Thursday, March 6, 2014

Talking Picture Postcard - Florida Keys Slow Time

On a moonless night last January, coconut palms are silhouetted against star filled sky at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys. With Nikon D610 30 seconds f 2.8 at ASA 1600. A series of similar time exposures at near by Sand Spur Beach were assembled into a time lapse making up the second half of the Talking Picture Postcard below.

The Florida Keys are a pretty magical place to visit, and I often become confused with the changing pace of time I experience on the island chain. Rushing down the highway from Miami my body struggles to slow down and relax. Gotta answer emails, gotta get to where I'm going. But by the time I make it below Marathon, about Mile Marker 40 or so, I'm looking off at the blue Atlantic from up high on the Seven Mile Bridge, the sun is shimmering off the wave tops, and I see a lone sail boat miles off at the edge of the Gulf Stream. 

Real time video captures a slow moving sailboat for 19 seconds, and then an hour long time lapse reveals stars rotating above the ocean at Bahia Honda State Park in this 36 second Talking Picture Postcard. Field-recorded natural sound captured nearby. iPhone & iPad link or if your receiving this by email.

That boat is barely moving, it's is so sloooooow, just a tiny triangle of sail on the horizon. Time seems to stand still. The Keys' magic dust is sprinkling down on me now, transforming my fast time to Keys time, slow time, time to take in all the sun and water and stars up in the pitch black sky. In a blink I find myself on the beach, long after sunset, hours from the moon rise, I'm soaking in all those pin pricks of light  I forgot even existed.

Time to write home about this time warp I'm experiencing, but not the fast way by posting to social media. I'll take the old fashioned way, I'll write on the back of a postcard a couple of lines, stick a stamp on it, scribble an address, and mail another Talking Picture Postcard.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Talking Picture Postcard - Everglades Web

Sunday while loading up my kayak and paddle, I threw in my new Nikon D610 DSLR camera and small audio recorder, along with a sandwich and one bottle of beer. I had no set plans other than spending a day in Everglades National Park about an hour south of Miami. I could paddle inland through tunnels covered with mangroves, or across open Florida Bay skipping from island to island.

If while out in nature I heard a cool sound, I could record it. If I saw great light, I could shoot a picture. Or if something intriguing moved, I could capture video. What ever happened would be just fine with me.

 This 30 second Talking Picture Postcard was shot Sunday, with sound captured nearby. Listen first for a red-winged blackbird, and then a red- shouldered hawk. Direct link for iOS devices.

Right after entering the park at sunrise, I noticed  the subtle movement of dew covered spider webs blowing in the breeze on a vast saw grass prairie. I was just beginning to become familiar with the video controls of my camera, and other than shooting video of my cat Shadow, who at age 14 and weighting 19 pounds does not move much, the webs were my first "action" subjects.

After a long paddle, the sandwich, beer and a nap, the setting sun was back lighting gently flowing Spanish moss hanging from live oak trees. Seeing this "action" as a bookend to the morning's spider webs, I realized I could edit a short video from the day.

It's been three years since I contributed to my occasional Talking Picture Postcard series on this blog, so Everglades Web is a revival of sorts. Back in 2010 I described my interest in postcards:
I’m trying to think of each [ short video ] as a couple of lines on the back of a picture postcard, like those I’ve discovered while rummaging through dusty boxes in antique stores over the years.
After gleaning what I can from the photos, I turn the cards over to read the hand written lines, often family news, weather reports and plans about the future. I wonder how the parties to the correspondence lived their lives and what happened to them. Those few lines can be the best part, ease dropping on people who’ve long since passed away.
 Sorry I won't mail this postcard to you, you're have to read it here, as I'm saving the .49 cent stamp.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Chinese Family, Friends & Selfies

As the end of the year catches up with me, I thought I'd wrap up with some miscellaneous candid street photographs from this Fall's trip to China. This selection captures a handful of the 1.3 billion Chinese ... urban, middle class citizens enjoying their children, parents, grand children, best buddies and close friends.

Mother and teen daughter walk arm in arm down busy Lianyungang shopping street in
Jiansu Province.

Son play attacks his father lakeside at the Emperor 's Palace Theme Park in Kaifeng, Henan Province.

 Baby and his grand mother discover high flying balloons at a city park in Kaifeng, Henan Province.

 Best buddies walk to lunch after morning of Kung Fu drills at the Weseng Tuan Training Center in Henan Province.

 A selfie records friends attending an evening outdoor music performance in Denfeng City, Henan Province.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Sounds Overheard: Smog, Muzak & Crickets

The 13 story tall Iron Pagoda of the Buddhist Youguo Temple dating from 1049 pierces the smoggy sky last September in Keifeng, Henan Province, China. 

Ambient sounds recorded in Iron Pagoda Park range from tranquil to chaotic: 0:00 gabbing tourists, 0:14 background music on loud speakers, 0:31 parakeets for sale,  0:46 children's train ride, 1:23 cooing while feeding pigeons, 1:40 grand children & grannies, 1:48 crickets compete with music in quiet corner. Direct link for iPhones & iPads or if receiving post via email.

One of the surprises of traveling off the beaten tourist track in China is finding authentic photographs and sounds in not so glamorous places, so as dawn broke over Keifeng in China’s Henan Province, I was excited to get going.

This being my eighth trip to China, I knew from experience that Sunday morning last September that I could stumble onto interesting people doing interesting things in colorful ways.

Once in Yunnan I left a history museum tour and discovered a bride and groom in full wedding regalia strolling through the park. A random turn off the highway led to Buddhist monks in Qinghai inviting me into their yak hair tent to listen to eight-foot-long horns. In Inner Mongolia I sipped warm horse milk inside a yurt and met Westernized tweens texting in bunny slippers. All these chance encounters made terrific memories.

Early morning exercises follow well worn track around trees in park surrounding the Iron Pagoda in Kaifeng, city of five million on the banks of the Yellow River.

This morning as the sun rose it feebly punched through the thick gray smog. Buildings across a four lane street were obscured, and it was hot and humid too. Ugh, I thought as I optimistically entered the park surrounding a temple. There had to be a picture here in spite of the horrible light. There had to be sounds of everyday life here somewhere.

Yes and yes, within minutes I found both,  photographs and ambient sounds depicting off the beaten path China. Maybe not as colorful or glamorous as my other Chinese experiences, but authentic enough for another terrific memory.

During my assignments and travels I've been recording the sounds I overhear, and many don't have supporting photographs or stories. This occasional series will be my excuse to share my audio orphans, these Sounds Overheard.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Portraits From Nothing, Sometimes Easy, Often Hard

When one of my magazine clients assigns me to create an environmental portrait, the first few minutes on location are the most nerve wracking for me. I’m thinking, I have to make somebody look great in this location.

I see blank walls, florescent lights and another drab conference room. I worry about how to set up my lights and compose my portrait in order to make something out of this nothing.

Geeze Louise, what am I going to do?

When I arrived to photograph Miami, FL, financial planner Linda Lubitz Boone for Sean Barrow at Rep. magazine, I began with the location below.

After working down my check list: 1) set medium softbox at left, and placed strip box at right for rim and hair light. 2) Color temperature on camera set to tungsten 3200 K, making window light blue. 3) Slow shutter speed exposed for outdoor light. 4) Gelled left strobe full color temperature orange,  and rim light full CTO + 1/2 CTO more.

In these moments I try to tell myself that pain and angst are part of the creative process, and I must work through this challenge by methodically coming up with a photographic solution. As I work through my mental check list, I travel from panic to confident :

- What’s the story I’m telling with this portrait? Is my subject powerful, so I want to shoot upward? Are they sympathetic, and I want soft lighting and a warm color palette?
- How can I use the environment to help the story? Do I want to show the developer looking over a grand city, or Is it a personality profile where location is not important?
- Will my art director run a large photograph so I can shoot wider, and do I need to shoot tight also for secondary use or table of contents? Horizontal, vertical, room for cover lines and copy?

- Will this space allow me to place my lights where I need to?
- How can I make limited lighting gear work here?
- And I check off the details: How long may I keep my subject in front of the camera? How long may I use this location? Will my cables and stands be in the way? May I turn the overhead lights off? Will my extension cords reach? When do the lawn sprinklers come on? Will the strobes mess with the fire alarms? Does my executive wear glasses? Does he have hair or is he bald?

Scouting locations at Florida Gulf Coast University in Ft. Myers, FL, I just had to photograph Rebekah Wells in the dramatic light streaming in the library windows, a rare gift. Shot for Bob Fernandez at the ABA Journal for a story on "revenge porn". A very interesting read, as is Ms. Wells' site Women Against Revenge Porn. 

Very simple lighting: 1) medium soft box on right is main light, no gells 2) strip light on left gelled full CTO 3) small beat up umbrella at lower right provides fill at 2 - 3 stops under, no gells 3) regular daylight shutter speed to expose for sky and clouds.

As the pieces come together and I fire off a few test frames to check on the back of my camera, my photograph begins to materialize from my imagination. By now I know that when my subject walks on set my environmental portrait will be a success.

Very important tip, nobody want’s to hear their dentist say “oops!”, so while your creative mind is panicking and stumbling, keep it inside and don’t let ‘em see you sweat.

I must admit, every once in a while I walk into a location and immediately see a terrific solution. Wonderful sunlight and shadows cascading through magnificent windows, or a grand interior with soaring architectural details. Or maybe just a prop will make my day, a model airplane or basketball, whoopee!

I accept these occasional gifts with grace and enjoy not having to torture myself on the way to making one more photographic portrait out of nothing.

Monday, November 18, 2013

12,000 Kung Fu Children

The 12,000 young boys and girls kicked and thrust, their shouted responses echoed from the tall dormitories and off the concrete drill field as their instructor’s Chinese commands squawked from loud speakers. Kung Fu movements in unison as far as I could see, the children and teens were in endless formations radiating in all directions like corn blowing in the wind.

iPhone & iPad friendly version or if you've received via e-mail. Listen to 1:30 of field-recorded sound and watch still photographs from Weseng Tuan Training Center in September, associated with legendary warrior monks of China's Shaolin Temple. 

In September I was visiting the Weseng Tuan Training Center on the same day as picture day, and this being China, picture day was a BIG deal. Mr. Qin Hua was eight stores up with his Nikon to capture the assembled thousands in a grand panoramic view. I opted for a view from ground level.

The school is closely associated with the Shaolin Temple at Song Mountain in China’s central Henan Province. The temple’s legendary warrior monks date from the chaotic politics of the sixth century, when the emperor awarded favors to Buddhists with fighting skills. For centuries many martial arts traditions flourished as trade and religion between China and India flowed, with the Shaolin form of Kung Fu becoming the most prominent.


After just three months at boarding school, five-year-old demonstrates Kung Fu moves. 

From Wikipedia:
Kung Fu is a Chinese term referring to any study, learning, or practice that requires patience, energy and time to complete, often used in the West to refer to Chinese martial arts ... Originally to practice Kung Fu did not just mean to practice Chinese martial arts. It refers to excellence achieved through long practice in any endeavor. 
Today this blending of hand to hand fighting with Buddhist ideology continues to embrace self-defense, body-building and athletics, with Kung Fu becoming a world wide personal philosophy and sport.

Tuition, room and board at the Wuseng Tuan school is around $ 4,800 a year, a considerable sum for a Chinese family in spite of the country’s recent economic growth. Besides good basic academic education, many students hope to join the military or work as body guards. There are thousands of Kung Fu schools throughout China, all competing for a piece of a very big business. Yet the day before I saw a group of a half a dozen English speaking twenty something men and women training one on one with a saffron robed monk in the nearby Shaolin Temple.

Photograph of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Shaolin Temple abbot is proudly displayed at the Wusen Tuan training center in Henan Province, China.

With the school enrolling 15,000 students, I was wondering where the other 3,000 were, as I had taken on face value their assertion of 12,000 Kung Fu children in front of me. Give or take a handful, seemed reasonable to me.

Just as I was about to ask, several accomplished five-year-olds were trotted out to perform for us. With just three months at the boarding school these cute tikes whipped through their foot kicking, hand chopping routine, climaxing with placing one foot behind their heads while standing perfectly still. Were the future generals of the People’s Liberation Army before me, standing like tall storks? With the world’s largest armed forces, China could always use one more Kung Fu practitioner.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sounds Overheard: Pingyao's Chaotic Streets

At dusk the 14th century Market Tower rises from cobblestone streets teeming with people in the Ancient City of Ping Yao in China's Shanxi Province in September.

 0:00 traditional instruments, 0:14 bamboo flute, 0:32 swarms of people, 0:40 fire crackers, 0:49 street vendor, 1:01 toy rubber chicken seller, 1:15 outdoor wok, 1:30 police cart, 1:43 live bar music

iPhone & iPad friendly link, or if you've received an email without audio player.

Considering only pedestrians and pedal powered bicycles are allowed into the central core of the ancient walled city of Pingyao, an amazing tapestry of sound is generated in this city of 50,000. Not ear shattering New York City jack hammer and subway loud. But just as enveloping ... shouting vendors, crackling fireworks, banging gongs, sizzling woks, bicycle bells, conversations soft and shouted. Here sounds are every where, sharpening your senses, your eyes noticing more detail, your nose discovering new flavors wafting on the air.

As shop lights twinkle on, a young couple thread Pingyao's narrow streets last month. 

 When the magic hour arrives at dusk, the sky goes from deep blue to black and the red cloth lanterns twinkle on in the restaurants and shops, there is no quiet spot within these stone walls built over 500 years ago.

 It's due to the hordes of Chinese and foreign tourists and businesses catering to them. So many visitors flock to what are considered among the best preserved city walls in the world - Pingyao is a UNESCO World Heritage Site - that rampart tourism and development are considered a major threat.

Costumed musician plays bamboo flute below the South Gate in the 6,000 meter stone wall that encircles Pingyao, which is about 450 miles West and a little South of Beijing.

Don't let the crowds discourage your visit, there's lots of room. What fun being a fly on the wall among the throng, people watching, recording sound and taking photographs. If those pursuits aren't enough entertainment, then a $5.00 foot massage lasts almost an hour. At a street side table a large bottle of warm beer is 75 cents and great dinner of stir fried pork and eggplant a few dollars more. The pandemonium becomes background music

I never experienced a quiet and calm Pingyao. I suspect there's an hour when the nightly hubbub dims as the shops and bars close and visitors stroll off to bed. Probably when the sky brightness early in the morning the streets are momentarily quiet as the city regains it's strength, soon to murmur back to life.

Preparing Mahua, a friend dough twist cooked in peanut oil, on the sidewalk of the Zhauji family shop.

During my assignments and travels I've been recording the sounds I overhear, and many don't have supporting photographs or stories. Well, today there's a short story and a few pictures. This occasional series will be my excuse to share my audio orphans, these Sounds Overheard

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Billions Of Chinese Phones Love Big Nose

On my September trip to China it seemed to me a large percentage of the country's 1.2 billion people were talking on their mobile phones, sending texts or surfing the internet. I saw the phones in the hands of parents commuting through traffic with children hanging off their electric scooters. In the country side I noted farmers chatting. While zooming at 200 Km per hour on a high speed train, fingers flew playing internet games. 

While wearing rented 17th century costumes boyfriend snaps mobile phone photos of girlfriend in Beijing's Forbidden City last month.

And the Chinese were snapping photos with their phones of everybody and everything. In the park with grandma and grandpa, tourists dressed in Qin dynasty costumes, pictures of photographs hanging at photography festivals. Even pictures of photographers standing in front of their photographs at photography festivals.

A recent report claimed that among the 1,200,000 citizens of China, there were 1,104,000 mobile phone users. Gee that seems high, even noting that maybe people have multiple handsets or SIM cards. But come to think about it, though, as a Westerner I must of had a cel phone camera pointed at me nearly a billion times.

While baby sleeps mother stays connected with smart phone while visiting the Longman Caves in Luoyang, Henan Province, China.

Every day, often multiple times an hour, while walking down the street I would catch several faces smiling at me, with one of their party trotting up to me for a photo. Smile, "ha ha ha ha" and thank you in English and Chinese. Then the shooter and the subject would change places, others would see the activity, waiting their turn to be photographed with the "Dabizi".

I learned to pronounce it "Dah - be - zerrr", "big nose" or "long nose", the Chinese description for foreigners. I figured that described me pretty well, so I embraced the term.

In September street performer sings for tips at night market while baby-toting mom (right) photographs the Big Nose, Kaifang, Henan Province, China.

 One afternoon I was completely pooped from walking in an amusement park for hours in the heat and humidity, so I bought a cold bottle of juice and was leaning on a tree while the multitude surged around me. I felt a gentle nudge on my back, and turning, discovered a teen age girl sneaking close to have her picture taken with the visiting Big Nose. She was to shy to talk to me, so I turned around and gave her camera phone toting boyfriend a big grin.

Last month young woman commuting home on electric scooter pauses to text, Anyan, Henan Province, China.

OK the headline at top is a bit of hyperbole, a billion Chinese weren't really shooting my picture, nor a million, and I doubt if no more than a bunch of dozen zoomed in on me. But I had fun meeting so many Chinese who were friendly and genuinely curious about a Big Nose.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Surprising Guided Conversation With Foster Child

Every interview is a guided conversation, but in spite of where I think I may be headed with my reporting, my subjects always lead me down paths unanticipated, and frequently they surprise me with their insight.

Foster teen Isaac and his adult mentor Barbara K. have developed a lifelong bond through weekly Saturday visits. iPhone & iPad link. Video by Paul Morris.

My journey down one of those paths began when I answered the phone back in March. Barbara Schechter, Executive Director of the Heart Gallery of Broward County (FL) was on the line wondering if I had any ideas on how to recruit mentors for her children living in foster care. Besides organizing a traveling photography exhibit of children waiting to be permanently adopted, the Heart Gallery provides innovative programs that enrich the county’s foster children.

I suggested we produce a multimedia piece featuring one adult mentor who has developed a successful relationship with a Heart Gallery child so we could tell the story through their eyes and in their own words. I’ve found viewers easily relate to the combination of photojournalism and audio story telling, what I call Public Radio With Pictures.

 Isaac, 13, leaps into mentor Barbara K.'s swimming pool during weekly Saturday visit. Still photographs by Tom Salyer

While Barbara set to work finding the subjects, I began researching mentoring on social service agency web sites and building a list of keywords that would help us filter our story telling decisions. What activities should we photograph, at what locations and the questions we should ask? Why are we making this film?

My keyword list included: guidance, friendship, relationship, trust, sharing, teacher, listen, adult, growth, role model, permanence, family problems, self confidence, support, patience, time, heart, consistency, commitment, approval, the future. Shortening the list to four or five, I was able to state the purpose of the film in one sentence:

Mentors provide children living in foster care with positive adult relationships that encourage trust, self-confidence and friendship.

During a brief telephone pre-interview with our adult mentor, Barbara K. described how for two years she has called 13-year-old Isaac every Friday afternoon to talk about their Saturday plans. Keyword consistency. How they went swimming and made cookies. Keyword friendship. Washing the car, doing homework and attending a baseball game would make great locations. While drawing up a list of questions I tried to anticipate the arch of our story, how to open, our subject’s journey and a final resolution.

Mentor Barbara K. lets her dog lick cookie dough as Isaac, who lives in a foster care group home, looks on.

On interview day in April colleague Paul Morris, running the video cameras, and I were joined by Barbara Schechter and new Heart Gallery Executive Director Ken Crooks. First we interviewed Barbara K., who quickly gave us unanticipated answers.

Among the reasons she wanted to be a mentor:

Selfishly, I have two grown children in their 40s, neither one is married, neither one has any children. I wanted some grand children!

Wrapping up her mentoring experience:
I hope that what ever happens to Isaac that he’s in my life ... forever... you’re have  friend for life, you really will.

When we asked Issac our written question about what his life was like before foster care, he firmly stated he didn’t want to talk about that. But later he offered this unanticipated journey:

I really love Miss Barbara because she is always there for me... like when I do bad stuff, and she tells me the right things to do, like when I ran away...she’s like, Isaac, you should of never (done) that, you could of gotten hurt, and...nobody could of found you, and you could of been dead...

One more guided conversation full of surprises.

This video “Miss Barbara Is Always There For Me” will be posted on the Heart Gallery’s web site, on YouTube and shown live at foster family and adoption training and fund raising events.

 Former Heart Gallery of Broward County Executive Director Barbara Schechter, left, and current Executive Director Ken Crooks supervise car washing scene during filming of "Miss Barbara Is Always There For Me."

Technical Notes:

Paul Morris recorded the video with Canon 5D Mark II and Mark III cameras and lenses. During my still photography, I recorded the ambient sound and conversations with concealed Tram TR50 lavalier microphones and Sennheiser G3 wireless units, and the interview with a boomed Sennheiser MKH 8050 hyper cardioid. I edited stills in Adobe Light Room and Photo Shop, and assembled the video in Adobe Premier Pro and Audition CS 6.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Sounds Overheard: Florida Bay Deserted Island

 One of the tiny Oyster Keys floats in Florida Bay earlier this month a short paddle from Everglades National Park's Flamingo Visitor Center. 

I was paddling my kayak on the mirror smooth waters of Florida Bay when two tiny dots off on the horizon caught my eye. Out there where the blue sky meets the even bluer water I had no idea how many miles into the distance I could see. But it was far enough for my mind to imagine the curving of the earth causing some distant islands to slip below the waterline just far enough for me to barely detect the tippy tops of the three-story tall mangrove trees.

I knew I was just an hour of paddling from the mainland, about four miles out, but with my back to the shore and my face into the sun facing South West, I pretended I was lost in a vast wilderness and needed to reach those distant fuzzy dots in order to survive. 

At low tide the the mangroves revealed a tiny opening on the lee side just big enough for me to beach my kayak on dry land, climb out and begin soaking in the amazing sounds emanating from this island about the size of a city home lot. A chatty king fisher scolded me and great blue heron squawked, seemingly to complain about my presence. But a cricket hidden under a rotten log didn't seem to mind, nor the thousands of bees seeking nectar from the mangrove flowers high up in the forest canopy. I popped on my headphones and set up my recorder and began to preserving the sound of my wilderness island.

iPhone & iPad friendly link to audio recording.

During my assignments and travels I've been recording the sounds I overhear, and many don't have supporting photographs or stories. This occasional series will be my excuse to share my audio orphans, these Sounds Overheard

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Best (Kayak) Camera Is The One That's With You

Fish Eating Creek overflows live oak and palm tree forest last October near Lake Okeechobee. Shot with Canon PowerShot S100 point 'n shoot digicam.

Today I'm attempting to connect the dots between a weekend conversation, a trending style of internet photography and, lastly, staying creative while paddling a kayak. Let me know If I've succeeded ...

Sunday I had my photojournalist hat on while on assignment at the Miami’s Marlins Stadium, shooting two foster children and their adult mentor for an upcoming multimedia program. I had my two Nikon D300 DSLRs with three zoom lenses while I worked in and around the fans seated near my subjects, when a young woman asked what I was doing. I explained the story, and she said “wow those are pretty nice cameras, you must be getting great photos”.

Most professional photographers have heard such remarks many times, and I admit, even my 2008 era digital cameras, now a generation out of date, do allow me to make images in difficult situations. In the stadium, I needed wide angle to telephoto focal lengths, a fast motor drive and good low light capabilities.

Rainbow at sunset this January while paddling in Atlantic Ocean off Bahia Honda Key. Shot with Canon S100.

But it’s not the camera that makes the photograph, I thought to myself, it’s your story telling eye, your vision of the world and your people skills that capture the images.

In a rush, I not very eloquently told her that such cameras "help, but you still need a brain!”

Just because I go out and buy a set of law books doesn’t make me a lawyer, nor having the cash to buy a Ferrari won’t make me a race car driver. Heck, even buying the latest and most expensive Nikon won’t make me a better photographer. (Note to Santa, a Nikon D4 and a D800 would be sweet!)

While paddling the back country in Everglades National Park's 10,000 Islands area, I photographed wave details with Nikon P6000.

Several years ago photographer Chase Jarvis’ The Best Camera Is The One That’s With You became a sensation,  in which he urged everybody to just use that camera phone in you pocket. Shoot what you see and experience every day. It’s your creativity that matters, not fancy equipment nor exotic locals. Keep it simple, and practice practice practice.

Sorry this post is not another iPhoneography convert having fun with cool camera apps. I’ve used my iPhone camera a little, but somehow that internet phenomenon of post processing camera phone photos with colors, effects and borders hasn’t clicked for me. I’ll leave that to others, including friend Steven Boxall’s I Shoot You Long Time blog.

Clouds are icing atop Miami city skyline during paddle around Elliot Key in Biscayne Bay. Nikon P6000.

But my creativity and insatiable curiosity about nature and the outdoors gets going the moment I sit in my kayak, launch onto open water, and I pull out my digital point ’n shoot camera to document what I experience and discover. I used to paddle with my DSLRs and long lenses, but once I began to  record audio from my kayak, I was carrying to much gear to have any fun. My current Canon PowerShot S100 is about the same heft and volume as my iPhone yet packs a lot of capability. 

It goes without saying that only having my point 'n shoot with me in my kayak makes that camera the best at hand. And as long as I “... still need a brain”, I'll make out just fine.

Dry season on Nine Mile Pond in Everglades National Park forces me to share shallow water with several alligators. Note, as your review mirror warns, wide angle lens makes six-foot gator seem further away than reality. Nikon P6000.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Single Woman Adopts Brothers With Rare Syndrome

I've had a lot of fun photographing portraits of orphan children living in foster care for the Heart Gallery of Broward County (FL), and like the more than two dozen other professional photographer volunteers, have felt the thrill of seeing our subjects find adoptive homes.

Upon viewing the portraits for the first time, prospective parents often report an instant connection to the child. Putting the faces of a real children onto dry case files is why over 100 Heart Galleries in the USA exist.

Brothers Royce and Noah paused for a rare quiet moment in the group home bed room they shared when I photographed them in 2009. Now ages 18 and 14, they've been adopted out of foster care. Born with 5 p minus, they are developmentally at 4 and 5 year-old levels.

This week I realized the handful of hours we photographers contribute are really nothing compared to the commitment and devotion required of  the adoptive parents and their children in creating new families. Heart Gallery Executive Director Barbara Schechter has written this week a newsletter story about a 28-year-old single woman who adopted two teenage brothers who have the same rare genetic disorder two of her siblings were born with. Tabitha found the boys from a photograph after ChildNet, the private agency contracted with the State of Florida to facilitate adoptions, used innovative recruitment techniques to find her.

Young Mom Adopts Brothers With Rare Genetic Syndrome

By Barbara Schechter

Royce and Noah have been in foster care most of their lives. They have been photographed for the Heart Gallery and featured in Forever Family news segments several times over many years. They are gentle, sweet boys, now ages 18 and 14, but their rare medical condition, known as 5 p minus, scares most adoptive families away. People assume that their needs are more than they can handle - times two.

"Too much to handle" never even occurred to Tabitha, a single, 28-year-old woman who adopted the boys last fall. As soon as she saw their photo, she knew that she wanted to adopt them. 5 p minus, also known as Cri du Chat Syndrome, has touched Tabitha's family deeply. She is one of ten children, two of whom were born with this disorder.

5 P Minus occurs in only 50 to 60 births a year. It requires lifelong therapy, but the children are usually friendly and happy. Most can have a normal life  expectancy and lead full lives. Royce and Noah are developmentally at 4 and 5 year-old levels.

The connection between Tabitha and ChildNet was the result of some creative family finding on the part of Jessica Samuels, Wendy’s Wonderful Kid Recruiter at ChildNet. “No one ever called about these boys. I knew I had to try something different”. So she Googled and found the Five P Minus Society, a support organization for families of children with the syndrome. Jessica contacted the Society and they permitted her to submit a short article for their newsletter along with their Heart Gallery photo. The rest is the beginning of an amazing journey…

As soon as Tabitha saw the photo of Royce and Noah in the newsletter, she got on the phone to Jessica. Jessica then sent her a Forever Family video and she knew that they were supposed to be her boys. She came to Fort Lauderdale from out of state three times to get to know them and every time found it difficult to leave. Royce and Noah are much higher-functioning than Tabitha’s siblings, one of whom died right before Tabitha decided to adopt. In fact, their ability to speak and interact has brought her family close to them and created a wonderful support system for this single parent.

The boys lead busy lives that include special needs scouting and Special Olympics (three sports!). Tabitha left her job as a special education teacher to care for the boys. Her training has helped her to anticipate their emotional and social needs. They have adapted beautifully to their new life.

Gia Tutalo-Mote, of Forever Family, sums up our sentiments. “It thrills my heart to know that Royce and Noah have finally found that loving forever family we’ve been searching for. This proves once again that there is a family out there for every waiting child.

Heart Gallery Updates: Celene, the Heart Gallery teen who declared "Adopt Me, I'm Unforgettable" in an audio slide show featured on this blog in 2010, was adopted in 2011. Her friend in the video, Sheaundra, now 18, was just adopted this month, along with her now adult brother, by the same family. Laterence's adoption, featured here last September, should be finalized this month. Teenager Corey, who admitted struggling in foster care after the death of his mother, has turned 18 and "aged out" of the foster system and is out on his own.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sounds Overheard: Parking Lot Wild Life


Once the sun sets nature can often be heard from parking lots of such places as Bahia Honda State Park, in the Florida Keys, photographed in December 2012.

Last month after a long day kayaking in the Florida Keys, I left my camp site close to midnight and drove to the end of the road at Bahia Honda State Park. All the day visitors were long gone, I had the crashing waves on beautiful Sand Spur Beach all to myself, and I stumbled along with my tape recorder by starlight. Just steps from the car I picked up a lone cricket in my head phones, fiddling away underneath the concrete parking bumper, giving me a pretty cool recording right in the parking lot. I realized that I've often captured the sounds of wild life from parking lots, often in very urban settings.

Examples of wild life recorded from parking lots and urban settings: 0:00 frogs in motel parking lot, 0:25 cricket under concrete bumper, 0:46 vultures have kerfuffle, 1:12 mocking bird in city. iPhone & iPad friendly link to 1 min 48 sec MP3. 

I was attending a workshop in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, last year, and after a long evening of slaving over a hot video editing workstation, I returned to my hotel wedged between a busy ring road and a strip mall. A wonderful sound caught my attention, what seemed like a million croaking frogs were jamming in a living room sized water retention pond alongside the parking lot. I just had to make a recording.

In the clip above I also have the sound of turkey vultures flapping and fussing over a bit of road kill in a parking lot in Everglades National Park, and a male mockingbird over stoked on testosterone in the middle of the night alongside my drive way in Miami. Listen for the passing car with boom box.

During my assignments and travels I've been recording the sounds I overhear, and many don't have supporting photographs or stories. This occasional series will be my excuse to share my audio orphans, these Sounds Overheard. Please also visit my Miami commercial photography portfolio.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sounds Overheard: Alcatraz Listens To Freedom


After rowing around Alcatraz Island for sport, two athletes return to the freedom of downtown San Francisco.  

The long concrete cell blocks rose three stories high above the prison floor, their steel doors permanently open and silent. Even though hundreds of visitors passed where nearly 1,500 of the country's most dangerous prisoners spent years of their lives, including Al Capone and Robert "The Birdman" Stroud, only a quiet murmur floated about the concrete and steel.

Listen to the sound of footsteps recorded in The Hole contrast with birds, waves and far off bell, sounds of freedom wafting into Alcatraz. iPhone & iPad friendly version.

Last November I was visiting Alcatraz Island, one of the Golden Gate National Parks, a rocky outcrop in San Francisco and a scant 1.5 miles from the downtown skyline. 

Inside the notorious D-block, also known as The Hole, where the worst of the worst were housed for bad behavior, I entered an eight by eight foot all steel cell. My steps thumped from the floor, off the  walls and bounced from the ceiling. I paced back and forth between the to close walls. Was this what a prisoner heard while isolated in near darkness?

Now a National Park, the federal prison on Alcatraz Island housed the USAs toughest convicts, from 1934 through 1963.

Outside the cell house and along a cliff side trail, my attention was drawn to the sound of waves lapping the shoreline, and the sound of birds nesting along the rocky cliffs. The low drone of an unseen airplane passed overhead. I wondered if these sounds of the outside world ever reached the confined convicts ... maybe on a very still day.

As I explored the walled recreation yard where prisoners could see the blue sky and breathe fresh air, work out or play a game of baseball, I could not see San Francisco Bay, but I could hear it as a navigational buoy bell clanged every few seconds.

Wild flowers grow through concrete of the high walled recreation yard, one of the few places prisoners could enjoy the out doors. It is within earshot of crashing waves and a buoy bell along the island's rocky shore.

What was it like for prisoners, confined in the toughest federal prison in the country, to hear these sounds from the outside world, the sounds of freedom drifting into their grim world?

During my assignments and travels I've been recording the sounds I overhear, and many don't have supporting photographs or stories. This occasional series will be my excuse to share my audio orphans, these Sounds Overheard. Please also visit my Miami commercial photography portfolio.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Photographing Revolver That Killed JFK Assassin

Holding the snub nosed .38 caliber Colt Cobra revolver in my hand, I expected to feel the weight of history slam down hard. This weapon was used to murder the assassin that shot JFK. Gripping it’s handle firmly, resting my finger on the trigger, sighting down it’s short barrel,  the gun didn’t seem all that special. At first I felt nothing exceptional.

Real estate developer and memorabilia collector Anthony Pugliese holds the snub nosed .38 revolver that Jack Ruby used to kill JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. Photographed in 1993 for Newsweek. Notations scratched onto weapon by Dallas police detective.

It’s flat black finish was worn away on the edges. Crude numbers and letters scratched onto the flat metal near the chamber scared the handgun.

The letters were initials, I began to remember, the initials of the Dallas police detective investigating a shooting. The detective placed his notation on this revolver himself,  days after the nation reeled from the killing of President John F Kennedy. This very weapon I now held was connected to one of the greatest chapters of United States history.

Finally the weight of history caught up with me ... cringing, I set the infamous item down gently onto the conference table.

November 22, 1963, the President is shot while riding in his open top limousine, dying in his wife’s arms. Hours later a suspect is arrested, Lee Harvey Oswald, and booked into the Dallas police headquarters. Two days later, a local night club owner, Jack Ruby, freely walks up to Oswald, pulls this .38 caliber Colt Cobra revolver from his pocket and shoots Oswald in the abdomen, killing him.

Like most Americans alive at the time, I remember where I was when I heard of JFK's death. Seventh grade class, Mountain Home, Idaho, the announcement crackled across the loud speakers. As school closed early, my classmates and I were stunned, not really understanding what the news meant. I remember flickering black and white television images of the Oswald shooting and from JFK's funeral. Holding Jack Ruby's revolver I shivered as it physically connected me to this awful history.

Wearing this hat, holding this revolver loaded with these bullets, Jack Ruby was photographed the split second he shot Lee Harvey Oswald on November 24, 1963. 

History and childhood memories were on my mind in the conference room of South Florida real estate developer and memorabilia collector Anthony Pugliese in the Fall of 1993. I was on assignment for Newsweek to photograph Jack Ruby’s gun, the hat and shoes he was wearing during the shooting, bullets from the revolver and telegrams sent to Dallas police supporting Ruby.

Mr. Pugliese simply handed my assistant and me a box with the items, told us to take our time, and left us alone in the room. As alone as one could be with the full weight of this terrible history bearing down. The photos ran on the 30th anniversary of the assassination.

When I realized another anniversary would be arriving next Thursday, the 49th since President Kennedy’s death, I recalled the Newsweek assignment and found the original color transparencies. Shot on my beloved Mamiya RZ67 medium format camera, the 6X7 format transparencies were in an envelop unceremoniously labeled “Ruby Gun”.  As I laid the ‘chromes down on my light table, I realized I had forgotten the tactile feel of film. The images were three inches wide and sharp as a tack, their colors glowing back up at me. We shot the portrait with a 180 mm tele, wide open, and the still life with my favorite lens, a 50 mm wide angle, lighting with several tight grid spots.

History Update - Jack Ruby, whose conviction for murdering Oswald was overturned,  died of cancer in prison awaiting a new trial in 1967. So technically, he is innocent. The Warren Commission concluded both Oswald and Ruby acted alone, but conspiracy theories persist to this day. The snub nosed .38 caliber Colt Cobra revolver was put up for auction in 2008, but prices did not reach expectations and it did not sell.  The sale was to help finance memorabilia collector Anthony Pugliese’s plan to turn Florida scrub land into an Eco-sustainable city. The Destiny project vaporized with the real estate crash. This October Pugliese was charged with money laundering and fraud in that development plan.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sounds Overheard: Chants At Rebuilt Monastery

Incense wafts on late afternoon sunlight at Reting Monastery North of Lhasa, Tibet. 

The Reting Monastery’s 11th century walls were freshly painted bright white, deep orange and dusty red. Gilded deities kept an eye on me from their perches atop cracked timbers supporting the roof. I felt I could reach up to touch the brilliant blue sky, as I was standing extra close at over 13, 000 feet. It was completely quiet. No breeze rustled the fall leaves, no birds chirped, no footsteps distracted me.

Listen to 1:22 recording of two Tibetan Buddhist monks chanting and playing drum and cymbals. Try headphones to hear stereo effect. iPhone & iPad link.

Suddenly two young monks rushed across the temple courtyard and disappeared through a narrow stone doorway, their red robes a quick flash of color. Soon a loud drum shattered the silence, boom, boom, boom. Then brass cymbals crashed. I followed the rhythm through the doorway and into a narrow room, a sliver of stony space with candle soot blackened walls rising two stories to an open window high above. 

The two monks began chanting in Tibetan, rapid fire fast, their voices drawn up and out the window and over the hillside temple complex, calling their brother Buddhist monks to evening prayers.

During China’s chaotic Cultural Revolution, this magnificent monastery North of Tibet’s capital Lhasa was nearly destroyed, stones and timbers torn down and salvaged for building projects, it’s monks harassed and disbanded. Since Reform and Opening of the late 1970’s, China has slowly become an economic power house tolerant of religion and money making, as long as the Communist Party is not threatened. Government and private funds are rebuilding many cultural sites, and Reting’s former splendor is slowly rising from the large piles of rubble awaiting rebirth.

During my assignments and travels I've been recording the sounds I overhear, and many don't have supporting photographs or stories. This occasional series will be my excuse to share my audio orphans, these Sounds Overheard. Please also visit my Miami commercial photography portfolio.