After such a long dry spell, rain is absolutely luxurious.
Soak it up, Los Angeles!
Twice in the past month I’ve been tagged by friends on Facebook to participate in a black-and-white photograph challenge. Post 5 photos in 5 days. Pretty doable, as far as challenges go. So I’m in.
It’s been a great excuse to go spelunking through my collected photographs stored in the caverns of Google+ Photos. Just one click drains all color out of the most spectacular sunset or the most riotous bloom. The black-and-white result, at first, can seem flat and boring. But then…
In the absence of color, other aspects of the image step into the spotlight. Structure. Texture. Light. Shadow. Line. Almost the way an x-ray reveals what the eye doesn’t normally see. What’s left once you’ve removed the green from the grass? the aquamarine from the pool water? It’s an interesting second act for a photograph. Here are the dozen or so snapshots I chose for these challenges. (And a couple of wild cards at the end.) For those of you who love taking pics, this might send you running into your own albums on a hunt for buried treasure. I’ve discovered that I even prefer some photos as their b/w alter egos.
Then I started to play around with some sunsets. One I took recently at the beach in Santa Monica. One taken by my friend Jenn at Tod’s Point in Old Greenwich, Connecticut. They’re just not very interesting in black-and-white. Lots of gray. The sky’s reflection on the water is such an integral part of the beauty of these scenes. But, what if…
Link to featured image at top of post, from NPR
A man at a protest holds a sign expressing his solidarity – and commonality – with Mike Brown.
“I AM MIKE BROWN”
Mike Brown is dead.
Mike Brown was shot to death.
Mike Brown was 18 years old. Black. Unarmed.
Mike Brown was gunned down in the middle of the street, in the middle of the day.
By a cop.
In Ferguson, Missouri.
In the United States of America.
Ferguson, Missouri is a suburb of St Louis. Its population is 70% black.
Its mayor is white. School board is white. City council is white (except for one black member). And the Ferguson Police Department is 94% white, with only 3 black police officers.
Mike Brown was shot six times by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Four times in the arm, twice in the head.
His crime was jaywalking.
Later it was suggested by the Ferguson Police Dept that he may have stolen a handful of cigars from a convenience store.
Because, unlike jaywalking, that is a crime punishable by death in a hail of bullets from a cop’s gun in the middle of a residential neighborhood?
Eyewitnesses have reported that Mike Brown had his hands in the air in the universal sign of surrender. And then he was murdered.
“Hands Up. Don’t Shoot.” has become a rallying cry for the protesters in Ferguson, all over the country and around the world.
Darren Wilson and the Ferguson Police Dept left Mike Brown’s body lying in the street, uncovered, for four hours. The body of a dog that had been run over by a car would have been treated with more respect than this. How can this be?
Ten days after killing unarmed 18-year-old Mike Brown, and Darren Wilson still has not been arrested. He has not been detained. He has not been questioned. He has not been charged with a crime. The people of Ferguson are incensed. They are marching in their streets. They are venting their anger. They are exercising their Constitutional rights to assemble and petition their government. They are demanding the same justice that anyone has a right to expect in this country. But they are not getting any measure of justice. They have been met with an absurdly overblown paramilitary response including armored vehicles, automatic weapons trained on them, and tear gas canisters fired at them.
The US military’s rules of engagement in Iraq did not allow soldiers to point their weapons at civilians.
Automatic weapons are leveled at American civilians in Ferguson, Missouri.
The United States is a signatory to treaties that ban the use of tear gas in warfare.
Tear gas is being used against American civilians in Ferguson, Missouri.
Substitute your own racial or ethnic group in place of [a black man] in the following sentence:
In the United States of America, a black man is shot to death by a cop every 28 hours.
What would you do?
I am Mike Brown.
But I am not Mike Brown.
I am a 52-year-old white man who has never experienced one moment of fear that I would be shot to death by a cop. I have lived in New York City, Boston, Washington DC, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles. I have visited Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, St Louis, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Denver, Baltimore… and many other cities, towns, suburbs and rural areas in this country. I have walked through downtown areas in the middle of the night. I have marched in the streets in protests.
But I have never – not for one minute of my life – known the fear of being targeted by a cop. I have never worried about being shot to death for jaywalking as 18-year-old Mike Brown was. I have never worried about being put in a choke hold by a group of NYC police for the crime of selling cigarettes on a street corner. While other cops stood by. While paramedics did not come to my aid. As 43-year-old Eric Garner was. I have never worried about being shot to death in a Walmart for picking up a BB gun from a BB gun display, as 22-year-old John Crawford was in Beavercreek, Ohio. I have never worried about being shot in the back while I was lying on the ground during an “investigative stop” as 25-year-old Ezell Ford was in Los Angeles. I have never worried about being shot to death by a vigilante as I walked home to my grandmother’s house as 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was. I have never worried about being shot to death at a gas station for playing loud music as 17-year-old Jordan Davis was.
So no, I am not Mike Brown. I am not Eric Garner or John Crawford. I am not Ezell Ford or Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis.
I am not a black man in America.
But I am an American. As were all of these men. Why can I walk through my neighborhood, in my city, in my country without fear of being shot to death by the police? Why can’t black men do the same? Why can’t black women in America say goodbye to their husbands, their sons, their grandsons – without wondering if they’ll ever see them again?
Why are black men (and all people of color) treated so outrageously unfairly by our law enforcement and justice systems?
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Individuals of color have a disproportionate number of encounters with law enforcement, indicating that racial profiling continues to be a problem. A report by the Department of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police. – read more at AmericanProgress.org
And what are we – you and I – going to do about it?
Join a protest. Raise your voice. And vote.
Because the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri have a voter turnout of about 12%. That is how a 70% black town gets an almost 100% white leadership. In other words, that is how people get a government that does not represent their best interests. It may not be the government they deserve, but it is the government they gave themselves.
The government of the United States of America does not currently represent the best interests of the people of this country. There is an election in ten weeks. Every member of Congress is up for re-election. Many state and local elected officials, too. So vote. Whatever your race, your creed, your color, your orientation, your issue. Vote. It is your only power. And if you don’t use it, you will find yourself powerless. Like the people of Ferguson. And then it might be too late. As it is for Mike Brown.
Voting cannot end racism in this country. But voting can remove racists from elected positions in government at every level. And no, I make no distinction between racists and those who implement racist policies. Because there is no distinction to be made there.
If you are not registered to vote, or if you’re not sure,
click here >>> REGISTER TO VOTE NOW. AND THEN VOTE.
And if you have two minutes, watch this powerful statement from Jesse Williams on CNN.
“I am Mike Brown” photo credit: Monica Almeida/New York Times
As dusk fell yesterday, I set out for Griffith Observatory. Which is at the top of Griffith Park. Which was given to the city of Los Angeles by – who else? – Col. Griffith J. Griffith. And the appropriate response is Thank you! because this park and everything in it is spectacular.
The 4,300 acre park sits at the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains – better known as the Hollywood Hills – which run forty miles west and into the ocean past Malibu. This is a vast wilderness – more than 250 square miles – bisecting the city: LA to the south, “the Valley” to the north. Mulholland Drive twists and turns along the crest of the hills, all the way to ocean. Much of it is protected terrain, wild and rugged, especially west of Topanga with deep canyons accessible only on foot. The eastern portion is a bit more manicured, home to the “We don’t hike, dear” denizens of Brentwood, Bel Air, Beverly Hills. It’s not the Upper West Side, though. There are mountain lions and rattlesnakes, bears and coyotes. And as the environment becomes more stressed by the drought, trash cans and swimming pools increasingly look like convenience stores for the four-on-the-floor set.
The Observatory is only about five miles from home, so it took me more than an hour to get there. Sunset Blvd through Hollywood on a Saturday evening is not a speedway. And the turnoff on Vermont that leads up the slopes of the park also takes you past the fabled Greek Theater. There was a concert last night, which meant rather legendary traffic. Even when the Greek is dark, the one-lane road snaking up to the Observatory can be a slow crawl (as my friend Brian & I found on last weekend’s aborted attempt to get up there). Last night, though, I lucked out with a parking space just a 10-minute walk from the top.
While it’s a great place to go any time of day, any time of year, the Observatory is at full power as a tourist magnet on summer weekend nights. It is an awesome destination for kids and adults alike. The Observatory itself, all its exhibits and tours, are open until 10pm. It’s free! And as the sun sets, the city begins to glow, spreading out to the horizon.
Griffith Observatory is an Art Deco masterpiece. Built in 1935 (because we used to build things like this during economic downturns) and completely renovated in 2006. While it was designed and still functions as an astronomical observatory, most folks come up here for the views of Los Angeles and the surrounding mountains. The building sits on the edge of a promontory and obliges the looky-loos with multiple levels of wide terraces, and curving stairways leading up and up all the way to the flat roofs and the dome parapets.
There were hundreds of people at the Observatory last night, tourists and locals, including plenty of children. Not my usual scene. But what you notice is that there is a sort of hush, a reverence, the same as in a cathedral or museum. People talk in whispers – when they talk at all. No one has to say, “Look at that view!” because everyone is looking at that view. In every direction. From every location. It is spellbinding. And I spend as much time looking back at this magnificent edifice as I do at the surrounding world. (The next few pix are mine.)
And even a crappy quality photograph can take on a painterly aspect with the help of a filter or two. This is the sunset sky behind Griffith Park’s Mt Lee and its famous Hollywood sign.
And here’s a shot I took on a wintry day a few years ago, from a trail below the Observatory. You can see this gleaming white structure from all over Los Angeles, and the closer you get to it, the better it gets.
To learn more about this remarkable place, visit their website http://griffithobs.org
The End (so far)
I drove out to Malibu early Sunday evening, timed to miss the heat of the day and the snarl of traffic. My destination was Carbon Beach, aka Billionaire’s Beach – because you need that many zeroes in your checking account to live there. But there’s no such thing as a private beach in California. All 800+ miles of coastline, from Mexico to Oregon, are public access. So there I was. Shoes in one hand, camera in the other, on a meandering stroll along this one-and-a-half-mile stretch of uncrowded, unhurried paradise.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to coveting one or two of those beachfront pleasure domes. There are some truly spectacular modern structures, though my tastes run more to the older, traditional architecture… the white-washed, red-tiled Mediterraneans and the gray-shingled ramblers reminiscent of Cape Cod. But the happy truth is, none of the super shacks can compete with the extravagant beauty of the beach. The warm sun, the salt in the breeze, the glowing sky, the rolling surf, the infinite horizon. The tableau is so familiar, yet utterly unique from one moment to the next, ever changing. A dog romps happily in the surf. A squadron of pelicans swoops down low, skimming the waves. Two dolphins glide by just offshore, in no hurry. Every once in awhile a helicopter zooms by, low and fast. A lone surfer takes his board out to catch a few more waves before dark. And as the sun sinks its rays lengthen, shadows stretch out, colors deepen, the hills dissolve to silhouette and lights begin to twinkle.
On the way back, the tide was coming in a little faster than I was moving, and the beach disappears entirely here and there. I had to clamber over some boulders to avoid getting soaked by the unforgiving waves. I wasn’t entirely successful in that bid to stay dry, but that’s what shorts and old boat shoes are for. I left my sodden, sand-filled shoes at the car (having scored a parking space right where I wanted it on PCH), and continued barefoot to catch the last of the light from the end of Malibu Pier. I even waited until after 9 o’clock for the moonrise, as it was the night after the “super moon” – and I was rewarded with a beautiful sight as the big red moon came up over Santa Monica Bay. But no reward for you, unfortunately, as my trusty smartphone camera just can’t handle celestial events. Here, though, are a few snapshots from one of my favorite places. Enjoy!
Perfect end to the day.
The End (so far)
Every aspect of commercial air travel is hellish.
Except the view.
I always choose a window seat.
Because when your chair is seven miles up in the sky,
you can see forever.
I’ve just spent two weeks in ‘the old country’… New England… taking part in a wonderful wedding, spending time with family and visiting a handful of friends. Ports of call included Newton, Cambridge, Kennebunkport, Newtown, Chappaqua, Old Greenwich, Derby, West Hartford. I’ll have stories and pics in future posts. But here’s the one I want to share today.
My last night and day was with Peg & Randy and their sons Jim & Joe in West Hartford, Connecticut. Peg and I have been friends for forty years – which did not impress the family labradoodle, Remy, who would not stop barking at me. Tail wagging, but nonstop barking. So I translated her BARK! BARK! BARK! as I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU! And Advil.
New England is beautiful, uniquely so, and in every season. Probably best known for its autumnal splendor… and you may have heard that those flinty New Englanders endured an unending winter of 2013-14. In summer, though, the landscape is all blues and greens. The blues of the sky and the sea. And the greens of the fields and woods. Every city, town, hamlet and road seems to be carved out of the forest primeval. I had forgotten this aspect of life there. I’m unused to it now. After two weeks, I had grown weary of the leafy quaintness (and the quaint leafiness) in every direction. Everywhere I went looked a lot like this:
On the way to dropping me at Bradley airport yesterday, Peg and I picked up her sons from their first day of Farm Camp (a family tradition) and then went to a nearby creamery for the best ice cream I’ve tasted since… the ice cream from the creamery near my sister’s house in Newtown. As we drove into the grassy field of the Flamig Farm in West Simsbury and parked in front of the de rigueur massive red barn, I was suddenly presented with the most amazing gift in the unlikeliest of places: snark! Giant white letters across the wide expanse of the barn advertised the farm’s best known product: EGGS – but in mirror image.
Great bit of branding. (You can buy hats and boxers and t-shirts with their scrambled EGGS design.) It was all I needed to restore the balance in my universe. Now that I’m back in Los Angeles, I’ll continue to seek out and appreciate the occasional bits of natural simplicity that creep into the landscape here. But I’ll treasure this little ‘wink’ in the forests of my leafy home planet. All is not lost – even when you’re feeling lost in the woods.
The End (so far)
Tank Man is 25.
It is one of the most iconic images of the 20th century. Yesterday marked 25 years since this unforgettable scene in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Here are two recollections of that time and place from Jeff Widener, the AP photographer who captured this extraordinary moment on film – and how he almost didn’t get the shot. The first is from the BBC:
And here is a link (click on the image) to Time magazine’s interview with Widener:
We call him “Tank Man” because we have never learned his name. Who was this man? What became of him? Is he even still alive – and what would he have to say about that day? About China today?
This photograph is a pure and perfect metaphor for the imbalance of power between us (Tank Man) and the State… and a poignant reminder that we are not powerless. Twenty-five years later, the world has changed in so many ways. In America, some of us fear that the State has become too powerful; others fear that government has become ineffectual against the rise of corporate power. Whatever these tanks represent to you, we should remember what Jeff Widener took away from his encounter with Tank Man’s defiance:
“All hope is not lost. You can make a stand.
You can be somebody. There is some dignity in that…
you fight for your rights.”
The End (so far)
When the Universe takes a selfie, it uses the Hubble Space Telescope. This tiny sliver of sky reveals many thousands of galaxies, untold billions of stars.
Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
Meanwhile, coming to a red state near you…
The End (so far)
Professional stunt cat. Do not try this at home.