Christmas by the Golden Rule

Give Unto Others As You Would Have Them Give Unto You. 

For your esteemed consideration, a brief list of gift possibilities that have nothing whatsoever to do with endless asphalt parking lots, elbow-throwing shoppers, overworked credit cards, feelings of anxiety and resentment, and/or inevitable, near-horizon additions to your town’s overtaxed landfills.

If I could give the sort of gifts that I would love to receive they would look like these.

For someone ready to move into the next phase of his/her life: Folded neatly and tied with cotton twine; a recently-shed and very magical snake skin, found during a hike along an abandoned railroad grade high, above Oregon’s wild and beautiful, Deschutes River. A gift that will remind your loved one that shedding what no longer fits and then moving on, though sometimes fearful, is as natural as the progression of days within a life itself.

These gifts might not cost anything in dollars, but in each case they would cost their givers in time and awareness, and intention, which really, seem far more valuable as currencies.

A hand-carved Pine Bark Bunny, whittled while leaning against an immense sun-baked rock, surrounded by the pungent heat of a summer’s afternoon. Whether used as a Christmas tree ornament or a bookshelf chotchky, this little bark bunny is a gift of hope and playfulness, and a reminder that magical totem creatures may be found in the least likely places to help you in your journey. (I was first introduced to pine bark carvings as a very young boy by my dad who surprised me with a wonderful toy he’d carved for me while he was conversing with an old friend along a summer lake shore. They have fascinated me ever since.)

From the very edge of the earth . . .

Stones and Shells gathered on a rainy, healing winter’s walk along the beach: Here then is a gift that acknowledges the beauty of an ever-changing shoreline, honors the beauty that remains from a life that was, and that reminds its recipient of the softening, hard-edge smoothing effects of those crashing waves that sometimes pound against us.

Flavorful medicine for the chills of winter and the senses of the imaginative soul:

Wild-gathered mint, enough for at least a couple of pots of healing tea. So many of the medicines our hearts and bodies need are out there within the living, breathing world, as opposed to being found within the cello-wrapped packages on store shelves. This bundle of wild mint, gathered in a lowland seep along an untamed river has been drying and breathing within a cool, dark closet since summer, awaiting its chance to enliven the senses and relive aspects of its midsummer glory. Steeping these fragrant leaves within steaming, pure water will release healing essential oils and dream-inducing smells, and magically some of that warm summertime calm may reanimate and share itself with the sipper from within a china cup.

An invitation to consider what lies beneath and to risk letting it be seen:

Chestnuts resting in their prickly husks; Just beneath the spiny surface of so many wondrous things, flavors and colors and the tactile sense of utter smoothness. How many of us have built up spiny exteriors as a means of protection from those things we fear will touch our lives in ways we do not welcome or understand? And how many of us, having grown that prickly exterior, now feel trapped within it, so that those we love are now afraid of us and reluctant to even try to get very close. This is a gift that says, “I see you. I see beneath that gruff exterior and know that there is such a wealth of goodness, even softness buried just beneath it . . . and I am calling out to you to shed some of those thorns, if only for me.” What imprisoned soul wouldn’t find a tiny jolt of recognition and relief at receiving such a gift?

A reminder to live beautifully wherever you are, to draw warmth from the coldness of others and nourishment from the very air you breathe.

Here is the one gift in this humble gift collection that required any ‘buying’, for Tillandsia (air plants), simply do not grow wild in this region I call home. However, an air plant this size can probably be obtained from your local nursery or garden store for between five and ten dollars, and given that it needs no soil in order to live a healthy life it strikes me as a particularly powerful metaphor for a gift. One simply needs provide one of these magical plants a humble place to reside and no matter how poor its surroundings, it will find a way to gather what it needs, both to thrive and to grow ever more beautiful. This particular tillandsia lives atop a beautifully weathered ‘lava’ rock brought home from a camping and fishing trip along a lonely stretch of high desert river. Taken together, this handsome twosome provides a study in contrasts that continually dances with my imagination.

And so it goes, you see…

Of course, not everyone would understand such gifts, and some, inevitably would see them as uncool and unfair, as ‘cheap-outs’ or tight-wadded attempts to save their givers money rather than deeply thoughtful gestures that were intended to be delivered with a story and an implied, “I see you and love you.” Perhaps you will be able to see some of the gold that this soul suspects would result if each of us began to celebrate all of our holidays in closer accordance with that magical golden rule, giving as we would most like to be given to. And really, unless you just hunger for some useless, five, ten or twenty dollar trinket from WalMart that comes bubble-wrapped in plastic and that will be broken beyond any usefulness within a few weeks, and then headed for the landfill, why, why would you, or any of us ever resort to such gift giving inanity for someone else, just so we could check them off our gift list? Perhaps it is time to reclaim the essence of gift giving, investing the time you’d otherwise spend working to pay off the credit card bill generated by purchasing some of those silly gifts and instead, thoughtfully gathering and making, and weaving a personal story for your loved ones.

Which, if any of these gifts would you most like to receive? And what is the first of this type of gift that you imagine giving? Would there be some inherent metaphor or message behind it, or would it just be a simple gift of beauty?


(And for those interested in such things, all of these photos were captured on an iPhone 5 using the Camera+ app and then processed in the iPad version of the same app, because it has more variables and control. All of the items were placed upon a sheet of kraft wrapping paper and lit with a single, affordable, incandescent Tota-light, diffused by a white cloth.)


Further iPad camera explorations and ruminations . . .                                          Now with inanimate objects.


I’m quickly coming to the realization that the form factor of an iPad is really no more strange as an image-capture device than an old-school view camera. In fact, ergonomically it’s actually probably less strange, but also less familiar. And there, I suspect is the basis for nearly all that makes it seem ‘strange’. Truth is, most of us will get over any aversions we harbor toward the iPad camera’s differentness pretty quickly as we work with it a while, especially as we fall in love with some of the beautiful images it affords us. But like any other new camera or image-capture medium, you know there will be some who will inevitably need to step atop their soapboxes and with great surety and passion bemoan all that is wrong with making pictures in this godfersaken, newfangled-ish way. I imagine it was the same with Polaroid when it first arrived on the scene. For these bleating naysayers, defining themselves by the negative space has always been deemed, in and of itself an act of high art. Sometimes it is the only act of art they are qualified to render up. (Think bacon grease, here). Don’t let them sway you, my friends. Try making pictures for yourself and let the results be your guide.


This is the very first photo I made with the new iPad, hand holding it an inch above the soggy ground while peering at its glossy screen from an awkward, bent-over vantage on my hands and knees. It's not exactly an award winner, but on that chilly March morning, and despite all the things about it that were clumsy, I definitely felt I could see some potential.

The first step for me was shooting a few handheld, snapshot-y type photos with the iPad and discovering just how good the camera’s lens actually was when combined with the Camera+ app’s precise exposure and focus controls. These first few pics made the creative lightbulb come on for me, which left me then wanting to try more deliberate sorts of pictures   . . . pictures that actually gave that camera, in its strange, print-sized shape, a chance to really shine. It did.

First thing on the list: I needed a way to attach the darn thing to a tripod.

I looked at several iPad holders of various over the top prices and goofball designs, and finally settled on one of the simplest and surprisingly, least expensive that I had seen, The NOOTLE tripod mount at Here’s a look at their page …

Simple, affordable and elegant. Just put your iPad into the snug fitting holder, attach it to a 1/4 20 threaded tripod head and you are ready to take your iPad photography to the next level. Literally.

A few days after ordering it, my new nifty Nootle arrived along with a bonus, free, Big Ass, (yep, real name), rubber band and an actual, hand-written thank you note. I immediately liked these people!

This single tulip in a hanging vase on my back door was my first tripod-stabilized photo on the iPad, prior to finding a suitable holder. Here, I merely rested the iPad atop a tripod head and held it as level and steady as possible. The image was shot and processed with the very groovy, Camera+ app. It's simple elegance convinced me that the camera was more than worthy, and that I really needed to either buy or build a hands-free holder to free me up for further photo explorations with it.

I can’t say that the iPad has become my ‘go to’ camera at this stage, but I can report that it has been winning me over a little more each time I use it. Mostly I use it for other things, like during workshops and shoots as a place to import photos shot with other cameras in order to include others in the discussion and viewing process. When hooked up to a projector, the iPad allows all of the participants in a workshop to view each others’ assignment image captures along with a show-and-tell classroom critique about what works and what doesn’t quite work in individual shots. On photo shoots, I find that being able to import a few photos from the camera to demonstrate to the subject what we’re getting on camera, or to stimulate a more informed discussion with the art director can really shorten the learning curve substantially, delivering us far more efficiently to our goal line.

But I digress. We’re here to talk about the iPad as camera, and more specifically, to explore the other half of that team of two photos I shot a few days ago and posted up together: Consider yourself reminded.

Here’s how the still life of those beautiful, maroon and gold, ‘Holden Clough’ iris looked straight out of the camera: clean, sharply focused and saturated with delicious color.

Shot on the iPad in Camera+ and unretouched, but for cropping a bit off the top.
As you can see, I tried warming up the colors in this early variation of the original. And though I do like it, I quickly became convinced that it feels much to warm and contrasty to serve as a suitable companion for the portrait I was matching it up with.

Over time, one learns that the best solution for a problem is not always the prettiest solution … or the most true. It feels as if to work side-by-side with the antique-looking portrait, this still life needs to feel cooler, more blue tones and cyans… and it needs to feel as if it is more of a long-ago memory, softened and faded by time.

I've added a white border to frame the image and curve its edges, but honestly, I think I've over-adjusted the color palette. This feels too blue and it is still too contrasty to imply the faded effects of time. Let's save this step and then run it through the app one more time.

Having added the curved-edge white border to set off the photo and provide enough white space to add the flower’s Latin nomenclature beneath it (we’ll add this later in Photoshop), it occurs to me that we need yet another level of ‘frame’ for the picture to finish it. I add that touch, still working in the Camera+ app, by adding a styled border called “Vintage”, then save it and run it through one more time to tweak the colors.

By tweaking the color palette and lowering the contrast, and then slightly blurring the edges of the white-matted image before adding that final 'Vintage' frame, I finally come to a place that feels quieter and softer than the original, as shot, a faded, patina-ed place that feels like it belongs to another era. The color palette isn't precisely consistent with the portrait image, which actually pleases me. I don't want it to feel like somebody's mother laid out a perfectly matching outfit for him to wear to school. In this case, I like the tension of color palettes that are not quite in tonal sync., but at least in the same neighborhood. Good enough for today's playtime.

Once I’d gotten to the soft, cool look you see above, I saved the image and then opened both it and the self-portrait in Photoshop, where I gave the portrait its own frame, butted the two pictures together and added copyright notices and the storytelling typography elements. Lots of steps. Lots of ‘practice’. And for what? Love? Money? Nada, unfortunately, on both counts. It could just be that I’m nuts.

Ahh well, at least I’m constantly stretching myself, join’ out there on the limb, where the fruit grows. At least I’m trying things, experimenting and giving myself permission to play, and fail, and grow.

I’m hoping you’ll be able to glean something for your own creative ventures from this journal. If you’d like to workshop with me to develop your own iPad photographic workflow, stay tuned. I am working on the elements necessary for both a lecture and a workshop on the topic, and you would, of course, be most welcome to attend.