Mark Roberts, Klingons and muted mauve

This week, we meet Mark Roberts. Mark is a photographer, musician, and a teacher of Web design and multimedia at Youngstown State. And unlike the famed British streaker who shares his name, our Mark runs with his clothes on.

And he runs much better.

Mark chronicles all his activities -- writing, video, music, running -- in various sections of his Web site. But it is his blog Errata that brings us here today.

I'm interviewing Mark as part of the Great Interview Experiment, put in action by Neil Kramer, purveyor of the funny blog Citizen of the Month. Neil's premise is that everyone is someone. And even those bloggers who only get a couple comments (and most of them from their wife) have a story and deserve some attention. So each blogger that signs up to be interviewed, then interviews the next person on the list. If you blog and haven't gotten involved, head over and sign up.

Mark's blog deals mostly with photography,where's he tackled everything from his disappointment with the new book
Along These Rivers, which contains a couple of his photos, and Pantone's shocking selection of "blue iris" as the color of the year. He's got a dry sense of humor that comes across well in print.

I've truly enjoyed thi
s opportunity to interview and write about him, especially since it has since led to a challenge from our Mark Roberts to the one on the other side of the pond.

"If I were as flabby and out of shape as him, I'd be embarrassed to be seen with my clothes on," Mark said. "I hereby challenge the other Mark Roberts to a 10K. He can run naked if he wants. I'll kick his butt!"

Q: How would you describe your photography work?
I look for shapes, textures and light, both in nature and in architecture. I prefer nature photography, but obviously can't get out into the wilderness as often as I would like. I also feel strongly that a photograph should speak for itself. When I go to photo exhibits, I deliberately don't read any accompanying test or captions with the photos. You'd be amazed how many award-winning photographs just don't hold up without external material to support them.

Q: Who is your favorite photographer?
Galen Rowell. For his photographs, themselves, for his adventurousness and athleticism and his environmentalist outlook.

Q: What is the biggest controversy in photography right now?
Hmm. That probably depends on which photographic circles you travel in. For those who grew up with film, it's probably anxiety over the trustworthiness of photographs now that it's so easy to modify them with software tools like Photoshop.

My view is that this is a ridiculous thing to worry about. Before photography was invented, humans looked at man-made images, knowing they could be total fabrications, born only of the artist's imagination. Then came photography and the notion that mechanically generated image could be an objective representation of "truth." Now comes digital imagery and we're back to the first condition. Big deal. The era of the objective, trustworthy image lasted less than 200 years, an eyeblink in the history of the human race. We survived quite well before this notion came into being and we'll survive just fine now that it's gone again.

Q: All right, so it's your choice and your choice alone. What should be the color of the year?

Muted Mauve. I once helped a friend build a recording studio in Rochester, NY. We painted the control room a color called Muted Mauve. I suggested it must be 20 dB quieter than standard Mauve.

Q: Tell me how you cam to be involved in Along These Rivers? And what's your concern about how the book is be
ing marketed?
A: I stopped in the Silver Eye Gallery here in Pittsburgh one day last summer and noticed a flyer they had there. They were asking for black and white photos book to be published for Pittsburgh's 250th birthday. It looked like a credible project, so I submitted two photos and had both accepted.

As it turned out, the publishers were a group of local poets who seem to have viewed it as a little club project for themselves that they were able to get someone else to pay for. They haven't done any promotion of the book and as far as I can tell, they don't intend to. They got someone else to pay for printing a book of their poems and that's all they really wanted. The photographers were treated as mere window dressing service to pad the page count and add some visuals.

Q: Is there a good art scene in
It's a bit weird and fragmented and quite parochial. Difficult to break into, as my experience with the Along These Rivers proved. I'v
e only lived here for 5 years so I don't have the connections available to someone who grew up here.

Q: When did you start your blog? And why?

Which blog? My first blog was about running and was called Junque Miles. It was done just as part of my runner's Web site. I have a photoblog called PESO (Picture Every So Often) which I started to show off photographs that don't fit into any of the themes of any of the galleries on my Web site.

I started Errata partly as a way to quickly throw spontaneous ideas online and partly as a way of learning to work with PHP and MySQL (I teach multimedia and Web Design at Youngstown State University). You see, blogging software is just a semi-automated way of generating Web pages for people who don't know how to write H
TML. If you know how to code Web sites, you don't really need blogging software, although it certainly speeds up the manual process of writing pages, generating the RSS feed and keeping track of an archive! I do all that stuff manually for my PSEO photoblog, and I can tell you it's a lot of work just to create one new entry with nothing more than a single photograph in it!

On the other hand, take the Klingon Sudoku entry (see photo to left) in my Errata blog: From when I thought of the idea to it's being finished and online was an interval of no more than 15 minutes. The vast majority of my writing goes on my Web site in normal pages, but the blog rules when it comes to spontaneous inspiration!

Q: How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it?
A combination of Peter Gabriel and the Moody Blues, sung by Richard Butler (the Psychadelic Furs).

Q: How do you approach songwriting, and how does that differ from your approach to photography?
Photography is quite the opposite of songwriting and it's quite the opposite of most art forms in this regard: With songwriting (or painting or writing), you start with a blank slate and add whatever you want to it, limited only by your imagination. With photography you start with the world and decide what to leave out. You have to isolate parts of it -- "crop" out extraneous elements -- until you are left
with just a small part of it in your viewfinder.

Q: Who is your favorite musical artist?

It's the Beatles. A common answer but a true one. Every time I think I like someone else better I go back to the Beatles and discover new nuances, ideas and things I hadn't noticed before.

Q: This is the Distractions blog, so before I let you go, I need to ask you for your Playlist.

Books -- Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, Shadow of the Silk Road by Colin Thubron, I Am America (and So Can You) by Stephen Colbert, Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman by Richard Feynman. Music -- All kinds of stuff by Jonathan Coulton. Drink -- Black Mocha Stout from the Highland Brewing Company of Ashville, N.C.

Q: And watching?

Nothing. Haven't been to a movie in a couple of months and we don't have a television.

Thanks Mark. Best of luck in all your endeavors.