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: A Rainbow Burns

Barbara Meislin

I’ve met countless hundreds of people in my many years of journalism and photography, but few possessed the uncomplicated goodness and sweet soulfulness of Barbara Meislin, the Tiburon writer and singer best known as the Purple Lady. Following the death of her young daughter, Meislin dedicated her life to bringing happiness to children. Her symbol was a rainbow; everything else in her life — clothes, cars, garden and home — was purple.

Yesterday morning, the Purple Lady’s home, a large, airy structure astride a hillside above San Francisco Bay, burned. The flames took almost all she owned, leaving her — as is the cliche in these events — with little more than memories of the 43 years in which she made that home distinctly her own.

I photographed Barbara in her home a couple of years ago for a Marin Magazine profile of her. She told the writer, while speaking of her daughter’s death, “Loss can be an incredible teacher. Often, the highest and best teachers appear when one’s loss and sorrow is the deepest.”

Prophetic words indeed.

Barbara MeislinBarbara and I became friendly acquaintances and I would see her occasionally during my jaunts around Marin. She is a bright spirit and any encounter, like one a few weeks ago at Ruth Livingston’s gallery in downtown Tiburon, made me feel good.

Standing in her driveway yesterday talking to neighbors, firefighters and a reporter, Barbara was a portrait of sadness. As much as she mouthed words of hope — “I’ll have to rebuild this house,” she told the Chronicleher eyes, moist and red, spoke of the ache in her heart. She was dressed in blue.

Clutching a box of tissues and an orange in one hand, Barbara talked distractedly, her thoughts spilling out as they occurred — how the fire started, why didn’t 911 answer, the narrowness of her escape and the fate of her many, many photographs.

It was a familiar scene for many journalists, but not one I’d witnessed for many years. As a young photographer, and later reporter, I’d stood on many sidewalks outside burned homes or across from crashed cars and seen the very same face Barbara was wearing — drawn, vacant, a bit confused about how all that was good suddenly went so bad.

Later, as I became an editor and traded in the streets of journalism for its desks, others went to the scenes and returned with the stories that, to the cynical — and, sadly, there is much cynicism in the news business — seemed cliched, tired and repetitive. I confess that, at times, I was one of those.

I often tell people who ask what I do now that I’ve returned to my roots — writing and photography. But, in truth, the roots go deeper, extending into a belief that itself has become a cliche: That in everyone there is a story. That in the ordinariness of life, we find the extraordinary. That people are, for better or for worse, endlessly fascinating.

As I drove away from Barbara’s house yesterday, the golden sweep of the Marin hills and the Golden Gate unfolding before me, I noticed I smelled like smoke. I thought again of this wonderful woman, standing tearfully in her driveway, grieving in public, and marveled at the privilege I have to share the lives of others.

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.