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Project may be swan song

April 22, 2004|by TIM ROWLAND

This winter, I was sitting around thinking, "I feel old, but I could probably feel older." So I went back to college.That did the trick.

I felt a bit like I suppose a Sumatran Rhino feels in the zoo, what with all the kids kind of staring at the curious relic, perhaps with a degree of compassion yet not allowing themselves to become in any way attached because they realize that extinction inevitably looms in the not-too-distant future.

It didn't help that I had forgotten to buy the textbook, forgotten to set up an e-mail account with the school, forgotten to bring a notebook and even forgotten to bring a pen. It had been 20 years since I'd been in a classroom and I was showing signs of rust. I was fearful I might even have forgotten how to skip a class.

The course is in digital photography and Adobe Photoshop as part of a graphic arts curriculum, which I would be much better suited to if I knew anything about art.

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I found I could follow textbook instructions for image manipulation without too much trouble. This is a very useful technology to know, since you can erase the image of an ex-boyfriend from a photograph faster than he can say "Can I eat your fat?" But difficulty arose when the time came for me to be "creative." To succeed in the digital art world of today, you have to be able to dream up scenarios like giant mosquitoes carrying off the Bloodmobile to a foreign planet, or a Cycloptian eye hovering over El Capitan. I don't know why this is, it just is. And I'm not much good at it.

So for me, our final project - in which we must start from scratch to create some visually appealing digital images - has been death.

I finally settled on the idea of images portraying the best and worst of Hagerstown all kind of tossed together. Like the swans at City Park superimposed over a bag of Cheetos. That sort of thing.

So I packed up for City Park to do what we in the business call a "photo shoot," which is industry jargon for taking 6,000 pictures in the hopes that one or two will be marginally usable.

Unfortunately, the swans were not cooperating. I don't know what their problem is, but all they had to do was float there and look swan-like and they couldn't, or wouldn't, come through.

I know that swans are supposed to be beautiful and graceful and all, but so is Shannen Doherty and no one can work with her either. These three jokers would always stay just out of reasonable camera range, or else they would come closer, but spread out so they all wouldn't fit in the same shot.

And their favorite trick was to all get together beautifully, plumage out, necks curved, in perfect light - and then just as I'd snap a frame, one of them would plunge its head into the water.

This little routine wouldn't have bothered me quite so much, except for the fact that, quite frankly, they seemed to have a bad attitude about it. These didn't seem to be merry pranksters out for a mirthful lark. There was no laughter in their eyes or playfulness to their countenance.

No, there was a decided dark side to these birds. They seemed to want to spoil my imagery simply out of spite. Their mission was to make me suffer.

And suffer I did. It's a pretty big lake, and there I was at 7:30 in the morning, chasing these feathered Garbos from one side of it to the other. I couldn't help but feel the stares from people as they drove to work. They are used to the ducks, but this was one quack they weren't expecting to see so bright and early, losing his temper and arguing forcefully with the swans.

Finally I snapped. "OK look, you jerks, it's either you or me. If I have to get hip waders and carp guards, you are going to be photographed, like it or not.

"You, you and you. Over there. No, not in the shade, get in the sun. Now puff up; and don't give me that 'bad feather day' excuse, I'm done playing around."

Reluctantly, and more to get rid of me than anything else, they complied. To a degree, anyway. I got my shots and was off to Locust Street, searching the gutters for a faded Cheetos bag.

So all this is by way of confessing to my professor that it is the fault of the swans, not of me, that I am behind schedule. But see? I do feel good that I haven't forgotten everything I knew about ducking class.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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