1 Picture 1000 (or so) Words

Connecting across 6 decades.

An Individual’s history goes beyond the years they have lived. Connections before our birth are woven into the timeline of our lives. The crossroads of past generations intersecting our life providing interesting synapses connecting seemingly unrelated parts of our lives. 

I recently had one of those intersections.  This MGM camera crane connects my first job in TV to a project I’m working on in retirement. This is indeed a reach to make the connections. But stay with me.

This story begins with childhood inspiration of film making. Specifically dance scenes in West Side Story. Visual storytelling is something I latched onto as a goal. I got a degree in Visual Communications from KSU. During my Sr. year I got a job at Cathedral Teleproductions, in Cuyahoga Falls. The technical, studio and editing facilities were far superior than any TV station outside of a major market. I was “the new college kid” and the people were great. My job was the library/shipping/receiving of dubs of the Rex Humbard show.

Any down time, I was in the edit suite or the huge studio. 25’ ceilings, 60 X 90 floor space, Mole lights and more grip equipment than I had any idea how to use. This was the real deal. Big time sound-stage. Years before I got there, the facility did commercial production and was the biggest sound-stage between Chicago and NY. In the back of the studio was a big crane but was never used. Curious about big blue I was told after it was delivered a copy of the script from Gone With the Wind was found in one of the compartments. The cynic in me recognized I was the new kid to tell stories to and took it with a grain of salt. But there were markings on it tying it to MGM. Maybe?

If you know anything about production you know this crane is an unbelievable custom  piece of gear. Room on the tongue for 2. I balanced it and was amazed how smoothly I could make it move. The arm approached a ton but I moved it with 2 fingers. The electric motor was burned out and had to be moved by hand. This was my first “crush” on production equipment.

After about 6 months I became involved in studio and Sunday service productions. I had found my place and what became a career, on the production crew.

Shortly before I left that job, a new show open was scheduled to be shot in a park near the studios. The crane was pulled out of mothballs to be towed to the park. The two rear wheels were used to steer. Somebody had to ride in the driver’s seat and keep the wheels straight. The kid” got a chance to drive the crane. I knew this crane had done some big jobs. I was pretty pleased with myself. Not real resume material but a nice ego boost to begin a career. Being connected to the era of production I admired was an impetus to always look for connections you can reflect on.

Now a leap of decades. Before retirement I got back into still photography. A few components of this story are already connected but life goes on after retirement. Capturing moments and telling visual stories was the objective I wanted to pursue. The primary subjects I wanted to see in the viewfinder were sailboats & humans. Humans is subdivided into creative, artistic/athletic and just folks. Dance, both artistic and athletic, was in my mind’s eye for the challenge of capturing light, form and emotion. I looked for opportunities and found them.

A connection with Dancer/Choreographer Maria Caruso has provided wonderful opportunities. But our first meeting is the connection (unknown at that time) to the big blue crane. Ms Caruso told me her studio is the old studio of Gene Kelly…a kid from da ‘burgh. I always respecte the space of artists and her studio was no exception. I was in a space that was more than it seemed. I put that outta my mind, grabbed my 2 step ladder and started taking some pics during a rehearsal.

A recap. I was inspired by strong visuals including dance as a youngster. Wanted to work on production crews as a career. First job had big time gear including a big 40’ crane built for MGM. Had a career doing what I enjoyed, but no dance. Retired with a DSLR and found opportunities to capture some dance images. 

Ok. I now have a connection to Singing in the Rain which arguably is the best musical/dance production ever made. West Side Story grabbed me, but as my appreciation for the genre evolved Gene Kelly and company set a standard that should always be part of any critique.

And now the connection back to that very first job.

Facebook has a group called Eyes of a Generation I follow.  Many TV geeks are still telling stories and sharing pics of gear on this site. I posted the pic above. That connected me with a camera operator who had worked at Cathedral on commercial production in the early 70’s. He corrected the story I was told when I was “the new kid from college.” They didn’t find a script to Gone with the Wind. They found a work order in one of the tool storage compartments for Signing in the Rain.

Here’s the final weave of connections. I was inspired by dance scenes in West Side Story. MGM’s Singing in the Rain was a natural progression of appreciation of this genre. I drove this MGM crane on my first job. The pedigree of this classic camera crane is a work order for the film a kid from my hometown,who owned a studio in Pittsburgh, starred in and co-directed. I took pictures in Gene Kelly’s studio. It was the first time I ever took a 2 step ladder onto a shoot.

If you look, you can find connections in life that will give you a sense of place in history.

Motivated by History

No photos in this posting. Just words reflect my thoughts many of which are inspired by images. Never Forget.

Spoiler alert…this essay is over 3000 words. I would hope you would either read the entire piece or just ignore it.

I don’t know what motivated me last fall to make plans to return to Kent State on May 4, 2020 for the 50 year commemoration of the shootings. In hindsight I think my reasons may have been to be with those, like myself, hoping to engage with our similar emotions and discuss other perspectives. Or maybe it was a need to demonstrate solidarity to the concept that this was a tragedy we should never forget.

Like many events this spring, all activities for the 50-year commemoration at the University were cancelled due to the Corona Virus. I can’t honestly say I was disappointed primarily because I did not have a clear understanding of why I was compelled to be there. When the planners of all of the events made changes to make virtual activities on the web, I became aware that the specific milestone of 50 years is really no different than any other day since that spring day long ago. No answers would have emerged; no epiphanies would have been unveiled.

The stock footage and photos with legacy sound bites along with the requisite clichés will fit somewhere into the daily news cycle. Brief recaps will be presented summarizing the tragedy. A few stories may even have comments from people who where there that day. What will be missing from that coverage news now will be the ubiquitous footage of crowds along with sound bites from people on site.

For families and people that knew Allison Krause, Sandra Scheuer, Jeff Miller and Bill Schroder this occasion, even virtual, will add another layer of grief to their deaths as media attention to the events that happened 5 decades ago are renewed.

For most that have not thought about the overall impact of what happened there as much as I have, the University itself has become a resource where anyone can explore this dark moment in my generations history.  After a few years of trying to turn attention away, KSU has done a respectful job of trying to document this important history and not ignore or cover it up. This in itself gives me some degree of solace. With a little bit of Goggle you can easily find the wealth of information Kent State University has curated.

On a personal level, I still try to understand why May 4th 1970 is a lingering event I continue to explore in the context of my life. The 4 years I spent going to school at Kent no doubt are part of the roots of my continued interest in the chaos that happened a few years before I stepped on campus. However, the branches of events in the history I have lived thru seem to have some level of connection to the otherwise non-descript Midwestern College. No aspect of the shootings defines me. But, it is a touchstone to my insight into much of what has happened during my lifetime.

My diploma from Kent State accredits me with a BS in Speech with an Area of Concentration in Visual Communications. Indeed visual images have been the source of much of how I process the events I experienced and learned from.

Years before the shootings, President Kennedy was assassinated when I was 8 years old. As a young child I couldn’t grasp the overall significance of his murder. However, I knew this was a violent event that had enormous influence on our country. During the middle of the decade the violence and killings during the Civil Rights Movement were sources of many questions about life outside of my teenage world. At 13 Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated which even further skewed my understanding of society. Riots in major cities were not uncommon and during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago that same year violent emotions took center stage. Mixed in with all of this were conflicting ideas that dominated everyday life about a war that was escalating half a world away in Vietnam where young Americans were being killed

As a child, I no naive but was well aware of death and the emotions it has on people when they loose close friends or family. However these events in the 60’s were very different than personal loss. They had an impact on millions of people.  My coming of age during the time when these events happened was a prelude to the more personal impression that the killings at Kent State would have on me.

There is no doubt that magazines and TV news coverage of these and other events during the 60’s were the seeds of my interest in the media and the power of visuals to tell a story. The footage of crowds lining the street in Washington DC as Kennedy’s casket was taken to the Capitol, the photos of the civil rights protesters in Birmingham being attacked by police dogs, the image of men on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel pointing to where the shots that killed Martin Luther King Jr. came from, pictures on TV of brutal confrontation on the streets of Chicago during the Democratic Convention, the breaking news that Robert Kennedy had been shot in LA and the Life Magazine issue with pictures of all  242 American soldiers killed in Vietnam during one week that resembled the format of a HS yearbook are all etched into my memory.

On May 4th 1970 I was in 10th grade and my brother was in Vietnam. I was well aware of the division within the country, primarily young vs old, about our involvement in this far-off war. Just 2 years earlier over 16,000 American soldiers were killed. Naturally I was worried about my brother. I was also thinking that in a few short years it was possible I might be drafted into a war many of my generation saw as completely unnecessary.

Although my interest in going to college to get an education that would help to find a career in TV or radio was an “outside the box idea” to my parents ideas of a career for their son, they supported me. Initially I wanted to go to The University of Toronto primarily because Marshall McLuhan taught there. I guess there may have also been some attraction of avoiding the draft by going to Canada. On the night my brother came home from Vietnam, my father said to me, “If you want to go to school in Toronto it’s fine with me.” He had served in WWII and said very little about either that war or Vietnam. But after watching my brother sleeping on the couch while clutching an imaginary M16 in his hands my dad let me know that only one of his sons would have to go to Vietnam.

I found out that to go to the University of Toronto I would need to go to the equivalent of grade 13 in Canada then 4 years at the university. I knew I couldn’t deal with 5 more years of school.  Four would be a challenge. Also, in January of my senior year of HS they stopped taking young men for the draft. They still drew the numbers in case it was needed. But those born in 1953 were the last to be drafted into service. I never had to make the decision about going to Canada to avoid the draft.

At the time Kent State had a recognized program in radio and TV. I don’t recall the shootings 3 years earlier had any influence on my decision to go there. It was close to home and affordable when compared to NYU, UCLA or Northwestern.  Also my major required no foreign language and only very basic math. It was easy for me to get accepted there. It did upset my grandmother I was going to go to a school that in her mind had a reputation of being radical but my parents supported my decision and my goals even though the out-of-state tuition was an added expense.

The dorm I was assigned to in the fall of 1973 was less than 500 feet from the pagoda where the National Guard had tuned and fired on the unarmed students. Initially it was a strange, dream like feeling realizing I was standing on the ground where the shootings had occurred. Yet again images I had seen of the National Guard troops invaded my memory. I realized I shared a unique sense of place with those that had been there that day in May. At times it was surreal, but it became somewhat commonplace for me to walk up that hill and thru the parking lot where the massacre had occurred. However, the image of the girl kneeling over the body of Jeffery Miller as he lay there dying was never far from my mind. The song Ohio, written by Neil Young and recorded by Crosby Stills Nash and Young, would often float thru my head.

We did have a draft party my freshman year the night the numbers were drawn on TV for those born in 1955. My number was 32. Those of us with numbers under 100 drank without having to pitch in for booze.

In my sophomore year, the jurors of the Federal Grand Jury that indicted 8 of the low ranking enlisted men in the Ohio National Guard visited the campus to get an eyes-on perspective of where the shootings took place. As I walked along side their trek up Blank Hill in my mind I questioned if it was possible to find justice. If so what was justice. If these young men were found guilty what would be the appropriate penalty? The facts of 4 students being shot and killed while 9 others were wounded was undisputable as was the fact that the Guardsmen had been the ones that had done the shooting. No ruling by a court would change that. In the aftermath of the shooting there had been numerous theories as to why 28 of the National Guard had fired their weapons. Some rifles were loaded with steel piercing bullets. I couldn’t imagine any punishment that would be more severe than knowing you had been involved and possibly responsible in a fatal attack on unarmed young people. A guilty conscience seemed more appropriate than legal guilt.

 April 30 of 1975, a few days before May 4, the remaining Americans were evacuated from Saigon bring the war in Vietnam to an end. Yet another photograph, people climbing stairs to the roof to get on board a helicopter, became a visual that would be registered in my mind.

In May of my junior year the University had a “secret” mini Woodstock on a beautiful spring day. Some local bands preceded the main act of J Giles and the commons was filled with a few thousand students to do, as Uncle Murray of WMMS radio would say GET DOWN and party. In a moment of contemplation I realized that we were partying where the Nation Guard Troops had been staged a little of 6 years ago. I wonder if Allison, Sandra, Jeff and Bill had ever partied and enjoyed themselves like we were doing. The shadow of the shootings was never far away.

During my 4 years at Kent I knew I was not alone in my musings about where I was and the impact of what had happened there two and a half years before I arrived. However, I was indeed in the minority. Apathy and overlooking what was in the past was a more common attitude among the majority of students. I didn’t become involved in the Center for Peaceful Change, which evolved from the shootings as a resource to teach and promote peaceful mechanisms of social and political change. I did attend lectures they sponsored from visiting authorities like Julian Bond and William Kunstler that reinforced my perception of what had happened at Kent had significant impact on society. I did however go to one of the CPC seminars to teach you the safe way to deal with police and your rights when being detained. That has proved useful on a few occasions. My feelings and thoughts I kept mostly to myself as I felt I really did not have anything to add to what had already been said.

All 4 of my years at KSU I attended the candle light vigil on the eve of the anniversary of the death of 4 young people that were my age when they were killed by bullets fired by the National Guard. When I attended the first vigil my freshman year the communal silence of the crowd was something I had never experienced.  With no words spoken it had a dramatic impact that enhanced my reflection of what little I knew about what had happened. By my senior year the vigil became a time of personal solitude where the crowd was less of an influence and my own personal contemplation dominated the experience. It was a sobering experience to realize that I had been lucky to have avoided Vietnam and also young enough to have not been in a position to be part of the crowd of students on Blanket Hill. To this day I embrace alone time where I can quietly reflect on my life.

The higher education I got at Kent was more a maturing process than a learning process. I did what was necessary to pass and got a good foundation of understanding visual communications. Most importantly I feel I learned how to examine life from different perspectives.  As I was graduating I knew my time at Kent would be partially defined by the events that preceded my college experience. In the 70’s and early 80’s when someone asked you where you went to college and you told them Kent State, the next question was always “Where you there when the students were shot?”

As the decade of the 60’s was ending with Woodstock’s dream of Peace Love and Music it was somewhat of an anomaly of what was truly happening in the broader culture of the US. The previous years of turmoil, riots and protest demonstrations had set the stage for numerous divisions and raw emotions to divide society. In late 1969 the country became aware of the My Lai massacre the support/opposition opinions of the Vietnam War became even more toxic. In the spring of 1970 President Nixon’s decision to send troops into Cambodia was a sign of an escalating conflict that sparked even more protests to get out of the war in Southeast Asia. Somewhat overshadowed by the Vietnam War the fabric of our society was being frayed by continued racial inequality. The killing of 2 black students at Jackson State in Mississippi by police less than 2 weeks after the deaths in Kent was mostly ignored in the news. The success of the civil rights movement did not reveal how much of the hate had gone underground.

I look back now and see that the roots of our current polarization were seeded in the conflicting perspectives of how things had been and how others wanted them to be.  That divisiveness was laid bare by the reactions to the Civil Rights Movement, amplified by our involvement in Vietnam was then fertilized that fateful spring of 1970 in Kent Ohio.

Over the years, as my life and career took me places I never dreamed possible. I have seen a lot documentaries and articles which the events of May 1970 are used as significant markers of historical change. I also have read a number of different books that gave more in depth analysis and a timeline trying to describe what and why. I was shocked to learn that some people thought that the National Guard should have shot more students and that some of the families of the wounded blamed their own children. I still have a hard time trying to put that into a perspective I can understand.

“ The Killings at Kent State’, ”When the War Came Home to America”, “The Loss of Innocence”, “Thirteen Seconds”, “A Challenge to the American Conscience” “Fire in the Heartland”. These resources and countless essays do a good job of telling parts of the story and the impact it has had on our society. Anyone that wants want to learn more I encourage you to explore the diverse and in-depth material that exists.

But for me they are cliché.  None can capture the impact from my perspective. I wasn’t there and I did not know any of the dead or wounded. But for me it is and always will be personal because it could have been me. Today, 50 years have passed and it is really no different than any other day since then except I am alive and they are not. I am more powerfully reminded that we should never forget innocent people are often the ones that suffer when anger boils over to violence.

My personal emotions and understanding of history continue to develop more layers. When I stood in Dealey Plaza in Dallas and the Lorraine Motel parking lot in Memphis I had a rush of passion that took me back to Kent. When talking with an old-time CBS cameraman I asked him about his most memorable shot he had in his viewfinder. He paused and told me it was the shot of JFK’s horse drawn casket and I was almost brought to tears. Working at the 1996 Democratic convention in Chicago I saw T-shirts saying “We kicked your fathers ass in 68. Wait till you see what we do to you.” As a chaperon of teenagers on a bus of teenagers headed to New Orleans to help the victims of Katrina I saw the sign welcoming us to Alabama.  My mind’s eye immediately went into a time machine and I saw the images of the burning bus the freedom riders had been in. When I met John Filo, the photographer that took the Pulitzer winning photo of Jeffery Miller’s body, I had a difficult time thinking of what I could ask him. To me history is not just information on a page. The impact of events in my life, either direct or indirectly, are something I cannot ignore. To me the students killed at Kent are much more than just numbers associated with a date. They have names.

Since graduation I have only been back to Kent a few times. The most recent was about 20 or so years ago. I had heard about a more fitting memorial that had been built to honor the students. I was curious to see what and where it was. Although it was away from the spot where the shootings had occurred, it is in a serene location among a grove of trees overlooking the commons. While the granite carvings are the most dramatic visual and symbolic parts of the memorial, for me the engravings in the stone walk way carry the most powerful message. The 3 simple words INQUIRE LEARN REFLECT describe exactly how I look at May 4th 1970.

I am not an expert by any means but I do know that even after 50 years, the events before during and after May 4, 1970 are worth trying to understand. The one big conclusion I have had over the years is that if 3 words, “Lock and Load”, had not been spoken, Allison Krause, Sandra Scheuer, Jeff Miller and Bill Schroder would not have died that day.

Even if the events commemorating May 4, 2020 had not been cancelled and I would have been able be at the events in Kent I would not have found new insight. More than likely I would only have discovered more questions. What I do know is that even though my questions will never have answers I will never stop asking them nor will I ever forget.

Jay Kuntz

May 2, 2020

An Anniversary

 

I don’t associate April 15th as Tax Day. In 1979 it was my last day at WPGH TV & last “Full-Time” job. The date brings memories of my career as an Independent Freelancer.

01a04/15/79 marks the beginning of a journey I look back on with much gratitude. There are hundred’s of people that motivated, influenced & mentored me along the way. However, nobody had the longevity & impact as Jerry Hughes. Since the early 80’s his examples of professionalism taught me things that you can’t learn from a book or a training video. When I bought my 1st camera his example & advice about being an Owner/Operator lead me on a path I never dreamed possible living in Pittsburgh.

01b When I bought this Varicam in I remember a feeling of satisfaction knowing I was the 1st Independent HD Owner/Operator in Western PA. My career began when expansion of video production went beyond the programing for 4 networks & their local affiliates. 25 years later purchasing a camera that hurdled low resolution, & shallow contrast of the previous technology was a wonderful, but expensive, improvement. The end of poor quality video was going bye-bye & I was helping my clients escort it out the door.

02When the project had the proper planning, tools & people I was able to utilize what HD could do. On this documentary, I had explained to the lead horseman I needed his riding party to react in the pool of light. After about a 70-yard slow gallop downstream towards me they stopped on a dime & nailed it! That was a very good day at work. We made lots of nice pictures. Mark Bussler Producer/Director Horses of Gettysburg.

02aGetting the client what they wanted & needed was always my motivation. Sometimes that meant hauling a dolly to the top of a power plant facility. The backdrop was an excellent idea. However, we needed 3 more grips to haul the gear. Today small sliders/rails would give more movement to the shot & only weigh about 25% & cost much less. End Client IBEW International via a production company from Denver.

03In the early 80’s doing instant replay at local live sporting events was about 1/3 of my time. By the end of my career, it became about half. A fortunate connection with CBS Sports in 1986 opened a door that lead to live television opportunities I had dreamed about. Thinking back about doing 30 years of NFL & 13 Super Bowls I still need to pinch myself. Live TV is a unique process with fun tools & talented people. The reward of working with some of the best in the business is when it all comes together as “One Room”. I never knew being a slomologist was a career path. NEP SS CBS mobile unit.

98811_D1339BCrop.jpgI learned early on that all shows are big…some just have a whole lot more people. Crew shots from Super Bowls are like a Where’s Waldo puzzle. I will buy you lunch if you can ID me. While the people in the picture bring back memories, knowing that the photographer was John Filo adds another significant layer. Yea that kid from Western PA who is a fellow Kent State Alumni & won a Pulitzer. 2007 CBS Super Bowl

06 There is a correlation between the size of the show & the amount of cable. From my perspective, all shows are basically the same. Remote TV is a 3 part job. #1 Set it up. #2 Do the job. #3 Tear it down. Not unlike a circus, it’s a traveling roadshow. For big shows, the amount of equipment & wires increases for parts 1 & 2. Glamor & Show Business aren’t words I use together. 05The interconnectivity of multiple TV trucks creates technical opportunities & endless variables of data, audio, video, graphics, communication & monitoring.  Fortunately, connecting this was not my job. Some know the needs of their department. Only a very few know the entire workflow. I would disconnect only after double confirmation we were clear from NY.

07 copyAfter the show is when you find out who is really part of your crew. I believe early in my career I was given opportunities because I was good at wrapping cables. It is a sign of someone willing to do all 3 parts of the job. I had an advantage because at 14 I learned “over & under” when practicing ring buoy toss on my lifeguard test. It seemed like I had wrapped enough cable to make it to the moon. In reality, it is likely closer to the distance from Pittsburgh to Salt Lake City.

09I had a number of “close encounters” but usually wasn’t enticed to engage “talent”. When I heard Charles Kuralt was visiting our venue at the Lillehammer Olympics, I couldn’t resist asking him for a picture. When I told him I was humbled that our last names were together in the CBS phone book he gave a good laugh & remarked I had top billing over him. I am indeed biased but the 2 icons of telling stories on TV during my youth were Walter & Charles. Thanks for setting examples worth watching.

10I loved my work but…the packing, unpacking, set-up, tear-down & repeat of all of this gear took a toll I no longer felt like paying. This is a typical load of gear, minus the camera for an ENG job. Retirement is good. I’m beholding to many, I miss the people but I do not miss my old toys or the travel.

10a Albertville Meribel Olympic Flame 1992I really only have 1 nagging regret from my career. I never traveled with anything more than a mediocre still camera. I strived to be as light-weight as possible in packing & never wanted to carry a SLR. Oh well, I got a few so-so captures but I have amazing memories. Albertville 1992.

Cuba Photo Essay a Motivational Journey

To begin 2017 my blog will deal with my motivations to photograph people & culture in Cuba. I will post weekly with text instead of twice a month with pictures. My inspiration has evolved & taken some unexpected twists. If you know somebody that might enjoy a creative exploration…please share my blog.

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To begin 2017 my blog will deal with motivations to photograph people & culture in Cuba. I will post weekly with text instead of twice a month with pictures. My inspiration has evolved & taken some unexpected twists. If you know somebody that might enjoy a creative exploration…please share my blog.

All stories have a beginning, middle & an end. This post begins in the middle.

I sit here on 11/26 starting my journal. I’ve been planning for 9 months & departure is 2 months away. A strange time to begin but I awoke to learn Fidel Castro died. I don’t understand why this sparked me to begin. But inspiration doesn’t have an on/off switch.

The seeds of a Cuban Photo Essay began 2 years ago when President Obama restored diplomatic relations. The most logical comment I heard was ”What we had been doing for 50 years wasn’t working. Why not try something different.” I found it intriguing that Pope Francis, originally from Argentina, played a role in easing tensions that existed for most of my life. I also found it reassuring Canada was involved.

My understanding of US Cuba relations was thin even though I enjoy reading about history. Born in 1955 I have zero recollection of the revolution. My knowledge of the Bay of Pigs is because of a memorable name. The missile crisis happened when I was 7 & resulted in air raid drills in elementary school. Years after the assignation of Kennedy I couldn’t make connections to theories of Oswald’s visit the Cuban embassy in Mexico.

As a teenager, the swirl of events around Vietnam, Civil Rights, the riots of 1968, the Generation Gap & assignations of MLK & Bobby Kennedy occupied my developing worldview. These events impacted my life more than anything on a Caribbean island. In youthful ignorance, the iconic image of guerilla fighter Che Guevara was without context of what he represented to older radical baby boomers.

When the TV Docudrama Missiles of October aired & I began to understand the events that took us close to nuclear war. My link between the USSR & Cuba fell into the muddy category of communist & satellite. Very Cold Warish. That program also reinforced my perception of the power of the medium of TV.

My 4 years at Kent State focused on finding a path to my degree & a job. I had exposure to new people & ideas while having a good time. However, connections to history & international events rarely came to mind.

As I began my career in TV production, the host of a show told of trips to Havana when she was younger. “It only cost a quarter each way on a banana boat. We would go there for the weekend & have a great time!”

Around then I went on my 1st Caribbean vacation. Flying to Grand Cayman, I saw a landmass that surprised me. The plane wasn’t a US carrier so it was OK for me to be over  Cuba. OK but strange. I had ignored that Cuba was in route. It was like it didn’t exist.

Santiago in Hemmingway’s Old Man & the Sea was just that…a wonderful old man his boat, the sea & the fish. I humanized him as a man but de-cultured his heritage.

Over the next 2 decades marriage, family & career dominated my life. The topics of my reading were mostly about US & European history. In books I read, little was ever mentioned about Cuba or Latin America. Vacations to the Caribbean were focused on sailing & beaches.

Occasionally events in the news briefly caught my attention.

The Mariel boat-lift resonated as a strange event. Criminals & patients from mental health facilities were exported. The tragedy of Elian Gonzalez evolved as an story more twisted than Shakespeare could write. The conclusion ended with in an iconic image of a federal agent taking a 7 year old child at gunpoint. That image resonates in my mind alongside the May 4th 1970 picture from Kent State of the girl screaming over the body of Jeffrey Miller.

I was further confused about Cuba when Guantanamo Bay became a story-line in the news. Why do we have a military base in a country we have no diplomatic relationships with? HUH!

Living over 1000 miles from Miami with no connections to the people of or expatriates from Cuba, numerous stories of escapes to the US didn’t resonate very deep. I felt empathy about the separation of families. However, I had no perspective of the depth of emotions Cubans in both countries lived with.

Recognizing my ignorance I am motivated to better understand Cuba, its history & the people. Immersing myself in their culture even for a brief period of time I hope to get a better perspective of their lives. I also will attempt to merge the format of Studs Terkel every man interviews with Humans of New York. I will document moments of people’s lives, interview them & write short essays to share on my blog. I want to push my photography & develop a more coherent writing process. I want to be a good neighbor representing the people, of the United States. I am, after all, from Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood.

Conflicting Inspiration

Understanding the roots of inspiration is as necessary as knowing how to use the tools in your toolbox. However, I can’t adequately explain why the work of Frank Lloyd Wright inspires me. What I do know is visiting his work is time well spent & worth attempting to sync my mind to my camera

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Understanding the roots of inspiration is as necessary as knowing how to use the tools in your toolbox. However, I can’t adequately explain why the work of Frank Lloyd Wright inspires me. What I do know is visiting his work is time well spent & worth attempting to sync my mind to my camera.

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The discrepancies began on a Jr. High field trip to Falling Water, which is a signature work of his. Even then I had awe for the natural world & believed I had a responsibility to take care of it. Building a house over a waterfall just didn’t seem right. Yet, when I saw it, I was amazed at how naturally the style, materials & design of a man-made structure blended with nature. As I got older & my own sense of composition & balance developed FLW was there to offer more perplexing influence.

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The Laurel Highlands & the Escarpment of the Colorado Plateau are vastly different. Here FLW uses juxtaposition of materials & design to the environment. Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona AZ is in contrast with the surroundings. But, to my minds eye it is powerful. The sharply angular gray building pulls strength from the random shapes & the hues of red stone mountains. The lines of the cross support the walls & go deep into the earth.

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I must give credit for part of my inspiration of architecture to my roommate at Kent State Pete Locke. Thru osmosis & interesting conversations he showed me new ways to look at buildings. I find it satisfying to examine structures like home & buildings from different perspectives. I also find this type of photography extremely challenging.

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I try to soften corners both in photography & landscaping. I also like working with stone. At Kentuck Knob, near Falling Water, is my favorite home design of FLW. Stone in the structure does not soften angles. It harshly defines separation.  Seemingly random landscape stone somehow creates a balance to the walls. Even with conflict to my preferences I admire his work & those that preserve it. The term I use of “unbalanced symmetry”likely has its roots in FLW.

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For photographers, the lines of his designs offer wonderful choices. At his homestead school in Taliesin WI,  I was initially overwhelmed at how to best capture his work. I quickly realized that with clear skies & powerful Spring light I had to let the sun be the primary motivator.

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The rounded fields at Taliesin gave me insight to the inspiration FLW may have had as a child. A special thanks to the officer that was understanding of the fact that I had left my drivers license in Pittsburgh!

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One disappointing thing about FLW tours is that no photography is allowed inside.  Seeing the ridiculous situations people taking selfies put themselves in I understand. Selfie photographers, before you pull out your phone ask yourself 1 question. What could go wrong?

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For now I leave Frank with his design within design. Obtuse with Acute. The function of airflow incorporated into negative space accents. A small detail in a grand design. Next stop on the FLW journey TBD.  As the last posting in the 1st year of retirement I will share my resolution…I want to be better in 2017.  I wish the same for you! Merry Christmas.

Fall Cliche

In my minds eye transitioning to Fall photography it’s hard to avoid the colors & changing light on the trees. Does that make images cliché? How do you find a unique motivation or perspective? Or do you go with eye-catching drama of the season & capture obvious pallets of colors & subjects? I’m reminded of the 48 Hour Film Festival a decade ago. An organization I asked for support told me they didn’t participate in “gimmicks”. I asked the question…Isn’t all filmmaking & photography a “gimmick”?

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Juxtaposition does grab my eye. There are many variables involved in when the colors burst out on trees. When I saw this red/green combination I dubbed this shot “Leader”. Since I no longer jump around times zones & work long hours, just like the leaves, I’ve taken more notice of the gradually decreasing sun time.

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I just picked up a lens on craiglist & was taking shots with little purpose other than getting familiar with a new field of view…28mm on a 1.6 crop. I looked down & noticed the shade creeping as the sun was rising. The blades of the grass & the leaf are tipped with frost throughout much of the frame. The warmth of the sun had just melted the frost in the lower right portion of the frame. Lots of transitioning happens during the Fall at 40 degrees N latitude.

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The light of evenings golden hour enhances the warmth of natural colors. When the light is lower & the sky is crisp I find my lens attracted to natures complex forms. The diversity of shapes within a narrow spectrum of color is somewhat unique at this time of year. While wide shots can be dramatic, I find the detail of CU to be powerful.

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Got em! All spring & summer this guy avoided my lens. I deleted dozens of terrible attempts. I doubt it had anything to do with Fall but I was patient as well as persistent. I find the cropping tool to be my first choice in determining if a shot can be improved. After re-sizing & re-positioning I slightly enhanced the birds color while reducing what little chroma was in the bark. I believe this improved but didn’t distort the reality of the photo. At a recent pghphoto.org meeting my evasive friend was given the name of White-breasted nuthatch.  I am still appreciative & amazed at what some photogs know & share.

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The light of sunrise on the signature leaves of a Golden Maple  create a dramatic hue. The texture of fog almost hides the lake. Floating vapor blends hills with sky further complimenting the drama of the bright tree. What a way to start my 2nd cup of coffee.

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In the only photography class I took at Kent State, Professor Brill forbid images of graveyards & waterfalls. Was this censorship, or personal opinion? My opinion…long exposure of moving water is a technique that crosses my threshold of the reality my eyes see. Surreal cotton candy water can be beautiful but not something that stimulates me. This image is 1/20th sec at 80mm hand held which pushes the limit of my bad knees on this human bi-pod. The highlights on the water with the ever so slight motion blur assist the compositional flow of the image.

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Fall doesn’t get any more cliché than pumpkins in the field. Various supporting  backgrounds & angles drew my eye to this composition. The sharp focus of random orange globes anchor the base of the image drawing dominant attention. The BG layers & the soft focus of the cow provide context & relationship to the image.