Imagine…

Image source: peoplechoice.com

We are approaching elections very soon, and I see many posts on Facebook regarding the ineffectiveness of voting. I understand the disheartening feeling of oppression, the lackluster ambivalence to a system that seems irreparable, even the hopelessness that ensues. I do understand and commiserate. However, I do not believe that justifies many Americans’ refusal to vote.

During the candidates’ announcement I began noticing a trend I had not seen in years, college students becoming passionate about having their voices heard. I read Facebook events of students carpooling to rallies and primaries, my heart leapt into my throat. I will even publicly admit I was a bit tearful. Why? What does it matter? We cannot change anything, can we?

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

~ Margaret Mead, Anthropologist

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Do you think Martin Luther King thought change was impossible, and if he did would have changed his course? I doubt it. What about the brave students who stood alongside him? What if they faltered? One thing unified these people, can you imagine what it was?

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Is your answer, they all wanted freedom from oppression? While freedom from many of the horrible laws and equality was definitely a major driving factor for what unified all of these people, it is not the exact answer that unifies them all.

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In this photo, we see a young man and woman holding up signs about their faith. Do you think it is religion? No, it would be  far too simple to toss it to the man upstairs whomever you believe that to be. Religion is not the answer to this query.

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They were all people of color, is that what you think? It is a ‘black’ versus ‘white’ issue, is it not? No it is not, as you can see people of all races stood together arm in arm.  Imagine that! Let’s move away from the Civil Rights Movement, and Dr. King for a moment.

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Let’s skip to the Vietnam War. Again, we see citizens participating in lawful civil disobedience. Yet, the people in the photo shown are discussing democracy, and their rights. Democracy is the answer, correct? Wrong again. Democracy is a dramatic clue to the unifying theme of all of these photos and movements, but it is only part of the equation.

Still not seeing it?

 

Let’s skip to more current times, something more relative. The Occupy Movement on Wall Street filled the financial district crying out for change.

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In these images we see a theme of inequality, injustice and poverty. When we look back to the Civil Rights Movement we can see similar themes.  Money. Finally, is that the right answer? Before you zone out, flip a table or two or run off to watch E!, I can assure you money is NOT the answer. It is a common theme in all of the protests presented, but not the one unifying factor. It is important to note that even during the Civil Rights Movement, people understood that voting with your ballot and your money is equally important. They fought for many of the same things we fight for today, and like us used their hard-earned cash to vote when they could not do so with a ballot.

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You begin to notice similarities when looking at these protestor’s signs. An eerie similarity to our current civil climate begins to take hold, does it not?

History repeats itself you think…

It does, and if it does you should take heart! The Civil Rights Movement was successful, and great change has happened. I look around and smile seeing people of many colors arm in arm.  Children of mixed-race abound throughout every city and municipality which makes me very proud. It should make us all proud.

I even smile and shake my head at those who disagree with diversity and celebrate hatred. I dislike their message, abhor it really, but that they can say it without being killed or harmed gives me solace.  History and my peace of mind or yours, still is not the answer to this looming question.

 

What is the answer that unifies all of these protests and protesters ?

I will give you a clue, look at this photo. Now, look at the sign and look closely. What does it say? ‘I am an American, also.’

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Powerful, is it not? He is an American!

Yes, that is the answer!

Now, you are grumbling thinking I read through all of this for the blatantly obvious? What a waste of my time! I could have been surfing the web, and I will never get that time back!

Yes, yes he’s an American- we get it!

Do you?

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How many times in a day do you associate yourself with those neat little census boxes? White- check, female- check. Or maybe African American – check, male- check.  How about for your insurance, social media or culinary choices? LGBT- check, looking for male- check, Vietnamese foodie- check, check, check.

Answer this question, the first thing that pops in your head.

What are you?  The most analytical mind starts with human, the obvious. Many of us start with gender what we were born as or relate to- either way it is usually where we begin. Most of us then digress to this-

‘I’m Irish-Italian on my mother’s side.’

‘My people were originally from Nigeria, but we have Choctaw heritage as well. Some may say I’m Chinese with some Korean blood. Still others relate to the French or German. Many the English and Scottish. ‘

Do you see the resounding failure here? Your HERITAGE is Irish, Scottish, Nigerian, Ukrainian, and so on.

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You are an American. Yes, it is that simple. It is the one thing that unites all of these brave women and men of all color and heritage. They were and all are Americans. Next time when someone asks you, where are you from or who you are simply say, “I’m an American”

Now let’s use this election year to make that statement something to be proud of, something to cherish and not something to hide. Say it proudly, regardless of your heritage, your skin shade, your religious preference, or the numbers in your account. Do not disparage, we can change the world, so let’s start at home- let’s start as Americans! Vote with pride, vote for change, vote for your choice, but vote!

Remember history does repeat itself, and the following people changed their country and the world:

Minister Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching at an event

 “One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”

~Martin Luther King, Jr.

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“We must become the change we wish to see in the world.”

~ Mahatma Ghandi

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“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

~Nelson Mandela

 

Are you going to put yourself in a box? I hope that as you contemplate what it means to be an American you do not simply think in boxes, stereotypes and census data.  I hope that instead of simply feeding the boxes you have been thrown into, you feed the one that means the most, for all of our futures- the ballot box.

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A Digital Darkroom: Interview with photographer Stephen Christopher

Photographer Stephen Christopher

A Digital Darkroom

A dark room filled with chemical bottles, clothes lines, and curing art was once the realm a photographer reveled in. Now, the photographer’s world is no longer rooted in the light-sensitive dark rooms of the past, but is found on the backlight LED screens of the Digital Age.

The modern age of technology has dramatically redesigned many jobs in our current economy, but none as dramatically as that of the photographer. The evolution of this fine art medium has not only changed how photography is captured, but who is capable of pursuing this field.

One photographer, Stephen Christopher was born within the time of traditional photography, but has watched the media evolve into the Digital Age art form it is today. Mr. Christopher first found his love for photography while growing up in his hometown of Southport, England. Inspired by his father and his favorite comics, Spider-man, Mr. Christopher was seldom found without a camera or tripod in tow. Even as a child, Mr. Christopher knew he wanted to pursue photography as his career, and soon began that journey at Southport College for the Arts in his hometown in early 2000.

Mr. Christopher grew up with traditional media often using 35 mm film and slides. During his first few years at college, digital photography was becoming more popular, but the prices of cameras made it a niche market. However, as time passed Mr. Christopher soon learned that he would be faced with one of the greatest conundrums of his career- potential unemployment.

Mr. Christopher soon learned with the rise in popularity of the digital camera especially the SLR series cameras that more and more people were taking up photography and fewer people were paying photographers for their shots. Photography has always been a profession in which photographers could become gainfully employed in various avenues of the field whether they worked with the news, portraits, high-fashion, weddings, or events.  Now professional grade cameras can be purchased for under one thousand dollars. Mr. Christopher remarks on how the digital technology and the digital camera has affected his career in our interview, “Photography is one of those professions that has changed more than most. It has been a blessing and a curse. On the negative side everybody now thinks they’re a photographer which consequently means less business for me. But most people know to leave occasions like weddings to the professionals because they don’t want to carry that kind of responsibility on their shoulders. Claude Adams said best when he remarked, ‘Having a camera makes you no more a photographer than having a hammer and some nails makes you a carpenter’” (Christopher 1).

Constantly competing for photography jobs is something that Mr. Christopher soon learned to accept as part of this era in his art form. Novice photography enthusiasts soon cut out the market for portraits, news photography, and even family photos. Many photographers from Mr. Christopher’s class who were not able to adapt to the evolution of photography soon found themselves working retail or other less desirable positions. Changes in social media, mobile phone photography, and other technology have made more photography jobs harder to come by. Many news stations began accepting amateur photos to avoid paying photographers, because amateurs would accept fame as payment enough. Mr. Christopher’s dreams of being a web-flinging photographer for the Daily Bugle began to dwindle with each new Nikon SLR that rolled off the shelf.

Mr. Christopher, like most employees who have been forced to evolve with technological adaptations to their positions, embraced the digital camera with some hesitation. While no longer being forced to purchase film or spend hours in a dark room developing photos that may or may not be acceptable to a client, Mr. Christopher still approached digital photography with some trepidation. Mr. Christopher like most photographers, harbored concerns about the low-resolution images the first cameras created and the high price tag the cameras carried.

However, once Mr. Christopher moved past some of the cons of the digital SLR he began to embrace some of the more positive aspects that both technology and the Internet provided his profession. “Computers and Image manipulation has drastically changed the way I work. Before, photographers had to know their cameras, films, shutter speeds and everything in between. There used to be no second chances in photography. If you screwed up the shutter-speeds or aperture settings the negative would probably be useless and you wouldn’t get paid. Now with digital cameras it’s all changed. You can fire test shots and visually inspect the image and histogram and alter the camera settings to get the shot right” (Christopher 1).

By embracing technology Mr. Christopher became a master of image manipulation and restoration something he may not have taken up without the technology readily available. Mr. Christopher is now not only able to offer specialized “green screen” backgrounds for clients he can also repair severely damaged photographs. It also doesn’t hurt that this roguishly handsome man uncannily resembles Johnny Depp.

Mr. Christopher is also enjoying creating visual effects and manipulation that before Photoshop, Lightroom, or Illustrator simply were not possible. For example, if a family photo was perfect except for someone closing their eyes or turning their head, images can be laid on top of one another in layers providing the perfect photo for clients.

Mr. Christopher soon found that his love for all things Photoshop was not the only way in which to incorporate the technological changes into his art form. The Internet and websites like Model Mayhem gave Mr. Christopher the means to find models willing to trade prints or digital copies of his work for free modeling sessions. Mr. Christopher could simply make an announcement or request for a particular model type and within hours or sometimes minutes work with an aspiring or professional model that suited the shoot he planned.

One such model and actress who worked with Mr. Christopher, Bianca Barnett, has also been affected by the changes in technology and computing. A veteran model Bianca is impressed by how easy it is working on a set which she touts makes her world so much easier, “I no longer have to wait for prints or a reshoot if there is something the photographer doesn’t like we simply do it again –right then and there. I love it! It helps me so much to be able to see exactly what I did wrong instead of waiting to go through proofs day after day” (Barnett 2).

Models and other artists of their ilk are professionals who have benefited greatly by technological advances in photography by being able to sign up on websites or even upload their own photos. Barnett says she has more work now then she did when she began modeling some years ago simply, because of the ease of access of finding shoots and photographers. Websites like Model Mayham, Suicide Girls, Modeling.com, Models.com and hundreds of other similar sites give models access to agencies, photographers, and showcasing opportunities. Barnett is plainly accepting and amorous about the way her field has changed in her eyes it is all for the better.

In contrasting opinion, Mr. Christopher’s mother Linda does not like the changes made to photography. Lisa believes that her son’s job has become even more difficult despite the information availability and instant proofing of his shots. Linda is simply used to traditional prints and film, not giving much credence to iPads or Flickr. Mr. Christopher often laughs when he tries to explain the differences to his mum, and seems to take her baulking with a grain of salt. He understands that she simply wants something tangible, because for her it seems less real if she can’t hold prints in her hands. Linda has been exceptionally ecstatic at all of the photos her son has in numerous papers and publications in England.

The marketplace for Mr. Christopher’s work soon expanded with the onset of photography sites like Flickr, Photobucket and a plethora of others. Instantly, Mr. Christopher could upload his work to potential customers and employers both with visual portfolios and keyword tags making his work easy to find. The ability to host his own images on his website also changed things dramatically for Mr. Christopher giving his work a platform that reached the entire world instead of only his local area.

 

Another platform that has enabled Mr. Christopher to recover from the lull in his career was the introduction to a website called Etsy.com. Etsy gives artists worldwide the ability to sell their art in a public forum to customers who may not have normally been able to find such art. A similar platform that grants funds from philanthropists across the net is KickStarter.com which Mr. Christopher uses to gain funding for various projects. KickStarter allows him to fund his artistic journey when photographing social or political issues that appeal to him. Once the project has been done, Mr. Christopher can even revert back to print form using services like Snapfish or Blurb, so that he can appease his most discerning critic- Linda.

 

And then there was social media. Facebook, YouTube,Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest, WordPress, and Google Plus flooded the Internet and suddenly everything changed for Stephen Christopher. Now with a few “likes” and “retweets” his business was booming like never before with the ability to simply share his images and ideas with the world.

In addition to most of his social media, Mr. Christopher also created tutorials on YouTube about his digital photography and reverted to his former love of the darkroom.   Sharing his experiences online about film, developing, and processing gave Mr. Christopher the best of both worlds – light and dark.

Whether Stephen Christopher is flipping through Flickr on his iPad trying to persuade his mom that pixels are better than ink, or networking with clients on Facebook his beautiful images will continue to dazzle the world. Unemployment for Stephen Christopher was simply not in the cards.