Saturday, July 05, 2014

The Problem with Lovers of Freedom

I’m reminded of a hangover. It’s 9:15 in the morning on July 5, 2014.

Discarded fireworks casings and packaging are strewn about the high desert of Wyoming—well, at least in one particular pull off about halfway up the Powell Airport hill that climbs Polecat Bench. As I walk by, I wonder how many other places just beyond the town proper of Powell and other Wyoming communities are suffering from the same fallout of freedom’s celebration.

The great expanses beyond any community in Wyoming (like the one described above) see very little traffic throughout the day or year. As a result, these remnants of our independence commemoration remain as an ugly reminder long after the largest of roadkills have been picked over by various scavengers—long after having rotted, dried up, and blown away by the wind.

And so I wonder, “Why do people have the need to go out to an empty place like this and light off their fireworks, only to leave the spent casings behind? Why can’t they do it in their towns where the remnants are more likely to be picked up by the street cleaner or other property owners?

Who are these people?

I think it’s wrong to generalize or stereotype about people, but it’s hard not to as I consider who would commit such a crime or sin on the land we hold so dearly in our heart—Wyoming… America… you know, “land of the free, home of the brave?”

My answer about who is responsible is dead on, although I have no proof.

The people that leave their spent fireworks casings abandoned in the desolate high desert are the same folk who leave their bullet-riddled belongings behind after shooting it up as target practice—refrigerators, 55-gallon drums, old computers, TVs… you name it. If it’s no longer needed, it’s fair game to become a target and then forsaken to an eternity as a desert eyesore.

Again, who are these people? Beyond pyromaniacs, they are banner-waving ‘Mericans who throw around clichés like, “freedom ain’t free.” They’ll proudly tell you, they love America—and the bumper stickers on their big and loud diesel, quad-cab, four-by-four pick-ups prove it. They love the U.S. and Wyoming, but they hate the President. They are the least tolerant people you’ll ever meet and you can bet they have plenty of guns to back up their narrow-minded, Fox-News-driven ideas and opinions.

But, be assured, they don’t love America. Actually they just love themselves and everything about their life. They see themselves as the center of the Universe and are the most disrespectful, self-serving and self-centered folk you will ever meet. Nevertheless, they know how to whoop it up with fireworks when the Fourth of July rolls around each year.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Truth and Purity in Looking Down

In the Groove by mdt1960
In the Groove, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
I look down.

It’s an easy thing to do, and know one bothers me about it. Even when I use my camera or cell phone to compose and capture what I see looking down, no one bothers me. I suspect most folk who bother to notice think I’m just plain weird. Maybe I am.

There’s something about photographing those things at my feet. For starters, I don’t have to get anyone’s permission. Years ago, you could walk up to practically anyone and ask to take their picture and the reply was almost always, “Sure!” Nowadays, people think you’re up to something. “Why do you want to take my picture.” Take a picture of someone’s kid in a public place and you’re practically accused of being a pedafile.

Not long ago, I was taking a photo of a dilapidated wind mill in rural Western Nebraska from the roadside when a farmer in a pickup truck drove by, turned around when he saw me, pulled up behind my car on the roadside to ask me what I was doing (when it was obvious what I was doing). Actually what he wanted to know was why I was taking pictures of his land. Who knows what was going through his head when he saw me pointing my lens at the old windmill. Years ago, the same scenario probably would have resulted in him driving by thinking to himself, “Hmm, I wonder what he sees in that old field of mine?”

People with cameras aren’t treated with the same good-natured response/interaction they once were. And perhaps it’s justified considering how much unflattering (even if incredible) photography there is out there. To top it off, there are more people with cameras then ever. In fact, if you don’t have at least a cell phone camera, you are certainly in a minority.

Road Kill by mdt1960
Road Kill, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
Recently I was looking at a body of work published in Lenswork by photographer Jun Wang called “Over 100: Centenarians of Hainan.” They were amazing. He even had an incredible image of a nude centenarian—it wasn’t flattering, but it was amazing. Yet, sitting there looking at the images, what was even more impressive about this body of work had to do with the logistics prior to the shutter release… how does one go about making the arrangements to photograph a collection of centenarians? It was difficult for me to imagine how I would approach a person who was 100-years-old in a way that led to a fantastic portrait of them. To put it another way, if a centenarian were to ask why I wanted to take their picture, I’m not sure what I would say short of a boldface lie.

Which gets me thinking… I suspect many photographers do lie about their intentions when it comes to their rationale behind a photo request. And if not an outright lie, certainly some of a photographer’s rationale goes unspoken or turns out to be misleading. Further, if portrait-requesting photographers have never lied, why are so many people suspicious about having their picture taken upon request? I also wonder what percentage of fantastic (but unflattering) portraits have been actually viewed by their subjects?

Success in photography is more than just knowing how to work a camera. It’s also about working your subjects and those related to your subjects. And given that sobering truth, I’ll likely keep looking down.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Flying Naked, De-Icing, and In-Flight Etiquette

Passengers by mdt1960
Passengers, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
I don’t fly often, but I’ve flown enough in my lifetime where getting on an airplane is no longer the novelty or thrill it once was—akin to an amusement park ride. Further, my sorties over the years are punctuated by long spans of time on the ground and away from anything to do with air travel. As a result, the changes in the airline industry which have developed slowly and gradual over the years for the common traveler are rather pronounced to me. Where most air travelers take little note of the ever-evolving modifications in airline travel, I often find myself rather flabbergasted.

One thing I still haven’t figured out yet are the details of proper flying etiquette. Given everyone has a smart phone or some kind of electronic tablet to keep them occupied (even if they aren’t permitted to use the phone itself), is it polite or rude to engage someone sitting next to you? I remember air travel back in the day as a setting where you were certain to have a conversation (delightful or painful) with a fellow passenger. Given the ever-growing presence of personal electronic devices and noise-drowning earphones, I’ve received more than my share of cold shoulders in any one of my friendly attempts to engage a fellow traveler. And given these distractors, who has time to chat with a stranger anymore?

Perhaps the regular traveler hasn’t noticed, but airports are bigger than ever. They are small cities with a population in flux, some even have their own zip code. Today’s major airports are more like shopping malls and pedestrian freeways under one big roof. You can buy anything, but you had better use a turn signal when walking through the terminal unless you want to be trampled. I remember years ago I was lucky to get a cup of coffee in the St. Louis airport late at night. That place was a cemetery.
Chicago O'Hare by mdt1960

Chicago O'Hare, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.

Which brings me to… why would you want to buy “anything” at an airport? Jewelry? Fine Clothing? A Harley? Something for your pet? Really, I’m going to buy something for my pet at the airport? Perhaps the rationale here is today’s airports are catering to the poor planner who happens to possess plenty of spending cash—albeit someone who forgets to pack their clothes or forgets to get that diamond ring in his I’m-going-to-ask-her-to-marry-me junket. That said, it’s not a stretch in justifying the coffee services of Starbucks, a magazine/book store, or places where one can grab a sandwich or drink, and even a store that offers accessories for your iPad as you wait for your next plane.

In my recent journeys by air, I’ve had a thorough introduction to the de-icing procedure. It reminds me of cell phones: how did we ever get by without it? Further, when did ice start gravitating to the wings of a plane… what is it about wings that attracts ice? During the late 70s-early 80s, I clearly remember flying home several times in the winter as a college student and never did I see a de-icing truck or operator. How did planes fly without de-icing back then? One would think it involves a simple squirt on the leading edge of the wings, but the truth is, de-icing is like a car wash for airplanes.
Spoiled View by mdt1960
Spoiled View, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.

Admittedly, although the de-icing process adds 20 more minutes to sitting inside a grounded airplane, it is rather intriguing to watch this activity. First, the orange spray and then the green liquid goo—obscuring the view from the window seat that I worked so hard to get. It seems like overkill to me since I couldn’t see a sign of ice anywhere on the wings. Given its new psychedelic de-iced finish upon completion, the plane appears to be more prepared for a Grateful Dead concert than flying. The blurred window view reinforces this notion.

I think my preference for winter travel is shifting back to driving.

As a side note, I did a little research on de-icing while the plane sat there during the process. I turned off my iPhone’s “airplane mode” long enough to find out—hoping I wouldn’t endanger our flight as it was getting hosed down… hosed down with ethylene glycol that is! That’s right, ethylene glycol—a.k.a. antifreeze! And all this time I had thought that the reason one never sees animals around an airport is due to the loud planes. I never would have guessed that the varmints that once lived nearby drank up the sweet-tasting de-icing fluid during the winter season and then crawled over in the nearby weeds to die.

In addition, while in Minneapolis, I observed a de-icing operator lugging a de-icing hose around the perimeter of a plane in zero-degree temperatures and …he wasn’t wearing any gloves! I had to wonder: does de-icing fluid warm one’s skin and taste sweet?

Other random flying observations…
Wilford by mdt1960
Wilford, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.

• Whatever became of the hot-looking stewardesses that gave the airline industry its great in-flight views? My jaunt between Minneapolis and Cleveland was hosted by Wilfrod Brimley’s clone asking me if I wanted coffee, juice, soda, or water? That was downright sobering.

• While about to depart from Minneapolis airport and its sub-zero temperatures, the pilot announces that they were having a small problem that was being looked into by the mechanics. I’m sitting there thinking about the conversation that’s going on between a couple of mechanics looking for a “small problem” on a plane in bitter cold conditions. Wouldn’t the conversation gravitate quicker to a solution like, “Ah, it’s probably nothing too important… it’ll be OK. Let’s go get some coffee.”

• What is it about the anxiety of going through the TSA security? I don’t think it has anything to do with being pulled aside and accused of terrorism. In my case, it seems more about the fast scramble to unravel everything about your attire and baggage and then reassemble it without holding anyone up. There is something incongruent about having to take off your shoes when you are late in catching a plane.

•I tried the new in-flight Internet service. At first it was a bust, then I read the fine print—you have to pay for it while the plane has to be over 10,000 feet. Nothing is free on a plane anymore; just a small bag of nuts and four ounces of a nonalcoholic drink. Not very impressive.

•Recharging Stations for your electronic devices… OK, I get it, but still it seems a bit weird to dedicate actual space in an airport for electrical plugs. I wonder what would happen if a person used their portable hair dryer in a recharging station.

Airplane Signage by mdt1960
Airplane Signage, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.

•Beginning in 1988, regulation was introduced that banned smoking on 80% of flights (two hours or less). In 2000, the no-smoking ban was expanded to include all flights. Today in 2013, one would be hard pressed to find an airline that allows smoking on any flight. With that in mind, I find it a bit odd that the “no smoking” signs are still present in the jetliners of today. It seems that enough time has passed that everyone knows by now that smoking is forbidden on an airplane—especially since that’s the case in the airports too. Besides, isn’t it silly to make a lighted sign on an airplane that is never turned off? They should simply build a non-illuminated message into the back of the every seat—directly in front of every passenger.

•There are somethings that haven’t materialized in air travel that I predicted would have been the status quo by now. Why isn’t there a camera mounted in the cockpit or nose of the plane for passengers to view on the video screens in front of them (embedded in the back of every seat)? For years we’ve listened to the conversations between the crew and air traffic control, why can’t we watch them fly the plane too? Also, a camera mounted on the belly of the plane would be a nice addition for a view straight down. And why can’t the industry provide passengers with a map on these same screens so we can know exactly where we are as we look out the window for recognizable landmarks? These features should be standard fair if a passenger doesn’t want to pay for a movie on these same video screens.

• “…airplanes are a kind of time machine. The flying aluminum cans that transport us across distances that once required weeks, if not lifetimes, are not like the time machines of fiction. We can’t just transport ourselves to any place or time.” —friend and colleague Rob Breeding

•Finally: The new TSA body scanning machine (Advanced Imaging Technology)… it’s the closest thing to my father’s idea about how to prevent terrorist from boarding a plane—make everyone fly naked. Perhaps TSA could make their money back on these big-ticket machines in selling the scanned images to their owners for a nominal charge.

Postscript: I dare any in-flight magazine to publish this story. On a related note, here’s a little more information on TSA and their “advanced imaging technology” operations.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

The Age of Innocence is Relative

As I was preparing coffee the other morning, I found myself unexpectedly thinking about the x-rated movies that played at Neeb Hall on the campus of Arizona State University when I was an undergraduate student (circa 1979). I don’t remember how many played in the course of a year, nor how long that genre continued playing there, but I know for sure x-rated movies were shown on campus. Several of us from Hayden Hall’s third floor actually attended one of those skin flicks too. It was the first x-rated movie I ever viewed. Most memorable was the funny, almost embarrassing feeling that came over me when the lights came up after it ended and I could see who was attending—and (gulp) they could see who was attending. I don’t remember wondering if other schools had the same kind of movies, and if someone had asked, I would have suspected that was the case almost anywhere. For the record, I don’t think ASU was ever known for any kind of radical behavior or activities back then. In fact, I think it was considered a fairly conservative school when it came to the country’s larger campuses.

For the record here, I’ll have you know that nothing became of this experience. We didn’t go out and attempt a rape, and none of us to my knowledge became involved in the porn industry or addicted to it. As college students, our reaction/response was probably typical—we giggled, laughed at how unrealistic it was (at least to us), felt a bit awkward, and then moved on. Further, of all the memories of my graduate years at ASU, going to that movie surely wasn’t one of those, “Hey guys, remember that time we…”

On a related note…

As a football cheerleader, we travelled to Stanford once. The day before the big game, we took in the campus. Amongst the beautiful architecture I remember most vividly the fragrance of marijuana in the air as students were smoking on the campus mall between their classes. I was a bit taken back as I never saw anything like this at my ASU (even if x-rated movies were shown there). Yet, after that trip, none of us on the cheerleading squad returned to ASU to initiate a movement for pot-smoking on campus. It was one of those, “Hmm, how about that. Yet another crazy thing attributed to Stanford; they smoke pot on campus and no one seems to care.”

And so, there I was pondering all of this over a cup of joe at 6:30 in the morning. I projected such activities to the Wyoming junior college where I work. I couldn’t imagine such activities permitted on our little pollyanna campus. But, then I wondered: are there still campuses that offer/tolerate such “atrocious” behavior today? Are things still the same in Palo Alto? Am I in such an isolated place that I don’t realize what is happening beyond this high desert, or are such campus escapades a thing of the past? And if they are something of the past, how did that come to be? When did it all shift to something more like the 1950s and Leave It To Beaver?

I mentioned all of this to a friend, and his answer was simply, “Reagan… President Ronald Reagan.”

A few other colleagues chimed in as well. When it comes to pornography, some thought that because the Internet provides a sense of privacy, we will never see it in such everyday public settings (like a major university). And as the legalization of marijuana becomes more widespread, a couple of them thought a day will come when we will see students having a toke or two between classes—assuming they are the same campuses where alcohol is permitted.

As I sit here thinking about all of this, I still wonder: What was that part of my past all about? For the most part, it’s not unusual to consider the things we do and experience today as stupendous in light of our past, especially when technology is factored in. Yet, here is something that was incidental back then that comes across as monumental today. Although I don’t have any hard and fast explanations, it is truly fascinating.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

There Goes The Neighborhood

Red Lodge Riders by mdt1960
Red Lodge Riders, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
My favorite Harley joke...

Q: How is a Harley Davidson like an old dog?
A: They both like to ride in the back of pickup trucks.

Well, the “The Red Lodge Iron Horse Rodeo” has come and gone which means this quiet little mountain town is now in recovery mode from an onslaught of loud motorcycles (mostly of the Harley Davidson variety). I’m happy to report that the Subaru corps of Red Lodge are slowly reclaiming the main drag again. Like a Jekyll and Hyde story, Red Lodge transformed from a quaint and tranquil enclave into a village of chaos and paranoia located next to an easy-escape-penitentiary. Some of the locals compared it to an infestation of cockroaches.

Now that it is history, I find myself questioning the communities that kowtow to the loud Harley events/rallies. Typically we are told that it’s good for commerce, but there are obvious costs in hosting this particular crowd—for starters, extra law enforcement and emergency services are always beefed up when a “rally” comes to town. No doubt, a few watering holes probably do extremely well during these rallies, but one has to wonder how an entire town truly benefits, especially if alienating many of the permanent residents of the community is part of the fallout. And this: might there be other groups a community could cultivate that would generate as much (if not more) commerce without all of the consternation? After all, I don’t recall anyone ever informing me how great the Harley crowd is when it comes to tipping or splashing out with their dough.

As one Red Lodge resident pointed out, “I bet I spend a lot more money in Red Lodge over the course of a year than the average Harley rider that is here and gone for one weekend. Why should I be told to leave for the weekend if I don’t want to tolerate them?”

When walking up and down on Broadway, Red Lodge’s main drag, the rally was akin to a circus freak show. Harley riders and non-riders sit or stand, gawking as the the parade of roaring bikes go by. Often you see the same riders go by several times within the hour. I wonder if they are reliving their teenage years of cruising or making up for the cruising that eluded them as a teenager.

One also has to wonder if the riders see themselves as some modern-day outlaw (à la Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter character) riding into town hoping every local will stop what they are doing while staring with their mouths wide-open.

As long as I’m speculating here, I’ve gathered that many of these riders are likely singing to themselves Bon Jovi’s “Dead Or Alive” as they make that first pass down a community’s main drag.

I’m a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride.
I’m wanted dead or alive.
—Jon Bon Jovi.

Too funny.

On a related note, I also found myself chuckling as one rider who was decorated with the obligatory black vest that spelled out “Lone Wolf” on the back—cruising Broadway with all the other bikes. One is hardly a lone wolf if they have to wear a label telling the world such.

One friend asked recently, “If Harley riders are the ideal of American rugged individualism, why do they all wear the same clothing that usually entails some ensemble of a black leather vest with patches, black leather riding chaps and blue jeans, and a black t-shirt (often sleeveless) advertising some Harley Davidson dealership? In reality, they are conformist lemmings.” My suspicion here is if the Grateful Dead groupies were as loud as the Harley crowd, they wouldn’t be allowed in any town.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh. My partner simply said it this way, “It’s a chance to dress up in a costume and be someone they aren’t.” In essence it’s a Halloween party on wheels.

Though I’ve never owned a motorcycle myself, I do understand the excitement, passion, and that feeling of being free associated with riding a motorcycle. Perhaps I’ll even try it someday, but what I fail to process is the need to carry out this activity on a piece of equipment that overpowers every other sound including a normal conversation—not to mention the need to rev the engine excessively or when it's really not required at all. Such is hardly a practice of respect or considerations for others—which seems to be sooooo unAmerican these days. As I see it, every time a rider revs their loud Harley Davidson, it is simply an outcry for everyone to look at them. And usually I do—with great disdain. Like a dog barking excessively at us, we all should be encouraged to yell back “SHUT THE FUCK UP” every time a deafening Harley goes by. And, if noisy scooter trash is now permissible in America, then such outspoken replies should be licit as well.

In short, the excessively loud Harley Davidson motorcycle has become the quintessential illustration of today’s loud, overweight, underperforming, entitled and overbearing American. Surely such “audible” gatherings of machines would never have been tolerated in the same way back in the 1950s.

And through it all, somehow this particular loud and unruly group that commonly displays messages like a skeleton’s middle finger on the back of their riding vest, or patches that celebrate guns and death, with grandiose, stereotype depictions of Native Americans is somehow considered patriotic. How is that… because they ride an under-performing, oil-slobbering, gas-guzzling, overpriced and overbearing motorcycle that’s made in America?

When will the noise-based, “look-at-me” Harley contingency finally ride that “Highway To Hell”...and not return?

Monday, May 06, 2013

Thoughts on a Phony Parade

Grip and Grin Euphoria.

The following email came out today from the fearless Vice President of Public Relations at Northwest College:

You’re invited to a brief groundbreaking ceremony for the college’s new Yellowstone Building next Thursday, May 16, at 4PM at the construction site just west of the tennis courts. An invitation post card was put into your mailbox this morning. As you’ll see, the post card also includes announcement of President Prestwich’s Farewell Reception the day before; more about that event will come to you from Board of Trustees President Mark Westerhold.

I hope you’ll put the groundbreaking ceremony on your calendars and plan to help NWC launch construction of our exciting new instructional building.

Thanks, all.


After reading this, all I could imagine was that this would be another one of those dull gatherings featuring old, important-people-dressed-in-suits carrying on with a bunch of sterile, gold-plated, one-time-use shovels resulting in another one of those overblown grip-and-grin photo sessions.

In short, a phony parade. And the only people more phony at a phony parade are those that attend. 

Yet, my hope is that this ground-breaking ceremony will result in something less predictable than the above scenario.

I have a couple ideas.

How about a bunch of students with regular shovels doing the actual ground breaking? Any students… whoever wanted to come up and shovel. Perhaps even a Bobcat handy to give the students a “construction thrill.” We can leave the important people in suits on the sidelines. They get paid enough as it is. They need no further recognition.

Could we have a ground-breaking contest? As in, who can shovel off the most sod (measured in square feet) in… say, five minutes.

I don’t know. Honestly I haven’t given it much thought, but I’ve given it a lot more thought than anyone who organizes a phony parade.

I was going to send my suggestion in a “reply all” response, but I have a tendency to get in trouble when I make suggestions like this via a campus-wide email, so I’m subscribing to that “once burned, twice-shy” outlook—and safely posting it here.

Maybe I’m wrong, maybe the ground-breaking ceremony will be something with a little more imagination, but I doubt it. After all, we are talking Northwest College here—a place where we tout originality and creativity, but when it gets right down to it, we fall in line and follow everyone else to justify our institutional direction.

At the risk of being a phony, I may have to attend just to see if I’m wrong.

Postscript: As expected the groundbreaking ceremony was ceremoniously unimaginative. Each VIP took turns at the podium to bring the sparse audience to a level of excitement they hadn't experienced since... um, ...maybe lunch that same day. Gold-plated shovels (spray-painted by one of the physical plant employees) were driven into the already-broken ground by the hard-hat wearing VIPs in nice suits (with the exception of the one token student)

Photo by:

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sour Grapes and Bullshit

My Newest Art Project by mdt1960
My Newest Art Project, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
Like past years, I had no realistic expectations of winning anything in this year’s Project Launch photo competition. But, I had expected that whatever projects were selected, I would be totally blown away (or at least impressed) by their entries. Yet, after reviewing the top awards (with the exception of Will Steacy’s “Deadline” project), I’ve concluded I know nothing about “art” or “photography” based on this year’s top choices. And, after three attempts, I won’t be bothering The Center with future entries as my work is clearly not vague enough, not quirky enough, nor is it eccentric enough for anything to do with The Center’s idea of “award-winning” photography.

I found myself contemplating how much weed the jurors had been smoking as they made their (what seemed to me) willy-nilly selections for 2013. Perhaps only as they were coming out of the fog had they finally started to appreciate Steacy’s project and thus gave a wee bit of credence to what they were doing.

Reading up on the comments by some of the jurors was painfully laughable. Juror Christopher McCall awarded Laia Abril’s project that “documented” those who embrace eating disorders. This so-called photographer went about her craft by taking pictures of her computer screen (or perhaps just used screen shots generated by her computer… not that it really matters). Rather than seeking out, getting to know, and photographing those with eating disorders, this “artist” has simply decided to photograph self-portraits posted by members of this community on the internet. As long as that’s the case, perhaps Abril should only be considered a “virtual photographer.”

Juror McCall justifies Abril’s “photographic technique” saying, “Abril’s use of the computer monitor—with its banding, smudges and stains across the screen—render her subjects through a lens inherent to the technology and social media prevalent in society today.” Catcher in the Rye protagonist and antihero Holden Caulfield would have had a field day with these remarks. Talk about “art speak” bullshit. If Abril had simply posted links to all of the websites she stalks and “photographs,” the experience of this subject-matter would have been the same.

I suppose further comments should now follow on the winning selection from a Swiss-born Japanese kid who had the hard luck of being turned down for Japanese nationality because he was already a Swiss citizen—a tough and compelling life indeed. David Favrod sets out to create “my own Japan, in Switzerland…” through his obscure and disjointed images. Sounds riveting, yeah?

Simply put, it’s a sad day when shoddy-to-mediocre work is promoted (undeservingly) as award-winning art or photography.

When I hear others claim that today’s art and photography worlds are mostly a ruse, I will surely recall the majority of this year’s Project Launch selections.