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The Federal Building in Oakland.
October 17th, 1999

Opportunities For Mischief
I was sitting at a sidewalk table in a coffee bar near Lake Merritt this morning when I was approached by a thin older beat looking guy with long hair wearing a white Panama hat. He had a question about photography.

I've noticed a group of locals at this cafe who seem to congregate in the early mornings, an eclectic group I'm guessing from the local neighborhood, none of them immediately identifiable as to income or profession who have been coming here I suspect for years. Reminded me of a group of American expatriates I spent a couple of months drinking with in a San Miguel de Allende bar north of Mexico City in 1969. Older guys, odd off the wall backgrounds, some of them hounded out of the States during the McCarthy period. I assume these people would disavow any connection, but they give me the same hit, locals who drink coffee early Sunday mornings the way my San Miguel acquaintances drank gin in the afternoons discussing (what else?) art and life. And politics.

Although I arrived later than usual this morning around 9:00, there were still a couple of them there, one, a man with his college age daughter finishing the papers and a conversation about something to do with school and another, the older long haired skinny ex-hippie guy wearing the straw Panama who later asked me the question. He'd noticed the Nikon on the table.

Part of me went into a politically correct not quite condescending "shit, another (potential) crazy" Local Grand Avenue photograph CD. while another part of me said shape up, hear the guy out, nothing wrong with asking a question (particularly about photography). It was a question about filters. He'd been shooting a series of "spectacular" cloud formations every morning using both color film and a color digital camera with results that were uniformly bland and unusable. I mentioned polarizing filters and suggested he talk to someone at Gasser's (professional level camera shop) in the city as I thought there was a filter manufacturer (Tiffin) that made a particular filter that might solve his problem. So far, so good. He then showed me a CD he'd produced with a home made looking cover, a collection of photographs he'd taken of the local Grand Avenue Theater district, a project he said he'd been working on for some time in an attempt to get the neighborhood on film before it slid into the modern world. Blew me right off my chair, fat assed sitting there with my expensive camera and shitty disposition. This guy had the proper attitude.

Which has started me thinking. Every month or so I back up my entire web site, write it to a CD and put it on a shelf. My whole site totals maybe 20 megabytes and that's with some extraneous experimental stuff that shouldn't really be included. You could put a whole web ring on a single CD. About a buck and a half with jewel case. Archipelago as of December 31, 1999, for example. Might be a nice CD to have ten years from now if there is a ten years from now.

I haven't really thought in terms of publishing (listen to me, putting) something on a CD. Photographs are published in books. This site is my practice area, a way to think about things out loud and run some photographs, the term "snapshots" being, I think, quite accurate. Stuff taken during the day, experiments that may lead to something else, but who's keeping score? The only problem develops when I start to take my page seriously and hesitate posting words and pictures because I think they're too dorky. Dorky's useful. Honest. It's just, you know, one of the barriers you have to go through. (One good use is to say "it's a practice area" so I don't have to make uncomfortable comparisons between my page and the really superior graphics, writing and design being done in other journals, evolving and improving right before my eyes, and I don't have to get off my duff and strive to do better. I'm old, after all. I'm tired. I'm lazy.)

But what about this CD business? This passing Panama hat photographer, this documenter of the neighborhood has his CD on sale at the local book store (Walden Pond, a book store that reminds me why buying on line sucks in comparison) and at the Grand Lake Theater, although he admitted the theater, for some reason, doesn't promote it. He has his own historic neighborhood photography book, a sort of modern day folk art thingie in a swell plastic box, color cover included. Who cares if any of the copies are sold? That's pretty hot. I should have been wearing the hat so I could have doffed it to him.

The web page as metaphor for the magazine (you can publish your own magazine for $10 a month) and the CD as a metaphor for the book (you can publish your own book for $2 a copy if you opt for the more expensive color cover). I know the local bands are producing them. BAM (a local music magazine) has ads for CD production companies, 900 copies for $999, cases and cover included. I have a CD burner at the office. Maybe I need one at home.

I did buy his CD later. He's literally gone down each side of the street and production line photographed every building. They're OK, they're snapshots. Nobody would consider publishing them except in this limited format. A more interesting treatment might have been to put them into a series of html pages you could view with a browser like a, well, book. Still, format and skill are not the questions: it's a great idea. CD's are small, cheap and portable (you know, like a book) and you can shoot a project like this at essentially the cost of your time and film, which is to say no cost at all, since you're going to be spending time and shooting film anyway. I need to think about this. (Some of you may be wondering where I've been these last years, photo CD's are, after all, hardly a new phenomenon, but sometimes you have to put your hands on something and turn it over to see the opportunities for mischief.)

I gave Wuss less of the new wonder cat food this morning. He ate it all then threw it back up on the rug. Tomorrow I'll put out an even smaller portion. One way or another he's going to survive long enough to take another sonogram.

Later still. He's eaten more of it for dinner. Just the right amount, I think, to keep it down. Life is good, this weekend in October.

The banner photograph was taken in the federal building near the Oakland City Center. I was warned not to shoot pictures of the surveillance cameras. I bought a copy of the Grand Avenue photographs CD and scanned the cover. Funky, but the guy's heart is in exactly the right place.