Monday, May 30, 2011

Meet Jody: A Friend

Genteel Southern Lady
Jody Humphrey

It's been over twenty five years since I met Jody Humphrey.  This slow speaking southern belle was trained by anti-feminist in the fine art of fencing, diving, sailing, and other fine things in life reserved for those of a more civilized lifestyle.  Jody was groomed at the finishing school Gulf Park by the Sea for young ladies.  "In the 1950’s women’s education was dominated by the idea that femininity via subservience needed to be cultivated and taught to young women. Gulf Park By-the-Sea Junior College in Mississippi promised to make its students “feminine and not feminist.”

Charming and Perfect
At 80

Jody told me about her pampered past in a very deliberate southern drawl.  The finishing school was all about learning the finer things in life from manners, setting the table, to staging parties.  She learned to be the perfect hostess white gloves and all.

Lady in Waiting
Her education included mastering fencing, diving, synchronized swimming and sailing.  Times were very different then.  I will tell you though that Jody has blessed my family with her social graces.  She and my mother-in-law, Shirley, planned all of the details of our outdoor wedding, pool side near our friend's gazebo.  The prim and proper lady practiced her craft and wove her craft and charmed us with her details.  Jody simply makes everything pretty.  Her touch is wonderful and she spreads her joy of a finer time.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Keller Horse Visions

I've been away from home for a week.  I truly missed my home and my daily four mile hikes on the trail and through our park.  It really does soothe me and helps me put things into perspective for the day.

This image was shot nearly ten years ago with my Canon Coolpix 990.  The horses travelled by hoof of course all the way from Las Colinas (Irving, TX) to Keller.  I happened to see them make a splash across Bear Creak Park.

By the way, I have some very cheap swampland that I would like to sell you.

Romance Details

Romance Details

Yesterday afternoon and evening, I had the good fortune of working with Paul Ernest, David and Luke Edmunson.  My job was simply to assist but it also gave me an opportunity to observe.  Even professionals  do not see everything in the same way. 

I noticed the bride's wedding shoes laying on the bed and I suggested to Paul to create a vignette and place the vail close to the shoes as if it could shroud them.  Since I was assisting, all I had was my iPhone to capture the moment.  (As all of you must have ascertained by now, I love to capture details.)

There's some something wonderful about creating art.  It seems like all the time my eyes want to find it.  I truly see most of my compositions as they are.  Who would have thought that my iPhone would become a wonderful tool to render art.  Although, I am not about to give up my large camera, I sure welcome the portability of the iPhone and the spontaneity it affords.  Thank heaven for little iPhones.

The whole world seems so much easier when I have to time to spend in my creative space.  The harshness of the realities that surround me somehow vanish and seem distant.  I truly become raptured by the moment.  It's a true joy that was given to me as a gift, something I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Vows: Until Death Do Us Part

Vows:  Eternal Companionship

Sixty-eight years ago, my parents exchanged wedding vows.  Despite the hardships stemming from starting all over in a new country, the loss of their oldest child, sickness, job losses, and financial reversals, they never wavered in their commitment to each other.  There were times, I admit, that I felt either one of them should be committed.  They at times drove us crazy but they loved each other and cared for each other.

There was no reason for us to take sides because they would not betray each other.  They protected each other from harm, verbal or otherwise.  We watched on the sidelines and never crossed the line nor meddled in their personal affairs.  They worked it out.  They had taken vows and although passion could turn into anger, they never let it fester more than a day.  One or the other would always capitulate.  Bickering and anger was eventually balanced and tempered by outrageous cooking.

Things have not changed from the time my parents married.  Problems plague marriages.  Most can truly be worked out if the relationship is securely rooted in friendship.  Marriages survive most problems, if couples truly want to choose to work out their differences and accept responsibility for their own issues.

Although I had my doubts if my parents relationship could/would survive, I can't get over the remarkable amount of love and compassion that my father has for his bride of sixty-eight years.  Do not cross him and certainly do not discard or mistreat his bride.  Dad remains my mother's chief protector.  He continues to reach out to her even when she skirts with and dances with death.  He pulls her pack and seduces her to live.  It is an amazing thing to watch.  It doesn't break my heart as much as it teaches me how to love until the end.  On the ever of their fiftieth wedding anniversary, my mother smiled at me and told me:  "the first thirty were the roughest."  I have a feeling in her own way she was trying to tell me something.

Today Mom demonstrated more lucidity.   "Today I could eat two ice cream bars", she proclaimed.  Dad looked at me and I knew that by this afternoon he would comply.  As long as she can proclaim and make decrees, Dad will carry out the Queen's wishes.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Making Arrangements

Lily Pads

"When I die I want my head to be surrounded by beautiful flowers in my casket."
Josefina Hernandez

The last few days I have spent busily shuttling back and forth between the nursing home attending to my Mom and comforting my Dad.  Mom has lucid moments but because of her surgery they have been few and far between.  Sometimes she doesn't recognize me and seems confused.  It's truly hard on Dad but the outpouring of love continues.

Today Mom greeted us with outstretched arms and was elated to see us.  She cried out loud, "I though you were lost."  She embraced my Dad and me.  We sat and watched her do her physical therapy.  She hasn't given up yet and we haven't given up on her either, but we do know that she might not  be with us as long as we like.  She is frail and her body may be in need of eternal rest.  In the mean time, Dad refuses to give up or let go of his queen.  He lives to serve her and makes her last remaining days as comfortable as possible.  He refuses to let her down and demands that others do the same.

It's been my job to fill in the gaps that my sisters can't fill.  We all have different roles to play of comfort, prayer, and care.  Today, the funeral arrangements fell on my shoulders.  Dad and I did it together.  He made me ok with the whole death process.  He showed me Mom and his new home, a mausoleum with a view of the morning sun.  I touched his shoulder and assured him as nice as it was, it wasn't ready for him yet.

This past year, I have frequently talked about some of my very real fears.  I have talked about facing them and letting the universe lead, guide, and pull me through this journey through space and time.  I feel calm and I now recognize that death is part of living.  The real tragedy in life is not death, it is not living.  It's up to us to choose to live and enjoy each moment as if the sun was not going to rise tomorrow.

My parents will face the sunrise at some point eternally.  They are wise and I feel that in their death they will still teach me to live.  The fear that I had has been lifted.  My Dad taught me a valuable lesson today as we made mom's funeral arrangements.  It will be fine and we will celebrate her life with flowers around her head and food afterwards.  We bring our family together from all over the U.S. and Puerto Rico and we will celebrate her wonderful recipes.

Mom is not dead, but I think it's time for me to celebrate her contributions and her raw sense of humor.  As we tapped into her bank account today, both Dad and I feared Mom's retribution and rebuke.  We laughed and we smiled.  Dad and I agreed on the same casket and the final funeral arrangement and then we dickered and got a further discount.  We walked away proud of what we had done for the queen.  Hail the queen, your subjects love you.  Long live the queen.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Soul Mates

In Sickness and In Health...

My parents are soul mates.  Nothing separates this pair.  They have always been there for each other.  I've always wondered about true love.  My parents by their actions have shown me what is and its value.  Dad will take care of mom as long as he has a pulse.  He loves her too much to let go or to let her down.  In this shot mom was asleep and Dad wanted to be there for her when she awoke.

Love in Action
Love manifests itself in many ways.  We need to embrace the good and the bad and face the fact that joy is the opposite of pain.  We can appreciate each by understanding and accepting it's opposite.  My emotions and my sensitivity are the result of these two people who made me what I am today.  I hope I can love my family and my friends as much as they have tried to teach me.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Seeing It Through

Coney Island  Pier

Sometimes just changing my point of view totally brings things into sharper focus.  My friends and I were shooting at Coney Island last month.  While they were combing the beach for photo opportunities, I became fixated by the structure of the pier and the many shapes that appeared to lead to infinity.  I had to actually peer through many frames to finally get to the open sea.

I know that I can't change the inevitable outcome of my Mom's failing health.  As I contemplate that situation, I know that at some point there will be light.  I need to be strong enough to see it through.  So many frames to sort and memories to archive.

I feel very fortunate to have a passion that will help me see it through.  What a wonderful addiction this passion of painting with light, photography.  Ok, I know I need to stay focused, maintain a steady resolve and hand and take as many images as I can.  The journey is far from over and I have many more miles and memories to log before I sleep.

Thank you Harry for taking me to Coney Island to jar my creativity and passion.  Thank you all for the many kind words of encouragement both personally and on FaceBook.  I have more than six reasons to be grateful again today.


Bridge Crossing
Jacksonville, Florida

Bridges have always fascinated me.  I remember as a child crossing over the major bridges of the boroughs of New York, the bridges included: The George Washington, The Brooklyn Bridge, The Whitesone Bridge, The Throngsneck Bridge, The Verazano Bridge, The Tappanzee Bridge. These were just a few of the ones I remember.

Their structures were always majestic and their strength outstanding and overwhelming. This photo above is a bridge in Jacksonville, Fl. I couldn't resist shooting while driving.   Fascination succumbed to temptation as I reached for my iPhone and balanced it on my steering wheel.  I shot several frames while motoring over the bridge.

We all need bridges along our journey to get us from one shore to the next;  otherwise it would be impossible to cross.  It's best to find the bridges that help us reach our destination. We accept the fact that tolls are always worth the benefits awaiting on the other side of the bridge.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

It's Always Sunny Above the Clouds

Waiting to Rise Above the Clouds
Jacksonville, FL

Can't say I've been on top of the world as of late.  Some might criticize me for being so honest and disclosing those feelings.  It's been an emotional roller coaster ride this past week: my 90 year old mother fractured her thigh, a potential job offer vanished, I lost a very expensive camera lens during a wedding shoot, and I am now on a plane headed to Florida to comfort my Dad for a week and try to make things better.

They say things happen for a reason and I must confess I don't care for that expression and I grit my teeth harder each time I hear it. However, I wouldn't have been able to help my parents, if I had to explain all of this to some corporate suit. You see more than anything else I love my parents. They made me who I am. They taught me the value of service and friendship. Throughout their lives, my parents were the perfect role models of friendship. People love my parents not only for their hospitality and good food, but for their acts of love, generosity, and unadulterated friendship. If I have one wish, I pray that I can measure up to their example.

As I boarded my fight today to Jacksonville, I overheard someone talk about the dismal weather in Dallas. He added, with a smile in his voice and a twinkle in his eyes, but it will soon be sunny above the clouds. It was a simply profound statement. It's always sunny above the clouds. Why did I forget? Why do I choose to go dark when light surrounds me?

I don't know where this journey is going to take me. All I know is that universe is truly trying to teach me something new.  It's time to climb above the clouds and reach for the sun. The sun always shines above the clouds.  I pray for the wisdom to understand both clouds and sun.  It's a steep climb to rise above the clouds, I know, but I've no choice.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sometimes, You Have to Do ...

Barbie & Ken Visiting SouthFork
Parker, TX

JR Meets His Guests
A friend of mine is an avid Barbie collector.  I found out that she had a vintage Barbie and Ken on loan and she wanted to shoot them at several Dallas locations.  The project sounded like fun so I offered to lend a hand.  I enjoy opportunities to be creative.  Besides, I like staying busy and working.  It may be a while before I have an opportunity to get back into the corporate world, but I have to earn a living somehow.

I noticed that regardless of what I do and what I shoot, I always manage to put my twist on it, like a graffiti artist to a railcar or a subway train.  I use whatever tools I have before me and I do my thing.  Getting to exercise your passion is always rewarding.

Ready to Party in Dallas
Back to the real story, Ken turns fifty this year.  His hairline is receding just slightly.  He still looks chiseled for his age but he is a little more stiff than most.  His genetics are slight flawed in that regard and he has a difficult time bending his arms.  As for Barbie regardless of her age, well, she's a doll at any age.

It was fun showing Barbie and Ken our town.  I hope some of you will stop in to Dallas some time and look me up.  We will show you a little Dallas hospitality.  Ya'll come.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Getting the Picture

Getting the Picture
Photo by Zack De Zon

Armed Photo Warrior
Photo by Zack De Zon
My friend asked me to participate in his son's wedding.  Yes, I was very nervous about it.  Harry was so confident about my ability that without my really knowing it, I was his lead shooter with two assistants.  It was thrilling to know that already I had my own band.  I had won American Idol and I didn't know it.

The wedding was in a perfect Midtown Manhattan location, a two story Penthouse, with terrace views of the city and the Empire State Building.  My assistant Zack and I looked around our location the day before trying to get familiar with the location.  We walked around both floors and studied what the possibilities would be for the next day.   It was good that we did this and it did help to soothe the nerves.  Of course the next day the clouds came and the loft ambient light became very different.  The drama vanished.  The good news was that now we were prepared.

Marching Orders
Photo by Zack De Zon
Athletes practice and musicians rehearse; photographic artists visualize.  We parse our world into frames and fractions of seconds.  We comprehend light and deal with the realities of light.  We attempt to modify light proactively and other times we simply react to situation at hand and dial up the ISO.  My photography is also a game of artistic algebra where y=me and x=my unknown.  I know me and endeavor to solve the unknown.

As I look at the shots taken by my assistant as we worked,  I notice the intensity on my face.  It was work and I was prepared to make it happen.  Whatever it was going to take, I was going to get it.  We were going to make this wedding extra special.  We were going to not only capture traditional shots but we were going to understand the props the location afforded us.

This is What I Want You To Do
Photo byZack De Zon
Check lists start forming through my head about equipment, details, lighting, locations, people...oh my God people?  I have to photograph people?  Oh no not people, they move!!!  You have to shoot people at a wedding?  Most of the time, I've been shooting and glamorizing inanimate objects but now you want me to shoot people?  I don't know about this.  Can I do this?  My coach, friend and mentor takes me aside:  "Is there a problem, Al?"

"No we are ok, Zack and I got you covered, don't worry no pun intended,  but this will be a piece of cake."  "Zack where the hell are you man and why are you taking pictures of me?

Ok, let's get this party started.... Let's just shoot the hell out of the details during the setup, dress rehearsal, and rehearsal dinner.  And tomorrow, let's just hope its sunny, not windy, or rainy in April.  What?  You say they have showers in April?  You sure you don't mean flowers?   Oh said showers.

Relaxed Al
Photo by Zack De Zon
Al, you've got to stop breathing so shallow.  It's going to be ok.  Breathe deeply and exhale slowly, relax Zack has your back.  It's ok.  You are in your jam now.  Easy does it and now pull back on the reins slowly.  Slowly, easy does it.  Try to sleep tonight Al, you hardly have slept all week.  It's ok.  Don't worry about the people just allow yourself to feel and let the camera find it's way.  Be you Al, get in the get some sleep.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Frame Perspective

Wedding Gown on Weathered Armoire

Not every idea sells.  The enjoyable part of photography is that I can explore many ideas and save them for another day.  You build on what you develop today and store it in your memory.

Mantilla and Shoes
 On Old Dresser
Life is filled with many photo opportunities that take time to create but only fractions of seconds to capture.  This is part of life after my family that I enjoy most.  I enjoy making art from the things I see.  Each frame perspective is uniquely mine and nearly often never rehearsed spontaneous and on the fly.

I look around from where I am standing and photograph my world through my viewfinder as I see fit.  It as if I want to capture all of the chapters of a mystery book in one sitting.  I want to know the ending, frame by frame.
Bride in Waiting

There truly isn't anything special about any of us except that each of us sees different frames.  My eyes are wide open and I capture what my heart feels and needs to share.  If each of us learned to do this, I wonder how different the world would be.

It's my craft and gift some say, I pick up my camera, nod my head in agreement and prepare myself for the next scene frame by frame and craft my scenes to my heart's desire.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Little Bit of Tenderness Goes a Long Way

Bride and Flower Girl

Last month I was in New York to visit my friend Harry.  He invited me to shoot his son's wedding.  Needless to say, I was eager to do the job.  It was an opportunity to capture the emotion of an event.  

For my generation tattoos were taboo; they certainly carried a negative stigma.  As I looked through the view finder you can imagine my initial concern that my main subject had this cute tattoo on her shoulder.   I knew that I did not have license to Photoshop it out.   

In that instance,  I put my biases quickly aside and stayed focused on the moment looking for an opportunity that would tell her story and not mine.  I had a special job to do for a very special friend and fellow photographer.  This was not about me or how I felt.  I was nervous as hell and didn't want to let anyone down.

 As the bride was getting prepared, I glanced behind me and I saw my shot.  I got down on my knees and captured a tender moment, an act of love and affection.  The bride who was also the flower girl's music instructor, had leaned over to console the flower girl.  It unfolded in front of me like the swan on her hair.  The juxtaposition of tattoo and tenderness ( a moment of love) overwhelmed me.  I was in my element capturing this demonstrative moment.  You can't fake this kind of love.

The scene moved me and it enabled me to put aside my bias and shoot some of my warmest shots.  That day was all about the celebration of two people in love.   There was plenty of love that filled that NYC penthouse  that evening.  There was one little girl who will never forget the embrace she received from her bride, friend.

When this bride and groom have children, they are going to be very lucky.  I know, I witnessed it firsthand and have the photos to prove it.  Life doesn't get much better than this.  Does it?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Strong Enough....??

Precocious Child With a Great Attitude
Midtown, NYC

Got all kinds of lyrics going through the my mind...after a year long work sabbatical, I may be once again joining the work force.  For those of you who have doubted some of the words that I've written, I want you to know that I was open with all of my feelings and as honest as I could be.  I disclosed both good and bad times, ebbs and flows.  For some I was too transparent.  I am sorry for that for some, I am too introspective.  Please understand that  I only know one way of being and that's honest.  I'm not a very good imposture.  I hope I didn't let any of you down.

There was a whole lot of hurt that I felt and what sustained me was the love my family and my friends poured on me.  It wasn't the end of my world but rather the true beginning of my self discovery journey.  The beginning of a job will not end my true discovery, I promise you.
Zack De Zon

To be honest with you, I can't hold back my desire to create and my pursuit of adventure.  Like Dad tells me, no one leaves this earth alive.  So like the cantor, I sing about what I experience and want to experience.  Like the Bon Jovi/Sinatra tune, it truly is "my life" to enjoy, cherish, and live.  The cadence I hear beckons me to march every day in the direction of my dreams and interests.

Unemployment did not change me, it only triggered my desire to fulfill all of my dreams sooner rather than later.  Postponing pleasure indefinitely makes little sense to me.  Postponing my photography passion makes no sense.  I have to continue to find my voice both in writing and the art of graphic perception (photography).

My biggest fear through out my whole life, was just the idea that I might not be strong enough to handle the most difficult hurdles.  The thing about hurdles is that its okay to knock them down as long as you finish the race.  The race is not over and I remain a contender despite the knocked down hurdles that got in my way.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Coney Island

Coney Island Tower
"Coney Island", NY

The soul selects her own society,
Then shuts the door;
On her divine majority
Obtrude no more.

Unmoved, she notes the chariot's pausing
At her low gate;
Unmoved, an emperor is kneeling
Upon her mat.

I've known her from an ample nation
Choose one;
Then close the valves of her attention
Like stone.

Emily Dickinson

My friend Harry Sandler was kind enough to take me and fellow photographer Mindy Véissid to Coney Island to get inspired and just shoot.  It was an incredible day with everything from fog, sea mist, and sunshine.

All three of us have different shooting styles.  It really didn't matter even if we stood in the same place, there was no spirit of competition between us.   Photography is an art of perception and distortion.  It is not any different than painting.  Paintings are not simply about reality, but about how the artist perceives his own reality.

I messed with this image several weeks ago, but it didn't even quite measure up to this.  The main reason is because, I am in a different creative space than I was several weeks ago.  The quality of my fine art work lacked oomph.

My friend Eunice O'Hanna from San Miguel us to describe her inspiration ebbs and flows like this:  "Al, it would just come to me, and then it would stop." 

Harry knew exactly what he was doing when he took me to Coney Island.  Like a big brother he took me under his wing to nudge me back into my creative space.  That space is what makes everything else including work worthwhile.  The artist in me does have to come out and play.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mothers Daze

Las Manos de Mi Mama
Josefina's Hands

Today we commemorate all mothers and try to atone with our mothers.  It's a day of reconciliation.  We make peace with our moms and recognize the tremendous sacrifices of proper motherhood.  We are here because of their perpetual sacrifice.

The pain a mother endures at birth subsides and soothes by the passage of time and the pride she takes in the accomplishments of children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.  My mother never asked for much only that we eat everything on our plates and grow up to be honorable men and women.

With her hands she nurtured, fed, consoled, and when necessary disciplined me.  Today I honor her hands, her courage, and sacrifice that made me what I am today.  Some days she's completely lucid and some days she's not.  I empathize with her memory loss and cringe and smile when she remembers things about me, I would rather she forget.

Make peace with your mother if she's still alive, she's the only one you will ever have.  Forgive her mistakes she made because she may have not known any better.  If she's gone keep her memory alive by honoring her through your life.  Mom is old now at 90, but she very much is young and fresh in my memory.  

To all my friends who are mothers out there, please know that your sacrifice is appreciated.  There are some of you who have never had children.  I am sure you were able to impart that same love to other causes equally as noble as raising a child.  Keep loving, the world is better with you in it.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

I Want To Be...

Zoltar Speaks

So far, I've been to two bucket list destinations that have appeared in Tom Hanks' movies:  Canadien, Tx and Coney Island.  As we were photo-op hunting on Coney Island, I mentioned to my friend: "Wouldn't it be something if I found the machine from "Big"?  As I turned around there it was dead ahead in front of me.  It wasn't the best shot through glass and all, but it was enough to make another dream come true.

There's a fine line between hope and despair, between dreams and nightmares.  Zoltar speaks and challenges you to believe, wish, and dream.  You have a 50% chance of something big happening.  Today, I am wishing and dreaming and hoping for something big in my life to happen.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Sunny Day

Meditation:  Roaring Silence
Near Palensville, NY

We've had two solid days of rain and inordinately cool weather here in Texas. Even with my disdain for overcast and rain, I've enjoyed the fact that we received so much rain. I notice how much more I appreciate the sun after a bout of cloudy weather. Weather changes and storms pass. The air and sky are so much fresher after the storm.  The sky is clear, crisp, and contaminant free.

We appreciate the sun because of the clouds;  we love the storms because the sun parches us and we grow weary from its heat.  Its a wonderful relationship between clouds and sun like night and day.  It behooves us to understand both.

There is an ebb and flow in life. Things aren't always bright but they are never perpetually dark. I've a garden in our front lawn. It has small solar lights that absorb the daylite sun and light my garden path at night.

I think of my friends who have lit my path along the journey. I am grateful for all of you who have been my beacons. I wonder how much light I can absorb today. The thought of becoming a beacon for someone else intrigues and awakens my spirit.

Sometimes I choose words to reflect light and other times I let my camera record and playback images that speak. Words and camera speak what I experience but don't always comprehend.  The camera thrives on light and all of its shades.

The journey is long and I have a ways to go. I am thankful for both sun and clouds and night and day. I wonder about my beacon friends and I wonder whose beacon am I.


Texas Bride:  Wedding Shoes

Several of my friends have given me an opportunity to shoot with them.  This past week, my friend Patty Foppen asked me to be her second shooter.  It was great working with her.  She's a kind soul.  In addition, as a former model, she knows exactly how to pose young brides and their entourage.

Texas Bride Enjoying Her Moment
Finding my voice in the images I shoot at these events, has now become a new obsession.  I don't just like to shoot.  Anyone can take a snapshot.  I want my images to be archival memories.  In a way, I want them to become the reason why you should stay married.  (Ok, that's a stretch.)

There's so much that I didn't know about weddings.  The story line goes beyond the bride and reaches those attending the celebration.  A passage takes place in the preparation and at the altar.  The reception brings the old and young together in a celebration of fertility and life.  

Bride and Mother
We want the new couple to experience life but we also want them to see the other side.  If they work hard at their relationship, they will transition lust into genuine love and friendship.  I love capturing the moments and viewing them over and over.  I love capturing feelings and playing them back.