Huangshan, China, 2012

Monkey Watching the Sea

First, you have to take a cable car about a mile up the mountains. Then you hike even higher to get to the lodging options. Next, you ramble the high altitude forest trails, from one spectacular vista to another. Some, like this one, “Monkey Watching the Sea,” are named, marked with a sign in Chinese and English. Other signs/admonitions were posted as well. The first we saw I assumed was the Chinese equivalent of “Take only photographs, leave only footprints,” but the English translation was awkward, “To leave with the memory, please leave behind your virtue.” That could work.

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Provence, France, 2016

Eygalieres, France

Some stale bread and croissant wrapped in a red napkin from dinner the night before. A wedge of cheese acquired somewhere along the way. Peaches from the lobby of the inn. Strong coffee. Maybe it’s just me, but the simplest makeshift breakfast in a French country courtyard feels curated, sophisticated instead of thrifty.

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Savannah Riverfront, 2014

Savannah, GA Foggy morning

For some years now, I’ve had a bit of a lazy streak when it comes to photographing Savannah. I used to carry a camera all the time, everywhere. Not so much anymore–my aging and reluctance to carry any weight, but also, too often, when I start to photograph something locally, I think, “Done that. It’s somewhere in the files. Why add another copy to that pile?” I assuage my conscience for not sustaining a “commitment to carry” indefinitely, with the idea the smart phone in my pocket means I always have a camera. I have made some photographs with the phone that I like, and I will never forget the message woven thoroughly into me by my mentor that images are not about hardware, but seeing. Still, the phone camera will never feel as serious to me; more like a niche art, like the Diana camera. So, a foggy morning tempts me to pick up my “real camera” bag and go for a walk, before the first cup of coffee, and gifts me with an unusual high tide along the downtown waterfront, a new picture.

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American Cemetery, Brittany, France, 1993

American Cemetery, WWII

In Flanders Fields

By John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.

Visiting these cemeteries fills me with sadness, humility, respect, and immeasurable pride in those who gave “…the last full measure of devotion.”

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Glasgow, Scotland, 2008

Glasgow, Kelvingrove Museum and Gallery

We were supposed to be in eastern Europe, but that trip had fallen through. Since we had the time blocked out anyway, Barbara and I picked another destination, a place we had not visited–Scotland. Starting in Glasgow, we wandered the city a bit and happened on the Kelvingrove, and this fascinating, and slightly disturbing, exhibit. Moving on, we drove through the scenic Trossachs, seeing the famous Loch Lomand, and winding up on Islay, an isle in the Hebrides At the time Islay had seven Scotch distilleries, including one of my favorites, Lagavulin. Their 16 year old single malt is so peaty it’s like drinking dirt. The ferry ride over was smooth, like the scotch. The ride back was not.

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Tybee Island, GA 2000

Tybee Island

“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify!” Henry David Thoreau

That also is advice E. B. White gave for writing. It works for photography as well. So often, pictures attempt too much information, sacrificing emotion or clarity. On this morning at Tybee the haze in the distance made the exposure of the sunrise more manageable. Taking the exposure and editing to a darker tone helped emphasize the graphic intent.

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Varadero, Cuba, 2004

Varadero beach

According to Varadero has, “…its incredible fine sand beach and warm, crystal-clear waters, making it one of the best beaches in the world.” I’ve lived near the ocean almost all of my 74+ years, but have never been much of a beach goer, so I can’t speak to use of the superlative in their description. It was picture postcard perfect though, and I do know something about that. Our group had taken a day trip from Havana, stopping in Matanzas for some education and demonstration of Santeria, and then on to Varadero. I have a vague memory that this woman, a member of our group, was an executive with the World Bank in Washington D.C., but don’t quote me. The older I get, the more memories I have, and the less accurate they are. More importantly, she had some great hats!

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Havana, Cuba, 2004

Sunrise, Morro Castle

Up early, I walked down to the Malecon to watch sunrise over Morro Castle, guarding the entrance to Havana harbor. Just a few months earlier a student asking a technical question at a Nikon School mentioned he was preparing for a trip to Cuba. Asking him more about the trip I found out the total cost for round-trip airfare from Miami, a week’s stay in a tourist hotel in Old Havana, with breakfast, all transfers, and some tour guiding from a professor at the University of Havana, was barely more than it would cost me to stay home. It was a fascinating experience. Walking around at all hours of the day and night, with lots of camera gear (which almost put me over the ridiculous weight limit of 22 lbs. allow to be taken there), I never felt unsafe. or unwelcome. On the contrary, I’ve never been propositioned more. The decades long American embargo seems absurd considering people from anywhere else in the world can go there routinely; lots of contact and communication between people would have to be more productive and beneficial to Cubans and American businesses.

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Denver, CO, 2001

Denver, CO area aerial

It was Monday morning and I was headed home from a weekend teaching Nikon School in Denver. There was fresh snow on the ground, mostly unmarked by human activity so far, except for how the snow traced and outlined contours. As we were boarding the flight, some crew member mentioned we would not be a full plane because the runway was not long enough for taking off in the cold with a full load. I’m generally an aisle seat guy, but there was an open window seat next to me, and the window pane was essentially clear of smudging and scratches, two things seldom true, especially simultaneously, and the abstract patterns on the ground were intriguing visually; a trifecta.

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Tuscany, Italy, 1998

Tuscany, 1998

A few days earlier I had spotted this long, tree-lined drive that rose up into a large stand of trees that likely masked a home and farm buildings; the scene practically yelled at me, “Take My Picture!” At the first opportunity, I took three of my workshop students with me and went back to check it out. We talked about trying not to trespass by staying in what we assumed would be a public right-of-way close alongside the road where the driveway ended. A couple of minutes into walking up and down the roadside looking for the perfect (my perfect) angle, a car pulled over, stopped, and an older gentleman got out. As he approached, I figured we were busted and hoped we could get by with a quick apology. It turned out it was his driveway, his trees, the trees he had planted along the drive when he was a young man. He liked that we found the scene attractive, but did mention that now the trees were bigger and he wished he had planted them farther apart. He invited us up to his home. A hard-packed dirt courtyard, with heavy tree shading, and an assortment of chairs and tables made it clear this was the family hangout. He introduced us to his wife, his brother, his brother’s wife, and his mother. They served us cold drinks and snacks (not prepackaged). He took us on a tour of his beautiful home and art collection. I went through at least three rolls of film photographing this woman, his mother. She said something about a crazy photographer, but she was laughing, and I did not seem able to stop. All of this communication happened even though none of them spoke any English, and only one of us spoke just a basic amount of Italian.

Near the end of the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” Judy Dench’s character says, “Nothing here has worked out quite as I expected.” Maggie Smith’s character replies, “Most things don’t. But, you know, sometimes what happens instead is the good stuff.”

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