Chengdu, China, 2012

Bifengxia Giant Panda facility

Barbara has a thing for animals. She will be skeptical about the acceptability of a two star hotel, but spend 10 days sleeping on a cot, in a tent, with a slit trench for a toilet, in the Serengeti, without complaint, just to watch them in the wild.

One of the fund-raising tactics of the Bifengxia Giant Panda facility is to offer a few minutes holding and feeding a baby panda…for a hefty contribution. Done. I owed Barbara this one. She had joined me for a workshop in China and as we were settling into our coach seats for our 15 hour non-stop trans-Pacific flight, a flight attendant told me my frequent flyer status made a vacant first class seat available for me. You know–the seats that do a 100% flat recline into a bed, partitioned into privacy, with attentive staff at a much lower staff-to-passenger ration than in steerage?

I immediately said how much I appreciated the offer, but that I was traveling with my wife and I would just stay there with her. Barbara immediately said, “No. Go. You have to work as soon as you get there. You will be rested when we get in,” or something to that effect. I owed her.

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Egypt, 2010

Temple of Philae.

We were in Aswan, at the Temple of Philae, when I turned and he was standing there in that light. Some photographs are just gifts from the Universe.

I’m often asked, “What is your favorite thing to photograph?” “Naked women,” is sometimes my reply, because I’m a smart-ass and just can’t help myself. (Barbara keeps telling me a lot of people don’t get my sense of humor.) I usually follow up with a “real” answer, that I like travel oriented photography, but that’s really a non-answer, too, because travel photography is everything–landscapes, cityscapes, people, flowers, architecture, monuments, events, and on and on.

For me, making a photograph is less about the nominal subject, and more about how I can work with all the visual elements in the scene to get the strongest, cleanest design, to support whatever the story is. I started my career on a daily newspaper, where a staffer had to shoot everything–from breaking news to check presentations for the Newsroom, athletic meets/games and players for the Sports Department, and more lifestyle type assignments for the Women’s Section (and if that gender label bothers you, at least it was an improvement over the previous name, the Society pages). Editors were on deadlines, expecting photos they already had planned in their layouts, so one fundamental of the job was, you had to come back with a usable picture. Oh, also, it was going to be printed with an 80 line screen on paper not much better than toilet paper so don’t be clever; fine details don’t reproduce. Fifty-five years later I’m still discovering how much that first job influenced everything I’ve done since then.

Oddly, even though I started in journalism where almost every picture is about people in some way, I never think of myself as a “people” photographer, maybe because I see of them as simply another element in the scene, but when I go through the take from a trip I find lots of people, and striking faces.

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Valley of the Kings, Egypt, 2010

Hot air balloon ride overlooking Valley of the Kings

We started in the dark, with a boat and bus ride, to catch a sunrise launch for a hot air balloon float overlooking the Valley of the Kings. This view is looking northwest toward the Pharaohs’ necropolis. About a mile to the east from here is the southern Nile. Across the river is Luxor, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, population just under a half million, encompassing the ancient city of Thebes, and the ruins of the temples Karnack and Luxor. The agricultural ribbon along the banks of the Nile expands and contracts, and here, in one of the broader sections, is a little over two miles wide, then quickly transitions from fertile to arid. Tut’s tomb (and body, but not burial artifacts) is located just the other side of the ridge line on the left, along with several Ramses nearby. Beyond that, continuing west, are 3000 miles of desert sand and rock, all the way to the lapping waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

Superficially, there’s great contrast as sand meets salty water, but a lyric from America’s “A Horse With No Name,” comes to mind suggesting a commonality between the grand landscapes of desert and ocean:

“The ocean is a desert with its life underground
And a perfect disguise above”

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Desert, Egypt, 2010

The White Desert

This is a staged photograph. We were a workshop group visiting the Black and White Deserts, about 200 miles southwest of Cairo. As part of the itinerary, an arrangement was made with some local camel owners to model for the group, but they (the camels and men) are real, and the desert is real. This could have happened. The deserts were unique, with the basalt caps on the large dunes in the Black Desert, and the chalk and limestone whiteness along with the strangely eroded formations in the White. We wrapped up the day under the Milky Way, eating in a Bedouin camp.

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Egypt, 2010

The Black Desert

“When you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.” Friedrich Nietzsche

I am fascinated by the desert; I love the minimalism, the spareness of it. It is honest: essential and unforgiving, subtle. The textures, lines, and curves of the waves of dunes are hypnotic. A knife-edged, sinuous ridge line, with only a slight tonal variation to visually separate it from the next dune, will hold my attention with the same commitment needed to study the most complex cityscape.

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