Thursday, November 27, 2008

Darkroom magic: Turning good holiday pictures into excellent ones


Grass Valley fine-art photographer Seán Duggan, along with co-author Katrin Eismann, are both Photoshop experts. The image manipulation software, made by Adobe, is the key, they write, to making good pictures great. Their expertise is shared in "The Creative Digital Darkroom" ($49.99 in paperback from O'Reilly Media). Lavishly illustrated with "before" and "after" examples, the book contains detailed guidance and there are dozens of sample files that can be downloaded from Readers can work along with the authors in using Photoshop and other tools to produce the best images possible.

This is a book for serious photographers. Its focus is not on cropping techniques and the repair of damaged images, important as those may be, but rather on tone and contrast, exposure control, color correction, sharpening and focusing, and special effects. The first part of the book covers what's required for the digital darkroom and how to get images into the computer by using digital cameras or scanning. Once a good image has been selected, subsequent chapters deal with how it might be enhanced, so the "good" becomes "great." The many tutorials along the way are geared for Photoshop CS3, though the techniques will work with other versions and even other image editing software.

But the book is more than a step-by-step guide. Imagine sitting down in the company of two master photographers who care most of all about what a picture wants to be. "Listen to the image," they write. "As you look at the image and consider what you can do to improve it, try to think in broad concepts rather than in Photoshop technical terms. . . . Try to imagine how making certain areas lighter or darker or adjusting contrast might change the image. The human eye is attracted to lighter areas and to contrast. How can such adjustments help to guide the viewer's eye through the image?"

In another part of the book they caution against "the call of the Photoshop siren that tries to convince us that with enough time, effort, and layers, we can fix the flaws in any image and rework the barely adequate into a stunning photograph."

Pick the best, and make them better, and along the way be thankful for such wise words.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Diplomat's wife remembers a European childhood


Chico resident Helga Ruge, born in Wiesbaden, Germany, is the author of the memoir "Flashbacks of a Diplomat's Wife" and a fictional story, "Wither the Promised Land." Now she turns to novelized autobiography in "More Truth Than Fiction: Growing Up in Europe Between the World Wars" ($11.95 in paperback from Clay & Marshall Publishing Company, available at local bookstores or by writing Her purpose, she says, is to "leave an account of my childhood for my family" but also "to share with readers everywhere what life was like in Europe during the early 1900s."

She notes that "the many events and experiences I write about are factual and, though their names are fictitious, the human beings in my story are very real. And because I find autobiography without dialogue dead and boring, I give voice to these people even though it's not possible to recall exact words spoken so many decades ago." The story chronicles the life of Peter Heimbach and his wife, Lisa, and their two daughters, Helen and Inga, from 1922 to 1938.

Living in Biebrich, a small town near the Rhine, the little family was not immune to the instability of post-war Germany. "Inflation was so rampant that every day brought new prices" and "many Germans were out of work and hungry." Peter spent "four years in an internment camp in Russia during the war" but returned, intact, and now had a job "selling pills for his company," a job which eventually would take him, and his family, to the Soviet Union, then Romania, and back to Germany.

Baby Helen (nicknamed "Helly"--for good reason, as it turns out!) is born in 1922 "just as the church bells rang in Christmas at six o'clock in the morning." Helen is forever wandering off, causing Lisa, especially, no end of grief. "Impulsiveness was the most natural thing in the world to Helly."

Ruge's apt descriptions of everyday life is intertwined with the growing threat of Communism (where Peter's co-worker in Russia is arrested for unfaithfulness to the revolution) and the unraveling of German democracy and the rise of the Nazis. The reader is drawn into the pulse of domestic life, squabbles and all, in a story that in the end is about love and grace.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Chico abortion doctor tells his story


Bruce Steir writes that "I attended medical school twenty-three years before Roe vs. Wade became the law of the land. The only position that I had about abortion back then was that my sister should have been allowed to have the choice to have a safe, legal abortion instead of having to go through the heartbreak of giving birth and then giving her baby up for adoption to another family." He adds that "abortion was thought of as a criminal act in 1957, during my senior year in medical school."

Steir was Medical Director for the Feminist Women's Health Centers in Chico, Redding, Santa Rosa and Sacramento for a dozen years in the 1980s and 1990s. In December 1996 he was performing abortions at a clinic in Riverside and he writes that "one of the women died that day. It was the only death I had ever been responsible for. Over the course of my career I performed somewhere around 40,000 legal abortions."

Sharon was 27 years old and in the second trimester of her pregnancy; apparently Steir had perforated her uterus. He writes that the County Medical Examiner "referred to the death as accidental," but that several weeks later he was charged with second-degree murder by Riverside County prosecutors.

Rather than pursue the matter through what Steir describes as a "lengthy and costly hearing with the Medical Board" he surrendered his medical license in 1997 at the age of 66. The criminal case drained his savings and, seeking to avoid incarceration, with the advice of friends and family he entered a plea bargain to involuntary manslaughter. But the judge sentenced him to Riverside County Jail for a year (6 months of which was to be suspended for 1000 hours of community service).

Steir tells his life story in "Jailhouse Journal of an OB/GYN" ($15 in paperback from AuthorHouse Though time "has a way of dimming the memory for some details," the book gives the reader a sense of a man with few regrets. "An existing pregnancy that is not wanted is an accident or a mistake," he writes. "It doesn't really matter which it is. People make mistakes and as long as they do there will be erasers on pencils and delete keys on keyboards."

Thursday, November 06, 2008

New chapbook from Chico State University's philosopher-poet


Troy Jollimore, who teaches philosophy at Chico State University, won the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry for "Tom Thomson in Purgatory." That book introduced a unique poetic persona, exuberant, unguarded, and bigger than life, and he returns in four of the fifteen poems in Jollimore's new chapbook, "The Solipsist" ($10 in paperback from Bear Star Press

A solipsist is a skeptic about the existence of the outside world. In the title work, the poet seems to agree: "Don't be misled: / that sea-song you hear / when the shell's at your ear? / It's all in your head. // That primordial tide-- / the slurp and salt-slosh / of the brain's briny wash-- / is on the inside." At the end, though, a question is raised "that comes up again and again, / as to why / God would make ear and eye / to face outward, not in?"

These poems raise questions, contort the comfortable ways we (or some of us) think. "Tom Thomson Indoors" wants a doorbell installed. "The installation man didn't understand: / 'You want your doorbell on the inside, sir?' / Well, yes--didn't he grasp it? Only fair / that prior to intruding on't, he give / the world some sort of warning. (Not that world / had shown the converse courtesy to him . . . )"

The poet explores the inner life of "Regret." "I'd like to take back my not saying to you / those things that, out of politeness, or caution, / I kept to myself. . . . Yes, I'd like to take back / my not frightening the pigeons that day with my wild / protestations of uncontrolled love, my not scaring / them off into orbit, frantic and mad, / even as I now sit alone, frantic and mad, / racing to unread the book of our love / before you can finish unwriting it."

In "Penguins," the poet unwrites the poem: ". . . and all the penguins in Worcester Square / (for 'penguins' read 'pigeons') / have, like dodos, forgotten how to fly / (for 'fly' read 'do long division'). . . ." The same poem isn't the same.

Jollimore gets inside your head with some brilliant skullduggery.