2021 11 05
Everything is important

For a long time, cars were a problem for me to photograph. Everytime I photographed a car it came out badly.

It wasn’t that I photographed it incorrectly. It wasn’t that I picked the wrong aperture, or lens, or shot too near or far from my subject. It was an emotional  issue, not a technical issue. I just didn’t care that much about what I was photographing and my not caring about cars showed up in the photographs I took. My pictures of cars weren’t very good.  

But not photographing cars wasn’t the answer. Cars are hard to avoid, especially in Los Angeles where I live. And if you are a photographer, not photographing something just because it’s difficult for you is a road to failure, so what happened? The pandemic did. I had to start to spend less time in my photo studio with real people and more time outside with - you guessed it - cars. Cars were more visible everywhere I went during the pandemic. Cars parked in front of houses. Cars on their way somewhere. Cars were taking up more visual space with more people staying inside so I started to pay attention to them differently.

I had to really notice where and how cars sat within my camera’s frame. I had to treat cars more like an actual subject. Something to bring attention and intention to. Why was I choosing to have this particular car sit in this particular place within my camera’s frame? What color was it? What was the car doing? What did the car add to the picture’s meaning, if any? This is still a work in progress - like everything else I take pictures of - but I learned a valuable lesson. The more you care, the more intention you bring to your subject, the better chance you have to make a good photograph. So now I treat everything within my frame, whatever it is, however seemingly insignificant it may appear to be, the same way - as something important. Hopefully that will lead to better pictures.

2021 08 02
When does memory begin?

This photograph of several women sitting on the top deck of the Edgartown pier in Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the New England coast, is simple enough.

Two women huddled in the left corner of the frame are seemingly deep in conversation while in the upper right frame of the photo another pair of women seem less connected to each other. One women looks straight ahead to the harbor scene in front of her while the other one looks slightly to her left. It’s this small detached  gesture - the slight looking away - along with the diagonal line of the bench connecting the strangers to each other that draws me into the picture.

I spent many summers on Martha’s Vineyard as a child and into young adulthood. It was a privileged experience, lazy summer days on white sand beaches, tennis lessons on dusty red clay courts, interspersed with a procession of summer-time jobs. My father had a favorite saying then, “You don’t know what you got until it’s gone.” In that, and many things, he was right.
2021 07 09

Norco 80 and the family in the Santa Ana River

I knew this picture was special when I took it, which doesn’t happen often. I was in Norco, California, which is famous for its horses and horse trails which criss-cross the town for miles.

I wasn’t familiar with the town’s equestrian roots but I did know about the shootout in Norco, a spectacular bank robbery and deadly gunfight between heavily armed robbers and local police, which happened 40 years ago. I first heard about the shootout on a podcast, Norco 80, which is riveting for what it says about that time in America - the depth of the 80’s recession - and how police interact with their communities and fellow police. The podcast piqued my interest enough to take the drive one hour east of Los Angeles which is how I ended  up in Norco. I had been photographing for several hours without any great result when the road I was on dead-ended to the edge of a massive cliff overlooking the Santa Ana River. The river, which is the largest river in Southern California, unspooled before me as it cut its way through the Jurupa Valley rimmed by a light blue haze and the San Bernardino Mountains.

I parked my car and started to photograph down towards the river when I noticed a family wading in the rippling water. It wasn’t until I was looking at the photograph later that I saw what I had captured.  The family appears to be enjoying a swim in the river but a closer look suggests a more troubling scene. Is the man laying in river in distress? Are other family members marching toward him to rescue him or join in his fun?  It’s these questions, which brings frisson to the scene and elevates it from a satisfying landscape picture to something possibly more for the viewer to ponder.  The photo even hints at our human relationship to water in California - its scarcity, its essentialness. What were the odds of a family being in this majestic river at the moment I arrived, marching purposefully toward their fallen family member? Not high, I imagine. You never know when all the elements of a scene will come together and make a successful picture. I was lucky but being there helped.

2021 06 20
Here to stay but everyone wants their way out

Apple Valley is located on the southern edge of Mojave Desert 70 miles east of Los Angeles. In the 1920’s it was known for its apple orchards and as a weekend getaway for Hollywood film stars.

The apples and celebrities are gone now but the town has cheaper rents than San Bernardino which is a short commute away and where most of the jobs are. That makes it a good a place as any to live, if you don’t mind the heat, dry wind, and feel of a small town.

Apple Valley was another spot on the map I finally got to one day after photographing in the lower valley. I drove my car up the I-15 North, a steep, snaky road that cuts through the Cajon Pass, until it dumped me onto the flat, high desert plain of Hesperia, which blends into Victorville and Apple Valley just to the north.

Driving through the town itself - at least the business center of it - is what you see in most small towns but in a few more miles and minutes with the sun searing down you start to notice the sheer enormity of the desert. It flicks at the town’s edges and homes where backyards blend into stretching brown dirt and mesquite bushes. Window shades are drawn. Trees and bushes are planted to block out the sun. Homes are fenced to keep coyotes and intruders out and dogs and children safe. Cars - crucial transport to the non-desert world - clog front yards. Everything and everyone has adapted to the extreme circumstances of their surroundings. Here to stay but everyone wants their way out.