Monday, April 30, 2007

Moving Day

We were in Seattle over the weekend helping a friend move from an apartment to a sweet little house she just bought.

Joelle’s family members and friends met at her apartment, where we trekked up and down the stairs carrying boxes of books and furniture and rocks. Joelle is a hiker and traveler and she collects rocks--not specimen rocks (granite or quartz or obsidian) but friend-rocks (the shape of this one is pleasing, the color of that one is amazing.) If you can’t keep up with Joelle on a hike, you know you are in sorry shape because her pack probably weighs 10 or 20 pounds more than yours does, owing to the friends she has collected throughout the day.

We loaded Joelle’s stuff into our personal vehicles and into a truck she had rented, then everyone headed to the new house. I was the first to arrive there and had some time to myself to walk around. I knew nearly immediately that Joelle had picked a good place, a place where she’d very comfortably settle-in. Like Joelle, the previous owner had apparently been an animal-lover (wood on the back deck has been used as a scratching-post by a cat, so that a couple of the posts, once rectangular, are now hourglass-shaped) and the flowers planted in the yard are simple but very beautiful. I spent a few quiet moments there alone photographing the bleeding hearts. When everyone else arrived, I was feeling quite content. My friend has found a good home.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Art and Commerce

People have paid me money to take photographs since I was 18 years old. Today I shot photos of my son’s dog. I did it just for myself, for my own enjoyment, to keep my eyes and mind seeing.

For over 30 years, newspapers, magazines, corporate clients have said: Take a photograph of this. We’ll give you money.

That sounds like a dream-come-true to most amateur photographers. I’m constantly amazed at the numbers of people I meet who are attorneys or teachers or you-name-it, but they love photography. They’re smitten by the hocus-pocus of that little image-catching box, of sharing what they have seen and felt with others. Those folks almost always ask me the same question: “How can I make my living doing photography?”

And I nearly always answer: “Why the heck would you want to do that? Why take something that is enjoyable, that is your passion, and make it a job?”

When I was in college, a fellow student--older, wiser, and I think more experienced in the balancing act of combining art and commerce--said to me: “Keep photography fun.” Her admonishment (one of the best bits of advice I have even gotten) struck me at the time as very odd. I was a young Harry Potter and I had in my hands the magic box. How could this magic ever not be fun?

Well it’s not fun when one works for a newspaper and is assigned to photograph a grieving wife of a young soldier killed in war; it’s not fun when, day after day, your photographic subject is a killer or arsonist or drunk driver, being led by deputies down a courthouse hallway to a hearing. And it’s not fun when (newspaper job aside) one is freelancing for a company and the pay is really good but the assignment of the day is to photograph a self-important, fat, busy executive (you are granted 5 minutes to make the image) and oh, by the way, make the exec look dashing and dynamic and engaging or there are 100 other photographers the company could hire next time.

More often than not, however, the days were amazing: I have been assigned to photograph a retiree who volunteers time, helping teach illiterate adults to read, or an attorney who donates time giving legal advice to the homeless at a legal clinic. These days I am paid by wedding clients to document what might be the most emotional and momentous day of their lives; and I volunteer for a foundation that provides free photographs to families who have children with life-threatening diseases. Just the sheer, mind-boggling parade of humanity that has passed before me has been better than I could have ever hoped.

So my advice, based of 30 years of photography-as-a-job, is simple:

Get a dog. Take his picture. Keep it fun.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Not Being There

This is the time of year that I get to thinking about Mt. Stuart.

The roads are beginning to melt-out, the trails might be reachable now. I could go tomorrow.

But I won’t.

Knowing what I do about cars and their emissions, I’m being very careful about the trips I make. This might be a year I’ll have to be content simply seeing my favorite mountain but not visiting her.

In my mind’s eye, I am there right now.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Being There

It sits on a hill above the Columbia River near Goldendale, Washington. A somewhat unlikely and unexpected apparition on the landscape,you scratch your head and ask: Isn’t this supposed to be in England?” If you watch a lot of PBS programming, you might even add: Wiltshire, England?”

But there it is: Stonehenge, or at least a reproduction of the United Kingdom’s Stonehenge. Could it be that you are making a list of must-see tourist attractions for your next Great American road trip the with the vanload-o-kids? Well there's the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas; the Corn Cob Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota; maybe the 15-foot, 3,000 pound ball of rubber bands that’s being stretched into art by a guy in Delaware; and yes, the Stonehenge replica, sitting there in the sand and sagebrush in Eastern Washington state.

Built by wealthy railroad executive Sam Hill, the Washington state Stonehenge was dedicated in 1918 and finished 12 years later. One might mock this structure as an oddity and might write-off Sam Hill as a crackpot, but I’ve learned that Hill was a pacifist and constructed his Stonehenge as a memorial to lives lost in WWI. Sounds to me like Sam Hill had commendable intentions.

We made a point of being there for sunrise. Photographers know that the kind of light we seek for our landscape images is generally found early or late in the day. Hence we were there in heavy jackets and fleece pants, shivering in the spooky pre-dawn desert chill as the first light hit the massive stone slabs of our Stonehenge. Shadows lengthened and --though there were no Druids there that day-- photographic alchemy was afoot. A full moon was setting in the west. All we had to do was open the camera shutter and magic made its way onto the film.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


It’s only Day Two of my entry into the blogosphere and already the pure intentions I had for this site are evolving.

I’d initially thought I’d do this blog in the a-photo-a-day format, all new work, fresh out of the camera--a kind of daily photo diary. Now I’m thinking that yes, much of the work will be new, but sometimes I think I’ll post Theme Weeks, digging into my archives (recent imagery, not stuff shot 30 years ago.) Occasionally I think I’ll post photographs simply because today’s offering seems to fit with yesterday’s.

This week: Shadow Land.

The images above were shot as I rode my bike on Big Valley Rd. near Poulsbo, Washington. It was a late evening ride so the shadows were long and dramatic. The camera was an Olympus Stylus point-and-shoot film camera with a fixed 35mm lens. For the Web I’m scanning from double weight black and white prints I made in my own darkroom and find myself thinking: oh my goodness these prints are VERY nice. Why again am I being tempted by digital?

I’ve long been a recreational cyclist but lately I ride as a transportation alternative to driving the car. I’m trying to do whatever I can not to be part of Exxon’s bazillion dollar profit earning statement. Our society can’t afford to fund basic education or mental health facilities or health care for the poor, but we can put gas in the tanks of our cars and obscene profits in the pockets of the oil companies. No thanks. I’m gonna do what I can to avoid playing that game.

(Media Note: I’m looking forawrd to watching Bill Moyers tonight in his return to PBS. )

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Zero Emissions

Riding my bike to Yoga class last evening, I stopped at the marina in Kingston to watch folks beachcombing at a very low tide. When I leaned my bike against the marina railing, the elements of the above photographs were hard to miss.

I nearly always have a camera with me. These images were shot with my Canon SD800IS point-and-shoot, a worthy riding companion.