Friends in Front of Me

I don’t often post my “work” images, but perhaps I should. I’ve gone over this before, but I’m always careful not to make this avenue of communication into a full-on sales assault on your senses. I do a lot of portraits, but rarely do they make it up on the ranch.
But, every so often, I shoot something that I think has a specific meaning that might be interesting to contemplate. These pictures are from a recent family portrait, which in itself isn’t anything novel, but the folks in these pictures happen to be long-time friends. I’ve known Paul since the early 90’s, and his family as long as they have been a family. You can search the Earth for a better dude, but you won’t find one. Well, maybe Hugh Hefner, or some other guy that gets to spend his entire day in his pj’s, but other than that you won’t find anyone better. When Paul called me and asked me to do this shoot I of course said, “Sure,” but I have to say, a shoot like this comes with a different feeling. First, they are friends, and you want to rack your brain to make something special for them. Not that this doesn’t happen with people I don’t know, it does, but with friends there is on one hand LESS pressure, because they are friends, but on the other hand there is MORE pressure because they are friends. Add to this the fact that Paul is a photographer. A really good one. And I know as a photographer what it feels like to make something good, and I know what it feels like to fall short. So making pictures of a fellow photographers ramps up the internal demand even higher. Now this is one of the great things about being a photographer. A shoot like this is like working out because your heart races, your mind races and the list of “what if’s” goes on and on. Shoots like this are over before you know it, and cause me to suddenly wake, as if in a dream, as I’m packing my gear, thinking to myself, “Wow, what just happened?”

I think this first image is perhaps my favorite. For some reason it feels natural. At first I thought the spacing was wide, but the more I look at this picture the more I like it. I don’t think I could have posed them any better. I’m not sure what was happening at this exact moment, but I remember the light going in and out and in and out and me trying to figure out what to do, in what light, in what direction, etc. I had never been to this location before, and frankly it was complete and total overload in the best possible way. MOST of the time I’m working with locations that are nothing like this, locations where I’m struggling to find a place to shoot. This was the exact opposite, there were too many places to shoot, and having this happen really does create it’s own issues. Ahh, if only we always had to deal with issues like this……

This image might be a little odd, or dark, or whatever, but I like it, and knew I would like it when I saw the cross. This sky is RARE in these parts, so knew that I had to someone use the darn thing. Family portraiture comes with history, tradition and baggage, and I know their faces are out of focus. Just deal with it. I promise it will all work out. I know what they look like, so I don’t need to see them! If I had my way, I’d print this for the sky and let them go completely black, but hey, that’s me. I’m having flashbacks of a young photographer telling me I was “unprofessional.” A great compliment in my book.

Father and son. You gotta have it. I have it. I remember pictures of me in a duck blind in South Texas, golden mullet flaring from my trucker hat as I waded from the blind to retrieve our downed birds. Dad was there, his disc camera whirling, his fat fingers fumbling with the odd buttons as he cursed under this breath, “Damn this damn photography thing.”He knew he wanted to cement the moment, but the technical task was not his strong point. This image to me is simply about foreshadowing. This image is about me and Paul playing with this little man for years into the future. I see the first football game. I see hanging around the high school trying to score chicks. Okay, just kidding about that part, but I do see it as the future, as the beginning of a lifetime of images.

Imagine trying to photograph a spider monkey just released into the wild. Imagine trying to photograph a spider monkey just released into the wild with a camera that you have to look down into. Imagine getting dizzy, blacking out and falling over. That’s what it was like trying to pin down this little firecracker.
I figure when I’m 108, she might be at an age when she’s slowed down enough for me to photograph, but in the interim, I just get what I can. This hot light shot was something Paul mentioned when we got there. I thought it would be easy. I’m a slow learner.

This shot is simple but I like it. You might be thinking that my focus was the hair or the eyes, but actually that’s not the case. For some reason I think kids teeth are really funny. I think seeing teeth in kids is proof we are born to be carnivores, and I can’t see a kids teeth without laughing. Also, this was a great chance for dad to pin her down for .2847584566349934 of a second. Don’t worry, she was only upside down for less than an hour.

And finally, I had to put this in. That sky. It’s rare folks. And this location, it’s rare as well. I’ve been thinking about this place a lot, and thinking about how great it was. I could go back with Paul and the family, over and over and over and never really tire of this place. In fact I think that is probably a good idea. To go back every year and just keep creating pictures as the family grows and the years pass by. I see a book about Paul’s family on the horizon, with this image on the contents page. At least 700 pages, printed on virgin, Redwood timber paper and the world’s most expensive ink. It would totally be worth it.
In all seriousness folks, I like this shoot, but it only wet my appetite for more of the same. I want more of my friends. I want more family. I want more time together. I want more time to dream and create. I want more time to record history.

I don’t think I’ll be content until we go back. But when am I ever content?

Happy Trails.

In Honor of BOJ


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.