Thursday, October 27, 2011

Close to Home

An alluring temptress named Wanderlust began visiting me in my dreams last week, whispering in my ear (she has a very sexy voice) that she and I should go on a road trip together, maybe to Eastern Washington, where Wanderlust said there would be amazing things to see and photographs I might make. Even when I woke, Wanderlust's beckonings remained in my brain, but so far I have resisted the urge to pack my camera and sleeping bag and hit the road with a babe I know could be Trouble.

Trees ablaze in the colors of autumn -- that’s what Wanderlust promised I’d find if only I’d go away with her. You see, where I live here in Western Washington, the trees are primarily conifers, everlastingly green. The trees are beautiful, though the green-green-green gets a bit boring after a while. But east of the Cascades there are aspens and maples and larch, and mid-to-late October is their time to shine.

Wanderlust whispers that I need a change of scenery, and experience tells me that she might be right. The truth is that Wanderlust has popped into my dreams about this time in past years, and I admit that I have followed her (the images above are of aspens that I saw one October in the mountains near Leavenworth, WA.) This year, however, gas is expensive and I am resisting Wanderlust's siren call for a road trip, hoping to stand my ground and find images closer to home.

Two evenings ago the photographs below presented themselves, just outside my front door. There was a fern -- green of course -- but there were also deciduous leaves in fall color, and the scene was bathed in the most amazing end-of-day light. “See?” I said to Wanderlust, “there are fall pictures to be found right here at home. We don’t need to go someplace else.”

The temptress pouted, and last night she did not visit my dreams...but I know that one night she will be back. Wanderlust always comes back.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Simple Monk

Palden Gyatso is an 81-year-old Tibetan Buddhist monk with a smile that can light up a room, and even a brief encounter with him warms one’s soul. Children and adults alike seem to have a spontaneous urge to hug or express respect for him. I know this because I spent several days this week with Paldenla as he visited the Seattle area, a guest of my friend, Rigdzin, and his family.

We traveled by ferry to beautiful San Juan Island where Paldenla spoke to 60 island residents at the public library. Another day we drove to Olympia, the state capital, and Paldenla presented a letter at the Governor’s office. That same evening we attended a public rally held by the Tibetan Association of Washington. The venerable monk’s message at all the events had several common themes: Human Rights for Tibetans living in China; that China should engage in talks with representatives of the Tibetan people; and that China should recognize the Dalai Lama as the spiritual leader of Tibetans.

Paldenla probably would have chosen to live life as a simple Buddhist monk, but events conspired to thrust him into the public arena. When the Chinese invaded Tibet in the 1950’s and Mao Zedong and the communist party insisted that “religion is poison,” Palden Gyatso refused to renounce the Dalai Lama. When he was 28 years old, the Chinese authorities imprisoned Paldenla, stating that he needed to be “reeducated.” He says he was abused and tortured.

Palden Gyatso served more than 30 years in Chinese prisons and labor camps, and was 60 years old when he was finally released. He lives today in Dharamsala, India, and is the subject of the powerful documentary film “Fire Under the Snow.” Here’s a link to the trailer for the film:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Creature Pictures

Everywhere I go these days there seem to be creatures...big ones, but tiny ones too.

The creatures eye me quizzically: “Wazzup?” they seem to be wondering.

Something pops into my head -- a bumper sticker I remember seeing:

“I’m trying to be the person my dog thinks I am.”

I believe these creatures I happen upon sense that I’m a human being who means them no harm. The dog, horse and goat do seem to prefer, however, that I spend more time petting them or offering treats and less time taking their pictures.

The newt is pretty a mellow fellow, no matter what I do.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


It’s raining nostalgia in Seattle these days and many of us who live in or near the city are having conversations that begin: “Do you remember where you were when?...”

You see, it was exactly 20 years ago that a then only-locally-known group called “Nirvana” released its “Nevermind” album, a recording that some now call “historic” in the world of rock and roll. And it was on Halloween night, 1991, that Nirvana -- singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic, and drummer Dave Grohl -- performed in Seattle’s Paramount Theater, as “Nevermind” was about to go viral.

That was the first time I had seen the band, the first time I heard the song “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” a song that in the 20 years since has become an iconic anthem of rock and roll. I was a photographer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the paper assigned me to cover the concert. Thus, when my friends and neighbors now remember back to 1991, trading stories about those days and about first hearing that music, I can say: “I was there. In front of the stage, wedged in between Kurt Cobain and the fans flopping into the mosh pit. I was there.”

As a newspaper photographer, one of the incredible side-benefits of my job was that I was often paid to be places where I’d witness amazing things...and that concert was certainly An Experience. I remember that it made me crazy, trying to photograph Cobain as he sang, because his hair was in his face and I wanted to get an image of his expressiveness, but there was all that hair...and I remember too that I really liked the music I was hearing, which surprised me because I had assumed “grunge” wouldn’t be my thing.

The day after I photographed that concert at the Paramount, I went to Tower Records (remember back when we bought recordings in stores?) and bought the “Nevermind” CD. My musical tastes are eclectic, ranging from classical to rock -- I have, for example, a CD of Bizet’s opera “Pearl Fishers, ” and also a recording of a live concert by Pearl Jam.

Nirvana went on to sell 30 million copies of “Nevermind,” and about a year after the Paramount performance, I photographed Nirvana in concert again (photo below.) That assignment also was fun, but in my mind there was no doubt that it was that first show in the Paramount that was history-in-the-making.

Here's a link to a video of the Paramount performance:

Both photos above copyright Seattle Post-Intelligencer