Thursday, October 30, 2008

Casting My Lot

I had a series of quite dedicated history and social studies teachers in junior high, and high school. Most of them had actually done something in their lives before they became teachers (which doesn’t imply that teachers, teaching, aren’t doing anything.) Mr. Tolman had flown B-25’s over Europe as a young man, and contrary to a lot of the vets who would tell you what great pilots they were, he uniformly recounted to us, in a lecture he affectionately called “...And There I Was...” how most of his bombs ended up in cow pastures. But as the crucible of war is seldom one-sided, whatever toughness he might have imparted to his students, and he was a stickler for making us do things right, and on time, it was often coated with a just below the surface air of encouraging friendship. I think he wanted to be thought of as a tough guy. It certainly got his homework done on time. Mr. Barton, the math whiz who was my home-room Calculus class teacher, had been a helicopter pilot in Korea. Flying those glass-bubble choppers to MASH units, with all their quirkiness, had taught him that little movements can cause big results. And he reminded us that in Life, as in flighty little dangerous helicopters, it’s good to be gentle on the pedals. I don’t remember all that much about Jesse O. Carter (History) -- the first Southern accent I ever heard – or Horace Bigler (Revolutionary History) – born in northern Utah in 1901, and yet who owned a knowledge of early American history that was unrivaled, and an enthusiasm for it, unbridled. But I suspect there was something in their backgrounds which created an oblique line between high school and teaching, some element of life in the 30s, 40s or early 50s, which might have given them just the kick they needed to end up in suits and ties, teaching thankless 8th graders.

In a certain way, I think they had lived some of that history, and weren’t merely ciphers completing their own education to then turn around and teach others. They were involved, and whether it was a mission to contain the Nazis, or a Mission from the LDS church, to try and spread the Gospel, they were fully committed to living their lives by doing, and not just 2nd hand recounting. In the fifties it was still well within reason to imagine a married teacher, single-income family, easily raising a family without any sense of deprivation. Today, it seems to be a struggle, in the world of ever increasing prices, to do so.

My earliest memories of politics and things Presidential go back to the political conventions of 1956. I was ten. I have, really, very few memories other than some distant moment where the topic of the Eisenhower-Stevenson election came up, and I heard, in one of the few divergences of opinion that I remember, that my dad was voting for Ike, and my mom for Adlai. Even then it struck me as slightly odd that my folks, who saw so many things in similar ways, would part company on that big a choice. In 1960 I remember the distant droning of Convention, with the nominations of Nixon and JFK and a single moment in my Sunday school class when Toni Hahn, now Asst. Dean at the Yale Law School, commented that in visits to Salt Lake by the candidates that year, that Kennedy received a “we wish you well” from the LDS Church leadership, while Nixon garnered a “we hope you win.” By 1964, when I was already a budding photographer, I tried to get to the Cow Palace in San Francisco for the Republican convention, the Goldwater Convention. Didn’t make it. And by 1968, having just begun my career in earnest, I started what would be a four decade string of absentee voting. In most cases the reason I couldn’t vote at my home precinct was that I was running around with one or another candidate. Carter, Carter, Bush, Clinton, Gore, Kerry. (In 1984, having determined I wasn’t needed in the voting process, I went to Ethiopia to photograph the drought and famine, a process far more moving and compelling.) There is a French chronicler of American elections who thinks, in fact, that there is a rule: anyone I spend a lot of time with on the campaign is surely NOT going to emerge victorious. More than half the time that has proven correct, yet I try and imagine that such calculations, like the ongoing compulsion to monitor state by state polling, are basically worthless, and that in the end, the electorate, as large and amorphous as it may be, has its own way of working out the decision.

Today, I again did my part to try and move the process forward. I have been photographing the main candidates for this race for nearly two years: Obama, McCain, Clinton, and the others, have all fallen victim to my lens. I have chased them in snow, tropical heat, crack of dawn, sunset, and beyond. And now we are down to just the two of them. I spent time with both candidates in the last two weeks, and, as always, even when I don’t think I’ll see that ‘magic’, felt that rush of energy and excitement which accompanies those long days on the road. The process, like much else in our society, has become far too influenced by money, at the expense of courtesy, thoughtfulness, and sober analysis. Cable TV and the bloggers force a situation where every moment becomes self-important, every potential screw-up, a “gotcha” that will lead the next news cycle. Little is left for pondering instead of pandering. So we arrive at a place where the final week sees a real-life version of Celebrity Death Match, the MTV claymation wrestling match of 10 years ago. May we only get through the next few days.

But this afternoon, aware that for one more time I will actually be with a candidate on Election day, I trooped over the Arlington Court House where an amazing scene was unfolding. By the hundreds, lines of locals were patiently waiting to cast their votes this year.

While we all may want this incessant process to finally come to an end, it seems no one wants that to happen without being a part of it. I waited a full hour to vote. Half way through I began to have the involuntary fidgeting journalists get when they can’t get right TO a place. No, I had to wait like everyone else, and finally I came face to face with the electronic voting machine. Unlike much of the rest of our lives, there was an abundance of courtesy – saving a spot for those who had to re-feed a parking meter or hit the ladies room.

It was as if we were all silently bathing in the joy of thinking that for once, our voice really might matter. And almost as if characters had stepped out of Mr. Bigler’s History class, there they were: in front of me a man named Ahmed from somewhere in the Middle East. Just behind me, a Russian couple who kibbitzed in gravity-laced Slavic accents as they read through the proposed county Bond issues. It was clearly their first time at this. And in the final room, the head of the snaking line, no chads.

Just touch the names on the video screen, and a hope that it actually records your vote the way you directed it. In the early sixties when the League of Women Voters were a constant presence in our house (my mom was two term state President), the phrase you always heard around election time was “See You at the Polls!”, said with a wink.

It was a kind of general affirmation that we should all take part in this most democratic of processes. Today, looking at the streaming lines at the court house, I was happy to see everyone else had winked back. We’re just sayin...David

As always, click on a picture to see full size

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Talk About Diversity

One of the joys of the New York subway system is not the fact that there is a train about every five minutes to take you wherever you want to go – when they are working – which, most of the time, they are. Well, if that remarkable fact is not one of the joys, you might ask, then what is? The subway entertainers.

Yes, well under the ground at all hours, there are singers, musicians, and bands of performing artists, who either remain in one spot at a subway station, or they jump on and off the trains – holding the passengers virtually hostage – while they entertain and asked for money. Mostly, and surprisingly, they are pretty talented. You may not care for their music or style, but they are usually pretty practiced at what they do.

When you ride the subway with great frequency, you get to know the performers and often develop favorites. Among my favorites are the Chinese musician who plays a mouth harp, an elderly Black woman who sings “Amazing Grace”, a hip hop artist who uses a tape player as background for a most athletic dance, and a guy who does imitations of the subway sounds – oh and a Mariachi band in costume. My least favorites are the guys with bongos or other kinds of drums. Not because I don’t like acoustic performance but because they are incredibly intrusive in a small space. There are also young aspiring musical theater performing artists who use the money they make to pay for voice lessons, and older ‘used to be’s” who just love performing but can’t get other gigs. The list of who, why, and where, could go on for pages.

Tonight, for the first time ever, there was an ‘artist’, who was so awful that it was actually funny. At first, I thought he was being horrible, intentionally. I mean people were laughing out loud and commenting on the fact that he was so bad you couldn’t even tell what he was singing. But that was not the case. He was perfectly serious about the performance – which we all finally realized was Beatles music. Not only was he off key but he was loud—very loud. And he sang with such assurance. Kind of like a 3 year old who just wants to sing and doesn’t care how it sounds or if he knows the words. It is unusual to bond in the subway because the performer is so terrible that comments seem essential. Short of passing out earplugs, people were pretty united about the awful sound emanating from the 54th street end of the Lexington stop on the E-train.

When I got on the train I was in a particularly good mood—still chuckling about the wannaBeatle. I was on my way to the 5th anniversary celebration of “Wicked”, the long running and all over the country show. You may recall that they didn’t win the Tony Award (Avenue Q took those honors) but it didn’t matter in terms of success. Anyway, this performance was a celebration of the way the show was presented originally. It included songs and scenes that were cut in previews. It was so interesting to see how it started out and how it finished. Let me say, I’m glad I didn’t see the show in previews, but not because there was a shortage of talent. These performers were amazingly talented. Even when the material was only passable, the voices, together and separately, were fabulous.

As I watched what was happening on the grand stage of the Gershwin Theater, I flashed back to the underground tunnel on Lexington Street. At the Gershwin people were paying rapt attention to everything happening on the stage. They wanted to be a part of the success on the stage. The musician trying so hard to compete with the rush hour crowds was more an amusing intrusion than a serious player, but in his own way, he did manage to get people to listen to how awful he was. They had the same goal but were using different tools to achieve it. I must say, I did like both equally in different ways. I guess I just like the idea of being entertained and whether I pay to do it or happen upon it (in the subway or in Times Square), it’s still OK as long as it makes you smile. We’re just sayin...Iris

Monday, October 27, 2008

No One Knows

It’s impossible to figure out what’s going to happen with this election. Sure, I know that Obama has (if the polls and the pundits are right), enough electoral votes to win even without Pennsylvania and Florida. But last night there was an election special where they talked about ‘inadvertent voter fraud.’ What does that mean. Well, for example, if you are voting on a machine and you touch the ballot a little too close to the line, it votes for McCain instead of Obama. I don’t know why it doesn’t vote for Obama instead of McCain if you touch too close to that line, but it just doesn’t happen. In addition you hear a great deal about how the machines are ‘fixed’ and there’s no paper trail back-up to check. In my mind, that means anything can happen and the winner is the winner, regardless.

In 2000 when Al Gore won the election but George Bush went to the White House, there was no recourse. And I remember too well, the Gore friends and family Christmas party after this devastating loss, when people were still walking around talking about how they won. “No”, I kept saying, “We may have had the most votes, but the winner is the one that gets to live in the White House, has Secret Service, and gets to help their friends get rich.” Why is it Democrats don’t get rich when their friends are in power –except Terry McAuliffe, who seems to be getting richer and richer.

Let’s spend a minute or two on getting rich. Yesterday when I was coming up in the elevator at my apartment, there was a young woman, on her cell, talking to what seemed to be a friend. She was telling whoever was on the phone, that she had lost her job in the brokerage house, had no savings, was totally broke and she didn’t want to have to move back in with her parents but she couldn’t afford her monthly nut and she didn’t know what she was going to do. I imagine she is not the only NY stock market-related person suffering the same consequences of the financial crisis. I also imagine there are going to be millions of people who are going to lose their jobs, then their homes, and eventually any life they were living. Maybe the younger people can move home. Maybe they will have a place to live until the market turns around or the economy gets better, but what if their parents lose their home, too? What if the people who are affected by what’s happening, aren’t young and resilient. And what if they are us?

The other day I was quite moved by an episode of “The Golden Girls”. If you’ve never seen this television treasure—it’s worth finding and watching. I think it’s on Lifetime Television. Anyway, the main characters -- 3 women in their 50’s or 60’s sharing a big Florida house – and one of their mother who might be 70 or 80 -- it’s never clear. They are all either divorced or widowed. In the episode I was watching, one of the women loses her dead husband’s pension and had to find a job in order to continue living the life to which she has become accustomed. She searches for a job but suffers age discrimination, and can't find anything. At some point she talks about a homeless woman who she passes everyday and to whom she never paid attention. But then, when she looked at the reality of her situation and she looked into the woman's eyes, she realized that she could be that woman. It reminded me of a woman (I thought she was older but who knows), I bumped into around 48th street a few months ago. I said, “excuse me” and she said, “it's alright at least I was not invisible to you.” Her conversation didn't end there. She followed after me and continued to talk about how her husband died, she had cancer and had no income just expenses, she couldn't find a job, she had no kids, she lost her apartment, and she was living on the streets just waiting to die. She went to soup kitchens and shelters. It was dangerous on the streets but she didn't expect to live for long and she thought she could die in a hospital if she was really sick. She asked me if I could spare a dollar. I gave her five and still felt like crap. It was a real “there, but for God, go I” moment because the truth is, you just never know.

As you know, I'm pretty good humored most of the time but every once in a while something happens that makes me think and still I can't find funny. It's how I feel about this election. SNL is incredibly funny and perceptive about the candidates and the politics. Stewart is good and Colbert is better. But when I look around I can't imagine how any of us are going to fare in this terrible time. I am hopeful that we can turn things around and we will be able to continue to spoil our kids. But when? And how will it happen if there's more of the same? The Republicans need to suffer a catastrophic defeat in order to start from scratch and find important issues rather than those revolving around our bedrooms. The Democrats need to be careful and courageous. We absolutely need change, but no one knows what it will be. We're just sayin....Iris

Sunday, October 26, 2008

And the Strawberries? Finally...

We know that life is essentially a series of loops, and if you stand in one place long enough,  life will eventually swing back around and tap you on the head, as if to remind you of the continuum.  Certainly it holds true in fashion: all those cruddy double knit leisure suits of the 1970s will come back into vogue in some scary time in the future. In politics we know it occurs too, and today, in the middle of a John McCain event in Florida, I was suddenly awash in memories from thirty four years ago. 
Shortly after the death of French President Georges Pompidou in the spring of 1974, the French, in a move atypical of much of their society, held a disciplined and hurried up election to determine his successor.  And while the campaign would be marked with ‘conversation’ (say it with a French accent) there would nonetheless be quite strict time limits on the duration of both the first and second rounds. (Typically, with many candidates running in the first round, no one would win a majority. The two top finishers move to the second round, and the winner of that head-to-head would be the new leader.)  Each round would last two weeks, with a wonderfully Gallic touch: the Saturday before each of the electoral rounds was to be a day of reflection. No candidate could campaign or participate in any kind of public meeting, speech, or rally.  A day of repose, not to be sullied with actual politics. What it led to, happily, was a world-class Lunch, full of rich journalistic humor, and great wine. I was fairly clueless about the fabulous side of truly French food and wine, and those Saturday's were real seminars in what to order, and how to consume it. Clermont Ferrand, the city closest to the country village home of then Finance Minister Valery Giscard d'Estaing was in the central part of the country, and profited from a vast array of wonderful goods to prepare great meals. Of course you had to know what to do with them, but I can assure that in the 70s, then as now, the Hotel-Radio restaurant was the kind of place which was well worth a detour. Through Gamma, the French photo agency I was working with, I managed to secure a position as the semi-official photographer for Giscard's campaign. I was paid a minimal fee (or rather Gamma was) but the important thing was that I was given the opportunity to get close to the candidate, even to the point of travelling on his charter jet. It set a standard for covering campaigns which is seldom matched today. And those Saturday lunches were something to behold. I remember being advised by Paris Match photographer Jean-Claude Sauer, to pay attention to the wine. We were served a 1966 Haut Brion.. and ever since then, I have tried with little success to bring more Haut Brion into my life. And as with most things, it would have been Genius to have spent a couple of hundred bucks for a case or two, and put it away for twenty years. But let's face it, most of us only see decades later the intelligence of such investments. Sauer, always nattily dressed and fresh from some US Magazine type of weekend (“I was hunting grouse with the King of Spain...”) knew not only a good picture, but in getting that picture, he embodied the real soul and essence of a Frenchman as opposed to his more Anglo-like American counter parts (i.e. Me.)

Giscard being pursued by cameraman Raymond Depardon, 1974
Once, in a conversation with Francois Lochon, a photographer who started in the archive filing area of Gamma, rose to photographer, and later to partner in the company, tried to explain the difference between a French news photographer and a Yank. “Zee American guy, he measures ze light, carefully sets the exposure on his camera, aims with great precision, and takes his picture at ze perfect moment. His picture is well exposed, perfectly sharp, and yet lacks any soul or feeling. Zee French guy holds his camera up, not so steady, unsure of his exposure.. and when he snaps it, is usually sous-ex, flou, et bougĂ©...[under-exposed, blurry, and out of focus..] . but he shoots at ZEE moment.. “ There is a great deal of truth here. Sometimes it is the technically flawed image, full of emotion and raw visual power, which brings a feeling home to the viewer in a way that a perfectly exposed, well focused image of a lesser moment might not.
So I was one who sought those pictures of the moment, even if it didn't always succeed. I kept trying to be open minded enough to learn the Gallic ways. And the French photographers I was working with could not have been any greater friends. Sauer, with whom I often travelled (Paris-Match was THE picture magazine, and seen as a key outlet for any politico), was often relegated to the same 'kiddie's table I was at the pre-rally dinners. We would arrive at a beautiful home in Strasbourg, Lille, or Dijon, the personal palace of a local dignitary whose position in the party made him the honored host. More than once the lady of the house would invite us to dine on “just a little something which we would like to offer you”... a buffet of untold beauty and taste. Being a spring election, many of the dinners were finished with plates of locally grown strawberries, bathed in some perfectly matched wine or zabalione sauce. Inevitably, Giscard and the other VIP's were served first. It usually took a few minutes before the waiters could find their way to the table of lesser dignitaries at which Sauer and I always sat. And by the time the strawberries would arrive, Giscard, having finished his, and being slightly antsy about any tardiness at the rally, would stand up, thank the host, and head for the car. Jean-Claude and I never got to lay a finger on those perfect strawberries. To this day, I can see the plates of red, arriving at my place just as I had to split. Like ships passing in the night, I never got to lay a finger on even a single berry.

Friday, 34 years later, I think I finally made up for it. Travelling with the McCain campaign though central Florida, a stop was made on the “Joe the Plumber” tour, to speak to the owner of Parkesdale Farms in Plant City, a “small business” who was presumably on McCain's side when it came to new tax policy. After we escorted the candidate to a table of businessmen, and performed that supremely ill-named task which describes a quick picture or two (somehow that act has become known as a “pool spray” referring to the a) small group of photographers, and b)the quick 'spray' like manner they have to work in just a few seconds to come up with a picture.) Once back outside, we lined up to buy the Official Parkesdale Strawberry Short Cake. At least a dozen of us jumped in, a gorgeous pyramid of cake, berries, and fresh whipped cream our reward. The berries were amazing, the cake perfectly saturated with strawberry juice, and the whipped cream, well... good enough to eat. And then some. Moments later, the staff came by with 16 ounce cups of Strawberry shakes.. the perfect chaser for the shortcake. It was a supreme fruit moment, and it slapped my brain around for a minute, until I realized that it was the taste of those berries which reminded me of the calamity of the '74 Election. Many votes then, much cheering, but no strawberries. These tasted about perfect, and all of a sudden the 1974 Strawberries were a thing of the past. Part of my every'couple'of years of dealing with an election here or there. The good news is, we're still in strawberry season, and you can grab a box, pour some cold red wine over them, slice them up, throw on some whipped cream (no, I didn't say Cool Whip) and sit down and watch your favorite political commercials on TV. One of the imperatives, as I have said before, is that we photographers need to actually BE somewhere in order to take a picture of it. We need to see things as they are. And once we've done that, there should be a few minutes alloted to strawberries. Let's be honest. If all the power brokers around he world could partake of those purple and red beauties, well, it can't hurt. We're just sayin'....David

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Horse's Ass?

In the category of what were they thinking, we need to flash back to Sarah Palin’s audition for a future talk show when she appeared on Saturday Night Live. Not that she’s going to be on SNL, but if she’s not the VP then she will have her own television show—whatever else you may think of her qualifications, she was very good on that show. But that’s not the issue here and now. My pal Kat came over tonight and she asked me what I noticed about the Palin appearance. I told her I was only moderately interested in Sarah because I had just talked to my college roommate who happens to be Andy Samberg’s mom and she was quite concerned about Mark Wahlberg’s threats against Andy. Well, Mark came on and made a little bit of an issue about how unhappy he was with Andy’s imitation of him and how he was going to beat the crap out of him. But, someone must have clued him in on how much press he would get from anyone even mentioning him on SNL and he and Andy made-up. Whew! My former roommate can take a breath. It is horrible when a parent thinks their child is in danger and it doesn’t matter whether they are a celebrity or a screw-up—danger is not fun. But back to Sarah, I had honestly seen nothing extraordinary in the backdrop but noticed she had highlighted her hair. “You mean you didn’t see the horse's ass behind her?” Kat said.

“No I didn’t notice any horse’s ass but the candidate” I said. (I know It’s another cheap shot but sometimes I can’t help myself). So we went back and took a look. If you want to follow along here’s the link.

In the background, when Sarah and Alex Baldwin are talking, there is a Lincoln-like figure who is holding on to a horse, or it could even be a llama. At some point the figure leaves the animal with it’s ass prominently displayed and walks away — leaving the horse's ass as the Palin backdrop. Now what kind of message do you think they were sending. Further, do you think Palin was aware of it. Further, do you think it was planned or just a coincidence?

What I really liked about the show was that SNL did not change who they are (their voice) to suck up to a candidate. And she played along. She is their generation and despite her seeming inflexibility about many things, she appeared on a show where she knew they were not supporters and they would not be kind. Pretty amazing for someone who shoots moose from an airplane.

Apparently, her popularity has diminished in the polls. Her popularity has clearly diminished with McCain. The interpersonal connection has gone who knows where. What started out as a team has degenerated into a threesome. It is apparent that Cindy has come between them — literally, she is standing in between them in almost every still you see. It must be impossible for photographers to shoot any kind of an intimate picture when it appears there is no longer any intimacy. But unlike Senator McCain and his lovely spouse, I have to say, I like her a whole lot more now that I know that she really wants to be a talk show host before she grows up. When I watched her during the convention and events that followed, I couldn’t figure out the personal dynamic — but now that I know it’s all about what she wants to do after the campaign, I feel much more relaxed. Which is not to say I am comfortable about the Palin factor in this election, but if they lose I know she has another career path to follow and Willow, Twig and the rest of the trees and bushes won’t starve.

So do you think that subliminal messages are acceptable in politics? Should the McCain campaign now make an issue about the horse’s ass? Should they protest the appearance and cite some kind of fairness doctrine — like if you put a horse's behind, behind us you have to do the same thing with Obama? Or do you, like I, think that John McCain and his cronies hated the fact that Sarah had a good time at the ‘Ticket’s” expense and now, they are just sorry that the horse’s ass appear to be the decision to select a “Wheel of Fortune” contestant instead of someone who could have competed on “The College Bowl”. We’re just sayin...Iris

There Will Be Gnomes

When I met the person who bought my mother’s house, he told me that he had great plans for how it would be decorated. I was not really interested but I listened politely until he told me about the twinkle lights on the trees. I made some excuse and bid him a fond farewell. It’s not that I have anything against twinkle lights—in fact they are among my favorite kind of lights, but for whatever reason, I just didn’t want to hear about twinkle lights or the inevitable possibility of Gnomes -- which I felt assured would be the next decorating revelation. Today was the first time I saw the house since we signed the papers. It was weird to be right there and not be able to go inside—even to go to the bathroom. Maybe everyone who sells their childhood home has the same kind of reaction to this kind of loss, but Jeff and I have been incredibly depressed. It makes no sense since neither of us have spent any real time there in the last ten years, but it has been a very difficult to deal with the fact that it is no longer available to us.

And speaking of Gnomes, Larry Eagleburger, a former Republican Secretary of State (and now a full time overweight blowhard who can’t even remember the name of the Soviet leader -- it was Nikita Khrushchev, who would look cute holding a lantern on any front yard), was pontificating about Obama’s lack of international experience – as opposed to Sarah Palin who can see Russia from the Alaskan Border. (It was a cheap shot but after all, when asked by a third grader what the Vice President’s job—she answered incorrectly. So a cheap shot now and again is perfectly acceptable).

But enough about Sarah and Larry. How about the Three Stooges – Democratic style. Joe Biden predicted an international catastrophe during Obama’s first term. Something that would test him and we all will need to help. What kind of drugs is he taking? Then Kerry makes a joke (not a good one) about adult diapers and the campaign. And Jack Murtha calls his constituents red necks. I won’t even try to tell you what Barney Frank meant when he talked about taxes in a Democratic Administration. Is that Four Stooges? Remember when your mother used to say “If you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all”? Didn’t these guys have mothers? As if Obama didn’t have enough trouble closing the deal—these guys aren’t even trying to help him make a sale.

And speaking of closing the deal, what in the world are the pundits looking for 14 days out. Do they want McCain to throw in the towel? To ask for a job in the Obama Administration? To denounce his military career. The game is not over. People may be voting early, but no one will know the count of those votes until election day. As my old friend Puccini would say, “It’s not over until the fat lady sings.” The polls be damned. No one knows how anyone will vote until they punch the chad, pull the lever, or hit the computer button. No one knows if young people will actually vote or if there is a “Bradley” factor. In other words, things may be looking good for the Democrats but we’ve been there before and managed to blow it. Do you think this is the me who is glass half full? Ordinarily I would agree, but not this time. There is just no telling how people will actually vote despite what say they because there is no predicting human nature (wow that is heavy man – that’s me being a 60’s flower child).

So what’s a Gnome to do? Mostly they stand outside someone’s house. They can hold a lantern but that’s usually a jockey—and we don’t see many of those anymore. Gnomes are usually accompanied by other Gnomes. I’ve never been into friendly looking inanimate objects standing willy-nilly on a lawn, but I guess there must be something to it because people spend anywhere from $10 to hundreds of dollars to have them in their gardens. The most interesting Gnome I have encountered, and OK I haven’t encountered many – is the Bushgnome. I swear, there is a company that makes a Gnome in the image of George Bush. ( They are hand numbered and run about $35.00. My own personal favorite is the Bushgnome holding a flag. I wonder if there are other companies that produce other Gnomes in the news. And I wonder what you have to do to become a Gnome in the news? A Gnome by any name is still an eyesore. OK time to move on.

The election is fast approaching. My childhood home belongs to someone who will cover it with twinkle lights. Sara Palin doesn’t know what a Vice President does. And there are Gnomes that look like George Bush. It’s a list like this that finally takes your mind off the economy. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pay Attention!

As the plane began to taxi, I called Iris’ cell number. I had tried the apartment, no answer, and I figured she must still be in the Sophie-Mobile, cruising New York’s fashionable East side, looking for a parking spot. She picked up on the fourth ring, no doubt contravening the NY ban on hand held cell usage. We bought BlueTooth devices at a streetfair three months ago, (suitably cheated by a gentleman of indeterminate origin who assured us they really WERE Motorola, not just knock-offs packaged in cheap imitation wrappings) but neither of us feels particularly comfy with them, though we’d both like to use them as an example to our mothers that hearing devices hung on your ear are actually socially acceptable. She had that “I’m in the car, what’s doin?” tenor as she affirmed that a parking spot was on her shopping list.

My question was simple: “ What’s the worst thing that can happen to a Press person on the campaign?” Obviously when that THING happens to you, you are immediately aware of it. You feel like a total schmuck. Like a beginner in Journalism, someone who, if the word got out to PHOTO-J classes at the University of Ohio, your next visit there would be one of mocking rather than adoration. [We prefer adoration, just in case that isn’t clear.] She pondered for a second, spying, I’m sure, a possible parking spot 4 lanes of traffic away, the navigation to which would require all her immediate motor skills (and I do mean Motor), and I could sense her level of concentration about my situation was competing with something far more compelling for her. “Well, OK,” I said, deciding that since the high efficiency turbo jets were spooling up, I didn’t have days and days to recount my misfortune. Not that it would engender any immediate sympathy. Iris has been running campaign events for years, and I have always shared her mirthful disdain of those who just cannot seem to cut it. (i.e. today: Me!)

Cutting to the chase: the answer to that question: “Missing the Motorcade.” The mere typing of those letters causes further palpitations to a heart just half an hour ago strained heavily by an unscheduled ½ mile run. I just re-joined the John McCain campaign this morning (it’s Tuesday, exactly two weeks away from the Election) for the next few days trying to capture some of the electricity and energy of his campaign. And there is plenty. But one of the keys to photojournalism is actually SEEING the event happen. Yes, it is much harder for us photographers to phone it in, capture the essence of a rally later at the bar, or find out from colleagues what me missed and roll it into our stories. No, we actually have to witness it. That usually requires being not only in the same state and city as the candidate, but even the same venue, or room. If you are outside and hear the cheering, that is NOT a picture. Well, I guess it could be, but I’m just not sure how. No, we need to be there. Key to that is, I repeat, not missing the motorcade. For those of you who haven’t actually had the pleasure, the motorcade is the string of vehicles starting and ending with police cars, lights flashing in most cases, which then has security vans, the candidate (these days usually in a GMC SUV), and an assortment of 8 and 14 passenger vans which carry the Press Pool (the smaller, always-present group of TV/photo/writers) and a big bus with the rest of the Press. There is an inviolate order in which these vehicles run, so accidents don’t happen. And like most things in a campaign, the characteristics are determined by those at the top, and the attitudes slink downhill to everyone else. If you have a candidate who is a no-messing around kind of person, who likes to leave and arrive right on schedule, then the rest of the motorcade will react in that fashion. (George W Bush is always on time or early, and his motorcades are snappily like that. Bill Clinton wasn’t on time even once in 8 years. He was always distracted by things along the way, and the motorcades reflected that behaviour. The thing is, even if it is running late, when the “Principal” decides to move, everyone else reacts like the business end of a bullwhip.)

Former Navy flier John McCain has a little of that “don’t mess around, let’s get going” attitude. And when he is ready to go, the last thing he wants to do is wait for someone like me, for no matter how extraordinarily talented I may think I am, it isn’t MY motorcade.

So today, when I left the college field house where the rally for McCain had taken place, I did so with deliberate speed, not wanting to be one of those dorks who has to add “I was left behind at a Presidential Rally” to their personal resume. I got outside, having not dawdled [Editor’s Note: I am often accused by my very organized spouse of dawdling, and while I can admit that from time to time I actually do dawdle, today, in all honesty, I was dawdle-free.] only to find no sign of any of the aforementioned Press Vans. Like home burglaries where it is sometimes difficult to see right away what has been taken, judging a sense of negative space can be challenging. It’s not like they moved the Motorcade just to fool me. Sometimes you need to double check which door you entered the event, and go out that one, so you don’t get lost. But today I went out the right door, asking a Uniform Secret Service cop.. “Is the motorcade that way?” She said it was, but then what was her personal investment in making sure I made my way home? Probably not huge. She may have just been trying to be nice. In any case, outside on a gorgeous autumn day in Western Pennsylvania, I looked and looked and looked. No vans, no cops, no SUVs. It reminded me of the time I took Jordan Kai, then 4, to a big box store, just the two of us, to run a few errands for household supplies. She was at that age when she loved to play hide and seek. And she hid in a long row of dresses, so long that she really couldn’t be seen. I started looking for her, unaware of the game at hand. I softly spoke her name, then increasing in volume began running around the giant aisles, trying to find her. She was very good at the game. I was very frightened at the fact that I may have somehow lost my child at the mall. I kept yelling her name. No answer. Again, the sense of negative… the absence of her, was so hard to pin down, yet fright began to envelope my person as if I’d been dipped in a vat of liquid worry. She finally decided she’d had enough, and wandered tearful to the Help desk where they paged me, and moments later we had an emotional reunion. Neither of us has ever forgotten that sinking feeling.

Today, I knew I was in trouble. No van. No SUV. No Jordan Kai. I really was striking out. A young well-barbered Advance kid walked by (they have the clip on “I belong here” buttons, and a radio in his ear), the kind of Advance kid that even though he was of the other party, Iris would have loved. Not only accepting my plight as a challenge, but vowing to make good on delivering me, he flagged a colleague with a car, and in we piled. “How bad do you want me to drive?” the young driver asked. Confident but not cocky. I liked his attitude. “As bad as you feel comfy with, as long as you don’t kill us.” I realized that was a wide open writ, and he jumped at the chance to make it happen. Left turns from right-hand lanes, flashers ablaze, skipping red lights when there was no traffic. This was my kind o’ guy. He should be recruited for The Amazing Race, for he seemed to understand that little tactical advantages can be leveraged into major strategic gain. I’d sent a thumb –twadled email to Kimmie of the campaign saying “(Gulp) I missed the motorcade, making all efforts to arrive before plane leaves…” just so they would know to expect me IF I could get there in time. We arrived at the private terminal within five minutes, and I saw that while the rear stairs door was closed, the front one (the one the Candidate uses) was still open. We scooted through the small lobby and out onto the tarmac where several Secret Service agents, obviously made aware that a desperate photographer was soon to arrive, guided me up the stairs. I’d made it. I survived missing the Motorcade (a Bumper Sticker, anyone?) I walked past the Senator and Cindy, sitting up front, nodded that “Gee, I’m quite appreciative you didn’t get the hell out of Dodge without me” look and made my way to row 14 where I now write, en route to Manchester, New Hampshire.

The thought of having had to recapture the route (I’m sure there are NO direct flights Pitt-Mht) made me ill, and I cannot tell you how good it felt to drop my butt into a nice leather seat, just as the engines were getting revved.

Once, in 1988, on a Reagan trip to Moscow (remember Glasnost?) we’d made a refueling stop in somewhere like Helsinki. Everyone got off that plane for a half hour to stretch their legs. We were warned not to be tardy. After we’d all reboarded, some 200 of us, and the engines started, and doors closed, it became apparent that one amongst us was no longer present. Looking out on the tarmac, on the right side of the plane was a small diminutive figure, arms waving in almost cartoon like desperation. It was a correspondent from one of the Japanese papers, dressed in a dark suit. He must have dawdled in the Men’s room a little too long. Everyone in the plane craned necks out the right side windows, watching to see what would happen. It would take fifteen minutes to shut down engines, bring the stairs back, and open the door. Had it been Sam Donaldson or Johnny Apple, you knew they would have done it. But here was a hapless Japanese correspondent, unknown to virtually everyone on the plane, a man who had yet proved to his boss that he would be worthy of the select job of White House Correspondent. A man of great talent, no doubt. But at that moment, he was just a poor well-dressed slob, a guy who couldn’t cut a break. The trip director said “sorry”… and off the plane went. I have often pondered what the big press plane must have looked like to that poor guy, as he saw his future, his reputation, and possibly his job lumber out to the end of the runway, and then disappear in a dusty roar overhead. I’ll keep wondering just what he felt, I guess, for while I came ---] [--- close to having the same experience, I am actually writing this as the plane is descending into Manchester. Another tiny victory and personal disaster averted. Thanks to the Advance kids Don and didn’tGetHis name. But as we ran towards the plane, I yelled to him “you get extra credit in school today, young man!” And I meant it. We’re just sayin…. David

Thumbs Ahoy

The faster I go, the behinder I get. Two weeks and counting, folks, till the election of 2008. I m doing my quadrennial electoral count down this week: I just came from four days with Senator Obama’s campaign, and today, catch up with Senator McCain for this week. There remain a number of striking points, most, really, beyond the simplicity of a candidate and his message. When you travel with the campaign, you become enveloped in a cocoon of reporters and staff which is quite tightly spun. This close to election day, you start to see the details of a campaign in ways which sometimes are harder to visualize. Most striking to me, still is the ubiquitousness of the thumb-toting Blackberry communicators. It’s as if a simple telephone was something banishable to the Election museum. Every staffer, at every level, has the constant posture of ‘neck-down,hands up’ thumbs swirling through all those messages. It would be really interesting for someone at each level of the campaign … Communications Director (more strategy than tactics), Press Advance (some one who leads the pressies around from plane to bus to press center to bus to plane), and maybe a lowly Advance person who spent three days making a basketball arena look like a venue for a High School prom,… all toil with hands in front, eyes down. As a tip to history, maybe they should leave their Blackberrys, with messages in tact, to the Pew Foundation or the Newseum. Messages in tact, so it's possible to actually read what the hell they were typing all that time. No question that todays staff person spends at least 30 or 40% of their waking hours with their thumbs in action (for THIS we were given opposable thumbs?) making sure they didn’t screw something up. Can it possibly be that there is really so much information to digest?

In the days pre-Blackberry (going back to 2000 and beyond) the arrival of the cell fone did change things radically. It’s hilarious to see movies from the late 80s and early 90s with those giant gray Motorolas, the kind you have to go to the gym to be able to lift to your ear for more than a minute. Today’s tiny objects are more practical, do many more things, but in the end provide almost too much access to communication. I won’t actually call it “information” because there is a quality which “information” has which distinguishes it from mere “communiation.” It has to be about SOMETHING.. and the mere act of talking doesn’t necessarily mean you are above ‘grey noise.’ There is plenty of that. Chatter, chatter, chatter, but nothing of substance. How many times do you need to receive the same email? Or versions of it.

I will admit (and this perhaps makes me an old fart) that I’m not sure I’d really want to know that much, in that kind of detail, about the minutae of a campaign's day. There are clearly key bits of information which in a previous day were covered in a morning phone call (usually from a pay fone), and the person on the spot had the obligation to use their brains to make sure the mission was accomplished. That’s the real issue: autonomy and self-direction. If you were the person on the spot, you needed to just make sure that it was going to get done. No constant barrage of thumbable memos. No over-your-shoulder peeking, to make sure you didn’t screw it up. Just Get Out There and Do It. There is something kind of reassuring about working with people who don’t need constant reminders.

In my world, magazine and press photography, things have also changed though less thumb related. You still need an opposable forefinger (that’s the one right next to the Bird Finger) to fire the shutter. Though, interestingly, even the cameras are less mechanical than they were. Everything is numeric, lcd screens, digitally captured images. It’s just not the same ole same ole. We spend hours uploading those pictures to laptops, editing them, sending the best ones to the home office (usually on a wireless network of some kind) which will then make their way to the pages we love to read. This week’s TIME Magazine actually ran a picture of mine shot in film. You remember film. It’s that filmy stuff that is -- take notes here --light sensitive (Open in Darkroom only). You can recapture those exciting stomach churning moments of wondering if you actually HAVE a picture since there is no immediate confirmation. I had a few minutes to photograph Sheila Bair, Chairwoman of the FDIC – the folks who insure your bank deposits. It was one of those sessions punctuated by constant cell fone barrages. Just as I would get her posed (on a roof top terrace), get focused with my Speed Graphic, and load a single sheet of film, that damn phone would go off. And being the week that the gazillion dollar bank fix up was on the line, she would leave me for a minute to speak to a Senator or somesuch, and I’d have to start all over again when she came back. She was extremely friendly and welcoming, but that cell phone seemed to have a life of its own, and I had to work around it. As always happens, you get about ten minutes less with the subject than you would like. Another ten minutes and you could do a couple of other poses, and feel confident that it would be just what you needed. But those rush jobs are the ones that they call YOU for, in the theory that you can come back with something, even if there is virtually no time to work. A few days before, I’d had exactly four minutes with Sec. Treasury Henry Paulson. Four very amenable, very welcoming and accommodating minutes. But you cannot imagine, how fast four minutes can go when you are trying to get three different ‘looks’ to a set up. It is a challenge. They arrive, you shoot like hell, you forget to do that ‘special’ thing you wanted to try (i.e a Holga, or something neo-Exotic) and then, whoosh, they’re gone, off to save the world, and you are left trying to count how many film holders or digi images you actually got away with. Your stomach is still knotted. You have no idea if you really have something Sharp and Well Exposed. I guess the little screens on our digi cams are the modern equivalent of the Advance person’s Blackberry. Helpful, but a Prison Guard at the same time. You can share in some of the info-bounty, but only on the terms of the device itself.

With Sheila Bair, I did shoot about 8 frames of 4x5, and I’m happy to report that one of them appears in TIME this week. Seeing a full page picture does tend to give the image a little more weight. Film may be ‘out of fashion’ but it remains the era when things which are ‘out of fashion’ will continue to flourish. Sometimes it’s nice to be the old dog with a few old tricks. Now, how do I get these bandaids off my thumbs? I have to go write. We’re just sayin’…. David

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Get Over It

Jesse Jackson says if Barack Obama is elected there will be less of a Zionist agenda. Does that mean all the Jews will disappear? What is wrong with this man? He needs to face the fact that he is not going to be President. He is not going to be a top Obama adviser. And he may never get an invitation to eat in the White House mess yet alone sleep in the Lincoln bedroom. He needs to get over it (put on his big boy pants and go away) and stop trying to sabotage the Obama campaign with racist rhetoric.

Jackson’s behavior is not from today. (If you’re not Jewish this means bad behavior is not new to him.) He has felt entitled to do and say what he wants for a long time. Let me tell you a story about the first time I worked with the good Reverend. It was 1984 and he, along with Gary Hart, Walter Mondale, Fritz Hollings, John Glenn, and on and on, were running for President. My consulting business (three women) were contracted to produce a DNC fly-around fundraiser for the election. We were to take two planes, with four candidates on each plane and fly them to big cities where they would do events to raise money. We were on a pretty tight schedule so after the kick off event in DC were took all the candidates to the airport and boarded two private jets to head into the wild blue yonder. (It being night it was the wild black yonder, but you get the picture.) In 1984 National Airport had noise rules about taking off and landing – you couldn’t do it after 10pm. We arrived for take off at about 10:00. We took the candidates right to the plane—all except Jesse who needed to make a phone call (no cells in ’84). At about 10:20 Jesse was still not on board and I went to find him. He was still on the phone. I excused myself and told him we had a window and I needed him on board. He dismissed me with a wave and a dirty look. And he turned his back on me. I thought he was an inconsiderate jerk but I didn’t want to be ruder than he. At 10:25 I tapped him on the shoulder and told him we were leaving in 4 minutes—with or without him. He told be to go F—k myself. I looked at him and said, “We are leaving now, with or without you. I suggest if you want to play with the big boys you play by the rules.” I left the holding room, boarded the plane, and told the pilot to wheels-up. Mr. Jackson was right on my heels... but he said nothing to me for the next two days. I really think he thought he was ‘Jesse Jackson,’ he had a voice and a constituency-- too important to the Party to leave behind, and I wouldn’t do it. He did not care who he inconvenienced or what was about to be jeopardized – and he clearly had never worked with a woman who refused to be intimated by all of who he thought he was.

That being said, I don’t know what debate all the people who think John McCain won were watching. It was not the same one I saw. Yes, he admittedly had some good moments—which he immediately stepped on with a sneer, or eye rolling, or the repetition of something that had already been said. The split screen killed him. Putting on my speech teacher hat once again, (it’s a really cute hat with flowers and flourishes), you cannot judge a victory by words alone. You have to look at the whole picture, including the body language -- like the facial expressions. And if you want to look at the words, when did it become a crime to be eloquent? I didn’t think that Obama was that eloquent last night, he was just measured. He answered all the McCain questions with what McCain would call “straight talk”. Agree or disagree with him, he was neither confrontational nor was he dismissive. He was elegant rather than eloquent. He looked like we want a President to look rather than the angry whining curmudgeon McCain appeared to be. I don’t pay any attention to polls but I thought the most interesting aspect of the chats with independent voters were that so many of them decided to vote with Obama because of the Palin decision. I guess women are not as easily manipulated as the McCain advisers thought they would be. They still don’t get it. We don’t want some old white guy making personal decisions about choices in our lives. We don’t care about whether or not Obama raises his own money or takes government funding. In fact, we like the fact that he’s not spending oodles of our money – money for health care and education. The McCain campaign has to do some pretty fancy footwork to get to a place where he will be a contender. Maybe he should take a whole different tact. like just telling the truth and taking responsibility for the decisions he’s made. Because if the McCain we saw last night is the truth -- he will thankfully not have an opportunity to give us more of the same. We’re just sayin...Iris

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hardwood Floor

Jeffrey stood in the closet and looked up. “You know there are hard wood floors throughout the house. Why did she carpet over them?” I couldn’t imagine but I took a guess. “Maybe because she thought it would hurt dad less if he fell? Or maybe because that was an indication that you had a little money. Kind of like putting clear plastic slip covers on the good furniture – which my first mother in law did.”

We decided to go have some lunch instead of sitting in the empty house where we had nothing to sit on. When we got back Jeff decided to clean out the van, and as he was working Gary Hurwitz stopped by. Gary lives in Philadelphia. He and his wife had come back to Boonton for his high school reunion. We chatted for a while and as we were talking the mail person stopped by to deliver a letter – it was for the new owner. “Wow”, we said. This is really happening. The Post person grew up with Jeff and although it took a few minutes for him to recognize her, once he did they had a nice reunion. Boonton is the kind of place where everyone knows everyone so there is always another memory to be tossed about.

Another of Jeff’s friends arrived later in the day to bring a set of dishes and pick up two motors that had made the trip across the country with Jeff. Then Howard flew in to make the drive back across the country with Jeff. We packed the rest of the dishes and Jeff finished cleaning out the van and was ready to start packing it with all the stuff Els and I had organized last week. “It’s hard to leave.” He said. Yes it is, I thought. But I don’t know why. Mom hasn’t even lived in the house for a few years. In fact, once she moved to Victoria Mews, (the assisted living facility), she decided that she didn’t even want to go back to the house to visit. But I guess it’s different when you grow up in a place and you feel like it’s always going to be there. “I’m still going to park the car here instead of in the city. And I’m going to come back for Christmas. And we’re still going to go to the Res. Besides, We’re always going to be here in spirit”.

I reminded him that I had taped the picture of all of us in a place no new owners would ever find. “It’s still hard”, he said. “This is where I had my first set of swings”. Actually they were mine but I wasn’t going to get technical. “And when I ran away from school in first grade, this is where I came. This is also where Dad died and where we had the services everyday. And where Mom cooked all those fried things – which was not what killed Dad,” he reminded me. “When Els and I got married we lived here. And you and David got married here.” I hadn’t forgotten that or the fact that this was also where all our friends came for parties—sometimes unbeknownst to my parents. “Some of them didn’t leave” My friend Joyce and his pal John lived here when they were having problems with their own parents.

“We are probably no different than anyone who sells their childhood home after 57 years.” I said. “Probably not” he agreed. “So why is it so hard?” Maybe because it’s part of facing our own mortality. Maybe it’s because any kind of momentous passage is always hard. The why doesn’t matter—some things just aren’t easy.

“Should we write a letter to the new owners?’ he asked me. “OK, what do you want to say?”
“Dear New Owners, this was an amazing place to grow up. We had many years of happy times and made some wonderful memories.” And they would care Why, I thought? “Sure we can do that if you want to.” I said. But then we remembered that we didn’t have a pen or any paper.

Jeff took a picture of the clock on the oven. It said 11:38. He had to actually set the hands because for the last year the clock has said 9:10, but he wanted to have a record of the last moment the house was really still ours. Now it’s 11:45, it’s not ours anymore, what a difference a minute makes. We’re just sayin...Iris

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Memorial Memory

This time of year brings with it not only politics, changing leaves, and a need for sweaters, but something which Jews of the world have for, literally, centuries abided by: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Its the one day of the year when you seek to right yourself with God, and try to atone for all the things you have done in the past year which, essentially, you know were wrong. But did anyway. It is a very moving couple of days, and you really force yourself to think about the things that are important. It’s less about what you did right in the last year than the things which you fell short of. Those are the ones which, push come to shove, you know you might have done differently, or handled another way. And in the wonderful spirit of the season, you are aware that while God will perhaps forgive you for the transgressions you might have committed against him, you are still liable for those that were committed against friends, family, strangers, business acquaintances, garage attendants. The point is, while you may make amends for the ‘big picture’ contraventions with Him, you still have to address with those you know, the things you might have done against them.

More than twenty years ago I became outraged when a local D.C. photographer, charged with running the Flying Short Course (the annual press photographers’ traveling seminar) went out of his way to send a very public note to the national headquarters that while there had been good paid attendance at the event, that one David Burnett had gotten in free, and hadn’t bothered to pay. I was incensed, for several reasons. One, he never bothered to pick the phone up and ask me to pay after the fact (I’d meant to, actually but the “payment desk” had closed by the time I arrived), or at least send me a letter first and give me a chance to respond. No, he just put it out there, as if “outting” me made him some kind of special guy. For the last twenty five years, I have basically shunned this guy. Not even a Hello. Nothing. As someone who has many acquaintances, and some number of friends, I find myself surprisingly undemanding about my friends. That is, I try and accept them for who they are, and short of a major character fault aimed my way, I just take them for who they are, not making excuses for them. My friends have all the faults that most people do, and maybe more. But I accept that. In this case, I took such personal umbrage that the anger has lasted for decades. And to what end? It’s not like I would ever be buddy-buddy with this guy, or that I regret not seeing him regularly to watch football. No, there were really no obvious ties except, perhaps, the fact that he was the one guy in Photography who I detested.

In the end, in a moment of clarity today, I just decided that enough was enough. He may not even know that I was so unfond of him. It’s possible. I’m sure he hasn’t lost any sleep over the fact that I’m not in touch with him. But then what has this brought to me? In the end, nothing. Nothing but a small amount of formerly seething rage. I suppose the half-life of rage is something that depends greatly on circumstance. However I have to say that I don’t really find anything wonderful or positive about holding the grudge against this guy. So, tomorrow, I will call him up, and try and explain my feelings of the last twenty years, and see if I can just set it straight. It may not mean much to him, but I think it will ease the burden on my soul by just the tiniest fraction.

At the Yikzor, or Memorial service this afternoon, there was another moment which, to contrary, shot right through me. It is a very touching moment for all present. You remember those who have passed away, and each person has their own story to tell. In fact as they recited the people and their relationships (Who has lost a father or mother; who has lost a friend, who stands for someone they didn’t even know... etc.) you realize that each person is bringing their own lifetime history of family and friends, in the most personal way possible. When the reader started the service, he began to quote from a service held, he said, 35 years ago, to the day. It was the Memorial Service for the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Neruda died on September 23 of 1973, just weeks after a bloody coup d’etat in which Salvador Allende, the Socialist elected President of Chile, was killed. In the days following the coup, many hundreds more would disappear or be taken prisoner. I was a 26 year old photographer, who left New York for Santiago the night the news of the coup was received. Like all the other journalists forbidden entry to Chile that day, we waited in Buenos Aires for a week before we arranged a charter flight, the first press people to enter the country. I stayed for several weeks, was arrested a few times, and made some pictures which would become very well known, telling the story of the coup around the world. One of the more symbolic moments was following the death of Neruda, who had been hospitalized for leukemia.

His funeral, a long cortege traipsing slowly through Santiago for hours, became the final public moment for the Left in Chile. The presence of the international press corps kept the military junta from doing anything to disrupt the funeral, and in the end, it was an extremely solemn event. As the family and well wishers gathered at the cemetary, and brought the body into the mausoleum, hundreds of people packed together, tears were prevalent. I could barely see to focus my camera. Today, when the reader spoke of the memorial service, which took place a few days after the funeral, it took me back to that moment, and in an extremely personal way, it was as if I had just had a distant bookmark placed on my life.

Thirty five years ago, walking with the funeral cortege, my Leica bouncing on my chest, my Nikons on my shoulders. Walking for miles, past hundreds of Chilenos who stood and paid their respects. It all seems like only yesterday. Somehow, that number, 35, seems wholly unreal to me. That’s the kind of number that adults throw around, not kids like me. No, it must be a mistake.

Yet, when I do the math, it’s clear. I think I am finally beginning to understand what my parents and grandparents felt as they grew older, that sense of swiftness and rapidity that life hands us. We don’t really get to sit in the driver’s seat and decide how much gas to give the engine of life. It cooks along at the pace it wants, and we have to catch up. That’s why, I suppose, that there is something really worth taking away from those days when you have a realization: that some grudges and downers are just not worth holding on to. And you only realize the power of that forgiveness once you accept it.

The most amazing moment of all, as I sat with tears in my own eyes, was when I realized that for centuries, people have understood this. And yet it’s for each of us to discover on his or her own. There is no way you can be forced to do it. It’s simply something which, at the right time, you understand, and then you sit back in the pew, feeling the hard wood under your bottom, wood that doesn’t give an inch, and you say “gee, why didn’t I think of that sooner?” We’re just sayin.... David

as always, click on a photograph to see it full size

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


Last night was the second Candidate debate. Palin wanted to substitute for McCain but the people in charge advised her that, despite her bravado, she was not the Candidate and she would simply have to wait and see. I was going to write about the debate and the fact that McCain said “my Friends” anywhere from 19 (the official transcript count) to 21 (the Jordan/Iris count) times. I’m not sure why it so irritates me when he says it. (Putting on my speech teacher’s hat), it’s either the arrogant tone, the assumption that we are more than cordial pals, or the number of times he says it—which makes it less rather than more personal. Or I could talk about what I consider missed opportunities for Obama -- like talking about McCain’s actual record with Veteran votes.

The pundits mostly agree it was a draw and who am I to argue with so many people who know so little, but talk so much. The campaign political strategists think it was a win for their candidate. I think they both missed the point—which was that the economy is in the toilet, people are seriously hurting, pension plans and savings went the way of the wind, the war is usurping much needed capital, and the candidates were trying to explain their health care plans—which no one understands. Not that health care isn’t important, but it has to be explained within the context of everyday financial suffering for “just plain folks”. The public has one question of the candidates. “What will you do to make things better”. OK maybe two questions. “What can I do to make things better?” Neither answered either. (Now putting on my PR Professor hat) Why is what they say important to me? How will it affect my life? If it’s too complicated the public won’t understand nor will I listen. It’s the reason emotional appeals and character attacks (if they are crafted sensibly), work so well. Anyway, no winner, and more importantly for the campaigns, no loser.

On Monday I went to a screening of a new movie about the 1992 Clinton “War Room”, revisited. James Carville, DeeDee Myers, Stan Greenberg, Mark Miller (from Newsweek) Lisa Caputo, and an assortment of government (Cong. Rosa DeLauro) and celebrities were in attendance. George Stuffingonenvelopes, (That’s what the media called him in the White House), Paul Begala , Frank Luntz and Mary Matalin, were absent. It was an interesting film for insiders but I’m not sure who, other than those of us who were involved, would really care. Included in the film is a short clip from my Chicken George campaign. That’s when I sent chickens out to every “Poppy” (as Mary Matalin calls him) event because he refused to debate Clinton. I was reminded that I had many arguments with James and George over the chickens – they hated them, until they worked. None of the people who worked on the Counter Events operation was seen on camera in “The War Room” movie. The chicken made an appearance and you do hear conversations with me on the phone. But we didn’t really want to be identified because we were better off ‘under the radar”. I wonder what people called that before we had radar?

The back story on our small group of vigilantes is almost as interesting as the events we produced. In 1992, there were many people from previous campaigns who wanted to help Clinton. But when they contacted the campaign they were told that it was a new kind of campaign (that meant they were too old) and the best way to help was to give money. Large numbers of these political activists wanted hands on involvement so they turned to us and we found lots of things for them to do other than dress as chickens or other costumed characters. For example, they became part of the “Harry Truman Truth Squad,” or when Hillary would go out and speak and we heard there would be a protest, we contacted a local transportation union and they would surround the site of her event with trucks and buses, thereby preventing the press from seeing the protest. We didn’t discourage the protest (it’s an American right), we just didn’t help the media to see it – unless they went outside the event perimeter, which mostly didn’t happen.

In the Gore and to some degree the Kerry campaign, they made the mistake of not finding ways for concerned but not political people to do more than fundraise. The Obama campaign has learned that you need to provide people with jobs to get them to feel like they are part of the effort. Millions of volunteers, young and old, have a vested interest in the success of that campaign. I’m not sure how the McCain people are “reaching out” as my friend Sid would say, to help increase the circle of voters who have a hands-on commitment to the campaign. But I believe the candidate who has the most effective people-to-people volunteer effort, along with most creative technologies, will be the President at noon, on Jan 20, 2009.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Campaign 101

Tom Shales is absolutely right. Sarah Palin wants to be the President. If you watch her stage dynamic—the way she relates to other people who happen to be on the stage with her (be it family or politicians) it is obvious that it is all about her. Her children, who always look less than happy are backdrops and the baby, who should not have been out at 11pm for a debate) appears to be a prop that they pass from person to person depending on where the cameras happen to be.

When Sarah was selected (not elected), I thought it was a choice made because John McCain had decided he didn’t want to be the President. I was in Denver and soon after the announcement I ran into Pat Buchanan who told me he thought it was brilliant—clearly a Karl Rove decision. “What am I missing?” I thought. “I better find a TV”. Which I did and I listened to laudatory remark after laudatory remark by Republicans and Independent women. She was new, fresh, fun, exciting, a ‘maverick’, blah blah blah. At first I was amazed and then I was frightened. I made some calls to people who actually know high level Republicans and I was curious about their thinking. One trusted source told me that McCain didn’t make the choice. He wanted Lieberman but the Right Wing conservative advisors said nay (I like nay better than no when we’re talking in governmentese). They decided that because McCain’s health wasn’t so good they wanted someone who they could control – just in case he wasn’t around for four years. How’s that for a comforting thought.

Joe Lieberman is not on my list of favorites but at least he can construct an entire sentence. This is not me being a snob or an English teacher, this is me thinking about the way she conducts business with important people from around the world. Our reputation in the rest of the world suffered from the Bush bravado and disinterest in what other leaders thought. It simply isn’t good enough to withstand a Sara Palin ‘maverick’ view of the world—or what she thinks she knows about it.

Sarah is admittedly, a quick study but there’s a lot to learn about governing and if you’ve never worked in national politics or government you are not equipped to hit the ground running—obviously carrying a shotgun. Just FYI, Boonton NJ, where I grew up, was a blue collar community. My friends did not all go to college. They went to war. I worked very hard for many years to understand the complicated nature of the government and how we relate to the rest of the world. The one thing I know is that you cannot operate in a vacuum when making international or domestic policy. Everything is connected. Every decision impacts on another decision – and each has repercussions. Even the one that she made about going to Michigan to campaign.

John McCain, right or wrong decided he wasn’t going to continue operations in Michigan. I’m sure that decision was not made unilaterally or without consultation with many people – including Karl Rove. Yet yesterday Sarah announced that if John McCain wasn’t going to Michigan that was fine but she was still going. The campaign gurus must have been turning over in their cubby’s – see, I didn’t say graves because despite my desires, the campaign isn’t dead. When the senior strategists make a decision, no one but the candidate can says, “I’m doing it anyway”, unless their ego is so enormous or their brain is so shriveled that they don’t care about the consequences. I believe Sarah’s problem is the former, but one thing is clear. If they selected her because she could be controlled, they made the wrong decision. She is out there on her own and she doesn’t care about the rules – even if her own people make them. This stuff is campaign 101 and it’s not ‘old’ think, it’s just a way to make sure everyone is walking in the same direction.

The country is in chaos. The financial markets are in the toilet. Job losses are enormous and the economy—don’t ask. We may never recover from 8 years of George Bush. What we don’t need is a ‘maverick’. We need adults to make reasoned and thoughtful decisions. Sarah needs some adult supervision. She is like a kid who has gotten her first taste of sugar and now she wants to eat everything in the candy store. Some Republican grown-up better think through what a Palin Presidency will mean or, instead of a dream, she could be their worst nightmare. We’re just sayin..... Iris

Sunday, October 05, 2008

It's All Precious

When I was cleaning out my Mothers house I had to sift through many items and decide what I wanted to keep and what I though should be tossed. The whole process of looking at your past through a variety of items makes you think about the things that are precious to you. And it doesn’t start and stop with possessions. For example, while jewelry may be expensive it’s not necessarily precious. I should say here that many people have asked if I found any treasures when I was going through the stuff—those people clearly didn’t know my mother. She had no treasures – she had a great deal of “dreck” (that’s Yiddish for crap). This does not mean that I didn’t find precious items – but not in the traditional sense.

Mom decided to go back to work in about 1960, and her choice of profession was in the area of self-improvement. She got a license to be a beautician and converted the basement into a beauty salon. She worked hard to develop a clientele but her marketing skills were not developed so her customers were mostly family and friends. It was wonderful to have a real beauty parlor sink and hair dryer at my disposal and on more than one occasion I played beauty parlor with my friends—sometimes resulting in a successful hairdo and sometimes there was a disaster—like the time we colored my friend Joyce’s beautiful blonde hair a very deep green. (It was the 60’s and brightly colored hair wasn’t yet the fashion.) Anyway, last week we found the 1958 hair dryer in the back of a closet. It was in a pretty grody state, but we all loved that space helmet piece of equipment. So after much thinking long and hard about what to do I called Tina – my partner in what today might be considered criminal activity. “Don’t you dare throw it away”, she said. “Take it apart and make it into a lamp”. For whatever reason, that hair dryer was precious to me and I couldn’t part with it—so it’s on it’s way to an electrical genius who can do as Tina suggested.

During this whole process my thoughts wandered to concrete things like a hand made quilt, a crocheted blanket, or pictures. But I also thought about not so tangible things like relationships with family and friends and, of course, more elusive things like personal freedoms. Like so many of us I am concerned about the ever increasing threat of the loss of freedoms we have come to expect. For example, while Sarah Palin did not actually remove books from libraries, there was a discussion about books that were (in her estimation) not appropriate (for whomever wanted to read them I guess). I like having access to all kinds of books, especially in public libraries, where they are free and plentiful. Additionally, I am scared to death when any conversation turns to pro-choice and anti-choice issues. There is no doubt in my mind that everyone is pro-life, whether or not they believe in abortion. But admittedly, I remain confused about why anyone would let that determine who other people marry, and what their sexual orientation may be. I mean, I am more concerned about children who get married because they are pregnant, and adults who don’t have sex, than I am about loving couples loving.

There are also precious things that are almost indescribable because they are moments rather than belongings. After we finished packing the house we came back into New York to meet friends for dinner. We left the apartment in plenty of time but we couldn’t find a cab. We walked a few blocks and it became obvious that there were no cabs available. David stopped a few empty limos, but they wanted $20 to go across town. David, being David, determined it was too much. After about 15 minutes a limo appeared that was much more reasonable. Yuri (that was his name), wanted nothing. OK, it was NYC and you probably think he must have wanted something. And, in fact, he did. He wanted us to look at some of his art – computer art. That was all. So we looked. When we arrived at our destination I handed him $10. He refused to take it. But I insisted that it would, at least, cover his gas. He thanked us for the conversation, gave us his number and said he hoped to see us again. It was a lovely, I thought, precious encounter.

Yuri at the wheel
On Saturday we decided to go to the Union Square market to buy apples. It was noisy, crowded, and bustling with activity. Luckily, what started out as a fairly bleak morning turned into a perfect crisp, windy and cool fall day. Just like the apples in the farmer’s market. A perfect day for a brisk walk to a hearty breakfast. First we wandered through a street fair (my personal favorite NYC activity). Then we walked through the Gramercy Park area and on to Murray Hill. As we crossed 33rd Street I noticed a shabbily dressed, elderly man using a walker, carrying a sign. There was something familiar about him. It took only a few seconds until I recognized him as Professor Irwin Corey, a zany 95 year old comedian who, always dressed in a tuxedo, and spent many late nights on the Johnny Carson show. David couldn’t believe it was the Professor. But we stopped to say hello and make some amusing conversation. He was still entertaining, full of ‘one liners.’ We took a few pictures and went on our way. The encounter was entertaining but, like so many things over the last few days, it was bathed in that special kind of moment, and made a memory I won’t soon forget.

I think it is important to treasure those moments, relationships and possessions we think are precious. And it is equally important to fight as hard as we can to make sure we pay special attention to the care we give to more elusive things like personal freedoms so that they don’t disappear with items we might choose to discard.