Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Gawd help us Owl...

So, when on my commute, I will often scan through the FM radio stations before giving up (I inevitably give up, although one decent or intriguing song may slow me for a moment) and either turning on my iPod or pushing in a book on tape. However, lately I have come across a pop song called "Fireflies." This opens with what must be the sappiest lyric in musical history: "You would not believe your eyes/if ten thousand fireflies/lit up the world as you fell asleep." In went the book on tape.

Unfortunately, this is the hit song of the moment, and every experiment with the radio led back to "Fireflies," which only took me to the next, cringe-inducing lyric: "'Cause I'd get ten thousand hugs/from ten thousand lightening bugs." Quickly moving on to the next chapter in the book, I could only think of P.G. Wodehouse's Madeline Bassett, who believe the stars were God's daisy chain and "every time a fairy blows its wee nose a baby is born." Who was the lyricist on this thing, a 12-year-old girl of unique naivete for our time, trapped in a crush on the middle school poet? (Advice to that girl: give it up; he's gay.)

Here's the killer: it's a really catchy tune. It drills into your brain and takes up residence there, to the point where you find yourself humming the chorus later that day.

But about that chorus ... the lyric work becomes somewhat less saccharine, but makes no more sense. "I like to make myself believe/the planet Earth turns slowly." (It kills me to admit it, but I'm singing along as I type that.) I couldn't resist. In a quiet moment at work that day, I did some quick algebra. The earth's circumference at the equator is roughly 29400 miles, and it takes 24 hours to rotate. Rate x Time = Distance. (And so to all you who said, like the character in "Peggy Sue Got Married," that high school math has no purpose. And I just did a search; hard to believe that scene's not on You Tube.) Anyway, quick, easy math shows us traveling at roughly 1,037 mph, due to the rotation of the Earth. I hate to think what quickly is to this guy.

Okay, at this point I'm being obtuse and picky. I know they're talking metaphorically, describing a wish rather than a reality, but now the lyrics are making me crazy. It reached the point where I positively looked forward to the one bright spot in the words, a description that reaches for a kind of American trash version of Asian poetry: "A fox trot above my head/A sock hop beneath my bed/A disco ball hanging by a thread." But then another unfortunate image popped up. Just before that delightfully post-apocalyptic (or perhaps pre-apocalyptic, depending on the state of that thread and the height of the disco ball above our protagonist) vision of the disco ball, my mind filled in an image of David Letterman's late, great Larry "Bud" Melman finishing the triptych with, "A party in my pants!"

By the end, even the lyricist is begging, "Please take me away from here," though I'm sure thousands of distraught teens, with parents who don't understand them and lives destroyed by some humiliating moment in the lunch room are singing along on their tear-stained pillows. But I am unfortunately hooked by the tune, and now actually listen to the whole damn thing when it comes on. Gawd help me ...








Thursday, November 26, 2009

Welcome to My World (on the Interstate)...

So I stepped out at 3 am to a wet, thick, chilly fog, smelling of wood fires. I was on my way to the early shift, editing for the 5:30 morning news.

Usually, these days bring a quiet drive on the highway -- 45 minutes on Interstate 81 from Lexington to Roanoke -- plunging through the darkness pretty much alone. This is nice, soothing in its way, because I need only to worry about myself. The occasional roadkill, especially the dramatic scene of a deer recently obliterated by a semi, warns me to stay alert, but the whole thing often takes on a sort of Zen peace about it.

Not today.

Today, it's Thanksgiving, and the road was filled with dozens of frantic drivers, pressing on through the night to their holiday destinations, north and south. That thick fog unnerved many, already undoubtedly sleep-deprived and uncertain of their surroundings, making their speed erratic and uncertain. Others rushed toward the destination, crowding the cars in front of them in the blinding whiteness. I hung back at those clumps of cars, fearing the knot of crumpled steel a simple error (blissfully avoided during my trip) could bring.

The license plates seemed mostly from New York, though I do recall one from Massachusetts. It is only my adopted status as a Virginian (marked by the faint Canadian accent to my speech) that prevented me from grumbling about damn Yankees.

And so, I think, I am thankful first and foremost that my Thanksgiving is at home. My commute may be longish, but I am not caroming down an interstate, eight hours out and God knows how far to go, with red rimmed eyes and discontented kids in the back, white-knuckling my way through fog in an alien state, surrounded by drivers in worse shape and with less competence (at least, based on their behavior) than me.

Welcome to my world...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

America, the deadbeat cousin...

The opening skit to SNL this week. I thought about putting it on Facebook, but it is (of course) rude, so decided that the hilarity should reside here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Welcome to My (Election Day) World...

So the off-year election this year in Virginia -- involving the races for several state legislature seats and, most importantly, the governor -- got some national attention, as it as seen as a bellweather of everything from President Obama's popularity to the future of the Republican Party. At any rate, what it meant for me was getting up at 4 a.m. to drive to Millboro, Virginia, a small town in Bath County that happened to be the home of Creigh Deeds, the Democratic candidate for governor.

Deeds was to start his day by voting ... at 6:30 a.m. It was the first time he would be seen for a whirlwind day of appearances, the next not until 11 a.m. in Charlottesville, so as cable news and networks spoke about the election, the only footage available would be that early morning voting imagery. My imagery. Cool.

But that's not my story here. To jump to the end of the story of my experience, I got the pictures, drove back to WDBJ an hour and a half away (stopping to pick up additional footage of people voting in Lexington as I passed through) and sent it out on the feed. I owned the airwaves ... for a couple hours. Then the Charlottesville stuff came in, and then the final Richmond appearance, where Deeds again made himself available for a final round of interviews. My stuff disappeared, without so much as the last greasy bubble of a sinking ship, never to be seen again. "Remember," the slave would whisper into the victorious Roman general's ear, "All glory is fleeting."

No, the focus this story from my world that day is not me, but a young reporter/photographer from another local TV station who came skidding into the parking lot shortly before Deeds voted. He climbed out and began pulling equipment out of his aged, dark red hatchback, all arms and legs and and elbows and knees and lenses and wires. It looked like Roberto Begnini had been hired to do a comedy routine on a TV photographer. Nothing was in bags, the spindly tripod legs went in three different directions while his legs went in two others, his knees barely supporting what his hands couldn't hold. Microphone cables trailed out in tangled loops as he struggled over to me and the two still photographers (from AP and Getty) who waited outside the voting station. "Am I late?" He breathlessly asked. "Did I miss it?" We assured him all was well. There was plenty of time.

Off he went, and I heard the clatter and click as he struggled to pull everything together. There was a pause, and then he was at my shoulder. "Are you shooting P2?" He said, sotto voce.

It was a curious question. I was indeed shooting P2, Panasonic's digital video system that records the "footage" onto a largish memory card (available only from Panasonic at a fairly substantial cost) rather than onto tape or (as Sony's system does) a DVD. It's one of several systems currently in use, and one well suited to news gathering, but the question is one usually asked while standing, bored, after exhausting subjects like the weather and mutual acquaintances. "Uh," I said. "Yeah."

"Can I borrow a card?" I looked down at his camera. The little bay, which can hold up to five cards, was empty. He had left his office -- some two hours away -- without any media to record events. Put simply, he had just arrived after a long drive to a news event with the world's largest, heaviest, most complicated and expensive doorstop.

I had a dozen thoughts at once. This guy, I realized, was totally screwed. There was no time to go back and get a card, but without a card, he could do nothing. He might as well have not shown up. I knew well the feeling of sinking panic he was surely experiencing. But he was also the competition, and a moment from "The Apprentice" (of all things) flashed into my head. One of the competitors had won immunity, but was so confident of his later work on the show that he told Donald Trump he would wave the immunity. Trump fired him on the spot, explaining that passing up an advantage like that was just stupid. Cutthroat, but he had a point. If I refused, mine would be the only TV pictures of this event. How would the people back at the station feel about that? Were my bosses as cutthroat as Trump? And how would they feel about my blithely handing over a not inexpensive item to what in truth was a total stranger? Furthermore, what if I needed the card later? Sure, with the three cards I had in my camera, I had over two hours of available recording time, but it wasn't impossible that, between this event and my return to the station, something massive would happen. I could be trapped out in the field, frantically recording events and ... run out of memory because I had given a card away. Then I'd look as stupid as this guy, and over something far more important.

I looked at my card bay, its three cards nestled in their slots, and back at his, gaping and empty with its sliding door open ... and relented. I pulled out a card and handed it to him. Someday, I'd be trapped somewhere, hopeless and needing help (though hopefully not because I did something that stupid). At least, that's what I told myself as I pushed back all those questions and fears.

And so Creigh Deeds cast his vote. AP and Getty made stills. The other guy and I recorded it for TV. Deeds paused outside to talk with us, first interviewed by me, then the other guy, then chatted with his friends and supporters gathered in the parking lot before climbing into the limo (driven by state troopers, assigned that day to both candidates so as to be in place to protect the future governor) and leaving. After every news event like that, there is a pause, a moment to catch your breath, gather your equipment, perhaps socialize a moment with your colleagues, and head out.

The young reporter came to me. "I really appreciate your helping me out," he said, his camera still on its tripod about a dozen feet back. "You really saved my life..." And as he spoke, I saw the leg brake -- the thing you tighten on the extended tripod leg to keep it up -- begin to slip. I started to speak, but it was gone. The leg slid closed and his camera fell forward onto the ground, landing lens first.

Small pieces flew away on impact. The lens snapped away from its mounting, hanging from the camera only by the cable which connects the zoom control to the camera's power. We rushed to it and gently turned it over, like paramedics at an accident scene. I detached the lens cable, thinking it would do more damage for the lens to pull at the plug, and picked up the loose parts I had seen fly away. The lens mounting ring was sheared, the front plate of the camera pushed back by the impact. "Can it be fixed," He asked fearfully. "Yep," I answered. "But your day is over."

I flipped the body onto its side, revealing the card bay. As I expected (from my own camera falling experience) the card had been popped out of its slot by the impact, requiring me to force the door open. I removed the card and handed it to him. "Your footage should be fine, but you'll want to take care of this."

It was the icing on his bitter cake, simply the Worst Day Ever for a news cameraman. He mailed the card back to me in a couple of days, and my bosses were understanding. One colleague was actually quite supportive. "Good for you," he said when I told of handing over the card. "Pay it forward, man." But I shall always be thankful it wasn't me, while simultaneously dreading my Worst Day Ever. Welcome to my world...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dreaming of you...

So last November, I drove through the night to get to Louisville, Kentucky, for a single day. They were having the annual Leica Historical Society of America meeting there, and though I couldn't afford the entire outing (complete with hotel, event fees, meals and transportation -- the same reason I'm missing this year's gathering in Seattle), I wanted to get in as much as I could. Also, I have a continuing plan on a book project on the history of photojournalism through its equipment, and the Leica plays a towering part in that history.

I had arranged to cover it for News Photographer magazine, as part of that bigger, Leica work, and as a good writer, I tried to buttonhole (in the most amiable way possible, the way a fan does the manager of her favorite actor) the Leica officials there, particularly M Systems Manager Stefan Daniel.

Daniel is a jolly fellow, with a round, youthful face and German accent -- as you'd expect. After all, he had flown in to the US just for that weekend from Leica headquarters in Solms, Germany. He had the misfortune of finding himself in the lunch buffet line behind me, and thus became subject to the inquisition. It was amiable conversation (surprisingly so, you might think, as I stood between him and lunch after a long morning), culminating in the question everyone asked: "Where is my full-frame digital M?"

He smiled wanly and rolled his eyes, leaving me with the impression that he'd heard it a hundred times before ... and there was nothing to be done. As Leica explained when the released the 3/4-sized chip on the M8, the physics of light made it impossible. I left feeling it was a game we all played, like high school kids flirting at the dance. I wanted a date, and it was out of my league.

Then the rumors began towards summer's end. The fabled M9 was coming. Camera shops in Paris were taking pre-orders. A Brit on the Leica Forum actually disassembled his M8 and proved there was room to put in a full-sized chip. (I tried to locate the post -- complete with pictures -- but it may be too old.) Chatter on Facebook and emails with my Leica-loving friends. But no, we couldn't believe it. They had disappointed us with the M8, then just teased us with the S2. This would be some modification on the M8, not the final, full-frame M dream.

I was one of the people who actually watched the web feed on 9/09/09. (The date did give me hope, and by then there had been leaks of web pages and manual uploads and photos. I was telling my friends that this was it, but had that fear in my deepest heart that I'd be jilted at the Prom ballroom door.) There was a speech from the new CEO -- a history of Leica that would not have been tedious had, a: I not known it all already, and b: the technical aspects of the webcast been a bit better -- then my old friend Stefan Daniel stepped to the lecturn with an M body. And the moment came: the full-frame M9.

The rest was anti-climactic and thus unimportant to me. (Though, I must say, I find a rising interest in the model III-like X1.) The true Leica was here, and only $7,000 (more or less).

A short aside on that last number. That's a lot of money. I'm not buying one anytime soon, not for lack of interest, as this now overlong (and nowhere near finished) post amply demonstrates, but for simple economics. It's a place I found myself in for 20 years until I awoke one morning to find I had, by way of luck, true friendship and delicate longterm spending, acquired a IIIc, three M3s and an old, chrome M4, along with a range of lenses, from 28 to 90. (It never stops, either. My wife generously found me a Zeiss 21 -- about which I had done nothing but whine for most of the year -- for Christmas last year.) I guess there's hope, if that history is anything to judge by.

But that's not the aside. What I meant to say was that $7,000 is also about what the top-of-the-line, full-frame digital Canon and Nikons cost, and even if it didn't, I would think of Stefan Daniel at the LHSA meeting again. He was doing the dog-and-pony show, showing all the new products that had come out at Photokina shortly before, when he opened the floor to questions. I soon saw that resigned look I was treated to in close up at lunch, because the subject of cost came up again and again. Much of it was driven by the S2, which had no cost associated with it then, but it also went to the product line in general. Why, people asked again and again, in ever-varying form, are Leicas so expensive?

"Leica has never been a very cheap product," Daniel finally explained. Statistically , he said (by measuring against monthly income) Leicas today are actually cheaper than in their heyday in the 1950s and 1960s. I remember thinking that a pretty impressive answer, but the questions kept on coming ... and that as when the M8.2 came in at around $5,500. So how is it that $7,000 is better?

Well, for one, see above: Nikon and Canon ran ahead to the mark with their full-frame cameras. But for another, look at the product. This is the digital camera Cartier-Bresson would have bought. That was honestly my thought as I learned more about it. And finally, I was afraid they'd run it up to $10,000 because ... well, because they were Leica and could. (Also, I have constantly argued that the S2 should be priced to undersell the Hasselblads as an economic measure for big studios: All the good parts of DSLRs and digital medium format, but cheaper than the big cameras; trade all your old crap in for one, great, easy-to-use system -- but they seem to come in for more than Hasselblad. Why?)

Secondly, I think this shows the new regime in Solms has finally got it straightened out. I hate to hack on the American, brought in by new owner Dr. Andreas Kaufmann to turn the place around only to clash with the artisnal German Kultur of Solms, but after years of stumbles, someone seems to be playing the products right. I have real hope: the right camera at the right price with what seems the right attitude.

Now I just have to figure out how to get one. Maybe I can do T-shirts, like this guy...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Welcome to My World...

So, as I've engaged in my often early morning, 45-minute commute, I've taken to using my iPod on shuffle for entertainment ... mainly because there's so little worth listening on the radio at 5 am. Also, it is an interesting exercise both in self-revelation (sometimes I'm surprised what songs pop up -- I don't know I even had them) and self-congratulation (aren't I clever in having such a range of music in there). Oddly, no matter how disparate, or perhaps diverse, the music, it often blends so well. It's occurred to me (in one of those moments of self-congratulation) that it would make for an easily done, amusing radio show. Just walk in, plug in the iPod on shuffle, open on the mike with a story -- something amusing, maybe vaguely Garrison Kielor-like -- about some absurdity that had happened to me, end with the phrase, "Welcome to my world," and hit "play."

So here's an amusing story from my world these days.

I have become the Festival King. As the Fall brings festivals -- Olde (Yes, the "e" is required) Salem, Pulaskifest (all one word, trust me), the Coal Miners Memorial Family Fun Day, Highlander Festival (open-minded enough to be pan-Celtic, including the Irish), the Medieval Faire (another required "e"), etc., etc. These are on Saturday and Sunday, and as I am now on permanent weekend shift, filming them is my pleasure...

Last Sunday the grind (which also includes such as a rose show and art displays) involved a bike race ... a bike race up a mountain ... 7 1/2 miles of one-lane, switchback gravel road up a local mountain (as I learned). We learned of this by way of a news release, as we learn of most all of these things, that was two pages long ... and at no point saw fit to mention where this race was to occur.

Roanoke County can be a big place in that sort of situation. They did say where the awards ceremony was going to be, at 2 pm ... coincidentally the hour at which my shift was set to end. The race was set to begin at 9 am, 10 am, or 11 am, depending on whether you read the news release, the web site or the schedule I found (more on that in a moment). So I drove to the awards location, a place called Camp Roanoke, a short way out of town down winding country roads. It's no treat to find either, especially if you've never been there before, but I started down that one-lane gravel road to the camp after a careful map study, only to be confronted by a police car coming the other way.

The lights came on, the car slowed. I opened my window and the cop looks up and says, truly, "Oh, I didn't know you were News 7." Okay, so another reason why I like driving around with the station logo printed a foot tall on the side of the car. "I just want to let you know the bicyclists are coming." I thanked him and drove on, thinking: "What?!" Sure enough, about 20 yards on, about fifty bicyclists blow by with the whoosh of wheels and chatter of chains.

I stop. Now, I'm figuratively, if not literally, at a crossroads. (The road remained an entrapping narrow trail to ... well, at this point I don't know.) Other vehicles follow the bicyclists, Do I try to U-turn as best I can and follow, in hopes of getting ... well, anything? Do I continue away, finding someone at the camp who might actually know what's going on and where to go? Do I try to pass the pack, get ahead, and grab a shot before it gets away? Aw, ****. I continue on. At least someone might know what's going on, and if I miss it ... well, then, I've already missed it, haven't I?

So I come roaring into the camp (I literally fishtailed around the corner into the gate, throwing gravel and dust like a scene from "Dukes of Hazard") and pull into the parking lot, which is full of cars but empty of people. Actually, the whole place is empty. Where the drive turns into the parking lot, on the ground, I see a ball cap and a clipboard. It's like the Marie Celeste, as if everyone had simply disappeared in mid-activity, dematerializing but for the cap and the clipboard, which simply dropped into the grass.

Now I have no shame. I leap out of the car, walk over to the clipboard and read the schedule, which says the race begins at 11 (it's 10:40 at this point) at "Poor Mountain Road." Where the hell is that? Who cares, if I go the direction of the bicyclists, I'll undoubtedly pass them -- or at least get there in time -- and catch the start. I'll fake it from there. I drop the clipboard, utterly without ceremony -- plop -- in the grass, and jump in the car.

Back down the approach road, and at the end I'm left with a quandary. The bicyclists are now long out of sight. Uh, which way do I turn for this road? The mountains are closer on the left; a glance at the map shows a long run over a river to the right. But I came from the left, and saw nothing that implied a race start. I turn left, but after fifty years or so have second thoughts and pull over to study the map. Yep, the index shows I should have turned right.

Another U-turn, over the river and literally through the woods and around a broad, arcing curve, and there they are, all drawn up in a pack at a railroad crossing. I slide to a halt, leap out and grab the camera in time to film the start -- a nice shot, zooming out and panning with them as they go by -- and then I'm alone in an empty road with a couple of race organizers.

"So," I say, walking up, "how do I, uh, leapfrog ahead of these guys and get some more shots?" "You can't." I smile reflexively while staring blankly at these guys. "It's a pretty narrow road, and they're going to be all over it." At this moment, I'm remembering all sorts of warnings on that schedule on the clipboard about how how this road and that "will be open to traffic," and how the bikers should be cautious. "Uh," I say. "Well, I'd like to get more than one shot of this." I hope he gets my implication that his nifty race will not be on TV unless this can happen. I don't think he did. "I wish you could too," he says. But he doesn't know how. I take off after the bikers anyhow.

First I encounter the pickup trucks trailing, their flashers on. To my pleasure and surprise, first one then the second lets me pass. Then the motorcyclist ahead of them lets me by. Now we're on this narrow, dirt, switchback road with what seems a 40 degree incline. I'm behind the last bicyclist. He crawls agonizingly upwards, his bike obviously in the lowest gear, his legs painfully pumping away. My thighs begin to experience that lactic acid ache in sympathy.

The "road" is about as wide as my car. I creep along, trying to leave a good distance between me and the rider so as not to pressure him. A wide spot comes, and he waves my past. And so with the next and the next. Then, at a wider spot, there's a water station. I pull over, and leaving the car running pull out the camera and film those last four or so riders I passed riding by. Then I jump in before the motorcycle arrives and skid out again ... back behind the last guy in the race.

The scene repeats itself again -- me rolling slowly behind, then passing the bottom three or so, then pulling off to film them passing. Then in the back again, slowly passing one then another, until finally the top and the finish line, where I was able to film three or four coming in and interview the winners. It took over an hour to get there.

Then on to another festival (the Diabetes Walk for a Cure), drop the footage at the station and go home. The best thing about these days is that I just dump and run; by the time my pictures were downloaded into the station computer, my shift had ended an hour earlier. It's someone else's problem to edit it into something useful.

Today I come in and see what they made of it. They used that opening shot of the start ... and the interviews at the end. Turns out I didn't need more than one shot. Welcome to my world...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Because I can...

... And because I really need to post something ...


Young Jane enjoys her dance class, accidentally a one-on-one session that day when other students, for various reasons, didn't make it.

Shot with the Leica M3 and 35mm Summicron lens on Kodak's BW400CN film.

And on that note, an extended blog on the new Leica M9 is to come. No, I've not gotten any closer to one than anyone else who watched the Big Reveal on 9/9/09 by internet. I just like talking about Leicas...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Catching up...

So to avoid have happening to this image what has happened to our beach pictures (shot in July, still sitting undisturbed in their film canisters in September), I'm uploading this from our Labor Day camping trip to a friend's farm in Bath County, Virginia. It's a two-second exposure (I think; I was working pretty blind) of the bonfire. About eight or ten families gathered, camping in tents next to the river. Dinner came before, then we all adjourned to a nearby site for this bonfire and marshmallows roasted over the embers. Much fun, I think, was had by all, especially our two little girls. It was their first camping trip.

Shot with a Nikon D80 using a 17-55mm f/2.8 lens...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Looking back...

Sixty-five years ago today, Paris was liberated by Allied forces, specifically a Free French armored division moved forward to ensure the city was freed by its own people.

Well, actually, less than technically, it was liberated by a couple of crazed journalists who had rushed ahead in their jeep to get a good hotel room. Life photographer Robert Capa had encountered the French tanks just outside Paris, and discovered one crewed not by French but Spaniards -- veterans of the Spanish Civil War in which Capa had established his reputation. It had the name Teruel painted on it, and he climbed aboard, explaining he had been at that very battle in 1937. So on Teruel he rode into Paris.



However, on his arrival, Capa made a shocking discovery. "I wanted to spend my first night in the best of best hotels," he wrote in Slightly Out of Focus. "The Ritz. But the hotel was already occupied. Hemingway's army had come into Paris by a different road, and after a short and happy fight had taken their main objective and liberated the Ritz from the German yokels." Luckily for Capa, who had been feuding with Hemingway, they made up that night in the bar, and the famous writer made room in his hotel.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Another five minutes of my day...

Found another interesting blog: Rangefound. Run by another Leica fan, who I discovered at the Leica Forum. Along with NPPA (obviously), PDN Pulse, The New York Times's Lens blog, John Harrington, The Online Photographer and David Burnett's "We're Just Sayin'", a blog I plan to check regularly, if not daily...

I think there's some way to put these places permanently in the margins. Guess I'll figure it out eventually...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Meanwhile, on Twitter ...

Melissa Grego tweets: The country is in such bad shape right now I wouldn't give a damn if (Obama) was from Mars. - Wanda Sykes at TCA re 'birthers' controversy

(Note: "TCA" is the Television Critics Association, currently meeting in LA. The TV columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle calls it the "Death March with Cocktails." I love that.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Addendum...

The San Francisco Chronicle has a piece on vocal protesters at town hall meetings, touching on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's comments. They seem to think it is a small, vocal, organized, far-right thing...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Once Upon a Time in America...

Most people nowadays don't remember that Ernie Pyle (if they remember Ernie Pyle) had a job before World War II -- one of the greatest jobs, in my opinion, ever. He was paid by a newspaper and then a newspaper syndicate (IIRC) to simply drive around the country, writing interesting little profiles of the people and places he encountered.

You could see the pattern that he later used in his war reporting: person, character study with details such as hometown and family, evocative place description, etc. But I came to think of him in that job recently for another reaason.

I saw yesterday in The Daily Beast a reference to a poll that shows that a stunning number of Virginians are what have become known as "Birthers." Those, to make it short, are people that believe that President Obama was not actually born in Hawaii in 1961, as claimed, but somewhere else, like Kenya or Indonesia. This of course would render him Constitutionally ineligible to be President. The whole movement itself has become controversial (and is, taken factually and objectively, absurd, if for no other reason than there's nothing really that could be done about it now), driving some like The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson positively to distraction. I sympathize, but I also wonder ...

This strikes me as a symptom of a greater zeitgeist, one that seems particularly prevalent -- or at least, one that I am running across in numbers too high for coincidence -- here in Southwest Virginia. I felt a hint of this earlier, with the rise of the "Tea Parties," which I think were unfairly derided -- or at least underestimated -- by many, and I see this as part of the same general movement.

Before I go on, I have to pause to note that I often encounter this in a group, or rather a demographic, that shouldn't be dismissed. Everyone has their claim to being indispensable to America, but theirs is as good as anyone's. These are the people who are over-represented in the military, the folks who go to work in factories, pay their taxes and just try to hold it together. Around here, a lot of them farm and do spot work, job-to-job, like construction, just trying to push through the recession. They're not quite the Okies of Grapes of Wrath, but I think Mr. Joad would "be there" for them.

At any rate, I keep encountering this ... thing, this movement, this general dread and discontent. It makes me nervous, in a way, even as it also gives me a sense of the great, sleeping beast that is America in an oddly good way. Which is what leads me to Ernie Pyle, driving around 1930s America.

Aside from the sheer simple pleasure I would get from a job like that, it would give me more confidence in moments like this. Is what I'm seeing just a localized phenomenon? Is it a product of my own personal biases? Is it driven by the current media fascination (and frustration) with the Birthers? I dunno'. But I sure wish I had the job that would let me drive around, ask a few people, and find out...




Monday, July 27, 2009

On the Beach...

Okay, so I'm on vacation. Sort of.

First of all, with two small children, as Ronald Reagan said about the presidency, it's not a vacation, it's just a change of scenery. They're a full-time job ... as they should be. And this isn't a complaint, just a statement of fact. Just as, as when you get out of college, get a job, get older, get married, the concept of "vacation" changes, so it does when you have kids. Now it's as much about their vacation as yours...

Secondly, our modern age has made my obsessive personality even more out of control. I just finished an article for NPPA on Robert Capa's Death of a Spanish Solider picture, because a series of articles have recently called its authenticity into question. Again. (This is a whole separate posting, as I had been working on a piece about this for a while, only to have it lost in a hard drive crash. I reconstructed it in less than a week after the new controversy began, finally sending the finished piece last night after two days of solid writing ... in between trips to the beach.) The internet just makes it too easy to do stuff like that (and update a blog) from a place where one is supposed to be getting away from it all.

And so I come across this: On Vacation, Leave the Photo Gear at Home and Take the iPhone Instead. Uh, no. Or rather, I understand, but vacation is for me more the time to overpack the photo bag. I decide what I haven't had the chance to really play with, or what I've really been enjoying playing with lately, and load 'er up! Last year, I took my Leica Ms and Kiev (a Russian -- or to be specific, Ukrainian -- version of the Hasselblad) to the beach along with 400 B&W film. This year I brought the Leicas and my trusty twin-lens Rollei, veteran of trips to China and Haiti. Why? Because that's the packet I wish people would want to pay me to use. That right now would really entertain me, to be contracted to go out with my Leica Ms and Rollei to spend some time somewhere to capture it. So I've made my own gig...

ADDENDUM: The Capa piece is live now on the NPPA web site.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Catching Up...

The Fourth of July in Lexington, Virginia, is like many holidays here. They seem to resemble Norman Rockwell paintings, or some other hugely unlikely, idealized version of the small town holiday...

The day begins with the children's bike parade down Main Street, starting at the public library. Decorations are handed out for the kids to use, and the mob then sets out on the downhill-sloping street for -- I don't know, about a mile? Others actually do gather to wave to the passing kids, as seen here, in front of storefronts which have also been decorated in patriotic colors. Flags hang from every lightpost.

The eventual destination, after a luncheon break of free hot dogs, lemonade, watermelon and popsicles provided by local businesses, is the parade ground (or "deck" as they prefer) at VMI. The hub of festivites rests there, with various booths for charities and sales, including snacks and drinks, a flea market of sorts, a barbeque dinner by the sponsoring Rotary Club, and a hot air balloon festival. Usually anywhere from ten to twelve balloons show up, launching in the early morning and early evening, when the wind is the most still.

Here we see the crowd watching as a balloon begins to inflate. As you can see, this year the weather was more uncertain by late afternoon, and indeed by nighttime (and the fireworks) it was lightly raining.
I shot this, and particularly like it, because it shows in its way what I think the celebration of America is all about, as well as capturing some of the cheerily chaotic festival atmosphere there.

Here several balloons have risen enough to launch, which they did shortly after, rushing off roughly Eastward at a brisk pace in what I assume was a surprisingly strong wind.

And, at day's end, the tent for the barbeque is mostly empty. I don't know whether this couple are die-hards or just extremely early for the fireworks, which wouldn't begin for another two or three hours...

All the pictures were shot with my Leica M4 and 21mm Zeiss lens on Kodak BW400CN film.

As an aside: As I waited with my girls for the bike parade to begin, the Leica around my neck, a broadly smiling man approached and, with a German accent, explained he was from Wetzlar, where the camera was made. (The factory has since moved to Solms, which he explained is nearby.) He seemed very pleased to see the Leica and I wish the circumstances had let me chat with him longer...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Addendum...

So, as she settles into the swing on her playset this afternoon, my six-year-old daughter looks up and says, utterly without preface, "I wonder what's going to happen with Michael Jackson today?"

There was a speechless, if amused, pause on my part before I could manage to say, "Well, nothing I hope. I think they're pretty much finished with Michael Jackson." Which, of course, set her off on an extended rumination, to which she is prone, on "Wouldn't it be funny if an airplane landed on Michael Jackson's grave, and they had to do something, and ..."

I've gotta' ask...

I was studiously avoiding anything Michael Jackson -- both viewing and writing -- but it was a nearly impossible task. The Memorial Service or Funeral or Celebratory Concert or whatever it was (for a short time, I tried to coin a combined term among my friends, "Funicert," but they didn't share my dark humorous sensibilities) was on every network, cable and broadcast, it seemed. There was no escaping the 14 karat, highly polished gold coffin.

Now, there's the aftermath, and having been a creature and creation of the media culture, that means reviewing the ratings. I saw a figure that 31 million people watched the event on 18 networks (one story here) which struck me as actually low. I mean, simple math breaks that down to less than 2 million people per channel, which is decent for a moderately successful cable channel (eg: SyFy just got 3 million for its newest show), but awful for a major event on a big whatever-it-is (four? five?) broadcast network...

And then there's the fact that it was omnipresent. Every broadcast network, every cable news channel and several other cable channels (like E! and TV Guide). There was no where to turn! It was Michael Jackson or SpongeBob. How many of those viewers, like me, were trapped. (Although, I was amused when one network affiliate, during the 11 p.m. news that night, announced that day's soap opera episode would be aired at 2 a.m. Couldn't they just push the plot line a day later?)

Yet, I guess the audience was skewed to the larger outlets, like the broadcasters, so maybe it did get decent ratings, trailing out through the secondary cable channels. But it's a curious set of numbers ... which I guess goes to prove the old truism often used by Reagan (naturally): There are lies, damn lies and statistics...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Again with the Leica...

So of course, in the process of filming (or rather, to be technical, video-ing, or rather high definition video-ing, which is why I prefer "filming" ... just because it's easier) Phil and his work I brought along the Nikon D-80 for production stills and my Leica M4.

A wide view of Phil in his workshop. He is paused -- something he does often to stare at the wood, or his quick, rough drawings, to gain a sense of where he is, what he's doing and (perhaps most importantly) where he's going. Sometimes it seems as if these aren't pauses at all, but the real work. The rapid, often noisy, handwork with the wood is only punctuation to the heavy lifting of thought...

A portrait, of sorts, shot as we were chatting just before I left on the first day of filming. He looks somewhat more severe than he truly is here -- and thus it's really not a good portrait, having failed to fully capture him. However, it does show some of the intensity of thought that goes into everything he says.

Finally, another view of work. This is from the first day also, when he was piecing together larger hunks of wood to form the general shape from which he would carve and rasp out the more graceful form of the piece. Again, he is in a pause, turning the wood, contemplating its place and shape.

Shot with the Leica M4 and a Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 lens on Kodak BW400CN film.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Way We Live Now...

So, even though I'm still editing the VMI New Market project (using an usual system of editing video as a "silent movie" in essence first, then going back to the interviews to create a narration of sorts -- exactly the opposite of the usual method), I've already started filming on another project.


This is Phil Welch, a woodworker -- really an artist who works in wood -- here in Lexington. I first met him at a party, hosted by someone who had commissioned one of his works: a table in with, instead of conventional legs, a bumble bee's head and legs. It was a really impressive piece, in various tones of wood. In other words, no stain or paint, just different wood tones providing the color.

At the time, I thought that watching the creation of such a complicated piece -- not to mention the artistic effort that went into it -- would be really interesting. So I suggested to him that, next time he had a good commission to work on, he should let me know so I could film it from start to finish.

This is Phil's drawing for the commission he called me about: a large jewelry box in the shape of a woman. The final piece will be only slightly smaller than life size, with a torso serving as the box, about a foot-and-a-half or two feet tall. I guess the final piece will be about five feet tall. It will hang from brackets on a wall.

The drawings, as perhaps you can see here, are not really detailed diagrams, but more a way for him to work through ideas. Nothing is set until he really starts working the wood. However, wood being wood, as he has explained to me, once you commit to a certain shape and structure, you're pretty committed.

Here he shapes a leg. He rasps and sands the pieces like this by hand, slowly drawing the shape he wants out of the wood.

Phil's actually very humble about my film. He constantly wonders what it is that he's doing that might be interesting to watch, and constantly apologizes for, as he puts it, "not much happening" as I film. Meanwhile, I'm looking through the lens and watching him think and create ... long pauses as he stares at the wood, then rasps, then touches, then rasps again, then looks, steps back, steps in. It's really quite exciting in its way. If he only knew.

Also, I have to say he's a delight to interview; the absolute opposite of a bad interview. No question goes unanswered or inadequately considered. "What are you doing today?" might lead to an extended philosophical consideration of whether what he's doing should really be considered "art", or just "artisan" or maybe even plain old "work." Or it might just result in a review of his efforts. Usually both...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Of paper hats and legacies...

Caty, 6, asked me today to make her a paper hat, like the one in old storybooks, all pointy at the top and made from newspaper. Luckily for me, my father was having lunch here at that moment, and I sent her to him.

You see, before he became an academic and college president, my Dad worked in the journalism business too, starting as a copy boy at the old San Francisco Examiner (where I would later enjoy a photo internship) in the 1930s. When there, he learned how to make paper hats from the printing machinists, who would fold a double-page piece of broadsheet paper into a square hat to protect their hair from ink. It was always a small miracle to me to watch him make them when I was a child, and I thought it would be a double benefit for Caty to ask him for a hat: He'd be rewarded for his grandfatherly knowledge, and she'd be occupied and happy.

But the years have passed (he's 87 now) and it's been a while since anyone (me) asked for one of those hats. He had a hard time remembering.

Fortunately, I had preserved the last one I asked for. It hangs in a place of honor in my study, made from a yellowed, 14-year-old Commentary page of The Washington Times. I fetched it, brought it in and, from my memory of watching him make them and by carefully unfolding my treasure, figured out how it should be made.

Of course, with the internet, it's easy to find instructions on how to do ... well anything. But the idea of learning from living memory, not to mention family memory, to do something is special, I think.

Of course, there is one problem: how long before one won't be able to find a double-page piece of broadsheet newspaper?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Scenes from life...

Two new images, again because I can:
Here we see the cat in residence in a local bookstore, Books & Co.

This, I think, is a pretty good symbol for the pleasures of living in Lexington. The store has always had a cat about, a nice homey touch, but one that is hardly unique here. The antique dealer on the next block over, for example, brings his golden retrievers to work every day, where they sit outside the front door of his shop eagerly greeting passers by.

Also, this is one of two independently-owned bookstores in town ... within a block of each other. I wonder what the statistics are on book shop presence per capita, let alone two that are not chains. (One, by way of explanation, deals more in used books, while Books & Co. sells mostly new. Both, needless to say, carry our book, Rockbridge.)

Shot with my beloved Leica M3 and a 35mm f/2 on Kodak's BW400CN film.

This is the graduation ceremony for St. Patrick's Preschool, operated through our local Catholic church. Our youngest attends, but won't graduate to kindergarten herself for another two years. I enjoy this shot because it looks to me like the DaVinci Last Supper of kid mischief. (Adding to my amusement, in the background to the right is a wood carving of the famous DaVinci picture.)

Shot with a Nikon D80 and 17-55mm f/2.8 lens...


Thursday, June 4, 2009

It makes a body think...


From the new Life.com site, a photograph made in 1939 by Hugo Jaeger, who worked as a personal photographer to Adolph Hitler. This is Hitler's Chancellery office in Berlin, and that's his hat casually dropped on the side table there.

The scary thing about this particular image (and really several of the others -- Jaeger saved some 2,000 transparencies after the war, many of which Life.com is publishing for the first time) is I could see this being something I would have shot, casually working in a government office with the officials around. Was Jaeger a Nazi? I don't know; the Life description of him makes him seem just a guy with a job. But it does cause one to think...

In one of the other captions, Life tells how taken Hitler was with the new color film (I'm assuming Agfachrome, though I suppose it could also have been Kodachrome). "The future belongs to color photography," Jaeger said Hitler told him. Hmmm....



Thursday, May 28, 2009

Another view...

So, trying to be part of the 21st Century, I uploaded the fireworks stuff to my Facebook page as well as this blog, but I put this second photo, of my family watching the fireworks through our bedroom window, on Facebook only. I don't know why. It made perfect sense at the time.

However, as the day went by, not only did I keep getting comments from my Facebook friends about how much they loved it, but I found myself telling people I know who are not on Facebook about the picture. How could they see it? So...

That's Caty, far right, Janey, and Mommy watching, lit only by the light of the fireworks themselves in another 5-second exposure.

As an aside, I now find myself calling my wife "Mommy," Reagan-like, even when the kids are not there. I had trained myself to do it so the girls would identify her by "Mommy" -- just seemed like the right thing to do -- but it's now become so habitual that I can't stop. A bit difficult during preschool field trips, though, as every woman in hearing turns when I shout, "Mommy," not to mention those moments when no children are in sight.

Freudians would have a field day...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Oh, yeah, that again...

So, the mystery booms turn out to be fireworks again, this time for the undergraduate graduation at Washington & Lee University. Looks like it's in our front yard, doesn't it?

Shot with the Nikon D80, roughly a 4 or 5 second exposure (I changed about halfway through) at about f/4.5, ASA 400. I've set the camera on the floor of our porch, holding the lens slightly up with my fist...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

About North Korea...

Okay, so I'm no Asia expert, but a thought occurred to me that I'm surprised no one has mentioned:
When North Korea detonated a nuclear test and then fired two ballistic missiles, followed by firing two short range missiles (one surface-to-air and one surface-to-sea), it wasn't just a random firing of whatever was laying around in the closet.  I think this is a statement -- a sentence with subject, verb and object (or rather, dependent clause) spoken in military hardware.

The nuclear test reenforced the fact that they have them, the ballistic missiles said that they can deliver them, and the short range missiles said you can't stop them.  

The first two points are obvious: Subject=atomic weapon, verb=delivered by missiles.  It's the third part that's interesting...

The current US design for anti-missile defense is either sea or air based (or controlled).  So the North Koreans fire a couple of missiles saying, "And if you try to stop us, we'll just blow up your fancy defense system."  It's a complete statement of power and capability, obvious if you read it right...

Of course, I'm no expert...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Coming soon to a mailbox...

For purely self-abusive reasons, I've been reviewing my old posts here (among other odd reactions, that little twitch I get at seeing "0 comments" over and over; at least I've gotten used to having 4 followers -- thanks guys!)

It's when I noticed an old post on writing an article for News Photographer magazine, the journal of the NPPA, on the recent decision to allow coverage of the return of war dead to Dover AFB.  Well, that piece is coming out this month, and I wanted again to mention the articles I found on the return of the first Unknown Soldier in 1921.  They won the Pulitzer for AP reporter Kirke :. Simpson and it's some of the most beautiful journalistic writing you're likely to see this side of Ernie Pyle.

Cooooool...

Video shot with a Canon EOS 5D, a 15mm lens, a series of time-exposed frames and assembly in Quicktime Pro:


This could end badly...

Just saw a PDN piece saying that Newsweek is pulling out of the White House photo pool.  I'm often wrong about this sort of thing -- my presidential candidate predictions are guaranteed not only to be wrong, but 180-degrees off -- but I don't see this as a good thing...

From Newsweek's point-of-view, it makes perfect sense: they're trying to remake themselves into The Economist, eschewing day-to-day reporting for deeper analysis and commentary, which I think is a smart move.  Why have a photographer (and the accompanying travel costs, etc.) hanging around all the time at the White House?

However, if you look at the big picture, what this means is a less transparent, less accessable presidency ... an institution that has been increasingly opaque certainly in the 20th Century, if not earlier.

So what's my point?  As journalistic outlets increasingly pull back from having access, when something comes up where an administration wants to deny access, it becomes easier to say, "No."  So, say the next Watergate happens (to pick an extreme), and the people in the White House don't want all those pesky reporters and photographers hanging about, asking difficult questions, ruining perfectly good photo ops.  When Newsweek or U.S. News (who dropped out of the pool years ago) say they want in now, the Press Office puts on a sad face and says, "Oh, no, I'm sorry.  It's just too difficult to expand the pool that much.  And we can't make an exception for you, or everyone would want it."  Until one day, when the pool consists of some wealthy blogger with a cell phone camera, he can be locked up in a side room while something important happens...

Not that I'm paranoid or anything...

UPDATE (22 May 2009): I didn't expect something resembling confirmation that quickly...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A few other pictures...

Because I can, and because I've been having such fun with my Leica M3 and BW400CN film...
The view through a window in the Roberson-Phalen House in downtown Lexington.  Workers are adding the final touches on the restored home, and here one pauses to make a phone call outside while a group tours the interior.
From the same tour, an interior of the First National Bank building on Main Street, currently undergoing renovation.  The top two of the three floors will be apartments, and this floor -- on ground level -- and the basement are to be commercial space.

And finally, from one of the days I was preparing to go out filming, VMI cadets come spilling out of Jackson Memorial Hall after an event.  I made a number of frames of this, and while this is the best of those, I'm not sure it really captures the moment as hundreds of identically clad students spill out of the building...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Okay, just a couple more...

Because, in addition to the Canon XL-H1 HDV camera I was filming on, and the Nikon D200 I was using for all the previously posted production stills, I had my beloved Leica M3 with me while following the cadets, I have yet more pictures.

This is the campsite at the Frontier Culture Museum.  I have often want to, but never had the time to, do a project on photographing at Civil War reenactments using my Leicas. The theory was to see what, say, Robert Capa could have made of the Civil War.  A bit pretentious in two different ways, but a comingling of two different interests of mine, so why not?

Anyway, I thought this picture captured what I had in mind.  Shot with a Zeiss 21mm on Kodak BW400CN film.

This is perhaps my best picture from the take, particularly as it is so in style with the reason I like using the Leica.  I've probably "buried the lede" by putting it second, but so be it...

That's Cadet Aaron Cregar during one of the last rest breaks just outside the town of New Market.  His feet by then were heavily blistered (they had by then marched roughly 80 miles) but he pushed on to the end and even stayed at the battlefield through the weekend to take part in the reenactment.

This was shot with a Leica 35mm f2 -- the kind with the spectacles, because the M3 didn't have a 35mm viewfinder -- on BW400CN.

That's Cadet Curt Herron taking the flag at the end of that same rest break.  You can see from the background that much of that day's march was in a fog, following brief but noisy overnight thunderstorms.  Also done with the 35 and BW400CN.

I've got to say I'm really loving that Kodak film.  Though my heart will always belong to TriX, the ease of use provided by BW400CN, which can be processed at any C41-type one-hour machine (I actually have mine done at the local WalMart), is beyond measure in this right-now world.  It means I can still use my lovely, 50-year-old film cameras, but produce pictures almost as quickly as digital...



Saturday, May 16, 2009

Stiff, old and really, really tired...

That would be me.  The cadets who marched to New Market were disgustingly upbeat and surprisingly energetic throughout, moving at a strong pace every day despite some serious foot problems for a couple of them.

Third Classman (or sophomore) Curt Herron rests just outside the town line.  I had driven ahead to film them marching past the sign saying, "New Market," and when they didn't arrive went back to find them resting in the gateway to a nearby farm.  Fortunately, I had checked my odometer, and so was able to tell them they were only 1.3 miles out.

Herron's feet were perhaps the worst of the group, developing painful blisters before rolling his ankle.  Then, the taped padding and bandages rubbed, scraping the skin off the backs of his heels.  He pushed on nonetheless, doing the full distance despite suggestions that he ride part of the way in the support van which followed, carrying water and food.  His hobbled stride was painful to watch...

Here they are upon first arriving at the New Market battlefield.  Behind me as I take this image is the Bushong House, and in the background you can see the Hall of Valor, the museum.  After dropping much of their gear (blanket rolls, haversacks, etc.), the cadets formed into a line and marched to the fence where, 145 years ago to the day, the VMI corps of Cadets moved when called into battle.  As their predecessors did, these six fired two volleys and then climbed over the fence to charge the artillery position at the top of the hill.

I was of course filming during the charge, so there are no stills.  Also, that's a really, really long hill.  

The image above is in the aftermath.  You can see a Union artillery team there -- reenactors there for the events this weekend, who added a sense of reality to the charge by firing blank rounds throughout.  They congratulated the cadets after (having happily surrendered, unlike their historical antecedents, who put up a hand-to-hand fight before giving up the guns) and insisted on having pictures made with them.

In 1864, 10 cadets died as a result of the battle (5 instantly and five from their wounds after) and 47 were wounded.  All these guys lost was one aging filmmaker, who came puffing up behind them at the end of the charge.

So here is the group as they finished lunch:

The lunch was brought by First Classman Ben Scudder's family, there to watch his success.  It was Scudder who organized the whole thing -- that's him standing on the far left.  He's off at the end of summer to join the Coast Guard to help pay for the completion of his final year at VMI.

Kneeling in front is Eric Wittig, and standing, from left to right next to Scudder, are James Lockett, Aaron Cregar, Hank Baker and finally Herron (really Michael Herron, but he goes by "Curt").  Aside from Scudder, all the cadets are Third Classmen.

So now, aside from a couple of general storytelling interviews to provide background, it's on to editing for me, which isn't as exciting to blog.  I'll try to put up a video as soon as I get one ... and as soon as I can figure out how to do it...


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Update from the front...

So as I set out this evening to catch up with the cadets, I encountered the rest of the VMI student body practicing for Friday's New Market parade.  They use a special formation, much closer to the road around the parade deck and centered on the statue of Virginia Mourning Her Dead, erected in honor of the cadets killed in the battle.

As I prepared to leave, this scene developed, featuring what I can only assume to be passing tourists...

The heavy metal style contrasted with the pristine white, orderly ranks of cadets was too much, especially with the one fellow slouching on the cannonball (a minor monument on campus).  And yes, I included the "Do Not Enter" sign on purpose.

That's House Mountain in the background, the central local landmark.  Recent rains have really cleared the air around here of haze and pollen, and the view was spectacular.

Meanwhile, on the road...

This is what I found at 11 this morning, when I finally located the cadets marching to New Market in Verona, Virginia.  They had already reached the halfway point of their daily distance, and broken for lunch.  The two at far left are asleep, and the entire group would be before the hour was out.

Also, note the bandaged feet of the cadet second from left, mostly covering hotspots and blisters.  However, before the day was out, he would roll one of his ankles.  He walked through the pain (though with the ankle wrapped) to their destination.

Foot pain seems to be the main problem for the cadets, caused more by the hard surface of the road than their shoes, they claim.  Their morale is disgustingly high...


Tromp, tromp, tromp, the boys are marching...

Seven VMI cadets are reenacting the march their predecessors did over 100 year ago, when they left the campus in Lexington,Virginia, in May of 1864 and marched 85 miles in five days to New Market, to the north, where they took part in the battle there on May 15.  The 2009 cadets are dressed in period clothing and (perhaps most importantly) wearing period shoes.

I had often said that it would be an interesting little film to follow such an adventure, but no one had done it since the last effort in 2005.  So when I was told it was happening this year, I could hardly back out.

Here we see the cadets marching up Route 11, having already been on the road over a day:


And at their campsite at the end of the second day (last night), at the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, Virginia:

It's not much helping the drama of my show that they all seem rather cheerful, with high morale, and not very worn down by the beating their feet are receiving, after an 18-mile march on the first day and 19 miles on the second...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

New market and me...

So I had been talking about this idea: sometimes (turns out to be far less often than I thought), VMI cadets march the route from their Lexington campus to New Market, Virginia, where VMI cadets turned out for the only time in America a cadets corps fought as a body.  This year, a First Classman (senior) decided he hadn't had a chance.  So he made it.

VMI Cadet Ben Scudder contemplates the gear he wants to take with him on his march to New Market.



Scudder and Cadet Charlie Gerkin (right, a Third Classman, or sophomore) pack for the march.

I just began filming their adventure.  It'll be a helluva' dtory, I think.  Let's see if anyone will pay for it.

Friday, May 8, 2009

BOOM! Oh, did that disturb you?



The view from on our front porch towards Washington & Lee University during the annual Law School graduation fireworks show.  This happens every year at around 9 pm, and never fails to startle us.  This year, it went off despite a drenching downpour and thunderstorm.  If nothing else, those W&L kids are dedicated to their traditions ... and parties.

Shot with a Nikon D200 at 400 ASA.  A 1.6 second exposure (balanced on a window sill) at f/5.6.   In case you care...

Fun with Photoshop...


I think this is truly hilarious.  It's from another blog, the content of which I haven't really read, but I think it shows the proper irreverent attitude towards the fascinations of the moment...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Another video...

This one is really fine fimmaking: a Chanel No. 5 short, starring Audrey Tautou of "Amelie" ... and a Leica M8 (at the very end ... wait for it.)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Meanwhile, at Boxerwood...

Actually, these pictures are from last weekend's Earth Arts festival (it ran today too -- pictures from that to come), but I wanted to post them as I've just processed them to an acceptable size, etc...

A figure in the pines.  The work (and basically the festival itself) was inspired by the work of Scottish artist Andrew Goldsworthy, who builds art out of found, natural stuff.

The artists who made the figure, and a number of others in other interesting places.  (One was actually in the middle of the walking path, forcing the viewer to, first, notice it and then decide whether to walk over, around or through the figure.)

There were also a number of more conventional artists, such as this painter...

And this musician.  (There was also a bagpiper from VMI.)

This was very cool: photosensitized silk scarves.  They were laid out in the sun with plants on them, leaving Rayograph-like patterns on them.  Washington and Lee University Photography Professor Christa Bowden at left, who organized and did this work.  I think some are still available for sale -- contact Boxerwood if you want one.