Monthly Archives: February 2009
Snowflakes the size of rose pedals dropped from above adding to the three feet of snow already on the ground. Hell, it’s dark, cold and I’m lost again. This time I don’t really care as everything is a new experience and just beautiful.
This is really no surprise to the folks that know me. I can walk the back country for weeks with a topographical map taking direction from the sun but toss me in the middle of a city and I babble like a newborn.
My two main goals were to walk everywhere and not have one western meal in the six weeks that I was in Japan. My success rate on the first was pretty darn good and perfect on the second. I have a lifetime of being more successful in food related areas.
Just across the street I see an elderly man bundled tightly pushing snow near the wood gate of his home. He is looking at me with a cautious eye and right-fully so as I’m armed with my “Japanese for an American Idiot” card.
(Konbanwa) Good evening I say pretty pleased with myself.
(Hai) yes, notes the old man
(Hajimemashite) Pleased to meet you. The warmth of success is flooding me.
(Hai) yes, notes the old man
(Oneqai shimasu) Please help me. I’m feeling pure panic starting to set in.
(Hai) yes, notes the old man, this time with a hint of a smile.
I begin to point to the salmon colored card that has phrases in kanji hoping that I’m pointing to “I want to go to the Yanagimachi media village.” and not “Do you have a menu with pictures?” but my glasses are beginning to fog!
(Hai) yes, notes the old man pointing in almost the same direction I was heading.
(Arigato gozaimasu) Thank You
The offer for the 1998 team heading to Nagano, Japan came at the end of the Summer Olympics in Atlanta. The learning environment was tremendous if you were open to it both as a manager and the technology.
This type of work is not for everyone as the hours, emotions and details are daunting. Most rookies get sick in the first week and some never really recover from the experience, but the rewards can also be great.
What a difference two years makes. I traded my Leica cameras for a Mac laptop for work and the family as soon as I returned from Atlanta.
I was issued a wonderful Samsung broadband (the US was still messing with the thought of broadband at the time worried about the expense of conversion) cell phone that was crystal clear from downtown Nagano to Redlands. There were community computers everywhere to keep in touch with family.
I’m in the snow again, but it’s five in the morning and the flakes are smaller. It’s about a two mile walk from the apartment that has now become a morning ritual as many times during the week as I can make it.
The sound is beautiful filtering through the morning stillness. The bells mixed with the chants of the monks over morning meditation that echoes from the Zenkoji, a 7th century Buddhist temple sitting on the hill overlooking the city.
I like sitting on the steps below the giant bell because they are free of snow and you can look out over the small stone temples. You also don’t have to view the ugly CBS studio that was built to blend into the grounds of the Zenkoji.
The blending part didn’t really work. The other afternoon Al Roker was interviewing “Dave’s mom” from the Letterman Show. She was pretty darn funny behind the camera, Roker not so much.
It took less than four minutes for everything that I knew in twenty-fiveyears of photography to change.
It’s been a driving snow and the event postponed because of poor visability prior but Picabo Street is now rocketing down the “Super G” on a Shiga Kojen mountainside the photographer got one shot. He passed it to an editor transmitting behind him with a laptop to the office in Nagano. I relayed the image to the office in Arlington, Virginia. In less than four minutes you had the gold winning run on the website…old technology by today’s standards.
I’m in the snow again, more of an icy rain walking along a very narrow path next to the Yokoyu-River. It’s just a few miles into the Jigokudani Monkey Park also known as “Hell’s Valley” because of the boiling water and steam that escapes from cracks in the frozen ground.
It is an awesome sight crossing the bridge to where the snow monkeys play and warm themselves in the thermal pool. Just before crossing, a monkey jumps to the top of a snag as if providing the role of security scout.
There was mom, dad and kids huddling together in their matted fur coats as the flakes falling faster and thicker were forming a little white yamaka on those soaking in the steamy water.
The offer for the Australian Summer Olympics came towards the end of my stay in Nagano. This time they wanted my eldest daughter to come and help in the photo department and fill where needed. It was a wonderful opportunity to share this experience with my daughter.
My bags would remain packed for a six month loaner program taking me to Arlington when I returned home.
Unfortunately it all vanished just a few months later when the newspaper I was working for, was sold. It was the start of many things that would soon vanish in the industry.
(O kanjo kudasai)…bill please.
“you know something baby?
when you walked into that room.
i could not believe my eyes.
ha ha ha looking so fine.
struttin across that floor.
and that little red skirt.
wooo ha ha”
Jack Mack And The Heart Attack – So Tuff
This was my first opportunity covering the Olympics with a very talented USAT and Gannett News Service team who came from around the country to Atlanta.
They were tired and hungry and spread out though the Waffle House, just across the street from our motel. It was close to midnight all were busy in conversation and opening their first beer while ordering.
I was offered the winter games in Lillehammer a couple of years prior and passed it to a talented colleague so I was excited to have a second chance.
I told myself that I would not miss a moment of this experience. I was so focused the first week that I forgot to call the girls. Anne was calm, for Anne, but there was no mistaking my lack of communication would not be repeated.
The Olympic Games were on television in each corner of the room when a “special alert” showing images of what looked like Beirut and not the Centennial Olympic Mall flashed on the screen. A bomb had gone off injuring over a hundred people and killing one. There was a few seconds of cold silence along with disbelief when the scramble for our bill and the door began.
In a moment of monetary weakness I heard myself yelling “Just go, grab equipment and go, head for the vans.” as I dug for my American Express card. “Just put those tables on the card.”
Lord did I realize that my card had to be paid at the end of the month and how will I explain this on my per diem?
The packed last van had room to squeeze me in and with an equal amount of money and threats; our driver was passing all others on the freeway.
The van was just slowing a block out when the doors swung open and everyone went flying to cover the story in all directions.
We just made it though most of the security but it was growing quickly and access was getting tight.
There were only two rules at the Photo meeting held before the games.
1. Don’t embarrass the company.
2. Photographers and Picture Editors, don’t let the Director of Photography ever see you without a camera..
I was holding a camera, but no strobe. I knew if I would have any success, I needed to stay with the light, and began walking towards the plaza.
You could smell the powder still in the air and see a light haze illuminated by the office lights.
I noticed a small group of people sitting on a curb in a small cul-de-sac.
As I got closer I could hear crying and saw a woman holding a young man with a napkin oozing blood from his forehead.
I asked if he was ok?
They were told to wait there for an ambulance.
Everyone just seemed to have an emotionless stare on their face and I backed off for a long shot using the street lamp for light.
I moved in closer but was shooting 2-4 seconds and knew I better head back to the office to be ready for photographers coming in with their film.
As I started for the office in the International Sports Plaza I worked my way to the back as police units were cutting off all movement.
They marched in a helmet and shield wall pushing everyone to the side and barricading all intersections.
I tried crossing the street towards the building and was pushed back by officers twice. I noticed a group of women in the crowd on the other side of the street and I started calling my wife’s name.
Both the officers and the women were looking around confused but I kept yelling “my wife, my wife, I need to get to her” pointing to the other side of the street. They relented and I made my run.
As soon as I was in the ground-level parking garage I felt a sense of relief…until I heard the metal and chain gates falling to the ground around me. The building was under lock down and every opening was now closed tight.
I made the elevator at the same time as an AFP photographer cursing in broken English only to find that the elevators, escalators and stairwells were also off.
Feeling defeated we walked around and spotted a third elevator half the size near the loading docks.
We pressed the button and jumped in finding the doors opening into the kitchen of one of the restaurants on the first floor, scaring the hell out of the cooks and serving staff.
Showing our ID they walked us through the bar and unlocked the front door. All eyes of the patrons never left us. It was if they were watching two terrorist given access to the main plaza.
Rounding the escalator I could see several of my colleagues banging on the front entrance trying to gain access to the building. They seemed to be a little relieved after seeing me run the flights of stairs on the escalator as security was running down yelling for us to stop.
At some point, I don’t remember my new French buddy splitting from me, but didn’t look back until I was in the darkroom tossing rollers into the Fuji film processor and firing it up.
Just as I hit the process switch a young GNS photographer was banging on the door with several rolls of film. I asked how he got in and he seemed dazed and out of breath. It was best just to get the film through the processor.
His images were strong and USAT was very anxious …and told me as such in constant communications. I lost track of time but it seemed like hours before the office started to fill,
Later in the day I heard that we beat the Associated Press by five minutes posting the first image from the bombing. Apparently at some point security had showed later in the afternoon looking for the guy that was running up the escalator breaking all their rules.
Not until much later did I have the opportunity to think about the fact that I had been sitting in the exact location where the bomb was left by Eric Rudolph hours earlier.
Both sad and ironic that the band playing that night was “Jack Mack and the Heart Attack” it was later learned that a video cameraman lost his life by heart attack running to cover the bombing…I never saw that roll of film again.
It was 1965 when I first went to work in the fields.
After many years it still leaves a bitter taste, its grueling work will leave you in a daze.
I was ten years old and my best friend lied to the field foreman, telling him that I was thirteen-years old; it was the benefit of being “big boned”…there are few.
The field opportunity was by choice, it was for extra money during the summer and not because it had to feed a family or pay rent.
It was almost 4a.m., brown, white, black all wrapped up in flannel and sweat shirts jammed into a colorless van on its way out of town on highway 38 towards Merill.
The flatlands are as far as you can see. You can’t feel the climb to around 4000 feet where the soil turns to sandy loam.
The air is very still and cold for a summer morning and the sun starts to bounce off the the dirty windows but offering little heat.
It is silent except for the occasional snort of a sleeping worker.
Out the window thousands and thousands of acres of potatoes make up a green carpet as far as you can see. Rows and rows spreading out, that become overwhelming when you know they need to be weeded by hand.
You learn fast that you will break your back if you try to pull hunched over, even a young back can’t take much. It’s best to crawl, on you hands and knees, tossing the thick green weeds in the trench ahead of you where it will help to cushion.
After the first few days there is no point in even looking up, it’s just tough on
the soul once you see what is looming ahead.
The days are hot and all the workers cram tight under the only shade for miles that is provided by an old flatbed trailer. A couple dozen gritty hands shoveling in sandwiches and warm water going down like a fine meal.
There are times that I’ve been more tired from work in my life, but never so defeated. By the end of the week you almost forget the itching and light red rash from the pesticides, thoughts that don’t really hit until later in life.
All you really want to do is just get through the week, so you can get paid out by the foreman who dips in to his jeans pulling out a large wad of cash.
The ride home is much like the ride out, workers quiet, and too tired to talk.
It was almost nine years later when I found myself in the cotton fields outside of El Paso looking for a couple of days work to pay a bit of gas to keep the journey alive.
The work was by hand in areas where the machines couldn’t reach, but the cotton offered just enough return to not give up on.
Your hands better be of leather as the cotton is protected by a tough bowl that can take its toll.
Again, it was my choice and I’m not there to feed anyone but myself.
The faces were different, all brown but red from the sun and dirty from the earth, even the foreman. The color of the jeans and the roll of cash were the same, just as I remembered.
The Cloud is not a hard place to miss arriving just this side of midnight, it’s the only doorway with the glow of light at this hour.
There was a single street lamp about a quarter of a block down pushing a ribbon of light along the brick wall that holds the door frame. It was just enough to show a bit of the texture allowing the beer sign to shine like a beautiful holiday decoration.
I was warned that the area could be a bit sketchy at night. But when you’re thinking a blues bar, sketchy is just what you’re looking for and after all it was Des Moines.
The beer was flowing much earlier in the afternoon and given the volume of the voices that filtered to the street with the cigarette smoke,things were well underway.
I’ve often wondered why drinking seemed to impair one’s hearing. It might have been the smack of the stick working balls around the table that added to the audible confusion.
The door was heavy and solid with a brass knob and appeared to have seen better days. It had the look of a piece of wood that had touched a number of visitors, some that maybe left with a little help.
The group was down from the north and this was “Chicago Blues”.
You can tell the difference from the blues played in the Delta because there is nothing acoustic about it.
It’s amped up and the harmonica is blown hard and loud against the microphone. You could say it’s almost orgasmic, but there was no almost about it!
This was the music of Little Walter, Charlie Musselwhite, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. These were the sounds of the “Great Migration” when poor southern blacks moved north to find a better way in the industrial cities.
It was just yesterday that a photographer and musician friend and I were talking about the richness in this type of music.
“I’d sell my soul to play great blues guitar.” I told him.
He laughed and started for the door.
“Hell, I’d sell yours too!” the laughter faded.
You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space. -Johnny Cash-
I tend to gravitate to elements of age both in humans and inanimate objects.
I like the fact that both show lines of experience and a good weathering is something to be embraced for the experience it mirrors.
There is a sense of worth that comes with age but has little to do with youth.
It’s noted that “respect” should not be confused with loyalty or fear…that’s too bad as both are excellent paths to respect.
My grandmother was pouring what was near ice water into the tub that had to be twenty-five degrees warmer than my bluish-black toes and felt like needles being pressed into my calves and thighs.
She was silent with her lips pressed tightly together and her gray head was moving slowly back and fourth. There was no doubt she was thinking “how does her grandson get himself into these situations?
Looking back on my childhood I’m going to have to blame the environment for the reason in the lapse of good judgment I showed from time-to-time.
I grew up in the area of the country where you were surrounded by wonderful opportunities to toss in a fishing line or to challenge your talents with a shotgun in the middle of the western flyway.
It was not unusual to walk the mile towards the city recovery ponds (a refined word for sewer) which was next to the rail yard for jump shooting ducks or during the warmer months fishing for croppy or blue-gill in the many diversion canals that brought water to the crops of the Klamath basin.
Although I enjoyed fishing…I loved bird hunting with a particular focus towards waterfowl.
My Uncle Erv was the first to set my path as a human retriever when we went quail hunting and he allowed me to shoot my Grandfather John’s twelve gage only after I had chased after the first few down birds running through the thick sage. If you just have a wing shot you could be chasing for a time.
It was a Stevens side-by-side with a shortened stock. Grandpa was not a tall man and the gun was a perfect fit. My uncle had his father’s thick Italian curly hair and I can only guess a bit of his sense of humor.
“To keep it steady just tuck it in tight and squeeze both triggers slowly.” Aiming not only the shotgun, but to please my uncle, I found myself about thirty-three feet from where I remembered standing earlier with barrels a smoking and listening to a slight chuckle.
My hunting companions were my cousins David and Donald, their two black labs and from time to time my best friend Bruce who did not own a dog. My cousins only used me when the first string couldn’t show.
This particular day the ground was frozen like granite other than a large hole in the ice towards the middle of the pond it looked frozen with inches to spare as Bruce and I settled in to the cattails pulling them tight making a natural blind.
Sitting just behind us was Bruce’s cleaver adaptation of a boat where he had taken an old inner tube and placed it around a small plastic barrel. His dad worked for Crater Lake Creamery so there were all sorts of containers around the house to be used for a good cause.
We could see the four mallards coming in from the river and it looked like they would set down on a pond near us, they made one circle and the second was just close enough for the Stevens with eights loaded in the barrel.
I was never as good a shot as my cousins but Bruce seemed to have a pretty good challenge with concentration, which your better off just lobbing your shells into the air by hand.
As luck would have it the injured male hit smack in the middle of the only water on the pond as I looked towards Bruce…”Your bird” he noted.
I grabbed the barrel boat and inched my way towards the downed bird, hoping for the wind to pick up, pushing it to at least one side of the opening.
I can hear the ice starting to groan about four feet out and I’m thinking that getting lower to the surface will help spread the weight of my morning oatmeal.
Just about another three feet, the fat lady sung and the only hole in the ice became the much larger hole in the ice with me going down like a ton of taters with a layer of wool long-johns two shirts and a canvas coat, I’m suited to be a anchor.
I can’t tell my fingers for the ice and pull myself into the craft feeling pretty good about my chances until my full weight hit the bottom of the plastic barrel and I was only left the inner-tube to paddle back through the shard ice to shore.
“Half the boat worked!” Bruce said in all earnest.
I like to think of putting memories in boxes, shoe boxes if you will, that are stacked as high and deep as needed in the dark closet.
The difficult and painful memories go in the boxes with the tight lids.
I’ve been known to use duct tape on some boxes as an added security measure.
The thing about boxes is that once they’re in the closet you can’t toss them out, they take up useful space and there is no spring cleaning… no taking them to Goodwill.
I know folks that try to damage the closet thinking that it will rid them of the boxes, but then that just tends to open another box.
Just a light breeze this June, Saturday night as the pickups started to fill the dirt lot. There is the unmistakable sound of cowboy boots over the white worn wood bleachers. Cowboys in their finest hats and cowgirls in wrangles tight enough to keep a sane man praying for a week of Sunday’s.
I’ve always admired the strength of cowboys. Not in a “Broke Back Mountain” context but their strong will and ability to keep things simple.
The only way to really understand much of this is to spend some time behind the chute of a rodeo or on the flat lands during a roundup…both offer a unique opportunity that is a rare insight to a special breed of men.
The stock is uneasy in the pen just a few feet away and the dust is littered with gear bags. Cowboy’s are checking ropes, gloves and rigs, some tied to the fence checking every inch of leather for a problem that will be compounded by an animal hell-bent on causing them some type of harm.
The air reeks of chew, bengay and beer only tempered by horse and cow shit.
Rodeo is an intense sport given each event bareback, steer wresting, saddle bronc and bull riding just a few of the rough-stock or judged events that bring in a dinner check or buckle. The description of athlete falls short when it comes to these folks.
It’s not often that you witness a man sitting on hide and hooves for eight seconds; a ton of hurricane.
Nothing like 2000 pounds of snorting, slobbering meat to get your attention.
The time is just enough to help prevent the cowboy from being killed and wearing out the stock that may have more value in the long haul.
Back in the early days before too many rules and regulations and lawsuits hit the PRCA (The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) you could get heal deep in the dirt inside the arena to photograph. It was an adrenaline rush like no other!
I had more luck than I was fast in the early days but can remember just making the fence and getting brushed by the shoulder of a beast that made fast work of a cowboy by spinning to his inside tied hand. It felt like being brushed by a half ton Chevy and the rodeo clown became my new best friend but not in a “Broke Back Mountain” way.
Just Ten Simple Cowboy Rules:
#1. Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear, or a fool from any direction.
#2. Don’t squat with your spurs on.
#3. Don’t judge people by their relatives.
#4.Behind every successful rancher is a wife who works in town.
#5. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
#6. Talk slowly, think quickly.
#7. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
#8. Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you’ll enjoy it a second time.
#9. Don’t interfere with something that ain’t botherin’ you none.
#10. Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance.
A small town has its benefits when you’re working the streets as a photographer.There are few folks that don’t know you and you have photographed at least one member of their family.
It was no two songs and you’re out like it is now, back then.I had the run of the wings and the front of the stage.
The town had a new multi-million dollar civic auditorium that sits on the banks of the Sacramento River and a short flight or three hour bus ride from Reno.It was a perfect combination for acts that wanted to make some quick money for a few shows in an entertainment starved community.
It was a given that anything that wore a cowboy hat and boots was going to be a hit…hell anything was a hit.It was this or the “hot-saw” competition in Dunsmuir.
I worked the night shift and had an opportunity to photograph them all.
The two Charlie’s…Pride and Daniels and then there was Jan and Dean (their first concert after the accident); Jimmy Buffet (fresh from injury from a softball game) who played the show in a cast sitting on an old chair in the middle of the large stage; Kenny Logins (not friendly as I remember); Vincent Price and Hal Holbrook who were both doing one-man shows of Mark Twain (Holbrook, one of the gentlemen of this world who I photographed as he applied make-up and talked of his preference for the stage.)
A blessing was spending and afternoon with Scatman Scruthers who was in town playing a local golf tournament and ended up stranded at the course with no ride back to his hotel.I apologized for the shape of my mustard colored Datsun as we talked of music. I had only seen him perform on television.In the early days you had the Hollywood Palace and variety shows where you could watch the greats.
I wanted to know about Armstrong who had died years earlier in 1971. As a kid I loved Louis Armstrong.I’ll leave it to a shrink to figure out why a kid from a small town in Oregon would grab a handkerchief and try to blow riffs like “Satchmo” without the trumpet?Catman could not have been more gracious with his time and his fruit basket.
Bill Cosby pulled his chair to the edge of the stage so he could be closer to the audience as he was doing his monologue, before I knew it we were engaged in a friendly conversation with hundreds of our best friends watching on.He was a true professional who knew how to work around a young photographer who was getting a bit too close.
I had just taken a drag on my cigarette sitting on the stage-door steps.You could hear the rapids of the river just a few hundred feet away, but too dark to see, when the tour bus pulled up.
She was the second one off the bus in blue jeans, flannel shirt and a kerchief covering her head.No big hair and her other parts didn’t seem as big as on TV either.Beautiful slight features and a soft voice…god what a smile…everything that those dreams are made of.
She asked if I mind her sitting down and she asked questions of what the area was like as she had seen some of it through the bus window.I told her of Mount Shasta and my hidden jewel Lassen Park.She loved the fact that you could hear the river near and said it reminded her of areas she where she grew up.
Minutes seemed like hours and she all too soon excused herself to get ready for the show…goodbye Ms. Parton.
Never a complaint about working in a small town!
He met me at the gate pulling on the thin wire loop that held the barb wire and wood poles back.
As mean as it sounds the poles and wire looked in better shape than the man.
His dirty wool cap was rolled upwards providing more warmth to his bald head and his opaque glasses were riding a bit low on his nose.
It was a cold early November morning in 1983 and his canvas work coat was left open exposing three layers of shirts.
He looked content and I could only guess that his clothes out weighed him by about thirty pounds.
“I got a goat.” he said. “No use doing any chasing this early.”
As my car door opened, I grabbed his hand with a shake. Good god, I might have just as well placed it under the wheels of the old Dodge truck that sat just outside of the door of the shack.
Looking back, in fifty years I can remember three hands shakes that have brought be me to my knees; Stan the Iron Man; Shihan, John-Paul and the Miner’s. It was as much their penetrating eyes as the strength of their hands.
“Like a drink? Got some warming up on the stove? No coffee left, but some whiskey.”…god I love my job.
We talked about the mine and a bit of a town it once hand been as I looked around. Imagine taking your living room after putting it into a big giant blender. The only thing that was not broke splintered or had holes in it was the old cast iron stove he was sitting near.
No talk of family, just the goat.
He rose to head to the door for more wood and we went to the pile to break limbs off dead trees. You could see that his belt was cinched tight against his layers of clothes or it would have hit bone.
The miner gravitated to the shed where some yelping was coming from to where a small pup was lying in a wood bin with rags as the bed.
He was gentle when he pulled the pup to this chest and you could see the red soaked bandage on the paw.
“He got caught in trap. Why would anyone use such a thing?”
As he changed the bandage you could see that there was no fur, skin, just bone.
I asked if he needed to go to a vet.
“Nahhh, it’s doing better.”…it wasn’t.
There is a thought that photographs take a piece of the subject’s soul.
I like to think that the people we meet enrich the little soul we have.