Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Spaces Between Us

On the one hand I go to Starbucks to be with people, and I've made many friends there over the past year. Most nights I'm sitting at table with a bunch of other people, and we're talking about any and everything. It could be the day's latest hot news story from the TV or the Miami Herald, perhaps just a rumor circulating about town, the weather, what one of us had done that day, maybe where somebody was planning on going for vacation. Other days, while there are people around, they are total strangers to one another, sitting alone. I've always liked this photo. This is one of the lonely times. My face is mostly in shadow as I sit at that table by myself. You can't really see an expression on my face, lending an air of mystery to the picture. Further away a woman sits alone with her coffee at another table. Two people totally disconnected from one another, complete strangers. Living in different worlds. The perspective from the ultra-wide angle of the 15mm lens exagerates the distance She's really less than 10 feet away, but the distance is there, almost infinite. I'm aways amazed at how well my hand can "see" a composition. I was holding the camera in my right hand, aimed back towards myself, yet I was able to compose so the top of my head is just inside the frame. The automobile on the far right is likewise just inside the frame, with the front bumper at the very edge of the picture. My head is neatly framed by the columns behind me.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Monkey business

Monkey and I have been together about 63 years. When I was a toddler I remember being told that he used to have a nose, but that when I was a baby I pulled it off. He never had a name. I always just called him Monkey. Most of the time he just sits on my bureau in the bedroom. He's sat there for many, many years, watching me grow up, get married and divorced a few times. He's seen apartments and he's seen houses. He's seen my son and daughter grow up and move out into the world. A year or so ago I was trying to come up with some ideas to tie my series of self portrait photographs to my past. I spotted Monkey sitting there and decided what better way than to show my childhood companion the world in which I now live! I took Monkey for a ride in my truck and we visited the bank and the post office, went grocery shopping, explored a local park, and visited with my friends. My ex, Claudia, told me that people would think I was nuts walking about town carrying a toy stuffed animal. Most people I guess just figure I'm taking back to my grandchild, and really pay Monkey no mind at all. Women, young and old alike, often ask about him and are amazed that I still have him after all these years. They think it's really nice that I've kept him, that I still have him and treasure him. A few months ago when James and Hideko were in town (when the photo below was taken) she met Monkey and fell in love! She decided that there should be a new T-shirt with a photo of Monkey, or perhaps of Monkey and myself, and she thinks it would be very popular with teenage girls back home in Japan. When they returned to Miami last week Monkey went everyplace with us. James and Hideko each wore a prior edition of the Al Kaplan T-shirt. He sure was a conversation starter! Men don't seem to see him at all, but every female around, from the waitress to some young women at the next booth just had to hear the whole story of this old toy, and thought it was so touching that Monkey and I were still together after all these years. That scenario repeated itself at several restaurants, at a bench in the park, and on the patio at Starbucks. Two Haitian girls have already emailed James with orders for shirts!

The Camera District?

There used to be a bunch of photography related businesses along Biscayne Blvd. in Miami from downtown up to Browne's Photo Center at 82nd. St. One by one they've dissapeared. World Wide Photo at about 50th St. is still there, and that nice looking young lady will gladly sell you film as well as paper, chemicals, and other supplies, but they're no longer a Leica dealer and their once overflowing selection of enlargers, both new and used, is no more. Behind her is a large selection of film. Even sheet film and pro-packs, with the color stored in a refrigerator. Still, it's the last "pro" shop at this end of the county where you can find everything from studio lighting to rolls of background paper to negative sleeves. Even the digital shooters need background paper and lights!

Until the end of December Dan's Camera Clinic was located in a little strip mall a few blocks to the north. Manfred and his wife were always there ready for the next customer to walk in. Manfred was usually in the back at his work bench. They both had thick German Swiss accents. He knew his Leicas, Rolleiflexes, Hasselblads, and about anything else, inside out and backwards! If the problem was a simple fix he'd do it right then and there, often while standing at the counter chatting with you, and hand it back "no charge". Other time it would be more serious and he'd tell you to come back in two or three days. On rare occasions he'd tell you that he needed to order parts, or worse, that the part was no longer available, but he usually knew a work-around, and although your camera no longer matched factory specs it would be perfectly functional.

Behind the counter was a glass showcase full of used and reconditioned cameras. He was always the first place I'd go to look for something in the way of used equipment, and I sold him a lot too, including my Leicaflex, Hasselblad, and view camera kits. The last time I was in there back in October he adjusted the rangefinder of an M2 body I'd just gotten and told me the bad news. He was shutting the doors come the end of December. He said people were buying more and more digital and not bothering to fix them anyway when they broke. They'd rather just buy the latest! Toss the old one! I heard that he's still doing a bit of repair work at home these days.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Sum Of Our Years

This is my friend Carl in the hospital. A stroke put him there. No more fixing shoes in his shoe repair shop that he's owned for the past 40 or so years. He'll likely never walk unaided again or have enough use of his right arm and hand to operate the machinery or even use the hammer.

About five years ago I have vague recollections of waking up in the rescue truck myself. I'd had a grande mal seizure in my sleep, with no previous history of seizures. They kept me for a few days and had me on some heavy doses of anti-seizure drugs. They gave me scans and tests, asked me a million questions about a possible head injury, my family doc shook his head in amazement when I told him that the nerologist had told me not to drive if I wasn't on the medication. His advice was that he thought I shouldn't be driving on the medication. I was told that I'd have memory loss from before the seizure until sometime afterwards, not complete, but big gaps in what I'd remember during that period. It turned out to be about a two year hole in my memory, with just scattered recollections of what hapened during that time. Then the neurologist decided that it had been a year since the seizure.Time to see what happens if I stopped taking it. A couple days later I had another seizure.

Back on the medication again! But the stuff fuzzed up my thinking a bit. I spoke with my family doctor, I read a bunch of medical texts on the subject, I talked with physician friends, and with my ex who is a doctor. I gradually reduced my daily doseage until one night I had a mild seizure. The neurologist thinks I'm nuts but I have a clear head again on the minimal dose. Oh, I get the occasional lightheaded dizzy spell, and my short term memory is lousy, but I know a lot of "healthy" people my age who couldn't tell you what they ate for lunch today.

Carl's mind is clear. His speech is no longer slurred. His body is improving with the daily therapy and a lot of effort. Hopefully he'll get around with crutches soon, but he'll never repair shoes again. I still stop in and visit him every week or so but I sure wish it was at his shop and not the nursing home.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Bobby and Whitney....eat your heart out......

I don't know if any of you keep up with the Brown's on their reality t.v. show, but it is, with a collage of quick clips, separated in groups under titles which are an outtake from that group of clips, seemingly shallow, if you're just flipping by. But upon closer examination, Mr. Brown seems the more sincere and smarter of the two. Ms. Houston/Mrs. Brown seems truly smitten with her husband, in her own way. The children, in the few clips I watched, seemed absolutely loving. (I about never run a television or radio in the house or in the darkroom. I happened to catch the Brown's in a rare incident where I found myself in the proximity of a television that was on.)

I offer the same kind of challenge as the Brown's on television, in my blog and in my photographs, to find out who I am, even if you're not interested. I'm not the person in the photographs,- I am the person taking them. Think about that for a minute.

I'm an observor documenting and recording the minute details, the often mundane happenings in the subject's life. "He" is my subject. Dividing into two, in a way, was the existentialists way, right? My life, separate from me, as I observe it.

When I was a young photographer attending the annual Wilson Hicks Photojournalism Conference at the University of Miami. One of the speakers, and time and seizures has erased his name, talked about how he posed some of his candids.

Now that was a revalation! Heretofore, perfectly "candid" photographs in Life Magazine magically dissolved before my very eyes. So this was photojournalism! Well, that changed things! (Quite literally!) I watched amazed as the photographer described how a person had been moved from here to there for reasons of composition or lighting, a suit jacket taken off and very carefully "casually" tossed over a chair back, a clean ashtray was exchanged for a dirtied and filled one. Little things, but important things to the photograph, and the statement as the photographer had seen it, understood it. How a tie hangs. Should the drapes be open or closed? Turn on a fan to ruffle them a bit.

So while changing nothing about my subject, in comparison, I still remain an agressive photographer. I watch and stalk my subject, take it as I see it, because it has all been preset for me, by the quirks and the habits of the subject I follow.

I am not the director, or the storyteller, or the critic or the editor. I take what's there, in the most honest way I know how to. Most important, I guess to an extent, because I still move people around sometimes for reasons of lighting or composition. Other times I myself am the only one aware of what I'm doing. People oft times ask "Are you taking pictures?" after the third or fourth exposure, as they finally become aware of my arm stuck out to the side. I've become adept at winding and releasing the shutter one handed, with either hand, and lots of practice and experience, a sixth sense, takes care of the aiming and composition.

I long ago learned how to keep up a running conversation with my subjects, telling them with a straight face that "Oh, there's no camera here! I'm not taking pictures." and sometimes even "I'm not really here. It's just your imagination. What ever gave you the idea that I was here?" It might bring forth a chuckle, but it does tend to relax them. It's like a childhood game, something you might play with a four year old, and it strikes a chord with that long repressed child within us all. Play acting. "Let's pretend!"

Still, it's my life, and a lot of the shots are totally candid as far as other people who might appear in them. The people I see frequently sometimes ask "where's your camera?" when it's dangling from my wrist, like it's supposed to be there in my hand. They get so used to my actions nobody notices anymore. Others I suspect actively "play the game", like the assistant City Attorney in my posting on the 19th - "I try to be everywhere...", as she looks at me, talking with just a hint of a smile on her face as she carries that stack of files and law books "just so". Yet she might not be aware of it either. We all have that little kid in us. Nobody wants to admit just how much of what we do in life has its roots in "Let's pretend", and that there's a certain unreality to all of reality. It's like another universe and I'm having a fantastic time exploring it!

For the sake of all women, I don't wear suits too often

Actually, women don't have all that much to do with how I dress. At least not as far as wearing suits. Back in the 60's and 70's I was very much a jeans kind of guy. It was the hippie era and I had bell bottoms with a wide belt and a huge brass buckle. In cool weather, or when I wanted to appear "dressed", I wore square toe side-zip leather boots. Otherwise it was sandles. The popular style was made in India, a loop for the big toe, a band across the instep, and a thin strip connnecting that to the toe loop. Tie dyed t-shirts and a shaggy mop of hair completed the look. Without doubt "the look" helped when it came to getting photos within the music industry, and was common enough that I could shoot for the local neighborhood weekly aswell as the "underground" press, as counter culture papers were called back then.

As far back as I can remember I always heard the expression "Clothes make the man!" It's not likeI didn't own a suit. I did. A rather flamboyant thing with wide lapels, and I had a collection of 1930's and 1940's era wide gaudy floral patttern silk ties bought at yard sales and Good Will. When my daughter Elena was maybe 8 or 9 years old she bought me a book called Dress For Success.

By that time I was doing the photography for Barry College, the City of North Miami, the local congressman, and a number of other clients. That one suit, along with a blue blazer, was starting to get a real workout. Square toe boots were getting passe too. The essence of the book, as I recall, was to "fit in" with the culture of your client. When you first met a new client how were the top executives dressed? Suit or sports jacket and slacks? Solids, pin stripes, glenn plaid? Were they wearing spread collar or button down shirts. White, blue, subtle patterns? Rep striped tie or was paisley acceptable. Were penney loafers too casual, or even tassle loafers. Should dress shoes be cap toe or wing tip?

I don't recall where I read it, but somebody once wrote that women wear costumes and men wear uniforms. In corporate culture you can spot rank by the details of the uniform. Little things such as the use of bright red is usually reserved for the ties of top executives, along with cap toe shoes. I got myself a Brooks Brothers charge card and redid my entire wardrobe. I started getting my hair "styled" every other week. It made a major difference! Soon I was on the boards of directors of the Mayor's Economic Task Force, the North Miami Chamber of Commerce, the Central North Miami Homeowners' Association, the North Dade YMCA, and was appointed to the North Miami Planning Commission where I soon became vice-chair. Instead of just being "the photographer" I was running political campaigns. I had no time for myself, with meetings just about every night. I tried to resign from a few of the positions but was always asked to stay.

When my mom passed away a dozen years ago I used that as the excuse. I resigned from EVERYTHING. I had my life back! Then a few years ago, perhaps three, Scott called me up. There was an opening on the Board of Adjustment, would I please accept the appointment. I did. I showed up at my first meeting wearing a suit and tie. Nobody else did! It had been a decade of change, casual was in, jeans had become respectable, ties a useless accessory. Even the city's planner and city attorney were dressed casually. Rare was the person appearing in front of the board who was wearing a suit. I still like to get dressed up from time to time, but it ain't like the old days. The world has changed. Balding grey haired men now have pony tails and wear jeans. It's become difficult to tell a man's status in society by his clothes. Watches are seldom worn and everybody carries a cell phone, so that's no longer an indication. I just tell everybody to call me Al, none of that Mr. Kaplan formality. I like it this way

Monday, February 20, 2006

Watching Time Go By In North Miami
or....adjusting to the board of adjustments

Wednesday evening is the next Board of Adjustment meeting. I'm on the board. there was an article in Sunday's newspaper about a different issue completely, but our city attorney was quoted as saying to the effect that a citizen has a duty to report wrongdoings to the authorities.

This puts me in a quandry. At an "ethics" seminar a week or so ago I discovered that I can skip a meeting, but not recuse myself from any particular item on the agenda. I'm wondering the best way to just announce to everyone who is there seeking a variance that they shouldn't bother. Just build what they want. Odds are that they won't get caught because we have a bunch untrained code enforcement people. I was told that they were former trash truck drivers. When bulk pick-up went from weekly to twice a month, rather than lay off the surplus drivers, they were reassigned to code enforcement with little or no training. Not like the days of yore when people like Charlie Zarzour and Ed Krause patroled the city. They knew the code book inside out and backwards, and after years of driving the same streets day after day, week after week, for many years, would immediately spot any new construction. They'd make sure that a permit was posted. They cared.

If you try to be a good citizen and report a violation, maybe even photograph it as it happens from a vantage point on public property (the street, in this case), and the contractor decides to beat the shit out of you, leaves you semi concious on the side of the road? North Miami cops won't investigate it because they didn't witness the beating. Why didn't they? They were summoned via phone when the beating was first threatened and called a second time while it was going on. Ten or fifteen minutes later they showed up. I was semi-concious laying on the ground by the side of the road. They could have detained the contractor because he admitted that he didn't have his drivers licence with him, but they let him drive off. Not even a ticket for operating a motor vehicle without a valid drivers license in his possesion!

I was the "good citizen". I'm still having dizzy spells. What I'm considering doing is just telling everybody who's there seeking a variance to "just do it", forget the variance. Why bother? If somebody complains about it just beat the shit out of them or have your contractor do it. Here in beautiful North Miami nobody is going to get arrested for it unless they do it right in front of the cops. I plan on taking an 8x10 color photo to the meeting. My son shot it the following morning. Two black eyes, bright red bruises and still oozing abrasions galore, a real pretty sight I was.

To top it off, the cop who was questioning me after the beating, and I was still delerious at the time, was acusing me of being drunk. I hadn't had a drink in over a year. Just about everybody in town knows I don't drink, not after watching it kill my mother. Yeah, I'm pissed! and there's still a bunch of uninspected construction at that house, done without proper permits, and in need of variances to bring it into compliance. I guess it's easier to just blame the victim.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

I try to be everywhere, talk to everyone who'll talk to me! (Tongue Firmly in Cheek)

I'm really an old figure around City Hall in North Miami, as you might of guessed by now. It's not that I really care about the city, or do anything that makes it a better place to live, I just happen to be short of friends these days, and hey, I can always find somebody who'll talk to me at City Hall. Where else could I meet the beautiful woman above, who will stop and chat with me, not because of my wonderful head of hair, I found out, but just because I'm such a lonely looking bugger, with my camera always hanging around my neck.

I mean, if I was really interested in North Miami,and it's well being, I supposed I would have gotten connected with the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) there long ago. I could hang around there as well as I can any place else, and I'm sure there's enough gossip and politicking going on there to satisfy me too.

But at the art museum, I think they're a little picky about actually having a little knowlege about something, keeping up with art, things like that. At City Hall, not much more than a body is required. A body equals one vote. You line up enough bodies, and you get elected to something or another. And that's how a city is run. If you like "free" breakfasts, an annual dinner or convention, or a few political or fund raising balls, and that's enough to run your stuff, plus the big wig that comes with the job, and which most people in city government choose to wear.

Nope. That MOCA might actually require some work on my part, like reading a book now and then,-with pictures in it. Even then, I bet I couldn't get by without reading a few words below or beside the pictures.

But kidding aside, and when you think of it, the museum probably gets a lot more work done on behalf of the spiritual part of North Miami, and as I mentioned in the previous post, perhaps that's what Miami needs more of, and less monitoring and less suspicion of our fellow North Miamians. Art opens hearts. Open hearts could open minds. With a city full of open minds and open hearts.........well, what more could a city council, city hall want?

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Crime watchers vs. hospitality committees

We have a very active crime watch program in North Miami. Marvin Weinstein is the city police department's crime watch coordinator. He speaks to various civic organizations and homeowners associations about what to look out for and whom to call if suspicious activity is noticed. He'll visit your home or business and explain what you can do to make the place more secure. Here he's attending a meeting of the Central North Miami Homeowners' Association board of directors after Katrina and Wilma paid us a visit a few months ago. Many places were unsecured and a lot of homes were uninhabited until emergency repairs could be made and looting was a concern at the time. Most everybody is back at home now, even if their roof is still covered with blue tarps.

What we really need, though, is a greater outreach program to new citizens of the community. We have a lot of immigrants. People speak several dialects of Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole (or, as the spell it, Kreyole), as well as Russian, Arabic, German, Czech, Hebrew, Chinese, and about any other language you can imagine. Neighborly friendliness is hampered by the inability to communicate with one another. Gone are the days when somebody would fire up the charcoal grill on a Sunday and Mrs. Jones would bake up some of her chocolate cake, Mrs. Williams would bring her famous potato salad, Harry would do the ribs he'd marinated overnight in his granddaddy's secret sauce, and there's be hot dogs and hamburgers for the kids. The cooler was full of Cokes and Budweisers and just maybe, if somebody had visited the Great American West lately, some Coors. You couldn't buy it here in those days. Like as not, in the far corner of the yard, some of the younger folks would be passing around a joint, it's odor well masked by the smells from the grill. And everybody spoke English and listened to Cream and the Rolling Stones.

Now the people across the street, being either Jewish or Muslim, won't go near a charcoal grill once sullied by pork, the folks next door don't understand enough English to even comprehend the invitation, and Mrs. Thomas down the street makes the very best curried goat you ever tasted but she knows that most everybody who'd be there would turn green just thinking about eating goat. These days everybody over fifty pretends that they'd never once partaken of the Evil Weed and God help a teenager who gets caught trying to sneak a toke.

The sense of community is lacking. Is it possible to ever regain that? Neighbor looking after neighbor, leaving your spare key with the folks next door? That's what it really takes to cut crime. Communication! Marvin has a tough row to hoe!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Watching the next mayor ease into his campaign!

Scott Galvin was a teenager when I met him about twenty years ago, but very active in the goings on of the city of North Miami, attending council meetings and various city events. When he turned 18 he announced that he was running for city council in the upcoming election, but not for a vacant seat. He accepted the challenge of running against a popular incumbant, raised money, organized not only his teenage friends but a lot of adults that were unhappy with the way things were. He had signs in yards and store windows all over town and probably walked every street and knocked on every door, introducing himself, chatting a bit, and leaving a brochure. At the time I was running for a different council seat, but that's a story for another time.

I did tell everybody that I thought Scott would be more effective on the council than the incumbant, but the city just wasn't ready for an 18 year old at that time. He did make a good showing however, and got more than just a token vote. After the election he and I worked towards getting to switch to district elections for the four council seats, which is the system we now have. A few years later he ran again, got elected, and he's been one of the most effective people we ever had on the city council. In the last election he would have had to resign from the council seat, a four year term, in order to run for mayor, a two year term. He decided to keep his seat.

A year or so ago he called me one day to ask if I'd be at the council meeting that night. I said that I would. His next question was "Did you know that I was gay?" I said no, I never gave it much thought. He said that he was "coming out" at the council meeting just before the break. There were a couple of stacks of the local gay newspaper with a front page story about it sitting in his office. Would I please put them around the lobby just before the break? "No problem!" I said. He made the announcement and nobody seemed upset. When election time came around last May the city overwhelming elected Kevin Burns, also gay, who openly campaigned with his partner and his three year old daughter.

I really expect Scott to shoot for a county commision seat or state representive when his term ends. He's too talented to confine himself to a small city like North Miami.

The top photo shows him greeting a woman who attended a seminar a month ago that he sponsored at the community center. The second photo was a few minutes later as more people were arriving.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Breaking old habits
loading the gray scale for print

Working for newspapers change the way you look at a print, or at least it did back in the days of making half tone negatives on sheets of Kodalith Ortho film with a process camera using a half tone screen and a vacum back. The 1960's were the waning days of letterpress printing using zinc plates for printing photos. Offset lithography was fast replacing that technology but you still needed to produce that half tone negative from the original photograph.

The screen was held in pace on the sheet of film by vacuum to assure a tight close contact and three seperate exposures were made. The camera back tilted into a horizontal position and a weak overhead light was used to expose the film to the screen only,the "flash", no picture, which assured a slight dot pattern in the darkest areas of the photo. Another exposure was made of the photo through the the screen, which was the main exposure. Lastly, a short exposure was made of the original without the screen in place, the "bump" which gave you better tonality in the brightest areas. I guess you could call it "post processing" in the analog era.

The camera operator could pretty much control the overall contrast of the finished reproduction as well as the amount of deail in both high light and shadow areas. In order to make life easy for the guy (few women worked in production in those days) you didn't want to give him a a gorgeous print with inky black shadow areas with just a hint of detail or whites without any detail at all. It was easier to work from a slightly flat image, increasing the contrast just enough to get a good reproduction by playing with the relative amout of bump and flash. This was done by experience, not a set formula. The old timers could listen to a ball game on the radio, chat with somebody, smoke a cigarette and drink coffee, all the while putting one photo after another in the vacuum back, adjusting the image size (which affected exposure too), and "just knew" how long each of those three exposures needed to be. In many cases the lights were controlled by a toggle switch, and no timer was employed.

Because I can't seem to kick the habit, I guess you could say, I have someone push out my gray photos before they are posted here. The top darker photo is the one you'd turn in to the newspaper in the old days. The process for the other two of course is all done at the computer with the necessary PhotoShop curves, calculations, and channels. Modern lingo but I suppose it's still Bump and Flash.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A Beginning, An End, And a Strange Twist

I started buying most of my photo supplies at Browne's Photo Center back in the 1960's when he was on N.W. 22nd Ave. just north of 79th St. It was kind of a seedy place in a borderline seedy neighborhood, but he always had tons of used equipment and a good well stocked section of papers, chemicals and film. He also was pretty free about offering a "house account" back in those days when "credit card" meant Diners Club or American Express and nobody could envision the cashless society soon to come. My friend Al Olme started working there, and I'd get hot tips on just arrived used things as they showed up.

After a few years Browne moved to a trendier location on Biscayne Blvd. and 82nd St. and added Leica to the lines of Nikon, Canon, Minolta, and a bunch of other brands he stocked. He had a large darkroom section with about everything you could think of from enlargers to half a dozen brands of paper. He carried large format film and the cameras and lenses to shoot it. Browne's wife Alice, who was also the book keeper, was the best pastry cook I've ever known, and there were always her home made sweets by the ever full coffee pot. There were almost always photographers gathered around too, drinking coffee, chatting, comparing notes on the latest film or the newest lens.

Al got promoted to manager and Browne (nobody ever new his first name - he was either Mr. Browne or Brownie) hired a new "kid" to work there, Clark Vegazo. Well, Al moved to Minneapolis, Clark got promoted, and eventually Browne just got too old. Browne's Photo Center was closing, and Clark gave me a call. He gave me a few odd items like a right angle arm and Gitzo pan head (I'd been using a Slick ball head)for my Gitzo Studex, stuff that would be hard to sell but he thought I might be able to use. Then the store was empty and I didn't see Clark again for probably twenty years or more.

One day within the last year I was hanging around the coffee pot (sound familiar?) outside the council chambers at city hall and Ilene, the director of the North Miami Public Library, came over to me with an excited "My husband says you know each other!" Turns out that she was married to Clark. A couple of weeks ago she'd completed her twenty years with the city and decided to retire. They honored her at the council meeting that night. She's the blonde lady in the back. The guy with the big white head takes part in some childrens' programs at the library that Ilene instituted. I'm not sure who the black woman is.

You realize how fast the years fly by when you attend the retirement party for the wife of "the kid". I still use the Gitzo pan head on a regular basis, and occasionally the cross arm when I use the tripod as a copy stand. I miss the social life of the old time camera store. I thought of that this morning as I phoned in an order to B&H Photo in New York. They don't send me cookies either.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Honoring the Greeks in Olympic Time

Back in the early seventies nobody got really upset if a clergyman of one religion or another said a prayer before the city council meeting, asking for God's blessing. Father Philemon Payiatis was one of those on the regular rotation, and he was very active in the City of North Miami's affairs. We had a substantial Greek population at the time and the church sponsored an annual Greek Festival which was well attended by about everybody in town. You didn't have to be Greek to enjoy the good home cooked food, the delicious pastries dripping with honey, watch (or join in) the dancing, and listen to the music. It wasn't free, but it wasn't expensive, and the money went for a good cause.

I became good friends with Father Phil, as he preferred to be called, and hardly the month went by when I wasn't over there taking picture for some reason or another. Yeah, I billed for costs, but I also picked up some wedding and commercial business from the congregants. My wife was going to college at the time with a young Greek woman who belonged to the church, and her daughter and my son Jonathan are within months of the same age, so Melpomenie and Jonathan spent many a day with me while their mommies hit the books. When the pressures of my wife attending medical school tore apart our marriage Father Phil counceled me, and when I remarried a few years later Father Phil performed the ceremony.

Then starting about 1980 the demographics of North Miami started changing and the Greek community started moving to the suburbs in western Broward County. The dwindling membership resulted in the annual festival dying. A few years ago, with rising property values and the desire to avoid a long daily commute, the children of the Greeks who'd left two decades earlier started to move back. This year they revived the festival. Father Phil is no longer the energetic and vibrant fifty-something guy I remember, with his prematurely white beard and full head of hair. He still has the hair and the beard, but he now sits in a wheelchair and his once powerful voice is a mere echo of what it once was. Still, it was good to see him again after so many years. He seemed thrilled that my son had graduated seminary and was now working on his doctorate at Harvard, hardly the five year old he remembered.

It was good to see people I hadn't spoken with in years, talk with them about our children, who's doing what, who's living where, exchange phone numbers, and now email addresses also. A new generation of young children are learning the traditional dances and customs, and having a fun time doing it. I plan on giving the church some pictures to use in publicizing next year's festival. I ate way too much honey dripping pastry, but it sure tasted fine!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Great Blizzard of '77

I don't do cold very well. I guess it's because I have no natural insulation. I've always been skinny, and as a kid growing up in Massachusettes I never really liked playing in the snow. Since I moved to Miami it's never been a big concern. On the rarest of occasions I've seen a few flurries during a cold snap but they always melted as soon as they touched the ground.

In February of 1977 we hada few nights when the temperature dropped below freezing long enough that the blades of grass and tree leaves got below freezing also, althoughthe sidewalks and streets still had some retained heat from the previous day. One morning about 6:30 I heard my wife Stephanie yelling for me to get up. "You've got to come see this!" she shouted excitedly. I'm not much of a morning person, but about thetirdtime she called I got up and stood in the chill looking out the open front door. The entire yard and all the shrubbery was blanketed with a light dusting of white and snow flakes were still drifting down from the sky in the pre sunrise half light. The pavement was just wet looking.

I poured a cup of coffee and went to get a camera, find some film, load it, all the while listening to the TV weather man as the sun rose and it got brighter outside. It also quickly got warmer. By the time I went back outside and it was light enough to take some pictures the white was gone. Now I always have at least one camera loaded and ready but in the past 29 years we've never had snow flurries when it was cold enough for them to stick. I guess it was a once in a lifetime thing and I screwed up.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Notes between photo posts..just talk...
and yes, Photos are Available

"You asked for it, you got it, Toyota."

Here I am, caught between printings again. I've had a few photo jobs, and that means deadlines, which have interferred with my leisurely postings. I thought I might mention though, that I've gotten some emails about possibly buying some of the prints posted here. Hey...sure! so for your information.....I print on Ilford Multigrade double weight conventional "wet process" paper. The standard size I print from my 35mm negatives is an image area of 8x12 inches printed on 11x14 paper. If you'd prefer some other size let me know, but I've always liked this look, and hey, if you're buying my prints, you're buying my style, right? Whatever. I'm easy. This way, they look as if they come with a mat already...just plop them in a frame or pin them to the wall. Easy does it. Always.

The prints used for scanning and posting are smaller. The caption (if any) and signature can sometimes overtake the photos you see on line, but I am much more refined with I print to show!. The FMV for my prints is around $300.00 for this sort of thing, and that includes shipping to the contiguous U.S.-the rest of us will have to deal!

I guess you supposed I'm trying out the idea of publishing.......a little bit of everything,-photos, ramblings, darkroom/camera stuff/palm trees....just a tired old hippy looking back. Anyway, stayed tuned.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Cars People Drive

This is the parking lot of the "new" North Miami Post Office, but I guess it's about a dozen years old, old enough that the stripes between the parking spaces are all but gone. It doesn't have the best maintained landscaping either, but inside it's always nice and clean, and the clerks are friendly, helpful, and efficient. One of them, Mike, likes to fish in Biscayne Bay for sea trout, and he and I go out together on occasion and try our luck. I wish that he also liked to fish for tarpon. Trout are fun to catch but a two or three pounder is good sized and they about never jump. They just slug it out under water. Tarpon on the other hand average maybe twenty-five pounds in the bay and on occasion top one hundred, big silvery fish that jump and jump and jump.

Everybody, it seems, has to go to the Post Office on occasion, and a lot of the cars you see there are the same day after day, the same people going at the same time to pick up their mail or ship their parcels. Every once in awhile a car catches my eye, and this "custom" paint job sure did! I have no idea who it belongs to, and I've never seen it there before or since, so I'm glad that I grabbed this shot while I had the chance. As I was looking at the car I wondered what he (she?) might have done if the "canvas" had been a Volkswagen Microbus back in the 1960's.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Boo and Samantha

One of the things I find most fascinating about my neighborhood Starbucks are the college students from the nearby universities that go there to study and socialize. I've always liked observing people and seeing how they interact with one another. At one point I was majoring in anthropology. When I look at the mix of nationalities, ethnic groups, and races represented by the young people smoking and drinking coffee around those tables I'm amazed at the fantastic progress we've made since I was that age. Boo (I don't know his name, but that's what he goes by) is "Anglo" in the local parlance and Samantha is Chinese. She usually goes by Sam, and often as not they have her younger brother Peter in tow. That's him in the middle.

I don't remember what it was that started our first conversation many months ago. It might have been something as simple as our just sharing a table on a night when seats were at a premium, or perhaps their mentioning that I'm never seen without a camera handy. On occasion I'll print up a bunch of small prints of the "self-portraits" I shoot over there and give them out to the people in the photos. One time Belle printed up a bunch of them as refridgerator magnets and my face is now on refridgerators all over town. Some photographers think I'm nuts for giving out free pictures but it pays off. I've picked up some photo assignments from some of those people, or from their friends who've seen the photos. I've sold a few large prints of the same pictures. It seems a bit strange that people will actually pay good money to purchase a photograph that has them in it but is really a photograph featuring me in the forground, but that's part of what makes people so darned interesting.

Sam reminds me of another college girl, Patty Ho-Chan, that I met over thirty years ago at Barry College when I was their photographer. I'd stopped by the photo lab in the art department to say hi to my friend Andy Anderson, the teacher. Their was this cute Chinese girl there with waist length black hair and we got to talking. She was born in Guyana but had lived in Freeport in the Bahamas, then got a Rotary Club scholarship to attend Barry. Her mom was widowed and she had a brother still in the Bahamas. I helped her with one of her photo projects, working in my darkroom. She became good friends with myself and my then wife Stephanie.

The following year, to conserve funds, she moved out of the dorm and into our spare room, helping with our new born daughter Elena. Eventually she fell in love with an Israeli guy, Avi, got married, and they have two lovely daughters. When she met him he was in the air conditioner repair business, and he's still willing to come over and get a balky window unit running again, but Patty had a brilliant idea a few years ago. Now every year they take a booth at the Ft. Laudedale boat show. He specializes in custom air conditioner installations for multi-million dollar yachts.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

To know her is to love her

I got a call from my friend Jim Kukar who was editor of Miami Magazine at the time. He wanted to check out my schedule so he could set up an appointment for me to photograph "the next state's attorney for Dade County". We set up a time for a couple mornings later, but I asked him how he had any inkling at all as to who it would be. I'd read in the paper that there wasn't even a "short list" of potential candidates as yet. "Don't worry" he replied, "She's the one who'll receive the appointment." He described her as a "young female attorney who worked at a downtown law firm". This was like 30+ years ago when very few women were coming out of law schools at all, let alone being appointed to high office at a young age. He assured me that she was more than qualified, "a brilliant woman!"

A couple of days later I dressed in suit and tie, drove downtown, and parked the car. When I got up to her office I was a few minutes early but the receptionist ushered me in to be greeted at the door by a tall woman, nearly as tall as I was. I explained that I wanted to get an assortment of shots because I really had no idea of how big a story this would be or how many pictures we'd use, and it was always a good idea to have them on file anyway. I told her that I'd be there at most 10 or 15 minutes. I shot available light with a pair of M Leicas with 35, 50 and 90mm lenses. I got some shots of her sitting at her desk and some tight head shots as well, then wewent into the law library and I shot some of her picking out a book, looking like she was reading a book, and some more head shots with the slightly out of focus books in the background. All the while we chatted about local politics, who was doing what, that sort of thing, and after perhaps 15 minutes we shook hands, said goodbye and I thanked her for her time. Jim liked the photos, ordered several off the contacts, and I delivered the prints a couple of days later. The Miami Herald announced that a young unknown female attorney, Ms. Janet Reno had been appointed the new state's attorney for Dade County.

Eventually, of course, she ended up becoming the attorney general of the United States. My clients over the years have included Barry College, the City of North Miami, Congressman Bill Lehman and several other political figures and organizations. Janet was always making appearances and speaking at various functions. I seemed to always be there photographing her. I wish I'd started trying to get pictures of myself with various famous people years before I did, because I only have a few snapshots showing me photographing her at one event from years ago. Then I got the 15mm lens and started my current project, with me in the photograph. I've got plenty of photos that I've taken that include her though, spanning her career from unknown to retired Attorney General. This shot was in May, 2005. The City of North Miami had just held elections and Janet was there to swear in our newly elected mayor, Kevin Burns. I've still got my hair and Janet still has nice legs!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Spider Man

I've been using that 15mm ultra wide angle lens for few years now, but it's really only the past year or so that I really got into the taking-pictures-of-myself in a big way. At first it was just to document places I'd been or people I'd been with, kind of a memory-on-film, a way to compensate for the fact that my short term memory is less than perfect, nowhere what it had once been before I had some seizures and then spent a couple of years grossly over-medicated. The prevailing philosophy of the medical establishment is "On this dose you damned well aren't going to have a seizure!" My family doctor warned me that I shouldn't be driving on that medication load. I told him that the neurologist had warned me not to drive unless I was taking it. With the blessings of my family doctor I experimented with gradually smaller amouts until I reached a point that I would only occasionally have a minor seizure in my sleep. At least my head is clear now, but there's about a two year period from which I remember almost nothing!

I started using the 15mm lens more and more and became very adept at knowing what the framing would be even though the camera was operated at arm's length with one hand, pointing back to include me in the picture. I was encouraged to start posting some of them on the Leica Forum on the Photo.Net website and they were popular. Oh a few people accused me of being enamored of myself, but what the hell. I wasn't charging myself outrageous modeling fees either!

I started looking for new ways to exploit the lens, new ways to make dramatic photographs. One night on my way back from somewhere I realized that I still had some unshot film on the end of a roll. I decided that some nightshots while driving might be interesting. The exposure was rather long, about one half second I think, but I was able to rest the camera on the dashboard of my truck to steady the camera and I soon finished off the roll. One hand working the camera, the other hand holding the steering wheel mere inches from the lens. I had a fairly good idea of how the picture would look, although the spider resemblance was not in my mind. Other people picked up on that after seeing the photograph.

This is one of the most popular photographs in the series, and one of my favorites as well. I love the intensity and the drama, the strength of the composition. I haven't been able to come up with such a strong driving-the-truck image during the day. The black/white interplay emphasizing my huge contorted hand on the wheel, and my face way back there with such a serious look as I drive along, the composition, everything works perfectly in the frame...I just love it! I really don't think that I can improve upon it. I've stopped shooting night shots of myself driving.

Friday, February 03, 2006

FIU Film Student At Starbucks

The North Campus of Florida International University is about a mile away from this Starbucks location "as the crow flies", but a bit over two miles along the roads. Still, it's the closest one to the campus and it attracts a lot of students and faculty from there as well as the nearby campuses of Miami-Dade College, Johnson and Wales University, and Barry University.

It's a great place to offer a film program because North Miami has been the center of the Florida motion picture and TV industry going way back to the days of Flipper and Gentle Benn, and even before. Ivan Tors, who produced those shows, constructed some large sound stages in town which are still in use. Miami Vice was headquartered here. Less bragged about by the Chamber of Commerce types are the number of girlie films produced here, including Deep Throat starring Linda Lovelace. That was filmed in the old Voyageur Motel on Biscayne Blvd. No longer a motel it's now used as a dorm facility for Johnson and Wales University a block or two away. Every semester a couple of unsuspecting students are studying and sleeping in the very room where the twentieth century's most famous porno movie was filmed.

A few years ago the Chamber of Commerce asked me to write some interesting stuff to liven up their monthly newsletter. I wrote a piece about how the former city clerk, an elderly old maid by the name of E. May Avil, was actually responsible for the making of Deep Throat. My manuscript was photocopied and faxed all over town but the Chamber never printed it in the newsletter. They didn't have the guts! I never wrote another story for them again. But now I have this BLOG, heh, heh, so here it is.

I was shooting for The North Dade Journal back then. Across the street and a block to the south was a beer and wine place that also served sandwiches and whatnot. It was a popular place with construction workers and delivery drivers and such. The owner's girlfriend, Linda, was the barmaid. She wore a fringed leather vest, so I was told, where the fringe was cut above the nipple line, so she was constantly having her nipples play peek-a-boo. Not exactly illegal at the time but the City Clerk heard about it and was mortifyed that such things should be going on here in North Miami. She got the police chief to make the customers nuts over petty things. Don't go in the bar if one of your tail lights wasn't working for instance. You'd end up being drug tested and your car searched. If nothing else you'd be an hour late getting back to work. Soon the place was closed, out of business.

My friend Jim, the editor of the North dad Journal, got a great price on renting a cute little two story Spanish style house for a few months. The catch was he had to take care of their dog while the couple was "out of town". The couple from the now defunct bar, Linda and her boyfriend. Every few days he'd call me in the middle of the night to go out searching for the dog, which was always running off. It was a royal pain! At the time we had no idea that they were really only a matter of blocks away making what was soon to be a very famous film.

For several years rumors flew about Linda making a film with a reddish haired dog. She always denied it. Another friend of mine, Eddie, back in those pre-videotape/VCR days, used to collect classic films, 8mm films. I had a wall mounted screen in my living room and a projection stand set up with a Carousel slide projector. Saturday night my house was the de facto gathering place. We'd watch classic films, look at one anothers recent slide shoots, maybe smoke a bit of herb. One Saturday night Jim was over and Eddie showed up with his projector and some film cans, all excited. He said his buddy over at Capitol Film Labs, the pro movie lab here in North Miami, had spliced together some out-takes printed on super-8 stock. I don't think even Eddie knew what he had yet.

So there we were, perhaps about a dozen people, mostly photographers or married to one, along with my daughter Elena and another little kid or two. Eddie always brought cartoons for the kids. By maybe 9 or a bit later they'd fallen asleep and were packed off to a bedroom. It's hard for five year olds to stay awake watching B&W Russian silent films even if they were produced and directed by Sergei Eisenstein. Then Eddie opened The Mystery Film Can. He threaded the projector. We sat around not knowing what to expect. A young blonde woman, very atractive, appeared on screen wearing next to no clothes. A dog with reddish hair appeared on screen with the woman. Jim jumped up, pointing, shouting "There's that damned dog we chased all over town last summer!" Soon that dog was smiling. That woman sure knew how to make the dog happy!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Starbucks Diary cont'd ~ Crossing the Generations

Recognize the pose? This young contortionist is holding a loupe up to a sheet of my negatives.

Negatives are the very essence of traditinal photography. They contain far more information than you can ever get onto the final paper print. Movies have an advantage in that the final print is on film, and can contain a much longer scale. I tend to print contact sheets a bit on the flat low contrast side so that detail is visible in both the highlights and the shadows.

When it's time to make the final print your paper choice and the filter used with variable contrast paper gives you a lot of leeway in how the fnal print will look. You can also selectively burn in (darken) or dodge (lighten) areas. Sometimes I even do this through different filters to change the contrast in certain areas. You can emphasize various areas of the print in this way. I generally like a print with a full range of tones from pure black to at least a tiny bit of pure white, but I like seeng detail in both the highlight and shadow areas of the print.

You get to the point where you can look at the negative, or the image of it projected on the enlarger's baseboard, and even though all the tones are reversed black for white you have a very good idea of how well that negative will print. Some people claim they can visualize the finished print. I've never been able to really do that - look at the negative image and "see" a positive in my mind. What I can do is look at the image and know what needs to be done in printing to get where I want to go, to give me a print with the right contrast and I pretty much know what needs to be lighter or darker. The first try isn't always spot-on perfection but it's usually pretty close, certainly good enough to send on to the editor of the paper when a deadline loomed.

I keep a loupe in my truck along with a note pad and marking crayon because a relaxing cup of coffee is a great way to help decide what should be printed. Sometimes other people, mostly students from the 4 nearby colleges, want to take a peak or ask me to take a gander at their photos.A lively conversation usually ensues about which picture and why. Yes, film based photography is still being taught in our schools, and the biggest complaint seems to be about trying to schedule darkroom time. But it's not just students who strike up a conversation at the sight af a "real" camera. This afternoon I spent a half hour or so chatting with a gentleman of perhaps 70. He was sitting at the next table and noticed the name Voigtlander. We talked about how the name had been bought by Cosina, and they were making a series of various relatively inexpensive cameras compatible with Leica lenses, as well as some excellent and innovative optics that could also be used on Leica bodies. He talked about the 6x9cm Bessa that he once owned, using 120 roll film. The superb lens, the rangefinder focussing, the accurate Compur shutter, the beautiful brushed chrome and black leather finish of the camera. I told him that I had a working darkroom with an enlarger that would take that size negative, and tanks and reels for 120 film. We exchanged phone numbers and he left Starbucks smiling, thinking about going searching through a bunch of boxes looking for all his old negatives, and maybe even find the Bessa itself.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Invitation!

Sonnet XVII.

Who will believe my verse in time to come,
If it were fill'd with your most high deserts?
Though yet, heaven knows, it is but as a tomb
Which hides your life and shows not half your
If I could write the beauty of your eyes
And in fresh numbers number all your graces,
The age to come would say, 'This poet lies;
Such heavenly touches ne'er touch'd earthly
So should my papers, yellow'd with their age,
Be scorn'd, like old men of less truth than tongue,
And your true rights be term'd a poet's rage
And stretched metre of an antique song:
But were some child of yours alive that time,
You should live twice,—in it and in my rime.



I know it's a little early for Valentine's Day, and certainly not necessarily appropriate for Ground Hog's Day, but I came across these photos of a not too distant trip to a different Starbucks, and what the hey-beauty, grace, and charm is made for every day!

I was meeting Mikal Grass for a cup of coffee and we decided to go to the Aventura Starbucks which is about half way between where he lives in Broward County and my house in North Miami. As we sat there with our Leicas and coffee, looking through a bunch of recent photograhs of Mikal's, this attractive blonde woman at the adjoining table interjected "Those are Leicas, aren't they?" We got into a conversation, discovered that she was an avid photographer herself, and had come from Russia. It was an interesting half hour or so, talking cameras and the direction of B&W photography in a rapidly changing world. I didn't catch her name and assumed I'd never see her again anyway. I did give her my email and the link to my portfolio on photonet. While we chatted I shot a few exposures with my ever present 15mm equipped Bessa.

A few weeks later I was sitting, drinking coffee at the North Miami Starbucks near my house, when a young man with longish hair that I see there all the time stopped at my table and said that I must be the photographer that his sister had met up in Aventura. We chatted a bit and he introduced me to his girlfriend. I run into him maybe once a week and he always assures me that yes, his sister does visit that Starbucks also. We just never manage to get the timing right. A few days ago he said that he and his girlfriend were leaving town, moving north. He again said that his sister still goes there on occasion and that I was bound to run into her. I'm looking forward to it!