January 23, 2014

In Sickness and In Health Part 2

 

 

It began with a small whimper

One morning while in my early fifties I had a simple flu and went to the local clinic for some medicine and comfort. By now I had mostly expunged my dreaded fear of doctors, and although still very trepidatious, I was able to overcome my resistance, and forge my way forward to seeing doctors.

It had been some years since my first encounter with doctors and physicals, and I now found my fears of sickness and doctors slowly dissipating. In fact, I was actually beginning to feel myself in good physical and mental health.

While at the local, clinic the doctor made a routine check of my blood to evaluate whether the illness was viral or bacterial, and to his surprise my white blood counts were very high.

He was quite sure there was something wrong with his machine (as he had had problems in the past) and asked me just to return in a few days to check my condition out further.

I’m not exactly sure of what happened next, but I do remember going to see an internist in Manhattan.

At this point in my life both in story and reality there was and is no going back. For years I have debated whether I should be telling you what I am about to unfold. For years I’ve kept this information mostly private except for friends, associates, neighbors, and a few others, so I’m not sure what purpose it serves to disclose it now, but then again I have tried to provide full disclosure. And with this promise as my guide, I am now proceeding to tell all.

When the internist evaluated my blood he became quite alarmed and nervous. For an hour he was trying to figure out what malady I might have that wasn’t that serious, all the time fearing that I was quite sick. Interestingly enough as I noticed he was getting more and more agitated and probably quite concerned I noticed I was becoming calmer. My blood pressure probably went from off the roof to normal. How could this be? All my life up to this point, I had imagined this moment and dreaded it. These fears had paralyzed me for a good part of my existence, and here it was happening right before me, and as the doctor was becoming more and more concerned I became calmer. How do I explain this?

I remember him commenting about how peculiar it was that I should be calm when most people would be so nervous. In conclusion he recommended that I have a biopsy of one of my lymph nodes to see what malignancy I had.

My wife (Leslie), and I left his office in a stupor. I was totally confused as I felt fine. Leslie’s father who was one of the wisest men I knew, strongly suggested I should not get a biopsy until I met with a hematologist.

At this point I began to change from continually fearing sickness to believing I now truly was, but instead of becoming immobile and paralyzed as I always had feared, somewhere I began to find strength.

We went to visit my college friend Michael, who I had rarely seen, because he was a doctor, and I was terrified of him. Luckily, he knew me well, and immediately saw us and helped us begin to figure out  a strategy. I was also lucky that Michael is very smart and a very distinguished doctor so I was ready and able to take his advice. He told me quite bluntly, in agreement with Leslie’s father, that before doing anything, I should see a Hematologist who he recommended. And so began my relationship with Dr. Wolf.

On my first visit he did extensive blood work and a bone-marrow exam, and came back to us after examining my cells and told me I have chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).

By being chronic rather than acute it can stand watching and doing nothing for some time. I am told my immune system is greatly compromised, and I must be very careful about getting sick as my system has a hard time curing itself, but otherwise there was nothing to be done at that time.

So this is the way it was for some years. My lymph glands were the size of oranges and I had some fatigue, but otherwise I was fine. I became a regular at Dr. Wolf seeing him every three months, until four years ago when things began to change.

Until next week.

 

 

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January 13, 2014

In Sickness and In Health

 

As noted in the past, on a peaceful summers midday afternoon in August 1972 my father collapsed in a restaurant in Manhattan while having lunch with some associates.

Just like a sudden snap of a falling majestic oak tree, he collapsed and died instantly. For years afterwards I too was sure I was dying without him. I invested in every conceivable malady sure this was the one that would bring me down. I was convinced that the bind that tied me to my father was unbreakable, and that without his strength and power to protect me, I would fail miserably.

My early adult life was filled with anxiety and hypochondria, which surrounded my conscious life with failure and sickness. Deep down though in the very private unconscious realm that resides within us all, I was surviving, progressing, and actually flourishing as a photographer.

From my early childhood, and especially in my adult life I was terrified of doctors. What might they discover by their probing tools and penetrating eyes on this weak and frail person. Just a thought of visiting a doctor ignited an anxiety attack. For years I simply avoided doctors. I was easily able to talk in front of hundreds of people, but seeing a lone doctor for an annual physical was out of the question. Standing naked and vulnerable in front of a doctor who was more knowledgeable about health and sickness than me was terrifying. Face to face confrontation was simply tortuous. If I let someone in, all they would find would be a failing sick person who was hiding under the veneer of health.

For me a visit to a doctor was even more emotionally intimate and revealing than physical intimacy with a woman, although being close and intimate is what I have most craved and needed my whole life. I was filled, even overwhelmed with desire and attraction but so fearful of it. My early adult life was so confused and anxious that real intimacy was mostly a dream and hope rather than a realization.

But not in my pictures. It was with my camera that I began to find intimacy. With a camera, I responded to this sick frail person I perceived myself to be, with a strong YES. The pictures were strong, powerful, and invincible.

 

I see it all now, all so clearly. I truly understand with over forty years of introspection with a doctor in New Haven. I took my mothers love, and it’s perceived withdrawal because of her sickness, and I then attached all the guilt I felt in the belief that my strength was the fault. If I remained frail, sick, and did not stick out too far by being overly assertive or strong then everything would be alright. I could keep things under control. I needed her love so badly that I would even take her sickness on to me. I would do anything to keep her alive. and well even if it destroyed and changed me. So at age five I turned a powerful vibrant smart young boy into a sickly failure for all to see. How could a mother abandon a child so in need of her love. I thought my strength was killing her and I changed everything to keep her alive. Instead of accepting my new state internally, I was always unconsciously fighting it with ruthless determination. This conflict in the end led to years and years of enormous anxiety.

Then I remarried at age forty, started a new life, and things began to change. As my fiftieth birthday loomed closer on the horizon this wife of mine insisted that I didn’t need my head examined anymore but that “now it was the time to get physical”. No matter how much I feared it. It was now time to have an extensive physical exam. My psyche was in good shape but how about my body. For me it was now time to open up and finally find out what was wrong with me. I was now going to let some doctor probe, inject, and look closely into my being and my heart (which I was sure was failing) and face my fears straight on.

So one Spring we went off to the Pritikin Institute for a thorough physical and the start of a new lean diet. I was finally going to face all my fears. I was going to let my father die. So with the help of many Valiums and enormous encouragement of friends and family I set off on an adventure of a lifetime.

This is just the beginning but until next week it is the END.

 

 

 

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December 23, 2013

Deck the House

 

Forget dinner in Singapore until next year, we have dinner right here in the good old USA.

Everything is as it should be, except for one small minor detail. Instead of turning up the heat, preparing the hearths for Yuletide fires, we are turning on the air conditioning.

Except for the bizarre fact that it is hot when it should be cold we are in a frantic pace, to prepare ourselves, our home, and our lives for what lies ahead.

This is our early winter, pre spring, Christmas activity. The house is abuzz with activity. All engines are humming along with a nice sonorous tis the season… as we prepare not for Babettes Feast but rather for our annual Christmas Roast.

Savannah, our daughter, is home for the holidays, and is baking every conceivable concoction of desert including a Yule log, a Bourbon pumpkin cheesecake, a red velvet bunt cake, a chocolate buttermilk cake, and various pies.

Since she has been surviving on college food for the last months her mind has obviously wondered off into the land of fanciful deserts, which she is fulfilling in the days before Christmas.

She has taken over the kitchen in preparation for her all-nighters of baking. There is flour sifting everywhere, moulds, cake pans, bunt pans, and pie pans being greased and caressed. Even our bird Melody is humming Christmas carols along with Savannah as she dons her apron singing I’m dreaming of a white Christmas while it is 70 degrees outside and focuses on her tasks ahead.

There is the aroma of Bourbon and pumpkin wafting through the house and as I make my way into the kitchen there are endless mounds of butter, flour, sugar, and chocolate. Enough good food to give any good set of eyes and nose good cheer.

Outside the final leaves are being raked, the lawn pristine with dew, the gravel driveway is being raked and manicured for our guests.

Inside the tree is glowing with decorations, and mysteriously mounds of presents seem to find there way under the tree.

The couches are being vacuumed, windows are being cleaned, beds are being made and slowly the house begins to shine its Christmas best.

And now we prepare the table for the feast. The handmade linen tablecloth is carefully ironed and with all hands on deck, is carefully placed perfectly over the large dining table.

Next my mother’s Royal Copenhagen china from the early 1950s is carefully placed around the table along with the silver tableware. The wine and water glasses are placed by each serving. The silver candlesticks are carefully placed in the center of the table, and beautiful flowers are placed throughout the house. Often there is the smell of peony, lilac, vibrant tulips, lush hydrangeas, and exotic roses perfuming the Christmas Feast.

Special wine has been selected and the house begins to shine with all its glory as it prepares to welcome those who come for this special feast.

As Christmas day approaches I love the smell of the fir Christmas tree and the decanted red wine. I love seeing my wife and daughter cooking, laughing tasting together in the kitchen. I love our housekeeper scurrying along with great purpose as we all prepare to carve the roast and give thanks that there still are traditions and values worth preserving, that in the preparation of a great feast one can find beauty and great purpose.

For me as I sit down to Christmas dinner and give thanks, to the year before, I relish the traditions that I still implore and hope that as we make our way into the next year we are able to hold on to some of the life we knew before. Happy Holidays to you all! Until next year.

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December 9, 2013

When it Rains it Singapores Part 1

 

We arrived at the terminal at 9:30PM on our day of departure for a late night eighteen hour nonstop flight to Singapore. We were off to participate in an opening of my work at the FOST Gallery in Singapore. Leslie, my wife was convinced that leaving late at night was a good thing. We would arrive at the airport already tired, and we would simply get on the plane and sleep our way luxuriously to Singapore.

I, on the other hand, was not so sure. I am a morning day person, grumpy and irritable at night, and was not sure how well I would do with the window blinds closed for the whole flight. We were traversing the world flying east in eighteen hours of continual night.

At 11PM sharp we departed on a large Singapore airlines plane, converted to only one luxurious class, and off we went on an adventure, my feet will never forget.

As we began our long travel we relaxed into a four hour dinner, and despite consuming alcohol, drugs, and wishful thinking I found myself unable to sleep but rather staring at the flight-map for eighteen hours as we slowly made our way across Europe, all across Russia, down the edge of Iran, through the entire length of India, down further past Thailand, and lastly finally touching down at the immaculately, clean, precise, and ultramodern airport of Singapore. The third world may be all around you but you are in an oasis of first world modernity.

For eighteen hours I had not blinked once watching the TV map progress ever so slowly in front of me. I was totally transfixed. I knew as well as the pilot our longitude and latitude at every given minute. I was a sitting GPS. Unlike all the intelligent people on the plane, who had slept luxuriously flat on a bed made by stewardesses, I had remained upright, for some unknown reason, for the entire flight. Everyone arrived ready to go. I arrived ready to sleep.

No wonder I arrived in Singapore with spots in my eyes. These little black spots floating across my vision, I am convinced started by staring at the map for eighteen hours.

We were met at the hotel by our most gracious hostesses, who for the duration of our stay made every effort to be our companions and take care of our every wish. Here I was surrounded by two young beautiful gracious Asian women, who took care of me. What could be better for an old man like me. It was pure bliss.

Every day the question would be. Do I need a foot massage, a back massage, a leg massage, a nap, a meal, or anything else that they could do to make our stay pleasant and memorable. The art of hosting and graciousness is definitely not lost in the East. Woe to America.

Every day as the clock struck 2PM it was time for our daily reflexology. We would be ushered into a quiet store, where women would message and rub intimately your toes, your ankles, and oh those aching legs.

For 60 to 90 minutes my legs where caressed as I blissfully napped off into total ecstasy. People often say the stomach is the way to a man’s heart. Who knew it really is through his toes. I was in pure heaven.

After an hour of near orgasm I was ready to be fed, napped, and then ready to take on the Singapore world. I had interviews with magazines, newspapers, and radio stations. I met with wonderful clients, went to the gallery, and prepared for the opening.

We had dinners with friends, clients, prospective clients, and met friends at their homes for dinner. During our stay I traversed from one end of Singapore to the next.

The opening was a success and a few days later we continued our journey east, this time in daylight watching my map every step of the way until finally landing in New York where it all began.

But there is a subplot to this story of traveling so far East that it actually meets the West.

On the road to Singapore I met a man and his wife who had me to dinner. And what a dinner it was. Stay tuned.

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November 25, 2013

“I Never Sang for My Father”

 

Death ends a life, but not a relationship, which struggles on in the survivor’s mind toward some resolution . . . 

Robert Anderson I Never Sang for My Father

 

You can see it in many of my pictures. It’s there below the surface, residing often in the very molecules that comprise the image. Deep below the whimsy, and the joy is a loneliness, a slow whiff of sadness and an everlasting melancholy.

Although I am shouting yes to life, to goodness, to beauty, and exalting on the wonders of our existence, I am forever fighting a looming large and very dark presence that is saying No.

It’s as if my pictures are my response. They are my strong defiance, even my “ruthless determination” to refuse or accept the verdict that I am a large No.

My response to these very deep lingering feelings tells a personal story that was only partially played out in reality. The pictures tell a story of triumph, joy, and are filled with hope, when in my own personal history this partial triumph over despair, this anger that fueled my determination to find a small yes and overcome this great No, was only played out in a small office, deeply alone with only the help of one doctor in New Haven Connecticut over many many troubling and confusing years.

 

It ended and started one very late morning in the early Spring of 1968. I was home for Spring Break in my junior year of college, and for some reason my father and I were alone together in New York City for a day.

I don’t remember where it started but somewhere, some morning, outside of our Manhattan apartment my father got very angry at me. You would think that by this time in my life I could handle his disappointment and annoyance at me, but even at this ripe old age of twenty-one I still was unsure where to place his disappointment with me. Was I to accept his stated and unstated view of me, or was I to fight back with all the rage that was lodging in every anxious and fearful sinew in my body.

By now I had excelled at things he knew nothing about. I was an A student, an academic, a boy of confused and smoldering ideas with feelings that had no place to go, especially where they belonged. I was engaged to be married into a world somewhat distinct and removed from my own, but still I felt unacceptable and unequal to this diminutive man, who remained a very dark towering presence standing mightily over me.

For a few hours after breakfast while I tagged along with him as he did some errands, my anger smoldered and churned within me. For as many years as I could remember I had never once stood up to this man, fought him fairly in battle. The odds had always been on his side. Today I was going to change that.

In the past I had quietly gone my own way, looking like the obedient son but rebelling in my interests, my loves, and in my thoughts. I looked like the dutiful son but who was I really?

By the time we returned to the apartment in the late morning I had finally after twenty-one years of a lingering, agonizing, deep seated anger intwined with tremendous fears and anxieties finally reached my tipping point.

When we got back he noted with disdain something I had done wrong when in fact I had done nothing. I started to say something that now reflected all the years of silent self-destroying resentment that was contained in my soul. Just as I started to raise my voice in rage to sing my song of rebellion, my fathers voice came down on me like a sledge hammer. He became furious, dismissed me abruptly and walked away angry.

For hours I fumed and he in his fashion spoke nothing to me. Finally some hours later, with the battle lost before it even really began, I apologized, he nodded and never spoke again of our encounter.

On this same Spring Break in 1968 I went to see the permanent collection of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and sealed my fate. It was there on that early spring day that I realized that I wanted to be a photographer and immerse my soul far away from any control he had over me.

So in the end I found my special voice and I was able to scream at the top of my lungs not at him but for him. To this day I am still begging for this man, my father, to notice me, and to see me for all I am worth and to realize finally I am worthy of his love.

Two years later my father was dead. I was left with forty years of trying to find a way to come to grips with the complicated man I called Dad.

 

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

 

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November 6, 2013

To Use or Not to Use, That is the Question.

 

It’s staring me right in the face, this beautiful grey box with a silver chrome jewel inside it. It’s precise, elegant, and very refined, yet all last night I had trouble sleeping thinking about it. You would have thought that this magical grey box would have calmed my fears and given me a restful and blissful evening but no, this little grey box required two valiums to knock out my fears.

Yesterday I paid a great deal of money for it and I’m not even sure I want it. I walked out of the store where I purchased this box and began to tremble, but here I am and I don’t think I have any intention of returning it, but I’m not even sure I will ever use it. What a confusing state I’m in!

Yesterday afternoon I bought my first digital camera, a small Leica M240, that looks almost identical to the M6 I used to use, and even the M4 I used when I was in my twenties. The only difference is that one was film and the other has a card that records about 400 images before I have to change it.

I wish it were that simple, and maybe it is but last night I tried to keep my soul in check. I felt like it was ready to abandon me, reject me for my reckless faithlessness.

Film has been my confidant, my beloved, for forty-five years and why have I even been thinking of abandoning it even if it’s only very slightly. For me the newfangled digital world is something I mostly abhor, and yet for some time I have ruminated and thought that if I ever was to shoot a digital frame this new masterpiece of a camera with it’s perfect 35mm format would be my choice. So what do I do as soon as I make a little bit of money, I go out and spend it on a camera I’m not sure I want. Oh what a state I’m in.

Here I am at this very tiny crossroad with its various ups and downs. A person who is computer illiterate, who emails almost never, who only reads printed books and newspapers, and tries as hard as possible to avoid the digital world has with great reluctance bought a camera that begins to unite me with a world I want nothing to do with.

Here I am, a person who does not like retouching, compositing, or even looking at the frame until the image is developed, usually days later, buying an instant camera.

Here I am a person who does not like most digital reproduction as it looks sterile, lifeless, and often very cool, buying a small digital camera.

And lastly why would I buy a camera I probably could have borrowed from Leica to test to see if I felt comfortable with it before I went out and purchased it?

The answer to these and most other questions concerning this camera is for the most part, I simply do not know. I have some small incite but no clear definition.

I am a person for better or worse who does not test or try things in practice. It has to be something I truly care about before I will pick up any camera and make a picture. This camera if I ever use it will be handled like its predecessors, nothing ever will be shot without an attempt to make it significant. I don’t fool around with cameras. I learn my craft full speed ahead. Every picture is for keeps, and it stands on the contact sheet for eternity. There is no taking anything back.

These four hundred frames will be shot very deliberately and precisely. Nothing arbitrary, just as the film cameras that preceded it.

I bought this camera to use only when film is not effective. As usual I will keep only my toes in the modern world while my heart and soul stays firmly footed in the life and times I know best.

This camera is well made and beautiful as the objects I hold from the past but it no longer has the mechanical Swiss movement of a fine watch but rather contains the technology of the present. It represents both worlds to me.

I will continue to shoot film almost all the time but there will be a time, a moment on a shoot, where this camera will fill in the void that is there. It will be a small special tool for that special occasion.

We will all stay tuned to when that day arises. Until then my life and my work will remain grainy and will be filled with the unknown.

Life in all its varieties will be recorded using the reciprocity of light as its guideline, and ultimately brought to life in a very dark room.

 

P.S. I’m off on a far far away adventure for a week. See you again in two weeks.

 

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October 30, 2013

My Daily Life

 

All my life, I’ve wondered and often inquired how people pass their days. What rituals do they follow when they are the most creative? What do they eat for breakfast? When do they dine for dinner? Are they a morning person or an evening person? Do they wear a uniform of sorts or does their wardrobe vary? What little distinctions do people make as they go through the routine of their days to help define their particular nature and distinguish themselves from others? We all basically look the same and have somewhat the same routines yet each of us is an individual and I’m curious how we define ourselves as special.

In this light I thought it only befitting that I reveal the peculiarities that surround my daily rituals.

5:00AM to 6:00AM depending on the season. Rise and then shine briefly.

This is both a time of great happiness, the best I usually feel all day, and often anxiety. I’ve never quite figured out why I feel both happy and anxious. I often need not a cup of coffee but rather a valium to get my day rolling.

7:00AM to 8:00AM

Breakfast which has become somewhat of a ritual. Usually scrambled egg whites with toast, followed by one hour of bliss either reading the New York Times or in the Spring and Summer walking in the garden, pruning, listening and speaking quietly to the landscape and the gardens around me. By this time I am usually so mellow I now need a cup of coffee. There is nothing like a valium followed by a cup of coffee to finally realize the perfect stasis in my morning.

8:00AM to 9:00AM

What would be more proper as I have now reached the perfect equilibrium with a slight tilt towards repose to take a nap. This has become a habit that started in my twenties and has lasted well into my sixties. This time although it appears I have dropped out of the world is one of my favorite times of the day. I love waking up and then going back to sleep. I usually sit in my favorite chair in our garden room with the sun shining through the windows and I quickly and peacefully nod off for an hour.

9:00AM to 12:00PM

Everyone arrives at 9AM so I have to pretend like I’m busy. Everyone is humming along, scanning, invoicing, estimating, processing film, etc. and I the lord of the manor oversea the enterprise.

All my life I have basically worn a uniform, although today I broke from my usual habit of wearing khaki pants, a dress shirt with my initials embroidered at the third button, and a pair of tassel loafers. This was my uniform in boarding school, in college, and in life. Why change a good thing. I know what I’m going to wear and I don’t have to worry. I’m comfortable in my uniform. This is also my most productive time. If I am shooting, writing blogs, doing correspondence, or any paperwork this is the time I will get the most done and am the most productive. The day is lost for me as the clock strikes twelve.

12:00PM to 1:00PM

Lunch. Normally in the winter months a beautiful Columbian Lunch prepared by our longstanding Columbian housekeeper Matilde is laid out in china. The meal is made up of chicken, rice, and carrots and for the last few months I have not varied from this. In the summer I often have a chopped salad made up of vegetables and tomatoes from our garden. She often tries to slow me down and make me eat in proper leisurely manner.

1:00PM to 1:30PM

I usually take this time to read. Usually a work of fiction. I try to read a book a week.

1:30PM to 2:00PM

Another nap. All people over 5 should have a small siesta. Since I have been doing this for so long I’m very good at closing my eyes for twenty minutes to a half hour. Waking refreshed.

2:00PM to 4:00PM

My feeble attempt to get more work done. If I’m smart which I rarely am I should do something productive like filing or straightening up the studio, cleaning my cameras, or simply thinking about new ideas for shoots. Ironically when I was younger some of my best ideas came to me while I was mowing the lawn. I haven’t found an equivalent physical activity but I’m sure one exists.

4:00PM to 5:00PM

Walk on the wild side. Usually a one hour walk through the woods thinking profound and deep thoughts all the way. Unfortunately my thoughts usually end up on money. How much I need to make it through the year but I try to let things go where they wish and on occasion I will think of ideas I want to accomplish photographically.

5:00PM to 6:00PM

Read. Back to my novel.

6:00PM to 7:30PM

Usually dinner with my wife Leslie. As I am home most of the day I am ready to go out. As she is out most of the day she is ready to be home. We usually compromise, some days dining out at local places some days eating at home. This is never a restful and relaxing respite from the day. This is my witching hour when I am at my worst. I am usually angry and not great company. If you want me at my best you have to see me in the morning.

8:00PM to 9:30PM

If it’s summer I’m usually watching the ballgame. I usually  fall asleep about the forth or fifth inning and fight to stay awake to the seventh at which time I give up and go to bed.

10:00PM

After two or three pages of reading, all is well and fast asleep.

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October 22, 2013

In My Room

 

It was one month ago that we arrived in Chicago with a car full of boxes and a truckload of UPS cartons already waiting in storage.

For months before that fateful day in September when we released our precious daughter Savannah to all the joys and tribulations of college life, my daughter and her loving and patient mother made trip after trip to malls across the far lands of New Jersey to purchase every conceivable item one might possibly need for college life.

There were continual ruminations throughout the house about bedding and the need for anti-bedbug protection followed by mattress protection supplemented by foam cushioning to produce extra comfort and lastly an additional layer to protect my delicate daughter from the heat of the foam.

By the time they were through a six inch high mattress had become a luxury endeavor of over fourteen inches. The Four Seasons Hotel couldn’t match the attention to detail in the bed making. Then on top of this, were the Palais Royal sheets with a duvet cover and extra pillows.

Besides the bedding trip after trip to Bed Bath and Beyond was made to purchase desk lamps, irons, ironing boards, hangers, waste baskets, shelving, vacuum cleaner, soap, laundry baskets, etc.

We arrived at the University of Chicago dorm prepared for every conceivable need and malady. One more quick trip to target was required for some last minute extras, and by late morning we had carried hauled and trekked over forty boxes up to a room with space for a bed and a desk and little else.

Her roommate was far more sagacious in her shopping and had quickly with the help of her parents completed her side of the room before we had begun unpacking our first box.

Her roommate and Savannah are a perfect pair. How lucky for them, but that is a story for a later date.

So, in the early Fall of a beautiful September day in Chicago my wife in her usual patient and ever gracious way slowly began the task of making Savannah’s bed and helping carefully unpack each box and place every item of clothes and housewares in a neat and careful spot.

Hour upon hour they unpacked and finally near the end of the day they were finished. There were some items to be returned but in all Leslie had carefully and beautifully made the bed, hung pictures and shelving, cleaned the bathroom, folded towels, and otherwise made Savannah’s room a near perfect example of a caring mother’s need to help her daughter nest comfortably in her new space away from home.

We said our tearful goodbyes and left Chicago only to return one month later, for the annual if not extremely premature Homecoming parents weekend. We had barely said goodbye and were each enjoying our freedom, when we were called back into service to reunite with our daughter and her university.

On Friday morning we climbed the stairs of her dorm to her room, knocked on the door, and were welcomed in by our daughter.

It was as if a bomb had exploded! The carefully made bed with Palais Royal sheets was in a complete disarray. Clothes and books were everywhere. Items thrown casually around the room and the desk barely had room for a computer. The room was a total mess.

How could this happen in one month. Just at that moment Savannah’s roommate’s parents arrived, and we both looked at each other in shock.

By the end of the day the parents had pulled out the vacuum, freshly made the beds, cleaned the bathroom, and slowly once again you could make your way around the room.

Oh Savannah, how happy I am for thee, because I came from New York, and you are clearly not on my knee.

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October 15, 2013

In the Land of Light Part 2

 

In the late 1970s and the very early 80′s my life financially and emotionally was very difficult. I was continually struggling to pay my bills and I often found myself a continual disappointment to my mother, my in-laws, and many around me.

I was continually rejected for my work and my life choices, by many around me, and it was only my wife who without failure continually sustained and believed in me.

The daily routine was a call from my mother stating her disappointment in me for choosing such a useless occupation. It was time to come to my senses and find a real job.

And with all this as background noise, something wonderful happened. I was getting my first book published by a distinguished editor and publisher, and to show their faith in me I would be receiving a $5,000 advance (half of my yearly salary).

I can remember feeling overwhelming elation and enormous relief that someone actually believed in me and in fact was willing to pay me for my vision.

Everything was going well. I had the editor I dreamed about, the designer I wanted, and the printer I requested. As usual I was putting my heart and it’s very soul into the making of this book. Nothing that I could do was spared. Even my mother for the moment stopped her relentless criticism of me.

Finally we were ready to print the book and off to Medford, Massachusetts I went. I was there to help oversee the printing of the book along with the production people from the publisher.

Like the proofs we had done some months before the first forms of the book came out looking beautiful. I remember starring at them and smiling to myself. The work required deep rich shadow detail and a luminosity in the highlights. It was all there. A deep rich evocation of emotion. The color of the ink was a warm vibrant black.

Each form that came out of the presses that day seemed to match the others in contrast and shadow separation. I supervised the printing nudging more ink on some forms less on others, but overall the pressman on our press seemed to get me and together we were humming along beautifully. He too was very proud of the sheets his press was rolling off the line. We became quite a team.

At the end of the first day I went back to the hotel content and very happy. All the years of work were in these pages and everything was as I had hoped. Finally I felt I was ready to meet the world in my best clothes and with my shoes shined.

The next morning I returned and looked at the forms we had printed the previous day, and all that I had loved in the images was gone. The sheets had dried down flat and had simply gone dead. The ink instead of remaining on the surface had for some reason been absorbed into the paper (perhaps humidity in the air) and as a result the images looked lifeless. I was beside myself.

I confronted the production people from the publisher and said we had to reprint. After this confrontation I was officially and very bluntly told by a senior person at the publisher along with my editor that under no circumstances would the publisher stop the printing or pay any additional costs. From their point of view they had done all they could, and besides to them the printing looked fine if not beautiful and I was told I was simply being too emotional.

For the entire day and well into the late of night we continued printing with the same results occurring. Beautiful at first unacceptable at last.

It all came to a finality at 3AM one morning when we were printing some of the same images that had been made on the press proof, and I was alone on the press with the original pressman this whole process began with.

I asked him quietly and honestly which looked better the initial press proofs we had made some months earlier or what we were printing now? By about 5AM the sheet had dried down and together we looked at both sheets, and he said quietly without question that the original press proofs looked better when compared side by side.

That did it! I knew I wasn’t just making noise and being too emotional. I stopped everything. The next morning the production supervisor from the publisher came rushing into the press room screaming at me that I was being bared from the press and that I should leave immediately. I was obviously not making any friends.

I had already cost them substantial money by stopping the press and she was furious.

I replied to her “I’m sorry you are so angry at me but the printing is simply not good enough! It should be better.” I called the owner of the press over to join our heated conversation and he and the pressman discussed everything.

They came back an hour later and said in their opinion there was only one thing that they could try to save the printing and to restore it to what we originally produced. They suggested running all the sheets through the press one additional time and applying an off-line gloss varnish to the images only. They tried it on one sheet and voila, it worked.

My images once again became powerful and alive. The publisher said they could not afford one more cent and did not feel it necessary. They still felt the printing was sufficient or good enough, which is a term I do not accept.

I asked how much it would cost and was told that the off-line varnish would cost an additional $5,000.

With my advance check still warm in my pocket from receiving it earlier in the week with a nice note from my editor, I endorsed it over to the printer, and although I lost financial security for some months I gained a book that I was truly proud of.

Upon hearing this my editor Nan called me and asked me if this was all right. She knew how important the money was in my life. I guess easy come easy go.

 

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October 9, 2013

In the Land of Light Part 1

 

In the spring of 1981 it all came together. After years and years of cajoling and beseeching my editor Nan Talese, she was finally able to convince her higher ups at Houghton Mifflin to publish my first book.

I had met Nan many years before through my then father in law Robert Anderson and over the years, she had become a strong supporter of my work. Finally, after years of effort she convinced her publisher that an unknown and untested photographer was worth the publishing risk. It was agreed that  In the Land of Light, a collection of photographs I had made some years earlier while living in the Middle East on a fellowship, would be published, accepting most of my specifications. What a glorious day it was to hear that finally I was to be published.

Nan suggested I write a small amount of text to accompany some of the photographs as she always liked my stories, and she was primarily a literary editor, having published some of America’s most distinguished novelists. She also thought it imperative that we have someone of note to write the introduction to accompany these highly emotional photographs.

Through Nan, it was arranged that one afternoon I would meet for a few hours with Elie Wiesel the Nobel Piece Prize winner and author of many books about The Holocaust. He is a Holocaust survivor and has been a voice of sadness as well as a voice for the affirmation of life after that tragic event. At the time he was a Chubb Fellow at Yale University. It was there, in a building devoted, appropriately enough to the humanities that I first met Mr. Wiesel. I walked into a sacred space, not because of the space, but because of the humble man sitting in the corner. There in that room this simple man sucked all the noise and energy from the outside into a quiet serene vacuum. No one dared speak loudly or inappropriately in his presence.  You felt his enormous power and charisma not by what he said but by what he quietly demanded, respect.

I walked over to this humble man sitting in the corner introduced myself and handed him a loaf of bread that had been baked by my wife. He smiled held it delicately and reverently. I began to tell him of my request. I wished him to write the introduction and I handed him a box of prints along with some paper containing the text I had written. It was at this point that I realized that I was not alone in the room. There were a number of people there but no one spoke. It was as if you were in the presence of a truly spiritual person. Very little had to be said.

He spoke to me in a whisper and I found myself mesmerized by his words. He accepted the box of prints and the text along with the loaf of bread. He told me to come back next week and he would give me his answer.

One week later to the day I returned to the same room to see this gracious man, and there in the same corner of the same room I saw Mr. Wiesel again.

We spoke for a short while and I remember thinking he was interested in me but unfortunately was not going to write the introduction because of previous commitments, when suddenly he looked past me and asked if the woman behind me was my wife. I said yes and he asked to speak to her. He turned to her and said  ”how can I refuse someone who has given me such a wonderful gift such as a loaf of bread,”  and with that brief statement he said I must accept the invitation to write the introduction to your husbands book.

So maybe it was not me nor my pictures, nor my words, although I think they helped judging from the introduction he wrote, but rather the simple gift of a home baked loaf of bread. This simple gift obviously spoke eloquently to this simple man.

With this I was elated. Everything was coming together. The publisher allowed me to choose the printer, which was Acme in Medford Massachusetts. They were the first printer in America to do laser scanned images which produced a much sharper reproduction than traditional camera ready offset printing. They ran numerous tests for me on many of my images and I chose a paper that best suited the imagery. The tests produced the perfect image. The tonality was rich, the imagery sharp, the shadow detail vibrant. Everything was falling into place.

But this is where my story really begins. It reminds me of Isak Dinesen’s story Out of Africa, where the Baroness Karen von Blixen turns to one of her workers on her coffee plantation as the first harvest is caught up in flames, and she states “that just as the gods give you what you have been praying for, they take it all away.” So as life was merrily going along. All my efforts to bring this book to fruition seemed at this point to have finally happened but life has a way of putting a wrench in the wheels of your car. Before you can realize your dreams you must pay the price. See you next week.

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