Friday, July 31, 2009

Regarding Hats

Maybe in a prior life I worked in Buckingham Palace and was Personal Photographer to the Queen. There’s got to be some logical reason why, as a photographer, I seem to have A Thing about hats.

Specifically, I have A Thing about women-wearing-hats. When I’m out on a professional job photographing a wedding and I spot a female guest in the crowd wearing one of those Church-Lady-on-Easter kinds of hats, my camera lens spins in her direction like a compass needle points to North. Same thing happens when I’m at home and Leah is working in the garden wearing her wide-brimmed, straw, sun hat.

Ga-zing, ga-zing, ga-zing goes the motor drive. And, mind you, Leah doesn’t really like having her picture taken. But in my book, all bets are off when it comes to Hats.

Last night Leah and I walked over to a neighbor’s to pick blueberries. My neighbors have an outbuilding on their place with a funky old door that -- much like a woman wearing a hat -- is also one of the Top Visual Magnets on my list. I’ve photographed that door in all kinds of light and in every season of the year. I coaxed my camera-shy mate over near the outbuilding.

Ga-zing, ga-zing, ga-zing went the motor drive.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Visual Riffs

One of the creative games I’ve come to enjoy in my twice-a-week posting of this blog the past two years is selecting images that feel like they fit with one another. This morning I shot the photo above of dill beans that Leah canned last weekend. Poking around later in my photo archives, I found the image below, something I shot a couple of months ago of nice light and shadows on items that Leah has collected here and there and placed on a window sill near our kitchen sink.


These things were important ingredients in the making of the photographs, and experience tells me they shouldn’t be left out of the editing process. I grew up listening to my musician father, practicing in the music room of our house. Dad would begin by playing scales and exercises, but before long he’d be off on creative, improvisational riffs. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I was learning the lesson that an artist must practice, but that it’s sometimes a good thing to blur the line between serious and play.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Foggy Morning

A photographer friend who sees the personal pictures I shoot around our place once teasingly asked me whether we “decorate” with photography in mind.

I get her point. The house, the garden, the barn do seem to offer more photographs begging-to-be-made than I have any right to expect. I gotta keep my eyes open around here, for it seems there’s forever an image presenting itself.

Photography aside, if I snooze, I lose. Whether I take a picture or not is really beside the point. There’s just cool stuff to see in life, so I’ve found it’s a good idea to walk around with a certain, deliberate level of awareness.

Several days ago the dog and I were headed out for our morning walk when the photographic fairies whispered in my ear: “Hey mister, there’s a picture over there in the garden.” It was foggy out, and I walked in the direction the fairies had sent me and looked and looked until everything -- the roses, the funky old bike hung by the barn, the prayer flags -- came together in a way that I liked.

“That’s not exactly what we had in mind,” the fairies said, looking at the picture on my camera’s LCD screen, “but it’ll do.”

Monday, July 20, 2009

Fru Fru

We have a rooster who is an absolute weenie, a dandy, a fancy-pants boy. Our neighbors gave him to us, explaining that he’s a Polish breed, more of a show bird than anything else. “The Polish” -- the neighbors called him that, and now we do too -- apparently didn’t fit in with the chicken house dynamic next door, and I’m not sure he fits in here at our Working Class place any better.

Still, it’s fun to have The Polish around, if only because we get so much entertainment bang for our buck in mocking him.

The Polish has a fru-fru mop-top of feathers on his crown, and his look reminds me of the 1970’s pop singer Rod Stewart. Unlike the famously rowdy, gravel-voiced rocker, however, the early morning crowing that The Polish is able to muster kind of cracks and squeaks in the most adolescent, 12-year-old boy way, so that we’re embarrassed for him.

The thought that maybe our dandy rooster might be trying to belt out “Maggie May” gives me fits of the giggles.

Several days ago I went into our barn to do morning critter feeding and to see whether our chickens had laid any eggs. The most beautiful light was shining in through the open rafters, filling the chicken house and illuminating the tail feathers of The Polish. I pulled out my camera and -- though it felt a bit weird to be focusing on our Rooster/Rod Stewart’s butt -- I shot some pictures that I kind of like.

Maybe I should stop my mocking of The Polish. I’m beginning to appreciate his European sense of style.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Boys and Girls

I can picture there being a day sometime in the future when Leah and I are baby-sitting a child. He or she is four- or five-years-old, bright, and full of many questions.

“Grandma,” the child will ask Leah, “what’s the difference between boys and girls?”

My dear wife will choose to assume that the child’s inquiry has nothing to do with biology but is instead entirely innocent, and so Leah’s answer will be: “Well honey, boys and girls are different in this way: When grandma hangs out the laundry, she is very neat. When grandpa does it, the clothesline looks like a mess.”

The pictures you see here are of our laundry drying operation on a day when my participation was strictly photographic. There is a continuity, a sense of order and even beauty to the way the clothes are hung, that would not be the case had I handled the task.

My job that day, as it is so often, was to happen along with a camera, to stop and make a visual note of something utterly ordinary, yet worthy.

For a fellow who is kind of a flop at hanging laundry, taking pictures of someone else's unintentional art is sometimes the best contribution I can make.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Reality Bites

Leave it to a linguist to spoil Creative Writing. I had a concept a-simmering in my brain for the text I’d write for today’s photo post. Then ol’-party-pooper Google sends a smart aleck "expert" my way to tell me my story line is “Urban Legend,” a canard, a bunch of baloney.

Ugh! What am I supposed to do now for a literary “hook”?

Maybe you too have heard that the native Inuit people of Alaska have dozens or even hundreds of words to describe “snow”? Well I live in the mossy, oh-so-drippy Pacific Northwest. Though there are some months when it rains nearly every day here, the past month has been sunny and “perfect.” In the last two months, we’ve had one day of rain at my house.

Finally yesterday we got a sweet, blessed, all-day rain. The birds sang happily and splashed about. Brown gardens returned to green overnight. All is right again with our world.

So my thought as I sat down to write this text was this: Rain is synonymous with the Pacific Northwest. Snow equals Alaska. I Googled “Inuit/Words/Snow” to refresh my memory of how many words Inuit storytellers have on the tips of their tongues when they’re riffing on the weather, only to learn that those dudes don’t have any more ways to say “snow” than I do.

“Urban Legend,” says a linguist I found via Google, debunking the tale I'd heard.

I just hate it when reality gets in the way of a good story.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Fun with Photography

Because there are huge cedar trees towering over our house, the amazing light that sometimes shines in our windows generally doesn’t last very long. Sunbeams momentarily sneak through a tiny gap in the boughs of the cedars, but then the sun moves a bit in the sky and -- Presto Chango! -- the beams disappear.

Several days ago I decided to play a kind of Musical Chairs game with the fleeting light. Leah brought some strawberries in from our garden, just as a god-beam of beautiful sun materialized in our living room window.

Think Fast, Kurt!

I had berries and I had light. What could I do with them? What kind of picture could I find before the light vanished and the music stopped?

Work quickly now! The light will be gone in seconds!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

For Kundun

The light in the room was just amazing, something I hadn’t expected.

When a friend recently asked me to photograph an important ceremony at a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in Seattle, I envisioned a dark, somber space, stuffy and confined. The reality was much different: A large, inviting room full of light that was positively glowing. People assembled for the ceremony smiled at me and I felt comfortable being there and moving about, making photographs.

Because yesterday was the 74th birthday of Tenzin Gyatso, the man the world better knows as the 14th Dalai Lama, this feels like a time I’d like to share one of the photographs I made that day in the Shrine Room of the monastery in Seattle. Though my pictures were done as a favor to my friend and a gift to the monastery, the monastery has kindly given me permission to post one of the pictures.

One gives, and sometimes, without expectations, one receives.

The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. In 1959 as the Chinese invaded Tibet in a bloody military crackdown, His Holiness fled to India. In the years since, the Dalai Lama has been one of our planet’s most inspiring ambassadors for peace and understanding among cultures, winning the Nobel Prize in 1989.

Despite his celebrity, the Dalai Lama (sometimes also known as Kundun, which means “Presence”) remains, by all accounts, a humble man. If you are ever having a bad day, I highly recommend a Google search of any Dalai Lama interview (for a link to one, click here) as his positive outlook and infectious giggle will lift your spirits.

One of my Tibetan friends wears the hat you see in the picture below. I’m adding this picture to this post as my way of saying: “Happy Birthday Kundun!”

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Serving Others

Several years ago I attended a lecture given by the respected journalist Bill Moyers, and one of the things he said resonated with me so much I wrote it down on a scrap of paper, which I still have here on my desk.

“I see things feelingly,” Mr. Moyers admitted, “and sometimes it hurts.”

Journalism is like that. In the 30-some years that I made photographs for newspapers, there were many times I was assigned to cover stories about soldiers who had been killed in war, or about someone whose home had just burned to the ground, and it broke my heart.

At the same time, however, there are some stories that prompt journalists to write about or photograph unremarkable, everyday life. Journalists enter the worlds of people who go to work everyday and raise families, and I was humbled to be a witness as my fellow human beings accepted life's ups and downs with dignity and resilience.

This week my friend Lynette and I did volunteer photo work at an event, the Snohomish County Project Homeless Connect. Dozens of public and private organizations came together to offer, all in one place, social and health services for the homeless. The photograph you see above is a child getting her hearing tested. Below is a fellow who found help with pet care, while others received guidance with the often daunting task of navigating governmental bureaucracy. By day's end 400-500 people were served, many by volunteers.

As my friend and I shot pictures, I know we reacted feelingly. And it was heartening in these tough economic times to see a community reaching out to those in need.