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More September: Family Stuff and Art and Photos

September 14-27, 2017
Written September 18+
Dear Diary and Friends and Family,

This is another of the whatever-happens diaries, created as much to "file pictures" as anything else.  And memories: "file pictures and memories".  Sometimes I feel these records are crutches for weak memory, other times I value them as indispensable supports.  In any event, there is no plan for this diary, just whatever shows up in the next ten days or so.  (By the way, more showed up than I would have planned!)

Fresno Weekend With Gabby, Ava, Sam, and Charlie (15th-17th)

This was a treat for Gigi and me, since we had just seen everyone down at their house, but it was a special treat for Mamo.  It was an instant transformation from the quiet home of a 90-something senior citizen to the active chaos brought on by two kids and a dog.  A wonderful transformation in both the place and in Mamo.

First order of business was hugs all around.  Then, there was the introduction of Charli to a new place and Mamo to a new "grand-dog".  It was a hit both ways.  Next, came gifts, for no other reason than "because".  Sam smiled at the whole jar of pennies he got from his great-grandmother.  (Ava got a bracelet and Gabby an evening purse.)

d170915_12_dinner.jpgFor dinner, we finally figured out the pizza problem.  In the past, we have tried both running out for pizza and delivery, but usually ended up with long waits and soggy dinner.  This time, we remembered Papa Murphy's u-bake-it approach.  I brought a couple of uncooked pizzas and Gigi did the at-home preps.  Twenty minutes later, food was on the table, just in time to keep Sam from "starving".

Properly fed, Ava and Sam now had plenty of energy, so they decided to go for an evening swim. The evening was not warm enough for me; they never seem to mind.  Good entertainment for all of us.

d170916_02_gigisam.jpgd170916_04_ava.jpgSaturday morning started with breakfast on Mamo's patio and then writing practice for Sam while Ava caught up on her reading. d170916_06_postpool.jpgThen it was more pool and pool-recovery time.   There is no doubt that times like this are what family memories are built from.  Nice.

Phase two for the day was over at our house.  After weeks of too-hot-to-be-outside, the weather was  perfect.  Marianne wheeled Mamo out to the small patio squeezed between an orange tree and the colorful art studio.  Ava and Sam enjoyed climbing and remembered that they had needed help the last time they tried to climb here.  They are getting old and big.  Too bad, in a way, but that's why I take so many pictures, so I can remember them young too.

Our neighbors had planned a gathering on the "Cambridge Commons", probably to celebrate the arrival of outside-friendly  temperatures. It was fun to join the circle with our whole crew and everyone from Charli to Mamo seemed to have a great time.  Thanks, neighbors.

After that excitement, it was time for our own backyard barbecue, after some quiet play time. Then after dinner, craft time, with Gigi leading a bead-stringing lesson. 

Well past everyone's bedtimes, Mamo and her visitors returned back home, tired after such a full day!

Marianne made it over to her mom's place in time to prepare the kids their special breakfast treat: Hungarian crepes.  When I arrived, we worked in yet a few more pictures.  One can never have too many.

Gabby had heard about a group called Compassion International and their traveling "Compassion Experience".    The "Experience" is an immersion display of stories of children whose lives were transformed by sponsorships organized by the Christian organization. We were all favorably impressed by the stories.  (I will admit to a bit of skepticism about polished pitches from religious organizations, but Compassion International seems as legit as any.)

From Compassion, it was back to Mamo's for goodbyes.  Watching Gabby's big, black, limo drive away is always a bit sad, but in the words (mistakenly) attributed to Dr. Seuss: "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened."
Nice weekend, and now we have returned to a quiet life.

Our week was indeed quiet.  Marianne and I returned to exercise and watching our eating.  We have to admit such discipline suffers when we travel or when we have visitors, but that's all part of why travel and visitors are fun!  Balance in all things.

History Panel Discussion

Our first planned event was a Thursday evening panel discussion at our neighboring Community College: "Erasing History" on the history, heritage, and removal of Confederate memorials.  Fresno CC professor Paul Gilmore organizes such panels for the college community and we heard about this one because two of our neighbors were to be panel members.

Each of three panel members started off with a 15- to 20-minute presentation, leading off with FCC's Dr. Michael Eissinger.  He presented the idea that memory is a social construct.  In other words, what we remember directly stems from who we are and what values and norms we hold.   He illustrated with his own history focus of the history of African Americans in the San Joaquin Valley.  We learned that African Americans came to the Valley starting in the 1880s and, over the years, formed over two-dozen towns and neighborhoods, many of which remain majority black today.  Blacks were recruited for California harvest even before the fields were tended by Mexican immigrants. Eissinger noted that locals, including historians, fail to remember that reality because the image of blacks working the San Joaquin fields, as they had done in Mississippi, conflicts with our social beliefs that somehow Californians would not oppress blacks as Southerners would.  There are no monuments to this part of history.

Next up were Cambridge neighbors Dr. Blain Roberts and Dr. Ethan Kytle,  both Fresno State University professors and  published experts on the currently contentious subject of Confederate memorials in the South.  Ethan started off with a quick overview of Confederate memorial erection.   He said that the movement was founded on the "Lost Cause" explanation of the Civil War. Such an explanation was needed in the South to justify why a war that killed 2% of Americans could have happened. Saying the war was started to preserve slavery was not politically acceptable, so defeated Southern  writers came up with  other rationales: States rights; preservation of southern culture; fight northern dominance, etc. In time, such explanations were used throughout the country in order to smooth over the war's societal wounds.  Dr. Kytle made very clear that the Lost Cause explanation was a lie.  Historians agree that the Civil War was started to preserve the institution of slavery.

In the 1890s-1920s, well after the war was over, as part of rolling back advances made during Reconstruction, there was a rise of southern white supremacy.   This movement was codified in the Jim Crowe laws, aided by the new Klu Klux Klan, and symbolized by erection of Confederate Memorials throughout the country, primarily in the South.   There was a resurgence of white supremacy in the 1950s and 60s, as a reaction to the Civil Rights Movement, such that at least 1,500 symbols of the Confederate were built, including monuments, schools, parks, and even 10 military bases.

Dr. Roberts presented the current situation with respect to Confederate symbols in America.  Fundamentally, there are four choices facing local and federal governments: do nothing; remove and destroy the symbols; add "contextualizing" explanations to each symbol; or move the symbols to dedicated places where such context could be noted.  Showing pictures of the tiki-torch parade in Charlottesville last month,  Blain noted that the white supremacist demonstrators knew better than most of us just what the Charlottesville monument to General Lee meant and why its removal was a threat to their reinvigorated-by-Trump movement.

Historians Kytle and Roberts seemed to be "professionally" favoring some sort of "contextualizing", either in-place or in a separate "monument graveyard". Not being a professional historian, I'd vote for removal, destruction, and recasting the metal into something more appropriate to what we want America to symbolize.  In any event, I would like to thank our local historians for the opportunity to think a bit.

Otherwise, the week was marked only by new photo gear for me (see below) and a visit to the Fresno Art Museum (FAM) for a Friday-evening reception.

We had joined the smallish Fresno Art Museum primarily because we thought we should support the local art scene and this reception was one of the benefits.  There was a good crowd, cheap drinks, and an assortment of snacks.  We recognized no one in the crowd, bought a glass each of the wine, and nibbled a few snacks.  Most of the art displayed had not changed since our first visit a year ago, so we moved on to the new displays.
d170922_02_names.jpgFirst, was a sampling of quilts from the NAMES Project, the project started 30 years ago in San Francisco to raise awareness of the then-exploding AIDS epidemic.  More than 49,000 panels have been created, each naming a victim of the deadly disease. Seeing just a few panels, instead of the acres-broad expanses often presented, made the story even more personal.

d170922_10_schulze.jpgIn the next gallery, quilts of a different nature were displayed.  These are the product of local artist Joan Schultze and provided inspiration both for artist Marianne for my own photos. 
                                       One model bowl for dozens of images.

Out in the museum patio, setting sunlight was mixing with industrial lights to illuminate "yard art".  The scene called out for iPhone pictures.  (Interestingly, the reception did not permit "photographic equipment", but specifically allowed phone photography.  Just yielding to the inevitable, I suppose.)

Another week done.  OK, even here in Fresno!

What's next?  A trip into the mountains  Stay tuned.

John and Marianne.

Postscript:  New Camera Practice - with nerdy details, in case you are curious (and for my own records)

I bought a new camera and lenses.  I admit, not exactly because I needed them, but because I wanted them.   The new Canon D6 Mark II continues my course of choosing cameras that are more capable than I am.  Plenty of room to grow.  The "full frame" design also required new lenses; a pair of serious (two-pound each) Tamrons (15-30 mm and 20-70mm, both f2.8). 

d170921_02_neighbors.jpgd170921_06_patio.jpgd170921_08_appetizer.jpgWith the equipment barely out of the box, I had to experiment with the Cambridge porch neighbors.  (Somewhat against their will, but most tolerate my take-pictures-all-the-time behavior.)  Back home, I tested on the patio with inanimate objects.  The very-wide-angle lens worked to get everything in the picture and in focus.  So far, so good.

More serious hands-on practice is also required when one buys new gear and I managed three sessions this weekend (23rd and 24th): downtown street; 1821 Art Gallery; backyard flowers.  Here are the shots and notes.

d170923a_02_fultonsign.jpgDowntown Fresno is not, generally, very photogenic.  A year ago, city fathers decided to improve things by returning the main street from an almost-always-empty walking mall, created in the sixties, into a drivable street.  Millions of dollars are being spent to undo a city planning decision.  Part of the new Fulton Street is now open and I tried it for my camera and lens testing.

I arrived early on Saturday morning, and the street was empty.  Good for photos, but not promising for revitalization.  The lens I was testing first was a very wide-angle one and the first shots were architecture.   Note that I can now counter "leaning back" of tall buildings by keeping the structure in the top half of the frame. I can also get wide, flat buildings in a single shot, without having to move far away.  (These capabilities will be even more useful when we return to the churches and castles of Europe!)

Shooting water is always fun and easy and the new Fulton Street had a few places to practice.  I was impressed with the ability of the wide-angle lens to keep both the nearby water and the more distant statue in focus.  In fact, focusing with the new camera and either lens was quick and accurate, a measure of the progress in the technology in just the last two years since my other camera was state-of-the-art.  Trying to get the flowing water in the fountain on the right to "smear" properly, reminded me that I now needed to get a bit more equipment in order to fit my filters onto the new lenses.  Always something.

These three pictures illustrate the effect of opening a lens wider in order to soften the background. The technical term for this feature of a lens is called "bokeh" and it is why photographers spend a lot of money for lenses that will open wide.  I like my new lenses and now I need to concentrate on getting the effect I want.

Finally, I spent some time with "The Visit" by Fresno artist Clement Renzi.  I was using the bronze statue to experiment with different camera settings and picture compositions.  The new gear was becoming more comfortable in my hands.  Nice.  I was also developing an appreciation for this particular piece and will now look around town for other Renzi work.

My new camera takes a lot of pixels, maybe two or three times as many as a modern iPhone.  Frankly, this level of detail is wasted on web pages where everything is simplified to fit the screen, but it does allow me to do my own cropping to focus in on a detail of the picture - provided my focus was clear in the first place.  This picture worked, but I will admit getting the focus right is hard for me.  Hopefully, the new gear will enable me to concentrate better.

d170923b_02_goin.jpgWe try to go to a fair number of art venues, galleries, museums, and such, so I needed to practice this kind of photography too. Bruce Kalkowski, the owner of the 1821 Gallery, encouraged me to wander around and after a quick session Friday, I returned with Marianne and her mom on Saturday.  A nice excursion for us all.

The first room of the gallery houses the exhibits that change, approximately monthly.  This month, bronze sculptures of the local artist R. G. Barnes are being featured.  Taking photos of such open and airy 3-D pieces was tricky - just right for picture practice.

Elsewhere in 1821, I found myself attracted to several three-dimensional works, both for the challenge of photographing them and for their inherent interest - to me, anyway.   I know the piece in the middle is by artist Tom Spears and is titled "Boundary Marker Tablet", but I failed on my note taking for the other two.  A lesson learned (again).

I did take note of the artist for the mixed media pieces in the first two pictures: Robert Weibel. Photographically, it was hard to have the light as it should have been perhaps, but this is just practice after all.  The four-figure piece in the pair of pictures on the right is titled "Family Callers" and the attribution card said "with the collaboration of Derek Weibel".  A brother?  A son?  (My photo test was to see the effect of focusing on the first or on the second figure.  Which do you prefer?)
d170923b_28_painted.jpgd170923b_29_r_weibel.jpg     d170923b_24_d_weibel1.jpgd170923b_25_d_weibel2.jpg

Even the empty workshops of the artist (Elaine Callahan (I think) in the middle and Daniel Von Gerpen on the left) were art settings worthy of photo practice.  Meanwhile, out in the hall, our family critic was evaluating this depiction of Central Valley farmland by Adam Longatti.  Seeing paintings of what can also be photography material adds to my awareness and wonder at the talent artist must have, although both photographers and painters both need to start with seeing what is before them.  Something to remember.

Our art photography practice was not quite finished.  We came back home since Marianne's mom needed her own tour of the very small Trotter gallery and workshop. (Wide angle lenses are mandatory for such small places!)

Flowers are always a fun photo subject for me.  They have a beauty all their own and, importantly, they are easy to find.  For this new camera test, I went no farther than our own back yard.  We are not even in any sort of peak flower season, but with my new camera and an old macro lens, I forced myself to look around.  It was worth it, as always.

My first target was a peach-colored rose, one of a very few we have after a scorching summer.  Photographically, this illustrated for me just how shallow the depth of field can be when the lens is opened (small "f stop").  The rose on the left, at f/5, is clear down to about the middle of the flower.  The close up on the right was shot at f/2.8 and is clear only along the edges of the top petals - a nice effect in this case.  (Marianne has asked for a print so she can try painting this one.)

Focus on small flowers is even more tricky, but these shots show me that not every part of a multi-bloom picture needs to be equally sharp.  Somehow, the eye goes to the sharpest point, even when it is off-center.  Something to remember.

Marigolds almost always have showy color, but I did not manage a thick enough depth-of-field to have enough of the flowers in focus.  I need to work on it.
Softness surrounding a focussed point can also be used to create an abstract pattern, as these two shots of leaves illustrates.   Done this way, leaves fit within the flower theme.


Our yard also features an iron blossom, a present from neighbors in Germany.  Because it is relatively large, I could experiment with varying the focal point and the depth-of-field. Now, if I could just do this with flowers that are only an inch or two across.


These are flower clusters that are about an inch across. I sought to have only a single element in focus, but viewed closely I can see that's not really true.  Something else to work on.  The almost-black background was a success, however.  A lesson to remember.
So, a quick morning in the garden and a day of looking at what was right and what not-so and I have more ideas for future flower safaris.  Fun.


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