Friday, November 28, 2008


I was smitten the first time I set eyes on Mt. Stuart, probably 30 years ago, and my infatuation with her has not diminished over the years.

I really can’t say why she captured my heart. There are other peaks in Washington that are much higher. Where Mt. Stuart reaches 9,415 feet into the sky, Mt. Rainier has an elevation of 14,410, Mt. Adams 12,276, and Mt. Baker 10,778. And there are peaks that have had a more tangible impact on me: In 1980 when we lived in Yakima and Mt. St. Helens erupted, we wound up with several inches of volcanic ash on the roof of our house, which was up for sale at the time. Believe me, hundreds of pounds of sand on one’s roof does little to increase salability.

Still, it is Mt. Stuart that I visit again and again. I’ve made pilgrimages to her from the north and from the south. I’ve made photographs from her lower slopes and from her summit, in black and white and in color, at all seasons of the year. Some of the pictures I’ve taken of her are quite nice, but none even begin to do her justice.

I hiked near Mt. Stuart again last weekend -- for some reason I’m particularly drawn to her around Thanksgiving -- and made the photograph you see above. It’s a very average picture of her; it felt like there was more potential in the scene that day than what I was able to capture. And so I will go back, hopefully for another 30 years, and each time I will look at her fondly.

I know I’m not worthy.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Rookie

I should have seen it coming. I should have known I was about to get a dose of humility.

Two days ago I went hiking with three adults and a kid. Today, as I type these words, my legs are sore (the rest of my body feels pretty damned beat-up as well) and I feel obliged to share this piece of hard-earned advice:

When you are planning a hike with friends and one of them is a young father who says he’d like to bring his seven-year-old son along, don’t do what I did: Don’t spend time worrying that the kid will slow you down. When the dad says his son is “a strong hiker,” I think you should believe him. Most of all, I suggest you beware of a seven-year-old hopped-up on gummy bears and Pepsi. He’ll kick your hiking ass.

The trip we had planned was on a snowy trail, maybe six miles round trip, with about 2000 feet of elevation gain. It was a bright, sunny day and our destination was a ridgetop at an elevation of about 6000 feet where we knew we’d have wonderful views. Organizing my daypack at the trailhead, I decided to strap snowshoes onto my pack, reasoning that if the snow got deep higher up, I could use the snowshoes to help break trail for the seven-year-old.

Once we began hiking, the kid and his dad took off and were ahead of the rest of us all day long... (so much for them needing my macho trailbreaking skills.) A couple of hours later when our whole party gathered together for lunch near some beautiful, weathered, white pine snags on the ridgetop, I ate organic fruit and nut bars (you know: Sensible Adult food.) The kid ate candy and drank pop.

We all took in the views and reveled in the camaraderie brought on by a great trip on a fine day.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Eye Candy.
Many photographers shoot it.
I guess I do too sometimes.

I was walking down The Ave in the U. District.
I saw a kid hanging out,
listening to some street musicians.
The kid was wearing a mask.
He was outside an empty storefront.

Can I take your picture? I asked.
Sure, he said.

It took about 20 seconds to shoot the pictures.
I showed the kid what I’d shot.
Cool, he said.
And that was it, the end of our encounter.
I walked on.

I could have talked with the kid.
I should have talked with the kid.
I’d have sounded weird, but
if nothing else I could have asked:
What’s Up With The Mask?
I might have learned something.

Eye Candy.

In this case, it feels like
there’s no There there
in my pictures.
My pictures pose more questions
than they answer.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Just For Fun

I seem to be seeing in threes the past few days:

--Sunday I walked into the kitchen and noticed a pleasing pattern of three empty dog bowls (and one hungry dog, waiting patiently for one of the bowls to be filled.) I guess I was in a goofy mood but also preoccupied with all the bad economic news of late because the thought occurred to me that our dog's definition of the word "recession" is: Three straight instances of negatively-filled food bowls.

--This morning Leah left three pears on the kitchen table. She's been leaving me little visual Easter eggs quite often lately, picture possibilities hidden here and there in our house and my job as The Photographer is to take the hints and the photo.

Nothing profound here. No Great Art. Just simple pictures of everyday things, entries in my daily photo diary.

Taking these photographs is my way of keeping photography fun, making sure it's never just "a job."

Friday, November 14, 2008

New Baby

When Leah and I were first married we rented a one-bedroom, upstairs apartment in a wonderful old house in small-town Ohio. Our landlady, Minnie Frederick, lived downstairs in the main part of the house and she was so warm and grandmotherly to us that Leah and I became very close to her.

When our son was born several years later -- by then Leah and I had bought a home of our own, though it happened to be just around the corner from Min’s house -- we took our five-day-old baby over and proudly showed him off to our sweet, grandmotherly friend. I took a picture that day that, now, 30 years later, brings memories flooding back of a shared joy that was beyond what I can put into words.

Photographs are like that sometimes.

Several days ago I visited a young couple we know. They have just had their first child and I offered to do a picture of the new baby, who, it turned out, was a bit fussy part of the time I was there. Taking her in his big hand to calm her, the infant’s daddy held her and cooed to her in a way that was just wonderful. I felt, again, that sense of shared joy, and I was very happy to be there with my camera.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Giving Back

It was exactly a year ago today, November 9, 2007, that Leah and I were nearing the end of our three week trek in the Himalaya in Nepal. Leah made the above photograph that day in the tiny village of Monjo. I like the exuberance of the boy in Leah’s photo and the idea that the girl with the toy camera is turning the photographic tables on the tourists who pass by, we trekkers who are looking-looking, and snapping.

Several weeks ago I finished reading the book “Three Cups of Tea,” a real-life story about an American mountaineer who goes to Asia to attempt a climb of K2 in Pakistan. After what turns out to be failure to summit the mountain, Greg Mortenson wanders into a remote village near K2 and, eventually, formulates a plan to build a school for the children there.

This week I had a conversation with an American company that has a business relationship with Nepal. We are talking about ways the photographs Leah and I shot in Nepal might be used to give something back to the people of that country.

Here’s a link to the work being done by “Three Cups of Tea”

Friday, November 7, 2008

Seeing, Glacially

The Dark Months are heavy upon us here in the Pacific Northwest. It rained all day yesterday in the lowlands and snow fell in the high mountains. The sky is gloomy and leaden and I suspect many people in Seattle are plugging in their “light therapy” lamps and reaching for the Prozac.

Being a both a cheapskate and an electricity-saving environmentalist, I’m reluctant to turn lights on in my house during the “daylight” hours. I walked past our kitchen table and noticed that Leah had placed an apple in a small, antique bowl, but I very nearly missed recognizing the scene’s photographic potential because there was so very little daylight coming in the kitchen window.

Slowly, dimly, glacially, the neurons began to move in my head. Vision -- believe me, I use the word now with great humility -- emerged through the thick molasses of my rainy-season brain funk. I put a camera on a tripod, made an exposure of eight seconds at f8, and the Canon digital sensor magically produced an image that transcended darkness (both mental and physical.)

When I played with the image later on my computer, I decided to add digital “noise.” A grainy, old-looking image seemed aesthetically pleasing. It also happens to reflect my mental state as I made the picture.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Rural Roots

I’ve been making photographs in rural places since I was a kid in high school. The above picture of a cat walking in the snow at my grandparents’ Ohio farm was shot and printed when I was 16-years-old. The only print I have is yellow around the edges and the emulsion is cracked, probably because my darkroom back then was a closet in my parents’ basement, and my method for washing prints was to splash them around in water for a couple of minutes in my mom’s laundry tubs.

Not a lot has changed in the nearly 40 years since the making of the cat picture. Rural scenes still speak to my photographic heart, and this week I shot pictures that kind of please me as I did chores in my own barn here near Seattle, 2500 miles removed from my Ohio roots:

--There’s an image of our dog, Minnie, peeking in the barn door as she whimpered pathetically. Minnie would dearly have loved to come inside the barn with me, but she has a disgusting habit of munching on chicken poop. I don’t know that I’m teaching my dog any lessons, but I keep the door open just wide enough so that Minnie can smell --but not get her gross nose in -- the banquet the chickens have left behind.

--Our sheep, Jupiter and Sweet Pea, press in to visit with me and also nose-smear my camera lens. As I share this picture now publicly, I get some delight in fantasizing that this photograph might be seen in Germany, where a fussy lab-coat-wearing optical designer at Leica will shake his head and tisk-tisk in disapproval, knowing as he does that sheep schmutz is not at all conducive to optimal lens performance.