Wednesday, August 24, 2011

This Blonde Ain't Just A Tease

Don't you hate being surprised and proven wrong?  I mean, when you get to age 40 you know just about everything there is to know, especially when it comes to beer (and everything else).  Just like me, you think you are right about 99.5% of the time, and the remaining .5% falls into the "statistically insignificant" category.  The second I laid eyes on the "Double Take" blonde at the grocery store I had this blog laid out in my head.  It went something like this....

Nothing compares...
I'll buy it anyway to prove a point...
I already have my favorite....
This is just packaging....
All other IPA's suck...

I went home and created the perfect tasting scenario.   I worked out,  I sweat quite a bit, I got really hot, and I got a great pump.  I couldn't wait to get out on the porch, grab the hose, and hit the dry spots on the grass while slowly sipping the brewed elixir that I purchased, although it wouldn't be near as good as my beloved Sierra Nevada.   Some prefer water, perhaps a recovery mix, but I prefer an ice cold beer as a reward for my efforts (Jen, I wasn't kidding about the coffee and cheesecake post-workout).  I sat down, let the water flow from the hose, and began sipping the Double Take IPA.

My love of Sierra Nevada began in approximately 2001.  My job required that I travel to Chico, Ca among many other areas in the Northern California territory.  As luck would have it,  an Irishman named Dan also covered the territory and thus began many a night of wearing the wobbly boot.   Stopping at the Sierra Nevada brewing company was always a priority.  In addition to the many pints we drank at noon, fish and chips was always high on the list as well.  Over time and after tasting every IPA I could find on the market, Sierra Nevada always remained at the top of my list.

From the first chug of Double Take, I knew I had been betrayed by my own preconceived notions.  Damn, if this IPA wasn't good.  I was prepared to be disappointed but I wasn't.  I looked down at the label and it read "At first sip this India Pale Ale will grab a hold of your palette and snap your attention back".  Crap, they weren't lying.    I had read similar exhortations many times in the past, but they were merely words.

I began to panic.  "What does this mean", I thought to myself?  I might  have to reconsider my position on my IPA priority moving forward.

The center of my beer universe had been shifted slightly.  I was a bit dizzy.  Suddenly I remembered I had a Sierra Nevada in the refrigerator.   I stumbled over, popped the top, took a quick swig, and all normalcy returned to my life.  Though I had been tempted by a blonde, and we had a swift, sudden, passionate affair approximating the feelings I have for Sierra, I knew in my heart it was merely a second place finish to that which I hold dear.

Don't worry Sierra, you're still my bitch.  But make sure you wear those high heels and short skirt because there's a temptress knockin' at the door.....

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why I stay Here

About once a year Nikki and I have the conversation about why we stay here in Northern California.  The state is broke, taxes are high, cost of living is high, gas is high, and on and on and on.  Sometimes we convince ourselves we need to get out of here, but then we go to San Francisco for the weekend and everything becomes clear again, and we know exactly why we stay here:  It may be the greatest city in the world.

Nikki's birthday was fast approaching last weekend, and like usual my ability to plan for these things was severely lacking.  You would think after 15 years of marriage basics like birthdays and anniversaries would get easier, but they never seem to.  For me, at least.   I would classify my ability to procrastinate as legendary.  I'm pretty sure nobody does it better than I do.   Right around Tuesday a brilliant idea came to me. My inner voice said, "I'll bet there's a few things to do in that city by the bay" (When the lights go down in the city.......come on, you know that's the first thing that popped into your head) and I began planning a night in San Francisco immediately.

I got the hotel first.  The Palace Hotel.  Didn't know a thing about it, but it looked old and decadent, so I booked it with a little help from Captain Kirk, my personal priceline negotiator.  Hey, it helps to know people.   Upon arrival, I realized I had made a good choice.  The architecture was old and gorgeous and not modern.  The first thing you see is the garden court with it's spectacular glass atrium area and a musical trio welcoming you and you can imagine a scene out of "Titanic" with the rich folks mingling and talking about the important business of the day.  Seated at a table nearest to the entrance was a table full of ladies with huge white hats.  I got dizzy for a second because I was certain I must have stepped through a loophole in time.  I'm positive I saw this scene in "Titanic".   It makes sense, the re-built Palace hotel was built in 1909 after the devastating earthquake in 1906, and the Titanic was built in 1908-1909.  I don't know what they were discussing or why they were dressed that way, I just know it was spectacular to see in 2011.  But that's the thing in San Francisco.  At any moment you may just walk into this type of setting on a random day at a random time while walking about.  Despite my procrastination, things were looking good.  I got lucky on the hotel, and now I just had to keep Nikki in the dark for another couple of hours.

When I began planning on Tuesday, I made some calls to see if there was a possibility anyone could join us for the weekend.  Thankfully, Brian and Lisa were able to accomodate my PS (procrastination schedule) and agreed to meet us there in stealth fashion.  To kill the time I took Nikki to Union Square where I knew she would be attracted Tiffany's like Snooki to a meathead.  The power of the turquoise box is undeniable and infallable.  For a procrastinator it's the easiest place in the world to take your wife because success is guaranteed.  She browsed and I took mental notes, because I knew she wanted me to make the "choice".    It's a complicated game, but the rules are such that the male must make the final decision on the piece of jewelry, although the female makes the choice crystal clear, short of winking her eye at the one she wants.

Nikki had to make a quick stop in Macy's so I waited outside to try my hand at some street photography. That's the other thing about a large city like SF, it's a photographer's paradise.   A photographer could make a career out of shooting the Golden Gate Bridge alone, and that's one of 10,000 things I could shoot on a given day in San Francisco.  I stood and tried to look inconspicuous while I shot passerby at the hot dog stand.  I think I was discovered, however, by the dude on the left.  He looks a little angry for some reason.  Easy my man, eat your dog and keep moving, it's not that traumatic to be photographed.

While I had a free moment I quickly texted Lisa and they were stuck in traffic.  Yee-haw, trying to plan a surprise is a like a pre-planned kick in the man satchel.    You know it will be painful, you're committed,  but you try to find a way to cope and get through it.  Plan B was to take Nikki to the antique shops on Union St. near the planned rendezvous point and wait for word from the lost I-80 crew.  Note to other males who may be reading:  Antique shops are similar in power to Tiffany's.   You can tell a lot of half-truths and the good news is your spouse will pay scant attention to what you say because they are so engrossed in the merchandise.   It was very easy for me to relay the fact that (oops!) our reservation is really an hour later than I thought, I must have mis-remembered (thank you Roger Clemens).    In a completely unrelated corollary:  Roger, you are a first class  Delta Bravo (DB, figure it out) for thinking that story was believable.  You must have been in an antique store when you concocted that!

Antique stores scare me a bit.  Looking at old stuff seems more creepy to me than it does fascinating.  I can see the old lady doll hovering over me at night, or the chimp banging his cymbals on my ears repeatedly while I'm tied down on the bed.   Unfortunately, we had to pick up the chimp for a friend's circus freak halloween party so he would be with us the rest of the night.  I'm typically good after about 5 minutes of the creep house. Blessedly, Lisa texted and said they were in place and we could head over to the restaurant.

According to Nikki, she was surprised by Lisa and Brian, and we had a great time celebrating her birthday at Marengo, eating sliders and yam fries and generous amounts of wine.  We stayed there for about two hours, then headed to the comedy show (Dave Attell), then to a blues performance, and then the night became less clear as the hours passed.

When I awoke the next morning, my antique store nightmare had come true.  The chimp had indeed been banging his cymbals on my head because I had a screaming headache.   I eventually rallied and got out of the room and we headed to Tiffany's so I could "choose" Nikki's gift, and then we headed home.

As we sat around recovering on Sunday, we had the conversation again.  We talked about the money we (over) spent, the things we did and the fun we had.  I was glad we did it, Nikki deserved it and we got to spend the evening with friends.  At the end of the conversation it was clear to us once again:  We can't leave here, it's the greatest city in the world.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Little Angels

Angelic.  That's the word that kept circulating through my mind as I was photographing  Dylan and Tori last month.  Nikki and I were on vacation to attend a high school reunion and catch up with some old friends in Colorado.  Jen  asked me to do a family shoot while we were there so we planned a day to spend with them barbecuing and taking photos.

Jen and Nikki first became friends in elementary school and stayed close through high school and became roommates for a while afterwards.  Life moved on, Nikki and I left Colorado for the military, and Jen met and married Will a few years later. About 16 years have passed since we left, but Nikki and Jen have remained close, communicating often on the phone and making the periodic visit to see each other when possible.  I'm usually with her on those visits and we have the opportunity to spend a day here and a day there together with Jen and her family.  I'd met Dylan twice, once when she was 14 months and once when she was 4, but I had never met Tori.   Mostly, though, I've known Jen and her family over the last 16 years via information communicated to me through Nikki.  Bits and pieces of anecdotes and stories were how I knew the girls up until the day we made the photographs.

I knew they were beautiful.  I had seen the photographs a well respected and established photographer made a couple years back.  When that level of photographer is willing to shoot your kids for free because they want them for their portfolio, you know the kids have "it".  I had never seen them interact with each other, however, and I had never spoken with them for any extended time, so I didn't know what to expect.  There's a chance they could be brats with a gigantic sense of self entitlement, which would spoil all of the physical beauty they clearly had.  After Will let us in, the first thing I see is two bundles of energy, in matching clothing, bounding down the stairs screaming Nikiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii............

My heart melted.  They knew who Nikki was partly because they had seen her before, but mostly because Jen talks about her and makes her seem fresh and current in their minds despite her absence.  That's how it is with old friends, they always feel like family and you feel immediate comfort in their presence.   They all ran upstairs to put the finishing touches on the girls' hair for the photoshoot.

I waited downstairs with Will and got caught up on his new life.  He recently decided to quit his job as a VP at mega humongous SAP and start his own consulting business.  That takes a lot of planning and a lot of brass stones to make it happen, but Will is a planner.  I'm hoping it rubs off on me somehow (note to self, spend more time with Will), but I doubt it.   I can't plan past this weekend, it's just how I've always been.  He's also a bass player in a band called  "Fina Dupa" (   It's an interesting dynamic to observe the two sides of Will.  You've got the type "A" VP of business operations on the one hand, and a goateed bass-slappin' player hanging out at the dive bar polar opposite.   It's a nice juxtaposition, I wish I had more of the type "A" personality at times.

A short while later the girls all came down and we were ready to get down to business.   I quickly saw that any fleeting concerns I had about brattiness were completely unfounded.  The girls were polite, bright, charismatic, listened well, and loved each other a lot.  I can't imagine there is a sweeter sound than children laughing, and I heard a lot of it that day.   Watching their interaction with their parents and with each other was amazing.   Like Will the girls clearly have a juxtaposition in their individual personalities.

Dylan is smart, really smart (it's a bit unsettling to have a conversation with a 7 year old and have it feel like an adult conversation) and she's sweet.   Tori is both of those, but in a very different fashion.  She thinks about things differently, sees the world in another way.  Case in point:  the glass water container with the lemon and lime slices.

I walked up to the pitcher where Tori and Dylan were dutifully pouring water for the guests at the barbecue and noticed the lemon slices were floating and the lime slices were at the bottom (or vice versa,  like Tori, I'm not into details).  I found this to be particularly interesting and I had know idea why this would be the case, so I asked each girl about it.

Dylan (Reminder 7 years old):  "Well you see air can get into the little space on the surface of the lemon, and it brings them to the top.  The limes don't have that and they stay at the bottom, plus they are heavier".

(She said something along these lines.  I don't remember the exact words, but I know I was struck by the fact that she attempted to provide a scientific explanation to the problem.   Clearly she was analyzing the situation and articulating a solution as best she could)

Tori:  (pointing to the lemons)  You see these are magical and they float  (then pointing to the limes) These are also magical but they don't float (then she smiled and laughed hysterically).

Then I laughed.  Both answers were probably wrong, but the way they approached them came from polar opposite sides of the thinking spectrum.  

After we finished up the family photographs, both girls insisted that I take photos of them in their room.  Dylan was first and she requested I take something with all of her stuffed animals.  She fastidiously picked up each animal and placed it just so on the bed.  Then she carefully nestled herself down into the animals so as not to disturb the scene and gave me the sweetest smile.

I then moved over to Tori's room and saw that she had changed into a skirt from one of her halloween costumes and a ski hat (why?).  Two completely unrelated items, yet they fit so perfectly together on Tori.  Then she began climbing the bed and then jumping up and down like a kook.  I got what I needed and headed back downstairs.

I'm glad Jen asked me to shoot the photos.  It means a lot when somebody thinks your work is worthy of hanging on the wall (and they have really good stuff on their wall) and every photographic interaction allows you the chance to capture the soul and essence of your subject.

And if you're lucky, you get to work with angels.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Singularity of Purpose

Click on any photo to view larger

Whenever I'm lacking for a subject to shoot, a quick detour to the beach nearly always gives me something to put in the crosshairs.   The first thing I saw when I parked was Kona scrambling furiously around the beach chasing her orange ball and I knew she would be the subject for the day.

Action shots seem to fascinate me endlessly because they really give you a glimpse into what feels like a secret world.  What is normally a blur is frozen for all time and affords us the chance to look at every small detail at our own pace and marvel at all of the kinetic energy on display in something as simple as chasing a ball.

Kona is 2 1/2 and according to her owner is part black lab and part "heeler or something".  She is most likely at the peak of her physical powers and it was pure joy to watch her do her thing.   This brief period of time when we are at our peak is so limited and we only realize it after it has passed us by.   Seeing Kona like this, I wistfully think back to my peak and chuckle at the aches and pains I feel now, even as I walked along the beach.  

Dogs at this age never seem to tire and Kona was no different.  I watched her for 15 mintues before shooting, and worked with her for another 25, and she never stopped looking like she does in these photos.  She swam, ran, jumped, dug, ran, swam, and ran some more without any visible sign of fatigue.  An older, graying hound waiting on the beach for its surfing owner provided the perfect juxtaposition to the scene as he gave Kona the occasional curious glance from a seated position, periodically being spurred on by biological urges and trying to mount her.

When I look at the photos now, I see a stunning singularity of purpose.  Nothing else exists for Kona except the ball and every ounce of her energy is spent capturing it.  When I look, I'm as focused as she is, I become a part of the scene, there but not really there, the world around me fades away....

Abruptly my reverie is broken when my mobile rings.  I look down, I have two voice messages, a text message, 14 personal e-mails (all spam), 6 work e-mails, and 4 facebook updates.   My mind races,  I'm irritated, stressed, already going in 10 different mental directions in the first  5 seconds.  My focus is shattered, I'm a mess and all I can think about is wanting to chase a ball.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Weddings Don't Suck After All

click on any photo to view larger
When Robert first asked to shoot Matt & Aimee's wedding in Ohio, the reaction in my head was, "Are you nuts?"  1. I don't shoot weddings 2. It's in Ohio in July.

It turns out I was right about the Ohio in July bit, but my misgivings about weddings, at least in this case, appear to be wrong.  I know that's a terribly small sample size, but my stance in regards to shooting weddings has shifted towards the positive.

I told Robert I would think about it before giving him an answer, but re-iterated the fact that I had never shot a wedding and he should make that clear to Aimee.  After several days of reflecting on the idea, I came to the conclusion that I would do it.  After all, if you're not willing to stretch yourself and get out of your comfort zone, what's the point of doing something in the creative field?  I was a bit nervous about the whole idea, but intrigued to know if I could handle the pressure and produce quality work.

Soon enough, I was contacted by Aimee about shooting the wedding.  After several e-mails we engaged in conversation over the phone, where I made it clear to her that I had never shot a wedding (just in case Robert fudged on this small detail), and she could back out with no hard feelings on my part.   I mentioned that I was up for a challenge if she was.  We hung up the phone agreeing that she should think it over and get back to me.  After several days of not hearing from her, I figured the choice had been made and I wouldn't have to travel to Ohio and I would remain a non-wedding shooter.  I was actually relieved about the whole thing.  But then, she wrote me.

A bit to my dismay, Aimee said that if I was up to a challenge, then she was willing to have me come and shoot the weeding.  Damn, I was trapped now.  I began to think of any scenario that would allow me to wriggle out of the wedding without looking like a total jerk.  Of course, there were none.  I had told both Robert and Aimee that I would do it, and they had called my bluff.  I was all in with an unsuited 7&2.

Robert handled the travel arrangements and booked my room at Memaw's house, his wonderfully delightful grandma who addresses two or more people as "You'uns", as in "Where are you'uns going tonight?"  By the end of my weekend there, I demanded she use that term before I would leave the house.   She's 91 now and moves slowly, but I could still see her personality burning below the surface and her eyes lit up when engaged in verbal tet-a-tet with me.  I was honored when she remarked that I was ornery.

It was pouring rain as Robert and I were driving to the wedding, confirming my reservations about doing a wedding in the first place.  If the wedding moved indoors, I would most likely be shooting nothing but flash shots that would be decent at best.  The bride certainly would not be willing to take outdoor shots after having her hair and makeup done, so now I'm thinking of finding a neutral colored wall and hoping for the best.  Or, I might be carrying an umbrella in my left hand while trying to handle the camera with my right.  It's possible, but precarious at best.   No doubt the gear would have gotten wet and ceased working in this scenario.  As it turns out, I didn't need the rain to have soaking wet pants (khaki, thus ensuring every single guest would know the extent of my distress) or a malfunctioning camera. Blessedly the rain stopped shortly before we arrived, not to be seen the rest of the day.  Bad news, of course, is that the saturated ground would ensure that the humidity level would reach a full 100% when coupled with the 95 degree heat.

 I quickly began gathering detail shots of flowers, cake,settings, and various other wedding items as Aimee ran down the itenerary.  This wasn't the quiet flower I had spoken with on the phone, she was in total control now and the wedding was going to go exactly as she had planned.   Her demeanor wasn't obnoxious, it was determined, and she couldn't have been nicer.  She handed me a folder with 4 typed pages of print, which I quickly perused and thought, "crap, are you serious", but simply said, "Yes, looks good, we'll get everything you want".   The folder was too big to transport all day, so I folded up the sheets and put them in my back pocket to reference periodically.   When I pulled them out 5 minutes later they were soaking wet and virtually unusable.  I'm not exaggerating here, it was really that hot and humid.

The groomsmen showed up (a touch late) and we got their shots taken care of.  I was thankful Aimee didn't flip out, I'm not sure if she knew they were late or not.  Throughout the day, I kept waiting for the stereotypical bridezilla eruption to happen, but it never did.  Certainly the use of cell phones has helped alleviate that stress as Aimee was constantly directing, even while having her hair and makeup done.

Next we got the "getting ready" photos and then the bridesmaids photos done.  Everything was moving along comfortably (except for that rash now developing under the camera strap) and the ceremony was minutes away.  I began final checks:  lenses (check),memory cards (check),batteries (check),  cameras turned on......... ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME!!!!!!!!!!

One of my cameras would not power on.  I exchanged the batteries, turned it on and off, where's the control-alt-delete buttons?..oh yeah it's a camera, doesn't have those, and nothing happened.  If ever there was a perfect occurrence for Murhpy's Law, this would be it.  I'm doing my first wedding ever and I've obsessed about my gear for weeks, and literally 5-7 minutes before the wedding starts, I'm down a camera.  This is truly the only time of the day when I need two cameras, one with  a zoom and the other with a wide angle.  Everything up until now could have been done with one camera and switching lenses as needed.

I assess the situation and determine I'll have to use the 24-70 and get physically closer as needed as this will give me the best opportunity to capture the things I need to capture.  I quickly walk down behind the  small gazebo to see what the 24-70 will give me from behind this area.  I look to my left to make sure I'm not going to block the music folks, and there it is.   Like a sweet little blessing of hope, I see a black camera body.  I look closer and see "Canon" (hallelujah!).  Please god, don't let it be one of the rebel series, I don't know how to manipulate the settings on those.  A closer look let's me see it's a 7D (Praises!!).  I ask the guy at the keyboard (it turns out it's  her brother Aaron) if it's his and if I can use it?  Yes and yes.  Before he can change his mind I slip my memory card in, put my lens on, comes the bride.......

I move into position and begin shooting.  She doesn't know we were seconds away from possibly missing some really nice shots, such is the case of the wedding shooter, apparently.  I get what I need, the ceremony goes smoothly, and the day ends without further complications, from my viewpoint.  I'm guessing Aimee felt a million more little stressors the rest of the day, but such is the day for the bride.

That night Robert and I went out for a quiet dinner and a few pints of Guinness to reflect on the day.   I told Robert I was blown away by the friendliness of the people in Ohio.   It's now always like that where we live, so it was really nice to experience the midwest hospitality.  I was glad I had decided to take a chance and do something that was uncomfortable because I learned a lot about people and about myself as a photographer. Despite the new circumstances, I was able to produce work that both I and the married couple were proud of.  I always tell people that my strength in this field is the ability to establish a rapport and make others feel comfortable on the other side of the camera.   It turns out, that skill is applicable in all photographic scenarios.