Friday, June 27, 2008

Changing Marketplace

The photographic community in Seattle learned this week that we are losing an old friend.

Ivey Seright--the lab that processed thousands of rolls of film for me over the years--is closing its doors, I assume a business casualty of the “Digital Age.” There was a time when Ivey was a bit of a second home for me, and also for some of my friends. It was the place we’d stop at night to drop-off film after a day of hiking and photographic adventures in the Cascade or Olympic Mountains, or out at the Washington Coast. Our film would be processed overnight and ready first thing the next morning, when my friends and I would show up, holding our breath, anxious to see whether our exposures looked good, whether our film conveyed the visual impact that we’d seen and felt in real life.

Ivey Seright also handled the film for advertising, fashion and architectural shooters. The lab had a "pro" area where we'd hunch over light tables and edit our work. It was a cool place to hang-out, in that one tribe could see what another was working on.

Back in the days before digital cameras came into the worlds of serious image-makers, the choice of who we photographers trusted to process our film was not a small matter. I remember once--and only once--I took film from one of my landscape-shooting trips to a “pro” lab other than Ivey for processing. The finished transparencies came back to me damaged. After that, only Ivey Seright handled my film.

In recent years when many photographers I know switched from film to digital, I was a film holdout, primarily because it is imagery that matters to me, not the camera that was used. Film worked for me. Why change?

A year ago I too caved-in to “progress” and bought cameras that I load with memory cards, rather than rolls of Velvia.

This morning a photographer friend called me. He has a client who needs to have some prints made. Now that Ivey is closing, my friend wondered who might print for his client?

My guess is that we photographers with cool Epson photo printers on our desks will find we spend less time out in the world making images, and more time filling the role of the vanishing photo lab.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Summer Solstice

We photographers can become accustomed to the fleeting, allusive ways of good photographic light. “Now you see me, now you don’t” is the game the fickle Miss Light seems to want to play most of the time.

I sometimes feel that I’m blessed with a weird, reverse kind of luck, living as I do in the rainy, dark Pacific Northwest, where about eight months of the year the sky is overcast and the light doesn’t change a lot from morning till night. We’re only being a little sarcastic when photographer friends and I joke that an exposure of a 60th of a second at f 2.8 is a good bet here. Set the camera for that exposure and most days here you’re good to go.

The good news where I live is that no light is something that’s easier to plan for than fleeting light.

These past few weeks, though, the Summer Solstice has been good to those of us who live in the Northwest. Sweet, image-friendly evening light that goes on and on--feeling like it will last for hours and hours--has been served-up by Mother Nature. I sat near our barn and watched as our black-fleeced Shetland sheep, Smokey, was touched by that beautiful light. Another evening I photographed a horse in a nearby pasture, grazing in that same, amazing glow.

Come late fall and winter, we’ll be back to boring, same-old, same-old clouds and darkness. For now, I’m all about enjoying the pleasure of seeing the light.

Friday, June 20, 2008


I seem to have made a new friend.

The big brown horse being pastured over at Gene’s comes out to visit with me now, whenever I pass by the place where he is grazing. He stands quietly and peacefully while I pet him on the face and tell him what a fine fellow he is, but if I pull the camera from my pocket--he has amazing big eyes that might make an interesting picture--he snorts and turns his head away.

My friend is camera shy.

Then again, maybe he’s trying to teach me something about being aware in the moment, not removed from it. Could this horse be so wise that he realizes that if I’m petting him and making photographs, my attention is divided, if only a little?

I’ll ask him about that next time we have one of our visits, but I don’t really expect him to give me an answer. I think my friend might be one of those teachers who understands that if he waits patiently, the student will figure things out on his own.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Seeing Pastures

I consider myself a very fortunate photographer. There are amazing things to be seen all around the place where I live, and my neighbors don’t seem to mind me wandering around with my camera, taking pictures of their barns and pastures--everyday scenes that strike me as beautiful.

For instance...there are a b’zillion buttercups blooming around here now. Maybe the flowers are the happy result of the unusually cool and wet spring we’ve had, because I don’t remember seeing this many buttercups in years past. There are literally waves of flowers in one of the pastures over at the place where my neighbor, Gene, lives. Two horses graze on his land, and I mentioned to Gene that it'd probably make a nice photograph when the horses made their way into that pasture that's crazy-yellow with flowers. Several days later Gene actually called me on the phone to let me know he was about to open the gate to allow the horses onto that buttercup-filled ground.

Like I said, my neighbors seem supportive of my photographic habit. I hadn't asked Gene to call me, but it was a neighborly gesture that he did.

The four-leggeds are the very picture of peace and contentment as they graze, nap, and laze in a landscape splashed with over-the-top applications of color. Mother Nature could be accused of going a little overboard in her use of neon yellow from her artist’s color palate. She seems to be treating my neighborhood like it’s her own personal canvas, which I guess it is.

As near as I can tell, the horses are pretty accepting of their roles as models in this living, exuberant art installation.

Sometimes photographs are spur-of-the-moment surprises when they make their way into my life. Other times I sense the possibility of a picture, something I think might happen given the right circumstances, and I wait patiently--sometimes for days or longer--to see whether an image will materialize.

This week, making nice pictures was easy. All I had to do was pick up the phone when my neighbor called.

Friday, June 13, 2008

No Answers

In the 30 years I’ve lived in Washington State, I’ve probably hiked to Camp Muir on Mt. Rainier at least 50 times. Muir is at an elevation of 10,000 feet and is one of the possible overnight camping spots for climbers intending to do a two-day trek to the summit of the 14,410-foot mountain.

It’s a long, long trudge to Camp Muir, not an easy trip by any means. This week a young man died doing that hike when a storm hit the mountain and 70-MPH winds and limited visibility forced the young hiker--and his wife, and a friend, both of whom survived--to dig a snow trench, where the three hoped to wait-out the storm. A news story (linked below) says the hiker suffered hypothermia and died, but that he apparently made heroic efforts to save his wife. The report also says the couple has two young sons.

Unfortunately, stories like this are not uncommon where I live. This is a beautiful--but wild--part of the country. Human beings go to the mountains to hike and climb (and to the waters of Puget Sound to sail or to dive, and into the thermal air currents in the sky to hang-glide) and most times we return home refreshed and energized.

Sometimes human adventure does not have a happy ending. Two years ago a good friend of mine died in a ski mountaineering accident in South America. My friend was the safest, strongest, most competent outdoors person I know (he was also a darned fine man.) He was not an adrenalin-fueled risk-taker.

Another young man I knew (he was not an outdoors person) went to Las Vegas last year to celebrate his birthday. He was walking across a street (in a crosswalk, by the way) when he was hit and killed by a speeding motorist.

Do I have a wise conclusions to offer? Believe me, I wish I did. All I know is that life comes with no guarantees about tomorrow. All we have is today, all we have is this moment, and I do think we should savor it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Seeing Life

I worked for 25 years as a newspaper photojournalist. Ten years ago when I walked out of a newspaper office for the last time and began a new professional life shooting weddings, I think many of my photographer friends probably thought I was nuts.

Why leave a profession that is said to be about documenting important and sometimes historic moments of our time, to enter the Wedding World that television "reality" shows would have us believe is full of bridezillas, where photographers shoot group shots, group shots, and more group shots?

Perhaps the pictures you see here will be a visual answer to the above question. A young couple whose wedding I shot several years ago recently contacted me and asked if I’d shoot the baptism of their second child (they’d wanted me to do pictures for them when their first child was baptized, but I wasn’t available that day.) So Sunday I was in church, quietly photographing a Catholic Mass that was both solemn and joyful--two of the emotional qualities that photojournalists seek in their work and their images. In short, I was doing photojournalism.

Yes, there was a point in the day (as there is at the weddings I shoot) when I also took a couple of family group pictures. My clients request a few of those and I’m happy to oblige, as family pictures too are a kind of documentation. But it’s the real-life photographic “moments” that this young couple knew I would record for them, because--in my case anyway--once a photojournalist, always a photojournalist.

Friday, June 6, 2008


Digging around in a box of negatives and contact sheets recently, I came upon some photographs I shot about five years ago on a trip to the Arizona desert. I’d never printed any of the images, and had pretty much forgotten them.

It’s drizzling here in the Seattle area today, and, though I am quite at home in the Pacific Northwest and comfortable with the days of gray skies and drip-drip-drip, the desert pictures do bring back memories of another time and certainly another place.

The camera is quite a presence in my life. Somewhere in a closet, in another box of much older negatives, I have pictures I shot 30 years ago of my old dorm room at Ohio State. Heck, I have negatives going back to high school. Some people keep written diaries, while I fell into the habit of making a photo-journal.

On a lazy, rainy day, I can revisit the desert without setting foot out my door.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Normally I post pictures and text here to communicate with others, but today I must admit I have selfish reasons for my choice of images. You see, Leah and I have been out of town the past six days, back in Ohio visiting our parents. We returned today to a rainy, green Pacific Northwest.

These are pictures I shot just before our trip, the photograph above shot at a neighbor's place, the image below made in our garden. They are pictures that serve as a kind of self-welcome-home.

I realize how fortunate I am, to have two places I call "home"...the Midwest town where I grew up (and made my first photographs,) and the forested part of the country where I moved as an adult.

Two homes. I am a very lucky man.