Last month I added four calendars to my Redbubble portfolio. Three of the four calendars involve space in that the source photography for the calendars is from space-based cameras. With respect to the images from space, image processing was performed on all the images in order to:
I hope you find these calendars attractive. If you’re in need of a present (Christmas or otherwise) for someone, I hope that you consider one of these calendars as being the perfect gift.
Strangely I haven’t assembled any calendars based on my digital art. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like I will have time to create any art-based calendars between now and Christmas. But then again … maybe I will find the time.
Yesterday I put together my Synthesizer Art and Photography Calendar for 2016. While I missed most of the Christmas shopping days, I did get it completed with several days to spare so that folks can receive it in time for Christmas. Who knows, you may be like me and wait until the last minute to do your Christmas present buying.
Now I did not set out to create a calendar for Christmas. As it happens, over the course of the last couple months I have made available on Redbubble a number of works of photography (and derivative art) that featured various views of synthesizers. The photographs were all taken at the Knobcon synthesizer convention (see my blog post Knobcon 4 and The Raiders Of The Lost Arp). Over the weekend I uploaded my 12th work of synthesizer art/photography and it was at that point that I asked myself the question "Would these 12 works make for a good calendar?" In reviewing the 12 I realized that they would make for a decent calendar. All I had to do was create the appropriate cover art.
And that’s how my Synthesizer Art and Photography Calendar 2016 came about. Please note that for today only, Monday December 14, Redbubble is offering a 20% discount on all purchases. To obtain the discount, use the code LASTCHANCE at checkout.
This weekend saw me and my camera haunting the halls of the Itasca Westin again. Last time it was because of Musecon – a convention for artists, musicians, and other creative types at which I was speaking. You can read my Musecon review for more. This time I was at the Westin to attend Knobcon, a convention dedicated to synthesizers. The Knobcon web site describes Knobcon as:
a one-of-a-kind synthesizer convention… complete with performances, workshops and vendors, Knobcon allows for a fully immersive experience. Attendees can get their hands on an incredible amount of equipment and talk directly with designers of some of today’s most innovative synthesizer products.
Although I have long been a fan of electronic music (Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, ELP, etc.), my interest has always been that of listener rather than user or producer. The convention was brought to my attention by a musician friend of mine who was coming in from out of town to attend. And why the name Knobcon you ask? I think the following picture makes the name obvious. Frankly, the last time I saw this many knobs was in the original NASA Mission Control room at Cape Canaveral.
Synthesizer Knobs at Knobcon
I spent quite a bit of time in the exhibit hall and rooms taking photographs of the wide variety of equipment on display. In addition to lots of knobs, there were cables, lots of cables. And all those blinking lights were particularly appealing to me. In addition to being a visual feast, it was quite an auditory experience as well – walking through a large room filled with synthesizers all doing their own thing.
Knobcon synthesizer exhibits
Most of the photographs I took made use of my macro lens. For the most part I kept the camera in full manual mode so that I could play with aperture and exposure time. Underexposing worked particularly well for those photographs where I wanted the center of attention to be the blinking lights. At some point I will make some of these photographs available on my web site Jim Plaxco Photography.
In addition to photography, I also used my smart phone as a digital recorder to record the cacophony of human and synth sounds I heard while walking the aisles of the main exhibit hall. My thought is to use these recordings as a sound track for some short YouTube videos that will be illustrated using some of the photographs I took at Knobcon.
While not in the exhibit hall, or one of the exhibit rooms, I was attending workshops. While many of these were not relevant to my professional interests, several were really quite interesting. One that kept my attention was The Wavewrights given by Marc Doty, identified as the king of YouTube synthesizer videos (check out Marc Doty’s Automatic Gainsay Channel on YouTube). His talk on the history of electronic music instruments, of which synthesizers are the dominant instrument, was wonderful. He talked about the relevance of inventors like Thomas Edison, Alexandar Graham Bell, and Lee de Forest. A few of the instruments he talked about include the telharmonium, the pianorad (invented by Hugo Gernsback of science fiction fame), the trautonium, the theremin, and (with the coolest name) the Warbo Formant Orgel.
Gene Stopp of Moog Music
Another of the workshops I attended was one featuring Gene Stopp whom I had earlier met at the Moog exhibit in the main hall. In addition to being the Moog Music Product Manager, Gene Stopp was the synth (synthesizer) tech for Keith Emerson during the heyday of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. For me, ELP has the distinction of being the only major rock group that I have seen perform in concert three times. While Gene was supposed to be answering questions about Moog Music and the recently released Moog Emerson Modular, many of the questions dealt with his involvement with Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Watch the following video to learn more about the Moog Emerson Modular.
Moog Music Inc: 50th Anniversary of the Moog Modular Synthesizer
Another program I attended was the live interview with Malcolm Cecil, who had been the keynote speaker at the Knobcon Banquet the previous evening. Malcolm Cecil is a Grammy-award winning record producer and co-creator of TONTO’s Expanding Head Band – which collaborated with numerous music acts including Weather Report, Billy Preston, Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, and many more.
Malcolm Cecil and the TONTO synthesizer
It was the TONTO synthesizer, built by Malcolm, that was their centerpiece. TONTO is an acronym for "The Original New Timbral Orchestra", which is now owned by the National Music Centre of Calgary, Canada. You can read more about the band and the TONTO synthesizer at TONTO’s Expanding Head Band on Wikipedia.
In closing, spending the weekend looking at and listening to synthesizers (and taking pictures of them) was a different sort of experience for me. And I’m grateful to my friend Fred for cluing me in on this convention.
Synthesizer exhibit at Knobcon
On the subject of music innovation, I’ll leave you with this quote from Edgard Varese: "Our musical alphabet must be enriched… we also need new instruments very badly… in my own works, I have always felt the need for new mediums of expression." What electronics have done for the art of music, so too has the computer done for the visual arts.
Modified Spirograph sample output from a modified Spirograph program
I spent this last weekend attending Musecon which was held at the Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca, IL. MuseCon is a three day convention for makers, artists, musicians, and other creatives that provides a wide range of creative programming. For my part, Musecon began Friday afternoon with the class I was teaching on how to use the Processing programming language to create a digital spirograph and a digital harmonograph (for more, see Creating Digital Spirographs and Harmonographs with Processing).
The class went quite well and I was surprised by the number of students I had since my class was in the first block of programming – which was Friday at 1:30pm. I can’t complain about the scheduling of the class since I was the one who selected that time slot. Getting my programming done at the very start of the convention meant that I had a worry-free weekend to attend the other programs that interested me without having to carry around the electronic baggage needed for the class. This is the third year that I’ve had the opportunity to participate as a presenter in Musecon’s programming lineup and it was nice having completed my part within the first hours of the convention. If you want to read about what I did last year, check out Generative Art plus Instagram and Pinterest at Musecon.
I spent the rest of the weekend attending programming and chatting with folks I only see maybe once or twice a year. With respect to the programming I attended, my top three favorite programs were:
God’s Mechanics: The Religious Life of Techies
Physical Properties of Meteorites
Photography: Champagne lighting on a grape juice budget
This year the convention had as Guest of Honor Brother Guy Consolmagno. In addition to having his PhD in Planetary Science and having authored a number of excellent books, Brother Guy recently won the Carl Sagan Medal and is now President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation.
Musecon Guest of Honor Brother Guy Consolmagno talking about Meteorites
My second favorite program was also a presentation by Brother Guy. Physical Properties of Meteorites was an interesting look at the history of meteorites in terms of human understanding of how the solar system works. Brother Guy also discussed some of his own research and its relevance to the larger field of study. Once upon a time my interest in meteorites was keener than it is today – particular since I served as an officer and director of the Planetary Studies Foundation, which at the time had one of the top meteorite collections in the world. The overwhelming bulk of that collection had been received as a donation from the DuPont family. It was in those years that I once had the opportunity to be on a panel about meteorites with Brother Guy at a science fiction convention – though I no longer recall which one it was.
Lastly my third favorite program of the weekend was Photography: Champagne lighting on a grape juice budget which was led by Richard France, Ken Beach, Bruce Medic – all of whom are really excellent photographers whose work I admire. The theme of their program was about taking a DIY (do it yourself) approach to coming up with alternative lighting and equipment solutions. Think in terms of retasking old items or using as substitutes items that could be purchased from your local hardware store.
In closing, Musecon 2015 was a totally enjoyable weekend and one I look forward to repeating in 2016.
Monday night I attended a meeting of the Schaumburg Area Photographic Society with a photographer friend of mine. My renewed interest in photography is a consequence of my decision late last year to launch a photography web site – Jim Plaxco Photography – which went live December 12 2014. Over the years I have amassed quite a large collection of photographs and at long last I summoned up the energy to curate my collection and begin to make a small fraction of it available online.
As it turns out the meeting we attended was one of the club’s regular competition nights where photographs are judged and honors awarded. Judging was done by a panel of three judges. Judges are typically members of another camera club or of the PSA (Photographic Society of America). The photographs being judged were those submitted by club members (you must be a member to participate in the competitions). The three categories of images were DPI (digitally projected images), small prints (11×14), and large prints (16×20). The special theme for the DPI images was "Water".
The judging of the photographs lasted for just over two hours. Once judging began I quickly picked up the habit of scoring the photographs myself and comparing my own scoring with that of the judges. With few exceptions the scores I gave each photograph fell within the range of scores awarded by the judges. In scoring I tried as much as possible to be subject-neutral. In other words I treated a photograph of, for example, a pretty girl the same as I treated a photograph of a park bench.
For my part, the factors that guided my scoring were composition, color, and contrast. Note that while color and contrast or value are typically thought of as being elements of composition, I address these components separately. For composition, I was making an aesthetic judgment on factors like cropping/framing, balance/weight of the shapes, spatial relationships, and line. For color, I was looking at color saturation, balance, and the interplay of color and central subject. For example in a few images the color saturation had been pumped up too much for my tastes. For contrast, I was looking at the dynamic range of brightness in the photograph and whether it enhanced or detracted from the subject. The important thing to remember is that there is no one right answer to the question of composition, color, and contrast. A particular combination that works brilliantly for one photograph can fail miserably for another. In summary the experience was a good exercise in looking critically at imagery and was time well spent.
The Schaumburg Area Photographic Society meets September through May on the second and fourth Mondays at the Schaumburg Community Recreation Center (CRC). The next meeting is February 9, 2015 and will feature a presentation by club member Bob Benson on Optimizing Images which will cover using Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Elements to enhance digital photographs.
To illustrate this post I used is a highly cropped version of my abstract photograph Neon Waves. This photograph was make using a combination of long exposure and camera motion. The truth is that it took quite a few attempts with different settings and motion on my part before I achieved the effect I was trying for. And yes, this is a single exposure image.
On Dec 12, 2014 my Jim Plaxco Photography web site officially went live. I have amassed quite an archive of photography over the years but never sought to profit from it. Visually my primary interest was in digital art and the creation of a variety of painting programs and generative art programs.
Prior to this my photography fulfilled three purposes. The first was documentary in nature: taking photographs of places I had visited, sights I had seen, and events I had been involved in. This is the purpose that most people pursue when engaged in photography.
My second purpose was to capture scenes for either artistic inspiration or to use as an image source for my digital art. One example of the latter is Digital Self Portrait which is an algorithmic self-portrait created by taking a photograph of myself and using that image as input into a generative art program that I had written.
My third purpose was to experiment with the creation of abstract photographs. This was the only truly "in-camera" experimental photographic work I performed. It was a quest to see what sort of unique imagery I could create by manipulating the factors of time, zoom, focus, motion, and lighting. Many of these experiments in abstract phtography were an aesthetic flop – but enough of them were successful to keep me going.
So what brought about this sudden decision to market my photography? As with many things it began slowly. I had created an Instagram account out of curiosity as to how the platform functioned. I took several photos and left it at that. It then occurred to me that I could use Instagram as an alternative marketing venue for my art. I deleted most of the photographs I had taken and began uploading my artwork.
About the same time as I had decided to start using Instagram to market my art, I discovered Twenty20 (formerly InstaCanvas) – a service for printing your Instagram photographs. So I set up a gallery on Twenty20. I wound up making available a mixture of art and photography. However I pulled most all of my work off the site when, earlier this year, they decided to offer digital downloads of all art and photography. Unfortunately Twenty20 adopted an all or nothing approach leaving artists and photographers with no ability to specify which of their works should be available for download. Not only did I remove most of my work but I have not uploaded any new art or photography since that time. In defence of Twenty20, they do offer excellent commissions on the digital downloads – better than several of the stock photography web sites I checked.
The combination of having used Instagram and Twenty20 to market my photography led me to create my own photography web site. While I could have gone with one of the many portfolio hosting services or stock photography sites, I opted for my own site on my own domain as I prefer the degree of control that provides me with. Conveniently, some years ago I had purchased the domain name jimplaxco.com but had not done anything with it. It seemed logical to use that domain as the home for my photography. I then spent the month of November and the start of December building the site and populating it with an initial set of photographs.
I completed work on the site last week and as a part of the rollout I’m offering a 20 percent discount on all available photography products. The coupon code to use during checkout is 508BD0, which will expire at the end of this year. So please visit Jim Plaxco Photography and let me know what you think.