Friday, December 31, 2010

They Call It FUN

Isn’t it amazing how quickly things turn around. Just a few weeks ago most people were talking about how Obama’s chances of more than one term were limited at best. “If he doesn’t do something.” Then, like magic, he did something. He finally did a few somethings. He must have been listening when John Podesta suggested he learn to use the Presidential tools, and additionally, that he needed to be proactive about where he wants the country to go. He needed to say to the Republicans, “don’t vote with me and you will have to tell your constituents why you are not only against human rights, but you have refused to take care of those heroes who risked their lives on 9/11, and are now paying the price with their health.” (If only there were a few more senior staff women to whisper in his male dominated ear, it would have taken a month instead of two years.) Whew, he must have been exhausted. He really needed that Hawaiian vacation. Actually, I could use a Hawaiian vacation. But I’d spend it with the Sullivans and have more fun than the President. It isn’t against the law to have more fun than the President, is it, at least not yet? It is not yet a violation of some new Homeland Security law, is it? No, I don’t think fun is a target for terrorists. Even Janet Napolitano decided to have some fun and go to Afghanistan, which as far as I know is not yet part of the homeland, or for that matter, much fun. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

But that’s not what I wanted to blob about. Sorry I didn’t write my annual Christmas blob, but the holidays and the writing are not as easy when you can’t call your mother or father, to tell them what a wonderful time you had (wherever you went), and they should have a healthy, prosperous, joy filled new year. Yes, that was a little bit of whining – but it could have been worse. One t-shirt I have says “it could always be worse,” and if it is written on a t-shirt, thus it must be true.
with Joanie in N'burgh
This year we are not celebrating at a party, restaurant or some expensive nightclub. We are staying in. We are in upstate New York, seeing family, checking out old haunts and, having just spent what was an entire wonderful day looking at a variety of properties so perhaps, even finding a place/home for all our worldly belongings.
with Joanie and Kerry...
Isn’t it funny (there’s that word again), that at this time of our lives we are starting from scratch to make a new life for ourselves and whoever else wants to tag along.
if New Years fireworks is your thing, Sydney is your place....
New Years has never been one of my favorite holidays. There’s simply too much pressure to have a good time. This usually means eating and drinking too much and staying up well past a reasonable bedtime just to see if Dick Clark is still standing. Rumor has it that he is breathing but unfortunately not able to stand long enough to do a New Year’ party. Sad, but somehow I will not feel as bad if I get a goodnight’s rest while Snooky, Carson Daly or Ryan Seacrest blather on about the minutes ticking away until the crystal ball falls in Times Square, where, having been there since 3pm, all people want to do is get to a bathroom. (And kiss some loved one or a complete and utter stranger). Other people’s Cooties do not an attraction make.
an actual "fireplace" fire, stoked for New Years
The idea of preparing a great meal with close friends and a beautiful fire sounds like perfection. It will give me time to make and discard a list of New Year’s resolutions. Finish a good book, drink a couple of glasses of fine wine and be thankful for all the good things that happened to me this year (you know who you are), and the new exciting adventures we will have in the year to come. And that includes a great deal of --- yes, Fun. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Adios Amigo....

Somewhere in the very late ‘60s, as a budding photojournalist, I began shooting color slide film. Ektachrome, Agfachrome, and Anscochrome were the top films, each processed in a procedure known as E2 (and which later evolved to the current day E6). The film could be turned around in about an hour. The actual mechanics and chemistry were relatively easy if you’d passed a chem lab class in high school, and I even souped a few rolls at the Colorado College Physics Dept. darkroom. But the color wasn’t really true to life, and there always seemed to be a bit of a flatness to it. Simply put, yes, you could shoot a color picture, but along the way you missed a lot of the subtleties of what you were seeing. Photography is really all about light, and how we see it. The way it illuminates a subject, wraps around it, or creates a sheen which gives a scene its personality. My first published color images were of the scene surrounding the launch of Apollo XI, the first mission to land men on the moon. I was living in Miami, and convinced Charlie Jackson (Time’s picture editor) to let me concentrate on the tourists and history buffs who came from all over the country, camped out in their VWs and Mercurys, and waited with excitement to witness the launch of America’s biggest rocket ever. I shot like crazy, along the way partnering up with my French colleague Jean-Pierre Laffont. We photographed the campers, the kids, the square dancers, the lovers on motor cycles, and in the next morning, the hundreds of folks in Titusville who shaded the sun from their eyes to watch the Saturn V rise up into the heavens. It was still the era when processing color film for magazines required several days. The process must seem antiquated by today’s “instant” standards, but involved shooting the pictures, shipping the film to the lab in NYC, having it processed and edited, then “engraved” (like scanning except oh so analogue!) to a plate, which was then used on the press to create the color image. Complicated, difficult, and full of potential technical snafus, but it did let you create a color picture. I was happy beyond belief that I was finally a “Time COLOR” photographer. Yet through it all, as I slowly started to get more assignments in color, I wasn’t very happy with the way the photographs looked. They were never really sharp. The color always had a kind of fogginess, a softness which made me wonder what I was doing wrong.

my first published color pictures: Apollo XI launch (1969)
Somewhere in the search to push myself to a higher strata, I thought I would try the film that had a reputation but which almost no one in the “news magazine” business used, because of the time needed to actually handle the processing. Kodachrome, a film which dated to the 1930s was known to have a more demanding technical side (your exposures had to be bang on!) but when you succeeded, the results were light years beyond the Ektachrome type films. There were only a handful of labs in the world which processed the film – requiring a strange and mysterious set up which only Kodak could supply. The names of the lab locations eventually became little code words for Kodachrome shooters. You didn’t need to specify Kodak: just mention Page Mill (Rd – Palo Alto), Lausanne (Switz.), Fairlawn (NJ), and right away you were in that special realm. The world of the Little Yellow Boxes. In each Kodachrome lab, no matter where it was, the pictures were mounted into red cardboard mounts with the word Kodachrome in red on one side, and the date (month, year) on the other. The boxes were identical, be it Sydney, London, or Fairlawn. We could recognize a Kodachrome box a block away.

The most astonishing thing about opening your first box of Kodachromes was discovering that in fact, your lenses really WERE sharp. Somehow the film was just waiting to etch those images in a way no other film could do. It was just a joy (when you didn’t screw up in the field) to open up and scan quickly through a box just back from the lab.
a fallen martyr- the Iran Revolution (1979)
The original film was an ungodly slow ASA 10. In the fifties that was advanced to 25 as the renamed Kodachrome II became a standard for those seeking the sharpest, richest images. In 1974, rumors of a new version surfaced with the introduction of Kodachrome (KR) 64. At last a film fast enough to shoot almost anywhere, and sharp enough to be just about perfect. The first roll which came my way was in early 1974. I was in Paris and had just photographed the campaign of Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the new French President. I had a quick portrait session with him (yes, typical Burnett window light, thank you!) and included in that shot a roll of head shots done on KR64. A week later one of those frames was the cover of TIME magazine.
boy in Ethiopian refugee camp (1984)
That was about all I needed for convincing. Mindful of the disadvantage that the extra day or two, or sometimes 3 or 4 would cost me in fighting for magazine space, in almost every story I did for the next fifteen years KR would be my film of choice. In the late 80s, Kodachrome 200 was introduced, an amazingly beautiful film that was perfect for sports, and low light level politics. You could shoot that Kodachrome sharpness and tight grain in places were you could barely see WHAT you were photographing. Each was better than the next. It was a gift to those of us who tried to tell the story of the world, and do it with some sense of visual style.
the Outsiders (1982)
Coming back from a two week trip to Ethiopia and Eritrea in 1977, I stopped on the way back from Khartoum at Geneva, and holed up at a swanky Lausanne lake front hotel while the Kodak lab handled my many dozens of rolls. It took two or three extra days, but when I look at those pictures now, and imagine what they would look like on Ektachrome films, I know I made the right call. More than once my film wouldn’t be in contention on a story, simply because while other photographers pictures (done on Ekta) would be dropped into magazine layouts, my film would still be at Kodak being processed. Then, on Friday at noon, just hours before the deadline to send the pictures to the engravers, one or two of my Kodachromes would wander on to the picture editors desk, like a tardy school boy rushing to beat the bell; the richness and sharpness of the images would cause them to make a last minute swap, and my picture would run in the magazine after all. It was always a crap shoot, and one which I am happy I got to roll snake eyes for.
American troops, Grenada (1983)
As digital began to displace film in the late 1990s (and cameras too: the latest and last generation of film cameras, the Nikon F5, the Canon EOS 1 v, the Leica M7) a system which had finally reached the pinnacle of beauty and quality, and efficiency was sacked almost overnight. Thirty five mm film, which had ruled the roost for forty years, was suddenly treated like an outcast, a victim of convenience, and especially of ‘time.’ Editors know that the news is what JUST happened, not what happened yesterday. Film, for all its charms, just couldn’t compete in the world of the breathless 2 minute news cycle. So as with most things worth preserving, Kodachrome was given the ax, tossed under the bus of progress. (Another metaphor awaits, dear reader!)
Couple with cherry pie - Montana (1982)
Truth be told, the last ten or 15 years were not easy for anyone what actually WANTED to shoot KR. Kodak slowly closed labs around the world, and the mere act of getting your film souped became Herculean. (Actually, Hercules shot tri-x.) So when the marketing people at Kodak (this actually happened ten years ago at a dinner in DC) would say that “there is no demand for the film anymore… no one wants to use it..” I had to remind him that at some point anyone using the film -- or any film -- actually wants to be able to SEE WHAT THE HELL THEY SHOT! You can’t expect people to wait a week to see their work. The technology existed to create small mini Kodachrome processing machines which could reasonably be installed at any good sized one-hour lab in the country. But for reasons known only to the geniuses at Kodak’s planning department, no serious consideration was ever given to supporting that project. They sure could have sold a lot of film if only we’d been able to see it in a timely manner. Perhaps it’s a parable for what technology is doing to our society.
Balloon race, Paris (1983)
The need to speed up everything, to be sure that there is no hesitation, no gap between something happening, and its being reported. There is something unfortunate that happens when speed and velocity become the key determinants in a society. Much is lost which requires thought and introspection. We simply rush from the last quickly delivered moment to the next, robbing ourselves of the time it takes to reflect, even briefly about where we are going.
Ethiopian mother and child (1984)

At the time,like most KR shooters, I probably didn't know how lucky I was, but I’m glad I had a chance to live in the last half of the Kodachrome generation. It’s a time that won’t come again. We’re just sayin’….David

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Last Barbecue...

This is a longer blob than usual, but it’s funny and given our present state of living, I wanted to share it – I think we see a pattern

My original move to Washington DC was somewhat unconventional.
I moved without having a place to live. So I lived, or at least
I slept, in a Fiat 128 station wagon parked in a plethora of
places on the streets surrounding the Capitol. In the morning I
would wake up and make my way to the home of a friend where I
would shower, dress, and go out to look for a job. This went on
for some time until Jane, the person I visited most frequently,
insisted that I spend an entire night at her home. After
spending six months of entire nights at her home I moved to a
rental house which I shared with another close friend. The
landlord was despicable and the arrangement was clearly temporary.
I had moved five times in one year and I was exhausted. I needed
to find a place which was mine. A place where I could belong. A
place in which I would feel secure and permanent and which would
allow me the freedom to repay the kindnesses of lots of friends.

The four story, unfortunately green, limestone townhouse in
somewhat "fashionable" downtown Washington looked like it would be a wonderful place to to live. It was a large Victorian (about 1200 square feet
a floor) charming, airy, and because there was no furniture,
overwhelmingly spacious. Built around 1900 it contained many
turn-of-the-century features: three working fireplaces; the one
in the master bedroom being the most erotic, the others
beautifully carved and totally energy inefficient; 12 foot
ceilings; original wood moldings; a brick patio garden area;
three parking spaces (which in downtown were probably worth as
much as the house); and a front stoop on which one could sit for
endless hours during the summer, fall, part of winter and spring,
peacefully watching all of Washington walk by. I bought it with the help of friends and lived there for nine years.

The house was now for sale. David and I had purchased a
much more managable house in Northern Virginia and we intended to
move within the month. But the Victorian house had been my
friend. It was my salvation during a time when I desperately
needed a place to live. And it became, over the years, a
substitute home for many friends who needed shelter from a bad
situation, or a break from their normal routine. It was a great
space to have a party, or a fundraiser, or any type of
spontaneous diversion. l715 Q Street was used as a home, as a
studio, as a shelter and as a place of business. People always
felt that they could just "drop by" -- and they did, sometimes
for hours, sometimes for months, but that was fine with me because
the visits made for a multitude of memories.

The house held nine years of memories for me, some
exceedingly painful...most very sweet...yet all having to do
with people who were important in my life. It seemed only
fitting that the house host a parting event... and even though
invitations were never extended a few friends just dropped by to
share memories at the last barbecue we would have at the Q
Street house.

John and Susan arrived at 6:30 with a big bag full of fresh
corn on the cob and two large bottles of white wine. Pat and
MaryAnn arrived soon after carrying mounds of magnificent
vegetables with which to make a salad, and two large bottles of
white wine. Mary dropped by on her way back from a California
business trip and, of course, stayed for the evening. At 6:50 she
rushed to the market (which closed at 7:00) to
buy some fish for grilling. She returned with lots of halibut
and two large bottles of white wine.

Despite the fact that evening was developing into quite an
interesting prospect, and I was looking forward to it, I was a
little nervous about the sale and/or rental of the house. That
day we had advertised the availability of the basement apartment
and although we had been inundated with inquiries there were no
prospective rentors on the horizon. Futhermore, that afternoon, the
real estate agent held an open house for prospective buyers and
only two people came to look at it. (Part of the problem was the
realtor's intimidating and clearly inaccurate description of the
house as a Magnificent Mansion.) Actually to say I was a little
nervous is a slightly understated description of my emotional
state. I was a wreck. In fact, by the time Pat and MaryAnn
arrived I was pacing the floor, wringing my hands and obsessing
about the total lack of prospective interest. They, having just
spent endless months selling their house, were most sympathetic.

"It's awful selling a house! How long have you had it on
the market?" Mary Ann inquired with great concern.

"Four days!" I cried back at her. "Do you think I should
lower the price?"

MaryAnn is a sensible person and a mighty good friend who was
now in the process of unloading the vegetables. She simply
paused for a moment, looked at me as if my behavior was perfectly
normal and said, "I'd probably wait just a little longer before I
made any changes."

There had been no indications by any of the crack weather
people in the greater Metropolitan area that there would be a
thunder storm. But just as the coals for barbecuing reached
the absolute perfect temperature, the sky blackened and the rains
came down about as hard as I'd ever seen rains come down. It
should be noted here that in the weeks, months and years prior to
this last barbecue, although the house had been repaired,
reroofed, and reconstructed, it still suffered the symptoms of
old age-- it was never totally sound. There was always a little
something wrong. A dripping faucet, a broken appliance, a new
crack,... always just a little something. Lately the little
something was a strange leak in the ceiling of the country
kitchen/central entertainment area. It was strange because we
had taken what seemed like every possible step to repair the
leak. The roof over the area had been resealed, the bricks over
the area had been reflashed and pointed, the windows on the floor
above the area had been replaced and all the sills had been
reworked. Yet everytime it rained there seemed to be some
leakage. This had two effects: visible new cracks with each
new storm and continued painting of the area once the storm
damage was repaired. In fact, that very morning before the open
house for potential buyers, we had painted a small area that had
been repaired the day before.

The thunder from the storm might as well have come right
through my body as through the sky for it dampened all my visions
of a pleasantly dry evening and an easy sale of the property. My
life in the house flashed before my eyes and I knew that I would
never get rid of it. It would be my albatross. Me and the Q
street house forever bound together by an exceedingly strange
ceiling leak. There was however, only limited time for
"flashing before the eyes".

I raced up the stairs to see what was happening with the
window above the ceiling. The rain was cascading right through
the middle . The rain was coming in between the inside window
and the newly replaced storm window. It was as if there were no
window at all. And then I heard the dreaded words... "It"s
coming through the ceiling!"

I raced back down the stairs. David, my husband, my love ,
the man with whom I will spend the rest of my life, was
struggling to get a large ladder out of a small closet... he was
not pleased and was not his usual objective self. The phone
rang. It was Paula and Arthur who couldn't be with us because
Arthur's parents were spending the weekend.

"Hi", Paula said cheerfully. "Can you believe this weather?
It's so awful we're not even going to drive to the country for
dinner. What's going on over there?"

"P, " I answered, "It would be impossible to describe to you
exactly what is going on here, but if you want a few laughs put
the parents in the car and stop by here for just a glimpse of the

"Sounds interesting but we have to find somewhere to feed
the folks so we won't have the time to drop by--but send our
love, see you, bye."

I raced back up the stairs, ripped through the boxes I had
carefully packed for the move and located some towels which I
immediately stuffed into the middle of the window to impede the
entry of any more water.

I raced back down the stairs to see if it had worked. Pat
was now up on the incredibly shakey ladder trying to dry the
wall. John was holding the ladder to prevent any further rain
related disaster. Mary was running back and forth into the
kitchen exchanging wet towels for dry. MaryAnn was watching to
make sure the fire for grilling did not go out (We had no more
charcoal and the stores anywhere within reason were closed).
Susan was busily shucking corn. And David who had obviously
succeeded in removing the ladder from the closet had decided that
the most useful thing he could do was refill the wine glasses.
The phone rang. It was Chuck. He couldn't be there because he
was entertaining his kids for dinner.

"Hi, is it raining as hard there as it is here?” he asked,
hoping the answer was no. Chuck, having participated in the
repair and painting knew only too well what a heavy rain could

"Yes" I said (exhaling the sound to indicate frustration.)

"Well don't worry, we still have enough paint for two more
storms. Gotta go but I'll speak to you tomorrow." He hung up.

I raced back up stairs to see if the window towels were
helping. They were not.

I raced back down the stairs to see if there was anything
I could do to help in the drying effort. Mary was now on the
ladder, Pat was holding, MaryAnn was exchanging wet towels for
dry, Susan was watching the fire and John was shucking corn,
David was still pouring wine. It seemed there was only one thing
I could do... grill the fish. Yes there was a torrential
downpour and yes I was going to get wet to the point where I
thought I would never dry, but I needed to do something. We were
all getting hungry, the fish needed to be grilled, and cooking
was the only way I knew to control my hysteria... so I grilled
the fish while Mary and Pat switched off on the ladder in a
ongoing attempt to dry the wall, John and Susan switched off or
shucked simultaneously, MaryAnn made the salad and David, while
pouring the much needed wine remarked, "Gee the leak would have
been boring if our friends hadn't been here!"

Eventually, the force of the rain diminished with the chaos
of the wall drying/dinner preparation and my anxieties.
The fish was grilled, the salad was no longer separate vegetable
entities, and the corn had shed its final shuck. We gathered
around a rectangular shaped glass coffee table (which was always
used in lieu of a dining room table) and we sat on the floor with
our dinner plates on our laps. Dinner was warm, dry and
delicious. We sat in comfortable positions on pillows that were
mushed to sitting perfection. We spoke of the places we loved
most, the geography we thought most beautiful, and our favorite
things to eat. We laughed about what it was like, as
adolescents, to buy prophylactics or have a first period.

We shared a melange of stories and secrets about ourselves
and our friends. The phone rand continuously. Mel and David
called from the coast just to say hello. Jane called from
Africa. Nikki called from Virginia. Carolyn called from Capitol
Hill and Louise called from up the street. It was as if all the
voices of the past and present knew that there was only a little
time left to have contact with an era about to end. We missed the
people who belonged at the barbecue but couldn't be there. In
their honor we tried to remember all the times we had spent
together having fun. And then we spoke joyously of the adventures
we would share in the future.

That evening was a flawless reflection of what my life had
been in that house. A continuing mixture of joy, sorrow,
frustration, love, and shared secrets.

The last barbecue most certainly reconfirmed David's
perception of the evening. Situations are less boring when you
share them with friends. What a fitting finale for a perfect
beginning. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Thursday, December 16, 2010

1915 North Upton St.

It happened so quickly that we didn’t even have a chance to tell everyone about it. We sold our house and moved all our worldly possessions into storage. We are now staying at 220 E 54th St apt 3J, NY 10022. And can be reached at PO Box 69, NY 10150. Of course 1915 was more than a house and more than a home. It was a workplace, a theater, a peaceful refuge for people who needed comforting, a home for wayward political volunteers, a place we celebrated holidays, (the New Year, Super Bowl, Hannukah), where we thrived because we were surrounded (at the drop of a hat), by enthusiastic teenagers. It was an office, a studio, a playground, a place to strategize about world policies, and a place to entertain so many people we loved. You never knew who you would find when you opened the door. It might be a political reporter or editorial cartoonist, a chef, photojournalist, White House photographer or staffer, (yes, there is a difference – the ‘credential’), elected official, lobbyist, movie, tv or theater celebrity (once I came home and found Anna Deavere Smith interviewing David), corporate executive, musician, composer, felon, butcher, baker, and an occasional Indian diplomat or someone of special note – (for us these folks were always friends and family -- sometimes that was synonymous.) The purpose of sharing this information is not to brag, but simply to explain, 1915 was an interesting place to be.

In addition to all these things, it was the place where my son told me he thought he had sex (he wanted me to decide if this was so), he found his first pimple, and he learned to skate board. It was also the place my daughter was born, grew up, and found her professional calling. Oh, you know I could go on and on (as I often do), but you get the point. In fact, chances are, you were probably around helping us make a memory.
...the office...
Over the years it became a place where you went to laugh about the state of the world, or cry about the loss of a friend. We couldn’t dawdle with a long, maudlin, drawn out goodbyes (The new owners wanted to show their son his new room, and their painters were showing up an hour and a half after ‘closing.’) We simply left the way we came. David taking pictures and I, begging him not to take any of me. Yesterday we said our final goodbyes to our incredible neighbors (these were the kind of people who pumped out the flood in our basement when we were away, and with whom we often gathered on the street for an impromptu “Upton Street” cocktail party.) They had a lovely dinner in our honor, and to the life we lived amidst them for twenty five years. We pasted a picture of ourselves in a hidden place where it would never be found, bid adieu the way Jordan did before she left for school each morning.
the hidden polaroid, ca. 1990
We simply said “Goodbye, my house, goodbye, my tree,” looked both ways before we crossed the street, got in the car and drove away. We’re just sayin’….Iris

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Different Sort of Tragedy

There were two tragic politically related events this week. The saddest of the two was the passing of Elizabeth Edwards. I’ll get back to the other in a bit. Elizabeth Edwards was among many other things (writer political wife, educator, activist), an inspiration. There are people who loved her unwavering support for her husband and the issues about which they cared so deeply. There was absolutely no one who didn’t identify with her pain when she talked about the death of her son. There was absolutely no one who could escape the pain of her announcement about her incurable breast cancer. And there was no one who could escape the pain of her humiliation when she responded to her husband’s betrayal. And although pain can be inspirational, it was not what I found inspirational. It was, what appeared to be an indefatigable strength to keep moving forward. Some pals have said that overcoming difficult times makes one a better person. It might be true – although I don’t need any more hard times because, as you all know, I am wonderful enough. But enough about me …. (never). Elizabeth was, (as a public persona), gutsy, brave, optimistic, and as her daughter said today, comforting. While we might have been able to identify with all her losses, and humiliations she suffered, there are very few of us who could have been as graceful and courageous about it. Can you even imagine what it must have been like for her to have to deal not only with impending health disasters, but with children who knew that there father had done something unforgivable to their mother. So unforgivable that he would not be permitted to live with them anymore. So many losses, and so much determination to go on with whatever life she had left to live. It was not necessary to be Elizabeth’s friend to know that she was a person with a generous and loving spirit. And it was not necessary to be at the funeral to know that the loss of Elizabeth will be felt by people well beyond her immediate family.

The second tragedy was of a totally different nature and falls into the category of, “what could he possibly be thinking”? Who in their political right mind would say, “I have to go to a Christmas party but President Clinton will stay in the press room and take questions.” The tragedy here was that the President allowed himself to be compared with Bill Clinton – in the White House. President Obama is very smart and quite articulate, but he is not Bill Clinton – No one ever could be. No one can compare with Bill Clinton in dealing with impromptu questions from the press or the public. There is no question that Clinton did exactly what Obama and his advisors asked him to do. Of course he did. He supported the President’s tax compromise and explained, as no one else could, how important it was for the Democrats to support it as well. But what more do you need to know than that President Obama went to a Christmas party and President Clinton stayed with the media, to clean up the mess. The thing that always amazed me about Bill Clinton was that he liked people. There were never too many hands or enough time to shake them. It’s why he was always late. He hated to leave an event without talking to every person in the room. The thing that amazes me about President Obama, is that he doesn’t seem to like people. Well, maybe he likes them in the greater sense, but in one on one situations, he seems uncomfortable and always seems to have one foot out the door. ( I wonder how long he stayed at the Christmas Party). I have heard that the first couple no longer takes individual pictures with their guests. One tragedy is that never would have happened in any previous White House. Are there other tragedies as well? Yes, there are. But I won’t go on and on. Suffice to say that at a time when the President should be demonstrating what it means to lead, he led a different President to the podium and he went to a party. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Road Not Taken

During the last few weeks I have preferred to write about my moving woes instead of anything substantive. It’s been hard to think beyond what to do with all our worldly possessions. But with the President’s decision to give tax breaks to the richest 2% of the populace, in order to get an extension of unemployment compensation for hardworking Americans who, because of a lousy economy, lost their jobs, life savings, (and in many instances, homes), I could no longer remain silent or as others might describe it, consumed with self.

The whole political ‘landscape’ needs a good paint job. Congress is not only ineffective but, some would agree, has dangerously limited vision. In lieu of making their constituents a priority, they are playing political games with constituents lives. And the professor/community organizer in Chief, just wants to be friends with people who want to destroy him. I would suggest, the first thing the President and his merry band of advisors (including Geithner – who did not go to jail for doing the same thing they convicted Wesley Snipes of doing -- only Snipes is supposed to serve 36 months) needs to do, is watch some old episodes of “The West Wing”. He needs to take a few lessons in leadership and Congressional diplomacy (a good kick in the ass), from Jed Bartlett, the President many of us expected Obama to be.

A few years ago, John Spencer, a friend, fine actor and terrific Chief of Staff on the “West Wing”, came over to our house (the one we no longer own), for a barbeque. We invited assorted Washington types with whom he could mix and mingle. At one point he asked us if we thought “The West Wing” was a accurate portrayal of the way things work in Washington. Almost without exception, (our pal Janice from Salt Lake City who admittedly didn’t know about the way Washington works, she also didn’t know who John Spencer was), it was agreed that the reason we loved the show was because it was not accurate, but it was the way we wanted things to be. My guess is that a great many people thought the same thing. The nation was so excited about the possibility of some real change in the way Washington worked, that they thought a “West Wing” like the one Hollywood produced was a real possibility.

My guess is that there are a great many Republicans, as well as Democrats out of work. It is just possible that not all Republicans are rich and not all Democrats are middle class. If the President had addressed the nation and said that he would not allow the Republican Congress to cut off an extension of unemployment compensation in order to add another 80 billion dollars to the deficit, so the 2% of the richest people in the nation could enrich themselves a bit more, the public would have supported his position. But it is impossible to support a position that turns out not to be a position – just more rhetoric.

When I listen to what people say about Obama lately, it always starts with “I like the guy, but….” Exactly what do they like about him, I wonder. He seems to be a good father, and husband. He is handsome, personable and articulate. He has good taste in clothes, and plays a mean game of basketball. Those are all likeable qualities. But where is the man we elected to get us out of a war, make certain human rights were respected in our military (where the war still goes on). Makes employment for everyone who wants to work, the national priority. And demonstrates an ability to lead rather than compromise, when it comes to making a positive difference for the majority of our citizens.

For those of us who know all too well, the way Washington works, being nice to, rather than merely respectful of, the opposition’s demands, is a terrible waste of time. People want leaders to lead. To have a strong voice and clearly defined positions. Even if we don’t agree with that voice or position, we would feel comforted by the idea that there was a leader who knew in what direction he wanted the country to go. If you look like you know where you are going, people will follow. If you change direction and seem confused about the path you should follow, people will eventually lose confidence in your ability to choose a path. It’s not so much about the ‘road less taken’ as it is about keeping a sharp eye on whichever road you choose, and making damned sure you keep the end of the road in sight. We’re just sayin’… Iris

A True Mate - Sadly Gone

One of the joys of traveling is to have those unexpected meetings, the kind that start by literally bumping into someone, and from there to conversation, and perhaps even friendship. I have been lucky over the years in making friends with some great folk, and I number amongst those none more wonderful, or amusing then Peter Carrette. I first met Pete in Kuala Lumpur. Just after the fall of Vietnam, which I only observed from New York, I made my way to Korea. I had a hunch, wrong I suppose when you think about it, that if there really WAS a domino theory at work, (the idea that the fall of one Asian country to the Commuist RED Threat would lead to a spate of others) Korea seemed like the most likely spot. Korea was, prior to Vietnam, the last time an Asian war was fought with the Commies (aside from Malay insurgencies, amongst others) and while the armistice had lasted 25 years, the North was always unpredictable enough to make you wonder what their next move would be. It was the mid 1970s, and while it feels literally like last week, it has been thirty five years. Hard to believe. After producing what became a color cover act (when journalism existed primarily in black-and-white, a big color spread was called an “act,” making it seem like an even bigger deal than it was.) But, let’s face it, the cover (shot in Kodachrome) of a magazine seen by 25 million people, and 4 pages of color inside, WAS a pretty big deal. Especially that I had talked my way into the story. I sold it as “the next Asian domino.” Suzanne, the researcher had agreed to offer me something substantial enough to make the trip worthwhile… probably something like an air ticket, a big bag of film, and 5 days shooting, but it proved once again the old adage that you are worth far more “on site” to an editor than you are standing in their office telling them how great you are. Once I was in Seoul, as the editors all started to agree that it was time “to take a look at the Korean peninsula” I parlayed the assignment into a month of shooting, including an exclusive interview with the difficult to encounter Park Chung Hee, the President. You know you’re onto a good story when they fly in the big guns from DC, and when Jerry Schecter – the chief Diplomatic Correspondent – came to town, this went from being a little one pager to a full blown “color act.” But I was just starting to feel like I was the master of my own destiny again, as I held the first copies of the magazine in my hand several weeks later, already on a plane to Kuala Lumpur. As you could do in those days, one story was just a plane ticket to another. Next up, Muhammed Ali – the world’s most recognizable person – was going to defend his title against Joe Bugner. If you could think of the notoriety of Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Justin Bieber all in the form of one person, a boxer from Louisville, that was Ali. In little villages in countries where a TV was a shared appliance in a village, the one person the village kids might know in Congo, Peru, and Indonesia, was Muhammed Ali. The days before cable tv, before the internet, before email. Remember those days? Not easy to even imagine how we stayed in touch except by the occasional transoceanic phone call (more romantic than just “long distance,” as a concept) or telex (that blazing early version of Instant Messaging.. 110 baud typing machines. But somehow we did get along without all those moments of getting on elevators without pulling out a Blackberry to see whatever latest unimportant bit of spam had been sent our way.

But I digress: Ali in KL. A big deal. Drew press from around the world. I remember small teams of young uniformed Malaysian schoolgirls with their autograph books in hand, staked out by the Hilton, waiting to get someone “famous.” And when my friend David Greenway, a long time foreign correspondent who had that look of someone that said “you really should KNOW who this guy is…” told a group of kids “THAT guy is very famous, you should get HIS autograph.” I was the object of that suggestion, and moments later was surrounded by a clutch of smiling, giggling girls who knew not who I was, but felt they nonetheless needed my autograph. I shall never forget the first entry I saw, as it just seemed like the perfect introduction into the world of celebrity autograph hunting: “Police man, Police man, do your duty…Here comes Daisy, the Malaysian Beauty..” The point was, you couldn’t simply write your name, you were obliged to come up with something a little more substantial and literary. I’m sure I failed at the task, but the mere site of their hopeful smiles only added to my own. It was in KL during the walk up to that match that I met Peter. He was in imposing form, probably 6-6” in his stocking feet, and forever branded with a chessie cat smile. Born in London, he left his cockney neighborhood behind in his teens, heading to Australia where he took up photography.

In a time when ‘paparazzo’ meant something more than just sleaze and in-your-face-mobbing, he was creative and colorful. His first big scoop was donning a medical uniform and walking into a hospital room where a distraught Marianne Faithful was getting over an emotional downer with then BF Mick Jagger. Doctor Carrette, walked in, made a picture of her in bed with the camera under his gown, and walked out, and promptly sold it to a London tab for enough money to make him think it was time to really give this picture thing a shot. He eventually became known as the ‘granddad’ of Australian paparazzi.. at a time when it didn’t’ have such a terrible connotation. Not content to just sell pictures of starlets and stars, he often created some of those “I can’t BELIEVE it” feature shots of --- well, basically nude and semi nude models on the beach. By the score he would find them and line them up, and living on Bondi he never worried about a backdrop. Just hop down to the beach, line up twenty five cute ladies, and he always include at least one shot of himself. No email from Peter was complete without at least one shot of him “at work.” Pete was a special guy. He loved hooking up his Aussie pals with me in those days when the cramped little apartment in New York was home. Virginia Hey (she was the Amazonian She-girl in Mad Max), Jack Thompson ( the lawyer in Breaker Morant), among others, counted themselves as friends of Peter Carrette. And lucky they were for it. His heart was huge, his smile enveloping, his gusto and energy without limit. And when the news came just a week ago, that he’d apparently had a heart attack at home while knocking out a memo on his computer, the sadness of his passing seemed to be without measure. I loved that laugh, that Cockney sensibility, that desire to always lighten a room, and life will be just a little sorrier that he’s no longer here to grace us with them. We’re just sayin’…. David

Saturday, December 04, 2010

What We Remember

the Dining Room..... after the move

A few days ago, in the middle of our moving mess, I thought about writing a blob. I knew exactly what I wanted to write. In fact, I even wrote the first sentence, which went something like “there was a time…” Unfortunately, I think I left the idea somewhere in a box in one of six places we have stored all our worldly belongings. And again, unfortunately, it is going to be impossible for me to retrieve any thoughts or any worldly possessions for quite some time.

Anyway, it occurs to me that I should probably try to write about the move, about which, we did not tell everyone we wanted to know. There are a million reasons why our dissemination of information sucked. First of all, we put the house on the market with expectation that it would sell in a timely manner. Second, we sold it within two weeks of when it was listed and did not have the slightest idea of where we were going to move. It was simply too hard to answer the question, “well, where are you going?” without having the slightest idea about what to answer.

Third, I was spending all my time trying to get ready to move 25 years worth of things (and we should never forget they are only things), while trying to work in NY and seeing the kids in Massachusetts. Fourth, we were clearly in denial about the ending of an era which included adding room after room to fit our lifestyle, parties for every occasion, dinners at the kidney shaped table, events, of all kinds (from politics to karaoke, to holidays real and imagined), photos in the studio, years of children’s growing up drama. This was the place where my son told me that he thought he had sex, but asked me if I could confirm it. And the place where, when the weather prevented school from opening my daughter and all her friends did a four day marathon of “Angels in America” without ever getting out of their jimmies. Long after the snow cleared, and other parents said their children should come home, the kids were still happy to be camped out in the living room.

Fifth, I didn’t have the energy to deal with another loss – or for that matter, cleaning out another house and giving or throwing away things that, at one time seemed very important. And lastly, there are many wonderful friends to whom we never want to say goodbye. People always say they will come and visit or keep in touch, but unless they are as relentless as the beloved photojournalist who shares my life, or me – it usually doesn’t happen. And by the time we have a place to which we can invite people and to where we can gather everything in in one structure (without boxes), people may not even remember who we are or were.

Therefore, I apologize for not calling people back in a timely manner, for not sharing the move information with everyone who should have been told, for not following up or through on projects that remain important (to the whole entire universe), and no matter how sensible, for not wanting the era to end.

Oh, now I remember. There was a time when my mother and my aunts went to the supermarket in their house dresses, with their hair in curlers, and but wearing their mink coats. There was a time when looking forward seemed such a big job and looking back was right there. There was a time when my brother was just a pain in the neck. I would see most of my cousins on some holiday and the idea of children was so remote it was laughable. But that time has come and I gone. The great grandchildren have the furs worn every morning to the supermarket. The future just isn’t as far away as we need it to be. My brother turns out to be amazing, a kind and generous human being who I would like to see all the time. My cousins (and a few good friends), have been a loving generous support system – right there to see us through what have been pretty difficult times. And, of course, now, I cannot imagine my life without my children and grandchildren.
the stuff in storage....till...
“Think of this as an adventure,” many people have suggested. Good idea, right!? Maybe when I can take a breath I will. Right now it’s hard to get past the mountain of boxes. Anyone want an old 78 record player or a shoe chair. We’re just sayin’.. Iris

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Turkey Day Without Rosie

It’s the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I should be at the Reservoir Tavern in Boonton, NJ, yucking it up with old friends but instead, I am in a state of total collapse, recovering from just a part of our pack and move. I am thankful that I had a place to go to collapse.

This is the first Thanksgiving I have ever spent without my mother. True, my trips home for this turkey of a holiday usually had to do with having the opportunity to gather with extended family and friends. But it was, in no small way, a holiday on which my mother always an impact.

As with other families, our immediate family always celebrated Thanksgiving at first my parents house and then, when the house was gone, and my mother moved to the West Coast, at my brother’s. While we were still in New Jersey, the turkey part of the program would consist of decorating a gingerbread house, setting the table, preparing the meal and eating, and revealing what we were most thankful for. After the main meal friends would come from near and far (mostly near), and bring dessert. There were a few colorful years where the celebration would start out just fine, and then my mother would have some kind of a ‘pause’ and we would end up at the hospital. I guess she figured since we were all together it was a perfect time to get sick – that way we wouldn’t have to travel to wherever she was for whatever the emergency.

After mom moved to Seattle we decided to celebrate Thanksgiving a week or two early and thus avoid travel and shopping problems. It was wonderful, except that it was too difficult for Seth and Joyce to make the trip, and of course, they were missed. We also missed the multitude of desserts brought by friends, but not as much as we missed the kids. Then on the actual day, Jordan and I (David if he was around) would go and sit at the bar at the York Grill, and have a great multi-course meal (also at the bar), and wander home for a good nap. Not bad, just not the same.
last year in Seattle
It’s amazing, without Mom around, how much I miss my kids, my brother and sister-in-law, my niece and my aunt Irene. It’s funny how, when you absolutely can’t celebrate the way you always did, how much you feel the absence of what was – even if it wasn’t always pleasant. It’s amazing how, when things change – that you didn’t want to change--how helpless you feel to do anything about the new circumstances.

Uh oh, is this turning into another giant whine – another “oh poor me.” No it is not. I am thankful for all my friends, old and new. Family, old and new. Life style, old and new. And new career – too long in coming. As I said, I am thankful for having friends and family who are there to support our efforts – no matter how half assed or ridiculous. And I am thankful to be able to enjoy all my children’s successes and even recovery from, what they consider failures. I never think what they do is a failure—just another learning experience…. And for the ability to believe that my children can never fail, I will be for ever grateful to my mom and dad. We’re just sayin’… Iris
Thanksgiving 2005: Seth,Joyce,Jeff; DB,Rose,Iris

Monday, November 15, 2010

Never Too Late To Learn

Remember the Beatles song that started, “When I get older, losing my hair.. many years from now..”….. well folks – yes, it’s that birthday, but I still learn something every day.

Today I learned that having supportive, loving friends/family is totally wonderful. And just how did I learn this? First of all, we went to a family wedding last night. It was a nice wedding. And the kids were so happy. But that wasn’t something I learned –I already knew that. What I learned was that, no matter how old you get, being with your family just keeps getting better and better.

When you are a child, it’s nice to see relatives -- occasionally. When it happens, you usually have a good time but you never think – I just can’t wait until the next occasion to see all those cousins again. If it happens, it’s nice. If it doesn’t, you figure it probably will sometime down the road – but it’s not necessarily something you know you will miss if it doesn’t happen soon. What I know now, is that I will feel an absence not seeing my cousins and my mother’s twin sister. It’s too bad we don’t know that when we are young, but yesterday I learned that it is never too late to have the realization.
the kids cousin brigade
The correspondence I received today was, for the most part, loving. Friends from all different times in my life sent messages and wishes for a happy birthday. Note, I said for the most part. Allow me to explain (Of course, I knew you would). For the last few weeks I have been sending notes asking for tax deductible financial support for “Gefilte Fish Chronicles: The musical – which I must say is going to be a real winner. (Yes mom, I just spit three times to avoid the evil eye.) I decided, however, not to send letters to family because I’m always asking them for something – and I know it gets tedious. Don’t want my dream to turn into their nightmare. (Despite not asking, a few generously offered to help). Much to my surprise, I got one disturbing note from an old friend who got one of the letters. Let me also say that I sent a note before the letter explaining to everyone that they would receive an appeal from me but not to feel it was either something they had to do, nor was whatever they decided, going to change our relationship.
Aunt Peppy and the cuz's--Table 14
Anyway, one friend was outraged that I even asked them to support something that was neither an issue or a disease. The final sentence was something like “you are the only friend we have ever had that asked us to support something that was not a charity.” It was unexpected because I think supporting the arts is, if not a charity, at the very least, important. And a project that addresses critical issues about keeping a family connected is, although not a charity, at least worth considering. But that’s what I think. It never occurs to me that other people might be offended or even angry about what I think. And yes, I am sometimes nonstop, unrelentlessly determined, but most people who know me find it’s part of my charm (she said modestly.)
Bill gets the real story from Peppy
Which brings us to another thing I learned today. Not everyone is going to think everything I do, is worthwhile. Additionally, not everyone is going to approve of the methods I use, to do what I think is worthwhile. It’s a hard lesson to learn this late in my life because I thought I walked on water. But now that I know I don’t. I guess I’ll just have to face the fact that if there is no ice to walk on, I just might drown. And I have absolutely no idea what that means – so don’t ever ask me to explain. We’re just sayin’… Iris

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Just A Life

We’re moving. We don’t know where, so maybe I should say, we’re packing. And as I go room to room and look at all the stuff we’ve collected over the years, I think – Geez, what a lot of crap. But along with that I think, there are so many memories. How do you throw away those items which brought you so much happiness and at times, so much pain. Then I think, but they are my memories. Jordan and Seth will have no idea what they should do with anything – except the pictures, and maybe the recipes. Matty Selman, the wonderfully talented, dare I say, genius, who is writing the music, lyrics and collaborating on the book, for “Gefilte Fish Chronicles: The Musical,” has written a song called “Just a Life”. A child, whose mother has died, is going through all her mother’s things. It is a daunting task. To her surprise, her mother appears and tells her that none of her possessions means anything –it was only a life, and the only thing the daughter should save are the treasured pictures and recipes and things that will keep the memory of all who have passed on, alive in their hearts.

Which made me think about the next generation of family. Who will remember and who will treasure (good or bad), the memory of previous generations? And I felt pretty good about it. Jonathan used to come and make matzoh brie with the great aunts on the morning after the Seder. He can take that with him and teach his children. Madison made the horse radish, and even if she doesn’t remember how, she will remember that she was covered with beet juice. Stephanie and her daughter Sydney have always been a part of the preparation for every family occasion – they know how to do it. My children and all the second, third, and fourth cousins know how valuable it is to treasure and pass on the photos and stories of their parents, grandparents and great grandparents.

We have quite an array of talented kids. We have Doctors, (eye and body) and, especially important, one is a psychiatrist. We have business owners and business experts, who make a real difference giving guidance to people who don’t have their expertise. We have actors, artists, chefs, real estate mavens, nurses, builders, writers, musicians , activists, and home makers, We have any number of lawyers, and Louis (named for his great grandfather) just passed the Bar. Mazel Tov! And God knows, we have an adequate supply of Indian Chiefs—that’s genetic. They are, for the most part, self starting, determined, adults, who are taking great care to make sure they pass on the important stuff to their kids. They are sensitive, feeling, adults who have always responded to whatever the previous generation asks of them. Whether it be “come to dinner” or “come and help.” One of the most touching examples of this is the support the younger (younger than me), cousins have been in the development of Gefilte Fish Chronicles: The Musical. Among some of the sweetest responses, one apologized for not being able to give enough, and one asked if they could help finance the production on a monthly basis. They understand how important it is to have a family legacy and they want, very much, to be a part of it.

When we were children my grandparents taught us the importance of being charitable. Not only with strangers and not only with money, but with time and with family, with pictures and no shortage of stories. The Dubroff clan (Minnie, Abe and all their children) have done a wonderful job in making clear that everyone has “ just a life”, and what’s important is to treasure each moment we live and each moment that has passed. We’re just sayin’.... Iris

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


Let me tell you what I did for election day. No I didn’t watch the results until well after the last ballot was counted and the last smudge was erased. Word has it that the Republicans took over the house (Nancy will have to give up her big fat gas guzzling jet), and Harry Reid, (who made his acceptance speech with all the warmth that emanates whenever he makes a public appearance (this time on an stage unfettered by enthusiastic support), is going back to his leadership role in the Senate. So now you know what I didn’t do. Let’s see how I passed the time.

First thing this morning I went to the fitness club where I worked out on the elliptical and then lifted weights. Now that (as opposed to the election) deserves a big whew. Next I showered dressed and ate a cupcake, some Italian Wedding soup, and a peanut butter granola bar. It gets worse. While I did not eat any dinner, I did eat an entire dish of French fries from “The Edison Café”, which is in the old Edison Hotel –a place that remains old, but has hand cut French Fries and great soup. It was not my intention to go to the theater, but as I passed “the board”, in Times Square, “Pee Wee Herman’s Playhouse” was available at half price. It was too much to resist.

We are big Pee Wee Herman fans but David was out of town and Jordan is in LA, so I went alone. It was cute, but not a show you should see alone. After the show, I walked home, cleaned up the apartment a bit, and ate three vanilla Oreo cookies –my favorite new sweet. It’s 3am and yes, I have looked at the election results. Russ Feingold lost. That was a shocker. He is a good Senator and, has been responsible for big cuts in government spending. His absence will not go unnoticed. And Rosa DeLauro was reelected, now that’s a whew!

Oh, and here’s a birthday shout out to Joe Cowart and Stevie Kaufman, in whose honor I turned on the radio and jumped on and off the couch. Perhaps I should say leapt from sofa to sofa –but given my age, that would be a slight exaggeration.

Every pundit is commenting on the election so my opinions are less than pithy. All I can say is, unfortunately, I don’t think it will make any difference. The Administration will not take any responsibility for the loss, and now there will be even more people who do not understand the rules or the bureaucracy trying to make change without understanding how to do get anything done.

That being said, I wanted to mention that the Capital of our great nation just can’t get it together to function like a big city -- with grown up coordinated decision-making ability. If you are unfamiliar with the greater DC area, it includes DC, and ‘close in’ Virginia and Maryland. The metro system is shared by these two states and one district. When there is a big event, that’s how they urge you to travel.

During the inaugural (President Obama’s), people were thrilled with the results of the election and it seemed, everyone in the world was credentialed to attend. Getting a ticket for something, and being able to actually get there are two different tasks. People got credentials through their Congressmen, who never want to say no to a constituent. Based on the number of people who tried to get to the Capital, very few elected officials refused to say no to anyone who lived in their state or Congressional District. The results, even when a large crowd anticipated, is total disaster, It happened during the inaugural and it happened again last weekend for the Stewart/Colbert rally. Not enough cars on each train, and not enough trains. When you encourage people not to drive, and to “take Metro,” there is an implicit understanding that there ought to be enough space on the cars for FOR THE PEOPLE TO STAND! Not a big, complicated, Einsteinian theoretical. Just make the trains 8 cars instead of 6, and send them every five minutes in stead of every ten. Then it might actually be able to deliver a couple of hundred thousand people to an even, whether Sanity is the theme, or not.
nary a place to stand!
So what’s the good news? The election is over. Those ads are over. Take the phrase “and I approved this message because the people of ----fill in your favorite location---- deserve better….” and file it away. We will not have to watch, think about or listen to any campaign blathering for two years. Whew! We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Big and the Small of It

Tomorrow is the opening of the PhotoPlus show in NY at the Javits center. (Anyone reading this remember who “Javits” actually was?) It’s the annual tech extravaganza for photo groupies… new cameras and lenses, software, people who cater to printing for the wedding market, lighting and other stuff that I’ve not either considered or wondered about. Yea, people sit around thinking of amazing little devices. Over the years I have actually had a few ideas of groovy little machines (a 1985 idea for an extra “Delete” key on a Mac mouse, and would have thought it was a good idea until I realized that if you “Select” the text in question, and just hit any key, that automatically “deletes” it. Bummer, I was so ready to go into production. You start to have a real appreciation for inventors when you realize the kind of work that goes into making a prototype. I loved that word as a kid. “PROTO” type.. the first, the one you design and make to see if the design actually works. You need all kinds of tools to shape and form whatever it is.. plastic, metal, some kind of fiberglass. It’s different than just cutting 2x4’s and putting a wall extension up on a house. Precision is required. As a kid I made model airplanes (the flying, control line ones) for years with a single Xacto knife a little Stanley hand powered drill, and a couple of screw drivers. It was a grand surprize, frankly, when the damn things actually took to the air. Even though we live in a world where everything is sized downwards – just look inside your computer some day. Itty bitty stuff is everywhere. Today I just looked at my watch to see the time, and was struck by the size of the stem of the hands. It’s a beautiful Baume Mercier watch, using technology (its what we used to call an “automatic”… powered by the movement of your arm) which is decades old. It’s just tiny. Miniscule. How the hell do they get it all attached? I don’t know. I guess I’m ready for a trip to a Swiss watch maker, and marvel once again at how they do it.

I suspect that the photo world will keep amazing me with the stuff they do. My first Mac was a “fat Mac”… aka a 512K Memory beige box with the 9” screen. The storage was on 3.5” floppies which held a whopping 400k of information. Later they were expanded to the “double density” 800k. The big jump was a hard drive. What a concept. Five whole megabytes of storage. As the storage kept jumping, the drives became bigger and bigger. I remember paying over a thousand dollars (ca. 1988 dollars, by the way) for a 60 megabyte drive. Not gigabyte, not terabyte. The price has just consistently dropped as fast as a rock in a pond. Now, for a hundred bucks you can buy a terabyte drive. (That is approximately 256000 times a better deal than my first hard drive.) Today I saw advertised for the first time a 256gig thumb drive. And like most photographers, struggling with a reasonable and affordable back-up of our scanned film and digi images, we hope that the acceleration of the cost/terabyte factor will let us afford some kind of solid state, non-moving parts, rapid storage. About three years ago I suggested to a couple of people I knew at Kodak that since their actual photo business had diminished to about zero, that it would be cool if they would design a big yellow container looking like a box of Tri-x, but in which were an array of drives, self archiving, and for a couple of thousand bucks you could buy a couple of years of confidence that your work wouldn’t go away, into the ethers.

I expect tomorrow will show this years newer developments and they will include one more step closer to that ‘don’t lose any sleep over it’ backup. There is a great moment of tension when “Dave,” the pilot of the space craft in 2001: A Space Odyssey realizes he has to dismantle the HAL9000 computer. The computer has gone rogue, and is trying to bump Dave off, having done so already with his co-pilot. Dave realizes his only chance is to disengage the memory cells, and – at least in Kubricks mind – they looked like big glassy hunks of clear crystal or plastic, a couple of feet across, a couple of feet deep. I was convinced. At that point, with the Apollo program still alive – 1969 – you could assume that the computing power of the whole Apollo module was less than a single iPhone today.

Moore’s law says that every 18 months chips will double their speed, and I suppose there is a corollary which covers the density of storage media. The problem of course is that Parkinson’s law applies to photographers just as it does to programmers: “data will expand to fill the available space…” So instead of shooting, say, a roll of film at a press conference, because 16gig and 32gig cards are so prevalent, the unending roll of film, we shoot way more than we should, because we can. I love my big format (née 35mm) digi cams, but I also appreciate my little point and shoot cameras ( the Ricoh CX4 and GRiii) which have taken minaturization to a new level.
three pix from the Fairleigh Dickinson/Wilkes Univ football game last week (Wilkes won 28-23)

Small enough to put on your belt and take everywhere, big enough to make 11x17 prints. In the age of big big big, and tiny tiny tiny, it wouldn’t be a horrible thing if we could figure out what that magic formula is that lets you live a well moderated life, well moderated. With 8 gigs attached to my belt, We’re just sayin’….. David

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rosie's Ride

On my mother’s 90th birthday, my younger brother (to whom I did not speak until he was eighteen), called to wish my mother a happy birthday. Who else was he going to call who wouldn’t think he was a lunatic? He confessed that the legacy my mother left for him was not exactly what he expected, but that was OK.

For those of you who have wondered what happened to the gold glitter sneakers, I finally have the answer. They were my brother’s legacy, and a man and his legacy, no matter how ridiculous, are not easily parted. But this is kind of starting the conversation in the middle and wandering around searching for a beginning.

When we were growing up, the climate in which we existed, was not without drama.. The alarm would go off and the household was up and go-go-go. My brother who I now adore (did I mention that), slept in my room from the time he was 3-6. This happened because one night he was afraid and he sat in the middle of the hall and screamed. My parents pretty much ignored it. My mom took care of my dad whose ability to function diminished every day, so she was physically and emotionally exhausted. But I couldn’t stand the noise so I took him into my room. There was no Dr. Spock to say, “let him scream, eventually he will sleep.” And so, he would scream every night until I picked him up and took him into my room. So there I was, young, impatient and sleep deprived.

In the morning I would wake up, put him back in his room and have a fight with my mother. It usually started with her asking me what I wanted for breakfast. “Nothing.” I would say. Having been awake a good part of the night I was sleepy and in a bad mood. The last thing I wanted was one of her hot cereal (Maltex, Cream of Wheat) breakfasts. Mostly, I just wanted to be left alone in peace to get dressed and go to school.

Telling my mother, or any her sisters that you didn’t want to eat was like telling them that you didn’t want to breathe and clearly needed to be hospitalized. What started as a question or two or three or four, always ended in World War Three. When I left the house I was always hysterical or a wreck. Walking the four blocks to school, I would calm down and become Miss Personality. Everyone in school thought I was funny, easy going and smart/cute. This was simply a mask I applied on that four block walk. But inside there was a sadness that never left. And at night, night after night, and morning after morning, it was a veritable Ground Hog Day.

My friends thought my parents walked on water. There was never a time when a friend was in trouble, that my parents didn’t take them in. Sometimes for a night and oft times for a year. They were very good with strangers. I guess they thought we would be OK. and as long as people who did not live in our house thought they were divine, we would do the same. We tried to understand what they were dealing with. But we were too young and selfishly had our own needs.

It’s funny when you think back because after the morning fights, (which never seemed to bother my mother), she would get all dressed up. Put on something much too stylist for Boonton, N.J. and make her way to one of her sister’s homes. They would spend the day shopping or cooking or playing cards. She had no idea that I had gone to school as an emotional wreck or that my brother was traumatized by his nightly abandonment.

When I would tell her that I didn’t want to talk to her, or that I felt that teenage hatred, that young people often feel, she would say, “What kind of an idiot ARE you?”. It never occurred to her that we had any legitimate complaints. Sure, there were arguments, but love and hate were never at issue. You just did what you needed to do to survive.

Over the years we finally understood. The things that embarrassed my brother about my mother (her clothing and perfume), just didn’t matter anymore. We came to treasure her “style” and we learned how to deal with the difficulties she encountered everyday.

Of course she was good with strangers – they saw only the glitter. There was no tarnish. And we came to admire the tarnish and adore the glitter. So, in answer to the question “who got the gold sneakers?” They live in my brother’s antique pick up truck and everywhere it goes, they go with it. The gold sneakers are a constant reminder of her ability to glitter, with or without the gold.