Tuesday, March 23, 2010


On my second day as a Census Questionnaire Assistance Clerk. I sit, as I write this, in the back meeting room of the Goshen, Virginia, Library, where I am available about four hours a day to answer any questions people might have about the census and how to fill out their forms.

It's a very quiet job.

The census form -- one should have been mailed to you some time ago, if you live in the United States -- is a very simple thing for most, asking basic questions about who is living in your residence on or about April 1, 2010. However, that's not to say the answers are simple for everyone.

Take, for example, if you're a college student. On April 1 (and, yes, I am amused by the date too, but it's no joke), you may be home with your parents on spring break (or perhaps at some hedonistic beach vacation). Where do you get listed? Well, it's where you are most of the year: at college (eight months vs. four months on break at home, cumulatively).

Things can get more complicated, based on your situation (what if I'm homeless?) and what form you get. Most everyone gets a D-1 -- a simple form that just asks roughly seven questions about each person living there -- but you may get a D-1 E/S (with Spanish translations) if you live in a place with a high Hispanic population, or any one of four or five others.

I learned all this at a day-long training session, with many reviews, test exercises and much repetition, mostly on the subject of privacy.

The thing that the Census Bureau is absolutely fanatical about is privacy. We are literally sworn in (like soldiers or the President) and give an oath not to reveal information collected. They won't even share with other government agencies. To say they're rather rigid about this is an understatement.

So that's why this is probably the last you'll hear of my experiences doing this. But if you need a question answered about your census form, drop by the Goshen Library. I'm here all week...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Meanwhile, In America...

The 50s were, I think, a Golden Age in photography, particularly "Street Photography." (Actually, I could make an argument for most any decade since the art and science of photography began over 100 years ago; it really depends on what subset you're discussing.) Giants like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank walked the earth. Needless to say, I sit in awe.

However, I found much of the work from that time disquieting and downbeat. Frank's legendary book, The Americans, for example, can leave one profoundly uncertain about America and American culture. This is not to say I think these pictures untrue (or even anything less than genius), but I have often thought that it would be interesting to do a counterpoint, showing in much the same style and method an upbeat vision of America, capturing the optimism, energy, generosity and general positive attitude, even in the face of less than positive circumstances.

Frank did The Americans with a Guggenheim grant; perhaps some generous foundation would like to support my idea...

I often thought of it including pictures like the one above, shot at the Comicon at the Salem, Virginia, Civic Center a while back. I was covering it for WDBJ, and took a moment at the end of my TV shooting to grab a couple of frames with the Leica. Luckily, these two guys were just by the door as I slipped out.

This is my daughter, Janey, having unexpectedly ... and unwillingly ... fallen asleep one afternoon.

However, I find some of my pictures tend to wander into the less than upbeat anyhow. Take, for example, the one below...

I actually stopped and parked at a gas station (out of frame, to the right) and stood in the road to get this as I headed home from work. I had to; it just summarized too well for me the recent spate of snow and ice we've endured. The first grand storm infamously shut down 81 for two days.

On a more scenic note, this is the parish house of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Lexington.

And, though it's difficult to see on the small display size, on the church's door, tucked into the Advent wreath to the right, a handmade cardboard sign warns of "ICE!"

In a more disquieting form of humor, the Three Kings await their moment inside the parish house. We at St. Patrick's are sticklers for accuracy, and so the kings don't appear at the church's outdoor creche until their appropriate time, in January.

Here, a celebrant in period garb enters Lee Chapel on the Washington and Lee University campus for ceremonies marking Robert E. Lee's birth. Lee, of course, was president of the university from the end of the Civil War until his death in 1870, and he is buried in a crypt in the chapel's lower level. Groups gather every January to mark his birthday and that of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson (also buried in Lexington, in the nearby graveyard).

However, the university has become rather sensitive in modern times about an over-emphasis on Lee's defense of the Confederacy and its accompanying slavery -- particularly emphasized by the uncomfortable proximity of Lee and Jackson's birthdays to that of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. -- so Confederate flags are not allowed to be brought into the chapel for the events. Participants tidily roll them up before entering, setting them aside like this one or stowing them away in their cars.

And finally, a view out the window of a local store, Pumpkinseeds, looking past the old county courthouse (hidden out of sight on left) and down Main Street. Pumpkinseeds is a particular favorite of ours, offering often wry and clever products like the shopping bag shown at right.

So, meanwhile, in America, we do seem to be getting along well enough. Despite some disagreements about politics and religion, we do find a way and manage. I think that's what I meant to say...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Random shooting...

This is Main Street in Lexington, shortly before Christmas. Much of the over two feet of snow we received then had been cleared from the street, but the region remained a bit shell shocked for weeks after, and piles of crusty, charcoal-colored snow remain even now.

This was shot with my Leica M3 and Zeiss 21mm lens on Kodak Tri-X. I put it up ... well, as before, because I can.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Link me, baby!

My boss at WDBJ has his own blog, Stop and Smell the People, where he talks about everything from his occasional, daily thoughts to memories of covering past winter Olympics. A few days ago, I gave him some prints of photos I made in the newsroom, using my trusty Leica M3 and 21mm f/2.8 Zeiss lens, including one of him at work. It's a tribute to the Leica that the picture of him was a complete surprise; he had never noticed I shot it. Well, he popped it and another into his blog, and it looks great, in my humble opinion.

Personally, I'm just happy he gave me a photo credit...