Sunday, April 30, 2006

You Drive Us Wild, We'll Drive You Crazy

I really wish I'd kept better notes about some of these photo shoots yjat I did back in the 1960's. Hell, I wish I'd kept better track of where I stashed the notes I did make. I know that my camera was a Leica M4 and that I was using a 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor. I was shooting available light with High Speed Ektachrome Type B, which was ASA 125, so I was likely shooting wide open at 1/15, possibly even 1/8 of a second.

At this point I have no recollection of what the event was. It was the height of the Sexual Revolution and a bare breast at a party wasn't that unusual. The reason for the body painting at the time I guess is just lost, along with the names of the two young women in the pictures. I was probably on asignment for The Daily Planet, and it was visually a lot more interesting than an Allen Ginsberg press conference.

Sometimes I look at photos like these and wonder whatever became of the peopl. These women would be in there late fifties or early sixties today, their own children all grown up. They'd be grandmothers now, that tight young body sacrificed for the realities of procreation and nourishing babies.

Nobody guessed the directions photography would go in the next few decades. Even getting rid of a few wrinkles was a laborious undertaking for the retoucher back then. Now you could as well add the body painting in the computer as with a brush on the skin. I sure miss those asignments, though.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

And The Beat Goes On

It was my dad's generation, really, that gave me my real heros, those guys who'd come of age through The Great Depression and fought in the Big One, the last justifiable war, the global conflagration where the good guys were called The Allies and the bad guys were The Axis. "Cobelligerants" we called them. Had our side been defeated I suppose that would have been looked upon as just the primary. Would the Germans then have then duked it out with the Japanese?

My dad had been a bit of a maverick in his day, spent a couple years in art school in Boston, but then settled down in the family clothing store in New Bedford, got married, got his wife pregnant, and joined the Army Air Corps. He learned to fly a B-29 but suffered from atltitude sickness in those days of unpressurized planes. He made sergeant and spent time in Calcutta and Bombay, India before ending up on the island of Tinian in the Mariannas, the base that saw most of the bombing raids on Japan originate. Both atomic bombs took off from there. His job was issuing the fuses that were installed in the bombs before the planes took off. I always had the feeling that his pride in issuing those two fuses was mixed with more than a little guilt about the devastation and all the lives that were lost.

Those guys fighting the war weren't my heros, not the ones I was referring to anyway. In my teens I discovered some writers of his generation. I devoured the writings of Borroughs, Kerouac, and Ginsberg. Jack Kerouac was a fellow son of Massachusettes, growing up in a mill town not unlike my hometown of New Bedford, and I could relate to that. Allen spelled his name differently than I did but he was also Jewish, so it was easy to make a connection. It wasn't until I'd read Howl, On the Road, The Town And The City, and The Dahrma Bums, and was starting to explore the philosophy of Zen Buddism, that it hit me - these super hip heros of mine were the same generation as my dad!

He and I had many late night conversations. He too read those books at my urging, but he was too much a product of middle class upbringing and the needs of his family to fully embrace the new outlook. I wasn't.

Eight or ten years later, living in Miami, I was working for The Daily Planet, an underground newspaper. Today we call them "counterculture" papers. Ginsberg was in town to give a lecture, or maybe it was a poetry reading. I don't remember. He'd become a very out spoken and respected personage. There was a press conference in the newspaper's office. That was back in the days when TV meant shooting film. I loved it. The TV guys always lit for 1/125 at f/8 if I was shooting Tri-X because that was the same as High Speed Ektachrome Type B (tungsten balance) with 1/50 atf /5.6.

I had no real reason to shoot some color that day. We ran only B&W in the paper. I guess I thought "Maybe for stock". Who knows. I shot both. I had a 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor on my Leica M4. Over the years the color has shifted a bit, gotten a little warmer, but it's still believeable.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Monkey's Most Excellent Zoo Trip

Monkey has spent most of his 62 years just sitting in my bedroom. A couple of wives and girlfriends thought he was just the cutest thing around, and so nice tat I still had my childhood playmate after all these years. Women really understand these things! It means something special to them to find a man with a sentimental streak.

Yet Monkey is a dude, and has kept his spirit of adventure and wanderlust pent up all these years. He was getting antsy. I could see it in his eyes, day after day, as I saw him sitting there gazing longingly out the window. He needed to do some travelling!

Todd suggested a visit to San Francisco, a visit to the zoo there to see other monkeys and other animals. A look at the Golden Gate Bridge. All kinds of new sights! Monkey was game, and so Todd and I made arrangements for his flight west. Yaaron wanted to go along to the zoo and help document the high point of the big adventure. Monkey got to visit the carousel and meet the people who ran it. Someplace along the way though, he got introduced to a real floozy, a female monkey with irresistable feminine charms, and he seems to have fallen passionately in love. He still hasn't even told me her name. He did manage to convinced Todd to email me some pictures. I get the impression that she's planning on flying back here to Miami and moving in with us. I hope that she knows more banana recipes than Monkey and I know.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Service With A Smile

The local post office is a friendly place. I'm there pretty much every day. I've had a box since 1966. There's a certain reassuring continuity to using the same mailing address for forty years. Well, not exactly the exact same, because they switched from two digit "zones" to five digit "zip codes to "zip plus four", and at some point they gave the post office its own zip code, but the "1373" part remained the same, and that's really enough to route the mail to my box if you get the city name correct. They all seem to know me anyhow.

I go fishing for sea trout in Biscayne Bay with one of the guys at the counter, and another mailmen is close buddies with my old friend Carl who's recovering from a stroke, so we exchange information depending on who last visited Carl. Actually, he's how I found out that Carl was in the hospital.

The best thing they've done is take a tip from Wallmart. There's now a "Greeter" just inside the door, and she'll direct you to the correct line, get you a Priority Mail envelope, or show you how to use the self-service machines in the lobby.

When I first got the box they were all "guys", and "mailmen" were, in fact, men. That started to change about thirty years ago. No more sexist post office. No more lilly white post office either. The place now reflects the surrounding community, with men working alongside of women, and about every shade of skin color there is. You can find somebody to answer your questions in Spanish or Haitian Kreyole if need be, and they mostly all know the customs requirements of a dozen or more countries without looking it up. If you need Russian or German or something else it's likely another customer will volunteer the translation. Within the last year or so they've added a seperate line for passports, and they'll take your picture too. The only thing missing is a coffee pot, but Starbucks is just a few blocks down the street.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sunset Drive

You get to a point in life where you start wishing that you'd taken the time, made the effort, to photograph so many of the everyday happenings that seemed of no great importance at the time, the people you ran into every day, the places you went for coffee or to grab a newspaper. Now they're gone. Businesses changed hands, buildings were torn down to be replaced by others, people moved, retired, died.

No, you can never ever again recapture a moment in time, but at some point you come to the realization that everything that even existed at that point in time is now but a memory. Gone forever. The horses grazing on Biscayne Blvd. where a strip mall now entices shoppers, a few blocks away where a college dorm, once a roadside motel where Linda Lovelace starred in Deep Throat, now houses students with no idea of the history of their current home, a short lived ice arena torn down to make way for another strip mall. We can never have too many strip malls!

Some people think I'm a bit of a nut because I always seem to have a camera with me. I take pictures of some very mundane everyday things, things that remind me of what I wished I'd photographed in the past. My friends across the table as we drink coffee, maybe the waitress serving the coffee. And since I got adept at photographing myself with that ultra wide angle 15mm lens sometimes I take photos of myself doing some very mundane things too, everything from going to the Post Office to getting a haircut. Here it's aproaching dusk, the sun is almost set, and I'm driving my truck towards the east.

Yet on another level I've lived here nearly continuously for what will be 50 years this October. Eleven years later I bought the house I'm still living in. I've been the photographer at various times for a local university, a couple of newspapers and regional magazine. the city, the chamber of commerce, various churches and not for profits.

While other photographers were out travelling the world in search of adventure I was examining my environment in depth, and over a couple of generations. Now I'm starting to realize that I was doing the same to myself, recording my life, studying myself. I wish I had photographs of myself on my bicycle in the 1950's, driving the VW beetle in the 1960's, and so on, but I can have photos of myself driving the Toyota Tacoma now, sometimes alone, other times with Monkey and with some of my friends, at dusk and at night as well as during the day. No I didn't miss the travelling. I got to be part of my community and took part in raising my children. That was my adventure.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Enchanted Forest Park

The north branch of Arch Creek runs through Enchanted Forest Park in North Miami. Once a free flowing tidal stream draining the oak hammock through march and mangroves, it's now damned off from Biscayne Bay. The park is on the upper side of the damn, fresh water, but a few hardy mangroves have managed to survinve anyway.

A hundred years or so ago this was the site of an early settlement in the area, and Native Americans lived there for probably thousands of years before. A natural limestone bridge crossed the creet, providing easy land access to points south while the stream provided both fresh water and access to the bay. The first roadway to Miami went over Natural Bridge. A ramshackle trailer park was in the woods in the 1930's and 40's. By the end of the 1960's the push was on to develop hi-rises on the spot.

Community activists banded together with a private school and riding stable on nearby property, and a bond issue was passed. The western part of the property became a city park, the eastern portion a state park. The pony rink and horse stables were allowed to stay, as was the school. They can't change hands, but as long as the original owners stay there they could continue operating. The park is a popular picnic spot and the site of a day camp during the summer. On Hallowe'en there's a ghosts and goblins tour through the woods.

It's just a few blocks from my house and directly across U.S. 1 from Starbucks. Wildlife includes ducks, geese, racoons and opossums, with an occasional fox sighting, plus all sorts of wading birds and migratory song birds in season.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Around The World In Eighty Days?

I'd thought about this, actually. Through the Leica Forum on Photonet I've become friends with photographers in Alaska, Japan, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Australia, Brasil, a whole slew of places. When Monkey got invited to visit San Francisco my mind went wild with ideas. It would be so easy for him to spend a few days someplace, be photographed seeing the local sights, and then for but a few dollars be sent on to the next photographer. Nobody would have to lay out much money and maybe we could come out with a collaborative childrens' book. But Monkey is 62 years old. Maybe a last fling of visiting the Red Light Districts of the major cities? How about Casinos Of The World? There's a lot of possibilities. If you have any ideas let me know. If you want to take part in one of the projects then speak up! Monkey is open to ideas and suggestions.

The photo above was taken by Todd Frederick, self-portrait, upon arrival in the SF Bay Area.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Who'll stop The Rain

Winters in Miami are usually dry, but come April the rains start. Not this year! We've hardly have a drop, the Everglades are dry and grass fires out there are filling the air with smoke. It seems to be a cycle we go through every 20 years or so. At least we've had easterly winds. I remember in years past when west winds carried the smoke towards the coast, enveloping the city, and everybody was coughing and sniffling, eyes tearing. It's bad enough that the pollen this time of year does that anyway. The smoke made it all the worse. And this year is a bad one for pollen. On the positive side it's a great one for dramatic sunsets.

I guess it was close to 25 years ago that my daughter Elena bough me the first folding umbrella that I'd ever seen, a Knirps I think it was called, made in Germany. They were expensive, maybe $20 or more back then, and came in a zippered case. It made for a nice Father's Day present. Eventually it got tattered, torn, and discarded. For the next few years I got by with a regular umbrella.

Then maybe three or four years ago I was wandering around a new place called 99 Cent Stuff and saw a huge bin of umbrellas. I bought one - what could I lose? It wasn't quite the quality of the German product, but not bad at all, and of course no zippered case. I went back a few days later and bought a ten dollar bill's worth. Boy, was I popular with the ladies! "My God, your going to ruin your hairdo! Here, let me give you an umbrella! No, no, KEEP it, it's a gift!" Since then whenever the supply under my front seat in the truck runs low it's back to 99 Cent Stuff.

They're made in China, of course. What's amazing to me isn't that they can make them and sell them at that price so much as that they can even ship them half way around the planet for that price! Anyway, I'm down to just a couple, the rainy season WILL get here, so I should plan on blowing another ten bucks pretty quick. What I'd really like to see for ninety nine cents would be a crummy little bracket with a shoe for an electronic flash, a clip for the umbrella shaft, and a pivoting fitting for a light stand. Why do photo umbrellas have to sell for a small fortune?

Maybe this year I'll paw through the pile and pick out half a dozen white ones to play around with. If nothing else they're a LOT more compact than the ones at the photo supply. It'd be really nice to be able to pack "studio lighting" in a light weight shoulder bag.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Appeal Of Utter Confusion

This was one of the first of my 15mm "self-portrait" series that was posted in my Photonet portfolios, and from the beginning it seems to be the one that attracts the most viewers and gets "rated" most often. I find it puzzling as to what it is about this particular photograph that makes it so intriguing.

Besides myself there are at least five other people in the picture. No one is interacting with anyone else, yet they're spaced fairly evenly and randomly from side to side as well as from front to back. Three of them appear to be walking, but in three different directions. All but one of the men (myself) are wearing jacket and tie, a rarity in itself these days, while the women are casually dressed in slacks.

The Gwen Margolis Community Center is used as a polling place as well as a place for homeowners association meetings and such. I once photographed President Jimmy Carter speaking there. I don't remember what this occasion was about. As for Gwen Margolis, back in the 70's when women were after equal rights she was a political activist who became a major power in the Democratic Party and was elected to the state senate.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Playing With The Piper

Scroll down a bit and you'll find a photo of a girl's face with a lilly, and another photo of a female singer with a flute player. This image is a combination of the two, made way back when, years before anybody even dreamed of home computers and Photoshop.

Spiratone, Accura, Lentar, and a few other brands of "slide duplicaters" were on the market. Some gave you same size images, others allowed a bit of cropping. They'd fit about any camera with interchangeable lens by choosing the correct T-mount adapter. Price for a fixed magnification unit was as little as about $12.95. (Of course factoring for inflation, more like $50 or $60 today.) For illumination I used an electronic flash aimed at the diffuser panel at the end of the unit. Varying the distance controlled the exposure. It was also handy for making a B&W negative of a color slide.

Sometimes I'd have a partial roll of slide film in the camera, and rather than waste it I'd play around with making double exposures and/or using strongly colored filters. In this photo I think that I just squeezed the two mounted slides together into the slide holder and shot a few bracketed frames. I have a few color variants so I guess I played with filters too, but I liked this one the best.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


Sometimes I get into some great conversations at Starbucks, sometimes I just sit and read the paper. Often as not I come to relax, enjoy a cup of coffee, a have a smoke. Just lean back, enjoy the flavors, let my mind wander wherever it wants. That's why they have the outside patio area, to give us smokers a place to indulge our habit. The law says no smoking inside. No dogs, no smoking.

I always had the impression that at least amongst the younger, better educated segments of our society smoking was largely a thing of the past. So why is a coffee shop that largely caters to an upscale college crowd forced to provide more seating outside than inside? Why are so many of these future doctors, lawyers, business executives and such, leaving the area campuses to congregate here, and light up with their coffee?

Is smoking becoming fashionable again? Could it have something to do with the demographics found here? People largely from other countries where smoking is still not considered such a big deal? Perhaps just that we have a mild climate and a roof to at least keep the rain off our heads?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Going Marketing

"Going marketing" it was called in my youth. It often involved trips to the bakery, the butcher, a place that carried fresh fruits and vegetables, a "milk man" delivered milk and would leave eggs and butter if you left him a note, and the "super market", really a tiny place by today's standards, was where you mostly bought canned goods and things that came in jars. Every decent sized town had a place that roasted and ground coffee beans. Many families had no car, most of the rest had but one, and it was the rare and adventurous woman who even drove. Marketing was a daily ritual of visiting shops within walking distance, or perhaps an easy bus ride away.

My friend Mary stopped driving a year or so ago. At 83 her eyes aren't what they once were. She gets around fine otherwise, and the city has a free bus service for the elderly. Once a week, sometimes more, I take her to the market. We try to decide which market has the best buys of what we need, but if she had her way it would be a daily excursion, this place because eggs are on sale, that place because the meats are better, someplace else because...well, I guess because when she was a young woman that's how it was done, except all those stores were within walking distance, not spread out all over the county. And then we go to the gas station where Emma likes Mary and sells her cheap imported cigarettes for only a buck a pack, tax included, which saves Mary a few dollars a week.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


When I got on line a few days ago and looked at my mailbox my eyes welled up with tears and a big knot formed in my throat. I knew what the email from Patty was going to say. It was too soon to be getting another email, way too soon. Over the past several years I'd gotten a long detailed email from her every few weeks. She sent out a mass mailing to dozens of people, keeping everyone up to date on Aviva's condition. Some from the hospital here in Miami, some sent from a place in Texas, quite a few from a hospital in Israel. Every few weeks an update. Always about her older daughter Aviva and her battle with leukemia.

A few days before I'd spoken with Pat on the phone. They were at the hospital again. Aviva was going to go back to the hospital in Israel, but this time Avi, her dad, was going with her. Just a few weeks ago it looked like the desease was in remission, that she was getting better. Then things took a turn for the worse. Between the anti-rejection drugs for the bone marrow transplant and the chemo-therapy Aviva couldn't keep food down, she had no desire to eat. In Israel the had her on another drug, a marijuanna derivitive, that got rid of the nausea. She started eating again, even gaining back a bit of weight. That had been the good news. She and her mom came back home. Then a couple of weeks later it was back in the hospital, plans made for the return to Israel, but she never made it. She passed away peacefully on Sunday morning, the 16th of April, in Mt. Sinai Hospital.

I don't know who shot the above photograph a few months ago. Patty emailed it to everyone! Pat is on the left, Daniella in the center, and Aviva on the right. Even with no hair, and dangerously underweight, she was able to light up the room with her smile. At three PM today she was lowered into the ground, at last feeling no pain. There were a lot of people there to see her off on her final journey. She'll be missed.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Fires In The Everglades?

One of these years I'll get all my 12 inch vinyl collection organized. I can picture the album in my head, but of course without the album in hand I can't offhand recall the name of the group, let alone the names of the band members.

The Reverand Tom Morse, a Pentacostal minister came to Miami to open a drug rehab center, a home for runaways, in general to bring Jesus to the masses and to save the world. I don't remember exactly how Tom and I first met, but we hit it off and became good friends. I've never quite understood why, my being a Jew, but over the years some of my closest friends have included a Greek Orthodox priest, a Congregational minister, and Tom.

In the late 1960's there was an extremely popular TV show filmed in Miami, a police show, lots of action, car chases on the roads, boat chases in the bay and the ocean. Anyway, it was called Surfside Six.Tom rented a big old house just off Brickell Ave. a few blocks south of the center of downtown Miami and Surfside Challenge was born! I followed Tom around to various places in the greater Miami area over the next few years documenting his ministry. Sometimes we'd have church bigwigs in tow, ministers from the church headquarters in Cleveland, TN. Other times we'd go off, just the two of us, to some of the seediest parts of town as he tried to bring the word of the Lord to drug addicts and prostitutes.

The big old house was soon filled up with mostly white middle class runaways and former pot smokers. A younger minister, Steve I think, was working there also. He soon organized a rock group playing Christian rock and they were popular with the younger people at the area churches. Soon they decided to self produce an album. I'd recently done a cover shot for Fantasy. That was shot on the beach at sunrise. They liked the effect but I suggested that maybe we should go out to the edge of the Everglades at sunset instead. Dry weather and brush fires had the air laden with smoke, and the light of the setting sun came through vibrant orange. We drove about as far west as we could on a gravel road. Alongside theroad were piles of topsoil removed when the road was bulldozed. They're standing on one of those piles. I had 400mm f/6.3 Sterling Howard Tele-Astranar lens, a cheap lens actually, which listed for about $34.50, and I was likely using a Pentax SV body. I used to own a massive wooden F&B Ceco motion picture tripod, so stability wasn't a concern. The film was Ektachrome, probably Ektachrome-X with an ISO of 64.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Reinventing The Wheel

Everything was different in the 60's. I can't picture a sculpture looking like this being made in the 1950's. I doubt it would be made today either. I've mentioned in earlier postings that I can't find the notebooks that go with these slides, but hazy memories conjure up visions of an art show at the University of Miami. I don't remember what publication I was shooting for at the time, or why I shot color rather than B&W. I should make myself a note to see if I might have also shot some B&W as I go through all those boxes of negatives and contact sheets from that era.

On the other hand the photograph still looks very contemporary, insofar as a lot of shooters seem to be shooting in this style these days, close to 40 years after this photo was taken. It was most likely shot with my new Leica M4 and a 35mm f/1.8 Canon lens. I have no idea who the guy was. He was just walking by, checking out the show.

Friday, April 14, 2006

My Photo Exhibit At Starbucks

I was quite surprised a month or so back when William (the bald gentleman in the pictures) asked me if I'd consider getting some photographs together to show at my neighborhood Starbucks. I'd mentioned the idea before and was given the impression that it wasn't Starbucks' policy. Suddenly things had changed. Some other locations had started showing the work of local artists and they decided that it was a good time to start in this area as well. They repainted the interior with plain beige walls instead of the busy pattern of wall paper that had been there since they opened, and new lighting was installed that could be directed at the walls to illuminate any art work. I asked if there was anything particular they wanted me to show. I'm always shooting pictures around the place, as well as bringing boxes of prints and contact sheets over to show people, so they had an idea of what I could show. I finally decided on showing older work. Both the folks my age and the younger ones would enjoy photos of Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin. I also brought some "street" photos from both Boston and Miami and some prints from my series Idid on Miccosukee Indians in the 1970's. There was only one recent shot the "spiderman" self-portrait, a night shot of me driving my truck that a lot of people seem to love.

Starbucks scheduled a "coffee tasting" for last Monday evening and got the word out that my photos would be on display. In turn I spread the word to everyone on my email list and everyone I ran into around town. The joint effort had the place packed! My good friend Claudia Bailey agreed to take the photographs with me in them, using my Leica CL. I shot a bunch of photos with the CL also. I had to assure them that Monkey would be there for the festivities.

Several people I hadn't seen in years showed up when they heard about it. I have orders for a few prints already and picked up an assignment to cover a book signing next month at Books & Books in Coral Gables. A couple of college students aproached me about photographing their rock group. Another man wants to have me shoot some black and white photos of his sons. All in all a successful and fun evening! The photos should be on exhibit through the end of April. The Starbucks is located at 13503 Biscayne Blvd. (U.S. 1) in North Miami.

Take Another Toke

The 60's were, well, different, very different! I got a call from an editor wanting a photograph of some marijuanna, a roach clip, and the Miami Herald, although I don't remember exactly why they wanted the paper in the photo. They didn't want people in it though. Nobody smoking The Evil Weed. No billowing clouds of smoke, no mellow looking contented smiles. And no, the client was NOT the Miami Herald.

The assignment was black & white, but I figured it might be a good stock shot to have on hand so I shot some slides as well. I already had the roach clip and papers but I went out on a search for some photogenic cannibus. I finally found some nice Jamaican weed that crumbled up nicely and had nice color. I decided to take the photos before picking the seeds out of it. My thought was that the seeds added an air of authenticity to the picture. I must have rolled twenty joints before I had the few that looked just right. I actually asked the dealer for a receipt, but all I got for my effort was a verrrrrrry strange look. I ended up listing "misc. props...$30.00" on the invoice and got reimbursed for the expense, no questions asked.

The editor was happy with the photo, and I had plenty of volunteers over the next few days to help me with the "burn the props" ritual. I really should have reshot it without The Miami Herald. I had several querries as to whether I might have some shots without the newspaper, and likely would have had a lot more stock sales if I had shot it without the paper. I did have a few though. It was shot by window light using a tripod, probably with a 90mm lens as I don't think I yet had the D.R. Summicron.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

...But I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.

All my slides from the late sixties are carefully numbered, each and every one of them. I had looseleaf notebooks where every line was numbered to match a slide or group of slides. Everything from the date shot to the film, camera, and lens I used. I was meticulous about it. Which performer, which group, the venue or rock festival where I shot the photos. Everything.

I recently ran across a carton full of metal boxes full of neatly numbered color slides from that vintage. The Kodachromes and Ektachromes "Processed by Kodak" have month and year stamped on them. The stuff from The Color Lab and later, Jaybo's, is in unmarked mounts, unmarked except for my carefully inscribed number. I have no idea where the notebooks are now. These weren't developed by Kodak.

If you recognize these people please email me: preacherpop42 (at) aol (dot) com


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Running On Empty...

My dad was 53 when he had the stroke. He'd been living in our hometown of New Bedford, and his brothers put him in a nursing home when he was released from the hospital. In the beginning he made great progress, regaining some use of his hand and arm, walking around with the aid of a cane, his speech was eassy to understand. My wife Stephanie and I decided to invite him to come live with us. Even though we had a baby on the way we had a three bedroom house so space was not an issue. We shipped some of his favorite furniture to Miami, including the velvet wing chair he always liked to sit in and catch a few winks.

Elena was born and he was thrilled to have a grand-daughter. I'm an only child. But he missed his old friends, the change of seasons, the familiar places, and he always seemed to feel like he was a burdon, an imposition, on us. After a couple of years he moved back to Massachusettes and spent the rest of his life in the nursing home.

One day I came home and noticed the afternoon sunlight coming through the kite I'd bought for Elena, my dad was fast asleep in his chair, and it was just a matter of arranging things correctly. I hung the kite on a light stand, put the Leica on a tripod, and exposed a few frames of Ektachrome, probably with that old black 85/2 Nikkor that I foolishly sold later.

He was really unable to travel alone, so after he moved back I rarely saw him except for a few days each summer. My then ex, Stephanie, took the kids to visit him on one of her trips to visit her mom just a few months before he died at age 73 about 15 years ago.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Flowerchild ~ Peace, Love and Happiness

Every Sunday afternoon in the late '60's there was a love-in at East Greynold's Park and whatever big name rock group was in town playing Friday and Saturday nights at Thee Image would perform a free outdoor concert. Usually a couple of local bands would play also. Everybody up to and including The Grateful Dead got up on that big flatbed truck, the parks department supplied electricity, and as long as things stayed mellow (and they always did) the cops seemed content to just ignore the haze of pungent smoke in the air. After all, it might really have just been incense...

Teenagers and twenty-somethings from south of Coral Gables to north of Fort Lauderdale arrived in everything from shiny new Mustangs to flower painted Volkswagons. The dressof the day was Indian water bufallo hide sandles, tie died shirts and dresses, hip hugger bell bottom jeans, and lots of flowers. It was the era of "free love", holding up the index and middle fingers in a "V" meant "peace" ~ the Peace Sign! The war in Viet Nam was already unpopular and getting more so.

The womens' movement was in full spring. They wanted more than just the vote that their grandmothers had demanded. They wanted full equality everyplace from the work place to the bedroom. HIV had yet to appear and pennicillan would cure about anything else, when birth control pills hit the market. There was as huge change in the dynamics of sexuality. Women were at last as free as men, and the womens' magazines were full of articles about how women were actually just repressed; that they really were more sexually motivated than men.

I met Jill at one of those Greynold's Park love-ins and she wanted to get some photos. She was tiny, maybe 4'10" and 90 pounds at most. Over the next 10 or so years I photographed her on numerous occasions, but I think this was the only color shoot we did, mostly because I had some Ektachrome in the camera, an unfinished roll that I'd used on a job and was taking to the lab the next day. I don't remember where the lilly came from. Actually the photo is upside down here. She was lying on the grass and I was shooting from the direction of the top of her head. When most people see the slide they turn it this way, though, so that's why I'm showing it this way.

Monday, April 10, 2006


It was late one night in the late '60's, and I was driving across the 79th St. Causeway on my way back from a wedding or such on Miami Beach. Hitch hiking was common in those days, and safe enough for the one hitching the ride, but some people were afraid to pick up hitch hikers, especially if they had long hair and looked like a hippy. I stopped to pick up a guy with shoulder length blonde hair who had his thumb out. Billie Robbins was his name. We chatted as I drove. He noticed my cameras. He said that he and his brother had a rock group called Fantasy, a record contract pending, and would be needing photographs. I gave him a card as he got out of the van, never expecting to hear from him again.

A few weeks later I was at Thee Image, a former bowling alley converted into a rock venue in what is now Sunny Isles Beach. Fantasy was playing. Yup, I'd gotten a call and they wanted me to see and hear them play, and the rest of the band wanted to meet me. A week or two later their producer from Liberty/United Artists, Wayne, was to be in town and we made arrangements to all get together. I exchanged a series of phone calls with the art director and it was decided that the front cover would be art work with four insets of stark high contrast head shots of the guys. I used Kodalith Ortho to print the negatives, and went through a couple of generations to build the contrast and eliminate all middle tones.

When you opened up the cover they wanted a 12"x24" photo of the group on the beach at sunrise. We shot it on a deserted beach on Key Biscayne. The photo they finally decided on using has them sitting crosslegged on the sand, sort of evenly spaced across the photo. I always preferred this picture. It's much more dynamic and interesting, but the choice wasn't mine to make, plus there was a big problem with using this photo. The camera was already on a tripod so it was no big problem to use the self timer. I wanted to get a shot of me with the group. My hair was a bit shorter than their's and I was wearing a sports jacket. That's me with the outstretched arms! Over the next few years I shot publicity pictures of just about every Liberty/UA act, Including Ike and Tina Turner, that came through Miami, but as Wayne and others moved on to other jobs elsewhere eventually it came to a halt. None of the other shoots were for album covers.

Fantasy's first album was moderately succesful, a second album was in the planning stages. We'd even talked about ideas for the cover. Then I heard that Billie had walked into the Everglades and blew his brains out. Fantasy was no more.

Sunday, April 09, 2006


There are some other photos of Carl Robbins here on my blog and elsewhere in my internet portfolios, but this one was taken on the last time I ever saw him in his shoe repair shop. He had a stroke. After months in the hospital he was moved to a nursing home/rehab center. He's regained some use of his right hand and can kind of hobble around a bit. His speech is good. But he'll never repair shoes again. When that became an obvious fact he sold all his equipment, and the shop where I'd visited with him for 35 years or more is no longer a shoe repair shop.

Nearly every week my ex, Claudia, and I drive over to see him for an hour or two. She usually bakes some goodies for him, and he loves to get fresh fruit, especially fresh strawberries. We sit around and chat about everything and anything. He wants to know how my son Jonathan is doing at Harvard, when their baby is due (Sept.), and if I've heard from my daughter Elena in Atlanta. He remembers them as infants in baby carriers and when they were toddlers fascinated with the machinery in his shop. Now they're about to turn 30 and 35 in June.

Carl is about ten years older than I am. Everytime I see him I ask myself if he's living my future. I sure hope not! I'd like to see myself as still up and around in ten years, still shooting pictures and getting around by myself. It's scary to think about things like that.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Kiss

I guess it was about about 1968 when I started covering the North Miami political scene for the old North Dade Journal. Everything from the twice a month City Council meetings to getting some photos of the police practicing on the firing range back when they still carried 6 shot revolvers. This led to doing some public relations photography for the city and getting asked to shoot campagn photos for people runnng for office. That's what led to my doing all of Congressman Bill Lehman's photography from the time he first ran for congress to his retirement twenty years later.

It also led to my being asked to serve on the city's Youth Opportunity Board about 1969 or '70, and that led to other more important board appointments, as well as involvement with the North Miami Chamber of Commerce and the North Miami Mayor's Economic Task Force. I also got involved with the North Dade YMCA when my kids were young. By 1993 I was vice chairman of the North Miami Planning Commision and on the boards of directors of the YMCA, The North Miami Mayor's Economic Task Force,and the Chamber of Commerce. That meant I was usually having to attend City Council meetings as well, because they had final say on Planning Commission decisions. And of course the other organizations had membership meetings in addition to board meetings. I was going nuts! I tried to resign from a couple of them but was always asked to stay. When my mother died in 1993 I used that as The Excuse and resigned from everything! I finally had time for friends outside of civic happenings, and I started doing a lot of fishing again for the first time in years!

When my good friend Scott Galvin got elected to the City Council he called me up and asked me if I'd please reconsider, get active again, and serve on a board. I relented and was soon appointed to the Board of Adjustment. Then I got talked into serving on the Disaster Preparedness Board. So far I've been able to hold the line. Between the two boards and the two monthly council meetings, that's only four meetings a month.

Once a year the city throws a Boards Appreciation Dinner for the few dozen of us who volunteer our time. The theme this time was a luau, which explains the strange looking things around our necks. I was working on my 15mm self-portrait project at the time and took the camera along. I was having a great old time talking with people, fooling around and taking pictures of myself with this one, that one and the other. But some people are really special. I always look forward to chatting with Roseline Philippe. We'd both arrived early, and we ended up sitting and dining with one another. This photo I think sums just up how great it is for everybody to work together for the common good in a harmonious multi-cultural community.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Al's Photo Exhibit at Starbucks April 10th Until ?

I'm getting some prints framed up for my photography exhibit at the local Starbucks at 13503 Biscayne Blvd. here in North Miami. On Monday at 7 P.M., April 10th, they'll be holding a coffee tasting and reception. I'll be there and I'm hoping a bunch of my friends will show up to join the fun. If you can't make it on the 10th the photos will be on exhibit through the end of the month.

This photo was taken last November on my birthday. Belle Deaux made up the banner with a bunch of photos from my self-portrait series that were shot at Starbucks, called the manager and setup the whole thing without my knowing, and sent them the banner from where she lives in Louisianna. I staggered bleary-eyed right past the banner that morning, not yet really awake without my first cup of coffee yet. I was greeted with a cup of coffee and everybody wishing me a Happy Birthday. A great way indeed to start off another year.

Even though the banner makes mention of my birthday I'm thinking that I should bring it over there for the exhibit. I'm also bringing Monkey with me. He's hoping to maybe get in a picture with the mayor or one of our city council members.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

TIGER TIGER - Miccosukee Rock

They used to have an annual Pow Wow at the Miccosukee Reservation on the Tamiami Trail about 35 miles west of Miami. People from other tribes would come also, and you could find everything from Navaho jewelry to the local Miccosukee and Seminole patchwork clothing. I still have one of the "jackets" which the Indians refer to as "shirts". You could also try various fresh cooked delicacies from fry bread to sofkee, a watery porridge made from corn meal and used as a hot beverage.

The one thing you wouldn't find was fried garfish. The first time I tried some I was amazed at just how tasty it was and remarked that I'd always heard it was next to inedible! "Shhhhhh!" I was told. "That's what we always told the white man! They're so easy to gig (spear) and we don't want him coming out here and getting all our garfish!"

Some of the teenage members of the tribe were in to the rock music of the day, playing drums, electric bass and electric guitar. A few ofthem formed a rock group. Two of them, cousins, had the last name Tiger so they called the group Tiger Tiger. Some place around here I have a 12" vinyl record they produced. It managed to get some local air play, but never took off.

At this point I don't remember the name of the newspaper, but the editor decided to put together a collage of photos I'd taken at the Pow Wow. I made a copy negative and printed it up on Kodak post card paper to use as a mailing piece. I recently found a few tucked away in my desk for 30 years.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A Dead Whale Or A Stove Boat

These rotting pilings are all that remained of a wharf that dated back to the glory days of sailing ships. New Bedford harbor once hosted the largest fleet of whaling ships on earth As a kid growing up in the 1940's and 50's I used to go to the library and look at oil paintings on the walls depicting various ships under sail, and the smaller whale boats they carried, about 28 ft. long under both oar and sail. In front of the library was a bronze statue of the front of a whale boat, the harpooner standing there with his harppon raised, ready to thrust it into the whale. The inscription carved in the stone base read "A Dead Whale Or A Stove Boat".

I was probably about 5 or 6 before I realized that "stove" didn't mean what you cooked on. It meant stoved in, crushed, demolished, by the mighty slapping of a mad harpooned whale's tail coming down on the fragile wooden boat. Everyplace you went in New Bedford were reminders of the whaling days, from paintings in public buildings to souveniers from the far corners of the world in most everybodys' house, brought back by a friend or relative from one of those voyages. Then there was The Whaling Museum on Johnny Cake Hill where a 1/2 size scale model of the whaling ship Lagoda filled the main room, and a full sized whale boat complete with oars, sail rig, harpoons and lance, and the big wooden tubs of carefully coiled harpoon line were on display. There were more momentos of far off lands and lots more oil paintings. One intriguing series of oil paintings was done in black and white.

The whaling days were over by WW-I, replaced by smaller boats fishing Georges Bank off Newfoundland for cod and haddock. The last whaling ship still under sail power left New Bedford on a final voyage in 1918.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

When You're Strange... Faces Come Out Of The...

The Minolta Autocord was a unique camera amongst the plethora of twin lens reflexes that were on the market in the 50's and 60's. Best of all was the $99.95 list price, but you could pick up used ones for about $40 no problem. Buy a few rolls of film and perhaps get a free Rollei bayonet I hood thrown in. What was so great about the Autocord? Well, the film went top to bottom so it wasn't sitting with a right angle bend in it between exposures, sometimes for days. It was the exposed film that got the bend. Then it had a little focussing lever under the lens panel that you could work with either hand, even judge distance by where it was, very handy back in the days of setting a manual flash, or getting approximate focus when using the sportsfinder at eye level.

What really set it apart was the ease with which you could make a double exposure when the mood struck you. Just move a little button back with your thumb as you wound the advance lever backwards a full turn. The film didn't move but the shutter was cocked.

In 1968 I was shooting some portraits of this young lady, side lit by diffused window light. I suggested doing some nudes, or at least from the waist up. June said that she didn't want her nipples to show. I kiddingly suggested hiding them behind some black Scotch Photographic Masking Tape that was handy. Surprisingy she said "Sure!". That accounts for the two black X's. I shot several double exposed variations of her face and her hands crossed over her belly. This is one of them. Within a few years I lost touch with June, and I sold the Autocord about 5 years ago, but since then I picked up another 'cord at a yard sale. It looks a bit rough but works perfectly.

Monday, April 03, 2006

You Can Check Out Any Time You Like But You Can Never Leave

In 1965 Stephanie and I moved from Boston back to my home town of New Bedford, about 8 or 9 months after we'd gotten married. We rented an apartment in what had once been a huge house at 195 Cottage Street, probably built in the late 1800's, but later converted into apartments. The tenants were mostly students in their late teens or early twenties, and many of them attended the nearby Swain School of Design. It was still a private school then but I understand that it's now part of the Massachusettes university system.

Wayne and Sue Simonsis lived upstairs from us and we became good friends. I often took photos of Sue. I was playng around at the time with my Minolta Autocrd TLR, with the addition of a pin hole aperture, perhaps f/256. This gave depth of field from a few inches to infinity with just a bit of softness from difraction effects, but still sharper than a plain pin hole would give. Exposures ran to minutes by window light, and at first I stayed with photographing still lifes. Sue was intrigued with the pictures and offered to pose for some. I still have a couple of 11x14 prints framed on my wall, one of her and one still life.

I don't know how she managed to stay still so long, with just shallow breathing, but we got a few decent pictures from the session. I need to dig out those negatives and print up a few. This picture of Sue is more conventional. I was shooting with a Leica and my 35/1.8 Canon on the sidewalk out in front of the house. It was one of those typical overcast New England days.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Peacock Chair

Lens design seems to advance in fits and starts. The Russians had a slow 20mm lens available, but at the height of the cold war Russian lenses weren't exactly a normally stocked item at your local camera shop in the U.S. Everybody else had 21mm lenses until Canon released their new 19mm f/3.5 in two mounts. One was rangefinder coupled and fit thread mount Leicas and Canons. The other fit the Canonflex, but required the mirror to be locked up. It came with a seperate finder and both fit neatly in a fitted black leather case. Perhaps only about a year later Canon released a retrofocus 19mm that you could view through the reflex finder. This orphaned a bunch of the older model lenses as people rushed to buy the latest greatest!

I walked into Walter Gray Photorama in Hollywood, FL one day and Murray Spitzer called me aside, took a black leather case out from under the counter, and showed me a like new 19mm Canon with finder. He offered to throw in a Canon Lens Mount Converter B and a Leica thread to M adapter so I could use it on my M4. I could have the whole shabang for only $100 plus tax! Thinking back, I probably should have countered with $75, and I might have gotten it for $85 or $90. On the other hand I knew that a Super Angulon plus finder would have been at least $350. I grabbed it!

For the next few years I used that lens at every opportunity. I LOVED that lens. I used it for personal work and newspaper assignments and everything inbetween. About a dozen years ago the lens was stolen. After 38 years I don't remember exactly why I was making this photograph but I remember seeing the wicker peacock chair and the arrangement of potted plants on the floor and hanging from the ceiling and thinking "perfect!". I shot off maybe a dozen frames like this with the 19 before switching lenses, angles, and background. She loved this one. I've always thought it was the best one of the session. This scan is off a vintage print done on DuPont Varilour BTW. I seem to recall that her name was Gail Kamens.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Where Have All The Flowers Gone

This photograph was taken in the old Dade County Court House on Flagler Street in downtown Miami. The new Metro Justice Building had yet to be built. Drug and drug related trials were commonplace. I really don't remember the particulars of this one, what the issues were or who the defendants might have been, after 38 years have passed. I don't remember what the outcome was, either.

Dade County was about the first jurisdiction in the country to allow cameras in the court room. The rules were simple: no flash allowed and no camera that was louder than a Leica M. It was spelled out in the ordinance by name. A lot of news photographers who'd completely switched over to motorized Nikon F's were dusting off their old Leicas, or looking around to buy some! After all, you never knew when you'd have to suddenly rush over to the court house!

This shot was an assignment from the underground paper, The Daily Planet, and probably taken a couple of years before the new relaxed attitude towards cameras in the court room. The big challenge was to get an eye catching image to illustrate the story, something more than just another boring mug shot of the defendants. I took this one in a room used by the attornies and defendants just outside of the court room.

It was the peak of the hippie movement in this country. They were commonly referred to as "flower children". No, I didn't put the flower there. I have no idea who did put it there, but I think it really makes the picture. I was shooting with my Leica M4 with a 50/1.4 Nikkor lens. (I was prepared for the new regulations!)