Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year 2014: Mystery of the Miracle Frisbee

This is a true story that happened on New Year's Eve of 2011. I originally published it in January of 2012.  I repeated it for last New Year, and again for this New Year, because it's true, possibly inspirational, and I think you'll find it amazing.

The story below is absolutely true.  My family and I were there and experienced this first-hand.  It is not the type of material you find in my typical blog entry.  However, it is too good not to share.  Please post your thoughts at the bottom of this page.  Share this with anyone you think might enjoy it or get caught up in the mystery.

What do you call it when something beyond understanding occurs -- something that defies all odds? Is it a paranormal event?  A coincidence of unimaginable proportions?  Magic?  Or is it a miracle? And what if you can prove to yourself and others that it really happened because you were there and you took photographs!  This incident concerns nothing more elaborate than a Frisbee, but it is mystifying, nevertheless.

My wife’s family is from Guatemala.  My wife, our two children, and I live in Illinois and sometimes visit her family in Central America over the holidays.  This year, we, along with most of my wife’s large family, spent the week after Christmas at my sister-in-law’s beach house on the Pacific coast of Guatemala.

My daughter practicing her gymnastics on the black sand beach.
Every day, my wife’s younger brother, Gonzalo, would run out to the volcanic black sand with his Frisbee and toss it along the beach or over the waves and let the wind return it to him.  Two days before New Year’s, as my children and some of the cousins played on the beach, I took my camera and photographed him exercising with the white disc.
My brother-in-law, Gonzalo, running on the beach with his Frisbee.  Notice the design of the Frisbee on the inset.
Later in the evening, my wife, Maria, and I, Gonzalo, his wife, Marta Yolanda,  and the children went down to the beach to catch the sunset.  The children built a castle in the sand.  Maria, Marta Yolanda, and I stood and watched the progress of the castle building activities, while Gonzalo launched his Frisbee toward the waves.  I took several photographs.  Several times, the Frisbee landed on the water and was returned in the waves.  Everyone was having a great time, until my brother-in-law made a bad toss.  He groaned as the Frisbee went into the waves and was not immediately returned on the surf.

The children made a sand castle, while my brother-in-law (far right) played with his Frisbee.

“It’s gone,” he said.

“Give it a minute, and maybe the waves will bring it back,” I suggested.

“No, Tom, I don’t think it’s coming back,” he sighed, as we all peered into the dark waves, hoping that he might be wrong.

After another half minute, I pointed into the surf as a white object came into view. 
“There it is,” I yelled.  The Frisbee washed directly to my wife’s feet and hit her on the shins.  She walked over and handed it to her brother.

He took the disc happily, but after only a moment said, “This isn’t my Frisbee.”

We all looked at him. 

“My Frisbee was red on top.   This one’s black.”

“That has to be your Frisbee,” I said.

“Maybe it had a sticker on it that came off in the water,” my wife suggested.

“No,” Gonzalo insisted.  “Mine was a pure white.  This is pearl colored.”

“That has to be your Frisbee,” I said.   “If it’s not, whose is it?  And how is it possible that it washed up at our feet just as we were looking for a Frisbee?  How many times have you ever had a Frisbee wash up at your feet, let alone when you’re looking for one?”

“Never,” he answered.

“And how many times have you ever just found a Frisbee on the beach?”


“Then how is it possible that this isn’t your Frisbee?

“I don’t know,” he answered.  “It just doesn’t look like my Frisbee.”  It was obvious that my logic had convinced him to give up his argument.

We watched another dramatic Pacific sunset, and then returned to the house to have dinner and rest for New Year’s Eve.

It wasn’t until the next morning when I was looking at some of my photos on the LCD screen of my camera that I realized I had shots from before the Frisbee was lost.  I quickly found the photos and zoomed in on one where the design on the Frisbee was plainly visible.

There was no doubt.  It was not the same Frisbee.  The photographs plainly show a Frisbee with a very different graphic design.  If not for the photographs, we all would have given up on the notion that one disc had been thrown into the ocean and a different disc returned.  It was just too difficult to believe.  But that’s exactly what happened:  one Frisbee was thrown into the ocean, only to be replaced by a different one a moment later.

The Frisbee that returned in the waves (center) and the Frisbee that was thrown into the ocean (inset).
I have no explanation.  Something very strange happened.  I don’t know how or why.  Maybe it was nature’s way of assuring us that miracles can and do happen.  If something with odds this impossible can take place, it can happen again.  And maybe next time, the miracle will be something that will change someone’s life for the better.  Maybe next time we’ll believe the impossible really can happen.  It’s already happened once.  It can happen again.

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

Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 -The Year in Review: My Best Photographs

Every year brings new opportunities for photography.

While I do photography throughout the year, certain opportunities afford greater rewards in obtaining images. For 2013, it was a summer trip to Spain and Italy.  Below are my favorite images of the year, broken down by category.  If you missed them in previous blog entries, they're here.


This portrait was a spontaneous capture of a street performer in Venice. The violin player looked on as I took two frames. The rough brick wall and the old door covered in torn flyers gave the scene the texture that it needed to set it apart from the ordinary.  I think it's my favorite of all the European images this summer.
This is a spontaneous capture of a bartender at a well-know tapas bar. The photo was chosen as an Editor's Pick  by the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP).   The bartender is keeping customers satisfied at the Camarote Madrid Bar in León, Spain.
Children (even though they're arguably people, they get their own category.)

These children are playing at a park in León.
These children were busy at play in the plaza at Salamanca.

Nothing says Venice better than gondolas.
The Gothic cathedral in León is a beautiful subject for photography.
A rainstorm added reflection to the cathedral.

Castrillo de los Polvazares is a tiny village in norther Spain.  It's one of the stops on the Camino de Santiago. The dog is one of its denizens.
The edge of Castrillo de los Polvazares.

Perseus holds the head of Medusa in this famous sculpture in Florence, Italy.

A Venetian carnival mask.  Theyre everywhere in Venice, and a great subject for photography.
A sculpture in Bologna, Italy.
Selfie/Family Portrait

Our family self portrait.  It became the image for our Christmas Card.
You can view my website at:  www.tombellart.com.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Beanie Santa Turns 10 (Again)

Around the holidays, I sometimes re-post a blog entry from a previous time.  This one is from the Christmas season last year.  So, Beanie Santa is now eleven.  Hope you enjoy.  

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.

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

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Memorable is Not Memorable Enough

Last week, I posted a blog entry with the Christmas card I designed for this year: Making the Christmas Card Memorable.  However, after looking at it for a while, I decided that it wasn't ornate enough for the holidays.  Using the same concept of a "selfie" where the family is being silly in front of a mirror on a Venetian canal, I designed the new card with Christmas clip art.  This is the card I'll be sending to family and friends this year:

You can see a large version of he card by clicking on it.

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

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Making the Christmas Card Memorable

Since 2009, I've been designing and sending our family photo Christmas cards by email.   The cards always have a nice portrait of the family, but that's about all I can say for them. There's one big difference between my card this year and those of years past:  this year's card will be memorable.  Since there's no postage and no physical card to send, the only cost is an investment of a little time with Photoshop.  Here's this year's card:

Click on the image to see the entire card.

 When we were in Venice this summer, we decided to be silly and make faces in front of a mirror along the canal.  I captured a family "selfie" that became the image for the 2013 Christmas card.

"Wow," you must be saying, "he even takes his dog with him on a Europan vacation!"

Well, not exactly.

Mr. Watson, our lovable-but-brain-dead cairn terrier has been on the card every year.  It seemed a shame to leave him out this time.  Unfortunately, I don't have any images of Mr. Watson that would work with my plan.  The best I could do was search until I found the image of a dog that looks just like mine, one that was also taken at the appropriate angle.  Using the selection tool in Photoshop, I then extracted the dog from the image, sized it and pasted onto the vacation picture. It looks enough like Mr. Watson that my wife thought it was him, even though she didn't remember him going on vacation with us.

That's the story of this year's more memorable Christmas card.  I'll have to do something to top it in 2014!

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

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Confessions of a Christmas Wreath Thief

I hung my Christmas wreath on the front door last night.  It's beautiful, as always -- but this year it was legally obtained -- unlike the one from last year.  I'm reposting my blog entry from Christmas Day of last year, as many of you may have missed one of my Christmas season misadventures.

I'm admitting it.

I can imagine myself in the police station at one end of a long metal table.   A cop is at the other end. A light fixture with a single bright bulb is overhead.  The shadows are harsh.  "Okay, Copper, I admit it!" I scream. " I took the wreath, but you'll never prove it.  And I'm gonna beat this rap.  You're wastin' your time keepin' me in this joint.  I'm gonna walk!"

The truth is your Christmas wreath isn't safe with me in your neighborhood.  The front door of my house is adorned with a beautiful wreath that I picked up off a total stranger's porch, without his or her knowledge or approval.  I'm a Christmas wreath thief.

The stolen Christmas Wreath on my front door.

No, I'm not too poor to afford my own wreath.  And, no, at least I don't think it's because of a deep-seated psychological condition.  If I ever go to therapy, maybe I'll find out.

As with many who start off into a life of crime, my intentions were good.  It all started out with Linda, a lady we know at church who asked me if I would like to help out the Boy Scouts by ordering a Christmas wreath again this year.  Well, my son is in that worthy organization and is working toward his Eagle Scout rank.  Immediately, I said "yes," as we had bought wreaths from the same lady in past years and they are always beautiful and reasonably priced, and always to support the Boy Scouts.

All was fine as my family and I waited for the wreath to arrive.  I got an email from Linda who said I could pick it up off her front porch and leave the check under a potted plant.

I emailed her back telling her that I didn't remember exactly where her house was, but that she could let me know and I would be by in a day or so to pick it up.

She replied that the house was the first left in her subdivision after the flagpole, then the big house on the right with the giant pine tree at the side of the yard.  My wreath would be in a box on her porch, just pick it up and leave the check.

The directions were easy to follow.  I turned at the flagpole.  I wasn't exactly sure which of the big houses on the right because there were several big pine trees in the area.  But one house looked familiar, and sure enough, when I got to the porch there was a box with a wreath.  I took it and left a check under the potted plant.

One of my very first digital painting from 2001. It's called The Christmas Wreath.  The young lady is wearing a Christmas wreat around her neck.  It's made from straw and is typical of crafts found in the Mayan marketpalces.
My wife was thrilled with the wreath and its big red and gold ribbon.  I wouldn't say I get thrilled over such things, but it is a very nice wreath.

A few days later, while getting ready for a meeting at work, my secretary told me that a lady had called and was bringing my Christmas wreath.  I was puzzled.  I asked her the lady's name and it was Linda.  I told my secretary to call her back and tell her that I already have my wreath.  However, it was too late and no one answered the phone when she returned the call.

Twenty minutes later, just as I was about to go into my meeting, Linda stepped into the office carrying a big boxed wreath.

"Hi, Linda," I said, "I tried calling to tell you that I've already pick up my wreath, but you had already left."

She looked at me like I was crazy.  "What do you mean?  This is your wreath"

"No, I picked mine up several days ago."

"Really?"  She was obviously confused.

"Yes," and I left the check under the pot.  "You didn't find it."

"No, I didn't look because the wreath was still there.  I guess someone returned a wreath after you picked yours up."

"Okay," I said.  "I'm sorry that you came all this way."

"That's okay," she said.

"Let me know if you don't find the check."

"Don't worry," she replied, and was gone.

I didn't think about it again.

The next time I saw Linda was at Christmas mass yesterday afternoon.  The Christmas music was beautiful and we said "hello" after the service.

"You stole my neighbor's Christmas wreath!" were the first words that came from her mouth.


My wife and children looked at me with dropped jaws."

"My house is next to the one where you took the wreath."

"I'm sorry.  I saw the pine tree and there was a wreath on the porch."

"Yes, we finally figured it out.  It was the wreath I sold her. Don't worry about it.  She found the check made out to BOY SCOUTS and gave me a call.  It's all taken care of now."

"Wow,  I'm sorry."

"No, really it's fine."

My wife gave me the "How could you!" look.

I looked at my son, the future Eagle Scout.  He was amused -- just another standard adventure for Dad.

I've now been branded a Christmas wreath thief.  I'm not sure it's something you can ever live down.  Only time will tell.

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

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Black & White Spider Awards Results

The Black and White Spider Awards were held this last weekend.  They're the most important international awards honoring excellence in black and white photography. The live event shines a spotlight on the best professional and amateur photographers worldwide and honors the finest images with the highest achievements in black and white photography.  I was pleased to discover that my image Arch of Santa Catalina won one of six honorable mention awards in the non-professional category of Architecture.

The Arch of Santa Catalina is in Antigua, Guatemala
The live online ceremony webcast Saturday, October 19, 2013 was attended by photography fans in 75 countries who logged on to see the climax of the industry's most important event for black and white photography.

The awards international Jury included captains of the industry from the Tate in London, Heffel Fine Art, FoMu Fotomuseum, FTM Advisory, Camera Work, Art Stage Singapore, Aeroplastics Contemporary, Galerie Baudoin Lebon in Paris, to Fratelli Alinari in Florence who honored Spider Fellows with 246 coveted title awards and 938 nominees in 14 categories.

Congratulations to all the winners.  They can be found at www.thespiderawards.com/gala8th/

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

Friday, September 13, 2013

More Venetian Carnival Masks

I've had time to look at a few more of the photos I took in Europe this summer.  I thought I'd share a few more of the Venetian Carnival masks I had the opportunity to photograph while in Venice.

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

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Ponte Vecchio, a great bridge to photograph

 The Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy is often on the list of the world's greatest bridges.  Crossing the Arno River, it's much as it was in Medieval times. There are jewelry shops and curio dealers all along the bridge.  Make you own photograph if you're ever in Florence!

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

Monday, September 2, 2013

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Art is in the Details

Many photographers visit Pisa, Italy and focus on the obvious:  the Leaning Tower and other historic monuments.

Those who look closely will find the 12th Century bronze door panels on the Cathedral of Pisa by architect and sculptor Bonanno da Pisa.  There are 24 panels on the door that trace the lives of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

This bronze door panel depicts the Nativity. 
You can view my website at:  www.tombellart.com.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Illinois Girl Saves Historic Italian Landmark

At the end of June, my family and I traveled to Pisa, Italy.

This obvious photograph is the forced perspective view of  my daughter holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa (She should be given a medal by the Italian government for ensuring that this historic landmark didn't bite the dust).
Cristina, uprights a 500 year-old wrong in Pisa, Italy.
She corrected the lean so that the tower now stands straight for the first time in 500 years.  You can view my website at:  www.tombellart.com.

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

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Shooting Photos in the Rain

I like to shoot photographs in the rain.   Dark clouds provide contrast.  Wet streets reflect light.  In fact, a cloudy, rainy day can provide the perfect conditions for photographs that might otherwise be mundane.

The Gothic cathedral in León, Spain wasn't nearly as interesting for photography before a short, but intense rainstorm added reflections to the scene.
Here's the same cathedral in color.
This is the scene in León, looking away from the cathedral entrance.  I was lucky enough to capture a rainbow, along with the glassy pavement shortly after the rain stopped.
Umbrellas, clouds and reflections add to this nighttime street shot.

While the rain had subsided several hours earlier, the streets still shone with a glossiness that made this photograph stand out.

While it hadn't yet rained in Castrillo de los Polvazares, Spain, the low, dark clouds provided contrast for a dramatic photograph.  I wish I had been able to photograph the stone streets during or after a rainstorm.

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

Friday, August 9, 2013

Children are the Missing Element...

Often, I'm at a photogenic spot -- a historic building or scenic location.  I point the camera and get a stunning photograph -- but upon further inspection, something is missing.  Maybe the missing element is children.  Below are some examples of the child or children making the photograph.

This is a very scenic location in the central plaza of Salamanca.  It needed children to make it interesting.

This dramatic photo of the Arch of Santa Catalina in Antigua, Guatemala works because of the young soccer player in the foreground.
Children were jumping like crazy for the bubbles from this street performer in Bologna, Italy.

These active children were perfect subjects for a photo in a León, Spain park.
The accordion playing street performer was a good subject for a photography, but the little girl makes it a human interest story.
You can view my website at:  www.tombellart.com.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Venetian Carnival Masks

Venetian carnival masks have been around since at least the 13th century.  In Venice, the masks are everywhere, with expensive masks in high-end shops and very inexpensive souvenir masks at vendors' booths and stands across the city.  They're also great subjects for photography.

Many Venetian masks are colorful.  However, in my opinion, they're perfect for Black and White photography.

These masks were in a very high-end shop in Venice.
You can view my website at:  www.tombellart.com.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

More Favorites

In my previous blog entry, I shared some of my favorite photos from my recent trip to Spain and Italy.

Here are a few more.

 A street performing violinist in Venice.
A poppy field between León and Salamanca, Spain.

Street Scene.  Castrillo de los Polvazares, Spain.
Stone building.  Castrillo de los Polvazares.

Arches.  León, Spain.
Accordion player captures the interest of a little girl.  Madrid, Spain.

Bubbleman.  Street Performer. Bologna, Italy.
Perseus with the Head of Medusa.  Florence, Italy.
Sculpture in Bologna.
This is one of my favorite photos from the trip.  It was the end of the day and my family and I were headed back to the train station in Venice.  We saw a mirror on the wall in front of the canal.  We decided to be silly.

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