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?"

Sunday, January 05, 2020

California Dreaming


LA skyline


We returned from Los Angeles at 3am Monday after our first flight was delayed for an hour. Then our replacement flight through Oakland sat on the tarmac for two hours. It was a nightmare.


The old LA Times Building.

Fortunately, the eight days we spent in LA were full of adventures, good food and the love and appreciation of family. I told our son and his wife that it might have been the best Christmas ever. And that’s saying a lot. It was so special because we enjoy the same things and can still do all of them together. How wide the window is for doing “all of them together” is an open question and speaks to the importance of sharing more experiences while we can. I have a long list of options.



The Reel Inn on PCH, Santa Monica


In those eight days we drove all over the Los Angeles area to visit museums, art exhibits, theatres, the Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu and, most important, interesting restaurants. Garrett and Michelle like to eat as much as I do. And they like a variety of cuisines as was demonstrated by our eating itinerary. We drove to Malibu for seafood at the Reel Inn, Little Tokyo for Japanese, to Ramen on York in gentrifying Highland Park for more Japanese, dinner under an umbrella in torrential rain at the romantic Inn of the Seventh Ray in Topanga Canyon, a nine egg omelet at the Country Deli in Chatsworth (I exaggerate to make the point that it was huge), the best fish tacos ever at SeƱor Sol in Reseda, Prime Rib for lunch at the circa 1946 Smokehouse across from the Warner lot in Burbank and BBQ at Zeke’s in Montrose complete the ensemble. The pulled pork was especially worthy and that’s my test of any barbecue joint.

Angelenos will drive thirty minutes for a good taco. Or, apparently, for anything else that sounds good at the time. Man, we put on the miles.


Chris Shary, Lori Herbst, Michelle Stone and Garrett Immel at Alt-Art Opening in downtown LA.

A portrait in the show

Our whirlwind tour of Greater Los Angeles began shortly after we arrived Saturday evening. We sat down to a spread of pollo al carbon from El Pollo Loco, a California quick service chain with a branch a few blocks away and exactly the food I hoped for before heading downtown. Then we headed to an art opening with a punk rock theme. To us the center of the show was the work of Lori Herbst and Chris Shary, artist friends of Garrett and Michelle’s from Stockton. Chris is the preeminent punk rock cover and tee shirt artist whose full-time gig is teaching high school Theatre. Lori is a prolific artist who sews photo realistic portraits reflecting pop culture and contemporary themes on textiles and vinyl. Her work is shown the Greg Moon Gallery here in Taos. Greg, a good friend, would have loved the show.


The Aero Theatre on Montana in Santa Monica

Two nights before Christmas might have been the highlight of the visit. Garrett and Michelle took us to the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica for a screening of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, the holiday classic starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Be still my heart. I saw Reed at mall in Phoenix when I was about fourteen. I’ve been in love with the woman ever since. But I digress. The Aero is operated by the non-profit American Cinematheque which also operates the famed Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, so it was bursting with cinemaphiles who knew all the lines and chanted “Capra, Go Capra” at the film’s tear streaked end. The popcorn gets two thumbs up, too.


The Walt Disney Concert Hall, LA Downtown.

The next day after scrumptious noodles in Little Tokyo, we repaired to The Broad Museum by way of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Disney Hall may be the most photographed edifice in the United States and, if it isn’t, it’s our own San Francisco de Asis church in Ranchos de Taos. Frank Gehry’s metal clad masterpiece, I use the term advisedly, doesn’t have a bad angle. Not everybody reveres the glistening thing but I do because every angle offers an abstraction worth memorializing.



Elvis by Warhol. The Broad Museum.


As to The Broad, Eli Broad’s monument to his wealth, not so much. The building I loved. It’s a magnificent space to display modern art. And its roster of modernism's giants is among the best. The stars on display this visit included Chuck Close, Jeff Koons, Ed Ruscha, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol and many more. So, if your mission is to see a bunch of modern art icons in one swoop, go to The Broad. For the most part the work didn’t reach me on an emotional level and Warhol was pulling our chain.



The Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena.

Degas' Ballerina

The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, another man's homage to himself, did resonate. It’s collection of European masterworks is spectacular and its collection of the Dutch Masters alone is worth a trip to the City of Roses, my favorite town in all of the Golden State. Visit the Norton Simon to see works by Rembrandt, Goya, Picasso, Degas, Raphael, Renoir, Modigliani, Kandinsky and the list goes on and on. And while you’re in manicured Pasadena drive east to see the magnificent Huntington Museum and Gardens. A day in Pasadena is a day well spent.

No visit with Garrett and Michelle whether here or there is complete without a hike and so we drove north through the Santa Monica Mountains to the Paramount Movie Ranch in Agoura. Truth be told this was more of an amble through the oaks and grassy swells of what was a movie locale replete with western sets and faux downtowns that were destroyed by the Woolsey Fire in 2018. All that's left is the train station and the regenerating landscape.


Valley Oak, Paramount Movie Ranch.


Standing out among the good times was the growing realization of how much Garrett and I are alike. For a while now we’ve joked about our similarities and, speaking as a proud dad, it pleases me greatly. For starters we’re both Virgos. Not that I hold stock in Astrology. I most assuredly do not. I turned 26 three days after he was born on September 8, 1967 in Tucson. Maybe that’s why the town has a such warm spot in my heart. That and a misspent semester at the UofA where my memories are of serenading the women’s dorm and making booze runs to Nogales.

We are both musicians or, more correctly, he’s a real one and I acted like one for a half dozen years including the blurry fall of 1959. We resemble each other some though that’s less evident as I’ve withered to a skinny 5’9 ½”. We both like the open road and follow it whenever we can. He loves to eat and, fortunately, inherited the discipline gene and works out almost daily. He takes Sunday off. My day off is Monday. Sharing that trait came full circle when Michelle gave me a Christmas gift hint. “Take him to buy running shoes” she suggested. And to make the synchronicity complete we went to the Fleet Feet store in Burbank where, after trying three brands of shoes, he chose the Nike Pegasus, the shoe I’ve worn since it came out 36 years ago.

My life is complete.