On the Job: Marin’s Tweeps

Marin Tweetup in San Rafael of Marin twitteres

Marin Tweetup of local tweeps at Aroma coffee shopPut 10 or 12 people in a dark coffee shop, add in a freelance writer, a magazine editor, a roomful of customers and a couple of homeless people in the back, and you’ve got a scene.

I show up with a big light, a step ladder and a lot of attitude, hoping I can herd all these cats in front of the camera long enough to make something to illustrate a story about Marin’s twitterati. Yep, this is a tweet-up and these are the tweeps of Marin.

I’d rather photograph 10 kids than 10 adults. The kids will pay attention to me, out of fear or curiosity or the simple habit of listening to adults, but the grown-ups won’t stay focused for more than 10 seconds at time. They chit-chat, they get bored, they fuss. And when you throw in the cell-phone-in-your-hand factor, they check email, texts and tweets.

That all means that this kind of shot is lot of fun. As I shot away using almost ridiculous exposures — 1 or 2 seconds to burn in the ambient light while hitting them with the strobe — there was lots of joking, which I pretended wasn’t directed at me. Hey, they were laughing with me, right?

The group shot was done in five minutes, but the editor also wanted some casual, non-posed shots, so I gathered several of the tweeps together in a “non-pose,” moved the light in above them, put the 17mm  on the camera and encouraged them to act it up as I shot. They did. And I did. The result is the vertical shot you see here, which ran full page in Marin Magazine as a section opener.

Thanks to Mimi Towle (@mimitowle) for organizing it and the tweeps: Sally Kuhlman (@Sally_K), Sarah Houghton (@TheLib), Suzanna Stinnett (@Brainmaker), Maria Benet (@Alembic), Toni Carreiro (@toniCarr) and Marilyn LoRusso (@fun_master).

And I’m @timporterphoto.

On the Job: The Threat of Rising Seas

Bike rider in Bothin Marsh at high tide

High tide already floods the bike path through Bothin Marsh in Mill Valley.

I wrote and photographed a piece for the current issue of Marin Magazine about the projected effects of climate change, most specifically sea-level rise, on Marin County.

Marin, like much of the San Francisco Bay Area and other parts of California, faces a wetter future. If current temperature and sea level trends continue through the century, routine tides could be as much as 55 inches higher than they are today  and even higher during storm surges.

Imagine the affect of four-and-a-half feet more water on coastal communities such as Mill Valley, where today’s highest  tides already flood city streets, marshes and recreation areas.  The bike rider above is crossing Bothin Marsh between Mill Valley and Sausalito, which is already inundated several times a month by winter tides.

If what scientists predict comes to pass — and some form of it will despite all of today’s “green” mitigation efforts — rising seas are going to change the way we live and extract severe financial and social costs.

Here is the opening section. The rest is below the jump (or here online).

Rising Seas: Marin prepares for a wetter, warmer future

On the winter days when the monthly tides are highest, you can stand on the narrow, asphalt ribbon of the bike path that traverses Bothin Marsh in Mill Valley and watch the water of Richardson Bay climb over the man-made banks and rise slowly, inexorably, until its cold wetness reaches your shins. You are no longer on dry land. You are in the middle of the bay.

Flash forward to the year 2100. The earth has had 88 more years to warm up, and the seas have been rising a little more every year. Your grandkids stand in that same place on the marsh and wait for high tide. When it comes, the water flows over their heads.

That’s climate change. That’s the threat Marin County faces — higher seas, bigger tides and stronger waves that could drown the marshlands of Mill Valley and Novato, flood neighborhoods built on reclaimed land in Tam Valley, Santa Venetia and Hamilton, and erode the coastal bluffs of Bolinas.

The mess that rising seas could make of Marin is but a small part of the larger challenge climate change presents to the planet. But this story is not about the global effort to regulate carbon emissions, not about the national yammering of politicians, preachers and scientific professionals about why the earth is warming (is it man, is it nature, is it a vengeful God delivering payback for our profligate ways?), and not about whether the earth is in fact getting warmer. The mercury is rising and the oceans along with it.

This story is about Marin County and how a lot of people here are trying to make sure that come the day when the waters of San Francisco Bay — which have already risen 8 inches in the last century — are lapping at the doorsteps of homes and businesses now hundreds of feet from shore, that the inhabitants of that warmer, wetter future do not ask of our generation: Why didn’t they do something?

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On the Job: Cancer

CT scan at Marin Cancer Institute

You’ve got cancer. You’ve got several bags of toxic chemicals connected to your body, hoping the chemo kills the tumors. Or, you’re lying beneath a huge X-ray machine, whose beams are burning the cancer out of you. In the middle of this a photographer approaches and asks if he can take your picture.

Why not? you think, so you say yes. He does, and a few weeks later there you are in a local magazine illustrating a story about the hospital where you’re being treated.

This is much of what I do — enter other people’s lives just long enough to tell a story (or, more accurately, a small moment of a story). I’m always surprised and forever in debt to those who grant me entrance, even when their  lives might not be going particularly well in one way or another.

The inside-out view of CT scan machine above and the strip of photos below were part of a story in Marin Magazine about the Marin Cancer Institute and its director, Dr. Francine Halberg, who is shown below talking with colleagues.

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On the Job: The Faces of Giving

Tina and Bill Noble

Tina and Bill Noble

One of the things I miss about journalism is the serendipity of encountering people who, through their strength of character in the face of adversity, remind me of my own good fortune. It’s called perspective, and you can never have too much of it.

For the current issue of Marin Magazine I had the opportunity to photograph a number of people — and write about a couple of them — who have benefited from the kindness of others in their journeys to overcome life’s adversities.

Tika Hick

Tika Hick and Indie

The most moving of these moments occurred when I met the people you see here — Tina and Bill Noble, above, and Tina Hick and her son, Indie, left. All of them are dealing with loss, one in a very intimate way and the other in tragically public manner.

Tina Noble is only 60 and in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s, which she was diagnosed with five years ago. Bill, her husband of nearly four decades, cares for her in their San Anselmo home. Hers is a life of diminishing capacity; his is one of increasing devotion. It is a poignant equation.  After I photographed them on their living room couch, I sat in my car and cried. How many of us are capable of the unqualified love Bill demonstrates daily toward Tina? Am I? Are you?

Tika Hick’s story is more public. A virulent cancer had attacked her. In July, a week before she was to undergo a double mastectomy, she traveled to Maui with her partner, David Potts, and their infant son, Indigo. In a horrific accident, Potts was sucked into a blowhole, dragged out to sea and never seen again. Now, Hick’s life is one of tenuous recovery, one so emotionally fragile that even the presence of a photographer in her small garden can fuel the sadness and bring more tears.

Sad stories, indeed, but also hopeful ones because within them are other stories of kindness, of organizations like Senior Access that benefit couples like the Nobles and of personal giving that supports someone like Tika Hick.

In addition to the Nobles and Hick I photographed four other people. You can see their photos below. Here are summaries of their stories and the organizations that helped them:

* Stephen Levine, who turned to Hospice by The Bay in Marin County when his wife of 24 years, Pam, was dying.

* Mayra Moncado, who learned from the Women’s Initiative how to make her Fairfax salon business a success.

* Pashia Lord, a Marin City mom who found a positive direction through the Performing Stars of Marin arts group.

* Sheldon Playdle, a San Luis Obispo college student (and possible future bio-tech executive) whose path to higher education was paved in part by 10,000 Degrees.

Here’s the full package in Marin Magazine. My test on Tina and Bill Noble follows:

“Why did I get Alzheimer’s? Why me? And how did I get it? I’m so young—just fifty-five.”

Tina Noble wrote those words five years ago, just after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Today, the former college professor with a Ph.D. in anthropology lives under the 24-hour care of her husband of nearly 40 years, Bill, a retired naturalist.

When Tina does leave the couple’s San Anselmo home, it’s usually to spend the day at The Club, a Senior Access program for people with memory impairment.

“It’s a beautiful place way up on top of the hills in Terra Linda. Sunny. Open,” says Bill. “There is a school next door so there’s the wonderful chatter of young kids all the time. There are lots of interns and aides and resource people. They do everything from elder yoga to having performers of various kinds come in. It’s delightful.”

More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s and nearly 15 million others perform roles like Bill Noble’s, caring for family or friends. Senior Access recently opened another day care center in Belvedere to meet the rising demand in Marin.

Bill and Tina’s daughter, Wren, a graduate student in photography, has been documenting her mother’s illness. You can see her pictures here.

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On the Job: Johnny Heineken

Having the name Johnny Heineken is cool enough, but add in good looks, golden locks, an engineering degree and a world championship in kitesurfing then you’ve got more cool going for you than most 23-year-olds might deserve. Luckily, Johnny Heineken is as laid back as he looks and fun to photograph.

Here he is in the studio in San Rafael during a shoot for Marin Magazine. I’m sharing this wider shot so you can get see  how much of what my wife Johnny Heinekensometimes calls “photo crap” — i.e., gear — is involved in making what becomes a simple white background image when printed. Here there are five lights, three of which you can see and two others behind the black foam boards pointed at the background.

I adjusted the lights several times during this shoot depending on where Johnny held his kitesurfing board (made by Mikes Lab in El Sobrante) in order to keep shadows off his face.

As I messed with technical stuff, Johnny chatted with writer Mimi Towle, who, among other things, learned three key facts about Heineken:

1. Johnny’s favorite drink is a Lagunitas at the Silver Peso in Larkspur.  “I can skate there and walk home.”

2. His favorite pizza? Stefano’s chicken pesto.

3. And, yes, his last name is connected to that Dutch beer company.

Here’s the whole interview. And on the left is how the final shot appeared in the October issue of the magazine.

On the Job: Affordable Housing

Katie Crecilius

Few issues incite people more than the debate over affordable housing. As a term, “affordable housing” not only sounds benign but seems undeniably just. Who, after all, would be in favor of “unaffordable housing”?

But, when such an abstract social concept morphs into physical reality, perhaps in your neighborhood, that’s when cultures clash and fears of crime, color and crashing home values cause many of Marin’s famously liberal communities to put progressive ideals on hold and start arguing the nuances of zoning laws.

In Marin, one of the country’s most affluent counties and one of its most expensive places to live, housing ain’t cheap. Even after the big burst of the real estate bubble, young couples still drop more than a million for a so-so rancher in a good Southern Marin school district and the median price for typical tract home in a Northern Marin community like Novato starts at $500,000.

Most of the teachers, cops, and restaurant workers in Marin don’t have the scratch for that kind of mortgage, so they rent – or they commute. (Marin’s drive time is one of the longest in the region because the everyday working folks can’t afford to live here.)

Marin is also very white – very, very white – which is also a matter of economics since most of the members of California’s emerging minority-majority haven’t yet accumulated the wealth to buy into Marin.

This is where the affordable housing debate comes in.

Housing advocates, who want to comply with state laws by building clusters of subsidized housing in cities around the county, say Marin needs to provide a place to live for those who school our kids, serve our meals and staff our boutiques. Plus, they say, more diversity would be a good thing.

Those on the other side argue that the market should prevail and they welcome anyone who can afford the price of entry into Marin. Providing subsidies, they argue, increases density, attracts people who commit crimes and, thus, lowers the value of nearby homes – theirs. It’s not a matter of race, they say, but one of values.

I photographed people on both sides of the issue for a story writer Nate Seltenrich did for Marin Magazine on Novato, Marin’s northernmost city and the center of the current debate. Novato is not the place most people think of when Marin comes to mind. There’s no Golden Gate Bridge, no Muir Woods and none of the hipster quotient that defines smaller southern towns like Mill Valley and Sausalito. Novato is pure suburb, a collection of developments and shopping centers linked by Highway 101 and extending out from an aging downtown that seems to be undergoing perennial revival.

I made several trips to the Novato for the story, a couple to photograph the people and locations where housing might be built, and another to shoot a community meeting about the issue. I came away from the story with mixed feelings about the matter.

On the one side, there are plenty of examples, not only in Novato but also elsewhere in Marin, of affordable housing that works, meaning it not only provides shelter for people who don’t own a Range Rover, but also fits into the community architecturally and socially.

On the other side, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like it if the city council in my leafy town decided to put 100 apartments on my block, but I also hope I’d find away around that concern and get my head in spot where I did the right thing – and I think we all know what that is.

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Crime Scene

Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.

A standoff between police and a man who entered a Marin County branch of the Bank of with a fake gun and a grudge turned into a spectator sport for me and my neighbors in Corte Madera – where the most exciting thing that usually happens all year is the changing of the flowers on the main drag’s median strip.

It wasn’t quite Dog Day Afternoonthe suspect, who surrendered peacefully late into the evening never made an appearance and I’ll suspect looks nothing like Al Pacino – but it was enough of a scene from to keep hundreds of suburban onlookers entertained for hours.

There were cops, SWAT teams, FBI agents, TV crews doing live stand-ups and more automatic weapons than you might find at an Arizona gun show. There was also all of us – the crowd, well-equipped citizen journalists, Tweeters and Facebookers. We photographed, we recorded, we uploaded.

One guy kept calling the news desk at the ABC affiliate in San Francisco pitching them cellphone photos, which they used. He looked at my big Nikon and said, “That’s a nice lens, but I can email my shots to the TV and you can’t.

He had me on that one.

Here are some shots from the scene.

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Me and My Moon

Moonrise over East Bay hills from Tiburon

I don’t ever want to get to a place again where I spend so much energy working at what I love that I stop loving the work. That road I’ve traveled, and it doesn’t lead to a good place.

Lately, I have been working a lot. In recent weeks,  I’ve photographed restaurants, jewelry, a country inn, a florist, several restored homes, several winemakers, many bottles of wine, a yoga studio (and its owners), lots of dogs, people ranging from a homeless woman living in a shelter to an Elvis impersonator to the founder of Twitter, some politicians, a university campus and more. No complaints about any of this. It’s really more than imagined I could do when a few years ago I made a U-turn from displaced newspaper editor to resurrected photographer.

What I haven’t been doing, though, is taking pictures for myself, images that have no client other than me — and that’s what got me into photography in the first place — so last night I put some effort into rebalancing the scale. Just before sunset, I loaded up the big Domke, slung it and the 300 over one shoulder and strapped the Gitzo over the other, and trudged up to the Tiburon highlands, thanking my yoga legs for the power on the uphills while cursing my ropers for their lack of grip on the downhills. (Boots? Gear? Steep gravelly trail? What was I thinking?)

The southernmost knob of the highlands provides a front-row vantage point for a moonrise over the East Bay hills, and is well worth the walk. I had the place to myself except for a group of graybeard hikers, who used a grassy spot down the slope for me as a place to break out the bread, cheese and port (!) while they took in the lunar show.

As much as I love the personal connection of photographing people, I think I love these moments of solitude more — just me, the camera and no other purpose than to make a picture of what’s before me.

On the Job: Tim Hockenberry

Tim Hockenberry

Tim Hockenberry, a Mill Valley singer and musician, is the kind of good-looking guy women notice — tall, stylish and, as my wife would say, twinkly. He caused quite a stir the day he came to my studio in San Rafael to do a shoot for Marin Magazine. One of my building-mates is a food stylist whose kitchen and studio is down the hallway from mine. She and a photographer were shooting hamburgers the day Tim arrived, and they had the door open when he passed by their studio from the elevator en route to my space.

After I got Tim settled in, I left him for minutes to chat with the writer and went down the hall to get something. The stylist called me in as soon as she saw me. “Who is that?” she said in a voice much spicier than the food she was styling. I told her. “Send him down here when you’re done.”

An hour, and several changes of clothes, later, Tim and I were done. We’d had a great time shooting — he was fun, engaging and knew how to pose, everything that makes my job easier. I made a variety of shots, including a batch with his trombone (his first instrument). For laughs — and much to the delight of the writer, a woman — we also shot a few shirtless ones as he changed clothes. I submitted about two dozen proof shots to the magazine, which ultimately used the one you see here and another in the table of contents. The shirtless photo didn’t make the cut, apparently, but later, on a visit to the magazine, there was a printout of it hanging above the desk of one of the writers.

On the Job: Going With the Wind

” You can’t always get what you want, And if you try sometime you find, You get what you need.”

The Stones

It was the first day of summer, the solstice, and a chill wind was blowing fierce off the ocean. Perched as we were on a ridge high on Mt. Tam, we were catching it full on — me, my wife, a friend and her husband, who was the “model” for the above photo.

The wind was so strong that even 50 pounds of sand and two people could barely keep the softbox from becoming airborne.

We were here to make a picture for Marin Magazine, where I do a bit of writing and a lot of shooting. The editors needed an opening image for the magazine’s annual Editors Choice issue that illustrated the thrill of living in Marin County.

The top editor had an idea in mind — something she had seen in a stock shot — of someone stretching languorously against the sky, relaxing and letting out the jams after a hike or run on Mt. Tam, the 2,600-foot peak that forms Marin’s skyline signature.

The whole concept of the shot depended on location, a place that overlooked the ocean, faced the sun and had enough other visible landscape to say “Marin” — golden hill, blue sky, etc. I only had one day to scout and the evening before the shot drove all over the mountain looking for a spot. None were perfect, but I thought this ridge might work even though at this time of year the sun sets much more to the north than to the west.

Soon after we set up, though, and I began making test shots while waiting for the sun to drop further it became clear the angle was not going to work. Even on a ladder, I couldn’t get all the elements in the frame the way I wanted.

There was one other complication: Our “model,” while in decent shape was far from buff. Cove-up was needed. My wife donated her vest.

We shot for about 45 minutes up and down the ridge, and I didn’t have what I needed. Pack it up, I said. We opened a cooler, broke out the brew and began stowing gear. Just as we started to break down the strobe, the sun touched the top of a hill to the north, spraying golden light all over us.

I jumped up with a camera, the model set down his bear, the others grabbed the light (just holding the boom in their hands) and I shot about 15 or 20 frames, switching for the last few to a 17 mm with a graduated neutral density filter screwed on the front.

There it was. A shot. Not the one I came for, but one I could take home.

(Here’s a slide show of the whole Editors Choice shoot.)

California Dreamin’ (Marin County style)

Novato and Fairfax theaters

Lots of work this month with little time to write, but I want to share some of the images I made for the August issue of Marin Magazine and its annual Editors Choice awards. The package featured a perfect day in each Marin community, from Sausalito to Novato to Point Reyes Stations. I was fortunate enough to be able to photograph the entire series. Click on the image above for a quick slideshow (and a bit of California dreamin’ on this summer’s day.)

As always, my photos are for sale. If you just MUST have a print of the Novato or Fairfax theaters on your wall, or any of others from the series, visit my Pictopia gallery.

Thanks for looking.


On the Job: Marin Magazine Cover

The last couple of months I have been purposefully shooting landscapes with the goal of getting more covers on the magazine. This means I have been going out before first light in the morning or trying to catch the last light of the day, the proverbial golden hour.

The best light in the Bay Area happens during the winter, and that’s especially true here in Marin County, where the almost daily summer fog literally grays out the first morning light and can dull the evening light. Winter also brings rain clouds, something we don’t see in Northern California during our arid summers.

This picture was made in what may seem like an unlikely location — in a bayside marshland behind a sewage treatment plant. What the spot lacks in olfactory appeal, it more than makes up for in its marshes and wildlife. I have shot here several times and made some nice pictures, but nothing I considered having the necessary “grab” for a cover. When I saw this scene in mid-December on a day that had been showery, I knew I had found my moment.

Later, when I showed the editor of the magazine a half-dozen images — from this day and from other locations — she immediately went to this one. The final cover image was about a three-quarter crop from the original, with the art director taking some off the bottom. I had shot the original with the cover crop in mind.

Technical stuff: D3, 17-35mm lens, ISO 400, 1/160, F4, handheld.

Organic Marin: Yummy Reviews

Organic Marin, Recipes from Land to Table, has gotten positive reviews from a couple of food bloggers.

* inmamaskitchen.com — Organic Marin is a book that celebrates the bounty of the earth and the purity of soil, but the book itself soars in the air.

Authors Tim Porter and Farina Wong Kingsley speak eloquently of organic, sustainable farming, the recipes are all tempting and mouth-watering, the photography is of the highest caliber, and the stories of the early pioneers of the organic movement are inspiring.

* Cooking With Ideas — It is filled with beautiful photographs and tempting recipes, along with snippets of thises and thats … and a resource list in the back.

The book uses the phrase “community of values” well –and makes the important point, too, that for a sustainable farm to be sustainable it needs income!

Thank you inmamaskitchen and Cooking With Ideas.

* Here’s the story behind Organic Marin.

* You can buy Organic Marin here.

On the Job: Tourists

Tourists at Golden Gate Bridge

I like tourists. Maybe that is because I like being a tourist myself — seeing new places, talking with people from other cultures, finding wonder and amazement in what the locals consider to be the quotidian.

Here in Marin County, we get tourists — about 13 million a year who arrive by boat, bus and, more frequently of late bike (over the Golden Gate Bridge.) Last month I did a photo story for Marin Magazine about local tourism. I did the usual reporting about numbers and economic impact, but the most fun I had was shooting the tourists.

I photographed about 40 individuals, couples or families, mostly in tourist-heavy locales like the Sausalito waterfront, the Golden Gate Bridge view area or the Marin headlands — people from all over the world: Finland, Turkey, New Zealand. Only one couple said no, a pair of very paranoid Americans who all but shrank when I approached.

The above shot of a cute French couple was the double-truck opener for the piece.

The technique was simple: A 17-55mm on a D2Xs in my right hand, an SB800 with a remote trigger in my left, on quarter or eighth power.

Here’s the whole story. Or go to the jump for the opening anecdote about four fun-loving ladies from Arizona and one’s desire to be frisked.

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Schwarzenegger’s CEO

Susan KennedyAs much as I don’t like politics, I confess that I do like politicians – in person, at least. One on one, pols of various stripes are among the smartest, most engaging people I’ve met while doing journalism. They’re articulate, their words are pointed, and they share the same off-center sense of humor that is found in most newsrooms.

Susan Kennedy, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff, belongs in that group. I photographed her in her Fairfax home for a Q&A with Marin Magazine. I have my issues with how she and the Governator are running California, but she’s someone you’d love to sit next to at dinner – intense, unflinching and intellectually persuasive. Plus, she’s twinkly.

When I got to her house the reporter was about 30 minutes into the interview. They were in a small office, big enough for her desk and two chairs. There was window on one side with a bench in it, and I immediately decided to use for a post-interview shot. The rest of the room was dark.

There was no space to set up an umbrella, so I decided to point a couple of snooted Speedlights at her, one from the long end of the office, the other from across her desk. I put one like on a stand, gelled it warm, super-clamped the other to the rim of the desk, and started shooting, squeezing my way around the reporter. (See an overview of the scene.)

About 10 frames in, the clamp popped off the desk and it and the strobe clattered to the floor. The upside was that it loosened us all up; the downside was the $100 repair bill.

I reset another strobe (didn’t you mother tell to always have a back-up?) on a stand, and began again.

I shot for about 10 minutes more, listening to them talk, working the angles. I liked the light. It was strong, but tight. Nonetheless, I was looking forward to getting her by the window for some softer light.

That wasn’t to be, though. Another five minutes and her phone rang (with the caller visible on the video-phone screen on her desk.). She was late for a meeting. By the time I stowed the gear, Kennedy was on the conference call.

The lesson of the day is one I learned early on – both as a photographer and as a reporter: As soon as you enter the room (or the event or the whatever), start working. It may be your only chance.