Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Mentors and Editors, and a Word of Thanks

It has been gratifying seeing the acknowledgment of friends and colleagues the past two days, and I add my heartfelt thanks to the many editors, most of whom couldn’t take a picture if their life depended on it, whose forethought and imagination helped craft a whole new generation of photographers.  For the most part their view of photography and photographers went well beyond the mechanics of knowing how and when to press a button.  They were, in many ways, psychologists who had to figure out just the right way to inspire and motivate their photographers.  As someone who started in the late 60s, I would like to mention two editors, very different in their approaches, who held the position of Director of Photography at TIME Magazine from 1970 through the late 80s.  John Durniak  (1970-1979)  came to TIME from Popular Photography, and as  TIME was still the little brother of LIFE, there was often a feeling that TIME was a second class place to be a photographer.  You almost never got the space or attention that LIFE could give a story, yet in the end, you knew that a picture published in TIME would be seen by 25 million people in the course of a week.  I was a young photographer, fresh out of college (I’d had a summer internship at TIME before my senior year) and deciding that Vietnam was still THE biggest story, was preparing to head to Saigon.  John Durniak had been editor for no more than a few months when I went to see him, and ask for, at the very least, an introduction to the Saigon bureau.  In what I now realize was a wonderfully magnanimous gesture, he offered me four day’s guarantee ($500 – which just covered my San Franciso-Saigon airfare) and 200 rolls of film (yes, FILM!) and said, “ I want you do to a story,  call it ‘Children of War.’” 

I asked him, “What kind of story do you want it to be?”  And that’s when he became, in my eyes, a true editor, mentor, guide.

“No,” he said, in his usual forceful manner.  “You tell ME what the story is.  You’re the journalist on the spot.  Remember that your first impressions, the first pictures you take may very well be the most important.”    It was a little capsule of wisdom which I have tried to carry with me on every story.  John encouraged his photographers to surprize him. In fact it was almost obligatory.  The last thing he wanted was something predictable, and just knowing that, knowing you could well be on the receiving end (as I was several times) of a dressing down that usually started with something like “… you were acting like a beginner in journalism!!”  was enough to try and push you into your very own unknown territory.  Both John, and his successor Arnold Drapkin (1979-1988) had the advantage of TIME’s well stocked coffers, but while they had resources, for the most part they didn’t squander them.  If a photographer had an idea, maybe even a crazy-probably-won’t-work idea, they were game if they felt the photographer was invested in the story.  Today’s editors, for the most part, lack the financial resources to let photographers follow their instincts in the same ways.  Stories now tend to be much more contained, with more planning, and less of the “hang around time” budgets that we often were able to work under.  There is no substitute for being able to spend time with a subject.  One might have thought that big budgets and many days to work on a project would take the sweat factor away, but in fact, the longer you worked on a project, the more you felt you had to deliver.  I recently sent Arnold Drapkin a thank you note, because it is only now, 20 and 30 years later, that I can appreciate the real value, to me, of what he and others like him afforded us.  At the time, we all thought that not only making a picture, but seeing it in the magazine the following week was the ultimate pay-off.  The years have shown me, as I am able to look at my 40+ year archive, that the most important thing of all was the confidence of those editors who sent us out to do the work.  To make the work. To produce those pictures.  They exist today, and form a valuable archive about the history of the last third of the 20th century.  Without the vision and energy of people like John Durniak and Arnold Drapkin, thousands of those pictures wouldn’t even exist.  To me, and my photographer contemporaries, living in an age where budgets and resources are a fraction of what they were,  I appreciate every day what I was able to do, and thank sincerely the people whose vision, confidence, and brash chutzpah let us work in a way that is fast disappearing.  We're just sayin'... David

Monday, August 19, 2013

Jack Germond, r.i.p.

“The Boys on the Bus,”  by Timothy Crouse, was a book that everyone, even with the slightest interest in politics, wanted to read because it talked about the political reporters who covered campaigns.  It was written as a piece for “Rolling Stone” in 1972,  back in the days when politics was fun. The article, soon to be a book, explained who these “characters” were and why they were important in the overall picture of election politics.  As a young aspiring political hack, everything in that book fascinated me.  It was a time when there were media buyers, campaign gurus, and advertising people who did strategy and created media campaigns for political aspirants, but politics was not a career. You did not go to school for it.  If you wanted to work in politics you majored in journalism, political science or history.  The only real study you could do was on the road with a campaign.  Politics for the professionals was just something you worked on like any other product.  In a world where the heroes were winning elected officials, the political press was, as they say,  (who ever they are, a breath of not exactly)  fresh air – but they were a colorful lot.  Among the most colorful of the characters on that “Bus”, were Hunter Thompson, Johnny Apple and, Jack Germond – who, just to give you an idea, wrote  his political memoir and called it  “Fat Man in A Middle Seat.”

Jack, at home in West Virginia, and, as he liked to remind you, only minutes from the Track
Jack died on August 14, 2013.  And although he was eighty-five and hadn’t been on that “Bus” for many years, it was a terrible loss for the world of real political journalism (as opposed to bloggers, news readers, and entertainers who call themselves journalists.) 

Campaigns, until the 80’s were such that the political staffers, reporters, the Secret Service, and even the Candidate were not enemies.  They all had a job to do but the relationships were not necessarily adversarial. At night, after a long day of events, everyone went to the bar, talked about that day, and tried to make the next day’s events so enticing that every reporter and photographer would want to cover that campaign.

Although I had worked on the McGovern Campaign in 1972 (in Mass. where we won!), my first full time political job, was the Udall Campaign in 1976. In those days the staff was told to be anonymous – if anyone saw your picture in the paper, you would lose your job.  It was not easy to be anonymous when your success depended on a relationship with the press.  Most of these guys (and there were very few women), were pretty normal for people who were never in the same place for more than a day or two – except Hunter Thompson to whom I once said hello, and he fled as if I had threatened him with a knife. It was about 3am the first time I actually spoke to Jack. It was a long day, I was starving (we were always starving because we didn’t have the money or time to eat). He came over and sat down with me. I was so excited, I was almost afraid to speak. “Hello, Mr Germond,” I said. And he said “I know who you are, you look hungry.” 


“Well,” he said, “I know a place where we can get you something to eat.”

We walked through alleys, up and down staircases, through tunnels and finally, some where in Philadelphia, we reached a place that had hot dogs on the bar.  It wasn’t exactly a bar, nor was it a restaurant, but they were the best hot dogs I have ever tasted, and I was with Jack Germond, who knew my name.  It was wonderful. 

Jack knew a place wherever we traveled, and I was often invited to come along.  I had almost meals, with Jack, Haynes Johnson, Johnny Apple, Bill Boyarsky, a campaign novice named Charlie Gibson and often every writer on the bus.  Jack had rules (called the Germond rules) like--  no matter what you ate, (be it a steak or a hot dog), everyone paid equally – except the invited campaign staff, because we never had any money.  Or, he would tell anyone who asked a question, “I’m not talking til’ I get my martini.”   To tell one or two Jack stories minimalises how great a gentleman he was. 

We spoke often between campaigns. When I was teaching at American University he graciously accepted an invitation to lecture in my classes.  We had an occasional dinner (I never paid, even when I had money), and he taught me to drink martinis.  As a pundit, he was a brilliant strategist – but he knew very few political strategists would listen, let alone take his sage advice.  But Candidates would listen and if Jack criticized what they did, the whole staff heard about it.

How do you say goodbye to someone who had so much impact on your personal and professional life. You don’t. You just drink a martini to his memory and be thankful that  he knew your name. We’re just sayin….Iris

Sunday, August 18, 2013


Sometimes two is not better than none.  This week marked the passing of two dear friends. It’s funny that we call people who we have not seen on a regular basis for many years, dear friends.  But they were always dear to me and it didn’t matter how often we talked or saw one another.  They were in my thoughts on many occasions and I remember them beyond fondly.

Nikki MacNamee was in a women’s group we started when, as newly arrived  young women – some married with children, some married, some single and one, single and pregnant, which was most unusual in the 70’s.  We had moved to or lived in DC, a place where you found an understanding with one another that was comfortable and fun.  It was not like a book club, although reading was something often discussed  in a casual way.  It wasn’t  a therapy session, although sometimes that happened by accident – like when our unmarried friend told us she was pregnant and intended to keep the baby.  The only question was whether or not she told the father.  It was just a group of women who liked one another’s company having a bite, maybe a few drinks, and feeling good about being  together.  The meeting moved from one house to another, whosever was available—and unencumbered by men and children.

Nikki was a star.  She was married to a photojournalist friend. Politics and photographers were mostly what brought us together.  And that gave us opportunity to see one another outside the group –- which was also nice.  Usually we had a bite at whoever’s house and often go someplace for a drink. (those were not days we worried about drinking and driving because we never drank very much and we all lived within a few miles of one another. There was one night when Nikki made a request of a biker bartender that we all laughed so hard we almost fell off our bar stools.  She wanted a Courvoisier and ice. It was hard to imagine that she actually expected them to have it, but it was what she wanted and expected.  The bartender looked at her as if she was speaking some foreign language and said, “we don’t have none of that”, and Nikki persevered.  “Well you must, it’s cognac and you must have cognac”.  It went on for quite sometime, until in frustration she said, “OK we are outta here, and we are not coming back.”  We were still laughing when we left.  Of course we are not coming back, we didn’t know why we were there. 

Nikki was simply a loving, gracious, independent friend, and always up for some kind of adventure. When you are married to a photojournalist, you have to be pretty flexible.  The best part for all of us was that she and her husband adored one another.  It was wonderful to watch and of which to be a part.

The last time I spoke to Nikki was after I learned that she was sick and wasn’t going to get better.  She said she knew I was calling because her illness was fatal, but she was doing ok. Taking pictures,  reading and writing some poetry and having great insightful thoughts.  Regardless of the reason, she was glad to hear from me, thought about us and the good times we had, and she was comfortable about her impending end—although she wasn’t going without a fight.  She didn’t, but this lovely lady lost her fight a few days ago and we are sad,  and grateful for having been in her life. 

The other loss was Jack Germond, premiere political reporter and food maven.  It’s a little to painful to write both of these at one time so there will be a part 2, tomorrow we’re just sayin…Iris

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Ra-dic-u-lous. Just Ra-dic-u-lous

Some things are too ridiculous to even mention.  But not for “We’re just sayin…”  The other day for example, I heard that Larry Summers was going to be the new Chairman of the Fed.  And why not?  He is a genius. He has no interpersonal skills, but that job does not require them.  He was a failure at Harvard…. But that was because he knew everything and no one else new anything.  Not a good idea to let that be known when you are working at one of the great American Universities.  He’s not a likable guy.  He’s not the kind of guy that you want to have a drink with and shoot the shit. Nope not Larry.

The time I spent with him was in the Clinton White House.  There were a number of people who were geniuses (genii?)  , the President was the only one of these smart people who had interpersonal skill, which sometimes he couldn’t control. But that has nothing to do with this blob.   There will no mention of names since most of those people have thankfully, disappeared.  When you had a meeting with Larry you could be sure of two things.  He wasn’t going to look at you (maybe he was afraid of women), and he wouldn’t be wearing his shoes.

Does it matter if you don’t wear shoes in the White House?  Only as much as it matters if you put your feet up on the table in the Indian Treaty room.  So now when I hear that Larry is going to get appointed to one of the most powerful jobs in the nation, I see him wandering the halls in socks (at least he left his socks on), always making important decisions. Maybe he thinks with this feet and when he wears shoes he feels like he is being strangled.

At 3:30 this morning, I awoke to David watching a Hallmark movie  on Hallmark ON Demand and talking about how bad the movie was.  David never watches Hallmark Channel. Admittedly, I do watch the Hallmark channel and when I do, David says I’m turning into my mother.  Well, what did he expect?   However, I didn’t even know there was a Hallmark on Demand possibility. The movie, (and why I remember this is unexplainable), was called “The Wild Girl”.  It took place about 1930 and was about Apache Indians, a photographer, (who David said didn’t know how to hold a camera), a female anthropologist, two Apache guides (good guys), and a small Apache tribe (bad guys). It would be impossible to tell you more than that because David was doing commentary as if he was the Characters on Mystery Science Theater 3000.  If you don’t remember this show, find it somewhere, it was hilarious.  On a scale of 1 to 10, the whole movie experience would get a 12 in terms of ridiculous.  Not only because the movie was horrible, but the time was either too late or early, and we watched the whole damn thing.

What can I say?  Every once in a while you just remember or experience things that are ridiculous.  And all too often, or perhaps not often enough,  we spend time reflecting on things we love, or hate or the frustrations we encounter in every day life. Recipes, critical reactions to theater, TV, movies, restaurants  or .politics, it is equally important to find reasons to make us laugh.  And that’s our favorite thing to do (other than eat.)  We’re just sayin’… Iris

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Hour of Happy


Where do sink holes come from? Or from where do sink holes come? First you are at a Disney World resort, and then you are up to your pupik (use your imagination) in mud.  Sink holes are one of those things that just happen.... there’s usually no warning and certainly there appears to be no rhyme or reason.  Rhyme or reason is also one of those things that make absolutely no sense.  What does a rhyme, (hole and bowl), have to do with a reason, (unless you can find a reason for a sink hole). This blob is also not making any sense, so let’s move on.

Over the last two days we have experienced the most delightful civilized food experiences.  There are a few restaurants that are pet friendly.  It always becomes a big deal because most of them insist the pets stay outside.  It’s a law that pets, (including gold fish and little turtles) cannot be a part of a food experience, unless they are on the cement.  But what if it’s raining or snowing? Unpleasant at best.  However, there is a terrific cafe on 2nd between 54 and 53, that has incredibly good food.  No, pets are not allowed inside.  But it is attached to a clothing store, where you can bring your pet. No big deal -- unless you are banished to inclement weather.   The service staff (in both the restaurant and the shop) are very cool-- friendly, attractive,(incredibly gorgeous), and patient.  If you are in the cafe, (where the food, both breakfast and lunch, is terrific--especially the tuna salad, about which I am very particular), you are neither rushed or made to feel uncomfortable about taking your time.  It has a European feel, where food and civilized are usually compatible.  You can eat and shop and shop and eat, (my favorite things). While the food is delicious, and reasonably priced, the clothing and jewelry are not outrageously priced, but it has an upscale feel. If you are on the East side, stop by the Martier and have a bite or a buy, you won’t be sorry.
 the bar at Jamies
 the fluke was no 'fluke' and the 
amazing "mashed avocado" underneath -- awesome
 pork chop done to a 'tee'

 the $5 happy hour sangria..

Around the corner, on 53 between 3rd and 2nd, Jamie’s, which has been opened about 2 months.  Between 5 and 8pm, they serve oysters for $1.00 and drinks at happy hour prices.  In addition to a few excellent specials, the menu is diverse and satisfying. A bowl of mussels, fluke instead of flounder, and pork chops cooked to perfection. Yes, we liked it a lot because the food was wonderful, but in addition, the service staff, are nice friendly people, including the chef.  They seem to like the fact that you came to their restaurant to eat.  It is civilized in the best possible way -- pleasant and well worth the cost -- which is not outrageous or pretentious.

It was not my intention to write restaurant reviews -- theater yes, food no, however, every once in a while we find places that are so special, they need to take a prominent place in our worldly and wise, as opposed to our rhyme and reasonable blob.

Our kids were at Disney World, when the sink hole magically appeared. Our niece and nephew by choice,  were in Belfast, where there were riots. They were all thankfully,  OK. Sink holes, and riots are equally confusing.  They often come from no where and have no positive consequences. When we were kids and playing on the sand at the beach,  my mother would ask us if we were digging to China?  We believed if we kept digging we would eventually get to the “Orient.” When we saw movies about earthquakes, where the earth would open, and people would fall in, we thought they would also wind up in China.  Along with the earth opening, there were a great many things happening in China in those days, like children were starving so we had to eat our vegetables. When I went to China I found no people who had fallen through a crack in the world, although some children looked hungry.... Anyway, enough about China.  There are some lovely paces to eat and be entertained within two blocks on the East side of NYC.  We’re just sayin’… Iris

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Top Secret.

Speak only in hushed tones, this is a secret. Maybe even TOP SECRET.  No one must find out. It's a matter of National Security. Well maybe not that National, but please, if you find out, do not tell anyone.  Today the President is meeting with former Negro League baseball players.  Of course they are former, since the League doesn't exist anymore. Maybe that's what the White House doesn't want us to know.  It's like A-Rod. If he doesn't acknowledge his punishment, then it doesn't exist.  The Negro Leagues existed because Black baseball players were not allowed to play in the White Leagues. This is, of course,  just speculation because I can't possibly figure out why the else this event would be Closed Press.  No Coverage.  Maybe it does make sense: wait 60 years to be invited to the White House, and then not let anyone know about it.

Last night, because the White House wouldn't share any information with the press, we watched "42", the Jackie Robinson story. Aside from the fact that it was made like a "Lifetime”  movie, though not quite the quality of a Hallmark presentation, and the audio was awful, the sound mixing was so bad you could barely understand one word that was spoken. But the shameful way in which the Negro League players were treated, was embarrassing - even today.  So really, you would think the White House would celebrate their heroism. Instead of a Closed Press event, they should have had it on the field at Nationals Park, and invited every news outlet in existence.  

Anyway, Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post, Murdoch bought the Wall Street Journal, and the two right wing Koch siblings are toying with buying  the Chicago Tribune and LA Times.  We won't have to worry about any news escaping from the White house or anywhere else.  Bezos says there won't be newspapers in 20 years. It will be interesting to see what he does in the meantime.  He revolutionized shopping and reading, it only makes sense to imagine that he will do the same to the newspaper business. At least there won't be any secrets.

And speaking of secrets.  Nevermind, let's speak of canceling the Olympics and closing all our embassies. During the Carter administration we cancelled the 1980 Moscow Olympics for a political reason (the Rooskies invaded Afghanistan with about the same luck we’re having), and it was the most ridiculous decision he made. Ok, not the most ridiculous, (there were so many), but sports, the arts, and culture in general are areas in which people of all political persuasions (except terrorists, who are known to be philistines but vigilant), are able to find common ground.  To cancel the Olympics because some low level staffer released information to which he never should have been privvy is shortsighted at best. It's apples and pecans. If we beat the shit out of the Russians in Russia, it will be much more poetic.  Making a Luger or Bobsledder wait another four years to go to Pyeongchang seems rather criminally insane.

Closing the Embassies may be a smart move.  Who knows. What those of us who have travelled abroad do know, is that they are hardly helpful or accessible when, as just an American tourist, you may need some help. To the general public, living or vacationing in places where there are consular offices or embassies, it doesn't make any difference. But to the rest of the world, the perception of the US, closing the places where we do international political business, is in itself a victory for the bad guys.  There must be a way to find an answer somewhere between opening the gates and let come what may, and boarding up the windows and sitting in the dark. Who knows: my State Department friends would say "I am of two minds about that". 

Secrets can be fun, like when like in the 50's, you make a game of the information (I've Got a Secret) or when you use them to torture a friend. But for the most part, information sharing is not usually a bad idea.  Which reminds me, I have a secret which could save the environment, open Cuba and defeat any terrorist organization. It is however, much too valuable to share without being compensated. I think I'll just keep it to myself, and Tyrone, my new puppy.
the new Deputy Assistant for National Security: Tyrone

Fuddy Duddies and the Gift of Entitlement

Fuddy duddy  is not ever how I would have thought to describe myself. Buy apparently that has happened, and I am not sure it’s a bad thing.  There was a surprising article in the New York Post (yes, we read the Post,  but that’s been acknowledged in previous blobs), that discussed summer camp pictures. Kids can’t have cell phones at camp but they can post pictures for their parents to see. Parents study these pictures to make sure their kids are having fun.  They look at expressions, body language and God knows what else to determine that camp is “fun for their little darlings.”  And this is merely reflective of an ongoing pervasive entitled attempt to make life easy/fun/without struggle, for this next generation.

The consequences (with some exceptions) can be seen everyday in simple ways. On the subway, no one gets up to give an elderly or infirmed rider a seat. They don’t wait for a subway rider to get off, (I am sometimes guilty but unaware of this), before they push their way on.  Kids would just as soon slam a door in your face, as wait for a minute to hold it open.  Nor will they move to one side of the sidewalk to share space.  Some people would call this just learning good manners, but it goes beyond that. The ability to share, to recognize that hard work, a struggle, not always having a good time, as well as learning to make independent decisions while understanding, that even simple decisions have consequences that may impact on other people, a respecting another individuals space, are elements of character building  (I’ll get back to the exception). 

When we lived in Virginia new parents would block the streets so their kids could play without interruption of cars.  It didn’t matter that there was a park a block away.  They felt they were entitled to do close a public street, so the kids could have fun without the parents being inconvenienced.

The other day I was waiting for a train and a young woman sitting right next to me was listening to music on her cell--without ear phones.  It was loud and horrible music, but she was enjoying it and expecting everyone around her to enjoy it as well.  So I asked her if she had earphones.  She said, “why”?.  I said, “because other people might be distracted by it.”  She got up and moved, but kept on listening.

We are like so many parents.  We never wanted our children to struggle. We always wanted them to be happy.  And we thought that if we gave them excessive help it would make things better.  Probably we were wrong.  They are wonderful talented children, and we are grateful for who they are. ... we did the same as millions of other people -- which does not mean it was the right or wrong path to follow. It just Was....

My lifelong friend Joyce, never made it easy for her kids.  If they wanted something, they had to work for it. There was no coddling. Not that the kids weren’t loved. Nor did she want them to be miserable. But whether it was a TV, a car (or insuring it), or clothing, they bought it themselves. They never knew anything else. Now  they are both adults, with strong character and an understanding of what it means to work hard and find success on one’s own.   They are the exception. As are adults and children whose parents (usually blue collar and lower middle class), never thought about making life “easy” for the next generation.   These folks wanted their kids to be tough and understand how sweet success could be when you earned it.

Listen, sometimes I’m just grumpy about stuff, and unlike my mother, I am not nice to strangers.  Random shootings, defacing property, no clue about how annoying it is to have to listen to another person’s cell conversation, Congressional stupidity, inability to look someone in the eye and have an actual conversation, as opposed to a text or e-mail.....  Those are little things.  But I would like to think that this country is not going down the tubes because us old fuddy duddy duddies didn’t speak up and express our outrage.  We’re just sayin’… Iris