Kudos from Lens Culture

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Some very nice feedback from Lens Culture Magazine on my submissions to the 2016 Portrait Competition

one photo @ a time

I’m not one for entering photo competitions.  And I’ll tell you why.  I have a strong inferiority complex about my work.  Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE my work. I have a very loyal band of ‘fans’ in the physical and virtual world who give me regular ego boosts about my photos. I have no problem with taking pictures. I may not be tech savvy or into ‘kit’ like a lot of my peers but over 40 years I’ve developed a strong ‘feel’ for good images.

But when it comes to entering competitions I immediately give in to the old saws that echo up out of the dark depths of childhood, “You’re no good.” “You can never get the attention of real photographers.”  “Your stuff is derivative and shallow.” And on and on.

A couple months ago though I did take a punt on submitting a few pictures to the

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Remembering Prince

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Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, hard working Scandinavian farmers, liberal politicians and mediocre sports teams, is also the birthplace and last resting place of a 1.58 metre tall force of nature called Prince.

Before Prince, Minnesota’s most famous musical son was a skinny Jewish kid named Robert Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan.  And like Dylan, who radically redefined the notion of folk, pop and rock music, Prince (born Roger Nelson), remoulded R&B into a musical form that was infinitely more complex, rich and exciting than anything that had been pedalled before him.

With his death on Thursday, at age 57, popular music has entered an era that will henceforth be known, as AP—After Prince.  His contribution to popular music is nothing less than genre-defining and so his loss is as equally traumatic to fans, critics and peers as the passing of David Bowie is to pop music.

As a student at the University of Minnesota my first awareness with Prince was as the bus driver’s son from North Minneapolis, the black ghetto. He had made a couple of well-received albums, including Dirty Minds notable more than anything for the fact that he played every instrument on them. A good-looking novelty act, nothing more. Or so we thought.

Full article as it appeared in wire.in

Death and Dying Mix

What with all the death around…

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Damnation!

Here and gone.

So soon and without any warning.

David, Alan, Merle, Arjan, Sherie, Teddy and now Prince.

The heart is too heavy at the moment.

Death and dying.

It’s inevitable, I know.

But it still is shit for those of us left here.

50 songs on the subject.

Track Listing:

01 Mahindra Death Ride [The Bombay Royale]

02 Death Letter [Son House]

03 Country Death Song [Violent Femmes]

04 Oh Death Where Is Thy Sting [Re. J. M. Gates]

05 Dying Anyway [Ben Sidran]

06 Death Is Not the End Carl Broemel]

07 Asta-asta (You are gone) [Sherali Jo’raev]

08 Bury Me Deep In Love [Jimmy Little]

09 Low Down Death Right Easy [Dock Reed]

10 River Of Death [The Bluegrass Album Band]

11 De la Vie a la Mort (From Life to Death) [Zap Mama]

12 Love and Death [Ebo Taylor]

13 A Fiddler Dead And Gone…

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A Friend is gone. R.I.P Teddy Arellano

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Photo by Teddy Arellano

I woke this morning to read that Teddy Arellano had died.

Disbelief rushed through me. How could this be? He was much younger than me. How could this be?

I moved over to his Facebook page and began scrolling to see if it was some sort of Filipino joke. It wasn’t. Teddy had really passed. His friends were posting photos of flowers, remembering him fondly and urging him to go gently and peacefully to his maker.

Teddy is the latest in what seems a long queue of significant others who have moved on. A swagful of beloved ‘hero’ musicians and actors. Two other Facebook friends died very unexpectedly sending shock through the online photography community. 2016 is a sad year and we aren’t even in May.

Teddy’s death has hit me harder than the others because I knew him. Not just through records and films or Facebook posts but in the flesh.

You were always dancing in and out of view

I must have thought you’d always be around

Always keeping things real by playing the clown

Now you’re nowhere to be found

I don’t know what happens when people die

Can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try

It’s like a song I hear playing right in my ear

That I can’t sing.

 

I met Teddy in Beijing in 1997. We were part of a small Oxfam team drawn together from the UK, Hong Kong and Australia to make an assessment of the humanitarian situation in North Korea in the wake of a couple seasons of floods.

We met in a Communist era hotel. Teddy was young and rather rolly-polly. He admitted to being too fond of donuts and more than once disappeared from the group only to return with a big box of pink, chocolate and sugary rings that he “just had to buy” after stumbling upon a Dunkin’ Donuts outlet.

Teddy was the only one of our team that had been to North Korea. He was one of thousands of politically-aware youth that had been invited by Kim Il Sung to a grand Youth Solidarity event in Pyongyang several years earlier. Teddy made us laugh and shake our heads in amazement with his stories of massive parades and staged propaganda shows. He let us in on ‘true’ tales of the Great Leader and his family. He prepared us to receive ‘on the spot guidance’, once we arrived.

The next ten days turned out to be a highlight of my life. Not just as an aid worker but as a person. We got to walk around Pyongyang without our ‘minders’, take a ride on the grand subway, visit villages and towns far from the capital and get drunk with officials who urged us through bloodshot eyes to ‘tell Clinton he’s a devil’.

I got to know Teddy pretty well on that trip. He didn’t just love donuts and gadgets—he had the first micro disc recorder/player I’d ever seen—but he had a genuine passion for making things better for people. Though he didn’t share a lot about his background he did speak of being involved in leftist causes and I got the sense he was from a fairly well off family.

But the best thing about Teddy on that trip was his cracking sense of humor. He was rotund and spoke in a quiet way. He looked jolly from the git go and he had the timing of a comedian. The understatement and the elongated pause. The sarcastic jibe which could have hurt but for the sparkle in his eyes.

We got to calling each other Comrade. And thanks to Teddy the whole group became expert at giving ‘on the spot guidance’ to our official minders on the differences between the Workers Paradise and the outside world.

We stayed in touch over the years, both working within the Oxfam world. Drinks at a pub in Oxford. Tea at a café in Manila.   When Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) hit in 2013 I tried to get him hired by the Red Cross but it didn’t work out. Instead, he and some friends organized their own little NGO in Tacloban. They struggled for funds but were at the very coal face of assistance, sleeping and working in the same conditions as the victims themselves.

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His Facebook posts were usually quite political, highlighting the gap between promise and delivery by the government or appealing for funds. Teddy, it seemed to me, had lost some of his jollity. He was a very serious and committed humanitarian.

One thing I hadn’t known about Teddy, and I think he didn’t know about himself, was that he was a brilliant photographer. I could be wrong but I think he only took up a camera in the last few years. The first few images he posted on Facebook blew me away. His eye was so mature and acute. He was capturing stuff—all in black and white—that made my jaw drop. Portraits that were troubling but compassionate. Street scenes worthy of exhibition. With a little effort I have no doubt he could have been recognized as a truly outstanding artist.

I hadn’t seen any posts from Teddy for a few weeks. I had no idea he was ill. He suffered a stroke on 11th March and passed away yesterday.

Ted. Farewell comrade. Give some on the spot guidance to St Peter about taking people way too soon!

I don’t know what happens when people die.

 

 

Far More and Much Better

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Woman Woman in Yangon

Huambo, Angola sits in the lush high country of southwestern Africa. During the days of Portuguese colonial occupation it was the second city of Angola and known as Nova Lisboa. Several factories, including a VW assembly plant, and the country’s main Agriculture Institute were set up in the city.

In 1994, the city was a battleground for government and UNITA forces. The rebels controlled the city which was completely derelict: buildings pockmarked by mortal shells, streets gutted with potholes, electricity and water supplies a convenience long forgotten.  NGO workers and stray dogs were the most visible residents. And there weren’t too many of us, perhaps 50 tops, driving around the silent streets in our white Toyota pickups.

Whenever I visited  I stayed with my small team of nurses in a gutted building where the bedroom windows were nothing more than smudgy plastic and the shower a red…

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The Art of India

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Some years ago, I was sitting in the back seat of a taxi in Bengaluru. It was midday when the light is thin and bullying. I was only half paying attention. As luck would have it, I looked up for an instant and saw Superman whiz by. What followed was one of those moments where your mind, so much slower than your eye, tries to make sense of what it thinks you just saw. “Superman. On the outskirts of Bengaluru? Okay.”

I asked the taxi driver to take a U-turn and go back to the spot where I’d seen the superhero. And sure enough, after about 100 metres, we rolled up alongside Clark Kent in his cape.

I slowly got out of the taxi, drawn magnetically towards the wall on which Superman stood. Like the apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey who gape and dance in wonder at the strange plinth that has landed among them, I gawped at the scene before me. Like the apes, I wanted to touch this strange thing but was nervous I might get shooed away. I was at an artist’s workshop and didn’t want to be unceremoniously run off the lot.

[Full Article from Scroll.in]

Gone: Merle Haggard

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My first Merle Haggard record, picked up at a shop in Dinkytown in Minneapolis, way back in the early 1980s was called Serving 190 Proof. I really don’t know why I decided to fork out the five or six bucks for a country and western record but I thank my lucky stars I did.

 

At that point my musical tastes were quite immature. Sure, Johnny Cash was a hero and Willie Nelson was fun, but country music in general was anathema to me. Hoaky music for rednecks.

 

But I read a lot of music reviews and Merle was someone the rock critics consistently praised. Maybe it was the album cover—a hand coloured photo of Merle looking lonely at a bar—that got me to dish out the cash. I can’t recall from this far up the road, but that album became instantly a favourite. It’s remained so for 30+ years.

 

More albums followed and my head and cassette tapes filled with Merle Haggard songs: Big City, Driftwood, Okie from Muskogee, Shopping from Dresses, Poncho and Lefty many of which I’ve included in this mixtape to mark his passing yesterday.

 

Merle’s songwriting is top notch. I have always been drawn more to his mellow side and songs where he seems to be simply reflecting on the wonders and sorrows of the simple life. Merle’s songs are full of nostalgia and hope and a sad resignation to never ending change.   His baritone which has to be one of the smoothest and most expressive natural voices ever gifted to mankind is what consistently delights and enchants me. Be it the rowdy CC Waterback with pal George Jones, the boozy anthem Swinging Doors or the downright classic, Kern River, it is voice that drives the nail into the knotted wood.

 

From little things big things grow, said another fine singer. And from that one LP purchased three and half decades ago, Merle’s place in my musical estimation has steadily risen. I reckon he is one of three singers whose music I consistently and regularly come back to for more inspiration, insight and pleasure. So his passing is a terrible loss.

 

Thanks for everything hoss!

 

Track Listing

01 Mississippi Delta Blues

02 There I’ve Said It Again

03 Crazy Moon

04 I’ll Be a Hero (When I Strike)

05 The Last Letter

06 What Happened

07 You Don’t Have Very Far To Go

08 Truck Driver’s Blues

09 Rainbow Stew

10 Pancho And Lefty

11 Are the Good Times Really Over

12 Going Where The Lonely Go

13 Swinging Doors Strangers

14 Still Water Runs The Deepest

15 Workin’ Man Blues

16 The Fightin’ Side of Me

17 Django and Jimmie

18 The Bottle Let Me Down

19 C.C. Waterback

20 Tulare Dust

21 My Own Kind of Hat

22 I Am What I Am

23 If I Could Only Fly

24 Driftwood

25 Walking the Floor Over You

26 Natural High

27 Irma Jackson

28 Okie from Muskogee

29 Kern River

 

RIP