Peculiarium, Portland, OR, 2018

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Growing up in California’s Bay Area, I would spend Saturday nights watching the now famous Creature Features on television. Creature Features was a show hosted by Bob Wilkins (and later John Stanley) that showed some of the best, and worst, horror shows available. Wilkins, with his gigantic cigar in hand, is reputed to have quipped during the break of one, particularly lousy show that he was going to sell the film at a garage sale in Vallejo the next morning.

Although I remember being disappointed at times, it’s not the bad movies that I recall, but the good ones. Two, in particular, stand out. One was of a hobby horse that under the right circumstances would come to life and terrorize people. I can remember the whinnying of the horse, and shots of it taken from ground level as it reared up, hoofs at the ready, to attack. Another was of space aliens who crashed in a forest and made their homes in the trees. From there they let their tails hang down, electrocuting unsuspecting passers-by, and presumably feeding on them. The fog in the forest and the sound the aliens made are both sensations that stay with me. I don’t recall the names of the films, and I haven’t made an effort to locate them, mostly I suppose, out of fear that the adult eye will ruin the child’s experience of wonder. I want those aliens and that horse to remain safely in my mind, scaring me as they have most of my life.

Although it’s not scary, each time I pass by the Peculiarium in Portland, with its oddities and homages to the horror genre, I’m reminded of Creature Features. This image was taken during a cloudy day when the light wasn’t too harsh, which reduces shadows and reflections and allows you to view into the globe and onto the creature’s face. At the same time, I love how parts of the environment reflect in the top of the sphere. But mostly it’s the chills that get me, the creepiness of the statue, the same sensation I felt with Creature Features.

Ft. Bragg, CA, 2017

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The city of Ft. Bragg is my favorite layover as I enter California from Portland. Whereas Mendocino is too busy for my liking, Ft. Bragg, despite being a tourist destination, manages to emit a peaceful, small-town feel. Not too small-town, which is its charm.

 I arrived at Bragg mid-afternoon the day before making this image after traveling through the snowy remains along the hills of HWY 1 and descending into perfect coastal weather. I don’t like perfect coastal weather. All the pictures I take in that sort of weather look like postcards, and the photographs I took that day were all boring and predictable. It’s hard to photograph beauty and make it inspiring instead of trite.

The next morning, as I prepared to leave the town, I visited Glass Beach. There’s a rock at Glass Beach, a bowl really, that’s always filled with water that reflects the light in a remarkable way, reminding me of Alice Through the Looking Glass. It’s magic. I arrived early, and the beach was empty, though a man waited in the parking lot, sitting in his truck reading the newspaper. The sun had not yet risen. Clouds spread across the sky like saguaro arms, bringing life to what would have been a tedious, blank sky. I took several pictures of “The Bowl,” and stepped closer to the sea to photograph the rocks made visible by the low tide. Ft. Bragg, CA, 2017 is one of those photographs. Along the right, a small portion of “The Bowl” can be seen, which enlivens the photograph. 

Pebble Beach, CA, 2017

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There are, I’ve learned, more than one Pebble Beach on the California coastline, one accessible and one less so. Having seen photos from other photographers of Pebble Beach, I decided to visit and photograph it. Of course, I went to the wrong one. My maps app took me to the famous Pebble Beach Golf Course where my worn out Ford Focus, with its chipped paint and cracked windshield looked distinctly out of place in the parking lot of the country club. Fog hung over the area that the employees assured me had some photogenic rocks, where I could safely photograph. I’d found other rocks to photograph, but I risked being beaned by golf balls. While interesting, this wasn't the Pebble Beach I was looking for.

Several years later, on an early morning driving along the Pacific Coast Highway, enjoying the light from the rising sun as it changed from black to muted grays, to soft pastel colors. I stopped to photograph a beach I’d visited previously (though I couldn't, and can't, remember its name). This time, as the sun continued upward, I wandered a bit more north than usual, and viola!, the Pebble Beach I’d been searching for years before. The beach isn’t large, but the rocks were inspiring. The tide was beginning to return, and I found plenty to photograph. Because it was early morning, there weren’t many visitors in the cove, and I wandered in peace. Instead, they were walking along the bluff, where a path leads from beach to beach.

One rock, in particular, kept grabbing my attention, the one at the top left of this photograph. It reminded me of a duck’s bill, and I spent much of my time on the beach exploring different compositions which included this rock. Pebble Beach, CA, 2017 is a favorite of mine.

Portland, OR, 2018

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The rain tickled the window of my apartment as I peered outside, trying to decide whether or not to take my camera on a jaunt. Throughout Portland, trees were in bloom, and there was a particular group along the waterfront that I wanted to photograph. But the wind was heavy, and I couldn’t be sure that the blossoms hadn’t already been blown off. With more rain and wind forecasted, I decided that if the blossoms were still on the branches they wouldn’t be there for long, so I grabbed my camera and headed out.

The rain came intermittently as I walked for the waterfront, sometimes light, sometimes heavy, and as I stopped along the way to take other photographs they took on an eeery feeling. In one, a lone Canadian Goose stood upon a river piling meditating on the water around him. 

When I arrived at my destination I saw that all the blossoms had blown to the ground, perhaps ruining my chance to take those images until next year. I wasn’t the only one disappointed. A couple in tuxedo and wedding dress were having their photograph taken under the trees, right in the middle of where the blossoms would have been, the bride playfully holding a clear umbrella, one that wouldn’t block the light. Pedestrians clapped as they walked by.

I continued into China Town. Across the street was a bronze trailer with no windows. I’d never seen a bronze trailer before and it was striking, the way the soft light embraced it. Waiting for traffic to pass, I raised my camera and took Portland, OR, 2018.

Salt Point State Park, CA, 2017

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In October 2017 a firestorm struck Sonoma County, CA proving to be the most expensive disaster in California history. I happened to be briefly visiting Sonoma County at the time. On the morning of the fires, I left Ft. Bragg, having found ash spread upon my car which was in the motel parking lot. With photography on my mind, I hadn’t checked the news and didn’t know how significant the ash was. 

From Ft. Bragg I traveled to Salt Point. The light was an eerie red, which made the Point seem even more otherworldly than usual. Actually, in the nearly 20 years I’ve spent visiting Salt Point, this was the strangest day I’d ever seen there. As I walked along, the wind would seem normal one moment, and then I would suddenly be pounded by a hot torrent of air that felt as if it were coming from a generator’s exhaust.

I took advantage of the strange light, slipping in and out of coves, photographing my favorite spots, which now looked entirely foreign from I’d come to expect. While standing near "The Pedestal," I captured Salt Point State Park, CA, 2017.

The fires that started that day were so devastating that, more than six months later, Sonoma County hasn’t finished cleaning up, let alone significantly rebuilt. Officially, 40 people died, but there are more victims, those not counted, such as my friend Steve Jacobson. Steve was experiencing health issues when the fires struck, and his evacuation from his home at this delicate time sent him into a spiral from which he couldn’t recover. 

I first met Steve and Ellie, his wife, back in 2006, and they lived the greatest, most inspirational, love story I know. Having attended school together in New York, they went their respective ways after graduation, Ellie to teach and Steve to become a doctor in the Air Force, where he specialized in hematology and oncology. They met again at a high school reunion and soon were inseparable. Steve had married and divorced twice, while Ellie hadn’t settled in with anyone. After all that time they found each other and were indivisible while I knew them. Not only did I get to see pictures from their travels, but I also listened to stories of their families and of their friend, Babe, whom Steve had known since childhood. They would give me tours of their backyard garden, where Steve was always planning on adding a new fruit tree or flower plant. Ellie, a tremendous cook, would serve dinner, and introduced me to heirloom tomatoes. 

He was one of the gentlest people I’ve ever met.

Today, as I pen this, would have been Stevie’s 82 birthday, and it’s a damn shame that he’s not here to celebrate it.

Veterans’ Alley, San Francisco, CA, 2018

 Veterans’ Alley, San Francisco, 2018

Veterans’ Alley, San Francisco, 2018

A man stands at a bus stop at the far end of the alley, watching me with a seemingly confused manner as I saunter along Veterans’ Alley, reading what must seem like graffiti to him. But the alley isn’t filled with graffiti. It serves as a canvas for well-considered paintings that directly reflect the experiences of veterans. 

It’s early morning, and the sun hasn’t risen yet, so I’m looking at these paintings under the artificial green glow of street lamps and tungsten apartment lighting. I arrived early at Veterans’ Alley to avoid the 101 traffic from Sonoma County to SF, which would add hours to my trip if I had departed even 30 minutes later. I’m seeing these images at pre-dawn.

Some paintings invite hope for the future, some raise awareness of current crises the world faces - genocide, famine, and the like -, and some are for friends lost in war. Some spots are empty waiting to be written when the time is right.

Once I finish taking photographs I walk to a restaurant up the way. It is pleasantly homey and doesn’t even take credit cards, something I thought was an impossibility in San Francisco. As I eat my omelet I ponder where I’ll go next.

The day after visiting Veterans’ Alley a combat veteran killed three workers at the Yountville Veterans’ Home. Because I’ve been to the veterans’ home to visit the Vietnam Memorial that sits outside of the campus chapel, this killing strikes more personal than others I’ve read of. I feel a connection of place. The veterans’ home is described as bucolic in some newspaper articles, and those articles describe the nearby golf course and museum as evidence of the peacefulness that inhabits the facility.

To me, a finer example of peacefulness is that Vietnam memorial, a bronze statue of two hands palms up, open in receptivity, asking to be touched. Are they the hands of a god, a soldier, or society welcoming the visitor back? I don’t know, and it’s up to each viewer to create her own interpretation. Grabbing the adult fingers of the statue are children’s hands, each delicately attached to the larger appendages in a sense of wonder. That wonder and receptivity (to borrow a phrase from Ed Mooney) is what I’ve always felt when visiting the memorial. On my next visit will my perceptions change after this violence? I don’t know.

Just as Yountville’s Vietnam Memorial invites interpretation, Veterans’ Alley, San Francisco, CA, 2018, asks us to unpack its meaning. What does 6:33 signify? Why so many clock faces, and a lone peace symbol? Is the peace symbol the key to understanding the mural? Why white on black? I could email the founder of the project and learn the significance of 6:33 if I’d like, but that would defeat the purpose. It’s better I ponder, consider what the possibilities are, and allow the signifier to float over time. 

The Valley of Fire, NV, 2017

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Friends often tease me when I visit Las Vegas because my biggest goal is to leave the city as fast as possible and roam the landscape nearby. The area surrounded Lake Mead has some of the most stunning rock forms that I’ve encountered. I was so captivated by the Lake Mead landscape that it took me years go to The Valley of Fire.

The Valley of Fire, so-named because of the bright orange/red rocks that inhabit it resemble a flame, is as gorgeous as Lake Mead’s landscape, and it’s more popular, which makes shooting there more difficult. But The Valley of Fire does share a problem with the other areas around Vegas; there’s almost too much to photograph. Everything that the eye falls upon is exciting, and it’s easy to become overstimulated. Distilling the forms to their essences, getting the light right, and capturing the emotion is hard in areas like this because there are so many shapes to work with, and they overlap over and into each other. I find that I need to walk around quietly until I can become receptive, and the stone begins to speak to me. In these moments of solitude and meditation, my best images are made.

The Valley of Fire, NV, 2017 is an image that came after sauntering silently around, listening. Honeycombing, known as tafoni, is inlaid throughout the dunes, resembling lace. The shapes remind me of old bones that are piled upon each other and have somehow learned to stand vertically. This quality of the rocks impersonating bones is what keeps me returning there to photograph.

I'm Not Returning to Color

 Humboldt Lagoons State Park, CA, 2018

Humboldt Lagoons State Park, CA, 2018

Last post I wrote that I was returning to photography, and shooting color. Then I had an email exchange with a friend where I considered my aesthetics related to architecture. I described myself as a modernist and was asked whether I was a contemporary modernist, as in a minimalist, or a modernist as in mid-century modernism. Both, I answered. With architecture, I prefer minimalism and cubism, but with furniture, I’m a mid-century modernist. 

What do both modernism and mid-century modernism have in common? An appreciation of clean lines. Especially with furniture, I love elaborate, well-defined lines, and I prefer the mid-century look to industrialism or other schools which appreciate graceful design.  

That exchange led me to think about what I love about creating photographs. The answer, perhaps apparent now, is a love of clean lines. While I didn’t start out that way, I’ve evolved. My compositions are welded together by the blacks in my images, which is why black and white photography expresses my vision so well.  After acknowledging my aesthetic values and while working with images in Lightroom, I realized that I needed to continue shooting black and white. It’s wonderfully fun and inspires my imagination differently (not better or worse, just differently) than color does.

One image that has inspired my imagination is Humboldt Lagoons State Park, CA, 2018 which I took on my way home from a trip through California. I’d left Eureka earlier in the morning, where my car was still wet from the late-night rain. Highway 1 was bathed by the beautiful dawn light as the sun was coming over the earth’s brow. The clouds glowed orange in the lagoon's water as I drove by. By the time I returned to take a picture, the sun had risen too high, and the orange reflections had disappeared. Nature waits for no one, and images often appear and disappear within moments. I continued north and came across a pullout that overlooks the sandy beach separating the Pacific Ocean and lagoon. The clouds hung in the air like grazing sheep, waiting for me to take their photograph. There was a slight wind and, as always, I delighted in the smell of salt in the air, and the sound of the waves hitting the shore.

Afterward, I continued on my way to Portland.

Returning to Color Photography

 New York City

New York City

In high school photography class, back in the really old days where everyone shot film and used the darkroom (actually, access to the darkroom was why many people took photography), I met a friend who developed his transparencies and printed Cibachromes. I was instantly smitten. Ciba prints had this garish pop to them that rivaled the later Velvia film, and the colors just seemed more alive than prints made from any other process. They were also more archival. Oddly enough, I tended to print my Cibas down, so that the colors softer and more sedate, which gave them a contemplative feel.

In those years I was influenced by Robert Farber, Art Kane, Jay Maisel, Pete Turner, David Hamilton, Joel Meyerowitz, and others known for the highly saturated colors in their images or the grainy look. Farber was my strongest influence, particularly his book Moods, which was my bible. I started shooting with a UV filter coated with hairspray and pushing my Ektachrome two stops to achieve the same painterly look that he had. I loved the look.

 New York City

New York City

With the passing of time, I moved away from photography. When I returned, I shot black and white large format film in the Group f/64 style, an entirely different approach from my high school years. This approach continued for some time until it was no longer tenable. The large format camera acted as an invitation for people to interrupt me while I worked, and I found it nearly impossible to mentally focus and photograph, even when photographing in remote areas. So I gave up photography, sold my large format gear, and walked away.

But I didn’t walk far. Photography remained on my mind, and I continued to shoot with my iPhone 8, which is a surprisingly competent camera, though seeing the screen to compose in bright sunlight can be a challenge, and I thought that snapshots with the iPhone would satisfy me. Then I saw exhibitions by William Eggleston and Stephen Shore (the first time I’d seen original prints by either), and I knew I needed to return to photography. Eggleston’s dye transfer prints glowed on the wall, while Stephen Shore’s C-prints had a matter-of-fact quality to them that wasn’t matter-of-fact at all. I couldn’t help but see the brilliance in both artist’s work, and it was at that moment that I knew that I not only would return to photography but return to color. 

 The Museum of Natural History, NY

The Museum of Natural History, NY

Of course, contemporary photographers don't have to choose color, since digital cameras give the option of outputting in it or black and white. But I’m always guided by Brett Weston’s notion that too many choices create, rather than solve, problems (he was speaking specifically of lenses, but I think the broader principal also applies. He was always a fan of keeping photography as simple as possible). So, to learn or relearn color, I knew I had to commit to color. 

How long will it take me to find my "color eye"? I don’t know, but I’ve already started.

 Glass Beach, Ft. Bragg, CA

Glass Beach, Ft. Bragg, CA