What Living Abroad Taught Me About Being an American

In the USA, today is a day of food, fireworks and friends. It’s a celebration of the birth of our country. It’s a uniquely American experience, one that we missed greatly when we were living in Italy years ago. You see, when you live in another country, you don’t just learn about other cultural traditions, you also learn about your own. You learn how your cultural traditions and beliefs, ones you may not even realize you have, affect you and shape you, and make you who you are.

I truly learned what it meant to be an American, a citizen of the United States of America, by living abroad.

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I didn’t fully realize how much country and culture shaped me until I lived in a different one. When you have to navigate everyday life in another country, you discover how deeply rooted cultural norms and expectations are. It shows up in simple things, such as paying bills or grocery shopping, and more complex things, like navigating government processes or building friendships. There are certain ways you expect things to be done; certain procedures you expect things to follow; certain behaviors you expect people to exhibit. And when you live in another country, you realize how much those rules and expectations are based on a cultural understanding.

You realize that a shared culture is the foundation for all of our interactions.

Culture affects everything. And when you step away from the culture of your home country, you step away from that foundation onto what, for you, is shaky ground. It’s scary and it’s exhilarating. You realize that there are more ways of doing things than you ever imagined. You realize that the “right” way is relative to the culture you come from. And you might realize, as I did, that being “American” is fundamental to who you are.

As Americans, we have this shared basis of how things work, why we do the things we do, and what possibilities are available to us. Sure, it might vary based on geographic region, religion or socio-economic background, but underpinning it all are similar values and expectations. Really similar. In fact, I would say that we are more alike than we are different, here in the United States of America.

That might be hard to recognize when so much of what we hear around us is categorized as “us vs. them.” Look at the news media, always focusing on controversial issues. Of course they do… Conflict sells. It’s not exciting to talk about the things we all share in common, or the greater cultural foundation that underpins us all. But it’s there. I know it, because I had to live without it for two years. I learned and grew from the experience, but there is nothing so comfortable as coming back to that foundation, to live in a place where you feel at home.

My experience living abroad gave me a greater understanding of what it means to be an American. It gave me a deeper appreciation of our history, and how that has shaped our shared values and norms. It helped me understand how important my country is, to my history and my identity.

My experience living abroad also helped me see how we can’t expect every other country or culture to behave as we would. The USA is but one country on the earth. And each country has a unique history and culture, many of which transcend lines on a map. They go back much longer and are held more deeply than most Americans can comprehend, with our short 200+ year existence on the global scene. We all need to take the time to understand and respect that history, as much as we do our own. It helps to step outside of your cultural foundation, once in a while, and see the yourself and the rest of the world with a different perspective.

Now that we are back home, I greatly appreciate celebrating Independence Day. It’s not just a day of food, friends and fireworks. It is a celebration of the beginning of my country and the shared ideals and history that have shaped me and my fellow citizens.

I hope that on this day, more than any other, we can celebrate the common foundation we all stand on. Happy Independence Day!

The Influence of the Camera

I like to say that the photographer makes the photograph, not the camera. A camera is just a tool.

That is absolutely true. Cameras don’t create photographs by themselves. The photographer chooses what to point the camera at, the framing, the settings.

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It’s also true that the camera influences the photographs you make. It’s not possible to make the same photographs with every camera out there. A pinhole camera is going to create a different photograph than a dSLR. An iPhone is going to create a different photograph than a large format film camera. Each camera has differences.

So the photographer makes the photograph, but only within the range of parameters available from the camera.

When I choose my tool, the iPhone right now, I am choosing a range to work within. I am choosing both the limitations and the options, the advantages and disadvantages, of the specific camera system. That in turn influences the images I create.

I tell people the iPhone changed my art. It changed how and when I take photographs, it changed what I take photographs of, it changed what I do with them. All this fundamental change, because of the tool I use.

The camera I am using influences me as much as I influence the images coming from the camera. It’s a give and take.

As much as photographers might get frustrated with the ever-present gear obsession and the question, “What camera do you use?” As much as we might want to say the camera doesn’t matter, it’s the photographer…

The reality is, the camera we use does matter. How could it not? It’s the fundamental tool we use to create our art.

Your turn: How does your camera influence you?

Going to Market

Do you feel uncomfortable with the idea of marketing and selling your art? If so, you are not alone. For a long time I was uncomfortable with everything around marketing and selling my art. In my mind, “marketing” was equated with someone who wouldn’t stop talking about what they were selling, and “sales” equated with a pushy salesperson who just won’t take no for an answer. But you know what? There are lots of other ways to market and sell, and there is nothing inherently wrong with selling your art.

In fact, there are a lot of wonderful things about selling your art… You connect with other people. You make them happy. You learn and grow. The beauty of selling art is that no one buys art because they HAVE to; they buy it because it makes them feel good. So when you get to the right people for your art, you have this fantastic connection that you and they wouldn’t have had otherwise, and you don’t have to push anyone to buy. They just do, because they want the feeling the art brings them.

It’s taken time, but I no longer feel “icky” about marketing and selling my art. I’ve found ways to share what I do that work for me. One of those ways is to take my art to places people are looking for it: Art Fairs and now, a shop on Etsy.

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I’ll be at an art fair this weekend, Lake Oswego Art in the Park, from Friday through Sunday. I love the interaction that art fairs bring. What other way can you get a whole bunch of your work in front of a whole bunch of people, and then be there to talk with them in person about it? I’m learning to talk about my art, how I do it, what I love about it. I’m learning to engage people and ask them what they like about it, what connects for them. I learn more about them, and I learn more about myself. And, along the way, I sell some art! People hang it on the wall, they send a card with my art on it to connect with someone else, it’s all good.

And if people don’t like my art? They can walk on by. There are no hard feelings from me.

Etsy-Shop

Last weekend I also opened an Etsy shop, you can find me here. I chose Etsy because I want to be where people are looking for art. Sure, I’ll have to do marketing of my shop personally, as well as learn how to best utilize the Etsy platform, but at least I’m out there where the people are looking. I have the chance to connect with people, and maybe make someone happy to have a piece of my art on their wall. If you have time… Stop by, check out the shop and become a follower. I’ll be adding new items regularly, once I get into a groove.

If I love creating my art and I love sharing my art, why in the world shouldn’t I sell my art? There is nothing wrong with making money from something you love doing, especially when you make other people happy along the way.

I’ll see you at the market!

Creating Permanent Albums on your iPhone (Mobile Tutorial)

It’s been a long time coming, but today we cover the final installment of the File Management series of Mobile Tutorials: Creating Permanent Albums on your iPhone. In earlier installments, we covered how to transfer image files between devices, how to transfer image files from device to computer, and how to delete all of the files on your device camera roll. The only problem with deleting all the image files from your device? There may be some files you want to keep on there! Like your portfolio or your favorite images of your kids. Let’s cover how to get those back onto your device after you’ve cleared it off.

But first, an excursion through the forest, from my latest series…

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Aaahhh… Don’t you feel better? I do, every morning I hike in this beautiful place! OK, back to our tutorial…

Create Folders on Your Computer

The first step to the whole process is to create a place on your computer where you will create your permanent albums. In “My Pictures” Library, I have created folders called “iPhone Sync” and “iPad Sync,” so I can have a different set of albums on each device.

Within each Sync folder, create subfolders. Each subfolder will be an album on my device, so name the folder what you want the album to be named, and copy the photos you want in that album into the subfolder on the computer.

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On my iPhone, I have albums I use for teaching classes (the “Example” folders) and albums for my Portfolios (starting with “P*_”). Since the albums will show up alphabetically on my iPhone, I name them alphabetically in the order I want them.

On my iPad, I also have texture and background images acquired from other sources or created in the past. It’s nice that I always have these favorite image files available, and easy to find on my device.

Set up iTunes to Sync with your Folder

The second step is to set up iTunes to sync your chosen folder. Attach your device to your computer, open iTunes and then…

iTunes-Sync

1. Select your device by clicking on the device icon.

2. In the Settings menu on the left menu bar, select Photos.

3. Check the box to Sync Photos.

4. Select your Sync folder.

5. Click the radio button next to All folders, so that all of the subfolders you created will be transferred as albums. You can also click the checkbox if you have videos in these folders, and videos will be included too.

Sync your Device

Sync your device, and voila! You now have permanent albums in your Photos app. Open the Photos app, select Albums at the bottom of the screen, and then scroll down. You will see the albums you created in your sync folder.

iPhone album

You can open these image files as you would any other image file on your Camera Roll, but you can’t save into the album or delete images from the album. If you open and edit an image, you save a new version onto the Camera Roll like normal. That’s nice, because you can’t accidentally delete these images from your device.

When you want to delete individual images or an album, delete them in the Sync folder on your computer, and then sync your device. It’s that easy!

Days in Del Mar

Another week come and gone, five days in Del Mar went by in the blink of an eye. You think when you plan a business trip that you will have more time than you really do. But between early meetings and late dinners, there was very little free time. So much for taking advantage of staying near the beach! That’s why it’s called a “business trip” and not a vacation, I suppose.

I did get a couple of morning walks in on the foggy beach…

I had one beautiful evening…

And managed to get a quick stop in at the San Diego Museum of Art. A wonderful find there is the work of photographer Lalla Essaydi. These incredibly detailed, large format color prints were exquisite and intriguing in their subject matter. I encourage you to look her up and learn more.

Now I’m back home and getting back into the routine. Until Thursday, that is, when I’m off again. Stay tuned to find out where!

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Last Sunday I left home for a technical conference in Arizona, arriving home late Wednesday evening. I enjoyed a few short days at home and then tomorrow I fly down to San Diego to work for the week. All of this travel is fun but not very conducive to writing, so I haven’t been here on the blog much.

Today I’m dropping in for a quick note to say hi and let you know what’s up in my world…

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I finally caved and took my own shoe selfie on the Portland Airport’s old carpet, which is rapidly vanishing as they replace it with new carpet. If you didn’t know you this was a “thing,” then check out #pdxcarpet on Instagram. Who knew carpet could reach cult status? Of course, I had to include the pink suitcase, which goes wherever I go. Off to San Diego!!

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When I’m home, I’m still getting out hiking and enjoying the forest. This year, I’ve become enamored of playing with long exposures using the Slow Shutter Cam app. I enjoy the experimental nature of slow shutter work. You play and play and once in a while something wonderful results! I love the feelings the light and lines in the forest evoke, and seek to enhance the feeling in the post-processing. I’m now working on a series of these images. They’ve given a focus to my hiking photographs, and I’m starting to explore how best to present them. Stay tuned.

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My son completed middle school! My in-laws were in town the last week to attend my son’s last choir concert of the year and to be here for his 8th grade celebration. It’s always fun to have them here! Brandon is getting very teenager-looking, isn’t he? He’s very excited for high school in the fall.

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Anytime my mother-in-law comes to visit, we have a decorating project to do. I can arrange things artistically once I see them in a room, but she has a knack for finding the individual elements to pull a room together. This time the project was our hallway bathroom, which has been largely undecorated for the 17 years we’ve had this house. Now it’s a cozy place, thanks to her help!

The project also involved visiting my photographic archives to find and edit a couple of images for the frames on the wall. The sandy brown color in the room reminded me of the stone in Croatia, so I chose these two photographs, from Split and Korkula respectively. I thought you might enjoy seeing them, too. If you like the processing on these I’ve created a Lightroom preset called “Croatian Stone,” which you can download here. (Word of warning: I’m still using Lightroom 4 so hopefully it will work in newer versions.)

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And with that, I’m off again! I hope to share something with you from the beach in California later this week, but given my success in blogging from the road in the past, I’m not promising anything. Have a great week!