"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

Monday, August 31, 2009

the soundtrack of our lives

“I’ve been saving all my money just to take you there.
I smell the garden in your hair.”

Continuing our trip down memory lane: last night we took in Crosby, Stills and Nash on a picture perfect night at (hands down) the best outdoor theatre ever (Starlight), alongside lots of other nostalgic fifty and sixty-somethings. These guys, true rock and roll warriors, have endured for forty years.

Crosby sauntered onto the stage with his hands in his pockets, his freak flag still flying (now it’s silver, and with the back lighting on stage, it looked gloriously like a halo) and let loose with some clear and chilling vocals. The man is s.i.x.t.y.e.i.g.h.t years old! Every time he and his friends opened their mouths during the first set, tears just rolled down my face in response.

I wasn’t expecting that, nor could I explain it. Maybe I was just overwhelmed and moved to realize that so many years have kind of zipped past us all, without warning and without apology.

Stills played an incredible guitar all night long. Both he and Nash still have it in the vocals department, too, even though at times they strained to hit the high notes. In fact, during the first set (all acoustic) the three of them struggled now and then to stay in tune and in harmony, but the crowd was patient and even seemed to quietly cheer them on. They seemed, at those moments, old and vulnerable.

But when they got out their electric guitars for the second set, all hell broke loose, and these guys were twenty-somethings all over again.

So were those of us in the audience.

Just to put things in context, then, here are Eddie and me from that era, in our early twenty-something glory.

And here are pics I shot at CS&N concerts in 1973 and 1974.

Finally, shots from last night.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

sittin' in again

Thirty-seven years ago, almost to the day, a bunch of my brand new University of Wisconsin college friends and I piled into the VW bus of this cool, heavily bearded, long haired older guy named Eddie to head up to Oshkosh to see the band Loggins and Messina. The concert was in the school’s gymnasium.

There were a lot of earth shoes and flannel shirts and macramé belts, and marijuana smoke drifted high above it all. Our merry group had a raucous good time singing along to the songs on our beloved “Sittin’ In” album. Loggins and Messina broke onto the scene in the fall of 1972 and spent that year touring a whole mess of college campuses. At all those college campuses, long-haired hippie freaks like us knew the words to all the songs, and we relished and cheered on each guitar riff and fiddle solo.

That crowd was reunited last night. Instead of stomping our feet on the floor of a college gymnasium, we were politely tapping them on the carpet at the Ameristar Casino theatre. We’ve all packed on some pounds, our hairstyles have changed length and color, our chins have multiplied and, well, you get the picture. It was bifocal heaven, but everyone there still knew each and every word to “Your Momma Don’t Dance”, “Pooh Corner”, “Danny’s Song”, "Vahevala", “Back to Georgia”, etc.

Messina, who already had a stellar career before he teamed up with Loggins all those years ago (Buffalo Springfield and Poco) still plays a mean guitar. His voice sounded good, too. He’s rounder, and his hairline is receding, and I think he may have a bad back, but hey, everyone in the crowd could relate. Loggins is still a rocker, dancing around on the stage like a young kid. His voice was wonderful, and the two guys can still harmonize with the best of them.

I shot the 1972 photo with my manual Pentax 35 mm camera, pushing the black and white film’s ASA to 1600. Last night I used my new little G10 Canon digital point and shoot.

This is a nostalgic weekend. Tomorrow night we’re going to see Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Rock on.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

change the truth update

There is a seasonal rhythm to life at Change the Truth. Summer is the annual Friendraiser/Fundraiser and follow-up. Fall means getting ready for the next volunteer trip to the orphanage. Winter is all about that trip. Spring is spent preparing for the next fundraiser. Running alongside all these things is the constant flow of raising funds and awareness, staying on top of things at the orphanage and keeping in touch with the very generous and big-hearted people who continue to cheer this project on – YOU!

It’s high time I bring you up to date on what’s been happening lately.

*The 2009 annual event netted slightly more than the previous year, and that is because everyone stepped up to the plate: the incredible committee of volunteers, as well as CTT friends who made it a point to attend. Net proceeds totaled approximately $35,000. This will enable us to continue our commitment to providing food, education and medical care to the children at St. Mary Kevin’s. THANK YOU! Given the current state of the economy and how that has affected philanthropic giving, I think we did quite well.

*Many people were out of town or had other commitments on the night of June 11th. Therefore, we are having another screening of Lynne Melcher’s movie, “Changing the Truth.” It will take place on Thursday, October 1st, at the Screenland Theatre in Kansas City at 7:00 PM. There is no charge to attend. Please tell your friends and family. Even if you have seen this powerful and informative thirty-minute documentary, come see it again!

*Speaking of “Changing the Truth”… It was entered in the “Filmanthropy Film Festival” and was one of six short films accepted! The festival will take place in LA on September 18th and will provide a great opportunity for us to spread the word about the work we are doing. Congratulations to Lynne for this well deserved honor.

*A supporter of CTT has offered to host a Friendraiser/Fundraiser in San Diego in September. If you live in the area, or have family or friends there, please let me know so that I can make sure you/they get an invitation.

*Six people have signed up to go to Uganda as part of the “Team 3” volunteer trip. Four others are getting closer to deciding if they’ll be able to. If you would like to consider going, I can send you the information and place you on the waiting list. Please let me know as soon as possible if you are interested. It’s a life-changing trip, as all who have gone before will tell you. The dates for the trip are December 19th – 29th.

*December also brings the fun and exciting CTT shopping night at Ten Thousand Villages. This is a great way for you to get your holiday gift buying done at an amazing store and still manage to help the kids at the orphanage. 10% of all purchases made between 4 PM and 8 PM on Thursday, December 10th will go to CTT. This will be our third year participating in the program. Ten Thousand Villages loves having us. They say we have the nicest supporters, and we also generate more sales than any other group!

*The children at SMK are doing very well. The twenty-three sponsored secondary school students are working hard and are always sending me notes expressing their gratitude. Douglas, our nursing school student, couldn’t be happier with his studies and his work on the hospital ward! He is going to make us all very proud one of these days when he becomes a nurse and begins to give back in a way he never could have imagined. Rosemary, director of SMK, writes me to tell me the children are happier, healthier and more hopeful because of us. CONGRATULATIONS TO EACH OF YOU FOR HELPING TO MAKE THAT HAPPEN.

*Don’t forget that you can shop for CTT items any time of the year. The “store” is chock full of beautiful beaded earrings, necklaces and bracelets, as well as tie-dyed fabrics, fabric bags, artwork and plates by the kids, CTT t-shirts and tote bags, and the book Kutuuka, which features my photographs from Uganda and artwork by the children. You can shop online at the website or contact me.

*Speaking of Kutuuka, don’t forget these important reasons why you might want to get a copy: 1. Ann Thomas, member of CTT Team 2, wrote one of the essays. 2. The artwork by the kids is fantastic. 3. The hardcover copies are almost sold out. 4. Because this project was underwritten by a CTT friend, EVERY PENNY OF THE PURCHASE PRICE GOES TO HELP THE CHILDREN AT THE ORPHANAGE!

Thank you for taking the time to read through this and for continuing to care about the precious children at SMK. They thank you each and every day. Even though you can’t hear them, please allow their very sincere gratitude to fill your heart.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


The sad tale of Annie Leibovitz' alphabet of woes is laid out in great detail in this NY Magazine article.

Read here about my association with Annie back when I owned the Baker Gallery.

new website

Now that my eyeballs are about to pop out of my head, now that I have successfully resized and uploaded about 250 images, now that my new BFF works in support at Foliolink.com, I am happy to report that I have a brand spankin' new website.

My old one was great, really. I liked it a lot. But I wanted full control (who, me??) and 24-7 access to it so I could add or delete images, update text, etc. all without having to constantly bother (and constantly pay) my web guy. So, I found a "build your own website" company that offers pretty cool templates and great customer service to artists and photographers who are control freaks like me. Then I buckled down and started sifting through work, old and new. Then I began sitting at my computer. Then I continued sitting at my computer. Then I realized why web designers get so much money for assembling websites. I kept plugging away, until a few hours ago, when VOILA! it was a a done deal. After a quick phone call to make sure the cyberspace gods and goddesses were able to redirect my domain name to the new IP address, it is now up and running. Check it out, and let me know that you dropped by by leaving me a note on the guestbook page!

There is a whole new crop of portraits, all the new Dream and Sea Series and Streetcar images are included, as well as a new portfolio containing some of the (old) Holocaust Survivor photographs. Anyhow, I hope you enjoy looking around.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

saturday morning

A year and a half ago I joined a club.

The club wasn’t looking for new members. In fact, many people devote their entire lives to figuring out how to completely eliminate the prospect of there ever being any new members. No one sent me any kind of invitation. And I certainly had no desire to join the club.

Truth be told, I didn’t know of its existence.

I didn’t know that once I was diagnosed with breast cancer I would be deluged with offers of comfort and support from countless members of the club, ninety-nine percent of whom are women. I heard from people I barely knew, did not know, never will meet - members from my hometown and members from chapters in other states. I got letters, emails, phone calls, hugs, offers of lunch dates, gifts, flowers and shoulders available for crying from the brave, strong, faithful, generous, mighty and inspiring women that make up this ever growing alliance.

There is no official handshake. There aren’t even monthly dues. But what there is an instant bond unlike any I’ve ever experienced before. Breast cancer survivors will do whatever it takes to be there for each other every step of the way: from diagnosis, to surgery, to treatments, to recovery, to reconstruction, to more surgeries, to the ensuing and inevitable periods of grief and loss and readjustment.

For four years prior to my diagnosis, I photographed breast cancer survivors for a major hospital in my hometown. The portraits are used for exhibition in the hospital hallways and at various women’s health conferences. They are also published in a calendar that is distributed to newly diagnosed patients. Those I met during the photo sessions always impressed me. They were a forthcoming, gracious, spirited, optimistic and stalwart group of human beings.

The fifth year of the project I was just a few months out from my own mastectomy. Obviously, I related to my subjects quite differently then. We had a lot more to talk about. And trust me, most survivors of breast cancer will talk to other breast cancer survivors about anything and everything pertaining to their journey. There were some tender and some heart wrenching moments.

I figured this, the sixth year, would be a piece of cake. My life has been blessed and very full since my last surgery. I had this thing all figured out and had done what I needed to do to move beyond the experience of breast cancer. There would be no need to conduct club business during the portrait sessions.

Whoa, was I in for a surprise.

Yesterday I had a full schedule. Six of the “calendar girls” showed up on my doorstep at various times during the day for their sittings in my studio. Each time I opened the door, I welcomed a complete stranger. By the end of the day, I realized that what I had welcomed into my home at 1:00, then 2:00, then 3:00 etc. was a steady stream of tiny pieces of myself.

There I was in this woman, there I was in that one.

Staring into my own face through the viewfinder of my camera all afternoon took more strength than I could muster. When I got my last hug and closed the door on my last appointment, I sat down and cried.

I was not expecting this.

The women in this portrait are mother and daughter. They were diagnosed three months apart. The mother’s mother died of breast cancer. All three women worked on this quilt. (The assignment this year was to bring an object that says something about who they are.) All three names are stitched into it.

They are each club members. They are also family. The longer I am a member of this club, the more I realize the latter goes without saying for all the rest of us, too.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

sally mann: "proud flesh"

God, I wish I had written this:

"I can think of numberless males, from Bonnard to Callahan, who have photographed their lovers and spouses, but I am having trouble finding parallel examples among my sister photographers. The act of looking appraisingly at a man, making eye contact on the street, asking to photograph him, studying his body, has always been a brazen venture for a woman, though, for a man, these acts are commonplace, even expected.

I have looked hard at my husband since the first long strides he took into the room where I was languishing on a ratty chenille couch in some student apartment. My eyes fastened on him with bright interest, squinting to better get the measure of this tall man. Within six months, we were married. That was forty years ago, and almost the first thing I did was photograph him.

But that long history of picture-taking didn't make it any easier to make the Proud Flesh photographs. Rhetorically circumnavigate it any way you will, but exploitation lies at the root of every interaction between photographer and subject, even forty years into it. Larry and I both understand how ethically complex and potent the act of making photographs is, how freighted with issues of honesty, responsibility, power, and complicity, and how so many good images come at the expense of the sitter, in one way or another. These new images, we both knew, would come at his.

It is a testament to Larry's tremendous dignity and strength that he allowed me to take the pictures that I did. The gods might reasonably have slapped this particular lantern out of my raised hand, for before me lay a man as naked and vulnerable as any wretch strung across the mythical, vulture-topped rock. At our ages, we are past the prime of life, given to sinew and sag, and Larry bears, with his trademark god-like nobility, the further affliction of a late-onset muscular dystrophy. That he was so willing is both heartbreaking and terrifying at once.

Most of the pictures I take are of the things I love, the things that fascinate and compel me, but that doesn't mean they are easy to look at or take…

I look, all the time, at the people and places I care about, and I look with both ardor and frank, aesthetic, cold appraisal. And I look with the passions of both eye and heart, but in that ardent heart, there must also be a splinter of ice.

And so it was with fire and ice, the studio woodstove too far away from the light to do him any good on a cold winter afternoon, that Larry and I began this work of exploring what it means to grow older, to let the sunshine fall voluptuously on a still-beautiful form, and to spend quiet afternoons together again. No phone, no kids, two fingers of bourbon, the smell of the ether, the two of us--still in love, still at work."

- Sally Mann

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I first experienced it in the sixth grade.

I had just switched to a new school - from a public school to a private one. I only knew one person in my class, so I had to start over making friends. Shortly after the school year began, some of the kids in my class decided to play a trick on our teacher, Mrs. DeBerry. It was around the time we were learning how to diagram sentences.

I L.O.V.E.D. diagramming sentences. It is my nature to want to organize and arrange things - words included, and I suppose this personality trait had already established itself by the time I was twelve. Anyhow, one morning before class started, while Mrs. DeBerry was getting her coffee from the teacher’s lounge, one of the kids placed a thumbtack in her seat. The plan was that we were all to sit politely and quietly, eyes forward, no talking when she came back into the room. That was when she’d presumably take her seat and begin to call roll.

I thought Mrs. DeBerry was the most beautiful creature in the world. At my old school, I’d never had such a young and elegant teacher. Mrs. DeBerry was strict, but she was smart and stately and had an impressive array of glamorous couture. Plus, she was letting me spend my mornings DIAGRAMMING SENTENCES! I loved this woman. But I was also dying to make friends. So, I sat quietly as she entered the room, her coffee cup poised gracefully in her porcelain-white hands.

I was quiet just until she began to lower herself into her chair. My heart was racing, and when her bottom (which was clad in a stylish tweed skirt that morning) was about four inches above the sharp tack, I burst into a nervous laugh, which quickly morphed into a very loud and strange sound, one that was emitted simultaneously from my mouth and nose, one that I did not know I was capable of making. Kind of a cross between a snort, a honk and a scream.

It was enough to get the attention of the lovely Mrs. DeBerry.

She glanced at me, and without missing a beat slowly raised herself up into a standing position, walked over to the blackboard and began the lesson for the day.

Of course, she saw the tack from her new vantage point and avoided sitting down for the rest of the morning.

Everyone hated me after that.

Except a boy named Doug, who became my boyfriend a few weeks later. You’re starting to wonder when I’ll ever get to the anti Semitism part of this post. It’s coming.

Romance is short lived in the sixth grade. Because of that, Doug and I were doomed from the beginning. We did our share of making out and dancing together at parties. But in the end, it was an ugly separation.

He slipped me a note in the hallway. In it he explained that he wanted to break up and demanded that I return the gold-plated football on a chain that I had been wearing around my neck since we had started “going steady.”

The note ended with the words, “I hate you, YOU DIRTY JEW!” Those few words sort of seared their way into my brain that day in the hallway of my new school. Because I’d never heard anything like them in all my twelve years of life. Because my feelings were hurt. Because I didn’t realize that being Jewish was such an attention-getting big deal. Because I understood then that I was different from the rest of the kids in my class. Because I couldn’t change the situation and suddenly become more like them. Because it was a hell of a sentence to diagram. I mean, where would the extra “you” go?

Mrs. DeBerry and I became kindred spirits that year for many reasons.

Monday, August 17, 2009

little brown monkey

Remember the man in the yellow hat? And the naughty, irrepressible little brown monkey and all the mischief he got into?

I do. I must have read those books 4,000 times each to Max when he was a little boy. His favorite was the one where Curious George bakes a cake. George and the man in the yellow hat go over to Jimmy’s mom’s house to help bake cakes. Naturally, George turns the kitchen in to a huge mess when the mom goes upstairs for a little while and leaves him on his own. He makes up for it all, though, and becomes the hero in the end when he bites into the baked cake and finds the necklace Jimmy’s mom had just discovered was missing. Always in and then out of trouble was George. Each and every time, Max thought that was hilarious.

More than three generations of Americans have grown up reading these stories. But few people know about the incredible journey made by George's creators, Margret and H.A. Rey, to escape the Nazi invasion of Paris at the start of World War II. Stashing a few precious belongings and manuscripts in their knapsacks and the baskets of their bicycles, the Jewish couple fled Paris in June 1940, starting a five-month odyssey by bike, train, and boat that would eventually bring them to American shores.

The Midwest Center for Holocaust Education is bringing an exhibition about the Reys to Kansas City this October. The show, entitled “Saving the Little Brown Monkey”, is making its first stop of a five-year tour here. The show explores the Rey’s early creative collaborations and traces how the story of George himself (originally called “The Adventures of Fifi”) spanned the wartime period. The monkey emerged as a character in one of the Rey's pre-World War II stories, and the manuscript that became Curious George was already in progress by 1939. However, wartime constraints on printing as well as the general turmoil of the period prevented the original contract from being fulfilled.

When the Reys were forced to flee Paris along with thousands of other refugees in advance of the German occupation, the manuscript and illustrations for the book were among the few personal possessions they managed to take with them. Escaping via Spain and Portugal, then across the Atlantic to Brazil, the Reys finally reached the United States in October 1940. A month later, they received a new contract from Houghton Mifflin for “The Adventures of Fifi”, later re-titled “The Adventures of Curious George.”

Eddie and I are heading up the docent-training program for the exhibit. If you’re interested in learning more about this opportunity, let me know.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

putting the pieces together

Here are the two new Streetcar triptychs. You have seen the individual elements which I made during my time in Portland; here are the final products. The overall size of each of these puppies is a whopping 7 1/2" by 88 1/2".

Friday, August 14, 2009

alternate routes

There is a bridge - the Broadway Bridge - that crosses the Willamette River in Portland. It’s just a few blocks from our building. It would have made a great addition to our morning walk. But Eddie couldn’t get himself across it on foot. Believe me, he tried.

Shortly after we got married, just when we were starting to fantasize about of all those fun and adventurous things we’d like to accomplish together in life, he started doing unexplainable things like falling down, speaking with a slur, having trouble swallowing, not being able to keep his eyes open (no, this wasn’t after throwing back a few beers at the Brathaus Bar and Grill) and well, stuff that seemed very unusual for a healthy twenty-six year old guy.

After a long and frustrating two years of being told everything from “it’s all in his head” to getting misdiagnosed and being put on meds that almost destroyed him, Eddie finally checked himself into the hospital at the University of Michigan (with encouragement from his sister, who lived in Ann Arbor.) A smart, young and very sympathetic intern took our case under his wing and, after two weeks of grueling tests and a lot of poking and prodding, finally gave us the answer we needed: Myasthenia Gravis.

That’s not necessarily something you really want to get as a diagnosis, especially when you are young and spirited and have lots of plans, but at least it was a diagnosis. It had a real name and real meds to go along with it. It gave us the opportunity to finally deal with the fact that our life together was actually going to be a little different from the one we had envisioned.

Tough news for a couple of young newlyweds to digest.

(No need for violins, though. It’s thirty years later, and we are still very happily hanging out together.)

The bridge episode in Portland simply reminded me. I need reminding sometimes because the medications Eddie takes enables him to live a fairly normal (yeah, I know, the word is open to interpretation) life.

Eddie certainly doesn’t need reminding, though. He endures a myriad of daily discomforts and challenges that could send him spiraling into despair and self-pity at any minute.

For example: double vision. Which has worsened this year. That’s why he couldn’t make the trek across the Broadway Bridge. The way he explained it to me was that he couldn’t tell with certainty what was the edge and what was not. And when that happened he got disoriented, which fed into instant weakness, which landed him in a state of feeling totally out of control. That’s pretty scary when you’re way up on the air with cars and cyclists whizzing by and a cold body of water lurking below.

I decided to write about this, not to get sympathy for him or us; we are quite fine, thanks. I am sharing this because Eddie’s chronic illness and the way he has chosen to deal with it all these years is something that, well, simply inspires me.

Not to get all Pollyanna on you. It hasn’t been easy or fun or pleasant at times. We’ve done a lot of work on it in doctor’s and therapist’s offices. There have been spells when I have been less than understanding or patient or even very nice about it. Like, how dare you inconvenience our lives like this, Eddie?

He has own bad days of feeling sorry for himself, but I can tell you those are few and far between. What he does instead, and this is how he inspires me, is this: he finds compromises or just makes up new ways of doing things.

Okay, I know there’s no other way to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro than to just do it. But rather than plan that particular vacation adventure, he has managed to design others that are exciting in their own right, for different reasons.

He has developed the art of finding alternate routes.

We never made it over the bridge on foot together. Nor were we able to complete the hike at Ecola State Park that, for a short distance, runs along the edge of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Add up all the other fun stuff we did manage to do or even just talk about, and you’ve got those two things beat - in spades.

What’s most inspiring about Eddie, though, is that, despite his limitations, he has made it his business to help others. His sense of doing the right thing ALWAYS makes him the go-to guy for ethics questions. The shirt off his back? Try the whole suit. Here’s a guy who never, ever thinks of himself first.

And that would be so easy given all the things about himself that he DOES have to consider just to, say, navigate his way through a day.

So, here’s to my husband, who has taught me about what is important and what is not, who supports me one hundred percent in my own endeavors (even when he cannot physically participate), who gives of himself tirelessly (even when he feels like he doesn’t have much more in him to give) and who might get over that bridge one of these days (but will most likely find an interesting detour.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

parting shot

One last Streetcar image before we head back to KC.

Have you figured out I'm always photographing, rain or shine? (That's rain on the window of the streetcar.) Keith Carter once told me during a workshop, "Just keep shooting: it's your job. No matter what."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

dog spa

Sam’s life in Kansas City is not exactly an adventurous one. The most wildernessy he gets is walking to the corner of our block and back. Now and then, he goes to a well-manicured park to run around.

Let’s just say, he manages to stay pretty darn white and fluffy. You probably wouldn't ever see him on the cover of an REI catalogue or anything.

But, during our three weeks in Portland, Sam has:

Waded into the ocean
Hiked forest trails
Rolled around on a sandy beach
Strolled city streets in the rain
Been sniffed by many, many dogs
Stayed at doggie daycare
Gotten gum stuck in his paw

What we had on our hands was, yes, you guessed it: one stinky dog.

As Eddie likes to say, “You can’t pump your own gas in Oregon, but you can wash your own dog!” We took Sam to a wash-your-own-dog-place yesterday to get him cleaned up for the trip home. Our fellow Southwest passengers will be glad we did.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

ecola, not ebola

Now here is a big bunch of breathtaking beauty all in one place: Ecola State Park, which is where we spent the day yesterday. Some of the most amazing views of the Oregon coast can be seen there, and folks, we saw ‘em!

And guess who happily worked on her "Sea Series" project?

Sunday, August 09, 2009

streetcar again (with another detour)

I lied. I just have to continue writing about the coolness of Portland, even though I swore it off in the last blog post. We’re here for another few days, so bear with me.

Yesterday we spent a long time hiking at Washington Park. This is totally different from Forest Park, which I have already raved about. In this one place you can find the following attractions: the Oregon Zoo, the World Forestry Center, the Japanese Garden, the Children’s Museum, the Rose Gardens, a Holocaust Memorial, a Veterans Memorial, miles of trails and the Hoyt Aboretum, where there are also miles of trails. It’s set on over 500 acres in the city’s west hills, overlooking downtown and is pretty spectacular.

I’m continuing my work on the Streetcar project.

Friday, August 07, 2009


OK, I’m going to stop sounding like I work for the Portland Chamber of Commerce. Forget about the crazy good restaurants, the impressive community street party that was First Thursday (and the fact that there are enough galleries in town that tonight is First Friday), the fact that REI is just a few blocks from me, the fact that the best frozen yogurt is too (they swirl the obviously superior flavors: chocolate and raspberry), that there is an ultra great camera store (they put Holgas and Hassies in the same display case), the fact that men here aren’t afraid to wear capri pants, that the streets in our part of town that go north/south are numbered and the streets that go east/west are alphabetized meaning that someone like me who has a painfully pathetic sense of direction can NEVER get lost, and also forget about the fact that you don’t need a car here if you live in the city. Forget about reading any of that on this blog. Its time for me to get back to work.

Photo work.

Remember the Streetcar Series I started last year and continue to work on each time I’m in town? I didn’t touch it the first couple of weeks here because I knew I wanted to explore it from a slightly different approach. I didn’t know what that would be, but felt sure that the photo goddesses would wave something in front of my face at some point.

That wave came in the form of a new camera. It was time for me to upgrade to the new Canon 5DII. Buying it here was on my list of things to do, since there is no sales tax in Oregon. (Oh, you can add that to the things I won’t be talking about.) Stepping up meant getting more mega pixels, like a crazy number of megapixles that are probably over the top really. Wasn’t sure what I’d do with all those mega pixels.

I learned very quickly after my first outing with the new camera that those mega pixels would let me enlarge the image like never before.

So, in the spirit of the Walker Evans subway pictures that inspired me to do this series in the first place, I am now more on the lookout for individuals on the streetcar, rather than interactions and “conversations.” (That will come later when I piece these together as triptychs in the final presentation.) In a way, these are more like portraits.

A little scary to share them so early on, but here goes.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

good stuff


I walk out the door of the condo and board the streetcar. It’s an orange one this morning. I ride about a mile, get off and then walk for ten minutes. Next I am in a forest, hiking up a trail that runs alongside a trout stream. It’s a decidedly cool morning, my favorite kind of weather: fleece vest weather.

On my walk home after my hike I go into the FOOD CO-OP. I have not been in one since two days ago, but before that I hadn’t been in one since the Willy Street Co-op in Madison, back when we were hippies. I load up on their freaking fantastic “Woman’s Vitality Trail Mix” (freaking fantastic = anything laced with chocolate chips) and continue my walk back home, eating the aforementioned delicacy. I see a sign in a window in someone’s house that says “No one died when Clinton lied.” Everyone I pass says good morning, and as I return the greeting I try to catch a glimpse of their tattoo or their cool Chaco shoes or, of course, their dog.


I open the windows of the condo to let in the cool air and get down to business in the temporary headquarters of Change the Truth (my small but mighty Portland kitchen.) I read my emails and am reminded why I love doing this work.

From Joan (young woman who is the first from the orphanage to have graduated from University and who now assists the director):

“Dear mama,

Thank you very much mama indeed I have no words to express your generosity. To us you are ‘stress relief’. I have learnt a number of issues from you:

You have taught me that ‘I shouldn’t undermine humble beginnings because a small seed always grows into a big tree’. Your coming to SMK was humble.

You have taught me that to try and fail isn’t crime, but failure to try is an absolute act of faithlessness. You have always tried to put things right where they have gone wrong.

You have taught me that achieving starts with ambition. I have to be ambitious like you because it’s good.

You have made me believe that ‘There is something good in each one of us’ That is trust you have towards people like us.

And above all you have made me understand that what brought us (SMK and CTT) together is stronger than anything that may try to pull us apart or separate us.

Your family must be proud of you.”

Next, an email from Douglas, who is being put through nursing school by CTT.

“Hi mama,

I have passed all the exams. I had a tough time during exams but I passed with Distinctions. Already I am in the second semester of the course. People at the ward are so wonderful! Thanks very much for every thing. I really appreciate you and Change the Truth, mama.”

When Melissa came back from her trip to SMK in May, she brought me a special letter and drawing from my good 12-year-old friend Nicholas (Nicky.) The drawing was a new Change the Truth logo, one that Nicky thought would work well on our letterhead and on shirts. So I made a t-shirt for him with his logo on it and sent it to him at the orphanage. Many weeks later, it finally arrived. I was then sent an email with a photo of Nicky wearing his new shirt. This photo makes me really miss him. The email containing it wasn’t in today’s inbox, but I open it every day anyway as if it is a new missive – just so I can look at his face.


It hasn’t happened yet, but what it will consist of is dinner with good friends from Kansas City who now live in Portland, followed by an outdoor screening of short documentaries made by regional filmmakers.

Not a bad day.

city of books

Portland is home to Powell’s Books. There are seven different locations, but the one that is the coolest is the headquarters, also known as Powell’s City of Books, also known as the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world!

It occupies a full city block, is open 365 days a year, contains over 68,000 square feet of retail floor space, has over four million new, used, rare and out-of-print books and buys around 3,000 used books a day. (They stock the used books right along side the new ones.)

The most amazing thing about Powell’s City of Books is that it is always busy! No matter the hour, there are lots and lots of people sitting around reading, flipping through books, browsing, hanging out. There are author readings, discussions and book groups almost every day. There is also a gallery area with ongoing exhibits.

It is a great Portland destination, even if your wallet is empty. And now that books are beginning to be replaced by Kindles, it’s nice to be in a space where books are all you see for miles of aisles!

Monday, August 03, 2009


Oregon ranks first in the nation for homelessness per capita, according to a newly released federal report from the Housing and Urban Development agency. On any given night in the state, there are over 17,000 homeless people on the streets. A huge concentration of them can be found in Portland.

Many are veterans, many are mentally ill. Many are dealing with addiction. Many have suffered from abuse. Some have succumbed to devastating family or environmental tragedies. More and more simply can’t survive the failing economy.

In spite of the furnace that is Portland right now, most wear down parkas or hooded sweatshirts. They sleep in doorways, under bridges, in the parks, on benches, in cars and in abandoned buildings.

The “Portland bum” has a reputation for being loud, aggressive and rude, with a sense of angry entitlement; I’ve actually witnessed that kind of behavior only once.

There are countless services available to the homeless in Portland. Eddie has been volunteering at one of them – Union Gospel Mission – where he helps serves dinner to close to 200 people. He says the “clientele” is polite and grateful.

The community tends to congregate in certain areas of town, primarily downtown and in the parks known as North Park Blocks and South Park Blocks. But there are a few people I see regularly in our area, the Pearl, which is fairly upscale.

There’s one young bearded guy who spends most of his days sleeping in the beautiful little park that I mentioned in my previous post. The park is next to our building, and lots of families hang out there because of the fountain. (It’s also adjacent to a very fancy French restaurant.) This young man hasn’t bathed in awhile, is gaunt and scraggly. His baggy clothes are dirty and torn, his long hair hangs in an unruly fashion and, well, he sticks out like a sore thumb in the sea of young Portland families and groups of friends who come to Jamison Square Park with their picnic blankets and sunscreen. Though these people give the homeless guy his space (no one gets too close) and I doubt that any conversation takes place once he wakes up, it’s interesting to me that they co-exist on some level… at least for a few hours.

I’ve stopped to speak to several people who live on the streets around here. They have an admirable sense of pride and dignity given their situation. That strikes me as remarkable. They say that Portland is doing everything it can to provide assistance and support to them, and for that they are appreciative.

There are, of course, those who say that the homeless population is plentiful in Portland because so much is given to them: food, clean needles, shelter, health services, etc. You’ve heard the argument before: “If the guy can stand in the sun for eight hours holding a sign, he can surely stand behind the fryer at McDonalds for a good day’s work!” It’s far more complicated that that, clearly, and I don’t know enough about the situation here to really comment. But I do know that an increasing number of people who never imagined themselves in this predicament are there now, and who’s to say it can’t happen to just about any of us?

Sunday, August 02, 2009

hot, hot. hot

Today was the eighth day in a row of temps over 90 degrees - a record. A couple of days ago, area thermometers reached 106, one degree shy of a record for the city of Roses. It’s hot enough to make you want to take off your clothes and cool off in a fountain, which is exactly what lots of children do in the park next door to our condo.