Saturday, April 19, 2008

I Love LA—Mostly (Apologies to Randy Newman)

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This evening, we went to Gabrieleno Park to chase moonlight and found some light we weren’t counting on. As we entered the park in what used to be my Honda Accord, but is now The Husband’s, we noticed a rather sizable gathering of folks in the area closest to the entrance where the public restrooms are, along with several barbeque pits and a large grove of beautiful old oak trees. One of the barbeque pits obviously had a roaring good blaze going and I noted that I had rarely seen that many cars in that part of the park. We drove on by, following the road that wound toward the back of the park and past the large fenced arena for the horseback riders.

Our intention was to hike away from the park, along Haul Road and the nearby horse trails, to make our way toward the giant blooming yuccas about half a mile from the park. We have never gone there for a walk that we didn’t have a good time and every visit is little different. Besides, tonight there was a double mission. My handy-dandy calendar I print for each month said the moon would rise at 7:11 PM tonight, and I figured that would be just about right to catch a near-full moon coming up over the mountains with enough light in the sky to get a nice shot. Besides, what the heck, if that didn’t work, I would turn around and maybe get more sunset shots. All that and the yuccas, too. Sounded peaceful, wonderfully bucolic, and I would add to my pile of shots for my SoFoBoMo project. (There’s some question as to whether that’s really a good idea, but never mind.)

Just as I had stuffed every last shot I could get on a one-gig card, we heard six or seven loud pops, one after the other, coming from somewhere behind us—in other words in the direction of the park. I was thinking, “Strange, why would anyone be shooting off firecrackers this time of the year”, when The Husband said, “That was a pistol.” Within seconds, there it was again. “Pop! Pop!” By then, the mood had changed a bit and we knew chasing the moon was a lost cause anyway. Sure enough, the cloud cover that had rolled in about 4 PM was thicker than the proverbial pea soup in the East. No moonrise for us, so we decided to head back West. As we picked our way back through the mean chollo cactus and over the rocky trail, we couldn’t help but listen to see if we heard police sirens. Nonetheless, for the longest time it was absolutely quiet out there, except for the distant hum of the freeway and a brief exchange of niceties with the charro in his colorful, ultra wide-brimmed sombrero riding a big paint.

Of course, I had to load another CF card just in case the sunset became irresistible, but before long there was a distraction and I forgot to keep an eye on the sunset. A helicopter had begun circling to the west of us—that would be over the park. Soon it dropped down, so we could see clearly that it was, indeed, a police helicopter. I began to wonder if we would be stuck in the park waiting for a long investigation. (I was once waiting in line at a bank and found myself behind a fellow with a gun who hoped to withdraw a lot of people’s money. Fortunately, he never used the gun, almost in spite of the loud-mouthed woman behind me who kept asking why that rude man had stepped in front of the line, and who did he think he was anyway. I wanted to clamp my hand over her mouth to shut her up, but figured I would then be identified as an accomplice. After it was all over, I remember how long it took waiting for the investigation before we were all released to go home, stop shaking, and say our prayers of gratitude for walking out of there.)

As we neared the park, the light was fading and the helicopter circled high above us while the passengers got a good look at us. The husband said, “Don’t point that camera at them!” It was tough to resist because there was a bird flying exactly in almost perfect sync with the ‘copter and the two silhouetted against an inky evening sky was very tempting; but I had already had the thought that that might not be a smart move. The Husband was a little concerned about toting the tripod in the growing darkness and wondering what it might look like from up there in the air. When we got to the fence bordering the park and ducked under it to head for the car—the only one left in that part of the park, the ‘copter began to circle us, and by now the searchlight was on. Now, I have lived in Los Angeles for thirty-five years, but this was a new experience for me.

I am wearing a sweatshirt hoodie with my head covered (forgot the hat). Jim is carrying the large weapon; I am carrying a small weapon of some sort. And, we are coming out of the brush, in the semi-darkness, to get into a dark Honda Accord in a deserted parking lot where gun shots have recently been fired. Hardly any gang members drive Honda Accords, right? Wrong!! Why else would they steal them? By the thousands?!!! Because they not only take them to chop shops for parts, but they drive them themselves. We calmly packed the gear in the trunk of the Accord, being careful to not make any sudden moves and just as we finished, the police car came down through the trees and headed for the lot where we were. The cruiser pulled up— we had been careful to not make a move to get in the car, and the helicopter was circling in a tight circle now, with the searchlight pinned on the two of us. I am thinking dead bodies on that lawn near the entrance and wondering what this chat with the police will be like.

The police couldn’t have been nicer. I think they figured pretty fast that we looked quite harmless, and it turned out they just wanted to ask if we had heard gunfire. We told them we had, they said thanks and wanted to know how many. We obliged, then crawled in the car, finally out of the spotlight and, by then, sure that there obviously weren’t any bodies on the lawn. The cruiser followed us toward the exit, past the deserted lots, and when we reached the spot where the party had taken place, we were appalled to see that the barbeque was still roaring and the area looked like a giant pig sty.

We pulled in—still being followed—and began picking up garbage—believe me we couldn’t have made a dent in it if we had spent the night there—and searching for bottles of water to douse the barbecue pit that was filled with enough hot coals to cook barbeque for a small army. The Husband told the patrolmen that this was where we had seen the big party, and they set about picking up shell casings in the parking lot while we worked on garbage and the fire. I heard one of the policemen place a call asking to be notified if anyone appeared at nearby hospitals with gunshots wounds. So there was a pathetic ending to a night of idyllic beauty and tranquility, punctuated by what is all too common in Los Angeles. There are parts of my life here I will miss fiercely—and then, there are some….

Friday, April 18, 2008

An Unscheduled SoFoBoMo Break

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Yesterday was one of those days that didn’t go as planned, and it was lovely. I went with The Husband to the barn where the horses are stabled, since that is one of the locations I have wanted to include in my book. The light is almost always lovely there in the evening, but it was strangely flat last night. The sky was hopelessly clear and a wimpy blue. All the colors normally present in the hillsides were muted. The sunflowers were spent. The marvelous tree behind the barn attracted no crows tonight—perhaps they have moved on. Maybe the neighbor has chased them off. Not everyone appreciates crows roosting in their backyard. Besides, the tree has leafed out, so I wouldn’t get the picture I had my heart set on—the scene I have enjoyed so many times in the past and photographed half a dozen times. Things just weren’t working out. Never mind there were some fun surprises.

The first little gift was one of the inhabitants from the area. Most of the critters that abound in this neighborhood are domesticated—lots of dogs and horses. But they aren’t the only creatures that flourish in the environment along Little Tujunga Canyon. There are bunnies galore roaming about and one particularly cheeky fellow was hanging out smack in the middle of the space between the rows of stalls and corrals. I assumed I would never get a shot of him, since I had my trusty 24-105mm on the camera and I wasn’t apt to get very close. Still, I crept along toward him, staying in the shade under the roofline, hugging the supporting posts and surprisingly I ended up standing within probably eight feet of him. I had no idea whether I was getting an interesting shot, but it didn’t matter. Just standing that close to that wild rabbit—watching him periodically watch me out of the corner of his eye, yet stand his ground fearlessly—watchful as he munched on the stray bits of alfalfa, but un-intimidated—that was the kick.

A bit later, a friend who lives in the neighborhood spotted us and intercepted us with an invitation to drop by for a chat. She had an overnight guest—they were headed out early this morning for an endurance race. Thus, we spent the evening in the horse world—listening mostly to a couple of people with decades of amazing experiences in several equine disciplines. I accomplished absolutely nothing toward the SoFoBoMo project, yet came home unexpectedly content, even energized by the break. My head was buzzing with tales of endurance racing in France and Dubai along with the European Dressage world. I have the sense that the passion vibrating that room last night along with the peace and animal energy I soaked up at the barn will feed me in some indefinable way that I can’t possibly fathom. So far, I just know my brain didn’t want to shut down and I had trouble falling asleep, but I am making room for the mystery to unfold.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

SoFoBoMo and the Project Thing

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I decided to jot down some notes about my struggle with the concept of and the mastering of this project business. Warning: rambling alert issued to all readers. First, these notes may shed some light on my gushing enthusiasm for every morsel of information anyone shares regarding this journey. Second, maybe a confession of my lack of sophistication regarding projects will help some other newbie to feel less lonely and lost. Although, I admit that most newbies probably had better sense than to jump into the deep end of the pool with a lot of seasoned experts and very smart folks.

I stumbled into this photography thing very recently when The Husband made that fateful decision to purchase a small digital camera for snapping pictures while out on endurance rides. From the minute I picked up that cute little Canon A70, I have been reeling as I grappled with the basics about heretofore foreign concepts with strange-to-me names including ISO and aperture. Believe me, for a person who doesn’t learn well from manuals, and has an aversion to math, it has been a lengthy journey. Thank goodness I had no idea that it is a field so friendly to engineer types and software geniuses, and we won’t go into the number who were confidently snapping a brownie when they were three. I might never have experimented with that digital Trojan horse brought into my house had I realized how hopelessly out of my element I would be with the mechanics.

But, experiment I did, and I was immediately hooked. Along the way, I acquired newer and better cameras but throughout the journey, projects wasn’t part of my vocabulary. I simply shot what caught my fancy at a particular moment, or what I thought would help me to learn more. Up until SoFoBoMo, there was only one area in which there was any intellectual examination of purpose or intent behind shooting and those were the occasions on which I was hired to make pictures of some horse owner’s very special companion. From the beginning, that was a natural for me. Because I know a great deal about that particular relationship, I feel charged with an amazing responsibility and plunge into the task inspired by the unique story behind each horse and owner.

In my naiveté, I was blissfully unaware of any need to define and pursue a project outside those occasions when I was hired to tell a story with photographs. I had fed on the purpose and theme that drove the shoot of a horse, with or without owner, because I could connect with the story. But, I hadn’t examined what was feeding individual images other than to notice that certain subjects clearly dominated my pictures. For example, I could easily see that I am really hung up on trees—short trees, tall trees, bare trees, trees with leaves, showy trees, plain trees, lonely trees, trees in bunches—you get the point. But, I never elevated that to the level of being a theme in my work. I just knew I really like trees. Same with clouds—totally indiscriminating in my taste—love ’em all. Oh, and I am sucker for old stuff—buildings, vehicles (especially really old ones like buggies, and wagons, and such), tools. Nostalgia gets me going. I just never thought of these as being project material. Preferences, yes. Themes, huh?

When the SoFoBoMo project came along, I focused on the elements of the challenge I could fully relate to—make lots of photos in a short time (okay, sounds a little like one of our road trips), make a book (good—know something about making books—wrote two of them—of course it took me forever to write each of them and they have no pictures—pooh, beside the point), and the crucial, for me, element of the challenge—facing the fear of putting something out there that I have not spent weeks, maybe even months, refining (boy, do I need to work on that one). In the beginning, I glossed right over the choosing a theme, the project part. I had never had trouble finding something I wanted to photograph, so I decided to sign up and to ignore the project or theme part of it. Like Scarlett, I would “worry about that tomorrow”.

When tomorrow came, all too soon, I went into panic mode. I was determined not to repeat something I had already done—do a photo story on a couple of horses. We had no time to travel what with trying to sell our house and wrap up our LA lives, so that built in theme was out. I knew that a hodgepodge of photos taken here and there, whenever and wherever, without any driving purpose wasn’t going to cut the mustard. I have yet to finish this book and don’t want to count chickens that aren’t even close to hatching, but at least I finally settled on what suffices as a theme for this single project and I am having a blast shooting lots of photos.

Certainly, I won’t imply that I have this project business licked, but because other participants in SoFoBoMo have graciously shared a wealth of information, I am hopeful. I feel increasingly confident that, eventually, I will look back on my struggles with the project concept much as I now view my early tussle with ISO and aperture. Especially if I keep reading and all you folks keep posting.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Joys of SoFoBoMo

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I am enjoying immensely the obvious elements, or basic mechanics, of the SoFoBoMo project. The part that entails shooting—of course that’s the most fun of all for me—editing, even the writing I was certain I wouldn’t do, but became essential as the project evolved. However, there are some other big payoffs that are, for me, of equal value. I am speaking of the wealth of posts on the topic that have produced a fascinating sort of online seminar that is rich with insight, opinion, and valuable know-how, not to mention the openness of so many who have been willing to reveal their doubts and struggles. A big thank you to Gordon M and Paul L for the pipes they have included on their sites making it easy to keep up with the discussion. Each day, a number of photographers add more squares to this quilt, or mosaic and those tell the stories within the larger story. Fascinating stuff in there. More thoughts about that later.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


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Last Friday, we went to Bear Valley for a couple of days and came home to hold an Open House with our realtor. Then I had a day of feeling rather dreadful. The combination of experiences has knocked me totally off my game. Today, I feel much better and because I did manage to get a number of chores done yesterday, that at least shortened the to-do list.

Over the last couple of weeks, we had adjusted to having two offers on the house fall through, then last week the fellow who had committed to buying The Husband’s business—a fellow who had, for years, been asking for an opportunity to buy should the business ever be for sale—how do I put this delicately? Well, he turned out to be jerk and not a man of his word. His whining and backtracking on his offer finally wore us down and we said, “Get lost.” So, it was back to another offer that had been rejected and fortunately that buyer appears to be eager to complete the deal with all the money up front. So, we are off again.

I was already somewhat nervous about this retirement idea, and as much as I attempt to stay focused on this grand life adventure, I occasionally slip into anxiety about our future. That phrase, fixed income, is about to become shockingly real. Since leaving college, I have always shared equally in earning household income and reveled in my sense of self-sufficiency. This will be brand-new territory for me.

The only concrete thing I accomplished yesterday related to SoFoBoMo was some experimentation with color correction on files using the Blurb profile, and I caught up on the reading I missed out on over the long weekend. The time I spent on color correction convinced me that I will not print this version of this book. For this project I would rather spend the time shooting, editing, and writing. This time around it will be a PDF.

In the meantime, I am picking up all sorts of information about out-sourced printing, color management, the thought process behind projects, and the list goes on. So far, it’s still a great ride.