About a week ago, I took some time out with my buddy, Victor Cross, to get some headshots for his upcoming music project.  He asked for some old-school monochrome shots, and, as anyone who know me might guess, I was more than happy to oblige.

Victor is a bang-up guitarist whose original music I have been following since he cut his first CD about ten years ago.  And as a cover musician, he can belt out the best non-Journey rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin’” that I have ever heard.  Make sure to check out his latest project.

https://new.myspace.com/victortcross

Victor Cross / Pensacola Musician / Steven Gray Photography Victor Cross / Pensacola Musician / Steven Gray Photography Victor Cross / Pensacola Musician / Steven Gray Photography

Pensacola Graduation Photography

It’s that time of the year again.  Commencement gowns rustled, mortarboards went airborne and job markets at home and abroad flooded with fresh applicants as the latest crop of graduates strode proudly out of their university corridors.  I took that walk myself not too long ago, and I still remember that incredible feeling of relief that comes with the end of your final school term.

On December 15th, the University of West Florida held their winter commencement, and less than an hour later I met up with Raegan and her parents and friends to take some photos in Seville Park to commemorate the day.

As a photographer, I’m very pleased with the way that Pensacola has revamped its downtown scene over the past few years.  What was once a park, a church and a few bars has been revived with restored homes, public buildings and photo-friendly business, like the Pensacola Bay Brewery where we swung in for some photos and a pint at the end of our session.

Congratulations, Raegan, and the rest of UWF’s graduating class of 2012.

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The Hobbit / movie review / blog of photographer steven gray

The cover of my own copy of “The Hobbit”

It’s 4:17am and I should really be in bed.  But I wanted to mention a few things about The Hobbit while it is still fresh in my mind.

Unlike a lot of people, The Hobbit as a novel was not part of my childhood as much as it and The Lord of the Rings were part of my teen years.  I like to read books before I see their cinematic adaptations, and when Lord of the Rings was released in the early aughts, I read through the books before I watched the films.  I’ve written before about my lifelong reading habits, but Tolkien opened up a whole new world with his powerful descriptions, beautiful characters and endless appendices.  I devoured them.

Frodo, Aragorn, Sam and the rest of the Fellowship were lampposts for me as I grew out of boyhood and stepped into the shallows of young adulthood.  The last days of middle school and most of high school were not a barrel of monkeys for me, but Tolkien’s epic story about characters who repeatedly exemplified principles, courage, brotherly love and self-sacrifice were inspirations and encouragements in my life.  Supplementary books like The Silmarillion and philological elements like the Appendices were the icing on the cake that was the exquisitely crafted story.  The Hobbit is a very different book in style and tone, but as the direct and much-referenced prequel story to The Lord of the Rings, it is also very special to me.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first of Peter Jackson’s new set of three annual cinematic Christmas presents to the world, in my honest and humble opinion, deftly captured the spirit of Tolkien’s original novel, wherein a hobbit is recruited by a band of dwarfs to recapture their mountain kingdom from the dragon who stole it.  In the film, the twelve dwarfs are colorfully caricatured (as they should be) and introduce themselves to both Bilbo and the audience with low bow and an “at your service.”  The returning cast of Lord of the Rings are, of course, superb as always.  Martin Freeman is perfect as a young Bilbo, the hobbit gentleman of leisure who is so unwilling to be bothered with something as inconvenient as an adventure.  Dialogue from The Hobbit and even the Appendices from The Lord of the Rings is quoted word-for-word, which I always appreciate.

But you want to know what I like most of all?

They kept the music!

The Dwarfs cheerily sing about “what Bilbo Baggins hates” after their first dinner in Bag End. Thorin leads the company in their song about Erebor. The Goblin King even belts out his own ditty about torture when the dwarfs are captured in the Misty Mountains.  No song ever felt forced, and I applaud the cast and crew for capturing Tolkien’s vision of a world of musical and oral traditions.

Also to their credit, although The Hobbit was written for children, but Peter Jackson and Co. tied it into the more grounded world of Lord of the Rings as seamlessly as could ever be done.  This initial chapter in The Hobbit is the perfect springboard for Lord of the Rings, with its inclusion of the White Council, Radagast the Brown and various other story elements that were either inferred or directly mentioned in The Lord of the Rings ten years ago.  Particularly worth praise is the critical/pivotal/keystone/linchpin Riddle Game, which could not have been more perfect.  Andy Serkis (Gollum) said in an interview with Stephen Colbert last week that he and Martin Freeman (Bilbo) performed the entire scene for each take as they would have a theatre piece, and the final product is a standout sequence in an already great film.

Naturally, book purists will have a few items with which to take issue.  Each scene from the book is extended with some extra fighting or a chase sequence, but a book is a book and a movie is a movie.  The only way to get a perfect “book experience” is to read the book, so I can gladly excuse three or four minutes of Hollywood-style embellishment in a film almost three hours in length.

To close this review, I want to call attention to the character of Bilbo himself.  In any story, the lead character needs an arc, some kind of personal growth or change in personality that helps define and endear him to the audience.  Bilbo goes through quite an arc in the books, evolving from a prematurely stuffy and armchair-bound hobbit to an adventurer who starts to take risks not because he has to, but because he suddenly wants to.  Whether his reach exceeds his grasp is always another matter entirely, but the point remains that he changes for the better.

We already know the onscreen Bilbo from Ian Holm’s performance in The Lord of the Rings, but since The Hobbit takes us back in time sixty years, we have to get reacquainted with him as a younger and much different Hobbit, one who resorts to multiple and curt uses of “good morning” to dismiss the strange wizard who appears at his doorstep.  He is much different than the opinionated, devil-may-care old veteran we know from previous films.  Hired for an adventure in a place he’s never been, to do a job he doesn’t know how to do, his presence feels superfluous to the rest of the group.  Bilbo is naive and prone to complain at even mild deprivations in his creature comforts.  He carries an overstuffed rucksack, laments forgetting a handkerchief and fails to bring his own weapon.  But, gradually, he changes.

Each of Bilbo’s efforts to avoid discomfort or danger results in danger finding him nonetheless, and his change as a person came to much more vivid life than I expected, because we see him physically reduced in some ways and increased in others.

Remember in the book, when he escapes Gollum and it is briefly mentioned that he loses the brass buttons off his waistcoat when squeezing through a crack?  Those buttons are quite symbolic when you see the scene on film.

First, Bilbo gains his sword, then loses his rucksack of clothes and blankets in a tussle with a goblin.  He loses the buttons off of his coat while escaping Gollum in the caves, but emerges with the One Ring.

By the end of the film, Bilbo has been stripped down to his essence: he is a barefoot Hobbit, dressed in plain clothing, carrying a sword and a magic ring.  As the final scene fades out, we have seen Bilbo refined–simplified–and ready for the next stage of his adventure, the part that will forge him into the hobbit we already know, including the famous naming of his Elvish sword.  That’s a great character arc.

Thanks for the Christmas gift, Mr. Jackson.  I can’t wait to see what you’ll give us next year.

Growing up, whether I liked it or not, I was often held up to younger boys as an example.  Today, even though the razor-sharp wit of my childhood was dulled and blunted by four years in a state college, people still ask me for advice on photography, weight loss, college life and other things in which I have some experience.

I’ve seen a few blogs wherein people much more successful than me have condensed their philosophies and habits into bullet points for their readers.  While I take a lunch break from today’s projects, I thought it might be fun to do that here, for whoever is interested, (that is to say, all three of you).

So, here we go:

  1. Read books.  If you don’t like reading, you haven’t found the right book yet.
  2. If you have an opportunity to travel, take it.
  3. If you forget to brush your teeth in the morning, just carry a coffee mug.  There doesn’t need to be coffee in it, but the sight of a coffee mug will excuse bad breath.
  4. If you can’t comfortably be by yourself, why should anyone else put up with you?
  5. Early classes can suck, but getting in and getting out of classes early leaves more time for other activities.
  6. Avoid the chains.  Eat, drink and shop local whenever possible.
  7. Use to-do lists to prioritize your day. Get stuff done first, “fill time” later.
  8. Start or finish your day with exercise.  It clears the head.
  9. Don’t check email until after breakfast.  As Tim Ferriss said, “email is other people’s agenda for your time.”
  10. Whether you’re writing or speaking, use specific language. Broad terms like “this,” “that,” “they” and “them” provide no information to the listener and lead to miscommunications.
  11. It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.
  12. Never, ever text someone and ask them to call you. When people do this to me, I refuse to call them back on principle, no matter how much I like them.  If you want to text, text.  If you want to talk, call.  Don’t add steps.
  13. Carbs in the morning mean more body fat in the evening (unless you are genetically gifted with a basketball player’s ripsaw metabolism).
  14. Good books trump good films.
  15. Be polite. Ye shall catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
  16. If you truly care about good-tasting coffee, Starbucks should always be a last resort.
  17. “Carpe diem” is all you need, don’t habitually share inspirational photos on Facebook.
  18. Question everything.
  19. If you can’t drink coffee without a half-cup of cream, sugar and flavorings, don’t say that you like coffee, because what you really like are milkshakes.
  20. If you can’t back up your opinion with sound reasoning, don’t give it.
  21. Six to seven hours of sleep a night is the sweet spot.
  22. A big glass of ice water is better than hot coffee for a fast wakeup.
  23. It doesn’t matter what kind of camera you use if the final product is good.
  24. Insecurity is always transparent.  Fix personal problems instead of ignoring them. Your friends will thank you.
  25. Don’t dress like you’re going to the gym unless you’re actually going to the gym.
  26. Not everyone has to like you.
  27. Give direct answers. If someone asks where you are, don’t reply that you “are on your way.” Your location and your state of locomotion are separate matters.
  28. If you can shock people with brutal honesty while still being polite, do it.
  29. Never dismiss anything out of hand; always be ready to hear a new concept through from beginning to end.
  30. Never let emotions cloud objectivity. Easier said than done, but important.
  31. 10pm is perfectly acceptable sack-out time for a Friday night.
  32. Telling people that you love Monty Python or Fawlty Towers will always earn you more respect than professing love for Saturday Night Live.
  33. Eat. More. Protein.
  34. Never watch any Adam Sandler film made after Punch Drunk Love.
  35. Don’t take health advice from newspaper articles.  I refer you to point 1.
  36. Pepper-eating contests are perfectly acceptable masculine challenges.
  37. Train like your smarter, stronger, faster evil twin wants to kill you.
  38. People will groan, but everyone knows “that’s what she said” jokes will never truly be out of style.
  39. Wear a belt or get pants that fit.
  40. Never settle for ice cream if gelato is available.
  41. Smart is the new sexy. Don’t waste your time with stupid people.
  42. Whenever possible, make a joke that shocks politically correct graduate students.
  43. Fight dirty. If someone throws a punch at you, don’t punch back; kick them in the crotch as hard as you can.  When they go down, kick them in the head so they won’t get up.
  44. For awesome home cooking, buy as many of your ingredients as possible from ethnic groceries.
  45. Give back and pay forward.
  46. Never, ever assume that your problems are worse than anyone else’s.
  47. Any weight loss diet that recommends fruit and whole grains is crap.
  48. Memento mori.
  49. True respect is always mutual; all else is deference.
  50. Avoid “flavor of the month” music.
  51. Make your own list.

Saturday before last, I had the pleasure of videoing a wedding in North Hill, one of Pensacola’s oldest and most attractive historic neighborhoods.  The video is still in the wonderland of the editing room, but I wanted to take some time out to share some stills I snapped of the venue, The Courtyard in North Hill.

I’ve spent some time walking around in North Hill, but I was unaware of The Courtyard’s very existence until I shot this wedding.  Owner Terri Machtel runs a quality establishment.  It was only December 1st, but the banquet hall was already a wonderland of Christmas trees, candles and enormous nutcrackers.

If you are in Pensacola and need a mid-size venue for your event, The Courtyard in North Hill is a beautiful and well-managed banquet hall that I cannot recommend highly enough.

The Courtyard in North Hill

25 West Avery Street

Pensacola, FL

www.banquetpensacola.com

850-361-4268

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