Archive for the ‘photography’ Category

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Devils River, Texas, October 2011. My first paying job to combine paddling, picture-taking, and writing. More like this, please.

Oh, and since this is ostensibly about books, here’s Devils River, Treacherous Twin to the Pecos, 1535-1900, by Patrick Dearen, which I fortuitously found at the TCU Press booth while browsing the Texas Book Festival in Austin on my post-river layover.

Note the lack of apostrophe, accuracy confirmed by the United States Geographical Service’s Geographic Names Information System, keepers of river names. Multiple devils, none of them claiming dominion. Curious, that.

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Five Decades: A Retrospective, by William Allard, foreword by William Kittredge, Focal Point, National Geographic.

So it’s certainly only coincidence that a month or so back, I was in Missoula hanging out with Al and Ginger and watching a fledgling Missoula rollerderby team get trounced by a much more experienced team from Spokane, I think, which reminded me of one of my favorite all-time phrases, which is the Spokanification of Missoula, all of which was lots of fledgling fun, when Al introduced me briefly to a guy named Bill Allard, who quite enjoys the Kettlehouse, and who was hanging around looking like Ernest Hemingway’s idea of a photographer.

And then a week later, my editor at the Missoula Independent asked out of the blue if I’d review a new book I didn’t know Allard, who I didn’t otherwise know, had out. I remembered the name then, but didn’t remember that I already have one of his books, Portraits of America, presently stored away in a box somewhere. I’d found it in an Ann Arbor usedbook store and picked it up out of curiosity and looked at it quite a lot last year without the name quite embedding. The foreword to that book had been written, I’d also forgotten, by Thomas McGuane. Whose name may in fact have generated my original curiosity. About whom I tried hard to be thoughtful in my last review for the Indy. With the result that Tom McGuane took public offense in his online comment on the story, reproduced in its entirety below:

A friend of mine who claims I always get my worst reviews in Missoula which he describes as “a pleasant town fifteen minutes from Montana”, sent me this harsh view of my life and work. It does appear that I am in bad trouble both artistically and personally. For those readers who think the literary world ends with the Missoula Independent, I attach these positive notices in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. -Tom McGuane



And of course I’m all like OMG, Tom McGuane read my review, and then I’m like, well, crap.

I said yes to the Allard, and it came in the mail, and I spent some quality time with it, and I talk on the phone to Allard about it, and you can READ THE ESSAY-TYPE RESULT  HERE.

Allard's "Eduardo Ramos with his dead sheep, Puno, Peru, 1981." Copyright William Allard I assume. Apologies for the craptacular lo-res web file. (His photos look much better in larger format, obviously, but big good-looking images are Allard's bread and butter, and one hesitates to just appropriate that on a blog, electronic displays and photographic authorship being what they are. So: the postage stamp, just to give you the barest idea.

Alternately, you could scan the excerpt below:

Allard refers to himself at various times as a street-shooter (his primary self-identification), a documentarian, and a photojournalist, and maybe as a result of his range, there’s really no instantly identifiable Allard style. An Allard photo is fully about its subject, even if what the subject is may be open to interpretation. For instance, there’s a picture on page 59, “Calving time, Padlock ranch, Montana, 1975,” that any idiot could tell you is a profile portrait of a horse standing in a storm. It looks to me like the most accurate visual representation of the verb “snow” I’ve seen.

He frames portraits and landscapes, almost-abstractions and pure color. His “streets” over the course of a career have included Paris catwalks, Hutterite living rooms, Nevada chuckwagons, Peruvian slaughterhouses, Brazilian brothels and Indian sewers. You can find echoes in Allard’s work of Robert Frank (if he’d shot The Americans in color), and street-shooting pioneer Henri Cartier-Bresson (a 1967 tableau of boys playing ball in France). A few of his photos could be passingly confused for the work of contemporaries like Peter Brown (a luminous Winifred, Mont., homestead), or Annie Leibovitz (the uncannily illuminated Wyoming range detective Ed Cantrell). But none of the occasional touchstones is much to the point.

His photos are about what they’re of. The self-portrait they imply shows a photographer with an eye open to any possibility of color, character and composition that might wander through his view. A picture with the cool formal rigor of “Minor league spring training, Phoenix, Arizona, 1990” has little in common with the warm grainy blur of Allard’s prostitute portraits, which have little in common with the grin on bandleader Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s face as he finishes a set in Memphis. What they do have in common is that Allard was there, open and equal to the moment. Sitting in a French cafe watching the girls smoke or tromping through cornstubble with Iowa birdhunters, Allard, more than anything else, is receptive.

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the view

Man, I don’t know why I’m so excited about this, but this is my first attempt at a digitally produced panorama, of Barton Pond on the Huron River across the street from my house, and I really like it.

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A few sentences I never thought I’d hear myself say, and yet have:

1) “I’m almost finished with War and Peace.” 2) “I just got back from Moscow.” And 3) [my favorite] “Excuse me, do you have this one in fox?”

Some explanation may be in order. I’ve been reading War and Peace since early September, a few chapters a night. It was part of a plan — part 1 — to read one especially long or difficult book I’ve always wanted to read per month during the eight months of my fellowship year here in Ann Arbor. Well my fellowship year turned out to be much busier than I expected — no complaints — and an 8-fat-books ambition stands now on the verge of a 1-fat-book achievement. I am at this moment on page 1328 of 1455 in the brick-like Signet Classic edition above, which is now nicely spine-cracked and starting to look like the horse I rode in on.

I’d hoped to finish it on a recent trip to Moscow (the fellowship again), but no such luck. Too busy. Too tired. Too otherwise occupied. And either I’ve gotten to where I don’t like reading on planes, or the 10-hour flight from New York to Moscow (and back) required more Zen than I could square with imbibing all that tiny type. I’ll be done in a few days. Or a week. Or so.

I’m loving it, by the way. Even the military stuff, which so far never seems to go on too long. Tolstoy (and presumably his translator here, Ann Dunnigan) possesses the useful trick of being being able to convey a tone of absolute moral authority, which I admire, and I’m hardly the first to notice, but the brevity and kick of his insights totally knocks my socks off.

Petya had been in a constant state of elation at being grown-up, and ecstatically eager not to miss any opportunity to do something really heroic. He was exceedingly delighted with what he saw and experienced in the army, but at the same time it always seemed to him that the most genuinely heroic exploits were being performed just where he did not happen to be. And he was in a hurry to get where he was not.”

I used to feel that way about parties.

So I was in Moscow, which has pretty incredible light (see Moscva River scene above) with a group of about 30 journalists and their spouses for eight days, during which we toured a flea market, met with wildly unpopular former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, chatted with retired chess champion and current leader of Russia’s political opposition Gary Kasparov, enjoyed an audience with billionaire oligarch, former KGB agent, and quasi-philanthropic press baron Alexander Lebedev (who announced his purchased of Britain’s Independent the day we were there), dined with Moscow-posted foreign correspondents, visited with archivists of Stalin-era terror, ate grilled meats whilst watching terribly distracting Azerbaijani dancers, ate something called Herring in a Fur Coat whilst trying not to gag, ate a Big Mac in the shadow of Red Square, and spent several hours every day riding Moscow’s gorgeous metro, two stations of which were blown up by female suicide bombers a day and a half after we boarded possibly the world’s shittiest plane home.

It was an adventure. I’m awfully glad to be back.

Oh, the fox thing. Russians are big on fur. Or at least they think tourists are. I was shopping for a fur hat. I ended up not buying one. My friend Raviv didn’t buy one either, but he did try on this fetching little bear number at right:

I took a lot of damn pictures. You can CHECK THEM OUT HERE.

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river rocks

Okay, this doesn’t have anything to do with books, but I’m going to post it anyway because I like it.

This is a little film thingie I made at the request of the Huron River Watershed Council in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They’re planning to run it as the outro end of their upcoming Miller Creek Film Festival, which is a community PSA-type thing they hold every March.

This is my first sustained experiment with iMovie. And I’d like to thank and apologize to the Texas band Toadies, whom I dig, dig, dig, for poaching their music, which is being appropriated here for completely non-commercial uses. TURN IT UP!

Also, since this has more to do with rivers than with books, I might as well take advantage of the occasion to cross-post to my new blog, WATERWORKS, which I’m just ramping up to aggregate river news. I’m not entirely sure why I’m doing that, but hope to figure that out along the way. One possible reason is so I can get more or less back to books in this space.

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Black ice is that thin sheet of solidly frozen rain that refracts no light and so is invisible adhered to the road.

It also seems a fitting enough title for the photo above, which I took from my canoe on Ann Arbor’s Huron River earlier this month, below Barton dam, where the spillway had kept half a mile of the river from freezing completely over.

Black Ice is also the predictably cheesy name of the album behind which AC/DC was touring Dec. 6 when I saw them in Buenos Aires’ Estadia River Plate with 70,000 amped-up Argentinians. You have got to see this video. Check out the floor scene about a minute in. That’s where I was.

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I spent pretty much all of December, the 3rd through the 27th, out of Ann Arbor. I was traveling in South America for the first time under the auspices of the University of Michigan’s Knight-Wallace Fellowship, and then spent four days in Atlanta with my sister and her family for Christmas. The picture above is Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro, a little over a week ago. Today in Ann Arbor the high was 20. I was glad to be gone, and I’m glad to be home.

First we went to Buenos Aires, Argentina for six days, where we met with the president of the state bank, talked with Argentina’s first female Supreme Court judge, visited the mothers of the disappeared of the dirty war of 1977, saw a tango performance, went to a local soccer match, met with the editors of Clarin, the city’s largest newspaper, rode horses and swam on an estancia dude ranch, saw AC/DC rock a crowd of 70,000 on the third night of a three-night stand in the River Plate soccer stadium, and consumed enough beef and red wine to choke a herd of horses, among other pleasing educations and diversions.

Then we went to Sao Paulo, Brazil, where we met with directors of the city’s largest private and public hospitals, lunched with the editors of the major daily, went to the beach for a day, ate dinner with locally posted foreign correspondents at the exclusive jockey club, had lunch at a local samba school, held seminars with academic historians, toured the black history museum, saw the Sao Paulo symphony orchestra play Mahler’s 5th Symphony in a refurbished Danish Modern-meets-Greek Revival hall that previously housed both a train station and a dictator’s interrogation staff, and waited outside for a cab under the watchful eye of a crowd of crack addicts.

When that was over I spent another two days in Paraty, a 16th-century Portuguese colonial town on the coast, and another three nights in Rio de Janeiro, where I took the trolly to the top of the Sugarloaf, hang-glided onto a beach, saw a massive Carnival rehearsal in the Sambadrome, drank several gallons of caipirinhas, and took a cool picture of Jesus. That is not photoshopped.

It’s been pretty fantastic. I took a lot of pictures. Some Argentina and Brazil pics are posted HERE.

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Sorry, this is turning into a photo/river tripping blog. When in Michigan…
This is me on the Upper Peninsula’s Two-Hearted River, a twisty tea-colored little woodland stream that finally slips through a gauntlet of dunes and dumps into Lake Superior, which, as you know, is like God’s own birdbath. The Two-Hearted is the nominal setting of Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Big Two-Hearted River,” which is collected in The Nick Adams Stories.
My friend Fred Maxwell says that he read on Wikipedia that it’s thought that Hemingway, like a true stingy-ass honey-hole-hiding fisherman, was actually describing the UP’s Fox River in his story, but gave it the Two-Hearted’s name, perhaps to throw off tourists and poachers, or maybe because Two-Hearted is just such a goddamn beautiful name for a river. I haven’t bothered to look it up. I’m not sure it matters to me.
I spent two days and one night on it, maybe 24 miles’ worth, the first day portaging 13 unstable logjams and the second day blissing the fuck out.
When I put in there was a guy walking down the bank fishing. About halfway downriver at the state campground where I camped there was another guy with an RV and an ATV who left in the morning to fish for steelhead. The night before he came over and looked at my anemic little sock-drying campfire and offered to let me borrow his chainsaw. I thanked him but no. I asked and he explained to me why there are salmon out there nowhere near the sea. It’s because they were imported to the Great Lakes purposefully to eat a smaller fish that was imported to the Great Lakes accidentally, and they started spawning up these little tea-colored woodland streams. More or less. They’re stocked as sport fish as well.
I threw a spinner out from the sand ramp for a while but I have yet to discover the finer joys of fishing, though I’m not through looking.
I did take lots of what came out looking like portraits of trees, among other things, and posted the better ones to flickr. The one at top links to Part 1. The one below links to Part 2.

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Last weekend I traveled with my fellow fellows to northern Michigan, in the neighborhood of Boyne City and Lake Charlevoix, for some quality time with the leaves. I stayed over on Sunday and paddled about four blustery hours down the Jordan River, Michigan’s first-designated Wild and Scenic such. Spectacular.

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balloon shroom


So my place in Ann Arbor is a 13-minute walk down a two-lane blacktop road that dead-ends into something called Bird Hills Nature Area, a couple of hours worth of forest trails. I’ve been walking down there for an hour or so every morning, but it’s too dark in there to take pictures then. Today I slept late so I got my walk in this afternoon and there was a bit of nice light filtering in.

14631559I noticed this mushroom on my walk the other day, though I wasn’t sure it wasn’t some sort of discarded ball until I got up close to it. When I got home I looked it up in the Falcon Guide to North American Mushrooms and found out it’s a Calvatia booniana, or Western Giant Puffball. It doesn’t seem to belong where I found it, according to the habitat description, but there it is. Apparently it’s edible, having been “collected and eaten since pioneer days.” I can’t see my way to taking it, though. I haven’t seen any others out there, and it’s pretty magnificent, about the size of a small bowling ball. That, and this whole shroom-identifying thing is about three days old, and if the ID seems close to unmistakable, early overconfidence is a long habit, and I’d just as soon not start my way up the learning curve by poisoning myself.

I took a different trail through the woods today, but I doubled back to see if I could find this thing. When I did, it had a rare shred of glow on it for just the amount of time it took to snap about four pictures, of which this one turned out the best.

I posted some more pictures to flickr.

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