Friday, September 28, 2007


It seems like a lot of our friends are traveling these days. Shelley and Andrew spent the summer touring the U.S. and did a backpack trip in Montana in Glacier National Park. Jim and Karen are back in DC now after what we hear was a very cool trip to Ireland. As I write this, Carol is in Columbus, Ohio, packing for a whale-study adventure in Australia.

Like any content, well-adjusted individual, Carol is comfortable and happy with her life, her husband, her pet friends in Columbus. She wrote to us recently, I think looking for encouragement, for a nudge out the door. Leah and I both responded similarly: We wrote how travel widens our horizons, broadens our perspectives. Three weeks from now, Leah and I leave for Nepal. We’re going to travel on foot from village to village in the Mt. Everest region. It's a trip we've talked about for over 20 years, and we're finally doing it.

Carol and her husband Jim once visited us here in Washington and we hiked at Dungeness Spit, not far from the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I shot a photograph of Carol as she walked down the beach. It’s an image that feels like a fitting post today, as we all wonder what we might find on the path ahead.

Mark Twain wrote:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Finding Focus

Most every Saturday from May through October, Leah and I spend part of our morning at our local Farmers’ Market. On those days, with predictable regularity, I can expect that three things will happen:

--We will shop for produce.
--We will visit with friends and neighbors.
--I will make myself miserable by trying to find photographs.

Our town’s Farmers’ Market is very cool--a feast for the eyes and the senses. It’s a coming-together of happy people who are listening to live music and shopping for fresh, organic local produce and crafts. A good feeling of community is in the air. After 30-some years as a photographer, it seems to me that--if I give even half an effort--I should be able to gather pleasing images with my camera in the same way Leah and I place tomatoes and greens in our shopping basket.

Unfortunately, I generally come away feeling like my pictures are not good enough.

You see, Saturdays during Market season are also days when I am almost always booked to shoot a wedding. When I stop at the Farmers’ Market, my head is already in another place, my concentration and focus (pardon the pun) are on images I'll be making hours later.

This past weekend, however, was an exception. My Saturday was free. Leah and I bicycled to the Market. We visited. We filled our bike panniers with goodies. I pulled the snapshot camera from my jacket pocket and played photographic peek-a-boo with a cute, red-haired lass named Fiona who was riding around in her mother’s arms. It did macro images of the amazing color of rainbow chard.

Finally, I had a feeling I was at least beginning to find images that do justice to the event.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Consistent Variety

Leah and I hiked yesterday in our home mountains, the Olympics.

We hiked in sunshine, then in fog.

We traveled through close, green forest, then on open, barren, treeless ridges.

We walked a trail with long stretches of uphill that slowed and humbled us and made us feel old, then rewarded us with blasts of effortless downhill that we covered with the speed of world-class athletes.

The only constant in our day was Nature at her inconsistent best, playing with our heads by teasing us with a little of this, a bit of that. It was all good.

About halfway through the day, we crested a misty pass and encountered a big, healthy-looking mountain goat (we decided to call him Bill, after Leah’s dad.) Bill ambled in my direction and I shot a few photographs. I saw that Bill had big, sharp-looking horns, so as Bill ambled, I rambled--on down the trail.

We walked. We looked around. We did our best to take it all in.

Ohmygoodness, what a day we had.

Friday, September 21, 2007


We’re still over a week away from October, but already I notice that stores are filed with displays of orange and black Halloween Junk: plastic pumpkins, plastic witches--all kinds of pseudo-creepy plastic crap. I guess this stuff is supposed to look scary, but to me the only thing scary is that someone would actually pay money for it.

Meanwhile, in my yard, Mother Nature’s gremlins are getting in on the act, decorating in a way that truly is spooky. The mornings are foggy, damp and dark. In the half-light of dawn, spider webs glisten and drip. Arachnids lurk. I walk near our grape arbor and see that it is full of summer’s fecundity, dense like a jungle with heavy growth. A black metal scare-cat, hung in the arbor to keep birds away from the grapes, mocks me and purrs for me to come closer. I have a flash of a vision: I become convinced that the vines could wrap themselves around my neck, pull me into their snare.

Strangulation would be quick and silent.

I run for my life, back into the house.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


I have a well-worn and much-loved copy of Robert Frank’s book “The Americans.” The dust jacket is torn and a bit yellow. The pages of the book--which I’ve probably owned for more than 30 years--are showing the patina of age as well.

If you are a photographer, it’s likely you too have a copy of the book. I paid $8.50 for the book I own, but I see this morning on Amazon that if you want to buy a new copy today, you’ll pay $200 or more.

Personally, I don’t buy photography books to keep them as collector’s items, and I mention the monetary value of “The Americans” only as an interesting aside. I buy photo books as textbooks, as workbooks, because I’m curious about how other photographers see. When Robert Frank made his “Americans” photographs in the 1950’s, his imagery was considered radical. I have no doubt that Frank inspired a whole generation of young photographers to see in new ways.

There’s a lot of buzz lately about the 50th anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” I wonder how many photographers remember that Kerouac wrote the unforgettable (for me, at least) introduction to “The Americans”?

Kerouac’s introduction begins:

"THAT CRAZY FEELING IN AMERICA when the sun is hot on the streets and the music comes out of the jukebox or from a nearby funeral, that’s what Robert Frank has captured in these tremendous photographs taken as he traveled on the road around practically forty-eight states in an old used car (on a Guggenheim Fellowship) and with the agility, mystery, genius, sadness and strange secrecy of a shadow photographed scenes that have never been seen before on film....”

The ending of Kerouac’s introduction is just as lyrical:

“Anybody doesn’t like these pitchers dont like potry, see? Anybody dont like potry go home see Television shots of big hatted cowboys being tolerated by kind horses.

“Robert Frank, Swiss, unobtrusive, nice, with that little camera that he raises and snaps with one hand he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film, taking rank among the tragic poets of the world.

“To Robert Frank I now give this message: You got eyes...”

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Dance

It felt a bit like I was photographing dance...little kids at a wedding, dashing around with paper parasols, laughing, playing chase, moving like they were on a stage. Munchkin phantoms. Now you see them, now you don’t.

A photographer friend whose work I have admired for a long time--and who speaks very eloquently about his photographs--says that the years have taught him one very special lesson: he can sense when he is in the presence of photographic potential. He says the making of his photographs is fairly easy. What is difficult is the time in-between, waiting for images to reveal themselves.

If perhaps my friend’s words strike you as artistic mumbo-jumbo, I must tell you they’re not mumbo jumbo to me. This is what we do, we photographers: We watch. We wait. We trust that we will recognize something special when we see it.

In my humble opinion, the found moment trumps the contrived every time.

I shared the above image with a couple of photo editor friends. “Cute kid,” seemed to be the reaction. No mention of dance, no mention of the moment preserved. It’s entirely possible that the image is special to me because it was fleeting. It’s difficult for me to separate the image from the experience of making the image. Perhaps one day I too will look at the picture and think “Cute Kid.” Only time will tell. One thing is sure, there are more phantoms in my future.

I’m watching and waiting.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Consumer Profile

As a consumer (albeit a reluctant consumer) in the global economy, I sense that there are many individuals out there (particularly on the Web) who would like to categorize me, to know who I am, so that they might sell me things. To make it easy on the marketers, here are some words about me, and about my Stuff...

Stuff I DON'T have:
Riding lawnmower
Weekend home in the San Juan Islands
Weekend home anyplace
Downhill skis
Any idea how eBay works

Neither do I have:
An addiction to coffee or a Nordstrom credit card (these deficiencies qualify me as counterculture in Seattle.)
A suit
A girlfriend
Insecurities about not having hair

Stuff I DO have:
Wife (same one for 35 years, despite the weirdness in me indicated above.)
Son, unmarried (hence no grandchildren, also mentioned above.)

Further, I possess:
Many good friends
Four bicycles (and fantasies regarding purchase of my next bicycle.)
One 250cc motorcycle
One Ford Focus (and anxiety whenever I burn fossil fuels.)
A comfortable home with a modest view of the Olympic Mountains
Snowshoes (3 pair.)
More camera gear than I need
Allergies (only in the spring.)
A sport coat (hasn’t been worn in years and might not fit.)
Wet-my-pants excitement over an upcoming trip to Nepal
Insecurities about not having hair (I lied above.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Good Light

We have a deck on the back of our house, and, most of the year, the space is unused and unappreciated. During the rainy season--about 11-plus months, we joke--the deck would be a good place to stand and watch the monsoon, but believe me, we know rain here. We don’t find we need the deck as a place where we can linger, hoping we might learn to enjoy getting soaked.

These past few days, however, have been sunny and warm, so the deck has been getting lots of use, a good place to take-in the still-warm light of a summer that is fading fast. I went out there the other day and did a bit of Yoga; the dogs hang out on the deck and just keep watch. There’s a Katsura tree nearby, already making quite the fashion statement, dressed as she is in the colors of fall.

We photographers live for light like we’re having here now. One of my favorite writers, Annie Dillard, once said: "Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there."

Maybe this winter, I'll take a crack at learning to find beauty and grace in the drip-drip-drip of the January rain. For now, it's my good fortune to be outside with my camera, seeing light.

Monday, September 10, 2007


Leah spent the past three days walking. And walking. And walking some more. She walked 60 miles and was part of a singing, dancing, sometimes limping river of humanity, 2400 individuals strong (more accurately, 2400 strong individuals) doing the 3-Day Walk to raise money to fight breast cancer.

Looking through the photos on Leah’s camera (Leah shot the image you see above,) I sense the event was festive and fun, and very pink. I see photos of a sea of pink tents where the participants camped two nights. I see that most of the walkers are women, all shapes and sizes. I see that there are men, dressed in grass skirts and wearing coconut bra-tops. The men are cheering for the women who are walking.

I’ve done endurance sports for over 30 years. I’ve climbed Mt. Rainier eight times, ridden my bike a number of times from Seattle to Portland, run numerous marathons--but I’m not sure I could walk 60 miles. It’s an impressive thing that Leah has done, not only this past weekend, but in the months of preparation and training.

Friends: Thank you for donations in support of Leah's effort. To enter the event, each of the 2400 participants in the Seattle 3-Day Walk needed to raise a minimum of $2200 in pledges. We learned today that, from the Seattle Walk alone, $6.4 million was raised for breast cancer research.

Leah: Abell and I are proud of what you have done, and we’re happy you’re home. We will help treat the blisters on your feet, and we cheer your strength (though we stop short of wearing coconut bra-tops.)

Friday, September 7, 2007

A Post About Nothing

How many times have you said: “Remember that Seinfeld episode where (fill in the blank) happened?”

For the record, I’d like to say up-front that I don’t watch much television, yet I find I have a small dictionary in my head of Seinfeld-isms. (Considering that the average American household has three television sets, me saying “I don’t watch television” seems vaguely similar to a man claiming he reads Playboy “for the articles.”)

A couple of days ago I happened upon a small, dirty pickup truck. A bumper sticker on the truck canopy instantly reminded me of a Seinfeld episode--the show where Calvin Klein tells Kramer “Your buttocks are sublime” and Kramer considers a career as an underwear model. I pulled out my camera and shot a self-portrait (my buttocks are okay.) When Leah saw the photo, she pronounced the image “blog-worthy.” (Remember that Seinfeld episode where Elaine has to decide whether a new boyfriend is “sponge-worthy”?)

I made a short list of some of my favorite Seinfeld-isms (you can do your own analysis of how my brain works.) I like “Serenity Now!,” ”Hipster Doofus,” “You’re Not Chinese!,” and “Show About Nothing.”

Don’t even get me started thinking about “Shrinkage.”

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Out West

I was a 19-year-old college student from Ohio when I first saw the American West. I had a summer photography internship with National Geographic Magazine. The editors sent me to McCall, Idaho to shoot a Fourth of July rodeo.

Landing in Boise, I was awestruck, smitten, knocked for a loop. I was wowed and bedazzled. My eyes were fried and OD’d on beauty. My mind was blown. Mountains! Big Sky! Rivers! Prairie! Why, a guy (or gal) with a camera could make some serious images here! Given this landscape--and fer-real cowboys, American Indians and other interesting folks I met on that trip-- it seemed like killer pictures would just doe-see-doe their ownselves right into my camera.

Today, some 30 years later, I’m still crazy about the West. It’s my home now, and my cameras continue to be busy, taking it all in.

This past weekend I traveled back to Idaho, this time to photograph a wedding. Leah and I climbed into the car at our home near Seattle and drove east to find The West. We drove through the Palouse country of Eastern Washington, where the fields of wheat and canola and corn and soy beans seem to go on forever. Eventually the fields bump into mountains. Out in that country, finding photographs is as easy as pie.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Kid Pictures

I had a wedding to shoot Sunday in Idaho. I could have flown to the job, but Leah and I used the wedding--and the long Labor Day holiday weekend--as excuses to drive and make a side trip to Missoula, Montana to visit Leah’s brother, his wife and family.

It’s a nine-hour drive from Seattle to Missoula. Leah and I make the trip every couple of years, and we make the journey happily. Over the years we have watched our Montana nephew and nieces grow from sweet children into fine young adults. Our nephew is in the Air Force, stationed in California. Our two nieces are smart and beautiful young women, now married and parents of young children of their own. I spent the two days of our Montana visit playing the role of proud uncle, taking pictures of a baby and two preschoolers.

Missoula is an interesting and funky town, ringed by mountains and home to the University of Montana. Saturday morning we walked around at Missoula’s Farmers’ Market and bought fresh peaches. Later we spent a warm, sunny afternoon at an outdoor vaudeville show/bike festival called “Tour de Fat,” an event put on by the New Belgium Brewing Company. One young rider named Chris stole the show. His 360-degree flips rekindled the old sports shooter instincts in me. As I angled for a good vantage point to shoot the bike action (I couldn't have looked like a professional, since I was using a point-and-shoot snapshot camera) a man in the crowd asked me whether I was perhaps the father of one of the riders? Leah later wisecracked: “At least no one figured you for a grandfather...”