After spending two nights at an outpost near the Algerian border on our madcap trip across Tunisia, we paid a visit to one of the Star Wars sets that still stands out in the desert. The moisture vaporators must have really been doing their job because right as we pulled up, it started raining. It definitely wasn’t the kind of smoking hot, dry day that you’d expect to visit such a place on. And, the sky definitely wasn’t the blue sky I would have hoped for. Still, it was pretty awesome to be standing on one of the sets for Star Wars—even if it was for one of the episodes that I wasn’t too fond of (cough Phantom Menace cough).
If you take a look at the map of the location, you can see that the set is pretty far out from the populated areas of Tunisia. It’s not an easy place to get to. Even this far out, however, there were a few locals who wanted to sell trinkets and bead necklaces for a Dinar or two to the few tourists that make it out here.
I wonder how much longer the set will last. The facades are pretty well built and the weather probably won’t do it in, but the sand dunes are obviously starting to encroach, leaving a few moisture vaporators—made out of plywood, by the way—half buried. I would have investigated more, but the rain turned into a deluge, something the Sahara probably needed but which chased us back on the road to head to our next destination.
My return to the United States after being in Cuba for a week lasted all of 28 hours or so. Just long enough to catch a night of sleep in a Miami hotel before flying to Tunis via Newark and Istanbul. Three flights later—including an overnight layover in Istanbul where Katerina met up with me—we were off the plane and whisked directly away to La Marsa to help our friends Houssem Aoudi and Fatène Ben-Hamza get ready for their wedding.
What’s a typical Tunisian wedding like? I’ve got no idea, really. Houssem and Fatène took a modified approach where they had a civil wedding with official people, family, and friends gathered together in a big hall where the couple were seated facing each other, lots of official sounding stuff was said, and then everyone wished the happy couple well. After the contractual ceremonies were duly done with, we zipped off for a more casual dinner with a smaller group of friends. I’d try to compare that to the typical rehearsal dinner in American weddings, but no. It wasn’t like that either.
True to the newlywed couple’s nature, the next few days weren’t typical either. Instead of privately heading off to a honeymoon the next day, they invited a few friends to pile into a big car with them on an adventure across Tunisia to go visit Roman ruins, Berber villages and cities, and indulge in a Hammam in the middle of nowhere near the Algerian border. It was a totally surprising and unexpected adventure. One that won’t ever be forgotten. More about all of that in the next few posts.
Everyone who goes to Cuba remarks on the cars. It’s easy to. Where else in the world can you go and see so many American automobiles from the 50’s? Of course, the reason why they are there is pure necessity. Cubans kept the cars running far beyond their design life as a matter of practicality. The original engines have been replaced and then replaced again, mostly with diesel engines. Ad-hoc repairs layer on top of improvised parts when the originals wore out. Emissions control is nonexistent. The entire time I was in Havana, my eyes, nose, and throat were complaining about the crud in the atmosphere.
Interestingly enough, while you’ll see Ladas and other Soviet automobiles here and there, you don’t see nearly as many. What you do see in numbers that have seriously increased since I was last there two years ago are the numbers of vehicles made in Asia. All the police cars are Korean-made Kias now. The ancient buses used for public transportation have been replaced with Chinese-made Yutongs. I even saw an Audi and a few Mercedes cars which were obviously owned by some elites. But, at least for now, the 50s American cars still rule the road here, and likely will for at least a few more years.
Going to photograph a place like Cuba is not a simple exercise and it’s full of questions. As an American subject to the rules of the US government’s embargo against Cuba, one of the first questions is how do you get there, legally? There’s a variety of ways, including the person to person cultural exchanges such as the ones organized by Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. You could also go illegally via Canada, Mexico, or the Bahamas, but then you’re flying without much of a net. Europeans, of course, don’t have to deal with a prohibition on travel and are there in droves. In fact, my friends in Europe didn’t get what a big deal it was to go until I explained the situation in detail. And then they still look at me funny with a expression that says: “Really? Come on… You must be kidding.”
After simple logistics, however, the questions become nuanced and tend to group around motivation. Why even go? What are you hoping to get out of the experience? What do you hope that the locals will get out of meeting you? Will going support or defend those currently in power and how? Does going somehow increase the problems of the locals or might it actually help in some small way? These are all questions I’ve faced before in my travels—most notably when I went to Myanmar (Burma) over a year ago.
There aren’t simple answers, of course. For some—especially for those in the Cuban American community who are fairly unequivocal in their continued support of the embargo—there is absolutely no excuse for traveling to Cuba. It’s simply seen as encouraging the policies of the Castro regime by supporting them monetarily with the money made at the hotels and restaurants. It’s the same sort of argument that the Burmese opposition used to make in their call for travelers to boycott Myanmar—a stance they’ve since reversed with a new embrace a responsible form of tourism to encourage understanding between people.
Our group had hundreds of small interactions with Cubans during our week. Sometimes, it was a simple exchange of a smile. Many times, it was part of an attempt to sell a taxi ride or a cigar, inevitably starting with a “Hello my friend, where are you from?” but which sometimes evolved into a discussion about current politics or even an occasional personal dissertation of a personal history. More than one of these evolved into a long discussion. The most striking of our interactions to me, however, were the longer term ones we had with the two local Cuban photographers who accompanied us for the week: Ramsés H. Batista and Leysis Quesada.
If there’s the start of a positive entrepreneur class in Cuba—one which builds a life based on creation instead of simply taking advantage of some non-renewable or agricultural resource that can be easily exploited—these two are definitely in it. Ramsés is in the process of opening a studio. Leysis has international exhibitions of her work. Both have made and published photographs documenting day to day life in Cuba. They work within the boundaries of the system—one of the ways they make money is by helping groups like ours—but they’re part of a group of people that is using each expansion of the boundaries to build for their future.
We learned a lot from them, and I’m grateful for what they taught me about Cuban culture and the realities of being a photographer there right now. I’m pretty sure it went both ways, too. Our group was composed of professional photographers and several brilliant technologists. This lead to many great discussions between Cubans and Americans over late night dinners that covered all sorts of topics worthy of continuing discussion.
Of course, emerging entrepreneurs like Ramsés and Leysis are very much a super minority in Cuba. But almost every other Cuban with whom we interacted with was also looking forward to the future in one way or another—the younger generations being the most eager, as you might expect. We saw a surprising number of iPhones and other smart phones in use by Cubans, even though most didn’t seem to be actively online. I snuck a look at as many screens as I could and only one or two had any kind of data connectivity—and those only at GPRS speed. But people are managing to find their way and when data access does become more common place, they’re going to take full advantage of what it can do for them.
The more I travel the world, the more I believe that the most important lesson that comes from it is that the more people interact with each other, the better. Of course, not all of those interactions will be good ones. It’d be beyond naïve to expect that and certainly there’s a dark side to Cuba—just as there is in many countries. But when it’s done constructively, interaction can help tear down barriers and help people on both sides understand each other as humans instead of imagining them as what propaganda could lead you to believe.
Not to get too all philosophical here but, for me, I think one of the things that drives my travel to places like Cuba—and certainly something I became that much more aware of during this trip—is the process of tackling the “Otherness” that still drives much of the fundamentals of how our world operates. I might not be able to do much but showing up, having a few great interactions that hopefully help out a few Cubans as they build towards a different future, and then bringing home and sharing some stories—especially with everyone who sees them here on my blog—is my way of doing at least a little bit. Is it enough? Not hardly. But it’s a start.
There’s a distinct texture to Havana. It’d be easy to say that the city was frozen in time after the revolution and the embargo went into effect, but that’s not exactly the right way to describe it. It wasn’t hermetically sealed in some sort of bubble and perfectly preserved. Instead, it’s been lived in by generations of inhabitants who kept things going as best as they could, adding a coat of paint here or there when possible.
Given the relative disrepair of almost everything, there’s one thing about Cuba that I still find suprising: It’s not a place of squalor. Trash and litter collects in the buildings that have fallen apart too far and are abandonded, but anywhere people live is as tidy as one could expect. Certainly far tidier than anywhere else where people live on so little.
During our pre-trip briefing the night before leaving for Cuba, David Hobby talked a bit about how he was going to approach the week photographically and what he hoped to see in the quick edit of six photos that we all would present at the end of our time in Havana. During his talk, he called me out saying, “Duncan goes to these incredible places and then posts all these beautiful photos that could be post-apocalyptic because they don’t have any people in them.” Then, he issued a challenge directly to me: “I want to see people in your shots this trip.”
Fair enough. He had a point. Loving a good challenge, my response was: “You’re on!”
It wasn’t all that hard, of course, to photograph people in Cuba. Cubans are friendly, and curious. Even the street hustlers wanting to take you to a bar for mojitos or a shop to get a cigar are happy to hang out, talk, and give you their perspective on life if you don’t say yes to their proposition. Sometimes that perspective was polished. Other times, not so much. We heard a lot of raw emotion about things that happened in the past.
Despite the ease with which we could mix with locals, it would have been all to easy to let the prescribed activities we participated in—we travelled on a person-to-person cultural exchange permit from the US Department of State and the Cuban tourist authorities have a vested interest in showing the most polished side of their country—to drive the photographic agenda. If that’d happened, we would all have come home with portfolios of old folks smoking cigars and hanging out in lovingly cared for decaying old houses. We wanted more than that.
So, we took full advantage of our free time outside the prescribed activities. We got up early, braved the hot and humid afternoons when the sun was at its strongest, and stayed up into the wee hours of the morning wandering streets—sometimes in parts of town that we were warned about. “Watch your camera!” was something that Bryan and I heard more than a few times as we wandered through the sketchier areas.
There are many that want to force one kind of narrative or another onto Cuba because of its past, its odd relationship with the USA as a result, and the interesting position it finds itself in right now as it transitions from whatever it was into whatever it becomes. Some of those narratives are fascinating. Others verge on shrill or even extremist. All of them have a place and deserve to be part of the conversation. If you stick too much to the traditional narratives, however, and focus solely on what was or how it came to be, you’ll miss the most important story right now: The transition in Cuba is in full swing.
I can’t begin to communicate how much has changed since I was last there two years ago on a marine science mission. Commerce has really ramped up. A lot of people are taking those small steps from selling a few goods to opening up shops to planning for a future. Every time I told someone that I was there before, they asked if I noticed the changes. How could one not? Even the food was better in quality on average everywhere we went.
Have the Cuban people been through a lot? Very much so. Is it all suddenly great and rosy? Not even close. Things happen or don’t happen on a whim of persons unknown. Major problems, like pervasive street prostitution that is openly ignored by authorities, are easily visible. Will there continue to be problems going forward? Almost certainly. This won’t—and probably can’t—be a perfect process and there will be some big bumps as the gap between haves and have nots inevitably increases. But, almost everyone I met on the trip—certainly everyone I photographed—was participating in that process and looking forward to the future.
Of course, my viewpoint during my time in Cuba isn’t without bias. I was there as an outsider. If we chose, we could have stayed in a relatively insulated bubble drinking mojitos and smoking cigars that cost a month or more of a doctor’s salary—something like $25—while sitting under palm trees. Yes, we had mojitos and smoked a cigar or two, but we also got out and walked five to ten miles a day and saw as much as we could. The people in these photos are representative of who I saw on those walks.
While visiting the José Martí Memorial in Havana, Bryan Jones and I spotted a 22º solar halo in the sky around the sun caused by ice crystals high up in the atmosphere. They’re not exactly uncommon, but seeing a nice strong one like this was fun photographically.
A bit later, while we were sipping mojitos at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, we spotted the halo again—this time even more intensely and sporting an oval outside segment. We discussed the various permutations that would cause what we were seeing, but without easy access to the internet, we simply shrugged and made more photographs, as one does when in Cuba with a cold beverage and camera in hand.
There’s rain in the Pacific Northwest this weekend—not unusual for April—but Rick LePage and I didn’t let that keep us from exploring the Columbia River Gorge today. I took my small Sony RX1s and big Nikon D800 with me, but spent most of my time shooting with the RX1. As is typical these days, most of my keepers from today were from the little camera. Chase Jarvis is fond of saying the best camera is the one that’s with you. I think I want to modify that and say: the best camera is the one that you enjoy using the most. After all, if you enjoy using a camera, you’ll take it everywhere with you.
Rain chased us everywhere we went and the waterfalls were in full force. We spent most of our time exploring the north side of the Gorge and checked in at some vantage points that Rick has scouted out in the last few months. Amazing locations that will really sing when the weather is just right. Today, however, the weather was best for us—for some definition of best—from well known spots like Cape Horn and the Hood River Bridge. No worries, it was fine by me and a much needed day out after spending the last few days getting things ready for my next big trip. Only a few more to go before I jet off again.
When I was in high school, Highway 360—also known as the Capital of Texas Highway—had just opened up access to the hills west of Austin that had previously been accessible by small windy two lane roads. It was the start of a building boom that has been going ever since. Everywhere you look you can see houses and office buildings. And many of those two lane roads are now four lanes or more. Visiting every few years is like watching the development in fast-forward. It’s a bit mind-boggling.
Despite the wider roads and increased traffic, the hills have retained much of their charm. I was especially glad to see the bluebonnets out along the highways. Something that has remained unchanged from my childhood are seeing families that pull over along the side of the highway to get out of their cars and make photographs of their loved ones surrounded by the blue flowers. A sign of spring—and hot summer days ahead that will be more amenable to cacti than delicate flowers.
When I was in high school in the mid-80’s, I went out to Lake Travis several times to do things that teenagers do. Sometimes, it was with family to do proper things like boating with an uncle or picnic. Other times, it was with friends to be teenagers away from too much scrutiny. In particular, I remember going out to the Oasis quite a few times to watch sunset and eat nachos. The lake was recovering from a major drought in the early 80’s and I remember times it seemed like it was low, but whenever that happened, the lake would recover and fill back up again relatively quickly.
I don’t ever recall seeing it as low as it is right now. And apparently, it’s been like this for several years as Central Texas suffers the worst drought in recent memory. It’s so bad that the Lower Colorado River Authority has had to cut off rice farmers in south Texas from water two years in a row—something that doing even once would have been unthinkable before last year given the political clout of agricultural interests.
When will the lake recover? Nobody really knows. The drought is projected to continue for quite some time. The only thing that’s really known is that the longer it goes on, the lower the lake level will go. I have to say, it’s more than a little disturbing to see such a clear signal of what’s going on in the climate in a place I associate with carefree days and evenings.
Something like twenty years ago, I was driving west on I-10 towards California with my soon-to-be wife for Christmas. We stopped at a rest area somewhere for a bathroom break and were walking back to my car when we heard my name called out by a familiar voice. My sister Joli’s voice. She was on her way with her little kids and then-husband to California as well and somehow we’d managed to cross paths in the middle of nowhere.
The kids were rowdy. The kind of rowdy that comes from keeping them cooped up in a car for way too long. But it was good to see my sister by total surprise that day. Looking back, that might have been the first time where we had a good conversation that wasn’t part of the normal family routine. The first where we interacted as adults that we were becoming and not the kids we had been.
In the intervening twenty years, Joli got divorced, married again, and lived the rest of her life, traveling extensively with her second husband while she had the chance. I too got married and then divorced, have had a couple of careers, and now travel the world. Every time I see something amazing in some remote spot, I think of her for a moment.
The cycle keeps turning. Today one of those rowdy young bratty kids—now a grown twenty-something—got married to his high-school sweetheart. Unfortunately, Joli couldn’t make it, but the rest of us were there at the edge of Lake Travis to wish the newly married couple the best. It was a good day. Mazel tov, kiddo.
Since I published my Sony RX-1 review, the number one question I get about the camera is: How does it stack up against the Fuji X100s? There are a bunch of people that really would love to see a side-by-side comparison. Unfortunately, I don’t have an X100s in hand, and may not for quite some time. But, if you want to hear what it’s like to use the new Fuji, two guys I trust have posted their reviews.
First up is David Hobby’s review on Strobist which delves into low-light usage as well as using with small off-camera strobes (of course).
My prediction: this will be the personal, auxiliary camera of many a working photographer and photojournalist. Heck, it'll be the prime body for many, as this is a camera you could build a career on. David Alan Harvey spent several decades toting around just an M6 and a 35 Summicron. I am enjoying watching him get to know the Fuji X100s.
I’ll have the good fortune to hang out with David in April for a week, so even if I don’t have an X100s in hand, you can be sure that we’ll be comparing notes while using our respective cameras in the field.
Second is Zack Arias’s review on his blog which starts out with a story of a Fuji walking into a bar and sitting next to old man Leica. His little story tells a lot of truth about the camera industry right now. His review is glowing:
After my first day of shooting with the new S I realized something. Fuji really listens to all of us. Every single complaint that many had about the original x100 has been addressed. Everything I have seen people request in the update is there. The autofocus is leaps and bounds beyond what it was. Manual focus… get this… actually works! Image quality is fantastic. Same perfect focal length on the 23mm f2 fixed prime. It’s just an awesome camera.
Until I git my mitts on one to try out, I can’t say for sure but based on what I’ve seen so far, I think my prediction about how the RX1 compares to the X100s will hold:
I won’t be surprised at all if the X100S beats the RX1 in autofocus performance, but I will be very surprised if the smaller Fuji sensor can match what the Sony one can do in terms of image quality, especially at higher ISOs. The open questions are: How close will it come? Where do the limits lay?
Given that the price of the Sony RX1 is twice that of the Fuji X100S, the question for many will be: Is the premium of the Sony to get one of the top 35mm full frame sensors on the planet worth it? Another question will be: Are the handling improvements in the new Fuji more important that the differences in the sensor? Doubly so given that the sensor in the Fuji looks pretty damn nice as well. It’s no slouch.
Even though I can’t answer those questions for you, I will say that if budget is a constraint—and at these prices, it is for most— the Fuji looks to be a great way to go. If you’re leaning that way, I wouldn’t try to talk you out of it. That is, if you can find it. At this point, Amazon is indicating 1-2 month shipping times and Adorama is saying it’s first come, first served
Four years ago, TED launched the TEDx program which has gone on to spawn thousands of TED-style events around the globe. I think it’s safe to say that nobody expected the TEDx program to grow like it has and certainly nobody expected that a tight knit group of TEDx organizers would form around the world who talk with each other throughout the year. Yet, just such group has formed and uses a variety of online tools to communicate on an amazingly frequent basis.
Today, a group of few dozen organizers got together on Shindig to celebrate TEDx’s fourth birthday together in a new way. From TEDxThessaloniki to TEDxRainier and TEDxBeirut to TEDxJovemPelourinho, they shared talks and their TEDx stories on Shindig’s virtual big screen and then broke up into small groups of two to five people for more intimate conversations.
This idea that empowers people to go out and create forums for sharing ideas with each other… It’s kind of crazy, but there just might be something to it.
Photographing TED is physically and mentally demanding. It usually takes me a few weeks afterward the event ends to fully get back up to speed. This year, I figured that spending this down time in London hitting up the new museum exhibitions that have opened up in February and March would be a perfect way to go. With an invite to stay with friends that live in Central London, I hopped on a airplane and headed east.
The first weekend in London was great. Katerina flew in and we hit up all sorts of exhibitions. Then, I caught the bastard flu that’s going around.
This isn’t your run of the mill normal flu. No, not at all. This one felt like it was bioengineered and taught lessons in psychological warfare. During the day, I was just tired, achy, whiney, and snotty. The normal kind of ick that you can take drugs for and just power through. Nighttime, however, was something else. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a long string of paranoid dreams. It was like I was in the worst of Hunter S. Thompson’s dark trips. The first night was remarkable. The third was tiresome. By the end of the first week, I desperately wanted off the ride.
Almost two weeks later and after heading further east towards the sunnier Greek coast, the bastard seems to be easing up. My dreams are slowly trending back towards simply vivid and no longer make me wonder about my sanity. Just in time to head back to the states. Ah well. At least it happened this month and not next. Next month is a demanding one with an itinerary that has been shaping up for almost six months. It should be awesome.
In the middle of a whirlwind weekend touring exhibitions in London’s museums—including the Light Show at the Hayward Gallery and Man Ray at the National Portrait Gallery— Katerina and I had the opportunity to catch up with classical pianist Panos Karan over coffee. He has played formal shows in many awesome venues including Carnegie Hall, but his passion is taking classical music to the Amazon, Africa, and Japan through his Keys of Change organization.
In particular, the stories he told of playing for survivors of the 2011 Tōhuku earthquake and tsunami were amazing and heartbreaking at the same time. For instance, he told us about playing at a shelter and seeing a man in the back row who was hunched over. The man stayed that way the entire concert and didn’t visually respond to the performance. Afterwards, however, he came up to Panos and thanked him—thanked him for coming to Japan. A bit later, one of the workers at the shelter told Panos that the man had lost quite a bit of his family and that was the first time he had been seen speaking to anyone after the disaster.
During the conversation, I kept thinking I’d love to see Robert Gupta and him get together and compare notes. They’re definitely both coming from the same place looking at how classical music can be part of the world at large and isn’t just reserved for hallowed halls.
Ron Finley took the stage with a simple: “I live in South Central. This is South Central: liquor stores, fast food, vacant lots.” He describes himself as a renegade gardener and he gives us a picture of his home. A food desert. Far from sitting around on his porch, eating Twinkies, and letting it happen, Ron’s doing something about it. He’s an activist in one of the best ways. A local activist. He’s the kind of person we need a hell of a lot more like.
Definitly a memorable moment at TED2013. Watch his talk at TED.com.
The Verge just published a big piece on TED titled Inside TED: the smartest bubble in the world. It includes a lovely behind the scenes video that looks at how TED is produced and is definitely worth watching. It also includes several large images from the event made by myself and fellow TED photographers. It’s a decent article and I thoroughly enjoyed the video.
Despite the fact that I dug the video and think the article is worthy of reading—and despite the fact that I think the Verge does many things well, including their layout which beautifully features photographs—they made a mistake with this one. They didn’t credit the photos when they published it.
In a nutshell, the Verge was able to use great photography from the event to illustrate their story for free. All that was required—all that was asked—was attribution. But they forgot. Oops. The piece went out without any credits whatsoever. Without attribution, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the Verge made those photos themselves instead of using photographs from with the event that aren’t associated with publication at all.
Frankly, given that first photo in the article is of Amanda Palmer talking about her experiences giving away creative work for free and without charge, I found it all a bit ironic.
My friend @willie noticed the lack of attribution and asked Joshua Topolsky—the Editor in Chief of the Verge as well as the author of this article—why there wasn’t a photo credit. A little while later, credits appeared at the bottom of the article.
Ok, that’s better. It hits the minimum bar for credit. Kudos to Joshua for getting a fix in.
It’s worth mentioning that forgetting credits isn’t something that’s normal for the Verge. They’re better than most for getting the credits in. For example, here’s the credit that appears at the bottom of their coverage of Sergey Brin talking about Google Glass at TED that ran last week during the conference:
So, what happened here? I totally believe it when Josh says that this was an unfortunate oversight and the quick fix supports this. I don’t believe it was malicious. But, here’s the issue: it happens, and it happens quite often. Without even trying to find cases of missing attribution, I run across it all of the time at big name sites like Gawker, Engadget, C|Net, the Huffington Post. Even old school media companies like Forbes forget it. As I write this, Forbes has a piece with my photos that aren’t attributed and has made no fix despite the fact I reported the issue to their corrections address.
Here’s the thing: Credits and publishing go hand in hand, no matter what the business model. For example, Joshua has a byline on the top of the article. Despite what some may think, this isn’t advertising. Instead, it’s more of a reputation signal than anything else. Sure, it lets people who are really interested in an author investigate them further and that’s important to a creator. One of the primary and most important purposes of a credit, however, is to let people evaluate what they are seeing and reading appropriately. Have you ever skipped over an article in your newspaper after seeing the byline? Then you’ve experienced this firsthand.
So, here’s my question:
Why is it so bloody hard to get credits right, especially for people in the content industry who also rely on the reputation signal that credit gives?
It’s a serious question. It needs a serious answer and it needs a solution that’s a bit less adversarial than having to ask/beg for credit afterword—I hate that feeling—and a lot less adversarial than sending an invoice for unattributed use or getting lawyers involved.
My recent trip to New Zealand wasn’t for soaking up the scenery or to visit hobbit holes, although I did manage to get out to some of the beaches on the North Island. Insetad, the reason I flew across the Pacific Ocean was to participate in Kiwi Foo, aka Baa Camp, organized by my friend Nat Torkington. He’s been trying to get me to go down for years and this year, I finally was able to make it.
Nat’s taken the Foo Camp formula and made it distinctively Kiwi. Instead of being hosted by a corporate sponsor, it takes place in the school that Nat’s kids go to—the same one that he went to school when he was a lad. It was a good vibe for an unconference. The tableau of being in a school only reinforced the idea that we were all there to learn from each other and participate in the intentional community that was formed for the weekend.
As a private unconference, all the discussions were off the record and some of the attendees took serious advantage of being able to talk frankly. More than a few conversations went deep into some serious territory. But then, everyone still managed cut loose and have fun—including building a hover chair, playing the inevitable game of werewolf, and jamming late, late into the night.
It was an interesting being an American attending a distinctly New Zealand based event. In some ways, New Zealand is the least foreign country I’ve been to in a very long time. In others, they’re very aware of being a small country that’s a long way away from anywhere else. More aware of it than they should be, as far as I’m concerned. As the globe continues to effectively flatten thanks to the Internet, many of the people attending Kiwi Foo have the chance to live the dream of many: Live where they want and work on things that matter to them while being connected to the world and participating in the global community at large.
I knew Amanda Palmer’s talk at TED2013 was going to be good the moment she showed up to her rehearsal with a milk crate and flower in hand. Sometimes, you can just tell. Of course, Amanda is a performer and no stranger to taking a stage, but the TED stage is a bit different. Yet, she had her finger right on the pulse of what a TEDTalk can and should be. She’d done her homework and was ready.
As I listened to her rehearse, I was totally captivated. First off, her story is amazing. It’s an arc that begins with her performing as a street performer, goes through her experiences with the mainstream music business, and then talks about her Kickstarter project. But that’s not the meat of her talk. No, her talk is really a visceral answer to the question of what happens when you stop forcing people to pay for music and simply ask.
Of course, this is not a new idea. The Creative Commons just finished celebrating it’s ten year anniversary. Larry Lessig was talking about it for years before. Open Source software is an example that dates back much further. But, all of those conversations either suffer from being exceedingly technical, legalistic, or are otherwise unapproachable by so many of the people who need to hear it. Amanda’s story unlocked the idea so simply and so powerfully that it’s hard to ignore.
Amanda Fucking Palmer, you rocked it. Pitch perfect. Thank you.
After Amanda’s rehearsal, I was introduced to a man who was in the audience with a simple: “Oh, I’d like you to meet Amanda’s husband, Neil. Neil Gaiman.” Caught off guard, I blurted out, “Neil Gaiman, the writer? That’s awesome! Welcome! I hope you get to enjoy TED.” Neil was gracious and in a moment that says so much about their relationship, he responded modestly, “Yes, but right now, I’m simply here for Amanda.”
Watch Amanda Palmer’s talk at TED2013 on TED.com.