Sunday, September 24, 2023

Learning to Grow

John Snyder at Schartner's Farms in North Conway, New Hampshire in the early 2000s. I was riffing on Edward Weston who believed that photographing Monumental Heads, his term, was best done against a featureless sky.

Same victim. Same station. Highly stylized but effective.

And finally John's longtime partner, Ginny Howe, in their North Conway chalet as shot with my spanking new Canon 24-70mm f2.8 lens and side light from the front window.

As we were driving to Taos from the Grand Canyon a week ago I got a call from my friend John Snyder in Maine. We spoke for at least an hour and our conversation wandered from the personal, to the professional, to politics and the meaning of life. He called because he wanted me to hear the singer and musician, Tom Russell. “He’s in his seventies and he’s still got it. You need to look him up. Do it while you’re driving. You’ll like him.”

For as long as I have known John, thirtyish years, he’s had a library of artists on his car audio system. Then as now his taste skews toward folk and Americana. He thought that as an old folkie I’d enjoy Russell. I did not search for Russell then. I don’t listen to anything but my thoughts when I’m driving. No music. No news. No talk radio. No nada. It’s ironic for a guy who called himself a musician sixty years ago.

Then John told me that he was taking guitar lessons via Skype once a week. He said that his mentor was very demanding and that he could get cranky if John didn’t perform precisely as he expected. But he said. “We’re cool though. I like the man. He has the same politics.”

He said he was practicing a very complex finger style of playing using various exotic tunings. I played a rudimentary finger style in the dark ages so I had some sense of how hard that could be. I even dabbled with flamenco which is a very fingery pursuit. The four-finger tremolo was the zenith of my achievements.

Two things dawned on me. One, that John, an accomplished man generally, was still learning and studying and, two, that I’m a lazy, undisciplined dog and that I learn just enough to get the job done, if that. The gap between his diligence and tenacity and my inertia is the Grand Canyon of vastness.

So, you’ve got John Snyder who bought a 1967 Martin D-28 guitar when he was still in high school in Queens and was playing daily when we met 30 years ago in New Hampshire. And I'm an octogenarian slacker who plays twice a year for fifteen minutes and hasn’t learned new song since struggling with “Fire and Rain” in 1972.

It got me to thinking which is a breakthrough unto itself. Here’s John a writer and photographer, a licensed Maine Guide, a pilot, a seaplane pilot, a boat captain (sail and power), a pilot boat skipper, and a lifetime learner and here I am flailing at the void.

On Tuesday I decided that I would learn something every day or relearn something I once knew and have since forgotten. What I’ve forgotten would fill a very large hard drive. I started with a couple of relearns. I figured that would be easier than something from scratch. On Tuesday I relearned how to take a time exposure with my Sony A7r 111a camera. That’s pedestrian stuff that should be intuitive but after two YouTube videos I figured it out and hope I’ll remember the next time photograph the night sky. Then Wednesday I relearned making a video with an external microphone and my iPhone. I did it first with the phone’s internal mic and then with a modest Comica mic. The external microphone did produce better sound, but the improvement was modest. I, however, was using natural light and looked like a nonagenarian with a hangover. Next, I’ll introduce fill light to see if I can erase twenty years. After that I’ll video an interview with an unsuspecting victim. And on Saturday I started learning Italian for an upcoming trip to Venice and locales as yet unchosen. There are enough similarities to Spanish that everyday Italiano will come quickly. What happened to Thursday and Friday? you ask. Those were rest days if you must know.

On my life of learning docket are relearning my folk set from the Sixties. Then there’s blues guitar that is made for my unintelligible rasp. There's really studying Spanish instead of treading water. Video editing is a daunting contender. Writing regularly and for more grand purposes than a weekly blog read by few and a bimonthly article for an online magazine should be primero on the list of growing goals but doubtlessly won’t be. That would take real commitment.

Thanks for the kick in the ass, John. You got my attention and respect.

As to Tom Russell, you're right. The dude can play and still has his pipes.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Grand Skies

Grand Sky #1

Grand Sky #2

The Grand Canyon is marvelous, monumental, and magical. I could go on till I run out of adjectives that start with M. Still, I find it hard to photograph and it doesn’t move me all that much. Maybe it’s too pretty and pretty alone isn’t enough. I don’t know how to take it beyond its comely face and to make it more. The skies that bless the Canyon are something else again and they’re what’s featured today. I am a sky guy no matter how you slice it.

Grand Sky #3

Grand Sky #4

Grand Sky #5

Given our early morning departure on Sunday I’m writing these few words on Saturday afternoon so it’s not hanging over me at dark o’clock Sunday night when we get home. Hopefully, I’ll just press Publish and it’ll be on its way to you.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Fate and Circumstance

Eye to Eye

Lindsey Enderby and Pam Morgan were thrown together by circumstance and, so it seems, fate. Lindsey had already battled Parkinson’s Disease for twenty years when a year and a half ago he suffered two strokes and sepsis that landed him in the dreaded Taos Living Center. He hated every moment he was in the place that is often called the Taos Dying Center since half the population of the establishment is waiting to pass and another quarter are staring vacantly into space. The strokes caused Broca’s aphasia that limits his ability to communicate, to literally not to be able to find the words to express his thoughts. His good friend Sidney Bender, a retired Neurologist, believes Lindsey knows what he wants to say but can’t say it. That’s my take, too.

That's Pam reading Six Degrees of Separation from Lindsey Enderby 

And a doff of the hat

Pam in charge

When he was finally released from the Living Center, he required full time care. And that’s when Pam, a retired nurse, entered the scene. For a time, Lindsey had two caregivers each working a 12-hour shift. Then Lindsey and Pam connected on a deeper level and became a couple. Pam became his sole care giver and partner.

Leather tough

In one of my recent visits Pam expressed her interest in having portraits of them as a couple. I said, “Of course.” I photographed Lindsey at his western memorabilia store, Horse Feathers, eighteen years ago and the ones I took are among my favorites ever. I did a blog post “Six degrees of Separation from Lindsey Enderby” to memorialize the event and to suggest that he’s connected in some way to precisely two billion people. In 2005 he was a steely eyed movie hero, a strapping six-foot two hundred pounder. The dude was a god. Today there’s 50 pounds less of him but he’s still a specimen. Good bones.

So, we set up a portrait session which proved challenging. Lindsey wasn’t completely engaged, and his attention wandered. Neither Pam nor I could coax a smile and he often avoided looking into the camera. So I depended on candid shots and the smiles that happened naturally. I left the session feeling that I had failed to hit my mark. But later I found there were enough decent shots to save the day. My percentage of keepers was muy low but there were a handful of keepers. They are mix of natural light and a single 2’x4’ softbox.

As I’ve declared in the past, when I photograph someone, my goal is to show them as their perfect selves or better yet better than that. That’s what I’d want from my photographer. I fear I came up short with Lindsey and Pam. Serviceable is the term I'll use.

Sunday, September 03, 2023

After Thoughts

Blanket of Snow

As I stare down the rifle barrel of 82 years, I’m moved to take stock, to reevaluate and ponder my priorities in late middle age. It’s not that I’m dissatisfied. It’s that I’m not satisfied. That may be a distinction without a difference. But I know the difference. I plod ahead with the minor tasks which take so much time I don’t attempt the challenging difference makers like the book that’s become a punchline or the great adventures of my dreams. I told a friend recently that I live in my head instead of doing something of import or devoting the time to actually learn something.

This splash of blue is prompted by a handful of things not the least of which were my sales at Peggy’s and my Side by Side art opening Saturday night where I sold precisely one photograph. And it was a holdover from our two person show in 2021. I sold nary a one of my new images despite presenting what I thought was my strongest body of work so far. It was definitely a what’s the point? moment.

Steve and the proud owner of Blanket of Snow

 Steve, Jody and Peggy, the star of the show. 

A feel-good moment was a lovely woman who drove 12 hours from Dallas just to see the show and to buy Blanket of Snow which she’d seen earlier at the gallery. She agonized over the purchase and went to the bar around the corner to contemplate the purchase. She really struggled with the decision. Perhaps it was the price. She had a glass of wine and shared her quandary with the bartender who told her, “See this glass of wine? You won’t remember it tomorrow, but you’ll always have the photograph if you buy it.” She came back to the gallery as it was ready to close and bought the photograph. The image was wrapped, and Peggy and I drove Jody and the picture back to her hotel. To see that the photograph was so important to her and that she’d gone to the trouble and expense of the journey was touching.

Another gift was the friends that showed up to support us. I heard from several of them that it was the strongest body of work they’d ever seen from me. Some of them were excellent photographers so that was most rewarding. And among the supportive friends most own at least one of my images, and I there's.

Chief among those supportive friends were Nancy Silvia and Hiroshi Murata who asked if we’d like have dinner after the show. We agreed instantly. We love Nancy and Hiroshi. We picked the most expensive restaurant in Taos expecting to pick up the tab. But Hiroshi grabbed the check and would not be dissuaded despite my protestations. He said, “We’re paying because we're celebrating your excellent show.” And that was that. We insisted that when we visit Santa Fe next time we’re paying. At least we'll try.

Then there was the shock of the decline in friends I hadn’t seen in three years due to Covid. God, it was shocking. One had lost dozens of pounds and looked unwell. Another looked beautiful but was using a cane because of an injured hip. And the third with rheumatoid arthritis could no longer shake hands. His right hand was a claw. 

Sudden decline in your peers will get your attention fast. It tells you to take care of yourself and do what you want to do while you still can. You've heard that admonition from me about a thousand times, maybe more. My back’s a mess and I’m two inches shorter but I can still do almost everything I used to do. What’s a little discomfort?

Refer to “to take stock, to reevaluate, and ponder my priorities” up top.