Friday, February 26, 2010


I’ve written here before that photography is the way I make my living, but more importantly it’s also the way I make visual notes about my life. While some people might use a pen and paper to keep written diaries or journals, I do the same with my camera.

It’s important to me that photography not just be something I do when someone is paying me. Like a musician or an athlete, I practice my photographic art nearly every day because that’s what one does to get better. It would be both boring and sad to become static and think “I’ve arrived,” and feel the creative journey is done.

When I began this blog three years and 300-plus posts ago, I had a vague personal guideline in mind that I mostly wanted to post pictures I’d done for myself, not for paying clients. Our commercially-oriented world seems to expect excellence when we are performing a task for money, but there’s rarely a tip-of-the-hat afforded to excellence for its own sake.

I’m happy to report that my own photographic journey is one where I freely wander back and forth over the blurry border between personal and professional image-making, between art and commerce. The energy I get from productivity in my everyday personal work makes me a better professional photographer. And many of the organizations and individuals who hire me for professional gigs happen to be such fine people that my “job” often feels like I'm creating art for a worthy community, rather than simply performing a task that will allow me to pay my bills.

The two pictures I’m posting today were done this week as a professional assignment for an organization that advocates on behalf of mothers and babies. This is the second year these folks have hired me and I’m pleased to be shooting for a group with such an admirable mission.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Club Secrets

I hope I don’t get booted out of the Man Club for treasonous acts and disclosure of Club secrets for the story I’m about to relate, but...

My friend JS and I were talking on the phone the other day. He and I have been Guy Friends for over 30 years, getting to know one-another during our now long-ago days as competitive runners in Ohio when JS, a few other guys and I would go out for long training runs on roads in the quiet Ohio countryside. JS still lives in Ohio but he visits me occasionally here in the Pacific Northwest and we go for backpack hikes, or we climb mountains, or hit the roads for kick-ass bike rides.

There’s a bond that forms among friends who run or cycle miles and miles together and who share rambling, honest conversation, and the same sweaty bond happens on a mountain trail. JS and I have a kind of Sweat Brotherhood.

I must confess too that a part of the Brotherhood Thing is that there are occasions when we break into a kind of Guy Lingo: We time-travel back to junior high...and no matter how educated or well-read we might like to think we have become over the years, we Sweat Brothers sometimes find that we're communicating today like we did back in seventh grade (I hasten to add that it might well be a Man Secret that we speak this way, so don’t tell anyone.)

As JS and I talked on the phone, I couldn’t keep myself from bragging to him how unseasonably warm it’s been here and what great bike rides I’ve been having. As I gushed about the weather, I was fully aware that it’s cold and snowy in Ohio and poor JS isn’t getting out for any rides. His reply was exactly, to-the-word, what I knew it would be. In fact it was what I would have said to him, had weather been good in Ohio but bad here, and had JS been telling me about fun rides he was doing while I sat indoors.

“Bite Me,” JS said. And for a brief, beautiful moment, JS and I were back in junior high.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Not Bragging

Leah says that the photograph above looks like a stained glass window. I suppose another pair of eyes -- yours, perhaps? -- might perceive something entirely different.

In a literal sense, what you’re looking at is the dried-out and decayed shell of a tomatillo, a little visual surprise we discovered the other day as we began to do a spring clean-up of our garden. Leah brought several of these wispy puff-balls indoors and has placed them on our kitchen window sill. When the early-morning light shines through them, it’s really something to see.

I do feel just a tad guilty about posting these pictures and words, in that many of our friends and family members who live Back East or in the Midwest are still shoveling snow out of their driveways...but here Leah and I are, living in the Pacific Northwest where we’ve had an unseasonably mild winter. This week we’re enjoying daytime temperatures in the 50’s and planning our garden for the coming spring and summer (actually it feels like spring is already here. My allergies certainly think so.)

Not that I’m bragging about our weather. One thing we know in the often-rainy Northwest is that our weather will return to drippy any day now. This week, however, all is right with our world.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Winged Jewel

I’d like to think that a pleasing photograph -- like any precious thing one might see in life -- comes my way because I’ve done something to earn it. I try to move through my days with a cultivated level of conscious awareness, and I keep my eyes open. I always have a camera in hand or in my pocket so that I’m ready to answer when life comes a-knocking with a visual gift.

Every once in a while, though, something cool happens and I see it or photograph it, not because I’m worthy or talented or ultra tuned-in with the vibrations of the Universe, but because I’m just freaking fortunate. Sometimes I’m just King of the Land of Dumb Luck.

The pictures you see here are prime examples of Good Fortune. A hummingbird arrived at our place and started timidly visiting a feeder that Leah had recently put out near our front porch. I tried to do All The Right Things to photograph the amazing little creature (the hummer is what a friend of mine calls a “winged jewel.”) I got out a huge telephoto lens and mounted my gear to a humongous tripod. I fashioned a kind of bird-blind, using an old green blanket to cover my gear.

I waited. I watched, and I waited some more. The bird began toying with me.

He/she would flit past the feeder at supersonic speed. “I bet you can’t shoot THIS,” the hummer seemed to be taunting as it flew loop-de-loops and nosedives. Everything I shot was pathetic and I realized that I might be in for a summer-long exercise in perseverance and patience before I got the photograph I wanted.

Then several evenings ago I was out on our porch splitting firewood kindling, doing all the things that I assumed would convince the hummer to stay miles away. I was swinging the ax wildly at the knotty wood, making a ton of loud, obnoxious noise. And...the hummer came to feed anyway! My camera gear was close at hand, set up and ready for me to go to work. In short order I shot the frames you see here.

“What Dumb Luck!” I mused when I eventually returned to my kindling-splitting task. Thwak! Boom! Thud! Apparently our hummingbird visitor is one of those creatures who isn’t hung up on peace and quiet when he dines.

Friday, February 12, 2010


The phone rang one evening last week, about the time Mom and I usually talk.
“Tashi Delek!” The voice on the other end of the phone line sang out the Tibetan greeting akin to "Good Day!" and my brain was so stuck in talk-with-Mom mode that I caught myself briefly wondering: “Where did Mom learn to speak Tibetan?”

When I recovered my cultural bearings enough to realize that the caller wasn’t my sweet, very American Mom in Ohio but rather my energetic Tibetan friend, Rigdzin, in Seattle, I started laughing and couldn’t stop. I have great love and fondness for both Mom and Rigdzin but they are two different individuals. Rigdzin is a male with a ponytail and he wears single, very cool turquoise stone earring. Mom wears two earrings and hers are a bit more restrained than Rigdzin’s.

I explained to Rigdzin what I had found so funny. He too got a kick out of the joke my culturally confused brain had played on me.

“The Tibetan parents are SO happy with your pictures on the calendar,” Rigdzin said, as I struggled to compose myself on my end of the line. I have photographed a number of events held by the Seattle-area Tibetans in the past year and have given the pictures to the Tibetan Association of Washington. The organization recently produced a calendar -- which I had not yet seen when Rigdzin and I talked -- featuring my photographs, mostly pictures of children. “The pictures are very beautiful,” Rigdzin said.

The image above is published in the calendar and I shot it last August at Tibet Fest in Seattle. As a thank-you for the times we've volunteered at their events, our Tibetan friends invited Leah and me to join them last weekend for a meal and a small Tibetan New Year gathering, where I shot the pictures you see below. Another Losar New Year event will be held this weekend and Leah and I have again been invited as guests. We are quite honored.

Here’s a link to the Tibetan Association of Washington.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What We Share

When Leah and I were freshman in college I took her to meet my grandparents and see their farm in southeast Ohio. I don’t believe that at the time Leah and I knew that we would one day be married, but my grandma apparently did. I remember that Grandma invited Leah into the kitchen where a lesson was conducted on how Grandma made angel food cake. Viewing that scene from another room, I knew that in my world of small-town Ohio -- where family ties are the ties that bind -- my future was obvious: I was as good as engaged.

This past weekend our friends in the Seattle-area Tibetan community invited Leah and me to join with them as they made pastries and decorations for their upcoming celebration of Losar, Tibetan New Year. We made a dumpling-type dish called momos, and the traditional Tibetan Losar cookie, khapsey.

And I was struck by something that I believe we all need to keep in mind: That from family to family and culture to culture, we human beings who share this planet might have differences, but we have many, many similarities...and one of our most wonderful shared human customs is the use of food to connect our generations.

Leah and I watched our adult Tibetan friends teach their children the ways of their ancient culture. And we came away understanding that, geography aside, Ohio and Tibet are not so very far apart.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Just Wondering...

I was down on the floor at wet-nose-and-paw level, goofing around and taking a few just-for-fun snaps of my son’s dog, when I experienced the moment you see above. The picture cracks me up because I can’t tell whether the dog is yawning because he’s bored with having a camera in his face for about the ten millionth time, or whether he’s laughing at me with the biggest doggy horse-laugh ever. And what does it say about me that I even wonder what the dog is thinking?

Not long ago I was in a coffee shop in Seattle and overheard a conversation two young women were having about their boyfriends. One woman was telling the other that she was dating a new guy who was just great, very “evolved” the woman said. That word stuck in my eavesdropping head. What would I have to be like for a woman to think I was “evolved”? Would I no longer be able to watch The Simpsons? Would being “evolved” mean that I wouldn’t have an answer to the question: Who are the starting quarterbacks in this weekend’s Super Bowl? (Answer: Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.)

And what does it say about me that I even think about such things?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Seeing Spring

There’s a forest not too far from my house, about 35 minutes away by car. A river runs through the forest, and a hiking trail follows the river's route.

That forest is one of the greenest places I know...which is saying something here in Western Washington, The Land Where Chlorophyll Reins (rains?) Even in winter when the high mountains nearby are covered with winter white, the moss, ferns and evergreens of the low elevation forest play tricks on the eyes, giving one a sense that it’s spring, long before the calendar agrees.

I’ve walked that forest trail dozens of times and I was there again over the weekend. I tend not to log a lot of miles on these hikes; I’m like a water witch and my camera is my willow switch: I’m led first in this direction, then that. Wow, those moss-covered tree trunks over there are cool...and so is that little waterfall...and...