Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Explaining "Flipping The Classroom On Its Head"

Principal Doug Romanik was very excited about his school’s new educational philosophy and how they were “flipping the classroom on its head” at his 300 student Catholic high school in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood. The teachers were not lecturing any more, the students were empowered to learn on their own, iPads were every where, he told me on the phone. 



Multimedia story explaining the One To One Learning Program was delivered in June 2014. Email,  iPhone & iPad link.

Beginning with the Fall 2013 term Archbishop Curley Notre Dame Prep had become the first, and only, school in the United States to fully implement this new program. Teachers and students were adapting pretty well, but all the changes were causing some confusion amongst the parents, school supporters and incoming students.

He wanted me to come in to discuss how a web site video could explain ACND’s pioneering program. Of course I would!


 Math teacher James Harnage gives one on one time to Jennifer Lamy.

Fonton Relational Education was created in 1957 by two Spanish psychologists and had been incubated at several schools in Colombia. (Great video by IBM here.) FRE had helped adapt and implement their framework and software platforms at ACND, so I began my research on their site. I quickly bogged down trying to understand sentences such as
Fontan Relational Education is a pedagogical model that customizes learning paths for different learners at an individual unique learning rhythm based on each students’ abilities and interests.
Not having a PhD in educational theory, I was as confused as the parents, and quickly realized that my challenge was to transform the complex and abstract into a concise and emotional multimedia story about the One To One Learning Program. 


 Junior Jennifer Lamy combines pencil, paper and iPad on calculus homework.

My challenge was threefold:
  1. With interviews allow students in their own words describe their apprehension and eventual mastering of the changes. After conversations with ACND staff I drew up questions designed to elicit answers to hit target points, and to discover emotional surprises the kids might share.  
  2. With still photographs, and sit down interview video filmed by colleague Pascal Depuhl, I would put a human face on the program, show new classroom layouts and technology in use.
  3.  I would convert what I call all the Blah Blah Blah by writing a concise description of the One To One Learning Program to scroll at the end of the video. I realized there was no way the kids could hit all these points without sounding scripted. 

One To One Learning Program multimedia currently featured on ACND home page.

The non-visual aspects of One To One are explained by video end scroll:
At Archbishop Curley-Notre Dame High School, the One To One Learning Program is flipping the classroom on its head as teachers no longer lecture and students are responsible for mastering class material through guided independent study.
Teachers become coaches, first by laying out academic goals, then helping each student write their own Individual Learning Plan to achieve those goals, and  finally guiding the plan’s implementation throughout the term.
Working hand in hand with the school, students take control of their own learning while gaining time management skills, strong study habits and confidence.

Rather than sitting back during lectures, students discover the information on their own, and have instant one-on-one time with their teacher. As they move from teacher dependent to student autonomous, teachers are freed to tap into student’s individual learning styles, and students are encouraged to incorporate areas of personal interest.

During regularly scheduled classes students complete most of their homework, study in groups, and give presentations.  Grades are still earned, essays written and tests taken as students prepare for college.

Each student is issued an Apple iPad for 24/7 access to electronic books internet resources, and access to Qino, cloud storage for their learning plan and grades. The portal Showbie allows paperless submission of documents and homework.

Currently the ACND home page posts the version with end scroll, and is in standard definition. Version at top has no scroll and is in high definition.

Do you now understand what is meant my "flipping the classroom on its head"? Let me know if we were successful in explaining the One To One Learning Program in a concise and emotional manner ... there is room below for your comments.

Thank you Doug Romanik, ANCD Public Relations Specialist Lisa Morales, Pre Calculus teacher James Harnage, AP English teacher Beth Love, Daniel Briz, and Jennifer Lamy.


 Production photographs by Pascal Depuhl.

Technical Notes:

Pascal Depuhl lit and shot the video interviews, a 70 - 200 and Canon 5D Mark II for camera 1, and Nikon D610 and 85mm for camera 2 and on a slider for video portraits. I recorded the interviews with both Tram 50 lavs and a boomed Sennheiser MKH8050 hyper cardioid, the latter I much preferred due to it’s fuller sound, and used that track only. Wild sound was recorded with concealed TR50s tucked between Jennifer and Daniel shirt buttons, with Sennheiser G3 wireless packs. Stills were shot on Nikon 610 full frame cameras, with 16 - 35 f4, 28 mm f1.8 and 85 mm f1.8 primes. Sound was synced with Plural Eyes 3.0, video edited in Premier Pro CS 6 and sound sweetened with Audition, all on a Mac, of course.


Monday, June 30, 2014

Sounds Overheard: Saskatoon Saskatchewan


Just a couple of weeks after winter's ice melted on Dore Lake North of Saskatoon, summer's sun warms the waters off Eagle Island. All photos shot with Canon S100 point 'n shoot.



Field-recorded sounds of song birds, yakking raven, buzzing fly, water birds and far off loons are captured on this 1:15 recording. iPhone and iPad version. 

All the Canadians I met earlier this month were awfully nice and friendly, and I know they often vacation down here in Florida when the winters get to be 40 degrees below up north of the border. But do they chuckle at the sound of our Florida names, Miami, Okeechobee, Apalachicola or Boca Raton?  Translated to “Rat’s Mouth”, that last one even makes me smile.

While fishing a couple of weeks ago at Dore Lake, located north of Saskatoon ... giggle ... I just loved the sound of Saskatoon, and spoken with the province Saskatchewan, I enjoyed the geographical mouth full every time I said them out loud. 


For years my brother in law Jo had been telling me about his annual fishing trip, a group of 18 mostly men from the Colorado Springs area that have been making the 1250 mile trek for 29 years. Jo finally talked me into joining them this year, even though I hadn’t been fishing since I was a Boy Scout in Idaho. I flew to Colorado, and at 4 AM the next day we loaded up his Toyota Tundra CrewMax and headed out for Canada.

I guess I never really looked at a map before we left. We drove north through Colorado, across eastern Wyoming, to spend the night in Miles City, Montana. I had forgotten how wide and open the western United States is, mile upon mile of rolling grasslands, oil wells and on occasional town. As it was late Spring, everything was a pretty green. The next day we drove and drove, over Lewis and Clark’s Missouri River, crossing into  Saskatchewan where the border was a thin wire fence marching across wheat fields. In Saskatoon ... giggle ... we spent night two. Not there yet, as we couldn’t check into camp until Noon. So on day three, after a leisurely breakfast, we entered the boreal forest. Boreal forest? Are we in the neighborhood of the Arctic Circle? Are we there yet? Startling a bear rooting for tender greens, we finally reached the dead end of a 65 mile dirt road and emerged at Dore Lake Lodge.



I suddenly realized that this trip was the equivalent of asking some of my buddies to go fishing, we just need to drive from Miami to New York city over three days!

I soon found out why this crazy group of fishing buddies drive this far. The fishing was terrific! Within minutes of casting onto the lake I was reeling in Northern Pike as long as my arm. Throw ‘em back, I was told, that’s to small. Sure enough, bigger fish were out there, including some delicious walleye. Even though I didn’t win the $80 pot for the largest fish of the week, I caught fish every time, trolling the deeper holes or casting into the weeds, rain or shine. One of our group brought in, and then released, a 31 pound pike. Lots of 8 to 12 pound walleye. As we could only keep six fish each for the week, other than the ones we ate, it was catch and release all day long.


Jo was chief cook and his cabin was the mess hall where we gathered every evening for liquid refreshment and tall stories of monster fish which got away. Some of the crew were younger than me, including two teens, a very competitive brother and sister and their taxidermist dad. But most of the fishing buddies were long retired, a former Catholic priest, an ophthalmologist, weather scientist, accountant, long distance truck driver, a jet fighter pilot. A fun group with lots of stories. Did I mention the lying about big fish?

As I was the new guy, I steered away from the potential controversy of politics or religion, yet on the last night mentioned to a dinner companion my lifelong membership in one of the two major political parties. The genial white haired gentleman, who had spent hours in my boat teaching me the finer points of fishing, growled “If we had known that sooner, we would of cut you up for bait!”

Between spirited fish strikes, beaver and bald eagle sightings, I shot a few photos and recorded a little sound and soaked in Dore Lake’s wide open skies. Will I go back fishing next year? Definitely, but I just might fly to Saskatoon ... giggle ... and skip most of the drive.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

History Detectives: Students' Civil Rights Legacy

I believe few Americans still hold out hope that we are living in a post racial society, now that we are well into the second term of President Barack Obama and we are finding our civic discourse just as fractured and angry as ever. For a while after we as a nation elected our first African American president in 2008, I read in magazine essays and overhead in coffee shops that "maybe race doesn't matter anymore?" 



Hopefully this 5 minute multimedia story about high school students discovering how the civil rights era of the 1960s shaped their lives is just as insightful as when completed in 2011. Please read my original blog post .

In spite of opinion polls indicating most people (mostly whites?) see no racism in their lives, I feel race still matters in almost everything we as a nation and as individuals do every day. There are under currents that race matters popping up all the time. Some could observe:

- The President is being disrespected by his political opponents because of his race. 

- A billionaire basket ball team owner is a total monster because of his comments on race.

- Miami-Dade police shoot and kill in the streets an inordinate number of young black men.

-  OJ is still suspected/ still guilty/ still acquitted because of his race.

These thoughts were going through my mind this week as I was re-editing my History Detectives multimedia piece I was commissioned to create three years ago. Archbishop Curley Notre Dame Prep in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood asked me to explain the importance of their being the first high school in the then segregated state of Florida to integrate 50 years before.

Taylor Altidor,  then a 16-year-old Junior, told me "...we just couldn't believe that Florida used to be racially segregated, that blacks and whites didn't eat in the same restaurants...". I followed her advanced placement history class as they researched segregation and interviewed students from the early 1960s and prepared for a Black History assembly. Former students and now adults well into their 60s, Paul Wyche told me he was called the N-word at a high school basket ball game, and Constance Moor Thornton recalled "colored" water fountains.

The researching students understood such overt racism that thrived in the Jim Crow era was thankfully no longer and was not part of their teen lives. But was racism completely gone? The student detectives questioned, discussed and completed class projects that brought the topic into the open.

Addressing the assembled student body in a clear and optimistic voice, one civil rights era student said "We come from different circumstances, but color doesn't matter, it is what is in your heart." 

I hope so, and I hope some day we will be living in a truly post racial society.



Technical Notes:

This month I was in the process of updating my Miami multimedia photography portfolio and had begun transferring the original History Detectives from a Flash based player made in Sound Slides to a more universally accepted and iOS friendly H 265 video format, when ACND called looking a new high resolution file. Good timing.

I reprocessed all 123 original still photographs in the newest Adobe Light Room 5, squeezing additional color quality and dynamic range from the newest RAW processor. I always export as Tiffs with medium sharpening, believing compressed Jpegs, and over sharpening, could potentially cause video jitter. I cropped the original 4:3 aspect ratio to the video standard 16:9. This cut a little close to some image content, as I was not thinking 16:9 originally and had composed my images differently.

I added the stills to a Adobe Premier Pro CS6 timeline, imported my original sound track made with Apple Logic, and switched in a couple of new images but pretty much left the timing alone. I no longer liked the Ken Burns movement on some photos in the original, and removed it. I added a new title and credit page with a typewriter effect in Adobe After Effects CS6 ... a lot easier than this amateur video editor thought. On your P Pro time line >  right click the title > open as a After Effects composition > in AE Effects & Presets search "typewriter" > drop that puppy onto the composition and bingo, you have the type type type effect all done for you.

I digress. And I used the American Typewriter font in PP to make new lower thirds. I couldn't figure out how to animate them too, so decided would be less busy without. I exported through Adobe Media Encoder with the Vimeo 720 p presets, and uploaded to Vimeo. Easy peasy.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Talking Picture Postcard - Suwannee River



Green lightening bug last week streaks across still frame from moonless sky time lapse, Nikon D 610, Nikkor 16 - 35 mm at widest end, 30 seconds at f 4.0, ASA 3200, no noise reduction.

It's 3:30 AM as I crawl out of my tent pitched along the Suwannee River at the Florida state park of the same name, and I'm groggily peering up through the trees searching for the bright stars that dotted the sky when I had entered my sleeping bag five hours earlier. But I don't see a thing in the dark.  Double checking that my glasses are on my face, I switch on my head lamp only to see hazy water droplets suspended in foggy air.



View 1:29 video on you iPhone or iPad.

As I stumble down the trail toward my camera I worry if my time lapse was completely obscured by the cold morning fog creeping amid the slash pine and live oaks. I soon hear the camera still clicking and am reassured by the green glowing lamp as images are written to the memory card.

With two 30-second time exposures taken every minute for the past five hours,  I held the review button down to quickly spin the individual still photographs across the screen, magically moving the stars along their orbits in the heavens. Wow, condensing hours into a few seconds, that's cool!

I turned the camera and head lamp off to toss my head way back and look up. I knew there was six feet of dangling Spanish Moss above me as I could feel it tickle my nose. But I couldn't see the moss, nor the trees nor beyond. I could only feel the wet fog on my face, and hear a thousand thousand croaking frogs way off along the flooded banks of the Suwannee . Wow, being out doors in the middle of the night is really cool too!

My plan was to kayak and explore the historic river and had driven the 435 miles from Miami due North to within a half hour of the Georgia state line and the Okefenokee Swamp, from which the Suwannee originates. Only problem was I didn't call ahead, I guess the dry season in South Florida is not necessarily the dry season up here. An unseasonably rainy winter had forced the river up to 15 feet above flood stage, to dangerous to paddle. 

No problem, though, I found lots of scenic country to photograph, natural sounds to record and the nearby Santa Fe river fed by springs, one of my best paddles ever. A great trip with enough to fill an entire post card, a Talking Picture Postcard for sure.

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.