Pictures Worth a 1000 Blog Posts

Once again, it has been a long time since my last blog post. Honestly, I have noticed my desire to write has declined in proportion to an increasing passion for taking photos. That certainly says a lot! I tells me a picture is worth a 1,000 blog posts. I thought it was time I wrote a few words about my journey into photography.

Calm and quiet

Last year I purchased a mirrorless camera. I wanted to get better shots than what my iPhone (good as it was) could produce. Mostly, I wanted sharper close-ups (macro) of flowers. Since then, I simply have been unable to put down the camera! It didn’t take me long to realize I was hooked.

The funny thing is, I believe I really have improved as a photographer in a year’s time. Of course, that was what I had wanted. I took advantage of free and some low-cost tutorials about photography. I was exposed (forgive the pun) to the world of professional photography through Youtube, which was quite illuminating. I admit being in mid-life frames such new hobbies in ways that capture one’s imaginations (oh, stop the puns!).

With so many excellent photographers on the planet, it was not my expressed aim to join the ranks of professionals. While some good natured, loving people in my life have occasionally suggested I consider a career in photography, I have done enough research to realize (for now anyway) that it’s not a good idea. I’ve compared it to being an intermediate high school musician discerning if devoting one’s life to the field is justified. The jury is still out, and there’s plenty of time (God willing) to keep shooting.

Spring flowers (Chives)

But if a new career is not my primary goal, why do I spend so much time shooting? As I was on a recent “photo walk” (as I like to call them), it occurred to me there are a number of intrinsic motivations.

For starters, it’s a good excuse to get outside and walk. This is frankly one of the healthiest things I can do! Fresh air and an hour-long walk is good for the body and soul.

Moreover, I believe I am tapping into something profound. I’m becoming better at observing the world around me. I’m noticing light. Color (or colour if you prefer). Increasingly, I am becoming more aware of the stories without words unfolding before my eyes.

People watching in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

For instance, as the lazy days of summer are just teasing us this week, I like to notice what people are doing in the moments when they seemingly don’t have a care in the world. What are they thinking about? Is their life full of fun or pain? A stunning photograph that stands the test of time often reveals the soul of a person. Great photographers know a place or a person so well that they reveal their secrets.

I have a long way to go. But I find my motivation to learn and grow remain steady. I will not utterly dismiss pursuing photography as a means to supplement a living (or at least to pay for more gear). Yet even Ansel Adams was not able to rely exclusively on photography until very late in life.

Each of our lives unfold in interesting paths. God has granted me grace to learn a new craft. It actually makes sense to marry my old musician’s heart with my professional technologist’s head and fold it organically into photography. Like music, it takes a lot of practice. As a instrumental musician, I relied on notes, not words. Photography is the same. I may continue to blog here and there, but rest assured it will be with a camera strapped on!

Capturing a thoughtful glance from my wife.

Getting Real about “Fake News”

I started collecting newspapers in 1981. That was when the Iran hostage crisis just ended and as Ronald Reagan was about to take the oath of office. Even as a pre-teen back then, I had a sense that times were changing and that it was important to remember that event. Since then, I have periodically saved various newspapers for events that seemed significant at the time.

Growing up in Florida, it seemed our local newspaper catered more to tourists than printing real news. As a remedy, sometimes I would go to downtown Daytona Beach and walk over to a small shop right next to the old post office on Beach Street. I would pay $1.15 for a Chicago Tribune that was already a few days old (in the pre-Internet age). Back then, that was a lot of money for a paper. There was just something about reading a real newspaper. I actually remember creating my own newspaper with a manual typewriter. I used various stencils to create the title and then I would write up fake stories…oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself!

My late grandmother graciously gave me several old newspapers she had saved (apparently this runs in the family), which only further sparked my interest. One very significant one I still have is the inaugural launch of The Chicago Sun, December 4, 1941. The caption under the title reads “The New Morning Newspaper”:

If you can read the text of this photo I took of the front page, you can see the war in Europe kept the presses hot. Naturally, there is deep significance to this particular paper, coming just a few days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was a shock (to most people anyway) when Japan attacked and America was plunged into war. That kind of surprise does not happen often. When it does, for example on how presidential elections sometimes turn out, it often takes a lot of time to sort things out. There are often many casualties along the way.

A serious casualty recently has been the news itself. This is often referred to as “fake news”. I define fake news as essentially blatant, gross, and often repeated inaccuracies, reported and formatted as news, and consumed as news, for manipulative purposes. It is the talk of social media, and for good reason. Traditional news outlets were caught completely off guard when Trump won the electoral delegates and the White House. Along the way, many on social media posted a variety of dubious “articles” under the guise of news. Countless sites create layouts that look like a newspaper. The headlines grab the attention of the reader. The content seems to be supported by various “sources”. Yet something is dreadfully amiss: there is a fundamental degradation of reliable and trustworthy news. I see minimally three contributing factors:

  1. Trust. Many of us still actually trust “mainstream” sources, though there seems to be a steady erosion of that trust. I recently commented to a friend that when Walter Cronkite went on the air to announce the assassination of President Kennedy, this was the epitome of trust in a newscaster. His emotions were genuine. The nation choked up with him on live TV in the realization of a profound loss. He and other newscasters of that era were genuinely trustworthy. While I am not a historian, the 1960s was a dramatic turning point in our country. That same decade our country slipped into chaos and distrust. “I am not a crook” Nixon would boldly say exactly 10 years later. It is speculation to suggest Cronkite marked the high water mark of public trust in the news, but it would not be too far off the think so.
  2. Sources and Channels. Many of us who can recall such events can also recall there were but a small number of news outlets. For that matter, on our TV dial we had a total of 4 networks: ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS. That was it! While there were differences between them, it’s like asking what kind of chicken do you want? Fried? Baked? BBQ? It was still chicken! We all know with the Internet we cannot even count how many channels (figuratively speaking) there are. Moreover, the sheer number of sources from which news outlets compile news is astounding. Like modern grocery shopping, there are vast numbers of canned products with dubious authenticity and manipulative labeling.
  3. Frequency and Consumption. I grew up with a morning and evening paper. In Chicago, some papers ran multiple editions daily. While radio and television filled some of the day with news, even WBBM AM only broadcast all news starting in 1968. With growing appetites for news, more stations devoted more and more time to broadcasting news or adding talk. Again, with the Internet came more and more options for non-stop news. We have become hungry consumers of news, and there are vendors of all sorts of news for all sorts of appetites.

This is not an exhaustive list, but notice how easy it is to see how we have gotten where are are today: eroding trust, exploding sources, and endless (and instant) delivery has provided a climate where fake news can grow unabated. I certainly cannot see an end to this anytime soon. Our culture is obsessed with news, particularly when it feeds into one’s pre-defined viewpoints. Bias rules the day. All the old trusted sources have lost their claims of objectivity. In a democratic society that demands insider knowledge, we are at a precarious moment in our history.

I cannot say I have a ready answer. It is not like we can turn back the clock.

My advice is plain enough: if a news source regularly seems to say things with which you strongly agree (emotionally and intellectually), you might want to rethink your news sources. In other words, critical thinking is essential. Ask yourself, “what might be motivating a particular article or story?”. Is there an agenda that can be discerned? Maybe so. Perhaps all modern news sources have an agenda. Be mindful of that and consider how you might be an unwitting target for manipulation.

Read a variety of sources, comparing and contrasting their “facts” and also the emotional ramifications (as in, how do you feel after reading a certain article?). There are still times when most outlets will be on track and we can trust the report. I simply think we cannot afford blind trust of our news sources.

The only other alternative is to withdraw into hermit life or subversive countercultures. That’s a pathetic way to live in a democracy!