#420: April Odds and Ends

Red leaflets on a maple about to pop, looking like blood cells against a deep blue sky.
Traverse City, MI

Some steps back this week. As in, perspective – not regress. Planted some shrubs. Went on walks in the woods. I’m learning to identify trees from petal and bark, and birds from song and flight. I feel the knowledge crowding out the patterns of my brain that would otherwise hold camera specs and football stats. It’s a good feeling, this slow recognition, like learning a new language and starting to pick out words in conversation. Might I one day be fluent?

Not much to report on new projects. I’m keeping up work on MAPS, and on the cusp of being able to talk about another. This weekend I stopped to plan out the next two and a half months (which I’ll return to after this letter is sent). With everything pending, it feels right to share some odds and ends from a couple of notes I started but weren’t meaty enough to turn into full letters themselves. Maybe I should go back to blogging?

First before I forget: The paperback edition of The Many Masks of Andy Zhou comes out this Tuesday, April 30! Find it where you usually find your books (I recommend your local independent bookstore).

Speaking of books, I forgot how well this works for me: to have a book I read slowly every morning – and only in the mornings – a few pages at a time.

The most recent was Craig Mod’s Things Become Other Things. I know many of you also get Craig’s newsletter, so you likely need little by way of introduction. But let me add this: Craig’s use of the blank facing-page is masterful, poignant, refreshingly intentional. And as a physical artifact, the book is so satisfying to hold and flip through. The cloth-bound cover’s perfectly thin and the interior pages are shockingly thick, kind of an inverted version of what you’d get from traditional publishers – even the ones that produce fine art books. I’m super curious to compare this edition to the expanded, Random House edition when it comes out. I’ll be reading that, too.

Things Become Other Things reminded me my friend James’s book, The Road to Somewhere. What the Japanese countryside is for Craig, the American backroad is for James. Both books deal with grief in their own ways, and are deeply entangled with the places in which they are set. They could be cousins. I don’t think I’ve recommended The Road to Somewhere here in this newsletter yet – a definite oversight! Really, go get both.

The YouTube algorithm suddenly decided that I want my chill music live-action instead of gently animated. And … it’s not wrong? Of the channels it’s served up, my favorite has to be Flavour Trip. The premise is simple: a pair of DJs from Luxembourg go somewhere beautiful and play a set while cooking food. A multi-camera setup keeps it visually interesting, and some of the shooting locations are pure spectacle, like a Swiss Alpine lake or aside a derelict barge in Southern Greece. Though, I personally prefer their cozier indoor videos like this one of making pancakes for brunch. They really evoke a comfort feeling for me of cooking breakfast with Julia on weekends, or of backpacking and making food in hostel kitchens.

Another YouTube channel I’m digging is Dan Catt’s, specifically his Weeknotes. What first caught my attention was a weeknote showing his index card time-blocking system, but after watching a few more, I’ve become enamored with the format – a newsletter in vlog form. Catt is a full-time artist who makes generative art prints using a pen plotter. The videos have clips of him grocery shopping or shipping prints or going to the gym – all the mundane stuff that’s a part of the life of a working artist. Stuff you usually don’t get to see!

I want to do a better job documenting my own projects, but the planning out of that documentation seems like such a huge project in itself. I’m always super-impressed by folks like Catt who are able to do it in such a way that (seemingly) doesn’t detract from the presence needed for the main project.

Maybe it’s a kind of vlogger mentality, of capture crossed with being comfortable on screen, that I haven’t yet developed. Maybe it’d require me to get in the habit of shooting short videos where I’d otherwise be shooting photos (and remembering to shoot both). Hmm.

The most extreme form of the vlogger brain I’m talking about here has to be the three-episode first season of Ed Stafford’s Naked and Marooned. In Bear Grylls/Man-vs-Wild fashion, Stafford, an ex-British-Army captain gets deposited buck naked on a Fijian island and has to survive on his own for sixty days. But unlike those other survival shows, Stafford has no film crew once he’s on the island. He shoots everything himself using GoPros and takes the spent memory cards and batteries to a dropsite. The whole show I kept thinking to myself: Not only is this guy struggling to stay alive, he had to figure out how to set up that shot.

A true madman.