Posts Tagged ‘Light’

The conclusion of my attempt to explicate what I attempt to do photographically.


I began when my father gave me a camera, probably a cheap Kodak Brownie, at the age of 7.

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Frank Schiel, 1964 c, my father, photo by Skip Schiel


Caldwell School playground, Chicago’s Southside, 1950 c.,
photo by Skip Schiel

I lost a good Kodak foldout camera at a train station in Michigan while waiting to return from Boy Scout camp when about 12 years old.

Kodak folding camera


Pearl Schiel, 1954, my mother, photo by Skip Schiel

When I was in high school my father brought out his old high school chemistry notes and perhaps accidentally turned to the section on photographic chemistry. I was immediately entranced and about 5 years later while in college I built my first darkroom in the basement kitchen of the rooming house I shared with other men in Seattle, Washington. They were not happy with the odors.

I hitchhiked around the Midwest during college breaks in the early 1960s to make slide shows and show them to family and neighbors, most of whom fell asleep.

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Self portrait by Skip Schiel, 1960

Iowa Farm

Iowa Farm, 1962, photo by Skip Schiel

Great plains

The Great Plains, 1962 c, believed by many to be too boring to photograph, photo by Skip Schiel

Partly because of the rotten reception to my slide shows I tried to burn most of my early slides in our basement fireplace, my mother stopped me. I have no idea where those slides are now and do not care.

At some point early in my life I learned that my grandfather Ben Schiel had long ago opened a photographic portrait studio in Dubuque, Iowa. It probably quickly failed as did most of his other enterprises.

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Ben Schiel in front of his Palace Photographic Studio, Dubuque, Iowa, 1910

I am reassured that I might be on a good path by the fact that the Schiel family consists of at least four generations of photographers—my grandfather Ben, my father Frank (a dedicated but talentless amateur), me, and my daughter Joey, full of talent. Who knows, perhaps the illustrious Austrian artist, Egon Schiele, is part of my family lineage. And what will become of my grandchildren, Rex, Cid, and Eleanor?


End suffering and foster enlightenment, traditional Buddhist values.

Do this with my camera, thru participation in struggles for environmental integrity and justice—Charles River, Boston Harbor, and Quabbin Reservoir in 1980s; American Indians begun in 1982; Bread and Puppet Theater, begun in the early 1980s and sporadically continuing; South Africa in 1990 and 1998; working with the Struggles Against Racism photographers’ collective in 1990s; Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage in 1995; Middle Passage Pilgrimage in 1998; and my 3 current projects, Israel-Palestine beginning in 2003, Detroit which began in 2010, and my new Twilight series, a departure from my politically based work: I explore light, that narrow slice of the 24 hour diurnal cycle known otherwise as the Magic Hour.


I call myself a participatory, socially engaged photographer which means I participate in actions striving for justice and then photographically observe and interpret the actions about human rights. I also show conditions which lead to these actions and provide context.


Skip Schiel in the Dheisheh refugee camp, Bethlehem, 2003, photo by Mark Daoud

I take some risks: I am willing to suffer for the truth. As W. Eugene Smith declared, “I have tried to let truth be my prejudice.”


Demonstration outside Ofer prison for prisoners’ rights, West Bank, Palestine, 2012

If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.

—Robert Capa

My Israel-Palestine photo series is at times controversial. As when a few people at my Quaker meeting walked out of my first slide show, Facts on the Ground, but we’ve reconciled—or are reconciling.

An upcoming lecture of [Schiel’s at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education] is entitled: The Hydropolitics of Israel and Palestine. What photography course would be complete without a little “evil Israelis are dehydrating the innocent Palestinians”-style propaganda? The lecture is overpriced at $2.

…Schiel has many fine photos as well as a gallery. You must understand what a sad joke this is. Foreigners visit, put themselves under the command of local Arab leaders and involve themselves in provoking and providing cover for those who provoke the Israeli soldiers — soldiers who are far more disciplined than to treat them as they probably deserve. 

solomonia.com, 2007

During my last slide show at Friends Meeting at Cambridge in 2012, Eyewitness Gaza, the pro-Israel organization, Stand with Us, and Kerry Hurwitz picketed outside and later tracked me to Chicago. Writing a letter about me to local Jewish leaders, they may have blocked a high school visit organized by the American Friends Service Committee in 2011. On that same tour, showing at a mosque, someone misread my slide show and angrily shut me down—he thought I was pro-Israel.

In 2011, Tom Jackson, with significant help from Adham Khalil in Gaza, made a film about Gaza and me, Eyewitness Gaza, how I work there and why. I feel it accurately portrays my work in that region and of that style, politically informed and intended. Later with much help from Maria Termini, I published a book of my photos with the same title, Eyewitness Gaza.

Eyewitness Gaza (the movie)

A three minute preview

A ten minute preview of Eyewitness Gaza (made early in the editing process)

The full movie, fifty minutes long

An interview with me by Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine

Eyewitness Gaza (the book)

Aside from the message or content, this is my method: experiment; draw from traditions represented by W. Eugene Smith, Dorothea Lange, Sabastio Selgado, Magnum photographers, and many others in my lineage; intend to surprise, entertain, and teach. Bathe the audience in beauty, a beauty that treads the thin line between horror and beauty. As Dostoevsky stated in The Idiot—Beauty will save the world.

… it has been publicly [implied] that I am anti-Semitic because of a cartoon I created expressing sad dismay at the plight and suffering of the Palestinians in the recent bombardment of Gaza [November 2012].

As a cartoonist I am not interested in defending the dominant, the powerful, the well-resourced and the well-armed because such groups are usually not in need of advocacy, moral support or sympathetic understanding; they have already organised sufficient publicity for themselves and prosecute their points of view with great efficiency.

The work of the artist is to express what is repressed or even to speak the unspoken grief of society. And the cartoonist’s task is not so much to be balanced as to give balance, particularly in situations of disproportionate power relationships such as we see in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a healthy tradition dating back to the court jester and beyond: to be the dissenting protesting voice that speaks when others cannot or will not.

—Michael Leunig, “Just a cartoonist with a moral duty to speak”.


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You might find it an interesting exercise to talk about your process as a photographer. Who are you as a person? What draws you to make an image? Who are your influences? One of the points of exhibiting work on the walls of the Friends Center (in Cambridge MA) is to get to know one another better. So we would like you to step back just a bit from photographs as message only. Think of it as a unique opportunity to become known in a way that would not be appropriate to one of your usual presentations. Also the exercise of self-reflection can be quite beneficial for most of us as we all tend to see the world fairly subjectively even when we think we are being very objective and that we are dedicated “truth-tellers.”

—George, one of the curators of the exhibit, Gaza & the West Bank, at Friends Meeting at Cambridge, January 2013


Thanks to Pat Rabby and an African tradition she discovered: everyday honor the ancestors, contemporaries, and successors in one’s lineage. So, I honor W. Eugene Smith, Dorothea Lange, Margaret Bourke White, Minor White, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, Julia Margaret Cameron, Sebastio Salgado, and Henri Cartier-Bresson as ancestors, thanking them for their examples and teaching; photographers I work with or know about as contemporaries, thanking them for covering topics I don’t have time or experience for; and my students and those who might view my photos and learn from them (positive as well as negative lessons) as successors. I pray to offer a vital if small contribution to my lineage. This way I do not have to be intimidated by the achievements of others or compete with peers. I remain grateful for all their contributions to the unending stream of good photography.

As long as I can earn enough to pay my taxes I’ll be happy. I’m not a professional photographer you know, I’m an amateur. “Amateur” is the French word for lover.

— Imogen Cunningham

Julia Margaret Cameron | Tennyson's

Alfred Lord Tennyson, photo by Julia Margaret Cameron

Dorothea Lange- Washington, Yakima Valley, near Wapato. One of Chris Adolf's younger children. Farm Security Administration Rehabilitation clients.

Yakima Valley Washington during the Great Depression, photo by Dorothea Lange

In this 1942 Dorothea Lange photograph from the newly published “Impounded,” a family in Hayward, Calif., awaits an evacuation bus.

From the book, Impounded, a family in Hayward, Calif awaits an evacuation bus to a Japanese American internment camp, 1942, photo by Dorothea Lange

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Dorothea Lange

Pick a theme and work it to exhaustion… the subject must be something you truly love or truly hate.

—Dorothea Lange

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Margaret Bourke White

Weston point lobos CROPPED

Point Lobos, 1939, photo by Edward Weston

Edward Weston, Charis Wilson-SM

Charis Wilson, photo by Edward Weston

Anything that excites me for any reason, I will photograph; not searching for unusual subject matter, but making the commonplace unusual.

—Edward Weston


Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson


Henri Cartier-Bresson, photo by Jane Brown

To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart. It’s a way of life.

—Henri Cartier-Bresson

Refugee camp at Benako, Tanzania, 1994. © Sebastião Salgado

Refugee camp at Benako, Tanzania, 1994, photo by Sebastiao Salgado



Margaret Bourke-White’s photo of black South African gold miners, deep beneath Johannesburg, made in 1950. Inspired by this photograph I worked twice in South Africa in 1990 and 1998.


Pete Seeger as pictured at Harvard by Jon Chace in 2000 c, with my photo made in 1996, Pete’s banjo quote: This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender, after Woody’s This machine kills fascists. Seeger combined art and activism in a powerful, emulatable manner.

US navy war photos

My first photo book, US Navy War Photographs, compiled by Captain Edward Steichen, USNR, published around 1947, that I bought in a drug store on Chicago’s South Side around 1951

Coffee for Eniwetok Marine Survivors


From US Navy War Photographs

Photographers mate 2 2

Photographer’s Mate-3,2,1, Chief, published 1961-1964, I studied the entire series assiduously, as if myself preparing to be Chief Photographer’s Mate



An exhibit of W. Eugene Smith’s photos of WW2 that I saw in Kyoto Japan in 1995, wondering,
why would a conquered nation exhibit photos showing its conquest and suffering?

Woolman booklet

John Woolman, the Quaker luminary. With David Morse, I made a booklet which includes many of my photos related to the booklet’s topic, 2000. (Click on the image for a copy.)


Devil’s Slide by Minor White, with whom I informally studied when he taught at MIT. With others we co-founded a school of photography at Project Inc. in Cambridge Massachusetts around 1970.

MLK_mosaic_poster-gabe greenbergMartin Luther King Jr, as shown pensively in a mosaic photo by Gabe Greenberg

…During a recent march in Nabi Saleh village in Palestine, children carried signs that quoted Dr. King. One sign read: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. They held up it up as they marched to get water for their village, only to be rebuffed by tear gas, rubber bullets, and at least one live round. Yet they stood holding another one of King’s admonishments: “If a man has not found something he is willing to die for, then he is not fit to live.”…

—Spare Change News editorial, January 11-24, 2013


Okinawa, Japan, World War 2, photo by W. Eugene Smith

w. eugen smith 2-minimata

From the book, Minimata, about a small Japanese fishing village poisoned by mercury, photo by W. Eugene Smith

From the ground-breaking, world-traveling photography exhibition, The Family of Man, the photo The Way to Paradise Garden by W. Eugene Smith, the final photograph in the series. I read this book when it was published in 1955, in my mind marking a division between hope for a sane world and the later belief that humans are doomed—hopelessness as conveyed by much of subsequent photojournalism.

In 2005 I summarized much of my photographic life in a keynote presentation I made at New England Yearly Meeting sessions (Quaker), “And you will be carried where you do not wish to go, a photographic witness.” (in 8 parts, February 2010)

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to gird your loins and go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your arms, and someone else will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go. (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he [Peter] would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

—John 21: 18

I ponder how my photography is both mirror and window.


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On Holy Saturday, May 4, 2013, the Holy Fire arrived in Beit Sahour from Jerusalem at approximately 3:00 pm. The Holy Fire appears annually at the Church of the Sepulchre in Jerusalem during a special ceremony performed by the Greek Orthodox priests. It is then carried and distributed to all the churches in the West Bank and to other churches in around the Orthodox world.

Thousands of locals and internationals joined in the joyous celebration in front of the Greek Orthodox Church. Local scouts and marching bands created a festive atmosphere.

Beit Sahour is a model of cooperation and brotherhood between Christians and Muslims. Throughout the troubled and turbulent history of the land, the people of Beit Sahour have always stood firm as a united community. Today, Beit Sahour is home to just under 14,000 residents, 80% Christian and 20% Muslim.

Dimitri Diliani, head of the National Christian Coalition in the Holy Land, said Israeli forces deployed heavily in Jerusalem’s Old City. He accused Israel of trying to stop Christians from performing rituals for Holy Saturday and of trying to erase the Christian identity in Jerusalem.

(Drawn from various news sources)

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Excerpts from my journal as I explore the situation in Palestine and Israel

May 5, 2013, Sunday, Bethlehem, the Tawil apartment, kitchen table

I engaged in Holy Fire for the second time yesterday, in Beit Sahour (last year in Beit Jala, both villages adjoin Bethlehem), an easy walk from my home near Shepherds’ Fields to where the action would happen. Someone at the market told me to wait at the Hotel Ararat and there I discovered a high vantage point. Altho the building is about 10 stories high only a few levels have finished rooms. So I climbed stairs to the 4th floor and leaned out a window to show the growing crowds. I then joined in on street level, sauntered back and forth to do my favored grab shot photography (aka hip pocket photography, aka wild mind photography), chatted awhile with a man who splits time between Virginia and Bethlehem (he works for GE medical), and eventually joined the throng to greet the priest with the holy fire.

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I observed Muslims along the Holy Fire route, some of them simply watching, another group throwing hard candies at the car with the fire. Whether to honor the tradition or tease the priest I wasn’t sure. We walked by a mosque next to the Greek Orthodox Church. The procession seems a strong sign of religious co existence.

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While waiting for the Holy Fire I noticed many drummers playing their instruments, about 6 small groups in my locale, from different bands. They all played separately. No one played together. I remembered drumming circles at home in the States where first one person showed up with a drum, then another, and more, and soon the large group would drum together, drawing more and more people, including dancers and other musicians—a large joyous circle. So I asked the guy from Virginia and Beit Sahour, you’ve lived in both places, ever seen drumming circles in the states?—No.—Could you imagine one?—Yes.—Have you noticed here that no one joins with others to drum?—I have, it is very peculiar.

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So I concluded, perhaps prematurely, that this separate drumming mirrors the separateness of some or most of Palestinian society. Coincidently I’ve been reading in the current issue of This Week in Palestine an analysis of separateness, swashbuckling, bravado (shatarah), and impetuousness (nazaqah). Each for oneself and to hell with the rest. Accurate or not? Recent or long-lived? Ali Qliebo in his article, “Bravado, Impetuousness, and Swashbuckling in Palestine Culture,” believes this is recent, an effect of urbanization, and a departure from the relative civility of earlier Ottoman culture. What might this imply for the Palestinian freedom movement?

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I begin to feel more of the widespread despair in Palestine. Cars are part of this—zooming thru intersections. The Palestinian news agency I volunteer for is part of this—lack of support for my work. Ayman told me that in Gaza anyone successful would not disclose the method of attaining success because the successful one did not want to share it with others. My host in Bethlehem, Johnny, is an exception in how well he treats me (while perhaps himself in deep despair at his unemployment). Have I been too long in this region, too many times here, time to move on?

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Minor coda about Palestinian fashion:

While waiting for the entrance of the Holy Fire I noticed high heels, long shiny straightened black hair, and hooked arms (not only women’s in men’s, but occasionally men’s in women’s). I am well situated to notice such cultural signs. Because I’m out of the culture, everything here is new to me, and because I deeply appreciate some of these traits. Linked arms for instance reminds me of walking with a friend a day or so before my departure. I look forward to walking this way again with her. Very very soon. Too bad we can’t do this via Skype.

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Holy Fire, a believer’s account

Holy Fire, a skeptic’s view

“Bravado, Impetuousness, and Swashbuckling in Palestine Culture,” by Ali Qliebo, This Week in Palestine, May 2013

Beit Sahour

“Palestinian Christians ‘mistreated’ by Israel at Easter celebrations”

Holy Fire Photos from Xinhua/Luay Sababa

Holy Fire Lights Orthodox Easter In Jerusalem’s Church Of The Holy Sepulchre (VIDEO) (PHOTOS)

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The caravan of stars
Proceeds without a whisper or a sound;
Mountain, forest, river,
All in lull;
Nature seems lost in contemplation.
O heart, you too be still.
Hold thy grief to thy bosom, and sleep!

—Mhammad Iqbal

Excerpts from my journal during a fall 1012 West Coast tour about Israel & Palestine 


Ferry: Juneau to Sitka Alaska

Sitka Alaska

September 21, 2012, Friday, on the fast ferry to Sitka from Juneau

 Cool, probably in the 40s, foggy.

The Sitka trip offers soft time, time between the presentations I make. The ferry ride is about 4 hours, nothing much to do other than write this journal entry, photograph from the ship thru the fog and as the fog lifts (which presents opportunities for light-based photography), finish the first set of Alaska photos (flight), revise shows, read mail, etc. And then when I can connect with the internet, post the first photo set and do more Israel-Palestine research.

Currently we are in and out of fog. The early morning fog was so thick Elaine worried the ferry might be postponed. Flights are often cancelled. The region is highly weather-dependent, one of its many gifts. I so enjoy Alaska—short term, dropping in to be more directly earth-connected, and then returning to my much-loved city life in the east.

As I entered Alaska after a 12-hour series of flights from my home in Cambridge I slowed down. As I entered the Schroeder home where I will live for 2 weeks I slowed down further (except to revise slide shows). As I boarded the ferry I slowed down even further, and then with the delay to Sitka I am nearly at a standstill. Very calm, tranquil, unworried.

Except for 2 factors: the shows themselves, their quality, how audiences will respond, and T, what I mean to her, she to me.

About one hour ago, the ship shook and shuddered, nearly bounced in the water. Elaine, in the women’s bathroom, emerged to check. She looked shocked. Others stopped their reading and eating. I was standing and instinctively ducked when the ship shook.

We had hit submerged debris that has now stuck in one of the 4 water jets. Trying different maneuvers such as reversing direction, blowing the water forward, the captain attempts to eject the debris. So far, no luck. A long ride made longer. At least he gives us up-to-date and I hope honest information.

September 22, 2012, Saturday, home of L, Sitka

Cool, probably in the low 50s, fog in the mountains, half clear in the town.

I sit at a long wooden table in the spacious second story living space (living-dining-cooking combined) of an elegant 2 story home built high on a hill overlooking the water and mountains. The high plateau was first inhabited by Russian pioneers—white inhabitants, not sure if natives lived here—since the early 1700s.

Our host, L, is a short demure woman, probably Jewish (her mother from Russia), who works as a clinical director, former teacher (so Elaine and L have much in common). Her husband, in Arizona to be qualified for a municipal job, is a company executive. She sculpts, he paints, their house is a model of fine artistry, the building itself and what’s on the walls and shelves.

The ferry was about one hour late because the captain never succeeded to eject the debris that clogged one of the water jets. Subsequently several Sitka residents complained about these new fast ferries, beset with numerous problems, a law suit pending from the state of Alaska against the German company who designed and built the ships.

Last evening we attended a dinner, maybe generated by my presence, altho no one asked me to speak to the group, and one fellow, Don the ACLU lawyer, had no idea who I was or why I was at the dinner. For me the most engaging conversation—all were, it was a politically savvy group as far as I could determine, hovering around a rather dormant peace and justice group that Don and Cindy, our 2 hosts and local organizers—was about the human-non human animal connection. A young woman sitting next to me with an engaging giggle, married to a dour fellow, Beth’s son (one year in Nablus might do that to anyone) works with what she calls “sustainable ag,” meaning good practices agriculture, related how important bonding is to humane slaughter. An odd combo of feelings and actions indeed. I told the Lakota story of White Buffalo Calf Woman as an illustration of human-animal interaction.

Previously Don had escorted us on a walk thru Totem Park, which I’d explored in 1988 as part of my camping-biking excursion during my first Alaskan exploit. Don, Elaine, and I observed spawning salmon, laboring upstream to deposit their eggs in cavities they’d shaped in the sand and gravel, then to die. Males fertilize the eggs and also die. We heard eagles, observed very tall magnificent hemlock and spruce trees with exposed upper roots (they grow on “nurse trees,” fallen trees that provide nutrients while they rot away), smelled the decomposing salmon, and I imagined being an Indian long ago—or just a few days ago.

September 23, 2012, Sunday, home of L, Sitka, Alaska

Cool, probably in the low 50s, fog in the mountains, overcast with altocumulus in the town, rain last evening.

One dream in a period of paucity: I watched a movie which might also have been reality. The filmmaker or protagonist was about to torture a man to death. He used a portable circular saw, AKA buzz saw, and planned—I’m not sure how the audience or I knew his intention, maybe he announced it as part of the torture regime—to begin at feet and slowly move up. He would saw or buzz off the victim’s genitals. I knew also the response of the victim: to absorb it, not be terrified by it. I was both victim and torturer.

Yesterday Don and Cindy took Elaine and me hiking in the Beaver Lake area, driving past the old pulp mill site (which Don helped close down by his revelations about the pollution the mill generated) to reach the trailhead. We hiked into thick forest, trees taller than any in the northeast, up grade to Beaver Lake, around the lake, passing thru a landslide area created one year ago and that was recently cleared using dynamite, into a muskeg plateau where we joked about the word suggesting a beverage, and back. Hard work, hard on my arthritic knees, a few photos.

Don and I reminisced about our Cambodia pilgrimage in 1995. He remembered one of the international walkers railing against the noise in the wats [temples]. He returns regularly and plans a long solo bike ride next year thru much of Cambodia. Re-meeting Don after nearly 20 years is one of the big pluses of this journey. Also connecting with activists. Elaine and Cindy discussed meeting in Juneau to coordinate actions. Another plus of this journey.

Along with what I learn about where I visit. Instance: Sitka is among the 5 most active ports in the entire country, commercial and sport fishing mostly.

In the evening we attended a benefit dinner for RESULTS-The Power to End Poverty, a lobbying organization for progressive causes like micro lending. The keynote speaker was the founder of FINCA, a micro-lending group that postdated the Grameen bank by about 8 years. We ate Moroccan food catered by Ludvig’s, said by some to be the best restaurant in all of the States. I was not impressed with the cuisine, might have made better myself.

I learned that L’s father had been a Jewish army photographer who was part of the liberation of the Nazi death camps. Traumatized and tortured by what he saw and showed, he became obsessed about his experience, put his photos all around the house, and said repeatedly, we can’t let this holocaust happen again.

I asked her what her turning points were, how even tho raised Jewish, she became an activist for Palestinian rights. She admitted to an early fondness for Israel, but as she learned more about its policies, slowly ended her unqualified support. She’s never visited. As Elaine noticed, 2 of the 3 most politically active people we’ve met so far in Sitka are Jewish, L and Cindy. Contrasting with Juneau where none of the activists Elaine knows are Jewish.

One major snag: inexplicably (but this is the way of computers), my Dreamweaver [software for website design and maintenance] won’t work. So presently I have no access to my website, can’t update the itinerary, or post photos. Yesterday I downloaded a copy and hope to successfully install it this morning. All will work out I’m sure.


Results, The Power to End Poverty

Alaska Marine Highway System

Tour itinerary

With an Open Heart, Israel & Palestine—Report of a west coast tour, fall 2012

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For the Spring Light photographic workshop and for AM

Light bursts from my eyes,

Streams into yours,

From yours into mine,

From mine into a vast darkness

That allows us to see.

“In a dark time the eye begins to see,” says Theodore Roethke.

Photos: Harvard Square at Night

When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him. In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.

—Albert Camus

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World War II destroyer


Charlestown Navy Yard

From a workshop series exploring the photography of spring light, thru the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, May 16, 2009


To return to reality: yesterday’s Spring Light Photographic Workshop explored the waterfront from the Charlestown Navy Yard to the mouth of the Charles River, the last part of the  journey at night. A ferry from Long Wharf at 4:30 PM, 10 minutes later we’re at the Navy Yard (this a suggestion from Frank). Wander around there for one hour, with the idea of the old esthetics—frame, detail, thing, time, vantage point—as given by John Szarkowski. Walk together toward the river, the Zakim bridge (how is Zakim pronounced?). First stop at the rotten dock behind the once sugar warehouse maybe to be an expanded USS Constitution Museum and all photograph the same thing, more or less. This group loves having fun together, all were game to hop the fence and possibly commit trespass.


Walk under the Charlestown bridge on our way to the Charlestown locks and dam over the Charles river, first pausing at a large marina that neither Frank nor I had anticipated. I remember photographing here years ago before the renovations, the new constructions. (I wonder if I can ever find those photos.) Now my eyesight began to deteriorate: a migraine, or is it merely the aura? We performed the 4 directions awareness exercise, a creation of mine as far as I’m aware—face one of the cardinal directions, west, the sun setting, and gaze from ground to zenith, carefully, noting light, shapes, movement, objects, shadows, etc. Then rotate 90 degrees to do this again, south, east, north. And finally, based on those observations, find something to photograph. I forgot to add here, and try to use a method of strategy, how will you make the photo? Use the steps I’d suggested if you wish, but use some steps. Think about what you’re doing.


Zakim bridge

Let’s meet at the other side of the locks, walking across them, meeting at the now abandoned ferry terminal. On this leg of the junket let’s work on meta photography: symbol, metaphor, synecdoche, and subliminal suggestion (as in phallic symbol). I know this will be hard, but it is vital to understand for good photos.



And we concluded, after watching numerous boats pass thru the locks, the light waning, with nearly 1 hour of free time, meeting at the McDonalds inside North Station. When I found them, slumped against the wall, cheerily chatting together, looking extremely fatigued (I could have collapsed, my legs so weary), some of them munching on burgers or dogs, I had to chuckle, bring out my camera on a tripod (I’d been happily and crazily photographing in the dark),and make a group portrait. As I’d done at the Navy Yard, surprising them from behind after I’d photographed the Commandant’s House (where I’d discovered a robin’s nest with two pink eggs, mother flying off at my approach), to make the first group portrait of the season.

This is a jolly group, very talented, committed, one of the best. As always it will be hard to say goodbye.


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DSC_9524From a workshop series exploring the photography of spring light, thru the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, May 2, 2009


Now Salem, a word meaning peace, shalom, salaam, and, Frank, one of the students, very knowledgeable about all things coastal, informed us was intended but the founders. The Puritans intended Salem to be a city of peace.


From noon to 4 we labored in the fields of images. The sky began mostly overcast with some definition and by degrees cleared to reveal sharply outlined cumulus clouds. Air was warm, drying out. Shadows proceeded from dimly lit short to sharply lit long. Our path brought us from our meeting point at the commuter rail station parking lot, thru central town to Derby Wharf (Derby was an early Salem merchant) where we discovered a replica sailing ship being manned. About 10 men, each with safety harnesses, were high in the main rigging wrapping a sail. Our photo exercise here—after warming up at the train station on the canal, a prime site for New Topographics—earth affected by humans—photos, and the blind faith walk awareness exercise —was to choose one spot, a vantage point, and make a series of photos. I chose a point near a pile of rope, began photographing the coiled rope, more and more fascinated by it, when I noticed the men in the rigging and from that same position and I made a 2nd series of photos.


Click here for a larger view


As we were leaving the wharf, me thinking what might make a good vista exercise location?, I noticed a string of multi colored homes, drawn initially by a pink one. Here, I decided, is an ideal vista for practice. How to photograph it? Extreme angles, panoramic, near far, wide angle? Anything else? Later I remembered no one had mentioned synecdoche, the part for the whole. I used extreme angles and panoramic, and then found the ancient giant tree with a shape like an elm, but winged seeds in the detritus suggested maple. More photos, trying to break myself of the habit of centrality, my central mission of the day.


Along Derby St, the main harbor side street, Frank said he was departing the group to investigate a boat yard—boats in their white winter garb, he declared leaving us.

Let’s all do it, I suggested, and there we found most boats had already been denuded for the summer, yet they made appealing subjects. They are trim, sleek, curvaceous, elegant, streamlined, all very attractive to the eye. Here we practiced the exercise of the thing itself, what we choose and why we choose it.

Then, at our final together site, the power station which we could not readily photograph because it is behind a fence, I offered an introduction to what I call meta photography, meaning-based photography. How do photos mean? One way is thru metaphor. So I asked them, after outlining what metaphor is—essentially using a visible thing to show the invisible, such as tree of life, water of purification, blood of suffering, etc—I sent them off for the remaining hour, free time with an eye for metaphor.


By now I was somewhat fatigued, not a severely as I was in Boston after 4 hours of walking with my Tivas sandals (now I wear walking shoes, a big improvement), but enough to distract me, make me think: ice cream. Instead, because of ice cream prices and the fat, I chose an iced coffee, my first of the season, and an apricot pastry. This satisfied my base instincts but may have quelled my esthetic passions because I made very few photos in the remaining hour. Just one: a tree stump opposite a parking lot. Is this metaphor? If so, for what?

Reports of high moments and low moments mentioned the commercialization of Salem, its variety, the light and sky, the boat yard, the ship and its riggers, and the simple pleasure of being outside and in a new zone.

We discussed the next and last photo session, where to go? I’d suggested Revere Beach-Winthrop-Deer Island, but others suggested Logan airport, Charlestown Naval Yard, and Charles River. I’m to list these in an email and call for volunteers to research each. We decide at our review session.


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