Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Chicken & The Queen of Hearts

        Using both operant and classical conditioning, I attempted to teach a hen to recognize and then peck the Queen of Hearts when presented with multiple playing cards. Like Pavlov’s experiment with dogs, I paired a neutral stimulus, the sound of a clicker (NS), with unconditioned stimulus, chicken treats (UCS), to produce a conditioned response (CR), pecking only the Queen of Hearts. Like other domesticated animals the most effective method of training a chicken is to offer her a treat immediately after performing the desired action. Much of a chicken’s day is spent hunting, scratching and pecking for food so playing food related games with them is fun for both of you. Playing games with your chickens can help prevent them from becoming bored, which can lead to aggressive behavior. It is important that the hen be comfortable around people and in a familiar environment.  It also helps if the hen is hungry but not so hungry as to be agitated. The desired response will be achieved only through reinforcement.  At no time did I subject them to any form of punishment. I allowed her to decide when she had enough and would be returned to the run with the others.
        The first thing I needed to do was to determine which of our three hens would be easiest to train. With a small bowl of pellets in one hand and a clicker in the other, my son Wynn sat in the middle of the chicken run.  All three hens gathered around him having been pre-conditioned that a human entering the run meant it was feeding time. Holding the bowl high in air Wynn would click a clicker then immediately present each chicken with the bowl of treats, allowing each one peck before raising the bowl out of reach again. The session lasted for several minutes and was repeated throughout the day. With repetition the chickens began to associate the sound of the clicker with the presentation of the food bowl. Along with conditioning the animals, I was also able to observe each chicken to determine which of the three I would select for further conditioning. Our Easter Egger (Ethel) lost interest quickly and was the first to be eliminated. Both Lucy, the Buff Orpington and Pete, the Barred Plymouth Rock played along for quite some time but eventually Pete wandered off leaving Lucy the clear winner and my chicken of choice for the experiment.  Unfortunately, due to the Thanksgiving holiday and other commitments, a week passed before I resumed the experiment.  I rightly assumed there had been a weakening of the prior conditioning (extinction) but fortunately, reconditioning happened quickly.   
         After a few more sessions with Lucy I was certain she associated the sound of the clicker with treats. To eliminate competition from the other hens I carried out the remainder of the training with Lucy in the coop while Pete and Ethel remained in the run. The run is along side the coop so Lucy could still see and hear her colleagues, preventing her from becoming anxious due to separation as chicken are social animals. During each session I allowed her to decide when she had enough and would be returned to the run with the others.
       The next objective was to get Lucy to peck at a Queen of Hearts playing card. To do this I held a raisin under my thumb as I presented her with the card. Each time she pecked at the card I clicked the clicker and presented her with the bowl of treats that now consisted of chopped peanuts, raisins, apricots and figs, allowing her one bite before raising the bowl out of her reach again. After a few sessions I stopped placing the raisin under my thumb and just presented her with the playing card which she pecked anyway. I responded by clicking the clicker and presenting her with the bowl of treats. After a few sessions using only the Queen of Hearts I began to introduce numbered, black spade or club cards along with the Queen of Hearts. Much to my surprise she immediately pecked the Queen. Next I proceeded to lay cards in front of her one at a time beginning with the numbered black cards. Lucy looked at each but did not peck until I laid down the Queen of Hearts. I increased the number of black cards and again she selected the Queen. Next I introduced numbered, red heart and diamond cards, still she found the Queen. I began to slide the cards around changing their order, still she found the Queen of Hearts. It wasn’t until I added another face card that she chose the wrong one but when I did not give her a treat she looked again and found the Queen of Hearts.  
        I could continue to work with Lucy until she could find the Queen of Hearts in a pile consisting of nothing but face cards but the ultimate test would be to condition her to peck a different card (re-conditioning). I could also attempt higher-order conditioning, pairing another neutral stimulus, such as a flashing light with the sound of the clicker but it is more likely that I will build obstacle courses for them to run.
        My inspiration for this experiment came after viewing (Chicken Training: The Art and Science of Animal Behavior” by Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM, MS. Dr. Yin is an internationally acclaimed veterinarian and animal behaviorist.   

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Once in a Blue Moon

     Photos of last nights Blue Moon, the second full moon in the month of August with the first one having been August 1st. The only time a month can have a blue moon is when the first full Moon happens in the first few days of the month and when it consists of 31 days. Sometimes February with only 29 days has no full moons at all. Some people consider the third full moon of a four full moon season to also be a Blue Moon. Whichever you prefer it still describes a season with more full moons than usual. There are occasions when the moon does appear to be blue, usually caused my smoke from volcanoes or fires. Two full moons in the same month happens approximately once every three years, that's where we get the expression "once in a blue moon," meaning something that doesn't happen often. 

Dedicated to Neil Armstrong, August 5th, 1930 - August 25th, 2012

Saturday, August 25, 2012

ASMP FOCUS: Unseen Philadelphia

     I didn't think I'd be shooting for the Focus Philly competition as I hadn't been able to come up with a concept for this year's theme of "Unseen Philadelphia." In an age of iPhonegraphy and Instagram what  hasn't already been photographed and posted on-line for the whole world to see?  Then one evening at a dinner party with some friends, I overheard a conversation and had one of those "eureka" moments. Butting into their conversation, (which is totally uncharacteristic of me) I told them about Focus Philly and asked if I could photograph them. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they not only knew of ASMP and what it stood for, but that one of their relatives had been an active member. They agreed and the shoot came together as planned. Whether or not I get into the show or (new this year) the book, the shoot was memorable. I'm also pleased that I was able to share the experience with my son Wynn, who acted as photo assistant, video shooter and editor.

      As a professional photographer it's easy to become jaded and only pull out a camera when there is a check involved but ASMP's Focus Philadelphia reminds me on an annual basis why I became a photographer in the first place and the value of shooting for myself.

     Thanks to this years sponsors, Adobe, Brilliant Studios, Calumet Photographic, Power Plant Productions, Springboard Media, Think Tank Photo, and Videosmith and the members of the ASMP Philly Board who not only keeps this competition going but makes it better each year.

     Don't ask me who they are or where the photos were taken,   if I told you I'd have to kill you.

      Whether your an established photographer or just emerging (I love that phrase), Focus is just one of the benefits of membership. If you are a member and have yet to shoot something better hurry the deadline is August 31st (wink, wink). 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Karate on the Chenango

Miles, Gopal & Prahlada on the Chenango River in upstate New York
         A few weeks ago I made a much overdue trip to upstate New York to visit my sister-in-law Susan, her husband Rick and their son Evan. Evan designed my new logo, business card and mailer and in exchange I shot new images for his dad’s martial arts school. In particular they wanted new photos to promote the youth karate program.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Andre Kertesz, The Lost Years


  Most people with a more than passing interest in the history of photography can visualize at least one of Andre Kertesz’s iconic photographs. Perhaps The Fork, his black and white study in highlight and shadow, shape and form or maybe the whimsical Satiric Dancer or perhaps one of his many Parisian street scenes. We might be envious of a prolific artist who seemingly led a charmed life leaving behind a large body of extraordinary work. How could he have been anything but completely fulfilled in his chosen career that spanned nearly seven decades, first in his native Budapest then in Paris and lastly in New York?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

35mm: Photographs from the Collection

                                                            Small Negatives for Large Prints

            Why curate a photography exhibition celebrating a film format rather than a particular artist or specific genre? After all 35mm refers only to the physical dimensions of a piece of film and by default, the type of camera that uses it. What epiphany does Peter Barberie, The Brodsky Curator of Photographs, Alfred Stieglitz Center and Amanda Bock, Horace W. Goldsmith Curatorial Fellow in Photography, want us to experience while viewing this diverse body of sixty-six photographs by more than thirty photographers?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Blues Business with Paul Michael

Paul Michael and I have been friends for a long time. I won’t say how long but I knew him when he was Paul Pawlaczyk.  Aside from his day job at The Reading Museum, Paul is the front man in a blues band. He got tired of emcee’s butchering his name so he dropped Pawlaczyk and used his middle name instead. Now they’re introduced as Paul Michael and the Blues Recruits. When he volunteered to do a blues show at his local Pottstown radio station the same logic applied. Paul’s show is  “Blues Business ”with Paul Michael and can be heard Thursday nights from 7 to 9 p.m. at WBZH 1370 AM or

Paul is a bit old school. Unlike most D.J.’s who use laptops loaded with mp3s he still plays CD’s, all of which are pulled from his personal collection. His set list and notes are hand written in a spiral bound notebook. None of this matters to his listener’s though. All they care about is hearing great blues with commentary by someone as knowledgeable about the music as Paul.

 AG: What is it you like about hosting the show?

PM:“I like to think I am affecting people and opening their minds to more than just the same old blues - but really - I like getting the chance to sit alone for two hours with headphones on listening to some of my favorite music.”

AG:  What do you know about your audience, how many people tune in and from how far away?

PM: “No real idea of how many but the server has shut down once or twice from people trying to listen. I have listeners that I know about in New Zealand, Texas, Denmark, England, New York, Canada, Washington state, and PA - of course.”

AG: You have a guest host in England, Ian Mchugh of "Blues is the Truth" on how did you meet him?

PM:“I met Ian McHugh on The Fender Forum - an internet site set up by my now friend Joe Brabant of Toronto - for people who play/love/hoard Fender guitars.”

AG: So, do you play/ love /hoard Fenders?

PM:“They don't call me Fender Boy for nothin' as I'm a Fender guy all the way. Probably in the 40+ years I've played gigs I've only deviated from using a Fender 5% of the time. Fender - it IS the magic word.”

AG: How many do you own and what are they?           

PM:“I have seven solid body Fenders, mostly Stratocasters (one bass - one 12 string Strat) and three Fender Squires...of their (sometimes) less expensive, second string models. All three of my amps are Fender.”

AG: Anything that’s not Fender?

PM:  “I have a Taylor acoustic/electric an Epiphone 12 string and a Aria acoustic, an Epiphone DOT hollow body electric and an Epiphone Les Paul. I also have an odd Danelectro Innuendo solid body with built in effects.”

AG: Who’s your favorite Blues musician?

PM: “Buddy Guy who I've had the pleasure to meet and follow on stage at his Chicago nightclub, Legends. That was an amazing experience.”

I’d like to thank Paul Michael and Ross Landy, Station Manager, for allowing me access to the station.

If you’d like to catch Paul Michael and the Blues Recruits live they’ll be at The Mermaid Inn in Chestnut Hill on August 4th, 9:00 till Midnight.

You can hear them online at MySpace  or on YouTube 

Update: Unfortunately, WBZH has gone off the air.

Friday, March 30, 2012

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: Danny Lyon & Motorcycles

       “Crossing the Ohio”
   From The Bikeriders. by Danny Lyon

Bridges of steel and concrete suspended above a mighty river, connecting an endless highway. A young man rides solo atop a Harley-Davidson hard tail, two-wheeled trophy of independence and mobility, unbridled freedom steeped in danger. An iconic image of American counterculture in the 60’s.

Though he is moving forward the rider’s torso is twisted as he looks behind him. We do not know the object of his gaze. Our imagination tries to extend the frame, mentally panning the camera in hopes of revealing the object of his rearward glance. Something on the river may have caught his eye or he may be looking at another rider but whatever the case, he is not looking where he is going, instilling a sense of uneasiness in the viewer.

The bike wears the helmet just above it's  Conquistador headlight while the rider’s head is exposed. He is dressed in black. White lettering on the back of his shirt tells us he is a member of the Louisville Outlaws motorcycle gang. The insignia, a skull and crossbones, only the crossbones are pistons and rods. We are not able to make out his facial features; this is not a portrait of a gang member but an effigy of all gang members.

The photograph is grainy black and white, most likely Kodak Tri-x in a Leica range finder or a Nikon F, fitted with a wide-angle lens. Though it is a still photograph motion is evident in the blurred asphalt, the spinning spokes of the motorcycle wheels and the riders wind blown hair. Hair protrudes from his forehead like horns. The photo could have been shot from the window of a moving car but I’m inclined to believe Mr. Lyon was on the back of another motorcycle traveling at the same speed as the bridge surface is blurred but the rider is sharp.

 In this horizontal photograph the subject occupies only the right half of the frame. This composition allows room to imagine the continued forward motion of man and machine. Multiple diagonal lines imply motion and imbalance as they lead our eye from left to right. Painted highway stripes, rectangular concrete barriers, metal railing, large girders and a distant bridge, all lead our eyes to the triangular form of bike and rider. The wheels of the bike are made up of concentric circles. In keeping with the rule of thirds the image is 2/3’s foreground, 1/3 background.

The light is soft and diffuse; there is no visible sun or shadows making it diffucult to determine time of day. A blanket of thick fog in the distance obliterates the sky adding an ethereal sfumato quality. 

The "These Are A Few of My Favorite Things" posts will feature images that inspired me and re-affirmed my choice of profession and obsession .

The Bike Riders is available through Amazon.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Robert Asman: Silver Mine

If you’re in Philadelphia and haven’t seen Robert Asman: Silver Mine, at The Print Center, you have until March 31st to go see it. Robert’s show is a thirty-five year retrospective featuring sixty-seven framed photographs that occupy all three floors of the center. There are two major motifs represented in the show the human figure and the urban landscape. While both genres have been explored extensively throughout history, Robert’s personal vision and printing technique present us with something fresh to examine.   

The fact that all the photographs were shot using film and all prints were made by hand in a traditional darkroom is not in itself unique. What is unique is that Robert did not stop at making the perfect print. Knowing all the rules he then proceeded to break them. He not only breaks the rules, he tears, cuts, slices and shreds them. Viewing his work it is clear that he has not only mastered the art of black and white printing but he has transcended it.

The show will travel so look for it in a city near you. There is also a book in the works.

Robert lived in Philadelphia for thirty years where he taught photography and operated Asman Custom Photo, a custom black and white lab. He now lives in Asheville, N.C. and opened another lab Alchemy Ink where he still works exclusively with black and white gelatin silver materials.

The Print Center
1614 Latimer St
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 735-6090

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Goodbye Joe"

            It was during a recent phone conversation with Robert Asman of Alchemy-Ink, that I learned that Joe Nettis had passed away. Joe was a Philadelphia based commercial photographer with a long and illustrious career. He began taking photographs at 12 years of age and shot for his high school newspaper and yearbook. After graduation he attended Philadelphia College of Art, which is now University of the Arts. He took a bicycle trip through Europe and National Geographic published a selection of his Images. Joe then persuaded National Geographic to Sponsor him on a round the world journey. He became a contributor to Life Magazine and his image of Adlai Stevenson appeared on the cover. He went on to shoot for other magazines as well as do corporate and advertising work both on location and in the studio. He also made commercial and documentary films. He was a contributor to several stock photography agencies. Joe was always making photographs with or without an assignment. He was a longtime member and supporter of The American Society of Media Photographers.

            I  met Joe when I was working at Asman Custom Photo shortly after moving to Philadelphia. Robert (I call him Bob) did the printing and I processed film and made contact prints. Bob’s lab was on the third floor and Joe’s studio was on the second floor. Joe would call when he had film to be processed and I’d run down the steps to pick it up and get very specific directions as to how it should be processed and printed. Joe was a perfectionist about his processing and printing just as he was about every aspect of his photography and it showed in his work. While we were a custom lab and handled each clients job with care, Joe always got special treatment. I learned a lot about what and how to photograph by viewing his negatives in the drying cabinet on the light table and under the enlarger.

            As much as I enjoyed lab work I really wanted to be a shooter. After I got to know Joe I offered to assist him for free. Just so happens he had a shoot the next day. It was to photograph a Showgirl for the cover of Atlantic City Magazine. Joe took me up on my offer. Not only was that my first time assisting on a photo shoot but it was my first time in Atlantic City. Despite having offered to work for free Joe paid me for the day, he was that kind of guy. I continued to assist him as well as others for a number of years while I built up my own client base.  

            In my 30 years in photography I have never met anyone as passionate about photography as Joe Nettis. He was a marvelous man and I will always remember him. I wish to extend my sincere condolences to his wife Elaine.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mine of Wealth

            If you’re familiar with the work of surrealist Rene Magritte, it probably won’t take you long to realize which of his paintings I drew inspiritation from to create the above composite. You may not remembered the title Golconda, as Magritte’s titles were often as mysterious as his content but the vision of men wearing bowler hats and falling from the sky like rain, is pure Magritte.

            I had photographed the elements (my neighbor John and a late afternoon sky) over a year ago for a class assignment in which I was to produce three composites in the style of my favorite surrealist.  While I did submit three images, I ran out of time before I could finish this one. I rediscovered the files a week ago while searching for something I had archived for a client and decided it was worth revisiting.  Seventy-seven layers and a bit of masking later I think I’ll consider it finished.

The title Golconda was suggested to Magritte by poet friend Louis Scutenaire. From the 14th to the 17th century, Golconda was a city at the center of India's mining industry and became a synonym for "mine of wealth." What  was Magritte alluding to? Well, your guess is as good as mine.