Drone Pilot at Arcosanti: Guest Post by Cinematographer Andy Bowley

Today’s post was written by cinematographer Andy Bowley.

i can’t remember if we drank a lot of beer that night.

but i do remember parting ways with david, after a nice meal on the upper west side of new york, saying yes! drone! arcosanti!

or something like that.

a few days later, he wrote to let me know he really wanted to do it.


i had a few weeks to prepare, so i bought a syma x1 quadcopter (about $35) and flew it all around my apartment.  my tweedy green chair became landing pad #1,  my other tweedy green chair became landing pad #2, and a pillow on the leather couch became landing pad #3.

lil uav, aka Mr. Droney

i practiced everyday i could and crashed and crashed and crashed.  and after a couple of weeks, found i could wing the little thing around — landing and taking off from pads 1-3 in nimble succession.  i knew i was ready for arcosanti when i could actually fly without sticking my tongue out of my mouth.

days later, i found myself standing in front of a whirring DJI phantom in the arizona desert. and now, the playground was vast.
instead of gliding from pillow to pillow, i was doing 1500′ runs thru canyons, over cliffs, and over top of paolo soleri’s glorious creation.

i couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.  which meant i pretty much kept my tongue in my mouth too.

 Andy may have been able to keep his tongue in his mouth at Arcosanti, but I was unable to lift my jaw off the floor after seeing the footage. Here’s one of the strafing shots he took of Arcosanti.
Andy Bowley is a NYC-based cinematographer whose projects have won many national Emmys and one Peabody. He can be found here and there on this blog. Other posts by this generous man:

E-mail Andy: a b o w l e y at  e a r t h l i n k d o t n e t

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What’s A Life’s Work about? It’s a documentary about people engaged in projects they won’t see completed in their lifetimes. You can find out more on this page.

We recently ran a crowdfunding campaign and raised enough to pay an animator and license half of the archival footage the film requires. We need just a bit more to pay for licensing the other half of the archival footage, sound mixing, color correction, E&O insurance and a bunch of smaller things. When that’s done, the film is done! It’s really very VERY close!

So here’s how you can help get this film out to the world. It’s very simple: click the button…

Donate Now!

… and enter the amount you want to contribute (as little as $5, as much as $50,000) and the other specifics. That’s it. No login or registration required. Your contribution does not line my pocket; because the film is fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, all money given this way is overseen by them and is guaranteed to go toward the completion of this film. Being fiscally sponsored also means that your contribution is tax-deductible. So why not do it? The amount doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you’re helping to bring a work of art into the world. And that, I think, is really exciting!

Questions? Email me at d a v i d ( aT } b l o o d o r a n g e f i l m s {d o t] c o m[/color-box]

Tourist Eyes – Jeff Stein, AIA

I recently emailed an update on A Life’s Work to Jeff Stein, AIA, president of the Cosanti Foundation.

Part of his reply was the following —

PS: I gave a presentation at a recent AIA/American Institute of Architects convention in Santa Fe. I rode my motorcycle there Thursday, talk and panel discussion Friday and Saturday, back to Arcosanti on Sunday. On the return trip I dodged storms to the south until in the late afternoon I turned off Interstate 17 onto the Arcosanti road, and here was the view: a double rainbow.

and this image —

Photo by Jeff Stein
Photo by Jeff Stein, AIA


Thanks for sharing, Jeff, and allowing me to post it here. Hope to see you in April.

Related: Six Questions for Jeff Stein

The Ultimate Selfie: NASA’s Golden Record 2.0 by Jessica Roth

This post originally appeared on Curio Cabin, Jessica Roth’s wonderful blog. (Do yourself a favor and subscribe to it.) Thanks, Jessica, for generously allowing me to cross-post it here. 

The Universe Is Listening

In the late 70′s, NASA launched the first golden records into deep space. Each record was intended as a cosmic message in a bottle, set adrift in hopes that somewhere, sometime, a sentient alien lifeform would pluck it from the starry sands, play it back, and hear our distant voices echoing through the light years.

Left, a golden record (© Nasa/National Geographic Society/Corbis). Right, the other side of the golden record shows directions to play it. Identical records carrying the story of Earth were sent into deep space on Voyager 1 and 2. (NASA)
Left, a golden record (© Nasa/National Geographic Society/Corbis). Right, the other side of the golden record shows directions to play it. Identical records carrying the story of Earth were sent into deep space on Voyager 1 and 2. (NASA)

The man behind the first attempt to transmit an account of life on Earth, Jon Lomberg, is also the primary advocate for the Golden Record 2.0. What makes this endeavor different from the first is the collaborative spirit driving the compilation of the record. This time, Lomberg and NASA want to know: what does life on Earth mean to you?

Yes, you.

What Do You Have to Say?

Beginning in August, you will have the opportunity to contribute content to the Golden Record 2.0. Naturally, not everything will make the cut, but this iteration of the Golden Record project promises to share a much more intricate and representative narrative than the first. Once complete, it will be uploaded to the New Horizons probe and sent hurtling through the far reaches of our galaxy and beyond.
So, what do you have to say about life on Earth? Leave your response in the comments below and sign up to participate in the Golden Record 2.0 project by visiting the One Earth: New Horizons Message website.

Visit NASA online to learn more about the original Golden Record.

More Golden Record stuff on this blog here and here.

Jessica has contributed a couple of posts for A Life’s Work. Make sure to check these out.

Arcosanti and the Writing Process

An Arcosanti Slideshow


Process: A Life’s Work and the Canon 5D by Guest Blogger Andy Bowley

Andy Bowley 5D

Today’s post was written by cinematographer Andy Bowley and originally published in June 2010. I’m putting up this “encore post” because shooting video with the Canon 5D has recently come up several times at my day job. That, plus I just like this post and Andy is an awesome writer.

I know. You’ve been wondering after reading this blog: what’s Licata really like to work with in the field? Sure, he seems measured and nice and all when he’s tapping away in his socks, all warm and cozy in his New York apartment–but what’s he like in the trenches? Is he a screamer?

Well, no–the opposite, actually. He’s a wonderful collaborator. But more importantly for my sake, he is well in touch with his inner geek.

Example: When he invited me to shoot the work being done by the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project in Waco, I suggested we do some macro work with extension tubes and obscure Ukrainian/East German lenses to get close-up shots of needles and grooves.

His initial response? “Ooooh”

I told him it would be tweaky and slow working with these lenses, which would sometimes allow us just a millimeter or two of effective focal range — and that we’d have to mount them to a Canon 5D DSLR and go through a not-yet-tested workflow.

His response? “Great. If you can think of more possibilities, bring ‘em on”

Just what I hoped hear. A director with patience. But more importantly, another geek who understood. I was excited. But time was short.

I began to test my macro set-up the next day. I was training for a trail race at the time, running every morning along the paths that cut through a wooded section of Central Park. Along the way I found a pinecone–perfect for the test–and maybe useful for A Life’ s Work.

My Manhattan pinecone had lots of interesting shapes and exuded its own woodsy charisma, but I needed to make it move for the camera. Not having enough time to construct a motorized turntable, I biked to the hardware store, bought a lazy Susan, plunked it under a metal Ikea filing box (the heaviest thing with a flat surface I could find in my apartment,) mounted my Zeiss Jena 80mm lens on an extension tube and tilt adapter, and shot some test footage with the Canon 5D.

The results?

[vimeo width=”500″ height=”300″]http://vimeo.com/12648502[/vimeo]

I liked what the lenses did that day – but the lazy Susan filing box turntable system was less than optimal. No matter. Much of the macro stuff I hoped to shoot in Waco would be moving–records spinning, needles dropping–and if all else failed I could use my new Kessler pocket dolly to make the moves.

That night, I somehow managed to pack all the gear (lights, grip gear, tripod and dolly) into two checked bags. I was leaving for Waco early the next morning.

Tune in next week for Here’s Andy’s post about the shoot and some beautiful HD footage. If you want to read Andy’s tech notes about the pinecone test, click here.


Andy Bowley is a NYC-based cinematographer whose projects have won many national Emmys and one Peabody, but he considers the coolest thing on his mantle to be an old Pentacon six medium format camera, which now sits next to his beloved Manhattan pinecone. He has found a lot of other things while running through wooded sections of Central Park, but doesn’t want to talk about it.

E-mail Andy: a b o w l e y at  e a r t h l i n k d o t n e t


“Her Life’s Work” – By Kate Hill Cantrill, Guest Blogger

Kate Hill Cantrill - Walk Back from Monkey School
Walk Back from Monkey School by Kate Hill Cantrill, available now!

I’m reposting Kate Hill Cantrill’s guest stint because her short story collection, Walk Back from Monkey School,  is NOW AVAILABLE, and that’s how we treat our guest bloggers here at A Life’s Work headquarters.

Kate Hill Cantrill’s writing has appeared in literary publications including Story Quarterly,Salt Hill, The Believer, Blackbird, Mississippi Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Swink, and others. She has been awarded fellowships from the Corporation of Yaddo, the Jentel Artists Residency (where we met), the Virginia Center for Creative Arts (where we spent time together), and the James A. Michener Fund. She has taught fiction writing at The University of the Arts, The University of Texas, and the Sackett Street Workshop. She lives in Brooklyn where she curates the Rabbit Tales Reading and Performance Series and is completing a novel. 

I want to write this about my reconnecting with my mother. I can’t write it. There are drums thumping in my backyard and a bum singing in my front; I love both on some occasions, but not all occasions. As hard as this is, as frustrating as this is, this is my life’s work, and I need to find a way to make it happen.

My mother is a brilliant sculptor. She once went depressively insane — full bodied and real — and I stayed with her for my first year after college to keep her from both blowing up herself and blowing up the block on which she lived—Brownstones in Philly tend to link arm and arm and what happens to one might happen to all—just ask Osage Avenue. The Philadelphia Fires. Just Google it.

I told her to leave — not just leave the foot of my bed at 3am when the 3am Crazies happened upon her, but just to leave. I told her to stop crying, to stop threatening death and to allow me to become my own person. She listened (or perhaps she was simply called) and flew to Scotland to an environmental and spiritual community to become at first a maintenance person (and then, I think, a student, a clown, and then the cook) for—give or take—five years.)

For the sake of brevity I will just say this: I mourned my mother and felt full body and soul that I didn’t have one anymore — a mother that is. It felt easier than one might think since she had not been there for real for many years before that. She had always had my awe and admiration, but she had not always been there to be my mother.

Why do I say this here? I know why I say this here. My mother — for the duration of her motherhood — has needed to pursue her Life’s Work. And when I write need, I mean need.

Soleri Bronze Bells by Niall David Photography

She returned to the states to care for her own mother in her final days and wanted to drive with me across country where I was to teach for the summer — I won’t even get into the details of it even though I thought at first that these details were the purpose of this essay, because we stopped at Arcosanti and smelled the soil, rang the bells — she just knew that after five years we needed to re-connect. We were both broke — we made rice and beans to have tacos on the way. We feared and therefore avoided the “gators” (the busted-blown truck tires) on the road the best we could. We listened to Moby and Johnny Cash. We slowed down when mean truck drivers got up in our rear. “It’s really great becoming a graying old lady,” she said. “I get away with this kind of thing.”

She became my friend, maybe again, maybe for the first time for real, I don’t know. All I truly know is that I had my mother back, and she had just returned from 5 years of pageantry, puppetry, cooking, and healing. And when she came back she took hold of the carving tools, the patinas, the C-grip clamps, and she went again to pursue — but closer to me this time — her Life’s Work. And I felt holy-hell proud of her for it, and I learned from it, too, once again.

Guest Blogger Jessica Roth: Arcosanti and the Writing Process

[I met today’s guest blogger, Jessica Roth, at the Playa Artist Residency. While there I discovered that she had spent some time at Arcosanti, not as one of the Arcosanti “workshoppers,” but as a different kind of workshopper. I was eager to have her contribute to the blog because of this experience, but she was unsure what to write about. The stars lined up when the Liar’s League of London… well, I’ll let her tell it.]

“Mesquite”: One story’s journey from an Arizona mesa to a London pub

Earlier this month, the Liar’s League of London performed a short story of mine, “Mesquite.” It is always an honor to share my work and a thrill to know that somebody enjoyed a piece well enough to publish it.  But there is something bittersweet about seeing my words fixed on a page, too.  Publication marks a new phase in the life of a piece of writing, where dynamism and evolution are replaced by a certain inertia, or maybe an equilibrium.  The feeling this brings is what I imagine a mild case of empty nest syndrome might be like.  Because that is what I have been feeling lately, I have been thinking a lot about “Mesquite,” where it came from, and how it made its way across the pond.

Mesa across from Arcosanti
Photo by Wolfgang Held

I wrote the first sloppy pages that would someday become “Mesquite” during an especially mild January on the Mogollon Rim. I was a student at Prescott College, enrolled in a month-long creative writing workshop, and panicked because, already a third of the way into the course, I could not write. I told the professor about the long, futile hours spent at my desk and the crumpled pages that had begun to crowd my wastebasket. She suggested that I take a day off. Get outside. Clear my head. Try again. One aim of the workshop was to mimic the experience of a writer’s retreat, so for the duration of the course my classmates and I lived at Arcosanti. In the high desert of central Arizona, Arcosanti is architect Paolo Soleri’s “urban laboratory,” where his goal is to achieve an intersection of architecture and ecology that offers a sustainable alternative to the sprawling model of modern cities. Situated on a mesa beside the Agua Fria River, silt-cast concrete buildings are set against a dynamic, light-and-shadow landscape. It is beautiful, and sometimes eerie.

I took my professor’s advice and went walking. Down to the river lined with mesquite trees, whose winter-bare branches overhung a lush carpet of the greenest grass I had ever seen. Up the face of a basalt cliff to a cave where the histories of long-extinguished fires were written in soot across the walls. Towards the end of the day, I found myself on top of a mesa that rose on the far side of the scrub-choked flat that spread out below the studios. I sat on a ledge where I could watch the last light color the sky above Arcosanti. It was there that I pulled pen and paper from my backpack and felt my writer’s block begin to crumble.

“Mesquite” started as a stream of consciousness free-write. The story seemed to bubble up out of the ground, out of that place. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that “Mesquite” is rooted firmly in the landscape I encountered at Arcosanti. It is a character, in my mind, just as much as the narrator. I am transported back to that mesa every time I reread “Mesquite.” Had I not been exactly there, exactly then; had I not wandered the grounds and let the landscape sink in past my skin; had I not been falling for one of my classmates—a man whose demeanor rather resembled that of Tyler, the object of my narrator’s affection—I’d have never written that particular story.

“Mesquite” evolved differently from other pieces I had written up until that point. It developed slowly. It made me wait. Four years took place between first draft and published draft, with countless other drafts in between. It has had three separate titles and at least that many beginnings and endings.  “Mesquite” was the first piece to sell me on the process of long revision, of laying my hands on something over and over again. It demanded that I meet my work on its own time and commit to a larger process. I resisted this at first, because I am nothing if not stubborn and, at times, a little impatient. But I have since found tremendous value in this way of working. It has encouraged me to explore longer forms (including a novel-in-progress that, at the rate it’s going, I might finish before I retire from this earth), and it has allowed me to go deeper into the stories and essays that I write. These have been important lessons, and I hope that they translate into a more meaningful experience for the folks who read my work.

You can watch the performance and read “Mesquite” here.

Jessica Roth writes stories that should be poems and poems that should be stories, instead of working on her first novel. Her words have appeared in Alligator Juniper and CT Review
Would you like to be a guest blogger? Drop me a line and let’s make it happen.

Death Be Not Enervating

[The instant I finished reading this post by Duane Kelly on his blog, Lapis Loquens, I emailed him to see if he’d let me post it here. He graciously agreed. I related to his post because A Life’s Work would not have come about were it not for death. Some people think that’s morbid. I’m not one of them, though.]

I often think about death. Some reasons are my father’s early death, my daily writing work and my agnostic uncertainty about the hereafter. I also suspect that it’s just the warp of my basic personality to keep mortality mounted on a prominent easel.

My hunch is that most people view most people who dwell on death as suffering from sapped ambition and pleasure, shuffling through their dank days despondent and morose. Not the best company at a dinner party.

But rarely is that the effect on me. This musing was prompted by a painting I recently stumbled on. Created in 1872 by Arnold Böcklin, a Swiss artist, it is titled “Self-Portrait with Death.”

The colors are dark, at least in reproduction, so I’ll briefly describe the work. Böcklin is showing himself at work as a painter. (It’s curious that most self-portraits of painters don’t depict themselves actually painting.) He holds a palette in his left hand and a brush in the right as he studies the canvas (positioned where we the viewer are). However his attention is divided. Besides seeing the canvas he listens to music coming from somewhere over his left shoulder. The musician is Death, who instead of shoving the artist into despair or dragging him off to another world, concentrates on playing a violin. The music is not unpleasant and Bocklin cocks an ear toward it.

Böcklin has painted Death as artistic inspiration and a spur to work. This is commonly my internal experience of reflecting on death, dying, mortality, the all too quick passing of time. I don’t know anything about this 19th century Swiss painter but when I saw this painting I felt an immediate affinity.

Duane is a playwright, short story writer, and blogger based in Seattle.

SETIcon II: Guest Blogger Danielle Futselaar Takes Us Inside

(Last week guest blogger Danielle Futselaar told us about how she came to be the graphic designer for the SETI Institute’s SETIcon II. I’m delighted that she took the time to write about her experience at the conference and share some photos. Take it away, Danielle!) 

 I’m completely exhausted! All the impressions, and meeting all those great people overwhelming me with attention, but let me start at the beginning.

Greetings from SETI

Friday evening I stumbled in at the Hyatt Hotel after a BBQ with friends, so I was a tad late for the opening party. After I had settled into my room, I went down to the lobby where I met so, so many people from the SETI Institute; Karen Randall, Edna DeVore, Franck Marchis (finally 🙂 ), and many, many more. And seeing my work 8000 km away from home and meeting these great people made it real and worthwhile. Everything I had been working for, for those many months finally had meaning and purpose; this had been the moment I had been working so hard for.

SETIcon II: THE Event

Saturday and Sunday were incredible days. I mean, there was so much going on. I could have sat in the lobby for hours, watching the diverse group of people walk by, a melting pot of attendees, astronomers, scientists, writers, actors, etc., that alone was such a joy for me. But listening to the panels (some were so crowded that people had to stand in the hallway) was fun and very intellectually stimulating.

The Gala Dinner honoring Jill Tarter was amazing and I was speechless as I watched her receive the drawing the SETI Institute asked me make. She’s a very sweet and humane woman, someone truly worthy of admiration. Another highlight was the interview Andrew Fraknoi conducted with Frank Drake during Sunday’s lunch.

Personally, all of my illustrations sold in the auction and you can imagine how happy that made me. But when it came time for my first-ever panel discussion, about “Artists Imagining Exoplanets: Getting it Right” (in English!! I’m Dutch), I was brain-melting and armpit-gushing nervous! Somehow I managed to get through it, though I’m not sure how. Afterwards, I received many thanks for all the work I had done. It all was overwhelming and beautiful.

How About Some Photos?

Tuesday morning I joined the SETIcon II committee for a debriefing about the conference. We discussed the pros and cons, and this is what I believe: this was only the second SETIcon, but this is a growing event. The SETI Institute proves itself again and again as pioneers of bringing science to the public, and here’s another instance of that. This event will continue to grow and become more extraordinary. If you’re at all interested in astronomy or this big question—is there life somewhere in the universe besides earth–I really encourage you to attend the next SETIcon, because one really must EXPERIENCE it, it’s pretty mindblowing!


I am grateful that I could be a part of this whole experience, and I hope I can continue my association with the SETI Institute, because I made some really great new friends and met some really nice people. But no matter what happens next, this is a memory I will take with me for the rest of my life.



Here’s a recent Facebook status I lifted with Danielle’s permission

OK, I am going to have to tell this… This morning I was at the “aftermath” SETIcon II meeting at the SETI Institute. When I said my goodbye at the end of the meeting (being the second after Seth to leave the meeting) I got applause from all of the committee… Of course I hope that was not for leaving the meeting (joke 😉 ), but for what I have done for them… I left with pride and hope to keep on being involved, one way or another….

(Danielle Futselaar is a graphic designer and illustrator and owner of ArtSource Graphic Design. She has been — for a year now — the volunteer graphic designer for the SETI Institute. She lives in Arnhem, Netherlands.)









Open Call for Guest Bloggers!

Share and be heard!

Would you like to contribute to the A Life’s Work blog? Maybe write something about your life’s work? Or contribute some photos? Or conduct an interview with someone you think is doing something they won’t finish in his or her lifetime. Or maybe you have a haiku, sonnet, or cinquain (or the form of your choice) on the theme you’d like to share, or a drawing or painting or a song? Maybe you visited Arcosanti, or the Allen Telescope Array, or an old growth forest? Maybe you attended an amazing gospel concert? Perhaps you took some photos  of Sagrada Familia  or shot video of your friend walking across a vine bridge? Maybe it’s just an impression you’d like to share when you were in a cathedral or the desert or in a hot air balloon. Maybe a quote. Why not share it?

Just deal with the blog’s themes: legacy, continuity, work one devotes one’s life to, mentorship, stewardship, a sense of connection to something larger than yourself. It’s pretty broad. I want to see what you have to say about these things and I want to publish it here on this blog!  Have an idea but don’t know how to proceed? Share it with me and maybe I can help you out.

I ‘ll pay you in an origami animal and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing your work is online for as long as online exists. I’ll link to your website, blog, Tumblr, etc., and you know I’ll promote the heck out of  it.

Just leave me a comment or shoot me an email and we’ll make it happen. I look forward to seeing what you got. And please feel free to spread the word.

d a v i d [ a t ] b l o o d o r a n g e f i l m  s { d o  t } c  o  m

Here are some posts by a few of the guest bloggers.

The Man Who Planted Trees by Jim Robbins (words)

Against the ruin of the world, there is only one defense: the creative act,” by Robert Darden (words)

Mr. Pete’s Tree by Jon Bittman (words and photos)

Arcosanti – City on the Edge of Forever by Nathan Koren (words and photos)

Why Would a 21 Year Old Be Interested in A Life’s Work? Haroon Butt (words)

Sunset and Sunrise in Arcosanti, AZ: 24 Hours Amidst a Sea of Arcology, photos and essay by Niall David (words and photos)

Hardest/Easiest Work Environments So Far by Andy Bowley (words and photos)

The Meaning of Life by Jane Waggoner Deschner (quote and art)

Bob Marovich’s Top Ten All Time Gospel Recordings (list)


The Man Who Planted Trees – Guest Blogger Jim Robbins

I met Jim Robbins when I followed David Milarch around a grove of Redwoods in Northern California in the fall of 2007. It was a tense shoot (you can read about it here), and Jim’s cool presence did a lot to settle my nerves. We’ve kept in touch, and when he comes to NYC, we try to catch up in person. I asked if he’d write a few words about his recent book, The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet, for the humble A Life’s Work blog. He graciously agreed. Thanks, Jim.

Screenshot of writer Jim Robbins taking a photograph at Roy’s Redwoods.

In 2007 I visited Roy’s Redwoods, a park in Marin County, California with David Milarch and David Licata. I was writing an article for the New York Times on Milarch, the founder of the Champion Tree Project, and his efforts to clone some big honking redwoods. The project was struggling, things seemed a long way from the goal of cloning the big, red trees and growing hundreds of copies. But five years later seems like an eternity. After several years of looking into the role of trees in the world I realized how precious little we know about them. Based on the few things we do know, I realized they are vital to life on the planet. In the meantime, Milarch raised millions from an angel investor to help realize his goal, and I not only wrote an article about Milarch, I wrote a book, The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet, which comes out this week.

You can order the book on Amazon. I’m reading it now (the perks of being a friend and a blogger, you get stuff early!) and I can tell you it’s worth picking up. And not just because I’m mentioned on page 90.

And if you’re eagle-eyed, you can spot the camera-totting, camera-shy Robbins in the Redwoods section below. Don’t blink or you’ll miss him.