Lost Opportunity

Jan Jack May2013

My mother-in-law Jan battled many illnesses for many years.

In May 2013 she was in the hospital after having a brain tumor removed. The recovery for her was a roller coaster; one moment she was fine and recovering, and then the next she struggled with something else. The toll was great, not only on her but also on the family. We could only stand back and hope the doctors worked quick enough to complete her recovery puzzle.

One night Sherry, Jack and I visited her at dinner time and talked for a while. I had my DSLR with me, to take advantage of the skyline views out of the 17th floor windows of the hospital. I also managed to take some profile pictures of Jack. Not long before we left, he lay his head in her lap; Jan quietly moved her hand to his back, her arm adorned with lines of alert bands prompting care givers to be wary of certain drugs or treatment. There were at least four of them, in many colors and different types of writing. It was this touching image of an elderly arm wrapping comfort around a seven-year old’s body that quickly made me think, “Take of picture of that.” But, out of quiet respect for the moment, I put the camera down.

In short, I blew it.

The next day Jan took a serious turn for the worse. She stopped breathing, right in front of the doctor. After being revived she was taken immediately to the ICU for heavy duty care. Then she was sleeping or in & out of consciousness. When we visited her next she was sleeping and wouldn’t wake up; part of me was bummed, and the other part was relieved because it meant she was finally getting some sleep. Still, that missed photo opportunity haunts me.

The question for me revolves around the line between being the observer or being part of the moment. Leaving the camera alone meant that I was experiencing a very special gesture and smiling inside. Taking a picture would have interrupted the silence with a shutter snap; it just didn’t seem right at the time. But now as I think back, I regret that brief moment where the camera sat quietly, because it’s the image that now goes through my mind over and over.

While the diagnosis for Jan was fatal, she recovered long enough to enjoy three more months with her family.  I did get more pictures of her before she died, but none of them were as special as that one moment that I will remember forever.

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Domain Name

In 2001 I noticed that KurtClark.com was for sale.

Because I was afraid to spend $35/yr to buy the domain at the time, I ended up waiting too long. Big Fail. It was picked up by another Kurt Clark, along with KurtClark.net and KurtClark.org. While he was at it he also bought several other Kurt Clark related domains. My haste in buying my name in .com form left me one option when the top level domain came available in 2002:

KurtClark.us

I didn’t really have a plan for it; I just felt it needed to be mine since all the others were nabbed by the same person. At the same time I grabbed the stunning Mrs. Clark’s name in .com form.  Sure enough, about a year later, the other Kurt Clark sent me an email – asking if I would sign over the .us domain to him.

Nope.

And so it went over the next decade, as online content and providers began offering services. I managed to nab kurt.clark at Gmail in 2004. I picked up @KurtClark on Twitter in 2008, and on @KurtClark on Instagram in 2012. I get tweets, tags, and emails for him often still. Somehow I also managed to get kurt.clark in Outlook and Instagram before the social-savvy throngs hit the decks. Last year I was offered “kurtclark” on Google+ (I accepted gladly). And what I couldn’t get in my name I started using “BelRedRoad” instead. It’s like virtual real estate, and I will never EVER give it up.

Now I finally have a use for the KurtClark.us domain I bought 15 years ago.

Yesterday I threw together a simple contact “Landing Page” using KurtClark.us, and added links to some of my photography and contact information. Feel free to visit! You won’t find much there but a nice short URL and a snazzy picture of the I-90 Floating Bridge. Oh, and rest assured:

I’m sure the other Kurt Clark has already visited 🙂

Replacing The Sky

E9 Final

Located in Deer Lodge Montana, this EMD E9 was a locomotive that pulled passenger trains for the once-mighty Milwaukee Road.

Bankrupt in 1985 and ultimately absorbed into the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Milwaukee left behind the legacy of a scrappy continental railroad that chose to do things their own way – along with miles of artifacts across the Western landscape. Depending on who you talk with, the demise of the Milwaukee Road was due to bad management or changing times.

Probably a lot of both.

In 2012 I read a blog post about editing interesting photos that had uninteresting elements (tried to find the article again but no luck). The case in point was a picture that the writer had taken of the Cyclone Roller Coaster on Coney Island; it had an interesting perspective, but because of overall lighting the sky was mostly blown out and had no detail. In the post he talked about how he could edit out the sky and replace it with something with more character, like dramatic clouds. The project got me thinking that in my archives there had to be a few shots that could be edited in the same way.

And the E9 shot was the first one I thought of.

The reason was this: the original photo was well exposed on the nose of the locomotive, but suffered from a very bright sky behind it. Not surprising, since the photo was taken with my camera phone. In any case it seemed like a good candidate to merge a couple of photos and make a good one. Adding to the fire was a fundraising campaign being conducted by the Cascade Rail Foundation, to bring a historic Milwaukee Road locomotive to their restored railroad depot in South Cle Elum WA.

I thought maybe I could create something to donate, so they could sell and benefit from the proceeds.

The biggest hurdle I had was trying to get rid of the old sky. Initially I first tried by changing the sky color to one hue and then setting the color to transparency; that didn’t work, mainly because it only made the locomotive transparent while preserving the color I wanted to remoe. I also watched a tutorial video on Youtube, where the person used the equivalent of an eraser to get rid of the stuff he didn’t want. That technique seemed to work for him but didn’t allow me enough control around the edges between the sky and the locomotive. I tried different file types and two different editors. Each tool had a different hurdle to overcome. Help Files for each program – GIMP and Adobe Photoshop Elements 8 – weren’t much help at all. I was either using the wrong verbage to search solutions, or didn’t know what I was doing.

But I sure knew what I wanted.

In the end – after nearly a full afternoon of trial and error – I was finally successful with the following steps:

  1. Change sky in train picture to a single color
  2. Open the cloud picture in GIMP
  3. Open train picture as a “Layer” over the cloud picture
  4. Use the GIMP “Fuzzy Selection Tool” to select the entire sky in the train picture.
  5. Choose “Color To Alpha” to remove the color from the train picture.
  6. “Flatten” image to merge the two layers together

After that I converted the photo to black and white using Pixlr-O-Matic, using one of the filters with extra contrast. The resulting image was then saved as a JPEG file at 360 dots per inch (dpi) to allow for larger prints.

Sure, if someone looks really close at the outline of the locomotive, a trace can be seen between the train and the sky. I mentioned it to a couple of people; one person said, “I see it, and notice that kind of thing in edited photos, but yours doesn’t bug me.” Phew. In a later revision I went in and softened the line.

16x20s of this improved train picture were ordered and looked great!

Thank You Chess Club

Thank you Junior High Chess Club, for making me a better photographer.

I came to the club after school twice a week – with diligence because I loved Chess. I never won a game. In fact, Chess Club, you would typically beat me in a mere  handful of moves. Over and over. Each one of you. I was the newbie punching bag. Never able to move past that point. And through all the beatings and smug checkmates, you also said a total of 8 words to me in the weeks I attended. Eight words from no fewer than six other kids. No effort to teach, engage or encourage.

And because of that I quit Chess Club and joined the Annual Staff.

Using my Mom’s camera and unlimited black & white film supplied by the school, I took pictures of everything and got feedback from the the staff advisor. She pointed me towards what looked good and what needed to go away. She trained, engaged, and encouraged.

Her actions carried value for a lifetime.

So thank you Chess Club, for being pompous self-righteous gamers. If you hadn’t been so, I would still be stuck at a board losing my back line to a checkmate. Because of you I’m capturing life as it happens with a camera.

And I am much better off.