Thursday, June 28, 2012

Forty Years and then some

In going through a lot of my older photographs *(yes, that makes me old, too, right?) i found a number of them which I want to find my anonymous subjects.. from time to time I ll post a picture here and Facebook, on the hopes that someone might actually know a little more than I do. The first ebullient group of GI's in Phu Bai (Viet Nam) on Christmas 1970... members of the 101st Airborne Division react with gusto to Bob Hope and some of the hot numbers travelling with him. I know there are a lot of these guys hanging around, thinking.. "gee, where is the guy who shot my picture that Christmas 42 years ago ...?" Let me know if you know someone! We're just sayin'... David

Immediate Response

This would be called an immediate response, but it wasn't immediate. However, the fact that it was published on the same day (yes, it is shorter than most of my blobs), is quite impressive. Anyway, the cynic I used to be reared her ugly head today. When the health care, or 'Obamacare' was upheld by the supreme court, my first thought was, "so the insurance companies are going to benefit by one more government decision." the Supreme Court is one of the three branches of government... Remember when they decided Bush had defeated Gore? But never mind the good old days. REMEMBER this blob is about me and my cynicism. Here's the thing, if there was going to be an insurance company that would insure people at a reasonable cost (not socialized medicine but 'smart' medicine), and because there were so many people who needed to buy it, and because there is power in numbers, it would be something to celebrate. However, it's more likely to be same old, same old .... Insurance companies will make a fortune. The insurance companies have hit the jackpot -- you heard it here first. (They are already raising rates, using "Obamacare" as an excuse.) In summary, health care is a good thing. Bureaucracy is a Bad thing. Insurance is great. Expensive insurance, not so much. The insurance lobby will convert this upheld decision, which could have been excellent, into a money making proposition and neither you nor I will make any money... Again and unfortunately. We're just sayin'... Iris

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Reality Cheque, Pt. I

Reality Check. This blob will be more of a list than the usual poetry I write. So, Heads up! While I would like to say that we are at a point where we, like our children, no longer need hard line phones, it’s simply not true. We don’t use the hard line phone in the same way we used to –like to communicate with the rest of the world. No, now we use them to call the cell phones we can no longer find. Never do anything for anyone with expectations of some return. Only do things for people because it is something that you want to do, and which makes you happy. If it makes them happy, that’s a gift. Disney movies are not written for children. They may enjoy them, but they will mostly miss the point. Children do not have the money for admission. Generally speaking, most ten year olds don’t have a driver’s license. Adults write and produce them, and there’s always a level of sophistication as well as a message, that only a grown up will understand. Yes, even “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” If you are over fifty, do not listen to anyone who says, “You are too old to wear that.” What makes a piece of clothing young or old? The person who wears it. You are never too old to wear anything. However, some clothes are ridiculous regardless of age, and if you don’t want people to guffaw as you walk by, don’t wear those. Children will never believe these three things a. something is “in their best interest.” b. Someone they think they love is not worthy of them. c. Parents, despite their attempts, will never understand how children really feel about anything. Of course there are more things, but I’m saving those for later. When you get involved in a new project, endeavor, or career, never listen to anyone who says that you can’t achieve success because, you don’t know enough, you don’t have enough experience, you won’t fit in, or you are too old. That’s always bullshit, and usually says more about their ability, imagination, where-with-all, and level of competence, than it does about yours. Riding on the subway (I don’t care where you are), is a wonderful experience, an education, a way to really ‘see’ a place. When my brother bicycled from Scotland to England, and I met him we then got around by subway. At some point (yes, I was tired) I started to scream at him because I was tired of being underground –not seeing the sights. Huddled with the unwashed. In the winter it’s cold and crowded. In the summer it’s hot and crowded. Sure there is air conditioning and heat, but not on the streets you take to get there, the stations you wait forever in, or on anything but the cars—if it’s working. When it works it will get you where you want to go in a timely manner, but if it is not working and you have become dependent on it, the alternatives are never convenient or good. No matter how clean it is supposed to be, remember it’s below the surface of a city – how clean can it possibly be? Would you eat off the tracks? It’s a place where rats thrive, and garbage is not removed until it is spilling over the sides of the track. No matter how many rules there are pertaining to what you can and cannot do while in transit, it is still never going to be as pleasant as riding in a limo. This is not up for discussion. It just will never be as pleasant. (Don’t tell me about rush hour or traffic). That being said, I wouldn’t get around any other way. It’s just the minute I start thinking, wow this is great, I do a reality check and simply admit, this sucks but it’s better than not getting you where you want to go. Enough for now, enjoy the ride. More to come. We’re just sayin’… Iris

Sunday, June 17, 2012

In our ongoing pursuit of a venue to workshop “Gefilte Fish Chronicles, the Musical,” we ventured north to Montreal. Why so far, you might ask? Well, it’s just none of your business. (That was just a totally unnecessary snarky remark because I had a lapse in genuine niceness). There are a few reasons. The President and Artistic Director of CETM, an intimate theater with access to a great deal of talent, has a vision for the show that is absolutely compatible with ours. He understands that it is not about one family, but the “universal family”, celebrating not only family traditions, but the people who came before and who will, hopefully, carry on for many years to come. There are large ethnic communities in Montreal, so the subject of family is familiar. And for my part, there is wonderful food, and excellent places to stay. My blob, as usual will be about my comfort and experiences because, as you know too well, it is all about me. The trip was a bit last minute, so the hotel that I adore, “Le Place d'Armes Hotel & Suites” had two rooms but for only one night –we were staying two nights. “Not to worry,” I assured my colleague, “they will have a cancellation.” In we checked, saying our hello’s to the manager, Monsieur LaRochelle and a few of the staff. They couldn’t have been more accommodating. It is a warm and friendly place to be, as well as lovely and comfortable. It’s just a great place. The location, old city, is perfect and the fact that it is located merely steps from China Town, (oye the pastries!) where there is also excellent Vietnamese fare, (the Pho Buc 97) is perfect. Despite the rain, we had a thoroughly enjoyable if not thinning evening. When we returned to the hotel, we were told that there hadn’t yet been any cancellations, but we remained positive, and extremely full. As it turned out, everyone who had planned to be in Montreal with a room at LePlace, decided to claim their rooms. But never mind, Jennifer, the assistant manager had arranged for us to be moved to their sister hotel, Auberge du Vieux-Port, on the river. Yes, they are sisters but from a different gene pool. This is not a bad thing. They are both delightful places to stay. The hotel Auberge is smaller and seems a bit older. The rooms are also smaller and a bit less modern. Also not a bad thing. Yes, I missed my soaking tub with whirlpool and shower the size of Miami, but I adored the intimacy, the view of the water, and the breakfast (which was included) at the Auberge. But the physical beauty of a hotel, and even the location, are not what makes them special. It is the people. And for us and other visitors, the most important element is the kindness of the concierge, and in our case, the limo driver Raymond, (who with the permission of the concierge rescued these wandering Jews, and made us feel like the car was our home whenever and wherever we needed it.) Jose, at Le Place and Michael at the Auberge, were absolutely outstanding. We were working, so the move was not convenient – but never mind. Jose said goodbye to us as if we were family, and Michael (who is really good humored), welcomed us in the same way. Despite the inconvenience, their performance was most professional, but they remained concerned and willing to do whatever was necessary to make us feel comfortable. And we truly did. Jose and I at the "sortie" Montreal is a bit complex. It looks like, and has the charm of Paris or Bordeaux. They have streets with names like Rue St. Catherine Street. Not everyone speaks English, but if they know you don’t speak French, they do their best to communicate. To say I like the city, and am grateful to have found a place with so much coleur, is an understatement. But to have found these two extraordinary hotels and to have been exposed to the people who make them work, was a blessing. So, October in Montreal for Gefilte Fish….. how cool is that. Send in the horse radish! We’re just sayin’…Iris

Friday, June 08, 2012


No, you can’t have a big soda, but yes, you can have a donut. You cannot have three scoops of ice cream on a cone. You cannot have caffeinated beverages less than two hours before you go to sleep. You cannot go swimming until three hours after a meal and one hour after liquids. (Oops that’s what someone’s mother said), or maybe it was the Mayor of a major American city whose priorities are making decisions about what is good for you, rather than stopping the tourist buses from blocking access to buildings and the street. Who gets to decide what you, as an adult, can and cannot do. And a better question is, what’s next? No you cannot smoke in a public place, but how do you define private when nothing is private anymore. No, you can’t have an abortion, but you can have a child that you cannot feed, house, or for whom you cannot provide. No you can’t marry someone you love because they are the same sex, but you have to stay married to someone who beats you, because women are generally known to whine over nothing. Oh, and no you can’t have sex more than once a week, but yes your husband can rape you because, after all, you are married hopefully to someone of a different sex. Did I mention that statute that allows officers of the law, as well as military personnel to arrest American citizens if they think they are causing trouble? How do you define trouble? Guess you have to ask someone at Homeland Security… they seem to be in charge of everything – man, woman, beast, property, speech, the air, the sea, and probably bunny rabbits eating farmer Jones’s garden. Where did all the freedoms go? Not all the freedoms, in the sense of, you can’t be naked on a beach unless it is designated. But free to make reasonable decisions about your life, your family, and the way you choose to live your life. Yes, I am exaggerating a bit, but what do any of these things have to do with the economy or jobs, the war, or a crisis in leadership? Why do our elected officials want to control our lives, when they do nothing to help us make our lives easier, or more productive. My mother always said, “live and let live.” Clearly no one who is making those ridiculous “alloweds” and “not alloweds” talked to her. Maybe a question better than where did all the freedoms go, is --where is common sense when we need it most? We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Trang Bang: 40 Years Later

It’s difficult to explain to someone who has grown up in the world of digital photography just what it was like being a photo-reporter in the all too recently passed era of film cameras. That there was, necessarily, a moment when your finite roll of film would end at frame 36, and you would have to swap out the shot film for a fresh roll before being able to resume the hunt for a picture. In those ‘in between’ moments, brief as they might be, there was always the possibility of the picture taking place. You would try to anticipate what was happening in front of your eyes, and avoid being out of film at some key intersection of time and place. But sometimes the moment just doesn’t wait. Photojournalism – the pursuit of story telling with a camera, is still a relatively young trade, but there are plenty of stories about those missed pictures. In the summer of 1972, I was a 25-year-old photojournalist working in Vietnam, where I spent two years trying to cover the events of that war. Some stories present themselves in more obvious ways than others, but as the U.S. began winding down direct combat roles and encouraging Vietnamese fighting units to take over the battle, there were moments when trying to tell that story presented enormous challenges. On the morning of June 8th , I headed north out of Saigon with a New York Times reporter, Fox Butterfield. We were going to explore what was happening on Route 1, an hour out of town. We visited a small village that had seen some overnight fighting, but. were told by some locals that a few KMs north, there was a bigger battle going on. In the days before cell phones and text messages, this was the kind of tip you needed to end up in the right place. It was the village of Trang Bang – the kind of small scale battle that occurred all over Vietnam, in too many places, far too often. I waited and watched with a dozen other journalists from a short distance just out of the village, as round after round of small-arm and grenade fire signaled an ongoing firefight. I was changing film in one of my old Leicas, an amazing camera with an infamous reputation for being very difficult to load and as I struggled to align the film sprockets , a pair of Vietnamese Air Force Skyraiders – a WW2 propeller plane - came in low and slow and dropped napalm on what their pilots thought were enemy positions. As the planes made their passes I tried keeping up with them, making a few frames of the bombs just leaving the plane, and the smoke near the Pagoda from the ensuing explosions. Moments later, still struggling to load my camera, I saw in the distance faint visions of people running through the smoke. To my left, AP photographer Nick Ut took off running, heading towards the civilian victims who were running in desperation toward us. In that moment, when Nick’s Leica came up to his eye and he made a picture of the badly burned children, he captured an image that would transcend politics and history and become emblematic of the horrors of war visited on the innocent. When a photograph is just right, it captures all those elements of time and emotion in an indelible way. There is 16mm news footage from that day, but amazingly, the impact of the film is far less dramatic than the photographs . Film and video tend to treat every moment equally, yet those moments are not equal. A true news picture is the distillation of what is happening, the one single moment when, for better or worse, things are explained in both an emotional and visual way. Within minutes the children had been hustled into Nick’s car and were en route to a Saigon hospital. A couple of hours later I found myself at the Associated Press darkroom, waiting to see what my own pictures looked like. (A.P. served as the home away from home for many member newspapers, so when you needed a picture “wired” back to the home office, it was usually on the A.P. lines.). Then, out from the darkroom stepped Nick Ut, holding a still wet, copy of his best picture. In his hands, a small 5x7” print of Kim Phuc, running with her brothers, to escape the fire. We were the first eyes to see that picture; it would be another full day for the rest of the world to see it on virtually every newspaper’s Page One. When I reflect on that day, my clearest memory is the sight, out of the corner of my eye, of Nick and another reporter, upon realizing what had happened, beginning their run down the road towards the onrushing children. It took another 20 or 30 seconds for me to finish loading my stubborn Leica, and I then joined them .. It was real life, unfolding at the pace of life. .My own pictures from that day (one of which ended up being published in LIFE the next week) have lived in my archives for these 40 years like witnesses in waiting, hoping one day to add their version of history. For some years afterwards, I wondered what had happened to all involved. Kim Phuc, the girl in the picture, after many years of painful surgery eventually left Vietnam to study in Cuba, and later, on a stopover in Canada, defected with her husband. They now live near Toronto, where she runs a foundation dedicated to helping children deal with the trauma of war. Nick Ut is still photographing for the A.P. in Los Angeles, creating new pictures every day. I think often of that day, and of the unlikelihood of a picture from such a relatively minor military operation becoming one of the most iconic pictures from the entire war -- or any war. And since that day in Trang Bang, my sense of being “photographer ready” has never been more acute; the instinct has served me well in dozens of stories since. You never really know what is going to happen next. But anticipating what could happen, what might happen, those are the keys to being a great photographer. In March 1979, having just returned days before from covering the Revolution in Iran, I found myself in a key “pool” position at the White House north lawn. It was the official signing of the Camp David Peace Accords, negotiated by President Carter, between Egypt and Israel. It was a historic day, with plenty of TV and photo coverage. I was carrying my own three cameras, plus one each from two other photographers, as I was given a good spot, head-on from which to see the three dignitaries--Carter, Begin and Sadat. Once they walked onto the outdoor stage, I began shooting. I shot madly as they signed the documents and passed the papers among themselves. And then, at the key moment, after they had all put down their pens, they stood up and embraced, hand over hand, all round, with gusts of wind fluttering the three giant flags behind them. As I grabbed for one of my cameras, I realized the roll was completely shot. I grabbed the next camera: same result. And then the third, fourth and last cameras. Panic. I was out of film in all five cameras, and even with motorized loading, was still at least 25 or 30 seconds away from being able to make a picture. I started whispering to myself….”maybe they’ll embrace at the end of the ceremony”…. and … “surely they will stop and wave, arm in arm together,” trying to wishfully convince myself that there might be more opportunities to come. Nope. Nothing of the sort. There were no more historic hand shakes. No more diplomatic embraces. It was over, and I had no pictures of that day which to me, spoke to the event itself. These days having a small screen on a camera will help to let you know if you got “the moment,” or perhaps more importantly, if you missed it. But for those of us who come from the world of film, propelled by that gut check of wonder, the inconclusiveness inherent in shooting – but not seeing the results an instant later – gave us an additional bolt of energy, of determination to do more, and just plain creative worry. Did we have the picture? Or not? Often, when working overseas, it would be days before we had that answer. Being aware is what photography is about. Being able to see that bigger world, and your place in it. Today, 40 years on, if there is one thing which Nick Ut’s picture has taught me, it’s that there is a power, an immediacy, an accessibility in the single photograph which is unlike that of any other medium. And for those of us who walk along the sidewalks of history carrying our cameras for a living, it is comforting to know that even in today’s digitally overloaded world, a single photograph, whether our own or someone else’s, can still tell a story which rises above language, locale and time itself. And today, I try to always have a few frames of film left, and space on my memory card. Always. We’re just sayin’… David. a happier moment, reunited in Washington DC, 2009 cr: Hyungwon Kang

Friday, June 01, 2012

For the Love of India

One of the activities I love most is going to the movies in the afternoon, or even morning. There are always fewer people in the theater and they are usually older than me. Which gives me the chance to participate in another favorite activity – changing seats in the movie theater. On Fridays, Marthena and I used have lunch and to go to a mid day movie. The scenario was always the same. We would sit down, and some “Alta Cockers” (older than dirt), would sit close to us and begin to chat. Even though it was before the movie began, we knew by the level and intensity of conversation, that these people would continue to talk throughout the film. We also knew if they would be quiet, and at some point during the film, shout out, “What did she say? I didn’t hear what she said”, directed at the screen but loud enough to be heard by everyone in that theater, the next theater, and all theaters within a mile or two. We would change seats. Then, even though the theater was empty, someone would come and sit right in front of us. We would change seats. A nanny might show up with a three year old who couldn’t read the theater’s suggestion to be quiet, and even if they could read, they would never be silent for the duration of the film. We would change seats. And of course, there was always someone who brought enough food to last the duration of the movie and they were not quiet or neat eaters. We would change seats. Until at last, we would find the perfect seat, in the perfect location, unencumbered by movie guests who thought that the movies were a participatory activity. But that is not what I wanted to blob about. At some point in my long and somewhat jaded career, I produced the World Premiere of the film “Gandhi”, in New Delhi. This required me to be on location in India for an extended period of time preceding the event. Over the course of four months, I made three trips to that exotic location – the last trip lasting a month. If not the best job I ever had, it was certainly the most colorful. Never mind, it was the best. No one should go to India for less than three weeks, because it takes at least two before you acclimate to the colors, sounds, smells, the pace, the language, the climate, food, and the culture, I should have had a clue when I arrived the first time to find there were four of us who were responsible to produce two press screenings, a series of press meetings, a dinner for Embassy personnel -- British, American, and Indian, logistics for all the VIP’s and celebrities, (it was a fundraising event for UNICEF and the Martin Luther King Foundation), and a variety of tasks I could not complete if this blob lasted for six pages. It was as cumbersome as it was exciting and there was no end to the surprises: Nothing mechanical ever worked, and at that time, there was no “new” technology to break down. (The American Embassy provided electricity for the opening), oh, and everyone in India must be employed – in some job – it’s a law. Keeping that information in mind, people do not mow the perfectly manicured gardens and lawns, they cut the grass by hand. And when something isn’t working, rather than change whatever, it is repaired – even if only temporarily. For example, the cushions on the sofa in my suite (which we used for press events) were so silky that if you sat forward on them, you would eventually find yourself sitting on the floor, with the cushion. Rather than change sofas, everyday the hotel manager would send someone to my room to sew the cushions on to the couch. It never worked, but it did provide work for the seamstress. Then there was the time…. I could write a book (oh, I did). Just adventure after adventure. This is all to say, I finally saw, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” Yes, it was fabulous and yes, it did take me back to my time in India, all the good as well as the bad. There were two things that absolutely helped with the time travel. When one of the actors asks, “What is it about this place that you like?” and another actor talks about the color, sights, and smells. It reminded me of the first time I rode through the streets of Calcutta. You can see the dirt, crowds, life on the streets or the poverty (talk about a homeless problem) --or -- you can see the beauty and just say “If only they would tidy up a bit.” There was one line in the film that pretty much summarized all the things I knew to be true about that amazing place. “Everything will be fine in the end, And if they are not fine, it is not the end.” We’re just sayin’…. Iris