Friday, December 16, 2011

Sounds Overheard: Incantations Of Tibeten Nuns

Buddhist nuns wear elaborate head dresses while chanting last October in Lhasa, Tibet.

While visiting the Anezamkang nunnery in Lhasa I was reminded of the nugget of video production wisdom that goes "seventy five percent of what you see is what you hear".
Do you "see" more when you play 1' 15" natural sound recording of nuns chanting?

I must admit I was in a heck of an visually exotic spot, inside a tiny Tibetan Buddhist temple draped ceiling to floor with colorful banners, filled with three dozen nuns wearing elaborately embroidered robes and hammered silver-paneled hats topped with tall turbans. The nunnery was hidden down a tiny stone alley in Lhasa's ancient Tibetan quarter, out of sight of the Chinese army troops patroling with automatic weapons a few blocks away. I was gasping in the thin air at 12, 000 feet, and contentedly digesting a meal of yak noodle soup.

But listen to the above field-recording audio file of the nuns singing and chanting, ringing brass bells and swinging small paddle drums, and tell me how exotic the scene feels to you now ... seventy five percent better? I would say the experience is immeasurably more intense and real.

During my assignments and travels I've been recording the sounds I overhear, and many don't have supporting photographs or stories. This occasional series will be my excuse to share my audio orphans, these Sounds Overheard.  

More stories from Tibet are elsewhere on this blog, and more examples of field-recorded natural sound are at my Miami multimedia production portfolio site.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Faces of China Photographic Exhibition Now Online

I’ve been hearing from some of my friends and colleagues that they’ve been unable to see my Faces of China exhibit currently hanging at the Archbishop Curley Notre Dame Gallery of Art, which opened earlier this month, and closes January 21, 2012. Their work or personal schedules have interfered, and some aren’t from the Miami area and won’t have the opportunity to visit.

Faces of China slide show runs just two minutes ... iPhone & iPad version.

So I decided to set up an on-line version of the 38 image exhibit, viewable right here in your web browser. Each image is on screen for just three seconds, so the entire show will take barely two minutes of your time, 30 seconds more if you read the shortened artist’s statement at the end.

For the show’s opening November 5, I mixed a 20 minute audio track of field-recorded natural sound from my trips to China, which played in the background, giving visitors an extra dimension of understanding to the photographs.

This on-line edition of the exhibit is accompanied by a brand new sound track of a guzheng, a multi-stringed Chinese instrument that is plucked, which I recorded at the Buddha Zen Hotel in Chengdu on my last night in China in October. A very peaceful waterfall accompanied the lovely young lady who was performing that evening.

Six images from Tibet are included, shot just two weeks before exhibit opened.

In September I wrote about the then upcoming Faces of China exhibit, and I’ll take the liberty of reprinting my artist’s statement here:
Visiting China as a photographer for the first time was very intimidating. With a population of 1.3 billion and one of the planet’s most ancient cultures, I worried that my images would not contribute anything new. How could I tell the story of the political transformation since Liberation in 1949, the legacy of the Cultural Revolution, and an economy that’s moved hundreds of millions of rural peasants to the cities and transformed the nation into world power?
I decided to meet China’s people one at a time, capture a tiny bit of that nation’s character one photograph at a time. I went into the streets and markets and temples with no particular agenda other than to see the relaxed and candid side of people from a culture very different from my own.

After seven trips to China I present here no insights into their political, economic and environmental challenges. I simply try to look into a pair of eyes just like mine, accept them for who they are at that moment, make a connection that I can digitize, take home and share. These Faces of China are fleeting glimpses of people that are like you and me, people who are trying to live their lives to the fullest, plan for the future, contribute to their community. And sometimes they sneak a peek at an unusual Western visitor with a camera.

My technique to capture these photographs is very basic: I show my subjects respect, smile, indicate an interest with body language, and treat them as I would want to be treated. I say hello in badly mispronounced Mandarin, “ni hao” throughout China, “sain baina uu” in Inner Mongolia, and in traditional Tibetan regions of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai, “tashi dele” brings out the smiles.

Captions accompany maps with featured Chinese province.

For more examples of field-recorded natural sound combined with photography, please visit my multimedia portfolio site. More examples of journalistic photography from China can be viewed at my Miami corporate photography site.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sounds Overheard: Tibetan Lute Melody And Song

Musical detail from Buddhist temple wall painting, Reting Monastery, Tibet.

The singer's soulful voice cut through the noisy traffic, his fingers racing over the strings of his lute-like instrument while pilgrims flowed through the gates of the Dreprung Monastery on the outskirts of Lhasa.

His voice was rather raspy, yet melodic, and blended well with the tune he produced from his worn dramyin, a traditional Himalayan folk music lute common in Tibet.  Sitting cross legged on the ground, he was accepting offerings of small Chinese currency, many Fen, worth a couple of pennies each, with a few one and five Yuan notes in his collection box, valued at a couple of dimes.

Listen to natural sound recording of street performer singing folk song and playing a seven stringed dramyin. 1 minute 23 seconds. 

Last month while traveling in Tibet I encountered several such minstrels, who carry on the Tibetan tradition of oral story telling through song, with dramyins often accompanying their narratives. While in the field I simply enjoyed the music and ambiance of the the ancient temple setting, but upon my return Wikipedia's technical description of the Tibetan lute helped explain what I was hearing.

The dramyin is a long-necked, double-waisted and fretless lute. It is usually hollowed out of a single piece of wood and can vary in size from 60 cm to 120 cm in length (2 to 4 feet). Unlike a contemporary guitar, the dramyin does not have a round sound hole in the wooden sounding board but rather a rosette-shaped ones like a lute. Of its seven strings, only six continue to the pegbox. The seven strings occur in two double courses, and one triple course.

The triple course of the dramyin typically contains the half string on the left, which is usually tuned an octave above the middle unison strings. One of the other two courses are typically tuned an octave apart. The courses are normally plucked in unison during playing. Typically a single note is played at a time, making for melodic music and not harmony. 
During my assignments and travels I've been recording the sounds I overhear, and many don't have supporting photographs or stories. This occasional series will be my excuse to share my audio orphans, these Sounds Overheard.  More examples of journalistic photography from China can be viewed at my Miami corporate photography site.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pilgrims Inch Along Ground 300 Miles To Lhasa

Tibet, People's Republic of China:

We were traveling along a rutted dirt road down the Riteng Zang valley, framed on both sides by distant blue mountains, with a silver river reflecting the sun about a mile off. The October dry season had parched the hills a deep brown, the grass even browner, as dust rose from the pilgrim's full-body prostrations as they inched along the ground toward Lhasa.
Pilgrim inches his way 300 miles to Lhasa making full-body prostrations.

The six pilgrims would take two steps, about one body length,  drop to their knees, then both hands, protected by wooden and metal paddles, would touch the dirt as they slid down fully onto their stomachs. Forehead tapping the ground, their hands would swing an arch in front of them in the dirt. Stand up, take two steps, down on the ground as they maneuvered through the rocky terrain.

For these six pilgrims,  young men and women mostly in their teens and early twenty's, they had been traveling this way toward Lhasa for the past four months, covering about 150 miles so far. Four more months will be required to complete the final 150 miles, where they will eventually circumambulate the Jokhor, Tibet's holiest temple and monastery.

Pilgrim protects hands with wooden paddles, and wears thick canvas apron with padding that hangs down to his ankles.

Throughout Tibet you see such pilgrims along side the roads and highways, and where terrain does not allow it, they are on the paved roadway where trucks and cars quiz by at high speed. Depending upon terrain, weather and their stamina, they can cover around six miles a day. This group of pilgrims had an advance truck festooned with giant prayer flags carrying their  food and camping gear. Other groups pull a small two wheel cart along with their earthly processions.

Leaving their  home lands in the far reaches of Tibet, pilgrim groups often pass through two mountain passes on the way to Lhasa, the Sera Gola and the Kana, both about 15, 000 feet in altitude. Winter weather drops temperatures to double digits below zero.

Pilgrims are drawn to countless sacred locations in Tibet,  special lakes, mountains, caves and temples, and groups traveling together toward Lhasa will visit as many destinations as possible along the way. They perform a kora or circumambulation of the devotional location, leave offerings of yak butter and paper currency, chant mantras and ask for blessings from the monks.

In Tibet a pilgrimage is not as simple as walking toward your sacred destination. It is considered a great privilege to complete a pilgrimage through full-body prostrations, which focuses your concentration to every step taken, every mantra repeated.

To view more examples of journalistic photography from China, please visit my Miami commercial photography portfolio site.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tibetan Hospitality In Nun's Cave & Monk's Cell

Tibet, People’s Republic of China

Tibetan Buddhist nun Lousan Drlma has lived in a cave for twenty years just outside the main gate of the Drepung Monastery on the outskirts of Lhasa, and seems to be very content with her way of life. After walking up the dusty road this week, I entered her modest domain through a wooden gate set in a short stone wall. Outside the tiny wooden door into her cave, we sat on low couches covered with Tibetan rugs, where I was offered tea and a round dry bread.

Buddhist nun Lousan Drlma at entrance to cave where she has lived for 20 years.

Our conversation was limited, as my only Tibetan consists of “hello” and “thank you”, so pretty quickly she gave me a tour of her cave. It was about 20 feet wide and 12 deep, lit by one tiny light bulb, which revealed a ceiling long ago blackened by yak butter candle smoke. The walls were decorated with photographs of prominent monks, prayer shawls hung everywhere and low tables supported small shrines. The cave front was closed off with a cement wall.

The next day I met Tibetan Buddhist monk Sherab Juine, who at age 18 was born after Lousan Drlma began living in her cave. We had traveled north of Lhasa to turquoise blue Namtso Lake, which lies at 14,000 feet in the bleak Tibetan plateau. The small Sangr Gompa Monastery sits above the lake, and it’s tiny temple is built into a tall cave in the rock bluff . The two dozen or so monks are easily accommodated on two long benches under the smoky black rock ceiling.

Buddhist monk Sherab Juine, 18, in his private monastery room.

Sherab Juine was in the temple where he seemed to be giving his friend on solo chanting and drumming duty a little boyish teasing. With a big smile he invited us into his private room, brightly painted with the most amazingly bright yellows and oranges. Once again tea was offered,  and we warmed ourselves by his stove as he fed the fire with dried yack dung.

After showing us his prized collection of books stacked in the corner, he wanted to take some photos with one of our cameras. The latest digital SLR was putty in his hands, as he knew how to focus, shoot and review images like a pro. After making  his portrait, he insisted on posing with each of us, sitting together on his bunk.

I have looked forward to such unplanned encounters as I travel in Tibet these past weeks, and appreciate the warm interactions that make traveling so special. And a steaming hot yak dung stove is a lovely bonus on a cold day.

To view more examples of journalistic photography from China, please visit my Miami commercial photography portfolio site. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Yak Chow Mein & Tibetan Speed Traps

Lhasa, Tibet, People's Republic of China:

You can't travel anywhere in Tibet without encountering a yak, either standing in the middle of the road thinking it belongs there, or on your plate for dinner in some combination you never considered trying before.

Yaks cross the shallow Yangva Chu river north of Lhasa earlier this week.

Today's highway cruising yaks are domesticated from wild yaks, once numbering more than a million and populating the high Tibetan plateau., and now very rare. The domestic ones crazing in the river valleys and high up mountain sides  could also be dzo, a cross between a yak and a cow. I frankly can't tell a dzo from a yak, although I'm pretty sure I know a Tibetan cow when I see one. 

White yaks are rare, and considered very good luck, while seeing a herd all of one color is a bad omen. I couldn't tell if our Toyota Land Cruiser driver considered the lumbering beasts lucky or bad omens as they blocked our progress this week from Lhasa north to Namsto Lake. The way the long haired beasts stood their ground as the Toyota barreled down on them, I was starting to consider them bad omens. 

No worry,  every time the yaks moved, finally, seeming to wave their horns defiantly. 
The wooly little calves love to scamper at full tilt right past the bumper, and are awfully cute.

Cute or not, yak makes it way into a lot of Tibetan cooking. 

Yak-butter tea is a staple of the Tibetan diet, mixing yak butter with salt, milk, soda and tea leaves. One guide book describes the drink as "unlikely to be a highlight of your trip". One member of our party concurs with that assessment of the  thick yellowish liquid . But I've eaten strips of yak added to thugpa, a piping hot vegetable noodle soup, and ground with spices and stuffed into momos, a steamed or fried dumpling, both wonderful. We've also enjoyed a savory and thick yak steak (a bit chewy), and very spicy yak curry (excellent). All in all, very beefy tasting.

The Lhasa Kitchen caters to Tibetans and foreigners, and offers yak burgers, yak stroganoff, yak pizza, and of course, yak chow mien. Wouldn't any self respecting citizen of the USA look forward to flying over 10,000 miles from Minneapolis to Tibet just to dig into a hot steaming plate of yak chow mien. Hey, wasn't chow mien invented by the American food and the advertising industry, and is not native to the Orient?

And You Thought You Hated Traffic Intersection Cameras 

Life size fiberglass policemen in full uniform have been standing alongside the highways we've been traveling outside of Lhasa, holding speed limit paddles in their white gloved hands. Often mischievous individuals have drawn mustaches and cat whiskers upon their stern faces. The always-on-duty cops warn drivers to slow down at dangerous curves, slow down on the straightaway, slow down when you are passing over a double yellow line going uphill around a blind curve going over a 15,000 foot mountain pass.

Life size fiberglass policeman  keeps it's eyes peeled for speeders on the La Gen La Pass north of Lhasa this week.

Apparently the vigilant fiberglass fuzz have not been effective enough, as the Chinese government has instituted throughout Tibet their special twist on getting motorists to drive safely and within legal speed limits.

Regular police check points require private drivers, chauffeurs and truckers to pull over, park, walk up to a booth, show their national identification card and license, and receive a time stamped permit to proceed. You must not reach the next checkpoint before your stamped time, or you will be forced to pay 100 Yuan (US$16.00) fine per minute. Cash, on the barrel. 

Check point locations are fairly common knowledge, so a kilometer or two ahead drivers pull over, have a smoke, chat, listen to their car radios, killing time. And they are not all crazy speeders. Our highly skilled and conservative driver proceeds between check points at a very moderate pace, yet still must tread water to avid the expensive fines.

During the check in and check outs, we passengers entertain ourselves studying the graphic traffic accident photos posted at arms length from our windows, full color carnage complete with bodies lying in the road and crumpled vehicles. Maybe they need more of those plastic policemen.

To view more examples of journalistic photography from China, please visit my Miami commercial photography portfolio site.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Pilgrims Walk Around Roof Of The World

Lhasa, Tibet:

One of the first things you notice upon arriving in Lhasa are the number of Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims walking everywhere, every one fingering strings of 108 beads, and many are reciting  mantras out loud in a quiet voice. Jostling your way through the crowded Barkhor area in the center of town you walk alongside pilgrims swinging prayer wheels, some on yard long poles, always in a clockwise direction. 

Just as the sun rises this morning, a Tibetan Buddhist pilgrim makes the miles long circuit of the Portala.

As you enter Barkor Square and approach the Jokhang, a temple and monastery that is the most revered building in Tibet, these random pilgrims join the hundreds and thousands circling the building to form a human river of devotion. Little old ladies, families with tiny babies strapped to mother's back, Buddhist monks and nuns in yellow and purple robes. Traditional Tibetan dress is interspersed with members of  Chinese and Tibetan middle class in slacks and sport shirts.

Every beed fingered is a prayer, as is every every circuit of a sacred site. The prayer wheels are filled with dozens of tiny paper prayers hand printed by nuns, so every swing of the drum multiplies the  prayers.

At the setting sun reflects from the  Jokhang yesterday, a woman caresses prayer flags draped many feet thick around a stupa at the edge of Bokhar Square.

Sadly the Jokhang, built in the seventh century century, no longer houses monks nor services since 2008 when the Chinese authorities shut them down after the bloody rioting in Lhasa. It is now an important government "cultural relic". 

Now you see army troops on every surrounding roof top, security cameras, eight man squads carrying automatic rifles and riot helmets marching around the square at regular intervals, and you encounter random patrols through out the central city. The up side is I never worried about being mugged.

A devoted pilgrim in a sea of thousands circling the Jokhang last evening. 

Visiting the towering Portala, featured on every picture postcard from the Hermit Kingdom,  is not nearly as vibrant a human experience. As if your low land lungs weren't having enough trouble at nearly 12, 000 feet, you must climb, one ancient stone step at a time another 150 yards. Your prize at the top is to be one of 3,000 daily visitors that are allowed to shuffle from one amazing room to another, all within the government mandated one hour limit.  

Yet the Portala is a truly amazing site. I was impressed by how small the former Dali Lama's private prayer quarters were, about the size of a small hotel room, rather modest for the political and religious leader of Tibet who is also a living God.

These are a few quick impressions of  my first three days in Tibet. Hopefully I'll have time and internet connections to post more in the coming weeks.

To view more examples of journalistic photography from China, please visit my Miami commercial photography portfolio site.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My Camera Is My Private Ticket To The World

I’m currently preparing a gallery show of my photographs from China, and the process has helped me realize how photography has been a heck of a way to encounter the world around me.

Archbishop Curley Notre Dame, the high school that has commissioned a number of my multimedia stories, invites artists associated with the school to exhibit their work as a way to build connections with the community here in Miami.

Ethnic Mongolian girl gathers grassland flowers at summertime Naadam Festival, Xiwuzhumuqinqi, Inner Mongolia, China. Will be included in gallery show November 5.

Colleague Benjamin Rusnak has exhibited at the school his insightful panoramic black and white work - 23 Degrees, Far From Paradise - depicting hunger in the tropical regions of our hemisphere. Carl Juste of the Miami Herald has displayed photographs from his many visits to Haiti.

At first I demurred that my China photography had no insights as profound as theirs, but I got to thinking as I wrote an introduction to the show. I’m not reporting deep into a nation’s character, but more of a casual observation of human nature. People are people. That’s valid too, don’t you think? We all put our pants on one leg at a time, all over the world, rich and poor, powerful and powerless. 

Visiting China as a photographer for the first time was very intimidating. With a population of 1.3 billion and one of the planet’s most ancient cultures, I worried that my images would contribute anything new. How could I tell the story of the political transformation since Liberation in 1949, the legacy of the Cultural Revolution, an economy that’s moved hundreds of millions of rural peasants to the cities and transformed the nation into world power?
I decided to meet China’s people one at a time, capture a tiny bit of that nation’s character one photograph at a time. I went into the streets and markets and temples with no particular agenda other than to see the relaxed and candid side of people from a culture very different from my own.

After six trips to China I present here no insights into their political, economic and environmental challenges. I simply try to look into a pair of eyes just like mine, accept them for what they are at that moment, make a connection that I can digitize, take home and share. These Faces of China are fleeting glimpses of people that are like you and me, people who are trying to live their lives to the fullest, plan for the future, contribute to their community. And sometimes they sneak a peak at an unusual Western visitor with a camera.

My technique to capture these photographs is very basic: I show my subjects respect, smile, indicate an interest with body language, and treat them as I would want to be treated. I say hello in badly mispronounced Mandarin, “ni hao” throughout China, “sain baina uu” in Inner Mongolia and in traditional Tibetan regions of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai, “tashi dele” brings out the smiles.

All my life photography has been my excuse to experience the world in my own private way, one on one with the people that make this big world go around. As a child I lived in a black and white world I could only experience vicariously burying my nose in Life Magazine.

After being buried alive by erupting volcano, survivor receives aid from rescuers,
Armero, Colombia, November 1985. Tom Salyer/UPI

But from the very first day working as a photojournalist on a small daily newspaper, the Journal-American in suburban Seattle, I found that my camera was my license to enter where ordinary people could not. I photographed a baby being born in a log cabin, triumphant high school athletes and the unspeakable tragedy of auto accidents.

A few years later as a wire service photographer with United Press International, I captured news from Space Shuttle launches to politics to a volcanic disaster in Latin America.

 Fleeing from Fidel Castro's Cuba, refugees cling to overloaded shrimp boat on the way
to Key West, Florida, May, 1980 Tom Salyer/UPI

During the Mariel Boat Lift in 1980, when over 100,000 Cubans fled their island nation on fishing boats, I flew in a helicopter off Key West over the Straights of Florida. About half way to Cuba over the open ocean, we encountered a ship with so many refugees clinging to it’s decks, they looked like ants. We were so close to the water the chopper’s landing struts were lapping the tops of the waves. I told the pilot over the intercom that we just shot tomorrow’s page one photo. And it was, in the New York Times, the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinal and elsewhere. I was there, I got to see a bit of history being made, I got to see things everyday people did not, and my camera was my excuse to be there.

I shared the helicopter that day with Olivier Rebot, a French photojournalist . A year or two later we received word he was killed by a sniper’s bullet while covering the civil war in El Salvador. It struck him in the chest right above the edge of his body armor. As a young UPI shooter I had wanted to see more action, but I slowly realized I was not cut out for the really dangerous stuff. I still got to see some exciting things over the years, and am grateful that I “missed” some of the “real” news stories of the day.

As a commercial photographer and occasional photojournalist, I’m happy with following the work I receive, not worrying about the “big” shoots out there, doing the best job I can on even routine assignments. I’ve meet interesting people on executive portrait shoots, I’ve shared the lives of foster teens, I've paddled down Bolivian rivers with a humanitarian medical team, and I get to visit China. After more than 30 years my camera is still my own private ticket to experience the world.

To view more examples of journalistic photography from China, please visit my Miami commercial photography portfolio site.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sounds Overheard: Swamp Creatures Create Jobs

Visitors can hear an entirely different Everglades National Park after the sun sets. 

I really don’t recommend visiting Everglades National Park during Florida’s summer rainy season, unless you enjoy being part of the food chain by donating blood to the clouds of incessantly buzzing hungry mosquitos.

Recently I witnessed two pale tourists wearing t-shirts and shorts driving a rental car, apparently straight from Miami International Airport as their luggage was sticking from the convertible’s rear seat. They seemed to be enjoying the drive, wind in their hair.  

Listen to this natural sound field-recorded this summer as the sun set and then under a sliver of moon: 1) tree bound insects  2) multiple frog species sing  3) an alligator splashes 4) mosquitoes buzz.

They gave me a very curious look as I wadded out of the flooded sawgrass prairie, dressed head to toe in insect protective gear, carrying a shotgun microphone atop a seven-foot long pole. When I drove past the next pullout, they were dancing and swatting and flailing their arms as clouds of bugs descended upon their bare skin. Maybe I should of passed along a warning that insect repellent only makes the bugs madder?

Most important summertime equipment to record nature sounds in Everglades National Park are mosquito jacket, veil, gloves and very thick pants. Bare feet in sandals would prove to be quite foolish!

Actually, being part of the food chain helps fulfill God’s big plan in the swamp: female mosquitos need blood to brood their young, their fry feed inch long mosquito fish, which feed wading birds and larger fish, which end up attracting tourists and kayakers and sportsmen to visit the national park.

Wow, quick, tell Congress that donating blood to mosquitos is really a Jobs Plan for park rangers, scientists and tour guides.The Democrats and Republicans must quit fighting in Washington about the deficit, they should come down here this summer and walk around the swamp in their underwear, baring all to the mosquitos.

All seriousness aside, for the sound clip above my recording gear included: 1) Sennheiser ME 67 long gun mic plus K6 powering capsule 2) Sound Devices MixPre D preamp field mixer 3) Tascam DR-100 dual channel recorder 4) K-tek KE-79 boom pole and K-mount shock mount 5) Windtech MM302 Mic Muff 6) Petro Deca Mixer Bag 7) Sony MDR-7506 head phones 8) Benadryl spray

During my assignments and travels I've been recording the sounds I overhear, and many don't have supporting photographs or stories. This occasional series will be my excuse to share my audio orphans, these Sounds Overheard

View more multimedia featuring field-recorded natural sound at my Miami Multimedia Photography portfolio site.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Shamans Appease Mountain Gods, Qinghai, China

Every July shamanistic festivals featuring ritual dances, holy skin drums, and food offerings are designed to appease the mountain gods and guarantee good harvests in villages around Tongren. After three frenzied days of communicating with ancient Mongolian army generals, reincarnations of the gods, the shamans go into deep trances.

Link to iPhone & iPad friendly version of multimedia audio slide show.

Although not officially Buddhist, the festivals take place in and around Tibetan Buddhist temples and monasteries, and attract hundreds of observers and participants. Wearing distinctive peaked hats with red tassels, young boys through middle aged men dance for hours, circling the walled courtyard. Senior men carry flags and banners. Young girls solemnly march, enduring heavy coral beads and silver medallions braided into their long hair.

Ethnic Tibetan dancer takes break during Tongren Shaman Festival, Qinghai Province, China

Villagers bring offerings, including long bolts of beautiful fabric that are tied horizontally from the temple’s decoratively carved timbers. Offerings of food arrive, small plates of tsampa, a Tibetan barley flour bread, fruit, flowers and candy. Offerings of liquor are drunk by the shamans, shared with dancers and finally poured on the ground.

I photographed this Tongren Shaman Festival by walking up a steep hill from downtown Tongren, a small dusty town two hours from Qinghai Province's capital Xining. The amazing sounds of goat skin drums, silver bells, brass cymbals and the “brrrrrrrr” of the frenetic shaman were all recorded in the field as I photographed the festivities.

View more multimedia audio slide shows from China, and Miami Multimedia Photography. Last summer I wrote almost daily from my trip to Qinghai, China.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Yes Toto, There's An Illusion Behind The Curtian

Earlier this month I was invited back to the Art Institute in Ft. Lauderdale by photography teacher Steven Nestler, who asked me to show his Introduction to Photography students examples of my environmental portraits. For this visit I decided to pull back the emerald green curtain, just like Dorothy's little dog Toto in The Wizard of Oz, and show the very ordinary reality of location photography.

While photographing an attorney on top of wind swept terrace high above Coconut Grove, I was unable to keep my usual soft boxes from blowing over. So I improvised, taping a silk down, and blew light up from it, filling in his face with a tight grid spot.  Lession, wing it, but hide your tricks behind a curtain. (Andrew Hall, defense attorney for John Ehrlichman of Watergate fame, for the ABA Journal.)

The students were so early in their studies, Steven explained, that they had no idea how portraits of people could be created outside of a studio.  Previously, for more advanced classes I've gone into detailed explanations of cross lighting, light modifiers, lighting for depth, dragging the shutter and playing with color temperature. I've then followed up with live lighting demonstrations, picking a cluttered classroom, an empty stairway or outdoor parking lot in which to create an interesting portrait. The students would haul out my lighting kits, and under my direction, set up the scene, translating the theory they had been learning into real life photos.

At those live demos students told me they were surprised you could make such interesting portraits out of such uninteresting locations. So for this most recent class visit I thought I would speed over a lot of the technical stuff that the beginning students had not covered yet, and stick to opening their minds to the possibilities of location portraits.

Photographing in a tiny office, the main soft box stood barely a yard in front of subject, causing me to just poke my lens from underneath. A hard light outside the window projected through blinds from camera left, and a strip soft box stood outside the slightly open door at right. Magazines helped with positioning. (Rita Johnson for My Business.)

From my digital archive I dug out several series of photos, first the final successful portrait, then the very first test shot with no lights, followed by images showing the lights as I added them in. The work in progress shots showed the less than ideal locations I had squeezed photos out of.

It's the finished photograph that counts, I explained, not textbook lighting diagrams and mathematically precise ratios. You do what ever it takes, placing the lights where you are able, flying by the seat of your pants, just so the subject looks great and your client receives a terrific story telling portrait.

And while sweating the lighting, calculating exposure, schmoozing the subject and shooting, I advised, don't let anybody know that behind the photographic magic curtain, there is an every day guy pulling the levers as best he can, hoping for the best. In the end, getting back home to Kansas is all our readers and clients really care about.

To view more Miami corporate photography, please visit my portfolio web site.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Cancer Survivor Only Cried For One Day

I felt really bad when my question made Lainie cry.

She was sitting on the edge of her bed, her Boston terriers Oliver and Stella curled up in her lap, and, dressed in pink and pearls, she was a very pretty 27-year-old. I certainly didn’t begin the interview with the intention of catching her with her defenses down in order to record her raw emotions on tape.

Watch this multimedia audio slide show and hear cancer survivor Lainie tell her story. iPhone & iPad version.

It was just one of the questions on my two page list:

- paint me a picture of those first days after your cancer diagnosis
- how have you decided to live your life in light of your illness?
- when you were a little girl, what did you want to grow up to be?

That last one made her cry.

As a child, she wanted to be an actress. In college, a nurse. Since cancer ... her dreams have been to live life to the fullest.

Within a few moments she bounced back to the strong and positive Lainie Schultz who has beaten adrenal carcinoma, Stage 2 breast cancer, melanoma, and thyroid cancer. When diagnosed with breast cancer at 24, she cried for “only one day”, and has since refused to let the disease prevent her from enjoying her life.

Young cancer survivor Lainie Schultz wears bracelets during her fight with cancer.

Lainie turned to Broward Health in Ft. Lauderdale to treat her cancer. Because she was so young for a breast cancer diagnosis, her doctors sought genetic testing. More shocking news, she had a rare genetic disorder called Li-Fraumeni Syndrome which predisposes for cancer only about 400 people in the country.

In spite of the many challenges facing her, Lainie decided to embrace life full throttle, and that’s why Broward Health commissioned me to photograph her for an advertising campaign and to produce a multimedia audio slide show for their web site.

Lainie has not only become a force field of positive energy for those closest to her - parents, fiance and large circle of friends - she has taken on the role of cancer survivor evangelist. She blogs intimately at My Journey with Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, and has been interviewed by print, television and online news media. On Voices of Survivors, she wrote the following:
It’s saddening to give up your innocence at 26, but when you’re stripped down to your unrefined self, bald, and have cancer, you find strengths you never knew you had. You develop relationships that are closer than you ever thought possible. You see love and support in those around you that overwhelm you at times. I have been able to meet others who inspire me and have given me a new meaning to the word, “strong.” Every morning I wake up, and thank my lucky stars I am able to call myself a survivor!
After reading her words above it’s time for me to get a little choked up ... I know, I’m the hard bitten newsman with decades of objective story telling experience, never get involved, just keep to the facts please. I held my emotions in check during a week of photography, interviewing, editing audio and composing the multimedia piece.  I’m a cancer survivor too, but have pushed aside my experience as being so very far removed from Lainie’s daily challenges.

So today I’m dropping my objectively, and will just come out and say it. I’m impressed by how Lainie is living her life, and I’m inspired by her. I’m sorry I made her cry, but not sorry she made me cry too.

Besides Lainie, I have to thank Jenny Mackie of Broward Health's Marketing Department, who served as creative director, set dresser and dog wrangler. Carolyn Jones was a master with makeup and wardrobe, and Antoine Heusse did the heavy lifting as lighting assistant.

To view more Miami multimedia photography, please visit my portfolio site.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sounds Overheard: Alligator Primeval Love Songs

An alligator at sunrise in Everglades National Park.

Listening to big old bull alligators bellow is a primeval experience. After 200 million years on earth, these guys have perfected a low, deep, rumbling sound that raises the hair on the back of your neck. Creepy, and thrilling.

  •  0:00 two male alligators bellow
  •  0:25 alligators thrash
  •  0:38 bees in tree canopy
  •  0:55 Northern Cardinal sings
  •  1:01 Barred Owl in background
  •  1:27 Red-winged Blackbirds
  •  1:52 White Ibis fly overhead
I was deep inside a hardwood hammock in Everglades National Park, and two love struck males were bellowing back and forth as they competed for the affections of a lone female. The three occupied a living room sized water hole, a small refuge during this month’s height of the dry season. I imagined the female being enthralled by their macho display. I kept my distance.

While they arched their backs and raised their massive heads out of the water, I recorded the low rumbles emanating from their vibrating diaphragms. The water along side them pulsated, with tiny water droplets shooting upward from the surface. After their squabble echoed off the surrounding trees, I was left alone with the quiet sounds of a frog or two, a lone cricket, and the low buzz of bees high above in the flowering tree canopy.

At the edge of the hammock I captured song birds, including the Northern Cardinal while a Barred Owl hooted way off in the distance. Upon emerging onto the sawgrass prairie, a rambunctious group of Red-winged blackbirds were chattering away. Then complete silence, broken only when the beating wings of six White Ibis flew right over my head, the leader squawking directions to the group.

For those interested in learning more about listening to cardinals and how to attract them to your yard here is an excellent resource

During my assignments and travels I've been recording the sounds I overhear, and many don't have supporting photographs or stories. This occasional series will be my excuse to share my audio orphans, these Sounds Overheard.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Young History Detectives Discover Segregation

History was being made 50 years ago this week as the first cross country buses of  freedom riders rolled into Alabama and Mississippi, only to face withering racial hatred and violence. As two brilliant PBS television documentaries have shown, the non-violent participants played a pivotal roll in nudging the Kennedy administration to finally act, and the civil-rights movement turned the corner that leads directly to our current times.

Did we really live in an America were segregation of whites and blacks was not only legal, but thrived south of the Mason Dixon line? Where white mobs beat and murdered blacks while racist police did nothing? Where schools and hospitals were segregated, blacks sat in the back of buses and weren’t allowed into restaurants?

Multimedia audio slide show tells 1960 story of first Florida high school to integrate. iPhone & iPad version.

I know we did, as I grew up in the 1960’s. I recall flickering black and white television images of students blasted with fire hoses and reading about the freedom riders in Life magazine.

But do young people today know this history? Recently I found out that some Miami high school students were amazed to hear that segregation was a way of life in their home town.

Being white and living in Idaho and Washington state, to me the civil-rights movement was an abstraction. I had never experienced discrimination. In my family we were raised to be inclusive, my parents frequently reminding us that the color of one’s skin did not matter. Then Martin Luther King died. His assassination shook my college idealism to the core, and for a while my friends and I wondered what sort of world was awaiting us.

When I moved to Miami 30 years ago it rarely occurred to me that I was living in the deep south. I remember in 1980 our realtor remarking that just a few years before our Miami Shores neighborhood had been “red lined”, where banks would keep minorities out by applying more stringent loan requirements than to whites. Though no longer pure white, we wouldn’t have to worry about “them”, she implied.

Miami’s Jim Crow legacy hit home when a family friend told of being able to buy a senior prom dress at a downtown department store, but she was unable to try it on first as the fitting rooms were for whites only. She had to buy it and hope it fit. She went on to be the first African American woman judge in Florida.

When history teacher David Monaco, left, told his AP American History class Miami used to be segregated, Taylor Altidor, right, and her classmates couldn't believe it.

In the years since the lens through which I viewed my adopted community was that of a rich cultural stew, Cubans and Nicaraguans and Colombians, Coconut Grove Bahamians and African Americans, with Haitians rounding out the mix. An occasional remaining Gringo would be tossed in for seasoning. South Florida’s civil-rights legacy was not on my radar screen.

Last February my radar lit up. I was commissioned to produce a multimedia show about the 50th anniversary of Florida’s first high school to integrate, and while interviewing former students I learned first hand what it was like to live in a segregated Miami.

Paul Wyche, who in 1960 entered the then all white Archbishop Curley School for Boys, told me how his cross country team left a Howard Johnson’s restaurant when he was refused service because he was black. And as a student sports reporter for the Miami Herald he and the black basketball players were called the “N-word” in Homestead.

Constance Moore Thornton described to me the “colored” and “white” drinking fountains at her neighborhood Winn Dixie grocery store, which offended her, so she refused to drink from either. Yet as a rebellious teen she rode in the front of Miami’s buses and endured stares from both blacks and whites without incident. She helped integrate sister school Notre Dame Academy, and like Wyche, felt fully accepted by their Catholic school, faculty and fellow students.

Sandwiched between the Spring 1960 student-led sit ins that integrated lunch counters in Tennessee, Georgia and throughout the south, and the May 1961 freedom rides, history was being made in Miami too. The Archbishop quietly admitted black students into his Catholic high schools in September 1960, without “making a fuss” the Miami Herald reported.

Black and white students from the early 1960s returned to their high school to share their experience with integration.

The Archbishop did not have to worry about politics nor historic prejudice within his jurisdiction, plus hundred’s of Cuban students were then flooding his schools as they fled Fidel Castro’s revolution. A few black students moving up from all black parish elementary schools was, as we would say today, a no brainer.

The boy’s school had inherited a legacy of inclusiveness from it’s name sake, Fr. Michael Joseph Curley, Bishop of St. Augustine. In 1916 he led a vocal public campaign on behalf of thee Sisters of St. Joseph who were arrested in violation of state law which prohibited white women from teaching in “negro schools.”

Miami-Dade County schools did not desegregate until the early 1970s, and then only under a a federal court order, which was not lifted until 2001. Observers note, however, that the public schools had to deal with segregated neighborhoods, busing and a sprawling district encompassing hundreds of schools.

To mark the 50th anniversary of it’s integration, Archbishop Curley Notre Dame planned a day long event during Black History Month where students from that era - black, white and Latino -  would share their experiences with the students of today. Principal Brother Sean Moffett asked me to tell the story through multimedia, and my first challenge was how.

I decided to interview two former students, now in their 60s, to open the story by talking about their experiences living as teens with segregation. No explanation at first as to why, I wanted a bit of mystery to draw viewers in.

I set up a mini studio at the school the day before the celebration, shot on black seamless and converted the files to black and white to evoke a historic feel. From 50-year-old yearbook photos I cross cut to color as the story shifted to the present day.

Constance Moore Thornton remembered "colored" water fountains at her neighborhood Miami grocery store.

Not wanting to build my visual story on just the official ceremony, I photographed the Advanced Placement American History class researching integration history, including exploring micro fiche film a the public library and interviewing students from the early 1960s. This also gave me a great “History Detectives” hook.

I recorded natural sound from the library trip, machines whirling and students reading, and wired subjects with lavaliere microphones and recorders during classroom discussions.

But I was stuck on how to use audio to tell the overall story, from historic perspective to describing events. My technique of interviewing a subject and building a narrative around whatever came out of their mouths would not work. I had points important to the story and set events already photographed. I decided to write a script, and with the help of Junior Taylor Altidor, who would be narrating, and history teacher David Monaco, that’s what I did.

Taylor leads with her amazement in learning about Miami’s segregationist history, and describes how her multiethnic school of just over 300 students embraces a philosophy of inclusiveness. And she notes how those who pioneered integration 50 years ago led to her way of life today.

The result is a five minute multimedia audio slide show that I hope is an informative and emotional history lesson for today’s students. The school plans to feature the piece on the ACND web site, driving traffic from media interviews with students and administrators. They've also received requests to place the story in several university history archives.

Many thanks for the help of Brother Moffett, CFC, VP of Student Services Douglas Romanik, David Monaco, and Taylor Altidor.  And thanks to the freedom riders and all those who took risks during the civil-rights movement ... today our country's race relations are far from perfect, but they've come a long ways in 50 years.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

“I Hate Moving Around”, Teen Wants Adoptive Family

In the card game of life, the dealer has given Corey more than his fair share of tough hands to play. When his mother died two years ago while he was 14, it was after her long struggle with self destructive behavior. His father had long disappeared from his life, and the State of Florida became the orphan's only parent.

His first foster care placement found him forced to clean house and do chores while the family’s biological teens did nothing. “So I went on runaway”, Corey says, and he’s bounced from one placement to another ever since. Temptations not resisted led to spending a year at a structured camp on the edge of the Everglades.

Teenager Corey describes his life in foster care and why he wants an adoptive home.
iPad friendly version.

Corey is the subject of the second multimedia audio slide show I’ve produced on commission for the Heart Gallery of Broward County, the traveling photographic portrait exhibit of children in foster care that long for permanent adoptive homes. Only one in ten teens are adopted from foster care, and multiple agencies will deploy the shows in recruitment and training seminars and on line hoping to improve those statistics.

Last October Corey finally moved to a Broward County home where his foster mom “Miss Michelle” and foster brother “Q”, as he calls them, are providing a loving environment that he says he’s thriving in. He’s attending school, has a girlfriend, is pulling his weight at home.

It may be the momentary clarity of a 16-year-old, but he says he wants to become a chef  and attend culinary school after graduating from high school in two years. He’s done with temptations, he says, and adds “some people try to get you into doing bad things, but you just have to show them you are a leader and not be a follower.”

All Corey says he needs now is a family to adopt him, before he ages out of the foster care system at age 18. When be becomes an adult he knows the State of Florida will support him if he stays in school, but he longs for that permanent family. One that can sustain him and give him love, which he can return unconditionally.

Last month two teen girls’ shared their thoughts about why they should be adopted, and the advantages over adopting a baby. See more stories featuring Miami multimedia photography that blend public-radio-style interviews with photojournalism.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sounds Overheard: Cuban Exiles Play Dominoes

Playing dominoes with less than two full hands at Miami's Domino Park.

For the older generation of Cuban exiles living in Miami, Domino Park, in the heart the Little Havana neighborhood, is a direct connection to their old lives in Cuba. Located on Calle Ocho ( 8th Street ) just west of downtown with its modern high rises, dozens of men, and a few women, gather all day and night to play a very traditional game.

Be transported to Little Havana's Domino Park with 37 seconds of natural sound.

The clack clack clack of game pieces slapping against the worn metal tables pierce the animated conversation, wafting cigar smoke and aromatic Cuban coffee. The official name of the tiny park is Maximo Gomez Park, named after a Cuban revolutionary who fought against Spanish oppression in the late 19th century.

After the Spanish American War, decades of 20th century strongman governments, the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and 50 years of Fidel Castro rule, these domino players are still waiting for the oppression to finally end on their island homeland.

Meanwhile, they will keep playing dominoes in Miami.

During my assignments and travels I've been recording the sounds I overhear, and many don't have supporting photographs or stories. This occasional series will be my excuse to share my audio orphans, these Sounds Overheard

More audio recording and Miami multimedia photography can be viewed here.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sounds Overheard: Pig Frogs & Grumpy Birds

Bottle nose dolphin fishing for lunch alongside my kayak last Sunday at Coon Key where Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge meets the Gulf of Mexico.

The Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge is a hidden natural gem that most motorists miss while racing across busy Tamiami Trail from Miami to cosmopolitan Naples on Florida's south west coast. The refuge  protects a unique subtropical estuarine ecosystem, ranging from marsh wetlands to mangrove lined islands along the Gulf of Mexico.

Listen to 1:50 recording of wading birds at dusk followed by chorus of frogs.

About an hour before sundown I pulled off Tamiami Trail and parked in the newly constructed Marsh Trail parking lot. With no other visitors at the tall observation tower, and only the low rumble of an occasional highway truck to distract me, I quickly slowed down and began to hear the amazing sounds of the saw grass marsh settle down for the evening.

Hundreds of wading birds, great blue herrons, snowy egrets, coots and white ibis were settling into the trees of a water surrounded rookery, squakwing and honking and grumbling amongst themselves. As the sun reached the horizon, they calmed down a little, with the ibis flapping their wings in unison.

In the fading light a chorus of frogs croaked back and forth, a high pitched chirp chirp chirp of reptilian love calls soon overpowering the sounds from the rookery. Finally, in the pitch dark, pig frogs got to work sounding like, well, croaking pigs. I imagined tourists thinking wild hogs were crouched hiding in the tall grass, waiting for an opportune moment to pounce and devour the uninitiated traveler.

The only creatures attacking me were the voracious mosquitoes, which were sucking blood from the microphone holding hand I extended from under my bug jacket's protective netting. Hidden natural gem or not, it was time to retreat to the safety of my car.

During my assignments and travels I've been recording the sounds I overhear, and many don't have supporting photographs or stories. This occasional series will be my excuse to share my audio orphans, these Sounds Overheard

More audio recording and Miami multimedia photography can be viewed here.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

“Adopt Me, I’m Unforgettable”, Foster Teen Dreams

Best friends Celene and Sheaundra are hanging out in the park together, seemingly typical teens giggling while swinging, gossiping about school friends and alongside a sun sparkled lake share whispered dreams for their future.

But unlike the other children playing in the park, these two girls have no families.  Both have lived in foster care over half their lives, orphans after the State of Florida severed their parent’s rights to raise them. They both long to leave their group homes and be adopted into permanent families.

Teens who’ve lived half their lives in foster care describe why they want to be adopted in this 3:10 audio slide show. iPad friendly version.

The problem is, teens in foster care have an uphill battle finding what the Heart Gallery of Broward County calls “Forever Families”, says Barbara Schechter, Executive Director of the Ft. Lauderdale based traveling exhibit of photographs featuring foster children who are available for adoption.

Of the 90 foster children currently featured in the Heart Gallery, 60 per-cent are teens, but only 10 per-cent, about six, will find permanent families, she says. With children under 12, adoption rates are much better, with 30 per-cent being adopted, and the percentages are even higher for those under eight years old.

Schechter believes some potential adoptive parents let unfounded or exaggerated perceptions about teens in foster care get in the way of their considering older children, fearing the foster care system has hardened children into uncontrollable or defiant teens.

At times, she says, teens “are set in their ways, they talk back, they don’t want to be told what to do or how to do it and they don’t like to follow rules”. Then notes, “actually, this could describe my own teenager”, and can apply to foster teens too.

Schechter suggests approaching teen adoption as a mutual decision between child and family, allowing plenty of time for both parties to get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. “Families who can be open about who they are and what they expect can help to make the matching process much easier for the child”. Teens are old enough to choose their family, she adds.

To help prospective adoptive parents start thinking about teens, the Heart Gallery commissioned me to produce a multimedia audio slide show featuring the voices of Celene and Sheaundra.

Teens in foster care often have some tough history, Sheaudra, 15, frankly told me in December, and that’s why they need a family.  “I think that’s why people kinda judge us. They think it’s our fault (we’re in foster care), but it’s not my fault ... because my parents made these mistakes, and I didn’t”. 

Celne, 14, thinks adopting teens is easier than adopting babies because “... teens are more mature and it’s easier for them to learn than a little kid ... (who) messes up the house, throws stuff, yells and has temper tantrums...”.

She’s a very self confident young lady when she wraps the multimedia show with “I should get adopted ‘cause I’m awesome, I’m smart, I’m mature ... I’m unforgettable!”

The Heart Gallery of Browad County is not only looking for people to adopt children, but also matches those willing to be mentors, donate time, become a child advocate or donate funds. They work hand in hand with Child Net, the private, not for profit organization that manages the child welfare system in Broward County for the State of Florida.

See more stories featuring miami multimedia photography that blend public-radio-style interviews with photojournalism.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Talking Picture Postcard - Tibetan Harvest Prayers

While Buddhist monks chanted and tossed paper prayers up to the blue sky, ranchers and farmers whooped, hollered and sprayed cheap liquor over the two dozen people gathered at the edge of Qinghai Lake. Last July an extended family of ethnic Tibetans were praying for a successful harvest and green pastures for their livestock.

View an iPad  friendly version of this 28 second audio slide show.

Monks carefully placed prayer flags to capture the breezes at this tiny holy place, a row of low stupas sprouting from the rocky and treeless soil where green grass, endless sky and brilliant blue lake merged.

We had spotted the multiple colors while speeding by on the highway, and when we followed the rutted track toward the lake, the only people around were two dirty children willing to pose for coins atop a horse. I wandered over to the fluttering flags, and within minutes the celebrants arrived, monks and civilians pouring out of 4 x 4 pickup trucks.

Located in a depression of the Tibetan Plateau 10,000 feet above sea level, saline Qinghai Lake has no outlet and is China’s largest. Qinghai means “Blue/Teal Sea” in Chinese, and also names this sparsely populated province that contains only about 6 million of China's 1.3 billion people.

Like the few lines we scribble and mail home describing our vacation travels, this Talking Picture Postcard, a brief five photographs and 28 seconds of field-recorded sound, is my way of saying “The weather is fine, having a great time, which you were here.”

And also, "have a great harvest!"

View more Miami multimedia photography at my portfolio site.