Saying Goodbye to John Prine

I was introduced to John Prine through Iris DeMent (not personally). She was his opening act in a show at the Hult Center, and I so wanted to see her live that it didn’t matter I knew nothing about who she was touring with, and figured I could leave early if I didn’t care for his music.

Needless to say, he won me over.

His irreverence, turn of a phrase, and unique perspective had me either chuckling (Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian) or choking up (Hello in There).

As I dove into his music catalog, trying to catch up with the rest of the world, I realized I became a fan at just the right time, when age and experience had deepened and textured his voice to a quality that I preferred. And it was lucky for me that he had no plans on stopping his work, putting in another 20 years of touring and songwriting before being taken away from us.

In those 20 years, I turned my dad into a mutual fan, went to at least a half dozen more live shows, with my parents now joining me, and generally been amazed at what a juggernaut Prine was despite multiple battles with cancer and increasing age. I was really hoping he would pull through his bout with COVID-19, just so I could hear the song he would inevitably write about the experience.

Rest in peace, John Prine. I’m glad I took a chance on you.

UPDATE: I ran across my stash of old concert ticket stubs, and found the one for Prine and DeMent at the Hult Center.

Ticket stub for John Prine and Iris DeMent show

More than fair

post-287413-0-28986100-1443376099Tuesday, October 27th — the Blu-ray release date of the newly restored My Fair Lady — is a big day for film lovers. The restoration and its long-awaited arrival on home video is significant in large part because the property was treated so casually, if not poorly, back in 2011, when the distributor put out a dated transfer that didn’t suit the film’s pedigree and raised the hackles of its many fans, myself included. When word came out over a year ago that a restoration was under way, overseen by Robert A. Harris, arguably the best film preservationist in the business who’s worked on restorations of Lawrence of Arabia and Spartacus, fans knew the film was finally getting the treatment it deserved and that a suitable edition for their collections would eventually be a reality.

My Fair Lady DVD editions.
The 1998 (L) and 2004 (R) DVD editions. I never bothered to buy the 2011 Blu-ray given its transfer.

As I anxiously await my Blu-ray copy to arrive in the mail, I can’t help but reflect on my experiences with the film, which began in the 7th grade thanks to my English teacher, Ms. Sandhu. After reading portions of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, Ms. Sandhu showed us the musical adaptation of the play, AKA My Fair Lady. While I didn’t become enamored with the movie at the time, I remember enjoying it, along the same lines as my enjoyment of The Sound of Music and other movie musicals I’d been exposed to. It wasn’t until Audrey Hepburn passed away in 1993 that I revisited the film, as part of my (admittedly posthumous) fascination with the actress that had me seeking out every movie she’d ever starred in. While My Fair Lady doesn’t rank as my favorite Hepburn title (that would be Roman Holiday), it’s certainly one of her best, has only improved with age, and belongs in any film enthusiast’s collection. In fact, the movie was the first DVD title I ever owned, purchased back in 1998 (17 years ago!) when the format was just starting to make headway. Because of this, the release is undoubtedly the most important one of the year for me personally, but, with its state-of-the-art restoration and presentation, probably the most important release of the year, period.

To find out more about the restoration and the painstaking effort required to bring it up to everyone’s high standards, read the exclusive Home Theater Forum interview by my friend and colleague Neil Middlemiss.

Little Hurricane at Hi-Fi Music Hall

See the full set on Flickr

I heard about San Diego rock and dirty blues duo Little Hurricane from photographer Neil Van Niekirk, who posted accolades for the group on his Facebook page. When I gave their latest album a listen, I was instantly drawn to Tone Catalano’s textured vocals (and most people know I don’t usually gravitate to male singers). I also connected with the band’s fully formed, blues-rock style, backed by the beats of drummer CC Spina. About a year later, a concert venue called Hi-Fi Music Hall opened up and Little Hurricane eventually popped up on their calendar, making for an obvious ticket purchase, even though most rock concerts are scheduled way past my bed time these days. Still, discovering new music and then getting a chance to see the performer live (and maybe shoot the show) has always been one of my favorite parts of being a music lover.

Hi-Fi Music Hall took over the building I will always know as the Rock ‘n’ Rodeo (that information may date me quite a bit). Although I never really stepped foot in the building before, I got a strong sense a lot of work had been done to it, for the better. The space was clean and nicely laid out with the music hall on one side and a full service bar on the other. The bar even had a small stage for another band to entertain patrons, set behind a pull-down screen used to project a video feed from the music hall.

The hall itself was set up for standing room only, but there weren’t more than about 50 of us there. That is probably my chief lament about Eugene, in that cool, new acts will come here, but once they get more of a name for themselves, they won’t tend to come back because Portland will be considered the more viable market. I can’t blame them — musicians need to make a living and drawing in a Eugene-sized audience doesn’t make financial sense after awhile. From a photography stand point, it does provide some nice opportunities, not only in being able to shoot acts early in their careers, but also having largely unfettered photo access. It seems like the more prominent the performer, the more restrictive they’ll be about photography, so newer acts in combination with small venues tend to be the most tolerant of my bringing along my DSLR.

The lighting for Little Hurricane was somewhat challenging, in that Tone was often better lit than CC and her faster movements in a darker area of the stage meant many attempts trying to capture very fleeting moments and expressions. Remote controlled LED effect lights and smoke machines created some nice atmosphere, but the main lights were still a bit dim and tended toward uniform blue or magenta color washes. Fearing the venue would favor a spartan lighting scheme, I packed the 85mm f/1.8 as my primary lens, rather than a slower (and much larger) f/2.8 telephoto zoom. Consequently, I was able to shoot as high as 1/160 for most of the show and with minimal focusing or exposure problems. Given the band’s musical aesthetic, post-processing the images for high contrast black-and-white seemed the most fitting, though I may produce a color version of the selections down the road.

Free is a great price

I’ve paid for web hosting for several years now, but because of some mediocre service from my hosting company, my admittedly spotty blogging activity, and simple lack of time to maintain my own WordPress instance, I’ve made the switch to a free site. There are of course limitations on surrendering control (like not being able to install my own plugins nor embed Flickr slideshows), but the end of a monthly expense and no longer having to troubleshoot technical issues is an obvious gain. To remedy any traffic going to, I mapped the domain to this location.

As usual, picking a theme is the hardest part. There’s more this “Sketch” theme can do as far as displaying a portfolio of images, but for now I’ll just let the blog do the talking.

Halie Loren “Butterfly Blue” CD Release Show

halie-loren-July 17, 2015-1486

See the full set on Flickr

Jazz artist Halie Loren returned to the Wildish Theater to celebrate her latest CD release, “Butterfly Blue.” We weren’t sitting in the front row like last time, so I had to rely on a longer fixed telephoto to make up the difference.

Being about 10 rows up and slightly left of center afforded a fairly clear view of all the performers, but unfortunately pianist Matt Treder was consistently blocked by the other musicians or equipment. My seat afforded a very clear view of Halie, my only nitpick being the background with the edge of a hanging projection screen crossing behind her head (though one could argue this makes things a little more interesting than just a pure black background). Normally I also like to keep “dutch” angles to a minimum, but I tilted things with Halie’s more emotive or energetic moments to mirror the mood and to try to make the background contribute a little something to the images.

Cameron in retrograde

I’ve never considered myself a luddite, but in the past couple years I’ve re-evaluated my use of personal electronic devices and have made choices based around the notion of “satisficing.” For some, the devices I use might seem downright regressive, but they satisfy my level of need / want without feeling like I’m either depriving or indulging myself.

The Phone

Kyocera Verve
My “AI” (average intelligence) phone, the Kyocera Verve.

The most significant switch I made in this age of the smartphone was going to a feature phone, or as I like to call it “a phone of average intelligence.” When I bought a tablet a few years ago (the now discontinued Google Nexus 7), I was using my smartphone less frequently. When I did use it to go on the Internet, I found it increasingly frustrating compared to the speed and size of the tablet. So rather than try to find a faster and bigger phone, I opted for a device that can just make calls and send text messages, things I do infrequently, but have a need for like anyone else. I also switched my carrier to Ting, a non-contract carrier that charges you based on what you use. I’m a pretty low volume caller and texter, so my phone bill has worked out to around $16 a month for the last year (I’d be paying at least double this to keep a smartphone).

The only time I’ve found a need for mobile data is when we travel. My wife has a smartphone, so that usually covers the bases. If I were to spring for mobile data, I’d probably get a mobile hotspot over a phone, which would allow me to use my tablet on-the-go. I haven’t reached a tipping point for that yet, since I don’t travel by myself very often, but I’d probably get something like the Karma, another pay-for-what-you-use mobile service provider.

The Watch

Timex Ironman
Great for timing contractions and seeing what time baby woke up for a feeding.

About a year ago I also started wearing a wrist watch again. The main reason I dug out my Timex Ironman was because we were getting ready to have a baby and I wanted something easy to look at to time contractions. Having a watch also turned out handy for life with a newborn and the habit just (re)stuck after that. However, this doesn’t mean I see any use for a smartwatch, especially since I don’t have a companion phone for one. I do think it’s interesting that at one point cell phones effectively did away with wearing something on your wrist, and now it’s come back, after a fashion.

The Internet

The final piece of personal satisficing I want to share concerns my home Internet service, which I get through Comcast. At one point I had a phone and Internet bundle, but did away with the phone part and kept the Internet (which I now understand is very hard to do unless you get really aggressive with the Comcast customer service rep). Not only that, I downgraded the Internet speed to the “Performance Starter” 6 mbps download / 1 mbps upload speed.

For the most part this is more than enough for our uses – the only time the speed is noticeably slow is when I’m uploading photos to Flickr, but I can easily walk away and come back to it when it’s finished. Streaming content from YouTube and the like is also plenty functional. I know I’m not getting the best deal for the performance, but the alternative is having a decent – but short-term price – and then having to get on the phone and renegotiate my rates after that term has ended. Suffice it to say, I HATE doing that sort of thing and not having to deal with customer (lack of) service on a regular basis is worth much more to me in terms of quality of life and sanity.

Not satisficed?

If you want to learn more about satisficing, a good place to start is Barry Schwartz’s “The Paradox of Choice.” The book is on my list of favorites (though admittedly the first chapter is kind of tedious as he lists all the choices we have about jeans, laundry detergent, etc.).

Also, check out this TED Talk:

Ballet Fantastique’s An American Christmas Carol with Halie Loren


See the full set on Flickr

I’ve always got my eye out for a compact camera that does well with the challenges of concert photography. The Olympus Stylus 1 was the latest to get my attention with its constant f/2.8 aperture and 300mm equivalent maximum zoom. Rather than plunk down the money for an outright purchase, I decided to opt for a rental through Overall it was a good experience with both the device and the rental shop, though ultimately it didn’t compel me to purchase the camera (I’m kind of holding out for the next model to have a larger sensor).

What about it?

After reading photographer Neil Van Niekerk’s article about “displaying instead of saying,” I re-evaluated the content of my “About Me” page and ultimately decided to remove the page entirely. My website has always been just a fancy journal about myself and my interests, rather than a means to support and build a business, but Neil’s point is still relevant in terms of keeping things simple. If a person wants to know about me, the blog and various links I’ve included are the best way to do that, not some semi-effusive musing about where I’ve been and where I’m going. However if the goal of the site changes, I’ll likely reinstate the “About Me” page with content more aligned to what Neil advises.

Halie Loren “Simply Love” CD release show


See the full set on Flickr

The first time I heard jazz singer Halie Loren, I couldn’t believe this caliber of artist was 1) living in Eugene and 2) not more well known. I still can’t explain the latter, since the quality of her vocals puts her up there with the likes of Diana Krall; plus, her interpretations of standards like “For Sentimental Reasons” and “Moon River” (two of the tracks off her latest album, “Simply Love”) are, well, not very standard at all.

As to why she lives in a town better known as the “Home of the Ducks,” it’s because she doesn’t have to live in a Los Angeles or New York City to know success. While her following in her home state is, ironically, kind of modest, she has a devoted fan base in Japan and has toured there a number of times, to sold out crowds. Her choice to live where she does is consequently a perk for the fans who share the same area code, as they get to hear her on a regular basis and experience CD release shows like the one at the Wildish Theater on September 21st.

Having been to Springfield’s downtown performing arts theater once before, I knew the setup would be a little unconventional with its stage at the ground level and rows of stadium seating extending up from there. Not wanting an elevated perspective to the photos meant having to choose seats toward the front, and since I didn’t know if I’d get a clear shot over viewers’ heads, this meant having to shoot from the front row. In hindsight, the perspective would have been fine in the second or third row, but since this wasn’t a rock show, I was also sensitive to disturbing anyone sitting in front of me with the noise from my camera.

When we took our seats, I found myself closer to the center than I prefer (I don’t like to have the microphone blocking the performer’s mouth in most cases), and wound up switching seats with my wife after the intermission. But ironically, the shot featured above, my favorite of the evening, was taken from my original position.

The other band members were not lit as brightly or evenly as Loren, metering at least a stop difference in most cases. The shadows were also pretty harsh, as seen on the bassist, Mark Schneider. There was a similar harshness of shadows on the accordion player, Sergei Teleshev, but I found when he turned towards the light there was some improvement.

Lighting on the pianist, Matt Treder, and drummer, Brian West, was more even, and while I had a nice clear shot of West, Treder’s back was almost turned away from me. While I probably could have gotten out of my seat to get other angles, that would have most certainly disturbed the other audience members in my row, who were seated no more than 12 feet away from Loren and her band. Going up the aisle to get a wide shot of the stage and its full complement of musicians likely wouldn’t have caused a problem, but most of the time I was just content to soak up the great music.