Monday, October 15, 2007


1: My computer died. It's in the repair shop.
2: I have an important project on my horizon that needs my full attention. Therefore...
3: My blog/photo-journal will be on hiatus for the next month.

Please check back about November 20. I hope to have some cool new work to share.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Moving Stones

We have made a trail, a hiking path from one end of our property to the other. An out-and-back trip takes eight minutes. Because the terrain is fairly hilly, a walk of, say 45 minutes, feels like pretty good exercise.

Much of the ground where we live is wild and untamed, so a walk on our trail is as much about seeing wild ducks or hearing distant coyotes as it is about physical fitness achieved via an elevated heart rate.

I hiked the trail yesterday. Seeing a large, dead tree, I remembered back to a day several years ago when I instigated what turned out to be a tree cutting fiasco. The dead tree overhangs the fence that surrounds our sheep pasture, and my worry at the time was that the tree might blow over in a storm and flatten the fence, maybe even one of the sheep. My shortsighted solution was to cut the tree down. As I fired-up a chain saw and cut the first limb from the tree, about eight or ten flying squirrels (who I didn’t know lived in the tree) took to the air, fleeing the attack of the stupid human with the killer saw. That was the end of the tree-cutting project, and a lesson learned that, around here (and probably where you live too) everything is habitat.

We’ve hung Tibetan prayer flags over one end of the trail. My walk takes me under the flags, then to a pile of small stones that I use to keep track of my “laps.” Once I’ve moved six (or sometimes eight) stones from yesterday’s pile to today’s, I feel like my hike is done.

A simple thing, that walk, but I guess for me it’s the simple things that matter most.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Two Guests

If you’ve ever read the writing of Ansel Adams, you probably know that the man who is today the best-known American landscape photographer initially studied to be a concert pianist. When Ansel writes about the making of his now iconic photographs, there is often not the mention of f-stops and shutter speeds, but rather of feeling, of visual interpretation of the landscape. I have no doubt that, as Ansel worked in the wilderness or in the darkroom, there was music playing in his head.

I am no Ansel Adams, but music is a big part of my life. Both my parents were music teachers. As my sister, brother and I grew up, there was always music in our house, and I hear it even now.

I was camped one night in the Olympic Mountains. My best hiking buddy (a dog named Rocky) and I were in the tent and I was snugged into my sleeping bag. I had a tiny FM radio with me and I picked up a signal from CBC Radio (Canadian Broadcasting) in Vancouver, British Columbia. The station was airing a special about the music of the American composer, Alan Hovhaness, whose work has a lot in common with an Ansel Adams landscape photograph, in that Hovhaness writes a symphonic interpretation of the land.

When I crawled out of the tent the next morning, the landscape before me was amazing. There was phenomenal sunrise light in the sky and on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Mt. Baker was lovely, off on the distant horizon. I realized that the Hovhaness piece “Mysterious Mountain” was in my head. I put my Hasselblad camera on a tripod, metered the light, and opened the shutter.

Photographic success that day was a simple matter of getting out of bed on time. My dog Rocky and I were there that morning, but I’m pretty sure we were accompanied in spirit by two guests, one a photographer, the other a composer.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Rain Hike

I shot a big wedding on Saturday--my last of the summer season--and on Sunday morning when I was thinking about going hiking, it was pouring down rain, absolutely sky-is-falling pouring.

I considered staying home and spending the day lazing with a book near the wood stove, but my sweet wife would have none of that. Over the years Leah has learned to recognize the signs of impending crankiness in her mate (my behavioral storm clouds building on the horizon) so she urged me out the door. Rain notwithstanding, there are some days when I apparently need to get outside for exercise or I wind up wandering around the house, acting like a caged animal. Maybe Leah should consider installing one of those race horse hot-walkers out in our sheep pasture. She can hook me up and I’ll walk around and around in circles, going nowhere (but probably entertaining the sheep, who I’m sure already know that humans are crazy.)

I drove to the nearby Olympic National Park. The weather was SO foul I decided to leave my backpack and pro camera gear behind (rather than get everything soaked.) I stashed my snapshot camera in the pocket of my rain jacket and, as I was tying-on my hiking boots at the trailhead, I noticed that there was an umbrella in the trunk of my car. I figured: what-the-heck, I’ll take the umbrella along and hike like a Brit. As it turned out, the portable roof was a good piece of “gear” to have.

Our weather this past week or so has been unseasonably cool and wet, bringing fall color to the high country. Though the trees here in Western Washington don’t generally blaze with the reds of a New England autumn, we do see a pretty intense yellow/gold. Yesterday’s rain and fog seemed to combine for a kind of alchemy of nature, the colors of the leaves alternating from subtle pastels to weirdly vibrant neon. Having the umbrella along gave me a dry spot to stop, linger, and shoot, without worrying about the damage the drip-drip-drip might do to my camera.

Without a heavy pack on my back, I found I had to resist the urge to hike-for-speed. I’m a former competitive runner and I still sometimes equate movement with fitness. In the 30-some years I’ve hiked these mountains, however, I’ve learned that I miss a lot if I move too fast. Yesterday I reminded myself of something Gandhi said:

“There is more to life than increasing its speed.”

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Same, But Different

One of the cool things about keeping a photo journal is how, over time, I sometimes wind up with pictures of the same subject matter, but the feeling of the images can be entirely different.

Last night I shot a photograph of our cat, Basil, sitting near our front door. Several months ago I did a picture of my own shadow in the evening light, also at the front door. Both pictures were shot from exactly the same spot, with the same camera and the same visual elements: Something white (the door.) Something black (the cat; my shadow.)

I don’t usually sit around and analyze my pictures. I shoot something and move on. But in this case I’m having a weird kind of fun, looking at these two very different slices of life at our front door (I suspect this is just me, thinking too much.)

A number of times over the years I’ve resolved to keep a written journal. I’ll write for a day or two, maybe a month. Then I feel like what I’m writing is dumb. Or I feel like the writing is just too hard. Or maybe I simply lose interest (probably because the writing is too hard.)

A photo journal, however--well that kind of diary feels quite natural to me.

I was talking on the phone yesterday with my friend Tara, a young wife and mother. She just got a new point-and-shoot camera and I gave her a few tips on how to set it up. We talked tech-talk--camera blah blah blah--just long enough for Tara to know how her camera operates. Then I gave her this sage advice: Shoot. Shoot. Shoot.

I’m happy for my friend. She has young children and a husband and flowers in her yard and a new camera. Even over the phone I could sense how excited she was to start playing with her new toy.

Me, I’m going to take my camera and go see what’s happening near my front door. Chances are there's something cool.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Changing Seasons

It rained here yesterday. It was wet and windy all day. The weather forecast is for rain, on-and-off, the rest of the week. I think the Pacific North-wet winter monsoon season has begun.


Actually, I don’t really mind The Rain. The coming of wet weather tells me that the busiest part of the sometimes frantic summer/fall “wedding season” has come to an end. The Rain signals the arrival of a new season, a quieter time when I’ll have fewer professional obligations on my calendar and can take a breath. I’m looking forward to getting back to work on some personal photographic projects that I had to put aside during the summer.

After 30-plus years making my living as a photographer, I have learned that work I do for myself makes me more jazzed about work I do for others. My personal (non-income-producing) photography opens my eyes and clears my head, so that when somebody calls me and wants to pay me to shoot something, I’m ready and energized.

I’ve spent the summer making photographs of people at weddings. I’ve been looking for a fleeting expression, a gesture, a visual moment captured by the magic box, the still camera. Now, like a farmer who plants crops that match the weather and the seasons, I know that the time has come for me to plant some photographic winter wheat. In the coming months, I plan to finish the mock-up of a book I have in the works. I'll also be out shooting landscape photographs of high, wild, wilderness areas, places where there are no human beings to be found for miles.

One photographic discipline strengthens the other.

There’s a hike I do most every October to a lake on the sunny, rain-shadowed east side of the Cascades. The lake is some distance away from any maintained hiking trail, hidden in a high basin near one of my favorite peaks. The lake is surrounded by larch trees. Those trees look a bit like evergreens in the summer, but, come fall, the needles turn golden yellow. It’s an amazingly beautiful scene, the trees and the mountain, reflected in the still, blue lake. Some years when I hike up into that basin, I find that the landscape has been dusted by winter's first snow. I go there and feel very lucky to be able to visit such a perfect place.

A hike to that high country lake is a good way to mark the changing of the seasons. Up there, the days ahead seem full of possibilities.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Barn Chores

The point-and-shoot camera that I almost always carry in my pocket continues to win my photographic heart. I am smitten.

I went out to our barn a couple of days ago to do morning chores. I threw corn out for the chickens and was ready to toss hay into the feeder for the sheep when, low-and-behold, a photograph dropped into my life. My gentle sheep friend, Sweet Pea, peeked at me through the sheep door. I was enjoying the light falling on Sweet Pea and the look that he had on his furry face when, suddenly, Sweet Pea felt he needed to let me know that sheep need to be fed BEFORE chickens! A loud, emphatic “Baaa!” prompted me to fire the camera. The resulting image was a photographic moment I probably would not have caught, but for the little, always-have-it-with-me snapshot camera.

I guess it goes without saying that a camera is not much good if it’s so big and inconvenient, you don’t have it with you when something unexpected and wonderful presents itself. The point-and-shoot is cool because I can be gardening or splitting wood or riding my bike (all times it’s unlikely I’d have my pro SLR over my shoulder) but I can have my snapshot camera available.

This camera fits into my pocket. Better still, it fits seamlessly into my life.