Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tibet Fest 2010

My first newspaper photography job was in Lorain, Ohio, a city with a vibrant population of immigrants from countries like Hungary and Czechoslovakia, Mexico and Puerto Rico. The immigrants had moved to Lorain for good jobs that were to be found in the local US Steel and Ford Motors plants (if ever there was a city that visually epitomized the Rust Belt, Lorain was it.)

The immigrants made homes in Lorain and surrounding communities and put down roots as US citizens, but they also celebrated the cultural traditions of their ancestors. Each summer Lorain held an International Festival, and my photographer colleagues and I would cover the partying and carrying-on -- we’d shoot the spinning, whirling spectacle of Greek dancers, for example. We’d also buy baklava and stuff it into our camera bags so that, come winter, we’d be off on entirely different kinds of assignments -- photographing snow storms, let’s say -- and we’d pull lenses sticky from baklava from our bags and remember, fondly, the past summer’s sweet excesses.

So I felt right at home this past weekend -- 30-some years after my first rookie photojournalist days in Ohio -- as I took pictures of my friends from the Seattle-area Tibetan/American community. The Tibetans celebrated their 15th annual Tibet Fest near the Space Needle at Seattle Center. They danced, sang, and ate momos (a dumpling kind of a dish) drenched in five-alarm Tibetan hot sauce.

Like most cultural celebrations of this kind, much of the emphasis of Tibet Fest was on the youth: Elders wanting their children and grandchildren to have connections with their cultural history. I spent both Saturday and Sunday with my friends, two very full and amazing days. Finally, with prayer flags fluttering overhead Sunday evening, Tibetan Buddhist monks offered closing prayers for peace and good fortune for all beings.

Friends gave me Tibetan cookies, some of which I stuffed into my camera bag. Months from now, during the dark and rainy Seattle winter, it’ll be fun to find cookie crumbs on my lenses.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Willing Model

As I worked in our yard several evenings ago, a flash of green down at boot level caught my eye. I stooped to pick up the dime-sized froggy, thinking I’d move him to a place where he wouldn’t accidentally get smooshed by a passing human foot. The creature was surprisingly calm in my hand, not seeming at all frightened by me, so I decided I’d take his picture.

We have a small Buddha statue on our front porch and I placed little Mr. Frog there. My green friend posed peacefully near the Buddha’s face; then I carefully moved him into the Buddha’s hand. The frog seemed content to perch there too.

About a year ago when we bought the Buddha statue and put it on our porch, it was partly to honor the traditions of our friends in the Seattle area Tibetan community. I’ve read that many Buddhists, particularly monks and lamas, go to great lengths not to harm any living creature, even insects. Taking pictures this week of that calm and apparently trusting frog, there with that statue, struck me as a fitting gesture to our friends.

I thanked the frog for being in my pictures; then I carried him off to the edge of the yard.

I put him on the ground and watched as he hopped away.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mister Sunshine

Abell adopted his dog Buddha from a shelter in New Orleans, and, though it’s far too obvious a writing “hook” for me to say this, that dog is Big and Easy, like the city he came from.

Sometimes we call him Big Butterscotch, other times Mister Wrinkles. Buddha knows we all are crazy in love with him and he doesn’t seem to care much what he’s called (“Just don’t call me Late for Dinner,” my grandfather would have said.) As an easygoing, down-South, warm weather fellow, mostly what Buddha seems to want from life is a spot of sunshine for his afternoon nap.

Buddha does love to eat however, so no, don’t call him late for dinner.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Munchkin Visitors

Leah and I spent a fair amount of time earlier this week cleaning and readying the guest room because our niece, her husband, and their two toddler children were coming to stay with us for a few days. We washed the guest room curtains and bedding and hung everything out in the sun to dry. We vacuumed the rest of the house and washed dog and cat nose smudges off the windows.

It’s been 30-some years since our son was toddler age, so Leah and I had forgotten how close-to-the-ground little ones live. Had we remembered the crawling, rolling, inch-worm-wiggle explorations that kiddos do of the space they inhabit, Leah and I could have saved ourselves the time we spent sweeping the house. The munchkin visitors -- a precious little one-year-old girl, and an inquisitive boy of three -- have used playtime bodily contact to mop and dust every surface inside our home way more thoroughly that Leah and I did.

The three-year-old has also taken me by the hand, convincing me of the pressing need -- for the umpteenth time today -- to go outside to feed the chickens and gather eggs; and I've lost count of how many trips he and I have made down the gravel lane to visit the neighbor’s horse. The child peppers me with an unending stream of questions:

“Will the horse bite me? Is he friendly?
“Why does the rooster crow all the time?
“Can we go gather eggs again?
“Where are your toys?”

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Seeing Chairs

I’m aware that there are homes -- places of culture and refinement -- in which dining room chairs are pieces of furniture where human beings sit while they eat good food and have enlightened conversation.

Here at our house, however, chairs tend to serve two very nontraditional functions:

--Chairs are ground cover for the hunter/gatherer feline Basil as he stalks about in his daily rounds of cat daring-do, ever vigilant for cat-imaginary villains. Basil hides behind chair legs and darts in and out of shadows, ready to attack a passing and threatening human foot or an unvacuumed dust bunny.

--Chairs are visual elements for me, shapes I notice that might be a part of a photograph. A chair is a circle here, a straight line there. A chair in my way of thinking is something the light strikes, after which the light bends, twists, bounces one way or another. A chair is a piece in the puzzle that is a photo opportunity.

Yes, there are times here when a chair does serve the more conventional function of being a place a human can park his/her backside, but those times tend to be rare...and even when Leah and I do want to sit, we have to make sure the chair space hasn’t already been claimed by a cat or a dog -- four-leggeds, after all, being the true rulers of our particular universe.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Funky Chicken

This is Goldie, who lives in our barn but wanders up to the house most mornings and evenings. She seems to have taken on the role of diplomatic emissary on behalf of the 10 other hens in her cluck-cluck sisterhood, with a mission of reminding the humans when it’s time for critter feeding.

It’s a pleasant task for Leah and me, caring for these animals -- demanding and spoiled though they may be. I’ve been making a point lately of hanging around in the barn, even after the feeding and watering chores are finished. I talk with the hens and ask them how their summer is going.

Of course I also take pictures, and this image seemed to beg for some funky-chicken Photoshop coloration in the light panels in the barn wall and ceiling. When I emailed the picture to my brother who is an Ohio State grad, he pointed out that the colors I added are those worn by the Michigan Wolverines.

Maybe Goldie and I will have to chat about the upcoming college football season, though I do remember from past conversations that it's best not to even get her started talking about her fave team, the University of South Carolina Gamecocks.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Summer Invasion

This is the time of year when tourists invade the Pacific Northwest. They come here from Indianapolis and Kansas City and Tokyo. They bring cameras and also their curiosity. They stop locals like me on the street in Seattle, point off toward Puget Sound in the distance, and ask: “Is there water all around that island?”

The Puget Sound ferry system is a particular mystery to tourists. “What time does the 9 PM ferry sail?” they inquire, earnestly.

I was on a ferry last evening. Being a non-tourist-non-gawker, I had my Official Pacific Northwest Goretex rain parka, carried at all times by locals, rolled up, pillow-style, as I stretched out and tried to nap on one of the bench seats...but napping was not possible because all around me the visitors milled, chatted excitedly about the view, and took pictures. Out the window above my head I saw someone on the upper deck pointing at something interesting (probably an island...one surrounded by water.) Nearby a Japanese fellow had his son pose for a picture standing with a vending machine (do they not have those back home?) while his wife took a photo of a map on the wall.

If you ask me, tourists were the best show on that ferry trip.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Seeing Red

I was out on a mountain bike ride last night, sweating my way up every nasty hill I could find near our house. One hill was so steep that the bike had no forward momentum at all; I was riding up off the seat, standing on the pedals, and each downward rotation left me kind of perched on the pedals, motionless for a second, until I cranked the pedals again, inched forward, then stopped again. It was like trying to run in place in a huge tub of Jell-O while wearing cement shoes.

All this was in the name of fun, mind you. Exercise. Fitness.

Yes, I’m slightly demented that way.

Out of the corner of my eye I kept watching the sun as it sank lower and lower toward the western horizon. There have apparently been forest fires burning the past few days north of here, up in British Columbia, and the fires have put enough smoke into the atmosphere so that we’ve been witnessing VERY red sunsets. As I rode my bike, the light kept getting more and more otherworldly. Finally when I saw that the sun was about to sink behind some tall fir trees, I put my bike workout on hold and pulled out my camera.

I remember one other time when I made a photograph where the sky looked red, but that was the result of the eccentricities of film. I was shooting a several-hour-long night exposure of the star-filled sky over dramatic Prusik Peak high in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The long exposure caused a color shift in the film, turning the sky red. It happened also that an airplane flew across the sky during the exposure, the blinking wing lights adding yet another funky element to the image.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Wedding Dance

For about 10 years I did freelance work for Pacific Northwest Ballet, so I have photographed more than my share of dance. I shot “finished product” dress rehearsals and performances, but I also documented the hours, days, and months of behind-the-scenes, before-opening-night creativity that goes into the choreographing, costuming, lighting and staging of a professional company’s work.I came to respect and admire the artists of the dance community, and I learned that the beauty the audience sees on stage does not happen by accident. Everything we witness, from the grandest flight of body to the tiniest of details -- the way the tips of a ballerina’s finger’s are curled just-so when she does an arabesque -- are things that are examined, practiced, and perfected.It amazes me now when I photograph a wedding and I see elements of dance at these beautiful, albeit spontaneous events. There are moments of such perfection, poise, and sweetness at weddings...and those moments come without practice or choreographed forethought.One of the things I particularly enjoy seeing at the weddings I photograph is girls -- grown-up girl brides, and little ones who have the honor of being flower girls -- having the chance to play dress-up. Frilly dresses with tulle, sparkling earrings, dainty shoes.Do beautiful, real-life events like weddings influence dance, or does dance mirror real-life? Maybe a little bit of both?