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“Danny Lyon: Message to the Future”

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Self-Portrait

I have to believe that for every serious photographer, there comes a time where a desire for artistic growth kicks in. That desire may develop as slowly as a moving glacier or it could come as a swift kick in the butt, but many of us will confront this desire at some point in our photographic endeavors. The direction that growth takes, of course, depends on the genre and the person, but it usually points down a path that extends beyond your current comfort zone. For me, a devoted street photographer, that path leads to the world of documentary photography.

My method of street photography is tantamount to non-invasive surgery – get in, capture the moment, get out, leave nary a trace. If not totally invisible, I try to be nothing more to my subject than a fleeting presence in their peripheral vision that was hardly worth notice. The Rule of Engagement is no engagement. Delving into documentary photography, however, will turn that street methodology right on its head. I regard documentary photography as all about engagement, telling a story by becoming intimately involved with the subject. This is totally out of my comfort zone of complete anonymity, but if I am to grow, I need to try it. The way I see it, it can only help my street photography in the end. I just need to get started down that path.

I’ve always admired the work of some of the famous documentary photographers, Diane Arbus, Robert Capa and Dorthea Lange just to name a few. But recently I discovered another one that might have provided the impetus for me to finally start down that path. His name is Danny Lyon.

”You put a camera in my hand, I want to get close to people. Not just physically close, but emotionally close, all of it.” 

-Danny Lyon

I recentlyIMG_0832 discovered the work of Danny Lyon at an exhibition of his work at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. He was a disciple of the New Journalism movement of the ‘60s and the ‘70s, where the photographer is totally immersed in the documented subject. The de Young exhibition, “Danny Lyon: Message to the Future”, is a fascinating study of his role in that movement. It explores facets of his most important documentary projects, demonstrating how his active participation with his subject matter produced such insightful bodies of work.

 

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High school girls being held in prison with no charges against them, Americus, GA

Lyon began his journey along the path to documentary photography while a student at the University of Chicago. He traveled to the southern United States in the early ‘60s to participate in and photograph key figures and events in the American civil rights movement. He became the first official photographer of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), one of the most important organizations behind the movement at the time. From his position within the SNCC, Lyon documented sit-ins, marches, funerals and violent clashes with the police.

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Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville (1966)

His documentary series on Chicago area bikeriders was the epitome of photographer immersion and intimacy with the subject. After his association with the SNCC, Lyon returned to Chicago and joined the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club. From the inside of this biker subculture, he documented the violent and extreme lifestyle of the club with his camera. He also used a tape recorder to document the bikers’ stories in their own words. His efforts resulted in the now-classic book, The Bikeriders (1968), which included the images and the edited transcriptions of the taped interviews.

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Shakedown at Ellis Unit, Texas (1968)

In 1968, Lyon applied to the Texas Department of Corrections for access to the state prisons. Over the next 14 months, he photographed and filmed life in the Texas penal system, following prisoners out into the work fields and visiting with convicts in the mental facility. His effort documented the brutal truths of prison life and, as he put it “make a picture of imprisonment as distressing as I knew it to be in reality”.

“The use of the camera has always been for me a tool of investigation, a reason to travel, to not mind my own business, and often get into trouble.”

Danny Lyon

Lyon’s body of work covers a multitude of subjects and continents. His immersive style representative of the New Journalism movement is an effective way to bring out the story behind the subjects. It could be worth your while to examine his work, even if you aren’t contemplating diving into documentary photography yourself. It’s all about the story and how effectively you convey it, whether you do it in hundreds of frames over the course of a year or in a single frame in the flash of a moment.

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Christmastime is here…

Christmastime is here…when I first saw this image and captured it, I saw it as a contrast between the crass commercialism of Christmas displayed in the department store window and the reality of what actually exists for many people on the streets everywhere. However, after stepping back from the image for a while, I came to realize that it was less an image of contrast and more of one of connection. When I was growing up in the mid-1960s and into the 70s, the Christmas season for me didn’t begin until Charles Schultz’s wonderful program, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, had aired on CBS. I recall the feeling of watching the Peanuts gang ice skating and dancing to the music of Vince Guaraldi, Snoopy decorating his doghouse, and Charlie Brown’s quixotic quest for the perfect Christmas tree. But the highlight of the show was Linus’ eloquent discourse on the true meaning of Christmas. He confronted that crass commercialization of the season by pointing out that its real meaning lies with the celebration of the birth of a man who ultimately sacrificed his life in the helping of others in need. This image – the homeless military vet sitting next to the cheerily decorated Peanuts-themed department store window – had transformed in meaning to represent the connection between a powerful message of hope and charity and the very people for whom that message was meant to service. (From the “Chicago, December 2015” series)yJBW_6300p

San Francisco’s Other Vintage Rides: From Castro to the Wharf

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Pacific Electric (Southern California) Historic Streetcar No. 1061

Aside from its world famous fleet of cable cars, San Francisco operates another fleet of historic transportation vehicles – streetcars from all over the world. These vintage streetcars make the round trip primarily from the Castro District along Market Street to The Embarcadero and up to Fisherman’s Wharf and back. I have even seen some run south past AT&T Ballpark into China Basin, along the same line of trackage where the MUNI’s T Line (Sunnydale) runs.

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Dallas, Texas Historical Streetcar No. 1009

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Birmingham, Alabama Historical Streetcar No. 1077

The “F” Line, as the streetcar route is known, was born from the San Francisco Historic Trolley Festivals that ran from 1983 to 1987. This festival offered an alternative to the cable car fleet, shut down for two years beginning in 1982 for renovation. In September 1995, the permanent “F” Line route was opened. The vintage streetcars that ran the route were painted to represent some of the streetcars that once served several North American cities. Other streetcars from different countries were added later. The “F” Line proved to be very popular.

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San Francisco Municipal Railway Historical Streetcar No. 1050 (Interior)

Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota Historic Streetcar  No. 1071

Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota Historic Streetcar No. 1071

Brooklyn, New York Historic Streetcar No. 1053

Brooklyn, New York Historic Streetcar No. 1053

While not having the same panache and popularity of the cable cars, it is a very nice way to get to the wharf and back. The streetcars don’t tackle San Francisco’s hills like the cable cars, but you do get a good look at downtown activity and the wharves north of the Ferry Building. And end the end, the streetcars get you to Fisherman’s Wharf like the cable cars do – with a much shorter waiting time and for a lot cheaper. You just can’t hang onto the sides, though.

San Francisco Municipal Railway Historic Streetcar No. 130

San Francisco Municipal Railway Historic Streetcar No. 130

Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Co. Historic Streetcar No. 1007

Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Co. Historic Streetcar No. 1007

Check out my more comprehensive images of streetcars and cable cars on my website at http://www.jimwatkinsphoto.com/San-Francisco-Cable-Cars-and-t/.

I have a streetcar set on my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.603367749773568.1073741924.246777948765885&type=1

You can find page with great information on individual historic streetcars at http://www.streetcar.org/streetcars/.

Lake Tahoe: Capturing the Beauty at the End of Summer

Emerald Bay with Rock

There is beauty in this world, and then there is breathtaking beauty. Many people have experienced many places that qualify in the latter description, even myself. Few, however, in my opinion, can compare with the stunning landscapes I saw in Lake Tahoe.

Emerald Bay (8)

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, California

Fannette Island, Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, California

Fannette Island, Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, California

View North from Logan Shoals Vista Point, Nevada

View North from Logan Shoals Vista Point, Nevada

View Towards Lake Tahoe's Western Shore, Logan Shoals Vista Point, Nevada

View Towards Lake Tahoe’s Western Shore, Logan Shoals Vista Point, Nevada

Lake Tahoe, one of the deepest lakes in North America, is located high in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, straddling the California/Nevada state line. Practically the entire area is a paradise for landscape photographers like me! I had the opportunity to go there the week after the Labor Day holiday. The pristine blue of the water is a sight to behold. Clear blue skies offer a magnificent backdrop for towering gray granite peaks and soaring green ponderosa pines. Beaches ringed by majestic mountains are dotted with the bright colors of beach umbrellas and kayaks for rent. It’s hard to put down your camera with all this visual stimuli around.

Along the Vikingsholm Trail, California

Along the Vikingsholm Trail, California

View of Fannette Island, Emerald Bay, from the Vikingsholm Beach

View of Fannette Island, Emerald Bay, from the Vikingsholm Beach

Baldwin Beach, Lake Tahoe, California

Baldwin Beach, Lake Tahoe, California

Baldwin Beach Kayaks, Lake Tahoe, California

Baldwin Beach Kayaks, Lake Tahoe, California

Nevada Beach, Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Nevada Beach, Lake Tahoe, Nevada

After nearly a full week of clear skies, the rain came; with that rain came the most dramatic skies of my short visit to Lake Tahoe. I was fortunate enough to capture a few of those cloud formations.

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, California

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, California

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, California

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, California

Emerald Bay with Rock, Lake Tahoe, California

Emerald Bay with Rock, Lake Tahoe, California

Beach Rocks (9)

Approaching Storm, Elk Point, Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Elk Point, Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Elk Point, Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Elk Point, Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Elk Point, Lake Tahoe, Nevada

My only regret was that I was there too late in the year to capture the waterfalls in the area. The only one whose feed hadn’t dried up – Horsetail Falls, a tall waterfall about 20 miles south of Lake Tahoe near Highway 50 – was 1 1/2 miles up the Pyramid Creek Trail. This city boy lost that trail less than a half mile in. When you lose a trail and know you have to cross into an area known as Desolation Wilderness, you turn around! I’ll try it again the next time I’m in Lake Tahoe, perhaps in the spring when all the waterfalls are flowing.

My camera and I cannot wait! Stay tuned for my next Lake Tahoe installment.

You can see my full portfolio of Lake Tahoe images at http://www.jimwatkinsphoto.com/Lake-Tahoe-California-Nevada/

Wings of Freedom

Nose Art B-17G

Nose Art B-17G

I had the privilege of visiting the 2014 Wings of Freedom Tour when it stopped by Moffett Field in Mountain View, California. The tour stopped here over the Memorial Day weekend with five vintage World War II aircraft. What a thrill to see these planes up close.

Three bombers were on display, including the B25J Mitchell, the B-17G Flying Fortress and the B-24J Liberator. It was interesting boarding these craft and getting through the tight squeezes when traversing from one end of the aircraft to the other. The skin of the planes seemed razor thin, and they had to be to conserve fuel. No protection from 20mm rounds from an enemy aircraft. You really get an appreciation for what these men went through.

B25J Mitchell

B25J Mitchell

B-17G Flying Fortress

B-17G Flying Fortress

Bombardier and Navigator Positions, B-17G

Bombardier and Navigator Positions, B-17G

Waist Gunner Position, B-17G

Waist Gunner Position, B-17G

B-24J Liberator

B-24J Liberator

View to the Cockpit, B24J Liberator

View to the Cockpit, B24J Liberator

Bomb Bay, B-24J Liberator

Bomb Bay, B-24J Liberator

There also was a P-51 Mustang on display, as well as an AT-6C Texan.

P-51C Mustang

P-51C Mustang

AT-6C Texan

AT-6C Texan

Several World War II veterans were on hand to answer any questions about the aircraft. They all had experience in flying or maintaining these craft. It was great to hear their stories.

WWII Vet on hand

WWII Vet on hand

All in all, it was a fascinating day, and a fitting tribute to the very brave men that served in these aircraft. Try and catch the tour if it comes to your area. If your shell out the big bucks, you can reserve a flight tour on a few of these planes. Check out the tour schedule at http://www.collingsfoundation.org/cf_schedule-wof.htm.

Check out the full complement of images from the day at my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.535830213193989.1073741912.246777948765885&type=3

Also, check out my website at http://www.jimwatkinsphoto.com

Adventures at the Stanford Equestrian Center

Main Entrance

Main Entrance

In my humble opinion, Stanford University has one of the most beautiful college campuses I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been to plenty (Duke University in North Carolina is one that rivals Stanford in this regard). There most certainly may be others perhaps even more beautiful, but I’ve yet to see them. Stanford’s campus in Palo Alto, California boasts of some stunning architecture – a harmonious blend of the old and the new – dominated by the Hoover Tower in the middle of campus. In the western backdrop, the Santa Cruz Mountains rise majestically between the campus and the Pacific Ocean. Lush green and vivid red flora can be found all over campus, with the smell of cedar, pine and redwood permeating the air. The intoxicating energy of student activity during the week is replaced by an almost overpowering sense of tranquility on a beautiful Sunday morning, literally daring you not to relax. Can a place like this get any better?

I recently found out that the answer to that question – for me, at least – is yes. Debbie Caminiti, a friend of mine that runs the Bel Bacio Café in San José’s Little Italy (350 W. Julian if you’re ever in the city), told me I should visit “The Farm” on the outskirts of the campus. Being one of those supremely curious people who have to see everything, I took her up on that. This had to be one the best decisions I’ve ever made.

The Red Barn

The Red Barn

The old Palo Alto Stock Farm, now the Stanford Red Barn Equestrian Center, sits on the southwest portion of the campus just off the Campus Drive Loop. This was the vision of Governor Leland Stanford who, in 1876, began acquiring land in the area, including an area for breeding and training trotting horses. For a cool history lesson, British photographer Eadweard Muybridge made the first moving picture here in 1878. He shot a series of still photographs of a running horse and placed them in sequence; when viewed as such, it appeared the horse was moving (the old post-it trick, remember?). Now the Stanford Red Barn offers classes and boarding for those students who can’t part with their horses. It also a fun time for a visitor to watch these athletes with their horses go through their paces.

"Horse in Motion", honoring Eadweard Muybridge work at the Farm

“Horse in Motion”, honoring Eadweard Muybridge’s moving picture work at the Farm

I knew as I approached the Victorian Red Barn that I was going to like this. The farm smell for a born-and-raised city boy like me is still exotic, like a waiting adventure. I paused in front of the Barn for a moment and watched as a couple of students brought their horses onto the outdoor arena and trotted around the fence. After a few minutes of this, I went inside. I was a little hesitant at first, not knowing how much access I was going to have. I mean, the horses were right there in their stalls. Was I allowed past the entry area and to the stalls with the horses, up close and personal? Was this for staff and students only?

Making sure I stay out of trouble inside the Red Barn

Making sure I stay out of trouble inside the Red Barn

Under a watchful eye...

Under a watchful eye…

A very nice staffer alleviated my concerns almost immediately. She beckoned me into the barn, assuring me that I was welcome anywhere in the facility. Relieved, I wandered up and down the aisles between the stalls, peering into rooms the size of large closets that were stacked floor to ceiling with saddles, and generally trying my best not to be a nuisance. Horses occupied most of the stalls; some watched me closely as I passed by their stall, while others appeared completely oblivious to my presence. I’m not necessarily a horse guy, but being so close was a great experience.

One of the outdoor paddocks

One of the outdoor paddocks

I slipped out one of the side entrances and explored the outdoor paddock area. Here I was closer to the horses, but the narrow pathways between the paddocks made this city boy slightly uneasy. Someone who knows horses, on the other hand, would be in hog heaven out here. I’m sure they can be unpredictable (which is why I kept a comfortable distance), but you can really have a more personal experience with the horses out here.

Pacing inside the outdoor arena

Pacing inside the outdoor arena

After walking around here for a bit, I wandered back over to the large outdoor arena. This time I sat in the small bleacher area on the side opposite the Red Barn. There were more riders now taking their horses through the paces. Among them was an instructor managing the traffic, barking out directions and keeping the obstacles in good order. The riders themselves – all women at this moment – sat tall in their saddles as they circled the arena, occasionally diverting towards one of the wooden jumps set up inside the circuit. It was quite a scene for me, surprisingly relaxing with galloping horses and an occasional instruction the only sounds I heard.

Jumper

Jumper

However, the biggest thrill for me was yet to come. After hanging around the outdoor arena for quite some time, I ventured behind the Red Barn to see what was up. It wasn’t long before a came upon three guys hard at work shoeing horses. This was the stuff of the old westerns I grew up watching. The head guy, Steve, walked up to me and asked me if I wanted to take some pictures. He explained that they were about to shoe a horse. “You can stand here, or you can go into the next stall for a close-up, or you can get behind the stall”, he said as if he were directing a photo shoot. “There’s gonna be a lot of smoke! My name’s Steve, by the way.” With a friendly smile, Steve extended his hand. I think I had a goofy grin on my face as I shook his hand, not believing my good fortune.

I eagerly took up a position in the next stall. Steve secured the horse’s hoof between his legs and waited until I was ready. When he applied the red-hot shoe to the hoof, the smoke came thick and quick. I got a chance to fire off a few shots before the smoke completely obscured his hands.

Steve the farrier shoeing the horse

Steve the farrier shoeing the horse

Steve preparing to hammer the shoe on

Steve preparing to hammer the shoe on

Phillip applying a manicure to another horse

Phillip applying a manicure to another horse

And to top it all off, it turns out that Steve, the head guy in this operation, used lived on the northwest side of Chicago. He used to work about a mile away from where I lived after I left college. On the tract of land where he once worked in a stable now has a Red Lobster Restaurant that I used to frequent; my son practically grew up in it. Talk about a small world! Now that I’ve discovered and enjoyed the Stanford Red Barn Equestrian Center (www.stanford.edu/group/set/barn/index.htm), I plan to go back again and again. It is possible for non-affiliated members of the community to partake in community or private lessons at the center. If I go often enough, I may even be tempted to take the reins myself. However unlikely that may be, the sheer relaxation in watching these talented riders take their horses through the paces is worth the trip. Check it out and enjoy what is truly an integral part of Stanford University’s history.

You can see the full range of photos I’ve taken here at the Jim Watkins Photography Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.522858457824498.1073741907.246777948765885&type=1).

Directions from the 101: Exit at University Avenue west towards Palo Alto. Continue past El Camino Real and onto the Stanford University campus to Campus Loop Drive. Turn right and follow Campus Loop to Electioneer Road. Turn right and continue until the road ends at Fremont Road. Turn left onto Fremont for a few yards and enter the parking lot to the right of the road.

Also, check out my website at:  www.jimwatkinsphoto.com

Coastal Explorations for the Intrepid Photographer (Part I)

Ever since my wife and I moved to the West Coast I’ve been drawn to California’s central coastline. Living in the Midwestern United States all my life, I had seen the Pacific Coast as the stuff of exotic vacations, views shoehorned in with city visits, amusement parks, wine tastings and redwoods. Now, living out here so close to the coastline allows for more intimate explorations into finding those picturesque, narrow beaches tucked between massive seaside cliffs and the vast Pacific Ocean.

Pacific Coast Highway near Big Sur

Pacific Coast Highway near Big Sur

California Highway 1, otherwise known as the Pacific Coast Highway (or “PCH”), is the artery that has thus far taken me as far north as Stinson Beach in Marin County and as far south as Big Sur. The drive can be a little treacherous, as the views are so breathtaking at some points they become quite the distraction. One must try to remain reasonably focused when navigating the PCH, but it can be difficult. Stunning vistas that literally demand your attention open up around a curve; you’ll want to screech to an immediate halt to gawk at the view. In my opinion, many of the best spots for photography along the coast are so well hidden from the road that you’d have to know ahead of time that where they are in order to stop. Often the only clue from the road is an unpaved stretch of turnoff or a small parking lot. It can be a pain, as the signs designating the beach area are also concealed at times. Once you discover these hidden gems, however, you’ll keep coming back. I’ll discuss two of them in this posting.

One of those spots that I keep coming back to is Pescadero State Beach, about 14.5 miles south of Half Moon Bay near the quaint little town of Pescadero. The main part of the beach is very visible from PCH, but there is another access a little further north that’s worth the stop. I love the interesting cliff formations at this point looking north, a seemingly endless formation of rock that disappears along the coastline. The long, narrow beach seems to call to you, especially if it’s only you and the crashing waves. The cliffs are the star here, and a foggy day can turn your image into a painting. I wouldn’t go with too wide a lens here; a focal length above 28mm would do nicely. You could still get the cliffs and the surf at the proper distance.

Pescadero State Beach

Pescadero State Beach

Pescadero State Beach

Pescadero State Beach

Now right here I have to pause and admit to something. I’m sometimes wary of following the call of these narrow beaches, as I’ve heard of the occasional rogue wave surging up onto the beach and washing helpless wanderers out to sea, never to return. In my first few months here on the West Coast, I’d heard of three such incidents. I haven’t heard of any since, but my instincts of survival have been strongly influenced by these terrible events. If I do muster up the courage to wander alone down one of these deserted beaches, I always remember the old saying, “never turn your back to the sea”. I take that advice to heart, and you should too.

Another great beach for the photographer is Shark’s Fin (or Shark’s Tooth) Cove just south of Davenport. Unlike Pescadero Beach, this is a tricky one to find. Except for the small turnout along the road, there’s nothing to indicate the existence of this beauty. The access down to the beach is a little treacherous. You have to slip under a drainpipe and navigate a steep, rocky trail to get to the water (my first time there, I slipped twice on the trail). Once down, however, you’ll see the effort was all worth it. The rock for which the beach is named rises above the surf like a giant sail, with waves crashing against the nearby cliffs. It’s a photographer’s delight. A great time to go is near sunset, when you can silhouette the Shark’s Tooth against the waning light. A wide angle lens here can yield some great effects, especially with flowing surf. Wander closer to the cliff wall where you can see a rivulet surging and receding with the waves. Make use of slower shutter speeds to get some cool motion blur here.

Shark's Tooth Cove

Shark’s Tooth Cove

Shark's Tooth Cove

Shark’s Tooth Cove

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Shark’s Tooth Cove

These are just two of many spots along the Central California Coast that I love. I’ll examine more in future postings. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions of more spots for me to visit, I want to hear about them.

Visit www.jimwatkinsphoto.com; contact directly at jimwatkins113@gmail.com