Story Behind the Photos: Bush Sr. Blows the High Five

Digging through my archive is a lot of fun, and also reminds me of many experiences I’ve had over the past twenty years. Perhaps I’m feeling my own mortality? Nah. Just kidding.

Years ago, when I first decided photography was my deal, I ran into a friend of my dad’s. This guy was was from the Midwest, but felt more like Texas. Heavy accent. Heavy laugh. Former FBI agent. A GREAT guy. He always called me by my first AND middle name because we both shared same first AND middle names.

“Daniel XXXX,” he said. “I went to school with a guy who I think is a pretty big deal over at Time magazine.” “This buddy of mine lives in Washington, and I think he’s a top dog.” “I’m gonna call him for you.”

A few weeks later I was on a plane headed for Washington. Leica and Nikon FM2 in my carry on bag. The unknown waiting for me.

My dad’s friend was correct. His buddy was a big deal, had been for a long time, and more importantly, was one of the nicest people I have ever met in my photography career. It was instant access.

We hit the ground running.

“Drop your bags, we are on our way to The White House,” he said.

“You mean the place where the president lives?”
I said unsure if he was trying to freak me out. He wasn’t.

Over the following days we lived the lives of Washington DC photojournalists, during a time when this was a freakin great thing. I met tons of other photographers, all people I was in awe of, walking the streets in their tan jackets, Leicas around the neck, cigs dangling from lips.

We ambushed Ross Perot on the street, right after he announced his running for President. And NOBODY had these images! I banged and jostled with camera people and other snappers as we all pounced on the diminutive Perot(I also found this shot in my archive).

I felt like I’d landed in a movie about photojournalism and I was the unknown star.(Start crying now.)

We hit event after event, made the rounds into political offices, etc. I shook hand after hand, took copious notes and tried not to screw anything up. I think I even wore a shirt with a collar.

“I’ve got to go shoot the Navel Academy Graduation ceremony,” my new friend said. “And I got you a credential to stand on the bleachers in the back.”

Awesome. And then I realized my longest lens was around the 50mm length. “Don’t sweat it, I’ve got something for you,” my friend said as he produced a HUGE lens, Canon but with a NIKON mount.

Up early, stuck in traffic, battling for position and bingo things were set. He worked the entire area while I acted the part of sniper, using the long lens to pick off little moments here and there. I kept the wide angle around my neck, knowing the hat toss was coming.

Jets seared the sky.

Bush Sr. was doing the meet and greet handshake with each and every person graduating and I happened to snap the ONE TIME someone tried to high five him. As you can see, it didn’t work out.

And suddenly the hats were up.

We kept working the scene as the event ended. I was able to leave the bleachers and move around, long lens tucked under my arm, wide angle in my hand. I graduated from college but it was nothing like this.

For me, this time in Washington was decisive. This time was representative of a period I enjoyed, a time when the industry was still cloaked in a lifestyle I admired and strived to live.

I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life.

The industry has changed. My friend is still there. And photography is still what I want to do with my life.

This trip also inspired me to give back to younger photographers starting out. I can’t offer them Washington, but I can offer them my own version of it, and for this reason I try to teach three or four times a year. Being with my friend, for a four or five day intensive period was like getting on the photo-expressway and merging right into the fast lane, foot crushed to the floor. I learned so much, so fast it was remarkable, and came away with many images I still enjoy today.

In Honor of BOJ

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It’s raining in Southern California, and by my records, which are of course exact, specific and never wrong, this is the first rain in roughly a year. Yes, it has been that long.

I woke this morning to the sound of rain streaming through the gutters, and through my garage which was flooding nicely. It dawned on me, as I sat listening, that I had something to do.

My father, known as “BOJ,” which stood for “Big Outdoor John” loved to walk in the rain. In fact, I think it was one of his favorite things in the world. Where we lived, Indiana, Wyoming, Texas, we got rain, and I mean serious rain, flooding rain that would turn mountain ravines into gushing torrents swift enough to suck down your 4×4. We don’t get that here in the Southland, but I settle for what we do have.

When the lightning and thunder started, we all began to hear rubber boots being tugged on, and zippers being zipped. BOJ would head for the hills. Occasionally, he would lurch by a picture window, appearing like the mythic Sasquatch as he ducked and dodged through the massive trees or cacti.

They say a real man likes the feel of nature on his face, and I think this had something to do with his practice. What would John Wayne do? He’d walk in the rain of course.

So as the sky took on the blue steel of dawn I mounted up in my trusty slicker and headed for the Back Bay, the closest nature to my house, about 1/4 mile away.

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The bay was socked in as they say, with clouds kissing the rooftops and coastal vegetation. Except for the cars rushing by, stereos playing, dogs barking and planes taking off from John Wayne it was dead quiet.

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I walked further on, passing the lone walker or biker. Crossing a small bridge I stopped to ponder all of life’s relevant issues and looked down to see a virtual river of sludge funneling into the bay. It’s good my dad wasn’t here to see this.

Yard clippings, coolers, clothing, rags, paper, cans, bottles and heaps of plastic bags, cups, strips and sheets all passed by in a river of inland runoff. My inner child entered a shame spiral and I thought, “Wow, we still have a lot to learn.”

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Moving further alone I came across Bob the local snail, as usual, doing NOTHING. But, his body was out in full form, looking slightly soft, and he was getting his shell cleaned. He seemed happy with the rain.

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Above me came the roar of planes from John Wayne, dipping and ducking through the clouds, filled with corporate commuters on their way to exotic places like Oakland and Phoenix. By the way, if the sky ever looks like this, for real, take immediate, evasive action as the world is about to end.

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I walked on, unsure as to whether I was sweating or actually wet, one of the pleasures of rain walking. The bay was still nearly deserted, just the way my dad would have liked it, and the rain was lessening. I thought of all the things I needed to do today, and how many of these things were actually important in the grand scheme of life. For just a moment, the world was still, and for a brief, brief moment I thought I saw a lone figure, wading far across the expanse in front of me, rubber boots, black slicker,heading to an unknown place where the lightning and thunder never end.

Little Boxes, Little Boxes……


So many little boxes. So, so many little boxes. Oh what they represent.

You’re a little box. So am I. So is Billy. Mary too.

But when I’m flying over, how can I make sure to see my little box? How can I make myself different from all the rest? Or am I just naturally different?

Little boxes….little boxes…

Maybe if I do what I feel I NEED to do, suddenly my little box will stand out?

On Approach: Continues



A few months ago I released a small book called “On Approach,” a book showing the various angles and lines as planes approached the John Wayne Airport in Orange County. I did this project, like many of my others, on my own. If I had waited for someone to fund this, or a magazine to express interest, it would, chances are, have never happened.

I rode my bike to shoot most of these, another angle to the story(Yes, the funny looking bike.) I wanted to find something close to where I live, something interesting, different, etc, and a project that didn’t require travel or anything exotic.

I released the book, it was chosen a “staff pick” by the folks at Blurb, and consequently rocketed up in the ratings and hits area. I’ve sold a few, would like to sell more, but more importantly, I really like the images. The response to this book is fantastic, so I carry a copy with me when I’m making my rounds, and it never fails to gain reaction.

I’ve had designers tell me they like it, photogs, editors, pilots, art agents, PR folks, and most importantly, mom, who gave it a four out of five skunk rating. (Nearly unheard of)

Needless to say, I’m continuing this project. At this point, I’d call it therapy. Shooting, I think for most photographers, is the best time of all. What we do is about 90% business, so when it comes time to actually work, and you can work on images that inspire you as the photographer, there is nothing better.

You would think this would be the norm, but like any job, there is usually a “wintery mix” of assignments, jobs, paths we must follow to curl our toes in the grass of the photographic promised land.

Doing this project, so close to home, and void of strings, has allowed me to develop at least two other projects, all within minutes, via bike, of my house.

You might be asking, “Why are you doing this?” “Who are you shooting this for?” “Why are you printing this if there isn’t a buyer, magazine, final destination for these images?”

Cause that’s what I do. I’m a photographer!

When I was very little, I went fishing with my dad and my grandpa. My grandpa was old, didn’t move well, and as we sat in the boat, something odd happened. First, he had has his underwear pulled up really high, which I never figured out, but that is another story. What happened was a spider built a web from his elbow to the oar holder on the boat, which should give you an idea of how little movement I’m talking about.

If I waited for approval to shoot, create, edit, print, design, publish or anything else related to photography, I have visions of this same spider, living in my studio, merrily building a web from my elbow to say…my computer, or monitor, or desk.

So, as I look to my left, sitting on my desk, I see five more books, done this same way, solo. They are books about Morocco, bullfighting, desert racing, planes and even foreign lands. They represent my best work, plain and simple, a window into my inner machine.

Today I will start another, fingers crossed.

LINK TO ON APPROACH