Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trying To Play It Straight In North Miami

More as a goof than anything I actually wore a suit and tie to the last North Miami Board of Adjustment meeting. I still had the beard and the unruly mop of curls up top.

I'm really kind of pissed with the city about being on the board. It pays a whopping ten bucks for each monthly meeting, the same as it did about forty-five years ago when gas cost a quarter and coffee was a dime.

The mayor and city council were also locked into their 1960's vintage pay scale until a couple of months ago. Then they voted themselves a generous expense account followed by a vote for lifetime health insurance. When they discovered that the citizens didn't rise up and impale them on sharpened stakes they decided to give themselves a humongous raise, making up for nearly half a century of no increases.

All I'm really asking for is to keep up with inflation, plus enough expense reimbursment to cover the cost of driving around town looking at the properties that are seeking variances. Last month that was 24.5 miles, according to Mapquest. The IRS says 48.5 cents a mile is right. The council seems to feel that there's no money available. I recently ran across some nearly twenty year old buttons that say "I'm Voting For Al Kaplan For Council". Time to start passing them out perhaps? Maybe Al Kaplan for MAYOR!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Neurologist's Examination

Every few months I go see my neurologist for a look-see, check up on my vitals, and see if my brain has deteriorated to the point where I can't touch my nose with my eyes closed or stand up, keep my balance, and walk in a straight line. Jennifer also likes to test my short term memory by having me repeat a series of numbers a few minutes after she says them. Then we always get into a discussion where she'll say my symptoms would clear up if only I'd take the full dose she prescribes while my primary care doctor, Larry, says that the symptoms are due to the medication. He says I shouldn't be driving on the meds, she says I shouldn't risk driving unless I've taken the meds. Sometimes I think that that cute little six inch tall doctor standing on her desk is really making the decisions around there.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Two Cute Young Ladies

In this photograph the two young ladies and I are looking at some of my pictures on the computer. We're sitting in my dining room and it's maybe six weeks ago. I still had the beard and Vivette hadn't cut my hair as yet. Last week I had to move everything away from the windows so the contractor could install new windows and make a horrible mess. Yup, I took pictures of that too. Scroll down a few posts to see a worker framed in the window.

It's kind of interesting how much the cool daylight entering the room changes the mood of the photo compared to the warm lamp light in the night time picture. The little girl seemed so fascinated by everything, looking all around, taking it all in, but afraid to leave the security of he mommy's lap. I couldn't convince her to come sit on my lap. I told her that my granddaughter Gabriella was almost exactly the same age as she was and perhaps in a few months they could meet and play together. I don't think that she understood anything I said...LOL

Now the new windows are installed and the house is once more clean and reasonably straight and orderly. I bought a couple of cute little stuffed animals for little girls to play with. For now they're sitting next to Monkey, the toy from my own childhood, and Monkette, the girl Monkey that Todd fixed him up with when he flew out to San Francisco a few months ago.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Harvest Time At The Flashback Diner

During the ten years or so that Vivette and I lived together every Saturday night after she closed her beauty salon we'd always drive up to the Flashback Diner in Hallandale. For the past six years I rarely went there unless I was in the neighborhood for some reason.

I met Janie at an outdoor concert in North Miami a couple of years ago when she was living at an assisted living facility right across the street from Jimmie's Place. On occasion I'd run into her at Jimmie's. She doesn't drive. Maybe six months ago she was moved to an assisted living facility in Hollywood, perhaps a mile north of where Flashback is located. Now when I'm heading up that way I make plans to take her to Flashback. This was shot about a month ago. They'd decorated the diner with traditional fall harvest decorations, including these two cute little scarecrows.

Janie always complains about the food at the home but she loves the things on Flashback's menu. Their coffee is decent too, but we usually stop at a Starbucks on the drive back and get some "real" coffee.

A Very Rare Sight

I rarely photograph sunrises, and this was really a sunset anyway. When I went outside I was amazed at the way the multiple layers of clouds both threw shadows and illuminated one another. The radial white streaks were lower than the horizontal red clouds, while a bit of black clouds, lower still, were already in the Earth's shadow. As usual, Kodak Gold 200 film with my 15mm Voitlander Heliar lens.

As each day begins and ends I'm reminded that those of us who've been around about forever owe it to the next generation to pass along what we've learned over the years. A lot of this is the so called "common knowledge", things so ordinary and everyday, so taken for granted, that it rarely ever gets written down, and at some point it just ain't there no more.

I remember an elderly wood working shop teacher who took great pains to show us the proper way to sharpen chisels and gouges to get a pefect sharp edge while maintaining the correct angle. He was very insistant that we only hit the handle with the heel of our hand, or just maybe with a rawhide mallet, but never with a hammer. "You want to feel the wood as you cut through it" he told us. He was in his seventies, still teaching part time, and still had his set of chisels, gouges, and spoke shaves that he'd bought when he was doing his own apprencticeship as a teenager all those decades ago. Some of them, he told us, he'd gotten from an older retired woodworker years before. Nowadays people work with power tools.

I've been a photographer for nearly fifty years now and I'm always amazed at the lack of basic knowledge, things that were once considered common knowledge, amongst the younger generation. They complain that the auto exposure screws up in certain situations, but without understanding the concepts of using an exposure meter, with no idea of how the camera judges light, they're lost. Auto focus is just as troublesome to them. They've been sold a bill of goods by the manufacturers: "Use our latest camera and your pictures will always be perfect!"

The days when a young photographer could hang out at the local camera shop are gone now, with no experienced pros around to explain things, or answer a question. Now you order over the phone or the internet and then you wait for the UPS truck to bring what you ordered. Instead of getting a correct exposure with good color balance the new mantra is "Fix it in Photoshop".

Sometimes you just luck out when a scene like this sunset greets you, experience guiding your fingers to set the controls for the correct exposure. This sunset is as rare a scene as the morning back in 1977 when a light dusting of snow covered the grass blades in my front yard. By the time I got out a roll of film and loaded a camera the sun had melted it. Now I always have a loaded camera within reach. Now I'm hoping for a sunrise like this, casting its warm glow on the light dusting of snow in the yard...

Friday, October 26, 2007

It Takes Real Skill And Effort To Make Such A Big Mess

I guess people getting this work done "for free" never complain. I might not have complained either if it hadn't been for the broken window glass left in the grass and the mortar from installing the new sills dripped on the carpet, soaking in and hardening. Plus, of course the entire house was full of fine white dust. A real mess!

He still hasn't come back to paint the new concrete around the windows.

The carpenter and roofing guys cleaned up after themselves. Why not the window contractor?

And then there's the other problem. Everybody in the city building department knows me...LOL

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Exquisitely Landscaped Patio Area In The Rear

Four guys moved the boat trailer out of the driveway, pushing it by hand so they could back a truck in the drive. After the roof was completed the carpenter doing the eaves and soffits, as well as the window guy wanted to leave the boat where it was until everything was complete so they could use the driveway. All kinds of promises that it would be moved back. The roofing trash is now gone, the carpentry finished, the windows in, but the boat is still there, and it's positioned in such a way that I can't get the truck in front to hitch it up and move it myself, my long ladder went bye-bye in somebody's truck, and the window contractor, Turn-Key Construction Services, left old window sills, chunks of concrete, window packaging, etc., where ever it fell in the yard.
They also managed to drip wet concrete on the carpet where it hardened in place. At least he sent a woman over to clean up all the plaster and concrete dust that was everyplace inside the house.
They broke one of the old window panels while removing it and left all the broken pieces in the grass. It would have been nice if they'd at least mentioned it so I wouldn't maybe go walking barefoot in the grass? Oh well, I noticed the glass pieces glinting in the sun light. I got down on my knees gingerly feeling around between the grass blades with my fingers. I hope that it's all picked up.I sure wouldn't want my little grandaughter slicing open her foot.
I'm hoping that Turn-Key Construction Services comes back and picks up the rest of the mess they left behind, and that somebody moves the boat trailer back on the driveway where it belongs. Until then the job just ain't finished.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Less Than A Buck A Millimeter! Way Less!

Back in the 1960's the rule of thumb was that a quality long telephoto lens by one of the better European lensmakers, such as Leitz, Kilfit, or Novoflex, would set you back about a dollar a millimeter. If you wanted a 400mm lens you'd better budget $400. Today, because of inflation, that would be over $2,000, a lot of money for a young photographer to put into as lens that wouldn't get all that much use.

A New York mail order company named Spiratone didn't sell cameras but they sold about everything you could put on a camera from close-up accessories to unique filters, and besides often being the only source they kept the prices rock bottom. When Fred Spira, founder and owner of Spiratone, started marketing a 400mm lens it was an affordable $34.50. Soon Sterling-Howard, another mail-order firm, started marketing their version. Soon I wanted one (or the other) but knew it wouldn't see much use so I kept putting it off.

One day I walked into Browne's Photo Center and there in the "used" show case was the Sterling-Howard version looking like new. I grabbed it. For a bunch of years it was used on either a Pentax or a Leicaflex, but I had good reasons for wanting to be able to use it on my Visoflex II reflex housing which converts a standard Leica body into a single lens reflex. The Visoflex II, though, is too thick. The lens won't focus to infinity. One day I was looking at the lens and realized that it screws apart in the middle and the threaded part was quite long. I had an idea. If I shortened the lens barrel a few millimeters I could still get infinity focus on the Visoflex-II. By filing off the 41mm thread rear for the rear T-mount adapter and filing out the 39mm thread of a Leica thread mount to M bayonet adapter and using a bit of epoxy glue I'd have a lens that would get infinity focus on the Visoflex II. A few hours with a few files and I was in business. It worked!

It shot a couple of record album covers and it produced a good number of shots for magazines. It more than paid for itself. I probably haven't used it now in twenty years. I dug it out intending to shoot some film with it, but so far all I've done is take some pix of me holding it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Two Tony Mafia Paintings And A Framed Window Guy

I was getting all new windows installed in my house last week. The new ones meet "current hurricane code" and my old fold down awnings would be replaced with current code storm panels which are a royal pain to put up and take down but are supposed to resist the impact of a 2 x 4 hitting end on at something like 80 miles per hour.

I was supposed to move everything a few feet away from the windows so the guys would have room to work. I already have way too much stuff. What a mess! In this shot the guy has just finished removing the old window unit in such a way as to insure producing the most plaster dust possible. To the left of the window is an oil painting by Tony Mafia while on the right is a water color. The framed window guy is "live".

This morning the contractor arranged to have Norma spend the day here, scrubbing, vacuuming, mopping, and dusting. Finally I have most everything clean and put away again. The guy in the middle is gone, and it's a real shame too. It kind of looks like something Andy Warhol might have done.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Glass, Brass, And Chrome

A lot of people are fascinated by "old" film cameras. I picked up this mid 1950's vintage Voigtlander Vito CL at a yard sale for $5. The meter still worked as did the shutter, and the Color Skopar is a nice sharp lens.

Lately I've been getting some upgrades and repairs done on the house. which means frequent visits and inspections from the building department, making sure that everything is done up to code!
We chatted for awhile about old film cameras and the way things used to be, certainly longer than we chatted about the house repairs, and then it was hurry off to the next inspection! For information about that camera go here:

The title of today's post is from a book that was recently re-released:
Glass, Brass, And Chrome: The American 35mm Miniature Camera
By Kalton C. Lahue. (Reprint edition-2002 by University of Oklahoma Press. Originally published in 1972). Soft-cover, 5 1/2 x 8", 347 pages, ...

A few weeks after this photo was taken I dropped the camera. I was sitting down and the camera fell perhaps two feet onto the carpet. It was in its leather case. Neither the shutter nor the meter has worked since...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Is That Santa Claus On My Roof? In October? Only In North Miami!

The last time I'd reshingled the roof, or done much of anything really to my house, was shortly after Hurricane Andrew came roaring through about fifteen years ago. At that time I was glad that the highest winds had missed this neighborhood and that my house was built in 1951 before they started substituting 2 X 4's for 2 X 8's and began using press board instead of plywood or planks. Those houses that Andrew demolished were held together with spit and prayers.

The City of North Miami recently had started a program for upgrading moderate income housing, bringing the houses into compliance with current hurricane codes, and improving the look with new shingles and new paint. As I turn sixty-five, and I started collecting Social Security at sixty-two, I met the income requirements. The way it works is the city hires and pays the contractors. If I'm still living here after seven years the loan is forgiven. If I die or sell before then a prorated amount would have to be repaid.

We'd had quite a bit of rain the previous couple of weeks, but we were lucky. They managed to strip the roof down to bare wood, replace a few boards, and get the tar paper back in place before quitting time. In the morning the building inspector came by, signed off on the permit, and they started nailing on the new shingles. Since then I've had all new windows installed, and some rotted wood around the eaves has been replaced. There's still a bit of painting to be done. No, that's not Santa Claus on the roof but I guess I got my Christmas present early anyway.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Is That Santa Claus? Is It Merlin? No, It's The Monkey Man!

From time to time I run into Lenny at one place or another around town. This is at Jimmie's Place. Whenever I see him these days with his white beard and long white hair I always picture him in a black cloak dressed up as Merlin, conjuring up potions and casting spells.

I still remember him as a grade school kid, the younger brother of my best friend Irwin, back in high school. I haven't seen Irwin in at least thirty years. He moved away. Lenny is still living in the same house he lived in back in 1956 when I first met him.

He has a few pet monkeys that are trained to tip their little hats and beg coins which they then take out of the hat and put in their jacket pocket. Lenny dresses as a nineteenth century organ grinder, cranking his hand organ. He does childrens' parties and local festivals, and the kids love him. We keep talking about introducing his real monkeys to my toy monkeys for a photo session, but it hasn't happened yet.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Not Hydroponics But It Is The Pot Department At The North Miami Home Depot

My son Jonathan came to visit a few weeks ago, timing his trip perfectly to coincide with the big air conditioner in the living room to start acting up. Instead of water dripping out of a little spout in the back onto the grass below it was oozing out the bottom edge of the front, wetting the wall below and forming a big puddle on the tile floor. We tried cleaning out the inside, trying to get an uninterupted pathway for the water to go where it was supposed to go, but to no avail.

The unit was at least 12 years old so a new one seemed in order. We found one at a reasonable price at Brandsmart and I called "Joe Your Handyman" to install it. Joe has been doing various things for me and my friends and neighbors going back more than twenty years now. If somebody makes a tool Joe has one. If something around the house needs fixing Joe knows how. He's fast, reliable, and too damned busy! We had a four day wait ahead of us for the new AC to be installed. Four days of mopping and wet towels underfoot. Yuck! Then Jonathan's brilliant mind caused him to say "Let's go to Home Depot, Dad!" Thankfully the one here in North Miami is close by.

We were in the Home Depot garden shop and he picked up a plastic window box (see the photo) about as long as the dripping area under the AC. When we got home and mopped up again we set the thing on the floor against the wall. It wasn't perfect, it didn't catch all the water, and it needed to be emptied a couple times a day, but it worked! Thanks, Jonathan.

A few days later Joe's van appeared in front of the house and in short order I had a brand new non-dripping air conditioner humming away. Thanks, Joe.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Forty Years Of Friendship

Carl and I were full of the energy of youth when we met. I was the photographer from the newspaper, and our office was across the plaza from Carl's shoe repair shop. I had nearly shoulder length hair while Carl wore his in a huge Afro. I still have a profusion of curls while Carl is bald, and he's just a few years older than I am, but it's been years since he had much hair.

Until a couple of years ago I'd stop by his shop several times a month just to chat, sometimes to get new soles or heels, and often enough just so we could exchange comments as we watched the college girls wander from store to store through the plaza. Likely as not they're the granddaughters of the college girls we watched in the old days.

Then he had the stroke. He was in the hospital for maybe a year, then they moved him into the nursing home adjacent to the hospital. He struggled for months but he learned to speak clearly again. His left hand became as useable for fine tasks as his right had once been so he has no trouble feeding himself.

He can stand using crutches and a leg brace. He can stagger a few steps, but he can't really walk. He has a wheel chair and can get around in it, but he can't get from bed to chair or back again without help. He's given up on his dream of going back to his shoe repair shop. When you're nearing seventy the body just doesn't recover that fast, no matter how many hours of physical therapy you do. The shop is empty now, the equipment sold off, a big for rent sign in the window. A lot of his long time customers stop by to visit him. He hates the food at the home. Bring him a Whopper, some fresh fruit like strawberries, perhaps a can of nuts if you think of it. If not he's happy just for the company and he can still smile the smile that we all remember.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fun Times At Barry College

One of the young reporters that I'd worked with at the North Dade Journal got a job as director of public relations at nearby Barry College in Miami Shores. I soon started getting asignments to shoot for Barry. These ranged all over the spectrum from simple mug shots of a new faculty member to the college president showing some national politician around the campus. When I first started there it was a Catholic girls college and everybody was white. Over a period of a decade or so I photographed the first male student and the first black student while gradually the student body also became more Protestant and more Jewish.

Most of what I shot was used in the school newspaper or sent out as press releases to the media. That meant shooting black and white, but every few months I'd get asked to do some color shots for a brochure or alumni news magazine. This shot was in front of the new library building, probably about 1980. It's located in the center of the campus, and yes, there are a few guys in the picture. And yes, it's a set up shot with the people told where to stand. I shot it on Ektachrome with a Leica M4 and a 35mm Summicron lens

I managed to last through several public relations directors at Barry but eventually they hired one who wanted to continue using a photographer that he'd used at his last position. The ride at Barry lasted for sixteen years. Balancing that was the fact that several former Barry PR directors continued to use me at their new jobs.

Barry has grown a lot. It's now Barry University, not college. The library has a nice art collection, and several framed prints of my Miccosukee Indian photographs are hanging on the walls.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Serious Business At The New Bank In Town

Bank Atlantic was holding a grand opening party for their new North Miami branch and the Greater North Miami Chamber of Commerce had let everybody know about it. They wanted to assure a decent turnout. Mayor Kevin Burns (left) is also president of the Chamber and Penny Valentine (center, holding Monkette) has pretty much run the place as far back as I can remember.

Monkette had agreed to attend the party after I told her that yes, I had checked, and there would be a fresh fruit platter including bananas along with the other munchies. I think that she was still holding a bit of a grudge against Kevin for not having any fresh fruit at his victory party way back in May, so it had been a long time since she'd last attended a civic function around here.

One thing I think is cool about this photo is the way the Bank Atlantic name on the back wall is so perfectly centered between my chin and that blonde guy's head in the background. I mean, I was holding the camera out at arm's length, framing the shot b'guess 'n b'gosh, but somehow I got the entire name showing.

But back on topic. Kevin had chewed me out a few months back for getting a haircut. "I almost didn't recognize you!" he shouted across Starbucks' patio as he went through the drive-thru lane. I started letting it grow again, and then I grew a beard after seeing my son Jonathan sporting one. Soon Penny started in on me with a "Why are you growing that disgusting thing?" Every time I'd see her it was "When are you going to shave that ugly thing off?", and sometimes she'd follow up with a "You really need a haircut too!" because my curly locks were growing back. Gotta keep the mayor happy!

So here we all are, and what with the music and the chatter of dozens of people I really can't hear clearly what Penny and the mayor are discussing. City business? Chamber Business? The new bank? Nope. On the drive home Monkette told me. Penny and Kevin were in a heated argument about whether or not I needed a haircut. It's good to know that both the Chamber of Commerce and the mayor are so concerned with serious business like that. The city is in good hands.

Monday, October 15, 2007

North Miami Finally Hits Paydirt!

Biscayne Landings, a luxury condominium development, is being built on the former Graves Tract here in North Miami. If you really want to read the history behind it here's a Price Of Silver entry from February of this year:

What going on in this photograph? Well, Biscayne Landings has to contribute part the profits they make on selling those luxury condos towards building or rehabilitating moderate income housing in North Miami. It's a partnership with Biscayne landings because it's on city owned land. I'm sure that George Bush would think it most unAmerican for the city to be taking from the rich to give to the poor but we think it's a good idea. Here the Biscayne Landings big shots are handing over a ceremonial check to the mayor and council, hopefully the first of many. I suspect that we got a more normal sized check to deposit at the bank.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Summer Dreams

For a year or two back around 1980 a lot of the covers I shot for The Mall At 163rd Street's advertising pieces featured this guy in white face wearing a black bow tie, red wig and a bright red beret. It wasn't my idea! Anyway, we set up the shot in one of the department stores in the mall, probably Jordan Marsh, and it was shot on Ektachrome with a Hasselblad.

The brochure is 32 pages of ads for the various stores in the mall. Benetton, whose slogan was "United Colors Of Benetton" has a few African Americans mixed in to a group photo of ten people. Parklane Swimwear has one model who looks Asian. The center double page spread, titled Fashion News, has four photographs. The one showing three toddlers includes one black boy. Everybody else is white. Times sure have changed!

This was put together and printed by Hughes Ad House in Laguna Hills, CA and distributed as a direct mail piece. All the other brochures I did for the Mall At 163rd Street were distributed as an insert section in the Sunday Miami Herald. The Herald did a much better job of printing than the printer that Hughes used.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Cleaning Up A Row Of Loose Ends

Little things accumulate and I want to make mention of them, so here's a few of them.

Mark Andreani has some great ideas about marketing photographic prints by a group of ten photographers from around the world, and calling the group The Circle. Back in 1968 Bob Greger had pretty much the same idea and started Group 10. The time wasn't right and it went nowhere, but things have changed. Hopefully Mark's concept works out and succeeds. Check it out!

Next I'd like to thank those of you who have taken the time to post comments on The Price Of Silver or send me emails. Your input gives me a better feel for "what works" so I can keep trying to make this the best blog that I'm capable of. Thanks Daniel for your input on One Dog Night, and thank you Neils for your comments as well.

Neils lives in Denmark and has three interesting blogs of his own, which would no doubt be a lot more interesting if I was as fluent in Danish as Neils is in English. This page has links to all three of his blogs:

Lastly I'd like to thank all of the friendly baristas at my local Starbucks at 135th St. and Biscayne Blvd. here in North Miami, and I really enjoy chatting with them when they come outside on their breaks. I guess they like my company too, or they wouldn't sit at the table with me and look so dang happy. I like to see people smile! They even get me to smiling!

I also like the way that row of palm trees seems to run continuously across the photo, but the ones on the left are just reflections in the window.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Nobody's Calling 'Cause The Sky Is Falling...

A late afternoon thunderstorm not only cleared the outside patio, it discouraged everyone from even stopping off and having a coffee inside. There was about nobody to talk with and a major reason for hanging out at Starbucks is being around people, talking with the ones you know and meeting the ones you don't. So here I was, sitting next to my coffee and trying to find something of interest to read out of the magazine bin between the two big black chairs.

Coffee houses were so much friendlier and more interesting when they still allowed smoking. Pipes were popular and filled the air with exotic aromas. You'd be offered the opportunity to fill your bowl with a new blend and jump on it, knowing full well that to really get the correct flavor you'd need to clean out the gloop from inside the stem, ream the char from the bowl, and "season" the pipe by smoking three or four bowls worth of the new blend. Still, it'd be a different taste than your regular blend, and who could resist that? Now pipe shops are a thing of the past. At best you'll find a few old standby blends at the drugstore, but there's no longer a display of Kaywoodie and Yello-Bowl briar pipes up by the register.

When the rain let up a bit I ran out to the truck, lit up, and drove home. If I'm going to be alone at least I want to be able to have a smoke with my coffee.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Shapes, Masses, And Colors

I got an email or two from both the North Miami Chamber of Commerce and the bank announcing the grand opening reception of the new branch office in North Miami. I thought that I'd check out the place, and possibly even move my account over there. The idea of a bank with long hours during the week, as well as being open on Sunday, has a certain amount of appeal to it. Also, my parsimonious New England upbringing tends to lead me towards sources of free food. Bank grand openings usually have gourmet fare. I was looking forward to it and I wasn't dissapointed.

From a photographic standpoint I was intrigued by the way the colors of both the bank and the police car matched one another so well, while the slightly different shade of blue in my shirt on the left was mirrored by the blue in the building in the background on the right. I enjoy the way the extreme wide angle of the 15mm lens accentuates the diagonals, and lately I've been trying to work more and more with compositions of the major dark and light masses in the picture. It really wouldn't matter what the things were. The composition only depends on the light and dark areas working together with one another, and I managed to accomplish all this on an empty stomach. By the time my tummy was full, and I'd flirted with all of the ladies, it was too dark outside for pictures. I headed over to Starbucks for some good strong coffee.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Billboards Forever!

There was a big effort under the Carter administration to get rid of "visual pollution" along our nation's Interstate Highway system. Billboards were considered the major problem, and some local governments strictly regulated their size and how many could be along each mile of highway. Other governmental bodies got a gleam in their eyes thinking about all the permitting fees and tax dollars those billboards could generate. No doubt those billboard companies also were generous contributors to many an office holder's campaign coffers.

U.S. News & World Report was doing a story on the billboard problem for their September 22, 1980 issue and they concluded that Florida and Georgia were the worst offenders, with South Florida topping the list. I got a phone call asking me if I could track down a particularly cluttered section of I-95 and come up with some photos showing the clutter. I found these billboards just south of the Broward County line. I was shooting on Ektachrome film in a Leicaflex SL using a 180mm f/2.8 Elmarit lens. The evening twilight threw the cars into shadow while the remaining sunlight illuminated the billboards against a colorful sky.

Click on the picture. It will get big enough to (barely) read the story.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Survivor ~ Groceries For More? Or Less...

Publix was always the more upscale supermarket chain here in South Florida, with newer looking cleaner stores and the best selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. They outlasted Food Fair and Pantry Pride, Grand Union is gone, and Wynn Dixie is down to just a few stores, although they seem to be the newer larger ones. "Membership stores" like Sam's Club and Costco, along with Walmart, have the best prices but few stores, so they're not a place to just run in to pick up a few things on the way home from work. They're a destination, ideal for doing a weekly trip for a large family.

Recently a new chain, President, has started taking over stores vacated by the other chains as they move to newer quarters or just pack their tents and slink out of town. The stores look like they've been there forever and aren't exactly as neat and clean as you'd hope. Yet Publix, all neat and sparkling with new or freshly renovated markets, along with prices to match, continues to prosper. The choice is really down to just Publix or President if you even have a nearby President.

Every year the newspapers and TV stations tell us to stock up on things like canned goods, crackers, and other non-perishables for hurricane season. You don't want a freezer full of food spoiling for lack of electricity. At least canned beans and tunafish are edible at room temperature or can be heated on a camping stove. People rush out to stock up, price be damned!

I take a different tack. Publix is a big believer in buy-one-get-one-free promotions, and for some odd reason these seem to coincide with what coupons are in the Sunday Herald. If you have two coupons to save fifty cents on Ritz crackers you can still use the one for the "free" box to save a total of another dollar on the one you have to pay for! I stock up for hurricane season year 'round, and Publix is the place to do that. Yesterday, on a quick trip to the market, I bought $38.99 worth of food for $28.22, saving $10.66. The girls at the register see me coming and always comment on my buying habits, how much I manage to save week after week. Thank you Publix!

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Meeting Room

In the fifty plus years that I've mostly lived in the neighborhood I've watched what was once a brand new small library building gain additions as it grew ever larger and larger. I guess it was during the last expansion that the meeting room was added, but I honestly can't recall ever attending a meeting here quite recently. Suddenly I've discovered myself going to several in the past couple of months, including a meet-the-author book signing.

Since I'm no longer shooting for a publication I've become way too lax, I don't bother writing down the details, then too much time passes between the event and my posting the photograph here on my blog. I have no idea who this is or what the occasion was. I was intrigued by the flag-like appearance of her jacket juxtaposed with the real flag behind her. Even the door behind her seems to balance out the composition with the flag. As usual I'm the mysterious observer lurking in the foreground shadows, over on the left in this picture. Maybe somebody reading my blog will tell me the who and the why. I can always edit it in later.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Who? What? Where? When? and Why?...again

I really need to start carrying a notebook with me. I should be writing down the five double-U's of good journalism ~ Who, What, Where, When, and Why. Honestly, I don't have a clue in hell where I shot this, even though it's probably only a couple of weeks ago. I remember thinking "Ooh! That building looks neat!" and jockying around a bit to get a good angle. I liked the contrast between its shadowed facade and the sun lit high rises behind it. I knew that I'd be in complete shadow, just a silouette. After doing it for so long I'm fairly confident that I can pose and position myself properly in the composition. I did screw up a tad with that street light projecting out of my eye.

A few days after I shot this I went by Vivette's Ultimate Hair Design on 163rd St. and got a haircut, the first one in at least six months. I was beginning to get sick and tired of Claudia telling me that I looked like "a homeless street person". With my new policy of wearing suits and ties to city meetings nobody recognizes me anymore.

Two weeks ago I got the house painted, and this week I got new shingles on the roof. Next week I'm getting all the windows replaced. Yesterday I trimmed the bushes after getting the grass mowed and edged. Now nobody will recognize the house either. At least inside I still have all the familiar clutter, with huge piles of books and magazines all over the place, and a dining room table covered with cameras and lenses and boxes of photographs. At least it still feels like home!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Fashion At The Falls

The late 1970's and early 1980's was a period of growth and expansion of the shopping center industry (if that's the right word for it) here in South Florida. New malls were springing up and old ones being refurbished. The old open air concourse shopping center concept was giving way to the air conditioned enclosed mall, and the 163rd Street Shopping Center was enclosed with a fabric roof, becoming The Mall at 163rd Street.

A new mall opened in the Kendall area south of Miami running counter to the trend, but instead of a boring concrete walkway with scattered trees and shrubbery, or none at all, it incorporated a series of small ponds connected by little water falls with bridges from one side to the other and lots of lush greenery. The Falls was the name and it had lots of upscale boutiques and small eateries along with a couple of department store anchors.

I'd been photographing for several public relations firms that were handling new malls, and in several cases I managed to retain the client after an in-house employee took over the task of handling public relations. In other cases they'd leave for another mall and continue using me. It kept me busy! When The Falls first opened they frequently had outdoor fashion shows showing clothes from several of the shops. These would be used in mailing pieces full of ads from the shops, as well as being sent out to the area newspapers. This is a page from a mailing brochure.

In this case the public relations woman at The Falls eventually took over the same position at the much larger Dadeland Mall a few miles to the north and closer to where I live, and I started photographing there instead. These days, with the greatly increased traffic, there's no way it would make any sense for me to drive the twenty or so miles through rush hour traffic to either mall for a one or two hour fashion show. Oh, well...

Friday, October 05, 2007

Rocky Road For The City of Progress

My first thought was to write about this City of Progress brochure that the City of North Miami's Department of Economic Development put together to attract new business to the community. We did the brochure about 15 years ago, with lots of my photos inside depicting the city's parks and other amenities.

We've had progress over the years in many ways, including becoming a multi-ethnic community where everybody seems to get along with one another and most everyone speaks decent enough English even if they speak Espanol or Kreyole at home, where whites date blacks in high school and later get married and have children together. It's a far different place than the segregated North Miami where I went to high school. In this brochure I have a photo of my son Jonathan fishing with my Jamaican girlfriend Vivette's two boys, Craig and Xavier. They wouldn't have been allowed in the park forty-five years ago. Hell, they wouldn't have fished together forty-five years ago.

A few years ago the city hired a black city manager, and he in turn hired a black woman to be police chief. Our first woman chief and our first black chief! Yup, we're making progress here, for sure! So you can imagine my surprise when I got an email earlier this evening stating that the city manager had fired the chief "with cause". I've been trading emails with several people all evening trying to get more information, but a short piece in the on-line edition of the Miami Herald had the most information, and that mostly consisted of stating that the chief was so shocked at being fired that they had to call the paramedics to revive her. Tomorrow should be a very interesting day around here, and maybe a bit of a challenge for our City of Progress.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Starbucks Mystery Woman

The ultra wide angle lens distorts reality, creating an illusion of distance when I'm only sitting a few feet away from this Starbucks mystery woman. It was a hot September afternoon, and I thought that cooling off took precedence over smoking a cigarette with my afternoon coffee. The big soft chair was vacant and beckoning so I walked over and sat down, placing my cup of coffee on the table between us, just inches from her cup.

The mystery woman? I see a lot of them at Starbucks, the ones too busy or too engrossed in something, so I don't try to strike up a conversation.This one seemed extremely engrossed in her magazine. I seldom have any compunctions about exchanging a few pleasantries with a stranger, but decided that this was neither the time nor the woman. I'd seen her there before, and I've seen her since, but we've yet to really meet or to speak with one another.

I suppose that accounts for my glowering look, staring straight into the camera lens. I like to meet people and chat with them. In most of this self-portrait project I'm looking at other people, or perhaps looking where they're looking, but here I seem to be intentionly looking away from the mystery woman. After awhile I'd cooled off enough to venture outside again, where I could smoke a cigarette with what was left of my coffee. She remained inside. The Starbucks mystery woman was still reading the magazine as I drove away.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


In 1977 I got a call from a reporter I'd worked with on a bunch of stories for various publications. He was writing some press releases for a public relations client of his and needed some photographs. Frederick Meyer was the client, a hair stylist with a shop about a block away from the Playboy Club and perhaps two blocks from the Palm Bay Club, a bastion of "Old Wealth" on the shores of Biscayne Bay, with luxurious big yachts tied up at the dock. His clientele was a curious mixture of sexy young babes and exquisitely dressed white haired elderly women with more money than God, plus a few hookers from the neighborhood.

Frederick was also president of the hairdressers association, and he needed somebody to photograph styling shows. We worked out a deal that made both of us happy, I ended up picking up the Palm Bay Club as a client and got to photograph private parties on some of those yachts. Those were some wild parties.

When Frederick and I both split with our wives at about the same time we became room mates for a few years. He cut my hair for the dozen years or so before I met Vivette Thomas, then she was rather insistant that if we were going to be a couple Vivette's Ultimate Hair Design was where my hair was going to be cut. No arguing with a woman!

Eventually Frederick closed the shop and I lost track of him, although Claudia said that she saw him up in Dania four or five years ago. At any rate, between Frederick and Vivette I've only had perhaps a couple of haircuts by other stylists in over thirty years. It's been six years since Vivette and I parted ways, but she still cuts my hair.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Hitch Hikers Can Be Good For Business

I was driving home from a shoot at some Miami Beach hotel or another, heading west across the 79th Street Causeway, when I picked up a hitch-hiker, a young guy with shoulder length blonde hair looking a bit scruffy by the standards of the day. I was wearing a suit and tie, but my 1961 VolksWagen Microbus was brightly painted enough to set him at ease. Billy Robins turned out to be the lead singer for a local rock group, Fantasy. A couple of nights later I was at Thee Image where they were playing and I shot some black and white pictures of the few groups that were playing that night, passed out a bunch of my cards, and met the rest of Fantasy's members. Greg Kimple was the drummer, Billy's brother Bobby played lead guitar, and I can't remember the names of the rest of them at this point.

The following week I gave them some contact sheets and got an order for a bunch of 8x10's. They were all excited. It seemed that Liberty Records was interested in signing them. Within a month I got a call from a guy by the name of Wayne somethingoranother. He was producing the album and wanted to discuss my shooting the photos for the cover. The front was mostly a drawing with four little high contrast photos of the guys in the group. The cover opened up to give you a 12"x 24" centerfold. I shot the group sitting cross legged on the beach at sunrise using 120 Ektachrome in my Minolta Autocord.

Everybody seemed happy with the photos, and soon Wayne was on the phone again. Ike and Tina Turner were playing at the Newport Hotel in Sunny Isles. We set up a half day shoot and we hit five or six locations while being driven around in a stretch limo. These photos were taken in Greynold's Park, again using the Minolta Autocord.

I was looking forward to a lot more work, as lots of groups go through Miami, but Wayne and Liberty Records soon parted ways and he was my only contact there. Fantasy broke up, although that first album was fairly succesful. Thee Image closed down. Liberty merged with United Artists. I did manage to make some good contacts with several publications which resulted in my photographing a few rock festivals and lots of concerts.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Shooting The Executioner

Executions, we called them, line 'em up and shoot! There's more to it than that, of course. You want to pose the group so that everyone's face is showing, they look happy, the group forms a nice composition both by itself and together with the background, but it's still boring photography, more people skills than photographic expertise. Marvin Weinstein gets to do lots of them these days. His official title at the North Miami Police Department is Crime Watch Coordinator, and he gives presentations on things like how to secure your house to homeowners groups to how to cross the street to grade school kids.

This was at some kind of a luncheon being held at the nearby Miami Shores Country Club, and this group of eight citizens had just received awards for something or another. It was time for The Executioner to do his thing. I'm fascinated by the way people hold and shoot with digital cameras, leaning slightly backwards as they compose the picture on the little LCD screen on the camera's back. It's a lot different than looking through the finder, and of course today's cameras figure the exposure and focus the lens all by themselves also. About all they don't do is compose the picture.

I've been photographing at the Miami Shores Country Club for so many years that I know what the exposure will be, and how far away this is from that. I know what a particular lens will cover from what distance. When I shoot with the 15mm lens I don't bother to look through the finder. I don't get to "see the picture" until after it's developed, but it does let me get in the pictures myself. I like that.