Unearthing your Talents

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Today’s Gospel contains the “Parable of the Talents” in which Jesus taught that we are all given gifts (time, treasure and talent) and have the opportunity to invest, to make wise choices, to use them for the greater glory of God.  Unfortunately, some of us for whatever reason bury them into the ground where they sit idly and unused.  For others of us, we find good reason to unearth our talents.  Marguerite was one such person.

Living in Montreal in the 1700s, she and her husband were people of good fortune, high society.  They lived in wealth and comfort.  Marguerite gave birth to five children and when the sixth was on the way, her husband fell ill and died when she was just 29 years old.  When they learned of his death, various men called upon her to repay his gambling and business debts which left her without nearly any money at all.  At that point, she became well acquainted with the side of Montreal she hadn’t previously known – the life of the poor, the sick, the forgotten.  And she took great pity upon them.

She noticed that the General Hospital of Montreal had fallen into a grave state of disrepair.  She also noticed that the poor were unable to receive care there.  So, working with government, business owners and the Church, she raised the money to improve the hospital and eventually she and a society of women she had founded were asked to take over its operation.  She agreed… but on the one condition that anyone, anyone, who needed care could receive it there even if they did not have the means to pay for it.

The hospital was destroyed by fire when Marguerite was 65 years old and it is reported that she knelt down in the ruble and prayed to God, asking that if he wanted her to rebuild it, she would.  And she prayed for his help.

Rebuild the hospital she did and she and her companions, who would become known as the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, eventually built hospitals all across Canada and the Unites States, in South America and in Africa as well.  Like the General Hospital of Montreal, Marguerite rose up out of the ashes of her life and served.  She put her talents to good use…

But what about us?  I don’t think I have it in me to start an order of religious, to build hospitals on three continents, to serve millions upon millions of people.  What can I do?

I heard recently that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, said that he enjoys watching parents interact with their young children.  They reach down, enter their space in a way the children can comprehend… in words and gestures.  This is tenderness.  And it is the same tenderness that God himself showed when he entered into our space in a way we can comprehend, in the form of Jesus.  This too was done in tenderness.

The Holy Father goes on to say that we can change the world if we band together in unity, in what he refers to as a Revolution of Tenderness.  It is this lack of tenderness to each other that troubles him most.

We should show tenderness to each other… to those we care about, admire and who treat us with respect.  And to those who do not, to those with whom we disagree, who do not show us respect.  Let’s lead with love, with tenderness.  We can do that.  You and I.  Let’s join the Revolution.  Then, like Saint Marguerite, we too can unearth our talents… and change the world.

Charlene III

The pale yellow liquid shimmered under the flickering light from the fluorescent desk bulb.  The Doctor’s hand passed through that light and toward him.  “Marcellus, you have done well.  Now, your compensation.”

The fragile recipient of the vial looked toward the the Doctor, but away from his eyes for he knew better, and simply said: “Thank you lord.  Thank you.”  He grasped the bottle, tightly.  Then placed it into his pocket for safe keeping.

Adorned in a high Elvis collar cropped from the top of a dark black jersey, the man called Doctor studied Marcellus’ eyes, then inquired: “Too early to talk about the next one?”

Marcellus felt his heart sink deeply into his stomach.  The next one… the next one?  Of course it was too soon.  This last one had been different.  He cared about this one.  And completely.  She was so willing, so filled with desire.  It’s always the same with them: a lifetime of longing, of wanting, of wishing it might just be… just this once.  And then Marcellus arrives, steps in as the final glint of hope begins to flicker out.  If he were to write about it, he would have included a white horse and blinding burst of light trailing his entrance.

“Too soon lord?  Of course not.  I am here.”

The Doctor assessed.  Could he be trusted?  Or was the last his final time?  He knew that this one had been different.  That he had broken the one single rule of this game.  He could not ever, under any circumstance, care.  Caring was to be the final chapter.

“Marcellus… I had grown so accustomed to your last name.  So much so that I might like to use it once again.  Do tell me though, all about her.  Tell me about your… love… for her?”

Marcellus understood what was happening.  No, this can’t be.  “Lord, there was no love for her.  I was merely doing as asked.  Doing my job.  And you see, I have done it well.  I convinced her.  You see, this is my mastery.  I am good at this job.”  And then he looked up slowly…

… and into the Doctor’s eyes.  “She was just a job to me.  Only a job.  I’m ready for the next one.”

The Doctor pondered.  Considered.  Marcellus was the best at this game.  The best he had known.  But perhaps it had run its course.  As was always custom.

The Doctor spoke: “Marcellus… you have served me well.  Instruct them to give you the next name.  Continue.”

“Thank you lord, thank you.”

But then the Doctor warned: “If you see her, if you go back to her, if you tell her… then you understand what that means, Damien?”

“I understand.”

“Silly girl.  Falling and spilling the money for the beggars to take.  Pathetic.”

Damien walked slowly away and toward the door, murmuring under his breath, “Pathetic… pathetic…”

Charlene II

A cascade of noise assailed her the moment the elevator doors slide open. Charlene lifted her right hand, shielding her eyes from the dazzling lights that were blinding her. Before Charlene stretched a hallway with a lofted ceiling and lined with black marble tables strewn with bottles of assorted alcoholic beverages. At the end of it loomed a massive two-story ballroom filled with people chanting and clapping. As her ears began to adjust to the deluge of sounds around her, Charlene could pick up the faint trace of a monotone voice emitting from speakers set high up on the walls. “Your pain is at an end, my friends. Come and be cured.”

Cautiously she stepped forward, squeezing her white leather purse as tight as she could. “How had it come to this,” she thought to herself. With each step, the voice got louder and louder. Charlene turned to her left and saw a man clutching his chest, crying out for help. “I thought I had enough,” he exclaimed, “Please someone help me. I thought I had enough to pay the doctor!” An empty bottle lay by his side and he stank of alcohol.

Charlene’s stomach dropped. She looked about her and saw dozens of men and women calling out in a similar manner. A shiver ran down her neck. “Do we have enough,” she muttered under her breath, hoping she wouldn’t be turned away like those she now walked past. She began to recite her prepared script. “Thank you for your time, Doctor. Damien would like to express his gratitude for your willingness to accept our business on such short notice, and with such limited supply.” She progressed down the hallway, desperately trying to calm her nerves. She thought of Damien’s smile, his gentle way of speaking to her, his confident demeanor. She knew that his life hinged on the outcome of her encounter with the one they called the Doctor. Charlene continued forward, her love for Damien propelling her onward.

Suddenly she stumbled, the heel of her Burberry shoe snapped off and went whizzing across the floor. She instinctively reached for the arm of the closest table and let go of her purse. In a panic-stricken flutter of heartbeats, Charlene watched helplessly as the envelope tumbled out of the purse and onto the floor. The cash spilled out and fluttered about, like crumpled leaves on a windy autumn day. People around her turned in her direction, shock and intrigue in their eyes. Panic-stricken, Charlene crouched down and started shoveling handfuls of the green paper back into the purse. People began descending around her, pushing and shoving to get closer to the pile. Someone kneed her in the small of her back and she was tossed aside like a rag-doll. Dazed, Charlene stumbled to her feet and dashed back towards the elevator. She could feel her dress tearing with every step. Try as she might, she could not stop the tears from streaming down her face, smearing her mascara. She repeatedly slammed her finger into the down button, muttering, “Come on, come on,” under her breath. The wait felt interminable. She could hear the elevator ascending, creaking and humming as it climbed the 45-story Chicago skyscraper. It opened and she flung herself inside. As the heavily chromed doors slid shut, she watched helplessly as dozens of intoxicated sycophants fought each other for handfuls of Damien’s life savings. “It’s not worth it,” she assured herself, wiping her eyes. “We will find another way, we don’t need that narcissistic Doctor.”

But deep down she knew, without his cure, her fiancé, like all the other infected victims in the room above her, didn’t stand a chance…

Charlene I

“Radio Ga Ga?  Seriously?  Who thought it would be a good idea to turn that into elevator music?”… she said to absolutely no one as she stood alone in a box ascending to the roof level deck.  An absurd choice she thought, thinking back on the 1980s when Queen’s hit blared from radios everyone.  It was an era when even the rock bands had to play disco, she recalled.  Absurd.

But no more absurd than this moment… a moment she had prepared for, rehearsed for months, first in her imagination and then in reality.  She observed her reflected self in the heavily chromed interior and wondered what her friends who listened to “Radio Ga Ga” with her back then would think about her now.  She scanned herself from toe to top: the profound heels, the shimmering glitter evening dress, the make-up, the hair color.  It was all so unreal to her.

Speaking of which, the numbers counting up on the small LED screen in front of her reminded her of what was at stake.  She reached into the white leather purse and tapped the envelope.  She reached inside and felt the bills, cool and crisp.  Unused, fresh, ready.  They were what she was not.

Suddenly the car jerked, as if momentarily it lost its track.  “What?”… she asked aloud.  Again, to no one.

The elevator continued on, smoothly.

Was this coincidence?  Or did they know?  Had she been discovered?  With the practical sensibility that should have prevented this moment in the first place, she considered carefully.  What’s the difference?… she thought.  I will go through with this.  I’m in an elevator going upward.  There’s no stopping this now.  

Ding.  The car halted and the door began to open…

Micro Four Thirds is my Kansas… or one man’s journey back home

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Saying that Micro Four Thirds (MFT) is the best mirrorless system is much like saying that Toyota builds the best cars.  Could be true… for some, but it’s not true for all.

As I slogged my heavy Nikon DSLR kit into the Grand Canyon on a hike or to the South New Zealand Island for a walkabout, I began to eagerly learn more about the emerging segment called interchangeable lens camera or mirrorless.  I was intrigued by the smaller size and lower weight, all wrapped up into smaller kits that offered, they said, comparable image quality.  MFT was first to arrive and to flesh out a full system of lenses; I jumped in head first.  That came in the form of one of the early Olympus Pen cameras plus a few lenses that brought me from ultra wide all the way up to long tele.  Smaller and lighter for sure, but I didn’t feel the image quality was quite up to the challenge.

Fortunately, other systems emerged, including Fujifilm’s and Sony’s.  With bigger sensors, these promised better quality than was possible on MFT.  My own non-scientific testing bore this out.  With these bigger sensor’d bodies, the lenses were much bigger too though, thus mitigating some of the mirrorless advantage.

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The yellow brick road brought me into these other systems which had their plusses for sure.  Fujifilm, in particular, won my heart as it offered a great balance of quality and features.  But when I wanted to add lenses, I found some difficulties, namely that the tele option (Fujifilm 100-400) is gigantic and heavy (though quite good) and the wide zoom option (Fujifilm 10-24) is not weather-sealed.  Most annoyingly, however, the high quality but huge mid-zoom (Fujifilm 16-55) has no image stabilization.  And its results, for the price, didn’t consistently inspire sufficient confidence for me to keep it.  I thought the mild mannered Fujifilm 18-55 kit offering was a better bang for the buck.

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10 thoughts on photography while lying on a mattress by the side of the road

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Here are ten thoughts to help you up your photographic game:

  1. A large number, perhaps a majority, of photographers who would rather be shooting in order to earn a living have to resort to doing something else.  That something else often means shilling for camera companies in the form of sponsorships, teaching, writing, advocating, whatevering.  This means that other photographers, like you and me, are the catch, the target market.  This makes photography big business and separating you from your money is job one.  Beware.
  2. Photography is one part art, one part technical craft.  The technical craft part lends itself to science, measurements, and how-to videos and books.  The art part… well, doesn’t.  If you want to become a better artist, don’t rely on science, measurements and how-to videos and books.
  3. Force yourself to study the masters.  See how Sebastiao Salgado gets inside a story, learn how Fan Ho plays with available light, understand the manner in which W. Eugene Smith makes a point about his subject.  This will help you much more so than reading internet forums about the best lenses or studying MTF charts.
  4. Start small.  Use one light on one subject and play around for days, weeks, longer.  Use one lens.  Attempt simple compositions.  Don’t overwhelm yourself.  Build a house foundation before you worry about the drapes in the master bedroom.
  5. Don’t fret over which camera body or system to buy.  It’s true that you want to think downstream about your goals, for example how important is lens availability, what about low light performance, will a flash system be important…?  But all the major systems can help create masterpieces.  And all the major systems can help create dumpster fodder.  Find something that feels right in your hands, learn it, focus on what you see through the viewfinder, not what houses it.
  6. Stop daydreaming about exotic locations.  True, it’s nice to photograph waterfalls in Iceland, big game on the dark continent, and interesting people who live in thatched huts on the side of a mountain, but perfect the telling of the story of your own hometown before you wander too far afield, otherwise you’ll get to those waterfalls, wildlife and huts one day and capture meaningless, trite and all too common images that a million other people have captured before you.  And who wants to do that?
  7. Master exposure.  Then composition.  Don’t fret all the elaborate and highly sophisticated modes and capabilities of your camera until you have absolutely nailed those.  Otherwise you’re wasting your time.
  8. Don’t be afraid to photograph people.  Many photographers I know, myself included, wander around making images of rocks and trees when instead we could be uncovering subtle insights about family members, friends, neighbors, even complete strangers.  Step outside of your comfort zone.
  9. If you typically enjoy wide scale panorama shots, go small.  If you enjoy the minute details of a scene, step wider.  Comfort zones are for cowards.
  10. Go to the most familiar place you know (your home, the route along your daily walk, a nearby park) and tell a completely different and new story about it.  Attempt to capture images that others who also know that location will be surprised to see identified with that spot.  Or capture it during different seasons or times of day.  See how many alternate ways you can “see” the same place.