Sunday, September 25, 2011

An Adventure In Which I Get Shot & Live To Tell About It

When I had my high school senior portrait done, it looked like this:

By the time my youngest son had his senior portrait done they looked like this:

In short, things changed.  Even though I was a professional photographer for a number of years, I never took the time to do a lifestyle self-portrait of myself.  In fact, to my memory, I only ever did one self-portrait and it was a close-up of my face.  Anyway, fast-forward a bunch of years to sometime this past spring.

I signed up for something called GroupOn.  If you're not familiar, it is targeted coupons for the area in which you live.  One of the coupons offers that I received was for a location portrait to be accomplished by Zach Sutton at a reduced rate.  I looked at his website and if you look as well, you will see why I decided to have him do my pictures.  I contacted him to see if I could delay getting the portrait done until later in the summer, he agreed and I bought one of the packages.  I wanted to wait until I gotten my Valkyrie so I could have a portrait done with it.

A couple of weeks ago, I contacted Zach and told him I was ready to have the portrait done.  He asked me to scout for some locations that would allow us to shoot the pictures in a wide-open space so that he could be creative with the lighting and possibly add things to the photo later.  I found a good location in set up a date. 

The first date rained out, but the second date worked and we met in the parking lot of an abandoned store.

The lighting was a little sparse, but very adequate to get the kind of affect that he was looking for.  Zach was doing something with lighting that most photography schools advise against, shooting into the sun rather than with it.  When you had some fill lights in the front you wind up with an almost 3-D effect that is very awesome.

First, he shot a few of the bike, then a few of me just in jeans and a shirt, and then some with full leathers on.

We talked while he shot pictures and got to know each other and it allowed us to work together very well.  I told him of the time that I spent behind the lens – – and we talked about working with models, temperamental brides, and other challenging jobs.  This was the first time he had worked with a motorcycle, although he had taken many of cars with people.

All told, he took almost 150 pictures.  Back in the days of film, this would've been very expensive, but thanks to digital photography one picture costs as much as 150 so you could shoot as many variations on a theme as you wanted to.

A few days later, he had the rough shots online for me to look at -- under the package rules, I was allowed to pick out 10 to have fully retouched.  I was able to swap the two 8 x 10 prints that were supposed to come with the package for a few extra digital versions.  

My method for selecting the final lineup was to go through all the pictures and write down the once it interested me without regard to the total number of pictures.  Then, I did it again – – and then finally a third time.  I then took all three lists and compared them and anything that appeared on all three lists went to the top of my selection sheet.  Next, I pulled out the numbers that appeared twice – – at that point I was over the total number allowed so I went back and looked at all of those a fourth time and picked out the winners. 

Due to my nature, I took a few moments and captured each one of those proofs and put together a slideshow with nothing but my top choice images, then let it play on my Touchpad as a slideshow for a few days to make sure I was happy with all of them.  After some final adjustments I came up with a set of images that I wanted and sent that on to Zach

Zach delivered these over period of about a week and a half, sending a few at a time.  I thought everything he did looked excellent.  He used a variety of techniques to include vignetting, sepia toning, conversion the black-and-white -- in addition to making corrections in the pictures like removing a distracting light source and correcting flares.  Really great stuff.

So, I survived my first shoot as a model.  It is not something that I would ever want to do as a profession, or even as a hobby.  However, it was a lot of fun and I like the results.  If you happen to need a good photographer contact Zach Sutton – – excellent work.


Monday, September 19, 2011

An Erie Birthday Ride

This ride was different from a lot that I have taken this summer.  I did this one completely alone.  This was not so much by design but just the way things worked out.  In addition, I really didn't stop and do anything on the trip – – I wanted to take one last long trip this season but really didn't have anywhere special to go.  Last year on my birthday, my son and I rode around Lake Michigan so after looking at the map I decided that this year for my birthday I would ride around Lake Erie.  In doing so, I would make my first real visit to Canada and do the first international riding I had done since the 80s. 

Many years ago, I read the book Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon.  It is the tale of a man who takes off in a used van on a journey of self-discovery by seeking out those old two-lane highways that cross this country.  It was a good read and it serves as inspiration for some of the trips that I do take. 

The narrative for this journey will be briefer than some of my others due to the solitary nature of the journey.  I took off at eight o'clock in the morning and headed towards the border crossing at Detroit.  The weather was supposed to be clear but it was overcast and a bit chilly.  I had on full leathers and even had the liner in my jacket.  The ride across the state to Detroit was smooth and I arrived at the easiest crossing to access only to find out that motorcycles are not allowed to take the tunnel into Canada.  So, I turned around, headed a few miles south, and took the Ambassador Bridge across.

As I said, this is my first trip to Canada but my passport is full of stamps from other trips I've taken in the past decade.  So, I was prepared for the routine questions as I went across the border.  The Canadian official found it very curious that I had traveled around the world, ended up in Michigan, and had been there for six years without ever going to Canada.  I explained I never really had a need to – I think she found this insulting. 

The interview then turned a bit more intense with questions about who I knew in Canada, why I was not even going to spend the night in Canada, and what was the true purpose of my visit.  When I told her that I was riding around Lake Erie as a way of celebrating my birthday, she asked the universal question "Why?”  Rather than thinking about the answer, I just blurted out "Because it's there."

I don't think either one of us expected that answer at that point.  She got completely quiet for a moment.  I was beginning to wonder if I was going to have to pay to cross the bridge again just to get back home if I couldn't get into Canada.  Then she smiled, nodded, and then laughed.

"You know, I have asked these questions for a lot of years and that's probably the most honest answer I think I have ever heard.  Welcome to Canada, eh."

With that piece of business out of the way, I took off and rode down Highway 401.  I will tell you this based on my brief experience: Canadians ride very carefully around bikes and they have very well maintained roads.  A bit of a warning for other bikers headed that way, be prepared to deal with the metric system.  The sign may say 100, but that is 60 for those of us from the US.  Oh, and they are serious about speeding.  Caught doing 30mph over?  You forfeit your car and pay up to $10,000.

Another thing, I have always relied upon McDonald's when I ride.  As I have said before, they have clean restrooms, cheap drinks, and Wi-Fi.  In the 300 miles or so that I rode through Canada I only saw one McDonald's.  What they did have, was a lot of a place called Tim Horton's.  In fact, it seemed like there was a Tim Horton's every 5 miles --  oops 8 kilometers.  I ate lunch at one and had a good turkey with bacon sandwich.  They also had free Wi-Fi and clean restrooms.  There is civilization north of the border.

I was surprised how much more expensive gas was.  I was forced to fill up at one point during the trip and I put about $20 worth in the tank.  In the US, that would've filled the tank however in Canada it was only about half.

The weather continued to be cool but the scenery was nice.  A few hours later, I crossed the Peace Bridge into the Buffalo, New York.  The US officials only asked one question and that was if I brought anything across the border with me from Canada.  I answered quite honestly only the gasoline in my tank.  He laughed and made a remark about how importing gas from there wasn't cost-effective.  I nodded in agreement took my passport back and headed on down the road again. 

This was the first time I've ridden in New York State.  My experience was riding from Buffalo to the Pennsylvania border via the interstate.  So, take what I'm saying with a grain of salt.  New York is the worst state of any that I've ever ridden in for motorists being aggressive towards motorcycles.  I was cut off, merged on, and carelessly left turned upon as well.  My Spidey sense worked overtime until I was safely across the border into Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania was so quick it hardly made any impact on me at all.  Also, at this point, the sun was down and there was so much moisture in the air that the wind-chill became a factor.  I don't think the temperature was ever below 38° or so but it felt much much colder.

Once I was in Ohio, I decided that I was going to stop for the night near Cleveland rather than trying to ride all the way back home in one swoop.  I found a hotel pulled in and parked.  Usually, hotels let me park the bike under the awning near the door.  This Hampton Inn actually had me park it on the sidewalk up near their building.  Works for me.

The next morning I got up and headed out once again.  The sun was out and the sky was clear.  It was a beautiful day to ride.  I jumped off the interstate, and rode along Highway 2 for a while.  This went along the lake's edge and took me through several small towns.  In short, it was the kind of riding I look for.

I made it home safe and sound after turning a quick 830 miles in 2 days.  I added two states in one province to my ride map, crossed off another Great Lake, and enjoyed the freedom and excitement of the open road.

A final note:

When I got near Cleveland I was extremely cold and pulled off the highway to look for some coffee.  As I pulled up to an intersection I found the road completely deserted due to the late hour.  As I've said, when I am stuck at a light and a particularly good songs on the radio I have a tendency to dance on my bike.  This serves two purposes, it lets me stretch a bit to keep from getting stiff while I'm riding and it makes me feel good -- even if it does embarrass my son if he's riding with me. 

I was stuck sitting at the light because my bike was not heavy enough to set off the signal when Bob Seger's Old Time Rock 'n Roll started the play, I decided to do something I had never done before: I turned up the radio, dropped kickstand, got off the bike and danced.  Hey, I was cold, there was no one around, and I knew it would help warm me up.  As I was dancing I turned back towards the intersection and found that a car had pulled up and stopped on the crossing road.   I guess I didn’t notice because I had my helmet on.

There were many things I could've done at that point.  Because I was to beyond the point of caring what some stranger who happened upon me might think, I did what seemed to be the most logical – – I took a bow then continued dancing.  When I next looked over at the car, the occupant had gotten out and was standing next to her car dancing along with me.  I'm guessing she was between 35 and 40 and had some sort of work uniform on – but she had some moves.

When the song was over, I waved at her and jumped back on my bike and she waved back before getting into her car.   Then, we both drove away from our asphalt dance floor going our separate ways into the night. 


Saturday, September 10, 2011

During & After 9/11, A Decade Later

I wrote this 10 years ago, just after 9/11, when I was living in Weisbaden, Germany.

Dear Friends & Family,

A lot of folks have asked me to share what it is like being outside the US during recent events.  After giving it some thought I have pieced together the following and I am sending it on to friends and family.  I hope this lets you know that the world is still a caring place, for the most part, and that we are all safe and secure.

On 11 September I was in a class when the announcement was made about the first crash. None of us could believe it.  I grabbed my cell phone and dashed from the classroom to our security office.  I arrived in time to watch the second plane hit - I was dumbfounded.  My brain just could not digest that this was real and not some special effect. 
I left the security office to head upstairs to the situation room to notify them that I was locking down the network to prevent any problems.  After about 15 minutes there I walked in the Colonel's office to brief him.  As I walked into the room I heard the announcement about the Pentagon.  This was so unreal.  I was in a daze.

I had no fear for my youngest son, he was on the base and secure.  My older son was at work,  just around the corner from his brother.  The only real fear I felt was for you folks in the US and those folks in uniform I had worked with for 20 years. I also had a very odd feeling because this was the first time in 20 years I was in no way connected to what would be the "military reaction".

Like most of you we all spent that night and the next few glued to the TV set to see what new information was forthcoming.  AFN was giving us a live CNN feed.  We, like you, were looking for something --  anything that would lend a bit of hope to the darkness.   I found some of that hope in the German people of our city.

The night of the 11th I was taking the trash out when two of our neighbors, who I had not even met yet (we had been in the house 11 days), came by to express their condolences and to tell me that there prayers were with America.   While walking downtown,  a man of obvious Middle eastern descent come up to apologize for the acts of the "insane and evil" among his people.  Most of all he wanted me to understand that it did not represent his people and that I should not hold it against them.

The base went into lock down mode.  As some of you know, I do not work on the base itself but in the American Arms Officer Tower downtown.  Within a few days we all got used to the ID checks, car searches and other obstacles in place to keep us safe.   About two days after the crash I started to notice the flowers appearing at the main gate,  which had been totally locked down.  I started making it a point to go by there and as days passed there appeared not only flowers but candles, cards of encouragement, flags (American and German).  I took time to read several and most said the same thing "We are with you,  we are one".  I had found some hope, a bright spot that made it all a little easier.

Several very large silent candle lit marches went through the city, ending in services at the various cathedrals in town.

We went on a Volksmarch (sort of an organized stroll through the forest) the next weekend and IVV was collecting money for American Red Cross and signatures for a card to be sent to New York.  I think this is the first time I can ever remember hearing about or seeing a foreign country giving to America instead of the other way around.

In recent weeks there have been two other events here in Wiesbaden that connect to the WTC tragedy.   I am telling you about them so that if you hear about them later you do not feel any worry.  The person thought to be the "money man" for al Qaeda was arrested here.  Keep in mind the Frankfurt (20 miles up the road) is the financial capital of Europe, so it is not out of line for this guy to be living here.  It is about the same as finding a stockbroker living in Newark.    One item of comfort:  since this was a money laundering operation, the business end was kept far way from it to keep it looking legitimate.

The other incident was an Anthrax scare at a local Shell gas station. The substance was tested and found to be plain old cocaine.  How's that for relativity - feeling relieved because it was cocaine?  

The worst part of being here during something like this is not feeling insecure or fearful.  The worst part is feeling disconnected from your people - those that share the experience and feel the pain.   It feels that way here to a small degree.  For the most part the sincerity of the words "We are with you,  we are one" from the German people provides that comfort to us.  From what I hear similar experiences are being had by Americans in England and Italy as well -- too bad it takes a disaster to bring us all a little closer together.

That's all the news from the Deutschland for the moment.  Everyone is fine and well and doing great.



Friday, September 2, 2011

Three-Day Weekend ... A Trio of Dog Tales

Tale the first:

MacBeth apparently has allergies to some types of dog food.  So occasionally, when there is a new kind of hypoallergenic dog food comes on to the market, I will buy some so we can see if it makes a difference.  The latest food I bought was a salmon based dog chow with very small pieces.   He hated it and refused to eat more than a mouthful a day.  I finally got him another type of food and then mixed it in with the salmon food so it wouldn't be wasted. 

MacBeth ate several large mouthfuls of the next food then grabbed a mouthful of food, came into the living room, and somehow managed to spit out only the salmon food while eating the other.  I guess he was registering his dissatisfaction with the salmon being part of his dinner.

Too slow to be first, to fast to be third, the second tale:

When I am taking my shower in the morning, MacBeth often comes into the bathroom and lies down in front of the shower waiting for me to be done.  Sometimes he will up on the Jacuzzi so that he can look down into it.  He is never been curious enough to jump into the Jacuzzi but still likes take an occasional look in there.  I guess he is waiting for something to appear.

One morning, MacBeth came into the shower with his octopus in his mouth.  MacBeth's favorite toy is a green rubber octopus.  It doesn't have legs that stick out or anything that is just what it is called.   Rather than lying in front of the shower door, he chose to peer into the Jacuzzi.  I guess he forgot he had the octopus of his mouth because while he had his head over the edge of the tub he dropped it.  He immediately started whining and walking back and forth on the step that leads into the Jacuzzi.   Eventually he hopped up onto the edge of the Jacuzzi, looked down at his lost octopus then at me in the shower, and then he howled.  MacBeth has never howled before.

When I got out of the shower, I reached into the Jacuzzi, grabbed the octopus and handed it to him.  He took it and immediately ran out of the room and into the bedroom jumping up on my bed.  He then dropped the octopus and then came back into the bathroom, lying down in front of the shower.  I guess he wanted to make sure that it would never end up back in the Jacuzzi again.

Good things end with three:

Our house has an entryway foyer that opens up all the way to the second floor with a grand staircase going from the first floor to a landing about midway up making a turn and then going up to the second floor where there is another landing.  When it is rainy, and MacBeth wants to play, I will stand in the entryway and throw one of his toys up to the second-floor landing.  He will run up the landing, grab the toy and bring it back down.  This is more exercise fetching from across the room because he's getting to run up and down the stairs.

MacBeth's second favorite toy is a red chicken.  Like the octopus, it is made of rubber and he can squeeze it in his mouth to make it squeak.  I think that is part of the reason he likes them. After he fetches one of them, he will squeeze it with his mouth and make it squeak several times.  Sort of his own victory dance.

On this day, I had the chicken, as I could not find the octopus.  MacBeth ran up to the second floor and I threw the chicken to him and he caught it in his mouth but then dropped it.  The chicken bounced down the stairs to the landing --- MacBeth ran down after it.  As he took off from the top landing, the missing octopus must have been up there and he knocked it down the stairs in such a way that it bounced down after him.  As soon as he got to the landing and picked up the red chicken, the octopus landed on his back.  This of course caused him to jump and open his mouth, which in turn caused the chicken to go bouncing down the rest of the stairs to the first floor. 
He again took off after it and again hit the octopus so that it was bouncing down the stairs after him.  When he reached the first floor and pick up the red chicken -- he was again attacked by the octopus.  This caused them to jump almost straight up in the air dropping the red chicken.  At this point, I might add that the floor in the entryway is smooth tile.  Imagine a dog who is scared trying to run quickly on smooth tile.  It'll look like something out of a Road Runner cartoon.  When he finally got enough traction, he ran into the living room and after several minutes MacBeth came back into the entryway, while putting his foot on top of the octopus he picked up the red chicken, turned, and ran back in the living room squeezing it.  I guess he didn't want the octopus attacking him again.

Have a good Labor Day.