Friday, July 27, 2007

The Boy's All Right

My Better Half has a nicely honed talent as an essayist. I actually think (though I know she strongly disagrees) that I tell better stories in person, you know, gathered around the dimsum table, recounting hilarious tales of woe. But it has been a real pleasure getting to do the final Edit on her blobs for the last 14 months. And yes., today we reached a bit of a milestone. Three Hundred blobs. That’s more blobs than you can put into a free (oops, they cost a quarter now) IKEA shopping bag, more than you can fit into a recycling sack from Trader Joe’s. It doesn’t seem like much perhaps, but I suspect that even my 100 or so (she usually out blobs me about two to one) are equal to all the papers I penned in college, and I daresay, the spirit of Alistair Cooke notwithstanding, these probably make a helluva lot more sense. And while I don’t have the lingering stare of one of my Poli Sci professors, wondering when I WILL turn in that Int’l relations paper on the 1938 Munich accords, the butting heads of NeedToWrite, and procrastinatory desire to put it off, create a chemistry which yields, once something is written, that is worthy of a B+, spiritually. So, once I actually sit down and start writing, the mojo just appears, whether in the form of GoodEarth tea, or something stronger, and the keys start to fly. I love that feeling. I’m having it right now as I write this. I wonder if this is how Samuel Johnson got started. No, wait, he used Compuserve, so I suppose not.

I was thinking the other day about what I would say in my American Express TV commercial. Apparently I haven’t been cast yet, but assuming it happens some day I want to be ready to throw something at them. You know “ my life.. my love, my lust, my sorrow.. my card is American Express…” [DiNiro]. I quite liked the tone of that one. I keep trying to think at my stage in life, what are the things that matter. Family. Friends. Great colleagues who I work with. And that very personal, very particularly satisfying side of me which still, after more than forty years – gives me a charge: making a good picture. Seeing it come together in a viewfinder, and actually getting the image before it compositionally decomposes – now THAT is wonderful. That is Fun.

In summer of 1967, just before my senior year of college, I managed to land an internship at the TIME photo department. Michele Stephenson, who just retired from TIME in April of this year, was a junior researcher, doing the Business section. Not one other person from that summer is still with the magazine, or working in journalism on a regular basis. Well, except me that is. I have been doing this for forty years. I took a picture of John Kennedy in Sept. of 1963, on his trip through Utah, just before he was killed in Dallas. At that time, if I had been meeting someone in the photo biz who, like me now, could say, “I’ve been a photographer for forty years…” he would have been talking about covering the White House of Warren Harding. It makes for a D’oh moment when I ponder this. So quickly, so few generations, and you’re back in the ‘olden days.’ Well, that summer, I had 13 pictures published in TIME, a pretty good feat for a quite immature kid from Salt Lake City. And it more than confirmed for me that, inspite of a Poli Sci degree and having wanted to be involved in the space program as a rocket builder, that my life would somehow be related to photojournalism. I remain largely self taught, though I suppose a few classes here and there wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world. Yet, learning something by doing it badly has its moments as a teaching theory. No one can tell you that you have done something wrong like yourself. I shot, and screwed up, and paid attention. And of course, did I mention it was fun. I clearly recall a fight with Tom (the famous "older brother", 3 years my elder) about – well, I suppose, the meaning of life. He attacked me as being a photo dork, and in retort, I screamed:
“People RESPECT photographers!” Little did I know.

I guess I was only saying what I thought I knew. But after he stopped laughing, he went on to tell me what dorks photographers were, and why would I wanna do THAT? But I stuck to my guns, and kept watching, and trying to learn. One of the pictures I did over that TIME summer was of the Grateful Dead, a band which I’d never heard of at the time (“Hey, Dave, head down to Tomkins Square Park, there is a free concert there..”) who became, well, “The Dead.” I had a pretty cool picture, and in the July 7, 1967 issue about Hippies (“The Philosophy of a Sub Culture”) I finally got published. It was a summer filled with meeting great people (David Gahr, an icon in the pop and folk music photo world, wonderful and talented, and who, most importantly, reminded me that “you should never do a job which doesn’t let you grow as a photographer..”)

The Dead by Me..

It turned out to be a rather eventful summer: the 6 Day war, the Newark & Detroit riots, anti-war demonstrations gripping the country, President Johnson embroiled in a mess not dissimiliar from today’s Iraq. Part of that summer I spent in Washington DC, living with a couple of friends from Salt Lake at an old brownstone apartment on 22nd and N streets (now a trendy Condo building.) Washington was still a small town, stiflingly hot in summer, full of the kind of one-horse-town business folks that made it a different kind of place. I was 20, and too young, in theory, to get a drink. Wally Bennett, the TIME staffer who took me under his wing, spent his lunch hours in the 60’s tradition – sipping martinis at Duke Ziebert’s across the street from the office. I still don’t see how the martini lunch ever took off. One whiff of vodka at noon, and I’m out cold. At five in the afternoon, it’s a different story, but noon? How the hell did they do it?

Now, forty years later, I could have a martini at lunch if I chose to, but I’d rather just have a bento box of sushi or some udon noodles. The world is so much less insular now. Whatever you do for work, when it’s time for a bite, you have the whole world palate at your command. Sushi, shashlik, and that invention of the upper West side: the Salad Bar! I learned to use chopsticks when I was 24, in Saigon, and struggling not to starve at group meals. Jordan learned to use chopsticks when she was 3. I had my first raw fish in Asia, as a grown up. Today’s kids have no idea of the world of wonders they inhabit. And however screwed up things might be, I’d rather live in a world of sushi, shaslik, and salad bars, than without them.

This week, I was able to give myself a little birthday present for my 40th Anniversary of being a working stiff. This week’s TIME has a cover story on the state of Boys. Is there a Boys crisis? Does the addiction to Gameboy and Play station give us boys who no longer know how to play baseball without an adult standing around with a clipboard? I’m not sure there is an absolute answer, but David Van Drehle did a wonderful essay on the question, and I was the lucky working stiff sent to Falling Creek Camp, in North Carolina, to spend 4 days with a bunch of 8-16 year old campers, in a place devoid of TV, iPods, and cell phones, but rich in salamander filled streams, muddy bike paths, and a great swimming hole. In what we sometimes call “unashamed self promotion”, I invite you to read the piece (Here is the ONLINE Gallery) and have a look at the online photo gallery. Who, besides me, wants to go spend a couple of weeks at Camp?! The great thing about a weekly magazine is that it’s actually on newsstands for a whole week (hey, do the math!) Next time you walk by at an airport or shopping mall, give the magazine a look. I’ll be waving back at you! We’re just sayin…David


Anonymous said...

Walt says:

Hey, why do you think I've been shooting for Boys' Life for the past 18 years!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


David, excellent blob. You got me to laugh out loud three times, and to wonder if I ever finished a particular History paper from my time in the Maxwell School (Go Orange). One of those recurring nightmares of missing something in college or high school that I now need to go back and finish. HA!


You haven't eaten till you've had Harry's mashed potatoes, or a lunch at Baugher's.

Anonymous said...

Cool read..Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

And a cool gallery to boot! I can never imagine you losing the magic..

Anonymous said...