This Is Me, Asking.

Sally Wiener Grotta, author of "Jo Joe"On June 4th, I appeared at the Jewish Book Council annual conference, to speak about my novel Jo Joe to an audience of book club leaders from around the country. (I’ll be uploading a video soon). It was an exciting opportunity, one that I prepared for over several months, writing and rewriting my short speech. Joyce Lit of the Jewish Book Council, who mentored me through the process, was a big help. But I balked when she suggested that I end my talk with “I’ve discovered over the years, that I write with a photographer’s eye and photograph narratively, seeking the details of a moment, the visual impact of a gesture, the humanity that captures our hearts and confounds our minds.”

“Isn’t that a turn-off?” I asked. “Ending my talk with an ‘I’ sentence?” Then, before she could answer, I added, “Is that a very ‘woman’ type question to ask?” She immediately understood the implied question: “Would a man hesitate Read More

Punching the Box

 

Man in a Box by Jan Stussy, 1977. Image courtesy of Calabri Gallery. Please click here to go to their site and see more more work by Jan Stussy.

All we know for certain of life are the beginning and the end. It’s very similar to the genesis of my stories. First comes a person, usually born in my mind with a name and little else. At that moment of birth, I typically know how the story begins and how it will end. Everything in between is a mystery to me, an adventure I embark on, until, usually years later, I can look back and see it all as a whole creation, a life lived on papers and screen, ready to share with others.

This parallel came to mind this morning, when I heard of yet another mother finding her son’s body after he had shot himself. What it is that can lead a young man to put a gun to his head and pull the trigger? He had Read More

Fear of Color

Butterfly by Sally Wiener GrottaLast week, Daniel and I went shopping for carpet. Our home and studio is an old Oddfellows Hall, and our stairs are industrial metal. For years, we’ve been promising ourselves that we would someday carpet them. Not because they are ugly – I think they’re interesting and fun – but because carpeted stairs would be gentler to our feet and a bit of cushioning should help to protect anyone who might slip and fall.

Last week, we thougt that “someday” might be approaching. So, we went shopping for just the right carpet.

Given that we have oriental rugs at the top and bottom of the stairs, I had in mind a deep burgundy, with variations in the dye that would be visually appealing, as well as hopefully camouflage the inevitable dust and dog/cat hairs.

What we found at the carpet store were scores of beige, tan, brown samples, with some scattering of greys. Of theRead More

Inviting My Fictional Characters to Tea

Self-portrait: Sally Wiener Grotta, storyteller“Welcome home, my dear friends. Please sit. Let’s catch up on what’s happened since you were last with me. Rishana and Judith , I’m sure you have a lot to share with each other, but please, not behind my back. Johanna , I suggest that you have a chat with Savah, she might be able to help you. Ryl and Joe, you know where the scones are; please bring them from the kitchen, while we await the others. Now, where were we?”

About a week ago, I was sitting in the glow of the Lag B’Omer bonfire, when Rabbi Peg Kershenbaum asked me what I was doing these days. A loaded question, to be sure, what with Read More

What Will Life Be Like 50 Years From Now?

 

The future Dr. Noel J. Wiener in 1924
The future Dr. Noel J. Wiener in 1924

 

My father is 97 years old. I often think about what he has seen as the world has changed around him. When he was a boy, running around Philadelphia in short pants and riding streetcars to family picnics in Fairmont Park, pushcart vendors provided daily necessities. Entertainment consisted of books, tossing a ball with your buddies, teasing the girls and lots of conversations. Dad now has an iPhone, Kindle, two computers and all the typical high tech devices you would expect in any early 21st century home. He texts and emails us several times a day, reads international newspapers online, devours books by the megabytes, and makes some great meals with the help of a microwave oven (and a more “traditional” electric stove).

I can only imagine what Dad’s parents or grandparents might think of the world we live in today.

If I am lucky (or unlucky, depending on your perspective), I could very possibly live another 50 years. Given how the pace of change continues to accelerate, will our world even be recognizable to me in 2063?

All this came to mind, as I Read More

3D Printing: The Current State of the Star Trek Replicator

As any Trekkie will explain, when Captain Jean-Luc Picard stands in front of a small hole in the Starship Enterprise’s wall and says, “Earl Grey, hot,” he is ordering his tea from a replicator. Within seconds, a glass and metal mug with steaming liquid appears, seemingly out of thin air. We have been taught to assume that the on-board computer has created the glass, metal and tea by reassembling molecules in just the right way to produce the requested refreshment.

Rewind from the 24th to the 21st century. Last week, at the 3D Printing Conference in New York City’s Javits Center, Daniel and I saw what is often described as the beginning of replicators. Primitive, true, but all technology has to start somewhere. Back in the 1980s, filmless cameras were overpriced and clunky, with lousy image quality. In fact, they weren’t even digital; instead, they were analog devices that required too much computer processing to turn into blurry snapshots. Now everyone has a digital camera in their pocket, as part of their “universal” communicator (i.e. smartphone).

3D printing has been around for a few years now, though it’s lived primarily in the realm of laboratories, industry and very well-financed engineering/design workshops. Essentially, it has Read More

Black & White: Are Social Networks Divided Along Racial Lines?

Black_and_White_on_Facebook A fellow author whom I respect said to me today, “Despite everything, whenever I imagine a character who hasn’t been fully described in a book, I see him or her as a Caucasian.”

That set me wondering. Is that a touch of racism that he’s admitting to? Or is it simply human nature, to imagine people as being like ourselves?

Then, he went even further. He asked me to look at my social networks, at the profile pictures associated with the thousands of “friends” and “likes” of my various pages and profiles.

I was surprised. Among my social network connections who have an actual photograph rather than an avatar or symbol for their profile pic, the vast majority are white or pale skinned. Not that it’s all vanilla, but the handful of Blacks, Asians and such were so sparse that they seemed to be the exceptions that defined a rule.

My friend’s explanation for it is that we have become more and more tribal as a culture and a country, that everyone tends Read More

For Savion

Madonna 1 by Sally Wiener GrottaThis afternoon, Daniel and I and our friend Jake went to Met Opera at the Movies, to see “Parsifal.” As we drove down I-81 to the Montage Mountain movie theater, I turned to Daniel and said, “We haven’t spoken to Sandra for a while. I need to call her tonight.”

I grew up with the New York Metropolitan Opera. I remember how my Dad used to listen to the weekly radio broadcast of Saturday matinees from the Met. He even wired the house, so he could continue to listen to the glorious music regardless of what room he happened to be in at any time. How I loved listening to those majestic voices, as they carried me to the heights and depths of some of the most stirring music ever created. While I didn’t understand the Italian or French or whatever language being sung, I was transported to storylands of my own making. In my mind’s eye, I pictured the beautiful princesses or peasant girls dancing joyously or seductively or solemnly, their cavaliers or boys next door fighting (and overpowering) the dark villains. I imagined happy endings, sealed with kisses. And what Read More

Why I Use a Medium Format Camera

I’ve often spoken about the optical qualities of medium format photography. But hearing about how the size of the individual pixels of my Pentax 645D provides greater dynamic range, or that the lenses are superior than DSLRs and other typical cameras doesn’t mean as much as seeing the difference. (*Please see NOTE at the end of this blog.)

Take, for instance, the photograph of Watson (“W. Dog Reading T. Wolfe”) that accompanied our guest blogging guidelines. In the zoomed in image of his eye, notice the quality of detail. Also, for those of you who know how to read such things, I’ve attached the histogram, so you can see the density of data. If you want to see more detail, click on the caption below the image, to see a larger zoomed-in view. (Remember, it’s only a low resolution screen capture, but it should give you an idea of the level of detail in the photograph.)

No, it isn’t only about having more megapixels, but how those pixels capture light, shadow, color and detail. Of course, it’s overkill if my only purpose were to post pictures on the Internet. But when I create my large exhibition prints (some as large as 40″ x 60″), I need that level of clarity and quality.


*NOTE: A medium format camera is significantly bigger and heavier than the largest of DSLR pro cameras. At its heart is a physically larger image sensor which means that each pixel is larger than those on the DSLRs of the same resolution. Those larger pixels are better able to capture more and better light and color. In addition, the lenses feature superior optics.

Spending Time with Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da VinciLeonardo da Vinci.

It’s a name that stands on its own, separate from all others. A magical name that evokes such strong reactions, especially among artists, writers and other creative thinkers. “He’s my hero” is a frequent refrain whenever I mention Leonardo.

Our friend Alfred Poor has a theory about why he is so fascinated by Leonardo da Vinci (as well as Benjamin Franklin). For him, they were men who “knew about everything there was to know in their world,” an incredible accomplishment in their times, but something that is no longer possible.

While Leonardo da Vinci is an important talisman and touchstone who is rarely far from my thoughts (or, at least, my subconscious), this past week I read two stories that brought him to the forefront.

The first was Michael Kammen’s review of “The Lost Battles” by Jonathan Jones for the Los Angeles Review of Books . The battles referred to in the title are paintings by Leonardo and Michelangelo. As the subtitle says, the book is about “the artistic duel that defined the renaissance.” Kammen’s review gave me just enough of a taste of the intrigues and personalities (and art history) involved in the competition between those two giants that I’m definitely planning on buying and reading “The Lost Battles.”

Then, I came across “Leonardo’s Notebook Digitized in All Its Befuddling Glory” in The Atlantic. What a great opportunity for scholars all around the globe. No longer will this collection of Leonardo’s notebooks be available to only a few who manage to get to the British Library and obtain permission, but to anyone with a computer and access. Given that Leonardo used reversed writing (readable only with a mirror) in his notebooks, I imagine that it will be that much easier to decipher digital copies that can be flipped with the click of a mouse button.

I wonder if Leonardo isn’t one of the most written about individuals in history, and that those two stories caught my eye this week, because I needed some time with him just now.
Spending time with Leonardo. I’m sure my friends will Read More