Monthly Archives: May 2009

Six Degrees:

The Bridge and a few degrees of Separation:

 With time comes the opportunity to view life from a distance, what may lie ahead and that left behind.  Given enough scrutiny almost any point in time has some degree of interest and in this case it may just be six degrees from Cedar Bridge.

First Degree: Back in the early 1970’s as a high school student in Redding, California my best friend Marty’s father belonged to hunting and fishing club that bordered “Rising River Ranch” near Lassen National Park.  Known for its beauty, native trout and plentiful waterfowl it was the type of country that you knew God gave up trying to duplicate. Even he knew when he raised the bar of perfection.

I will never forget one such hunting trip after Marty unlocked the rusty lock to the wire fence gate hearing the crackle of icy snow under the tires as we slowly drove, searching our way for the snow covered road leading to the cabin.  With a creaky cabin door the canoe awaited near the small hand honed dock leading to the open waterway.

We knew the rules well and that was to stay clear of the property on the far side of river. It was the property of Bing Crosby and later purchased by Clint Eastwood after Crosby’s death. I had just lived long enough that both men were idols and heroes in my Italian household. Here I was rubbing shoulders in the same country as Crosby and his buddy Phil Harris and sharing Eastwood nature’s beauty.

Second Degree: During the same time I was one of many lower male classmates that had a healthy respect and lust over beautiful Danna Kennedy who I had photographed many times for the class year book and whom a few years later as a young photojournalist I photographed her father’s swearing in as a Superior Court Judge to Shasta County. There was one historic moment in the frozen food department of the Safeway grocery store that not only did I see Danna but she introduced me to her older sister Kathleen.

 Third Degree:  A few years later I met and married my beautiful wife whose father George in that very same grocery store while staring deep into a can of creamed corn offered me his fatherly advice.

“There will be times when she can be hard headed and you may have to shake a big stick in the marriage.”

I was smart enough to understand that he was speaking in an expressive nature as you don’t shake anything in front of Anne and remain standing.

 A few years later we were blessed to raise two wonderful young girls.

Built in 1883 Cedar Bridge of the "Bridges of Madison County"

Built in 1883 Cedar Bridge of the "Bridges of Madison County"

Fourth Degree: Somewhere in 1992 while working in Des Moines I had the pleasure of taking a portrait of an author, musician and college professor who had just finished a top selling novel. 

Robert James Waller’s “Bridges of Madison County” had just made the best sellers list.  He was a very engaging subject who had a love of photography and the understanding of the strong relationships between a man and women.

Soon after the portrait of Waller the girls and I were on a weekend journey to Winterset, Iowa not to view the inspiration Waller’s book and the love of Francesca and Robert Kincaid, but to see the birthplace of Marion Morrison, John Wayne, the “Duke” another childhood idol and hero.

It was hard to believe that a man of such “larger than life” cinema stature could have been born in the small white neighborhood cottage in 1907.

Life’s turns in the road could have taken us to Adair, Iowa the a 1873 site of Jesse James and his gang’s first train robbery in the west or down the road to view “Albert” the thirty foot tall plaster bull in Audubon.

Fifth Degree:  Cloaked in the shroud of shame of just having photographed the author, we headed to the seventy-foot wood covered bridge built in 1883 over Cedar Creek.

With a little coaxing by mom and eldest daughter Alayna; young Ashley grabbed her sister’s hand for what became many trips in and out of the bridge’s shadow as the shutter on the camera chattered, recording family history.

Sixth Degree: It had all come together on one summer day on the dirt road leading to the lonely bridge.

In 1995 Clint Eastwood and owner of “Rising River Ranch” teamed with sister and classmate Kathleen Kennedy who later became a successful producer with Steven Spielberg and producer with Eastwood on “Bridges”. The author and portrait subject Robert James Waller had used Cedar Bridge on the cover of his book.  The three significant young ladies in my life Anne, Alayna and Ashley had been photographed along the historic weathered red boards; …did I mention that Waller’s subject, Robert Kincaid was a photographer?

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Whiskeytown Falls near Whiskeytown Lake, CA
Whiskeytown Falls near Whiskeytown Lake, CA

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A time to eat the young:

Spending time watching the wind.
Spending time watching the wind.

Managers have to be ready to Eat Their Young

 At times during the day I’ve found myself pacing from room to room with no apparent destination.  My daily routine disrupted and foreign to what I’ve known for the past thirty-seven years growing up in newsrooms.

The last two household boxes are all that remain and the daily process of unemployment, cobra and paperwork for the movers has slowed. 

The kids are gone with the youngest graduating from college at the end of May. The eldest has just purchased their first home north of New York, just in time to give mom and dad a place to stay while seeking out a new direction and hopeful employment.

Uncertainty is the norm in the newspaper industry at a time where a lay-off colleague noted “There are more of us on the outside than the inside anymore.”  It’s sad that we can coin-the-phrase ‘lay-off colleague”.

Fear of the future prevails in the newsroom and managers have to be ready to eat their young.

The light wind is blowing the curtain over the chair commanding my attention much longer than it should, offering a reason to look to the past with appreciation, and with a combination of excitement and fear to the future.

I started as a newspaper photographer at a time void of corporate liability concerns.  It was a time when you could hang out with the local small town newspaper photographer on their night shifts.  Watching them work a room; create images; and see the satisfaction in their eyes when the black and white prints formed in the developer.

The camera store kid who one Friday afternoon in 1974 was walked into the Redding, Record-Searchlight; shown where the Saturday assignment hook was; given a key to the front door and told “not to screw up!”.

After a few years on staff; following a love of travel and nature photography; opening a photography studio; and getting married somewhere in there; I was back at the newspaper in 1977 for the next eleven years.

“No one really cares about this!. It’s too depressing” The images were tossed to the edge of the table as the editor walked back into the newsroom.

I was crushed; I had worked on the homeless project using my own time for two months in 1988.  I worked the shelters, parks and encampments along the tracks. Did he miss the part about having the knife pulled on me? Did he not see the pain, loneliness in their eyes?

It was the realization that to bring change to a newsroom; photographers needed a voice in the newsroom. For some strange and delusional reason I needed to be the voice.  It was the start of a twenty-one year photo editing career with a path through Salem, Des Moines, San Bernardino and Riverside.

Blessed with talented photographers at each stop and editors who took the time to answer questions and guide me over the bumps like Jim Vestal, Paul Whyte, Bob Lynn, J. Bruce Bauman and Scott Sines I was able to avoid many of the landmines that came with directing a photography department.

Yes, the changes in our industry are monumental but it will be the love of our craft and the understanding that photojournalism, on all levels, has the ability to change lives.

I’m reminded of a photo assignment early in my career of an elderly woman who was bound to a wheelchair.  As we went into the kitchen I noticed one of my photographs of Mount Lassen taped to her refrigerator door, “That’s my window.” she noted pointing to the photograph.

A simple reminder, that no matter the vehicle we choose to deliver our images, the impact to the public remains the same.