Monday, May 31, 2004
Remembering Cousin Izzy
Cousin Izzy, Staff Sergent Isadore Siegfried Jachman, was my mother's first cousin.
In January 1945 in Belgium, he was serving in Company B of the 513 Parachute Infantry Regiment when they were attacked and pinned down by two German tanks. Cousin Izzy braved machine gun fire to retrieve a bazooka from one of his dead comrades. He then single-handedly fired at the tanks until they broke off the attach. His selfless action cost him his life, but likely saved his company from disaster. For this courageous act, he posthumously received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Izzy was born in Berlin in 1922, the first son of my grandmother's brother, Leo Jachmann, and his wife Lotte. Uncle Leo had moved to Berlin some years earlier from the family home in Kalisz, Poland, where his name had been Jachimowicz. By the late 1920's Uncle Leo and his family immigrated to the United States, settling in Baltimore, where Uncle Leo Americanized his name by dropping the second "n." Leo and Lotte had two more children, Joe and Sylvia, both "Yankees" born in the USA.
Uncle Leo and my granmother Mila were two of twelve children. Leo was the only one to come the America before the War. Another brother was in Morroco, serving with the French Foreign Legion. The remaining ten brothers and sisters were in Europe at the start of WWII. Six were killed by Hitler and the Nazis, while four, including my grandmother (along with my grandfather and mother,) miraculously survived.
In 1951 my grandparents, Mom, Uncle Joe (Mom's baby brother, born in 1945) and I (born in Germany in 1950) immigrated to the United States. Uncle Leo sponsored us, along with a brother, two sisters, and their families.
Uncle Leo was delighted to be reunited with his brother and sisters after 30 years. Mom remembers how especially happy he was to have them and their families with him in time for Sylvia's wedding in 1952.
I always loved to visit Uncle Leo and Tante Lotte - we'd be there quite often when I was a kid, as we only lived a few mintues away. Uncle Leo and Tante Lotte were like Jack Sprat and his wife, only in reverse. Uncle Leo was fat and jolly, always happy to see me. Tante Lotte was tiny and loving. Uncle Leo was a route salesman for the Baltimore Sun, and he always wore one of those change-makers on his belt - like the ice cream truck men used to wear. Whenever I'd visit, he'd always jing-jing-jing that change-maker and give me a few nickles or a quarter.
But what I remember most vividly was a shadowbox of Cousin Izzy's medals centered on one of the walls of Uncle Leo and Aunt Lotte's living room. Featured prominently was the Congressional Medal of Honor, with its sky-blue ribbon.
Uncle Leo and Aunt Lotte lived until well into the '70s, enjoying several grandchildren in their old age. Sylvia and Joe, now in their 70's themselves, have many grandchildren between them.
But Cousin Izzy remains as he was in January 1945. Our memory of him is as a handsome and heroic 22-year-old. Today, Memorial Day 2004, I think of him.
P.S. - Amazingly, today I came across a photo of the shadowbox of Cousin Izzy's medals when I Googled him to check on which paratroop unit he belonged to. I hadn't seen those medals for a few decades. His family had donated it to the National Museum of American Jewish Military History.
Sergent Jachman's Medal of Honor citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty at Flamierge, Belgium, on 4 January 1945, when his company was pinned down by enemy artillery, mortar, and small arms fire, 2 hostile tanks attacked the unit, inflicting heavy, casualties.
Staff Sgt. Jachman, seeing the desperate plight of his comrades, left his place of cover and with total disregard for his own safety dashed across open ground through a hail of fire and seizing a bazooka from a fallen comrade advanced on the tanks, which concentrated their fire on him. Firing the weapon alone, he damaged one and forced both to retire.
Staff Sgt. Jachman's heroic action, in which he suffered fatal wounds, disrupted the entire enemy attack, reflecting the highest credit upon himself and the parachute infantry
Sunday, May 30, 2004
Happy Birthday Ben!
My baby boy Ben is 18 years old today.
Yes, it's trite, but I'll say it anyway... I don't know where the time went!
Ben is now a kind and well-grounded young man. A computer geek like his Dad. A musician and lots of other things. And of course, he's still my baby boy.
Near the end of last school year, Ben found out that because he only had two required courses left to graduate, he could take equivalent courses at Anne Arundel Community College. So that's what he did this past school year, and he'll be graduating with his class a week from tomorrow. This fall, with most of his freshman year out of the way, he's going to study computer science at University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
With his birthday almost over today, I realized that I hadn't taken a photo of him to mark the day. So already in bed, characteristically still IM-ing his friends on his wirelessly-connected laptop, he good-naturedly agreed to pose.
Saturday, May 29, 2004
Thinking About Memorial Day
A three-day weekend. Memorial Day sales. The beach season starts.
I've been thinking about Memorial Day as a metaphor for how our society deals with war since the second half of the twentieth century. Memorial Day started out as Decoration Day, a day for decorating the graves of soldiers who fell in the Civil War. In 1882, the name of the observance was changed to Memorial Day, and its purpose was broadened to honor those who died in any war fought by the United States.
The ceremonies dedicating the National WWII Memorial today reminded us that the focus is supposed to be on sacrifice and those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Somehow, Memorial Day has morphed from giving to getting. Who thinks about sacrifice while we're grilling the burgers or scarfing up a discounted mp3 player at Best Buy?
During WWII, all citizens sacrificed to one extent or another. Americans couldn't buy cars, tires, or gasoline. We ate a lot of chicken, because beef was rationed. Forty percent of our vegetables were grown in backyard or rooftop Victory gardens. Everyday life was not business as usual.
But WWII seems to have been the last case of national sacrifice during wartime. I'm too young to remember the Korean War, but during the Vietnam era, I can't recall us as individuals or as a nation having to sacrifice anything - nor were we asked to.
Well, let me amend that last statement - those who were caught up in the draft, and their families, certainly were asked to sacrifice. Today, with an all-volunteer military, even that aspect is gone.
I have been generally supportive of President Bush's military decisions since 9/11. But one great mistake that he made was to not ask the nation for some form of sacrifice in support of the battle against those who seek to destroy us. I believe that we needed to be mobilized, and enlisted, so to speak, in a national effort. The exact nature of our national service, our sacrifice, is not as important as the spirit, the energy, of us all participating.
The threat we face today is in some ways greater and more dangerous that that which we faced from Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini in the 40's. But we're still going about our daily lives as if nothing has changed.
In Israel, the day before Independence Day each year is a memorial day, The Day of Rememberance, Yom Hazikaron. At noon each Yom Hazikaron, sirens sound all over Israel. Everyone stops what they're doing and stand silently. Motorists stop and get out of their cars. The entire country stops for a minute and remembers the sacrifice of those who died in their country's wars.
We would do well to adopt this practice for our Memorial Day. It would be a good start.
Friday, May 28, 2004
MidEast Double Standard...
But there was no outcry from the Arab League, the European Union, the United Nations. In fact, just about nobody seems to even know about this event. Keep in mind this is just days after the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning Israel for the death of Palestian protesters in Gaza - passed it even before all the facts were clear and making no mention of facts we do know - that Israeli troops were there in the first place because of arms smuggling from Egypt into Gaza. Photos of Palestinian men carrying injured small boys are still appearing on front pages around the world, but almost nothing about the action in Lebanon.
I found out yesterday about the killings in Lebanon while reading Haaretz online. I searched in vain for any news about it in the New York Times, Washington Post, Washington Times, Baltimore Sun, and even BBC - nothing!
Today I tried searching Google for the story, and found only this article in, of all places, China Times.
I've seen this same kind of weird double-standard going on now for over 35 years. Strange but not surprising.
Wednesday, May 26, 2004
A Nice-Jewish-Boy Yankee In King Faisel's Court
With typical big-company logic, GE took this Nice Jewish Boy and put me on a succession of projects for Saudi Arabia. All together, I worked on four separate projects between 1977 and 1981, adding 1.4 gigawatts of electrical production to electrical grids of Jeddah, Riyadh, and Mecca.
Being an IPD Project Engineer was a headquarters job, but there was a lot of traveling involved. Most was to our engineering consultants in Schenectady and Boston. But the Saudi's own consultants were in Frankfurt and Zurich, and our construction contractor was in Milan, so I also made a lot of trips to Europe. Finally, I traveled to the jobsites for a week or two at critical times in each project, making a total of seven trips to Saudi Arabia.
As an idealistic young engineer, I really thought I was doing something good and noble by working on these jobs - bringing the benefits of electricity to Saudi Arabia, I thought, would lift the standard of living there and ultimately be a force for peace in the region.
Getting to Saudi Arabia was (and still is) no easy task. You had to get a visa, which was valid for a maximum stay of one month and expired three months after issue. To get your visa, you had to be invited by a Saudi national for some business purpose (no tourism, please!) Finally, you had to submit proof of religion.
Proof of religion, huh? You know, a baptismal certificate, letter from your minister, that sort of thing... in other words, we don't want no steeenkeeeng Jews coming into our country!
My boss and I decided to try getting me a visa anyway, and we determined to go after it honestly. But what the heck did I have hanging around to prove that I was a Jew? I finally found a copy of my enlistement record in the U.S. Army Reserves - there was an optional space to fill in your religion. So I took a big black marker, circled the "Jewish" that had been typed on the form, and submitted it as my proof of religion.
To our amazement, I got the visa! I went on my first trip to Saudi Arabia in late February 1977 in the company of my project manager and his assistant plus three engineers from Schenectady. In the photo here, I'm standing at our job site in Jeddah between my engineer friends Cliff at left and Chuck at right.
By the way, as we arrived at the Jeddah airport on that first visit, and as I waited in line to go through immigration and customs, I got really nervous. What would they do when they read Yahood ("Jew") in my visa? As the very long line snaked towards the several officials, my heart started pounding and I began to sweat. With about 10 people ahead of me, I noticed something very strange... as each person handed the inspector his immunization record and passport, he would glance at it, nod, and say "OK!". But sometimes, he would hold the documents upside-down... he couldn't read!
What a relief! I calmed down and soon found myself and my traveling companions outside the airport and on the way to our hotel.
That first trip to Saudi Arabia was an eye-opener. Everything looked as if it were in the process of being torn down or built up. Nothing at all looked finished. Good thing they don't allow tourism - there was nothing at all of any touristic interest! Come to think of it, this makes sense, as until recently, the whole inhospitable country had supported only a small nomadic population, and there wasn't even a country there until 1932.
I saw a lot of wealth there, but amazingly in such a rich country, a lot of poverty as well. Saudi citizens had no money problems, but imported workers, especially Yemenis, lived very poorly. At that time, "security", as in "we need some security for the jobsite/apartment complex/store/etc," meant a Yemeni with a stick and a loud voice. The Yemenis did all the lowliest and dirtiest work in the kingdom. Their living quarters often consisted of a castoff cardboard shipping carton from a large appliance.
In this photo, you can see me with two of the Yemeni "guards" at our Jeddah jobsite. The shack in the background is the lunch and snack shop - you could buy a pretty good schwarma for 1 Riyal (about 30 cents in 1977.) The young fellow at right was our resident technical advisor, George Moses.
On to Mecca ...
I worked on two projects for Jeddah - the original power plant with four gas turbine generators, and the extention, which added four more. The next project I was assigned to was for Mecca Electric Company. This involved expanding the existing Mecca power station by 200 MW, a substantial increase. I was actually thrilled to be involved with this work, as the Mecca station was critical to the Kingdom's committment to the yearly Hadj, or pilgrimage to Mecca.
Mecca at that time had a population of a few hundred thousand - large in Saudi terms but not really a big city. But, during the time of the hadj each year, its population swells to several million. All these people need services, hotel rooms, air conditions ... and that means electricity.
So I felt that I was doing my small part of an endeavor that would enable millions of faithful Moslems fulfill the fifth of their Five Pillars of Faith, a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime.
Let's See - Japanese, Korean ... How Come No Hebrew?
Of course, I couldn't actually go into Mecca. Only Moslems are allowed in this holy city. Fortunately, the power station was on the outskirts of Mecca, a few miles South of the city. Mecca itself sits in a low valley surrounded by hills, so I couldn't see Mecca from the plant.
This last photo shows the "No Entry for Non-Moslems" sign on the road to Mecca - this one was just across the road from the plant.
One funny thing I remember about this restriction is that our staff was easily able to subvert it. We had some wonderful fellows from Eritrea (formerly part of Ethiopia.) They were amiable, intelligent, and very capable... and Coptic Christian. Actually, they put me to shame, as they all spoke, at the very least, Amharic, Eritrean, English, Italian, and Arabic. So if we needed some supplies from Mecca (Jeddah was 60 km to the South,) one of the Eritreans would drive into town. Since they spoke Arabic and could quote a few lines from the Koran, they had no problems.
Well, this Mecca power plant extention was a success, and the Hadjiis didn't lack for electricity over the next few years.
I don't regret working on the Mecca project, as it directly supported a religious purpose, but to say that I'm disappointed at the behavior of the Saudis in the intervening twenty-five years is an understatement.
How naive I was! I thought that the Saudis, with their their commercial orientation, would be the first in the Arab world to make peace with Israel. As it turned out, they have been responsible for funding terrorist organizations and for exporting their radical brand of Islam, to the detriment of regional and world security. Instead of being agents for peace, they actually opposed it at critical junctures, such as the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace accord and the 2000 Camp David talks. They are supposed to be our friend and ally, but they are in fact a sometimes-useful enemy of everything we are and stand for.
More Saudi adventures another time. For now, shalom!
Tuesday, May 25, 2004
My buddy Paul F and I stepped outside at work this afternoon to check on the Cicada situation and were Shocked and Awed by (a) how very, very loud the bugs were today and (2) how they were literally all over the place.
Cicadas were shagging anywhere and everywhere, on the sidewalk, in the parking lot, on the picnic table, in the grass, and in most of the trees. But I posted enough of the fornicating photos yesterday, so no more homopteran hedonism for this blog!
There were lots of "singles" too, mostly hanging out on tree branches. I guess they were either Looking for Love or resting Afterwards?
Paul and I couldn't help ourselves - we went into 12-year-old mode, shaking some of the more populous branches to launch mini-swarms of cicadas across the parking lot. These bugs are really fun to watch - they are terrible fliers and even worse at coming back to earth. They seem to be like drunken pilots coming in for landings, often tumbling on touchdown.
The cicada singing the first few days was basically a whirring noise - rather like the constant background noise you'd hear on the bridge of the Enterprise on the original Star Trek series. It's loud, but not painfully so, and rather pleasant. After a while, you hardly notice.
But as of yesterday, an ear-piercing, high-pitched trilling component has been added on top of the whirring background chorus. Same thing today, but even louder. The trilling varies in loudness in an orchestrated, sinusoidal sort of way. Amazing.
Here's a little Cicada trivia to leave you with today: Cicada choruses can be as loud as 106 decibels. That's louder than a jackhammer, and slightly quieter than a rock concert. No wonder my ears hurt!
Monday, May 24, 2004
Romeo found me in the lunchroom just as I was about to make my first cup of coffee. Romeo is our manager of quality control, a genial and unflappable guy, but he looked more than a little excited now.
"Steve - bring your camera out back!" he urged. Wait 'til you see this!
As he led the way out to the back parking lot, I noticed a lot more cicada activity than I had seen so far. There were dozens of cicadas climbing high up on the brick walls of our building. The cicada noise, which had already been loud before today, was now much noisier, with a more frantic, high-pitched component added.
Then Romeo pointed to the sidewalk just ahead of us, where I saw two cicadas neatly arranged tuchis-to-tuchis, as if they were playing tug-of-war with the world's smallest rope.
"How romantic!" I thought. The time has come, and our cicadas are gettin' down!
I bent down and took a few photos of the amorous couple as they coupled. As cicadas buzzed around us, Romea looked over the immediate area and found several more passionate pairs. We picked up a pair to see how they "did it." They flapped and protested a bit but stayed locked together and kept on keepin' on, and what we were able to see looked basically familiar, except... well... insect-y!
I found a few more bawdy bugs and snapped some more photos catching them in the act. Then I turned my attention to "singles", picking several of them up to see how they were doing. I noticed quite a few played-out males, a little thingie, that I assume is the schmeckle, still hanging out of the tip of their abdomen. A few of them could barely crawl. I wonder if that's it - they schtupp a few times and then kick the bucket? It seems too early - I understand they'll be around until mid- or late-June. Well, we'll see.
I now consider myself an expert in cicada sex. Any questions, go ahead and ask. But first get a note from your parents.
Sunday, May 23, 2004
New York City in 35 Minutes...
Photographically speaking, New York City is, to use a recent military term, a target-rich environment.
Today, during my shortest visit ever to the Big Apple, I shot about 80 exposures, the digital equivalent of two long rolls of 35mm film, in 35 minutes. And I was just getting warmed up, when it was time to leave.
Our daughter Leah is a communications major at University of Maryland, and she landed herself an internship with a record company in Manhattan for the summer. She found a great place to stay, D'Agostino Hall (part of NYU) just one block south of Washington Square Park in the Village.
Hey, when I lived in Manhattan 25-plus years ago, the only D'Agostino I knew was a grocery chain!
We rented a minivan last night and drove up this morning, getting there about 3:30pm thanks to an incredible traffic jam on the ramp to the Holland Tunnel. Leah came equipped for a journey to Siberia rather than a 10-week dorm stay. After we had made three trips from the car schlepping her stuff up to her room, Sandy and Leah set about unpacking. We had to head back fairly soon to avoid getting charged an extra day for the rental, so I had a bit over a half-hour of walking around for some photos.
Washington Square has a photo-op density of at least one great scene every half-step or so. I entered the park at the southwest corner, where there are rows of chess tables with extremely intent players and equally intent onlookers and kibitzers. The players look like New York - all shapes, sizes, colors, religions and ethnic groups (although almost entirely male.)
Walking on a little further, I heard applause and loud whoops of delight from a crowd near the central fountain area. This turned out to be a performance of a magnificent troupe of street acrobats. They were several handsome and engaging black men in bright red outfits, performing amazing leaps and creating tall human structures. Along with the athletic performance, they had a very entertaining running patter of jokes and clever remarks. It was about as good as street performance gets in New York City, which means very good indeed.
I got quite a few shots of the troupe, and stayed long enough to gladly put a few bucks in the hats they passed around at the end. Meanwhile, a few shots of the watching crowd and some other people-watching type shots.
Then my time was up, and I had to retrieve the minivan and the wife, head south back to the Holland Tunnel, and follow the setting sun down the Jersey Turnpike and back to Maryland.
Speaking of the New Jersey Turnpike, here's a highway that's the butt of jokes across the country - but like The Garden State itself, highly underrated, I feel. As a potential photographic experience, the Turnpike has lots to offer. There are pastoral scenes left and right along the southern part, and fascinating old and new man-made patterns in the gritty stretch from about exit 11 to the Lincoln Tunnel.
The problem, as I see it, is how to photograph it all without getting ticketed or run over by an 18-wheeler. Some of the best views are from various on- and off-ramps or just outside the guard rail on busy parts of the highway. A car would be too clumsy a way to navigate around the interesting areas - you'd have to find an off-ramp, then a way to get back to the area of interst. Maybe a little 50cc motorbike?... could you ride along the shoulder of the turnpike on one of these and hop over the guard rail when you find something interesting?
You'd need to take a tripod and some long lenses to take advantage of many of the scenes. I could see a book in this - and it would take quite a while to cover the whole Turnpike. Do you think people would put a cofee table book about the Turnpike in their living room? I would :-)
Well, it was the very shortest trip to NYC ever for me, but a great experience nevertheless. I'll be back real soon.
Yesterday, I shot my third bat mitzvah in six months. This isn't an area of photography that I looked to get into, in fact, I was relectant to try it when the opportunity first appeared six months ago.
The thing is, people in my temple had seen my "art" photography and started to ask me to photograph their bar- and bat-mitzvahs (or to say it correctly in Hebrew, "b'nai mitzvot.) My only experience with this sort of thing were a few weddings that I accidentally ended up shooting some thirty years ago. I remember being petrified of screwing up the photos, and I didn't sleep well each time until the prints came back from the lab.
Well, things are much better nowadays with digital cameras - at least you can sort of see, on that little LCD, how you're doing as you go along - it is very reassuring compared to the old days. Also, a bar- or bat-mitzvah is not a wedding. You can't shoot pictures at the service itself, so you have the opportunity to do posed shots before and after the service. Then, if there's a party afterwards, you shoot candids.
So I've now lost my fear of doing these events, and in fact, I find it delightful. The kids are wonderful, the parents are so happy, and seeing these families come together is uplifting for me.
OK, it's not fine art, but it is very rewarding.
Friday, May 21, 2004
Cicadas in Full Bloom
I've learned quite a lot about our cicadas over the last few days, most of it from this excellent web site I'm becoming the Steve Irwin of Cicadadom - I'll pick one up and gleefully flip them over to whomever is with me to show them how to tell male from female (the shape of the thorax.) If I pick up a male, I'll hold it by its wings for a second or so to get it annoyed - this almost always makes them vibrate their tymbals - small drum-like organs just behind their hindwings that they scratch with combs on their legs to make their noise. They're really good sports about it, though, as soon as I let go of their wings, they settle right down and crawl around on my hand or arm.
Some of you may have heard that researchers at Johns Hopkins will pay big bucks for blue-eyed cicadas. This rumor is half-true. According to this article in the Baltimore Sun, the cash payment part is bunk, but there are indeed blue-eyed cicadas. They're very rare, though... I'm keeping my eyes out and hope to find one before Brood X is gone for another 17 years.
Tuesday, May 18, 2004
Constipated traffic on Benfield Road this evening on the way home during a sudden downpour - it turned out to be an accident up ahead. But as I stared out my windshield between wipes of the wipers, I began to see something I liked. So I got my camera out of the bag on the seat next to me, turned it on, set the wipers on maximum delay, and started shooting.
Sort of like Natural Photoshop.
By the way - Kids... don't try this at home! It turned out to be very hard to judge distances looking through my viewfinder through the streaky windshield. Not the way to win the Allstate Good Driving Award.
Monday, May 17, 2004
Welcome Back, Cicadas!
Our 17-year Cicadas are now out and about! Central Maryland is in that part of the East Coast which hosts a breed of Cicadas, Magicicada septendecim, that live 17 years in a nymph stage underground before emerging to mate. As there are millions of them per acre, they are literally all over the place by late May. They don't sting or bite, and they don't cause any significant crop damage, as they aren't here to feed, just to mate. By late June, they start dying off, and you'll crunch hundreds of them as you walk down any sidewalk.
I think they're fascinating, and if not actually beautiful, they're handsome in their own way. This is the third cycle that I remember ... 1970, 1987 being the last two. I was around for 1953, but only three years old, so I can't testify as to how that one was.
The 17-year cycle is also fascinating. Last time they were around, my daughter was not quite 5 and my son not quite 1. Now they are young adults. By the time they come around again, my daughter will be almost middle-age, and I will have been on Medicare for six years (hopefully!)
Now that this year's brood has surfaced, they're still not flying very much. Once they emerge and morph from their nymph stage, it takes a while for their wings to dry out. In the meantime, they can barely fly.
They are very docile and completely harmless. In their current state, waiting for their wings to dry, they are easy to persuade to hang around for a photo session.
This one is the first one I found today - he was in the shrubs out in back of the business park where I work. I posed him on the windshield of a handy blue Mustang. Doesn't he look sporty!
Once the cicadas mate, the females will deposit eggs in small slits they make in twigs. When the eggs hatch in midsummer, the nymphs drop to the ground and burrow in, spending the next 17 years feeding on small roots. G-d willing, we'll be around to see them in May, 2021.
Photography as Psychotherapy
But you wouldn't know if from my photography. My photographs are neat, clean, structured, orderly. Even when I photograph something that is inherently messy, like the abandoned house here in Hacienda Rota, I look for a way to isolate some part of the scene that's somehow ... well, non-messy.
This "hacienda" sits right on a gritty stretch of Maryland Route 175, alone, abandoned, and out-of-place. The windows are broken, the interior is full of debris, and weeds encircle the house. In a word, it's messy.
The first time, I noticed this house, I was heading West on Route 175 in the early morning. The house is on the North side of the road, and the bright sun washed the white stucco and made the roof tiles and brick archways glow. I thought it was beautiful. One day I finally brought my camera with me and stopped long enough to take some photos.
And instead of a decrepit house, my photos show the graceful symmetry of the arches and the contrast of the smooth, glowing red brick with the textured white stucco. Boarded-up sections of the house are hidden by the design elements of the deep shadows at left and right. Instead of all the weeds, you see a gracefully bowing wheat-like blade at bottom.
This strong dichotomy between my orderly photos and my messy life didn't occur to me until this weekend. My photography is trying to tell me something. "This is what I want for myself," it says, "I'm tired of living in this mess and I want some order in my life."
It's amazing - I can go back to photos I took in 1972, and although the orderliness was not quite as developed, it was definitely there.
Structure is essential to my photos, and it's essential to my life as well. I've got a lot of work to do.
Friday, May 14, 2004
A Little Bit of Validation Goes a Long Way
No more whining from me - my wife told me tonight that she took a phone call from a nice lady, Cindy A, who asked to buy two prints! I wouldn't say I've been in a funk over the lack of any orders, but I wasn't taking it with a stiff upper lip, either. Anyway, having at least this one order now is a nice little jolt of validation. Can you spell "co-dependent?"
I'm happy about the two specific photos she wanted, too. The first one is one of my favorites - Gingko Leaves in Fountain. I don't mean to appear immodest, but I think it's an elegant image with good composition and beautiful colors. If I had seen it posted somewhere by someone else, I would have said, "Damn, I wish I had shot that one!
The fountain is part of a small Vietnam War memorial on the grounds of the Old County Courthouse in Towson, MD. I found the fountain, almost hidden away behind shrubs, by following the sound of falling water. There were lots of gingko leaves laying around, plus a few already in the fountain. I shot a few different arrangements, and the shot that this was derived from was the best of the lot. The orignal had more leaves, and I cloned all but these three out.
Just to prove that you don't need expensive equipment to take really nice photos, I used the only digital camera I had at the time, a Canon A40 2MP point-and-shoot model. The LCD screen still allowed me to compose accurately, and fortunately, the tiny photo sensor and circuitry in the A40 are top-notch; it prints nicely at 8x10. By the way, I saw the current equivalent model, the A60, was selling at my local Best Buy last weekend for $130.
Now, I'm especially happy about the other photo Cindy asked to buy. This one is another favorite of mine, the way the runt of a litter can be the most endearing.
By way of explanation, I have to tell you that this composition shows part of the window of our favorite Chinese restaurant, Dragon House. It's in Owings Mills, MD, only a few miles from my Mom's, and we eat there almost every time we visit her. On top of that, I really like Chinese food. If I could get away with it, I'd have Chinese for at least lunch and dinner every day.
So this photo in a way represents two of my favorite things - Chinese food and photography. It's also a bit silly, and whenever I see it, I laugh, and I hope the humor comes across to you as well.
I really like neon, too, both as a photo subject and just to look at. So I had been seeing this rather nice neon sign for years, but really didn't see it in a photographic sense until one Sunday night recently. On that visit to Dragon House, I noticed how the sign was actually behind the venetian blinds and how the neon light spread a bit onto the surfaces of the blinds. I made a mental note to come camera-equipped the next time, and sure enough, I did bring my new Canon Digital Rebel on the subsequent visit.
The Dragon House management were very cooperative, not only welcoming me to take a picture of the sign, but also allowing me to play with the blinds to my heart's content.
A few weeks later, I brought a framed copy of this photo to give to the gang at Dragon House, which they happily accepted and immediately hung in the entrance. I was thrilled, but upon leaving, Mom said, "...the least they could have done is given us a free meal!"
Anyway, to my first real buyer from the show, Cindy, I say "thanks!" And now I have to call my therapist and find the schedule for our local Co-Dependents' Anonymous meeting...
More photo archeology last night. This time, I dug much deeper, back down to 1978, and found slides from one of my stays in Rome.
And why was I in Rome? I have the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its policy of anti-Semitism to thank. This may be one of very few instances in the Twentieth Century where a Jew actually benefited from official anti-Semitism.
You see, at the time, I was a project engineer for the Internation Projects Department of General Electric Company. IPD's mission in life was to design and build turnkey powerplants overseas, the idea being that in order to sell GE equipment, you often had to provide the whole ball of wax.
As luck would have it, most of our business those days was in the Arab world, and so this nice Jewish boy got assigned to a number of projects in Saudi Arabia. The problem was, I had trouble getting a visa, because of the Kingdom's policy of discriminating against Jews.
We worked closely with a construction company called Sadelmi in Milan, and during one trip there, our host offered to solve my visa problem by sending me to their office in Rome to let them handle it. So I traveled to Rome a few days later, arriving in the evening. I hit the office early the next morning, and they were expecting me and treated me so nicely. Then they happily told me that it would be a day or two before the visa would be ready.
Huh?, I thought. Damn! I had figured on a few hours turnaround max, and here I was, stuck in Rome for a few days. It took a few seconds for that last thought to sink in... I'm stuck in Rome for a few days, with no work to do, and on the company's money!
To make a long story short, I had a great time seeing the sites over the next few days, then flew back to NYC with my visa. I visited our job site in Saudi Arabia a few weeks later, and my boss had me stop in Rome on the way back to pick up another visa! Same story, only better, this time a three-day Roman Holiday. I got to do this another three or four times over the next two years.
More on my exploits in Saudi Arabia another time. Meanwhile, back to photo archeology.
Thursday, May 13, 2004
Last night I did some excavating among several hundred Kodak Elite Chrome slides from last July. And I did find a nice artifact, this photo, Rivers of Color - a hot-air balloon lying deflated in a field.
These slides make up the last batch of film I've ever had developed. I took them at a fantastic workshop, lead by Karen Gordon Schulman of Focus Adventures. Karen is an exceptionally talented photographer and a wonderfully gifted teacher. If you get a chance to learn with her, take it!
The workshop lasted from Saturday until Thursday, and now I know why it's called a workshop and not a playshop! Karen had us up before dawn every morning to catch the beautiful dawn and early morning light, and out again around suppertime to get the equally expressive late sunlight. But I haven't enjoyed myself so much in years. I learned a lot and had a great time.
Out of eight of us in the workshop, I was the only one that came with "3M" (manual, mechanical, metal) cameras - two East German Praktica MTL 5 screw-mount bodies, a 135mm tele, and a 28mm wide angle. Oh, and a 1948 GE light meter! Everyone else had one or more late-model SLRs - Nikons, Canons, Pentax.
I grew up on these "3M" cameras, and figured I'd be using them for the rest of my life. I mean, how could a camera focus better and expose better than me and all my experience! But when one of my classmates lent me her camera during one session, it was a real eye-opener.
Instead of sweating over the technical details, the auto-everything camera afforded me the luxury of concentrating on composition, lighting, angle, and all the other things I had leaned over the years plus the new ideas I'd gotten from Karen. I was hooked.
Once I got home, I did a little research and figured I'd buy a Nikon N75. But then I decided to skip the auto-everything film stage and go directly to a Digital SLR. I waited a few months, still using my little Canon A40 2MP camera, but by Thanksgiving, my patience gave out and I bought a Canon Digital Rebel (300D.)
I took two more roles of film once I got back from my workshop, but I still haven't had them developed. Since late July, I've been strictly digital (well, OK, except for the Commie Camera Day this past April...)
But there's still that stack of a few hundred slides from the workshop that I need to go through. I scanned and printed a few right away, but I know there are at least a few gems hiding among those plastic sheets. Gotta go excavate a few more.
Wednesday, May 12, 2004
I Commend Them For Their Excellent Taste ...
If you click on this rectangle, you'll see the archive of photos previously chosen for this designation. As I browsed through the archive, I was surprised to find my Ginko Leaves in Fountain among the Staff Choices. I posted this one in mid-November, and it was selected as "Photo of the Day," but I was totally aware of this later Staff Choice. It must have been around late April, because Staff Choice is a fairly new designation at Usefilm.
The Fourth-Grader-at-Show-and-Tell in me is smiling. My humble thanks to the staff at Usefilm.com.
If It's Any Consolation...
Still absolutely nothing, not a phone call nor an email, as a result of my photo display at Barnes & Noble. I was starting to get into one of those "why is this happening to me?/am I not good enough?" moods when I got this nice note from Heath Sandall of Fairbanks, AK.
I came across your website a while back from seeing Dave Beckerman's post about it. I've really enjoyed reading your blog.
One thing that I can empathize with is your bookstore show. I just had my first "solo show" at a bookstore and it was a TOTAL flop. I didn't get a single order or even an email about it. In person, people had nice things to say, but that was just the opening night. I learned a few things from that.
I was glad I went into it with almost 0 expectations,
If you want to sell off a wall, art galleries are probably the way to go.
Heath, thanks a million for your support! Now that I've had my "opening" at B&N, I'm going to take your advice and hit some of the art galleries in Annapolis.
Tuesday, May 11, 2004
Grow Where You're Planted
Looking back, I realize that for all but a few of those years during the '60s and '70s, I lived in or near Manhattan. Photographically, it was like the proverbial kid in a candy store. That city is running over with interesting things to photograph! I didn't have to work or sweat, it was all around me.
Even better, for seven of those years, I worked for an international division of General Electric, and got to travel all over the world. Even to some places I'd never heard of before, like Brunei. Of course, my cameras came with me, and I got lots of good photos. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.
But then the suburbs, marriage, kids ... very important and rewarding, but visually interesting? Obviously, I thought not.
But then, in late 2001, I started to think about, to ache about, returning to being a photographer. It was really hard to start again, especially with the "what is there worthwhile to photograph" attitude I'd harbored for over twenty years.
It took the better part of a year, but slowly, I began to see interesting images around me. Now, I see images everywhere.
I've started taking my camera along to work a few days a week. The lighting in the morning and late afternoon is great these days. Sometimes I'll get an idea beforehand, based on something I've been seeing during my commute, and sometimes, I'll just notice scenes along the way.
Yesterday was a good example: I had been noticing this boldly-painted concession stand at the high school one town over from where I live. I'd been seeing it about 6:30 pm, and it looked great in the low-angle sunlight. So I thought I'd stop on the way home and shoot a few pictures.
Just before I got off the highway, I noticed some brightly-painted, new-looking trucks at a truck stop. That prompted me to make a short detour and see what I could find.
I couldn't get an interesting take on those new trucks, but I thought this hopper truck was interesting. I really liked the planes and angles across the bottom, and in my mind, I envisioned the highlights on the metal, shadows around the hopper, and the clear blue sky.
Here's the way the shot came out of my camera...
... and here's the picture after I Photoshopped it to fit what I had seen in my mind.
Then, back into the car before someone called Homeland Security to report a suspicious kook taking photos of trucks, and onto Severna Park High School.
I took a number of photos of the concession stand, but none of them were really satisfying. This is as close as I got to something I like:
At this point, I started to head back to my car, walking around one end of the running track, still brooding about those bold yellows and blues. And I saw something totally unexpected. This end of the track just happened to be the part that has the sprinters lanes, and I latched onto the way the concentric lanes of the main part of the track were pierced by the converging sprinters lanes. Happy neurons firing again! I took a few shots of this scene, and fortuitiously, someone obligingly walked right into the right spot to finish off the composition.
I realize now that you need to grow where you're planted. Another day, a decent image or two, right in suburbia. Life is good!
Monday, May 10, 2004
Happy Mistakes - Digital Style
Since I've been shooting almost all digital for the past year, there have been a few times when I've made what I call a happy mistake. By that, I mean that I mistakenly did something wrong, like moving the camera during exposure, but it came out right, or at least pointed me in a right direction.
Because I was using a digital camera, I was able to see my "mistake" instantly on the LCD screen, and that got me thinking about experimenting some more with the same "mistake."
In this first photo, Grate Expectations No. 2, I was shooting some colorful autumn leaves on an aluminum grating when I accidentally moved the camera during the exposure. "Hmmmmm... that's interesting!" was my reaction a second later when the swoosh of color showed up on the little display. I took about 30 more exposures, moving my camera this way and that, trying to get different effects. This is one of the two that I think came out well.
The second photo is one I made just recently at BWI airport when I took my Uncle Joe to meet his flight home to Birmingham. With time to spare, and being overgrown kids ourselves, Joe and I headed to the observation lounge, where there were all kinds of aircraft parts and displays. I spotted the backside of one of the displays, black pegboard with light shining through and a jet-black, modernistic trash bin in the lower left corner. I thought the pattern of holes was pretty cool, so I figured I'd try an exposure. The shutter speed indicated 1/15 sec, so I held my breadth and snapped the shutter ... but in another "mistake", I forgot to stop chewing gum. Whoa! the movement of the camera made each row of holes look like a caffeinated cardiogram. I tried a few more shots, and came up with this image, Half-Specs.
I don't think all this would've happened in my pre-digital days. First of all, I wouldn't have seen the "mistake" until days, weeks, or months later. Then there's the effort of having to schlep back to the scene of the accident to try to recreate or improve upon the first shot - all the while, not being sure of what I was producing. And in some case, the original scene would no longer be there - like the colorful autumn leaves on the grating.
Let me know if you've got some "Happy Mistakes" that you're proud of!
Sunday, May 09, 2004
Happy Mother's Day!
Here are my wonderful wife Sandy and our first-born, Leah, twenty years ago! I was thinking about these pictures over the last few days as Mother's Day approached.
Long before she met me, Sandy knew she wanted to be a career Mom. When I met her, she was a newly-minted kindergarten teacher. She was a natural Mom right from the start, but she continued to learn and grow over the years. Like any professional, she takes her work seriously, and has fun doing it. Now, with our babies age 22 and 18, and almost launched into the world, she's once again "mothering" little ones, having returned to her old career as a public school kindergarten teacher.
So, sweetheart, I wanted to let everyone on the Internet know how much I admire and love you and what a lucky guy I am!
And Happy Mother's Day to all mothers everywhere!
Saturday, May 08, 2004
A Marketing Flop? ...
B&N doesn't actually sell the photos there, but the idea is that with the contact information on the brochures, people would call or email me to order prints.
In fact, so far, the only photos I've sold so far came from a Monday-morning coffee clatch at B&N where my wife meets with other women from our Temple once or twice a month. Sandy pitched my photos (they were all sitting right by them) and sold a few. I'm gonna have to give her commission I guess.
Well, it's still early in the month, and the exhibit does stay up until May 31st. But I have to admit I'm still a bit disappointed. Rejection is hard to take, even at age 54.
Time for a Serious Amateur Photographers Anonymous meeting.
"Why don't you take a normal picture!" my friend PaulF begs to know.
Paul and I have been friends since 1994, and are now working together again for the third time. I subject him to my "Fine Art" photography every few days, either by bringing a new photo to hang in the "Galleria" (a pushpin stuck in the wall over my computer monitor) or an image I've posted on the Web.
Paul just doesn't have any patience with my "Fine Art Photography", or as he would call it, "artsy-fartsy." He knows what he likes, and it isn't closeups of sewer grates, shots of shopping carts, or studies of peeling paint and rust. And who can blame him?
So I tried to take a "normal" photo for a change, one that I thought Paul would like. Geese on a lake. And he liked it!
And I like it, too! Every once in a while, even us "Fine Art" photographers gotta try to give the People what they want.
Friday, May 07, 2004
Just one more of my Useful Clichés, please, and I promise I'll get off this kick ...
"Look for a strong diagonal" is definitely one compositional theme that I find in a lot of my photos. In fact, sometimes, if there isn't a strong diagonal, I'll twist the camera to invent one - don't laugh - sometimes it works!
Take the case of this picture, Boat Bottom Abstract. I think there are two things that make this image successful: the intense color and the strong diagonals.
What you're really looking at here is a badly-maintained powerboat sitting ashore on storage stands. I approached the boat from a little below its bow. The lines are actually the strakes, or "steps", formed into the sides of the hull.
My first shot was pretty much level and not too exciting. But then I tilted the camera to get the lines flowing from one uppper viewfinder corner to the opposite lower corner. Bingo!... the Strong Diagonal Useful Cliché brain cell fired, I tripped the shutter, and got a much more interesting image. Back home and with the file in Photoshop, I jacked up the saturation to intensify the color and get the "blooming" effect on the rust and scrapes.
From Cyberspace, here is a great example of a "Strong Diagonals" photo by Hin Chua, whose new photoblog is Ancient Imagry of the Future.
Thursday, May 06, 2004
Another one of those Useful Clichés that I thought I had strongly wired into my brain is "a little bit of something in a lot of nothing."
I was surprised, then, to find just one recent photo of mine that seems to follow this particular theme. I took this picture, Bump Tile and Leaf, on one of a number of photographically productive lunchtime walks around Towson last fall when I was working there.
"Bump Tile" is a term of my own making - I don't know quite what to call it - it's bumpy terra-cotta that you see at every pedestrian crossing in Towson as an aid to the Vision-Impaired. Ironically, I thought it was quite visually interesting, and I took several photos at one crossing. Nice texture, but it needed something... hey how about that leaf over there!
Now why did I think I had more examples of this Useful Cliché? Maybe because I've admired the ones I've seen that were really well done.
Do you have an example of "a little bit of something in a lot of nothing?" Or maybe its cousin, a little bit of bright color in a lot of black/white/neutral color? A little bit of smooth in a lot of texture, or vice-versa?
Send me a .jpg or a url, and I'll link to it in one of my next few blog entries.
By the way, take a look at Bump Tile and Leaf - do you see outward bumps or inward dimples? Keep looking, then look away and try again. Did the bumps change to dimples or vice-versa? In real life, the tile is bumpy of course - outward bumps that a Vision-Imparied person can feel. But after I printed this photo, I noticed that the shadow and highlight on each bump sometimes fool the eye into seeing dimples. If you have trouble switching from one to the other, try rapidly scrolling the image up and down - it seems to work for me :-)
Wednesday, May 05, 2004
In this case, several Useful Clichés neurons must have fired all at once as I was driving by the Target department store near work. There were several large, red, concrete globes at the edge of the sidewalk in front of the store, with lines of Target shopping carts in the background.
When I saw these big red globes, my mind went: "Red... curve... strong diagonal... repeating pattern... SHOOT! SHOOT! SHOOT!!!!!!"
Tuesday, May 04, 2004
Looking back a last Friday's post, "When You See Red, Shoot It!", made me think about some of my other photographic rules of thumb, or as I call them, "useful clichés.
Here are some I seem to use all the time:
- repeating patterns
- a strong diagonal
- a little bit of something in a lot of nothing
Calling them "clichés" may be a bit too strong - I mean I've made lots of good photos using some of these little ideas. Even better, my "manager" and "photo editor", son Ben, hasn't been saying, "OK Dad, enough of the little bit of something in a lot of nothing schtick!"... yet.
No, I would say that in my personal experience, keeping these clichés" in the back of my mind has been positive and productive. They seem to produce scenes that resonate in my viewfinder and often result in photos that suit my "style", whatever that is.
I'd be very interested in hearing from you as to any Useful Clichés you may be using in your photography... and you're all welcome to try mine! :-)
Now for some examples of photos built on my Useful Cliché of repeating patterns:
Grate Expectations No. 9
Sunday, May 02, 2004
This was my big day... talk about show-and-tell! The "Meet the Photographer" event was at Barnes & Noble from 4 to 6 PM. It wasn't exactly as if Dr. Phil had come to sign books, but it wasn't bad, either.
In this photo, you can see a Complete Stranger and friend Stephanie of Complete Stranger carefully studying some of my photos... OK, so the Complete Stranger is really my son Ben, whom I bribed with an extra cookie to pose for this shot.
For about the first 30 minutes, everyone that "met" me was either a family member or a friend. Actually, it was very gratifying to have them take the time to come to the event, and I appreciate all of them having made the effort. Note to self: be sure to do the same for friends whenever the occassion arises.
I did have about two dozen or so people come by to look at the photos during the rest of the time. I tried to be as charming as possible and a good host. The in-house Starbucks Cafe had supplied 60 cookies a large pot of coffee and ice tea (a $37.50 for me, well worth it.) As time went on, I actually resorted to walking around with the tray of cookies, offering them to anyone in the cafe, and, oh yes, mentioning the photos on exhibit. Would you like a brochure, too?
As it turns out, the local chapter of Amnesty International meets in the cafe at 5 PM on the first Sunday of the month, and they were seated at a table right next to the one with my sign and cookies. So I praised their work and offered them cookies and brochures, and some of them did take a look before they left. Very nice people, and you never know when you need them to write a letter on your behalf!
Well, the excitement's over for now, but the photos stay up for the rest of the month. We'll see if it was all worth the effort.
Saturday, May 01, 2004
This morning, I hung 27 of my photos at the Annapolis Barnes & Noble - the first public showing of my work! The prints will be on display until May 31st - a whole month of free exposure.
B&N doesn't sell from this exhibit, but they provided a holder for my brochures and business cards, which have some prices and how to contact me. So now I'm waiting for the phone to start ringing and the emails to start coming in...
I stumbled across this venue in January. I was actually trying to find out how to market photo cards to B&N. I noticed that they were selling cards by a local photographer for $4.50 each. The person I was referred to, the Community Relations Manager, Darleen, didn't happen to know the details about the cards when I called her, but she said, "... how about exhibiting your photos here?"
I made an appointment to show her some of my work, and within minutes, she had booked me for the entire month of May. It's a really nice service for local artists and photographers. If you're looking for a place to get some good exposure for your photos, try your local Barnes & Noble. Not all stores have exhibit areas, but most larger stores should have them. Ask to speak to the Community Relations Manager.
Darleen asked me to show up at as early as possible. I came by at 8 AM, figuring I would be done within a half-hour or so. Wrong! It took me until about 11:00 to get them all hung and more or less straight. For future reference, definitely a two-person job.
Tomorrow afternoon is the "Meet the Photographer" event!