Thursday, January 31, 2008

Click on the image to see it bigger.AGAVE

What a way to go! At the end of its life, the agave makes a spectacular expression of power and beauty by sending up a great stalk topped by a marvelous collection of blossoms. I don't know if the stalk is considered one blossom or many. Even before the stalk withers, the plant that produces it begins to die. There is a kind of victory in the process. All around the dying cluster of spiky leaves are new plants. They remind me of pups staying close to their mother.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


On the hill where I live in San Diego and in the valley below I am surrounded by things of no importance, of no apparent consequence. Today as I went walking in my neighborhood, I deliberately looked for little things that probably escape the notice of practically everybody because they are of no use to anybody. Winter rain and cooler weather promote growth of new grass where there are no cows or sheep to eat it, and little flowering plants, flowers too small and insignificant to be picked and brought inside to grace a table.

As I walked down the hill I reminded myself that there would never be another day exactly like today, that I must not give in to the temptation to dismiss it as just another day like many others. One of the great things about photography is that the act of looking through a viewfinder at the world is deliberate and purposeful. To look through a viewfinder is to want to see, and not just to see but to record what is seen.

This journal entry is dedicated to the things of no importance that are all around me. I am reminded as I write of Oscar Wilde’s play, “A Woman of No Importance.” The point of the play is that the woman in the title is, of course, of supreme important. These little flowers and wild grasses cannot be dismissed as unimportant and insignificant. They are at the very least beautiful to those who take the time to look. ON MOST DAYS A BEGGAR SITS AT THE INTERSECTION







Thursday, January 24, 2008

California, January 29

After seven years of enduring presidential incompetence coupled with dangerous ignorance, I am happy almost to the point of giddiness with the field of Democratic Party candidates; and I will be glad to campaign actively for whichever gets the nomination. Practically, it makes most sense to vote for either Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, or John Edwards because one of them will become the next president of the United States. Dennis Kucinich often makes more sense than the other three put together, but Kucinich doesn’t stand a chance of being elected; so I don’t want to waste my vote even in the primary the way many people of conscience wasted their vote in a previous critical election by voting for Ralph Nader.

Until recently I was doggedly hanging onto the idea that Hillary Clinton is the strongest, most promising candidate. I confess to liking John Edwards, probably partly because he speaks in a dialect of English which warms my Arkansas heart. That’s definitely not a good reason for choosing among the three. Lately I have been leaning more and more toward Barack Obama. Since Bush has been president I have spent many months outside the United States. People in other countries wonder if Americans like the idea of a royal family elevated by popular election. They think a weak candidate could have been elected only because he is the son of a man who had been president. While I believe it was the shady shenanigans of operatives like Karl Rove and Dick Cheney that got Bush appointed to the office, it makes me a little uncomfortable to think about one Clinton following an earlier one even if both of them are obviously capable of doing the job, especially when we have very good alternatives. It is important that America signal to the rest of the world that gender and race are not considerations in choosing a president. Either Obama or Clinton can obviously make that important statement to the world. It is important to make that point to those in our own population who cannot shed their own bigotry.

Perhaps I will vote for Obama on Tuesday. I like his freshness combined with intelligence. He wouldn’t have to be a very good orator to be an improvement over the fellow who has been speaking to us for going-on eight years with marbles in his mouth and little in his brain; but Obama isn’t just a little better, he is an inspiring, gifted speaker. America needs his kind of eloquence now to help us get out of a period of national self-doubt and to show the world that we produce leaders who think and speak intelligently. I like the fact that Obama is the one who didn’t vote for the war. (Kucinich didn’t either.) Clinton and Edwards haven’t completely satisfied me with their responses to questions about why they didn’t object strongly to the war in the first place. I believe Obama would appoint judges who may help us recover from our eight year slide toward fundamentalist hell. Bill Clinton had a bright, competent partner when he was president. Hillary Clinton was a good “First Lady.” She worked at the job. Michelle Obama is obviously a person who can make all of us proud. I think I’m on board, but there are still a few days until I cast my vote.

The Propositions

I can’t think of a single reason for supporting Proposition 91. This proposition is an example of a reason for objecting to the referendum system. I’d like to be able to trust the general public to make good decisions on complex issues, but the majority of people who vote won’t take the time to study issues in order to make intelligent decisions. We should elect competent, intelligent, thoughtful people to office in Sacramento, officials who will at least understand the issues before they vote.

After Proposition 91 finally got the needed signatures to get on the ballot, Sacramento had moved to put Propositon 1A on the November 2006 ballot, and that proposition has satisfied the proponents of Proposition 91. They are now urging a NO vote. I agree.

Proposition 92 is another of those examples of weakness of the referendum system. The language of the proposition sounds good, but it ties the hands of legislators. Of course there should be limits to power of legislators, but those limits are assured by a good constitution. I don’t like to tie the votes of people we have elected to office. I’d rather watch carefully what they do and vote them out of office if they begin to do damage to the fabric of government and act against the public good. I will vote NO on Proposition 92.

Proposition 93 is confusing. In the first place, good career politicians can make government stronger and better than amateurs might be able to do the job. On the other hand, I obviously don’t like to keep crooked, weak incumbents in office. We must protest immediately when they make bad decisions and vote them out in the next election cycle. One of the big problems with the move in many states to term limits is that the work of government is often being done by powerful lobbyists who influence both elected officials and especially the career legislative staffers. But we have to live with 1990’s Proposition 140, which presently limits politicians to three two-year terms in the Assembly and two four-year terms in the Senate. Under this system legislators can serve a total of fourteen years, but in order to serve that long they must change jobs. Proposition 93 will reduce the total time legislators can stay in office to twelve years, but under the proposal a legislator can stay in the same office for the entire twelve years. I’ll vote yes on Proposition 93.

Propositions 94-97 are wrongheaded. The premise is that the state needs more revenue. How could I possibly feel good about turning to gambling as the source of needed money for essential services in California? In the first place, most of the money fed to slot machines stays with the house; the portion that goes to the state won’t solve the revenue problem. In the second place, it is plainly wrong to look for solutions to the states financial problem by taking further advantage of people of mostly modest means who desperately hope they may solve their financial problems by feeding slot machines. I will vote NO on these propositions.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

These portraits are worth seeing up close, so click on the the picture to enlarge it.
This is ChaChing, whom I see on Wednesday mornings at Starbucks in Mission Valley. I have the feeling he was once quite a fop, a dandy, a swell, a dude; but, alas, he has settled down. Nowadays he is usually with Nona and their baby.
Mama Nona

Monday, January 21, 2008

After a day-long workshop on the subject of digital photography, I began to want to know what some of the world's best known photographers have had to say about photography. I found most of the quotes at the following WEB site, and I give credit to the people who did research to find them:

"There is no such thing as bad light."
---Ernst Haas

"Wherever there is light, one can photograph."
---Alfred Stiegliz

“Not everybody trusts painting but people believe photographs.”
---Ansel Adams

"I always thought of photography as a naughty thing to do -- that was one of my favorite things about it, and when I first did it, I felt very perverse."
---Diane Arbus

"A good photograph is like a good hound dog, dumb, but eloquent."
---Eugene Atget

"The very secret of life for me...was to maintain in the midst of rushing events an inner tranquillity. I had picked a life that dealt with excitement, tragedy, mass calamities, human triumphs and suffering. To throw my whole self into recording and attempting to understand these things, I needed an inner serenity as a kind of balance."
---Margaret Bourke-White

"Photography is not a sport. It has no rules. Everything must be dared and tried!"
---Bill Brandt

"A photographer's main instrument is his eyes. Strange as it may seem, many photographers choose to use the eyes of another photographer, past or present, instead of their own. Those photographers are blind"
---Manuel Alvarez Bravo

"Of course, it’s all luck."
---Henri Cartier-Bresson

"Luck is the attentive photographer's best teacher."
---John Szarkowski

“It is a peculiar part of the good photographer's adventure to know where luck is most likely to lie in the stream, to hook it, and to bring it in without unfair play and without too much subduing it.”
---James Agee, writer and photographer

"I'm paid to be lucky and that means making your own luck - getting yourself in the right position, in front of the right subject at the right time, and in the right light."
Michael Yamashita

" Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I'm going to take tomorrow."
---Imogen Cunningham

"If I knew how to take a good photograph, I'd do it every time."
---Robert Doisneau

"Unless a picture shocks, it is nothing."
---Marcel Duchamp

"When I have a camera in my hand, I know no fear."
---Alfred Eisenstaedt

"Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long."
---Walker Evans

"A technically perfect photograph can be the world’s most boring picture."
---Andreas Feininger

"Above all, I know that life for a photographer cannot be a matter of indifference."
---Robert Frank

"If it's a likeness, alone, it's not a success. If, through my portraits, you can come to know the subjects more meaningfully, if it synthesizes your feelings toward someone whose work has imprinted itself on your mind--if you see a photograph and say, 'Yes, this is the person,' with a little new insight--that is a beautiful experience."
---Yousuf Karsh

"When I say I want to photograph someone, what it really means is that I'd like to know them. Anyone I know I photograph."
---Annie Leibovitz

"I'm looking for the unexpected. I'm looking for things I've never seen before."
---Robert Mapplethorpe

"I think you reveal yourself by what you choose to photograph, but I prefer photographs that tell more about the subject. There's nothing much interesting to tell about me; what's interesting is the person I'm photographing, and that's what I try to show. ... I think each photographer has a point of view and a way of looking at the world... that has to do with your subject matter and how you choose to present it. What's interesting is letting people tell you about themselves in the picture."
---Mary Ellen Mark

"The best part of us is not what we see, it's what we feel. We are what we feel. We are not what we look at . . .. We're not our eyeballs, we're our mind. People believe their eyeballs and they're totally wrong . . .. That's why I consider most photographs extremely boring--just like Muzak, inoffensive, charming, another waterfall, another sunset. This time, colors have been added to protect the innocent. It's just boring. But that whole arena of one's experience--grief, loneliness--how do you photograph lust? I mean, how do you deal with these things? This is what you are, not what you see."
---Duane Michals

"Some people's photography is an art. Not mine. Art is a dirty word in photography. All this fine art crap is killing it already."
---Helmut Newton

"The photographer begins to feel big and bloated and so big he can't walk through one of these doors because he gets a good byline; he gets notices all over the world and so forth; but they're really --the important people are the people he photographs. They are what make him."
---Gordon Parks

"Photographing a cake can be art."
---Irving Penn

"A camera alone does not make a picture. To make a picture you need a camera, a photographer and above all a subject. It is the subject that determines the interest of the photograph."
---Man Ray

"Photography has no dark sides."
---August Sander

" photograph is to frame, and to frame is to exclude."
---Susan Sontag

"No photographer is as good as the simplest camera."
---Edward Stichen

"Anything more than 500 feet from the car just isn't photogenic."
---Brett Weston

"The photograph isolates and perpetuates a moment of time: an important and revealing moment, or an unimportant and meaningless one, depending upon the photographer's understanding of his subject and mastery of his process."
---Edward Weston

"I am always mentally photographing everything as practice."
Minor White

"Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed."
---Garry winogrand

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Many of John Swarkowsky's observations about photography might be said about other art forms. He says that the central act of photography is the act of choosing and eliminating. The process is the same in all of the visual and plastic arts. The sculptor must decide what to keep and what to cut away in a block of marble. The painter must choose what will be included in the painting and what will not. What the photographer does when he looks through the viewfinder is to select what will be left out of the frame and what will be included. Even after the shutter closes on the photographer's decisions in the field or in the studio, the process of cropping, selecting out, continues in the darkroom or at the computer.

Swarkowsky doesn't like digital photography because it changes the reality of the image, yet he shoots in both black and white and in color. An artist working in any medium accepts some of the rules observed by most other artists and usually will adopt and observe stylistic patterns of his/her own. Perhaps Swarkowsky is not interested in knowing what Frank Sutcliffe would have done with his images of Whitby and Robin Hood's Bay if he had lived in the digital age, but I like to think about what he might have done with a good digital camera and Photoshop.

Mostly I like what Swarkowsky has to say, but I disagree with his attitude about digital images. Nothing I do with Photoshop changes the reality of the world more than making it black and white does. I like the things I can do with a pink camellia. I like it in pink and in black and white and in the other permutations I can create with digital editing software.

You may see images larger by clicking on them.

The central act of photography, the act of choosing and eliminating, forces a concentration on the picture edge---the line that separates in from out---and on the shapes that are created by it.

Photographs stand in special relation to time, for they describe only the present.

Photography is the easiest thing in the world, if one is willing to accept pictures that are flaccid, limp, bland, banal, indescriminately informative and pointless. But if one insists on a photograph that is both complex and vigorous, it is almost impossible.

With my current work, I try to make photographs that describe what I find interesting in my life now. I work to demonstrate to myself that my own sense of the world is true.”

Thursday, January 17, 2008


I walked under the yellow sun to the trolley station and stood behind the words at the yellow band that read "Stand behind the line." On the trolley I sat across from a woman wearing a yellow shirt who asked, "What's the yellow band for," pointing to my Lance Armstrong "LIVESTRONG" bracelet. A guy wearing a Quicksilver shirt got on at the next stop.

All day long I saw yellow everywhere, and it was wonderful. I saw the yellow stripes on the street and yellow fire plugs. I saw the last yellow leaves on poplar trees. I remembered Guy's yellow motorcycle.

I googled “yellow” and found out all kinds of things about it. The color is dedicated to Mercury and to the Sun. It is associated with quicksilver and gold. Yellow corresponds to the hexagon. It’s the color of priests in some Burmese, Buddhist, and Brahmin traditions. It is the Chinese color of imperial dignity. Yellow was the color of the star the Nazis forced the Jews to wear. It is the Egyptian color of the East. The color was worn by Spanish executioners to signify treason. It was the color of the Inquisition (Why is it necessary to capitalize that word?). In Mayan tradition, yellow influences the belly. It is a color associated with Judas Iscariot. It gives “a warm and pleasant impression” according to Goethe. Traditionally, bankrupts in 17the-century France had their property daubed in yellow paint. Kandinsky claimed it was impossible to have dark yellow.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

At her Massachusetts home, which she almost never left, Emily Dickinson found birds to be a perfect metaphor for "hope." In San Diego where it seldom rains, heavy dew on new grass is an appropriate metaphor for the kind of optimism Dickinson needed to get through the day. Birds in San Diego do the trick, too.
Emily Dickinson     

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


I thought of the striking poetic image of a red wheelbarrow in the rain as I watched my friend Guy Henry drive away from our coffee date on his yellow motorcycle. With apologies to William Carlos Williams:

by J.M.

so much depends

a yellow motor

glazed with California

beside the silver

by William Carlos Williams

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white