Scenes from the Ranch

Chileno Valley Ranch, Mike Gale and Sally Gale

A longtime friend who works for the U.N. is on break from her duties in South Sudan and enjoying the verdant wonders of West Marin while ranch-sitting in Chileno Valley. The other day, she  invited us out for an afternoon of hiking, chores and chili.

The day was sunny, the air crisp and the chili chunky with grass-fed Angus beef raised in pastures that straddled Chileno Valley Road.

I took a few snaps during the walk, which you can see below. The most memorable scene of the day eluded my camera, though — a newborn calf, still slick from the wetness of its mother’s  womb, unsteadily testing its earth-legs for the first time as mama cow munched nearby on a post-partum snack of winter grass. They were too far, the sun was too low and my lens was too wide to record the scene digitally, but I have it my head, an unforgettable image of the continuity of life.

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On The Job: Christmas Lights

Christmas lights

I love Christmas lights. What’s outside a house during the holidays says a lot about who’s inside. Are they garish? Tasteful? Excessive? Subdued? Artistic? Do their lights have a message? Something religious, something commercial or maybe just: “Peace.”

Last December I photographed dozens of homes, houseboats, trees and yards in Marin County festooned with lights, mechanical Santas and inflated snowmen. Some, such as the single peace sign on a driveway gate, made me wistful. Others, such at the Mill Valley home above, made me marvel at the creativity of its decorators. And a few, such as a Mill Valley waterfront home ablaze with thousands of lights (see the slideshow) made me wonder about sanity of the people who lived there. (They turned out to be a wonderful older couple — here’s their story.)

Marin Magazine collected a dozen or so of the shots and ran them in the December issue. Here’s the layout.

Merry Christmas, all.

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On the Job: The Garden in the Canal

Mosaic artist Rachel Rodi, right, helps volunteer Joanne Gordon at the the new Canal Community Garden

Far out on the edge of the Canal, past the blocks crammed corner-to-corner with parked cars, beyond the rows of sagging apartment houses packed with immigrants, on the other side of the new Mi Pueblo grocery, where Mexicans and Guatemalans and Salvordorans shop for sheets of chicharron, fat plugs of quesillo and other foods that make home seem less distant, far the from busy intersection where broad-backed men line up for day labor, not near any of those things, but on the long, low flat of fill that stretches to the Bay and one day will hold some brand of box store if the city fathers have their way but for today, at least, sits empty, they’re building a garden.

Canal Community Garden map

The Canal Community Garden, located on a quarter-acre of city land at Bellam Boulevard and Windward Way, is an array of 5-foot-by-10-foot, redwood-rimmed beds that, come next year, will abound with organic, herbs, fruits, vegetables and flowers, each plot the labor of someone whose desire to extract bounty from the land overcame the unlikelihood that they’d ever be able to do it in a place as infertile as the Canal.

Work on the garden began in September. Seeds go in the soil in February. When the first harvest comes, the urban farmers and gardeners of the Canal should thank The Trust for Public Land and the Canal Alliance for making it happen.

I was there on Saturday, talking with a Philip Vitale of the Trust for Public Land, the project manager. He filled me in: a budget of more than $600,000; 92 garden plots of various sizes; a greenhouse for sprouting; a storage shed with lockers; a central space for classes and education; and, centering it all, a circular mosaic celebrating the overlap of art, food and community.

The mosaic came together while I watched. Oakland artist Rachel Rodi, the designer, and a half-dozen other women worked shoulder-to-should around a rectangular table, cutting sheets of blue, purple and green tile into shards of many shapes, laying beads of glue on the pieces and inserting them into the unfinished mosaic. It was a jigsaw puzzle with a twist: There were no pieces until someone made them.

The Canal Community Garden is the successor to one that was lost to the expansion of the Pickleweed Community Center in 2005. Since then, said Vitale, The Trust for Public Land has worked on a replacement. Partnering with the Canal Alliance, the neighborhood’s primary social service and advocacy organization, was key to the success of the project and ensures ongoing management of the garden, he said.

Daniel Werner, an AmeriCorps VISTA staffer on loan to Canal Alliance, is the garden coordinator. (To learn more about the garden or to apply for a plot, contact Werner at danielw@canalalliance.org, 415-306-0428.

I showed up at the garden on Saturday to scratch an itch, one that’s festered in the years I’ve been out newspaper journalism — a desire to feel the connection to community I felt when I first fell into photojournalism and, then, reporting.

As many did, I wandered into journalism by accident, but once there found enchantment and intrigue in the stories of ordinary people. I began as a photographer and loved capturing the faces of people with the camera. When I started writing, I became addicted to the interview, the act of questioning and asking why and how and who. I was nosy and I guess was needy and the conversation satisfied both.

Eventually, I let many of those things slip away. I managed people instead of photographing them. I wrote memos instead of stories. I looked far ahead and missed what was in front of me. I’d succeeded in the business of journalism, but I’d stopped honoring the passion that brought me to it in the first place.

Now, I’m, if not wiser, certainly older. I don’t confuse ambition with passion any longer. I recognize the difference between what I must do and what I love to do. I admire more the great storytellers, visual and written, and the work they do to bring those stories to us. And, perhaps with some regret – because we all have just a little, don’t we? – I wish I had made more of an effort to become one of them.

I didn’t, though, so I do this – stop by an empty city lot on a cold fall afternoon to meet a group of good-minded people who are building a garden, an enterprise that enriches the neighborhood, elevates the  common welfare and rewards them with the individual satisfaction. I take some pictures, I ask a few questions, I find a small story and I share it. It is journalism with the smallest “J” possible. Not hard-hitting. Not world-changing. Not much of anything really other than a thin slice of truth, a small dollop of daily life, and a healthy reminder to myself that this is who I once was – and who I can be again.

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On the Job: Children of the Canal

Monica Rivera, Canal Alliance

Immigration is not an abstraction. Beyond the policy debate and political posturing are real people who make their way to the United States in search of opportunity, their bodies ready to work, their minds intent on success and their hearts filled with dreams of better lives for their children.

Four years ago, I spoke with some of those children, boys and girls — sons and daughters of immigrants from Mexico and Central America — enrolled in a Canal Alliance education program about their future. Their stories and their pictures ran in Marin Magazine under the headline “Sueños de Niños,” dreams of children. Recently, I talked with six of them again, all young women now, some in high school, some in college, one already a mother. Their dreams have changed and so have they.

Here are their stories from 2012.

Here are their stories from 2008.

The photos below are from this year. Inset into each is the photo from 2008.

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On the Job: The Survivor

On April 14 the Low Speed Chase, a 38-foot yacht named after the infamous televised police pursuit of O.J. Simpson, set off from San Francisco Bay for the Farallones Islands, a  jagged outcropping of rock  27 miles out in the Pacific, as part of the annual Full Crew Farallones Race, an and out-and-back competition known to test the  skills of even the most experienced sailors.

Eight souls were aboard the Low Speed Chase. Three returned to shore alive. The death of the other five crew members — one of the worse U.S. yachting tragedies — and the confluence of massive seas and miniscule course miscalculations that led to the foundering of the Low Speed Chase is well documented. (See a video of ocean conditions at the time). What was originally  missing were the personal stories of those who survived, plucked from the sea and the shoals of the Farallones to sail another day.

That gap was filled in part by Bryan Chong, one of the three survivors. The 38-year-old Tiburon father and tech company vice president first told his story to Latitude 38, the voice of the Bay Area yachting community, and later, more extensively, to writer Jennifer Woodlief, an investigative sports reporter, author and former Sports Illustrated scribe.

Woodlief, who also lives in Tiburon, used Chong’s account at the heart of her 6,000-word accounting of the tragedy, which Marin Magazine published in two parts in its October and November 2012 issues. (Part 1, Part 2).

I acted as photo editor on the story, getting shots made by San Francisco Chronicle photographer Brant Ward from Polaris, by the U.S. Coast Guard and by Sophie Webb, a Farallones researcher who was on the island and witnessed the  Coast Guard Rescue of the survivors.

I also photographed Chong on a gray, damp August morning at the San Francisco Yacht Club in Belvedere, making the photo you see here. Woodlief, who was very pregnant at the time with her fourth child, wrangled a light-stand for me as we all stood on the wobbly dock.
In the 30 minutes we were together, Chong was relaxed and at ease. We didn’t talk about crash. I didn’t ask him what thoughts were in his head when he was in awash in the ocean. Woodlief did, though, and here is part of her account:

“Bryan experience the the helpless sensation of losing his breath while accidentally swallowing mouthfuls of water. He thought about giving up, he thought about his wife and baby son. … Time after time Bryan pulled himself up to safety just as waves pitched over him and hurled him backward, locking him underwater. ‘It was so steep and the waves kept hitting me,’ he says. ‘It was a constant struggle to get on the rocks.’

Read the whole story.

Witnesses to War

A mobile rebel unit with a truck-mounted gun moves through rebel-held streets. Syria.

With Hamas and Israel at it again, I’m reminded that there has been conflict in the Middle East all of my life. The killing and the dying never ends. A wry joke during my newspaper days was that we could save the headline “Mideast Violence Continues” and use it as needed, which was often.

But there is nothing humorous about the cycle of bloodshed-truce-and-more-bloodshed between Israel and its Arab neighbors, nor about the now 18-month-old conflict in Syria.

Given the region’s history of continuous conflict of one form or another, it might be easy for we comfortable Americans to ignore the human suffering that is inevitable in such a world of relentless repression and aggression.

Thankfully, there are journalists who go physically where so few of us even want to venture emotionally. Below are links to recent work from photojournalists in the region.

* The Guardian published a set of images by freelancer Narciso Contreras from Aleppo, the center of the Syrian conflict.

* The Atlantic includes of Contreras’ work and that of other photographers in this extensive collection (48) of photos from Syria, published a week go. The magazine reminds us: “Syria’s horrific civil war continues. In some places, it has worsened.”

* The Guardian (again) a month published a set of photographs from Spanish freelancer Maysun vividly showing the human casualties in Syria. Warning: These are graphic images.

* The Guardian (yet again) streams photos from the new Israel-Hamas fighting. The fear or the people on both sides of the border is evident.

On the Job: The Music Man

John Goddard, Monroe Grisman, Gillian Grisman, at Sweetwater in Mill Valley.

Sweetwater, the resurrected music club in downtown Mill Valley, was its usual early evening scene — a Lululemon-clad smattering of late lunchers lingering in the outside patio, handsome families arriving for early dinners, clogging the entrance with strollers and dogs, and aging hipsters making their daily migration up the block from Peet’s as they transitioned their intake from caffeine to booze.

I was there to photograph John Goddard, who for 40 years was the proprietor of Village Music, the revered record store that closed a few years back, victim of Mill Valley’s morph from hippie haven to hedge fund heaven and, some say, last remaining vestige of a Marin County better known for its creative spirit than its stratospheric housing prices. John was coming with Monroe and Gillian Grisman, brother and sister, children of mandolinist (and Jerry Garcia collaborator) David Grisman, and makers of Village Music: Last of the Great Music Stores, a film that would debut at the Mill Valley Film Festival and about which Dan Jewett of Marin Magazine was writing a story.

I’d hoped to photograph the three of them on the patio with Sweetwater in the background. One look at the crowd told me that wasn’t going to happen. At minimum, an unfortunate incident with a weak-bladdered Golden Retriever a couple of years ago taught me never to leave lighting gear exposed in the presence of dogs.

Inside the front door, though,wrapping along one wall of Sweetwater’s small cafe, was a yellow banquette, its leatherette shiny and bright against the building’s red brick wall. There, in the corner, beneath a window was my spot.

Another lesson I’ve learned: Don’t ask permission. I told the hostess — politely — what I was doing and brought in a pack, a stand and a light, moved some tables out of the way, did a test shot and was ready in a couple of minutes.

Goddard and the Grismans showed shortly thereafter. Everyone knew them, so it took me a while to get them inside. I wanted to get this done because folks were filling the tables and I was losing my shooting space (and probably the patience of the waitresses).

Once they were seated, it went quickly. I made some safe shots first — as I always do to ensure I’ve got something — and then played with the window above them, changed lenses to the 17, climbed on a chair and made a few frames from above. My clambering either amused or frightened my subjects. I’m not sure which. But it resulted in this frame, my favorite from the day.

(Here’s the shot that ran in the magazine.)

 

On the Job: Red, White & Blue

American flag in Marin County

I just voted and am feeling more American than usual. To spread the democratic spirit — and to inspire your apathetic keister up off the couch if hasn’t voted yet — I offer this collection of stars and stripes, which I shot for Marin Magazine for its July issue.

You may be surprised, as I was, by how widely the flag is displayed here in one of the nation’s most notoriously liberal counties, although truthfully its does fly more frequently in the cul-de-sacs of surburban Novato and than in redwood canyons of hipster Mill Valley.

Flags are symbols, interpreted differently by each of us. For some the American flag signifies liberty, for others oppression. Four years ago, Barack Obama used its colors to communicate hope. This election, Mitt Romney wrapped his opposition in it.

In its earliest iterations the American flag represented individual freedom and collective self-determination. Freedom is now a politically charged word, hijacked by conservatives who wield it as a cudgel against those who question their values and sneered at by liberals who dismiss it as the refuge of small minds.

On this day, when we vote, something so many of the world’s people can’t do in a meaningful way, let’s embrace the flag as a symbol of opportunity — to make a choice, to live as we please, to speak our minds — something I hope we can all agree upon.

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On the Job: The Lemonade Girl

Vivienne Harr, lemonade stand

Now that we’re one day shy of the first day of Fall, I’m getting around to sharing some of the photos I made this Summer — and this is one of my favorites: Vivienne Harr, an 8-year-old Fairfax girl who set up a lemonade stand in a local park and with the help of her social media savvy dad, Eric Harr, has raised more than $30,000 (and counting) to combat child slavery.

Vivienne has drawn plenty of media attention. She’s as cute as they come, her organic mint-infused lemonade is tart and tasty, and her story is a compelling one: A photograph of two Nepalese children carrying heavy slabs of rock, taken by Marin photographer Lisa Kristine in her book Slavery, inspired young Vivienne to do something. She launched a web site (makeastandlemonade.com), opened her stand in Doc Edgar Park in Fairfax and set a goal of taking in $150,000 to be donated to Not For Sale, a anti-slavery organization. (How terrible is it that as this point of human history there is even a need for an “anti-slavery” group?)

Vivienne is still out there at the park in Fairfax if you want to donate (or you can skip the lemonade and use your credit card on her web site.) Or, connect with her on Twitter or Facebook.

One of the shots I made ran with this short feature in Marin Magazine.

On the Job: Teaching (and Learning)

Whenever I teach, as I’m doing this summer in a short class on action photography at The Image Flow in Mill Valley, I find two things to be the most challenging: Explaining to others what I do instinctively in a way they understand and not knowing what the students don’t know.

Blurred runner at Blackie's Pasture in TiburonThe first forces me to think in granular terms about what I do with the camera — and why. For example, one student asked me why I usually use ISO 400 as my base setting when most digital cameras have ISO settings lower than that. Well, I answered, somewhat lamely, it’s because I grew up on Tri-X, Kodak’s legendary  black-and-white film. It had an ASA of 400 and my earliest lessons about light and manual exposure were learned using that number as a base — and those lessons still work today. In other words, it’s a habit, albeit one that serves me well.

The second challenge is more difficult. What each student knows about photography in general and the intricacies of their own camera in particular varies widely.

Most, not surprisingly, came to photography in the digital age and with cameras so advanced and so automatic  that they skipped the need to studdy the basics of photography, so they have a poor understanding of the connections between light and exposure, between shutter speed and aperture, and between focal length and depth of field.

They all have inexpensive lenses that in a short twist of the barrel leap rom wide-angle to telephoto, so they’ve never had to master the physical art of moving through a scene with prime lenses in order to change the point of view or to get closer to or farther from a subject.

Because of these gaps, each time I attempt to explain something more advanced, such as capturing the fleetness of a runner with a pan or freezing the motion of boy on bike in a half-pipe, it opens the door to a more basic discussion about the principles behind the technique and where to find the buttons and dials on a particular brand of camera in order to get the technical stuff right.

For this reason, I learn along with my students. I learn about my own habits (good and bad), I learn how different types of cameras work (even their Nikons don’t function as mine does) and, most importantly, I learn I need patience in order to succeed — and that’s a lesson that applies to photography as well as teaching.

On the Job: The Stand-in

Nate Seltenrich, Oakland writer, inside Terrapin Crossroads

Hey, Tim, I’m often asked, what’s the secret to killer lighting? (Really, it happens all the time).

They’re thinking I’m going to say expensive Swedish strobes (got ‘em) or compact, go-anywhere Nikon speedlights (got those, too) or even a hand-painted, Avedonish backdrop like Annie uses (don’t have that).

John Truong, photographer, in front of the Lark Theater

Wrong. Wrong. And wronger.

What I tell them is this: The secret to killer lighting is a stand-in — someone to be in front of the camera while you fiddle with the power or feather the softbox or pile sandbags on the stands because you’re doing an outdoor shoot in gale-force winds.

Sometimes the stand-in can be an assistant, someone you’re actually paying, such as photographer John Truong, left, posing with the Lark Theater behind him in preparation for a shot of the movie-house’s owner (here’s the final shot).

Other times the stand-in might be a writer you’re on assignment with, such as Nate Seltenrich of Oakland, above, who occupied the velvet couch for me inside Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael while we waited for Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh and his wife, Jill. (Writers are generally less thrilled about standing in than assistants.)

Oftentimes, the stand-in might be a somewhat reluctant PR person (whom I won’t show for fear of losing future favor) or and even more reluctant spouse (ditto).

Who the stand-in is really doesn’t matter as long as they have the patience to hang in there until you get the lighting just right — that is, killer — so when the actual subject shows up (often someone with no patience whatsoever) you can make his or her picture straight off just like the professional you are.

 

On the Job: Bernice Baeza: 1943-2012

Bernice Baeza, photographed in April 2011 outside the Lark Theater in Larkspur for Marin Magazine.

Bernice Baeza was sticky, meaning you only had to meet her for a few minutes, like I did, and she’d stick in your mind for long time.

At least that’s how she was for me. I photographed Bernice in April 2011 outside the Lark Theater in Larkspur for Marin Magazine. The magazine was writing about her successful resurrection of the moribund movie-house into a thriving community center that not only showed first-run and classic movies, but filled its seats with Oscar parties, simulcasts of opera and London theater and a long list of other events. When we met, she had just undertaken a similar project with a shuttered movie theater in Novato.

Bernice died on July 21, of lung cancer, the paper said. Nothing could have surprised me more. Was she sick when I made this photograph? She certainly didn’t seem so — although a disease as relentlessly deadly as lung cancer surely had to have been at work in the background then.

My first impression of her on the April evening was how un-Marin she was. The way she stood, solid and occupying her ground. The way she spoke, gently but directly. The way she dressed, dark even on this warm Spring night. All said New York, not Marin.

We chatted as I fussed with the lights and waited for the sky to darken so I could get the colorful neon of the Lark just right in the background, and I learned she was indeed a New Yorker. I told her a story about incident in my misspent youth when I rolled a car on the thruway near her birthplace of Nyack. She smiled knowingly and I thought we had a bond.

But maybe not. Maybe that’s just how she made everyone feel, welcome and worthy. Whatever it was, she stuck. I wish I had known her better. (Her family is maintaining her Facebook page.)

The Hollyhocks

Hollyhocks, Dan Jewett, Yuri Jewett, Kristin Sobditch, Jason Silverio

One of the treats of working with Marin Magazine has been meeting Dan Jewett (right), who by day is the magazine’s managing editor and the rest of his time is the guitarist for The Hollyhocks, an Oakland indy band that also includes Dan’s wife, Yuri (bass, vocals), Jason Silverio (drums) and Kristin Sobditch (guitar, vocals).

The Hollyhocks new CD, Understories, came out this week and tonight it officially debuts at the Makeout Room in San Francisco. Critics are loving the CD, as they should. It’s bright, it’s smart and it rocks – just like the people who made it.

I had the opportunity to photograph The Hollyhocks a couple of times, including once in Dan and Yuri’s home as they were working on some of their new songs, and again for a group shot of the band. For the latter, we fence-hopped onto Caltrans land beneath a freeway maze in Oakland. The picture above came from that session.

I love photographing musicians, in part because I get caught up in the emotion of their music, but also, truthfully, because doing so enables me, a man who couldn’t carry a wounded tune to a hospital, to vicariously share the stage with them. (See my new Music section in my portfolio.)

The gallery below has  more of my photos of The Hollyhocks. Take a look.

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On the Job: San Rafael Pacifics

Bud E. Luv sings the national anthem at Opening Day for the San Rafael Pacifics.

Bud E. Luv sings the national anthem at Opening Day for the San Rafael Pacifics.

The San Rafael Pacifics, an independent minor league baseball team, played its first game last night.  I was on hand at Albert Park in downtown San Rafael.

I needed a  picture for Marin Magazine, but since it was for the August issue so I wanted something from the scene and not from the action — and there was plenty of both — a couple of home runs from the home team, a duck mascot (Sir Francis the Drake), seats on the field, kids and families galore and a kitschy character singing the national anthem, Bud E. Luv (above).

The idea to renovate the old ball park (which seats 800) and use it for a summer baseball league was controversial. Neighbors worried about traffic, noise and rowdy fans. My studio is a block from the stadium, so I understood their concerns.

Based on what I saw last night, though, those worries were baseless. Parking was easy, the crowd was chill and despite a few opening day glitches (announcer Will Durst bowing out at the last minute, for example) all was under control.

I recommend a visit. The baseball is fun, the stadium is beyond intimate and the dogs are as good as those at AT&T. Now I want to go back and shoot some baseball.

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Learn How to Shoot on the Move

How to photograph things that move and other action photography tips

Learn how to apply the essentials of photojournalism to everyday photography in a class I’m teaching at The Image Flow in Mill Valley.

We’ll emphasize photographing action of all kinds, from youth sports to local events to children’s parties. Conquer the technical challenges of shooting on the move (continuous focus, panning, variable exposure) and learn how to move as you shoot (being ready, being patient, being close). Understand how to make the gear you’ve got work in any situation.

The class begins Thursday evening May 24, goes for three weeks and also includes a location outing with me on Saturday, June 2.

Here are the details. I hope to see you there.

Open Studios 2012: The Visitors

Open Studios 2012 at The Image Flow

Open Studios was a big success. More than 150 people dropped by The Image Flow’s new studio and gallery space in Mill Valley over the weekend to see photographs by Barbara Hazen, Stuart Schwartz and myself.

I set up a light and photographed as many of the visitors as I could against the still-unfinished studio wall. I love the mixture of people and their expressions. Everyone has a “oh, you’re taking my picture” face and you can see many of those here. Click on any of the thumbnails below to launch the gallery.

Here’s the work I showed — all new images. Enjoy.

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On the Job: A Painter

Greg Martin, Marin County painter and Marin Magazine cover contest winner

I had the opportunity this year to again photograph the winner of Marin Magazine’s annual cover contest. The winner, chosen from among more than 400 entries, was painter Greg Martin.

I photographed Greg in his studio, a basement space in his San Anselmo home. The studio is small, not more than than 10 x 20, and Greg is a big guy, what some would call a strapping lad. I squeezed a small strobe and umbrella against one wall, and let the light ricochet around the studio’s white walls and ceiling, producing a nice, soft look.

Greg’s artwork, which walks the line between whimsical and ethereal — a fun place to be — provided the backdrop. Later, I noticed he wore the same deep red Pelton’s Triumph T-shirt that he has in his bio photo for his website.

Greg was the main attraction at the magazine’s Open Studios’ party celebrating the finalists for the cover. Here are  some snapshots of him and some of the others. He has a show up at Gallery Bergelli in Larkspur (the opening is tonight.)

I enjoy photographing artists, especially painters because their studios and their painting supplies fascinate me (although Greg’s was a bit too clean for my taste). Here’s my post from a year ago about photographing the 2011 cover contest winner and a collection of other artist portraits.

Visit your local Marin artist this weekend (May 12-13) during Marin Open Studios. I’m showing my newest work at The Image Flow, 401 Miller Ave., in Mill Valley, from 11-6.

Periodismo Peligroso

Three Mexican photojournalists killed

Part of protest in Mexico City against the killing of three photojournalists.

Mexico is becoming an increasingly dangerous place to be a journalist. Three photojournalists were found dead and dismembered Tuesday in the Gulf state of Veracruz, bringing to 44 the number of journalists killed in Mexico in the last six years, according to Article 19, a press freedom group.

While that number pales next to the more than 50,000 Mexicans killed in the same period during the government’s war against the narco cartels (and cross-cartel fighting), it elevates Mexico to No. 8 on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2012 Impunity Index, “which spotlights countries where journalists are slain and their killers go free.” Sadly, the year is still young.

Here’s what CPJ says about Veracruz:

… a battleground for the Zetas and Sinaloa cartels, is one of Mexico’s most dangerous states for the press, according to CPJ research. Four journalists were murdered there in 2011, and on Saturday, the body of journalist Regina Martínez Pérez was found strangled in her home in Xalapa.”

I have a long history with Mexico, including being the owner of a house I built there, but with many Mexicans clamoring for an end to the violence, the repressive PRI party on the verge of regaining the control of the presidency that it held for more than 70 years; the cartels becoming increasingly entrenched in local and national politics, and a the country’s always ethically tenuous journalistic institutions fighting — quite literally — for their lives, I fear the worst for the country in the near term.

You think I’m being overly dramatic? Read this story about the threats against Jorge Medellín, a reporter for the national newspaper Milenio. An excerpt:

Mexican journalists take the smallest hint of a threat seriously because they know that killing a reporter is so easy to get away with. The word for this is impunity–killing with no consequences. None for the killer, at least. But the consequences for the Mexican people are that journalists are afraid to report the news.

Learn more: New York Times story on the latest killings; Committee to Protect Journalists; Article 19; Coverage in El Universal, a centrist paper from Mexico City

On the Job: Copita Margarita

Copita margarita, with Larry Mindel and Joanne Weir

Two of the things I love to photograph are people (of course) and food. Occasionally, I get the chance to do both at once.

That happened recently when Marin Magazine asked me to photograph restaurateur Larry Mindel and former Chez Panisse cook and and writer Joanne Weir, who have teamed up as owners of the new Sausalito Mexican restaurant, Copita.

The idea for Copita, which bills itself as a tequileria, came out of Weir’s book, Tequila: A Guide to Types, Flights, Cocktails, and Bites, so I also wanted a picture of what Weir calls her “perfect” margarita.

I photographed Mindel, Weir and the “perfect” margarita on a weekday afternoon at Poggio, Mindel’s Italian restaurant on Bridgeway in Sausalito. For the picture of them, I used a quiet back corner of the restaurant, a big front window for light and and the helping hands of a publicist to hold a reflector. For the margarita photograph, I used a small Nikon Speedlight and left plenty of space for the art director to lay in some type.  The lime wedge was Weir’s idea and it made the shot.

(For more of my food and restaurant photography, go here. And, don’t forget to buy my book: Organic Marin: Recipes from land to table.)

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Opening Night for Open Studios

Marin Open Studios, Kay Carlson

Marin Open Studios kicked off its season last night with a packed party in the Town Center in Corte Madera. Painting, photography and sculpture from more than 200 artists — and, of course, plenty of wine, food and dessert — drew several hundred folks to the event on a warm, perfect Marin evening.

The exhibition and party was put together by a group of local artists — co-led by ICB Building painter Kay Carlson (above) — who came together after a brouhaha involving Open Studios’ longtime sponsor, the Marin Arts Council, threatened to cause cancellation of the 19-year-old event. (Here’s the background story.)

The exhibition will be up through May 13. Go visit.

I’m showing photographs at Open Studios this year for the first time, with much thanks to Kay, who encouraged me to participate. Come see my new work May 12-13 (11-6) at The Image Flow in Mill Valley.