Tag Archives: Marin

A Sense of Being

Then, I lived in a big world. Far-away places. People of all tones. Tongue-twisting languages. Strolls through parks and museums and galleries. Picnics along the river, dinners aside the canal, dessert in the plaza at midnight. Overnight flights. Long holds in airports known by their initials – MEX, FRA, JFK, HND. So many miles, so many smiles.

Now, I walk in a small world. From my house to the park and back again. I move geometrically in squares and rectangles. Around the block and the next one and the next. I leave in the fading dark of the night and return in the grayness of the rising morning. Fog hugs the ground, smoke seasons the air.

I move among my sleeping neighbors in silence. A light shines here and there. Was it left on all night? Some people are not comfortable in the deep. Or is someone up early, as I am? They have somewhere to be, maybe, or they sleep poorly, wakened by age or illness or the most common of nocturnal visitors, anxiety. Do they glance up from their duties in the bathroom to see my shape, ambiguous in the dawn, slip by their home?

The streets are all but empty. Me. A teenage cyclist pumping up the hill I walk down. A dogwalker wearing a black mask that matches the fur of her tiny pet. A woman in a small SUV throwing the local paper, folded and wrapped in a red plastic bag, onto driveways, tossing, with admirable accuracy, the morning news out windows on both sides of the car. Low-tech evidence of the difficulty of the last mile.

In the park, I stop on the far side of the great lawn, where a gang of Canadian geese feasts on whatever it is they grub up out of the wet dirt, and look up the hill for my house. I can’t see it. I never can. Too many trees. Not a good angle. But every time, I look. I want to say: I live there, even though there is no one to tell that to. Proof of existence, that’s all. Since it can’t be found, I settle for circumstantial evidence. I walk, therefore I am. The goose hisses at me for interrupting its breakfast, therefore I am here.

In my small world, I see small things. A tennis ball, faded to gray and bearing the marks of canine teeth, next to a fence, where it has been for weeks. I try to imagine how I will feel when the ball is no longer there. Relieved? Curious? Deprived? A white push pin stuck into the papyrus-like bark of a crepe myrtle tree, a pointed (ahem) reminder of a lost cat or a garage sale. Two beige-colored plastic birds, parakeets, attached to a planter. Three bags of outdated trade books – how to program Java – left on the sidewalk, a lazy solution to household clutter. A blue surgical mask lying on the green grass of the lawn. A white mask hanging from a tree branch. Yet another draped over the rear-view mirror of a rugged-looking car whose license plate reads: FLUVIAL.

The feet of the geese, dampened by the grass, leave webbed imprints when they cross the asphalt path that meanders through the park. Leave nothing but footprints, we said in the bigger world. I turn around. On the street behind me there is no sign of my passing. What I wanted to see was proof of existence. Another phrase comes to mind: a sense of being.

The simplicity of the walk fascinates me. Self-propulsion seems almost miraculous. If the legs held, if the spirit didn’t flag, if the body agreed, the walk could be eternal. There are so many small things to see. Just now I think of the apple tree, laden with pale green fruit, that drapes over the wooden stick fence, and the plum tree at the corner house that young couple bought last year after the death of the old lady who had gardened the land for decades, and the four towering willows whose regal drapery dresses up the block below my house.

Coming and going, coming and going. But rarely being. That is how I lived. By choice. With volition. And certainly not without great discovery, much enjoyment and more than occasional satisfaction. No regret (about that; there are other things). No complaint. No need for a do-over.

On the final uphill turn to the house, the sun yearns to burn through the bank of fog. So powerful in the solar system. Life literally revolves around it. Such an ego the sun must have. Yet, the fog, with its pillowly passivity, thwarts the star’s aggression and it retreats once more behind the gray curtain.  From home to park and back again. The house is as still as I left it. I bend for the morning papers, a tradition, no longer a necessity. I open the redwood gate. Twenty-four steps below is the house hidden from me in the park. In late summer, the big buckeye sullies the red brick of the patio with its debris. As I step toward the front door, I hear the crunch of my footfall on the fallen leaves. Proof of existence. A sense of being.

Day 43: New Season

The season has changed. When I got home from Mexico seven weeks ago, it was still winter in Northern California, if not by the calendar then by the temperament of the weather. The nights were cold and damp, the days not much better. It rained enough to brighten the grass and quench the thirst of the trees. When I sat on the deck to read, I wore corporate fleece and Pendleton wool.

The wool now mopes in the closet, the fleece drapes over a dining-room chair, both furloughed for lack of work. Eighty degrees yesterday and the day before, sunshine from the first light of dawn to the last of the evening. A t-shirt on the deck. What didn’t bloom in March is bursting now. New leaves, flamboyant with their fill of chorophyll, adorn the decorative maples. The wild grass in the open space aside the house is thigh high, heaven for the deer, paradise for the ticks.

This morning, as I walked the stairs to the street to retrieve the Sunday news, I stopped on a landing to watch how the sunlight sparkled in a wayward spray of water leaking from the irrigation system. It seemed too pretty to repair, so I will leave it like that for a day or two. On the next landing, I walked face first into a sticky grid of webs erected overnight by industrious spiders, work intended for prey smaller, and more digestible, than I. On the third, and last, landing, a swarm of tiny insects danced in the air, their translucent wings backlit by the sun. A fresh hatch. How many days of life will they have?

Before I opened the wooden gate to the street, where the newspapers awaited, the national paper sheathed in blue plastic and the local effort bagged in beige, I thought about all the life that happens around me while I shelter in my place – the blooming and bursting of camellias, azaleas, and magnolias, the nocturnal industry of arachnids, the bomb of insects exploding before my eyes. All of this – and more – in my small slice of the world, a quarter-acre on a hillside. I am but a traveler here, passing through. The bushes bloomed, the spiders spun and the bugs were born before Mother Earth stamped my passport and issued me a visa, and will continue to do so when she denies my application for renewal.

Day 41: First trip out

Before yesterday, I’d been out of the house only twice in 41 days. Both times I drove my wife to do an errand and never got out of the car. Because I torqued a knee on my last trip to Mexico in March, I couldn’t walk much at all, much less do any of the shopping. The knee is healing, slowly, but it felt strong yesterday so I decided to drive to a farmer’s market that assembles once a week in the parking lot of a nearby drug store.

With my wife’s guidance, who now has a Mad Max-ian wardrobe for shopping, I geared up: My new mask bought by email from a women’s boutique that has turned its talents to face-ware, a neck gaiter that could double as another layer of facial protection, two pairs of rubber gloves, two antiseptic wipes (placed in a plastic baggie to keep them moist) and a small bottle of hand sanitizer. Oh, and cash, something I haven’t needed for six weeks.

My first surprise was the number of people at the market, at least 40, which seemed like a lot for a guy who had not been in the company of another person other than his spouse for a month and a half. Everyone wore a mask, some hand-made like mine, some of the blue surgical type, and a few N95s, and gloves covered most everyone’s hands. The market is small, about 10 stands, and there were several lines of people. The longest of those queued in front of a woman selling bouquets of flowers, which I took as a symbol of people needed something bright in their homes. I placed myself in the vegetable line. They wait was short, but long enough for me to identify three types of people in the market:

· The good neighbors, those aware of their personal space and their hygiene. They kept their distance from others, didn’t touch the food with their hands (as requested) and maintained a cheery air about them, as forced as it might be.

· The clueless, who unfortunately were all older (meaning my age and northward). They meandered, either from physical ailment or distress caused by the disruption of normal, closing the gap between them others, and occasionally bumping into someone. They picked up the food with their hands, examining the head of lettuce or the bag of onions. In the big booth of veggies where the line snaked from the left to the right, two of them entered via the exit.

· The assholes, of which, gladly, there were few. One was a guy who, frustrated by the tortoise-like movements of a member of the clueless in front him, approached her from behind and reached over her back to snag a bag of arugula. As he moved toward me, I called to duty my East Coast upbringing to add an edge to my voice and said. Hey, buddy, there’s a line. Really, was the response I got. Really, I said, and it begins back there. I pointed to the parking lot. He retreated, but later I saw him tailgating another shopper.

I was out of the market in 30 minutes, driving off with a fat bag of lettuce, carrots, the aforementioned arugula, a glistening bunch of rainbow chard, Pink Lady apples and mandarins. The long loaves of fresh sourdough bread cooked in a local bakery tempted me, but not enough. The quarantine is changing my diet, and bread is falling off the menu.

Aside from the mask, the gloves and the pervasive wariness all of us had about one another, it was a normal experience, and for that I was grateful. I am enjoying, if that’s the right word — yes, I think it is — my time in the house and on the deck with my wife, my books and my photographs, but I miss the routine mundanities, the chores, the shopping, the conversations with shopkeepers and barbers and neighbors passed on pathways we all took for granted. We all do.

Getting back to normal will mean more than being able to order salami slices at the deli or get a haircut or grab a beer at the corner saloon during a Giants game. It’s going to require a regeneration of social trust, which we have forcefully uprooted. We must replant and cultivate it once again. For months as we stepped out of our homes and into public spaces we’ve wondered if the person next to me could kill us. We as a society are wounded. We will heal, but it will take time.

Backstory: How I Backed Off and Made Better Portraits

Chuck Collins, YMCA

When I first started making portraits of people, everything I shot was tightly framed. It was all about the face. I came in close and measured my success by the details I could see. The more pores the better as far as I was concerned.

Some shrink, I’m sure, could attribute my desire to fill the frame with face to some unaddressed childhood need or perhaps a lack of adult intimacy, but it probably had more to do with the Yousuf Karsh portraits I saw in school and my desire to replicate those (not that I ever did).

CollinsChuck_120814__0087Today, as much as the face still fascinates (and as much as I still want to focus on follicles), I’ve backed off. Now, I’m looking more for context than closeness. I want shape, posture and attitude more than detail.

Some of that change in approach came from maturing as a photographer, but much of it also comes from the assignments I have. Frequently, I find myself making a portrait of a person simply standing or sitting somewhere and I need to use the environment around him or her to create an image that is striking, or at least has some snap. Also, many art directors want openness (or negative space) in the frame so they have the option to overlay type in that area.

Because I rarely have any control over the location or the timing of the shot, which means I’m often having to make something interesting under either muddy skies or full sun, I’ve become attached to using a single strobe to isolate the person from the background.

These images of Chuck Collins, CEO of the YMCA of San Francisco, illustrate what I mean. Marin Magazine asked me to photograph Chuck and I met him on a moist, gray December morning at the YMCA’s facility in the Marin Headlands.

I arrived early and looked over the place. It was bleak. Empty buildings. No kids. Windswept grounds. The vacant basketball court had appeal, though, as did a small empty amphitheatre with low, wooden seats. Both had strong vertical structures (the hoop and the flagpole) I could use.

Chuck helped, too. A good-looking easy-going guy, he gave me enough time to adjust the light several times and even helped me lug the battery pack from the basketball court to the amphitheatre.

I liked the results, which you can see in the images on this page (bigger versions below). The magazine, as it often does, chose a different frame, but that’s why they pay me – to give them choices.

You can see more of my photographs of interesting people at photography.timporter.com or here.

There is no gallery selected or the gallery was deleted.

On the Job: Arrested

SimonJames_Arrest

A few months ago, I interviewed and photographed cheery, avuncular, 70-year-old doctor named James Simon (below) who was the flight surgeon at a small airfield in Marin, Gnoss Field in Novato.

Today, Dr. Simon found himself on the front page of the local paper, the Marin Independent Journal, as the lead character in a tale of what police said was road rage gone bad.

Simon was arrested after allegedly shooting a man who had followed him and his wife home in Corte Madera after some sort of altercation on Paradise Drive, a two-lane, tree-lined road that leads to some of Marin’s tonier homes..

The victim, whose name was not released, apparently tried to drive into the Simon’s garage as he was closing the door. According to police, Simon went in his home, returned with a .357 magnum, fired a warning shot into the air and then two bullets into the victim’s abdomen.

The victim survived, Simon was arrested and we await the story behind the story.

Corte Madera Mayor Michael Lappert, a reserve cop and one of the first officers on the scene (and coincidentally a one-time patient of  Simon’s), summed it up:

It’s a bad thing all around. If there’s anything to learn from this, it’s that road rage can only have a bad ending.”

(Here’s the Marin Magazine piece I did on Simon).

SimonJames_022014_023

On the Job: Psychics

Zorica Gojkovic

Not all psychics are alike. But then some of you already knew that, didn’t you? It was a lesson I learned when I recently photographed several psychics and tarot card readers — they prefer the term “intuitives” — for Marin Magazine.

When I got the assignment, I was thinking flowing robes, lots of jewelry, candles, you know, exotic. Except for Jetara Sehart, below, who does tarot readings under the name of Angel Counsel and certainly looks the part (complete with crystal ball), that’s not what I found.

One psychic was selling real estate (“Wouldn’t you want a real estate broker with good instincts?” she told writer Calin Van Paris) and another worked in a bookstore in San Rafael.

Then there was Zorica Gojkovic, above, who has a Ph.D. in English, provides counseling under the name The Time of Light, and loves to read mysteries and Westerns when she’s not gazing into the future. Zorica looked like my Aunt Helen, as “normal” as could be. I did my best to add a bit of mystery to her with the photo (which is not the one the magazine used).

Here’s the story. Take a look.

Jetara Sehart

On the Job: Marin Housing Debate

Aging vet pleads for affordable housing in Marin County

An aging veteran whose lost his home asks the Marin County Board of Supervisors to approve a plan authorizing more affordable housing in the affluent county.

I dropped by the Marin County Board of Supervisors yesterday to photograph the newest board member, Katie Rice, for Marin Magazine. After I made the pictures I needed of her, I hung around to take in some of a contentious hearing on a countywide affordable housing plan.

There’s no need to go into details about the plan here (much ink and many pixels have been devoted to it), but the debate struck me as a common one — a liberal plea for housing for residents and workers who aren’t hedge fund managers or lawyers vs. a NIMBY-esque argument that low-cost, high-density housing would mean more traffic, not enough tax revenue from the news residents to support local services and environmental dangers.

The crowd — on both sides —  didn’t fit the Marin stereotypes. There were no yoga pants, few facelifts and more than several walkers. It was not the haves vs. the have-nots. It was the have-less vs. the have-no-so-much. Those who feared the new housing lived in Marin’s more middle-class neighborhoods — Marinwood, Tam Valley and Strawberry (well, not so middle-class for the latter). Those who argued for it lived in those locales as well, but also in Marin City and Hamilton.

For me, it was a chance to put faces on an abstract argument, which is always a reminder that all these policy debates in the end effect the lives of real people.

The meeting opened on a high note — several of them actually — with an a capella song about “there’s a lot of love in Marin” by local sax player and singer Richard Howell. That was the last sign of love for the afternoon.

There was no vote. That’s scheduled for next week. (More photos here).

A Community Blooms

Canal Community Garden, San Rafael

Food fosters community. I used those words from a young Bolinas farmer to start my book on organic farming. On Saturday, I saw them come to life again in the opening of the Canal Community Garden.

Located on what was a vacant quarter-acre of city land where the butt end of Bellam Boulevard collides with the salt marsh separating San Rafael from the Bay, the garden represents a successful collaboration between the Canal Alliance, the Trust for Public Land, local government and a clutch of private donors and volunteers. (Marin IJ story.)

With 92 plots of soil, a modern greenhouse and a composting complex, the garden gives its urban farmers the chance to  bring fresh, local, organic food to one of Marin’s poorest neighborhoods. But more than that, it does what all farms do: Promises that today’s effort will bring tomorrow’s harvest — a message of inherent hope in a community where life is challenging.

Farming is always an investment in the future. The soil, the seed, the crops, the weather, all are unknowns that the farmer — whether in Iowa or Marin — must cope with and curate through the season, believing that work, nature and a bit a luck will fulfill the cycle of land to table.

There is dignity in the dirt. Weathered skin, encrusted fingernails and achy backs are badges of honor. Thanks to the Canal Community Garden more of us will have an opportunity to wear them.

(Here’s my post from last November, when volunteers were installing the mosaic centerpiece for the garden.)

(Buy: Organic Marin: Recipes from Land to Table).

CanalGarden_033013_174.jpgCanalGarden_033013_148.jpgCanalGarden_033013_188.jpgCanalGarden_033013_025.jpg

 

On the Job: Cleaning Up Your Mess

Conservation Corps North Bay, CCNB, picking up litter on U.S. Highway 101

Many of us are pigs. Sadly. We toss our plastic bottles, takeout containers and other trash out of our cars, inconsiderate of the environmental damage it does, the aesthetic blight it causes and the cost to to clean it up.

I spent some time walking a section of U.S. Highway 101 in Marin County with a crew from the Conservation Corps North Bay (CCNB) for a story in Marin Magazine about how, even in the wealthiest of the Bay Area’s counties, motorists use public roadways as their private dumping grounds.

The CCNB crews consist of young men and women who were born into challenging lives and, with the help of the Corps and the sweat of their brows, are turning them around.

Next time you’re about to dump your double-decaf-mocha-grande cup out of the car window, think about who has to clean up your mess.

CCNB_030413_038.jpgCCNB_030413_062.jpgCCNB_030413_092.jpgCCNB_030413_127.jpg

 

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.

GaleRanch_011913_030.jpgGaleRanch_011913_019.jpgGaleRanch_011913_035.jpgGaleRanch_011913_034.jpgGaleRanch_011913_025.jpgGaleRanch_011913_039.jpgGaleRanch_011913_043.jpgGaleRanch_011913_045.jpgGaleRanch_011913_017.jpgGaleRanch_011913_012.jpg

 

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.

MillValley_121711_017.jpgLarkspur_121711_023 copy.jpgCorteMadera_120711_018.jpgSausalito_121411_061.jpgCorteMadera_121711_004.jpgMillValley_122111_037.jpgMarinwood_121911_020.jpgMillValley_121711_034.jpgMillValley_121711_005.jpgCorteMadera_120711_023.jpgSausalito_121411_021.jpgSausalito_121411_055.jpgMarinwood_121911_039.jpgCorteMadera_120711_033.jpgMarinwood_121911_026.jpgMillValley_121711_025.jpg

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.

CanalGarden_120812_042.jpgCanalGarden_120812_052.jpgCanalGarden_120812_045.jpgCanalGarden_120812_066.jpgCanalGarden_120812_046.jpgCanalGarden_120812_053.jpgCanalGarden_120812_020.jpg

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.

RiveraMonica_080912_010.jpgAyalaEricka_080912_006.jpgAyalaBrenda_080912_007.jpgHernandezJoselyn_080912_006.jpgRicoIridian_080912_006.jpgRodriguezAlexis_080912_011.jpgCanal2012Spread.jpg

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.

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.

MarinFlags012.jpgMarinFlags001.jpgMarinFlags007.jpgMarinFlags015.jpgMarinFlags006.jpgMarinFlags013.jpgMarinFlags010.jpgMarinFlags003.jpgMarinFlags011.jpgMarinFlags014.jpgMarinFlags008.jpgMarinFlags002.jpgMarinFlags004.jpgMarinFlags005.jpgMarinFlags009.jpg

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: 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: 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.

SanRafaelPacifics_060412_035.jpgSanRafaelPacifics_060412_059.jpgSanRafaelPacifics_060412_026.jpgSanRafaelPacifics_060412_003.jpgSanRafaelPacifics_060412_131.jpgSanRafaelPacifics_060412_150.jpgSanRafaelPacifics_060412_021.jpgSanRafaelPacifics_060412_121.jpgSanRafaelPacifics_060412_128.jpgSanRafaelPacifics_060412_081.jpgSanRafaelPacifics_060412_051.jpgSanRafaelPacifics_060412_162.jpgSanRafaelPacifics_060412_043.jpg

Wet (at last)

Marin Cascade on Dawn Falls Trail

Winter didn’t come to Marin until Spring had already arrived. Barely a week into the new season, the rain is playing catchup, greening the pastures of the west county, soaking the marshland along the Bay, and dowsing the slopes of Mt. Tam with more than enough fresh water to fill the gullies with gushing streams, babbling brooks and carousing cascades of white water.

it’s good weather for a walk, a good time to carry a tripod into the hills, and just the right moment to straddle a stream — carefully now — and point that big, black camera down at the froth below.

This little rivulet is one of hundreds available for instant view right now on Mt. Tam. You can find this one, if you choose, on the Dawn Falls Trail above Ross. Enjoy.