Monday, February 28, 2011

Losar warm-up

There might come a time (though I seriously doubt it) when I’m no longer treated like a “guest” when I hang out with my Tibetan friends. Maybe too there will be a point in our relationship when my friends stop handing me plates of Tibetan food and insisting I eat, as if I’m about to wither and blow away from lack of nourishment. I’m not holding my breath that this will happen either.

There just seems to be something basic, perhaps innate, and certainly wonderful in their culture that leads Tibetans to show warmth and generosity toward those around them, and that they also share what they have with others. One of my Tibetan friends who grew up in a refugee settlement in India once told me that when he and his brother were young, they had very little to eat and often were hungry. My friend remembers that if one brother did a job for someone and earned an orange, he would share it with the other. I guess there are life lessons that a child learns under those circumstances that stick with one long into adulthood.

Anyway, the Tibetan New Year holiday, Losar, will be celebrated next weekend, and my friends gathered yesterday for a party, a kind of pre-Losar warm-up. The children practiced a play they will perform next weekend, and adults and children worked together making khapse, a Tibetan cookie. My contribution, as always, was to take pictures...but also to eat all the food that my dear friends so generously shared with me.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Leah and I have words we use with one another to communicate about goings-on in particular areas of our property, but our words would be meaningless or even confusing to anyone but us.

There is a spot of ground, a small, grassy, pastoral place, open to the sky but bordered by big trees, and we call that the Picnic Grove, though we’ve never eaten a meal there.

We also talk about our Upper and Lower Pastures (Upper being closest to our house,) areas surrounded by electric fence where the barn critters graze. I would suspect most folks think of “pastures” as vast, open, maybe even flat land. Together, our pastures are perhaps only the size of one football field, and both are on a very steep hillside where there are tall trees but very little pasture grass because the trees there make too much shade.

Even the words “our property” might suggest ownership of a sizable piece of land, though our place is a relatively small 2.5 acres, and in some ways we don’t consider ourselves “owners,” but rather caretakers. We choose to keep most of this ground natural, and the descriptions we use for those wild areas are phrases like “the woods west of the house,” or whatever. This is habitat for the plants and animals that were here before us, and we hope will still be here after we’re gone.

A couple of nights ago I was walking near the bottom of the hill in the Lower Pasture and looked up at the black sheep Smokey, who was standing in the trees, waiting patiently for his evening hay. Some folks would suggest we cut those trees, grow more grass on that ground, buy less hay.

We'll choose to leave it as is.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Changing Light

This is an incredible time of year for photographic light, and, though I'm not completely sure why the light is so amazing, I do have a theory or two. Whether it was the sweeping, vast, outdoor landscape I saw on a ferry trip across Puget Sound, or a small, luminous scene at home in our kitchen, the light this week had a kind of a glow to it, a radiance.

It didn’t seem to matter much either, whether I made images in black and white, or in color, that special quality of the light was there. Something pretty cool was up, and I felt like I’d better pay attention.

I noticed that there was a spring-like breeze blowing off the Olympic Mountains, clouds were skittering across the sky, and trees were waving back and forth. The clouds and trees took turns, filtering the light, bouncing it around, reflecting it. Things got really freaky then, because the light seemed to be moving, pulsing, even, with a presence like a beating heart, thump-thump-thumping in a science fiction movie. It was a little weird, actually.

But I said I have a theory, and here is what I think is happening: The sun is still fairly low in the sky at this time of year, so there is an angularity to the light. The calendar says the season is still winter, but spring is knocking at the door. The weather forecasters are using words like “unsettled” to describe climactic minute we get a little of this, the next we get a little of that, weather-wise, and one senses that there’s a whole-lotta-shakin-goin-on.

I plan to stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Two weeks and a day after Leah’s hip replacement surgery, she has already tossed aside her crutches, doesn’t need pain meds, and has released her nurse (me) from indentured servitude. She started back to work yesterday via her laptop at home, and last evening we poured over a map of India, talking about our next big Adventure of a Lifetime, hopefully this fall.

Life is getting back to normal here, except that “normal” now for Leah is minus the nagging pain she’d had in her right hip and leg for the past several years.

We had stayed three days at the hospital in Seattle for the surgery, and while we were away a friend came out to our place twice a day to feed the barn animals. The two dogs stayed in Seattle with our son, whose apartment is in a tres hip, trendy neighborhood. Thus, we were pleased when the dogs came back to our place without any new piercings or tattoos, and seem content here, down on the farm, after seeing Par-ee.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Hunt

If it’s true -- that old folk-wisdom notion that claims that “Sometimes you bite the dog, sometimes the dog bites you,” then I have found that a similar, ain’t-it-weird? dictum influences my life as a photographer:

Sometimes you find the photograph. Sometimes the photograph finds you.

I was on a ferry the other night, crossing Puget Sound right about the time of sunset, headed to a client meeting. I had my wedding portfolio in a case in one hand, and a daypack on my back that was filled with even more work samples, a camera, and a couple of lenses. I also had a small point-and-shoot camera in my pocket. A challenging voice in the back of my brain taunted me, asking: “Hey Dude, with all these trappings of an “image-maker” on you, do you suppose you can find a picture, right here on this ferry boat, right now?”

I'm tempted to jokingly say I hate that voice, introducing as it does two very different creative possibilities: That I will find a photograph that pleases me, and thus feel the Sweet Rush of Success (good;) or I'll fail to find a worthy image and drag my sorry, caveman self home from the hunt with no art to put on the cave wall to impress the cave-wife and cave-kiddies. But the truth is that "the voice" is really one of my best teachers, encouraging me to accept whatever comes my way.

So I walked around the passenger area of the ferry on a vision quest for a picture. I looked at the patterns in the water in the wake of the ferry, and considered the color that was added by the warm, end-of-day light. I then sized-up the visual possibilities of the Olympic mountains off to the west, but the mountains were mostly hidden in clouds. Nothing really seemed to “be” a photograph...until the boat docked in Edmonds and I walked into the ferry terminal, where I happened on a window, crazily and wildly cracked.

There was an image possibility that was worthy of investigation, and I spent several minutes by that window, shooting one kind of picture, then another.

Oh, Sweet Productivity! The caveman could, with gratitude and humility, take something home from his hunt.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Surgery

The surgeon gave Leah a book titled “Joint Journey,” which I thought sounded like the spring break road trip diaries of some of the folks I went to college with in the early 1970’s. In actuality, the book outlined what Leah could expect when she had hip replacement surgery, which, after months of consideration and some admitted nervousness, she did Tuesday.

It does seem like Leah and I have been on a long road, a journey even, accompanied every step of the way by Leah’s ever-present, pain-in-the-butt friend, her right hip. Whether it was due to too many hard weightlifting workouts in the gym over the years, or falls she took skiing, or who-knows-what ramification of an active lifestyle, the hip had gotten to the point where Leah couldn’t even sleep comfortably, much less walk without pain.

After he performed the hip replacement this week, the surgeon said that Leah had been living with the hip of an 80-year-old. Now, as she learns to move around on crutches and does her rehab exercises with great dedication, Leah is on the road to recovery.

I stayed with Leah in her hospital room in Seattle, and the pictures I’m posting today are of the sunrise we watched illuminate Mt. Rainier Wednesday, the first day Leah woke with a new hip. We’re beginning a new chapter in the Joint Journey, and we expect it will be far-out, man.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Common Moments

Maybe it’s because I have a lot of friends who are climbing bums, and many other friends who are journalists -- in other words, I know a lot of people who are ne’er-do-wells, vagabonds, and dreamers -- that I have been on the listening end of more than a few conversations that began: “If I was rich and didn’t have to work for living...” The climbers then rhapsodize about peaks they’d summit, while the journalists go on at length about bar stools they’d occupy in some out-of-the-way, south sea island village until a Big Story came along that needed covering.

I guess I personally tend to be a fellow with pretty lame fantasies about what I’d do if I was independently wealthy. As a former photojournalist who now shoots weddings for a living, if I quit working, I’d pack my cameras, go someplace where people don't speak my language, and then...I’d...shoot...(wait for it...) WEDDINGS!

Or at least I’d shoot events a lot like weddings.

You see, I am passionate about photography, but I’m even more passionate about the magic way the camera allows me to plug into the lives of people around me. For me, weddings -- and cultural celebrations, religious holidays, and festivals of all kinds -- are great opportunities to see and document the coolness of everyday Life.

A week ago, for example, I photographed a wedding, and wonderfulness was happening here, there, and everywhere. The pictures I’m sharing here today of a young flower girl, caught in three very girlish moments, are the kinds of somewhat non-wedding wedding pictures that I love.

I suspect I could go to a wedding in Mexico, or Brazil, or China, and find similar moments...Or at least that’s my theory.

If I was independently wealthy, I’d head to Brazil, bum around a bit, then shoot a wedding and hope to find pictures like these, just to prove my point.

There’s a little ne'er-do-well in all of us.