ARTECHOUSE offers escape from broken reality

Spirit of Autumn at ARTECHOUSE

“The real world just doesn’t offer up as easily the carefully designed pleasures, the thrilling challenges, and the powerful social bonding afforded by virtual environments. Reality doesn’t motivate us as effectively. Reality isn’t engineered to maximize our potential. Reality wasn’t designed from the bottom up to make us happy. And so, there is a growing perception in the gaming community: Reality, compared to games, is broken.”
Jane McGonigal, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

Spirit of Autumn is an interactive installation at ARTECHOUSE in Washington, DC, that celebrates the fall season through a variety of immersive digital activities.

But let’s call it what it really is: a game.

This basement off the National Mall is a powerful game space where people of all ages come together to create their own virtual experience of fall by manipulating a series of video artworks. Clap your hands in front of a sensor and rain appears. Dance before a wall with a leafy avatar of yourself. Play with swirling patterns of light, sending them flowing across the floor with your finger.

Spirit of Autumn is like a good game – social, easy to begin and with rewards for mastery. As you enter the underground space in a group, you are given no instruction. What do you do here? You see colorful leaves and a digital tree ascending upwards.

Quickly, players figure out that if they move in front of one wall, a ghostly avatar appears. Stand still on the floor and leaves cluster around you. Within few minutes, everyone is at play, running from game to game, and making their leafy representations dance.

You see what other people do – what happens if I jump? can I send the flowing light up this wall? where do I clap to make it rain? – and you learn from the experience, making new friends as you enjoy this digital world.

Time passes quickly, like a good game, as you’re engrossed by the interactive experience. Why are games so compelling? According to author Jane McGonigal, a game is an opportunity to focus our energy, with relentless optimism, at something we can master. Games have rules, provide feedback and have an achievable goal.

Spirit of Autumn at ARTECHOUSE is more than just an art show in a basement. It’s an opportunity to escape broken reality for a colorful and compelling world where people work together to create a beautiful, shared experience.

Road Dog: The Life of an Indie Filmmaker

Road Dog by Kelley Baker

What I like about Kelley Baker is that he demystifies the art of filmmaking. You don’t need a million dollars or an expensive degree to make a movie. Instead, you need some basic technical knowledge – which I saw him impart during workshops for the DC Shorts Film Festival – and, more importantly, a story.

A better drinking partner could not be found. During the DC Shorts Film Festival, there always came a moment when the festival director, overwhelmed by the chaos of running a week-long event, would disappear with Kelley for a few hours of bourbon drinking. He would then return relaxed. This made everyone happy.

Seeing Kelley every year at DC Shorts was one of the highlights of the festival for me. We were old-timers, who had been a part of the festival almost since the very beginning. His was a familiar face who made movies, liked parties and was endlessly encouraging for creatives like me.

Also, he wasn’t one of those Hollywood bullshit artists who bragged about their connections or, even worse, promised that riches were just a screenplay away. Instead, having made films for decades, he was realistic about the industry. Yes, you can make a movie but, since dreams of fame are illusory (and Hollywood will probably screw you), make the movie that you want to see. Make your story.

Kelley shares his story, the ups and downs of an indie filmmaker, in his new book Road Dog. Get his book and look for him on tour this fall.

There is Money in Coworking

WeWork Creators Awards

There is money in coworking…

That was my thought upon entering the vast Mellon Auditorium on Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC. Located within view of the Washington Monument, this building with its Doric columns is such a classic of the DC genre that it has filled in as the Capitol in TV shows such as Veep and The West Wing.

Inside, you walk though a 20-foot tall arch and onto the marble floor of the lobby, where I was immediately served a drink, a delicious concoction of grapefruit juice and tequila. Black-clad waiters approached with bite-sized empanadas and spring rolls.

I was at the WeWork Creator Awards. The coworking company has committed over $20 million to empower creators around the world. Applicants pitch their ideas for grants to incubate, launch and scale their businesses. I went because techies always have the best parties.

Inside the auditorium, with its marble columns stretching upwards and a DJ playing, attendees got what was described as the full WeWork experience: educational workshops, job fairs, pop-up markets, live entertainment, and plenty of inspiration.

And plenty of drinks, as this crowd of PR people, entrepreneurs, WeWork members and creative types (like me), mingled and purchased items from local vendors. Entering the hall, I was handed a $50 chit to buy stuff which I used on a couple of t-shirts from No Kings Collective.

Half-drunk on tequila, with a bag full of free swag, it hit me: there is money in coworking. We’re talking 1999 dotcom money or SXSW excess, both of which I witnessed as a web person working on the content side. The WeWork party, with its open bar and air of excitement, reminded me of SXSW parties in Austin, circa 2008, when social media was on the rise. This time, the new new thing is coworking, which are shared workplaces where you can rent a desk or an office on a monthly plan.

I talked to a young woman from another coworking company who said WeWork was a billion-dollar company, which stunned me. How could renting office space be so profitable?

But her figure was wrong. WeWork is actually a $16 billion dollar company! Investors are betting big that coworking is the future.

Having spent far too much time in the beige cubicles of government offices, I see the attraction of coworking. A few weeks earlier, I visited WeWork White House, which looks like a Hollywood set designer’s idea of a workplace rather than the Office Space environments that are norm in America. It’s a big, beautiful, bright space, set across two floors, including a coffee bar and a roofdeck with a view of monumental DC. A dream office, in other words.

WeWork White House - Lobby

I thought coworking was just for freelancers. It’s also for small nonprofits and companies wishing to provide flexibility to their employees. At the WeWork White House, I met a woman working for an international organization with headquarters overseas, as well as a small business offering babysitting services. They had an office set up to do headshots for babysitters.

It was a happy place. And no wonder. With more control over their environment and a sense of community from working in a hive of creative folks, coworkers derive a stronger sense of meaning than cubicle-dwellers.

But what’s the attraction for business? Setting up an office is hard. A friend of mine looked for more than a year to find space for his young company. And once finding the space, had to retrofit it to make it ADA-compliant and fight with the local telecom for months just to get online.

In contrast, a coworking space offers you the ability to just move in and get to work. The WeWork White House is ideal for companies that want a Washington presence without the hassle of renting real estate in DC.

It’s big business. More than a million people will cowork this year, according to a survey by Deskman. By the end of the year, around 14,000 coworking spaces will be in operation worldwide.

Coworking is more than just shared office space. It’s a worldwide movement away from boring cubicles and into more flexible and fun space led by companies seeking to save money and freelancers searching for a sense of community.

There is money in coworking, as WeWork demonstrates. It’s the future – hopefully – for all of us who seek creative space and support to do our best work.

The Future is the (Photography) Collective!

full house

How do photographers make their voice heard in a era saturated with millions of images? By forming a photo collective, a group of photographers with a common vision or subject matter. Photographers pool their talents and expertise to make a larger impact.

The idea is an old one. Magnum Photos set the tone for post-war photography, creating iconic images of war and conflict that still resonate today. And it’s a photo collective, owned and operated by the top editorial photographers in the world.

Slightly less famous is The Rooftop Collective, a gang of seven with a shared interest in lifestyle photography (i.e., gorgeous photos of food and drink). Growing out of the much-larger InstagramDC group, the collective had their first show recently at Black Whiskey, a nouveau dive on 14th Street in Washington, DC. Being friends with the group, I was glad to attend – and take some photos with my trusty Canon G9X.

There are a lot of advantages to being part of a collective. Putting on an individual show is a daunting effort. Providing a few photos for a group show is much easier. Collective members share their experience in framing, staging, marketing and outreach.

Being part of a collective is also a third-party endorsement, even if it’s self-created. If you like one Rooftop Collective photographer, you’ll probably like another, for the photographers have been selected for a similar vision.

The biggest benefit, however, is the power of the network. The show at Black Whiskey was packed for the group could draw upon their combined social networks. With seven members, that’s a lot of invites going out and a lot of exposure for photographers in the collective.

By pooling their contacts, resources and skills, the Rooftop Collective can make a much bigger impact as a group than they ever could do individually.

Comrades, the future is the (photography) collective!

Next Level Craft at the House of Sweden

#igdc visits the House of Sweden

InstagramDC recently got a sneak peek at the Next Level Craft exhibit at the House of Sweden in Georgetown. This beautiful embassy along the Potomac played host to an exhibit described as:

A mythical wedding, a demonstration, a carnival, a funeral procession, a fashion show or perhaps a combination of all these? A colorful parade of mysterious creatures wander through a fictitious northern landscape carrying unique crafted objects. Who are they and where are they going?

Next Level Craft is not your typical handicraft exhibition – it has its own soundtrack and music video. The renowned young Swedish artist Aia Jüdes has created a playful and different tale of craft, mixing voguing (a modern dance style characterized by perfect, stylized hand and arm movements, acrobatic poses and flamboyant fashion), street art, high fashion, pop culture and electronic music with everything from wool embroidery, weaving and felting to root binding, wood turning and birch bark braiding.

It was a surreal experience, a room filled with bizarre objects and an ever-changing lightshow. Adding to the strangeness was a trippy video of dancing Swedes. So much weirdness for InstagramDC to photograph, as the lights cycled from red to blue.

Best of all, photography was encouraged! It’s a very forward-thinking embassy for hosting this strange exhibit and for reaching out to local photographers to cover it. We had a blast taking pictures of these unique crafts and posing for photos in the weird lighting.

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Ever feel like you're being watched? #igdc #georgetown #emptyhos #nextlevelcraft

That was cool. But getting up on the roof was even cooler.

There was an amazing view of Rosslyn and the Kennedy Center, from a vantage point that few get to see. It was sleeting but no way was I going to miss this experience.

A little snow wasn't going to keep me from the roof of the House of Sweden during the #igdc meetup. That's the Potomac River and Rosslyn in the background.

Kennedy Center

As a writer, it’s inspiring to see creative work. It’s source material for me. I wrote Murder on U Street, my novel about homicide in DC’s art scene, after having similar experiences. So don’t be surprised if a trippy Swedish art exhibit shows up in a future book 😉

 

Photos Beyond the Monuments: Ten Years of Exposed

Congrats to Exposed DC, which recently marked ten years of celebrating photography in Washington, DC. They do so with an annual photo contest that highlights a city that most tourists never get to see – the DC beyond the monuments.

I was fortunate to be in the very first show back in 2006 with my photo “Rose Runs.” It’s the daughter of a friend of mine, captured as she was walking past a graffiti-covered wall in Stead Park near Dupont Circle. The park has since been cleaned up but I liked the contrast between the innocence of youth and the grit of the city.

Rose runs

The advent of digital cameras had drawn me into photography. I took “Rose Runs” with a Canon Digital Rebel, the first of its kind, costing more than $1000. Little did I know how much photography would change in the coming years.

That first show was in a series of rooms above The Passenger, near the Convention Center. The whole building would eventually be redeveloped but, at the time, it lingered on as a bit of old, rough DC. I missed opening night but came by later with some friends – including Rose herself!

me and Rose

What was great about Exposed (then known as DCist Exposed, and tied to the DCist blog) is that it introduced me to a community of digital photogs like myself, including Samer Farha, Jim Darling, Heather Goss, Jen Wade, James Calder, Pablo Raw and other great folks. I never thought photography could be social – until Exposed.

I love good beer. I love photography. I love meeting creative types. So every year, I went to Exposed, even if I wasn’t in the contest. The show moved around the corner and for several years was at Long View Gallery, where it attracted crowds that snaked down the block. And I began taking iPhone photos, with my iPhone 4.

DCist Exposed crowd scene

This is why I am hungover #exposeddc2014 #latergram

Jim Darling

Audience at Exposed DC

DCist Exposed mag

In 2012, my photo of the Washington Monument being inspected for earthquake damage made the show. I had moved up to a Canon Rebel T2i, a faster and more capable camera than the original Rebel.

media storm

I had developed a fondness for black and white. And perhaps a tendency to get carried away with filters in Snapseed. For my interest in DSLRs was being overtaken by mobile photography, like most people. The iPhone had made photography easy, fast and social. Also, I won the Fotoweek Mobile Photography Competition in 2011, which opened my eyes to the value of iPhoneography.

Opening night at the DCist Exposed show

The Exposed parties continued, drawing a huge crowd with delicious beers and treats in 2013, including DC-themed cookies. Exposed became a wonderful blur of drinking and talking photography.

Crowd at DCist Exposed

DCist Exposed cookies

Downstairs at Exposed with @mrdarling

In 2016, Exposed was at the historic Carnegie Library in DC, one of my favorite buildings in the city. I was glad to know so many people in the show, including Angela Napili, Holly Garner, Keith Lane, Noe Todorovich, Bridget Murray Law and Victoria Pickering. I didn’t even bring my Canon Rebel but instead just pocketed my iPhone 6 – it’s good enough. The triumph of mobile photography is almost complete.

Exposed DC

me, Angela, Albert

Late bird misses out on the Exposed cake

Who knew @shutterhugdc spoke such good French? Here he is being interviewed by a French broadcaster about the Exposed show.

checking out the photos

Exposed DC has demonstrated that Washington is more than just monuments, revealing the real place beyond the iconic landmarks, as well as building a community of photographers. So, here’s to ten years of Exposed – and ten years more!

Defeat Writer’s Block the WordPress Way

WordPress pencilsIf you’re a writer, that first blank page can be daunting. The blinking cursor awaits. What do you have to say? Do you really have what it takes to write a whole book?

Yet, the same writer, when put in front of a friendly blog interface, will immediately start writing. After all, it’s just a blog. It’s not serious. Blogs are for cat photos, cappuccino comparisons and lists of your favorite films.

Writers and readers love blogs because they are:

Ephemeral. It’s not permanent media, imprinted on a page. They exist here and now but could be gone in a year or two.

Timely. Blogs do not have six-month long publishing lead times, like books and magazines. They are about what just happened.

Social. Blogs are social. Feedback is immediate. Content is shared, rated and commented upon.

Bite-sized. You’re not reading Ulysses on a blog. Posts are a few hundred words, designed to be written and read in a sitting.

People who say they cannot write a book will write blog posts. They will write scores of them. They will write so many that, when you add them all up, they’ll have written a book without realizing it.

The solution to writer’s block to tell yourself that you’re not writing. You’re blogging. It’s not serious – it’s just a blog, one that you can revise, change, edit and even delete if you want to. No one even has to see it.

Take the outline you have for that Big Serious Book. Use it as a blueprint for your blog. Take the items on the list and write a blog post for each one of them. Do one a week. Remember, a blog post isn’t final. Think of your post as an exploration of a topic rather than the last word on the subject. A blog post is a chance to try out ideas, conduct research and get feedback from a live audience (if you want).

Dealing with a sensitive subject? You don’t have to make your blog public. Create a blog on WordPress.com and it keep it private. Share it with a few people – or no one. It’s up to you.

More comfortable with email? Did you know that you can literally mail it in? Post to your WordPress blog by email, if that’s more comfortable or convenient. You can also update your blog with your favorite mobile device.

Afraid to hit the “publish” button? WordPress has a solution for that. You don’t have to publish immediately. You can schedule a post to run on the date and time of your choosing. You can write your scathing expose of daycare regulations, leave the country and then have it publish when you’re safely overseas.

Are you more organized than most people? WordPress can accomodate that. Rather than creating posts organized by date, create pages and sub-pages by subject, matching them up with your undoubtedly elaborate outline. Use tags and categories as a kind of index for your document. WordPress is underrated as a tool for organizing text.

Looking for a popular topic to explore? Check out what’s fresh on WordPress to find something to talk about.

Really stumped? WordPress has tool for that. It’s called Plinky. Every day, it provides a new prompt to get you writing, a question to consider like, “What was your favorite toy as a kid?”

The key to overcoming writer’s block is to tell yourself that you’re not writing. You’re blogging. It’s not serious. It’s just a blog. And with the help of the friendly WordPress blog interface and a few simple tools, you can defeat writer’s block.

Ten Films from Ten Years of DC Shorts

In the audience for DC Shorts at the Navy Memorial #dcshorts

The DC Shorts Film Festival has a special holiday gift for cinephiles everywhere – ten years worth of short films from the festival are now online and free to view. Watch more than 330 films from the comfort of your laptop. It’s an incredibly diverse range of short films, from every genre, and from all over the world, with one thing in common: they’re all just a few minutes long.

I’ve seen a lot of them. Here are my favs:

  1. The Bullfighter and the Bull – Just four minutes long, this Spanish comedy is a great introduction to DC Shorts.
  2. Everything is Incredible – One of the best short documentaries I’ve ever seen, it’s like a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel come to life.
  3. First Date – Not for the squeamish, this story of romance and gastric distress won the festival’s First-Time Director Award.
  4. Friend Request Pending – Judi Dench demonstrates that you’re never too old to get anxious about Facebook.
  5. Harry Grows Up – Imagine a Woody Allen film, but with toddlers.
  6. Man with a Bolex Movie Camera – I’m biased, because this is done by AU grads, but it’s a funny and sexy short.
  7. Mile High Pie – This food doc is a country-fried slice of charm.
  8. Schrodinger’s Box – No cats were harmed in making this sci-fi short. I think.
  9. The Leeward Tide – This is just a gorgeous film. After watching this at E Street during the festival, I had a chance to talk to filmmakers Brett Eichenberger andJill Remensnyder in front of the theater. It was one of those moments that can only occur at a film festival. This Portland couple went on to make the feature Light of Mine, another dreamily beautiful film.
  10. The Man in 813 – Think you need a big crew and expensive gear to make a movie? This creepy short was made over a weekend on a DSLR.

These are just a sample of the delights waiting for you in the DC Shorts film archive. Comedy, drama, documentary, experimental, thriller, animation – you’ll find them all online and for free. They’re short slices of some of the best cinema from around the world.