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Mother’s Day is Sacred, but Some of the Presents are Not

By | family, flowers, holiday, mother, Mother's Day | No Comments

If I sound like I’m boasting, then that is just too bad, because I have the best Mom in the world. Some of you may try to disagree since you are fond of your own mothers (but you’d be wrong). Sorry.

One of my favorite photos of my Mom

Mother’s Day is upon us and if you live 3 states and 10 hours away like I do, then celebrating the holiday in person can be a challenge. And let’s be honest, almost anything delivered by a stranger seems kinda impersonal.

Back in the old days, kids used to make treasures for their mothers at school. I am not sure that they do this anymore, but there’s probably “an app for that”, which will send a text to your Mom in emojis.

My Mom treasured our childhood creations beyond measure and perhaps even sanity. When we were moving my Mom into her new apartment I remember seeing a brown lump in her display case. I said “Mom, I hate to tell you this, but the cat got into your cabinet and made a #2 on shelf #3.” Apparently, it was not the cat’s creation but something that I made in kindergarten from clay. It was a dead ringer for a turd so the mistake was natural.

However, that was not the worst present that I ever made for her. At summer camp I found a twisted piece of wood and decided to carve an animal for her. After hours of whittling, my masterpiece of an elephant was complete. Years later she told me that her friends always got a chuckle from seeing the elephant that had a human phallus for a nose. I guess I put a bit too much detail into that part of the sculpture, but my Mom displayed it for years on the living room shelf. Talk about supporting the arts in the face of critics! Thanks Mom!

I think that Mother’s Day is a great invention because ungrateful children might overlook the sacrifices that their mothers made for them. I’m not even talking about basket-ball sized bellies for 9 months or the thousands of diaper changes. It goes deeper than that because raising a child through adulthood is even harder than carrying a half-baked baby.

Mothers are the defenders, caretakers, teachers, nurturers, disciplinarians, moral compasses and role models for us growing up. Without a woman’s more sensitive influence on our upbringing, we might still act like a bunch of knuckle-dragging Neanderthals.

Mothers turn us into better adults, or at least they try their hardest. No teacher, coach, boss or priest cares more about a child’s happiness or success than a mother. I don’t know the science behind this, but I have a feeling that it has something to do with protecting your own. I can prove this with the example that parents are willing to try a lot harder with their own kids than someone else’s “brats”. Don’t say that out loud, but you might agree internally. Is that too honest? hmmm…..

I personally owe everything that I have to my parents. While I look like my father and have similar mannerisms, I owe just as much of my personality to my mother. I am not even sure that she knows how much she influenced me so I am going to set the record straight.

I have written over 500 blog articles for this blog, and my Watch Hunter blog and I inherited my love of the written word from my Mom. She is sharp as a tack and does not miss a beat. She can tell you a story in such great detail that you can skip the book and the movie too.

My mom brings people together always introducing people in a way that breaks down walls. Both my mother and father allowed all kinds of folks into our home at different occasions. They did not cast stones upon people who might be on hard times or had made mistakes in their lives. They did not see race or class as a barrier and interacted with everyone who visited with the same “make yourself at home” treatment. I try my hardest to follow their example.

I experienced compassion from my mother and learned what a powerful tool empathy could be. In fact, I have never met another like her who would go so far out on a limb to help. Even when that limb was cracking under the strain, she would keep pushing further out to save the other person.

A vivid memory comes to mind from my childhood. My Mom had befriended a coworker who became very ill, in fact, deathly so. For months she would visit him in the hospital when all of his friends and family had abandoned him. It was not a pleasant experience for her because this young man understandably went through all the stages of someone who is faced with his own mortality. He often took his rage, sorrow and manic energy out on her… the only person who gave a damn. It was the early 1980’s and this new thing called AIDS was killing gay men in epidemic proportions.

My mother brought us children to the hospital one day to visit Kerry in the later stages of his disease. The skeleton before us with purple bruises all over his body was terrifying and pitiful to my young eyes. I witnessed the great sadness and caring for this stranger that my mother had. By example she showed that sacrificing time, effort and love can be more powerful medicine than what comes in a bottle. She showed that compassion is the medicine for the soul.

My Mom taught me how to laugh… and boy, do we have a good time. Because my father was such a wildcard with a bigger-than-life personality, the wit and cleverness of my Mom’s funny bone was often overshadowed. I really don’t think people know how hilarious she is. Perhaps, I think this because I can tell her brutally honest observations that I call “jokes” and she gets them, and then tells me that I am a bad boy… but still laughs. We have many for-your-ears-only inside jokes that I don’t necessarily share with others… they would clog up their P.C. filters.

I think that I have just scratched the surface, but this is an article, not a book. Just take my word that my Mom, Carol Hughes, is an American original as great as blue jeans, apple pie and rock ‘n roll. So, Mom, have a happy Mother’s Day. The flowers in this article were stolen right from my own yard in Atlanta and are waiting for you to see them in person. These digital flowers will never fade and never need watering.

Escorting my Mom at a wedding. I think I might have feinted during the ceremony…. oops.

Headshot Portraits for an Atlanta Engineering Firm

By | corporate photography, Graphic Works, head shots, headshot portraits, Masqueman Photography, portrait photography | No Comments
Many of my clients are right in my own back yard. This is especially true with an engineering firm that is located just a mile from the studio. This certainly makes the drive shorter.
Every company has preferences for the types of head shot portraits that I shoot for them. I show examples of styles that I have used in the past and ask if they would like any of the styles that they see. This puts us on the same page so that there are no surprises. This corporation chose a gray background style that has a slight gradient. The lighting ratio on the face is fairly close so no heavy shadows here. 
I have made head shot portraits in just about any kind of corporate room you can imagine from a claustrophobic closet to a normal conference room to a gigantic warehouse space. I can set up a portable studio in the space reserved for me… even a front entrance.
I shoot photos tethered to a computer so that I can show the victim, err, I mean subject the images. This usually makes clients happy because they will not be surprised with a photo that they dislike. I can also give contextual feedback that help the subject improve their posture or smile. 
In the end, I provide finished photos at the ratio they need for their web site (4×5 or 4×6) and another 1×1 ratio portrait for social media sites like Linked-In that use square proportions.
 I am always thrilled to work with neighbors and this was no exception.I even got to meet the office mascot who was notoriously shy. One click of the shutter, and this guy bolted.

Mother and Daughter Photos in Virginia

By | family portraits, Masqueman Photography | No Comments
I have known Susan and her mom, Becky for a very long time… maybe over 30 years. Susan was my sister’s friend and I tried to keep those 2 out of trouble…let’s just leave it at that.  Here is a photo of me and Susan in the 1980s. I had found a wig and was trying to do my best Bon Jovi impression.
Embarrassing? It was not as bad as my early 90’s mullet.
The current Susan is to shown to the below, and I think she has aged pretty well.
I try to get back to Virginia a couple of times a year, and my mother asked me to take portraits of Susan and Becky when I was there. I was glad to do it so we met at a local park that I had not seen before. I never know what a new location will offer so I got there early to find the best spots available. Luckily, there was a grove of trees and covered picnic tables. It would have to do since the rest was soccer fields. You can kinda see the location behind us. The lovely lady next to me is my own Momma.
These were important photos to take because I knew how terrible a year Becky had endured with a cancer diagnosis and painful treatments. These were to celebrate the relationship that mother and daughter have. Even if they want to strangle each other at times, they still love each other greatly.

Becky is a trooper putting up with the stagnant stuffy Virginia heat for our photo session.
Yes, they ladies wanted to show off their cool sunglasses.
 The sun was certainly bright, but nobody melted.

I hope that these photos will bring them memories of good times.

A Halloween Wedding in the Theme of Pokémon

By | costumes, group photography, Halloween, Masqueman Photography, Pokemon, portrait photography, theme wedding, wedding, weddings | No Comments
I know what you might be thinking? What in the world do costumes, Halloween, a wedding and a popular game named Pokémon have to do with the ceremony of matrimony? My answer is “who cares?”.  I think that people should be able to do whatever floats their boat on their wedding day.

I had to research Pokémon and here is all you need to know from the Pokémon Wiki: “Pokémon is a multi-media franchise that’s owned and developed by the major Japanese games manufacturer, Nintendo. It is second only to the company’s Mario Brothers franchise in terms of profitability — making it the world’s second most lucrative video game franchise. Pokémon gets its fan base hooked on creature collection — to complete what’s called the Pokédex — in order to achieve various goals and to improve their combat abilities. The franchise exists as several video games, a trading card game, televised anime, manga, and theatrical films.”

Pokémon Characters
A corporate client of mine asked if I was interested in shooting her son’s wedding and then told me about the theme of the event. I actually looked at the calendar to make sure that April Fool’s Day had not snuck up on me.  She was dead serious though so I told her that I would get back to her with an answer.

You see, I gave up shooting weddings a while back. I tell people that they are like surviving a 10 hour battle without food, water and with dwindling ammunition. My opinion is that wedding photography is some of the most demanding shooting (outside of a war zone). The pressure is high to get the photos and you do not get a second chance. You have to be on your game and stay there. God help you if anything goes wrong like your bride eating a handful of Xanax and washing it down with a couple of bottles of wine. That is a true story and the reason I got out of weddings. No thank you.

Regardless of my self-imposed wedding retirement, this was one of my favorite clients, and she needed a favor. I decided to help her and see what kind of wackiness might transpire given the ingredients that she described to me over the phone.

The location was going to be a driveway at her home and it was going to happen on Halloween day. I have shot weddings in driveways before. It can be a challenge to make it look like the wedding is not happening where you park your cars at night. Luckily, there was a valley of Fall foliage behind the chosen location, which is better than seeing neighbors’ houses.

The other issue was the time of day. It was going to be at 1 o’clock when the sun can potentially be harsh and unflattering causing deep shadows and contrasty images. Of course, there are ways to counteract this, but it gets more difficult in a fluid situation and a wedding party of 14 people. On the day of the event, the wedding gods blessed me with diffused cloud cover, which is like using a giant overhead soft box… in layman terms, perfect lighting for weddings.

We decided to make the group photos before the event to get them out of the way. I think this is great because it is time to party after the ceremony. I generally don’t think guests like waiting around while the wedding party is being photographed so this solves that issue immediately.

Here are the ladies. I should point out that the clothes they wore were “inspired by Pokémon”, not actual character costumes. This is provides more variety and room for personalization than the matching uniforms that many wedding parties wear. 

Here are the men. These guys cracked me up. The big hands are obvious but did you notice the medieval style cod piece? It’s there and I cannot show the other photos… ha ha.

I used my trusty Einstein flashes and a giant umbrella to push fill light into the portraits. Technically, I was shooting into the sun so I was lighting the shadows to make them more even with the lighter background.

 The setting was a tiny nook in the front yard. I tried to create the illusion that we were  not surrounded by houses and cars. I am not showing the other groups I photographed, but there were many.

The procession to the ceremony was a great time to grab less formal photos of the wedding party.

The flower girl was dressed as Pikachu, the most famous Pokémon character.

The ceremony was short and sweet. The couple read a passage from a favorite book that was beautiful. It was all over in a flash.

Afterwards, guests moved inside for cake and food. If the front yard was tight, inside was even tighter once  each room was filled wall to wall with people.
I grabbed the couple for a few more outdoor photos when they were not tending to their guests. These ended up being my favorite photos.

Because they were in untraditional wedding attire, I approached their portraits as character studies.

That took the portraits out of the context of a wedding and to me become more mysterious. 

They defy explanation and I like that about them. The world needs more mystery in it and I hope people wonder “what is the story here?”

I enjoyed meeting the wedding couple and their friends. They were some of the coolest young people that I have met who marched to the beat of their own drums. That individuality in itself should be  celebrated in our homogenized world. This is one wedding that the participants nor I will forget.

And, just to see how many themes we could stuff into one wedding, we got light saber photos. This ended up being the coolest theme wedding that I have shot to date. I wish Harry and Devon a long happy life together.

Putting Together a Wicked 3-D Puzzle Mask

By | archeology, mask, puzzle | No Comments
Sometimes contractors break things while getting the job done. Don’t get me started on hired workers because there are more mediocre ones than good ones out there.
This particular contractor broke an irreplaceable clay mask while banging on the outside of the house. He hit the walls so hard that he made several masks and a painting fall off the wall. A simple warning could have prevented the destruction of this rare and wonderful clay mask, probably from a South Pacific native tribe. Below is what it looked like before.
The moment I saw it smashed to smithereens, knew that I would never find another one like it. The contractor compensated me for the damage and I boxed up the shards for the future. I did not want to just dump it in the trash. I suppose my childhood dream of being an archeologist would be put to the test by trying to reassemble it.  Putting a 3-D puzzle back together with missing parts was quite the challenge. The results were a bit Frankenstein-like, but it was better than nothing. Too bad that I did not realize that the gorilla glue would leave yellow lines. I guess that I will have to give up the dream of being like Indiana Jones or get a lot better at assembling puzzles.

Photographing an Amazing 3 Story Tall Lobby Sculpture

By | abstract art, architecture, artists, Masqueman Photography, Sculpture | No Comments
In my opinion, most artwork is better seen with one’s own eyes, especially 3-dimensional sculptures. Photographs may not do the original justice since the nature of a photo is to turn the 3-dimensional object into a 2-dimensional “flat” abstraction.
The choices that a photographer makes when capturing the sculpture (such as viewing angle) are “baked into the photograph”. The viewer can only interpret what the photographer chose to show. Enjoying sculptures in person with our own senses, making our own visual discoveries and forming our own opinions will always be the best way to enjoy this type of artwork (at least until virtual reality is indistinguishable from the real world).
On the other hand, photography can be used to enhance sculptures by creating a version of the artwork that is not possible to see in person. A photographer documenting sculptures always takes a risk of adding a layer of his own aesthetic that may not be in line with what the creator of the artwork intended.
This concern was in the back of my mind when I was asked to photograph an amazing art installation in a client’s lobby. The artwork is permanently attached to the building via a massive hanging system tied into a skylight. I have no idea whether the artist designed it just for the space or if it is something that she has done in other locations.
A client installed this wire and mirrored hexagon sculpture that descends from their skylight three stories above down to the first floor entrance.
The hexagons are suspended at regular intervals creating planes of color and pattern in all directions.
Less than half of the installation is shown in the image below. It fits into the spiral staircase perfectly.
By using flashes, I was able to control the mood of the photo. While my photos make it looks like dusk outside, it was really midday. I could also control the direction of projected shadows adding another layer of dimension to the work. The regular office lighting does not have this effect.
This is simply beautiful.
One of my favorite views was looking up at the links of disks. I did not see a single repeated design.
The view from the top of the staircase reveals reflections of color patterns since all the tiles are mirrored on top. It is similar to looking through a giant shifting kaleidoscope.
I took advantage of the spiral staircase to frame the amazing installation. I imagined some sort of futuristic warp drive in action as I looked at the suspended facets of color.
I believe that the impact of the sculpture is stronger because of where it was installed.
The top of the sculpture seems to come to a point, though this is just an illusion created by the staggered starting points of the hexagon columns.
The red wires play their own part bringing streaks of color into negative spaces around the tiles.
A slight change in perspective shows the fit into the architecture.
By sharing so many views, I am trying to show that this sculpture will offer infinite pleasure and a new experience each time it is encountered.
The sculpture can appear solid or airy depending on whether you are viewing the edges or the tops and bottoms of the hexagons. I would love to have something this cool in my dream home.
I do have one question though… how do you dust something like this?
Pae White is a multimedia artist known for reinterpreting familiar encounters and ordinary items—like animals, books, advertisements, shopping bags, and plants—and revealing what she calls the “artfulness” of the natural and the everyday. She employs ornate craftsmanship along with inventive materials to create objects and installations that transcend traditional boundaries between art and design. Learn more about Pae White here.

My Encounter with an Evil Man Masquerading as a Lawyer

By | hypocrite, politics, racism | No Comments
I wrote this article a while back, but shelved it because I did not want to relive a certain event. However, with the rise of politically hateful rhetoric in the news, I decided to dust it off and let it see the light of day. April Fools Day seems an appropriate day since the article talks about encountering one of the biggest fools I have ever met. It is lengthy and just my opinion. Read it or not… at least I got it off my chest.

During a routine legal meeting, my wife and I had to sign documents and interact with a lawyer who was handling the paperwork. The procedure should have taken about 45 minutes to sign a stack of forms, but it took almost twice that. The reason it went over was that we were preached the most morally repulsive, racist and misogynistic “sermon of the 1%” by the man assigned to us.

I consider myself open-minded and independent when it comes to politics. To me, there are very few black and white answers in this world and no one party is completely right. Both have made favorable and terrible decisions that have affected Americans. I have no political agenda here except to relate a story of a very selfish and privileged man and his view of the world.

The identity of Mr. Jones has been changed, but the rest is the truth.

The lawyer, who I will call “Mr. Jones” (not his real name), seemed friendly enough at first. He was a Vietnam veteran and those guys automatically get my highest respect. Perhaps that is one reason I did not tell him where he could shove his opinions. I felt like I was jeopardizing our mortgage refinance if I got into a confrontation with him. I believe he thought this too, which is why he took advantage of the situation to push his unsolicited world view onto us.

At first “Mr. Jones” let us know his position on women’s roles, which seemed to be that women have the “right to look pretty” and “know their place as a happy little home maker or toy for men”. To him, women are “doe eyed” weak creatures meant to be protected by macho men like himself.  He kept calling his wife a sweet little innocent thing, kinda like what some would say about a kitten in a bathtub. “Aww… bless her heart”. This was mysteriously said right after he learned my wife is a very successful and professional woman in with a “real” career.

With all his talk of protecting women, he had no problem crossing the line of decency in front of MY wife. Within 10 minutes he had disclosed that his female assistant and his wife deserved a spanking. I am sure that he felt qualified to administer their “punishment”. He started ramping up the nastiness of his randy talk from here.  He seemed to enjoy being hateful towards women who dared to think for themselves.

No matter how we tried to deflect him back to the paperwork, he kept divulging less favorable stories about himself. He had been “embarrassed” on Facebook when he accidentally broadcasted crass sexual harassing comments to a young female law student who sincerely wanted to visit his practice on a professional basis. He was not sorry that he acted inappropriately and unprofessionally… just that he got caught by his wife and colleagues on this new “fangled social media”. There is a big difference there. He was actually chuckling about the incident. We were not.

“Mr. Jones” just kept blabbing, even bringing up his sexual escapades when he was a young man cheating on hist first wife. He almost went misty eyed at that point remembering those “good ole days”. If you thought “Mr. Jones” was going to stop there, then you are wrong. He proceeded launching nuggets of racial and societal hate speech our direction. He assumed that since we are caucasian too, we would be standing in his aisles with our hands in the air singing “Hallelujah brother! Preach that gospel!”, but he could not have been more mistaken. We were squirming and biting our lips.

As we kept signing papers, he “shock and awed” us with even more brain-numbing rhetoric of how the U.S. government is completely evil and mistreats rich people, and how the top “1% of society should have absolute preferential treatment” since they make the economy that trickles down for the rest of the peasants in the lower economic levels.

He said that poor or underprivileged people should be left to fend for themselves thus saving the resources of society for only the smartest and most deserving people (like him). He did not go into specifics on how that would work, but he gave an example of how some ancient societies threw deformed babies over a cliff, and he was “okay with that”. His inference was that parts of our society might benefit from a purge. Wow! Really? At this point, I started looking around for Nazi memorabilia and the quickest exit.

“Mr. Jones” was probably the biggest self-righteous creep that I have ever met. He thought so highly of himself and so little of everyone else that he felt compelled to tell two complete strangers how the world should be according to “The Imperial Emperor Jones”. He did not care how mean or ignorant he sounded because he loved the sound of his own voice. But the scariest realization is that this man was a trained lawyer, yet had no sense of decency or visible morality.

While I believe in free speech and that “Mr. Jones” has every right to believe whatever he wants and to voice his opinion, I also believe that his clients should not be subjected to his one man hate show. I am hoping beyond belief that the karmic toilet bowl of life flushes that turd as quickly as possible. Enough said.

Matching the Portrait Style of Another Photographer a Continent Away

By | Andrew Hughes, corporate photography, Graphic Works, Masqueman Photography, portrait photography | No Comments
Photographers often dissect each other’s work to see how a photograph is made. We look for subtle tell-tale signs that show the environment and the light sources for the scene. Trying to recreate another photographer’s style can be very difficult, especially without all the facts. That is what I was asked to do when I was hired to shoot some pickup portraits.
I was tasked to photograph a few of the local Atlanta employees and match the style of the South American office portraits that were already completed. I have the utmost respect for the photographer who took the photos that I was supposed to match. This guy was good and had a wonderful look to his shots. Unfortunately, I do not know this gifted shooter’s name, but his work can be seen in the three photos below.

I was tasked to match these wonderful portraits from another photographer
Try as I might, I could not recreate the scene in the very small office I was given to work in. I got the results below “after the fact” with some photoshop. It was the only way I could do it.
I took the portraits on a white background so that I could composite a background into the scene. The background was pieced together from several of the source photos plus some illustration to extend the blinds.

Later on, the client share a very important clue about the original portraits. A behind the scenes picture revealed the extent of the original photographer’s portrait setup inside an office made of frosted glass. The photographer used the large glass wall as a humongous diffuser. Brilliant!
There was zero chance of me using the same techniques in the space I was given, but it all worked out regardless. Whew!

Photographing a Wild In-Home Discotheque for an Audio Visual Company in Atlanta

By | architecture, interior photography, Masqueman Photography, Performance AV | No Comments
I was asked to take photos for a prominent Audio and Visual installation company working in the Atlanta area named Performance Audio and Video. The photographs were needed for an online industry article written about PAV.

If you are the type of person who gets excited about home automation and advanced control of the distributed A/V, heating, lighting, security and window blind components in your house, then you should consider giving them a call. All the information you need is located at www.pavatlanta.com, which is a web site I completed for them last year.

I got a glimpse into what PAV does by taking photos of various installations in a recently renovated mansion in north Atlanta. At first, this may just look like a regular living room. The great thing about the home automation products is that they work in the background, and are accessed using television screens, iPads, iPhones and wall control panels. You may never even know that they are there, until you need them.

The photograph was tricky because I was mixing several different colored light sources with my large  flashes. The room was tight and enclosed with rough hewn divider walls, which essentially determined my choice for viewpoint. Below you can see a little behind-the-scenes of the flashes.  
The other shot needed was for the daddy of all outdoor porches. There are a lot of hidden details here so I am going to mention a few. Along with inline heater units, there are speakers faux-painted to match the wood used in the ceiling. You can barely even see them even a few feet away. There is an outdoor television and fully automated floor to ceiling screens that close the porch off from Atlanta’s famous mosquitoes. We lowered the screens to act darkness the brighter outside yard. They acted like neutral density filters allowing me to make the photograph in one shot.

Normally, several images might need to be composited together since the exposure of the darker porch and the lighter yard is beyond the latitude of my camera’s sensor. I used a couple of flashes the light the foreground area. Below is what the camera would see if I just clicked the shutter.
Behind-the-Scenes: How the camera would see the terrace without my flashes
The last room was quite a challenge. Try to make a photograph of an in-home discotheque that has black walls, a fiber optic star ceiling, mirrored dance floor, DJ booth, VIP couch and a professional level of booming sound, lights, lasers and smoke machine. I had my work cut out for me as you can see in the disco video here.

 Play the video

This disco is intimate and everything can be seen in the wall mirrors. Using a wide angle lens meant that it was difficult to hide my light stands, the camera on a tripod and myself.  Smoke allowed the laser spots and lights to be seen. I might have breathed in a quart of the oil based smoke. Delicious!

If I cannot light something directly, then lighting the space behind it works even better. I added a remote flash that was gelled with pink behind the DJ booth. This gave a focal point to the room.

I asked Jason Caponi of PAV to program the disco lights to slow down and stay in one spot for as long as possible. This was needed because the long exposure combined with the constantly moving lights rendered the colors that you see in the image above practically invisible to the camera sensor. It was quite a balancing act and I am glad that I was able to get something before our time ran out.