December 21, 2013 Peace on Earth
Today, on the winter solstice, the conjoined organizations Not 1 More Acre! and Grassland Trust emailed this solstice card to their members around Colorado, New Mexico, and throughout the United States. I was proud to learn recently that the organizers are fans of my work, beginning with my 2009 profile of Willard Louden. The organizations are dedicated to preserving private ranches in the face of the U.S. military's land grabs across southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. Their website proclaims "Stop the Pentagon's 51st State--End Permanent War Here!" The sentiment on their card says it simply, Peace on Earth. Think about it. And check the website, see what's up.
December 14, 2013 Once Around an Island
When photographer Todd Heisler joined the New York Times in 2006, he'd already earned two Pulitzer Prizes for his work with the Rocky Mountain News out of Denver after beginning his photojournalism career in his hometown of Chicago. Friday the NYT Lens Blog posted the 41-year-old photographer's ambitious "Once Around an Island" project in which Heisler walked the perimeter of Manhattan, taking 20 hours to walk 30 miles, shooting pictures all the way. That's not the impressive part. To see why I'm so impressed, click the photo above to see what Heisler managed to capture on his long walk. It impresses like the best work shot over an ambitious year, not over a day--while walking 30 miles. I envy work like this. Check it out.
December 7, 2013 The Windmills of Your Mind
After three days of incessant snowfall and a full day of reading on the couch, I came to search my old files for an image I'd missed, any image. I had in mind something abstract or that I could make abstract. I'd found this old downed windmill near the Dorsey Mansion in southeast Colfax County in 2008. I'd processed the image but it didn't work. Today I saw new possibilities. I deleted all of my earlier editing and tried again with new skills and new processing tools. I feel like I've salvaged a lost image. Now if only I could salvage the windmill itself.
November 30, 2013 When They Want a Look at You
With 4500 words in two features now headed to the printer in New Mexico Magazine's February issue, the editors two weeks ago asked me to send them a new portrait for the Storytellers column where they feature three contributors each month. I sent them this pair to choose from. Shot on consecutive weekend mornings, Christina took both using my D4 with the 85mm portrait lens at f/1.4. I won't know which shot they've used until I see the February issue, which is also when I'll find out which of my photographs they've used to illustrate my features. It's a practice that teaches patience.
November 24, 2013 What I Knew Then
These photos that I took of my brother Terry in 1964 remind me that, although I bought my first camera six years ago next week, I had managed to learn some important basics when I was still a teenager using other people's cameras. The obvious one here is POV, point of view. Don't just stand there: climb up high, or lay on the ground, or otherwise find creative and dynamic viewpoints. For these shots, I climbed the chain link playground backstop and sat up there to take these pictures. For others, I shot up at Terry from as low as I could get at the bottom of the slope.
It's not a coincidence that these two images that have survived a half century in my scrapbook both capture the same moment in the ride: it's the height of the action, the fastest moment just before the rider snaps through the 90-degree turn. Terry's placement in relation to the various lines is also as optimal as I can imagine, looking at it now. If I could do it over, I'd have him less centered, more to the right of the frame so he's speeding into the frame--the focal point shouldn't be centered--and I'd love to try it with a slow shutter speed that puts Terry into an exciting, dynamic blur of motion. Alternately, with the slow shutter speed, I'd pan with Terry and blur the background into motion. Either approach would make the images less static and more exciting.
My dad, Jack Keller, was in the early stages of establishing a photography career when I was born. I grew up looking at his photography magazines and through his boxes of 8x10 black & white prints. I don't remember him ever teaching me anything directly, but I likely learned by reading and looking. I had access to his Rolleiflex 2.8 camera; in fact, the same camera is on the shelf next to me right now. In junior high, I started shooting with Pete Armstrong's 35mm Pentax, often shooting surfing with his 400mm lens and tripod. These pictures of Terry must have been taken with the Pentax. My recollection is that Pete was an orphan being raised by his elderly grandparents who kept him occupied and out of trouble by financing his passion for photography. He loaned me the Pentax, lenses, tripod, film, and darkroom priveleges; in exchange, he owned the negatives and could potentially use them as his own. I was essentially an "employee" of Armstrong Film Productions. I was 13.
At Palisades High School I took a year-long photography course with art teacher Clare Frisch, who married during that year and became Clare Steinberg (trading in her British racing green Triumph TR4 for an older cream-colored Mercedes convertible with wood dash). Again I had darkroom privileges, but now I learned important lessons in composition. The main one was "Simplicity is a Virtue." She had it mounted on the wall and it was her mantra. Consider two of the earliest images I took six years ago when I stopped relying on old hand-me-downs and bought my first camera, on the day it was released, the Nikon D300. The camera arrived the day after Thanksgiving, 2007. One week later I shot "Distance" (above). I hadn't yet figured out how to process photos in the software, so the image to this day is exactly as it came out of the camera. It's been one of my most successful images, selling many times. And it couldn't be more simple.
Four months later I wandered Western Salvage junkyard on the outskirts of Raton, coming up with another simple image that's been successful; in fact, these two images sold that year through the Art in Public Places Program of New Mexico Arts. "Distance" hangs in the lobby of Cabezon Recreation Center in Rio Rancho; "Raton Junkyard 18" hangs in the cafe of the Belen Public Library. Both reflect the mantra "Simplicity is a Virtue." The junkyard picture also demonstrates the importance of diagonal lines, another lesson I learned in Clare Frisch Steinberg's high school photography class. Another was to shoot close and fill the frame. Robert Capa famously advised, "If your photos aren't good enough, you're not close enough." I like a moment early in the wonderful photographers' film The Bang Bang Club (based on the great book The Bang-Bang Club) when Kevin tells Greg to stop using his long lens. "You have to get close," he says. I didn't really become a photographer until I was in my late 50s, but I knew how early. I suppose digital photography opened the door to my taking it up seriously--my life just didn't accommodate all the rigmarole and cost of shooting film--but that's another subject, for another day.
November 17, 2013 Unforgettable
For someone we'd never heard of -- it was his first tour of the midwest -- New York City jazz singer and guitarist Allan Harris made a rousing impression in his debut Shuler Theater concert Monday night. Our standing ovation was a foregone conclusion and the line to buy CDs after the show was as long as the lobby. I'm enjoying "Nat King Cole: Long Live the King," recorded live at the Kennedy Center, as I write.
He won us over quickly with his voice--a rare and wonderful instrument--then with his disarming personality and humor. His quartet was top notch, giving us a fabulous evening of world class jazz.
Pascal Le Boeuf on piano, Jake Goldbas on drums, and Leon Boykins on bass all won their own ovations and provided exciting support throughout the show, but saxophonist Jesse Jones, Jr., brought even greater star power and helped anchor the show beside Harris. Jones was great fun to watch and even greater fun to just listen to with closed eyes. His solos might have stolen the show from Harris if the latter wasn't so accomplished and confident. Together, Harris and Jones made a great front line, playing and jiving off of each other. The banter was as fun as the music; a highlight came when they got a local girl named Abby to come up from the front row and join them in scat singing. They were as impressed as the audience was with how well Abby did. Asked whether she was scared up there, she said simply, "No."
With classic Nat King Cole songs like "Mona Lisa," "It's Only a Paper Moon," and "Unforgettable," we enjoyed performances that breathed new life into old classics. At the end, the sound man turned up the reverb and Harris spent six and a half minutes scatting and improvising his way through "Nature Boy." He seemed to be as pleased with us and the Shuler and Raton as the audience was with him and his band. "I hope you'll invite us back!" he said. I hope so, too.
November 10, 2013 Golden Dragon
The Shuler Theater was packed this afternoon for the return of the magnificent Golden Dragon Acrobats from China, truly a visual feast. I've given eight new photographs their own page. Click the photo above and enjoy!
November 8, 2013 Defying Gravity
The Chinese Golden Dragon Acrobats return to Raton's Shuler Theater after an absence of more than three years. Benefiting the Shuler's Santa Fe Trail School for the Performing Arts, a $20 general admission ticket helps this great program and provides a breathtaking show not soon forgotten. Showtime is 3:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon, November 10. I'll be there photographing the show and posting the best shots here afterward.
November 3, 2013 A Pacific (Palisades) Vacation
A recent request from my daughter in London reminded me that I'd taken a series of portraits and travel shots in California in June, then got so swept up in magazine work when I got home that I never got back to processing most of the California shots. Among many treasures that I'm working on now is this iPhone 5 panorama shot of West Los Angeles and my hometown Pacific Palisades from high atop the Santa Monica Mountains Backbone Trail. Darcy (in far right corner) and I were on a 14-mile hike from Rustic Canyon to the mountain crest where we could see the San Fernando Valley. (Click any image to enlarge it and see details.)
I wandered Santa Monica Pier with my 18-200mm DX lens attached to my Nikon D4 FX camera, for the flexibility of the super zoom. High atop the ferris wheel with Darcy and Christina, I shot this image of the pier. Later I shot a better one that I posted when I got home. We try to get to the Palisades for a week every June, at Father's Day. Processing last summer's photos now has me longing for next summer, although we may not be able to go everywhere we want: we're also beginning to form plans to visit Darcy in London next summer, adding a road trip around England, Wales, and Scotland. That's exciting, but I hope I can also manage to get back to the Palisades and the Pacific Ocean!