massacre, and Hugh Thompson was treated not as a hero, but as a traitor, an outcast, a turncoat, because he had dared to question his fellow GIs who said they were just following orders. Thompson got death threats.

When Thompson testified about the murders to Congress in 1970, his testimony was kept secret. He said they didn’t want the story out, and one of the senior Congressmen in the secret testimony said, “... if anybody goes to jail here today, it'll be that helicopter pilot.”

There is a huge difference between right and wrong and the cover up of corruption. It was the ability of these men, Thompson and his crew, to do the right thing, even at the risk of their personal safety, that guided these soldiers to do what they did. This story was enough to turn the tide of the Vietnam war. Within couple of years the war was over.

On March 16, 1998, Captain Thompson and his crew were invited to My Lai where they were recognized by the Vietnamese government for their valor. They were given letters and gifts and thanked by the survivors, and the people in the area.

They were invited for a feast by the people of My Lai and a lady at the table turned to Captain Thompson and asked, “Why didn't any of the ones who participated come?” Thompson didn’t know what to say, he was so ashamed. He asked her, “Why, would you want to see them?” "So we could forgive them." She said.

To me, someone who can forgive others for such atrocities, is also a hero.

"One can not always be a hero, but one can always be a human."

- Johnann Wolfgang von Goeth

"Show me a hero and I will write a tragedy."

F. Scot Fitzgerald

"That's what it takes to be a hero, a little gem of innocence inside you that makes you want to believe that there still exists a right and wrong, that decency will somehow triumph in the end."

- Lise Hand

Oct 4, 2009

Who are we?

October 4/2009

I ask just one question.

Who are we?

So, let me excite your mind.
There is no past - there is no future - there is only NOW. Now is less than a hundredth of a second, less than the blink of an eye and much less than a heart beat. And that is all we know. The past, even a fraction of a second ago, is assigned to history and lost forever. The future is in constant flow of arrival. Therefore, the future is totally liberated from the past and the past is totally liberated from the future. We live in the liner moment between. The moment we call, NOW.

With our automatic brains, we glide with the flow of time as if we never knew it was upon us, and we go on and on as if life goes on forever. Our future is so connected to our past in our minds, that we forget it’s arrival, only to morn it’s passing when we feel the loss of something. Yet, in that fraction of a second between past and future, life begins and life ends, and when we end, we have entered into another future we know not of. As William Shakespeare so eloquently said, “... that undiscovered country from whose borne no traveler returns, puzzles the will.” In that fateful moment of time, does the future still continue to unfold for us or do we cease to be? Forever? Puzzles the will indeed.

We are a consciousness of life; born in a fraction, living from moment to moment in a free flow of existence.

But sometimes it seems to be guided, as if planned. Why did we travel across half the world to meet someone who will be our friend for life? Were we destined to find each other out of the millions who roam this globe? Is there a greater guiding force, a greater consciousness? A planned destiny? We may think so, based on the belief of others, but have we really discovered this ourselves? We have the reasoning power to control our world and our thinking, so we have the means to figure it all out individually.

Out there, beyond our bodies, is nothing. Yet, we make meaning of everything. We impose our own meaning and values on all we see, hear, feel, decipher, by what we have learned in the past. Whether it’s right or wrong. For instance: A wooden chair. When initially asked, one person may see the wooden chair as the tallest tree that grew in the primeval forest. Another person may see the chair as being the art form and craftsmanship of a carpenter who spent days building the structure and carving the ornate patterns in the back of the chair. While another person may see the chair as a seat of power. This chair sits in the study of the President of the United States of America and it has been sat on by numerous presidents who have given the orders to go to war, fix the economy, signed into law many bills or conducted important meetings with international leaders.

We all have the capacity to think differently. Rational thought, reason and free will make us individual. These are functions of the brain we are given by the Universe (or, to some, our God), and it’s this individuality that make us different from all the other people we connect with. We all have unlimited potential and endless opportunities to change and grow, and what distinguishes us as human beings is our intellect, our curiosity, our emotion, our quest for something out there. Ambition and hunger drive us to find and pursue what ever goals we want to create for ourselves. Life is totally open for us to use our freedom. To create, us.

However, some will never know or understand that freedom. While some excel to greatness through individuality, others will never realize their true potential because they can’t escape their way of thinking and their surroundings. They will be stuck in ignorance and nurtured by their environment to become products of that environment. No matter what it contains. Good or evil. With a broad stereotype brush, we might say that poor neighborhoods breed crime and rich neighborhood breed philanthropists. But as we now know, we have the individual power to change all that.

The United States calls itself the land of the free, yet, are people really free? Most have been indoctrinated in culture, patriotism, society, politics, religion, family or some other thing that dictates how people: think, feel, do, be. We are all trapped in our own minds.
We must break free, to be free. Be ourselves. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see.” We must find that curious individual inside us. The individual that we really are. We must nurture our own way to think creatively within ourselves. And we must try to mold ourselves into the person we really want to be.

It’s not easy, but as soon as we “GET IT.” Get that we are really the masters of our own destiny, then there is an endless realm of possibilities and opportunities before us.
My question at the beginning was: Who are we?
My answer is: We are what we make of ourselves.
I leave you with this thought: Life, is getting actively involved in everything you do, and thinking your way to freedom is the best investment you could ever make in yourself.

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
- Friedrich Nietzsche

Whatever my individual desires were to be free, I was not alone. There were many others who felt the same way.
- Rosa Parks

It is only to the individual that a soul is given.
- Albert Einstein

Oct 3, 2009

Eternal Echoes (favorite books)

October 3/2009

I needed space and solace while chilling after a broken marriage in 2001. Ireland had been on my list of places to visit for many years, so off I went. But I soon found conversation. “Where are all the Americans?” This was a month after 9/11 and the Americans were just too frightened to travel.

As a tourist I saw some spectacular places: Dublin, the Ring of Kerry, the Dingle Penninsula, Cork and the Port of Cobh, where the Titanic last saw land before her ill fated Atlantic crossing in 1912. I kissed the Blarney Stone on top of Blarney castle and I found the long way to Tipperary. These were new experiences and very invigorating.

On one of my stops I met a lady from County Sligo in the north west. What a spectacular place that is. And there was one important thing she told me as we chatted over tea. “Read the book Eternal Echoes by John O’ Donohue,” she said. So the book became my traveling companion.

This book is from the soul. We all need soul food every now and again, and it spoke to me like no book had ever done. With prose written like exquisite poetry, John O’Donohue touched me with a true taste of spirituality. He explores our longingness of souls to belong in this cool world of ours. We need to seek the comfort of others. And as we do, we must find the self within. His thesis is very inspirational. It’s a wonderful read and a work of art that is almost biblical in it’s ability to motivate. The book speaks metaphorically, pragmatically and is grounded in common sense.

This book has a very special place on my book case and I’m looking forward to reading it again, and then sometime later, again.

Eternal Echoes: Celtic reflections on our Yearning to Belong. by John O’Donohue.

Last year, January 2008, John O’Donohue died suddenly in his sleep at the age of 52. What a loss for the world. He was a gifted philosopher and a Celtic mystic who left us such inspiring writings. I also have his other books “Beauty”, “Anam Cara” and his book of poetry “Conamara Blues.” I can recommend them all.

We all seek inspiration from the far corners of life. I traveled miles to discover John O’Donohue, then he was left at my feet for me to find his inspiration. Perhaps he can inspire you too.

“It is strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you alone. Behind your image, below your words, above your thoughts, the silence of another world waits. A world lives within you. No-one else can bring you news of this inner world.”
- John O’Donohue

“Everyone is an artist. Each person brings sound out of silence and coaxes the invisible to become visible.”
- John O’Donohue

“When one flower blooms, Spring awakens everywhere.”
- John O’Donohue

Oct 1, 2009

Blow Up (favorite films)

October 1/2009

As a teenager in the 1960’s, I had already made my mind up to be a photographer. However, there were a few influences that solidified the idea and made the prospect of a career in the trade legitimate for me.

I lived in England and the art world was in full flight. The climate to be an artist was very encouraging. Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister, had married a photographer, Anthony Armstrong-Jones. There was the glamour of the great fashion photographers of the day: David Bailey and David Hamilton, and the avant-guard photographers of Magnum International. I was also influenced by great movies like Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and of course the James Bond series. And locally in the northern English town of Blackpool, where we lived, the summer was ripe for a budding young photographer with the entertainment and tourism industries shouting from the sidelines.

Then came a movie that seemed to aim at me personally. “Blow Up,” with David Hemmings in the lead roll as a photographer. This film influenced me into becoming comfortable as a photographic artist, which in turn has given me a creative life of adventure. I hadn't seen this film for many years until I bought the DVD. It’s dated for today's audiences, yet for me, it still holds up as an icon of the era. I remembered it fondly.

The photographer is a dreamer, a curious individual who lives the busy life of a high-flier, photographic artist, much like the popular London photographers of the day. He treats his work as a part of everyday life, as with most artists, but he also has the arrogance of someone who is good at what he does, and knows it. So anything goes.

The film is very European in many ways (directed by Italian Director, Michaelangelo Antonioni) yet the film became, and added to the popular culture of London in the sixties. It was based on Julio Cortázar's short story, The Devil's Drool.

The art of photography is about imagination and make-believe, and so is the world of “Blow Up,” where nothing is exactly as it seems. It is all manufactured, an illusion, including the truth. Is it there? Yes. No it isn't, so lets make-believe it is, or lets make it happen. In this uncertain world, the photographer suddenly stumbles on a mystery, a murder, where he tries to uncover the elusive truth, but he becomes unraveled by the enigma of what truth is. To quote Wikipedia, "... it dealt with the challenging theme of the impossibility of objective standards and the ever-doubtable truth of memory."

People have been trying to find meaning in this film for years, but "Blow Up" is an ethereal romp where nothing is as it seems, much like the world of photography, entertainment, film making, news and politics. So, if in the end the meaning is meaningless, just enjoy the ride.

Wonderful performances by David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave.

As for my profession, it has been anything but meaninglessness. I have had the ride of my life: visiting more of the world than most people, meeting more individuals of diverse cultures and social standings and coming to terms with myself as I see others play the game. It is a wonderful world if you can see it through fresh, inquisitive and meaningful eyes. In the end, we all make our own meaning, and we, as the individuals that we are, have the power to create almost anything we want for our lives. Especially happiness.

"And do you accept the idea that there is no explanation?"

- Julio Cortázar

Photography deals exquisitely with appearances, but nothing is what it appears to be.

- Duane Michals

“When I die I want to go to Vogue.”

- David Bailey