Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Beer Break

It’s 5:00 and I am anxiously awaiting the beer fest at the White House. A conversation over a beer, just three regular guys sitting around at a picnic table with God knows how many press people standing by to see what happens. Here’s what’s not going to happen: 1. The police officer will not deck the professor – not in front of the President – even if the President called what he did, stupid. He will also never understand why what he did was stupid. He thinks that no one has a right to mouth off to the police – even in their own home. 2. The Professor will never understand what he did wrong – based on his life experience he probably doesn’t understand why you have to respect the police, even when you are standing in your own house and they know it’s your house. 3. No one will live happily ever after. Oh sure, there will be lots of lip service and a handshake, but at least two of the men will walk away knowing that they were right – regardless of the kind of beer and the presence of the President.

Maybe the people with whom the President should be having a beer are the Blue Dog Democrats. Who are these people described like a cartoon. Wikipedia says, “The Blue Dogs are the political descendants of a now defunct Southern Democratic group known as the Boll Weevils, who played a critical role in the early 1980s by supporting President Ronald Reagan's tax cut plan. The Boll Weevils, in turn, may be considered the descendants of the "states' rights" Democrats of the 1940s through '60s.

"Blue Dog Democrat" is derived from the term "Yellow Dog Democrat." Former Texas Democrat Rep. Pete Geren is credited for coining the term, explaining that the members had been "choked blue" by "extreme" Democrats from the left. The term is also a reference to the "Blue Dog" paintings of Cajun artist George Rodrigue of Lafayette, Louisiana; the original members of the coalition would regularly meet in the offices of Louisiana representatives Billy Tauzin and Jimmy Hayes, both of whom had Rodrigue's paintings on their walls. Tauzin and Hayes later switched to the Republican Party. The Blue Dog Coalition was formed in 1994 during the 104th Congress to give more conservative members from the Democratic party a unified voice after the Democrats' loss of Congress in 1994.
Too much information. It certainly is for me. I wish could understand anything I just wrote. I still have no idea what choking or paintings have to do with political conservatism, but it is Wikipedia, so it can get a little polluted. And, what I don’t know, doesn’t matter. What does matter is that these elected officials, who are Democrats, are not supporting the President’s health care reform, which should actually be called health insurance reform. And besides, I’m sure the White House could get a discount on a case or two of cold beer so it would probably be worth the investment. You know, just the guys sitting around shooting the s**t.

Or maybe the people who are crafting the message should make it easier to understand. The President has been on the road delivering a message that isn’t working. 52% of the people, ( those who don’t have health care), support the idea that everyone should have health care. Duh!. And the rest of the population is either not sure or against any changes – even if they don’t understand them.
Oh my, who would believe it? People are afraid of what they don’t know and they don’t understand. Just like the Professor and the Policeman, none of them can comprehend what the other was thinking or saying. It’s like that old cartoon with the dog and his owner. The human gives the dog carefully worded, verbose instructions, and all the dog hears is “blah, blah, blah”. Maybe a beer is the best way to get someone to listen, but clarity might work just as well. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

We're In the Wrong Business

We’re in the wrong business. We should all be working for a bank. CitiBank, would be a good choice because regardless of the economy, or the fact that the government owns about a third of it, they are actually considering giving a bonus of 100 million to one person. And, rest assured, that will not be the only obscene gift they will give to some lucky employee. Notice I didn’t say qualified, because no one is that qualified. Lucky is the most apt adjective I can find. And they’re using the same argument they used in the last round of gifting, “It’s the only way we can keep talented people and be competitive.”. It worked once, why wouldn’t it work again? Because the economy is bad? Because there should be a mechanism to prevent it? Don’t make me laugh.

OK that’s enough being serious, let’s talk about Sarah Palin. Whatever else you may think, Sarah does have chutzpah. Can you imagine anyone else standing in front of 5000 people and deliberately making absolutely no sense. It takes a great deal of nerve to be that stupid in such a public way, and yet understanding that whatever you say, there are people who will cheer you on. OK, she did pick easy targets for the attack, no one has anything nice to say about the media—especially with Walter Cronkite gone. And despite our fascination with celebrity, no one admires Hollywood – especially, as Sarah described them, the petite talented ones. I guess she must have forgotten that Michael Jackson died. And then there are those horrible liberals, who eat meat but hate hunting. To be honest, I don’t know any of those liberals. While I do know people that eat meat and prefer not to track it themselves, I think the shooting they hate has to do with people getting gunned down. (Although, they would probably hate it if their pets were taken out by a jealous lover or a lunatic. Actually, they would probably be more in favor of gun control if their personal four legged friends were wasted by some felon).

Needless to say, I was fascinated by Sarah’s presentation. But unlike all the other pundits, who think Sarah is running fro President. I still believe she is auditioning for FOX news. She is a perfect mouthpiece for host of a conservative talk show. And it doesn’t matter if she makes any sense. She is capable of rallying the troops with rhetoric that is a shortcut to information. Since the truth is irrelevant on a talk show (conservative or liberal), she will provide the appropriate amount of controversy, mixed with what some think as a sense of humor.

Moving on. My favorite part of her departure speech, was when she talked about how she can do more for Alaska working on the outside than she can working on the inside. What exactly does she intend to do from the outside? OK, despite my every effort, maybe we didn’t move on. The only way she will have real impact is if she has a forum that goes beyond the ice and snow and Northern lights. (I have always wanted to see the Northern lights—I wish they could move them south). How do you make any difference, in the greater scheme of things in a state, if you are not a part of the infrastructure. It would seem that unless you have a media platform, from which you can spew your talking points, you are irrelevant.

And talk about relevant (now I am moving on), women should be offended by her “Oh poor me”, style of reaching out. It took years for women to get beyond that approach to sympathy. The “I’m resigning because the media are picking on my family,” is such nonsense. When you choose to be a public figure, whether it’s as a beauty queen or a politician, the media is likely to look at who you are. (Just think about poor Miss California who suffered such humiliation because she had an opinion and didn’t believe in same sex marriage.) It’s even more ‘newsworthy’ when you insist that family values and morality is a priority, and your unmarried teenager gets pregnant, of course there are going to be questions. I guess the resignation came just in time—that is before Levi writes his tell all – I for one, can hardly wait.

So what’s it all about Alfie, (a clever reference to an old movie about which you may not be aware?) I maintain it’s all about staying in the public eye, making money, and developing a national constituency,without any of the aggravation, responsibility, or suffering the consequences of stupid decisions. And how do you do that—you get hired by a cable network to be a voice which will attract an audience, advertisers, and attention.
See what I mean, there’s yet another business we should have been in. We’re just sayin’..Iris

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What the Hell, Care

When Hillary Clinton, as First Lady, decided to make health care her issue, we all cheered. Then, she decided that Ira Magaziner was going to be in charge, and, having no idea who he was, we didn’t think much about it except that someone was going to deal with that important issue. After 6 or 7 arrogant briefings by Magaziner we started to worry. Surely, we thought, this guy is not going to be the person to explain the First Lady’s plan to the American public. We were wrong. He, and a few other ‘experts’ in the ‘smart, smart, stupid,’ category were exactly who the White House thought should explain it. But they didn’t understand the bureaucracy or the rules of dealing with the public and they neglected to get the Congress on board. And before we knew it, the health care battle was a lost cause. The First Lady, derided for her involvement, separated herself from the plan, thereby rendering it a defeat. That’s the bad news. The good news is that she then had time to deal with ‘women’s’ issues and she was really, really good at that.

This White House talks about health care non-stop. They have rearranged their press conference this evening so it will be televised by the 3 major broadcast networks and they are calling it a ‘conversation’ with the American people—even though it’s not. I guess we’re supposed to feel like the President has made progress, even though he’s down in the polls. Here’s my problem. I am totally confused by all the plans. In fact, I am totally confused about everything that has anything to do with the government. I don’t understand what’s happened to the economy. I don’t get how the stock market has revived and Goldman Sachs has paid back their loans from the government, but people are still out of work and the whole country—with the exception of the very rich, is depressed. If not in their pockets, at least in their heads. I hardly know a person who is not medicated or doesn’t want to be.

The health care system is clearly in trouble, and everyone who is not rich or employed by the government knows this. For example, a few months ago I fell outside my house and hit my head. It bled and it hurt. But, having spent too many hours in the emergency room, on any number of occasions, (because we always develop serious illnesses when our doctors are off duty), I decided just to stop the bleeding and watch for signs of a concussion. It seemed I was bruised, but OK until weeks later when I noticed I was off balance and had headaches. Then Natasha Richardson died and a number of people told me head injury horror stories, so I called my doctor. Unfortunately, my doctor is not in my health plan network so I had to find a doctor who was, and who could then refer me to a facility that did MRI’s. and a neurologist who could take my case. It was so complicated that if I hadn’t had terrible headaches before, I would have developed them just dealing with the system. And I feel sure it’s not only me. My guess is that even those of us who are covered by some plan, are in ongoing battles with our providers. And the people who are not covered, might just as well pass on to a better place – like Europe.

Here’s one of the things that make me crazy. Instead of working together to find a way to provide health care to people who need it. the Congress is in a battle to see who can make the President look like a failure. The politics remains the issue, not a horrible system. No one has yet to explain why we can’t buy cheaper drugs from Canada, why the States aren’t negotiating with the pharmaceutical companies so prices come down, and why doctors have to pay such exorbitant insurance costs that they can’t afford to maintain their practices. It’s totally nuts and truthfully, all about the strongest lobbyists with the most money.

The President is fighting an uphill battle because there are so many stories and so many plans, no one understands what a new health care system means – in terms of money and care and taxes to pay for it all. Maybe the dialogue is without arrogance but it’s not without too much complicated and contrary information. How can anyone support an idea or a program that they don’t understand. No matter how much conversation the White House has with the public using traditional or social media, public support will be slow in coming until there is a simple plan, and some simple people who speak simple words of clarity in explanation. I think I need an aspirin. We’re just sayin’….Iris

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sit Down and Shut Up (redux)

The department of Defense has made it clear that when an enemy takes an American hostage, it is better not to talk about it publicly. There are several reasons for this, the most obvious being that it makes negotiations much more complicated. If you remember, US government policy is that we don’t negotiate with terrorists. The most recent example of the benefit of keeping a kidnapping quiet was when NYTimes reporter David Rohde was taken, it was kept pretty quiet – there was little or no conversation and since the public didn’t know and was paying no attention, he was actually able to escape. The NYTimes said that they felt going public could increase the danger to the victims.

This morning, I was watching CNN talk about the kidnapping of 23 year old PFC Bowe R Bergdahl. The Defense Department has asked the media to back off, and the family has asked for privacy, but for about 20 minutes, CNN talked about, speculated and yammered non-stop about the danger this young man is in. They interviewed one ‘expert’ who explained (ad nauseum) how a minor Taliban group often sells a hostage to a larger Taliban group and then that group will make the kidnapping an issue. Needless to say, the conversation then turned to selling hostages. Next was the speculation about where PFC Bergdahl was sold, and how the only solution was for the US Government to go in a save him—wherever he was. Throughout the broadcast were tapes of PFC Bergdahl eating and talking about how frightened he was about never seeing his family again. It was heartbreaking, and, of course, that’s why they kept running it.

While it is true that the Taliban released the tape and wanted this kidnapping to be a national issue, the fact that this network is speculating about who, what and where, and trying to make it their big story (you know, the ‘we own that story’, approach to journalism where there is all talk and no judgment ) may be putting this young man’s life in more danger. There are certainly the ‘public has a right to know’ arguments. But if you look at what happened when no one knew about David Rohde and what is happening with Bowe Bergdahl, you have to pause and ask what may make the most sense. We’re just sayin’…Iris

Friday, July 17, 2009


How many times have you suffered an ‘almost.’ For most people, it happens on a pretty regular basis. We ‘almost’ got tickets for the ball game. We ‘almost’ finished first in the class. We ‘almost’ met the man of our dreams. Our kids ‘almost’ got into the latest best preschool. The cake we baked was ‘almost’ finished when we took it out of the oven. There was the promotion we ‘almost’ got. The guy who went through the stop sign ‘almost’ killed us. The dress we bought ‘almost’ fit. My daughter ‘almost’ got the part for which she auditioned, and my husband ‘almost’ got the job for which he bid. The “Fashion Show” contestant and “Top Chef” we drooled after, ‘almost’ won the challenge. We ‘almost’ grew old without having accomplished what we want, but we realized it before it was too late. And in the big political picture—which is never as important as our day to day efforts, Hillary Clinton ‘almost’ won the nomination. Al Gore ‘almost’ won the Presidency. And Senator Kennedy ‘almost’ stayed well enough to be involved in the heath care battle

There are almosts that have little effect on what we do everyday and there are almosts that impact on the way we live our lives. For example, Michel Jackson (one of my two favorite subjects) almost got through that Pepsi commercial without catching on fire. That one almost, apparently changed the direction of his life. And Governor Sanford almost got away with his trip to Argentina, but he got caught and woe is him and his family.

Is there anything we can do to avoid the pitfalls of an almost? And if we stop thinking ‘almost,’ but never achieve’ always,’ does it mean that the things that don’t come to fruition have to be recognized as failures. (I know, this is much more philosophical than I ordinarily get but I wanted to prove I was capable of pithy thinking – or at least of thinking. Actually, I ‘almost’ understand the things I am writing ) Or maybe a better question is, should we just stop thinking in almosts and nearlys and only describe those things at which we have had success. Maybe, in order to insure a positive attitude, everytime we say almost, we should have to put a quarter in a jar.

Last week I was in Seattle visiting mom. It was the first time I noticed how often there were almosts in our language. My brother and sister-in law were having a garden party and we ‘almost’ made it through the evening without rain. I guess we thought it was a nice way to describe the fact that it not only rained, it poured, and there was thunder and lightning. Mom tried to walk more than the few steps she has managed over the last few months and when we talked about it we said that she ‘almost’ made it to the elevator. It was hard for us to admit that her physical abilities are slowly getting more limited so we talked about it in the best possible light. The almosts plagued my vocabulary to the point that every time I was about to say it , I stopped myself and tried to find an alternative that was not tentative. But all I could think of was nearly or about – neither of which was more positive or appropriate.

Where am I going with this? I have no idea, but I was tired of writing about over sexed politicians and weird celebrities and I thought it was time to change the subject to something more thought provoking. Anyway, I am going to make a serious attempt to think about ways to describe success rather than couching failure in a word. And I am also going to abide by that old saying that, “Almost only counts in horse shoes.” And I guess bocce – which I thought was an Italian candy, or maybe that’s Baci --Does anyone even play horse shoes anymore?? We’re just sayin’…Iris

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Welcome to RETRO-Ville at We're Just Sayin'...

and who's to say there isn't something wonderful in being able to look back and see where we 've been. Tonight we offer up a pair of trips down "you can't be SERIOUS!" Memory Lane...

the first.. a wonderful compendium of my images from the 1969 Apollo XI launch.. Armstong/Aldrin/Collins, the first men to actually land on the moon. My assigment (which I asked for so that I wouldn't miss the event...) was to photograph the throngs, and there were thousands upon thousands of people who drove from all over the country to be there. And they arrived in their VW bugs, giant FORD Galaxys, and a myriad of other vehicles, camped on the 'beach' at Titusville and waited for the blast off on the morning of July 16th. At 9:32am, with sun glinting into the eyes of a hundred thousand people, the Saturn V shook the Florida sands and went aloft. The New York TIMES Blog on Photography: LENS has chosen some 19 pictures, and they are featured there this week.

In addition, I heard from Marc Karzen, a TV producer in California, who worked on a film called "On Assignment" shot with Alfred Eisenstadt, Jodi Cobb, and myself, in 1982. Here is the section about me.. dig the hair, dig the glasses, dig the cameras, dig the film (yes FILM!!!)...

I hope what we do today is as interesting in 2049 as this stuff is today. We;re just sayin'....David

Monday, July 13, 2009

Let's Kick Sarah Around

And I thought I wouldn’t have Sarah Palin to kick around anymore. There is so much speculation about what Sarah is going to do when she grows up, that it’s hard to keep up with the rumors. Some people think that her resignation is somehow related to another run at the Presidency. That makes no political sense. It seems to me that if you want to be a political candidate you need to stay in politics. And last time I looked, being a Governor (even from a state so close to Russia), is a good thing. Governors have real management responsibility. Governors have to deal with budgets (just ask Schwartznegger!) , and personnel, and policy. If you are a woman Governor, and you want to seek a higher office—like the Presidency -- being the CEO of a state provides especially good credentials. So, I don’t think that’s what she wants to do.

When you look at the things that made her attractive to America (and that she seemed to enjoy) they are not unlike any reality TV celebrity. First of all you get to be seen by millions of people on an ongoing basis. You get to spout words of wisdom (perhaps inane but who cares) to people who tune in to reconnect with you with some degree of regularity. If you ever accidentally ended up watching (no one with a brain would do it intentionally) that horrible “I’m a Celebrity Now Get Me Outta Here” show, the first couple that left were reality TV stars. They had done nothing in their lives but be reality stars. Yet they had come to think of themselves as important. So when one of the other contestants used their hair products, it was considered a serious personal attack, a violation of their very being. They were nothing short of dumb and obnoxious, but apparently people had enjoyed watching them on a previous reality show, and so this reality show felt they would have an appeal to the audience—which they did not. Unlike those two twits, Sarah Palin is an actual celebrity who has governed a state and was attractive, dare I say wise, enough to get to be the Republican choice for Vice President. She is someone who people like to hear about – for a variety of reasons. For me it’s all about the gossip. But for others it’s more insidious. Anyway, I digress. (What else is new).

My guess is that Sarah Palin is resigning from the Governorship for a number of reasons but the decision does have a specific goal. First, she is leaving a highly visible office because she hates being seen by the American public (all of whom she wants as fans—not constituents), in any negative context. She loved being on that stage at the Republican convention, but she hated the attacks on her pregnant teenage daughter and the totally confused boyfriend. Second, she loved being on the campaign trail, where the events were choreographed and the excitement palpable. But when she was in a one to one conversation or, for that matter, a press conference – it was too distressful to have to answer issues questions about which she was totally uneducated. Third, it’s fun to be the most powerful person in the state, but not if you don’t get to exercise your power. Or if you do, you are called on the carpet by do gooders with their own agenda often disguised as concerned citizens or worse, lawyers. Like why shouldn’t she have been able to fire her ex brother-in –law? He wasn’t nice. OK so maybe he didn’t do anything wrong in his job, but he “done the sister wrong” – or maybe it was a cousin or a friend, but whoever, Sarah didn’t like it. Did she think that if she was the VP she wouldn’t be under the same kind of microscope? Probably she did what she has been known for doing for at least a year – she didn’t think.

Now comes the resignation, about which the NYTimes writes today. Oh, they say, she was tired of the ethics questions, personal turmoil and legal bills. But why did she think she had to explain her decision in such a cumbersome, ludicrous way? I don’t believe it had anything to do with a run for the Presidency in four years or even eight years. I think she was auditioning for her own TV show. Now, here’s the part where I get back to where I began. Sarah loves being the focus of attention, the on camera talent, (she was great on SNL and clearly she doesn’t do well as a producer.) She is the voice of the conservative disenfranchised and they don’t care if she makes sense. They want a voice who can relate to women and who looks good for the men. She is much more palatable than a talking head like the vicious Ann Coulter. I am just going to say here and now, I think Sarah has been or will be negotiating with FOX for a spot in there political line-up. They need someone to compete with Chris Matthews and Wolf Blitzer, and she is, for the first time in her limited career, a perfect electable candidate. We’re just sayin’…Iris

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Genie Unleashed

It would be hard for any observer of news to say they missed the Iran story last month. For the last two weeks of June, until MJ's untimely passing, little else was allowed to take place in the media besides the Iranian elections, post-election demonstrations, and the crackdowns that followed. This, in an age where every citizen (and pretty much most of the non-citizens) carries some kind of device for capturing a visual image. It could be a cell phone, a point-&-shoot camera, or a small video camera. They are ubiquitous, the one ever present feature at nearly any gathering of people in this modern age. (It really is about "being there"!)

An anti-Shah demonstrator fills his hands with the blood of a fallen martyr, the day before the return of Ayatollah Khomeini to Tehran. Tehran, Iran, January 1979

(see another gallery of pictures from this year's unrest here)

Personally, I abhor the term "capture" when referring to digital imagery (or any other kind of imagery for that matter). For me it conjures up images of itty bitty cowboys on itty bitty horses, swirling their itty bitty lassos while racing across a miniature landscape, hoping to 'capture' an image – in the form of a horse, of course. It is a very inelegant way of defining that stomach-churning, doubt-filled moment of photographic creation. Yet so many of the pictures and video we saw from the Iranian streets had their own kind of stomach churning, produced less by the wonder of a photographic image, and more by the imminent threat of violence and chaos. Much of it had an air of fresh reality, something that while technically flawed, was full of the moment. It was as if the rules of journalism had been suspended – a day we ought to have seen coming – and the only thing that mattered was the immediacy of those fugitive images, those that averted being blocked from transmission. The Iranian authorities tried to keep a lid on, and though we'll never quite know the degree to which they succeeded, the assumption now is that they are slowly going back through cell phone records and tracing those 'news' images back to their owners.

Yet even if they are somewhat successful in getting a handle on the flow for now, the genie really is out of the bottle. In technology, as in sport, a good offense will usually fall victim to great defense. And in this case, the 'defense' of the people in the street, though met with threats and intimidation, seems to have at least won the informational day, even if it didn't overturn the election results. As a more than casual observer of things happening on the street in Iran, I was struck by image after image that resonated on a very personal level. There was no shortage of irony in the events of the last few weeks.

Thirty years ago last Christmas, I stepped off a plane in Tehran en route home from a story I'd done in the Pakistan territory of Baluchistan. Next to the mountainous exoticism of the Baluch frontier, Tehran seemed like an almost quiet place. I'd known of the unrest there in recent days, and the large-scale shootings at a pro-Khomeini rally in September 1978, but I had no real idea as I rode from the airport into the city what lay ahead. Within hours I found myself in the middle of a series of big demonstrations, shots fired, positions taken, and I realized that this story was for real. The Revolution was definitely on.

I knew I would be around for a while, and quickly settled in to cover what in many ways would turn out to be one of the formative events of the end of the last century. The Iranian Revolution presaged much of what was to come in the Middle East, and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as a potent force. At the time, however, one seldom knows just what import a story will carry. It remains for history to fill in the details, though sometimes that is much more quickly done than others.

As a photographer covering the Iranian Revolution, the problems I encountered were quite typical of the times. Just making those pictures, difficult as they were, was not the only challenge. This was still the pre-digital era (did someone say "analog capture?") and the hard part lay ahead: getting the films to a place (New York usually) where something could be done with them. I was shooting for Time, and soon after my arrival, my good pal Olivier Rebbot came to town for Newsweek. There were perhaps another half-dozen foreign photographers, including Catherine Leroy, the French woman who had worked in Vietnam, Beirut and other garden spots. Very quickly Olivier and I, in spite of the fact that we worked for competitive magazines, began sharing one of the most difficult events of our day: finding someone to carry our film out. The planes from Tehran to Paris and London left in the late morning, so we needed to leave the hotel about 6 a.m. to arrive at Mehrabad in time to make that critical choice. Much of civil authority had broken down, and at the airport there was no longer any guard keeping people out of the International Departures lounge. You simply entered the terminal, walked past the ticket counters, and slipped into the hallway leading you to the lounge. There, dozens, perhaps hundreds of desperate travelers waited, surrounded by their luggage in a scene right out of "Casablanca," for their flight to be called and their name to be acknowledged on the manifest.

In a move that would today have you arrested at most airports, Olivier and I would then start asking passengers if they would take our unprocessed film with them to Paris, say, where they would be met by someone from the Time office who would pick up the film, thank them heartily, and ship it onwards to New York. You needed to find people who had some sense of responsibility and maturity. You didn't want them to have second thoughts, and maybe just toss your film packet into the trash. Or worse, turn it over to the cops as some kind of potential contraband. Olivier and I made a game of it, looking at the lines of travelers as we entered the lounge, and attempting to pick out a likely helper before even saying hello. Sometimes we'd bring a copy of a two-week-old magazine to be able to show them some of our previous work. We'd try and convince them of the import of the film getting to its destination, and how much we were personally relying on them. We always found someone, and only once, having made the mistake of trusting the packet to a radio correspondent, did the film go missing for a day. (He took it home to Tel Aviv and forgot to call anyone. Radio!)

I was, in the late '70s, in the throes of covering news and almost-news events in Kodachrome (that film which will cease to be at the end of this month.) It was not an easy choice: the film required an extra day or sometimes two to process at one of the very few worldwide labs that could handle it. Yet, the color quality, the richness and sharpness of the images made it worthwhile, and even the editors who sometimes groaned when being informed that KR was the film on the way, agreed that there was nothing else like it. So trying to make sense of a revolution, and do it in Kodachrome, was a kind of double challenge. Working the way we did required a certain faith in the rest of the system. There was that extra 'human' touch needed to find film couriers (let it be noted the Air France crews were always the most imaginative and cooperative) and yet you had to hope that along the way, all the pieces would fall into place, the film would make it to the lab, the images would be seen, edited, and engraved by dozens of people.

Watching the scratchy images coming from Tehran last month, I felt as though a trout might, having had the water drained from his pond. Everything had changed. The arrival of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter put to rest forever the need to rely on a pigeon to carry your film. The presence, already, of high-end digital cameras, Sat phones, and high-speed data networks has changed our environment completely. As one editor proclaimed a few years ago, "Every photographer in the world with a camera and a laptop is in competition with every other photographer with a camera and a laptop." Too true.

Now, as the tools shrink further and the means of delivery become more ubiquitous, that business we thought we were in … being magazine photographers … has morphed into a slightly less recognizable, but nonetheless demonstrable case of "image provider." And in a situation where the authorities (who were the people protesting the Shah and the U.S. in the streets 30 years ago) are trying to stifle reporting by professional journalists, reliance on the populace has emerged as the one last place for visual information. Now, quicker than a trip to the airport would have taken before, the pictures get uploaded and disseminated. Maybe it's a good thing that news photographs have become a commodity. Were we just living high on a concept that had no real meaning? Are all people with cameras equal? I guess a good case could be made that they are. Though there is definitely something to be said for a professional class of journalists, trained in the elemental understandings of what is both required and expected of a journalist. That line now seems to be fraying badly. Curiously, even as under siege as the Shah and his regime were at the time, never was the foreign press told to stay in their hotel rooms, under penalty of arrest, as has happened this year. The demonstrators from 1978 must have learned a lesson.

For years I always counseled young photographers that they needed to concentrate not on traveling to exotic locales simply to have a more eclectic portfolio, but to look close to home for that great story. My point was, save your money and find a story in the place you live. Within a mile of you there has to be a story every bit as good as something in Burma or Patagonia. Less exotic perhaps, but no less compelling. I felt that the real talent editors were looking for was that extra little sense of light, composition, and the 'moment,' the ability to bring an empathy with your subjects into the frame, those things which make a photograph memorable. I always felt that great images would rise to the top of the heap, and be noticed, and that those pictures, however mundane the subject might be, would let an editor know that someone had real talent. Now, as we flitter back and forth on Facebook and YouTube, trying to find the real "news" of the day, I wonder if that's true any longer. Speed and immediacy seem to trump art and vision. And I have to confess that while it seemed like a burden at the time, finding a willing soul to carry my film back to 'the world' was a lovely, almost poetic finish to the process. The reliance on one more human in that photographic chain was always a positive experience. I never walked out of that passenger lounge feeling anything other than satisfied, warmed by the exchange. Does hitting UPLOAD generate the same feeling? I'm not sure, but Mama, if you ARE going to take my Kodachrome away, I guess I'd better learn how. We're just sayin' …. David B.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Enough is Enough!

When is enough, enough. I promised myself I was not going to write anything else about Michael Jackson, but apparently, I lied. Truthfully, who cares about Afghanistan or Iraq when there are serious issues like, who will get custody of Mikey’s kiddies. I also promised myself I was not going to watch the funeral, but as a commenter, rather than a commentator I was simply too curious. The funeral was amazingly tasteful. That was a surprise. But I thought the most interesting commentary would have been about the people who were missing, like Diana Ross and Elizabeth Taylor. Liz is getting up there in years and pounds and travel can’t be easy for her anymore—even on a private jet and all ‘limoed’ up. But Diana? He named her in his Will as the person he wanted to have responsibility for the kids if Mom couldn’t do it. Why Diana Ross and not Janet or LaToya? I thought Friday night dinner at Aunt Sophie’s was colorful, but those family dynamics must really have been something.

OK, so I watched most of the show, and it was clearly a show. The heartfelt goodbyes, from people like Smokey, mingled with the “it’s really about ME and what I do” from Sheila Jackson Lee, left me a bit confused but what else is new. As long as we were going to see a show, I wanted it to be with entertainers, not the likes of Lee and Sharpton who had no business being in among those notable talents. And I must say, when Sheila finished with “Michael Jackson I salute you,” I did want to gag. This death has lost all perspective. Sure, he helped to choreograph an important human rights movement and he did bring attention to the AIDS epidemic in Africa—not unimportant.

But he was also seriously weird. Maybe he didn’t molest any kids – but he was a seriously weird drug abuser who, dare I say, was a bit self destructive. (As a consequence the coroner still has a part of his brain, so the question is, was he already buried and if so, will they dig him up so he can be buried with all his parts.) He had enough money to buy rather than birth, three children, (to whom he was apparently, very loving and good), and why wouldn’t he be? He wanted them enough to pay big bucks and marry a woman who he didn’t know and obviously didn’t like, to give birth to them and then hand them over. But “I salute you” was at the very least, inappropriate.

Back to the beginning. The only part of this drama that remains unfinished is what will happy to those beautiful children. If I may take a line from my favorite 'cry from beginning to end,' movie, “Beaches” -- when the friend dies and Bette is left with the kid she says, “Everyone wants you.” And then goes on to tell the daughter that she can choose where she wants to live. The two older Jackson children are certainly at an age and place where they should be involved in any decision about where they live. Debbie Rowe, who at best is a little unpleasant, never wanted them in her life. Everyone knows that for Rowe, it’s all about the money. But isn’t that what all this hoopla is about? Whether it’s recordings, or videos, memorial tapes of the memorial service, or a release of the concert that never was – it’s all about the money. Until he died, he was barely a mention on any news or entertainment show, unless it involved sex and children.

Anyway, this is my Michael Jackson swan song. Over the last few weeks we have lost some very fine actors, like Farrah Fawcett and Jack Klugman. Some wonderful personalities like Ed McMahon. And McNamara, a distinguished and well connected war criminal, who, like Cheney and Rove and assorted other Bush Administration officials couldn’t wait to get us into a war and if that meant lying and a range of fabrications: their end justified the means. Oh yes, and we have lost some courageous young men and women around the world. In Viet Nam the loss of lives was astounding and in Iraq, the number of severe injuries is unimaginable. But these old white men got to play with the lives of other people’s children so it never impacted on their lives. I guess the bottom line for all of this is that there are terrible things that impact on the lives of young people and children. Things over which they have no control but which will impact on their lives forever and ever. And really, enough is enough! We’re just sayin’… Iris

Sunday, July 05, 2009

About the Fourth

It turn out that July 4th is one of my favorite holidays. I guess part of that is because my son was born on July 3rd, not exactly July 4th , but I gave birth on July 3rd because my pregnancy was well into it’s 10th month and I knew that if I didn’t give birth on the third my doctor would be on vacation until who knows when, and I would have to wait at least another week day until he was born. If you have ever been pregnant you know that by the end of your seventh month you have pretty much had it – so imagine what it’s like when it’s more than nine. Briefly, I walked into the doctors office and refused to leave to go anywhere but the hospital. I was absolutely serious and the doctor, having no alternative, sent me to the hospital and induced the labor. As I said, I was three and a half weeks late so they weren’t worried about a premature baby— quite the opposite. I thought he would be at least 11 pounds. But he wasn’t and although it was a difficult delivery, we were all able to celebrate Independence Day by truly being independent.
Seth, age 3, Independent!
Some of my best memories have been about July 4th. Like during the Carter Administration the President invited all the political appointees (even the young ones), to sit on the White House Lawn and watch the fireworks. That was a pretty great family event. And when Reagan was in office we all went to the Capital to watch them from the Speakers office – which was supposed to be the best possible place for viewing. As it turns out, it wasn’t because the smoke from the launching was so thick that we could see almost nothing. But in Washington it’s not about what you can see, it’s about who you know.
Jordan Kai and Steve
Over the years we have planned July 4th celebrations with friends and they were always great fun. Most of the time, we would just walk to the top of the hill near the street where we lived and we would have a perfect view of the Capital and the wonderful lights that lit the sky. The fireworks were usually a nice addition to what had been a fabulous party with friends, and that was always memorable. After 9/11, the fireworks in New York were moved from the Hudson to the East River and we could see them from the roof of our apartment, which was terrific until they build a mega apartment complex that blocked our view.

This year we started the day with a trip to NJ to have a holiday barbeque with our cousins the Zodikoffs and the Shermans. They are wonderful cooks so having fabulous, as well as plenty of food is never a question. The banquet started with chicken wings, home made hummus, and fruit filled sangria. It ended with home made ice cream chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches. Needless to say, we were not disappointed – it was up to their usual “you cannot move for hours” after the meal standards.
Nathan 11, Chickens 0
Because the show was no longer on the East Side we needed a viewing vantage point on the West side and cousin Chuck permitted us to watch from the penthouse of a building he developed, which is still called but was in a previous, life, a recording studio called “The Hit Factory”. In its’ recording days, it was the site of a good number of Grammy award winning recordings. As a matter of fact, until early this week, there was a Michael Jackson platinum album on the wall. We all agreed it was dangerous to have it hanging in a place where it could be seen by anyone walking past the building.
The Hit Factory roof
Anyway, just a few friends and family joined us for the fireworks spectacular and it was that. Although some of the viewing was restricted by taller buildings, the most amazing thing was that the fireworks surrounded those structures and it often looked like the building were wearing glittery wigs or sequins bow ties. It was truly remarkable. I don’t think I have ever seen that many colors or such a glorious presentation in any previous fire works display.
Tenth Ave. neighbors, picnic'ing NY style
The key, however to any of these noteworthy and memorable occasions is to spend as much time as possible with people you love. That way, no matter how brightly the sky is lit, or how much food you eat, (a good dose of Tums can’t hurt) the glow will warm your heart and make the memory of what you saw and how you felt very special. We’re just sayin’… Iris

Va Va Voom!