The Best Way to Say Thanks

Volunteers with the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance moving rocks at Ruth Lake, in the Uintas.
Volunteers with the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance moving rocks at Ruth Lake, in the Uintas.

If you’ve climbed much outside, you have someone to thank. A bunch of someones, really. The someones who own or manage the land, for example. Also the someones who make sure that climbing is recognized as a legit use of that land, the someones who maintain the trails and parking and kiosks and latrines on that land, and the someones who developed the routes and problems on that land, too.

You should say thanks to those people or just be thankful in general—that’s great. But you should also become one of these “someones” yourself, because if you’re reading this you probably climb and climbing has probably changed your life in one or more ways and, despite what we’d all like to think, climbing isn’t an inalienable human right.

I bring this up because I just finished helping my local climbing organization, the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance, organize an annual fundraiser (full disclosure: I’m on the board). The funds from this event will support all manner of stewardship and education projects that benefit the local climbing community, from the maintenance of latrines in Joe’s Valley to anchor replacement at popular crags to the Adopt A Crag and the Craggin’ Classic events.

Beyond highly visible stewardship and education projects like these, the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance, like most local climbing organizations (LCOs), spends a lot of time behind the scenes working with land managers and land owners, making sure that the voice of the local climbing community is heard and our particular needs understood. It requires a lot of work from a lot of people, most of whom have day jobs, families, and barely enough time to get out and climb as it is. But without LCOs like the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance and larger organizations like the Access Fund, which act on the national level, you might not be able to climb at your favorite crags at all.

Who gets to use a piece of land for what activities and when? These are deceptively complicated questions. For one thing, there’s the issue of liability. Climbing, as every gym waiver you’ve ever signed points out, is inherently dangerous. Who’s responsible when someone hits the deck, catches a rock to the head, or keels over from a heart attack while out at the crag? Who pays for the rescue? Who will be on the receiving end when the family of the injured party decides to sue? Who decides on “best practices” for bolting anchors and who, if anyone, checks and replaces the bolts that are already in place?

Private land owners often look at questions like these, not to mention issues of access trails and parking, and decide to ban climbers outright; sometimes it’s just easier that way. Meanwhile, a lot of public land managers have only a cursory understanding of what’s involved in the practice of rock climbing or of how many people might be showing up to do it. Rules governing climbing on public lands vary from well-researched and highly detailed, to vague and illogical. They also vary widely from one type of public land to the next, from the Bureau of Land Management to Forest Service land to national parks and state parks, etc. When it comes to public climbing management policies, seemingly minor changes can take years or even decades to become reality.

And of course, climbers are almost never the only users seeking to make use of a given plot of land: In the West, Indian tribes and climbers often disagree strongly over the appropriate use of rock formations; extraction industries and climbers butt heads across the U.S; and the bad behavior of other user groups, from litter to campfire and graffiti, is easily pinned on climbers.

Add to that the complexity of local climbing cultures, where certain practices are frowned on as much because of historical precedent as official policies or land owner concerns. Even within climbing communities, there is ample disagreement on many topics.

Basically, the issues confronting those who just want to go outside and climb are complex and varied, and without organized groups of climbers willing to work on the local and national level, we’d be pretty much hosed. The Access Fund ran an ad campaign not long ago showing crags with gates and No Trespassing signs super-imposed over them. The images might seem alarmist, but they’re not—they show real possibilities in a world where climbers lack a voice.

As tempting as it may be to approach such issues with an anarchic spirit, the tough truth is that we are all connected in a social web. If we live without regard for our actions—parking in the no-parking zone, bringing dogs to crags where they’re not allowed, bolting where bolts are banned, leaving trash, blasting music at the crags, crapping near the trails—we invite trouble for ourselves and our fellow climbers. By attempting to live in total freedom regardless of consequences, we usually end up making ourselves and others less free.

Only a fraction of climbers are members of their local climbing organizations or the Access Fund, and a smaller number still volunteer regularly. With every percent increase in engagement, our crags become better maintained, our relationships with land owners and managers grow stronger, and the voice of the collective climbing community grows louder.

Being thankful is great, but the best way to say thanks those who work hard to be good stewards and preserve climbing access is to be one of those people yourself. There will never be a perfect time to start, but now’s as good a time as any. To find an LCO in your neck of the woods click here. Plus, support the Access Fund.

Edit: I just received an email from another national org, the American Alpine Club, which offers Cornerstone Conservation Grants for climbers who propose conservation projects in their areas. Check it out…   

NAMC: Not At My Crag

teaching

There’s a certain type of climber who likes to bash anyone who lacks the same skill or experience level that they have. A common refrain from such climbers is that the new generations are bringing a gym-bred lack of climbing knowledge and ethics to already-overcrowded crags. With the throngs of gumby-headed neophytes–the most oblivious horsemen of the climbing apocalypse–come ills ranging from accidents to annoyance, from faux pas to soil erosion.

Judging from the Internet, Not At My Crag climbers constitute either a rather large group, or just a small group with very large mouths—something that’s easily confused in the Wild West of online forums and comments sections. NAMC climbers particularly enjoy posting in discussions about the increasing popularity of climbing due to competitions (especially the Olympics), the rise of the modern climbing gym, and depictions of climbing in the media.

Of course, even the most vocal of NAMCers were almost certainly at one point in their careers the very same type of climber they critique. Now that they’ve made it through the precarious early years of climberdom, they apparently have earned a sort of immunity, a la Survivor. Instead of mere members of the swelling crowds, they have ascended to the status of “locals,” sole and rightful stewards of the places they climb. All others should bow and kiss their swollen, chalky knuckles before deigning to tie in.

But believe it our not, bagging on others on the Internet with an air of seasoned superiority is not the most effective means of making change.

This weekend, the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance and the American Alpine Club hosted a Craggin’ Classic event in the Salt Lake area. This climbing festival took place at the Alta Peruvian Lodge, in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Despite menacing pockets of storm in the area, a bunch of climbers showed up to take clinics in the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, lead by a guiding concession called Mountain Education & Development. Clinic topics ranged from Top Rope basics to Trad Leading and Multi-Pitch Belay Changeovers. There was even a stewardship event that involved trail building, weeding, and such.

I stopped in on the Trad Leading clinic and was happy to see a young but knowledgable instructor patiently showing climbers, from a wide range of age and experience groups, how to place pro, build anchors, and generally think like a climber. The clinic was only four hours long, and so just a small first step in the lifelong learning process that something as complex and potentially dangerous as climbing requires. But still, it was a step—an example of just one of the many ways that new climbers can become more knowledgable and more knowledgable climbers can help raise the average level of know-how at the crags.

One of the things that NAMC climbers most lament is the death of the “mentor” system in climbing, in which a veteran climber takes a n00b under his wing and edumacates him in The Way. It is the hallowed master/apprentice relationship still practiced in some vocations, particularly in Europe and Asia. While these types of relationships are certainly valuable, it is also worth remembering that, in the anarchic craft of climbing, a mentor can be anything from a true sage to a crusty character armed with little more than strong opinions, a lot of misinformation, and a burning urge to be in charge.

I guess what I’m saying is that we all should strive to be better examples and good mentors… and at the same times we all should probably admit that we have something, maybe a lot, left to learn. Events like the Craggin’ Classic are one way to be a part of this change. Coming to the crag with a dose of humility and empathy for those newcomers who probably look at lot like you did once upon a time is another.

SLC Eats: Tulie Bakery

Tulie Bakery, one of the finest establishments in Salt Lake City.
Tulie Bakery, one of the finest establishments in Salt Lake City.

Compared to New York City and Boulder, Colorado, my two previous places of residence, Salt Lake City’s choice dining options are, for the most part, few and far between — a handful of jewels scattered in a gravel pit. The gravel, in this case, is the mostly bland urban and suburban neighborhoods, strip malls, chain establishments, and restaurants with the moto: “Quantity over quality.” To find the treasure, you have to go a-hunting. Which is good and bad. Good because it makes the moment of discovery all the more satisfying. And bad because it means extensive research and car (or bicycle, if you’re into that kind of thing) mileage is required to find the really killer spots. (In the future, I plan to blog about more of the places I’ve discovered to eat, drink, and be merry in Salt Lake City.)

One of the first gems I discovered upon moving to Salt Lake two years ago is the Tulie Bakery, on the edge of the trendy 9th and 9th neighborhood. Winner of many awards and recognitions, I was surprised to find that few of my friends, who have lived here for years or even their entire lives, had been to Tulie. Admittedly, you might not stumble across it if you didn’t know it was there. Tulie sits in a suburban setting, along one of Salt Lake’s extra-wide landing strips roadways. You could easily visit the excellent Café Trio (680 South 900 East; triodining.com), which occupies the corner real estate a few doors down, and not notice its glass façade.

Keep your hands out of the cookie jars.
Keep your hands out of the cookie jars.

The French-inspired Tulie is approaching its fourth year in business and continues to draw crowds to its clean, well-lighted, rustic/modern interior. The usual suspects at the bakery comprise a relatively diverse mixture of young parents with smartly dressed toddlers, well-off empty nesters, the obligatory foodie hipsters, and a random smattering of difficult-to-classify individuals willing to pay a premium for the “pure, high-quality ingredients that flow seamlessly with the decor,” as it says on the Tulie website.

A mild crowd for a Saturday morning at Tulie.
A mild crowd for a Saturday morning at Tulie.

According to their menu, the Tulie Bakery has five core culinary offerings: breakfast pastry, hot pressed sandwiches, pastry ( for other times of the day, I gather), cakes, and the catch-all “cupcakes, cookies, and bars.” Of these, I have found the breakfast pastry to be the most superlative. Everything I have tried, from the morning bun to the pain au chocolat to the crème fraîche coffee cake has been worthy of recommendation.

Yes, everything is good — great even — but floating above it all, like a plate of ethereal, golden, powder-caked balloons, are the beignets, which are baked only on the weekends, at some time around 8 or 9 in the morning. Sold individually or in sets of four, these French-style (via New Orleans) “donuts” bear hardly any resemblance to their denser, tire-shaped cousins. I have missed the “golden hour” — from when the beignets come out of the oven to the time they sell out — on several occasions, which never ceases to fill me with disappointment. Another plus, and one that richly compliments the beignets: Tulie Bakery has trained their employees to pull excellent espresso drinks.

Tulie's famous beignets, fresh from the oven.
Tulie’s famous beignets, fresh from the oven.

Yes, the sandwiches, cakes, pastries, cookies and tarts really are among the best in Salt Lake City. Personal preference will vary, but there is no denying that the overall quality of the food at Tulie is second to none. Were I a wealthy man, I might stop in every day, but dietary and pecuniary limitations restrict me to weekly visits. That’s just enough to leave me always wanting more, which, I think, is really the way it ought be to allow for maximum appreciation of any food this good.

Tulie Bakery is located at 863 East 700 South, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Contact information, hours of operation, a complete menu, and more can be found at their website: www.tuliebakery.com.

Photo Friday: Nikon D800 Time-Lapse and Some Birds

Just playing with the D800 some more. So far, I continue to be impressed. Two things on my wish list (and, it sounds like, everyone else’s wish list, too): 1) faster frame rate and 2) smaller RAW image size option. Anyway, minor nits. Of course, now that the D600 looks like a real option on the horizon, I’m starting to wonder if I’ll regret having dropped $3000 on an FX camera when I could have gotten a $1500 FX camera with many of the same features. Ah well, the best cure for inklings of camera-buyer’s remorse is to use the tool to create some cool work.

The following images were captured during last weekend’s Living Traditions cultural festival in downtown Salt Lake City. Strangely, I took most of my favorite images that day at small pop-up tent with a few guys and a bunch of birds, located near the festival entrance. I’m not sure what the booth was all about, but the birds were fascinating to observe.

But FIRST… here is a (somewhat underexposed) time-lapse video straight out of the D800. The camera’s automatic time-lapse function captured the images and stitched them together, in camera, into a .mov file. Pretty slick! For you pros out there, it probably makes more sense to capture hi-res .jpg files with the interval shooting mode and then create your own animation in Quicktime Pro, but for fun projects, this is a very neat little feature.

A parrot outside the Living Traditions Festival in Salt Lake City.
A parrot outside the Living Traditions Festival in Salt Lake City.
A fuzzy young owl.
A fuzzy young owl.
Dancers at the Living Traditions festival.
Dancers at the Living Traditions festival.
The falcon cannot hear the falconer.
The falcon cannot hear the falconer.
Baby birds waiting to be fed.
Baby birds waiting to be fed.

The Doodanglies of Spring

I’m walking my blue heeler, Bodhi, through the serene grass and pavement matrix of our Salt Lake City suburb, when some creature issues a short, high cry from up above. It’s a mysterious call that could well have come from some denizen of a distant, cacophonous rainforest, but here it is a lone, wild voice against the ticking and hissing of sprinklers and the lawnmower’s drone.

I’ve heard this vocalization before and know what it means. I scan my surroundings and within seconds I spot them: a family of California quail, teardrop shaped puffs of grey strutting around in someone’s front yard, pecking the ground in search of seeds and shoots. My fiancée has given these beautiful birds, with their scale-patterned feathers, rust-brown caps, and white-limned black faces, the name “doodangly” birds, after their flapper-era black head plumes that wiggle with every step. It’s now the only way I refer them in conversation, leading to much confusion.

The family — a mother and six chicks — putters onto the sidewalk just as their high lookout, perched on a roof peak a few houses down, detects my presence and issues his warning. They hasten into a single-file formation and hightail it away from me, legs swinging in a blur, road-runner style. Doodanglies almost never fly unless startled at close distance. They opt instead for more pedestrian means of locomotion and can move surprisingly fast over open terrain.

The family ducks into a driveway and behind a little rise of grass. I stand and watch, waiting to see if they’ll reemerge, and they do. I’ve noticed that these strange little terrestrial birds are seldom dissuaded from their course. They scramble whenever a human, cat, or car comes too close, but soon, with caution, pluck back towards their original course. Like pigeons and doves, they are well adapted to the grid-paved wilderness of the burbs.

Every spring, the doodanglies begin to show themselves in the Salt Lake valley. They are my favorite local nature sprites, embodiments of some ancient energy that humans have been endeavoring to bury in layers of concrete, glass, and metal for the past hundred-odd years. The doodanglies appear first in pairs, but soon in families. Their chicks are precocial, meaning they’re ready to roll straight out of the shell. Still, the parentals shepherd them closely when they’re on the move. It is common quail practice to have one scout posted up on a fencepost or tree branch, watching for threats like Bodhi and me. Of course, we’re not really a threat (or at least, I’m not), but they don’t give us the benefit of the doubt, and I don’t blame them.

If I’m lucky, I’ll make doodangly sightings every day, when I’m out walking my dog or running. Their simple, wild presence in the spaces between our houses and our cars, like that of the baroque, green-armored grasshopper or the flashing, iridescent hummingbird, reminds me of the way the world once was, and still is in our ever-shrinking preserves of  natural places. It reminds me that no matter how far “above” nature we try to arrange ourselves, we are and always will be a part of it. As Emerson says in his essay “Nature,” “The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable.” He could just as well have said  “man and the birds.” It reminds me that we humans, the rich and the poor among us, must make a life for ourselves one day, one year at a time, just like the doodanglies, plucking towards the future powered by an innate stubbornness that I can only see as nature’s beautiful, irrational argument against the chaos of the universe.

Photo Friday: Night Running Video Shoot, Behind the Scenes

This week, I spent two evenings out shooting video with Salt Lake City-based ultra runners Jared and Mindy Campbell and members of the local production company Camp 4 Collective. The footage was for a Petzl video project highlighting night running with headlamps. Below are some “behind the scenes” images and general scenics I snapped while the Camp 4 masterminds, headed up by Tim Kemple, captured stunning footage of Jared and Mindy doing their thing. (I dig my job.) Plus, down below, three important things I learned while out on these shoots.

Camera phone shot taken near Buffalo Point on Antelope Island.
Camera phone shot taken near Buffalo Point on Antelope Island.
A lesser island in the Great Salt Lake, as seen from Antelope Island.
A lesser island in the Great Salt Lake, as seen from Antelope Island.

Day 1:

I brushed at the tiny black carcasses of dead gnats peppering the hairs of my forearms. Other gnats, still lively, vibrated against my cheeks and into my ear canals. One of the Camp 4 camera guys, Hennie, blasted my face and head with Backwoods OFF, but it seemed to have limited effect. We hiked the short trail up to Antelope Island’s Buffalo Point trying not to swat and paw at the gnat clouds that surrounded our heads like dark halos.

Tim Kemple of Camp 4 Collective, waiting for the pesky golden hour to pass so we could shoot some night running.
Tim Kemple waiting for the pesky golden hour to pass so he can shoot some night running.

Once up at Buffalo Point, the wind kept the bugs at bay and we were treated to an epic sunset. Golden light poured across the island, moving the vibrance and saturation sliders up a notch. Soon after the sun went down, Jared and Mindy started running and the Camp 4 crew started shooting. Lightning flashes popped far to the west, somewhere over the edge of the Great Salt Lake. We shot until it was much later and darker than we’d anticipated. On the way home, I just barely resisted the Camp 4 crew’s tempting offer to hit the In-N-Out Burger for a midnight snack.

Day 2:

The wind was cranking up on top of the hill. The trails of the Bonneville Shoreline system traced the spring-green ridges and valleys all around us. Below, Salt Lake City was a sprawl of tiny houses and buildings, dwarfed by the snow-laced Wasatch Mountains in the distance.

The view from the hill, looking down on Salt Lake City and the Wasatch
The view from the hill, looking down on Salt Lake City and the Wasatch.

I had to make a  phone call to help guide my boss up to our location, but the reception was crap, so I walked up to the top of the hill. There, the wind was its worst, scouring every surface. It rippled mercilessly through my thin, short-sleeved shirt. I looked around, and saw that everyone else wore some sort of jacket. It occurred to me then that I have always been the type of guy who brings the stuff he doesn’t need (on this day: a laptop, a copy of Emerson’s collected works, an empty Tupperware container) and fails to bring the stuff he does need (something to block the chilled, howling wind!). I made the call, but the wind made everything sound like amplified static. I gave up.

Runners and crew on the wind-shielded side of the hill, waiting for the sun to drop
Runners and crew on the wind-shielded side of the hill, waiting for the sun to drop. In this picture, the guy with jean shorts and a moustache is telling everyone about the hipster race he started in which competitors are required to run in jean shorts and moustaches.

The runners, camera crew, and I were waiting for the sun to go down so we could start capturing night running footage. Already shivering in the daylight, I wondered how far the mercury might drop after sundown. But really, my suffering was trivial compared to what Jared had endured just weeks ago, when he ran the Barkley Marathons, a 100-mile race with nearly 60,000 feet of vertical gain and loss through the Blair Witch woods of Tennessee’s Frozen Head State Park. I can’t even fathom the mindset required to endure such a journey.

Jared Campbell on camera
Jared Campbell, pain cave explorer, mugging for the camera.
Salt Lake City from above
Sprawlingly awesome: Salt Lake City from above.

Despite the wind and a nagging chance of rain, the shoot went well and the skies had a nice look to them. Jared and Mindy were consummate professionals and never once abandoned their good humor while we made them run back and forth on the same stretch of trail repeatedly or sit shivering in the dark answering interview questions while staring into a huge ring light. I can only imagine that after you’ve run 100 miles, all day and all night, your idea of what constitutes a hardship must change. Meanwhile, I was excited that Camp 4 brought out a RED camera to do some of the shooting. Truly the wet dream of the video gear head set.

Hennie and the RED camera, up on a windy hill.
Hennie and the RED camera, up on a windy hill.

Three things I learned…

The final footage should be coming soon. Already, the Camp 4 guys have left on a jet plane for some big deal video shoot or other. Before we parted ways, Tim told me it was nice to shoot something locally for a change. I realized then that I’d learned three valuable lessons working with Camp 4 and the Campbells:

  1. Shooting quality video is not all fun and games. In fact, it is hard goddamned work, and should not be taken lightly. These guys work long hours shooting and longer hours editing, have to know a ton of technical stuff, have to be creative one the fly, and have to know how to make magic even when things go pear-shaped, which they inevitably do.
  2. Ultra runners are batshit crazy. I have no clue what drives a person to explore their own mental and physical limits like Jared and Mindy do, but I respect it. I respect it from the comfort of my couch.
  3. The Salt Lake Valley, despite being a strange place culturally, and despite have ruefully bad air pollution issues, is one of the prettiest places a person can live. I also realized for the first time that autumn, my favoritest season on the East Coast, is not my favoritest season out West. Here, spring is king, with the green hills and still-white mountain tops. Spring out East is muggy and damp. Here it is refreshing like an Irish Spring commercial. Spring, I lift my glass to ye. Sláinte!

Links to stuff mentioned in this post:

A Little Busy Right Now. Here’s A Picture.

Work has bled over into the evening hours lately, so I haven’t had time for personal writing and editing. Therefore, here is a photo for you to enjoy.

This image was captured during a video shoot on Antelope Island, about 30 miles northwest of Salt Lake City. I used a Nikon D7000, a 50mm f1.4 lens, and a reverse grad ND filter I recently purchased. The filter used to belong to Garrett Smith, who was the first person to show me how to use filters for landscape photography. (Thanks, G.)

For more on Antelope Island, which is rad, see this post. I have plenty of bloggy irons in the fire,  too, so don’t be a stranger.

— The Blockhead Lord

Sunset from Antelope Island
Sunset from Antelope Island

Telling A Story With Video — A Work In Progress

To practice rapid-fire shooting and editing, I made the above short video of my fiancée, Kristin, at work on a new painting. Kristin earned an MFA at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art, in Philadelphia. Today, she works full time as a graphic designer, but tries to get some painting in after hours. Like me, she faces a constant struggle to remain creatively active, but I think we have both managed to find a tolerable balance. It’s better some weeks than others, but, as always, it’s a work in progress…

I took the basic order for the shots from a handy little article by University of Florida Journalism Professor Mindy McAdams. She describes a simple method for capturing a scene in just five shots. I’m fairly certain she didn’t devise this method (I’ve heard of similar approaches from other sources — in fact, there’s a nice BBC video on the “five-shot rule” here), but she does a nice job explaining it.

If you decided not to click the link, I’ll distill McAdams exercise here:

[In the case of a subject who is relatively stationary and using her hands]

  1. Shoot the hands up close (tight)
  2. Shoot the face up close (tight)
  3. Pull back and get a shot showing hands and face together (medium)
  4. Shoot over the shoulder (medium)
  5. Shoot “something else,” typically from a wider perspective

In making the short video above, which would typically be  just one scene in a longer documentary-style piece, I considered this approach and tweaked it a little based mostly on my own gut. I do not believe in any hard and fast “rules” about communicating, whether it be via video or the written word, or any other form or medium. We can get our point across in many different ways, and strict adherence to rules or formulas, although it can save time and effort, is a good way to bleed the life out of a story. That said, starting with a solid understanding of the basics is really a must for any aspiring creative.

As you can see in the stills below, I used more than five shots, but the basic ideas were covered:

1. Close-up of hands at work.

2. Medium shot showing hands and face (notice I skipped the suggested tight shot of the face — that comes in later).

3. Vertical pan on the painting. Again, this is not in keeping with the suggested five-shot order, but I felt it made sense to show the piece up front, for context.

4. Back on track, here’s the sometimes-tricky “over the shoulder” shot. I think it works well enough.

5. Because mixing paint was the first tight shot, I figured it would make sense to do a second, this one focused on the act of painting. I like the precision with which Kristin paints.

6. This shot falls between tight and medium, in my estimation, but it’s probably closest to what McAdams identifies as “something else,” a creative shot that adds visual interest to the edit. Kristin was interested to see it, as she didn’t realize she held the brush so high up. “It looks like Japanese brush painting,” she said. It’s her favorite shot and mine.

7. Here, I decided to go back to the face (what would be the second shot in the McAdam’s method). Not sure why, really… In retrospect, it may in fact have made more sense to put it up front.

8. A quick cut to an even tighter face shot. If I could lose any of the shots in the piece, it would be this one, as I don’t think it adds any information that shot No. 7 didn’t already convey.

9. To close out, I decided to give the contextualizing wide shot, which is how McAdams suggests finishing the a sequence. It’s not the most interesting image, and informationally it overlaps with the pan in my third shot, but I like how it gives a sense of scale — this is quite a large painting!

In the end, I used nine shots instead of five, although I’ll admit that for this very basic sequence, eight or even seven would have sufficed. I have shot and edited much longer, more complex videos, but as I’m self-taught, I try to go back and brush up on basics regularly. Like a lot of media makers in the digital age, I learned quick-and-dirty at the U of Hard Knocks. Without going back and practicing fundamentals, it’s easy to get caught in a big project with shaky foundations.

Always curious to hear what rules of thumb you use when telling a story with a video.

Open House: Art On Iowa

The Art on Iowa House
The Art on Iowa House

Salt Lake City’s Iowa Street is a diminutive thoroughfare, existing only between 300 South and 200 South. It’s less a street than a block-long one-way alley, tightly arrayed with middle-class houses. Wood planks, brick, peeling paint, yard plots maybe big enough to lie down in, a few gravel parking spots, the odd tree. Halfway along Iowa on the east side of the street is the brick edifice of Tim and Camille Erickson’s house, site of Art On Iowa, a gallery concept devised to make viewing art more of a personal, communal act, than a sterile and pretentious one.

I first encountered Tim and Camille in New York, where Tim and I both were in a Masters writing program. We all ended up in Salt Lake City by coincidence — them mostly because it’s their hometown and me for work. When Tim braved Facebook (for the first time) to announce Art on Iowa, I was immediately interested. Salt Lake City is a cultural dead zone compared to Manhattan, or even to my last town of residence, Boulder, Colorado. Every creative spark here offers promise of a new age of enlightenment. Also, I have a friend who ran house concerts in Denver and Boulder under the name Back Forty Presents. Those crowded, super-personal little performances were unique experiences worthy of duplication.

The artist showing her work at Art on Iowa
The artist showing her work at Art on Iowa

On the night of the event, from my stance beneath the house’s green-columned portico, I could see through the glass outer door into the clean, well-lighted interior. Looking past a little handwritten note Scotch Taped to the door (“Doorbell broken. Please knock.”) around 9 p.m., a well-dressed, hipper-than-usual crowd was visible. Thirty or so people mingled and maneuvered, clumping together in conversation or else wandering the peripheries of the rooms to examine the dozen or so framed photographs by the artist Michelle Buhler.

Tim and Camille patrolled the party conversing with the guests, some of whom they’d known since childhood, others who were complete strangers. Four or five young children (presumably belonging to the guests) played raucously around the adults’ knees. Far from being upset, Tim expressed joy at their presence. It was all part of his vision for the show. It reminded me of the open-house days at the Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg, where whole families would come and drink, order pizza, and look at local artists’ works in an old-school block party atmosphere.

A Michelle Buhler photograph, on show at Art on Iowa
A Michelle Buhler photograph, on show at Art on Iowa

Tim’s attire was a kind of professorial chic — a broad, patterned tie beneath a dark cardigan, thick-framed retro specs, and blond, pointed goatee. I asked him about the motivation behind Art on Iowa. “You know, we came from NYC, from that shark tank, where everyone preens and postures at these kinds of openings, everyone sizes each other up,” he said. “Part of our inspiration for this was to provide a place where serious art could be shown, but that avoids that sort of fake-o stuffiness.”

Boxes of wine and a bucket of beer on ice sat next to a collections jar in the kitchen. In the den, the artist discussed photographs (“They’re inspired by the movie Apocalypse Now”), which featured colored blooms of smoke rising up out of assorted natural landscapes. The images were brightly lit, the scenes conspicuously lacking a human element. Their starkness implied a trauma somewhere out of the picture. “I specifically am drawn to smoke signals in the context of war,” Buhler’s artist statement begins. “I am interested in the phenomenon that the occurrence of something beautiful is contingent on an opposite or less-attractive happening at or around the same time.”

A guest and a photograph at Art on Iowa
A guest and a photograph at Art on Iowa

“Where’s a red marker?” cried Tim after one guest expressed his desire to make a purchase. “We need to put a red dot next to the piece to show that it’s been sold!” Camille, who studied painting in college, stood nearby in a simple black dress and a brightly patterned scarf to hold back her fine blond hair, a cup of wine in hand. The proliferation of beer bottles and plastic wine cups, while not worthy of note at art openings elsewhere in America, was a bit outside the norm for Salt Lake City — a fact that seemed to make the guests appreciate their drinks all the more.

In New York, Tim co-directed a poetry series called Speakeasy. Would he be interested in bringing readings to the Art On Iowa setting? I asked. “Readings are so fraught with stuffiness, and so often sheer boredom, that they are very difficult to pull off.” He replied, adding, “if we can come up with some formula to get poets heard (in a world where we poor poets… are completely ignored unless we’re playing guitar), that would absolutely be a part of Art on Iowa’s mission.” Music, too, is on the docket, as long as the noise doesn’t reach an un-neighborly level.

The shoes of the very first Art on Iowa
The shoes of the very first Art on Iowa

The goal with Art On Iowa is eventually to have a show on the third Friday of every month, though at the moment every other month will have to suffice. Originally, the couple hoped to get several houses on the tiny street to open their walls to art, to create an Art On Iowa gallery stroll, of sorts, but Friday’s opening was the first, and Tim seemed unsure whether his neighbors would follow through. “If we don’t get anyone else,” he said, “we’re still excited to keep it going at our place.”

For those interested in showing their work at Art On Iowa, email the Ericksons at artoniowa@inkwill.com, along with JPEGs of three representative pieces of work. And for those who want to attend future shows, send an email saying as much to the same address, and you’ll be added to the mailing list.