ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.

Ansel Adams and Edward Burtynsky: Constructed Landscapes

Tailings #30, Sudbury, Ontario, 1996, by Edward Burtynsky (Image copyright Edward Burtynsky)
Tailings #30, Sudbury, Ontario, 1996, by Edward Burtynsky

I’ve just returned from the Shelburne Museum where I spent a couple of air conditioned hours soaking up Ansel Adams and Edward Burtynsky: Constructed Landscapes. Are you nearby? See it. Are you far away? It’s worth the trip! Seriously, this exhibition is that good.

I’d love to pass along some of the stunning photographs, but an enthusiastic security guard cum docent spent about five minutes explaining to me that strict copyright rules prevented me from snapping any photographs. Fair enough. But if you follow the link above to the exhibition you can see some great images including the one I’ve included here and “Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada from Lone Pine, California” which I included in my last Ansel Adams post.

So, until you meander over to the Shelburne Museum’s Webb Gallery, you’ll have to rely upon my words. Or perhaps not rely upon, since the verbal journey you’re about to experience is impressionistic and highly subjective. Consider my stream of conscious reflection less review, even less blog post than a composite Ansel Adams and Edward Burtynsky twitter stream

Data Stream: Ansel Adams & Edward Burtynsky

You with me? When the guard welcomed me into the exhibition and then launched into his routine about why photography was prohibited, I asked if I could tweet my way through the photographs. He wasn’t so sure about this Twitter business, but he agreed. Victory! Or not. I quickly discovered that the Webb Gallery is a “zero bar” Verizon black hole. Strong signal outside, but zilch inside. So, I resolved to jot my Ansel Adams / Edward Burtynsky impressions on my Blackberry to post later. Here’s the soppy mess with a few links, etc. added in for good measure.

English: A photo portrait of photographer Anse...

Ansel Adams (Credit: Wikipedia)

Spectacular photo: “Dunes, Hazy Sun, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico” of wild grass, yucca and a dead shrub drowning in cascading sand. (Tiny version of this the The Art Institute of Chicago’s website.) What’s grabbing me here? Nostalgia? Yes. I’ve been there. Envy? Sure. I’ve shot hundreds, maybe thousands of images at White Sands National Monument, influenced like millions of others before me by the photographs of Ansel Adams. Humility is good. But there’s something more. The tonal range is impressive. The totally pedestrian subject and framing adds to the mysterious appeal.

And another, “Forest, Early Morning, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington” presents three layers of visual story telling:

  1. In the foreground, black silhouetted coniferous trees march left to right across the entire bottom of the image. Small, uniform shrubs at left grow larger and more detailed as they near the bottom right. This is a diminutive vignette, never taller than about 20% of the image.
  2. The middle band, occupying nearly half the height of the image captures two jagged mountain peaks like portraits. Shear angled stone faces, some portions veiled in snow.
  3. Above the mountains contrast-rich clouds drift nebulous and taunting, part steam engine blast, part crumbling doily.

The three layers of the image coalesce, but just barely as if the photographer is conflicted about his subject. Or triplicitous.

I am drawn into Ansel Adams’ “Tenaya Creek, Spring Rain“, the movement (and sound) of icy water riffling over stones and around boulders in the shallow creek bed. The textures — of the pebble beach, of the cedar trees’ bark, of the diversity of leaves — beg me to touch the print, to run my the pads of my fingers over the various surfaces. I restrain myself. Glass will restrain those who can’t resist. I yearn for half an hour, even fifteen minutes in this place. With my fly rod. With my Labrador Retriever, Griffin. With no mobile phone, no twitter, no appointments missed or pending, no urgencies at all.

Other favorites include Ansel Adams’ “Aspens, Northern New Mexico“, “White Branches, Mono Lake, California”, “BridalVeil Fall” and “Trees and Cliffs“, the latter cropped compellingly if slightly unconventionally. It seems to be off kilter, and a branch reaching into the top of the image suggests a tree falling out of celestial nothingness. Two trees (perhaps sequoias?) roughly divide the image and the asymmetrical massing of the stone mountains behind contribute to an effect furthered by the wispy clouds which radiate away from the center of the image. An eruption. An uprising. A rocket.

I remember studying Ansel Adams’ zone system. I remember frustration. Then amazement. “Dunes, Oceano, California” coerces me to linger while I trace the contours of the dunes, blur the wavy surface of the sand like a zebra in motion Laughing. Then lying down to rest. With the sun dropping nearer to the horizon.

Ping Pong: Ansel Adams & Edward Burtynsky

A sort of emotional schizophrenia ping-ponging back and forth between Ansel Adams and Edward Burtynsky: black and white, color; small prints, large prints; pristine, untouched nature, nature transformed by industry.

A dramatic Edward Burtynsky photograph, “Shipbreaking #24, Bangladesh, 2000″, showcases a cross section of a dismantled ship. A slice of steel vessel still bearing the name Kingfisher painted on the hull. The caustic pallet of hazy, pale blue and orange is unsettling, disturbing. I find myself wondering about the chemicals saturating the mudflats upon which ship carcasses are strewn in various stages of butchery. I worry about the health, the safety of the half dozen laborers who stand near the hulking Kingfisher. Smoke or exhaust lingers in the air. What is burning?

Burtynsky’s “Densified Oil Drum#4” intrigues me as much for the title as the stack of compressed steel drums. They remind me of clothes and rags packed into cubes, so untrained is my eye to seeing cylindrical steel drums so totally distorted, compressed, densified. So many colors of paint, crumpled, chipped paint homogenized by the patina of orange rust which — together with the geometry of the cubes stacked with some sense of order — unifies so many parts into a whole. Not an accident of industrial waste. Not a practical side effect of recycling. But a post industrial igloo, perhaps better suited to a globally warming world. And “Nickel Tailing #5” offers an even more colorful, even more dramatic, even more alarming refrain to Burtynsky’s anthem. It’s disheartening and defeatist from where I stand. Alone. In a cold gallery. Torrid July weather awaiting me outside.

Scenery is for Profit, Nature is for Reverence

As I wrap up, I reread one of many quotations printed on a wall:

“Scenery for Adams is a dirty word, an invention of the tourist business, an oversized curio. Nature is something else. Scenery is for profit, Nature is for reverence, and the fewer tracks of man there are in it, the better.” (Wallace Stegner’s foreword to “Ansel Adams Images, 1923-1974”)

This is a familiar notion. And an unmistakeably potent underlying theme in Ansel Adams and Edward Burtynsky: Constructed Landscapes. But it’s not the only theme. I’ll wait for you to help me unwind some of the others. Now I’m going to dive into the two delicious books I purchased before departing the Shelburne MuseumAnsel Adams: 400 Photographs and Manufactured Landscapes: The Photographs of Edward Burtynsky.


EBook Summit 2010 in Review

Panelists at eBook Summit 2010

What does tomorrow’s publishing world look like? MediaBistro’s eBook Summit dove into the “New Era of Publishing” on December 15, 2010 at The New Yorker Hotel to explore “some of the most pressing industry issues” and to assist writers, editors, publishers and agent in navigating “the changing industry ecosystem.”

In January I start pitching Rosslyn Redux (Writer’s Digest Conference 2011) to a publishing industry that is not only new to me but new to itself. I figured this conference would serve as an informative industry barometer for me and an up-close-and-personal glimpse at how traditional publishers and agents are adapting to the Post-Gutenberg Paradigm. The day was an eye opener. I’ve overviewed the highlights here…


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Open Road Shifts Publishing Industry’s Epicenter

Open Road is a digital content company that publishes and markets ebooks by creating connections between authors and their audiences across multiple platforms.

Brendan Cahill, VP and Publisher of Open Road Integrated Media (ORIM), was lead presenter during eBook Summit 2010 last week in NYC. He set the tone for a forward looking agenda in the publishing industry, “pioneering an alternative publishing model”, where digital books replace print books at the epicenter.

Although Open Road (@openroadmedia) is only a year old, they’ve already made a major push in publishing ebooks and have set an ambitious target of 2,000 new books to be published in 2011! They are effectively producing more content per title than traditional print publishers (including HD video author and book trailers) and yet they’ve slashed the standard industry production time line from a year or more among traditional publishers to approximately 120 days at Open Road.

How is this possible? This shrinking book cycle (rights acquisition, manuscript editing, cataloguing, soliciting, fulfillment and marketing) critical to their rapid upscaling and early mover success depends upon a new publishing model: outsource, outstource, outsource. Virtually every stage of the traditional publishing process is outsourced except for acquiring rights and marketing which allows ample flexibility for editing, art directing, etc. Check out the first few slides of Cahill’s presentation below.

Speed to market and scalability is possible at least in part because Open Road is primarily publishing athors’ back list books. Nevertheless, Cahill assured us that the their 2,000 title goal for 2011 does include “e-riginals—original e-books—which he said were a small part of the company’s business, but were critical to its identity.” (Publishers Weekly)

In addition to a new publishing model, Cahill distinguished Open Road’s new book marketing model from the ingrained paradigm employed by traditional publishing companies. The new model integrates content communities, social networks, blogs and microblogs, videos/photos, retail and ratings.

Cahill spoke about how Open Road Media uses the Internet to connect their readers to authors. The digital publisher creates author pages with videos and photos, as well as social media accounts to help build a platform for the write online. “We follow the marketing process to empower the author to connect with readers,” he said.(eBookNewser)

Cahill explained that professionally produced high definition video is “one of the core offerings that we create…” He showed us a slick example of Midnight Guardians, by Jonathan King. The quality of the footage, editing and storytelling is superb! Cahill emphasized the short, enticing, syndicate-able and viral potential of the video content they are using to market their titles.

Affirming and reaffirming Open Road’s new media savvy was the strongest undercurrent to Cahill’s presentation, and it illumnates Open Road’s vision of the emerging publishing industry. Publishing tomorrow, Open Road believes, will focus on a quick and efficient acquisition-to-sales cycles and top notch marketing.

“Metadata is our sales force… We concentrate on marketing.” (Brendan Cahill)

This lean model shifts publishers out of the editing tradition and out of the book factory tradition. It seems considerably more sustainable in today’s marketplace, and it creates partnerships and lucrative synergies with businesses that otherwise might be direct competitors with a traditional publisher. Is this what tomorrow’s publishers will look like?

Kohlberg Ventures financed Open Road, so they must think so. And Open Road was cofounded by former HarperCollins CEO, Jane Friedman, and film producer Jeffrey Sharp, so they must think so. Established novelist Susan Minot thinks so. And so does debut novelist Mary Glickman.

What do you think? Is Open Road’s lean, quick-to-market and social media oriented marketing strategy a road map for tomorrow’s publishing companies?

Persistence and Determination

I’ve been performing the Catch-Up Hustle this morning. Away from my desk for a week (eBook Summit 2010 and early Christmas with in-laws) but finding my groove again. Actually missed the rhythm!

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” ~Calvin Coolidge (via Fred Wilson)

Every day is Monday. Believe it. Live it. Love it!

Tile? Mandala? It’s The Doodle Daily!

Tile pattern? Sacred mandala? (credit @thedoodledaily)

Tile pattern? Sacred mandala? (credit @thedoodledaily)

“Every now and then when I’m on the phone I grab a post-it rather than a sheet of paper and while solving some acute problem, whip one of these up.” ~ Warren (The Doodle Daily)

Warren at The Doodle Daily shared a new batch of post-it doodles and this one was my favorite. Looks like an antique Portuguese tile. I instantly fantasized a Southwestern bathroom designed with these around a sunken tub, beneath a wall of glass overlooking the Sangre de Christo Mountains. And then I flashed back to amazing tiles we saw during our Splendors of Sacred India a year ago. And then even further back to Lisbon, Portugal in the autumn of 1999. How sad to see once magnificent buildings stripped of their famous tiles, stripped because they were more valuable for resale than as architecture and heritage.

The power of an image. The power of a doodle! Thanks to Warren (@thedoodledaily) for The Doodle Daily.

Memory Lane, Cinque Terre

Vernazza by Night (photo credit Ales Farcnik via

The power of a photograph. And Twitter. And nostalgia. This stunning photograph of Vernazza by Slovenian photographer Ales Farcnik transported me back almost a decade to Cinque Terre.

I was living in Paris. I had spent August on vacation in the Adirondacks on Lake Champlain. A whirlwind romance. Then I returned to Paris and she returned to Manhattan. I think we were both a little surprised to miss each other. A summer fling. But the longing endured. I invited her to explore Cinque Terre with me over the Toussaint holiday. Within an hour she’d booked a flight. Within a couple of weeks we were falling head over heals in love with each other in Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore and Monterosso al Mare. Four years later she became my bride.

Thanks for the memories, Ales Farcnik. And hat tip to to M. Faizan Sorathis (@Staticulator) who retweeted the “100 Beautiful Pics of Night” link that triggered this nostalgic flashback!

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eBook Summit 2010

What does tomorrow’s publishing world look like? MediaBistro’s eBook Summit dove into the “New Era of Publishing” on December 15, 2010 at The New Yorker Hotel to explore “some of the most pressing industry issues” and to assist writers, editors, publishers and agent in navigating “the changing industry ecosystem.”

In January I start pitching Rosslyn Redux to a publishing industry that is not only new to me but new to itself. I figured this conference would serve as an informative industry barometer for me and an up-close-and-personal glimpse at how traditional publishers and agents are adapting to the Post-Gutenberg Paradigm. The day was an eye opener. Below I’ve overviewed the highlights.

Debbie Stier: Book Publishing as I See It

Debbie Stier speaking at BookExpo America 2009

Debbie Stier (@debbiestier) first came across my radar when HarperStudio was born… A book publishing outlet that made sense in the 21st century! Publishers who understood (or wanted to understand) the digital migration. Unfortunately bravery and vision weren’t sufficient, and HarperStudio was recycled. (Read the HarperCollins explanation memo to employees.) I was disappointed that the project was abbreviated, but proud of HarperCollins for taking the risk in the first place.

One of her homeruns with HarperStudio was Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchukwhich I’ve “read” three times (the print edition, the audio edition and the Vook edition) as much for Vaynerchuk’s energy, self-confidence and optimism as for the opportunity to compare assets distinct to each platform. I imagine Vaynerchuk has been a good fit for Publishing’s Optimist Prime. In an interview with Marian Schembari last June Stier conveyed unabashed enthusiasm for the future of publishing.

“I love that word-of-mouth is scalable. I love that anybody can share, and connect, and spread the word about great books and ideas without ever having to get permission… I’m allergic to bureaucracy. Publishing is full of protocols; I find it frustrating when people see their role as putting up barriers and looking for problems. I’d rather make something great happen… It’s liberating to know that you are in control of your own destiny and don’t have to hope that the gatekeepers allow you to be recognized.” (Digital Book World)

Stier’s perspective has encouraged and reassured me during my foray into the book publishing jungle. And it’s not all bluster and bravado. Stier’s track record speaks for itself. And she’s EVERYwhere! (I have a hunch that she may secretly have invented the social web between book launches.) The other day I was speaking to my wife’s cousin, Cali Williams Yost (@caliyost) about her experience publishing Work + Life and now working on her second book, and Stier’s name inevitably popped up: “She is wonderful and amazing!” Scanning some of the titles Stier has worked on I realized that my mother-in-law’s friend, Dotty Frank, has also been touched by Stier. The Stier Factor! And when I registered to attend MediaBistro‘s eBook Summit I discovered that she was slated to be one of the panelists. (Did I mention that Debbie Stier is EVERYwhere?)

During her eBook Summit presentation she announced that she’s departed HarperCollins, and that she hasn’t yet announced her next plan. She did mention that it is somewhat unrelated to book publishing but will draw upon her publishing experience. Hmmm… Perhaps something to do with the SATs?

As for promotion strategies in the publishing industry Stier articulated in no uncertain terms that

“everybody should have a digital presence… You’ve got to be part of it to understand, or else you’re not feeling the culture of it.”

She also skimmed over relevant tech/communication trends that she sees emerging. Mobile, mobile, mobile. There’s an adavantage to early adopters. If you use an iPhone, try out Instagram. In publishing, she explained, mobile strategy is mostly tied to apps (location-based and otherwise), etc. In other industries texting and QR codes are making major inroads, but publishing lags behind! This is an opportunity. First mover advantage. She touched on Foursquare and mused on behaviour changes like the gym rat badge. If you are writing nonfiction, Stier said, think of ways that FourSquare could overlap. Tips are key! And many other smart uses too. Leave breadcrumbs where you wrote the book, ate a meal, had a drink, etc.

Stier also emphasized the importance of “caring”. Adopt the Zappos strategy as DELL has recently learned. Care. Gary Vaynerchuck’s new book, The Thank You Economy, is precisely about this. In only a few short minutes Debbie Stier had nailed it. Boom, boom, boom.

Unfortunately she had to depart earlier than anticipated and we didn’t connect aside from a few tweets and this sad image but kind message on Tumbler. Soon, I hope, to meet the legendary Debbier Stier in person.

The Need for Flexibility

Kieron Connolly with the October 9, 2010 edition
of the NRC Handelsblad Newspaper (Copyleft Avery Oslo)

In addition to the “write every day” and “create a routine” stuff by which so many other writers swear, Connolly stresses the need for flexibility. “There are many ways to get from start to finish,” he says. The key is to allow each project to be its own thing and deal with it in the way it ought to be dealt instead of tackling a uniform approach.(Kieron Connolly’s Newspaper Novel-Plotting Game)

This kernel of wisdom from Irish writer Kieron Connolly — the author of Water SignThere is A House and Harold — was harvested during a novel writing workshop at the American Book Center in The Hague by  Avery Oslo. It appealed to me for its candor and an almost unorthodox willingness to step away from the routine, routine, routine mantra which pervades much writerly advice.

Each new work is unique, and its creation may well require different routines, different methods and habits and rhythms than previous creations. This will to adapt the creative process per the needs of each new creation is not only more realistic than the systematic, procrustean assembly line model, it’s more exciting. Each new creative experience should be an adventure. A journey. An exploration. This is what makes creating and telling a story so damned interesting!

I wasn’t surprised that Avery Oslo (@AveryOslo on Twitter) had been inspired by Kieron Connolly, and yet I’ve never met either one. Chalk it up to Twitter. Again.

I don’t recall how I stumbled upon Oslo, but I suspect it may have been a retweet shared by a mutual acquaintance. A familiar “digital introduction”, followed by a visit to Avery Oslo’s blog where I read this:

I was raised by nomads (proper nomads. The kind that pick up and move every year at least once) and that makes me a native of nowhere (but also of everywhere!). I am most comfortable in mobile groups of other travelers and transplants. Everything I write addresses some aspect of being transient, at a crossroads, or otherwise in a state of flux. My characters often deal in the currencies of movement and future dreams. If you can relate to that, you might like what I write. (Avery Oslo)

I can relate to that!


After posting this blog, I received the following tweet, adding another interesting Twitter twist:


Web-Hooked EBooks

According to Hugh McGuire the future of book publishing looks more like the internet than print books or even ebooks. Web-connected digital books are inevitable, and the line will vanishing between books and the Internet. Today’s savvy publishers will be tomorrow’s ebook API providers:

E-books to date have mostly been approached as digital versions of print books to be read on a variety of digital devices, with a few bells and whistles–like video… Thinking of e-books as just another way to consume a book lets the publishing business ignore the terror of a totally unknown business landscape… While you can list advantages and disadvantages of print books vs. e-books, these are all asides compared with the kind of advantages that we have come to expect of digital information properly hooked into the Internet…

Let books live properly within the Internet, along with websites, databases, blogs, Twitter, map systems, and applications… the foundation is there for the move. If you are looking at publishing with any kind of long-term business horizon, this is where you should be looking…

We are a long, long way from publishers thinking of themselves as API providers, or as the Application Programming Interface for the books they publish. But we’ve seen countless times that value grows when data is opened up (sometimes selectively) to the world. That’s really what the Internet is for and that is where book publishing is going, eventually…

The current world of e-books is a transition to a digitally connected book publishing ecosystem that won’t look anything like the book world we live in now. (

I don’t need any convincing, but I found McGuire’s article straightforward and compelling. This isn’t rocket science, folks. It’s open source storytelling! And it’s one of the most exciting application of this global rhizome we call the World Wide Web. Like McGuire, I still can’t envision what the commercial underpinnings for this future of publishing looks like, I am confident that entrepreneurial minds all over the world are already scheming up efficient, reliable methods for monetizing web-enabled ebooks. Copyright issues will become increasingly complicated, but where there’s a will (and a market) there’s a way. And I’m thrilled to be able to participate!

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