Raise a glass to CoMo nightlife

July 21, 2014 in Assignments by T.J. Thomson

Patrons at Roxy's bar and club in Columbia, Mo., partied into the night on Independence Day eve, 2014.

Patrons at Roxy’s bar and club in Columbia, Mo., partied into the night on Independence Day eve, 2014.
Metadata: f/5.6; 1/64; ISO 25600; 24mm focal length

While shooting the cover story for the latest installment of Vox magazine, I found myself immersed in four local scenes that contrasted yet complemented each other so well.

I was a stranger to each venue, yet, invariably, some patron who had engaged in the bar’s offerings a little too heavily would wander up to me and initiate conversation.

“My friend wants to meet you,” one curly-haired blond informed me. “Hide me! This guy won’t stop bothering me,” a mousy woman exclaimed. “Do you dance?” a tall brunette shyly asked.

A bustling crowd celebrated Fourth of July eve at Roxy's club and bar during one of its weekly bottomless cup nights.

A bustling crowd celebrated Fourth of July eve at Roxy’s club and bar during one of its bottomless cup nights.

Never mind that I juggled a carbon steel tripod, multiple camera bodies, some wireless strobes, and a gear-filled backpack. Photographers are used to multitasking, right?

With a line that stretched more than a block from East Broadway around the corner of North 10th Street, Roxy’s boasted the longest wait for the huddled masses that crowded impatiently along the sidewalk on the eve of America’s Independence Day.

I had to open the door to three of the four CoMo hangouts my editors had picked. Roxy’s simplified the process and left its door open but guarded with a cadre of muscled bouncers that sometimes brusquely, but efficiently, managed the club’s traffic flow.

“Careful with your sh*t, bro; there’s a lot of crazy people up there,” the bouncer thoughtfully remarked as I made my way up the poster-lined stairs to the second-floor party scene.

A patron ascends the stairs to Roxy's second-floor dance floor seconds before flipping me the bird, a favorite greeting among bar patrons, it seems.

A patron ascends the stairs to Roxy’s second-floor dance floor seconds before flipping me the bird,
a favorite greeting among bar patrons, it seems.

The scene that greeted me at the top of the stairs affected almost all my senses immediately. Plastic cups were everywhere, in hands, on tables, and on the floor. The cups’ contents filled stomachs, ignited dance floor bravery, and goaded a half-dozen females to rise above their friends — literally — by dancing on a raised stage at the far end of the club.

The soft and steady glow of the disc jockey’s twin laptops contrasted fiercely with the ever-changing rainbow-colored lightning storm that raged above the patrons’ heads. The music, though deafening, was well executed and left me tempted to snap my camera’s shutter to the beat of the latest Tiësto single.

Beyond the newly opened rooftop bar on top of the Broadway Hotel, Roxy's is the only upper-level club in Columbia, a feat that presents its own challenges for performing acts that have to lug their gear up the venue's steep back steps.

Beyond the newly opened rooftop bar on top of the Broadway Hotel, Roxy’s is the only upper-level club in Columbia, a feat that presents its own challenges for performing acts that have to lug their gear up the venue’s steep back steps.

I had wandered into the club three days before, for its “Geeks Who Drink” trivia night and was shocked at the difference. Frontman Chris Bruno’s band, “Buried,” a heavy-rock trio, played that night for a crowd as big as the band.

The lighter attendance allowed me to appreciate the little details of the club’s atmosphere, like its dark hardwood floors that were gorgeous, but invisible a few nights later when covered by a throng of sweaty partygoers.

The club’s owner, Jesse Garcia, recently outfitted the space with an upgraded fog machine, nicknamed “Smaug” as a nod to J.R.R. Tolkien’s famed fire-breathing dragon. As a cloud of smoke descended on the club and the laser lights reached the zenith of their frenzy, the club’s partygoers roared above the music and counted down the final few seconds before midnight.

Happy birthday, America.

Five essential photo types any visual package needs

July 6, 2014 in Assignments, Composition, Context, Interactivity, Separation by T.J. Thomson

You’ve just been tapped for your first media assignment. Congrats!

What kind of pictures will your editor be looking for? Here’s a quick cheatsheet that provides the basic parts of a photo package, why they’re important, and some tips on how to capture them:

Angie and Heath Immel unpack gear while their son, Ben, 13, doubles back to help his parents. About 25 people, including some Burmese refugees, gathered on the field behind Broadway Christian Church to hone their soccer skills during City of Hope's soccer camp on Saturday, July 5, 2014.

Angie and Heath Immel unpack gear while their son, Ben, 13, doubles back to help his parents. About 25 people, including some Burmese refugees, gathered on the field behind Broadway Christian Church to hone their soccer skills during City of Hope’s soccer camp on Saturday, July 5, 2014.

1. Scene-setters — These images put the place in context and show not only where they happen, but where the action is happening in relation to its broader environment. For example, if you’re shooting a sporting event, don’t just shoot the action on the field. Also get a photo or two of crowds streaming into the stadium, the traffic jam at the end of the match, or a wide shot from the top of the stands.

These images aren’t always the most pretty, but they give clues to how many people attended, what the weather was like, and provide a sense of scale to the event and its significance. Any contextual clues you can include, such as recognizable landmarks or artifacts that tip the viewer off to what the story’s about without having to read a single word, are always helpful.

These images are often, but not always, made during the beginning or ending of events. Always consider showing up early or staying late so you can capture the school bus as it pulls up to the gym, people as they enter a building for an event, or workers as they prep a site for an evening concert.

Ben Immel, 13, teases Juhad Belzer, 9, with a soccer ball while Heath Immel sets up a portable soccer net.

Ben Immel, 13, teases Juhad Belzer, 9, with a soccer ball while Heath Immel sets up a portable soccer net.

2. Interactions — These images likely form the cornerstone of documentary photography. They are what separates the casual observer from the trained photojournalist. Photo editors wince when they see people static in their environments. Interaction among multiple people is ideal, but not always required (or possible). Images where a subject is genuinely interacting in his or her environment, however, will always be stronger than those of a static individual staring straight at the camera.

These types of images are often the ones that invoke humor or some other form of emotional response. They are powerful and can be captured with any lens and at any stage of an event or process. Photo editors love when the unexpected is captured and preserved. Don’t just shoot the winning kick or the jubilation of victory; also lookout for the the agony of defeat and the somber sense of loss that the other side is experiencing.

Hla Yu, 18, of Myanmar balances a ball on his foot during a Saturday soccer camp behind Broadway Christian Church.

Hla Yu, 18, of Myanmar balances a ball on his foot during a Saturday soccer camp behind Broadway Christian Church.

3. Details — Perhaps my personal favorite, details are like the spices on top of a delectable pile of al dente noodles. They provide flavor and a range of expression that rewards the reader and provides a respite from the clutter and small elements often present in wide-angle images.

Think of them as “part of the whole” elements. A player lacing his shoes, a goalie’s mud-stained shorts, or a macro shot of a battered soccer ball all count as details.

These can be cliche on their own, however, so try to combine details with other tools in your arsenal for maximum effect. For a challenging example, try to capture interaction as a detail shot or capture peak action (such as the ball resting on the player’s toe) with a tight view for maximum visual effect.

Hla Yu, 18, of Myanmar, retrieves a stray ball during a soccer camp behind Broadway Christian Church.

Hla Yu, 18, of Myanmar, retrieves a stray ball during a soccer camp behind Broadway Christian Church.

4. Wide angles — To differentiate wide-angle shots from their scene-setting cousins, try using framing or layering for visual variety and to add some depth to your images.

By juxtaposing large and small or brightly colored and plain through creative framing or layering, you can achieve some nice contrasts and provide some visual variety that your editors will love.

Here’s the place to play with scale, patterns, or visual repetition. The wide-angle properties of your lens will often exaggerate these elements and enhance their visual panache.

Taw Taw, a refugee from Burma, now known as Myanmar, left, helps Moe Eh Poe, 7, during a kicking drill at a field behind the Broadway Christian Church on Saturday, July 5, 2014.

Taw Taw, a refugee from Burma, now known as Myanmar, left, helps Moe Eh Poe, 7, during a kicking drill at a field behind the Broadway Christian Church on Saturday, July 5, 2014.

5. Cohesive shots — I was paired with a reporter for this story who chose to focus on the several refugees who attended the soccer camp. I made some nice images of other camp attendees, but, because they weren’t cohesive with the accompanying text piece, they were booted.

Editing can be one of the most frustrating and also gratifying parts of the publication process. Editors don’t always choose your best photos; they choose the photos that best tell the story.

Thus, make sure to coordinate your efforts with your assigned reporter (if you have one) or make sure you know what story you want to tell if you’re crafting both words and visuals yourself.

Other tips:

With all your images, regardless of their “type,” strive for simplicity. Be aggressively aware of treetops, phone lines, and other intruding features of the landscape and guard against composing with them jutting out of or awkwardly behind your subjects.

Have fun and take (calculated) risks. With any luck and a good editor, you’ll have your own photo page in no time.

When precision pays off

July 5, 2014 in Assignments, Composition, Context by T.J. Thomson

Framed by Mizzou's Jesse Hall dome, fireworks explode above Columbia, Mo., during its annual "Fire in the Sky" Independence Day celebration on July 4, 2014.

Framed by Mizzou’s Jesse Hall dome, fireworks explode above Columbia, Mo., during its annual “Fire in the Sky” Independence Day celebration on July 4, 2014. Metadata: f/16; 4.0; ISO 100; 146mm focal length

“Have you ever photographed fireworks before?” my editor asked earlier this week. “Just casually, but never on assignment,” I replied.

I would have never made this picture on my own. The uncertainty was too great.

When I first learned that I was assigned to cover the city’s fireworks display, my first instinct was to get over-the-shoulder shots of people as they watched the colorful explosions light up the night sky. I would have positioned myself in the heart of downtown, perhaps next to a crowd at one of the city’s many parking garages or parks, and waited in view of the launching location for the show to begin.

My editor, Greg Kendall-Ball, though, had a different instincts.

He scouted out possible locations earlier in the week and determined that the show would be visible from more than a mile away, at the top of the University of Missouri’s Virginia Avenue Parking garage. We couldn’t see the launch site, but Greg calmly explained while setting up his tripod that the fireworks would be launched to the right of Jesse Hall’s dome. The dome not only provided a nice framing element, but it also added much-needed context to the scene to differentiate it from the thousands of other displays occurring across the nation.

His research and scouting paid off. Whether due to the wind or by design, the fireworks started off more to the right of the dome, but eventually filled in and nicely occupied the negative space surrounding the building.

Greg maintains a certain kind of precision in his workflow that differs from my own. I’m detail-oriented about results, but am less concerned with the process of how they are realized. Greg, in contrast, carefully attends to each facet of the his workflow’s process. For example, he meticulously measured, cut out, and taped a piece of cardboard so he could use it to block the excess light trails during his long exposures so that only the bursts and not the extraneous trails were visible. He also plotted the GPS coordinates of intended locations and the launch site to ensure we had a direct line of site to the show.

If I were on my own, I would have probably relied on a safe, line-of-site approach that ensured I could achieve an unobstructed view of the show, albeit, at a loss of some visual panache. With adequate preparation and research, however, I’ve learned from Greg that I can take more calculated risks while increasing the storytelling power of my images.

Kelsey Bruce walks under a U.S. Flag near Flat Branch Park during Columbia's Independence Day festivities on Friday, July 4, 2014. Rejoice Church distributed free glow sticks to the crowd.

Kelsey Bruce walks under a U.S. Flag near Flat Branch Park during Columbia’s Independence Day festivities on Friday, July 4, 2014. Rejoice Church distributed free glow sticks to the crowd.

It took about a half hour of lying on my back in the middle of (thankfully closed) street to capture this image.

People regrettably afforded me a generous buffer zone and generally wouldn’t walk within five feet of where I laid sprawled on the concrete. Some volunteers at a nearby booth were distributing free glow sticks, however, so I shifted my position and capitalized on the foot traffic generated there. This strategy finally rewarded me with a young woman who passed through the frame after receiving two glow sticks.

When learning by doing loses its effectiveness

June 21, 2014 in Assignments, Cropping, Editing by T.J. Thomson

Jim Scott, of Springfield, Ill., left, and Gene Hall, of St. Louis, warm up prior to the 1500-meter Race Walk during the 2014 Missouri State Senior Games at Walton Stadium on June 20, 2014.

Jim Scott, of Springfield, Ill., left, and Gene Hall, of St. Louis, warm up prior to the 1500-meter Race Walk during the 2014 Missouri State Senior Games at Walton Stadium on June 20, 2014.

Learning by doing is often touted as the best way to gain familiarity with a skill or process. While this might hold true when gaining fundamental knowledge, for more advanced training, though, sometimes watching is best.

This past semester working at the Missourian has exposed me to a drastically different workflow where my creative input ends largely when I press the shutter. The publication’s team of editors make the final call on what is published and take care of editing and toning.

I initially blanched at the prospect of having others edit my work, but have grown to appreciate the process. An editor’s perspective, experience, and aesthetic likely differs from yours and frequently reveals new ways of thinking, interpreting, and presenting.

For example, up to this point, I’d been rather ardently bound to maintaining the native aspect ratio of images as I produce them in my camera. I’ve seen too many photographers shoot sloppy material, thinking they can always crop later to improve composition. Working at the Missourian, though, has taught me that no aspect ratio is sacred. Some photos, I’ve learned, even if well composed, can still be improved by cropping.

Take the lead photo in this post, for example. The expansive Missouri sky is beautiful, but, as my intent was photojournalism and not landscape photography, I could make do with less sky.

The other side of editing that I’ve appreciated experiencing is examining a photographer’s output and recognizing that the “best” images aren’t always those that are selected.

Ginger Mulanax keeps time during the 1500-meter Race Walk, part of the 2014 Missouri State Senior Games at Walton Stadium, which took place on June 20, 2014.

Ginger Mulanax keeps time during the 1500-meter Race Walk, part of the 2014 Missouri State Senior Games at Walton Stadium, which took place on June 20, 2014.

This closeup view of the contestants being timed is a rich and easy read, but it wasn’t published. You can only feature so many detail shots in a photo package, and one of the editors decided that a shot of a contestant putting on his running shoes was more integral than the shot of the race watch.

I used to think of images as single, disconnected elements. Now, however, I consider them as parts of a whole. Details are complemented by wide angle establishing shots, and a package isn’t complete with only one and not the other.

Whether you want to work at a media outlet or not, ask someone to edit your work and keep an open mind to how you can better your skills from their experience.

Rejecting mixed disability standards

June 19, 2014 in Analysis, Context, Ethics by T.J. Thomson

A patient at the Missouri Psychiatric Center watches pedestrians walk by on the street below his room. 44 of the center's 57 inpatient beds are designated for adults.

A patient at the Missouri Psychiatric Center watches pedestrians walk by on the street below his room. 44 of the center’s 57 inpatient beds are designated for adults. Metadata: f/8; 1/1600; ISO 1250; 200mm focal length

My mind was whirling yesterday after making a picture of a patient at the Missouri Psychiatric Center. Who was he? What was his story? How long had he been there? Could he leave? Was he forced to wear his distinctive orange outfit?

Within an hour or two, I had posted the image on my Instagram feed, albeit without any caption information.

The context of this image was certainly important. Without a caption, the man could be anyone standing there for any purpose. A caption not only brings clarity, but also introduces a wealth of associations and judgments.

I wanted to blog about these thoughts last night and discuss the ethics of posting the image. Legally, I was covered, but ethically, it was more complicated. A couple having sex in front of their open window, for example, had chosen to expose themselves and deserved any resulting consequences their exhibitionism incurred. This man’s situation was potentially different, though. Was he committed through fault of his own?

I didn’t know the answer last night, but today, I’ve determined that it doesn’t matter.

I’ve photographed people in wheelchairs, with canes, crutches, and other physical ailments and posted their images without a second thought. Why, then, is mental illness different? Because, as my father suggested while speaking with me earlier today from his kitchen in Colorado, we place a greater social stigma on mental illness than on physical disability.

I knew then that I should publish the photo. By refraining, I was contributing to a negative and harmful stigma that mental illness was somehow less deserving of dignity, expression, or depiction than any other disability.

When we recognize differences and treat other people differently because of them, we marginalize, oppress, and build stereotypes that our future generations inherit. Regardless of his circumstances or why he stared crestfallen at a bustling street from behind a pane of thick glass, he is a human being and deserves equal treatment.

Developing your visual voice

June 14, 2014 in Feedback by T.J. Thomson

Without adequate context, a picture becomes a stock representation of countless stories rather than one unique one.

Without adequate context, a picture becomes a stock representation of countless stories rather than one unique one.

I’ve called myself a photojournalist for a few years now. The title is inscribed on my business cards and included in the signature of my emails, yet, what we do defines us more than how we label ourselves.

Halfway through my graduate coursework as a photojournalism student at the Missouri School of Journalism, I realized I was more photographer than photojournalist.

I conformed to the cornerstones of photojournalism — asking unknown individuals bits of their private lives for caption information, avoiding consciously manipulating scenes or the individuals in them, and always striving to include people in my images, but I found out that my definition of photojournalism lacked an important element.

Storytelling.

“A lot of your work looks like stock photography,” The Missourian‘s Director of Photography, Brian Kratzer, told me earlier this month.

Sadly, it was true.

I’d been so focused on composition, separation, and light, that I let the narrative quality of my images slide.

Take the image at the top of this post, for example. I shot it on a feature hunt my first week at The Missourian. What details does the image reveal?

Without a caption (a potential crutch on which photographers can over-rely), aspiring photojournalists need to ask themselves “does the image tell a story, reveal adequate context, and inform the viewer about the person depicted and what is important to them?”

In the image above, the casual observer likely won’t know that Townsend Hall houses part of the University of Missouri’s College of Education or even that it was shot on the Mizzou campus.

What does the woman pictured do? Is she a student? A teacher? What motivates her? She is more of an abstract art element than a functional character in this image. The image is essentially “stock” and could be taken by any passerby.

Missouri High School Rodeo queen competitors Jessy Maddux, 17, of Richland, left, and Macy Randolph, 17, of Jefferson City, enter the judging area on Wednesday, June 11, 2014. The competition took place at the Central Missouri Events Center.

Missouri High School Rodeo queen competitors Jessy Maddux, 17, of Richland, left, and Macy Randolph, 17, of Jefferson City, enter the judging area on Wednesday, June 11, 2014. The competition took place at the Central Missouri Events Center.

Proper photojournalism, I think, focuses more on action rather than reaction.

Attending a rodeo queen competition and focusing on the contestants reciting their prepared speeches is reaction. Any attendee can take that image without much thought or effort.

A bull rider changes his clothes on June 13, 2014, after the 2014 Missouri High School Rodeo at the Central Missouri Events Center. Three bull riders competed this year.

A bull rider changes his clothes on June 13, 2014, after the 2014 Missouri High School Rodeo at the Central Missouri Events Center. Three bull riders competed this year.

Action, in contrast, puts the photographer in charge of the scene and intentionally employs framing and layering to tell a story.

Missouri High School Rodeo queen competitor Jessy Maddux, 17, of Richland, Mo., warms up her horse, Peppy, before displaying her horsemanship skills for the judges on Wednesday, June 11, 2014. The competition took place at the Central Missouri Events Center.

Missouri High School Rodeo queen competitor Jessy Maddux, 17, of Richland, Mo., warms up her horse, Peppy, before displaying her horsemanship skills for the judges on Wednesday, June 11, 2014. The competition took place at the Central Missouri Events Center.

When acting rather than reacting, the photographer recognizes the elements that are important to telling a story and consciously includes them for narrative effect.

Developing visual narrative depth

May 24, 2014 in Events, Feedback by T.J. Thomson

Staff Sgt. Brandan Parra descends from a 5,000-foot jump at the 2014 Salute to Veterans Airshow on Saturday at Columbia Regional Airport. Parra has made more than 870 free fall parachute jumps in his career.

Staff Sgt. Brandan Parra descends from a 5,000-foot jump at the 2014 Salute to Veterans Airshow on Saturday at Columbia Regional Airport. Parra has made more than 870 free fall parachute jumps in his career.
Metadata: f/14; 1/1600; ISO 1000; 400mm focal length

My first week as a full-time staff photographer at the Columbia Missourian has provided challenge, perspective, and insight about how visual communication can better be created.

A member of the Army Golden Knights parachute team jumps from the transport plane at the 2014 Salute to Veterans Air Show at Columbia Regional. It was the first time the team had performed in Columbia in 15 years.

A member of the Army Golden Knights parachute team jumps from the transport plane at the 2014 Salute to Veterans Air Show at Columbia Regional.

Each assignment, whether self-generated or assigned through the photo desk, contained multiple dimensions.

At today’s air show, for example, the show itself is the obvious visual narrative, where the performers are the pilots and parachutists that perform for an audience.

After getting these images, though, I had to remember to balance this narrative with the one of the audience itself and how its members interacted with the environment.

Whether this was accomplished through the child that sat wide-eyed with his gaze fixed toward the heavens, or whether it was the mother who crouched next to her children during a downpour, these scenes are often ignored at the expense of the primary narrative.

This secondary dimension, that of reaction rather than action, can be equally as informative and visually interesting if captured well.

Landon, 2, and Cheyenne, 8, Kingcade, along with mother, Valerie, watch the 2014 Salute to Veterans Air Show on Saturday, May 24, 2014, at Columbia Regional Airport.

Landon, 2, and Cheyenne, 8, Kingcade, along with mother, Valerie, watch the 2014 Salute to Veterans Air Show on Saturday, May 24, 2014, at Columbia Regional Airport. Metadata: f/11; 1/1000; ISO 1000; 400mm focal length

Beyond the dimensions of action and reaction, facets of representation and diversity also deserve consideration. Are all the attendees of a single gender, ethnicity, or cultural background? If not, highlight those differences and show how they inform the characters and their actions in an environment.

Jane Porter takes a break inside a hangar at the 2014 Salute to Veterans Air Show on May 24, 2014, at Columbia Regional Airport.

Jane Porter takes a break inside a hangar at the 2014 Salute to Veterans Air Show on May 24, 2014, at Columbia Regional Airport.

For instance, as there was only one female pilot in the morning veterans air show, I made it a point to capture an image of her among her male counterparts.

Catalin Giacchi huddles by her children at the 2014 Salute to Veterans Airshow on Saturday at Columbia Regional Airport. Rain fell throughout the day and delayed some of the planned events.

Catalin Giacchi huddles by her children at the 2014 Salute to Veterans Airshow on Saturday at Columbia Regional Airport. Rain fell throughout the day and delayed some of the planned events.

Though it isn’t always true, it seems in the news business that the poorer the conditions, the better the imagery.

Regardless of the conditions, be an active learner.

Don’t just attend photo workshops, listen to lectures, or browse photography blogs. These can all be great resources, but the best learning happens in the field when an endless list of variables forces you to transform the hypotheticals you encounter in the classroom from intellectual understanding to practical knowledge.

Walking the plank

May 16, 2014 in Composition by T.J. Thomson

A man crosses the frosted glass bridge that connects the Reynolds Journalism Institute with Walter Williams Hall at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

A man crosses the frosted glass bridge that connects the Reynolds Journalism Institute with Walter Williams Hall at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Metadata: f/11; 1/125; ISO 800; 16mm focal length

The Futures Lab in the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s lower level affords an excellent vantage point of the semi-transparent glass walkway that spans about 20 feet two floors above.

I had wanted to take this picture for some time, but usually only remembered the concept whenever I was alone in the building on a weekend or late at night. Today was no different.

In the absence of subjects, a pair of wireless radio triggers can be useful in allowing the execution of conceptual imagery.

In the absence of subjects, a pair of wireless radio triggers can be useful in allowing the execution of conceptual imagery.

The day’s graduation ceremonies drew almost all of the students and their families to Mizzou Arena and left RJI fairly dark and empty. Determined to execute the concept, however, I pondered my options while sitting and staring at the barren walkway.

I considered activating my camera’s 10-second self-timer function and attempt sprinting up two flights of stairs in time to run across the bridge; however, I deemed the timing improbable and kept thinking.

Luckily I had one of my wireless flash triggers in my backpack. I usually use it for off-camera flash work, but remembering that it also allows remote shutter triggering, I unpacked the triggers and began setting the system up.

By placing the receiver on the camera’s hotshoe, connecting it with an audio cable to the camera’s “A/V OUT/DIGITAL” terminal, and then triggering the shutter with the transmitter, I was able to capture dozens of shots of myself walking across the bridge while my camera rested two floors below.

A half-dozen continents in one place

March 26, 2014 in Events by T.J. Thomson

A Grevy's Zebra, Equus grevyi, stirs up a dust cloud at the Denver Zoo. Zebras are one of many mammals that groom by wallowing in the dirt.

A Grevy’s Zebra, Equus grevyi, stirs up a dust cloud at the Denver Zoo. Zebras are one of many mammals that groom by
wallowing in the dirt. Metadata: f/13; 1/1600; ISO 2000; 300mm focal length

A day-long visit to the Denver Zoo’s 80-acre campus yielded fascinating views of the location’s exotic animals and naturalistic environments.

Capturing the exotic nature of these animals took patience, timing, and luck, however. I happened upon dozens of animals and was only able to fire off a shot or two before the animal turned its head or closed its eyes.

A hooded capuchin forages for food on the Denver Zoo's Monkey Island.

A hooded capuchin forages for food on the Denver Zoo’s Monkey Island.

A number of animals, too, lazily rested in a corner. In many cases, it was hard to separate the animals from their small and often man-made environments.

When possible, though, I was thrilled to connect with the animals and show a more dynamic side of them.

An Asiatic black bear, Ursus thibetanus, rests on his paw at the Denver Zoo's Bear Mountain exhibit.

An Asiatic black bear, Ursus thibetanus, rests on his paw at the Denver Zoo’s Bear Mountain exhibit.

Not all the sights were behind bars or barriers, however, like David Britton, who used the time between customers to apply some of his artistry to his own body.

David Britton, Goofy Faces body paint and caricature artist, paints a purple monster on his forearm while waiting for customers at the Denver Zoo.

David Britton, Goofy Faces body paint and caricature artist, paints a purple monster on his forearm
while waiting for customers at the Denver Zoo.

The afternoon brought a few storm clouds and a brief show featuring Addie, a three-year-old California Sea Lion, who displayed her tricks and theatrics for a fishy reward.

By day’s end, we had covered all the zoo’s territory, with the exception of the reptile and avian houses. It was a good day, but by the end of it, I felt a lot like this little girl.

A girl lies splayed out in her stroller outside the Feline House at the Denver Zoo.

A girl lies splayed out in her stroller outside the Feline House at the Denver Zoo.

Transcending the bounds of boring boxes

March 16, 2014 in Art by T.J. Thomson

A scale architectural model highlights past student work in a display housed at the University of Missouri's Stanley Hall.

A scale architectural model highlights past student work in a display housed at the University of Missouri’s Stanley Hall.
Metadata: f/13; 1/160; ISO 100; 50mm focal length

So much of the world is organized into the most simple geometric shapes that even a slight curve or deviation from standard angles provides a much-needed reprieve to the senses.

A series of three convex shapes make up the west side of this architectural model.

A series of three convex shapes make up the west side of this architectural model.

Yes, our existence is made easier by simple aspect ratios. They cost less, are more efficient, and are generally more stable. They are, however, also overdone and largely boring.

Any screen, from the smallest cell phone’s display to the widest television monitor, is a variation of a simple rectangle.

An Asian electronics manufacturer is making waves with its ongoing development of a curved cell phone screen, which is revolutionary in and of itself, but will also likely, experts say, pave the way for bendable screens that can contort large displays into small spaces for travel when not in use.

Virtual technology, too, caters to this all-powerful rectangle. Trying to share a link with a vertical image on Facebook or Twitter? The site’s content management system will cram it into a horizontal preview, often accompanied by an unflattering crop of the image’s midsection.

I relish the thought of a day when our society frees itself from modularity and instead embraces a more widespread organic approach to art and design.

It’s a chronic case of the “That’s how it’s always been done” mentality. From our early childhoods when we arranged blocks into modular towers to when we grow up and live in our own largely rectangular houses, what innovation are we missing because of our reliance on what is safe and familiar?