Sunday, February 23, 2020

Quandary



Because I’m going to submit to a couple of museum shows I’ve searched the archives for images that are worthy, unique and contemporary. It’s my belief that the art world is moving toward to the modern, abstract and graphic. That assumption has prompted me to look for the work that skews modern. It has even prompted me, you heard it here first, to create new work for the shows. It is not without trepidation that I embark on this fraught journey.




When I look at the work that might fill the bill, two series come to the fore. They are Sketches of Winter and the Fog Series. They are my favorites and Sketches is arguably my most distinctive portfolio. But since one show requires photographs created in the last three years and other four years the work in Sketches or Fog doesn't qualify. So, I hit the road Tuesday to make some images in the spirit and style of Sketches of Winter. Fog, a relative rarity in these parts, was not an option. There was a paltry inch of fluff clinging to the tipis at Taos Drum and at historic Ranchos Church. The results are cousins to the originals but have more mid-tones and so are not as Zen as the ones made five to ten years ago.

Above are examples of the new snow images, trees, a forgotten place and something that, uh, different.

Put on your curator’s hat if you please. What’s a boy to do?

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Prime Desert Real Estate


Your slice of High Desert Heaven in Taos, the soul of the Southwest

As you know I have a kinship with the desiccated reaches of the American Southwest especially those places left behind by the settlers and seekers who tried to tame our vast and inhospitable deserts. Good luck with that. Their remains of their futile efforts are eminently photogenic in a spare and melancholy way.

The sweeping vista of same


The view from your soon to be front porch
From time to time I come across a For Sale sign on a particularly unpromising patch of real estate, the kind of place that makes you ask, “Who the hell would buy that piece of crap?” Who, quite naturally, is someone who can’t afford better or who like me is antisocial and has habits best enjoyed in private. In Greater Taos we have more than our share of such creatures in their hippy built homes or, more likely, a cluster of trailers of indeterminate age. Our mecca of tin is Tres Piedras some 30 miles to our northwest. Included here is one closer to home near the town dump and directly across from some prime real estate that can be yours for a song. It was the For Sale sign in the top image that compelled me to revisit the unlikely splotches of sand I’ve been drawn to for almost two decades. I've posted about these very places but the accompanying images are new.


A sad sprawl of parched Mojave near Keck's Corner, CA.

Replete with a bumper crop of Tumbleweed.


A 1940's Jackrabbit Homestead, 29 Palms, CA.

The Capitol of this real estate boom is the Mojave which in my view is the most barren and sun scorched of all your desert choices.              

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Trial Balloon


Lenny Foster was arguably Taos's first name in photography till he decamped to Saint Augustine. He and I traded portraits a few years back. Lenny is as photogenic as he is an extraordinary photographer and lovely human being. I took this in my garage studio with two softboxes.

You know that I’m not photographing when I resort to my vault of moldy oldies to come up with a post. Such is the case today. I’ve got nothing fresh so I’m resorting to my greatest hits, this time portraits. And to be fair I have an ulterior motive.


This image is of  JD, a self-proclaimed former street tough from Chicago who practiced martial arts and modeled at the Santa Fe Workshops. This was made with a single beauty dish.

I photographed painter Jan Norsetter with natural light at sundown on the beach in Keremma, France.

Recognizing that selling a so-called fine art photograph is as likely as seeing Haley’s Comet, I find myself contemplating the unimaginable, to pursue some kind of commercial undertaking. It’s not that I’m a total novice. On the odd occasion I’ve sacrificed my creative being for the almighty dollar but so far the debasement has been I dropped in my lap. I haven’t chased it. The one and only wedding come from a friend and collector. Way back I shot the interiors of luxury condos at the Taos Ski Valley. That came from a cycling buddy. I’ve done a little editorial work and that too happened when the writer of the article asked me to do the photos. Or more correctly I already had several thousand sheep herding photographs. We just had to choose the half dozen that fit the text. I’ve done exactly one paid portrait session which leads me to this.


Vared Pasternak asked me to make her portrait during our eight day painters retreat in Brittany. This is with natural light at sunset on the beach at Roc'h Ar Mor.

I photographed Mark Asmus in Peggy's studio with Profoto studio flash and two Chimera softboxes. Thanks to Mark I can call myself a professional portrait photographer.


If I were to enter the commercial arena it would almost certainly be studio and environmental portraiture. Over the years I’ve done a smattering of portraits, mostly of friends or other consenting parties. And given the paucity of fine art photography sales I find myself thinking about launching a portrait photography practice. What would I name the nascent business? Would I advertise? How might I use social media to put the endeavor out there? Do I have the energy to start something from scratch in my winter years? First, I’d need a Business Plan that would start with a Mission Statement which would express in a few lines the goal of the business and which would be fleshed out by the step by step plan for starting and building it. I am well-schooled in writing Business Plans having written them for several subsidiaries of Fortune 500 companies. All of that would be supported by a Budget which would detail how much it would cost to launch and support the business through the early lean times. Knowing me, I’ll choke over any significant investment and won't do it. But this is the closest I've come to pulling the trigger. Going through the planning process could lead me to a go or not go decision so it's worth the effort. The track record of my creative life is littered with unrealized goals so I worry this pipe dream will end up in the graveyard of good ideas. I offer The Last Shepherd (the long simmering sheep herding tome) as a towering example of not finishing the job. That has languished so long it’s become a laugh line.


Dado Lucena of Socorro, NM was attending an art opening at Wilder Nightingale Gallery in Taos. I shot this in front of the gallery with a small on-camera softbox.

More importantly, given my capitalist leanings, is what should I charge for a portrait session? Taos is notoriously cheap town, the kind of burg where being middle class means working three jobs. Generally, when I’m approached about any kind of gig, I immediately price myself out of the job. Whether that’s because I’m a greedy sot or want to be paid as much as a plumber I honestly don’t know. But I do envision a boutique operation charging more that a portrait booth at the penny arcade.

Anyway, I’ll make this short and sweet. Here are a bunch of portraits taken over the last couple of decades, ones that make me think it could work. Well, if I really want it to.

Are you in? Be the first on your block.

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Reach for the Sky


Aspens, Santa Barbara Canyon, NM.
I love trees. Each one is an intricate marvel and an affirmation of life itself. Whether as the focus of photograph or part of the natural world they tell us we’re part of something bigger. And that we need each other.


Valley Oak, Santa Monica Mountains, CA.
This post about trees stems from choosing a subject for my next article in the March-April issue of Shadow and Light Magazine. In my last post I offered a lightly edited version of Leap of Faith which was my January-February contribution to the magazine.  This time I’m writing a piece about trees that I hope will become Reach for the Sky for the next Shadow and Light.  Come to think of it, Tim Anderson, the editor and publisher of the magazine, asked me to contribute based on my blog posts. He invited me because he thought my posts are succinct and get to the point. I hope that’s true.


Fallow pistachio farm, Highway 46, Keck's Corner, CA.

Palms, Desert Shores, CA.
Trees have been on my mind. Handsome cottonwoods and Russian olives shade our backyard. A willow frames the view from the kitchen door. Every time I drive the canyon leading south through Embudo toward Santa Fe I’m entranced by the stately cottonwoods that line the Rio Grande as it courses south toward Texas and Mexico. Foaming and fast at County Line, it slows to a stroll in Velarde, sandbars appear in EspaƱola and it’s a trickle by the time it reaches Mesilla and kisses the Texas border.


Pecan orchard, Mesilla, NM.
The 2019 Pulitzer Price novel Overstory by Richard Powers has moved me to appreciate these ubiquitous organisms that seem to populate our every view. His book makes my appreciation of trees seem trivial. They are wondrous and essential, yet their fragility has never been more apparent. There’s no guarantee that they’ll provide their beauty and oxygen for future generations. Quite the opposite. Already millions of acres of trees have been lost to drought, fires, logging and infestation. The Brazilian rainforest has been reduced by 20% and deforestation grew by 84% in 2019 over 2018. The earth’s lung is operating at 80% of its capacity of 50 years ago. President Bolsonaro has concluded that farming is more important than breathable air. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a big fan of fossil fuels, has made a corollary calculation that coal mining is more important than spewing the carbon dioxide into the air. And now Australia is readying to build the largest coal fired power plant in the world. Brazil and Australia are burning. We’re watching a preview of what’s ahead for our planet. Nero would be proud.


Pines in fog, Presidio of San Francisco, CA.
Powers first encountered the giant redwoods of California’s Coastal Range while teaching at Stanford and was duly impressed. But it was a hiking trip to the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee that launched him full tilt into Overstory. The Smokies, I learned from a television interview with the author, are the home to the last remaining old growth forest in the entire United States. So impressed was Powers that he decamped from Palo Alto to a hillside aery next to the Great Smoky National Park in Tennessee. I solo hiked in the Smokies back in 1978 and understand the appeal of the soft shouldered mountains and verdant glades. Though I remember even more vividly three sleepless nights jumping at every unidentifiable sound. Every noise was a black bear I was sure.


Bristlecone pine, Joshua Tree National Park, CA,
And like Powers, the first trees that made an impression on me were the redwoods at Muir Woods just over the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. Shortly thereafter I camped among the giants at Camp Cazadero in Sonoma County. That was nearly 70 years ago and yet the memory was fresh when my son and I drove Highway 101 north to Fort Ross in 2017.

As told in the opening chapters of Overstory, the chestnut forest that populated the entire Appalachian chain is gone. A single survivor of the chestnut blight guarded the Hoel homestead in Iowa for generations. Mimi Ma, one of nine protagonists in the novel, sees that the small stand of trees outside her office window are scheduled to be cut down and before she can protest the city cuts down the trees in the dark of night. One by one, Mimi, Nick Hoel, Doug Pavlicek, a veteran who spent five years planting trees, and Olivia Vandergriff, who had a revelation about saving the them, join the fight to protect the remaining 3% of the redwoods. They are joined by Adam Appich, who is writing his thesis on environmentalists. These are the five essential characters who circles of life intersect in the fight to protect the redwoods from logging. They endure tragic consequences and their paths are changed forever.

Yes, I did say 3%.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Not for sissies



I borrowed the title of this post from the extraordinary book of portraits of senior athletes entitled Growing Old Is Not For Sissies by Etta Clark. The original book was published in 1986. Book two was published in 2016.

As much as I try to stay young and fit, I may be fooling myself. The maladies keep mounting up. January has been a torrent of injuries and infirmities. In the last ten days I have had six medical appointments. And I have another one today and one more February 7. Then there are the physical therapy sessions, four of which have been scheduled and six more to come. I have had quite enough of this nonsense.

First, I fell while running in Los Angeles and have partially torn two of my five my left rotator cuff tendons. The injury led to two doctor’s appointments, an X-ray and an MRI. I'll learn today whether I need surgery or if PT will do. My gut says surgery. 

Thankfully, my bone density test for osteoporosis showed improvement. My numbers for the MGUS protein that can lead to Multiple Myeloma were unchanged. Another cancer free year is always appreciated. Patients with MGUS have a one percent chance of getting Multiple Myeloma each year. So, if you have 12 years to live you have a 12% chance of getting the cancer. It’s not something you dwell on but it's lurking in the back of your mind. Imagine being diagnosed at 30, as my doctor described, and assuming 60 more years on this planet, you have a 60% chance of getting Multiple Myeloma. That would basically suck. I haven’t got many reasons to be happy about a shorter clock. This is one and only one.

Through this tumult my blood pressure has spiked, something I’ll chock up to nerves, and I’m pretty sure I have a left inguinal hernia. I recognize the symptoms since I had one repaired in 1987. And the odd sensation in my nether regions is in exactly the same spot. I reckon I’ll live with this one for awhile and bet that it doesn’t get worse. Back in 87 the operation was a snap but I the pain when I walked fifty feet between benches in the Burlington Mall gave me a cold sweat. Ten days later, though, I was on the treadmill as if nothing had happened.

I’m surrounded by operations completed or planned. In just a week I’ve met a hip replacement, two knees, three cataracts, a rotator cuff and a pacemaker. Honestly, every conversation goes to the political state of affairs or somebody’s maladies. I need to run with a younger crowd.

Last week I had my annual physical that featured a lengthy questionnaire with tests of my apparent cognitive decline. Twenty minutes into the inquisition I told the nurse, “This is pretty involved. I’ve never had this before. Is this a test for dementia?”

She replied, “Yeah, Medicare is requiring this now. So, we have to do it.” What Medicare might do with your personal information is a troubling question. And what happens if you discover the early onset of the disease? I've forgotten.

This is a warning to you oldsters. Take your Ginkgo Biloba and study up.

The questions and quizzes were softballs for the most part. But there’s a trick in the wicket. As I recall, the caveat being that I might not, she gave me five words to repeat back in order. My palms began to sweat and I hyperventilated. I stumbled through the five simple words in the correct order and promptly excised them form my limited memory bank. There's only so much space between my ears. Then five minutes later Nurse Ratchet, clever girl, asked me if I remembered the five words she’d given me. 

Seeing the panic in my eyes she clarified, “No. You don’t need to repeat them in order.” Still I clutched and got three of the words out before blurting out, “I don’t want to do this. I’m not going to play this game.”

“That’s okay, Three’s okay.”

“No three is not okay. You idiot.” I thought to myself.

The words, in order by the way, were:

Apple

Car

House

Pen

Tie

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Leap of Faith


Kim, age 11 Wellesley, MA. Shot with Kodak 2D 8x10 view camera in 1973.

Everybody’s path from film to digital is different. Being something of an early adaptor, a marketing tag from midway through the last century, I placed my bet on the next big thing in photography a long time ago.

When I crossed the line, more like a gaping maw, from large format film to digital in 2002, my most promising photographs were still lifes and portraits. They were photographs that seemed to prove that making the leap wouldn’t kill my career or my psyche. I thought those early efforts stood up to gelatin silver prints at least from a technical perspective. Artistically I make no claim to the excellence. That’s in the eye of the beholder.


Butternut Squash, East Conway, NH, 2002

I’ve been pleased with 18 years of digital results even going to the extreme of touting digital images as the equal of film.


Alain Comeau, North Conway, NH, 2002


Faded Roses, Bethlehem, NH, 2004

Vanishing Point, Pine Ridge Reservation, SD, 2004. The 21x32 image on 32x40 paper is above the desk where I'm typing these words. The thing is tack sharp, has infinite depth of field and no apparent noise or grain.

I recall showing my portfolio to an esteemed photography educator, reviewer and consultant in 2006. And I paid her like a New York lawyer for the privilege. The expert asked me if the work in my book came from a wet darkroom or from a dastardly inkjet printer? She may not have used that exact adjective, but you get my drift.

I replied, “Both.”

She asked, “Which ones are from film and which are digital?”

Ever the wise guy I responded, “You tell me.”

After going through 80 stellar prints, she hadn’t identified which were which. Finally, she threw in the towel and asked me to point out the gelatin silver prints.

I told her there was only one silver print among the 80 and gave her another chance to find it.

“Which one is it?” I asked her. Again, she came up empty and pled with me to, I exaggerate to make the point, show her the real photograph. I paged through the portfolio till I found a 1973 portrait of my niece, the one I made with a 1941 Kodak 2D 8”x10.” Kim was eleven at the time.

I reveled in that teachable moment for eight years even as certain gallerists refused my work since it was digital and “digital doesn’t sell.”

Then in 2014 I was part of a four person show at the elegant and much missed Open Shutter Gallery in Durango, Colorado. At Open Shutter I shared wall space with an 8”x10” contact print by Paul Caponigro. It was a couple of pears, or it might have a been rutabagas. I was reduced to Jell-O by that jewel of print and swore to burn all my work. “Now I get it.” I said to myself. There is a difference. Or more precisely there is that much of a difference. Smooth, round and full of volume.

Bubble burst.

And speaking of still lifes, they loomed large in those heady days of so-called high resolution digital. Faded Roses and Hubbard Squash shown here are examples of images made with a resounding 10 megapixels. That was considered high resolution when I bought the much ballyhooed 10 megapixel Canon 1Ds for the princely sum of $7,700 in March of 2002. Don’t cry for me, Argentina. I got a deal. It retailed for $7.995. I simply had to have that bad boy for my annual ski safari in Chamonix. Surely, I’d ski better with a ten-pound anchor hanging from my neck.

Skiing aside, I loved that camera and the images that came from that beast.  It produced 21”x32” landscapes of amazing acuity and little grain. The still lifes were luminous and rich. Its portraits were a marvel. 10 megapixels. Did I mention that?

All but the image up top were shot with groundbreaking 1Ds. We’ve been lured into the high-resolution tar baby, boys and girls.

This post is a reasonable facsimile of my Jan-Feb article in Shadow and Light Magazine.


Sunday, January 12, 2020

Valley Relics but that's just me


Four 'n 20 Pies, Van Nuys, California, 1978

A stop not mentioned in last week’s post was our visit to Valley Relics, a repository of ephemera from the mid-century San Fernando Valley with more than a nod to the movie business. This entry is prompted by a text from Garrett and Michelle that included an article about Four ‘n 20 Pies a small restaurant chain that I helped start in 1969. That is fifty years as in 50.

The article refers to the location at the corner of Van Nuys Boulevard as being in Sherman Oaks while Peggy and I contend it was in Van Nuys. And we should know since we lived two blocks away. To us south of Victory Boulevard was Sherman Oaks. My office, however, was in a Sherman Oaks building that had a Hamburger Hamlet downstairs, so I had easy access to their famous Lobster Bisque. My baker’s table desk from that office serves as the worktable in Peggy's studio this very moment and I will be framing a print on it tomorrow.

The article listed the locations as Encino, Northridge, Sherman Oaks and Valley Village. I remember them being Encino, the former Pie Pantry, first, then Van Nuys, Studio City and Northridge. I deduce that what we called Studio City is now Valley Village. It doesn’t matter a lick but confuses my brittle brain. Our head baker Charlie was Cher’s stepfather. Hey, that’s what he told me.

The piece got me to thinking about the Four n’ 20 days and my first taste of creating a business. I was less than two years from college graduation and was toiling as the Store Planning Manager of Baskin Robbins when I started the pie shop concept with Kurt Kornreich. It followed in the steps of Marie Calendar’s, the first and biggest in the pie shop universe. Don Calendar started the ball rolling in Orange County with little more than a lunch counter serving his mother Marie's pies, a burger and chili. Business boomed, Calendar’s expanded and soon challengers, or is it pretenders, joined the fray. IHOP had House of Pies, Denny’s had Mother Butler’s, McDonald’s had something or other and Baskin Robbins started Four n’ 20. All but 28 Marie Calendar’s and two Four n’ 20s in Van Nuys and Studio City are gone.

Four n’ 20 Pies was designed by Pasadena architect Harold Bissner. Harold was brought to Baskin-Robbins by its new president, Bob Hudecek, who came from Van de Kamp's where he had been vanquished in a power struggle. I know the feeling. Van de Kamp's restaurants were also designed by Bissner. Peggy was a designer at his firm and did his presentation drawings. That was before CAD so everything was done by hand. Peggy and I have remained close to Harold these fifty years. He would be in his nineties by now. We need to check in on him. I feel guilty that we didn't on our holiday trip.

Valley Relics, though, resuscitated lots of other memories. Some of them good.


Pioneer Chicken and Van de Kamp's signs at Valley Relics.

On one Valley Relic wall are these signs from Van de Kamp's and Pioneer Chicken. For Van de Kamps see above. As to Pioneer I interviewed to be president of the outfit sometime in the mid-70s when I was a vice president of KFC. I shopped many of the stores and told owner Rick Kaufman that they were an abomination. Truly wretched. I dined at his jungle chic Malibu Creek home, was enchanted by the indoor waterfall, was impressed by his B-movie friends and still said NO. Pioneer filed for bankruptcy in 1988. Once there were 270 units. At last count there are two.

Nudie Cohn in a Nudie Suit.

I was drawn to Nudie’s glitzy station wagon with the longhorn over the grill at Valley Relics. Because Peggy and I had sat at his table at the wedding celebration of Glenn and Laura Goodstein many years ago. The splendid fete was held at the lovely and talented Beverly Wilshire. That's where we shared dinner with the flamboyant costume designer for the stars. Reputedly Nudie’s first suit was for country star Tex Williams. Later he gave Porter Wagoner a peach covered suit featuring rhinestones and a covered wagon on the back. He figured Wagoner would be a billboard for his flashy attire. Apparently it worked. In 2006, Wagoner said he owned 52 Nudie suits at $15,000 a throw. That was Robert Redford wearing a Nudie Suit in Rhinestone Cowboy. 


Nudie's glamorous white wagon with requisite longhorn hood ornament.

Nudie Cohn, late of Kiev, Ukraine, was as well known for his garish cars with silver dollar crusted dashboards and longhorn steer hood ornaments as his flamboyant clothes.


Nudie cuts a rug.

At the Goodstein nuptials Nudie was stuffed into a rhinestone flecked white suit and sweating like a whore in church. 

As they say on the red carpet, "Who are you wearing?"