Friday, August 28, 2009


Poor Dominque Dunne, what a stupid day to die. Such a heartbreak. It’s like when I used to shuttle back and forth from DC to NY. There were always VIP’s on that plane and I dreaded the idea that if the plane went down the papers would report that some ,’big deal’ was killed in the crash and I would simply be an ‘”also on board” – and that was only if I was lucky and whoever was writing the story was in kindergarten with me. It’s no different then when Farrah died and, just her luck, Michael Jackson steeped in and that was all the news.. Oh well, as my mother would say, “what is, is”.

For all his wealth and position, Ted Kennedy didn’t have an easy time of it. Sure, some of that was his own fault, like the time at Harvard University when Mr. Kennedy was suspended for cheating on a test. But look at all the family tragedy he endured – his son had cancer, his wife (who he later divorced) was an alcoholic, his brothers were murdered by maniacs, and his aspirations to be President ended in Chappaquiddick. Admittedly, he did make stupid decisions. And there were additional difficulties. In fact, the first time I paid any attention to who he was (other than the President’s brother) was not when he was elected to the Senate, but when he was in a plane crash in Boston and broke his back.

But, despite all the problems he encountered, he remained a loyal, courageous, principled man who survived so much controversy, and made any number of comebacks in order to do what he thought was good for the country. And thank God he did, because all his work, over the years, had an enormous positive effect on the lives of millions of people. In the 1960s he worked on civil rights and in 1965 he sponsored immigration legislation that overturned rules favoring immigrants from Western countries. In the 70’s it was poverty and human rights which he played a key role in; and Title IX, the 1972 law aimed at ensuring equity between men and women's educational and sports programs. There was a focus on disability in the 80’s and in the 90’s the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. There were also several minimum-wage increases; and even President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind Act.

And in all likelihood, he could have been the President. His Waterloo was Chappaquiddick Island, when in 1969, a campaign aide who was riding in his car, died after the car crashed off a bridge. He foolishly waited hours before he reported the accident and no one, except a few of his close staff who were on the Island that night know what actually happened.

In later years, there was again more controversy with episodes like the rape trial of his nephew William Kennedy Smith and the post-Watergate campaign rules of 1974; Nobody is perfect. And through all of it, he was consistently able to pass legislation and lead the Democratic party

But my own personal favorite story, (because it involved my own person, and is an example of how dedicated his staff was), happened in 1980 when there was an “Anybody But Carter” movement and Kennedy emerged as the candidate who could beat him. He was not able to pull it off. Unfortunately, it created enough animosity with Carter that despite Kennedy’s popularity, the Carter people were not going to let the Senator speak at TV prime time during the convention. Carl Wagner, who was a long time Kennedy supporter, was asked to negotiate this with the Carter people. It was clear to all of the people who worked on the Democratic Convention, that Kennedy would not settle for anything but prime time. The only question was how would they do it. We got our answer soon enough. Carl came into the meeting with a very noisy frog clicker. It was so distracting that about ten minutes into the negotiations, Hamilton Jordan asked him what the hell he was doing? Carl said, “I just wanted to see what one clicker sounded like because I have 25 thousand, which, if the Senator doesn’t speak at prime time, will be used during the President’s acceptance speech.

Needless to say, Kennedy did speak at prime time and when he was told about the negotiations all he said was “I’d like to have those clickers to use when we are arguing legislation in the Senate”.

Teddy’s death is a serious loss for everyone – including people who don’t agree with him, He always conducted himself with dignity and like a gentleman in the Senate. And regardless of how you felt about his issues, he was always honest, never lied, and never wavered from his love of this great nation. We’re just sayin’…Iris

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pullin' the Plug

Some of you will think me heartless and cruel (some of you already do, so this won’t be a leap), but with this ongoing discussion of health care, I have been thinking a great deal about issues of life and death. In particular, I have been focusing on the whole controversy about “pulling the plug on Grandma.” Now don’t jump to conclusions, I am not about to pull any plugs, but for people who have been caring for elderly parents, the conversation is very complicated. Additionally, and almost without exception, they have made friends promise never to let them get to a place where they are no longer able to care for themselves. Back to my first sentence. When asked, I have agreed to honor their wishes -- if they do the same for me – which some will think, is heartless. I disagree, because there is no way I would want someone I love to suffer pain or humiliation on a daily basis.

Here’s my problem with the whole discussion of “pulling that plug.” I don’t think it’s a question of pulling a plug. I think the real issue is making the decision to plug someone IN, in the first place. When you are simply prolonging the inevitable and increasing the length of the suffering, why would any reasonable person choose a plug. In a pretty heavy discussion with my mother, she has made us promise that there will be no plugs. She says that she talked to many friends who signed DNR’s (“Do Not Resuscitate,”) and then their kids wouldn’t let them die with any dignity. She says she is not afraid to die, she just doesn’t want to be in pain. She does not want to be plugged into even one tube. Her desire is to be drugged and at peace. And that sounds good to me.

Plugs should be a personal decision like what kind of gum to chew or wine to drink. Plug or unplug should be decided by the individual – not by sister Gussie, or brother Jed.

And speaking of life and death decisions, rumor has it that Bernie Madoff is dying of pancreatic cancer. He has been seen baking in Native American smoke huts (who knew they had such accommodations in prison), and also hanging out with homosexuals. (The NY Post insists it is true). I’m not certain I understand what one has to do with another, and I’m also not sure even that if I did understand the connection, I would comprehend the relevance—but there are those things that are way beyond what I am capable of comprehending. Which is not supposed to be the point of this paragraph. The point is, along with promising my pals not to insert a plug, I promised I would not put Grandma and Bernie Madoff in the same paragraph..

There is talk that Bernie was quick to confess and not divulge how or where the scammed 50 billion was, because he knew he was not long for this world – or any other world for that matter. On the other hand, and under ordinary circumstances I would say, "well let him die in peace." (After all I did say that no pain and at peace is the way to go). But not with Madoff. I think that he needs to suffer. I think that they should give him chemo, make him swallow pills, do surgery, -- keep him alive at all costs. Unleash the plugs! There should be no DNR for him. He should be made to live for another 50 years, and he should be in pain for as many years as he lives. (This could be what I was referring to as the ‘heartless’ part).

Anyway, I know that my feelings are not necessarily consistent. There are no rules about how people should live and how they should die. Which is exactly the point. No one, but the person whose life it is, should determine when life is worth extending and whose should come to an end. My mother would disagree. She would say that “only God knows when your time has come and no ordinary human should do any second guessing.” We’re just sayin’…..Iris

Saturday, August 22, 2009

That 8 Letter Word

As we celebrate our 700th blob entry (yes, folks, you long termers really have been dedicated in staying with us…) it occurs to me that I will slightly reverse the tables on my beloved writing partner. Long time devotee’s of the blob probably have some sense of the ups and downs Iris had in trying to find a workable and reasonable place for her mom to live. At a certain point in life, balancing autonomy, safety, and burning toast can become more challenging. For the last two years instead of being relatively isolated in New Jersey, Nana has been living in Bainbridge (across the sound from Seattle) in a lovely place near the water, with lots of rain and, consequently, much greenery nearby, and more importantly, Jeff and Els living in close proximity so that a drop in visit is easy, and not a multi-state trudge. Two years ago, my mom moved from her long time (how does 89 years work?) home of Salt Lake City to Palo Alto, the home not only of my sister Lisa, but of Stanford University. Both mom (Journalism ’38) and Lis’ (something akin to FolkDance ’74) went to Stanford, as did brother Tom (MBA ’67) – this reporter was denied entry not just once (1964) but again last year in a failed attempt to join the Knight Journalist Fellowship program. But I’m not bitter. Really. I’m not.

Lis’ never left the area (and frankly, why would you? It is quite paradisical) and mom decided she wanted to live near one of her kids. So by a small accident of fate (a friend of a friend’s mom lived there) we discovered the Hyatt Residence – a Senior facility near campus that is just gorgeous. Mom’s been there two years now, and is a more than full fledged member of its robust and interesting community. She and a few other rebels organized a regular 5pm Sunday gathering around the grand piano in the main lobby to sing show tunes, and standards of the 30s and 40s.
"She's gonna turn me down, and say Cant' We Be Friends.."
Every week at least a dozen, more likely a couple of dozen crooners descend on the marble accented room for an hour or so of tunes that would make Glenn Miller proud. Because there are a lot of former professor types living there (and at least one ex-Secretary of Defense), the discussions around the tables at meals and morning coffee tend to be more elevated and sharp than at your average Starbucks.
Morning Coffee..bring a big cup!
Lis’ has been a real star in all this because, let’s face it – nothing in the current world of junk mail, electronic banking, and anything to do with Medicare or doctors, can be easy, and much of the straightening out of things has fallen to her. I mean frankly, I’m amazed. She actually knows what Medicare IS! I will admit that I know it exists, but what it does, or how, no clue. All I DO know is that I don’t want the government getting involved with it. The next thing you know they’ll do to Medicare what they did with the post office. (I’m not quite sure what that means, but it has an authoritative ring to it.) Anyway, the dynamics of a family are like anything else which changes and evolves over time. I’m sorry that it takes me so much organizing to finally get on a plane to California to see mom (and so many airline $100 change fees) but I always enjoy the visit when I’m there, and it’s usually too quickly passed. Mom barrels through cross words still at an astonishing rate: at least two or three a day. Her neighbors drop off newspaper sections from a half dozen different papers, and the pile of not-quite-finished puzzles begins to look like the back alley off 41st street where the Times is now published. On my last trip, just two weeks ago, we played a killer game of Scrabble, a game which I realize I miss playing, using our 1956 original Playroom version of the game. All the original tiles are there, looking as fresh as they were when the box was opened during Eisenhower’s first term. The accompanying yellow Guide to Scrabble words is also the original, and should probably be sent to the Smithsonian. Words like ‘cyber,’ ‘modular,’ and ‘laser’ aren’t even in there. And we did play an expanded version where we allowed certain Asian rooted words which have made their way into the argot of today. It provided an extremely hard fought (I won the first game, Lis’ the second, but all of us within about 30 points) combatative and enjoyable respite, and best of all, a certain comfort in hearing those familiar phrases which haven’t changed a whit in fifty years: “I can’t do a THING with these letters!” and “How do you make a word with nothing but vowels?”

Mom can still be stubborn, and berated me a few times for having forced her to give up her car and keys 18 months ago (on the occasion of her 90th.) I offer my face up gladly, inviting her to take a poke at me (she has yet to actually take a swing,) but I rest easier knowing that inspite of her unmatched crossword ability, her diminished hearing and sight will not ever serve to cause a traffic accident. She still regularly reminds me that she drove accident free for 75 years, no mean feat. And I regularly remind her that there is nothing like quitting while you’re ahead. In amongst her “papers” I found a wonderful pair of manscripts which she wrote in the 60s and 70s, complete with the rejection letters from several magazines who decided not to print them. One, “A Memoir of a Middle Aged Siren” was sent to Cosmo in 1970 (when she was in her early fifties) and was a wonderful exploration of her life as a faithful wife for 30 plus years. She wrote it in response to one of those “I Slept With the Laundry Man, and Boy Did I Have Clean Sheets” pieces that Cosmo had published, and mom felt they ought to give equal time to someone who didn’t. It remained unpublished, but I will try and get it retyped from the original, and publish it here, albeit to our smaller audience. But who even knew she harboured that desire to write all those years. Sometimes it takes a while to discover those little amusing things about family and loved ones, and I’m glad I found this while we can still talk about it.

She remains my best publicist, and these days, on those occasions when I have a set of pictures published in Time or PEOPLE, you can see her racing around the Hyatt (she recently adopted a ‘walker’ with saddlebags, and her gait and mileage has definitely improved) showing it off to anyone who will listen. That in itself is inspiration to keep shooting, just so she has some new material to show off at the morning coffee club. Now, if I could only figure out what #16 across is….that 8 letter word for a “government run health care for seniors.” We’re just sayin’… David

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Take Two Aspirins

One of my cousins was totally out of her mind about the prospect of health care reform. She is a smart and well informed person so I was interested in her take on the battle. "I take nine pills a day and if there is health care reform, they won’t pay for my medication.” I asked her how she knew that. She read it somewhere. “Do you know where?" I said. She didn’t remember.

This morning I heard that since AARP has endorsed reform, they have lost a substantial number of members. I guess the Republican scare tactics and demonstrations are working because I, also a pretty well informed person, do not know enough about any of the plans to decide if they are good or bad. You just don’t know who to believe about what. The President promises that reform will not hurt anyone – except, I guess, the very wealthy who will incur the additional costs. The opposition says that the government is not capable of managing a successful health care system. The people in the crowds who are protesting are yelling that we can’t let the government get involved in Medicare—these people are clearly not well informed since Medicare IS the government. Then there are the people who say that the elderly will suffer the most, and they will die. These people are not necessarily the same people who think the President will operate death panels, or maybe they are.

The White House is on the defense. Philip Elliott, of The Associated Press says, "Bowing to Republican pressure, President Barack Obama's administration signaled on Sunday it is ready to abandon the idea of giving Americans the option of government-run insurance as part of a new U.S. health care system.” I thought, from everything I have read, that this option was the meat of the program. The White House being ‘on the run’ was rhetorically predictable. As soon as the President started to talk about what health care reform was NOT, rather than what health insurance reform WAS, you knew they were in trouble. While exactly what was going to happen with the reform, was never very clear, so many of us had hopes that whatever they came up with, would be better than we have now. For me, and I assume millions of dissatisfied people, among the health care outrages are things like prescriptions no one can afford, complicated insurance company rules in order to even get to see a doctor, the costs at hospitals, especially in the case of serious illness, and my own personal favorite, the amount of paper work both doctors and patients have to fill out in order to meet insurance requirements.

It’s not hard to figure out who’s behind the attacks, and some would say, the scare tactics. Margaret Talev from the McClatchy papers says "Much of the money and strategy behind the so-called grassroots groups organizing opposition to the Democrats' health care plans comes from conservative political consultants, professional organizers and millionaires, some of whom hold financial stakes in the outcome.” Those troublemakers!

Maybe I just read what I wanted to read, and my mind works in a whole different way (some would say that I’m out of this world), but health care insurance reform made good sense. There are so many people (legal and illegal) without health care, that eventually we wind up paying for their care because they wind up at emergency rooms – and as I said, hospital costs are off the chart. Oh, woe is us.

What’s the answer, if there is one. If you look at health care programs around the world, it is pretty much agreed (by people in the industry) that the French system works fairly well. It is true that 60% of the bill is paid by the government but it is also true that people can have their own doctors and most importantly, no one goes without needed medical attention. In the U.S. Veteran’s care and Medicare seem to work fairly well and they are government programs. The idea that you can choose public or private care makes sense. The idea that the government (state or federal) will negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies for the best prices seems right and my cousin won't have to worry. What seems wrong is that it takes 1000 pages to explain anything to the public. I am told that even if I were a genius I wouldn’t be able to figure it out.

Again I ask, what’s the answer? I guess the only answer is to take two aspirins and call me in the morning – because you probably won’t be able to afford or find a doctor. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Pretty Great Weekend

Sometimes we forget just how great a simple weekend can be. Last weekend David and I decided to go to Stone Ridge to spend some time with Kerry. We stopped at our favorite cheese store on the way, and got a couple of great cheeses and some crackers – we already had tomatoes, corn, and bananas from a farm stand in New Jersey. The farm stand is on route US 40 — the old road to Atlantic City from the Delaware bridge, but the highlight is that right next door to the fresh fruit and vegetables, is the frozen custard place with lots of rules. Let me say, the custard is unbelievable and almost worth obeying the rules. For example: you can’t change your mind once you’ve given your order. Actually you can change it but you have to pay for both. And, you can’t make substitutes—whatever that means on a soft ice cream. There are other rules, but most not as costly.

David ordered a peach sundae because it is peach season and the farm stand is 20 feet away. I went with the hot fudge. I made the right choice. The peaches were canned and in heavy syrup — nothing fresh had ever touched their lips. Anyway, we took all the fruit and vegetables with us to Kerry’s and made a wonderful meal. On Saturday, we decided to have dinner out (the Aroma Thyme) and see a show (The Accomplice) in Ellenville NY, where my parents always vacationed when we were kids. Surprisingly enough and despite the fact that it was my parent’s favorite, the restaurant was fabulous—all natural and fresh with a special vegan menu which we ignored –and even Zagat’s reviewed. The show was very cute and much too long but we had a wonderful time.

On Sunday morning my brother showed up, (all the way from Bainbridge Island) for coffee. It was a lovely quiet time –swim in the glorious pool, read the paper, have a little bite, and visit with the incredible Cathy Saypol. At around noon we left for Newburgh New York, where my cousin Bill was hosting a party for first cousins. On my mother’s side, we are about 20 first cousins—without spouses, and assorted second, even third cousins (or maybe they were all first, once and twice removed). Almost everyone (who could get there) got there. There were about 40 people in attendance. Just the right size.

There was swimming and tennis and the food was splendid. Hot dogs, hamburgers, steak, ribs and chicken. Twice Baked potatoes—sometimes called Duchess, cole slaw, potato salad, and corn. Dessert was two birthday cakes and an apple crisp. And if that wasn’t enough, we went home with goody bags including a Brooklyn Bridge puzzle (our roots – take me home country road, or Brooklyn Queens expressway), a Brooklyn commemorative glass and some Empire State Building chocolates.

There were speeches and memories shared. (Video here, for the hard core!) Many laughs, and much love. Who could ask for anything more. Well, maybe some pictures to peruse.

When we left we expected to be backed up in traffic for hours. But that didn’t happen. We sailed right through to New Jersey and then into New York City. When we got back to the city (brother in tow), we drank a beer, ate some tasty cheese, and slept in air-conditioned bliss.

Our weekend was not much different than so many weekends we have spent and other people spend over the course of a lifetime. But, for whatever reason, I paused to think about how pleasant it was. And, I have promised myself, that I am going to try to find something everyday to think about as lovely. Maybe I’m just being a Pollyanna – how unusual for me – but when you stop to appreciate the simple things, it is amazing how much happier a person you can be. We’re just sayin’….Iris

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fuddy Duddy? Moi?

Yesterday, when I was watching the advertisements that preceded the movie I had paid for, I thought “these people should be paying me to have to sit through this garbage.“ People around me were talking and paying no attention to the screen but I found that difficult to do –guess it’s the ADD. And I realized that maybe there was something (other than ADD), wrong with me.

In the Merriam Webster Dictionary, “fuddy duddy” is defined as someone who is old-fashioned, unimaginative, or conservative. None of those describe me. However, I am beginning to think I may be a closet ‘fudster’. You may ask what led me to this conclusion. And I would reply, “I find so much of what is called ‘pop culture’ annoying. Even the word annoying, is a little ‘fuddy.’ I might have said irritating, bothersome or troublesome, but no matter what word you use, it is still a little fuddy.”

OK, maybe I don’t find all pop culture irksome, so I will be more specific. The idea of calling someone who appears as themselves on a reality show, a TV star and watching a reality show that brings out the worst in people, like all the Housewives of wherever, is offensive. I find women (or men) getting into fist fights over a rumor or a difference of opinion, appalling. I also find the exploitation of children, unforgivable – and to explain it away by saying “it’s all they have ever known,” is ridiculous. It’s like saying that if you beat your child every day they will be fine because that’s what they expect. And I guess they never realize it was a bad thing until the beatings stop. But by that time the damage is done and often irreparable. I find the slap stick contests, where the spectacle of people being humiliated, just as awful as the programs where young, rich, spoiled brats get to reveal what incredibly horrible adults they will eventually become. And I have to say that I find the ass in “Dance Your Ass Off” less than charming – the show is also questionable but not as awful as the name.

I love my computer and Face Book and You tube, but I miss actually receiving a letter or postcard from a friend by snail mail. For the most part, people don’t write letters anymore. Not love letters, or hate mail. I used to save all the memorable letters I got from old boyfriends and entertaining colleagues. I liked the idea that once I was gone, my kids would go through my letters and things and discover how really cool I was.

Maybe it’s just me (probably not maybe), but I don’t get the new obsession with getting a tattoo.. For a while I didn’t understand how tattoo parlors stayed in business, but they do it by tattooing numbers of people who obviously do get it. The small and well placed tattoo, I almost get. Like a little butterfly on your tush or a little flower on your thigh. But the big ones that cover an entire body or body part – make no sense at all. First of all it must be painful to have them carved into you skin. And yes, I am a pain wuss. But second, if you get tattooed when you’re young and change your mind when you get older, it’s even more painful to have it removed – or you have to live with it forever and ever.

In addition to advertisements in movies, degrading or perverse reality shows, absence of snail mail and tattoos, I don’t enjoy unnecessary sex and bad language when I am watching TV or a movie… note I said unnecessary – sometimes it is essential. I love all kinds of music except the kind that promotes violence against women – because I do think people are moved and impacted by tunes they like. I don’t believe in censorship but I prefer truth over speculation in my journalism. And I find it disgusting that someone like Ann Coulter, who has never done anything but train to be a mouthpiece for a political view and write hateful lies, is given any time on a news show. Oh, I could continue down this path to disapproving too many things, but I think I’ll stop before I start to feel like I am my mother admonishing me about my choice of clothes, music, actions and sometimes friends. Let’s face it, if you’re not careful you can easily become part of the fuddy duddy crowd. And I think that may be a sign that you’re getting old – uh oh.. I guess I better just stop thinking about it. We’re just sayin’…Iris

Monday, August 10, 2009

Oh Those Pesky Traditions

I was supposed to teach a workshop in L.A. this weekend and for lack of a better title, I called it "Developing Skills as a Magazine Photographer." My heart was honestly engaged in finding a proper title but somehow that is where I ended up. Even as I write, I think about what it means, and what this world (my world?) of "magazine photography" is all about, and what it has become. Maybe those skills are as much about survival as they are about photographic aesthetics. Of course, there are myriad stories these days about the death of journalism (in general) and the death of photojournalism (in particular) and I must say that having lived through a couple of those death periods already, I'm not quite sure just where this one fits in.

I began working for Time in 1967 while in college, managing to create a fairly active life as a freelancer within months of graduation from college (in Poli Sci – yes, that fairly useless major.) I suppose anyone graduating now would feel I was very lucky to have begun working right away, and looking back on it, I think I did fall into things with a combination of luck, charm and the tiniest bit of pushiness. Nonetheless, I was able to pay the rent at the time (I was paying $165 a month for a nice 1-bedroom garden apartment in Miami at a time when the magazine day rates were $125 a day) and even save enough to buy that second camera body. I went to Vietnam in 1970, as the war was beginning to turn into more of a diplomatic phase, rather than just plain combat as '65-'69 had been, and remained there for two years. There were plenty of situations (the Laos invasion of 1971, and the Spring Easter Offensive of 1972) that demanded much of you, but the fact was, there were still markets for the pictures, and it was still possible to work. (We never "embedded" in the sense that journos do in Iraq. We'd just "go out" with a unit. There wasn't a lot of hoopla or need for 20 officers to sign off on it. It was very open, and in the end, contrary to much of what is said today, the press was more than fair to, and respectful of, the military.) While in Vietnam I started shooting for Life as well as Time, and by the time I left in late 1972, I was on a Life contract, headed back to live in Chicago and work out of the Midwest bureau. Wow, I thought, photojournalism was pretty awesome!

Then came December 4, 1972, the day the publisher announced that Life would cease publication as a weekly magazine. That translated to: "Photojournalism is dead!" The fact that Life, the proud weekly magazine that we'd all grown up with, and hoped to work for, was now a thing of the past, made the future look well beyond grim. But four months later I received a phone call from a friend I'd known in Saigon, who asked if I would come work for Gamma, the French photo agency. Having little else to do, I said yes, and how lucky I was. All of a sudden I once again began hopping on planes, and shooting stories (and shipping them to Paris to be processed) all over the world. I was being published in the hundreds of other magazines in Europe, South America and Japan, and even in the States now and then. It was the Second Life of Photojournalism for me. I did that for two years, cognizant now that the real soul of photojournalism didn't lay in one publication, wasn't tied to just a single group of editors, but was in fact a bigger world which had a voracious and curiosity-driven need for pictures. People wanted to know what the world was up to, and we were given the chance to show them. Cable TV news was still unborn, and magazines and daily papers, along with those classic 22-minute TV news programs, still represented the bulk of how people got their information. Gamma, sadly,after several incarnations, has just announced its own decision to seek bankruptcy protection.

So now we are here in the self-annointed "digital age," trying to figure out if our lives really are made better by the ability to transmit a photo seconds after it's taken. There used to be something we called the Monday letdown. After having worked a story for, say Time, I'd have shipped my film and then had to wait until Monday to see what they actually used. In my head, of course, I was always trying to shoot a story, every story, as if the end product would be eight or 10 pages in Paris Match, or Stern. You wanted to create a complete reportage. You wanted that big opener, the narrative pictures in the middle spreads, and end with some kind of closer which people would just sit there and stare at for awhile, maybe even a minute. A whole minute. In the end, of course, we rarely got those eight pages. Usually it would be a page, and if you were lucky, maybe a spread. So all that anticipation you had built up was on the line when you finally picked up a magazine in your hand the next Monday. You'd open it, hoping to find something sweet, and often as not, see that space considerations had knocked you down to a single picture or two. Not bad, but nothing "special." The anticipation would slowly slip away, victim to reality, and you would be over the rush. In the end, when the pictures were good, you at least knew that you had them, now safely ensconced in a filing cabinet, awaiting that day when the story would revive, and you just might get those eight pages.

Nowadays we have lowered the tolerance and patience level of our audiences, and created consumers who feel that things ought to be free and available, always, just because, in the naissant online world, they have been. The people I once worked for now count every penny. There is no largesse. Just plenty of picayune. The money that was spent 25 years ago on staffing a G-8 summit in Venice with three photogs and a fixer, and a semi-permanent table at Harry's Bar to feed those downtrodden photographers with Bellinis and risotto, now equals what that same magazine might spend in a whole month on all the photography it uses. The rants are the same: the money, the economy, the Internet, free media. I'm sure at some point there will be some other way of corralling the money back to a place where the balance between the people who take the pictures, the people who publish the pictures, and the people who view the pictures is reborn. Most of the interesting work I see these days is from photographers who are not waiting to be assigned to a story. They do it on their own, however risky that may be financially. The real struggle we have now is how to take so much good work that is "out there" and mold it and shape it in new directions and on new platforms, so that the current Death of Photojournalism is, like those that preceded it, just another mile marker on history's highway, and not a gravestone for the visual historians of our time. We're just sayin' David

Life is Too Short

Yesterday I heard someone say, “Life is too short” and for the first time I wanted to say, “As compared to what?” Lunch, Christmas vacation, a game of chess, what? Then later, when was I was talking to a friend, I mentioned that for whatever reason the expression, “life is too short” annoyed me. She confessed that it was something she said quite frequently, but she always finished it with something like “to stay angry too long, because that was a waste of time and energy.”

Yesterday we came back to DC for a memorial service for one of Jordan’s friends who overdosed on heroin, and to pay a Shiva call to the family of a good friend of ours. The loss of a friend is always difficult and whether it be preventable or as a consequence of some horrible disease, it always leaves a hole in your heart.

Yesterday, as we watched Garrett’s friends gather together to share their sadness we felt helpless to either explain his death or understand how this wonderfully bright, talented, free spirit, who had already been through rehab, made the choice to get high instead of help. Clearly he wasn’t thinking he would die, and that he would leave his mom, who recently lost her husband, to deal with the loss of a child – the most horrible loss any parent can suffer. There is no explaining the unexplainable.

But in their grief, the children had questions and concerns they wanted to talk about. And not about Garrett, but about their own lives. Like, if it could happen to Garrett (or another friend of theirs who had been murdered last year) it could happen to me. And, if life is so tenuous and brief, how am I going to fit all the things I want to do into such a short time span? And, if something horrible were to happen to someone really close to me, how do I go on living with that loss?

Those are questions I can answer with empty platitudes like, live everyday to the fullest. What exactly does that mean? Every time I try to explain what that means, it sounds like the commercial for the Marines, “Be all that you can be.” During the service Garrett’s brother read a poem that Garrett wrote which included the last things their father said before he died. They were: stay ambitious, follow your dreams, never overlook an opportunity, and stay hungry. That advice makes sense. And how wonderful that he could be so specific. Unfortunately, Garrett never really listened. His passing is all the more frustrating because he could have chosen to live.

After the service we went to pay a Shiva call. Our friend died peacefully after many years battling cancer. Her husband told a story about how, just a couple of weeks ago, when she was having a joyous dinner with her family, she looked around the table and said “cancer sucks.” She didn’t have a choice about life or death. Her life was full but that is never enough. And her passing is all the more difficult, because she had no choice. And whether you lose someone you love because of circumstance or their choice, it is no less painful.

So how do we explain, to our children or anyone who happens to ask, the importance of making reasoned choices without it sounding like a lecture? Reasoned choices, like understanding the consequences of one’s actions come with age. There is no one answer to large life-death questions. Because life is unpredictable, the only thing you can do is hope that you have given them the strength and tools to deal with it. Whenever I leave my kids, I say, “Stay Safe”. Because it’s the best any of us can hope for. We’re just sayin’...Iris

Saturday, August 08, 2009


The three top stories of the week; the shootings in an LA Fitness club in Pittsburg, by George Sodini, the deaths of eight people (four of them children) on the Taconic,
and the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor, as the first Hispanic Female Supreme Court Justice, all had something to do with a sense of responsibility.

It may be true that George Sodini was just nuts, but I think it dismisses what he did much too easily. George was lonely. Nobody liked him, everyone hated him, he should have gone out and eaten worms—and choked on one. But he didn’t. Instead of taking responsibility for himself, and getting some help for his depression, he picked up a few guns, went to a place where he knew there would be lots of women (he either loved or hated them, it’s unclear) and started to fire. No way to get a date I say. He killed at least three potential dates and wounded many more. Then, because he didn’t want to take responsibility for his actions, he killed himself –murder suicide they call it. If they know that they’re going to die anyway, why can’t these monsters just skip directly to the suicide.

We ask ourselves how a mother could get behind the wheel of her car, and take responsibility for the lives of the five children who she was driving home. Surely, if she was stoned and drunk she might have called someone else to pick them all up –even a cab. But she didn’t feel responsible or, apparently, anything else because she was plastered. The public, and the families of the people she murdered (and that’s what she did), are looking for someone to blame. Her husband had to know that she had a drinking problem. Let’s sue the sucker for what his wife did. Shouldn’t he be held responsible for her actions? I don’t think so. We are so fast at laying responsibility somewhere else that we won’t even give the guy (who also lost a child) a chance to grieve. While it is true that she’s no longer around to suffer the consequences of her actions, she is clearly solely responsible for the loss of so many lives.

Justice Sotomayor, who grew up in the Bronx and understands what it means to take responsibility for your life, is a perfect counterpoint to these other people. After a 10 week battle to prove that she was both qualified and capable, she was confirmed by a 68-31 vote. You won’t be surprised to learn that it was mostly along party lines and one party made a great deal of noise without much substance. Now that she’s confirmed, the hard work will begin because as a junior Justice (newest, and a woman and Hispanic) the spotlight or maybe magnifying glass will certainly be on her. And the cases facing the court are about election law, (certainly political), First Amendment Rights issues, (always controversial), criminal case and even patent law. But Justice Sotomayer is no stranger to hard work and being responsible for whatever happens in your own life. As described in the press so many times, she is a woman with “humble beginnings,” who through hard work, went to two Ivy league schools, was a prosecutor, a corporate lawyer and spent almost twenty years as a district and appeals court judge. No unimportant accomplishments.

I know I have said it before, sometime, someplace, but I get so tired of people whining about their lives, and “oh poor me-ing”, non-stop. They refuse to take responsibility for themselves or, for that matter, for their children. You know the people who are always ready to lay blame elsewhere for whatever happens to them. Whether it is a lunatic who shoots 20 people, or a parent who lets their child act out in a restaurant and annoys everyone else. There seems to be a sense of entitlement that was never as overt as it appears to be now. It is certainly refreshing to see someone like the new Justice, take responsibility for herself and celebrate the outcome. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Monday, August 03, 2009

What I Really Meant Was....

The 60’s were a turbulent time in America. The Viet Nam war was raging, women were burning bras and becoming more vocal about equal rights, and between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, the civil rights movement was weighing heavy on the conscience of America. In the 1966 race for Mayor of Boston, City Council member Louise Day Hicks ran against Kevin White. Mrs. Hicks ran mainly on the issue of “forced” busing. The campaign was ugly, volatile, and in too many cases, violent. White people were angry about being forced to put their children on buses and sending them to Black neighborhoods, where the schools were less that up to standard. The Mayor felt that if White kids went to Black schools, those schools would improve. While it is true that people were angry about kids being bussed to schools out of their neighborhoods, it is also true that Boston kids had always been bussed to different schools. It wasn’t the busing, that made parents mad, it was the idea of ‘forced’ busing.

Words are truly important. Good Public Relations people understand this and craft all their messages around the idea that you tell people what’s in it for them and you give people what they want to hear. Does this mean that a PR campaign will not always ring with truth. It can mean that. Or, if you want to get Machiavellian, you can say that if it works and you achieve your goal, the end justifies the means. I do not subscribe to lying, but think choosing words carefully, can be fine. There are oh so many examples of the way words work (or don’t), and I thought I might give you a few examples.

In one of the 1984 Presidential primary debates, Gary Hart was looking pretty good until Walter Mondale – mimicking an 80 year old actress in a Wendy’s commercial, asked, “Where’s the Beef”. And once he did the public and the media started to question Gary about the substance of his policies and what he was trying to say.

My friend Michael Deaver, who was exceptionally talented and creative in positioning and creating an image for Ronald Reagan, understood this almost better than anyone. It was his job to make sure that Reagan’s speeches, public appearances, and persona, as Governor and President, were carefully choreographed to be strong and inspirational. And he was not only good understanding the importance of words, but he is credited with inventing the “photo op” which was allowing the national media to take pictures of the President in only the best situations and the best light. He was so good!

George Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” merely weeks after we invaded Iraq. His people knew that the mission wasn’t accomplished, but they gave the American people what they decided the American people wanted to hear. The mission is still not accomplished, but that didn’t stop the Bush-wackers from crafting less than truthful messages (about everything), to maintain power and build wealth for their friends. And unfortunately, it worked for most of his eight years and the country is now suffering serious consequences.

By the way, and in case you didn’t notice, Barack Obama has been having quite a difficult time convincing even some Democrats, and a considerable number of the public, that his health care reform is going to be a good thing. Today, about 46% of the people polled said that they were not in favor of change. People are generally reluctant to change – anything. People who do have health care don’t support change, and people who don’t have health care predictably feel that anything would be better than nothing. But why isn’t his campaign for yet, another change “yes we can”, working this time. I think it’s all about the language – the words. You can call it message, but a message is made up of words and often visuals, so call it what you want—it ain’t happening. I think it’s because ‘reforming health care’ is not specific enough. And not really what we're talking about. It is something that people don’t understand, and about which they are frightened, so why would they support it? If, however, the President were to talk about reforming health insurance and if he were to be specific about insurance rules that need to be changed, like what things are covered, and eliminating coverage of any pre existing conditions, people would absolutely support him.. The President needs to reform his health care pitch if he wants to be successful with his health insurance reform. Yes he does! We’re just sayin’…Iris

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Regulating That Intestinal Transit

The mind is a terrible thing. To waste. I mean, it CAN be a terrible thing. In that you don’t really have control of all the things which are going to capture your attention. It’s 6 in the morning and I’ve had a rough night. Not THAT rough. Not REALLY rough. I mean, I didn’t get beat up by a gang of druglords or chased by a rogue cop out of my own house, after breaking in. But KIND of a rough night. You would think that sleeping in your own comfy bed, the room at a perfect temperature, would create the kind of setting which would let you mimick a Sleep-Eze or TemperPedic commercial. Gentle flowing breezes (oops, we forgot to live at the seaside) wafting through the room like that “wish I were at Aunt Sarah’s” smell of meat and onions you get at apartment building foyers. (Editor’s note: it’s pronounced Foy-YAY, not Foy-ur.) No, for some reason I wasn’t that lucky last night. Dinner was a really lovely evening at the nearby Country Club, a gorgeous “can’t really see how nice it is from the street” clubhouse situated on the apex of undulating greens and fairways, a view that is hard to believe is only 9 minutes from the White House. Friends recently joined and invited us for dinner which we immediately accepted. We’ve lived within a half mile of the place for 25 years but have never been though the front door. The backside dining tables and bar face a beautiful approach to the 18th green, one which novice golfers must find rather unnerving as the whole crowd of those present for dinner watch you make your approach shot (and politely applaud if it’s worthy) and putt out. I’m sure it steels you for your chance at the Open, should that ever occur. But I think I probably ate a little too richly: a beautiful blackened steak, baked potato, and the part which I should have seen coming, the Brownie Sundae. It was the kind of dinner which, in retrospect I ought to have eaten half of everything. Just cut the steak in half, and show the tiniest bit of self discipline. Eat half, leave the rest. The potato: eat half. The Brownie Sundae... well, maybe eat 3/5ths and then leave the rest. But I was too caught up in catching up (we hadn’t seen them in a while) and there I was, at midnight, ready for bed, but kind of ‘full.’

I’m sure there is some biblical inference about gluttony which would warn off those smart enough to take note. But it wasn’t as if I was Henry VIIIth with a dozen turkey legs, eating them down to the bone, drinking ale out of the Stanley Cup, and and tossing the carci bones into a giant heap at the end of the table. So I ate a little too much. It was more like one of those “Mama Mia, that’s a spicy meatball” Alka Seltzer ads from the 1960s, the ones where the poor actor has to eat 25 meatballs before the director is happy with a ‘take’ he can use. The guy has eaten so many meatballs along the way that he needs to take an Alka Seltzer to restore his happy demeanor. I know we’re getting close to TMI here, but stay with me. It’s not really about the meatballs. It’s about what they do to your head. I woke about 3 am to the sound of thunder, and spritzes of lightning outside the window. Those rumbles can be hard to sleep through if you are otherwise inclined to light sleep. With one eye open, I flipped through the TV channels trying to find something which would slowly sooth me back to sleep and became aware, yet again, that while Verizon feels a need to begin charging me ten bucks a month more in October for the Fios Service (they’re right, this IS big, the bill that is) there is really very little there for enrichment. Informercials (why do I always believe those products would be so great?), a speech by a Mormon church elder about why girls should dress modestly, movie after movie with plots so bad you just can’t, even at 3 a.m., suspend your disbelief. Finally after an hour or so, I drifted off, and – product of modern culture that I am – ended up right in the middle of a dream about Activia. I don’t actually know Jamie Lee Curtis, though she is a good friend of a pal of mine, who describes her as genuinely as nice as she seems on camera, but we ended up having a long conversation about the yogurt, and why it helps you to be regular. I have nothing against Regularity, in fact, I’m a strong, unilateral supporter of the concept. But I couldn’t seem to escape the world of Activia in that dream. We talked about whether or not you should get the new “now with Fiber” version or not. I mean, really, where the hell do these images come from. Clearly, the best stories in the world are the ones locked in those little dream rooms in your head.

With a bundle full of free samples in hand, the dream then carried on into very familiar, yet extremely painful territory. I guess this is something akin to that recurrent nightmare about missing a Term Paper or Final Exam, which in my case have plagued me on and off for forty years. Dear Dr. Fred Sondermann, my Poli Sci adviser, a man who could, literally, type on two typewriters at once, was not the kind of respected grand intellect you loved asking for a deadline reprieve on a paper simply because pledge hazing at the Kappa Sig house had taken precedence over researching and writing. But every month or so, there I am, sweating, feeling like an intellectual cheat, standing meekly in front of Dr. Sondermann, asking for a 3 day extension to finish my paper. It’s never a pretty sight, and I can still see the look of disappointment on his face that I, a student he clearly liked, would have to ask for such an unseemly favor. But that was nothing compared to the next one, and this, really, is why I had to finally get up in the middle of the frickin’ night, and just start writing. I’m hoping that by writing this it serves as some kind of exorcismic cleansing. Because I am seriously tired of the scenario.

In an episode of “Leave it to Beaver,” I remember that even Beaver Cleaver could recite the famous opening lines of Longfellow’s “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.”

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

It was comforting to know that the Beaver was not a complete dolt, and that the appreciation of history was something which imbued the Cleaver household. I never learned the whole of the poem, but in my own way, had an experience which burned that opening stanza into my soul. During the years of the Bicentennial ( 1975-76) there were hundreds of events created to celebrate the founding of the Republic, from the Tall Ships in NY Harbour to the Today Show doing live broadcasts from every state in the Union over that year, to highlight the diversity of our great country. On April 17th, President Ford flew to Boston, where he spoke of the founders ( I think it was Faneuil Hall), a trip which was designed to highlight the “Shot heard round the world” at Concord Bridge, the Minute Men, Revere’s ride, and that whole amazing couple of days which kicked the Revolution off. We, the White House Press, overnighted in the Copley Plaza hotel, then as now one of the bigger Boston Hotels. Yet for all its size, the Copley was still a hotel in the 1970s: that is to say, No Automatic Wakeup, No Prepaying with Credit Cards: you simply hoped that the Front Desk swamped though they might be with requests, would actually get around to calling your room at 7am to wake you up, so you could grab your things, and run downstairs, stand in line for ten minutes, pay for the room, then carry on with the White House Press group for the rest of the trip. As it happened, I never got a wake up call. And when I finally did wake up, it was one of those moments when the dread of realizing you have screwed up fills your body instantly with warm bile, rendering you nearly useless. But once I saw I’d overslept, I threw all my stuff together, raced downstairs and straight into the Press bus. I still owe the hotel eighty bucks for that night. (Editor’s note: they’ll never get it!) But sitting on the bus as we drove to the nascent site of the American Revolution, I felt pretty stupid. It’s not unlike the kind of stupid you feel when you leave gear behind after a shoot. Everyone has done it. I think I do it more than most. It’s that precursor feeling, the one that says “wow, this gear feels really light!” that gets you. The reason it feels so light is that you left the bag with the big zoom back in a) the bus b) the plane c) the hotel. You get the idea. And yet instead of getting easier to conquer, I find that keeping track of things, while it might work like a Sudoku or crossword to keep your mind fresh and snappy, also becomes more burdensome as you keep changing gear, or bring out a lens you haven’t used in years for a special shot of some kind. The point is, there is a moment of dread when you realize you have screwed up big time.

In last night’s dream, I went from Activia to a White House style trip, where, for some reason, rather than just joining everyone else in the press bus outside, I had gone to a Message desk to pick up a message which, fittingly, was only a message about missing the bus. (I never said they made sense, I only said I was a victim!) Having retrieved the messages which in their own self-fulfilling way kept me FROM the bus, I looked out a 3rd floor window only to see the tail end of a motorcade pulling away. We must have been in a Spanish speaking country, because when I threw myself onto a large, square pillar, and slid down the 40 feet to get to ground level, the only people there were from the Colombian Embassy. And there, in my dreams, I struggled in Spanish to describe my situation (“I missed the bus. Where is the event? How can I get there? Where did I leave my Cameras? Why don’t you care, even a little? Please don’t just walk away.”) There was nothing redemptive about my conversation with the Embassy staff. It was a moment of absolute and pure nocturnal omission. Frustration in dreams is perhaps a rather universal human trait. And of course the ones which frustrate the most are the ones which are based on something real in life. How many times have I left a bag behind? How many times did I miss a motorcade (the last time was October at a McCain event in Ohio.) Yet the dreams never seem to be based on the times when a smart staffer puts you in a car, and drives you to the airport (so you don’t miss the plane), or makes sure you get your camera bag just before the door of the plane closes. No, that would be too easy. I know we have what is considered a charmed life. Let’s face it, photography, while Rocket Science in its own way, isn’t as demanding or brutal as doing heavy construction or making steel. Yet there are those moments when you once again become a prisoner to your past. And there is no amount of sweettalking in any language which will let you escape, back to a world of sublime slumber and truly restful sleep. When you see it coming, as I did early this morning, the only thing to do is face it directly. Hop out of bed, start writing, and hope that at some point in the fourth graf, the Activia kicks in. We’re just sayin’... David