Friday, November 30, 2012

Dubs and the End of the World

Some of you have asked me to combine my last two posts about my friend Dubs McClusky to make it easier to read in one setting.  I've edited it under the title Dubs and the End of the World.  Here it is:

Dubs and the End of the World

My best friend, Dubs McClusky was at the house the other day.  Dubs is really more than a friend: he's a confidant, someone I can trust with my darkest secrets (he thinks a dark secret is one you tell at night); he's someone who will keep refilling his glass with my most expensive single malt whiskey without feeling the need to ask for permission about something so trifling.  I've known Dubs for more than twenty years, and if nothing else he's consistent (especially with my single malt).  Not being a photographer himself, he always tries to say something nice about my work, despite the fact that there's not an artistic bone in his body.

"I love your pictures, but they would look so much better in color.  You know, color pictures are just so much more colorful."

Worshiping the Maximon by Tom Bell.  Copyright 2012.  All rights reserved.  The Maximon embodies Mayan mysticism.  By the way, this one's in color for Dubs.

"It's a matter of preference, Dubs.  Some people really love black and white images."

"I know, but they stopped making movies in black and white because people like 'em in color more."  He poured another glass and looked silently pass me for far too long.

"Something wrong, Dubs?"

"I'm worried, Tom," he lamented.  "They're saying the end of the world's only a month away."  He took a big gulp and stared deeply into his glass. "You know about that Mayan end-of-the-world stuff, don't you?  I mean your wife is from Guatemala and speaks Spanish and stuff."

"Right, Dubs.  I also have some friends who are archaeologists.  They say there's nothing to worry about."

I saw a glimmer of hope in Dubs' eyes.  "You know, I saw a Three Stooges where the guys were archaeologists.  They found Rootin' Tootin's mummy."  He smiled deeply as his thoughts went back to the movie short of long ago.

"That was in black and white, by the way," I noted.

Magic by Tom Bell.  Copyright 2012.  All rights reserved.  

He nodded, as if I had revealed something important, then he was lost again. "The world can't end before Christmas.  What about the presents!  This Mayan stuff is serious business!  By the way, there's just a little left in the bottle; you don't want any do you?"

I picked up the bottle and poured the rest into his glass.

"You should keep this 15 year old Scotch all the time," he noted.  "Its really good."

"I bet."

"But what if it really is the end of the world?  What then!"

"Well, Dubs, I'm really looking forward to it.  If it's really the end of the world, it's the best event a photographer could hope for."

"What do you mean?"  The confusion on his face intensified.

"Can you imagine having something like that to photograph?," I asked.  "Every photographer in the world will be looking for the best angle, that fine art shot that defines the moment!  It's going to be something great!"

"Huh?"

"Mine will be in black and white!"

"But you said those archaeologists say there's nothing to it."  Dubs was almost in tears.

"What do they know?" I said.

"Really?  But.... you said...."

"I know what I said.  But this is it, Dubs.  My wife told me not to tell you.  But this is it..."

His eyes were huge. "Noooo.  You're just playin' with me aren't you."

"Sorry, Dubs."

Silence.  Dropped jaw. Owl eyes.

"Listen, Dubs, if I were you, I'd enjoy it since there's nothing we can do. Why don't you buy a case of this single malt. Make it a couple of cases and you'll get a discount.  Since you won't have to pay it back, use your credit card and buy a  couple of cases of the 18 year old stock.  I can store it and we can drink to the end of the world anytime you want.  We'll show those archaeologists!"

His mouth was still agape.

I wasn't sure if I should slap him slightly, but I decided to speak instead.  "It's okay, Dubs.  I promise that the last photograph I take as the world ends will be of you."

"Okay," he said after a while. He hesitated, "...but would it be okay if you did it in color?"

___

After about a week, I'm still waiting on the cases of 18 year-old stock I thought Dubs might deliver.
I shouldn't have played with his  mind like I did.  But,  I saw it as a way that he might partially reimburse me for some of the many bottles of 15 year-old single malt he's more than helped finish while sitting with me at the table over the years.

Dubs stopped by again just a few minutes ago.  "Hey, let's have a drink," he said.  "I want to ask you some more questions about that Mayan prophesy stuff."

"Okay," I said softly.  "Let's talk.  But I'm out of whiskey.  I just haven't had time to stop by the liquor store."

He stared at me and squinted for a while. "You know, Tom. I don't recall ever stopping by when you didn't have whiskey.  But, right now, I'd drink about anything."  His look was almost deathly.

"Something wrong, Dubs?"

"No, not really. I know your wife knows about this Mayan end-of-world stuff and all.  She has a real pretty voice when she speaks that Spanish.  But maybe she's wrong about it being the end of the world."

"She's never been wrong before, Dubs."

He looked at me seriously.

"Never," I intoned. 

He hesitated.  "Yeah, I know."

"You know, I've got a bottle of 12 year old rum," I offered. "It's one of the most most popular in Guatemala, and it's the Baktun edition."

"Back-toon," he said in an accent that made him sound southern. "Is that something like the rerun of a cartoon?"

"Well, sort of," I offered. "In this case, a Baktun is a Mayan period of time.  We're on the last one.  It ends on December 21.  That's the last day."

"A period of  time?"

"Yeah, it's about 400 years long.

I opened the bottle of rum and poured each of  us  a snifter.

"Hey, this is good," he said.  "A toast to the Back-toon!"

I lifted my glass.  "Yeah, drinking to it only ensures that it's gonna happen.  That's cosmic law."

"Huh..."

"Yeah, the end of the world.  It's okay. We've lived a long time.  It's time for creatures from some other universe to occupy our space!"

"What!"  He downed every drop in his snifter, and I quickly poured him another one.

"Sorry, Dubs," I apologized, "but it's time on this Earth for creatures that will appreciate 18 year-old Scotch, those that are more spiritually developed."

"What... I appreciate 18 year-old spirits.  I appreciate them a lot!"

"I know, Dubs, but I suggested you bring over a couple of cases, especially since it's the end of the world and you won't have to pay the credit card bill.  You  haven't done a thing!"

His eyebrows shot up.  "Why?  So we can toast to the end of the world again and again?"

"Yeah, but you can also toast against the end of the  world."

"Huh..."

"That's right.  That's what the Crystal Skull told my wife."

"The Crystal Skull?..."

I photographed this Crystal Skull in the  Popol Vuh Museum in Guatemala City.  My wife knew one of the curators who gave us special access, so this is one of the only photographs in existence of this particular crystal skull.  The red on the eyes, nose and mouth, is Cinnabar, a mercury compound used by the ancients for mystical purposes.  Since there's no backlight, I'm not sure why it glows.
"Yeah, there's a very special Crystal Skull at the museum in Guatemala City.  It might be hundreds of millions of years old, maybe billions, or even trillions.  No one is sure.  It told my wife that if enough people toast against the end of the world with very good whiskey, it might not happen.  It's eyes glowed red, and it told her. It told her in Spanish."

"Are you sure!" Dub was aghast.

"I photographed it as it was telling her how to prevent the end of the world."  I went to my files and pulled out a print of the Crystal Skull and handed it to him.

"It's real, he said, looking intently at the photo, "it's real. That means we can do something about the end  of the world!"

"That's right," I said.

"Okay!," he was almost yelling.  "I'm going out to buy a case right now. Call all our friends.  We're going to do some  toasting!"

"That's great," I smiled.  "I'll call some of  my buddies, you call some of yours. We'll meet here for a toast in an hour."

"That's great," he vocalized almost at the top of  his lungs. "Maybe the world's not goin' to end."  Then he paused with a puzzled look on this face

"What is it, Dubs?"

"You know, I don't want to sound like a kill-joy, but if the world doesn't end, I'm going to have to pay the credit card bill for all that whiskey, aren't I?"

I looked down in sympathy.  "You're right, Dubs.  The skull said it might be a problem.  Maybe it's better that the world just ends to make way for the more advanced beings."  I almost sniffled.

Dubs' again looked like a deer caught in headlights.  "Wait a minute," he said.  "Make those calls.  I'm off to the liquor store."

"Good call, Dubs," I said.  "The skull knows how to throw a party."

"Wow," he exclaimed as he went  out the door, "maybe you won't have to take that picture of me as the world ends, after all.  Maybe you can take a picture of me drinking against the end of the world!"

"Sounds good to me," I said.  "Just go out and get those cases of 18 year-old single malt before it's to late!"

You can view my website at www.tombellart.com.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dubs and the Crystal Skull

I photographed this Crystal Skull in the  Popol Vuh Museum in Guatemala City.  My wife knew one of the curators who gave us special access, so this is one of the only photographs in existence of this particular crystal skull.  The red on the eyes, nose and mouth, is Cinnabar, a mercury compound used by the ancients for mystical purposes.  Since there's no backlight, I'm not sure why it glows.

I told you about my friend, Dubs McClusky in my last post.  He's my whiskey drinkin' buddy who's convinced the world's going to end on December 21.

I shouldn't have played with his  mind like I did.  But,  I saw it as a way that he might partially reimburse me for some of the many bottles of 15 year-old single malt he's more than helped finish while sitting with me at the table over the years.  Unfortunately, after about a week, I'm still waiting on the cases of 18 year-old stock I thought he might deliver.

If you don't know what I'm talking about to this point, go back to my last blog entry and read:  The Mayan End of the World:  The Perfect Subject for Photography and a Drink.  It will open in a new window. Then come back and you'll get the rest of the story.

Dubs stopped by again just a few minutes ago.  "Hey, let's have a drink," he said.  "I want to ask you some more questions about that Mayan prophesy stuff."

"Okay," I said softly.  "Let's talk.  But I'm out of whiskey.  I just haven't had time to stop by the liquor store."

He stared at me and squinted for a while. "You know, Tom. I don't recall ever stopping by when you didn't have whiskey.  But, right now, I'd drink about anything."  His look was almost deathly.

"Something wrong, Dubs?"

"No, not really. I know your wife knows about this Mayan end-of-world stuff and all.  She has a real pretty voice when she speaks that Spanish.  But maybe she's wrong about it being the end of the world."

"She's never been wrong before, Dubs."

He looked at me seriously.

"Never," I intoned. 

He hesitated.  "Yeah, I know."

"You know, I've got a bottle of 12 year old rum," I offered. "It's one of the most most popular in Guatemala, and it's the Baktun edition."

"Back-toon," he said in an accent that made him sound southern. "Is that something like the rerun of a cartoon?"

"Well, sort of," I offered. "In this case, a Baktun is a Mayan period of time.  We're on the last one.  It ends on December 21.  That's the last day."

"A period of  time?"

"Yeah, it's about 400 years long.

I opened the bottle of rum and poured each of  us  a snifter.

"Hey, this is good," he said.  "A toast to the Back-toon!"

I lifted my glass.  "Yeah, drinking to it only ensures that it's gonna happen.  That's cosmic law."

"Huh..."

"Yeah, the end of the world.  It's okay. We've lived a long time.  It's time for creatures from some other universe to occupy our space!"

"What!"  He downed every drop in his snifter, and I quickly poured him another one.

"Sorry, Dubs," I apologized, "but it's time on this Earth for creatures that will appreciate 18 year-old Scotch, those that are more spiritually developed."

"What... I appreciate 18 year-old spirits.  I appreciate them a lot!"

"I know, Dubs, but I suggested you bring over a couple of cases, especially since it's the end of the world and you won't have to pay the credit card bill.  You  haven't done a thing!"

His eyebrows shot up.  "Why?  So we can toast to the end of the world again and again?"

"Yeah, but you can also toast against the end of the  world."

"Huh..."

"That's right.  That's what the Crystal Skull told my wife."

"The Crystal Skull?..."

"Yeah, there's a very special Crystal Skull at the museum in Guatemala City.  It might be hundreds of millions of years old, maybe billions, or even trillions.  No one is sure.  It told my wife that if enough people toast against the end of the world with very good whiskey, it might not happen.  It's eyes glowed red, and it told her. It told her in Spanish."

"Are you sure!" Dub was aghast.

"I photographed it as it was telling her how to prevent the end of the world."  I went to my files and pulled out a print of the Crystal Skull and handed it to him.

"It's real, he said, looking intently at the photo, "it's real. That means we can do something about the end  of the world!"

"That's right," I said.

"Okay!," he was almost yelling.  "I'm going out to buy a case right now. Call all our friends.  We're going to do some  toasting!"

"That's great," I smiled.  "I'll call some of  my buddies, you call some of yours. We'll meet here for a toast in an hour."

"That's great," he vocalized almost at the top of  his lungs. "Maybe the world's not goin' to end."  Then he paused with a puzzled look on this face

"What is it, Dubs?"

"You know, I don't want to sound like a kill-joy, but if the world doesn't end, I'm going to have to pay the credit card bill for all that whiskey, aren't I?"

I looked down in sympathy.  "You're right, Dubs.  The skull said it might be a problem.  Maybe it's better that the world just ends to make way for the more advanced beings."  I almost sniffled.

Dubs' again looked like a deer caught in headlights.  "Wait a minute," he said.  "Make those calls.  I'm off to the liquor store."

"Good call, Dubs," I said.  "The skull knows how to throw a party."

"Wow," he exclaimed as he went  out the door, "maybe you won't have to take that picture of me as the world ends, after all.  Maybe you can take a picture of me drinking against the end of the world!"

"Sounds good to me," I said.  "Just go out and get those cases of 18 year-old single malt before it's to late!"

You can view my website at www.tombellart.com.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Mayan End of the World: The Perfect Subject for Photography and a Drink

My best friend, Dubs McClusky was at the house the other day.  Dubs is really more than a friend: he's a confidant, someone I can trust with my darkest secrets (he thinks a dark secret is one you tell at night); he's someone who will keep refilling his glass with my most expensive single malt whiskey without feeling the need to ask for permission about something so trifling.  I've known Dubs for more than twenty years, and if nothing else he's consistent (especially with my single malt).  Not being a photographer himself, he always tries to say something nice about my work, despite the fact that there's not an artistic bone in his body.

"I love your pictures, but they would look so much better in color.  You know, color pictures are just so much more colorful."

 
Worshiping the Maximon by Tom Bell.  Copyright 2012.  All rights reserved.  The Maximon embodies Mayan mysticism.  By the way, this one's in color for Dubs.



"It's a matter of preference, Dubs.  Some people really love black and white images."

"I know, but they stopped making movies in black and white because people like 'em in color more."  He poured another glass and looked silently pass me for far too long.

"Something wrong, Dubs?"

"I'm worried, Tom," he lamented.  "They're saying the end of the world's only a month away."  He took a big gulp and stared deeply into his glass. "You know about that Mayan end-of-the-world stuff, don't you?  I mean your wife is from Guatemala and speaks Spanish and stuff."

"Right, Dubs.  I also have some friends who are archaeologists.  They say there's nothing to worry about."

I saw a glimmer of hope in Dubs' eyes.  "You know I saw a Three Stooges where the guys were archaeologists.  They found Rootin' Tootin's mummy."  He smiled deeply as his thoughts went back to the movie short of long ago.

"That was in black and white, by the way," I noted.

Magic by Tom Bell.  Copyright 2012.  All rights reserved.  


He nodded, as if I had revealed something important, then he was lost again. "The world can't end before Christmas.  What about the presents!  This Mayan stuff is serious business!  By the way, there's just a little left in the bottle; you don't want any do you?"

I picked up the bottle and poured the rest into his glass.

"You should keep this 15 year old Scotch all the time," he noted.  "Its really good."

"I bet."

"But what if it really is the end of the world?  What then!"

"Well, Dubs, I'm really looking forward to it.  If it's really the end of the world, it's the best event a photographer could hope for."

"What do you mean?"  The confusion on his face intensified.

"Can you imagine having something like that to photograph?," I asked.  "Every photographer in the world will be looking for the best angle, that fine art shot that defines the moment!  It's going to be something great!"

"Huh?"

"Mine will be in black and white!"

"But you said those archaeologists say there's nothing to it."  Dubs was almost in tears.

"What do they know?" I said.

"Really?  But.... you said...."

"I know what I said.  But this is it, Dubs.  My wife told me not to tell you.  But this is it..."

His eyes were huge. "Noooo.  You're just playin' with me aren't you."

"Sorry, Dubs."

Silence.  Dropped jaw. Owl eyes.

"Listen, Dubs, if I were you, I'd enjoy it since there's nothing we can do. Why don't you buy a case of this single malt. Make it a couple of cases and you'll get a discount.  Since you won't have to pay it back, use your credit card and buy a  couple of cases of the 18 year old stock.  I can store it and we can drink to the end of the world anytime you want.  We'll show those archaeologists!"

His mouth was still agape.

I wasn't sure if I should slap him slightly, but I decided to speak instead.  "It's okay, Dubs.  I promise that the last photograph I take as the world ends will be of you."

"Okay," he said after a while. He hesitated, "...but would it be okay if you did it in color?"

You can view my website at: www.tombellart.com.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Beanie Santa Turns Ten: The Back Story

Ten years ago I played around with Photoshop as much as I do today.  One project that I took on for fun during the Christmas holiday of 2002 was a painting of a beanie Santa seated in an antique child's rocker in front of the Christmas tree. It's turned out to be my most popular holiday-themed artwork.

Most of you know me for my black and white fine art photographs, especially those of Mayan Indians in Guatemala.  I've also done award-winning landscapes, animal photographs, and lots of other genres. However, I love to make Photoshop work for me in whatever endeavor I choose.  It would have been easy enough just to position the doll in the chair and snap a photo.  But I wanted more -- a painting!

Beanie Santa by Tom Bell.  Copyright 2002.  All rights reserved.

Many of you know that when I'm not doing fine art photography, I use my camera, Photoshop, and Corel Painter to create digital images that are more akin to paintings than photographs.  Back in 2002, I was using only Photoshop, version 7, I believe.

This image came about because I'd been looking for a way to do something creative with my Dad's old chair.  It's a child's rocking chair that my Grandfather had made for my Dad in around 1922 or 1923.  My dad kept the chair, then passed it on to me for my son.  Over the years, the rocker had broken one of the runners, and the woven seat came apart.  My dad patiently rebuilt a runner, and then using bailing rope rewove the chair's seat.  I assure you that with it's age and wear, it has much more character than it ever did in the roaring 20's.

My wife had acquired a Beanie Baby Santa.  When I seated him in the chair in front of the Christmas tree, my idea for holiday decor was transformed into the ideas for a painting.  My mission was to bring out the warmth of the seating and the texture of the wood. I even wanted you to get a feel for Santa's wooly red costume.  I rearranged some of the decorations on the tree.  The red star to the left of Santa was a must to add some balance, and the gold reindeer to his right brought out the balance on the other side. I used available light, with some daylight coming in from a window on the right because I didn't want the image to feel artificial.

In Photoshop, I added some brush strokes with filters, but the thing that really made it pop was I rendered a lighting effect while adding texture.  With some final color adjustments, I was able to bring out the golden warmth of the seating and the rich red of the chair.  It's cropped as it is because you don't need to see more to get the whole story.

This image (along with many more painting and my fine art photography) is available on my website at:  tombellart.com.  You can use this code: YKJYTT  for a $10 discount on purchases of $50 or more through the end of the year.

For those of you who might like to try a similar project, I'd be interested in your results.  If you'll send me your best efforts, I'll post my favorites in a future blog entry.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Back Story of the Mayan Beauty

I've probably received more attention from my award-winning image Mayan Beauty than any other.  I'm often asked if she was modeling for me, or how I got her to pose.

The Mayan Beauty by Tom Bell
The truth is that she was a total stranger.  I don't think I ever spoke to her other than maybe to say, "hello."  If not for a broken-down car, this image would have been lost.

It was the end of July in 1995.  My wife and I live in Illinois.  However, my wife is from Guatemala and taught Spanish classes in Guatemala for an American university during the summer.  I accompanied her and some of her students on a field trip to the highland lake towns of Panajachel and Santiago Atitlán.  I shot numerous images on the trip, among them, another of my well-know and award winning photographs The Chicken Bus; I also came back with an image of a Mayan man praying and making offerings of candles, rum and cigars to the mysterious idol/saint/god Maximón (pronunced "maa-shee-MOHn").

The Chicken Bus.  Panajachel, Guatemala.



Worshipping the Maximón.  Saintago Atitlán
After several days of sight-seeing, good meals and cultural experiences with my wife's students, we headed back for Antigua, the best preserved Spanish colonial city in the Americas.  However, right out of town, we stopped the van to view a waterfall that overlooked the lake.  An old Nissan car was stopped near where we parked the van. The hood was raised. The Mayan Beauty, another couple of women and some children, all in traditional colorful Indian dress stood nearby.  My wife's students saw it as an opportunity to practice their Spanish.

A Mayan Indian girl, presumably the daughter of the Mayan Beauty.
Initially, I started to photograph the encounter merely to document the trip.  My first photos were wide shots showing the students in animated conversation with the Indian lady. One of the students was also taking photos with her point-and-shoot camer. As I walked closer, I noticed the woman's gestures, the way she held her hands and head as she spoke and paitently listened to my wife's students.  I nodded and said "hello" as I approached, but didn't interupt the conversation.  I did however frame several of the shots as a portrait of the woman.  She was well aware that I was taking photographs, but never really paid attention to me.  It was obvious that she was pleased that we had taken such an interest in her.

Another view of the Mayan Beauty.
She explained to our group that the vehicle had overheated and the men in the car had gotten a ride back into town to get a replacement fan belt.  They would be back soon and the group would be on their way.

Normally, I'm sorry for any person's misfoutune.  However, if a fan belt had to break, I couldn't be more pleased that it broke when and where it did.  My wife gave the woman the name Mayan Beauty after seeing the photographs.

You can view the Mayan Beauty and my other images at www.tombellart.com.  If you want to buy  one of my images before Christmas, you can use this discount code: YKJYTT.  You will receive a discount of $10 on total orders of $50 or more.  Just enter the code at checkout before December 26, 2012.  You can also contact me directly for limited edition signed fine art prints of anything on my website.  Fine art prints make wonderful Christmas gifts.  My email address is:  tom@tombellart.com.

You can view a five minute video of my black and white photos of Guatemalan people and places by clicking here.  It will open in a new window.