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THE CURTAIN FALLS ON THREE CLASS ACTS

Perhaps it’s common as one ages, to scan the daily obituaries; I certainly didn’t do so as a young man.  I usually picked up only on the passing of individuals of some fame or fortune whose deaths were announced on the front pages or in the sports or entertainment pages; names everybody knew.  Now I regularly look first at the top of the front page of the Metro section of the Washington Post to see if someone of note has passed, what their status in life was, what profession they had pursued, and, almost more importantly, at what age did they pass on.  I never used to do that.  Now maybe its because I’m subconsciously hoping to see that more of the diseased lasted well beyond my age and by how much.  While my wife, Ani, never looks at the Metro section of the Post, says it’s too full of crime, after scanning the front page headlines, I usually go directly to the Metro’s obituaries  and often skip the rest of the Metro although I find John Kelly’s “Washington” column often appealing.  We’ve never lived in Washington but we subscribe to the Post and pick up the New York Times most days.  I’m still an actual newspaper reader; I don’t seek the news on my computer.

In recent weeks three individuals who I strongly related to died.  Merle Haggard, Guy Clark, and Morley Safer.  I’d venture to say that of the three, Haggard and Safer were probably the best known and may have passed away the best blessed financially, although Haggard’s up and down battles with booze, drugs, and multiple marriages, might merit closer inspection in that regard.  But it doesn’t really matter.  Their contributions to the world and my admiration for them wasn’t about money.

Merle Haggard was everything I always though Nashville should have been but as time passed, wasn’t and especially isn’t today.  Merle’s music could be called “country” with no apologies.  Out of Bakersfield, California, Haggard’s fine baritone sang lyrics to songs he wrote that told stories as old as the dust bowl struggles that drove his parents to California two years before he he was born. He never got slick, not in my opinion, anyway.  I can’t listen to most of the formulaic stuff that Nashville has pumped out in recent years.  Can’t really believe they have the nerve to call it “country music.”  Merle Haggard died April 6, on his 79th birthday.  He was my senior by five months.  I saw and heard him perform only once, a couple of years back here in Charlottesville, Virginia.  He did a good show.  I’ve seen Willie Nelson come out as a headliner and go through his hits rather by rote.  I don’t think Haggard ever performed that way.  Willie Nelson is a national treasure, of course, but I think Haggard deserved an equal accolade.  Ironically, every time I hear Willie and Merle’s recording of Townes Van Zant’s “Poncho and Lefty,” Willie carries most of the song, accompanied by Mexico reflecting guitars, but I always wait for Haggard’s voice to come in with that lyric in his voice so smooth and mellow:

“The poets tell how Poncho fell, Lefty’s living in a cheap hotel. The desert’s quiet and Cleveland’s cold.  So the story ends we’re told.  Poncho needs your prayers it’s true.  But save a few for Lefty too.  He only did what he had to do.  Ah, and now he’s growin’ old.”

Morley Safer, the longest serving reporter on CBS’s “60 Minutes,”joining the fledging program in 1971 died May 19, age 84, a bit more than five years my senior.  Safer had a reputation for fine writing and diligent reporting.  In 1965 as CBS bureau chief in Saigon, Safer accompanied  U.S. Marines  on a mission to a village called Cam Ne and depicted on the air how the Marines  destroyed the village, casually burning down the villagers’ homes and belongings, a report that strongly shaped the feeling in the U.S. that this war was wrong.  I’ve never been a news photographer, never been in combat or involved in stories of such grief and sadness.  He reported on 60 Minutes stories that were much less dramatic, of course.  His interests were broad and he could take great pleasure in reporting on a family who produced quality wine not for just decades but continuously for centuries. Safer was such a class act and although I never had the pleasure of meeting him, I’m sure it would have been just that, a true pleasure.  I smiled when I heard a colleague of Morley Safer’s comment on his friend in the days after Safer’s death.  Safer’s reporting, he said, was proof of “the power of truth over spin.”  Oh, that we might have more of that in our lives these days

The other passing of someone I really related to was that of song writer and performer, Guy Clark, who passed away May 17, age 74.  A Texan, Clark was one of Nashville’s premier song writers when Nashville was producing quality country music.  He wrote for 40 years and his songs were recorded by many of the country greats:  Johnny Cash, Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, and many others.  It’s said the Clark lived quietly, never reaching great fame with his own recordings, playing smaller venues to devoted followers.

Following his death, it was reported that Guy Clark told musicologist Ben Sandmel in 1992 the following about his song writing and his career:  ”Something else that’s important is dignity…I’ll bet that when you’re dying, you’re not going to think about the money you made.  You’re going to think about your art.”

For all those amongst us who have often wished for relief from financial pressures and struggles Clark’s quote is a reminder that when you’re blessed to be doing something you truly love, what’s really important is what you produce  The passion that creates truly good work over the ordinary is what makes art that will last.  If you don’t have the passion, if you don’t truly care, you won’t produce art that lasts.  You may make the money.  And maybe for some that’s more than enough.  It wasn’t for Clark and I don’t think it was at the top of the list of what’s important for Safer and Haggard, either.  They deserved to be rewarded because they were good.  They were very good.  Sometimes, but not always, it works out that way.

I’d welcome your thoughts on this if you have some.  I’m going to try to be a more frequent contributor to this part of my website.  Maybe I’ll even get into the social media stream with Instagram, we’ll see.

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BACK HOME

Back home a day less than a week but my interior clock still has me rising far earlier in the morning than needed. Those ten and a half hours difference between the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and the beaches of Goa, India still have me a bit off sync. But what a marvelous two weeks it was with Shantanu Sheorey, Mahesh Bhatt, the rest of The One School Goa faculty and, of course, the students.  I got much pleasure from hanging out at the school and checking out the students’ work.  Early in my stay I had the pleasure of sharing time with David Turnley and some wonderful Indian photographers.  Manoj Jadhav, Samar Jodha, and Prashant Godbole, especially.  Great gentlemen and wonderful photographers.  I hope out paths will cross again.

Shantanu Sheorey, a legend in his own right with many years of acclaimed photographic work while based in Mumbai, has done a superb job founding and directing The One School Goa.  The School’s first annual Goa International Photo Festival was a huge success with wonderful exhibits, all of them printed by the students at the school once Shantanu had them locked in on their technics.  They made some very impressive prints.

I hope to return to Goa and the school sometime in the future.  Judging from the superb work that’s been accomplished in the two brief years the school has existed, the future looks bright, indeed.

Now I just need to stay home long enough to get my mind and body in the right time zone.

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BACK FROM THE BIG MANGO

My interior clock is still far from getting in sync having arrived back from my workshop in Bangkok on Saturday and now in three days I head for Goa, India where I’ll have an exhibit at the first Goa International Photo Festival. I’m afraid my normal sleep habit is doomed for some time. On the positive side, my Beyond The Frame photography workshop in Bangkok was a major success. Superbly organized by Bangkok based photographer Gavin Gough, assisted by his fellow Bangkok based photojournalist Jack Kurtz, our 14 attendees brought their interestingly varied non photographic lives into a group that I believe truly advanced in their individual visions from where we started. I have never anywhere been involved in a workshop better organized. Gavin and Jack had a menu of about 20 story subject possibilities to offer students, thereby eliminating the need for students to eat up a day or more looking for a focus. Some of the students had taken a workshop from Gavin before and obviously knew how professionally he operated and how giving an instructor he was, as was Jack. It was a genuine pleasure to join Gavin and Jack and the students in Bangkok. It could not have gone better nor could the facilities been topped.

Now with less than a week of reentering my normal time zone, I leave for Goa, India in three days. In Goa I’ll join up with others for the first Goa International Photo Festival instigated by The One School Goa photography school which is giving me an exhibit. Many Indian photographers will be shown, also a number of notable British photographers including Martin Parr, and a small selection of American artists including David Turnley, Ed Kashi, Judy Dater, Michael Christopher Brown, Catherine Karnow, and myself. Not all photographers will be present. I do know that David Turnley will be there and I look forward to seeing him. The Festival runs from February 10 to 22. I’ll arrive back home on the 24th and probably hibernate as best possible until being able to wake at normal hours in the morning, every morning.

March will be for recovery and relaxation although preparing tax return info is far from that and that’s what always happens in March at our house. But then comes April and Paris. There’s a lot of truth to that old bit, “We’ll always have Paris.” Ani and I will have it for 11 days and will celebrate our 32nd on April 16, hopefully aboard the dinner boat Le Calife where I made the lead image to my small Parisian essay “Love and Loss on the Seine” which appeared in the May 2014 issue of National Geographic. I never did eat the two times I tried to document the evening boat ride. This time I’ll have to stay seated, at least most of the time. If I don’t there may not be a 33rd.

I almost forgot to say that there are some spots open for my late April workshop at the Palm Springs California festival.  Lots of esteemed photographers will be around and it should be a fine gathering.  Come join us.

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