Songlines of Family

The torch was passed. Long ago. She to me, and so on. “I’m done.” “Now it’s your turn” she said walking away.

Life gets in the way, nearly every single day, and before long the calendar reads a foreign date and the wind of winter blows the short grass flat. How can it be? So soon.

When I return now I return with a new, lesser vigor than before. I realize now how little time we have. Soon we, and I, and they will be gone. So why bother? Does there have to be a reason at the end of the rainbow?
Older now, face making stages and “I can’t be bothered” looks. Expected. And yet I still soldier on because within the mess and blown opportunities are a few moments that feel like they need to be saved. But for who?

Will they take the torch or will it have already burned hot and then out? Time. Passage. I move in and out of their lives, mostly out, but have these little things to cling to. Moments I will never see again, or experience, but now with these I can remember in detail. I’m not an every moment guy. I don’t believe in that. I pick and choose when I shoot, and the rest of the time the camera is away, lost like I never had it in the first place. Most importantly out of mind. Otherwise life is always filtered and you forget to actually be somewhere, with someone, at a specific time.
With camera to eye I miss the male Painted Bunting perched on the link fence, one eye open for larger birds and the other on the feral cats circling at his feet, waiting for the right hesitation. The Rufus hummingbird battles with the Broad Tail. The doe licks the fawn near the edges of the property, silent, backlit tongue. Mom talks to my right, tries to edge in with politics but I can’t go there. Ever. Religion too. Nope. My religion is the light I so patiently wait for, the light that fills me with apprehension when it’s right and I have nothing in front of me other than the light itself. At that point there is only appreciation.
These images make me sad. Perhaps I’ve not yet learned to just be with them. Be happy I have them, and that I was the one who made them, but I can’t help thinking of them as fleeting. Soon there will be fewer pieces of the puzzle. Others will come but they will never be the same.

Mom wears a shirt with a photograph I made of her years before, fishing, as the Medicine Stick hands in the her hand. Dirt roads, dust and the alluring protection of cloud cover. Before long the layer will burn off and we will be left with only ourselves and that which surrounds us.

BOOK 161: Why it’s possible

I need to preface this by saying this post is a direct result of being asked 546,867,847,746,635 times “How do you make all those books?”

Some people think I’m possessed, and perhaps I am. Since 2006 I’ve made over 160 unique titles with Blurb alone. This doesn’t include all the “other” things I’ve made in that time, and believe me, there is an oddly sinister assortment. I’ll admit, that’s a lot of publications. Often times I’m confronted by people wondering how I do this. I’ve even been accused by a few of trivializing the process of bookmaking itself, as if books have to be incubated like embryos or a chicken pot pie.
The reality is I know what I want, am driven and also possess the ability to focus pretty darn well for as long as I need to without losing my mind. I learned this from a very young age, from my father, and from a few others I needed to work for at that time in my life. “You never sit down on a job, ever.” I still try to live by this today. I also don’t have any children. Nothing against kids. In fact, I really enjoy being an uncle and I spent the better part of seven years photographing kids, but not having any of my own has allowed me to do many of the things I do.
But there’s more. I also don’t surf the Internet, spend time on social media or watch TV. Let me state this again for those of you not paying attention. I don’t surf the Internet, spend time on social media or watch TV. And no I’m not a communist. I have a TV, and believe me it’s a stunner. I think it’s about 12-15 years old and looks like a Russian satellite sitting in my living room. Most people think it’s some sort of art installation. It gets approximately 17 channels, many of which are in other languages and provide programming that is a cross between a game show, dance contest, strip club and mental health service. I also have several computers, all of which are tied to our beloved Internet, which we all know is endless. I don’t surf it. I use it when I need it and then turn it off. Lastly, we have social media. I’m on a social media fast. It’s true, I have Facebook, Google + and Twitter accounts, probably more if I could remember what they are. In short, I’m a jerk. I turn them on, post what I think is relevant, then turn them off. I WILL respond to certain things if the chatter created by what I posted is enough where I can’t stand myself for NOT responding. These times are rare. I believe social media, and the technology required to deliver it, namely mobile phones, are a physical addiction for many people, the EXACT same as alcohol, drugs or gambling. I’m telling you this now because I know a lot of people who appear to be addicted to their phones and social media, and over the past year and a half I’ve been studying, informally of course, what people do on their phones when I’m out and about in the great public world. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. In that order. When the plane lands the odd man, or woman, out will call a loved one, send an email or make a dinner reservation. The VAST majority of people go straight to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The addiction part comes when the pilot comes on and says, “We are eight minutes early for our gate, sorry about the inconvenience but we’ve got eight minutes to sit.” and the woman next to me turns on her phone, punches in the code, then checks her Facebook account 24 TIMES in eight minutes. Yes, I counted. Before you go thinking this is rare, don’t. It’s not. The average person looks at their phone 150 times per day. It’s commonplace, even in adults and people you would LEAST think capable of this. I believe these social media outlets do very little to actually connect us, but do much when it comes to fracturing our thought process, fracturing our ability to focus and they also consume VAST amounts of our time that we have somehow convinced ourselves is being spent in this critical pursuit of “being connected.” Most of the time what this translates to is being at home, alone, in the dark on our computer. I know what you are thinking. “Milnor, you have a phone.” Yes, it’s true, and I like my phone, it’s a fancy Samsung model and it works like a dream, but I have learned to use it with control. I was not always capable of this but I am now. My phone is in my hand when I need it, ONLY when I need it. I realized if I eliminated Facebook, Instagram and Twitter I suddenly had a lot more time to do things like…..actually make photographs which I could then turn into books and magazines, or rich-media or whatever else I could dream of. In other words, I had time to create tangible things and then turn them into more tangible things.
And before I go any further, don’t go thinking I’m a zen-Jedi of some sort. I’m not, not by a longshot. I feel the same crazy urges to waste my time as you do. Want to see a definition of sloth? Put me in a hotel room with a hundred channels and access to food and a bathroom. I KNOW how Rome fell. We are hanging by a thread. So, in short, I don’t put myself in those positions. ANYTIME I feel the urge to waste time with the forementioned pursuits I instead write something, read something or make something. It’s really that simple. I’m surely not saying I’m better than anyone else, but what I am is conscious of what these pursuits will do to me if I venture forth.

This takes training. I’m not joking. Breaking these habits is not an easy thing, but you will be AMAZED at what you can get done when you cast them aside and focusing on making real world things. This week alone I’ve been asked multiple times about things like if I noticed what so and so posted on Facebook, what happened at the Grammy Awards or if I was watching the hostage standoff in Los Angeles. Short answer….no. I simply don’t have time for any of it.

Now, it helps to be really busy. Blurb makes sure of that, so what time I have left over is even more cherished. The fact of the matter is if I don’t behave this way I will not get ANYTHING done. I’ll give you an example. Last night at 5:45 PM I had been working since 7:45 AM, a good day. My wife wasn’t home yet, and I knew she would be stuck in traffic until about 7:30PM. It would have been SO nice to amble in to my “living room” and turn on the old boob tube(All 17 channels), crack open a nice 40oz brain grenade and begin to forget my day, but I didn’t. I knew I had a little less than two hours to make something. I could have done a blog post, written in my journal, written letters (Yes, I still write letters) or even made some scans, but I quickly opened my list of “To-Do” books, a list that currently has nineteen titles, and I went to the first one on the list and dove in. The basic concept of this book had been in my mind for a long while, so I had a vague plan in place as to design, typography and book size, paper type, etc. At 7:30 I had a sixty-page book mostly complete. There are many tweaks remaining, a few fixes, a few small copy blocks to draft, but essentially I have book 161 on the launch pad. Wife comes home, I turn off my “work” mind, make dinner and the rest is history.

Maybe this is about discipline. Maybe this is about desperation. Maybe this is about frustration. Maybe this is about drive, motivation or passion. I don’t really care. All I know is I have a limited time on this rock and I’m not going waste one second in pursuit of empty calories. This is how I made all these publications. This is how I am able to work fulltime and still pursue long-term projects, foreign workshops, etc. This isn’t the right method for everyone, and look, sitting still and reading, or meditating for ten days straight is, at least in my mind, MAKING something if it leaves you with something tangible in the REAL world, NOT the cyber world.

There are no tricks and there is no luck. I felt the need, made a plan and am doing whatever I can to stick with it. If you choose to follow me then I wish you good luck. There will be pitfalls. It might be a gallon of Rocky Road and a rerun of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I get it. We all slip and fall, but it’s what you do when you get back on your feet that’s important.

Time Turkey

Thanks to AK for passing this along. An interesting project here, LOADED with top snappers, including a few friends. Yes, I’m jealous. I won’t lie. I love this idea of choosing a select group of folks and then turning them loose, with total freedom, upon the subject you are after. I also like the fact that you have a variety of flavors here when it comes to the photographers. You have the young guns and you have the old guard, so the mix of work should be good. There is a big difference, at least in my mind, between modern work and work from previous generations. What I find equally interesting here is the idea of the edit and presentation of what they will produce. Having just returned from ten days in Uruguay, working with only three other photographers, I’m not entirely sure how we will pull off an edit, let alone twenty-five photographers giving it a go. This is why we have editors. I’m anxiously waiting to see what shakes out. Kudos to the folks behind this project.

Martin Schoeller

This guy is fascinating to me. Never met him, never spoke with him, but when he shows up there tends to be good things in the works….like shooting 100 of the most influential people in the world. I also love the dreadlocks, which are beyond my capability…I think. And to top things off, Fuji 6×9 and FILM…yes FILM people. Go ahead and rail him for being “behind the times.” Did I mention his photographing the 100 most influential people in the world????? I love to see one of the superstars of photography shooting film…it just goes to show, anything for anyone at any time. It’s all about the pics. If he was running for president, I’d vote for him, so take that digi lovers! On a serious note, you see a guy like this, who is safe to call a superstar, sleeping in the van to get an image at sunrise. I love this. I like people who aren’t afraid to get a little bit of the story ON them. In my book, this guy is fun to watch and represents someone who just does what he does and he does it well. He also comes across well in the interview, humble, calm, etc.

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.