Monday, April 28, 2008

Dayton Lanphear, bear sculptor

Meet Dayton Lanphear, an artist with huge vision. His basic tool is a chainsaw and he has begun to carve a majestic grizzly bear out of a 15-foot, 4-ton trunk of a redwood tree.
Before you scoff at the
idea of using such a valuable tree consider how the massive trunk landed in central Oregon where ponderosas and junipers rule the landscape.

On the west side of the Cascades land was being parceled for a housing development and the tree was in the way. The trunk was offered to Dayton who snapped it up along with a second tree. The trees were put on a truck and driven to Dayton's studio at a considerable expense. Months were spent designing and building a support structure around the trunk, now inverted, so Dayton could access the whole log during the carving process. A forklift will lower the platform to any level.

Finally, on April 27th, Dayton fired up the chainsaw and made the first cut into the log. The shavings flew everywhere, the noise, of course, was loud. Dayton has a plan only in his head. No drawings, detailed sketches. There are a couple of photographs of a ceramic bear he owns sitting off to the side next to the cans of oil and gasoline.

The bear will be revealed over time. He envisions a bear with an oversized head because the viewer will be looking at it from the ground and so the scale needs to be adjusted.
As this project continues I will be updating on this blog. You can also follow Dayton's website to see his past works.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Strength and Grace

Diane and I drove to Sacramento on Tuesday, the 22nd, my 62nd birthday. I did not care that it was still snowing and blowing all the way into Califiornia's central valley. We were going to see Allison, my daughter, have a nice dinner to celebrate her 18th birthday as well.

I'm also on a photographic mission. Ron Cunningham has been the artistic director for 20 years and there is a special gala
performance Friday evening with a party afterwards. The following night is another event, the annual Modern Masters series. So, this week is intensive for Ron and the dancers with two dress rehearsals and seven upcoming performances. The gala rehearsal was last night and once again I was amazed by the athleticism and artistic beauty of the dancers.

However, the story does not end here. Behind the fluid movements on stage, the dancers are dealing constantly with injuries and pain. They do not let it show, they endure and go on. Their strength and grace comes from years of commitment to their art. Jack Hansen has plantar fasciitis and Ilana Goldman has dealt with many injuries over the course of her career. The list of injuries dancers incur rival those of athletes in any professional sport.

Earlier in the day I spent awhile with my friend Geno Masuda. His strength and grace since the sudden death of his wife, Patti, April 4th, towers above anything else imaginable. With his closest friends he has let the pain show and now he has begun his recovery and deciding what life will be for him. "It's relationships and memories," he says. "Things don't matter."

I had not thought about how dancers and Geno were similar until I was out on a bike ride this morning. The when and where is relevant here. Eight days after Patti's death Geno had a wonderful epiphany after his first ride. He realized he was going to be all right. Geno and the dancers and many others in this world who are faced with major obstacles persevere, work through pain and stay committed to a way of life based on relationships and memories. Some ride into the future, some dance. The journey for us all goes on, every day lived to the fullest, and there will be no whining.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Schizophrenic Spring

I do not usually dwell on weather. It's what happens every day. "The weather is here, wish you were beautiful" is a favorite saying. My years in daily newspaper photography were filled with redundant assignments to make a photograph of the weather. Now, I am conflicted.
It is mid-April and it is snowing in Sisters. In fact it has snowed four times today. Unseasonable squalls make it over the Cascades and drop a layer of gloom. Earlier in the day the sun was out and blasting through the skylights. The cats, heat-seeking mammals, found their spots and reveled in the warmth of a geometric space. I spent the day in the
garage/workshop wearing gloves, cap and two layers of fleece. It was all I could do to divert my attention to the task of finally getting the space suitable for efficient work. Racks for lumber, storage bins for hundreds of screws, nails, and a unique assortment of "things I
might need someday." Outside the weird day continues. Snow, sleet, sun, snow and sun, plenty of wind. I skipped town for an hour, went to Home Depot in Bend, got stuff to finish the organization project and then made my first trip to the new Trader Joe's which opened two weeks ago for a bottle of "Two-buck Chuck." What's there to complain about?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Déja vu all over again

The news is not good on the world's food supply, especially in impoverished countries, where prices for rice and other basic food supplies have risen so high that families are spending 80% or more of their income just to survive. "This is the world's big story," said Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University's Earth Institute.

As far as I can remember, this issue has always been the world's big story. A photojournalist knows there are many themes and recurring stories. Poverty, homelessness, hunger, disease, war, health, the disparity between the haves and the have nots. It appears all the photos and stories have not made any damn difference, at least on a global scale.

I began photographing in my college years and then as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia in 1969 and the image of the sleeping boy with the empty rice bowl was one of those photographs that gave me a push and also opened my mind to the problem of hunger, a topic I revisited many times in my career. In 1986 I spent the better part of a year photographing people for a major project "Hunger in California." From soup kitchens to homeless camps and transient hotels in San Francisco, the story was the same. Not enough to eat, no jobs, no place to call home, bureaucracy to battle.

Perhaps all the stories and photos have some redeeming value. Awareness was raised, some action or assistance became available. Maybe a few people had life improve just a bit. On a global level though, the pictures don't feed people, money from major countries might. The world economic picture is not pretty either. I am no expert on world economics or hunger or the intricate political issues that prevent solutions to complex problems. I do wonder though how the United States might have been more of a problem solver without the financial burden of a protracted war in Iraq.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

An hour on the Metolius

The Metolius River, just 20 minutes away, is one of the most peaceful places I know. A half-mile downstream from confluence of Canyon Creek and the Metolius water flows out of the hillside from an underground source.

I sit there and watch and listen; the water becomes eloquent white noise and allows my mind to slow down, reflect.

The last two days thoughts were about loss. I know I'm particularly sensitive to this and is the one emotion that is the closest to the surface of my being.

Injustice is a close second.

A walk along the river is calming. The Metolius flows from an underground aquifer, continuous and predictable in flow and
temperature. As such it becomes my physical metaphor for reassurance that there is constancy. Then I remember that the only constant is change which, in the past two days has been unpredictable. The song in my head:

" 'til the rivers all run dry,
  'til the sun falls from the sky,
  'til life on Earth is through
  I'll be needing you."

    -Don Williams.

Friday, April 04, 2008

With life comes loss

     The last twenty-four hours have reminded me of how fragile life is. Two people lost their spouses, one in Willamsport, Pennsylvania, the other in Sacramento, California. In each instance, the death was totally unexpected making their loss immeasurably tragic and hard to understand. No one has words sufficient for comfort or resolution. The burden of grief has no time limit and the loss is eternal. For me it is that reminder, repeated often, that the present is all that matters. Say "I love you" today to any and all I care about. Tomorrow may not come.
     I understand more keenly as I get older how my mother felt when my father died on the operating table during surgery for kidney stones in August 1984. She never got the chance to say good-bye. Sixteen months later she was no longer able to stay in the house they had lived in since 1948 and as she finished packing for a move to a senior citizen home I photographed her final moments in their small north Denver house. They were married 55 years. She lived another twelve years and was buried beside my dad, reunited, as she hoped.
     I wrangle, cajole, tease, laugh and cry with Diane. We are more entwined every day and do try to say the important things to each other. Words are wonderful, doing loving things are better. In the end it's both that matter and I have to believe both spouses had that.
     What will you and I do to take love, caring, respect, compassion a little deeper?  There may be an opportunity tomorrow but how may tomorrows are there?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Bill Clinton stumps in Bend

I was included in the "tight pool" of photojournalists covering President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore during an environmental summit at Lake Tahoe in July, 1997. Since then I have been trying to get this particular image signed by Clinton.

I nearly was successful several years ago when he came to a symposium at the University of California/Davis. He was given two prints to sign but the instructions on who to sign them for were misinterpreted and neither of them was signed to me. I also thought about sending a print to his office in Harlem but I never got around to doing that. Then, last weekend an announcement was made that he was coming to Bend to stump for Hillary. I got a plan in my head and had an 11x14 print made at Costco.

My best chance to get the print to Clinton was to get to the event very early at Bend High School, find one of his advance team members and ask them to have him sign it, rather than hoping for an opportunity in the crush of people after the speech. I drove into the school parking lot just as students were leaving at 3pm. With print and one camera in hand and my old Sacramento Bee press identification card in my pocket I headed to the gym where people were already lining up.

A TV reporter told me where the media check-in was and after securing a spot in the line I walked around to the back of the school where all the TV satellite trucks were lined up. Inside the building was the press table and one advance team woman, Cindy O'Leary, was instructing a few volunteers on the media sign-in procedure. I started talking to her about my quest, showed her the old Bee I.D. and she agreed to take the print with no guarantees. The situation was looking good I thought. I returned to my spot in the crowd and began to wait.

In my years of covering political events waiting for hours is not uncommon. As a working photographer, however, I was able to be inside the venue, warm and sitting. Today I was just another Joe Citizen standing in the line. The number of people that came to event far exceeded the capacity of the school gymnasium. The two-hour wait was difficult, the weather was cold and brisk. One woman said that winter in central Oregon is nature's way of reminding us why there are no cockroaches. Another woman, Cris Woodard wore her patriotic denim jacket with a red/white/blue scarf and brought postcards of Bill and Hillary she hoped to get signed.
Inside the gym I got a seat where I could see the podium and most of the crowd. The people around me were many of the teachers at the school. A woman next to me was an English teacher, a graduate of Del Oro High School in the Sacramento area. Small world. Her comment about the wait to get in was "think of it as waiting in line for a Disneyland ride."
The Bend event was Clinton's fourth of the day so it was not surprising that he was nearly an hour late. When he began his speech the cell phone and point-and-shoot cameras were aimed at the stage. He spoke for over an hour, eloquently and passionately about Hillary's candidacy. The speech, to me, was a down-home "state of the world" address that could only come from a man who has seen the issues from the rare perspective of having had the most important public service job in the world.
Flanked by three Secret Service agents Clinton worked his way slowly and deliberately through the crowd at the edge of the podium. I was able to get as close as I wanted to photograph. Since I wasn't "media" my access was better than most any other situation I'd been in as a working journalist. I also got to do something I would never have done before: I called out to him, shook his hand and asked if he would be sure to sign my print. He looked straight at me and said," I already have." I made a few more frames of him in the crowd then got out of the crush. It took nearly another hour for the gym to clear and the Clinton motorcade to leave for the Redmond airport. I found the woman who had my large envelope and print. I pulled out the photograph and sure enough the signature was there. "For Jay Mather. Thanks. Bill Clinton."

I left the parking lot after a five hour episode of waiting, laughing with folks, meeting teachers and a most helpful advance team member, Cindy O'Leary, and 15 seconds with President Clinton. I call that a great day.