The locus of murder

In fiction, when does setting become a character? When does location move from background to foreground?

Readers from Pennsylvania to Florida have called out locales they recognize in both the CW McCoy and Brinker series of crime novels. Even with altered geography and names, those places seem to resonate like the voice of a friend.

As they did with me while doing research for Tourist in Paradise, Peak Season and Mr. Mayhem. Here, then, are some of the images that inspired the characters that inhabit those books. As well as the writer.

Sarasota marina, similar to one where Walter Bishop berths his sailboat in CW McCoy novels

Sarasota marina, similar to the one where Walter Bishop berths his sailboat in CW McCoy novels

 

Sansara condos in Sarasota, one of models for DeSoto Park complex in “Tourist in Paradise”

Sansara condos in Sarasota, one of the models for the massive DeSoto Park complex in Tourist in Paradise

 

Farmers Market in downtown Sarasota, where CW and Tony Delgado meet in “Peak Season”

Farmers Market in downtown Sarasota, where CW and Tony Delgado meet in Peak Season

 

The Sarasota skyline inspired creation of CW McCoy’s Spanish Point

The Sarasota skyline inspired creation of CW McCoy’s Spanish Point

 

Sarasota Police Dept. inspired Spanish Point’s PD where Cheryl, Oz, Delgado work

Sarasota Police Dept. inspired Spanish Point’s PD where Cheryl, Oz and Delgado work

 

Drumming the sun down at Siesta Beach, where CW finds second body in “Peak Season”

Drumming the sun down at Siesta Beach, where CW finds a second body in Peak Season

 

Key Breeze stands in for galley of Mary Beth, where CW finds an unconscious Walter Bishop

Key Breeze stands in for the galley of the Mary Beth, where CW finds an unconscious Walter Bishop in Tourist in Paradise

For Army wives, an image of independence

Three years ago, Lea Hartman took up photography to deal with the pressures of life as an Army spouse. Today she’s leveraged that interest into a project devoted to showing the strength of fellow wives.

To date she has photographed nine women for the I Am Project, a collection of black and white images featuring a military wife with an empowering expression painted on her body. The expressions range from “I am Independent,” to “I am a Survivor” to “I am Blessed.”

“I decided to create a series of images that allow us to put a voice and a face to the title of ‘Army Wife,'” Hartman told Sarah Campbell of the Fayetteville Observer. “I felt military spouses weren’t well represented in the media in general.”

The photos are simple, direct and moving. Much of their power comes from their authenticity. As Lea says on the project website, “Though we may not wear a uniform, we serve our country with each breath we take.”

You can see the work at the I Am Project website and on Hartman’s blog and read her story on Stars and Stripes.

Learning to Look: a Year in the Life in Photos

We were sitting at a table in a small restaurant. My friend Joan had just received a high-end digital camera as a gift. She’d decided to chronicle her life by taking a picture each day and posting it to her social network. I wondered how anyone short of National Geographic’s Jim Brandenburg had the discipline to not only take a photo every day but make it an interesting one.

Back at work, I thought about following Joan’s lead. Would the project be worth the effort? Could I sustain it? Would anyone view the work?

We never know until we try. So I downloaded the Instagram app to a smartphone, linked it to my accounts with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Tumblr and started to shoot. I wanted the first image in the series to reflect reality, not aesthetics, and chose to photograph the highway through the windshield during the morning commute—not something I’d recommend doing on a regular basis, given the problem of distracted driving. And since online privacy is also an issue, I avoided photographing family members.

During the year I’ve taken photos on vacation, at concerts and in the office, shooting from airplanes, sailboats and cars. The subjects range from kayaks to cats, from people in line at Wal-Mart to flowers to Ferris wheels. The images are straight or processed. They chronicle a life in transition, capturing the changes in families, careers and seasons.

Some days I knew what I wanted to shoot—the current activity, the dramatic change in weather, the empty road that captured the sense of isolation we sometimes feel. Other days I left things to chance. I vowed to shy from the overly familiar subjects on the Internet—pets, food and sunsets—and never to take a photo of something just to fulfill the daily requirement. But on busy days I had to bend those rules.

In reviewing the year, I find I enjoy the images that look artfully composed, like the still life of silver frost edging green leaves. The impromptu images seem more interesting, like the elderly couple falling asleep at the gate while they wait for their plane. I also enjoy social commentary—the bored faces of fellow workers during meetings, the pre-school girl using a $600 smartphone some adults can barely afford, the empty chair outside a classroom in a district that just dismissed dozens of teachers.

But my favorites are the unexpected images—the delighted look on a woman’s face as she wins a prize at Bingo, the college mascot flexing his muscles during graduation, the couple photographing themselves at a baseball game. Each carries an emotional impact as well as an aesthetic appeal.

While I’m pleased with the images—you can view the collections at the Year in the Life board on Pinterest or the two YITL sets on Flickr—I’m amazed at the response. Almost every picture posted to Facebook receives more “likes” than anything I’ve written.

That enthusiasm is contagious. After a year of collecting snapshots I find myself as fascinated with the process as the product. Photography is a great teacher. It urges us to act boldly, to stand in the rain, to get close to noise and dirt and smiles. It helps us to focus, to crop the distractions. It teaches us to see.

What better way to spend the year.

Jeff Widmer is a writer, editor and photographer. He is the author of The Spirit of Swiftwater and other works.

A Year in the Life collage

 

 

Pinning PR hopes on Pinterest

Gini Dietrich has posted 16 ways to use Pinterest for PR on Ragan PR Daily. She covers some of the basics–think visually, avoid blatant promotion, make sure that the links work. She also lists a few ways to leverage the social network to reach others influential in the media.

Here are three of my favorite suggestions:

  • Provide visual customer stories. Find a way to tell stories—the history of your brand, for example—through images.
  • Pin material from key journalists and bloggers. You can drive traffic to them, get noticed and start a relationship.
  • Change descriptions with search engine optimization in mind. Change captions that read “This is so cool!” to something like “Extra kitchen storage.”

Here’s one she didn’t mention that’s essential to all media relations:

  • Know your audience. Pinterest abounds with people interested in architecture, fashion, travel and photography. There are also a number of teachers and amateur cooks on the site. Match your clients’ offerings to the audience and you’ll capture some attention.

— Jeff Widmer

Six degrees of reading

Want to see books similar to the ones you’re reading? Head over to Yasiv, a site that uses Amazon data to create a flowchart of recommendations. Created by Andrei Kashcha, the site serves up a web of book covers that, when clicked, lead to information about those titles. There’s also a box on the left that lists the volumes by title.

Kashcha describes Yasiv as “a visual recommendation service that helps people to choose the right product from Amazon’s catalog.” In addition to books Yasiv can web other products carried by Amazon including video games, music and movies, although a search for broad clothing categories such as skirts and pants yields only a single image. Good for Grand Theft Auto. Not so good for Vera Bradley.

Yasiv recommendation web for 'House of Silk' by Anthony Horowitz

Piquing your interest with Pinterest

What do you get when you cross Facebook with Flickr? Pinterest, the hot new social networking site that lets users collect and share photos across the Internet.

Mashable, the source of all things digital, describes Pinterest as a “digital pinboard,” a place where users can connect to others through shared tastes and the images that fascinate them. Users create category-based boards and then pin images to them. They can populate those boards by finding media online or uploading their own artwork. The boards are visible to all users, who can repin images on their own boards, “like” those images and follow other users.

So what does an image-based social site look like? Let’s take a look at my boards. I started by collecting images in some of the preset categories such as “Favorite Places & Spaces.” After that I created a few categories like “Design” and populated them with Pinterest user images I thought were worth sharing. Finally, as a bruising cold spell swept across the Northeast, I uploaded a few original photos I’d taken last winter after a snowstorm. (I’m trying to go beyond the share-the-misery idea and find something positive about a foot or more of snow.)

A few hours after the photo went live Cassandra Gouws from Pretoria, South Africa repinned it for one of her collections labeled “Travel.” I’m returning the favor and following that board and one more called “Amazing Photography.”

What impact Pinterest will have on the social and business community is anyone’s guess. Mashable only started covering it last October. And at this point participation is by invitation only. But as of late last year some 30,000 people had downloaded the Pinterest app from iTunes. And Mashable has written a primer on its use.

Participating takes more work than Tweeting and yields a smaller audience than Facebook but the site may appeal to people who prefer visuals to text. And since one of the default categories involves favorite products, Pinterest is positioning itself for companies in the fashion and design industries.

The Fog

Slowly the fog,
Hunch-shouldered with a grey face,
Arms wide, advances,
Finger-tips touching the way
Past the dark houses
And dark gardens of roses.
Up the short street from the harbour,
Slowly the fog,
Seeking, seeking;
Arms wide, shoulders hunched,
Searching, searching,
Out through the streets to the fields,
Slowly the fog –
A blind man hunting the moon.

— F.R McCreary

For print titles, the ‘e’ in e-books stands for envy

The move to e-books is looking like a stampede.

Online retailer Amazon.com said today that it’s selling more electronic books than printed versions. The company says it sells 105 e-books for every 100 physical copies it sells.

Next Tuesday rival Barnes & Noble will ratchet up the competition when it introduces a new generation Nook e-reader to compete with Amazon’s Kindle.

barnes-noble-nookB&N chief executive William Lynch told the Wall Street Journal that despite a late start his company has captured 25% of the digital books market. It has also grabbed a good chunk of the market for electronic magazine subscriptions. “We’ve also sold more than 1.5 million magazine subscription orders and single copy sales on the Nook newsstand.”

The irony of Tuesday’s announcement (or maybe the marketing strategy) is that it happens during the week of BookExpo America (BEA), which bills itself as the largest publishing event in North America. It has traditionally promoted paper copies. This year BEA will co-host a session on electronic publications with the IDPF Digital Book Conference 2011, at the Javits Center in New York City.

Dear John

Dear John Serrao,

It was great to finally meet you Saturday. Your walking tours of the Pocono Mountains are legend and the weekend hike around the rim of Big Pocono State Park was no exception. You identified every tree in sight, from leaves to bark to acorns. Fellow hikers pointed to shrubs and moss and ground cover and asked “What’s that?” and you answered them all. The stories of snakes and bears and getting lost in thickets lent a gentle levity to the walk. Viewing nature is a pleasure but having a knowledgeable person explain the sights makes the journey that much more enjoyable.

Your followers were as interesting as the talk. I hadn’t seen the painter Peter Salmon since I’d interviewed him for an article more than 20 years ago and yet he remembered the piece, and my grandfather, Arthur A. “Shorty” Widmer.

The view from Big Pocono State Park

The view from Big Pocono State Park

I’m sorry Saturday’s hike was the next-to-the-last walk you’ll conduct in your adopted home but glad to hear you’re relocating to a place of calm inspiration, near forests and springs in the interior of Florida. As a native of Queens you must have been thrilled to see the abundant plant and wildlife in the Poconos, to savor the quietness of unspoiled game lands, the grand vistas of the Delaware Water Gap, the stillness of Promised Land Lake. Like many transplants you learned to appreciate the land without the need to improve it.

Thanks for encouraging others to protect the open spaces many assume will always remain. This slice of Eastern Pennsylvania isn’t metro Jersey or even Dallas, both of which make every attempt to cover nature with a concrete shroud. But the influx of city-dwellers and their appetite for asphalt, fast food and nail salons is slowly choking the region, where cars and houses stretch to the horizon like Sherman’s march on Atlanta.

Thank you for your books and your weekly column and, most of all, your enthusiasm for a quieter, inquisitive life. In our market-based economy, nature needs all the friends it can get.

TinEye not picture-perfect but it’s a bright start

Ever find a photo and wonder about its origin? There’s a search engine for that. It’s called TinEye, billed as a reverse image engine that uses image identification technology rather than keywords, metadata or watermarks. According to the company, “You can submit an image to TinEye to find out where it came from, how it is being used, if modified versions of the image exist or to find higher resolution versions.”

How does the beta site work in the real world? Well, with some limitations.

TinEye

I tried it with a representative sample of images—people, objects and logos—with mixed results.

The first search, using a portrait of John F. Kennedy, yielded 81 results, including partisan blogs, poster suppliers and dating-gossip sites. (The link to the Slate online magazine did correctly identify the former president.) The search engine also led to the correct identification of singer Lady Gaga (through mtv.com), novelist John D. MacDonald (through blogs in the U.S. and Russia) and Dilbert, even though the comic strip contained three frames and multiple images. TinEye showed no results for personalities such as magazine finance writer Dyan Machan.

A search using the Leaning Tower of Pisa turned up 31 results, including several postings on the photo-sharing site Flickr. A search using the image of a bottle of Coca-Cola yielded a 2009 blog post about one of the company’s marketing campaigns, along with 19 other results.

For the final search I used the logo from one of my agency’s business-to-business clients, GGB. TinEye found the image on a French industry-directory site, correctly identifying the company as the manufacturer of metal-polymer plain bearings.

The conclusion? TinEye is good at finding images of popular people, objects and brands. In my limited sample it did not lead to official sources, so if you need to annotate research reports, the service may lose some value. I also could not consistently find information about image location, use or version, but that may apply only to certain types of images.

As an image search engine, TinEye isn’t picture-perfect but it could have a bright future, especially as it enlarges its database. On the whole, the service is a fast way to identify common images, and a fun way to view the Web.