Sometimes, I see things that can be changed.

Lessons learned. Learned well.

They come to mind without really coming to mind. They are just there. They are a kind of koan. You see something. You react. You stop thinking about your approach. To paraphrase and old Nike tagline, “You just do it.”

Back in 1974 when I was in photojournalism school at SJSU, we had a main photography professor. His name was Joe B. Swan. He was from West Texas. He moved slowly. He talked slowly. We called him “Slow Joe.” It was not out of snarkiness. It was out of affection.

In one of our beginning classes we learned about shadows and silhouettes. Except, Joe said it with his West Texas accent. He called them “shaders and silerettes.” I think that’s how you spell those words. Just say them out loud and you’ll understand.

He made a point to tell us that these tools are like spice on food. Don’t use them all the time, but when you do, they’ll make the rest of your take sparkle.

That was 45 years ago. I still hear those words today.

I could write a lot about Joe B. Swan, but it’s enough to say that he was one of the kindest human beings that I’ve ever met. You didn’t think that he was a great teacher until you thought about it. Here I am quoting him 45 years later.

Before I tell you about this picture, I have to tell you that I’m in a strange place. Remember that my word of the year is learning. The best time for me to learn is when I’m not trying to learn. Just like making a picture. If I don’t look, the picture will find me soon enough. Same with learning.

So here we are at the start of four months into 2019. The first three months have just blown by. Mostly good things have happened. But, there have been some bad. The best of those things is that I’m learning. I found out that my dad had a sister, making her my aunt. An aunt that we never knew about. I don’t know why that is, and we may never find out, but that’s something. Through that we found out we have some second and third cousins that we didn’t know about. I hope to learn more about them because they might be able to tell me about our aunt — their grandmother.

How’s that for learning?

Things like that have begun to take me on a journey through my past. I’ve said that before. But, this time it’s on steroids. I expect that’ll change the way I see photographs and the way that I make them. We’ll see.

Anyway.

This picture. I saw it while I was crossing the street. first I saw the bike and the wheel. I looked down. A “shader.” A “silerette.” I made the picture. I went to work in the darkroom in my computer. If I were to show you all the pictures, you’d see the progression. Both in the field and in the studio. This is the final version. And, the one that I like best. Which brings me to a topic for tomorrow. Let’s just call it, “So many pictures.”

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Everything in one picture.

Hong Kong.

Not this picture. This is near home in New Orleans.

I was watching the last season of Anthony Bourdain. The show made me nostalgic. It made me a little sad. Not for Tony. We know his end.

It made me miss some of the things that I had. That I did. I thought about living there. I liked it. A lot. Maybe more than I like living in New Orleans.

I think, even after my paid expat time was up, I should have stayed. Yes. It’s expensive. Yes. It’s crowded. For certain I was in the minority. But, there’s a lot to be said for that. It changes your thinking. Your viewpoint changes. You learn a lot. About people who are different from you. About yourself.

If my word for the year is learning, the Lunar New Year brings us to the Year of the Pig. I’m not exactly sure who those two intersect, but it’s worth a thought. Or, two.

Bourdain met up with a cinematographer who worked a lot with Wong Kar-wei. He made those dreamy introspective scenes. He led Bourdain on a merry chase throughout the city. To places I loved and frequented. Some of it changed. Hong Kong never stands still. Others have not. They didn’t hit all of my spots. But, they hit enough.

I haven’t been to Hong Kong in 11 years. I’ve grown older. Slower. A little broken. I’m not even sure if I could walk many of the city’s streets. I could try. I could take breaks. I would probably see more.  You know. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

I should go. This year. Before it slips my mind.

When is a very obvious question. Between my two lives, I’m booked until at least September. That could work. The weather there is about like it is here. The temperatures would start dropping. It would be cool, but not cold. We’ll see.

See what’s happening here? It’s like a journey through the past. Only it’s headed toward the future. There are a lot of places I’d like to visit. Before I can’t.

Oh yeah. The picture. The dog who sees stuff was groomed. She got a haircut. The groomer shaved her down to her body. She needed it. Between rain, and falling leaves and the wetness on the ground, she was matted. Sure, I brushed her. I combed her. But, when her fur is long, she picks up everything. Funny thing about her fur is that it weighs a lot. She started out her day weighing 24.5 pounds. Just under the maximum cocker weight of 25 pounds. Off came her fur. We weighed her again. Twenty three pounds. That’s a helluva diet. She lost 1.5 pounds in three hours.

This is the long way of saying that she was in a great mood. She was ripping around on our walk until she lead me to this. She stopped. I photographed. I made two good pictures. Off we went. There’s really not much to this picture. Winter silhouetted trees and a sunset. What could be easier?

They say that anything worth doing is worth working hard to achieve. Sometimes. Other times, the best thing is the easiest thing. It just sort of flows. As I wrote yesterday, I am just the conduit.

Be the conduit.

 


A foggy morning in Jackson Square.

This is it. The very first picture I made in New Orleans.

Unlike some of the others in this series, it wasn’t exactly lost. I just hadn’t seen the original scan in a long time. Yes. Scan. This image was made on film. In 1999. In June, if my mind isn’t playing tricks on me. It’s very likely, the image was made on Fuji Velvia, which is a bright, high color, high contrast film. It’s mostly what I used almost 20 years ago. It still exists today.

This working style isn’t what I was known for, but my editors loved it. They wanted me to do more. Hmmmm. That reminded of what I always knew. If any editor is not a photographer, they have no idea of reality on the street. This picture was made by happenstance and luck. I can’t will nature to drop some fog wherever I want it. I could if I was making a movie with a big budget, a huge crew and a bunch of tools. I’m usually one guy with a couple of cameras. I work by discovery and a little bit of foreknowledge.

That said, this is a very nice Sunday picture. It’s quiet. Peaceful and subdued.

Enjoy.


Dark and glowing dusk.

Mysterious blue hour.

It happens like this sometimes. You look up and think, “whoa, what just happened?”

So. You take the picture. With your brand new smart phone. Amazing. The sensor seems to dig out everything. Color. Shadows. And, it holds the highlights without much work

Thank you for all of your good thoughts. As they say, no news is good news.

Update. I’m sorry to report that my friend passed last night in her sleep at 11:07 pm.


In the summer, after a storm.

Beneath summer skies.

With daily rain often comes drama. Usually, around dusk when the storm clouds are moving towards the west or upriver.

I can see some of it forming from my windows. But, I really see it on dogarito’s second — or sometimes — third walk of the day. Luckily, she’s pretty patient. So, I can make a picture or two.

This is one of the pictures. Not only do I see the sky and the framing silhouetted trees, but the image almost looks three-dimensional to my eye. There are natural layers upon layers hiding in this picture.

And, another word.

I see that our government has reached out to the DOD and are having immigrants discharged from the Army for no real reason except meanness.. Not only are they being taken out of their path to citizenship, but they are being classified as a security threat, which will get them a dishonorable discharge, hurting their lives going forward. In the ultimate Catch 22, anyone with dishonorable discharge cannot apply for citizenship.

Great.

This means a guy who wants to do the right thing, protect me and become a citizen can never do either. My God.

I don’t talk much about my life here. I see Storyteller as a place for pictures, art, discussion.

But, there’s this.

My paternal grandfather served in the Royal Russian Navy. In 1905, during the first Russian Revolution, his ship was ordered to fire on Russian people.  Rather than do that, the crew scuttled their ship and left the country. My grandfather made his way to Hamburg, Germany. He caught a tramp freighter and sailed for New York.

He passed through Ellis Island. He had no real papers since he had already jumped ship in Russia. He spoke no English, so my name became Laskowitz from whatever it really was. I still don’t really know. In 1917, when The United States entered World War I, he enlisted to serve his new country. His reward? Automatic citizenship. He died in 1949. I never met him. But, I am him. I’m the grandson of an immigrant.

Oh. About the family name. I’ve done a lot of research. The best I can come up with is that I am really Belorussian. I think our village was Horodak. In Russian that means little village. In Belorussia, it is a village. After that, I know nothing.

Oh. My family were sausage makers in the “old country.” This explains a lot. Like, why I can grind it out here. Heh!

 


In an eerie light.

A semi-tropical place.

Yep. That’s us. We look that way. The heat feels that way. The humidity feels that way. Essentially, we live in an outdoor hothouse. Even when the cooler air and lower sun of winter rolls around, we are still a hothouse. We just don’t feel it.

I was out wandering around with dogarito. Don’t ask. The name just came to me. I saw this little stand of leaves. They were nicely backlighted. I took my time photographing them. When I looked at them on a big monitor I was happily surprised. I worked on a bunch of them. How many pictures are in a bunch? Oh. I don’t know. It’s sort of like the weather guy on television the other night. Instead of saying something like 97 degrees, he just said it was going to be “dang hot.” Do you have any idea how much I appreciated that?

I did not appreciate that “dang hot” really meant 96 or 97 degrees with a “feels like” temperature of around 114 degrees.  Yep. That’s summer in the swamp. It’s “dang hot.”

Keep scrolling.

Hidden in the shadows.

You didn’t think that I’d leave out a little news commentary, did you?

This is not about the state of caged kids. Although that situation is still precarious.

This is about national discourse.

Of course the “Tweasel in Chief” is the prime driver of the rudeness and nastiness in public discourse today. I need not run down the list of his accomplishments, but it’s starting to affect everybody else.

Elizabeth Warren and the Tweasel got into an eight-hour Twitter fight yesterday. Eight hours? Really? Don’t either of them have something better to do with their time?

Then, his press secretary was asked to leave a restaurant because she works for the Tweasel.  She said it was more about the restaurant owner than her, forgetting that the newly appointed members of the Supreme Court made that behavior okay when they agreed that a baker could deny service to a gay couple.

Then the press secretary’s father got involved by tweeting a picture of tattooed Hispanics who might possibly look like gang members, comparing Nancy Pelosi’s campaign staff to MI-13 gang members. He’s a Southern Baptist minister. Praise God.

This list goes on and on and on.

Get a grip. Everybody.

Just because Tweasel is nuts, mean and stupid, doesn’t mean that we have to be.

Keep scrolling.

A still life.

The name Tweasel was created by a toddler after she heard me call the orange haired dufus in the White House a weasel and after she heard somebody else say that he is treasonous. She looked at me, smiled and said, “Oh, a Tweasel.”

Out of the mouth of babes.


Dusk comes to Magazine Street.

Back to the past. Just a little.

Generally, whenever I photograph something I don’t self edit in the field. I photograph whatever I see. As I work through my take, I curate pictures that don’t fit into — Oh, let’s say Mardi Gras — but were made at the same time into another collection.

This is one of those pictures. I made it as I was leaving the staging area of a parade. The school buses in the mid ground have just dropped off a high school marching band. Eventually, once some streets have cleared, they will make their way to the end of the parade to pick up their exhausted band members. Well… the buses won’t do anything unless the drivers get into the act.

I have a nice little portfolio of these kinds of semi-Mardi Gras pictures that I’m going to start sharing with you over the course of the next few days. I think that I’ll mix them with some new spring work.

The picture. Newer gear means easier tricks. This picture is hand-held. I was walking back to my car when I saw the scene. I made a few frames without anybody walking in the street as sort of insurance. I waited until somebody crossed the street. This was one of those rare occasions when you can wander in the middle of the street because it’s closed to traffic. The cars you see in the background are police or sheriff’s cars. Once I made the picture that I thought I wanted, I left and headed to my car.

There is one trick that I can tell you about. If you are in low or changing light set your ISO to automatic, even if everything else is manual. Not only does this compensate for changing light, but because cameras these days are really small computers, they also make much better exposures. For instance, at this time of day you might set your ISO to 2,000. But you might not need an ISO of 2,000. By setting the ISO there you might introduce a lot of noise into your image. If you let the camera pick the ISO, even if it says 2,000 it might really be seeing at an ISO of — just guessing — 1875. Better exposure and less noise. Also less work in post production. And, if you are shooting JPEGS you are probably dead on.

Of course, the best way to meter light is with a hand-held meter and all manual settings. But, sometimes when the action is fast paced you just don’t have time to do that.


Winter sky.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

This picture, for instance, looks like a sunset. It’s not. It’s a reflection of a sunset. It’s all optics and physics. This picture is made looking south and east. Since when does the sun set in the east? It confused me for a while until I realized that the light from the setting sun was bouncing all over the place in the post storm sky. That’ll happen. Especially in the clear light of winter. Yes. Even in the swamp.

The whole thing got me thinking about perspective. About changing your view in order to change yourself. For instance, I’m in some physical pain. I wrote about that a few posts ago. That pain seems to have helped me to understand the pain of others. I was talking about Tom Petty. And, to a far lesser extent, Prince. I get it. They were trying to medicate severe physical pain.

But.

What if? What if I flipped this around? What if I thought that my immobility is slight compared to so many others? I can walk. No matter what. I walk about three miles a day. What if I came to understand that I’ve become a much better photographer? Or, artist? What if I realized that I see the little things much better? I’ve always talked about little pictures. But, these are really little. What if I looked at the collection of pictures that I’ve made in the past few months in their entirety?

Well. I did the last one. Last night. It’s quite a collection. I think this will be my next gallery show. Downtown. In hipsterville. They like this work. I’ve been given a gallery show. I told you about that. But, I had no idea what to show. I do now.

It’s all a matter of perspective.


Winter moon.

“Once the world was new,  Our bodies felt the morning dew, That greets the brand new day, We couldn’t tear ourselves away, I wonder if you care. I wonder if you still remember, Once upon a time, In your wildest dreams.” — Moody Blues

Ray Thomas passed earlier this week with barely a mention. Thomas was a founding member, flautist, and vocalist of The Moody Blues. The  band broke away from traditional rock ‘n roll standards in 1967. They played rock with an orchestral twist. A little psychedelic. A little spiritual. And, certainly with great humor.

They continue to play today. In a twist of twists, they’ll be in New Orleans in three days. I’m thinking that we should go. Half way recovered from the flu or not, we should be there. The musicians of my time are passing before our very eyes.

In the publicity walk up prior to Eric Clapton’s movie, he’s been doing interviews. The normal sort of thing. I was well aware of his back pain problems. He says that he’s happy that his hands still work. But, he also is going deaf and he has tinnitus. I couldn’t imagine not able to play, and not being to hear if my life was all music. His ear issues make sense because musicians of his early era cranked up the amps and blasted away. They did not mic them. They stood in front of them and that wall of sound blew threw their ears and anything else that got in the way.

Eric and I share a couple of things. We are both recovered from our demons. Me, for almost 26 years. Eric for around 30. He was, at one very early point, my hero. Not for his music, but for saying things that helped get me through my early days.

Our other common bond is that we are not quitters. When he plays, he plays in pain. It would be very easy for him to retire completely. When I work, even on my best days, I work in pain. I could retire too. I won’t. Instead, we both manage it and keep going. A couple of grumpy old guys. Give us a break when we need one.

He’s playing three shows this summer. Two in Germany. One in Hyde Park, in England. Yes. We’ll be there. I honestly don’t know how much more live work he’ll do. I do not want to miss this.

I’ve missed too much. Even during the last half of 2017.

I live with two lines from another old musician, Neil Young.

“Don’t be denied.”

And,

“The thing that makes you who you are will kill you in the end.”

I finally got a look at my back x-rays. It’s fine to read what the radiologists wrote. But, I know how to read negatives. Maybe better than the medics do. I’ve got a metal hip. I’ve got a small notch in my spine. And worse, four vertebrae that are completely ridden with osteoarthritis.

Painful? Certainly. Sometimes.

But, here’s the thing. Those vertebrae are all on my right side. The same side that I used to carry about 40 pounds of camera gear in a messenger or satchel-styled camera bag.  Most photographers of my age have some kind of back, leg or neck ailment. We didn’t know better 30 or 40 years ago. Even if we did,  we didn’t have many options. Today, you can buy gear bags that are simple, wrap around you, roll, make you look like you are going off to war. There’s a reason soldiers and marines wear what they do. And, unless you really need heavy gear, you can switch to lighter mirrorless equipment or smaller dslr bodies.

Anyway.

Between musicians news and my own mind, I started digging around in my own memories. I won’t go further. Doing that affects all of us in a different way. Sometimes, I want to put my hands over my face and just ask, “what the hell was I thinking?” Then I move forward.

The picture. What do you think? It’s symbolic. Winter. Winter in my soul.

The brightness of 2018 sure lasted a long time. 13 days.