Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Winter Landscape Lull

Well, January is ending almost as quickly as it began. It's interesting how time passes so fast when I'm not in school nearly as often as a normal school month. See, midterms came and went uneventfully - I wasn't really able to post anything here, upload anything to dA, or even really work on much photography stuff. But, oddly, it's not because I was studying like a fiend...if anything, the school vs. artistic leisure dynamic didn't even come into play and hasn't for awhile.

Midterm exams were actually a bit surreal. See, as a senior, I don't have to take final exams unless I get below a B (or B+ in honors courses) so, the way things are looking now, these midterms of a week or so ago were the last exams I will ever have to take as a student at this school. You could say I went out with a bang - got the results back Monday, and I was thrilled. This time last year, I wouldn't have anticipated the grades I ended up with. In years past, I've walked out of the exam room and instantly started wondering (often somewhat pessimistically) what I got wrong and how I ultimately did. Usually my reception of the grade was bittersweet...I've been a B and C student up til this year, and now that's all changed for the better. I left each exam this year totally indifferent, to say the least. This is, I suppose, a good segue into a little anecdote about my tumultuous freshman year...

For Christmas in 2006, I got a MacBook. I was thrilled. I'd been begging my parents for a laptop ever since 3rd grade, when a friend got one and wouldn't stop talking about it (in 2000, I suppose, a laptop was a big deal for a kid). My parents had the common sense to not get me a computer of my own at that age, and through middle school I had to use the family computer to do homework and play games, often staying after school to play internet games and such since we had dial-up at the time (:P). The first semester of my freshman year was marked with struggles against what I viewed as an overwhelming workload from teachers who tried to foster a love of learning while simultaneously making us work to the point of hating the subject. Now, that's definitely not the case, but I certainly had no love of writing proofs in Geometry or long compositions in Chinese (in pinyin no less). That was the Jimmy of the past, the awkward 14-year-old with too-short hair, undiagnosed ADHD, and an affinity for prog metal and Nightwish. But when I got that computer, I was finally able to pursue my flawed priority pastime of RuneScape, and with the addition of an AirPort router and DSL service to the house, I barely left my room and certainly barely got off my new computer. Needless to say, my midterm grades were awful because I did almost nothing but train my RuneScape character. Maybe I glanced at some notes the night before exams, but I honestly barely remember the midterms of my freshman year beyond the poor grades I got. In the eyes of my parents, I bombed them. In middle school, I'd been a straight-A student - but one without a computer, and so it wasn't too hard for my parents to blame my sub-par exam performance on the presence of a wireless-ready laptop in my life. In retrospect, they were right.

Fast-forward...In the weeks leading up to senior midterms, I played a ton of OpenArena (open-source Quake III Arena with a great multiplayer community) and if I do say so myself, got quite good at Capture-the-Flag, and even found the time to bolster my own fledgling clan. But I barely studied. In the past, I operated on the mentality that studying would only stress me out because I'd just keep finding stuff I didn't know, and ultimately freaking out because I clearly was going to fail, and didn't really know anything! Of course, that wasn't true, but it didn't stop me from doing the bare minimum in terms of exam review. Now, knowing what the real problem was, I can't 100% blame video games but can certainly blame the combination of video games and the untreated ADHD that no one knew I had.

Why share all this? Because it's oddly pertinent to the landscape of my life at the moment. My senior midterm grades were astounding, to say the least - "A"s across the board. In fact, I got 95s on all but two of them (didn't do as well on Chinese as I'd have liked, and I don't know exactly what I got on my Statistics project, but it was between A- and A). My Latin teacher, who also taught me in my beleaguered freshman and sophomore years, said that my sight translations (of Cicero) on the exam were the best she'd ever seen from me and indeed some of the most precise in the class. I didn't study a bit. I didn't tell her that, of course, but that doesn't matter...I mean, I did the readings and translations, knew what was going on in Cicero's life and political career, and by this time in my Latin career (this is my 6th year) I can translate anything because I know all the grammar and such...

The English exam essay was the only thing I really prepared for, truth be told. We were to bring in a paper with only quotes from two readings (classic compare-and-contrast-two-characters topic) and then write the essay with no outline. Naturally I thought about it beforehand, but only somewhat. Hamlet and Satan (as represented by Milton in Paradise Lost) to relate them? It wasn't that challenging but I'm a slow writer...I ended up with 25/25 on that section and 95 on the exam. Thrilling, to say the least.

That Psychology paper I may have been complaining about? The 8-page one? Highest grade in the class.

The Chinese exam was a doozy...took all of 210 minutes, and as I was a bit of a disappointment. Serves me right though. Has nothing to do with racking up mad frags in CTF's more my general ambivalence towards improving my writing ability. Given how I did on English and Latin, both of which required concise analytical writing in English, my Chinese exam grade does not reflect my "writing ability"...just my ability to write detailed and concise stuff in Chinese. I'm on it, don't worry. I'm gonna be fluent, just you watch.

Enough of that. Let's just games+freshman year = bad, and video games+senior year = just fine, thank you. My GPA is 1.1 higher than it was this time last year, and 1.5 higher than it was my freshman year. Progress? I think so. Hence the Dickinson acceptance. I'm going places.


Winter has always been my favorite season, and I can't really say why. Perhaps it's the weather or perhaps it's the large amount of free time it entails what with break and all. Indeed, I barely had to go to school during exam week (except for two hours on three days to actually take them :P) but still, I regret to say I haven't really done any shooting in a loooong time. In fact, the last time I used my camera for artsy stuff was last year!

This probably isn't a problem, though, since March will see the biggest and best exhibit I've yet done. The person in charge of the art gallery at my school's auditorium (the one I work at) has graciously granted me 28 days in March to make the gallery all my own. I'm going to plan out a definite 'scape for the place in the near future - I'm thinking 16x20 prints right when you walk in the door, and 12x18s down the walls on either side and on the back wall as well. The space lends itself well to being an art gallery, since it's an oblong and people going into the auditorium have to see all the art no matter what. And of course, we have assemblies in there so all the students will see my photos, and the musical (Damn Yankees) is in March as well - that means that people who wouldn't ordinarily be there will see my stuff as well. I'll definitely be selling the prints, but that's the least of my organizational concerns at the moment.

See, the way I've framed stuff in the past is a simple three-step process. 1. Buy a boatload of $3 "Ram" frames at IKEA (plain pine). 2. Order prints at Costco for $3 each, pick 'em up, cut them if necessary. 3. Put the prints in the frames, get the hardware in, and hang them up. Total cost: $6 per print. It sounds a bit ridiculous, I know, but then again, so does $15 per print at Ritz or somewhere where the quality is exactly the same...

This time, I'll likely either stain the frames or do mattes of my own design. This will probably take a bit more time, but that's what February is for. My ideas at this time are very preliminary. That's what I've got a blog for...expect more updates on the status of this exhibit.

For instance, I still don't know what to call it. "The Mind Dynamic" wasn't a flop, but it was kind of a silly name and (unbeknownst at the time) I picked a bad time to have it. The café is fully renovated (if you remember, that's why my stuff's not there at the moment and hasn't been for months) now and the owner said I can put stuff back up there, but I don't know when or if that's going to happen. I'm certainly not opposed to having photos in two places at once, but the school exhibit does take precedence.

And once I figure out a good name (suggestions welcome), I need to design a poster to advertise it! Ideally, that'll happen in a week, since February really ought to be devoted to getting my name out there and drawing people to my exhibit when it opens. I have commissioned the help of a really talented artist on this, but she can't do anything until I have a name down and of course it's down to me to figure out what I want on an advertisement poster. None of that Cochin font over an artificially grained semi-transparent photo of terraced Chinese farmland. (what was that all about anyway?) This is going to be cool - once I get my stuff together! :)

So that's that for for the usual plugs: I take commissions for photo-restorations; watch me on DeviantArt; fan me on Facebook.


Monday, 4 January 2010

Start off on the Right Foot

So, it's 2010 now. This year will see me off to college, my brother moving up to high school, and my youngest brother going into middle school (oh and my sister will be in fourth grade). This year will see me getting a car, a job, and hopefully an income from my hobbies of photography.

The reason I use the plural form of hobby above is one of the topics of this post. I could easily have written this before now (several weeks ago in fact) but I didn't want to spoil any surprises. Recently (at least within the past month) I have been doing photo-restoration work. My focus has been limited to my resources; thus, my field of expertise is currently old family photos, specifically black-and-white ones.

I would have mentioned this earlier, at least in more detail, were it not for the fact I was secretly working on restoring and enlarging some old photos as gifts for my father.

As I was cleaning out a room of my house one day, I came across a bunch of old, unframed photos (as well as a bunch in frames) of family members. There were some of my brother as a baby, some of me as a baby, but mostly old photos of my dad's side of the family, many of whom I never knew. His father, my paternal grandfather, died in the late 80s; his mother's health began deteriorating in the late 90s and she left us four years and one day ago. I never knew my grandfather, and barely knew my grandmother for the person she really was, and so I felt an obligation to find as many photos of them as I could and restore them to better-than-original quality.


My paternal grandfather served as a physician in the Navy during World War II, aboard a hospital ship in the Pacific. He treated everyone, regardless of their nationality, citing the Hippocratic Oath when people questioned his medical care of Japanese prisoners aboard the ship. From what I understand, it was the nature of his service that eventually ended his life, though I'm not honestly sure what he died of.


He was engaged to my grandmother pretty much right after the war ended, a fact I deduced from the date on the back of a photo - 1948, it said; the young couple on a motorboat somewhere on a nice day.

He was awarded a medal by the American Medical Association in 1966 for his good work.

And there was also a photo my dad had never even seen.


The photos you see above are the originals (not original size though). The AMA medal-dinner one is clearly in the worst condition, as it's nearly ripped in half and my scanner isn't really the best, so rips and tears come up almost amplified on-screen. Each image was scanned in at nearly-full-resolution as an uncompressed TIFF file to prevent any artificial (ie jpeg) distortion. The medal photo was also the largest, coming up as a 42MB raw file.

So I scanned in a bunch of old photos. Then I got to work.

Restoring photos is not easy stuff, especially when you're dealing with someone you've never seen before. Sometimes, for instance, I'd feel like the amount of work to preserve one detail simply wasn't worth it, but I knew that wouldn't fly. I zoomed to 750% and worked by 5-pixel segments on much of the photo, going up to a maximum of 20-pixel segments. I used a bunch of different stock Photoshop tools - healing brush, spot healer, burn/dodge, sharpen/blur, contrast and highlighting, and B/W filters. All in all, the following are my basic aims:

• Completely or nearly completely remove evidence of tears, scratches, and creases.
• Remove any splotches, blots, or discoloration.
• Enhance details that have been lost due to damage or were not originally defined.
• If necessary, restore color vivacity lost to fading or other damage.

The latter is quite easy with a black and white photo...just cmd-alt-shift-B, click Auto, and adjust some sliders til it looks natural.

Everything else is actually pretty difficult. The AMA photo, for instance, took six hours of work over three days to get the final, fully restored photograph I am now quite proud of.

I framed these three restored photos and gave them to him as gifts on Christmas. Needless to say, he was speechless.

It was difficult to explain my methods, but the satisfaction of getting the job done is nice enough.

This one still needs some work - it must have been in a frame at some point (none of these were when I found them) and so the color is a little off. It's more noticeable in the original, though, since you can barely tell it's in color anyway!


This said, I want to finally mix photography and income and begin taking commissions for photo-restorations like the ones above. I've not yet thought about what to charge (flat-rate, probably), nor do I have a website set up quite yet (that's my other new-year-thingy), but consider me officially me if you're interested and we'll go from there.

Meanwhile, I might as well put together an official-ish portfolio of my restoration work on my Facebook page. That'll be up in the near future as well.


I really haven't done much in the ways of new art recently. My creative juices were just not flowing over my two-week break that ended today; as of now I'm at school doing nothing (no class til 11) and cannot really think of anything to upload or anywhere I could go take photos...I think I may have taken some over break (of the snow) but they're not particularly exciting...certainly did a fair bit of documenting Christmas festivities (if you're my Facebook friend you already know that) but that's about it.


2010 will hopefully be all I want it to be. For now, though, I'll concentrate on the present now I'm done with the presents...