The monarch climbs

Butterfly Brain

If someone had told me a year ago that a year later I’d a) be living in North Carolina, and b) hanging out in my backyard tending to a garden, c) feeding peaches to deer, d) identifying more species of birds than I’ve ever known, I’d have laughed at you. Suffice it to say, I’ve embraced the change! Change is good. I don’t care much for comfort. It leads to predictability and that’s boring. And as boring goes, check this out. (I know I know, it’s a bit much but there’s no shame in my game.) We planted milkweed and it grew taller than me, something we were never successful at up in Boston for some reason. I’ve long wanted to attract monarch butterflies, and create an opportunity for new monarchs to hatch. Migrating monarch butterflies, after all, are in grave danger and that’s not good for our ecosystem. All that said, we had the great joy of watching caterpillars grow, gobble up our milkweeds, form their chrysalises, and then hatch into monarch butterflies. Sure, this is a grade school science experiment but the metamorphosis is truly a miracle of nature, and we were enthralled with it. Without further ado…

It started with a caterpillar, gobbling up our milkweeds, then there was a chrysalis, and then the monarch emerged, and took form, and climbed, and spread its wings, and flew. The whole process was 30 days, with the final stage (from hatching to flying) being nearly four hours. For all the photos see here on Flickr.

And a couple time lapse videos, from my YouTube page

 

(Photos taken with Canon EOS 5D Mark III with EF100mm L Macro IS USM lens. Time lapse made in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.)

 

Italy and Croatia Pictures

Ali and I spent two weeks bouncing around northern Italy and into Croatia. It was a hell of a time to say the least. But its a good thing that we got holiday insurance so we didn’t have to worry about our baggage getting lost or cancellations. I posted pictures up on flickr, you can find them here, but I wanted to also include my personal favorites on my blog. They’re below.

As a side note, we were most impressed with our AirBnB stay at Villa Migliorini, just outside Florence, my new favorite city. Our hosts, Stefano and Pamela, could not have been warmer, cooler, more hospitable people and the accommodations could not have been more interesting – a 14th century villa, a restored hayloft to be precise! Pics of Villa Migliorini’s haylof here.

 

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Project 365: As it Happens

If you’re following along with my Project 365, I’m including the pics below. I upload each picture every day when possible. Here’s an update on the project after my first month at it.

You can see the all photos of the project below. If you click on the pics they’ll open up in a lightbox and you can browse the gallery one at a time. These pics are all stored up on my flickr page in the Project 365 set.

I’m having a ton of fun and finding new ways of challenging myself and creating more interesting photos(I should say photos that I find interesting). Some are lame and mundane too, but hey, what can you take a picture of when you in bed with the flu? Don’t answer that.

[flickr-gallery mode=”photoset” photoset=”72157623117114636″ flickr size=”medium”]

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Project 365: Lessons Learned

I’m one month into Project 365, where I take a picture every single day this year. At the bottom of this post are the pics from all 31 pictures taken in January 2010. Most I like, some I hate, a few I love. But I’ve learned a few lessons learned thus far in Project 365, and here they are…

  1. Taking a picture every day is hard. No shocker there. It can lead to mundain photos of just daily life, things that are quite boring. And when I’m inconvenienced by something that takes my attention away from taking a photo, or keeping my eyes peeled for something photo worthy, I find myself struggling at the end of the day to take a photo and that usually leads to something really lame or boring. Lesson learned: No matter how hard it is, I must strive to take a photo either earlier in the day or if I can’t I must take a photo that is not as boring as convenience might lend.
  2. It’s hard to be creative when you’re not feelin’ it. Forcing creativity usually results in really lame pictures, forced. However, I do find myself spotting moments of humanity’s sadness in daily life, in the world around me, moments of humanity that I want to capture, someone pushing a shopping cart of cans up a hill, and I want to take a photo of that, but there are so many reasons why I don’t, mainly that it seems degrading to the subject. Lesson learned: Find something beautiful, no matter my own definition of beauty. What I think is beautiful could be something quite sad, quite cold, but yet beautiful. Like that stupid plastic bag dancing in the breeze in American Beauty. Sorry for the lame example, but it makes the point.
  3. The iPhone camera is simply not good enough for this project, not even close. I’ve been using the free Adobe Photoshop app to tweak the photos, but the original photo leaves much to be desired. Lesson learned: bring my point-and-shoot with me wherever I go, at the minimum. If I can, bring my Canon EOS 40D.
  4. I’ve been doing Project 365 with Ali and that helps a lot. Doing it together really helps each of us remember, and it’s a lot fun too. We’re experimenting a bit, and challenging each other and having a lot of fun. I’m helping her learn her Nikon D40 and learn more about digital photography, and doing this project together everyday helps both of learn from each other and inspire each other.
  5. Be spontaneous. I’m just getting the grasp on this now. Wednesday evening I got home from a doctor appointment around 8pm and there was a possum in my driveway. Most people would say “big deal.” But I immediately reached for the camera. Why? Well it’s a quick pic for my daily quota, but also it’s something different and unique – something I don’t experience every day. Taking pictures of my dog Elmer, while he’s cute and all that, is just kinda routine, expected. A possum in my driveway, a little different. Lesson: have a camera with me and be ready to take a picture of those moments that pass as quickly as the come. Be quick, be spontaneous, be confident.
  6. Raise the bar. Over the last few days of January I’ve been trying to take pictures that I’ve always wanted to take. A picture of a droplet, intervals of the moon (or sun), star trails. There are many more pictures I just want to take to cut notches in my belt, if you will, and to prove to myself that I can do it. It’s easier to take these kinds of photos that take a lot of time when, well, when I have the time. But the more I cut my teeth on these kinds of challenging pictures, the easier it becomes to take them. Key lesson here to just keep raising the bar for myself, don’t be afraid to take pictures I may think I’m not good enough for; I just may surprise myself.

So far what I’m really enjoying about this project is how it demands my attention and a commitment. I love that I must dedicate a little time every day to being creative, and taking a break from everything else. I love that the pictures also show me where I’ve been, or what was on my mind, or a mood I may been in, or a circumstance, the weather and seasons, or even a new idea I’m toying with. I’m using a variety of lenses, from my Canon EF-S 70-200 f/2.8 to my 60mm macro lens or 15mm Tokina fisheye. I’m using them to help guide me as much as I’m choosing them for certain subjects. That’s a cool record of daily life that I can look back on. Also, the pictures that I’m choosing for Project 365 each day are just one photo among many others. I am taking other photos of other things, or of the same subject. So I have a record of that in Adobe Lightroom too, and all tagged properly so I can look back at my library. Very cool indeed.

I’m looking forward to more! I think getting through the first month was the toughest, making it a habit and routine is the hardest part. Now it’s part of my daily routine.

OK, onto February!

[flickr-gallery mode=”tag” tags=”project365,january,2010″ tag_mode=”all”]

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Resolution: Project 365

(Click here or scroll to the bottom of this page to see the latest pictures from my Project 365)

One of my new years resolutions for 2010 is to have more fun. Some people might think this’s funny or imply that I already have a lot of fun, as I discovered yesterday! And if that’s the perception among some people, well, that’s fantastic! I’d rather have that be the perception than others.

One of the ways I’m going to have more fun is to focus more on the things I truly enjoy and am passionate, like music (listening and creating), photography (studying and creating), and other things like more outdoors activities and travel. For the sake of this post though, I’ll stick to photography.

For 2010 I’m going to try my absolute hardest to take at least one picture every day. That’s 365 pictures this year, at minimum. This is going to be a challenge because it’ll force me to be more aesthetically aware each day, but the ultimate goal is to make aesthetic awareness more engrained into my daily awareness. This is not some new concept that I whipped up, mind you. Check out what popular photo site Photojojo has to say about Project 365:

WHY DO IT?

Taking a photo a day is a big undertaking with big payoffs. Here are just a few reasons why you should consider doing it:

  • Imagine being able to look back at any day of your year and recall what you did, who you met, what you learned… (Often we find it hard to remember what we did just yesterday or even last night, let alone a whole year ago!)
  • Your year-long photo album will be an amazing way to document your travels and accomplishments, your haircuts and relationships. Time moves surprisingly fast.
  • Taking a photo a day will make you a better photographer. Using your camera every day will help you learn its limits. You will get better at composing your shots, you’ll start to care about lighting, and you’ll become more creative with your photography when you’re forced to come up with something new every single day.

I will use any imaging device that I have around me. In most cases that will be my iPhone 3GS because it’s with me 24 hours a day and there’s some nice iPhone apps for photography that I can use. I may also use my Canon SD750 point-and-shoot, and in some cases my Canon EOS 40D.

Yesterday, Jan 1, 2010 I took my first picture. Today, January 2nd, I’ve yet to take one and have no idea what it will be. This is the fun part, always being aesthetically aware and in my own personal way. All my pictures can be found here on Flickr under the set titled “365 in 2010.” I will also try to include a widget up here on this blog that shows my daily photos, and will also keep a blog entry on BenSarenPhotography.com showing the progress, as well as below…
 

Latest from Project 365

Click a pic to see it a bit larger. You can also see larger versions of them on my Project 365 Flickr set.

I’m trying to take pictures that capture the theme of the day, or a mood. So far, so good. What do you think?
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The Buddha: In His Own Words

img_0393This last weekend I had the pleasure of meeting Evan Brenner, the man behind The Buddha: In His Own Words. Evan describes his show as “The extraordinary life of the Buddha assembled from the original texts and performed as a one-man play.” And yeah, that about sums it up. What you can’t really gather, though, from the website, and even from the coverage of Evan’s show in the media, is the total passion and sincerity with which Evan’s performance embodies.

I, along with my wife Ali, were lucky enough to attend his Saturday night img_0443performance at the Boston Center for the Arts. I was supposed to photograph it but unfortunately because of the intimate setting of the venue the shutter and mirror sounds from my Canon EOS were just too loud for comfort. So, for a nice change, I was able to enjoy the show as a spectator and not just as a photog. But I still had to take the photos – so Evan was kind enough to invite me back during the week for a private performance. This way, I could be as curious with my camera as I desire and wander around the stage, which is exactly what I did last night.

Evan actually performed the entire second act of his one-man show for me, with lighting effects and all. Yet, because of time considerations, and probably because of the pure passion he has for what he’s immersed himself in for who-knows-how-long – he did this performance for me, in costume, and in hyperspeed! It was The Buddha: In His Own Words, Act II, on fast forward. It was very challenging! Evan was moving around the stage as fast as you’d expect a performer to move when doing their performance in double-time. He was zigging and zagging across the stage, taking his various positions. He was contorting his body in ways only a performer or yoga student would, as if to wake his body from a day’s long slumber to ready for the evening’s show. His hands more expressive than I remember them being at Saturday’s show. His facial expressions, eye movements, even his mouth, all exagerated for the sake of waking himself and, I think, giving me some some color to work with in my compositions.

img_0550So, that’s what I ended up with – Evan Brenner, as The Buddha, fully animated and, best of all, sincere and full of passion. You can’t help but get a sense from Evan that he’s not just a student of Buddhism, but also a bit of a teacher. The books on his stage most likely all read by him over the past twenty years. As a spectator viewing with my own eyes, and as a photographer viewing through the viewfinder, I believe Evan. I imagine that’s all that he, and any stage performer, can ask for.

You can see all the photographs here, on Flickr. Please open to full screen mode, using the button at the bottom left.

Bread & Puppet


www.flickr.com

It’s certainly not for everyone, but it has a certain appeal. I first went to the Bread & Puppet’s Domestic Resurrection Circus in Glover, VT in 1995, before I ever knew a thing about the theater and circus. These parties, held for 27 years, grew into a drug fueled spectacle of hippies, ravers, punks, you name it – thousands and thousands of people gathering on a couple farms for a weekend of music and partying. The thing that struck me most about these parties was that so many people of different colors, backgrounds, countries, tastes, could all gather together and get along. Strangers were no longer strangers. My experiences at Bread and Puppet were some of the best of my long and reckless youth.

My last year there was the last year. I woke up in the morning, August 8th, 1998, in my tent, hot and sweaty from the morning sun to my friend kicking my tent and demanding I wake up, which I did after hearing the words “someone was murdered.” That was enough to get me out of the tent. A mere 20 feet from our campsite on the farm were police and yellow tape, and a body bag ready to be carried away. Someone had died, violently, as rumor had it.

The sting of that experience has never left me – I’ll never forget the horror that crept up my spine that morning. A mere feet from me was a lifeless body – and that this person’s life ended at some point during the night – while perhaps no one even knew it. That amongst thousands of people, one person could be killed, and no one would notice, was a solitude I’d never considered before.

Here is a great history of Bread & Puppet’s Domestic Resurrection Circus.

A couple years ago I heard that Bread & Puppet was in town, here in Boston, at the Boston Center for the Arts, and my wife, who was also in attendance in 1998 (before we’d met) and I went to the show. We were blown away, by the depth of symbolism of the performance. The puppets brought me back over 10 years to the first time I saw similar ones, on the fields in Glover, VT.

Last week I volunteered to take photos of the Bread & Puppet performance at the BCA, and thoroughly enjoyed the chance to take part in B&P from a totally different perspective.

The times have changed, but in some ways, some things just remain the same.