Damn flower photos…

What is it with all these photographs of flowers? Yes, flowers are pretty, and in some cases downright beautiful, but why do we need to always photograph them?

Photography is the easy art. Anybody can pick up a camera and take a photo. Almost anybody can take a decent photo, maybe even a good one. It does, however, take a keen eye and a honed talent to make exceptional photography, but the sad reality is that most of us can’t even tell the difference between a "nice" photo and a finely-crafted one.

That’s part of the reason why I always roll my eyes at flower photography — it’s too easy. It’s right up there with black & white female nudes — given the subject matter, it’s almost impossible to go wrong. So where’s the challenge? Where’s the point?

Many years ago I acquired (for free) a videotape on photography that was sponsored by L.L. Bean, or maybe Eddie Bauer, I don’t remember which. It was all about the basics of photography. The host/photographer was some burly American guy with a bald head, trimmed beard, and a fishing vest full of accessories. You can’t get any more cliché than that.

I disagreed with almost everything he said. When he came to the part about photographing flowers I almost lost it. The guy’s technique was to pick the flower and clamp it to an attachment that reached out from the tripod screw on his camera. The idea was to position the flower dead-center in the frame, and then move the whole thing around until the light was pleasing and the background suitable. So phony. And it killed the flower!

I was so outraged that I sent a letter to the sponsor stating that no decent nature photographer would kill his subject in order to get a good photo of it (I didn’t bother with the argument against decontextualization), and that I would not buy any more products from their store until they retracted the video. I didn’t mention that the nearest L.L. Bean or Eddie Bauer stores were about 1000 miles away. I’m sure they got a good laugh out of it, but they were courteous enough to send me a letter of apology.

During my long apprenticeship as a photographer I was enticed, many times, to photograph flowers, often with sunsets as backgrounds, or with artistic hazy soft focus effects. Fortunately I never stooped so low as to enlarge any onto canvas-textured paper. In every case, my initial enthusiasm was always dampened by the crushing sense of boredom and sameness as I looked at photo after photo of flower after flower, and I realized that nothing I did was any different, and that these photos served little purpose beyond mere cataloging.

So I stopped. I stopped photographing flowers ages ago. After all, Flickr and other photo sources are bursting with flower after flower after flower, and who cares? If I want to look at flower photos I’ll pick up a free seed catalog.

But on the other hand, sometimes you see something, right in your own yard, and you just toss out your prejudices and say "what the Hell!"

We’re Number… Four!

I’d like to thank the thousands of loyal readers who voted for the Blork Blog in the Montreal Mirror’s annual “Best of Montreal” alterna-rag marketing campaign. Thanks to you I have achieved the coveted position of number four in the category of “best blog.” To handle the resulting surge in readership, Typepad has granted this blog its own dedicated server, which will be paid for via that popular cash cow: Google ads.

I can’t wait for the phone call from the Mirror’s sales team, who will offer me the opportunity to pay an extra charge for a “BoM” flash on the ad they’re ready to sell me in their very truthful paper.

On the other hand, I may never get such a call, as the “Best Blog” category is probably one of many that the sales team doesn’t bother with. Those are the categories that function as “hip-sounding stuff thrown in there so people don’t realize this is really just a trick to sell ads to restaurants and retail stores.”

No matter. After all, it is enough of an honor to be listed in the same survey that ranked Domino’s and Pizza Hut (in that order) as two of the “best pizzas” in the city.

So far, Buffet Maharaja is the only one to buy an ad with the “BoM” flash (page 34), but that’s probably because they were already familiar with the pitch from last year. Watch in the following weeks to see how many other businesses — who are clearly and unequivocally the best the city has to offer — fall into line and buy BoM-branded ads.

Alternative journalism at its finest. Now please click on one of my Google ads…

I just don’t understand Macs

I’ve had this iBook for a year or so now, and I really like it. I use it primarily as a portable Web terminal — it allows me to do on-line things in the kitchen, the dining room, the back yard, and even in bed.

I don’t use it for much else. My desktop machine (Windows XP) has a bigger and better screen, and a better keyboard and mouse, so for writing and working on photos and such, I’ll use that machine. There is also the small problem of the fact that I just can’t wrap my mind around the Macintosh way of doing things.

Macs are simple, yes. Perhaps too simple.

I am grateful for that simplicity in some cases, such as the ease and grace with which it finds and  connect to wireless networks. But some other things continue to baffle me — such as installing software.

Yes, I could hear all those Mac fans popping their eyes out at that one. I admit that the problem is my own — I install software on the Mac so infrequently that I haven’t given it a chance to sink in, which is to say, using that term that was so popular in the 90, I don’t grok it.

With Windows software it’s simple — you double-click the setup file and then click "Next" a few times in the wizard and bingo, you’re installed. I fully understand what is happening during the installation, and I know where the application lives. I can put shortcuts on my desktop or in the taskbar without even thinking about it. Easy.

It’s supposed to be easy with the Mac too, but for some reason it rarely is. For one thing, when I’m downloading a file it’s often unclear if the file is compressed or ready to go. And where should I install it? After I double-click to extract and install, can I throw away (or archive) the download file, like I do with Windows downloads? Why do I always end up with something installed on my desktop instead of in the Applications folder? What are all these extra files laying around, and can I delete them? What the Hell is an "extension?"

There are two main problems. First, Apple has made the process so "simple" that it hides what’s really going on, which means that unless you’re really dedicated you never learn what’s really going on. Second, most installation instructions are stupid or opaque, and assume you’re either some kind of über-Mac user, or a dumb teenager who doesn’t care how badly-installed the thing is as long as it works.

Then there are the applications written for Windows and ported to Mac. They’re often as kludgy as as a Dymaxion car in a mud-hole rally. Take for example the iRiver Music Manager software. Installing it and using it on my Windows machine is a snap. The other day I decided to put it on the Mac, too. Here’s the instructions page for doing so:

duh!

Three easy steps, right? Take a closer look. Not only is the process convoluted, but it doesn’t actually install the software. It just sets it up to run from the CD.

Not that you can tell — at least not until you take the CD out and then try to run the software.

This is retarded. I don’t want to have to insert the CD every time I want to flip a couple of files onto my MP3 player. I finally figured out that instead of navigating on the CD to the DMG file and then double-clicking it, I should navigate to the file and then drag it to the Applications folder on the Mac!

Once the DMG file is on the Mac, I don’t need the CD anymore. So why don’t the instructions say to do it that way?

Mind you, it’s still a bit convoluted — I double-click the file and it mounts a temporary drive and opens a finder window where I have to double-click again to start the software. Plus, I can’t put a shortcut in the desktop dock because the Mac doesn’t recognize the DMG file as an application, so it won’t let me do it.

And while we’re at it, what the Hell is a "CarbonLib Update?"

But at least I got it to work, no thanks to the stupid manual. This reminds me of the bad old days of Windows 3.1 and even Windows 95, when nothing ever happened the way it was supposed to, and you were always fighting with the machine and finding your own workarounds. Come to think of it, that’s how I came to learn and understand Windows. Maybe I just need to fight with the Mac a bit more if I want to really understand it.

Stupid Bell Sympatico ad

Bell Sympatico has been circulating an ad for their new “Parent Control” service that says “You’ll do anything to protect your kids from inappropriate content. So will we.” The accompanying picture is of anatomy book open to a page titled “The Female Body.” The breasts and pubic region have been cut out.

Many people (1, 2, 3, etc.) are offended by this ad, and rightly so. There are at least two levels of subtext at work. First; the female body is naughty and inappropriate. Even worse; knowledge of the female body is inappropriate.

Apparently, a few people are not offended by the ad, claiming that it is just a humourous take on the idea of over-protecting your children. I suspect that 90% of them work for Sympatico’s marketing department or Grip, the Toronto advertising company behind the ad. They say it is part of a wider campaign — that the related television ads put it “in context.” News flash: not everybody watches a lot of television!

I won’t even get into the feminist side of the discussion as that, to me, is obvious and does not even need to be discussed. (More on blork and feminism here…) But I would like to discuss it from a media point-of-view.

Humour? In order to be humourous in a marketing campaign, there needs to be slapstick, or irony, or some other obvious *whack!* There’s no *whack!* here. Outside of “the context” of the TV ads, there is no reference to anything that shows this kind of over-protection as being bad, or weird, or in any way itself inappropriate. As such, the humour in the print ad is not obvious, so it essentially doesn’t exist. Which leaves only one conclusion — they appear to endorse the ideas that the female body is naughty and inappropriate and knowledge of the female body is inappropriate.

Of course that’s not what they meant, but the world is full of impressionable people, many of whom buy into those ideas without Sympatico even pushing it at them. They’re just not the kind of ideas one throws around casually unless you are satirizing or mocking them — which Sympatico is clearly not doing. As such, an ad like this will offend many people.

What offends me as a marketing professional is that no one at Sympatico or Grip had the imagination or foresight to realize the implications of this image and how those implications would overshadow any small scraps of humour that might have been found in the original concept. I suppose that’s what happens when bone-headed designers meet stuffed-shirt executives.

You can see the television ad on InfoPresse.com, here. You can also see the French-language ad (by Cossette), which is completely different — and is actually funny, aside from the habitant angle, which is getting old. (Ignore the movie that comes up when the InfoPresse page first loads — click on “Message Canadien” for the English ad and “Message québécois” for the French one.)