Friday, December 31, 2010

They Call It FUN

Isn’t it amazing how quickly things turn around. Just a few weeks ago most people were talking about how Obama’s chances of more than one term were limited at best. “If he doesn’t do something.” Then, like magic, he did something. He finally did a few somethings. He must have been listening when John Podesta suggested he learn to use the Presidential tools, and additionally, that he needed to be proactive about where he wants the country to go. He needed to say to the Republicans, “don’t vote with me and you will have to tell your constituents why you are not only against human rights, but you have refused to take care of those heroes who risked their lives on 9/11, and are now paying the price with their health.” (If only there were a few more senior staff women to whisper in his male dominated ear, it would have taken a month instead of two years.) Whew, he must have been exhausted. He really needed that Hawaiian vacation. Actually, I could use a Hawaiian vacation. But I’d spend it with the Sullivans and have more fun than the President. It isn’t against the law to have more fun than the President, is it, at least not yet? It is not yet a violation of some new Homeland Security law, is it? No, I don’t think fun is a target for terrorists. Even Janet Napolitano decided to have some fun and go to Afghanistan, which as far as I know is not yet part of the homeland, or for that matter, much fun. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

But that’s not what I wanted to blob about. Sorry I didn’t write my annual Christmas blob, but the holidays and the writing are not as easy when you can’t call your mother or father, to tell them what a wonderful time you had (wherever you went), and they should have a healthy, prosperous, joy filled new year. Yes, that was a little bit of whining – but it could have been worse. One t-shirt I have says “it could always be worse,” and if it is written on a t-shirt, thus it must be true.
with Joanie in N'burgh
This year we are not celebrating at a party, restaurant or some expensive nightclub. We are staying in. We are in upstate New York, seeing family, checking out old haunts and, having just spent what was an entire wonderful day looking at a variety of properties so perhaps, even finding a place/home for all our worldly belongings.
with Joanie and Kerry...
Isn’t it funny (there’s that word again), that at this time of our lives we are starting from scratch to make a new life for ourselves and whoever else wants to tag along.
if New Years fireworks is your thing, Sydney is your place....
New Years has never been one of my favorite holidays. There’s simply too much pressure to have a good time. This usually means eating and drinking too much and staying up well past a reasonable bedtime just to see if Dick Clark is still standing. Rumor has it that he is breathing but unfortunately not able to stand long enough to do a New Year’ party. Sad, but somehow I will not feel as bad if I get a goodnight’s rest while Snooky, Carson Daly or Ryan Seacrest blather on about the minutes ticking away until the crystal ball falls in Times Square, where, having been there since 3pm, all people want to do is get to a bathroom. (And kiss some loved one or a complete and utter stranger). Other people’s Cooties do not an attraction make.
an actual "fireplace" fire, stoked for New Years
The idea of preparing a great meal with close friends and a beautiful fire sounds like perfection. It will give me time to make and discard a list of New Year’s resolutions. Finish a good book, drink a couple of glasses of fine wine and be thankful for all the good things that happened to me this year (you know who you are), and the new exciting adventures we will have in the year to come. And that includes a great deal of --- yes, Fun. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Adios Amigo....

Somewhere in the very late ‘60s, as a budding photojournalist, I began shooting color slide film. Ektachrome, Agfachrome, and Anscochrome were the top films, each processed in a procedure known as E2 (and which later evolved to the current day E6). The film could be turned around in about an hour. The actual mechanics and chemistry were relatively easy if you’d passed a chem lab class in high school, and I even souped a few rolls at the Colorado College Physics Dept. darkroom. But the color wasn’t really true to life, and there always seemed to be a bit of a flatness to it. Simply put, yes, you could shoot a color picture, but along the way you missed a lot of the subtleties of what you were seeing. Photography is really all about light, and how we see it. The way it illuminates a subject, wraps around it, or creates a sheen which gives a scene its personality. My first published color images were of the scene surrounding the launch of Apollo XI, the first mission to land men on the moon. I was living in Miami, and convinced Charlie Jackson (Time’s picture editor) to let me concentrate on the tourists and history buffs who came from all over the country, camped out in their VWs and Mercurys, and waited with excitement to witness the launch of America’s biggest rocket ever. I shot like crazy, along the way partnering up with my French colleague Jean-Pierre Laffont. We photographed the campers, the kids, the square dancers, the lovers on motor cycles, and in the next morning, the hundreds of folks in Titusville who shaded the sun from their eyes to watch the Saturn V rise up into the heavens. It was still the era when processing color film for magazines required several days. The process must seem antiquated by today’s “instant” standards, but involved shooting the pictures, shipping the film to the lab in NYC, having it processed and edited, then “engraved” (like scanning except oh so analogue!) to a plate, which was then used on the press to create the color image. Complicated, difficult, and full of potential technical snafus, but it did let you create a color picture. I was happy beyond belief that I was finally a “Time COLOR” photographer. Yet through it all, as I slowly started to get more assignments in color, I wasn’t very happy with the way the photographs looked. They were never really sharp. The color always had a kind of fogginess, a softness which made me wonder what I was doing wrong.

my first published color pictures: Apollo XI launch (1969)
Somewhere in the search to push myself to a higher strata, I thought I would try the film that had a reputation but which almost no one in the “news magazine” business used, because of the time needed to actually handle the processing. Kodachrome, a film which dated to the 1930s was known to have a more demanding technical side (your exposures had to be bang on!) but when you succeeded, the results were light years beyond the Ektachrome type films. There were only a handful of labs in the world which processed the film – requiring a strange and mysterious set up which only Kodak could supply. The names of the lab locations eventually became little code words for Kodachrome shooters. You didn’t need to specify Kodak: just mention Page Mill (Rd – Palo Alto), Lausanne (Switz.), Fairlawn (NJ), and right away you were in that special realm. The world of the Little Yellow Boxes. In each Kodachrome lab, no matter where it was, the pictures were mounted into red cardboard mounts with the word Kodachrome in red on one side, and the date (month, year) on the other. The boxes were identical, be it Sydney, London, or Fairlawn. We could recognize a Kodachrome box a block away.

The most astonishing thing about opening your first box of Kodachromes was discovering that in fact, your lenses really WERE sharp. Somehow the film was just waiting to etch those images in a way no other film could do. It was just a joy (when you didn’t screw up in the field) to open up and scan quickly through a box just back from the lab.
a fallen martyr- the Iran Revolution (1979)
The original film was an ungodly slow ASA 10. In the fifties that was advanced to 25 as the renamed Kodachrome II became a standard for those seeking the sharpest, richest images. In 1974, rumors of a new version surfaced with the introduction of Kodachrome (KR) 64. At last a film fast enough to shoot almost anywhere, and sharp enough to be just about perfect. The first roll which came my way was in early 1974. I was in Paris and had just photographed the campaign of Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the new French President. I had a quick portrait session with him (yes, typical Burnett window light, thank you!) and included in that shot a roll of head shots done on KR64. A week later one of those frames was the cover of TIME magazine.
boy in Ethiopian refugee camp (1984)
That was about all I needed for convincing. Mindful of the disadvantage that the extra day or two, or sometimes 3 or 4 would cost me in fighting for magazine space, in almost every story I did for the next fifteen years KR would be my film of choice. In the late 80s, Kodachrome 200 was introduced, an amazingly beautiful film that was perfect for sports, and low light level politics. You could shoot that Kodachrome sharpness and tight grain in places were you could barely see WHAT you were photographing. Each was better than the next. It was a gift to those of us who tried to tell the story of the world, and do it with some sense of visual style.
the Outsiders (1982)
Coming back from a two week trip to Ethiopia and Eritrea in 1977, I stopped on the way back from Khartoum at Geneva, and holed up at a swanky Lausanne lake front hotel while the Kodak lab handled my many dozens of rolls. It took two or three extra days, but when I look at those pictures now, and imagine what they would look like on Ektachrome films, I know I made the right call. More than once my film wouldn’t be in contention on a story, simply because while other photographers pictures (done on Ekta) would be dropped into magazine layouts, my film would still be at Kodak being processed. Then, on Friday at noon, just hours before the deadline to send the pictures to the engravers, one or two of my Kodachromes would wander on to the picture editors desk, like a tardy school boy rushing to beat the bell; the richness and sharpness of the images would cause them to make a last minute swap, and my picture would run in the magazine after all. It was always a crap shoot, and one which I am happy I got to roll snake eyes for.
American troops, Grenada (1983)
As digital began to displace film in the late 1990s (and cameras too: the latest and last generation of film cameras, the Nikon F5, the Canon EOS 1 v, the Leica M7) a system which had finally reached the pinnacle of beauty and quality, and efficiency was sacked almost overnight. Thirty five mm film, which had ruled the roost for forty years, was suddenly treated like an outcast, a victim of convenience, and especially of ‘time.’ Editors know that the news is what JUST happened, not what happened yesterday. Film, for all its charms, just couldn’t compete in the world of the breathless 2 minute news cycle. So as with most things worth preserving, Kodachrome was given the ax, tossed under the bus of progress. (Another metaphor awaits, dear reader!)
Couple with cherry pie - Montana (1982)
Truth be told, the last ten or 15 years were not easy for anyone what actually WANTED to shoot KR. Kodak slowly closed labs around the world, and the mere act of getting your film souped became Herculean. (Actually, Hercules shot tri-x.) So when the marketing people at Kodak (this actually happened ten years ago at a dinner in DC) would say that “there is no demand for the film anymore… no one wants to use it..” I had to remind him that at some point anyone using the film -- or any film -- actually wants to be able to SEE WHAT THE HELL THEY SHOT! You can’t expect people to wait a week to see their work. The technology existed to create small mini Kodachrome processing machines which could reasonably be installed at any good sized one-hour lab in the country. But for reasons known only to the geniuses at Kodak’s planning department, no serious consideration was ever given to supporting that project. They sure could have sold a lot of film if only we’d been able to see it in a timely manner. Perhaps it’s a parable for what technology is doing to our society.
Balloon race, Paris (1983)
The need to speed up everything, to be sure that there is no hesitation, no gap between something happening, and its being reported. There is something unfortunate that happens when speed and velocity become the key determinants in a society. Much is lost which requires thought and introspection. We simply rush from the last quickly delivered moment to the next, robbing ourselves of the time it takes to reflect, even briefly about where we are going.
Ethiopian mother and child (1984)

At the time,like most KR shooters, I probably didn't know how lucky I was, but I’m glad I had a chance to live in the last half of the Kodachrome generation. It’s a time that won’t come again. We’re just sayin’….David

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Last Barbecue...

This is a longer blob than usual, but it’s funny and given our present state of living, I wanted to share it – I think we see a pattern

My original move to Washington DC was somewhat unconventional.
I moved without having a place to live. So I lived, or at least
I slept, in a Fiat 128 station wagon parked in a plethora of
places on the streets surrounding the Capitol. In the morning I
would wake up and make my way to the home of a friend where I
would shower, dress, and go out to look for a job. This went on
for some time until Jane, the person I visited most frequently,
insisted that I spend an entire night at her home. After
spending six months of entire nights at her home I moved to a
rental house which I shared with another close friend. The
landlord was despicable and the arrangement was clearly temporary.
I had moved five times in one year and I was exhausted. I needed
to find a place which was mine. A place where I could belong. A
place in which I would feel secure and permanent and which would
allow me the freedom to repay the kindnesses of lots of friends.

The four story, unfortunately green, limestone townhouse in
somewhat "fashionable" downtown Washington looked like it would be a wonderful place to to live. It was a large Victorian (about 1200 square feet
a floor) charming, airy, and because there was no furniture,
overwhelmingly spacious. Built around 1900 it contained many
turn-of-the-century features: three working fireplaces; the one
in the master bedroom being the most erotic, the others
beautifully carved and totally energy inefficient; 12 foot
ceilings; original wood moldings; a brick patio garden area;
three parking spaces (which in downtown were probably worth as
much as the house); and a front stoop on which one could sit for
endless hours during the summer, fall, part of winter and spring,
peacefully watching all of Washington walk by. I bought it with the help of friends and lived there for nine years.

The house was now for sale. David and I had purchased a
much more managable house in Northern Virginia and we intended to
move within the month. But the Victorian house had been my
friend. It was my salvation during a time when I desperately
needed a place to live. And it became, over the years, a
substitute home for many friends who needed shelter from a bad
situation, or a break from their normal routine. It was a great
space to have a party, or a fundraiser, or any type of
spontaneous diversion. l715 Q Street was used as a home, as a
studio, as a shelter and as a place of business. People always
felt that they could just "drop by" -- and they did, sometimes
for hours, sometimes for months, but that was fine with me because
the visits made for a multitude of memories.

The house held nine years of memories for me, some
exceedingly painful...most very sweet...yet all having to do
with people who were important in my life. It seemed only
fitting that the house host a parting event... and even though
invitations were never extended a few friends just dropped by to
share memories at the last barbecue we would have at the Q
Street house.

John and Susan arrived at 6:30 with a big bag full of fresh
corn on the cob and two large bottles of white wine. Pat and
MaryAnn arrived soon after carrying mounds of magnificent
vegetables with which to make a salad, and two large bottles of
white wine. Mary dropped by on her way back from a California
business trip and, of course, stayed for the evening. At 6:50 she
rushed to the market (which closed at 7:00) to
buy some fish for grilling. She returned with lots of halibut
and two large bottles of white wine.

Despite the fact that evening was developing into quite an
interesting prospect, and I was looking forward to it, I was a
little nervous about the sale and/or rental of the house. That
day we had advertised the availability of the basement apartment
and although we had been inundated with inquiries there were no
prospective rentors on the horizon. Futhermore, that afternoon, the
real estate agent held an open house for prospective buyers and
only two people came to look at it. (Part of the problem was the
realtor's intimidating and clearly inaccurate description of the
house as a Magnificent Mansion.) Actually to say I was a little
nervous is a slightly understated description of my emotional
state. I was a wreck. In fact, by the time Pat and MaryAnn
arrived I was pacing the floor, wringing my hands and obsessing
about the total lack of prospective interest. They, having just
spent endless months selling their house, were most sympathetic.

"It's awful selling a house! How long have you had it on
the market?" Mary Ann inquired with great concern.

"Four days!" I cried back at her. "Do you think I should
lower the price?"

MaryAnn is a sensible person and a mighty good friend who was
now in the process of unloading the vegetables. She simply
paused for a moment, looked at me as if my behavior was perfectly
normal and said, "I'd probably wait just a little longer before I
made any changes."

There had been no indications by any of the crack weather
people in the greater Metropolitan area that there would be a
thunder storm. But just as the coals for barbecuing reached
the absolute perfect temperature, the sky blackened and the rains
came down about as hard as I'd ever seen rains come down. It
should be noted here that in the weeks, months and years prior to
this last barbecue, although the house had been repaired,
reroofed, and reconstructed, it still suffered the symptoms of
old age-- it was never totally sound. There was always a little
something wrong. A dripping faucet, a broken appliance, a new
crack,... always just a little something. Lately the little
something was a strange leak in the ceiling of the country
kitchen/central entertainment area. It was strange because we
had taken what seemed like every possible step to repair the
leak. The roof over the area had been resealed, the bricks over
the area had been reflashed and pointed, the windows on the floor
above the area had been replaced and all the sills had been
reworked. Yet everytime it rained there seemed to be some
leakage. This had two effects: visible new cracks with each
new storm and continued painting of the area once the storm
damage was repaired. In fact, that very morning before the open
house for potential buyers, we had painted a small area that had
been repaired the day before.

The thunder from the storm might as well have come right
through my body as through the sky for it dampened all my visions
of a pleasantly dry evening and an easy sale of the property. My
life in the house flashed before my eyes and I knew that I would
never get rid of it. It would be my albatross. Me and the Q
street house forever bound together by an exceedingly strange
ceiling leak. There was however, only limited time for
"flashing before the eyes".

I raced up the stairs to see what was happening with the
window above the ceiling. The rain was cascading right through
the middle . The rain was coming in between the inside window
and the newly replaced storm window. It was as if there were no
window at all. And then I heard the dreaded words... "It"s
coming through the ceiling!"

I raced back down the stairs. David, my husband, my love ,
the man with whom I will spend the rest of my life, was
struggling to get a large ladder out of a small closet... he was
not pleased and was not his usual objective self. The phone
rang. It was Paula and Arthur who couldn't be with us because
Arthur's parents were spending the weekend.

"Hi", Paula said cheerfully. "Can you believe this weather?
It's so awful we're not even going to drive to the country for
dinner. What's going on over there?"

"P, " I answered, "It would be impossible to describe to you
exactly what is going on here, but if you want a few laughs put
the parents in the car and stop by here for just a glimpse of the

"Sounds interesting but we have to find somewhere to feed
the folks so we won't have the time to drop by--but send our
love, see you, bye."

I raced back up the stairs, ripped through the boxes I had
carefully packed for the move and located some towels which I
immediately stuffed into the middle of the window to impede the
entry of any more water.

I raced back down the stairs to see if it had worked. Pat
was now up on the incredibly shakey ladder trying to dry the
wall. John was holding the ladder to prevent any further rain
related disaster. Mary was running back and forth into the
kitchen exchanging wet towels for dry. MaryAnn was watching to
make sure the fire for grilling did not go out (We had no more
charcoal and the stores anywhere within reason were closed).
Susan was busily shucking corn. And David who had obviously
succeeded in removing the ladder from the closet had decided that
the most useful thing he could do was refill the wine glasses.
The phone rang. It was Chuck. He couldn't be there because he
was entertaining his kids for dinner.

"Hi, is it raining as hard there as it is here?” he asked,
hoping the answer was no. Chuck, having participated in the
repair and painting knew only too well what a heavy rain could

"Yes" I said (exhaling the sound to indicate frustration.)

"Well don't worry, we still have enough paint for two more
storms. Gotta go but I'll speak to you tomorrow." He hung up.

I raced back up stairs to see if the window towels were
helping. They were not.

I raced back down the stairs to see if there was anything
I could do to help in the drying effort. Mary was now on the
ladder, Pat was holding, MaryAnn was exchanging wet towels for
dry, Susan was watching the fire and John was shucking corn,
David was still pouring wine. It seemed there was only one thing
I could do... grill the fish. Yes there was a torrential
downpour and yes I was going to get wet to the point where I
thought I would never dry, but I needed to do something. We were
all getting hungry, the fish needed to be grilled, and cooking
was the only way I knew to control my hysteria... so I grilled
the fish while Mary and Pat switched off on the ladder in a
ongoing attempt to dry the wall, John and Susan switched off or
shucked simultaneously, MaryAnn made the salad and David, while
pouring the much needed wine remarked, "Gee the leak would have
been boring if our friends hadn't been here!"

Eventually, the force of the rain diminished with the chaos
of the wall drying/dinner preparation and my anxieties.
The fish was grilled, the salad was no longer separate vegetable
entities, and the corn had shed its final shuck. We gathered
around a rectangular shaped glass coffee table (which was always
used in lieu of a dining room table) and we sat on the floor with
our dinner plates on our laps. Dinner was warm, dry and
delicious. We sat in comfortable positions on pillows that were
mushed to sitting perfection. We spoke of the places we loved
most, the geography we thought most beautiful, and our favorite
things to eat. We laughed about what it was like, as
adolescents, to buy prophylactics or have a first period.

We shared a melange of stories and secrets about ourselves
and our friends. The phone rand continuously. Mel and David
called from the coast just to say hello. Jane called from
Africa. Nikki called from Virginia. Carolyn called from Capitol
Hill and Louise called from up the street. It was as if all the
voices of the past and present knew that there was only a little
time left to have contact with an era about to end. We missed the
people who belonged at the barbecue but couldn't be there. In
their honor we tried to remember all the times we had spent
together having fun. And then we spoke joyously of the adventures
we would share in the future.

That evening was a flawless reflection of what my life had
been in that house. A continuing mixture of joy, sorrow,
frustration, love, and shared secrets.

The last barbecue most certainly reconfirmed David's
perception of the evening. Situations are less boring when you
share them with friends. What a fitting finale for a perfect
beginning. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Thursday, December 16, 2010

1915 North Upton St.

It happened so quickly that we didn’t even have a chance to tell everyone about it. We sold our house and moved all our worldly possessions into storage. We are now staying at 220 E 54th St apt 3J, NY 10022. And can be reached at PO Box 69, NY 10150. Of course 1915 was more than a house and more than a home. It was a workplace, a theater, a peaceful refuge for people who needed comforting, a home for wayward political volunteers, a place we celebrated holidays, (the New Year, Super Bowl, Hannukah), where we thrived because we were surrounded (at the drop of a hat), by enthusiastic teenagers. It was an office, a studio, a playground, a place to strategize about world policies, and a place to entertain so many people we loved. You never knew who you would find when you opened the door. It might be a political reporter or editorial cartoonist, a chef, photojournalist, White House photographer or staffer, (yes, there is a difference – the ‘credential’), elected official, lobbyist, movie, tv or theater celebrity (once I came home and found Anna Deavere Smith interviewing David), corporate executive, musician, composer, felon, butcher, baker, and an occasional Indian diplomat or someone of special note – (for us these folks were always friends and family -- sometimes that was synonymous.) The purpose of sharing this information is not to brag, but simply to explain, 1915 was an interesting place to be.

In addition to all these things, it was the place where my son told me he thought he had sex (he wanted me to decide if this was so), he found his first pimple, and he learned to skate board. It was also the place my daughter was born, grew up, and found her professional calling. Oh, you know I could go on and on (as I often do), but you get the point. In fact, chances are, you were probably around helping us make a memory.
...the office...
Over the years it became a place where you went to laugh about the state of the world, or cry about the loss of a friend. We couldn’t dawdle with a long, maudlin, drawn out goodbyes (The new owners wanted to show their son his new room, and their painters were showing up an hour and a half after ‘closing.’) We simply left the way we came. David taking pictures and I, begging him not to take any of me. Yesterday we said our final goodbyes to our incredible neighbors (these were the kind of people who pumped out the flood in our basement when we were away, and with whom we often gathered on the street for an impromptu “Upton Street” cocktail party.) They had a lovely dinner in our honor, and to the life we lived amidst them for twenty five years. We pasted a picture of ourselves in a hidden place where it would never be found, bid adieu the way Jordan did before she left for school each morning.
the hidden polaroid, ca. 1990
We simply said “Goodbye, my house, goodbye, my tree,” looked both ways before we crossed the street, got in the car and drove away. We’re just sayin’….Iris

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Different Sort of Tragedy

There were two tragic politically related events this week. The saddest of the two was the passing of Elizabeth Edwards. I’ll get back to the other in a bit. Elizabeth Edwards was among many other things (writer political wife, educator, activist), an inspiration. There are people who loved her unwavering support for her husband and the issues about which they cared so deeply. There was absolutely no one who didn’t identify with her pain when she talked about the death of her son. There was absolutely no one who could escape the pain of her announcement about her incurable breast cancer. And there was no one who could escape the pain of her humiliation when she responded to her husband’s betrayal. And although pain can be inspirational, it was not what I found inspirational. It was, what appeared to be an indefatigable strength to keep moving forward. Some pals have said that overcoming difficult times makes one a better person. It might be true – although I don’t need any more hard times because, as you all know, I am wonderful enough. But enough about me …. (never). Elizabeth was, (as a public persona), gutsy, brave, optimistic, and as her daughter said today, comforting. While we might have been able to identify with all her losses, and humiliations she suffered, there are very few of us who could have been as graceful and courageous about it. Can you even imagine what it must have been like for her to have to deal not only with impending health disasters, but with children who knew that there father had done something unforgivable to their mother. So unforgivable that he would not be permitted to live with them anymore. So many losses, and so much determination to go on with whatever life she had left to live. It was not necessary to be Elizabeth’s friend to know that she was a person with a generous and loving spirit. And it was not necessary to be at the funeral to know that the loss of Elizabeth will be felt by people well beyond her immediate family.

The second tragedy was of a totally different nature and falls into the category of, “what could he possibly be thinking”? Who in their political right mind would say, “I have to go to a Christmas party but President Clinton will stay in the press room and take questions.” The tragedy here was that the President allowed himself to be compared with Bill Clinton – in the White House. President Obama is very smart and quite articulate, but he is not Bill Clinton – No one ever could be. No one can compare with Bill Clinton in dealing with impromptu questions from the press or the public. There is no question that Clinton did exactly what Obama and his advisors asked him to do. Of course he did. He supported the President’s tax compromise and explained, as no one else could, how important it was for the Democrats to support it as well. But what more do you need to know than that President Obama went to a Christmas party and President Clinton stayed with the media, to clean up the mess. The thing that always amazed me about Bill Clinton was that he liked people. There were never too many hands or enough time to shake them. It’s why he was always late. He hated to leave an event without talking to every person in the room. The thing that amazes me about President Obama, is that he doesn’t seem to like people. Well, maybe he likes them in the greater sense, but in one on one situations, he seems uncomfortable and always seems to have one foot out the door. ( I wonder how long he stayed at the Christmas Party). I have heard that the first couple no longer takes individual pictures with their guests. One tragedy is that never would have happened in any previous White House. Are there other tragedies as well? Yes, there are. But I won’t go on and on. Suffice to say that at a time when the President should be demonstrating what it means to lead, he led a different President to the podium and he went to a party. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Road Not Taken

During the last few weeks I have preferred to write about my moving woes instead of anything substantive. It’s been hard to think beyond what to do with all our worldly possessions. But with the President’s decision to give tax breaks to the richest 2% of the populace, in order to get an extension of unemployment compensation for hardworking Americans who, because of a lousy economy, lost their jobs, life savings, (and in many instances, homes), I could no longer remain silent or as others might describe it, consumed with self.

The whole political ‘landscape’ needs a good paint job. Congress is not only ineffective but, some would agree, has dangerously limited vision. In lieu of making their constituents a priority, they are playing political games with constituents lives. And the professor/community organizer in Chief, just wants to be friends with people who want to destroy him. I would suggest, the first thing the President and his merry band of advisors (including Geithner – who did not go to jail for doing the same thing they convicted Wesley Snipes of doing -- only Snipes is supposed to serve 36 months) needs to do, is watch some old episodes of “The West Wing”. He needs to take a few lessons in leadership and Congressional diplomacy (a good kick in the ass), from Jed Bartlett, the President many of us expected Obama to be.

A few years ago, John Spencer, a friend, fine actor and terrific Chief of Staff on the “West Wing”, came over to our house (the one we no longer own), for a barbeque. We invited assorted Washington types with whom he could mix and mingle. At one point he asked us if we thought “The West Wing” was a accurate portrayal of the way things work in Washington. Almost without exception, (our pal Janice from Salt Lake City who admittedly didn’t know about the way Washington works, she also didn’t know who John Spencer was), it was agreed that the reason we loved the show was because it was not accurate, but it was the way we wanted things to be. My guess is that a great many people thought the same thing. The nation was so excited about the possibility of some real change in the way Washington worked, that they thought a “West Wing” like the one Hollywood produced was a real possibility.

My guess is that there are a great many Republicans, as well as Democrats out of work. It is just possible that not all Republicans are rich and not all Democrats are middle class. If the President had addressed the nation and said that he would not allow the Republican Congress to cut off an extension of unemployment compensation in order to add another 80 billion dollars to the deficit, so the 2% of the richest people in the nation could enrich themselves a bit more, the public would have supported his position. But it is impossible to support a position that turns out not to be a position – just more rhetoric.

When I listen to what people say about Obama lately, it always starts with “I like the guy, but….” Exactly what do they like about him, I wonder. He seems to be a good father, and husband. He is handsome, personable and articulate. He has good taste in clothes, and plays a mean game of basketball. Those are all likeable qualities. But where is the man we elected to get us out of a war, make certain human rights were respected in our military (where the war still goes on). Makes employment for everyone who wants to work, the national priority. And demonstrates an ability to lead rather than compromise, when it comes to making a positive difference for the majority of our citizens.

For those of us who know all too well, the way Washington works, being nice to, rather than merely respectful of, the opposition’s demands, is a terrible waste of time. People want leaders to lead. To have a strong voice and clearly defined positions. Even if we don’t agree with that voice or position, we would feel comforted by the idea that there was a leader who knew in what direction he wanted the country to go. If you look like you know where you are going, people will follow. If you change direction and seem confused about the path you should follow, people will eventually lose confidence in your ability to choose a path. It’s not so much about the ‘road less taken’ as it is about keeping a sharp eye on whichever road you choose, and making damned sure you keep the end of the road in sight. We’re just sayin’… Iris

A True Mate - Sadly Gone

One of the joys of traveling is to have those unexpected meetings, the kind that start by literally bumping into someone, and from there to conversation, and perhaps even friendship. I have been lucky over the years in making friends with some great folk, and I number amongst those none more wonderful, or amusing then Peter Carrette. I first met Pete in Kuala Lumpur. Just after the fall of Vietnam, which I only observed from New York, I made my way to Korea. I had a hunch, wrong I suppose when you think about it, that if there really WAS a domino theory at work, (the idea that the fall of one Asian country to the Commuist RED Threat would lead to a spate of others) Korea seemed like the most likely spot. Korea was, prior to Vietnam, the last time an Asian war was fought with the Commies (aside from Malay insurgencies, amongst others) and while the armistice had lasted 25 years, the North was always unpredictable enough to make you wonder what their next move would be. It was the mid 1970s, and while it feels literally like last week, it has been thirty five years. Hard to believe. After producing what became a color cover act (when journalism existed primarily in black-and-white, a big color spread was called an “act,” making it seem like an even bigger deal than it was.) But, let’s face it, the cover (shot in Kodachrome) of a magazine seen by 25 million people, and 4 pages of color inside, WAS a pretty big deal. Especially that I had talked my way into the story. I sold it as “the next Asian domino.” Suzanne, the researcher had agreed to offer me something substantial enough to make the trip worthwhile… probably something like an air ticket, a big bag of film, and 5 days shooting, but it proved once again the old adage that you are worth far more “on site” to an editor than you are standing in their office telling them how great you are. Once I was in Seoul, as the editors all started to agree that it was time “to take a look at the Korean peninsula” I parlayed the assignment into a month of shooting, including an exclusive interview with the difficult to encounter Park Chung Hee, the President. You know you’re onto a good story when they fly in the big guns from DC, and when Jerry Schecter – the chief Diplomatic Correspondent – came to town, this went from being a little one pager to a full blown “color act.” But I was just starting to feel like I was the master of my own destiny again, as I held the first copies of the magazine in my hand several weeks later, already on a plane to Kuala Lumpur. As you could do in those days, one story was just a plane ticket to another. Next up, Muhammed Ali – the world’s most recognizable person – was going to defend his title against Joe Bugner. If you could think of the notoriety of Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Justin Bieber all in the form of one person, a boxer from Louisville, that was Ali. In little villages in countries where a TV was a shared appliance in a village, the one person the village kids might know in Congo, Peru, and Indonesia, was Muhammed Ali. The days before cable tv, before the internet, before email. Remember those days? Not easy to even imagine how we stayed in touch except by the occasional transoceanic phone call (more romantic than just “long distance,” as a concept) or telex (that blazing early version of Instant Messaging.. 110 baud typing machines. But somehow we did get along without all those moments of getting on elevators without pulling out a Blackberry to see whatever latest unimportant bit of spam had been sent our way.

But I digress: Ali in KL. A big deal. Drew press from around the world. I remember small teams of young uniformed Malaysian schoolgirls with their autograph books in hand, staked out by the Hilton, waiting to get someone “famous.” And when my friend David Greenway, a long time foreign correspondent who had that look of someone that said “you really should KNOW who this guy is…” told a group of kids “THAT guy is very famous, you should get HIS autograph.” I was the object of that suggestion, and moments later was surrounded by a clutch of smiling, giggling girls who knew not who I was, but felt they nonetheless needed my autograph. I shall never forget the first entry I saw, as it just seemed like the perfect introduction into the world of celebrity autograph hunting: “Police man, Police man, do your duty…Here comes Daisy, the Malaysian Beauty..” The point was, you couldn’t simply write your name, you were obliged to come up with something a little more substantial and literary. I’m sure I failed at the task, but the mere site of their hopeful smiles only added to my own. It was in KL during the walk up to that match that I met Peter. He was in imposing form, probably 6-6” in his stocking feet, and forever branded with a chessie cat smile. Born in London, he left his cockney neighborhood behind in his teens, heading to Australia where he took up photography.

In a time when ‘paparazzo’ meant something more than just sleaze and in-your-face-mobbing, he was creative and colorful. His first big scoop was donning a medical uniform and walking into a hospital room where a distraught Marianne Faithful was getting over an emotional downer with then BF Mick Jagger. Doctor Carrette, walked in, made a picture of her in bed with the camera under his gown, and walked out, and promptly sold it to a London tab for enough money to make him think it was time to really give this picture thing a shot. He eventually became known as the ‘granddad’ of Australian paparazzi.. at a time when it didn’t’ have such a terrible connotation. Not content to just sell pictures of starlets and stars, he often created some of those “I can’t BELIEVE it” feature shots of --- well, basically nude and semi nude models on the beach. By the score he would find them and line them up, and living on Bondi he never worried about a backdrop. Just hop down to the beach, line up twenty five cute ladies, and he always include at least one shot of himself. No email from Peter was complete without at least one shot of him “at work.” Pete was a special guy. He loved hooking up his Aussie pals with me in those days when the cramped little apartment in New York was home. Virginia Hey (she was the Amazonian She-girl in Mad Max), Jack Thompson ( the lawyer in Breaker Morant), among others, counted themselves as friends of Peter Carrette. And lucky they were for it. His heart was huge, his smile enveloping, his gusto and energy without limit. And when the news came just a week ago, that he’d apparently had a heart attack at home while knocking out a memo on his computer, the sadness of his passing seemed to be without measure. I loved that laugh, that Cockney sensibility, that desire to always lighten a room, and life will be just a little sorrier that he’s no longer here to grace us with them. We’re just sayin’…. David

Saturday, December 04, 2010

What We Remember

the Dining Room..... after the move

A few days ago, in the middle of our moving mess, I thought about writing a blob. I knew exactly what I wanted to write. In fact, I even wrote the first sentence, which went something like “there was a time…” Unfortunately, I think I left the idea somewhere in a box in one of six places we have stored all our worldly belongings. And again, unfortunately, it is going to be impossible for me to retrieve any thoughts or any worldly possessions for quite some time.

Anyway, it occurs to me that I should probably try to write about the move, about which, we did not tell everyone we wanted to know. There are a million reasons why our dissemination of information sucked. First of all, we put the house on the market with expectation that it would sell in a timely manner. Second, we sold it within two weeks of when it was listed and did not have the slightest idea of where we were going to move. It was simply too hard to answer the question, “well, where are you going?” without having the slightest idea about what to answer.

Third, I was spending all my time trying to get ready to move 25 years worth of things (and we should never forget they are only things), while trying to work in NY and seeing the kids in Massachusetts. Fourth, we were clearly in denial about the ending of an era which included adding room after room to fit our lifestyle, parties for every occasion, dinners at the kidney shaped table, events, of all kinds (from politics to karaoke, to holidays real and imagined), photos in the studio, years of children’s growing up drama. This was the place where my son told me that he thought he had sex, but asked me if I could confirm it. And the place where, when the weather prevented school from opening my daughter and all her friends did a four day marathon of “Angels in America” without ever getting out of their jimmies. Long after the snow cleared, and other parents said their children should come home, the kids were still happy to be camped out in the living room.

Fifth, I didn’t have the energy to deal with another loss – or for that matter, cleaning out another house and giving or throwing away things that, at one time seemed very important. And lastly, there are many wonderful friends to whom we never want to say goodbye. People always say they will come and visit or keep in touch, but unless they are as relentless as the beloved photojournalist who shares my life, or me – it usually doesn’t happen. And by the time we have a place to which we can invite people and to where we can gather everything in in one structure (without boxes), people may not even remember who we are or were.

Therefore, I apologize for not calling people back in a timely manner, for not sharing the move information with everyone who should have been told, for not following up or through on projects that remain important (to the whole entire universe), and no matter how sensible, for not wanting the era to end.

Oh, now I remember. There was a time when my mother and my aunts went to the supermarket in their house dresses, with their hair in curlers, and but wearing their mink coats. There was a time when looking forward seemed such a big job and looking back was right there. There was a time when my brother was just a pain in the neck. I would see most of my cousins on some holiday and the idea of children was so remote it was laughable. But that time has come and I gone. The great grandchildren have the furs worn every morning to the supermarket. The future just isn’t as far away as we need it to be. My brother turns out to be amazing, a kind and generous human being who I would like to see all the time. My cousins (and a few good friends), have been a loving generous support system – right there to see us through what have been pretty difficult times. And, of course, now, I cannot imagine my life without my children and grandchildren.
the stuff in storage....till...
“Think of this as an adventure,” many people have suggested. Good idea, right!? Maybe when I can take a breath I will. Right now it’s hard to get past the mountain of boxes. Anyone want an old 78 record player or a shoe chair. We’re just sayin’.. Iris