My Photographic Roots

My interest in photography came from watching my mother take photos. She had an old Rolleiflex that only she understood. It was square and boxy with two lenses on the front and some knobs on the sides. The magical thing about this camera is that you had to look down into a prism to take the photo – before an LCD screen even existed, many photographers had grown to love the experience of framing their shots in that lovely square box – it was like watching a TV screen.

This camera is substantial in your hands. That texture on the sides is actually leather.

This camera is substantial in your hands. That texture on the sides is actually leather.

Mom’s camera was just a bit newer than this one – it was probably from the 1950s. One day in my early teens we were on a trip with some other girls and their moms when she decided to show me how it worked. It wasn’t something she trusted me to take off with it, but that day I saw photography differently – somehow in my mind it shifted from capturing snapshots to making something look great on that screen. With the Rollei you had to move – there was no zoom or macro settings – you moved until the object you wanted to highlight was in focus. I think that early experience is why I love to shoot primes today. When I studied photography in college, mom entrusted me with not only her Rollei, but her new Pentax to use in my classes. I think it was at this time that I really understood photography as art – not just in the shooting of images, but in the processing and developing of film – the making of images.

Now my mom was a super-talented woman who never saw herself as an exceptional. She was a master pattern cutter, seamstress, and tailor. I would show her two dresses I liked – I would like the bodice on one and the skirt on the other – we would go home and she would make me a dress that was the perfect combination of the two. Her doodles on the phone book looked like the sketches you see designers make when developing fashion concepts. She was an amazing cook. She would try something new and then go home and figure out how to make it. She was exceptional in so many creative ways. If I were to call her a photographer she would probably cringe – but I look at her shots and I know that she had some skills. These aren’t etherial landscapes or anything like that – just shots of family and friends.

This Mother’s Day, like all days I miss her. She left us far too soon, but her mark on our lives was indelible.

She’s always with you. She’s the sound of bacon crackling in a skillet on Saturday morning. She’s the aroma of the lilacs and magnolias in the spring. She’s your breath in the air on a cold winter’s day. She’s the sound of the rain on the roof that lulls you to sleep, the colors of the rainbow; she is Christmas morning. She is the place where you came from, your first home, and she’s the map you follow with every step you take. She’s your first love, your first friend, even your first enemy, but nothing on earth can separate you – not time, not space, not even death. 

Shutterbug Notes:

You can learn a lot from looking at old photos. As your skill grows you can appreciate the skill it took to make them work. You can also learn a lot about shooting from the heart – to not so much try to capture what something looks like, but what it feels like. It’s more that skill that makes a great image – it needs heart.

Better Late than Never…

When I first started this blog I began to notice comments from a Honie Briggs. On my second post I was Freshly Pressed and she was among the very first commenters. Sadly, I was not well versed in blogging etiquette at this early stage, so I failed to reply. What an insensitive oaf I was…

Today I remedied my oversight.

Today I remedied my oversight. Whew! I feel so much better now.

I had no idea who or what a Honie was, but the avatar was always smiling nicely. Even after I failed to respond Honie kept showing up, she was always encouraging and thoughtful. Sometimes she was wicked funny, sometimes our comment threads had more words than my blog posts. As soon as I came to understand the Reader, hers was one of the first blogs I followed and we continued the conversation back and forth.

From Steph’s (Honie’s) blog I have learned so much about writing – about voice, and pacing and rhythm. Whether it’s a rant, a poem, flash fiction, or just an observation Steph’s work is engaging and fun to read. You see, I’m no wordsmith, I’m a photog who fakes it and makes the best of a run-on sentence.  As the kid who grew up being able to draw anything, it used to puzzle me when people would say that they didn’t understand how I could make something look so real. Reading blogs written by writers with actual talent has given me that same sense of wonder about syntax. The simplicity and complexity amaze me. I have no idea how to do it, but I know that I like it. Steph does it better than most and she makes me laugh out loud sometimes.

Last year, my company sent me to Dallas to attend the Gift Mart. I had driven down from Arkansas and was reading blogs in my hotel after my drive. Steph posted a blog that had a rant about freeway on ramps and off ramps. I commented and mentioned I had just driven over a couple of them – soon we were emailing and texting back and forth with plans to get together after my work was done.

Here's Steph - shooting me shooting her at the Italian Deli about 15 freeways away from the Gift Mart

Here’s Steph (Honie) – shooting me shooting her at the Italian Deli about 15 freeways away from the Gift Mart

Standing on a corner in a strange city waiting to meet someone you have only met online is an odd thing. You wonder if this is a smart idea, will they show up or think better of it, will you have anything to talk about in real life. So I waited beside a stoplight outside the mart scanning the oncoming cars for one that fit the description she gave me – soon I heard a woman’s voice with a soft drawl call out “Arkansas!” – Steph and her Loyal Follower pulled up beside me and I hopped into their car. I had nothing to worry about – she was warm and we talked like we had known each other our whole lives.

Wait, this photo has nothing to do with ...

Wait, this photo has nothing to do with …

When I started blogging I knew exactly one blogger IRL (in real life) – my brother Max. He writes The Fruity Chicken and I thought blogging would be a good way to share photos with family. Jumping at the chance to meet someone like Steph was a real treat (they bought me dinner!) – but it was more than that, I have heard the voice behind the keyboard and I was right about her – she’s the real deal. Since then I have had a chance to meet Paula from Stuff I Tell My Sister, she’s even sweeter in person.

You are correct, this isn't about ...

You are correct, this isn’t about …

The bottom line is that I have found that meeting someone IRL has made my interactions with those I follow and who follow me more real – there is a real person responding on the other side, someone who may be profound, kind, struggling, challenging. I hope it’s made my interactions more authentic, because now I know that they mean something.

Steph is celebrating her blogging anniversary this week and this post is a part of that celebration. She kicked things off Friday with this post.  This year she got the chance to meet a few of her followers and is looking forward to meeting more this year. She is going to select from those who write about why they follow her blog to schedule a meet up for next year. Tomorrow Allan from Ohm Sweet Ohm will be posting about his experience meeting Steph. His blog is a wonderful mix of photography, poetry, and history centered around his life and the Golden Gate Bridge – one of my favorite follows as well. I highly recommend this sparky.

But I can't write a post with no bird photos - can I?

But I can’t write a post with no bird photos – can I?

Kudo’s to you Steph – your work is wonderful – keep making me smile, and think, and grow. Next time you need to bring your Alabama self to the Ozarks!

Shutterbug notes:

I shot these birds through my 100 year old wavy glass windows. Ordinarily I don’t shoot through windows but there was really no other way to capture this scene as the icicles were hanging like curtains over my view. Shooting through windows, no matter how clean leaves you with an under exposed look, so I adjusted the exposure compensation a bit. Since flash would only bounce off the glass, I chose aperture mode and shot with the aperture wide open. I was about 3-4 feet from the birds. 

Life Lessons From Mary Jane

Today is my friend’s birthday – it’s not just any birthday, today Mary Jane turns 100! I have known her for over a decade, and have learned so much from her about life and what really matters. Today I thought I would share some of the things I have learned from her with you.
This is Mary Jane on the last day of her first century.

This is Mary Jane on the last day of her first century.

The land matters.
One of the first things I learned about Mary Jane was that her family had once owned a great deal of land. She inherited land from her parents, and in the 1950s sold a section to a developer. Today that section is a golf course community with over 1500 residents. Listening to her talk about the land, I don’t hear regret in her voice, I hear astonishment that those who purchased it did not value the caves, the dogwood forests, the springs. One day we were driving on that land and she asked what I thought it would take to buy it all back and tear it all down. She said she liked it better when it was wild.
Mary Jane - queen of the woods - seated on her throne with her scepter.

Mary Jane – queen of the woods – seated on her throne with her scepter.

It’s easy to talk about land preservation, but Mary Jane has actually done it. She has placed the entire hollow between her home and the development into a land trust -157 acres that will never be developed, land rich with springs, and caves, and wildlife. A hollow that has never seen a permanent structure apart from the rock formations it contains, the land is filled with amazing creatures like flying squirrels, tortoises, deer, and even the occasional big cat. This land is an amazing gift to her community and to the future.
A 93-year-old Mary Jane blazes a path through the hollow.

A 93-year-old Mary Jane blazes a path through the hollow.

Recently a major electric company announced plans to take a high voltage line across the southern end of the hollow. They want to cut a swath 156 feet wide, install 150 foot tall towers, and permanently treat the land with dangerous herbicides. Our small county has been pulling together to oppose the project. Mary Jane was one of the first in line to speak at a public hearing about the project. Although she is not comfortable speaking to a crowd and didn’t have sufficient light to read her notes she told the judge about rare cave fish, springs, and wonders at risk. It was moving to hear her, and to know that her greatest wish is for that land to forever stay as it is today, wild.
Here Mary Jane reviews the scope of the Oak Hill Wildlife Preserve Land Trust with a surveyor.

Here Mary Jane reviews the scope of the Oak Hill Wildlife Preserve Land Trust with a surveyor.

Take care with water.
When I first moved into my house, Mary Jane dropped by while I was having a new dishwasher installed. She saw that and asked me why I would ever want one. To her this was like throwing water over the side of the hollow. You see, when she lived in this house they had a “windless” pump, basically it’s a pump that you crank by hand to bring water up the mountain from the spring below in the hollow. There was no tap to turn on, water was work. Until a few years ago Mary Jane still carried her drinking and washing water from a cistern at a local Grange hall. She was the last resident still using it when they suspended the water testing. Last year she finally installed a cistern and a pump at her home so she can use rainwater for non-drinking uses. She still carries her drinking water each week from a neighbor’s well. She’s spent a century knowing the value of water. Throwing it down the drain seems such a waste.
Mary Jane on the land above her springs.

Mary Jane on the land above her springs.

Enjoy the flowers.
You should never mow down flowers, not even wildflowers. Mary Jane’s lawn is not a lawn at all, it’s a field of wildflowers that she selectively mows after the blossoms are gone. It’s been a challenge for those who help with the lawn to know what is a flower and what is a weed. In the back she lets the sweet rocket grow so that the swallowtails can feed on the nectar. It creates a solid field of color about four feet tall. Recently she had the area alongside her driveway mowed, but she made sure that they left the blackberry lilies – she told me that she knew I would want to take pictures of them. For the last few years I have had a “garden fairy” – mysteriously flowers show up in places where Mary Jane has told me that they would grow well. Irises, daffodils, hyacinths, lilies – all planted in areas like the dip where a cistern used to be or along the patio. I’ve got a 100-year-old friend with a green thumb, so I’m pretty sure the mystery is solved.
A tiger swallowtail lights on the sweet rocket behind Mary Jane's house.

A tiger swallowtail lights on the sweet rocket behind Mary Jane’s house.

Several years ago Mary Jane asked if I would like to go on a hike with her. She told me she’d like to go into the hollow to show me something – she took me down to the bottom where there was a horseshoe-shaped waterfall. I thought that was the destination, but it was just a stop along the way. We bushwhacked up the other side of the hollow, she climbed up that hillside so nimbly – and she took me to a barren spot. The power company had clear-cut a 30-foot-wide power line easement and she had been able to see the bare spot from the other side of the hollow. She took several envelopes out of her pocket and told me to open them – they were filled with seeds that she had gathered from wildflowers. We scattered them all over the right-of-way. Thistles, sweet rocket, matrimonial vine – she envisioned that spot alive and brimming with color again. All it took was an afternoon and a few miles up and down the hollow to reclaim a spot in the woods that only she knew about.
Mary Jane is a firm believer in flower power.

Mary Jane is a firm believer in flower power.

Be kind to animals.
Mary Jane keeps a photo of a raccoon pinned up on her living room wall. It’s one of the many coons she has fed over the years. I’ve seen her feed them peanut butter sandwiches by hand. Most evenings they come to her door looking for dinner. Before she stopped driving I saw her parked on a pull-out next to a creek. I pulled over to see if she was ok, she was fine, she was just relocating a king snake that made its way into her house. She didn’t want her cats to harm it. Recently she called me, terribly concerned over a wren that had been hurt at her house. We wrapped it up and put it in a kennel cage and headed out to meet a wildlife rehabber. It didn’t survive the trip, and Mary Jane couldn’t bring herself to speak on the ride home. I sometimes look on her in awe for the childlike way she approaches and treasures wildlife, whether it’s a bug, or a snake, or a rabbit.
One of Mary Jane's many forest friends.

One of Mary Jane’s many forest friends.

When Mary Jane’s last car threw a rod I offered to help her find a replacement. She told me that she was pretty sure that this was a sign from God that it was time for her to stop driving. She could be seen walking the mile between her house and the grocery a couple of times a week – even in the heat of summer she would rarely accept a ride. She would make a day of it – walking, visiting, shopping, and walking back home. She told me once that she believed the secret to staying flexible and strong was walking. The first time I hiked with her she was 89 and we did 5 miles in the hollow. Today her vision keeps her from walking as much, but she recently told me her greatest pleasure in life has been to walk upon the earth. I think she’s on to something.
On this day we set out to find Mary Jane's great uncle's homestead in a neighboring hollow. Her memory was amazing - we put in several miles that day and she was able to crawl over logs to cross the creek.

On this day we set out to find Mary Jane’s great uncle’s homestead in a neighboring hollow. Her memory was amazing – we put in several miles that day and she was able to crawl over logs to cross the creek.

Stay connected.
Mary Jane has a network of caring cousins and a couple of grown great-grandchildren. Sadly, she lost her only child a few years ago. She has lots of friends and continues to make new ones. At 100, most of her friends are younger than she is! In the 1970s a group of young people settled into the hollow – she allowed many of them to stay in what is now my house, others camped deep in the hollow or slept on her porch as payment for helping out around the place. This area is filled with people who came to the Ozarks in that era and stayed – many of whom bought or traded for land from her. As twenty-somethings she was the one older person who put a roof over their heads and was a part of their circle. I have seen photos of her at weddings at my place, in a field filled with flower children, Mary Jane could be seen in a smart polyester dress she made herself holding her patent leather pocket-book. Today the tables are turned and they take care of her. They drive her to the laundromat or grocery store, they help with her water, they care for her animals if she is sick. Mary Jane has a family – but she also has this family, her “Hippie Family” as she described them to me once. She looks at them as the children and grandchildren she never had. They are integral to her daily life. Thinking in those terms, Mary Jane is like family to me too.
Last years birthday celebration took up over half the restaurant - people who stay connected to Mary Jane.

Last years birthday celebration took up over half the restaurant – people who stay connected to Mary Jane.

Time matters.
I never manage to just pop in to Mary Jane’s place, I’m always there a minimum of an hour or two – we have spent hours listening to bird calls on my iPhone or looking at old photos. She tells me the most amazing stories and I get a bit more of a window into her life. She listens to my life stories with wonder about the lands west of the Rockies. Sometimes we will spend a whole day out on an adventure – a trip to a museum or just a country drive. She has a goal to drive on every road in Carroll County, I think she may have already covered them all, but she enjoys showing me the hidden treasures that you often find down a dirt road.
A conversation with Mary Jane

A conversation with Mary Jane

Yesterday I stopped by to see Mary Jane, we almost always connect on the weekends. If I haven’t heard from her I will pop by in the afternoons. We are having a big celebration for her next week, but I wondered what her plans were for today – THE day.  She told me she had no plans and that she would love to have dinner with me, but more importantly she would like to spend time with me – she wants me to stay and visit. You know, I want that too.
Mary Jane blows out the candles on her 99th birthday surrounded by family and friends.

Mary Jane blows out the candles on her 99th birthday surrounded by family and friends.

Next week Mary Jane will show up at her favorite restaurant filled to overflowing with her family, friends and neighbors. Tonight we’ll have dinner and good conversation. Maybe I’ll learn something new.

Does the Friendliness Gene Exist?

Last Summer I wrote about a pair of whitetail fawns growing up in the field beyond the local Elks Lodge. The Lodge sits on one side of a hollow at the base of Pine Mountain, my house is at the top of the mountain,  and my road meanders down the side opposite from the Lodge. There is a large whitetail herd and it’s not uncommon to see the same deer at any spot along the mountain.

This is a shot of the friendly fawn from last summer.

This is a shot of the friendly fawn from last summer.

Over the years I have photographed a doe that is easily recognized by a thin white strip on just above her black nose. She is friendly and curious about me and tolerates me approaching her to take photos. I respect her space and back off if she shows any sign of concern. Last year she had two fawns – one with a black nose and one with a white stripe that had a wide spot in the center. Like it’s momma, the one with the white stripe had no concern about my presence and was actually very curious.

This shot gives a clearer picture of the marking in the fawn's nose.

This shot gives a clearer picture of the marking in the fawn’s nose.

That original doe was one of triplets and was the only one with the white mark. Her sister still stays close and is not at all friendly. She starts snorting almost as soon as I leave my jeep. That friendly doe has had two sets of twins and only one of those has a white stripe and only that one is really friendly like she is. The others have been very cautious and quick to run off. Last year I was lucky to get so close to the friendly fawn on several occasions.

The tail tucked and low like this indicates no sense of alarm. Whitetails use their tails like flags when alarmed - the rest of the herd can spot them in the woods when the have it raised so the white hairs show.

The tail tucked and low like this indicates no sense of alarm. Whitetail use their tails like flags when alarmed – the rest of the herd can spot them in the woods when the have it raised so the white hairs show.

I watched a documentary about the domestication of wolves – the forefathers of dogs. Humans and wolves have always interacted – wolves feeding off of livestock or the trash of people. In a pack of wolves there is usually one or two who are bolder around humans. These wolves are the ones who make friends with humans and by doing so they can secure food and comfort for the pack – they are like ambassadors. Scientists have found that these dogs share a genetic marker and they call it the friendliness gene. This marker is also found in domesticated dogs today.

Not that this has anything to do with whitetail deer, but it got me thinking about why some deer are curious and some are flighty. The deer have no need to befriend me for food. I do find it an interesting coincidence that all of the deer in our small herd who are comfortable and even curious about me and my camera seem to have a similar white stripe on their nose – is it nature or nurture? Does the original doe’s boldness embolden some of her fawns?

Notice how the doe has no concern or alarm, she even turns her back on me when her fawn is nearby.

Notice how the doe has no concern or alarm, she even turns her back on me when her fawn is nearby.

Of course winter comes and the whitetail move deep into the hollow. I put my thoughts about this friendly trait away for winter. The deer stay away from the field once hunting season opens and have yet to make an appearance there this year. I have seen a couple on the roadside running into the woods, so they are on the move.

A couple of days ago I saw a deer ahead of me on the road. It didn’t bolt – it just looked my way and walked leisurely into the woods. I pulled up along side and it looked over its shoulder at me…

Unconcerned with me or my noisy jeep, this yearling looked at me.

Unconcerned with me or my noisy jeep, this yearling looked at me.

I stayed in the jeep – opened the passenger window and snapped a few shots. I was taken aback by how long the young whitetail looked at me and at its calm demeanor. And then I saw it…

20130321-121924.jpgThis was not any yearling, this was my friendly fawn. No wonder it showed no concern for me, it knows me. It survived the winter in the hollow and is now roaming over the hills.

It’s nice to catch up with old friends.

Something Funny in my Brownie

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about my family’s history with cameras. Paula from Stuff I Tell My Sister, commented and told me she wanted to send me an old Brownie camera for my collection. A few days later this baby arrived – it was a bit dusty, but in great shape.

Something funny about this Brownie

Something funny about this Brownie

As I turned the knobs I heard the distinctive sound of film advancing inside the camera! I have been shooting some film this year so I carefully removed it from the camera. I emailed Paula and told her there was film, thinking this could be an old family camera – she told me that it was a flea market find and had no idea of what could be on the roll.

The label said Verachrome 620 – it was wider than my 120 Rollei film.  I dropped it off that weekend with a roll of 35mm at the camera store. Ironically they had to ship the roll to Oklahoma – Paula’s neck of the woods – to the only lab in this part of the country that could process it.

Well – the photos arrived this week. I was hoping for vacation shots from Paris in the 50’s or something exotic – what I got was not quite so fancy, but it was pretty interesting – what follows is pictures in the order they were on the roll – the film looks like it had some water damage, but there were images. The meaning of these images I leave to you…

On second thought I think I will make up a story – a story about a boy named Billy. His mom is a Dolly Parton look-alike – his nana is a waitress at Mel’s Diner named Flo. There is a special party guest who bears a striking resemblance to Sam Donaldson.

Happy 4th Birthday! Enjoy the spotlight - hey, isn't it past your bedtime?

Happy 4th Birthday, Billy ! Enjoy the spotlight – hey, isn’t it past your bedtime?

Look at those cute chubby cheeks – I count 4 candles. Noting the poinsettia on the left, either Billy’s mom has neglected to take down the Christmas decorations – or he is one of those poor unfortunates with a birthday at Christmas time. Either way, it looks like party time is about over for you, Billy. Night night.

The kid's birthday is clearly an event that calls for a visit to the hairdresser for Flo and Dolly. Aquanet, polyester and some drinks - time to get our party on!

The kid’s birthday is clearly an event that calls for a visit to the hairdresser for Flo and Dolly. Aqua Net, polyester and some drinks – time to get our party on!

Mother and daughter clearly share the same hairdresser. Flo wears her hair in an updo, while Dolly keeps those youthful ringlets at her collar – both women are clearly familiar with a ratting comb and Aqua Net. Pop Culture Note – In the 1960’s women believed that helmet hair was a good look.

Oh Sweetie - that is one serious comb-over! Is that your hand in my armpit?

Oh Sweetie – that is one serious comb-over! Is that your hand in my armpit?

Now that Billy has finished his cake and gone off to bed – it seems a visitor has stopped by – a visitor with and impressive comb-over. Sam seems to take a shine to Flo as he drinks a Big Gulp sized drink. A 2 drink minimum at this party could be scary.

While Flo's away Dolly will Play...

While Flo’s away Dolly will Play…

Here’s an even better shot of Sam’s comb-over. Interestingly enough, Flo is no longer on his lap – that honor now belongs to Dolly. Sam’s drink looks like it’s in need of a refill.

If I'm not mistaken, I believe that Sam is relieving himself on the outside of the house, unless Flo has a bathroom lined in brick with shrubs...

If I’m not mistaken, I believe that Sam is relieving himself on the outside of the house, unless Flo has a bathroom lined in brick with shrubs…

Apparently Sam has had enough to drink and steps outside to relive himself. Note his stylish white belt and bell-bottom cords.

Flo is back on the lap and admiring that combover. The highballs are apparently served in tumblers at this 4-year-old's birthday party.

Flo is back on the lap and admiring that comb-over. The highballs are apparently served in tumblers at this 4-year-old’s birthday party.

This shot shows the nuance of the wall decor – looks like a fine painting of a spinning wheel over some velvet brocade wallpaper. Sam comes back inside and Flo takes her place in his lap, drinks are refilled, Billy is forgotten. The party continues – was it someone’s birthday?

I suppose we could turn this last frame into the FBI to see if we can learn more about Flo, Dolly, and Sam - someone was too tipsy to reload the film...

I suppose we could turn this last frame into the FBI to see if we can learn more about Flo, Dolly, and Sam – someone was too tipsy to reload the film…

The last shot isn’t really a shot at all. It’s a mass of smudged fingerprints. No clue of who they belong to – Flo? Dolly? Sam? Billy?

So many questions remain –

Did Sam bring Billy a present?

Did Flo know that Sam was two-timing her with Dolly?

Did Dolly know that Sam took a leak in her shrubs?

Who took the photos? Who knows?

If you are interested in a bit of whimsy – take a look at this video by The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players – they are an indie-vaudeville band who buys old family slides at estate sales and flea markets and makes up songs about the people in the photos –

An Arty Old Bird Shows Me Carters in Colour

I love old family photos – I use them a lot on my memoir blog, The King of Isabelle Avenue. I think they are fun to look at and they give me a chance to add some ridiculous captions. Recently Val from The Arty Old Bird contacted me about colorizing (or should I say colourizing) a few of my vintage shots.

As someone who has worked professionally in photoshop since 1992, I’m beyond impressed. Being a “get it in camera” kind of photographer, I take a “light touch” approach to editing. I see people take it too far all the time, sacrificing detail or tone for a perceived improvement that blasts out the color or borders on looking fake. Val uses color richly but shows great restraint, and that’s the true artistry, knowing when to stop. It’s pretty amazing to see these images with color – I hadn’t really imagined that they would be so profoundly different. I feel like I’m getting a window into the world long since past.

The first shot is my great great grandpa Pyeatte, he’s holding my grandmother as a toddler. I think it’s pretty interesting to see snapshots from this era, shots that are less formal than the family lined up in their Sunday best. I have always loved this shot, Grandma was very close to her grandfather, he was someone who told her she was special. I’m quite certain that I have him to thank for the amazing grandmother I had. The Ozark cabin in the background looks just like the ones I see on hillsides around my home.20130306-193752.jpg
The colour in this version is more of a tinting, it warms and defines the image. I like how Val respects the original image and takes the colour far enough to improve it, but not so far that it loses authenticity.


This is a shot of me and my brothers, I’m guessing it’s very early in 1967. It was taken at my grandparent’s home and I was apparently not very happy with the situation. I’m certain it is because I worried that Ronnie would be taking “my room” since this was a constant worry for me at Grandma’s house. It could also be that Ronnie was a bit fussier than Max and that made me less comfortable around him at first.

20130306-194807.jpgMax was the baby that all the neighborhood girls like to play house with because he was so laid back. I had imagined a baby doll to play with and Ronnie was just not that baby. He was an adorable baby, but oh so loud when he was not happy.

20130306-194938.jpgVal made all the color decisions on this and came remarkably close to the actual colors of our outfits. This was a simple Polaroid and Val’s touch has made it so much more than it was.

I love this photo – it’s my Grandma in her Helldorado Emblem Club drill team costume. She was playing giddy-up with the local constable who had just locked Grandpa away in the city jail for shaving his beard – Circa 1948. Helldorado Days is an old Las Vegas celebration that began in 1934 – by 1946 it was so popular that Roy Rogers made a movie about it. I actually rode in the Helldorado parade many times as a kid – it’s a multigenerational tradition.

20130306-194343.jpgWhat Val has done to this image is nothing short of amazing. The buckskin outfit, the skintones, the color deep in the shadows – it’s so much more than I expected. Seeing my grandmother in all her youthful, exuberant glory makes me smile – I can’t stop smiling when I look at this photo.


Seeing some of my favorite photos colourized in this way is a pretty special thing. Seeing them done so expertly is beyond amazing. Val’s got skills, mad skills – check out her blog! She’s funny, creative, and poetic – plus she knows a ton of WordPress secrets.

Click here to see what I’m talking about. She’s a good read even if she can’t spell colour.

Oh Deer!

I have been especially technically challenged this week. I attempted to reblog this post from my memoir project, The King of Isabelle Avenue. I posted it and noticed that shortly afterward the reader just showed a very blurry photo of my Gravitar. So I deleted it and tried to reblog, and of course, you cannot do that.

20130215-160312.jpgSo I if you’re curious about our mining adventures in Nevada in the 60s, click the link above – this excerpt has lots of silliness, and adventure, and some poop…

20130215-160345.jpgIf you are not at all curious or have already read about the poop, you can just stay here and look at the deer I saw on the way home from the fish hatchery the other day…

20130215-155814.jpgIf you’ve seen enough deer or hate to click links, feel free to stop reading now and go back to whatever you were doing. I think I’m gonna grab a snack.

Getting Back to My Photographic Roots

I come from a long line of shutterbugs. If you have ever checked out my memoir blog, The King of Isabelle Avenue you may have noticed a treasure trove of family snapshots.

It all started with my great-great-grandparents. Their Daguerrotype portraits hang on the wall of my living room in heavy carved frames. They are formal poses, each in their Sunday best. It must have been a special occasion to sit for a photograph. They likely could not imagine owning a camera of their own.

This would all change a generation later. My great-grandmother Rilla was a Cherokee Indian born in the 19th century who seemed driven to document her family’s daily life with a simple Kodak Brownie – maybe a Six – it was basically a simple box with a vertical and a horizontal viewfinder, a crank and a shutter release. The camera is long gone, but thankfully the photos remain.

20130125-201402.jpgMy Grandmother took after her mother and went through a series of Brownies when she was first married. This one was one of hers, I love that she sprung for the flash version. I love that she was confident enough to go for it. I still struggle with flash photography.

20130125-201419.jpgMy brother has another of her Brownies, a Bullet and it looks just like this one, he shot with it until film was no longer readily available. It was so simple, look through the viewfinder, frame it, click the shutter, advance the film, repeat. The functionality was basically unchanged from the box made a couple of decades earlier. Anyone could do it. These cameras made photography available to the masses and changed the way families recorded their personal histories.

20130125-202012.jpgBy the late 40’s it was time to upgrade to a Kodak Tourist, a bellows camera. This camera gave Grandma the ability to move the lens away from the film allowing for focusing and some modest zooming. It also allowed for the changing of the aperture, the fastest stop was a dismal 12.5, no wonder they pushed an enormous flash kit on her. Many wonderful shots of my father’s childhood were shot with this Tourist.

20130125-201515.jpgThe Tourist featured a T.B.I. Shutter – Time, Bulb, and Instant – so much more sophisticated than the simple Brownies, but so many more possibilities. I use the Bulb setting on my DSLR when I shoot the moon. The operating principles remain unchanged.

20130125-201527.jpgBy now Grandpa was becoming more and more interested in photography, and he was a man who would save up to buy a more expensive item if there was a difference in quality. The Agfa was definitely a step up. All the features of the Tourist with a distance ring for accurate focusing.

20130125-201540.jpgThis baby featured a more sophisticated bellows and the ability to stop all the way down to 6.3. Interior shots would be possible with decent light. You could play with the depth of field with this baby.

20130125-201552.jpgThe surface of the Agfa was like a tightly woven fabric, even after 65 years it still feels right in your hands.

20130125-201606.jpgThe mechanisms are sturdy and still operate smoothly today. This is a camera that I would love to shoot if I could find the film. I would love to see what this glass could do.

20130125-201613.jpgBy the mid 50s Grandpa was drawn by the lure of instant photography. His Polaroid Land Camera came with all the bells and whistles. He would shoot thousands of images with this beast. It was simpler that the Tourist or the Agfa – fewer shutter options, no specific aperture settings, tons of accessories. Basically you set the camera for indoors or outdoors, focus using the bellows mechanism, and click – then the magic happens. You time the developing time and peel apart the negative and the photographic paper to see a photo in under a minute.

20130125-201637.jpgI remember the wonder of it all when Grandpa would count down the seconds and peel the layers – he would let me squeegee the surface with the swab that stopped the process and sealed the photos surface. Polaroids were not just black and whites, they were wonderful vivid saturated color images.

20130125-201648.jpgMy father didn’t have a great interest in photography, but while he was stationed in Okinawa, he bought the family’s first Japanese-made camera – a Minolta Model P pocket camera. It’s very small, but unlike the 110s from the 1970s it has lots of controls. You can select the aperture and it opens up to 3.5, pretty fast for a little camera. It’s shutter is crisp even after all these years. Pops told me it was a spy camera when I was still young enough to believe those things.

My mother had a real interest in photography, she was blind in one eye, but her good eye was a really good eye. She started with an instamatic, but soon discovered manual photography. She came across an old Rolleiflex. This one isn’t hers but the Rollei changed very little in function over the years. The format is called a TLR – twin lens reflex. The top lens is the one you look through from above, the lower lens is the “taking” lens.

20130125-201658.jpgOne year we all pitched in and bought mom a 35mm for her birthday and she moved on, but she taught me to use the Rollei when I was about 15 years old. I loved the prismatic viewfinder. The controls were simple – aperture, shutter, focus – click and shoot. The crank was so elegant. The feel of shooting felt so natural, odd for a huge rectangular cube.

20130125-201705.jpgIn college I shot the Rollei – black and whites that I developed myself. Grandpa let me set up the closet in his den to transfer the film into the developing cannisters, then he let me develop the negatives in his kitchen. I would use the exposure units on campus to make prints.

20130125-201722.jpgI also picked up an Olympus OM along the way. I fell in love with the Oly and still shoot them today. My digital Olympus OMD is easily adapted to use all of my OM lenses from the 70s and 80s. I like the challenge and the control of using vintage glass.

20130125-201747.jpgI’ve decided that I want to get back to basics. I recently picked up this pristine 1953 Retina on eBay. It shoots 35mm and is the final stage between the bellows style cameras and the SLR. It has a small bellows and the lens stops all the way down to 2 – pretty fast for it’s era. The controls are all in German, so learning to use it will be a challenge. A challenge is what I’m looking for.

20130125-201756.jpgEvery month I plan to shoot a roll of film and have it developed. I have already shot a roll through the Rollei and should be able to pick it up next week. Shooting a TLR again was so much fun. My Rollei dated from 1936 and I’m dying to see how they came out. The camera hadn’t been tested – mechanically everything worked so I am optimistic.

20130125-201951.jpgMy hope is that by shooting film I will slow down a bit and put more thought into what I am shooting, that the limitation of 12 shots will make me focus, that relying on a mechanical camera will make me get more out of my digital bells and whistles. I will still be shooting my digital every day. But I will take the time to slow down, even if it is for just 12 shots. Living in a rural area, I will likely have to wait as long as my Great-grandma Rilla did to see the results, and I think that’s a good thing. Right now I feel like a kid waiting for Santa. I think I’ll like getting back to my roots.

Max the Second

I’m only here because of a Fruity Chicken.

The esteemed author of the Fruity Chicken

The esteemed author of the Fruity Chicken

My brother Max started a blog about raising chickens and fruit trees in the arid desert of our native Las Vegas about a year ago. It’s a sweet, funny, and sometimes technical look at what it takes to make things grow in that hostile environment. I followed him via email until he migrated to WordPress and opened an account to make commenting here easier. Of course I was clueless about WordPress and accidentally started a blog and didn’t write anything. Max started leaving me snide remarks about the amazing content of my empty blog that sound startlingly like the stuff the spam bots send us with great regularity. After enough pushing I finally started a blog aimed squarely at sharing my photos with one person on the planet – Max.

Me and Max

Me and my “little” brother Max

I’m the oldest of my three siblings – Max came second. Max was named after our beloved Grandfather – Max the first. He has always worn the “II” in his name like a badge of honor.

I was thrilled at the idea of having a little brother, but Max has never been content in the role of the younger sibling. At about 14 he passed me by in stature, and his demeanor became that of an older brother. Sometimes teasing, sometimes bossing, sometimes protecting.

Snickering Siblings

Snickering Siblings

Max and I had lots of adventures growing up. He was my first playmate. We explored every inch of Isabelle Avenue on our bikes, we played cowboys and indians, and he and our neighbor Paul did their best to blow a few things up. When I was in high school I started working for the Stagehand’s Union – Max was right behind me.

Stylin' in the 80's

Stylin’ in the 80’s – backstage at the MGM

When our Union was locked out in 1984 he and I manned a food bank for union members and cruised the picket lines making sure everyone was OK – he had a hopped-up Ford Bronco that we zipped up and down the strip in checking on our brothers and sisters.

This is a drawing I did of Max using the stamps at the Stagehand's Union offices.

This is a drawing I did of Max using the stamps at the Stagehand’s Union offices.

As he grew into a man I saw in him the best parts of my mom and my Grandpa – loyalty, responsibility, wisdom, compassion, humor – he worked to make a stable home and family that was very different that the one we grew up in. My grandfather used to marvel at how hard he worked and what a good father he had become. I have always admired his earnestness and commitment to make a good life for his wife and his boys. They have all grown to be the kind of men any father could be proud of.

One of my favorite things to do with Max is to go out into the desert in a Jeep – there is no one I trust more behind the wheel. We have made a couple of trips to the northern Nevada site of a mining claim my grandparents worked in the 60s and 70s. The “Diggins” is located about 60 miles from the nearest paved road. I made this video for him after a trip we took with my nephew Brian summer before last. We both had a tough time after my father passed away, but this trip brought us back together in a very healing way. We listened to this song about a hundred times on the trip so it seemed the natural background for our experiences. I only wish I had been brave enough to record during the really deep water crossings. I loved the adventure, but I loved my camera just a little too much to risk it.

I call this “The best tank of gas ever” and it was. It was a blast to just be together in the wilds of the land we grew up in. We never got to the Diggins – the late spring snows in that year made it impossible, but we had an amazing trip. The song makes me laugh because we are only “southern” in the sense that we grew up in southern Nevada.

Me and Max

Me and Max

All this reminiscing to say that today is Max’s birthday. No one’s known me longer or better.

Thanks for pushing me into this blogging thing, thanks for always being there for me. You’re the best man I know – I love you.

Happy Birthday!

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

I was going through some old photos recently when I came across some of my earliest original artwork.

I was that kid who loved to draw. I even had some kids ask me for drawings that I later learned that they signed and turned in as their own work. Even as a youngster I should have been more cognizant of my rights under copyright law.

I loved to make drawings for my Grandmother. She would actually frame some of my doodles for display in the living room of her home. Forget the fridge and a magnet, she believed my work belonged on walls presented properly. Grandma always got my sense of humor so I had the idea to draw her a pretty complex, over-the-top Christmas Card.

The actual card is long gone, but what I found was my original sketch. I did this when I was about 8-9 years old. It’s not very detailed, and it has part of my math homework off on one side. The whole thing started when I asked Grandma what all of those things in that crazy song looked like – she said she didn’t know, so I decided to make something up.

The 12 Days of Christmas through my 4th grade eyes…

Days 12 through 7. Hand illustrated on the finest college ruled velum.

Days 12 through 7. Hand illustrated on the finest college ruled velum. The extended cow is my favorite part of this section.

A card so grand it took two whole sides of a sheet of paper to plan out…

Days 6-1 - I believe "4 Calling Birds" is some of my best work

Days 6-1 – I believe “Four Calling Birds” is some of my best work – I think the one on the lower right speaks “Woodstock”

Over the years I have reproduced this concept in pen and ink with lots of flourishes and details – but the concept itself is unchanged. The Maids-a-milking would all be in French maid uniforms, the Lords would be jumping hurdles, the Swans would wear swimming goggles – all style with the substance unchanged. The last time I drew it was the Christmas after I graduated from college.

When I showed this drawing to one of my co-workers, she remarked that the Calling Birds and the Turtle Doves would make fun T-shirts – pretty cool since I make up T-shirt slogans for a living. I guess I’m kinda doing what I was made to do.

I hope your Holiday Season is bright and wonderful and just a little bit silly.