April 2020 End Notes

It’s the evening of April 28th as I’m hitting the “Publish” button because gosh, I just want to get this over with. Where are we at exactly? No one knows for sure I guess – and this is how a strange April of 2020 ends. Strange in terms of what’s going on in the entire world, our countries, cities, and in our homes too. Strange also in terms of the weather we had here in San Diego County. Not much is normal right now it seems, but I’m going to take a look back as usual, with updates about what’s been going on here on the site, with my photography, and some commentary from the – still relatively sane, and only mildly estranged – mind of yours truly.

 

I’m changing the format a little bit this time. Instead of having the “archive additions” at the end of the article, I’m adding photos in between the different sections of this post, both from the archives and the “best of from 10 years ago”, to break the sheer amount of text into smaller segments – at least optically. ;)

Above is a photo from our 2018 road trip, when we stopped at the Bisti Badlands near Farmington in New Mexico. This was after the clouds had cleared (obviously) and I tried to flatten the contrast on the computer as good as possible because I quite like how the elements in the frame work together and really wanted to get a pleasing rendition of the scene, despite the harsh light – you can see from the short short shadows that it was around mid day. A little bit of “Dehaze” in Lightroom works surprisingly well to further help with tone mapping, when Highlights and Shadows alone are not enough. ;)

Below is a photo from our Taiwan trip in 2013. We escaped the warm and humid weather of the lower inland areas with a visit to the higher forested areas. In the morning it was all clear and sunny (as in this photo), in the afternoon a fog moved in and provided a nice cool down, and a very different atmosphere. At this particular waterfall, a plaque memorizes a rain event where over 1000mm of rain (~40 inches) fell in just a single day during the monsoon season. Surreal!

Being an introverted Gen-X’er finally pays off?

Working from home in front of the computer, teaching and supporting Lightroom and photography students via screen sharing software? Check. Been doing that for quite some time already. Balancing productivity in no-fixed-schedule days with tending to household chores, doing yard work, running errands? Check. No big deal. Being alone, avoiding people? Comes naturally to me anyway – check!*

What’s more, having grown up as a member of the “demo scene” on the Amiga, friendships have early on extend beyond the local level, and were tended to over great distances – via mail swapping originally, then going online, first connecting to bulletin board systems and FIDO (remember the ritual of syncing the nodelist?), then email and the internet. I always communicated with friends & family back in Germany online. And while the physical distances to local friends haven’t changed, I’m communicating with them online now too. It’s a little more advanced and personal, via FaceTime groups or Zoom meetings, but it’s all quite familiar.

The signs of this time though manifest in our dreams: Shuwen and I are having weird dreams of people not respecting social distancing rules in supermarkets. They’re closing in on us! But otherwise, we are both doing well at home – just the amount of cooking we’re doing and the amount of dishes we’re washing is mind boggling. And the fact that a lot of local trails nearby are closed is annoying (more on that below). I know that’s all complaining on a very high level – but I think we need to allow ourselves to do that.

You can’t constantly look at the terrifying number of deaths that have occurred so far, and will continue to occur as the total number of infections has soared past one million in the United States – and at the same time “be grateful” and “count your blessings” while the life you were living has changed, is changing, and will change more, however big or small that may be. It’s okay to notice these changes, and be a little grumpy and miserable. It’s okay to feel the way we feel right now. There’s no other reality to escape to, so we need to forgive ourselves the occasional meltdown while we try to process it all.

We are grateful. We have a home. We can do our work from home. We can go to a nearby supermarket on a weekday morning and the shelves are most often well stocked. We have each other as company. We are healthy and not in a high risk group of the population. A lot of people aren’t as lucky as we are. (and yes, we also have enough toilet paper!:P)

The Weather

While living in Germany, April had always been a month of weather antics, and those seem to have extended to Southern California this year. In just a couple of days early in the month, San Diego received more rain than during the entire 2017/2018 water year (the water year begins in October). Now that particular water year was an extremely dry one of course – but some coastal and mountain areas received more than twice this amount. We had swift water rescues here in San Diego County. Whoops.

It made me wonder how nature will react, because all this rain came pretty late. Some people suggested that we might see a second Ceanothus bloom in response to all this extra precipitation. At this point, I for one just hope we’ll be able to enjoy and actually see some of it, with all the restrictions in place around parks and trails and beaches… (more on that still further below – this is beginning to feel like the evening news on cable TV, hu?)

A great warm-up occurred towards the end of April. In the morning of April 22nd, our heater briefly ran to get the chill out of the house (it’s set at a temp of 69°F for the early morning hours). On the very same day in the afternoon, our temperature-controlled attic fan woke from its “winter dormancy” with a sonorous hum, indicating that the temperature up there had reached 105°F. We went from unusually chilly April to hot mid summer temperatures in the course of two days, and are now sleeping with the bedroom window open at night. It remained pretty warm for the rest of the month, and it looks like it’s going to last into early May. I guess it’s only fitting…

Seeking Nature and Its Healing Powers

In the introduction above, I wrote “not much is normal right now” but you know what’s normal? Nature and the outdoors. I don’t know about you, but the closure of all trails, preserves and beaches seems like a rather hasty and not very level-headed response to me by now. I admit it: this makes me sad and/or angry, because something that I really need has been taken away from me – and I know that I’m not the only one. I was full of understanding for these measures in March, when everyone was scrambling, trying to find an adequate response to try and protect people (partially, from themselves and their own stupidity of course).

We have many trails in relative close proximity to our home that aren’t very popular to begin with – but by beginning to close the most popular locations, the city and county only shifted visitation to other areas of course. To then close those down too, or rather, close parking lots and trailheads. “The parks are still open, but you can only go there if you can walk, bike, or ride a horse to it” is what they’re saying. <rolls eyes>

I don’t think it can be measured whether these closures have a significant effect on reducing the number of SARS-CoV-2 infections. Which are, as a percentage of the total population of San Diego County, around 1%, and that’s only the official tests, so the actual number is way higher without doubt. But I think there’s no doubt that any visit to a supermarket or pharmacy is a greater risk of infection or being a vector (yep – don’t forget that it could be you) than being on a trail.

The whole pandemic thing took everyone by surprise and I think by now, most people have the social distancing/avoid gatherings/wear a mask thing internalized. Maybe it’s time to re-think the closure of trailheads and parking lots. Add signage and rangers, to remind people of social distancing. This would make more sense for the trails in our populated areas, instead of having California State Park Rangers patrol the empty desert (Anza Borrego Desert State Park is vast and there’s no one there most of the time, so that is a colossal waste of time and manpower).

We should find adequate measures to limit the chance of people being vectors – but also allow people to responsibly access the healing powers of nature, and the sense of normality it provides.

EDIT: or so I thought… but these photos from last weekend prove me wrong – are people idiots?! Why yes, they are, they are. People are failing this simple test for common sense, after weeks and weeks of urgent messaging to practice social distancing. It’s depressing.

Zooming Around

Our photo club, the Sierra Club San Diego Chapter Photo Section, has gone all-online. From the funds that we had allocated, but didn’t need anymore to rent a physical location for our workshops, we purchased a Zoom license. In April, we had the first online meeting and to test the waters, I went ahead and presented the making-of story and background to my Algodones Dunes portfolio. It went really well, and the feedback from the attending members was very positive.

It’s a bit odd to present via Zoom to an audience that has their microphones muted – there’s absolutely no audible feedback, like a little bit of laughter or chuckling when I made a small joke (I can only assume that people laughed!), or the tiny little sounds of agreement, and all that. At the same time, it’s necessary to keep the microphones muted, because every ambient sound gets picked up of course (during the informal “get together” part of the meeting there were wind chimes and cats meowing), and because these sounds come out of nowhere, they are more distracting during an online presentation than they would be in a normal environment.

Online meetings and presentations are good to keep our community together, but they’re lacking all the normally almost unnoticeable little cues and the feedback, which takes some getting used to. Needless to say, I hope we will be able to return to in-person meetings some day…

Behind the Scenes: Copyright

I spent a good amount of time in April to collect publication information for older images, in order to register them with the United States Copyright Office (these registrations go by the year the images have been published). This was an absolutely awful task. It involved constantly switching between: a spreadsheet with filenames of still unregistered images that are online here; Lightroom to look at History and Snapshots; the Media Library on my website; my print-on-demand store. For every single image. I “only” had to register some 300 of them in this batch, and thanks to WordPress’s file organization into upload folders by date (year and month), and a custom field “original upload date” that I added to my media items, I was able to piece the information together (for newer images, it’s a piece of cake: I collect the information right as I add them to my website), and then get these images registered.

Why do that? To protect my business and intellectual property. I’m sad to say this but even in the year 2020, images are “sourced from the web” via a search engine’s image search, and used without license or authorization. I have my copyright watermark with my web address on each photograph to address this problem: that information is supposed to make it easy to find me, in case someone finds a photograph that way, and wants to use it.

I grant some local government agencies whose work I support a license to use my images – namely, the Cleveland National Forest and the National Weather Service in San Diego. I appreciate the jobs they’re doing – they help me with my photography (weather) and make good outdoor recreation possible (the Forest Service builds and maintains trails), so I’d like to give something back. People seem to think that all content on government websites is free for the taking somehow, and as a result I’ve been accused of “partnering” with these agencies to “rip off” illegal image users (I only go after commercial unlicensed use). To be accused of that feels terrible and is just plain awful. Similarly absurd is the accusation that this would be a “business model”: how would anyone actually plan a business like that?!

If I’d sell prints at an art fair, I’d sure as hell go after the thieves who steal them – why should I let unlicensed image users get away with the theft of my intellectual property? Because the print is a physical product? Then we’d only be talking about the price of ink and paper. Where’s the value of the work itself, the art?

Another fatalistic argument: “if you don’t want your photos to get stolen, don’t put them on the internet!” – really? Following that logic, the car dealership that has brand new cars on their lot should just accept that they sometimes get stolen, and not do anything about it?

Aside from the loss of income when my images get stolen though, it’s also a matter of fairness: I feel like I owe it to the legitimate image users who have paid a license fee to pursue unauthorized use. Most importantly though, it has to do with choice, namely, my choice: to say either yes or no to a particular usage.

Embeds

This has taken on another dimension with the recent ruling that so-called “embeds” as defined by most social media sites are indeed legal. The ruling was about Instagram, but Twitter and Facebook also allow these embeds. Essentially, what happens is that a third party can license an image from Instagram (Facebook, Twitter) and embed it on their own website – without paying the photographer. This is defined in Instagram’s terms of service, and when you upload an image to Instagram (Facebook… Twitter…) you grant them the license to do just that (ie., sub-license).

This is going to get more messy when one of those “we only want to promote art” accounts uploads my photos to their account: they don’t have a license from me in the first place, how are they going to grant it to a social media platform? And then imagine someone embeds that Instagram or Facebook post, or Tweet, on yet another site. For artists, it means that they need to bring out the hammer to play the ridiculous DMCA-takedown-request game of whack-a-mole, and with force – an awful, mind-numbing and completely unproductive time sink.

Let’s be clear: social media sites and companies like Google want it that way because it makes them money. We need better laws to deal with this, and the hopelessly outdated DMCA needs an update too along the way.

Good Music & Good Reads

On to the remaining, and hopefully more pleasant and enjoyable things from this month:

Half Waif’s – “The Caretaker” is labelled as ‘indie pop’, but that doesn’t really do the music any justice. I’d call it healing music instead. Adorable love songs long like “Siren” are following by the emotional heaviness and honesty of “Ordinary Talk”, but what strikes me most is the confidence of singer Nandi Rose’s soothing voice as she goes through all these different moods. The songs are all touching and direct, the music has big moments, but it’s not the least tacky – just believable and authentic: it’s going to be all right in the end. Play often.

The Pandemic is Not a Natural Disaster – subtitled The coronavirus isn’t just a public-health crisis. It’s an ecological one, this article takes a larger look at the history and surroundings of how we got where we are right now.

In Letter From the Desert: Flight of the Hesperocallis the always eloquent Chris Clarke slowly hones in on the Desert Lily, an astonishing desert wildflower, and provides an incredible amount of context along the way. Fascinating!

Throwback to April 2010

What’s left? As mentioned in the beginning, my old favorites from April 2010 are spread out in the second part of this post, together with the archive additions. If case you’re curious about what’s on the blog from that time, here’s the archive for April 2010 (the articles have all been added in retrospect, or moved over from my personal blog, which had more photography thoughts back then).

And that’s it for the month of April 2020. Thank you very much for your time and attention, and for your support (see links below to make a one-time donation, or an annual subscription). It really matters!


*) Tuning out the often erratic, mostly incoherent, always incendiary and self-serving babbling of the narcissist in chief? Been doing that for a looong time already, too…


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Previous: Inner Silence

8 thoughts on “April 2020 End Notes”

  1. Looks like you’ve had a very busy month, Alex! And those comments on Zoom meetings really resonated with my experiences using it for teaching…

    Reply
  2. It’s been a month, that’s for sure. But at least we’re able to appreciate those small things we still have (like toilet paper). :-) It’s good to see, even with such serious topics and events you’re still finding humor out there. If we can all keep that up I think we’ll end up being fine.

    Reply
    • No commentary on the pandemic is complete without a mention of the toilet paper situation, of course! And, freely translated, “humor is the button that we press to vent, preventing us from exploding”, as the German poet Joachim Ringelnatz said. :)

      Reply
  3. Hello Alex,

    Locally our trails are still open – but very overcrowded as the ‘gym crowd’ has now migrated from downtown to the trails. The sheer number of heavily breathing, non-mask wearing people listening to loud music and chatting on cell phones on the narrow trails feels unbearable.

    Your photograph “Another Moment in Silence” is so very beautiful.

    Reply
    • That does NOT sound like fun on the trail, then. The gym crowd. So many things we don’t anticipate and think about, usually. Is it mean to wish that, once this will be over, some day, that they return to the gyms? ;-)

      Reply

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