Saturday, September 30, 2006

Gonna Get Me A Brand New Suit And A Brand New Wife

It's for real, fer sure! Dawn and I are getting hitched. I was driving along Biscayne Blvd. a couple of days back, listening as usual to 105.9 FM, the classic rock station here in Miami, when I became aware of those words dancing around in my head. I don't know which song or which group, but it was like they were singing for me. Dawn had already told me that when she comes over from Tampa this coming weekend we're going shopping for a new suit for me. I have several suits, though seldom worn these days, but she's insisting on a brand new one. Never argue with a woman!

Blue serge is what she envisions, to emphasize my blue eyes. Looking at this shot of the two of us at Starbucks last week I'm thinking it'll have to be a tropical weight fabric, but come winter there'll be plenty of nights when a heavier wool would be just fine. Then I'll no doubt be needing some new ties in whatever the currently stylish width might be these days. I might even get back into liking the suit and tie look after the past fifteen years or so of faded jeans and rumpled fishing shirts. Hell, I might even end up the best dressed boat captain on Biscayne Bay. Dawn deserves the best! (That's why she chose me...LOL)

Friday, September 29, 2006

Love At First Fight

Fifteen years ago found me newly single again and I decided to try an ad in the Miami Herald's personals section of the classified. That was before computers and the internet rendered them obsolete. "TALL PHOTOGRAPHER 48 Rather fish than Work seeks Devoted Lady any Race. Smoke, Kid o.k."

Vivette responded and I met her at her hair salon that very day. It seems that her salon was across the street from Congressman Bill Lehman's office, and I had to deliver some photographs anyway. When Vivette and I had talked on the phone, and I mentioned needing to make the delivery, she said that one of the women who worked for the congressman was her client. By the time I was at the congressional office with the photos Patrice told me that Vivette had already called to "check me out", and that she'd given her a favorable report...LOL

Things clicked, we went out to dinner, and on Sunday we went fishing in my Boston Whaler. It was one of those beautiful days when the weather was great and the fishing fantastic. We caught a mess of mangrove snapper, assorted grunts, blue runner, small jack crevalle, and a few spanish mackerel. Then Vivette's rod bent over and line started screaming off her reel. The fish put up a really strong fight! I had to start the engine to follow it so it wouldn't wrap the line around a piling and break off, but after about twenty minutes I was able to gaff the fish, a jack crevalle of about 8 1/2 pounds, and get it aboard. Vivette was thrilled, as you can see from her smile. I was soon in love, and our relationship lasted about ten years.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Community Redevelopment and Moderate Income Housing

The old Federal Highway, U.S. 1, winds it's way through the northern part of Miami-Dade County now sporting the name Biscayne Blvd. as it passes through Miami, Miami Shores, North Miami, North Miami Beach, and the scattered bits and pieces of unincorporated county in between. There used to be lots of little trailer parks and tourist cabins dating from the 1930's and '40's, but there's little left of them now. Even many of the motels that replaced them in the following decades have made way for shopping malls and office buildings. Still, here and there, are reminders of the earlier era.

Recently the City of Miami has been rocked by a scandal where tens of millions of dollars have dissapeared, money that was supposed to be used for "moderate income housing". It vanished! Nothing built. Just a web of deals and grants and contracts between this developer and that, many with ties to various political types of the sort that award the contracts. Strangely, some of these developers have suddenly been able to build themselves multi-million dollar homes and offices in the nicer parts of town. The poor people in many cases don't even have the now razed buildings in which they once lived.

I noticed this collection of partially gutted cabins and fire damaged main building at 109th Street, about a mile south of the North Miami city limit and thought what a great tongue-in-cheek photo essay this would make about the fictional North Miami Redevelopment Agency. I tried to get city councilman Scott Galvin to visit the site, envisioning him in suit and tie carrying a clip board as he made notes, but we couldn't schedule the time when we both were free. Then James Mitchell showed up in Miami, so he and I went exploring the place. I suppose I could still write about "Visiting Washington, D.C. official on government contract examines nearly rehabbed moderate income housing" but after checking the place over Monkey said "No way!". Monkey's the boss!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Stance

I thought that this snap of me was kind of interesting because of my stance. I'm over six feet tall and I often tend to crouch down a bit when shooting "grip 'n grins" of campaigning political types so I'm not shooting down on them. It makes for better looking pictures. I'm shooting with a Leica M2 and a 35mm Summicron lens topped with a little Vivitar 2500 flash set on automatic. With 400 speed film that requires f/4 on low power, and the exposure in the North Miami's community centers would normally be about 1/30 @ f/4 so it balances nicely. People being photographed while shaking hands with the mayor, congressman, or governor aren't looking for "creative" lighting. They just want a nice clear sharp picture so they can hang the 8x10 in their office.

I don't remember who shot this, probably somebody from Parks & Rec, possibly Pam Solomon who handles the PR for the city, but whoever, they emailed it to me. Considering the angle they must have been seated.

Since posting this picture a few hours ago I've been asked "why the paper punch in that belt pouch?" It's not a paper punch, they're my Sergeant pliers that I carry with me when I put on my Capt. Al hat and go fishing, or go over to Claudia's Antique Restoration to rewire some lamps for her. They're pretty handy pliers to have, and I've worn out a few since I got my first pair as a teenager. Here's a link to their site:

SARGENT TOOLS from Rostra Tool

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Sword

Somehow it seems that we always take more photographs of our first child. My first was a girl, and Elena loved to "model", she enjoyed showing off her latest outfits, and she was quite good at posing. Jonathan found that sort of thing boring anyway, so he seldom bugged me about taking pictures of him. Every once in awhile, though, he decided he really wanted a picture.

It seems that every little boy is fascinated by weapons. I sure was, my friends were, and my son Jonathan was no different. After I split up with his mom I started dating a woman whose father had a sword on the living room wall, a REAL sword. Jonathan wanted a photograph of himself holding the sword to show the other kids at his nursery school. He quickly discovered that try as he might, and he really did try, he couldn't hold the sword in "fighting position", even with both hands. It was just too heavy for him. I snapped this shot just for him. I love that little "look at me" smirk on his face! And yes, the other kids at his school (the boys, anyway) were impressed!

Here we are about 26 years later. Jonathan called me yesterday morning to tell me that his wife Deb had just given birth to a healthy little girl seven pounds six ounces. Now I'm a grandfather and my little boy is bigger than I am.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Gotta Love This Place!

When James Mitchell was in town last week we got together on a day when he wasn't tied up with meetings. One of the first things he asked was "How is Mary?", and I promised him that we'd go by her place for a visit. He met her a couple of trips ago and he seems fascinated by her. No doubt he shot far more photographs here than I did. Mary will turn 84 this week. Because of failing eyesight she gave up driving a few months ago. She lives in a tiny trailer full of cats and a little dog.

She never had any children, and she doesn't get along with her brothers in Pennsylvania. All she has, really, are the cats and the dog. She "gets along" with her neighbors, but they're hardly friends. The sort of people that usually live in run down rental trailers have little in common with a college educated woman who spent years in the art and antique business. I mean real antiques, high quality porcelain, 18th and 19th century paintings, period fine jewelry, that sort of thing. She still has shelf upon shelf packed with rows and rows of reference books.

I first met her twenty some years ago when she still had an antique shop. Now I take her shopping and to the bank once a week, and make sure that she gets to her doctors appointments. In this photo we're sitting out in her screened porch. The screening doesn't do much to keep the mosquitos out because the cats have clawed numerous holes through it, but Mary is happy. She was very happy to see James again! She made us coffee and we chatted with her for about an hour.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Monkey's Afternoon At Starbucks

James Mitchell visits Miami on business for a few days about four times a year. When he was here several months ago I had Monkey, my childhood stuffed toy, with me. Monkey is a chick magnet. He's over sixty years old and looks a bit worn, which is to be expected. Women seem intrigued that I still have this chilhood playmate after all these years. Men aren't supposed to be sentimental. We're not suppose to play with toys.

In the past few years I've photographed Monkey all over North Miami, from the pony rink to city hall, from the post office to the supermarket. He's ridden in my truck and in grocery carts. He went Priority Mail to San Francisco where Todd Frederick photographed him at the zoo with gorillas in the background, and visiting a variety of famous landmarks there. He came back with Monkette, a young girl stuffed toy monkey, but he also came back wearing a gold earing in one ear. Just what kind of bars did you take him to, Todd? Oh well, at least there aren't any tatoos.

So James, Monkey, and myself were visiting Starbucks and these two gorgeous young ladies wanted to know all about him. One of them, Val, exchanged Email addresses with James and when he knew when his next Miami trip was to take place they made arrangements to meet once more at Starbucks. Val was insistant that Monkey be there. Monkey doesn't drive (although he could probably drive a lot better than many of the drivers here) so I was elected to take him over to meet up with James and Val. Monkey isn't much for converstation, and James and Val were pretty much into their own thing. At least James picked up the tab for the coffee. Thank you, James.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Beware Of Gifts Bearing Greeks

After meeting with Val & James I still had some unshot color film on the roll and decided to finish it off with a few self-portraits at my usual hang-out, the neighborhood Starbucks. I'm becoming more and more intrigued with Kodak's so-called "amateur" color print film, Kodacolor Gold 200. First it's cheap, especially in the four and five packs of 24 exposure rolls. Second, since it's designed for know-nothing amateurs it has great exposure latitude, and seems to give acceptable color rendition under all sorts of strange lighting conditions both indoors and outdoors. In this shot the flesh tones seem pretty decent and the shirt is portrayed just about the same color blue as it looks to the eye. The colors are a bit more vibrant than the "professional" films give you.

There's an old saying, "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts". I'm not really sure where that came from. Right now I have a "gift" visiting me, a Greek woman that I've known for 33 years. The first time I saw her she was in front of the day care center at Miami-Dade Community College and I was picking up my daughter Elena. Our eyes briefly met from half a block away, but except for remembering her voluminous mane of thick blonde hair that extended well below her waist I really didn't pay much attention, nor did I expect to be running into her again. Well, a few days later I came home to be greeted by the sight of her seated with my wife Stephanie. They were at the dining room table, one dissecting a rabbit, the other a cat. It seems that they were both pre-med and taking the same anatomy class.

The marriage with Stephanie ended shortly after our second child, Jonathan, arrived two years later, but I was a good daddy. I did my share of child care after the divorce. Dawn had a little girl, Melpomene, born six months after Jonathan. Many was the day I took both kids to the pony rides or had them sleeping over at my house. Stephanie is now a doctor, remarried and living in South Carolina, while Dawn also has her doctorate and has been single for twenty-eight years. She lives in Tampa. Jonathan is married and expecting the birth of a daughter tomorrow. He and Melpomene are thirty now! Time flies.

Well, Dawn, bless her heart, has told me in no uncertain terms that we should at last take Father Philemon Payiatis' advice, the advice he's been giving us for well over twenty-five years now. We haven't set a date but we decided to take his advice at last. It never bothered him that like him, Dawn was Greek Orthodox while I was Jewish, so at some point in the not too distant future Dr. Carageorge will become Mrs. Kaplan. Father Payiatis will be picked up at the nursing home and attend in his wheelchair. He's now quite frail as he nears 90.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Color of Fifteen Millimeters

Thanks to James Mitchell I now have two Bessa L bodies so I've been playing around with keeping color in one camera, black & white in the other. The "new" body is chrome while my old one is black, so I'm putting the color in the chrome body. I was amazed to find that the exposure meters matched perfectly, especially since I've had the black body for about three years now and never once changed the batteries. Of course I usually just make a few readings when I first get to a location rather than meter for every shot. Most of the time the meter is turned off and drawing no current.

When James was down here in January we took Monkey with us to Starbucks. We first met Val and one of her friends there. James e-mailed her when he planned this trip, and we met up with her at Starbucks once again. Lucky Monkey is sitting, out of sight, on her lap. Since they both wanted prints of the occasion I shot roll of made-in-China Kodak Gold 200 with the 15mm Skopar. Wallgreens made a double set of 4x6 prints and a disc. Scanman Todd didn't have a thing to scan. He just posted from the disc.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Political Goings On ~ North Miami Style

When I first started hanging out at city hall I was the photographer for the local paper, sometimes writing the copy too. I was in my mid twenties, and the movers and shakers were all much older than I was. Little by little that led to various advisory board appointments, working on political campaigns, and one unsuccesful run for city council. Now, close to forty years later, it seems I'm one of the old guys, and a mover and shaker myself. When we got a new police chief and a new city manager they already knew who I was and came over to introduce themselves to me. I had to tell them that it was fine to call me Al instead of Mr. Kaplan. I'm pretty easy to describe and/or recognize, with my mop of oft times unkempt hair, my penchant for wearing fishing shirts, and my ever present Leica cameras. I still have trouble adjusting to the fact that Mayor Burns here, and just about everybody else I run into, is younger than I am.

Now I have people encouraging me to run for mayor in next May's city election, using my fight with city staff over my next door neighbor's illegal fence as the main issue. Well, Mayor Burns and Councilman Galvin made a big issue of that in the recent city budget hearings and it looks like we're getting a total revamping of the code enforcement department as a result, along with several more code enforcement officers. That's exactly what I wanted to accomplish. I'd love to see the mayor get reelected for two more years, then Councilman Galvin's four year term will be up and he can run for mayor. I don't want to be mayor!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Sometimes the Left Hand Don't CARE What The Right Hand Is Doing!

...but for over a year now that right hand (or sometimes my left hand) of mine has been holding that Bessa L equipped with a 15mm lens, keeping track of my goings on, going about everyplace that I've gone, and recording my life. It remembers things I would have long ago forgotten. It sees the world from a viewpoint I'd otherwise never experience. I've gotten fairly adept at holding it level and getting some pretty decent compositions based on little more than a quick glance over my shoulder. I'm enjoying the hell out of the project. Even though from time to time this blog veers off on some new tangent or another I'm still carrying that camera with me every day, and shooting more photos. This one, not a recent shot, is in front of my local Starbucks. I like the way the woman in the background mirrors my pose, and the isolation portrayed both by the window between her and the man next to her and the walkway between her and myself. The wide angle perspective exagerates distance. Actually I'm only about six or seven feet from her at the most, but it seems like we're in seperate worlds.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Ceasar And Claudia

Everytime I go over to Claudia's house, for whatever reason, I can't just drop something off or pick something up. No, I have to go inside and pay some attention to Ceaser. He gets all excited when he hears my truck turn on to her street from nearly a block away, and he pushes the front door open so he can let out a series of soft excited barks from her screened porch.

It's not like he remembers me from the days when Claudia and I were married and living together. He wasn't even born yet. Somehow the marriage ended and the relationship morphed into best friends. Maybe even brother/sister would best describe it. That was over fifteen years ago when she still had her dogs Tessie and Max. When they each in turn died I went over there and helped bury them. She got Ceasar and then Prince. I suppose because Claudia and I still consider one another as family so do the dogs.

I often stop by on Saturday morning and have a cup of coffee. If I'm lucky there's some home-made pastry. I play with the dogs while she calls her parents in Germany. Then we chat a bit, I say my goodbyes, and promise Ceasar that I'll see him again soon.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Runnin' on Empty

I belong to the South Florida Fishing Club, and we have an annual barbeque. A fairly large percentage of the membership is Jewish and somebody came up withe the brilliant idea of calling the last one a Kosher Pig Roast. Considering that the club meets at Tony Roma's, a restaurant in Sunny Isles Beach specializing in spare ribs, that didn't seem all that far fetched. There was plenty of chicken, burgers, and hot dogs as well, along with potato salad and the other trimmings.

We held the barbeque in one of the members back yards, some arriving by car while others rafted their boats up at the dock. Watching these two toddlers running about brought back fond memories of my kids when they were little, and even dredged up vague flashes of the energy level I'd experienced at that age. Sugar makes kids hyper, but so does the combination of excitement and unsatiated hunger, smelling all those good smells, anticipating the hot dogs sizzling over the coals. The little boy was full of energy, and it was like he just couldn't stop moving. After the kids had full bellies, though, they got sleepy. What a relief that was.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Just Being Silly

photo (c) 2005 James Mitchell Back in 2005 there was a woman named Diana who was very intrigued with my photography and was trying to get me to write a book about my experiences as a photographer. She then got me set up with this blog which started out as a way to get me started on actually writing the book, a little bit every day.

I must give her credit for stimulating me into a bit of a frenzy of creativity, especially with the 15mm self-portrait project, but the two of us had some basic disagreements about the direction I was taking with my photography and with this blog. I guess it's about 8 or 9 months now since we were last in contact with one another. I miss her encouragement and our frequent chats on the phone. I was hoping to some day meet her in person.

She the one who chose this photo by James Mitchell and played around with it on Photoshop. If you click the photo you can see it full size and with that patterned texture that she added. I've tried to get back in touch with Diana but she won't respond to my attempts. Maybe she'll read this and send me an Email or even better, give me a call.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

I Got A Pain In My Belly, Got A Pain In My Head...

...I feel like I'm dying, I wish I was dead"

Those are the lyrics from an old blues song, by Ledbelly I think. I can hear him in my head, playing his 12 string guitar, and singing the song.

Some mornings when I'm at Starbucks, drinking my coffee and smoking one of my hand rolls that refrain appears in my brain. Sometimes the pain is real, sometimes it's imagined. It can be physical pain, mental pain, or emotional pain. In all honesty it never gets to the point of wishing that I was dead. On rare occasions I suppose the thought flits through my conciousness that perhaps things would be better if someone else was dead, or at least elsewhere, where they aren't causing me problems.

So I sit here getting fully awake as the kinks leave my body and the morning fog clears from my brain, reading the newspaper, and sometimes chating with one of the other regulars. The morning crowd for the most part is an older group, not college students like the afternoon and evening people. I particularly like chatting with Douglas. He's in his mid 70's, in great shape, and rides everyplace on his bike. He thinks that the Miami Herald is crap and buys the New York Times every morning. I've got to admit that it is a better paper, with better world and national coverage, and it's not written on a fourth grade level like the Herald, but I mostly read a paper for the in depth local coverage that's so lacking on television news, and the New York Times hardly knows that Miami exists, let alone North Miami.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Hit The Road Jack And Don't You Look Back No More, No More

It used to be that one of the more covetted jobs for a high school student, at least for a boy, was becoming a "pump jockey" at the corner gas station. Girls need not apply, although on occasion you'd perhaps find a station owner's daughter pumping gas. There were two grades of gas, regular and hi-test, and the kid would check your oil, radiator, and battery as well as wash your windshield, even check your tire pressure and bring them up to what they should be. Cigarettes were in a machine with a sign saying "You Must Be 16 to Purchase Cigarettes". We all knew which stations looked the other way. Cold Cokes, and maybe candy bars were available inside.

Now it seems the fuel is the bait to get you in the mini-mart full of a selection of over priced grocery items, and beer as well as soda and cigarettes. Yeah, they check ID on beer and cigarette purchases.

Now we pump our own fuel, wash our own windshield, and we're lucky if we can find a place that has a working air pump. We check our own oil and battery. You gotta be 21 to work there because of the beer and cigarette sales. So here I am putting twenty bucks worth of regular in the Toyota Tacoma. The tires look OK and I checked the fluids a few days ago. I'll pick up some Milky Way Midnights and a 12 pack of Coke at Walgreens with coupons from their sale flyer.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A New Day Dawning ~ Mayor Burns To The Rescue

When Kevin Burns became mayor of North Miami last year it wasn't because he "won" the election, it was because nobody ran against him. Oh, he campaigned like crazy right up until the end. He's still "campaigning" for the betterment of the city, always going around to different organizations, hosting breakfasts and luncheons to get citizen imput on a plethora of concerns, from new parks to improving code enforcement.

We don't have a strong mayor form of government. The city manager is in charge of the day to day operations, but the mayor leads city council meetings as well as putting a "public face" on the city. Kevin is a bright and likeable guy with the right charm to rally the troops, whether they be the city's employees or the residents, getting everybody to pull together for the common good.

This follows several years of turmoil and distrust under the previous mayor, Joe Celestin, a Haitian-American. Rumor had it that Joe didn't even live in the city, just maintaining a small place to claim residency. He showed up on the political scene at the point where the last census claimed that the Haitian community made up over 60% of the city's population. Whites, Hispanics, American blacks didn't turn out to support other candidates. They felt that it would be an excersize in futility. Had they done so Joe would have lost big time! Why? Because many of those Haitians aren't citizens and can't vote. Because the Haitian community is mostly made up of young families with children of school age or younger. The kids can't vote. My guess is that while they may have made up 60+% off the population they probably had barely 30% of the potential vote. Yup, we gave the city to Joe. Then because of a two term limitation Joe finally had to step aside.

A lot of mistakes were made under Joe's watch. We're still working our way out of those problems. Kevin hasn't had it easy but he's doing a damned good job. Thank you Kevin.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Gotta Love Those Nice Jewish Girls (Or at Least Try)

A few years ago I was at the point where it was obvious that Vivette and I weren't going to get back together. She still called every day if I didn't call her first, insisted we go out to dinner together on Saturday night (Dutch treat), and reminded me when I needed a haircut. It hurt to go in her salon and see all the photos of the two of us arm in arm all over the place, pictures of my kids too, along with her kids. To an outsider it looked like nothing had changed.

Everytime I break up with someone I always make another attempt at dating a Jewish girl. My mom would be so happy! So here I am with Roz sitting by the pool at her condo with my new toy, the Bessa L and the 15mm Heliar lens. It was near the very beginning of my self-portrait series. I still had little feel at the time for what the camera was really taking in, hence the tilted horizon and leaning buildings, Roz and I in the very center of the photograph. I guess it was too soon, I was still in love with Vivette. Roz and I went out a couple of times but it just didn't feel right.

I probably should have followed Father Phil's advice years ago and married Dawn. It sometimes seems like it was pre-ordained way back when I was in the sixth grade and Alexis, the Greek girl around the corner, would ambush me, throw her arms around me in a death grip, and press her lips against mine. Not exactly the first girl I ever kissed ~ that was still a few years in the future ~ but certainly the first girl to ever give me a sexy kiss! Well, I have no idea what ever happened to Alexis, but Dawn and I are making plans, looking at rings, planning on telling Father Phil the good news, and our kids seem all for it! And the Jewish girls? My friends Jon Sinish married one, Jim Kukar married one, Spencer Tiger married one ~ the Jewish girls are being taken care of...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I Ain't Got Nobody That I Can Depend On

Once a month when I get my Board of Adjustment packet from the the City of North Miami I take things seriously and go out and look at the properties where people have applied for variances, at least those I don't see nearly every day in my normal travels. I'm usually the only one at the meeting, board member or city staff, that remembers why a particular variance was given thirty or forty years ago. Back then city hall was part of my beat when working for the newspaper.

Back in 1960 or there abouts the city adopted a new charter and listed the "pay" for board members and the mayor and council. For my board it's $10 a meeting. Back in 1960 ten bucks was plenty to take the wife out to dinner at a nice restaurant. Now it ain't enough to feed myself at the local diner if I want to leave a decent tip for the waitress. Hell, it ain't enough to pay for the gas I use touring the city, checking out those properties on the agenda. But I do it anyway. And the mayor and council? They can't give themselves a raise but they've given themselves an expense account, a nice benefits package, lifetime medical insurance...

Well, if you read down through the posts that follow you can read all about my wonderful neighbor, how city staff lets her get away with all kinds of illegal crap, and then hounds me for minor bullshit, for causing them "more" work because I expect them to actually do their jobs.

But like many other things they can't seem to recall because they're too new to the city, they don't seem to remember what happened about thirty years ago. Heads rolled. The council finally hired Larry Casey as city manager, and for a few years we had good responsible government. We had experienced department heads. Well, we seem to be back to square one, the rats guarding the hen house. It's time for heads to roll again.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Pit Stop On The Way To National Geographic And Beyond

Back in the 1960's donuts weren't the fat laden evil monster that they're considered today. Dunkin' Donuts had major competition from Mister Donut. Both chains offered a similar line up of mostly cake donuts, and donut shops were everyplace. Back then this was a Mister Donut. Actually I liked the coffee better than Dunkin' Donuts' coffee, and it was less than half a mile from my house. I was a frequent visitor!

I had a few friends that used to use my darkroom back then. Al Olme had an Omega D-2V XL enlarger set up for 4x5 which he kept in my darkroom, along with his Omega B-22 XL just like mine so we could leave one set up for 120 negatives and the other for 35mm. Nathan Benn was the kid at North Miami Sr. High who used my darkroom. He went on to the U. of Miami and did a bit of work for the Associated Press and the old Miami News, then he left town to take a job with National Geographic before taking over as head of the New York office of the international picture agency Magnum. Now he's on the west coast. I still have one of his B&W prints framed and hanging on my wall that he made in 1968. I probably have a few more of his prints tucked away someplace.

Those were the days of real paper, not the resin coated stuff that's so common now. The paper took an hour to wash. While the prints were washing we'd go out for coffee and donuts. Now it's the Sunnyside Cafe, the best eggs, sausage and grits around, but the donuts are long gone. Whenever I go there, even just driving by the place, it brings back memories. The closest donut shot is three miles away.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Another Exciting Morning In Paradise

My friends used to kid me all the time that I didn't like to travel. I rarely venture outside of perhaps a 10 mile radius of my house. My fishing buddies are always going down the keys, over to the Bahamas or trying their luck on Florida's lower west coast. I fish north Biscayne Bay and I know it like the palm of my hand, where the channels are, which grass flats have the best trout fishing, what the best tides are at which time of year. I was a speaker at a Salt Water Sportsman Magazine fishing seminar a few years ago along with the world famous guide Capt. Bouncer Smith. I get asked to speak at fishing club meetings. At one point I nearly bailed out of photography to guide full time, and I got my Captains' license from the U.S. Coast Guard.

Most all those photos I've taken of famous people have been here in the Miami area. Sometimes I don't even have to drive anyplace to get photographs. One morning as I was drinking my morning coffee I heard a loud crash while sitting in the living room. A quick call to 911 followed my taking a look out of my front door. Two cars had tried to occupy the same space at the same time, neither one going particularly fast, but fast enough. Within minutes the North Miami police and county paramedics had arrived, followed by a pair of wreckers. I don't think that anybody was seriously hurt. I used my Bessa L with the 15mm Heliar to record the excitement, then after everyone had left I went back across the street to finish my coffee.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

I'm Cute As A Button ~ Vote For Me

I guess my daughter Elena was just about learning to walk when I took this picture. You couldn't convince her to sit. She was always using her newfound ability to stand on two feet even when she should have been sitting down to eat. She wasn't all that steady on her feet, always trying to hold on to something, but she sure did want to stand.

When Elena was born in 1971 there had been big changes in baby accessories. Disposeable Pampers had hit the market a few years before, although the built in sticky tapes had yet to displace diaper pins, and glass bottles had been replaced by Playtex plastic bottles with replaceable plastic liners. A few years later, by the time my son Jonathan was born, the ecology movement was in full bloom. We all started to cut back on overloading the landfills with discarded plastics, or sending it into the atmosphere via the county incinerator. Besides, it turned out that real cloth diapers were better for baby ~ less diaper rash.

When Elena ran for state rep in the recent Georgia election she said that her political interest stemmed from my taking her with me to North Miami city council meetings when she was four or five years old. Looking at this photograph, the expression on her face, the gesture of the outstretched arm, the pointing finger, I think it was in her genes from the beginning. Hopefully next time around she'll win a seat. Then her biggest problem will be learning to sit down.

Friday, September 08, 2006

North Miami ~ A City Sanctioned Execution Squad?

Here's my neighbor's house sort of obscured by the well drilling truck and crew. At the time it was two years after they first constructed the fence that doesn't meet code and was erected without a permit. I guess that after two years of no decisive action on the city's part they were sure that they could get away with anything they felt like, to hell with niceties like permits and following the code book. How about putting in a well and sprinkler system without a permit? No permit was posted.

The contactor showed up on a weekend when the city's code enforcement department is short staffed. I called Councilman Scott Galvin from my cell phone. He said he'd call the city manager with whom he'd just been speaking, and said that the city manager was in my neighborhood. Then I went out in the middle of the street and took a few photographs. I would have taken more but those guys in the photo suddenly started screaming that I had no right to photograph them and attacked me. I managed to dial the North Miami police while I was being beaten, kicked and punched, but only one car showed up, no lights or siren, maybe ten minutes later, after the city manager had arrive to find me semi-concious lying by the side of the road. Of course the police dispatcher could hear the commotion, the screaming and cursing - I even said that they should hurry up because I was being beaten at that very minute. Curious that there's no tape of my call.

Almost everybody else had driven off. The cop, seeing me barely able to stand at all, and unsure on my feet, had the audacity to ask me if I was drunk. The contractor was still there. He told the cops that I'd been beaten by some guy they didn't know, who just happened to be walking by, and that he'd left on foot after he'd knocked me out. When the cop asked for his driver's license, insurance card and registration he said he didn't have it with him. The cop let him drive off, no ticket for not having the papers in his posession. None of it makes sense. Only to the cops I guess. It's great to know that I'm paying taxes for this protection.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

North Miami ~ Corruption Might Be An Improvement Over Ineptitude

Since January of 2004 I've had an ongoing battle with the City of North Miami about a neighbor's fence put up without a permit and not conforming to code. I've written about this on the blog before, back in January. When another contractor, a well drilling company this time, showed up there in January 2006, with no posted permit, while I was waiting for somebody from the city to show up, I stood in the street on public property and took a few photos. I got attacked! When the city manager arrived a few minutes later I was lying on the ground semi-concious by the side of the road. This photo was shot by my son Jonathan the next morning.

Last night, finally, was the code enforcement hearing on the fence, only 32 months after the first citation was issued! It was postponed another month! Councilman Galvin had asked me to give him a report via Email after the meeting. Here's the Email:

Hi Scott,

I would remind you that for the 36+ years that I lived here before the current owners of 1375 N.E. 133rd St. moved next door and erected that non conforming fence without a permit I never had any problems. Not with the city, not with my neighbors. And never any month's worth of roosters awakening me at 4:45 every morning.

There are three reasons my yard and the area behind the rear fence is a mess.

One is that the Pena family has dumped trash behind my rear fence, and between the fences. I've complained about this before. You came over with Mark shortly after they moved in and removed a concrete clothes line pole they'd put there that had been in their yard. After the hurricanes last year they dumped all their downed branches and tree limbs over the fence into my yard. God forbid they should have a trash pile behind their illegal fence. They also discarded a transmission bell between the fences, visible only from my side. The tailings from digging all the post holes were piled up behind my fence making it next to impossible to mow with a conventional mower. No, instead, I not only got charged for the mowing but they destroyed a stand of mature fruiting banana plants that were there when I bought the house in 1967.

Two is that frankly I still have pain in my ribs and dizzy spells from that beating I got last in January when I photographed the well driller in their yard while standing in the street, public property. Yes, I should have allowed them to transport me to the hospital but I didn't realize at the time that I was in as bad a condition as I was and I was supposed to pick up my son at the airport an hour later. Whereas at one time mowing my lawn was no problem now there are days when it just hurts too much, probably from cracked ribs that didn't heal properly. As for the dizzy spells I'm going to the neurologist again tomorrow. More money down the drain.

But the main reason my yard is a mess is that I'm afraid to be out there when I see my neighbors. The way they look at me everytime they see me. I'm living in constant fear of being attacked and beat up again. This is a great way to enjoy retirement, isn't it?

And for this I get to waste more time going to more meetings because Code Enforcement can't get their paper work straight for the hearing, the fence is still there, I have another invoice from Country Bill who essentially came over and did a shitty job of REMOWING what I had already mowed, and wasn't yet over height again. Meanwhile the neighborhood is awash in uncited yards in worse condition.

But I guess they keep calling code enforcement about my yard, and poor Hans is caught between a rock and a hard place. It's easier to cite me because it seems that while the city can call Country Bill the city can't tear down the fence.

Well, I saved the pages from last night's agenda. Unbelievable that this has been festering now for THIRTY TWO MONTHS.



Hans is the code enforcement officer and Country Bill is the lawn company with the city contract.

So what do you all think of this situation? Why not let some North Miami officials know what your thoughts are? Thanks!,,,,,

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Snook We Didn't Catch

Stephanie and I would often go fishing with Norm and Jill Nilsen when we first bought the house in the late 60's. Norm had been a friend for about ten years already at that point. I'd first met him at The House of Snook, a fishing tackle shop here in town, back when I was still in high school. He was a few years older than me and planning on getting famous by writing The Great American Novel...LOL Even back then he was dating Jill. She worked in the family print shop, Jones Printing, on N.E. 6th Ave. just south of the post office. They had a small printing press, a darkroom for making halftone negatives, and a Linotype machine for making type.

That Linotype also supplied me and Norm with lots of "lead" (actually a lead and tin alloy) for molding sinkers, jig heads, and bullets. I still have probably 25 pound of the stuff three decades after the print shop closed. Eventually reality set in on Norm and he got a job as a planner with the Dade County Department ofTraffic and Transportation that was in charge of deciding which intersections should be signalized. They had one daughter, Cricket. Eventually Norm had a heart attack, and I soon lost touch with Jill.

The night the photo was taken we'd gone snook fishing. Some nights are successful, some aren't. I had some film in the Minolta Autocord "just in case" and we decided to grab a shot of these big imaginary snook just for kicks before heading off for pizza, or maybe it was coffee and donuts, and then home to sleep.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

"What's That Daddy?" Big Fish, Little Girl

Tarpon are a protected species now. They're supposedly not very good to eat but they sure are fun to catch, jumping like crazy time after time, their huge silver scales reflecting the sunlight. They get up to about 200 pounds although 50 to 70 is probably the average when they're caught in the ocean, perhaps half that in Biscayne Bay. The juveniles mostly stay in the mangroves near shore in brackish water, and are often found in completely fresh water. Even the larger ones occasionally will move into fresh water and scare the hell out of some unsuspecting bass fisherman when 50 pounds of silvery dynamite explodes out of the water next to his boat.

In the early 1970's, back before another dredge-and-fill project wiped out most of the mangroves along the bay shore north of 135th Street in North Miami, it was often full of juvenile tarpon and snook. So was the north branch of nearby Arch Creek, and back then you could easily access it without walking through peoples' back yards. Many afternoons I'd grab a fly rod or ultra-light spinning rod and have an hour or two of fun, just a few blocks from my house.

Most of the tarpon were really tiny, maybe 12 to 18 inches long, and my spinning outfit was spooled with two pound test line. I fished with little 1/8 ounce bucktail jigs less than two inches in length. This fish was much bigger than the average and inhaled the little lure quite deep. I tried to unhook him gently but it was impossible. His gills were bleeding profusely and I didn't think he'd survive. It was time to test the theory that tarpon weren't good to eat!

Elena was barely two years old and she was really fascinated when I got home with the fish just before sunset. I filleted and skinned it and we had some for dinner. The flesh was soft and mushy and had a soapy taste. The cat got most of it. I never kept another tarpon. Years later I found out that in countries where it is commonly eaten they use lots of onions, hot peppers and other strong spices. Sauteeing in butter with a touch of black pepper just ain't the way to go!

Monday, September 04, 2006

I've Been Lost Now Days Uncounted...

Not me. I'm not lost. But the boat is long gone. It was a light weight 12 foot Penn Yan Cartopper, canvas covered cedar planking over steam bent ribs all varnished to a fare-thee-well. Gorgeous! It weighed under 100 pounds and looked so nice on our Volks Wagen bug. We bought it in New Bedford before the move to Miami and fished for bass and pickerel in the nearby ponds and stripers and blues in the harbor. We never went very far so oars sufficed to get us around. I remember that we paid $119 for the boat wich I named Tarpon II. The original Tarpon I'd sold a couple of years earlier in one of those foolish moments when you tell yourself that since you don't fish anymore...but I always do come back to fishing.

After moving to Miami I picked up a used 5 HP Johnson outboard motor. The standard transom height is supposedly 15 inches but this boat was only not quite 13 so I built up the center a little and added spray rails on the sides. Boats of this construction, typical mostly of canoes, are very strong for their weight but were really designed for a climate where they see a few months use in the summer and stay inside most of the year. Rain, humidity, and constant year round use took its toll. My friend Darryl Seideman took it over to his house with the good intention of replacing some rotting wood but the extent of the damage was greater than we'd anticipated. Stephanie and I bought a 17 foot fiberglass canoe and I constructed a side bracket for the Johnson. Now my friend Dave has the canoe. I lost track of Darryl years ago. A 17 ft. center console sits on a trailer in the driveway.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Break On Through To The Other Side

I spent about ten years of being a freelance photographer dressing like I was going to a rock concert or a love-in at the park, tie dyed shirts and bell bottomed jeans, wide belts with huge buckles, and either sandals or boots depending on the season. I still managed to pick up enough business to get by, and I managed to shoot with Leicas and those fantastic Leitz lenses. And I had one suit, a corduroy sports jacket, and a couple of those big wide ties that were so fashionable back then.

My wife had big ambitions, medical school, and we had a child and would soon have another one. I had to start producing more income! I made a concious effort to see what my clients were wearing, not the public relations directors that were hiring me but their big bosses, the top executives in their companies. I went on a shopping spree at Brooks Brothers and Macy's over the next several months. I wanted to blend in with that level of people, and it paid off. I got more corporate and political work. I charged more money. Things were looking good.

I met Morris Wolf at Browne's Photo Center. He was just getting into photography, shooting natural light kids photos mostly outdoors at the park, and selling 16x20 black and white prints for top dollar. He worked with a Hasselblad. Soon he was shooting weddings also and wanted me to shoot for him, sometimes on my own and sometimes working with him. Nobody back then seemed to be using a second shooter or assistant, but these were large carriage trade affairs, lots of people. He was willing to pay me twice as much as the going rate at other studios. He insisted that I get a 'blad and I soon had a 500C with 50, 80 and 120mm lenses, plus a couple of extra backs, but I always carried my old Minolta Autocord as back-up "just in case".

When we worked together I often stuck a flash on a light stand with the legs folded, and used it as a boom light while he shot. I could move around and direct the light to get a top semi-back lit effect with nice high lights in the hair, and a bit of rim lighting to make the subjects stand out from a dark background or turn it around to light up a distant background. This was all done with non-automatic flashes, just a full power/half power switch. Gradually we went our seperate ways. Browne's had gone out of business as had the color lab Morris and I had both used. I never ran into him anymore. A couple of years ago I dropped by his studio just to say "hi". He was telling me how he really liked shooting with Leica M's now, he finally understood what I'd been raving about twenty or thirty years earlier. He also was having fun with the 12 and 15mm Voigtlander lenses.

I'm reasonably sure that this was shot by Morris back in the 1970's, probably for no better reason than that there were some shots left on a roll. When I came across this 5x7 print a few weeks ago I decided that I still liked the hair style, so I'm back to the 'fro look again. What the hell, I still have all my hair, why not flaunt it? Like my beard though, it's got quite a bit of grey these days. Maybe I should get Morris to shoot an updated version?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Save The Last Dance For Me

This photograph of my daughter Elena has always been one of my favorites. It's sort of unusual because it's dark, side lit and low key, against an intense black background, all the attributes you don't expect in a photograph of a five year old dressed up as a ballerina. It's a relatively small print, with an image area of about 5.75x9.25 inches. One has been framed in my living room about forever, and I recently ran across several other prints of the image stashed away in a file folder for thirty years. I probably made up several at the time to give to the relatives.

At this point I don't even remember what the occasion was. She was taking dance lessons. Was there a recital? It was most likely shot with the Minolta Autocord using a single flash from a small umbrella reflector. The enlarging papers of that era were still rich in silver, and that print truely glows, it sings! The blacks are black and the details in the midtones and high lights sparkle.

This was around the time that her brother Jonathan was born. Looking back, I never took as many photographs of him as I did of Elena. Was it because she was my first born child? Perhaps because she was so outgoing and always eager to be photographed? Maybe because the marriage started falling apart. There's really no answer to that. There are some photographs, though, and I will be posting them.

Friday, September 01, 2006

...but I still haven't found what I'm looking for.

photo (c) 1968 Stephanie Brundage

I had an exchange of Emails today with a Susan Bridges in Sarasota, Florida. She's working for a consulting firm that's working with the City of North Miami to develop a new park master plan. She discovered this blog through a link on the N.M. Chamber of Commerce web site and was trying to get some historical information about the city parks, especially a zoo that once existed here until the early 1950's. That was a bit before my time but I remember hearing people talk about it. Now North Miami Middle School sits on the site. When I moved here in 1956 they were just finishing building the place.

I don't remember what the occasion was to cause Stephanie to take this photo either. It was taken in the dining room next to the door to the kitchen, probably with her Leica III-f and a flash in a small round silver umbrella. Maybe it was to show my new hair cut?

It's strange how time distorts time. This photo was taken only about eight years after I finished attending N. Miami Sr. High, and that eight years seemed like such a long, long time. Now I look over at that same piece of white wall where Stephanie shot the picture and the thirty eight years from then to now seems like nothing.

It was a popular fashion in the late 1960's, for a year or two anyway. A double breasted jacket, open collar shirt, and I can't remember what we called the thing I was wearing around my neck, but it was acceptable garb, whether for business or going out to a fancy restaurant. The dry cleaners loved them. If you got hot and a bit on the sweaty side you didn't mess up your shirt collar. All the sweat ended up on the dry-clean-only piece of colored silk instead. (It's called an ascot.)