Friday, November 23, 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!"


"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?"

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Beanie Santa Turns 10: 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:  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.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Video of Fine Art Photography from Guatemala

I did a presentation last year for which I created a video of my fine art photography of Guatemalan people and places.  Click on the little triangle in the video screen to watch.  If you enjoy it, please let your friends know.

Art Prints

You can view my website at:

Also you can use this code for a 25% discount on artwork from my website:  VCMYEX
The discount is for photographs and artwork only, and does not apply to framing, mats, etc.
The code is good until October 1.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Mayan Beauty

The image below is one that I shot several years ago.  Another image of the same lady that I shot only a few seconds after this one has won numerous awards; its the photo I use on the entrance page to my website.  However, I recently came across this image in my files and I like it about as much as the one that has received so much attention.  Let me know what you think.

Another version of Mayan Beauty.  I met her when stopped to shoot a waterfall near Panajachel, Guatermala.  Her car had broken down.  Click on the image for a larger view.

My website features this image of Mayan Beauty.

You can view my website at:

Saturday, August 25, 2012

More Street Photography - From the Files

The two images below have been on my hard drive unprocess for six years.  I've taken lots of photos of the same lady over the years.  Every time I visit Chichicastenango, she's always on the cathedral steps at pretty much the same place.    When I'm bored, I go back to the files to see if there's something that has potential.    These two images fit that category.

Flower vendor.  Chichicastenango, Guatemala. You can click on the photos for a larger view.

Flower Vendor.  Chichicastenango, Guatemala.
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Friday, August 24, 2012

Antigua Cathedral - Another One from the Files

When I haven't been doing much photography, I sometimes go back through my archives to see if there's a photo I missed, one that I never processed to bring it to its full potential.  Here's one that I shot back in 2005.  It sat on a hard drive until today.
Antigua Cathedral, across from the Central Plaza.  Antigua, Guatemala.
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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Fair is Good for Fine Art Photos

State and local fairs are going on around the country this time of year.  The local DuQuoin State Fair starts this weekend.

Fairs are a great place for a photographer.  If you like the fast and furious nature of the rides and roller coasters or the depth of people photography, there's bound to be something there at which you can point a lens.

Here are a couple of photos from my last trip to the fair.  They stayed on my hard drive unprocessed until I was looking through my files recently.

The little guy who takes your quarters is always an excellent subject for a portrait.

People and their fascination with the weird and wacky are great subjects.

If you get to the Fair, bring your camera and see if you can find a shot worthy of fine art.  I bet you can.

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