Gesundheit! Catching & Spreading the Creativity Bug

 

My most recent newsletter opens up a discussion about how creativity is contagious. It leaps easily from one person to the next, generating a feedback loop, as well as flows over from one area of our lives to another.

Please read the letter, then respond here on this blog or via email, sharing similar experiences that you’ve had. Once creativity is part of a single aspect of your life does it infect everything else, inspiring you to try novel solutions, or to attempt something that you might not have previously considered possible? What circumstance or person has caused you to catch a particularly fervent case of the creativity bug?

Also in this newsletter are links to an essay about how my photography and writing inform each other, a video and other information about my American Hands portrait project, and an invitation to do guest blogs/essays on this website.

What Is It About the Human Hand? (a poem)

The following is a poem I wrote as part of my ongoing American Hands photo project, in which I am creating narrative portraits of folk who are keeping alive the traditional trades that built our country’s diverse culture.


What is it about the human hand?
Four fingers and an opposable thumb
That can grasp and release
Wield and yield.
But any ape can do that.

No, the human hand,
When it stands alone,
Is not uniquely human.
Only in the connection
Of the hand to the heart and mind
Can we transcend beyond our animal selves.

The hand might grasp and wield
But the mind gives it purpose,
Responding to need with invention and ingenuity.
Thought perceives a void and directs the hand
To fashion and make and change what is.
While the heart reaches for beauty and meaning,
Imbuing our creations with the what could be.
 
 

What Photography Has Taught Me About Writing… and Vice Versa

 

 

Behind the Veil by Sally Wiener Grotta
Behind the Veil by Sally Wiener Grotta

 

 

I am often asked what I mean when I say that my photography and writing inform each other. Photography, storytelling, and, yes, life… it’s all about what we see, how we convey it to others and whether we can make it meaningful.

When I look at the world through the lens of my camera, I see so much more. My field of vision might be more limited, but everything becomes more focused, limned with greater clarity of shadows and light. Life resolves into aesthetic patterns and colors, giving definition and meaning, and making the ordinary everyday more noteworthy and memorable.

It’s as though my lens has the magic ability to see through to the essentials of a moment or of a personality, to tell me story that I might have missed if it weren’t for my camera’s eye view.

I often think about my photography when I’m writing… visualizing what I want my readers to see, focusing my words as I would my camera lens. To go even further,Read More

I Am A Jew

The following is an essay I wrote for my old website a few years ago. In the wake of the horrific shooting at Pittsburgh’s L’Simcha Tree of Life one month ago — and the the current political atmosphere that has given permission for such hate to come out of hiding and act on it — I find this piece a poignant reflection of the innocence I was once privileged to feel. While the essay is about the Jewishness of my writing, it’s also a declaration of who I am, and reinforces my determination to not be cowed by the haters. And, yes, I still believe that most people are good and kind, and that we can find our way out of this current climate of hate and divisiveness — if we work together.


 

Lighting the Menorah by Daniel Grotta

As I wrote that title, I hesitated. While the statement “I am a Jew” has a proud heritage of defiance and strength, I can almost hear my grandmother warning me, “Be careful, sweetheart, what details you ask others to focus on about you.” But then, she came from a time when being Jewish was a double-edged sword that gave us the protection of belonging to a rich tradition and community, while separating us out for ostracization and exclusion from society as a whole. I’m lucky to not be living in the era of her youth.

Or am I being naïve and foolish? Given the ghettoizing of women writers which implies that somehow our work is not as significant as that of our male counterparts, am I taking a chance by saying that not only I am a woman, I am a Jew? Will I now be relegated to second, or even third-class status in the literary hierarchy? Will I now be considered only as a Jewish female writer? Was William Faulkner “merely” a Southern male writer? Or, Thoreau nothing more than a New Englander tree-hugger? Why is it necessary for me to publicly dismiss my roots, out of fear of having my art and writing less respected?

Being Jewish is Read More

Technology versus Art

A few years ago, Daniel and I were writing profiles of prominent professional photographers for Lexar Media’s Website SayCheese.com (which has since been discontinued). They were feature stories about the photographers’ philosophy, style and adventures, with some tips and tricks thrown in. The pieces were a delight to do because of the people we got to spend time with and watch at work.

At the time, I was at a trade show party (I think it was PhotoPlus in New York City), when someone said, “You absolutely must profile… [name withheld to avoid his embarrassment]” for SayChesse. I didn’t know the photographer being recommended, but he happened to be present at the party, just on the other side of the room. So I went over to him, introduced myself, and asked him what he shoots. His reply was an energized discourse about his camera equipment. When he finally took a breath, I smiled, told him how nice it was to meet him and walked away. Daniel and I never wrote a profile on him for SayCheese or any other publication.

What that photographer had lost sight of is that photography isn’t about the camera, it’s Read More

A Day at Adobe

As you can imagine I have lots of friends and business associates in Silicon Valley, but I haven’t been there for some time. So, realizing that the Worldcon of Science Fiction would be in San Jose, California I arranged to arrive a couple of days early to see folks.* Last Wednesday (the day before Worldcon), I walked the single block from my hotel to Adobe’s headquarters, where I had a series of interesting, enjoyable meetings and lunch with four different development teams.

I have been following, teaching, using, writing and consulting about Adobe products since Photoshop 1.0. It’s been fun watching how the whole category of software has blossomed and expanded, and how the culture has changed.  The advantages of longevity as a journalist and artist is that I know more about the evolution of Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Typekit and other related programs than many of Adobe’s own employees. Of course, I spin them into stories that they apparently enjoy hearing.

For this visit, I had meetings with product managers and PR reps for Adobe Lightroom, Typekit, Iilustrator, Spark, and XD. Here are a few of the highlights. Read More

I Can Do That! (Does Everyone Have the Creative Gene?)

Carol HIll sewing her quilt square by Sally Wiener Grotta“I just take hundreds of photos and then fix the best one in the computer,” the woman bragged.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard similar statements. But this particular occasion was during my gallery talk at one of my American Hands exhibit. The woman beamed with pride, identifying with my artistic endeavors and wanting to share something of her accomplishments with me.

One of my friends, a highly respected writer, has been known to answer these kinds of statements with the Infinite Monkey Theorem: “If an infinite number of monkeys bang on an infinite number of typewriters for an infinite number of years, eventually they’ll produce the complete works of Shakespeare. Does that make those chimps genius playwrights?”

I have a very different attitude about these accidental artists. I’m delighted when people explore their creativity, and identify with me as a photographer or writer. When someone is inspired by my presentations, pictures or stories, it makes the effort I put into them so very worthwhile. As I explain in my American Hands mission statementRead More

Bill Gates & the Digital Lady (Me)

Sally Wiener Grotta, photographer, by Lori RyanWay back in the day, when most people had never heard of or seen a digital camera, I was on assignment at Comdex (the big daddy of computer trade shows) in Atlanta. And, there, walking through the halls, surrounded by his entourage was Bill Gates. So, I went up to him and asked if I could take his picture without film.

He smiled and said, “That’s okay, I’ll wait until you load.”

Paul Allen who was with Bill leaned over to him and explained what I was holding in my hands (one of the very first Kodak DCS cameras — a 200). They both laughed, and I took my pictures of him. For the rest of the week, whenever Bill saw me, he called me “the Digital Lady.”

Sometime between then and now, he has obviously gotten more skittish about cameras. Here’s a story from our friend Dan Rosenbaum:

“Bill Gates was awarded a patent recently for a device that detects cameras near you and keeps them from taking a clear picture of you. Used to be that only The Shadow has the power to cloud men’s minds.” Please click to read Dan’s piece.

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.

When to Use Flash with a Point-and-Shoot Camera

fill_flash versus auto flash_comparison by Daniel GrottaThis past Sunday, when I spoke at the NY Times Travel Show, offering suggestions to travel photographers, I was very gratified at the positive response, and how many folks stayed after the panel, to ask me more questions and advice in the hallway outside the seminar room.

One of my tips was to use Force Flash when shooting outdoors with a point-and-shoot camera. (Force Flash is the lightning bolt icon without the A.)

The flash icon with the A, is for automatic, which means the camera won’t flash if it thinks there’s enough light in the overall scene. (Such as in the picture on the left.)

In the picture on the right, Daniel turned on Force Flash, which illuminated my face, giving it better color, while improving the overall dynamic range and vitality of the picture. The result also balanced for the blue sky as well as both the highlights and shadows in the snow.

Please feel free to leave your questions about photography here in the comments, or send them to me via email or on Facebook.