Sunday, October 30, 2022

633 to 9

I’d need a trailer to carry my Profoto studio lighting setup. Between the power supply, the two strobes and the 2’x4’ softboxes plus the cables, stands and Pocket Wizard triggers it’s a monumental effort to assemble the kit. I scarcely ever use it. It would be hunky dory if I could leave it set up but that’s not the case. And to take it on the road is a laughable proposition. Portability and environment portraits in the field are my dream. I may have found my dream package.

As a happy birthday to me gift in September, I bought myself a vastly more portable Godox strobe kit and compromised by buying just one softbox which I hoped would approximate the power and diffuse light of the Profoto gear.

Two evenings last week Peggy and I photographed each other with good if not great results. I didn’t think the light was as soft as the term softbox suggests. I could work with it but wasn’t blown away by any stretch. That meant I needed a portrait victim. I immediately thought of my photographer friend Terry Thompson who would tolerate my bumbling efforts. Happily, Terry’s response to my request was an enthusiastic “I’d like that very much.”

Wednesday, I repaired to Casa Thompson for the first official portrait session with my new Godox kit. Two hours and 633 shots later, Terry and I skimmed through all 633. I told him that I wanted to produce at least a few images that did him justice. He responded. “You’ve accomplished that and then some.”

I said, “I think there are at least 50 worthwhile photographs here. I'll process all of them and give you with a thumbdrive of the best ones.”

One day and six hours later I had winnowed the 633 to 185 promising images. Sunday after another four hours I reduced the so-called “Selects” five times until I had 20 photographs on my short list. Here are the last ones standing. Yeah, I know nine is too many for a blog post but I didn’t want to sacrifice any of them.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Hither and Yon

Between the Brazos Cliffs overlook and Tierra Amarillo is big sky wild west cattle country. Note the band of golden aspen on the horizon.

The cliffs as seen from 10,000 feet on US 64.

A meadow along the scenic Santa Barbara Canyon Trail.

Cloaked by clouds in Santa Barbara Canyon.

Applied blur in the canyon.

Here’s a grab bag of shots from the Brazos Cliffs as seen from the high point of US 64, of sprawling rangeland on the flats beyond the cliffs and from Santa Barbara Canyon which slices into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains outside of PeƱasco, New Mexico.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Same Time This Year

Just ahead is the shallow rise to Hopewell Lake at 9,500 feet.

Golden aspen and meadow beyond Hopewell Lake.

It was only after I drove northwest on US 64 to the height of land past Hopewell Lake that I realized that I’d made the same trek on the same day and time for three years running. It was the second Sunday in October of 2022 when the lure of full color in the high mountains of northern New Mexico couldn’t be ignored. Like the sandhill crane to the Bosque de Apache in November I was bound for 10,000 feet of autumn wonder.

The flats between Tres Piedras and ascent to Hopewell Lake are picture book cowboy country.

As evidenced by this throwback scene northeast of Tres Piedras.

I was running an hour too late for getting the best morning glow, so I grabbed a huevos, chorizo and pico de gallo burrito at Toribio’s in El Prado and blasted for the heights 45 miles away.

On the same terrain long ago and far away.

It was a glorious destination on a Kodachrome morning, but the best light had passed. So, I’ve compiled a handful of fall color images made on this and other October excursions to favorite locales. More to come.

Sunday, October 09, 2022

Note to Self

Mark Asmus is still 6'6", has maintained muscle mass and carries himself like a young man.

Understandably most conversations with peers turn to age, ageing and the insidious encroachments our afflictions, injuries and limitations are making on our bodies and psyches. Every few weeks my friend Mark Asmus and I meet for lunch to sort the world’s festering ills and to contemplate our inevitable descents to less than we are now. He and I have approached or entered our eighties relatively unscathed but recognize that our good luck can go sideways in a heartbeat. We’re surrounded by evidence of that reality.

Both of us look at certain of our fellows living lives we hope not to live. And we worry about our tolerance for frailty and serious discomfort. We think we have little.

I told Mark, “I’m not hung up on duration which is not to say I want it to end. I’m one hell of lot more interested on the quality and the content of what’s left.” You’ve heard me say it too many times. I must believe it.

He concurred with my premise and said we should talk more often even if we are in an echo chamber physically, socially and politically.

The topic and the spirit of our talk wasn’t a dark as it sounds. He and I see the inevitability of losing health and function as an admonition to enjoy the hell out the Good time that’s left. Italics provided for emphasis.

I reiterated my belief that you don’t want to look back and say, “I wish I had.” And, further, what’s wrong with my contention that our mission in life should be to enjoy ourselves, and to have experiences that excite us and that we'll remember always?

A couple of weeks back I got an eblast from a high school mate whom I haven’t seen since, well, high school.  He had learned how many members of the illustrious Class of 1959 at Tempe Union High School have departed for a different place. 62. Yup. Sixty-two members of our class of 185 have returned to the earth or the ozone or wherever the hell our corporeal selves are deployed when we stop inhabiting them.

His cover message was a downright chipper, “It sounds pretty amazing to me.” That one-third of my classmates have been rocketed to Bye-Bye Land sounds like crap to me, Larry. I still want and still can do just about everything I’ve ever wanted to do. And, importantly, the spirit, and hunger for adventure burn bright. The rub, so far, isn’t the ability. It’s the will and temerity to make it happen.

Do what you want to while you still can. If one third of your contemporaries have departed planet earth take note. Make the adventure you’ve been putting off happen. Master Spanish, blues guitar, or quantum physics. Kiss your loves ones more. Much more.

If I’m sitting in a wheelchair sporting a catheter whether I’m 82 or 91 and I’m lamenting that I didn’t do what I wanted to do when I could do it I won’t be a cute little old man.

I know this. Aside from Mel Brooks and Norman Lear there are no young 90-year-olds.

Sunday, October 02, 2022

Encounters of the First Kind : Peter Larlham

Peter Larlham at Pima Point.

My first conversation with Peter Larlham began with a shudder. In his first breath he asked my age. This being the day after my 81st birthday he found me in a weakened state. I had not taken the event well. 81 sounded more like a death sentence.

To compound the felony, he expressed amazement and intimated that my demise was nigh.  

“That’s really old. I’m 76.” As if that were prepubescent.

I whimpered, “But I don’t feel 81.” I lied.

Both of our in-depth conversations turned to aging and the malicious manifestations of that malady. Bad back. Worse balance. Replacement parts. Shrinkage. Flabby stomach and no ass. Scoff if you must. Every man I know of a certain age has lost muscle mass and most of it vacated his nether regions. Peter quoted a line from Shakespeare in which an elderly gentleman laments that he no longer fills his “pantaloons.” I am guilty as charged. My buttocks are absent without leave.

I introduced you to Peter last time. He’s the chap I met at the Grand Canyon two weeks ago, the affable storyteller of mythic proportions. Peter, as you may recall, grew up in Africa and was schooled in Africa and England before getting his Ph.D. in Theatre at NYU.  He told me he attended boarding school for 12 years. While attending school in England he came home to Africa once a year whether he needed to or not. It’s an existence that seems classically British and aloof to a white bread American kid of the 50s like me.

He said he was lucky to pass his exams so he could attend university. He chose Natal University in Durbin, South Africa, a city on the Indian Ocean which boasted a heady stew of Native Africans, Indians, and the English. It sounded idyllic. 

When Peter arrived at Natal, he and his best mate looked down from a hill overlooking the campus and observed a building where a steady stream of girls were entering and leaving. Peter turned to his friend and proclaimed, “That’s the school we’re going to attend, Alfie.” So, Peter’s career in theatre was spawned by raging hormones. The bard, the boards and the babes beckoned. He met Margaret his future wife of 51 years at Natal and retired as a Professor of Theatre at San Diego State University after 36 years. Imagine Peter’s story if the long line of lovelies in Durbin had been aspiring nurses not actors.

He told me he awarded only A’s his last five years of teaching. “Who am I to judge an art form?” he pondered. Who indeed.

On the first day of class in his very last semester of teaching, he saw an unfamiliar face in the classroom. He asked her name. She wasn’t registered for the class according to his list of new students. When questioned she replied, “I’m not. But I didn’t come to class at all last semester, and you still gave me an A. So, I decided I might as well see what I missed.” You and I can ponder the efficacy of the straight A model but it's a great story well told.

Two experiences foretold Peter and Margaret’s lives and careers in the U.S. They honeymooned in New York City in 1972 and fell in love with the freedom and vitality of America. The contrast to Apartheid Africa couldn’t have been more stark. In a moment of riveting clarity Peter describes that revelation and a second moment when they knew they had to escape Africa.

Their young son had just drawn a picture of a British Colonial soldier on horseback shooting a Zulu warrior through the heart. In drawing the warrior’s heart is gushing blood. His son’s teacher patted the boy on the shoulder and told him, “Excellent job, Lewis.”

“That’s when I knew we had to get out of Africa.” Peter told me.

Peter Larlham speaks Zulu and wrote the definitive book on Black Theatre, Dance and Ritual in South Africa.

Since 2008 he has worked to transform The Mnyakongo Primary School in Tanzania. Appalled by the condition of the school’s library he has returned every year first to build a new one stocked with 8,500 books, then to install electricity and running water and to buy goats to provide milk for school lunches. These efforts expand each year under his impassioned leadership.

For this work he is the first recipient of the Ray Sylvester Phi Kappa Phi Distinguished Service Award for service that extends beyond academia.

And speaking of age, on our last evening of mediocre pizza, tepid pilsner, and zippy repartee he probed a second time, “Aren’t people shocked when you tell them how old you are?”

Sadly, the only one shocked is you, my new best friend. Well, and maybe me.