Monday, December 28, 2015

My Pal .... Andy

Sorrow doesn’t begin to express the way I feel about the death of my dear dear friend Andy Stein.  He always described us as the same person but he had male attributes, which I did not. At the very least, we were soul mates.  As with so many political friends, I can’t even remember when we met because it always felt like forever.  Our meeting was probably around 1976, 77, or 78.  Who knows.  Once we connected,  time didn’t matter. 
Andy lived in a two bedroom apartment Santa Monica, three blocks from the beach.  He probably paid $2.00 a month for it.  OK not $2.00 but something close to it because people like us look until we find something we want and then we negotiate a price.  At some point in the last few years, when he was feeling a financial pinch, he got a roommate, who probably paid $1.50 of the $2.00. 

He was very active until some years ago when he was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, which slowed him down but did not stop him from living his life.  Whenever we were together in LA We had a ritual. We would have breakfast in at Cora’s, a little cafe in Santa Monica.  We ate until we were sick at which time we would go for a walk on the beach.  It gave us a chance to catch up without the distraction of food.  Last winter when we were visiting and we were on the walk part of the ritual he told me that if he ever felt like he no longer had control of his life, he was out of here.  “Don’t be an idiot” I said and let it go.  That night, like whenever Jordan performed, he was there.  He never missed a performance even though most were in the evening and it wasn’t easy for him to get there.  He never missed an opportunity to have a laugh and make a friend happy.

A few months ago, when we were meeting at Cora’s he was late. Andy was never late.   After a half hour or so he called to apologize and say that he wasn’t going to make it because he had a stroke and was in the hospital  He did not want company.  Ordinarily I would have ignored what he wanted,  but this time he sounded serious, so I didn’t go to the hospital. We talked a few times before I travelled east and always kept in touch. Sometimes he sounded upbeat but sometimes he sounded really down in the dumps.  The last time we spoke I told him I was coming to LA for there months and I wanted him to come and speak to the class I was going to teach.  Yesterday I sent him the syllabus and asked him to comment.  He didn’t return my call.  This morning Dennis called me to say Andy had committed suicide.  After I could see through my tears I opened his text which said,

So long as the subject, and went on
So long it’s been good to know yuh” sung to the tune of the old Woody Guthrie song.
So long it’s been good to know yuh,
This tired kidney of mine refuses to work,
And I gotta be moving along.

Sleep peacefully  my friend. I wish it had been possible for the people who adored you to make these past few years less painful for you

We're just sayin'.... Iris

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Face In the Crowd

Just about a year ago, we got a call at Contact Press Images from a caller in Illinois. He'd seen a picture online, and was trying to find out more about it, and get a copy of it. Per usual, the office quoted him a price, and almost as an afterthought sent me a note with the name of the gent, and a very brief description of why he'd called. It seems he was IN a picture I'd shot years before in Vietnam, and was hoping to get a print. Well, as someone who has carried the decorative sash "Not a Bad Photographer, but Sometimes a Terrible Note Taker" for years, I jumped at the chance to talk to yet another of the persons who had anonymously been in one of my pictures, at a time when I certainly was anonymous to the people in the picture. Our little clouds hovered above a fog of anonymity. The situation was this: Christmas Eve 1970: Phu Bai, Vietnam, home of the 101st Airborne Division. I was a newbie having been in country about two months, still wandering around with something approaching a goofy blank stare on my youthful face, in search of pictures, but not quite sure, I realize now, that I'd recognize them if they jumped in front of me. I had stopped in Phu Bai that day for a few hours, en route to the Alpha 4 basecamp at the DMZ (aka Con Thien), to photograph that year's version of the "Bob Hope Entertains the Troops" tour. With Joey Heatherton and a bevy of young beauties, his hat brim flipped back like an off-duty Spec. 4 might wear, Hope entertained a large crowd of screaming grunts for over an hour. Because I had a chopper to catch to the DMZ, I didn't have the chance to stay till the end. 

 Terry in the crowd at the Bob Hope show (1970)
Later that night, amid some yuletide illumination round flares, and mud up to my shins, I hung with the soldiers of Alpha 4 as they celebrated Christmas in the manner usual for troops on duty. For years, one of the photographs of the soldiers' audience at the Bob Hope show has intrigued me. So many faces, so many expressions. Who were these people? I'd hoped that somehow I could meet some of those guys again, in what is now 45 years later. In an email from the guy in Illinois, there was a phone number, and I didn't waste a lot of time - I called him. Terry answered the phone, I said I was the photographer of the Phu Bai "Bob Hope" shot he'd seen on the web, and for the next few minutes there unfolded a very emotional story. Each year, he said, around Christmas, he gets to thinking about his time in Vietnam, and especially his buddies. (In combat, you don't really fight for God or country, you fight for your buddies.) He said that he couldn't sleep, and in the middle of the night, got up, went to his PC and googled "Bob Hope Phu Bai." My picture immediately appeared, that Christmas Eve in Vietnam. He looked at the picture for a minute, and realized he was IN it. One of the few men standing in a crowd mostly sitting. No question. It was him. As he recounted the story to me, I could hear the welling up of emotion and tears, as if the sudden connection to someone else who'd been there that day was the closing of some kind of circle in his heart. We talked for a while, he told me how he'd been there quite by chance, that his actual base camp was the same Alpha 4 I was headed to that day, but he'd won an impromptu lotto the Sgt. had arranged to send two guys to see Bob Hope. In the moment of that conversation it all seemed as if it were meant to somehow be. I told him I'd send him a print ( a nice b/w 16x20) and he said "if you get to central Illinois, I'd love to come and say hello...."

 with several Abe Lincolns, and with me, (2015)
Four months later, while in Vandalia for the Abraham Lincoln Presenters convention, I called Terry. A couple of hours drive for him was nothing, and he drove down and met me (and several Abe Lincolns!) for breakfast. So seldom when you are a horrible caption taker like me, does fate award you the chance to actually catch up with a subject again, let alone forty-five years later. But tonight, as I think about that moment where we crossed paths in the middle of a crazy war, I am grateful that for at least one man in a crowd of several hundred, we were no longer just two anonymous souls. And as the 20 year old grunts of Alpha Four might say .... "Merry Christmas..." D+45 Years
we're just sayin'... David

Thursday, December 10, 2015

4th Quarter at the Madonna

 “When I opened my eyes, my hands were around her throat and I was squeezing.”  Such was a phone call from an enraged pal who’s mother (with Altzheimers) had pushed her a little too far.  For any of us who have been care givers for a beloved aged relative, you will relate to her actions.  Obviously, she smartly called me, (rather than continuing to apply pressure).  We still laugh about it today.  You can find humor in all those horrible events we suffer when our loved ones are aging or dying.

Anyway, since the reunion with my college roommates, I have acquired a new adult language.  Some of my favorites:  Angie said, “Now that we are in the 4th quarter of our lives, it has to be all about keeping joy in our lives.  That is to say, dealing only with people who w need to be part of our lives.  Only people who make us happy should be our daily fare.”  But I love the idea of a 4th quarter.  My mother had a friend who once informed me that half of my life had passed, so I better not waste any of the time that I had left.  That thought had never been a part of my everyday experience.  But she was right.  And it wasn’t until this last weekend, with people who I had known more than 3/4 of my life, that Matties’ words came back to me. With this in mind I am determined, if it’s possible,  to do only things that make me happy.   Yep, the 4th quarter could be the best quarter.

The other concept that was hilarious, was when Soozie said “I have to have a few minutes to spackle.”  We were all confused about what she was going to do. It seemed to us that the Madonna Inn (in San Luis Obispo) had its own workmen.  One of us asked her what the hell she was talking about.   At this point she picked up her make-up kit and went into the bathroom.

the All American Suite

There were lots of older adult concepts that flew around our discussions over the last few days.  But mostly, everything we said was just damn funny — to us.  It was the old, “you had to be there”, and for once, we were all there.  

If you have been following my Facebook posts you would have see photos of our stay at the Madonna Inn. Should you want a great laugh, go on line to The Madonna Inn website, and look at the rooms.  We were in the “American Suite.”  There were two king size beds facing one another  (feet to feet.)  There was a Gi-normous fire place in the middle of the room. And at the far end there was this indescribably big big big medieval setee. The decorator’s choice of colors was unexpected. The woodwork was painted mostly red, but there was some deep turquoise and of course, gold.  The most notable piece of furniture was the toilet.  The seat was warm, with a few buttons that washed your front, back, and dried what the water had cleaned.  When you wake up in a cold room with cold bathroom tiles, and there is a warm toilet seat awaiting your arrival, the joy is unimaginable.  The whole hotel is always colored with a combination of pinks and a touch of the rainbow. There is pink sugar on the table, a pink collar on the cat, and pink chairs in the dining room.  When you look at any one of the rooms, it seems like everything is a blur — there are so many lights that you don’t see anything with clarity.  It was the perfect place for our reunion.  It was as if whoever put it together had spoken to us in order to find the perfect combination of kitch and cool.

This morning’s goodbyes were painful.  This morning we were all suffering  separation anxiety and we weren’t even separated.  When we were in school living together, we shared secrets, experiences, knowledge and intimacies.  We watched one another grow up with all that entailed.   While our lives moved in different directions, there was always an invisible continuing connection.  So when we saw one another we played ‘fill in the blanks,’ but there was never a need to explain our emotional development.  I could go on and on but there are no words to explain what we were feeling for one another.

It is my hope that everyone in my life has life relationships with people in their lives when they are my age.  It takes a little effort when you are scattered geographically, but whatever it takes will always be worth the minimal work.  There is nothing to say except I think of these wonderful people, always, with love. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Friday, December 04, 2015

A Playboy Bunny?1

Fifty years ago (holy crap... please don't quote me.. I mean... this is what I heard happened.. I wasn't really there was I?) my brother Tom graduated from Williams College (Class of '65)... I had just finished my freshman year at The Colorado College (sort of like THE Ohio State University, but without the 9 returning varsity football players) and, in a moment somewhat redolent of a distant, different era, I'd managed to make my way from Colorado Springs back to New England. (I shared a ride with sophomore Gayle Heckel, an adorable sandy blond from Cincinnati) and then thanks to a CC friend - Nick Campbell, who knew some guy that owned a Lear Jet, I managed to hitch a ride from Cincy to Laguardia on the gentleman's Lear. It's the kind of thing you cannot even imagine happening anymore (let alone hanging around the General Aviation terminal, just asking if someone in their private jet is headed where you wanna go....) I then managed to somehow make my way north to Williamstown, not sure just how I got there, but Tom was ensconced at the Kappa Alpha house, after hanging around for a day, I took his ChevyII Nova and drove around New England, I'm sure in search of some kind of interesting pictures, none of which did I really manage to make. 

I do remember, having been for a whole year the official photographer at the NHRA sponsored Bonneville Dragway in Salt Lake, that there was a strip in a little town known as South Glen Falls. I found my way there, having slept in the car a night or two, punctuated by the definitive sound of mosquito buzzing, in and out of my ears. I arrived in the rain, and, with no fences up to say no, took the car up to the starting line of the track, imagined the xmas tree lights going Yellow-Yellow-Yellow-GREEN! and raced down the track at what must have been a mind-numbing 64 mph. No records were shattered. Later that week, Tom's class was officially graduated, in a ceremony which injected the alternative politics of the main speakers, Adlai Stevenson, and Time Inc. founder Henry Luce. It pains me to see how crappy my pictures were. Pentax H3v, 55mm lens, with optional Spiratone 200mm, Trix and a lot of scratches which were the result of an anxious lab guy ( me! ) trying to squeegee-finger the photoFlo off the film too quickly. I made a few pictures which, 50 years later, have taken on more meaning (see what I mean about taking pictures of your OWN life -your family, your friends, treat them ALL like Burmese villagers who you would spend many rolls of Kodachrome shooting.) 

After the graduation, the family gathered up in a car, drove to Boston for a couple of days (Bunker Hill, Paul Revere's Old North Church...) thence to New York. Our reservation was for 3 rooms at the Holiday Inn on West 57th st, near the CBS building, but when we got there, they claimed that they didn't have those rooms (oh, those rubes from Salt Lake!) and ended up giving us a half dozen roll-a-way beds in their Coliseum Suite, a garishly decorated conference room, big enough for a bowling alley, weird enough for Outer Limits. We kind of had the feeling it was the first time a familial party of about 9 of us, had occupied this room. I wish I could provide the details pertaining to this image of my mom, holding a copy of Playboy, but there she is, looking pretty damn good for 47! It did capture that puckish sense of humor which she endowed her kids with. I'm not sure this would be a favorite picture of hers, but really, the only thing that matters, is that WE think it's a favorite.

W W 3

Just when I thought I was back on the blob track I lost everything I wrote.  So here we go again.
Today, when I went to the drugstore I opened the door to enter at exactly the same time that a man and his wife were trying to exit.  He said “please come through, I’ll hold the door”.  “No, please,” I replied, “allow me to hold the door”.  “Oh no,” he said, you first”.  The, ‘you first,’ went on for what seemed like an hour, but might have been five minutes.  The back and forth seemed awfully familiar.   A person, such as myself, who can’t remember anything, has to dig into their treasured mind of memories, to try to find an inkling of where and why.

Zounds!, The memory whacked me right in the head! Ronald Reagan. New Hampshire. 1976.  He was coming out of the hotel and I was going in.  He held one door for me and I held the other door for him.  He was a Republican candidate a I was a Democratic staffer.  It was a different time. Holding the door was symbolic of the courtesy that existed in the nation’s political past.  It didn’t matter the Party, everyone was civil.. It was a time when elected officials respected one another. It was, as my mother would say, ‘what was, was.’ 

It was such a different time.  It was a time when Presidential candidates as well as elected officials respected one another.  Sure, you paid for commercials that attacked your opposition, that were incredibly negative, sometimes heart wrenching.  But your in-person behavior was always civil.  That is true in local campaign as well as National. The Presidency, no matter who occupied the White House, was always something important.  That’s why I can admit today, with great reluctance, that when Tony Snow was George H W Bush’s  (the first George Bush) White House Press secretary, I did help him figure out how to write speeches for that President. Needless, to say I did not do that when he ran against Clinton.  But friends help friends, or so it was in the past.

Anyway, lets get back to this WW3 thing because war, not only politics is just not the same.  This morning there was another mass shooting.  You go NRA…. Guns do kill people.  War this time is like a game of hide and seek, only the hiders don’t know who they are, and the seekers are not just looking, they are also killing.  And you never know where the seeker is going to be.  I love analogies, even if they don’t make sense, and are simply apples and oranges. I just threw that in to add to the confusion.  Maybe WW3 is an exaggeration but a war with no rules when you don't know who you’re fighting is also something that the USA has never done before.   We don’t even know when an act IS terrorism because other than the bombing of the government building in Oklahoma and the World Trade Center, we never thought on a grand scale, about something called domestic terrorism. 

Our fighting is usually far away in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.  Now it’s not.  There are still episodes in France and England, but citizens killing citizens has reached remarkable proportions.  The murderers in yesterday’s episode  in California, had Saudi and Pakistani  backgrounds.  But can you imagine dropping your baby off at your mother’s then going home and getting your weapons to kill a great many people.  Unimaginable.  I get the part where you drop the kid, but the rest doesn’t make sense.

When I spoke to my cousin Debbie this morning I assured her that she didn’t have to be afraid of terrorists in Newburgh. The killings here are gang related.  How stupid is that.  Once again mom would have said, “dead’s dead”.  Its pretty stupid that we are now listing all the different kinds of killing, weighing and measuring which is the best or worst kind.  I just wish people would be nice again.  We’re just sayin’… Iris

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Adieu Faere Holga.... Adieu...

Well this must be a little bit like what the hard-core felt in the early 60s when the Speed Graphic line was halted, or maybe the 1940s (?) when the Plaubel Makina with the 125/1.8 and 165/1.8 were stopped... (that's a story i'd love to know more about...) but yes... yesterday was one of those days. The word came via our friends at Freestyle Photo in Los Angeles, confirming that not only was there not to be a new "Holga" production facility, but that the 30+ years old factory which has been making these plastic beauties will be shut down, and actual production of the the Holga 120N will no longer carry on. I have been struggling with Holgas for nearly twenty years. Originally, as part of the unending, ongoing search for the next visual nirvana, I had seen amazing work by the photographer Eric Lindbloom, compiled in a book called Angels At the Arno (…/…/ref=sr_1_1…) Not only had Eric (I did meet him once in New Paltz, so I'm going with 'first name' here...) figured out how to make beautiful pictures in b/w with a DIANA (the original forerunner of the 21st century batch of crappy cameras) but he managed to hustle the Guggenheim Foundation into giving him two.. yes TWO fellowships to endure the hardships of photographing statuary in Florence. (Not enough truffled' risotto to get me there!) The pictures are sublime, dreamy, and enough to make you get on the next plane to Firenze. I bought a Diana, and promptly (about the time the focusing lever fell off) realized it wasn't the camera for me (the 4x4 neg instead of 6x6 for one thing,just didn't seem right.) Later one summer, at the Maine Photo Workshop, I found their new entry level camera, the Holga, then priced at about twenty bucks. I bought a few rolls of Tri-x and off I went to enjoy in the nascent days of digital, just what a truly genius-crappy camera would let you be capable of. In bringing all the decision making down to basically one decision ( focus: OneDude, the Family, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Mt. Everest) it brought photographers back to the simplicity of understanding that a real picture is made in your eye, in your head, and not necessarily in that three thousand dollar piece of chrome around your neck. I loved that the edges of the Holga frame looked as if they had been run through a VitaMix filter, that you had to use tape or velcro to keep the back from popping off. (Once, photographing Sec. of the Interior Gale Norton (ca. 2005) I had the Holga along with my Canon digi cams, and when she noticed the odd-looking bit of plastic slung over my neck, I started to point out to her that it was a special camera which..... "oops..." and as I held it up to show her, the back fell off, exposing that poor, helpless roll of Tri-x.) Where it was sharp, generally dead center, it was pretty sharp, certainly sharp enough to run full page in any magazine. The charm was in those edges, roughly hewn, and indescribably soft. For a picture of Al Gore near the end of the 2000 campaign (which actually won the White House News Photogs. Contest "Campaign" Picture category that year) I held an old red Nikon filter in front of the lens, struggling to keep it lined up as I held the camera, and tried firing it without jostling too much. Days later it was suggested to me by an altruistic colleague that I could actually just tape the filter on the lens. Wow! What a revelation that was. I tried for years to always include the Holga (much as I do with the Speed Graphic) in any shoot I'm working on. Even just a few frames, it sometimes makes for something special. Here attached is a shot of then Olympic hopeful Michael Phelps, taken in the summer of 2004 before the Athens games, for TIME piece on Olympic athletes. I was trying to do a long exposure with Michael, with splashing water bouncing all over his swimmer's body, hoping to catch some of that water motion. Sadly, with a miniature production crew (one assistant and myself) instead of having large tubs of warm water to pour over him, all we had was a garden hose (temp. approximately 53 deg.) and I have to admit that while he wasn't crazy about being hosed down with cold water, he was a sport about it. More so than his coach who yelled at me for five minutes (editors note: 5 Minutes is a long time when someone is yelling at you non-stop) accusing me of being THE SINGLE reason why Michael would fail at the Athens Olympics that summer. I left feeling pretty bad, but after he won 8 medals that summer, I got over worrying about it. The Holga, like Michael Phelps, has won a lot of awards, probably more than any of its designers or producers had ever even thought about. I just ordered two more, and having Randy Smith of add a cable release point (making those long exposures possible.) Sadly, I suppose these are the last two I'll ever buy. Adieu faere Holga, adieu.  We're just sayin'... David