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Archive for the ‘Rambling’ Category

The Amusing Skies…

Nov 7

In Rambling at 10:53am

Onboard a Delta jet, bound for Partnercon in San Diego on behalf of my buds at Adorama. Should be a lot of fun, though I am usually responsible for bringing bad weather to that perennially balmy city. I think they had five overcast days last year, and I was there for all of them.

I fly a lot. And there’s been some doozies this year, for sure. I was recently on a flight that was really, pretty much, Darwin’s waiting room with wings. We were in a plane stuffed to the rafters, all of us, including me, feeling a day late and a dollar short.

It’s always entertaining (if you have a  broad definition of entertainment) to be right next to the bathrooms on long flights. I try to use the loo right away, before it’s gets to looking and smelling like a recently flooded basement. Then, being an inveterate people watcher, I just settle in and regard the traffic.

On a recent flight, a lady came up and stood in front of me—right in front of me—waiting her turn. Now she had a posterior that should have been ticketed all on its’ own, in my opinion. Lordie, this was a work of art, years in the making. Broad, expansive and undulating, it was a bit like the Great Plains (which we were at that moment flying over) stuffed into a pair of sturdy jeans.

The way this particular plane was configured, I was in the emergency exit aisle seat, with no seats in front of me, just the wall to the bathroom. In deference to aisle traffic, she understandably kind of squeezed in towards my seat, to let people pass by. I all of a sudden found myself in close orbit with a very large moon. My eyes grew wide. My beloved wife Annie, sitting across the aisle, looked at me with concern, knowing I have tendency to be improvisational, being a photographer.

Then—she started to exercise. Yep. Right there in front of me. One legged knee bends, stretches, waist bends, all done in a fairly slow rhythmic fashion. It was hypnotic, really, sort of like watching a very large pendulum. Up, down, right, left. My face started to follow it. Up, down, right, left.

At this point, Annie’s left eyebrow, which I have described in the past as being attached to a steam driven catapult, is fairly dancing off the bottoms of the overhead bins, and her expression has gone from mild consternation to outright alarm. Her eyes were alive with messages, the unspoken language of marriage, and she reached across with an US magazine featuring Kim somebody or other in an effort to divert her nut job of a mate from doing something irretrievably stupid, just for the sheer giggle of it.

Thankfully, the bathroom vacated and the lady in question disappeared within. I was thankful at that moment I don’t have x-ray vision.

It was great theater, though, and it wasn’t over. A bit later, a lady with enormous, spiked high heels went to use the facilities, and she came out with, oh, about 15 or so inches of toilet paper attached to one of those heels. Oblivious, she trooped up the aisle, with this totem of her recent activities trailing behind her, a bit like the string of cans attached to the rear bumper of the newlywed’s car.

Seems all of my seatmates of late have been sort of large and grumpy as well, which hasn’t been fun. One gentleman, who should have purchased about 30% of my seat, pulled out his Ipad and began to play high speed poker right away when we hit 10,000 feet. He held it in his left hand, and furiously punched and pulled cards with his right index finger. Unfortunately, his right elbow was also connected to that index finger.

Now, I enjoy a massage as much as the next person, but having my ribs tattooed by somebody’s poker playing elbow doesn’t classify as pleasurable. I shifted as far as I could to the right of my seat, but after a couple hours of this I finally took my laptop, put it on my knees and raised my tray table upright in the defensive position, forming a wall between his seat and mine.

Being both male, it got real mature, real fast. We kept eyeballing each other over my impromptu castle battlement like a pair of five year olds having a turf war in the playground. I swear if I had some of my old plastic soldiers I would have lined them up on the armrest and started making machine gun noises.

It’s been a little nutty up there lately. More tk…

China Update

Sep 19

In In The Field, Rambling at 6:28pm

Have, as always, received a warm and gracious welcome from everyone I’ve met here in Beijing. The organizers of this project have put together a wonderful week for the photogs. In the field,  ups and downs, as always. Yesterday I climbed many, many hundreds of steps to get to this Buddha, carved into a hillside outside of Beijing. Having been shut down at other temples on the grounds, I was prepared to climb all that way and not get a frame. I tried to forestall that programming my D3S into “turbo” mode (a little known firmware adaptation….Joe make joke….)  got my EV set, and knelt down. I had 20 frames off before anybody could say, “Hey numnuts tourist!” But the lady in charge of this temple was disinterested, and went back to her comic book. So, it was just me and the big guy, and I kept shooting.

Long day in the field. There was a PR lady with us, who I guess was pretty effective, ’cause we didn’t have to pay to get into the temple park, but man, she wouldn’t shut up. Chinese is a beautifully expressive language, but when someone is that vehement, in close proximity burst mode, all day, their vocal cords thrumming like the engine on a Formula One car, man it gets tiring. It was like having my camera to my eye and a woodpecker attached to my temple.

But the big guy was kindly and patient with me, there in all his goldness. He was also, blessedly, silent. I thanked him for his serenity, and permission to shoot. More tk….

Going Forward

Sep 13

In Rambling at 9:01pm

Blog will be light this week as we dig ourselves out of a pretty sizable 911 project, and I head to China tomorrow. I did cover the opening ceremonies of New Jersey’s heartfelt and amazing memorial, Empty Sky.

The memorial is a simple, poignant architectural expression of the grief and sacrifice of  the 746 New Jerseyans who were lost on 911.  The twin slabs of concrete and polished steel lay on their sides, and are created in the same aspect ratio as the original towers. If you stand between the two, your sight line is directly at the former site of WTC. Simple, powerful and riveting architecture, the product of incredibly talented Jessica Jamroz, who won the international competition to design the memorial.

It’s funny how memories of 911 stick with you. As I looked through the lens to frame up this shot, which was the only decent picture I snapped all day, my attention was caught by the name Rick Rescorla. An employee of Morgan Stanley, who had warned all comers about the possibility of an airborne attack on the towers, he successfully shepherded most of MS’ employees to safety according to an evac plan he had devised and insisted they practice. He searched the floors, making sure people were gone, and distracted many from the immediacy of danger by singing inspirational songs into his bullhorn. He perished in the collapse of WTC-2. His remains have never been found. He is surely responsible for saving the lives of many that day.

The Faces of Ground Zero show is down, and stored again, with thanks again due to volunteers from FDNY. I’ll get caught up to some thoughts and feelings over the next couple of weeks of blogs. Many thanks as always for stopping by. Did the guest blog for Scott Kelby today, where I ruminate about a strange land beyond a yellow border. Head over there, if you have a moment, check it out. More tk….

Location Language, or, Bleeped Bloopers

Apr 26

In Rambling at 5:14am

I was literally up to my ass in alligators not too long ago, on behalf of Kelby Training, attempting a video tutorial on location lighting in first, a swamp, and then later on a beach, in decidedly non-beach-like weather. Doing the Kelby videos is a lot of fun, and they have gradually (actually, more like, suddenly) amassed the greatest compendium of video learning and teaching on the planet about anything visual–Photoshop, lighting, digital photography, you name it. But this was a frustrating day, one of those location days where you barely find the corner, much less turn it. I’ve had many of these during the course of spinning the roulette wheel of photography for thirty years. On these days, which I still find eminently preferable to a predictable, safe, or even good day inside an office (do they exist?) a certain brand of patter bubbles out of me which, in some quarters, might be deemed profane. Offensive, even. Downright saucy!

Yeah, guilty as charged. I could blame my childhood, but that’s so Hollywood starlet. I could blame excessive use of pain killers, but I’m a photog, and that has its’ own special brand of pain, yet to be tamed by pharmaceuticals, so I actually don’t use those haze inducing pills, pleasant as they sound. (I would, actually, if I were regularly in an office and had to go to non-stop meetings. For those in that type of an unfortunate setting, I think any and all mood altering substances should be legalized. Think of it as an occupational version of medical marijuana.)

Basing my career in NY has definitely had something to do with it. (There I go, lamely blaming my environment.) But in a big city press room, having your own personal quiver of verbal arrows was essential to survival. I mean, without a customized, creatively ornate, almost baroque sense of the profane insult, you were defenseless out there on that ink stained field of battle. You had to get with the program, or get gone. I mean, when you work the copy rim with a bunch of dirty old men whose sole mission in life was to slip a seemingly benign headline with obscene overtones past the managing editor on a daily basis, you get the message real quick. I remember a news short coming in that was the story of an evidently extremely lonely soul who was arrested for assaulting, ahem, his neighbor’s cows. Seems the dairy farmer, seeing his charges act a bit out of sorts, tipped police to his suspicions about what was going on with Daisy and Buttercup out there in the barn, and they staked the joint out and arrested the dude in, as they said in the piece, “mid-assault.” The rather ordinary headline of “Sodomy Charged” on this story was subsequently changed to “Cowpoke Arrested.” I don’t think that head made the paper.

I was pretty timid when I started, but I was shocked into the swim of things quite early on. I remember working the international desk as a freshly minted copy kid, and watched when one of the editors, obviously hammered, cigarette drooping from his lip, saunter up to his station in the middle of the newsroom, unzip his fly, serenely urinate in the waist basket next to his desk, then sit down and edit the 2 Star. Then of course there was Zucci, in the art department, who would take all the bridal announcement pictures and airbrush in cleavage before they got printed in the paper. He would walk these black and whites around the newsroom, proudly displaying his artwork. “Poor girl,” he would say, “Only time in her life she gonna be in the paper and she got nuttin’ to show for it!” He fixed that, and I’m sure many a shocked, prospective groom would do a double take on the day of the nuptial announcement, wondering how his bride to be had all of sudden acquired an enormous set of hooters.

In photo, it got savage, at least on occasion. When your negs would go up on the screen for edit, guys would walk by, look, and inquire, “Whose shit is this?” This was nuanced commentary, mind you. I was touring a bunch of blue haired ladies through the darkroom once, and Bobby Hayes, one of the printers, and a former Marine who had seen action on Iwo Jima, turned to them to politely explain why he didn’t use the air gun with the ionized tip in his print station to clean the negs. “I don’t wanna get fuckin’ sterile,” was his explanation. Needless to say, I walked the ladies briskly over to take a look at the print washing area. Then of course there was the photog on the staff who was roundly disliked by many in the department. When this shooter would call in a job on the two way,  other shooters could hear it, and they simply opened their own mikes and started barking like dogs over the air. Brutal.

You developed a thick skin, and sharp elbows. I had an editor at UPI who could say the f-bomb more times before pausing to breathe again than any human being I have every met. The fact that most of those expletives were directed at me, and my obvious lack of abilities and intelligence, bothered me not. The use of language was so creative, I simply stood in awe and appreciation.

So there ya go. Product of my environment. I’m depraved ’cause I’m deprived. Or something like that. I mean, stuff happens out there on location, and sometimes to verbally get your arms and head around the events, it just seems that a creative metaphor, or a pithy rejoinder is the way to go. Sure makes the day go faster. I am given pause when this brand of language makes it into my public teaching stints. I’ll stop, look over at Drew, and say something like, “I shouldn’t have said that, huh?” He generally sighs, and agrees. Oh well. What the fuck….more tk….

George, Seattle, and the Clouds

Mar 10

In Friends, Rambling at 10:23am

Had breakfast and coffee with George Divoky yesterday. Breakfast was the smaller part of it, actually. What we really did was have coffee together, which is what you do in Seattle. It is basically a sacrament here, the having of the coffee. George and I grew to be friends, really, over coffee. George is an ornithologist, and he has done the remarkable thing of studying a colony of Black Guillemonts on Cooper Island since 1975. Every year, for three months, George goes up there to this barren stretch of ice north of Barrow, Alaska, and lives in the most basic of conditions with these birds, observing their trends, their mating patterns, and their migratory habits. He might have gone up there to study the birds all those years ago, but the amazing consistency of his visits has resulted in a trove of first hand, irrefutable evidence of weather trends, the melting of the ice pack, and the resultant impact on the cycle of life up there, and hence, everywhere.

I spent a mere nine days on Cooper and I can tell you, there isn’t a Marriott in sight. It is basic tent living, out there with the birds and the polar bears. To do it, as George has, for 36 years, is a tale of dedication, a labor of love, and an inquisitive mind. His notebooks are a road map of changes in the weather and the earth, all observed firsthand. And, while he’s a dedicated scientist, he’s also got a great sense of humor, which was the basis of our friendship struck out there on the ice ten years ago. He’s an amazing guy, the subject of many magazine interviews, a coming book, an appearance on David Letterman, and even a play in London. You can check out his activities and observations here, at Friends of Cooper Island.

Outside of having friends like George,  I do love being here in Seattle. Nice city, nice folks. I have a theory. I feel it’s very important that it remains resolutely cloudy here, every day. Hear me out. The unrelenting cloud cover produces a wonderful sort of torpor, a blanket, if you will, that one can continuously crawl under and, well, yawn the day away. No pressure, no people shouting at you to get out their damn way, no subways jammed with folks eyeballing each other suspiciously.

It’s come to that in the NY subway, by the way. In this age of the dominance of the internet, there is the phenomenon of newspaper-less commuting. Used to be, even in the most crowded of trains, you could avert your eyes, and bury yourself in a Cindy Adams column, or the antics of celebrities caught with their pants down on Page Six, or be engaged by a clever headline. Now that most riders are no longer armed with a tabloid or the even more effective camouflage of a broadsheet, they’re left to balefully, soullessly glare at each other with doubt and regret, if not outright aggression, as after all, the best defense is a good offense, or something like that. Thus when the apparently blind, legless person on a trolley (think Eddie Murphy in Trading Places) with the incredibly bad singing voice pushes themselves and their tin cup through the crowded car, most straphangers no longer have the pup tent of a daily newspaper to dive into until they move on or shut up. It probably works out well for the down on his luck supplicant, as there are always lots of newcomers to the NYC subway system who haven’t seen the trolley bound tenor before, and thus donate some change and hope they vanish into the next car. Little do they know that some of the folks who work the subways might actually own three taxi medallions and have multiple rental properties in Brooklyn, and for them, the subway thing is a part time gig.

Back to Seattle. Even the cab drivers here don’t honk their horn. Amazing. Again, methinks, those soporific, mellow mood inducing clouds at work. Geez, I even walked through a building yesterday and from the speakers came drifting Seals and Crofts, fer chrissakes.

Enter the coffee. You see, there’s a synergy here. A place like this would probably pull a Rip Van Winkle and just drift off  entirely to sleep were it not for the bountiful, splendid variety of good tasting caffeine. The coffee sort of meets the clouds halfway and produces just the right mix of energy and conversational connectivity that enables everyone to hold down a job even though they spend a good deal of the day chatting or tweeting or emailing in a beanery. It’s a beautiful thing. I would move here in a heartbeat, except that I’m just generally too antsy. Put me near this much coffee and I couldn’t help myself. It would be an irresistibly frequent and dangerous combination,  like a moth to flame, Stockton to Malone, Charlie Sheen and saying something irretrievably stupid.

This is all just a theory, but I think I’m onto something…..more tk….