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The Greatest Generation Is Passing

Recently I was going through some old RAW files in my “To Be Processed” folder and ran across this shot from five years ago when our son Lucas interviewed Capt Arnold Nass for a school project. I sat in and photographed the captain as he described flying his B-24 over the beach at Normandy on D Day. He said he could have hit the German machine-gun emplacements on the cliff, but his assignment was to blow the rail lines inland to halt Nazi reinforcements. He went on to serve as a flight instructor and then had a career in oil & gas. He passed in 2013 at 93 years. We’re losing some great Americans.

Captain Arnold Nass


Children are so open, with such mercurial expressions, that sometimes it’s better to just shoot video. You won’t hang it on the wall, of course. With the iPhone, there’s another option, and that’s actually holding the shutter button down to capture a series of photos.

That’s what I did recently when I visited our grandson, Jack, at his daycare during recess. We were sitting under a huge bull pine and I was teaching him how to use pine needles as mini-helicopters when he began to exclaim about the size of the tree we were sitting under. This whole sequence took less than five seconds, and you can see how his facial expressions changed.

Event Photography: Fall Festival

I’ve never pretended to be an event photographer. I know some very good ones, some who have created profitable businesses chronicling conventions, sales meetings, wedding receptions, rodeos, etc. However, a couple of times a year our neighborhood puts on events and I show up with my camera to get some snapshots. I can handle the more static stuff…adults visiting and food prep, but kids moving fast present big challenges. I’ve shot this event a half-dozen times before and so have some general idea of how to approach it, but in retrospect I missed a lot. Ah well, there’s always the Spring Picnic next year.

Thanksgiving With The Fam-i-ly

Robert Earl Keen would have felt right at home. Mom had baked her mother’s signature pies, caramel and vinegar (as well as pumpkin and cherry), and made dressing and giblet gravy. Little sister Denice and Richard provided the venue, as well as the turkey and ham. My queen provided the string beans and cranberry salad. Dave brought our nieces, Cambridge and Riley (who spent most of the afternoon sequestered in a distant room playing Minecraft). Monica came, as well, as did our boys, Leo with Scherrie and Lucas solo. Niece Kelsey came late to the party. Lunch was lovely and we put together a 42 table. It had been many years since I’d played but it was a hoot, with Monica and Denice beating Mom and I the first two games, then we won the last two. I snapped shots of niece Cambridge playing with Winston, Denice’s standard poodle, who proved to be very patient. Kelsey posed for a couple of headshots against the backdrop of Hollytree’s golf course and then it was time for one more piece of pie and the Cowboys vs the Panthers. There were no raised voices today, no hurt feelings. I think we are all grateful for this period of peace and good health.

B&W Challenge: The Kelp Picker

My hopelessly romantic, politically incorrect, and¬†wonderfully talented cousin Darlene Meador Riggs (painter, photographer, political commentator) of “Dirt Road Heaven” renown, invited me to the B&W Challenge a few weeks ago. This is a friendly invitation which is popular with photographers now and I had been enjoying the work of master shooters I’ve come to know over the years, but all my negatives were burned in a storage fire years ago and my scans of prints haven’t been very satisfactory. So this was a real challenge for me…working on scans of old slides and some newer digital images. The first roll of Ektachrome I processed included the image below…a kelp picker on a cold day off the coast of Wakkanai, Japan. Canon FT, Canon 50mm lens, Photoshop/Perfect Photo Suite 8/Nik Silver Efex Pro 2

A solitary kelp picker on a gray day in Wakkanai, Japan

A solitary kelp picker on a gray day in Wakkanai, Japan

Comics and Their Darker Side

JonathanWintersA friend posted a link to Billy Crystal’s tribute to Robin Williams and it was a pleaure to watch. I never met Robin Williams, but I’m pretty sure I’d have liked him. I did get to hang with his mentor, Jonathan Winters, during the time he was shooting the Hefty Bag commercials back in the mid-70’s, and I photographed him several times on set. He was kind, patient, and very funny. He was also always “On”. A straight comment from the director would result in a five-minute comic riff which would have the (Hollywood-jaded) crew laughing out loud. He seemed to live to perform. I remember one afternoon after he’d finished his scenes and the crew was breaking the set down that he stood outside his make-up trailer and did a fifteen-minute monologue as a trash man recounting some of his interesting experiences. The crew actually stopped their tear-down and gathered around him to listen and laugh. I have never seen a group of industry professionals so mesmerized that they’d delay their day that way.

Winter’s humor seemed victimless, but he did have some anger and I got to see it when I asked him about one of my heroes, Bob Hope. (I tried to meet Hope on one of his tours of SE Asia but missed him…lots of guys who served still think of him fondly for bringing his shows over long after the country had soured on the war.) Winters went off on a diatribe about Hope which shocked me, basically accusing him of being a lech. I put it down to professional jealousy, but I doubt many of the troops I served with would fault old Ski-Nose for dallying with Ann Margaret, Joey Heatherton, or any of the beauty contest winners and Playmates he booked to tour with him.

Another day when we were alone I asked him about a story that was circulating around the agency that he’d spent time in an asylum. He said he’d had to get help a couple of times and that he was just glad it was there when he needed it. I think about that when I hear about gifted performers who kill themselves with drugs (John Belushi, River Phoenix, Heath Ledger, Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and certainly Robin Williams’ more overt suicide by hanging. Robin and Jonathan were friends who admired one another and Robin had also gotten help in the past. Why didn’t he this time?

We’ve made some progress in the treatment of the dark side of the human mind, including drug and alcohol dependence, depression and other forms of mental illness, but it’s obvious we have a lot of work yet to do. I hope, in a hundred years, people will consider this the stone age of mental health treatment.

Our Debt to Vets

For me, Memorial Day isn’t just a reminder of friends who didn’t come home from Viet Nam; it’s a day to remember all those who have served. In the past few years I’ve met several disabled vets, survivors of our wars in the Mid-East. I’ve gotten to know some pretty well during the time I’ve spent helping them sell or purchase homes.

Every war is cruel, every war results in death and injury. Spend a few hours at any VA facility and you can begin to get a feel for the ongoing cost of our wars.¬† I served 1966-1970, and in the years since have seen the physical damage done by agent orange, as well as the psychological effects of coming home from an unpopular war to an ungrateful nation. With the possible exception of Desert Storm (wherein we liberated Kuwait), there hasn’t been a war since WWII which was supported by a majority of Americans. I think it is incumbent upon our leaders, and particularly our presidents, to be certain of that consensus before sending any more of our young men and women into harm’s way.

My friend Robert DeWare, a veteran of the Iraq war, was blown out of a Humvee twice…the last time earned him a trip home. He still carries the scars from his time served, but he’s recovering, and enjoying his quiet life in a cabin on old family property near Jefferson. This Memorial Day I’ll be installing a new American flag and thinking of both those who did, and didn’t, make it home.

Rest In Peace, Cuz’

11_71_Buffalo_Janie&Leslie_288My cousin Janetha has lost her battle with lung cancer. She gave it the good fight, hung on far longer than the original prognosis. She was four years older than me and always beautiful. She married a tall young man, John, when they were both right out of high school. They had two great kids, Leslie and Clay, both of whom graduated Texas A&M.

I snapped photos of Janie and her family as time would allow (Janie and daughter Leslie are pictured above in a snap from the 70’s, Janie and John below in ’04) but I never set up a formal portrait shoot and tonight I am reminded of how the days and years fly by. I am saddened by my cousin’s death, of course, but I feel the loss even more knowing that I’ll never get that family photo I had envisioned. For a photographer, procrastination has real consequences. That’s a lesson I seem to keep learning.

My Love Affair with Photography

I fell in love with photography as a toddler sitting in the window seat of Mrs Norwood’s library poring through her collection of National Geographic, Look and Life magazines. Mom gave me a camera for my 8th birthday, and photography has been a part of my life ever since. I bought my first single lens reflex camera ten years later…a Canon FT.CanonFT

I shot the image below of a Japanese fisherman heading out at dawn on the first roll of Ektachrome I exposed. When this photo was revealed in the darkroom, I was hooked.