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.