Death Valley, CA, 2009

Death Valley, CA

My mother would sometimes ask, “What is it?” when I showed her a picture where the subject was not easily recognizable. Contrarian that I am, I replied, “It’s a photograph, Mom.” (Hey, she made me.) Of course, what she wanted to know was what was the original subject I had photographed, and what I was trying to say, inelegantly maybe, was that it did not matter. Either you like a picture, or you don’t. More information might make it more significant in some way, but that’s not the same thing as liking. I remember many years ago, making a print sale from an exhibit, of an image that was just swirls of yellows in varying intensities, and asking the buyer if she wanted to know what I had photographed. She said, “No.” Great answer. Photographs like that one take on an abstract character because some technique has been used to blur the definitions of a recognizable subject or scene. But sometimes the abstraction is created simply by Point of View. The photograph above is a literal landscape shot of Death Valley, made from Dante’s Peak, looking west, down into the valley. The top third or so of the frame, all blue, is the talus slope of the Panamint Range, the western edge of the valley, and the white is the salt flats at Badwater, the lowest point on the North American continent, at 282 feet below sea level.

For more photos:

Saigon, 2011

3/1/2011-Saigon, Former South Vietnamese soldier

I am, by training and inclination, an observer, a spectator, voyeur even, and more likely to study people than to strike up a conversation. I firmly believe in the Blanche DuBois philosophy of depending on the kindness of strangers, but struggle to live it, even though when I do it almost always leads to interesting encounters. So when this gentleman called out to me as I was walking down a street in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City if you prefer), my first reaction was to nod and keep walking. Something made me stop, sit, and accept his offer of a coffee. It turned out he was a former South Vietnamese soldier who had worked with Americans there during the “American War.” After the war he and his family had been sent to a re-education camp and while there his young son became ill. With no medicine available, they left the camp and went back to Saigon to get him help. At some point he was caught and asked why he had “escaped.” After hearing the reason, medical attention for his son, the officer simply said, OK, just go back when the boy is better, and released him. A lesson I learn over and over is that no matter what the official government and political circumstances are, people are just people the world over, reminding me of a Mark Twain quote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice.”

For more photographs go to

Halong, Vietnam, 2011

2/20/2011, Halong, , Vietnam Walking along waterfront of Halong Bay.

We were a photography workshop, traveling to several destinations in Vietnam, more specifically the area my generation would once have called “North Vietnam.” We were headed for Halong Bay, where the surrounding emerald waters have magical formations, and we were to stay on one of the hotel boats, sleeping aboard while out touring the waters and limestone formations. The night before we got there, one of those hotel boats had a tragedy (I can’t remember if it was a capsize or fire), and many on board were killed. The government immediately shut down the hotel boat operators until an investigation could be performed, so they put us up in a harbor front hotel. Around 2 AM, I couldn’t sleep, so I went for a walk along the waterfront.

For more photographs:

Barbara, Anchorage, AK, 2009

Barbara, in yellow

I travel with a model. While it’s not an official profession for her, Barbara has the frame, beauty, and physical grace of a runway model, and a personality comfortable with wearing the most outrageous costume in public and being at home in it. She is fearless. An excellent photographer in her own right, she’s a natural in front of the camera and the camera loves her, too. She thinks about useful wardrobe options for better photographs when we are traveling, and packs accordingly. Having said all that, almost none of it mattered for this photograph. I have frequently said that serendipity plays a big part of many of my favorite shots, and this epitomizes that. Being blonde was a choice made years earlier. The jacket is an old parka of mine she grabbed on a whim. The yellow buildings were stumbled across while we were killing time wandering around Anchorage. Et voila, my Study in Yellow.

For more images of Barbara,