Iguazu Falls Trip

Iguazu Falls as seen from the Brazilian Side

Iguazu Falls as seen from the Brazilian Side

For our 25th wedding anniversary, my wife and I visited Buenos Aires and Mendoza, which were lovely and fun.  However, the big surprise was visiting Iguazu Falls.  I guess I’d hadn’t done my homework about the falls because it was more majestic and impressive than I’d envisioned.  What’s more, the Argentine and Brazilian governments had done an excellent job of making these beautiful falls accessible to just about anyone able enough to walk and climb stairs.

The Iguazu River forms part of the boundary between Argentina and Brazil.  The crown jewel of this river is the Falls that are shared by both countries.  From the Brazilian side, the panorama of the entire falls can be seen and the downstream side of the falls is lined with a very well designed and maintained walkway.  At times shrouded in the mist from the falls, this metal and concrete path allows tourists easy access and plenty of points of view.

The Argentine side of the falls also has excellent walkways and paths.  However, from here tourists can get above and  down into the Falls.  We took a five hour walk with our guide which got us up close and personal with the impressive beast that is Iguazu Falls.  The conclusion of the tour included a boat ride in the river, below and actually into the Falls, with the warm water pouring over us.  This experience was not for the timid and we loved it.

Iguazu Falls is a “must see” natural wonder.  Our tour was arranged by Audley Travel and those folks did an excellent and thorough job planning it out and making all arrangements.

For this trip I made a music video which documented our Iguazu experience as well tango in Buenos Aires and wine tasting in Mendoza.  Have a look.

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The Tampa Bay Comic Con: a Photographer’s GOLDMINE

The New Joker, Catwoman and Harley Quinn

The New Joker, Catwoman and Harley Quinn

The Mad Hatter

The Mad Hatter

I’m always looking for new and unusual subjects to photograph, so when I saw billboards advertising the Tampa Bay Comic Con 2016 I knew I found what I was seeking.  I had read of other comic cons (comic book  conventions) and knew that this place would be a goldmine for a photographer.  Imagine a place loaded with people dressed up to look like The Joker, Harley Quinn (Joker’s girlfriend in the new movie Suicide Squad), Batman, The Incredible Hulk, Ghostbusters, Superman, Goths and every comic comic book and movie fantasy character you’ve ever heard of and THEY ALL WANT TO BE PHOTOGRAPHED!

Joker and His Wife

Joker and His Wife

Pretty Girls Dressed up as their favorite characters.

Pretty Girls Dressed up as their favorite characters.

Inside the convention center, there were booths where individual comic fanatics sold their own artwork or classic comic books and costumes, gear, jewelry, memorabilia, bumper stickers, etc.  There were also booths for DC Comics and others.  And all around the convention hall was packed with people and many were there in costume.  Suicide Squad started that day and there were many fans buzzing about it.

You would think this environment would attract many avid photographers.  Instead, there was only a few, but as far as I could tell I was the only one using flash. I’m glad I took it as the available lighting made for dark eye sockets.  Furthermore, due to the nature of the makeup and colors on the characters, flash really exaggerated the character’s appearances.  I had my iPhone 6, which is a terrific camera in its own right, but my big camera is best to get really usual photos because I can use my ultra-wide angle zoom lens, flash and other creative features the iPhone doesn’t have.

The Comic Con 2016 is now over, but don’t despair, there will be another one next year!

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A clever way to use flash

Horse and Rider, taken with a Canon 60D DSLR, 1/10 second, f2.8, using a Canon 24-70mm lens set at 24mm, flash was set it -1.3 EV

Horse and Rider, taken with a Canon 60D DSLR, 1/10 second, f2.8, using a Canon 24-70mm lens set at 24mm, flash was set it -1.3 EV. The camera was hand-held.

I deeply admire the foreign travel photographer Nevada Wier.  Her photography is beautiful, elegant and innovative.  I’ve traveled with her five times and have taken two photography seminars from her.

The most recent seminar, among other techniques, she taught me how to use flash in a very clever way.  She stresses that a camera flash shouldn’t be used simply when there isn’t much light but as a way to stop action when there is barely enough light to form an image.

The seminar was five days of lecture, field assignments, editing photographs and critique by her.  The most fun and challenging assignment was to attend the Carbondale Wild West Rodeo and photograph the action in the low-light of the dusk sky and use flash.  It proved to be a fun, good-natured evening as cowboys, cowgirls and many horses were dressed in Hawaiian-themed outfits.  The non-Western colors greatly enhanced the photography.

After arriving late in the day I walked around making photos from various locations and eventually settled in on the corral where horses and riders warmed up before being let into the area to compete in barrel racing or calf roping.  Around 30 minutes after sunset, when there was just barely enough light to photograph, I was near the young riders and horses as they circled and circled and circled.  After many attempts at using the available light and getting lucky with just the right combination of horse, rider and movement I finally got the image I was looking for.  Due to the slow shutter speed, there is streaking of the figures in motion but due to the speed of the flash (1/800 second), the subjects were frozen as if the shutter was set at 1/800 second.  The blue skylight in the distance which makes part of the backdrop is what I light to call “Nevada Wier Light” because she is the only photographer I know who seeks and exploits this time of day to create beautiful imagery.

Using flash in low-light to freeze action is just one of the tricks Nevada Wier knows and I’m fortunate to be her student.  I think my photography has improved dramatically thanks to her instruction.

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My Camera, Horse Drawn Carriages, and Cartagena

Horse drawn Carriage in the lights of Cartagena

Horse drawn Carriage in the lights of Cartagena

Probably one of my best experiences doing travel photography was when I was in the historical district of Cartagena, Colombia.  Our tour leader, a woman with world-class skills both as a photographer and as a teacher, brought us to a quaint street to watch and photograph horse drawn carriages as they strolled by.  There were some tables and chairs set out and via a waiter, we could order beer, relax and photograph.  The sun was setting and one-by-one the carriages moved by.

The horses moved slowly so the passengers could enjoy an easy ride and this situation was ideal for us.  We could sit and watch and snap photos, peek at the camera LCD, make adjustments and wait for the next carriage to come by.  Perhaps a dozen or so carriages were in motion and the gentle clip-clop-clip-clop of the horse’s hooves blended with the sounds of passengers pedestrians having a good time.

After a while a street mime appeared and started dancing and entertaining us and others.  He was very funny, helped us to relax even more and made for a great subject.  Since the light was getting dimmer by the minute, camera adjustments had to be made constantly to photograph him but that just added to the challenge and fun.

Cartagena Street Mime

Cartagena Street Mime

 

I like traveling with other avid photographers.  We can collaborate and talk non-stop about how best to make a photo, what the best camera settings are, discuss lens choices and all of the photo-nerd things that bore others but make sense only to us.  The whole evening went well, and when the dusk light faded, we picked up our camera gear, paid for our beers and went to dinner.

Mostly, my photography trips are pretty intense.  I love the challenge of trying to do great photography and sometimes it’s difficult to just sit back an relax with it.  I am, after all, doing photography for the fun of it.  This particular evening, in this particular location and time made for one of the most memorable moments of my life.

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My Walk on the Wild Side

Roped

Roped

I think it is safe to say that many people travel so they may see and experience something new; at least that is my motivation. The fact is, though, we travelers don’t need to go thousands of miles to do this. Instead we can visit something completely beyond our usual experience and not travel but a few miles.

 

So a few months ago, I attended a photography night at a local Bondage and Discipline, Sadomasochism  (BDSM) dungeon.

 

After arrival and check in, I met the man running the event.  He took me to the room set aside for photography wherein he had set up studio lights with hoods and diffusers and backdrops.  I was given a flash controller for my camera and then he suggested camera settings, and I was left on my own to photograph.

 

Soon three woman arrived who had changed into their favorite festishwear and made themselves available to be photographed.  The first young lady I photographed dressed as a Submissive in fishnet.  I don’t have much experience working with models so this was quite a challenge for me, especially in this environment.  My goal was that to not simply pose her the way many other photographers would but try something new.

 

The next woman was dressed as a Dominant in a long red skirt and black top and brought along a flogger as a prop.   Here again, I was looking for something new to do and she was very accommodating and suggested a few ways to sit and pose.   I learned from her that you never pose a Dominant with a submissive’s “furniture“, unless there is a Sub on it.

 

The last woman was a Submissive, nude except for panties, and she liked being tied with ropes.  Another photographer, who apparently had much experience in this scene, spent about 20 minutes tying her up.  While she was being restrained, I noticed the expression on her face was that of complete bliss or ecstasy. She enjoyed the feeling of the rope and the attention given her.  She, like the others, was very easy to work with.  The studio lighting and my camera worked well.

 

The first visit was mostly for the photography but also to find out what this was about and talk to the people in the lifestyle. I became intrigued by what the models told me and what I saw. Therefore, a few months later, I went on a second trip and this time to take a visit of the part of the dungeon where photography wasn’t allowed and learn more.

 

The dungeon gave tours, which began with a briefing of the dos and don’ts of this place.  This lifestyle doesn’t have much acceptance among the general public and thus there is stigma for anyone known to practice it. Therefore,  “Vegas Rules” (what happens in the dungeon, stays in the dungeon) are always in effect.  BDSM can be used as a kind of foreplay, however, is no sex allowed, either oral, anal or vaginal.  Also, the activities can be violent and there is danger of a submissive being hurt beyond what she/he intended. For this reason there are safe words, which are a way for a submissive to signal to the dominant to either continue the activity (Green), or to say that the feelings are getting a little too intense (Yellow) or that it is time to stop (Red) or that things have gotten way out of hand and the monitors need to come running (Mayday, mayday).

 

I was then led into a room maybe 40′ x 40′ were there was arranged spanking benches, crosses for restraining and whipping, a steel cage or two, a wall full of ropes and handcuffs, whips and chains, a massage table, towels and bottles of disinfectant spray.  There was also a basket to store items soiled with bodily fluids and another for anything with blood on it.  They even had a Sybian, which I had read of but had never seen.

 

Finally, when the tour was over I was asked if there were any questions.  I said I understood that sex was not allowed, but is Fisting (a type of kink where a hand is forced deep inside a rectum or vagina thus giving pleasure/pain) allowed?  The guide said yes.  This seemed paradoxical.  You can have your arm buried almost to the elbow in someone’s ass, but a penis is a vagina in not allowed.  Interesting.

 

Like I said in the beginning, traveling to see something new doesn’t necessarily require traveling far away.  You can instead travel outside the your normal life and yet be very close to home. Visiting a BDSM dungeon was a journey about as far out of my normal life as I can imagine.

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Dog Meat

I am serious when I say that if my dogs and me were trapped in a burning building and my wife could only save me or them that she had better rescue them first. I love dogs, especially our “children”. I grew up with dogs as family members. I can watch a movie where dozens of humans are hurt, carved up, run over, shot or otherwise obliterated and it not bother me.  If, on the other hand, a movie depicts a single dog being hurt, even slightly, I can’t watch.

Roasted Dog Head.

Roasted Dog Head.

So, when I found myself wondering around a village in southern China during a festival of some sort and most all of the Chinese tents offering lunch were serving dog, I was stunned. I know, I know: Asia eats dog like Americans eat chicken or beef or pork, but I had, up to this point, never seen dog as food. It took some getting used to.  Truth be told, I never did.

Dog Hanging Like a Slab of Meat

Dog Hanging Like a Slab of Meat

I struggled to look at it this way:  eating dog is part of Chinese culture.  If a Hindu, who worships and protects cows, were to drive to a local McDonalds in the USA and see that burgers made with all-beef patties were on the menu, I would expect him to be repulsed.

Dog Fighting Between Bull Fights.

Dog Fighting Between Bull Fights.

A few world religions find pig untouchable and don’t even think about eating it.  It is an abomination.  Yet, I’ve eaten my share of pig in various forms and loved it and will continue to do so.

Dogs Parts Marinating. I think these dogs were the losers of the fights that were occurring nearby.

Dogs Parts Marinating. I think these dogs were the losers of the fights that were occurring nearby.

Another sight that bothered me was dog fighting.  In America, this activity is considered animal cruelty and, therefore, illegal.  In China this was a sport that was held between bull fights.  I watched the bull fights and it didn’t bother me.  Dog fighting, on the other hand, was repulsive.

What was I to do, since I’m such a lover of dogs?  Well, I couldn’t run away.  Dogs as meat was all around. The aroma of BBQ dog saturated the air.  Dog cruelty was a sport.  I can’t expect that every culture I visit will have the same values I do.  Or have the same laws.

So I envisioned myself as a pair of eyes floating through China, observing but not reacting and not judging.  This is simply their culture and I cannot make judgements.  Still, it was a struggle to see the faces of dogs waiting to be slaughtered.  Dogs can communicate their thoughts and mood with their eyes like humans.  And this human knew what they were thinking:  I’m about to be cooked and eaten.

About to be Cooked and Eaten

About to be Cooked and Eaten

 

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An Hour Well Spent

"Portrait of My Father" by Stephen J. Kaltenback at The Crocker Art Museum

“Portrait of My Father” by Stephen J. Kaltenbach at The Crocker Art Museum

In Sacramento, California there is an art gallery I love to visit.  It is not huge and it doesn’t have a lot of big-name artists, but I think that is why I like it more than, say, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City.  Yeah, sure that is a crazy thing to say because MoMA has art from ultra-famous artists like Jackson Pollack, Vincent van Gogh, and Andy Warhol (a snake-oil salesman if there ever was one).  My favorite museum is the Crocker Art Museum and my favorite work of art there is “Portrait of My Father” by Stephen J. Kaltenbach.  Last Friday I went back to The Crocker just to sit for an hour and studying this painting.

“Portrait” is a depiction of the artist’s father, apparently at or near death.  It is a reverently and lovingly painted work that displays a complex depth of imagery and gives an aura of shimmering beauty that I’ve only seen in works by Renoir and other French Impressionists I admire.

Kaltenbach spent seven years on it.  The detail in something as simple as a strand of hair is like nothing else I’ve seen.  Each hair on this huge painting has been highlighted and shadowed and given a “personality” so to speak.  The attention to detail is heroic.

Hair Detail

Hair Detail

As I sat there on a bench I could not take my eyes of of it.  It was towards the end of the day and the guards left me alone.  If I had tried this at MoMA the crowds would have disturbed me continuously.  Instead, I just sat there and quietly took it in.  I recommend this activity to anyone who wants to really enjoy art:  find a not-so-large art museum, go there when the other visitors are few and find one work that intrigues you, then study it.  You know the artist spent many, many hours to make it so why not invest a little time to appreciate just one art piece?

 

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Not Because It’s There

Me on the Hike to Basecamp

Me on the Hike to Basecamp

I think the most important thing to know about mountain climbing is the motivation for doing it. A greater man than me said he climbed a mountain because it’s there. In August 2000 when I climbed Mt Shasta in northern California my desire was to disobey my aunt. You see, when I was about seven years old, I told her I wanted to climb Mt Shasta and she said it was “too dangerous.” In fact, she said it had a fence around it to keep people out. “Don’t go there, Stanny,” she said.

So there I was with two other climbers and our guides, stuck to a glacier on the north face of Shasta, roped together in a daisy chain. We had been climbing for hours and the going was frustrating. We had to negotiate our way up the mountain while climbing around these cup-shaped holes in the snow called snow pots. They formed in the summer when the sunlight melted depressions in the snow. I was impatient and wanted to simply vault over them. The problem was that most times when I attempted this I would fall backwards and stumble trying to reclaim my balance. Our guides said to take it slowly but always, always move forward. Speed is safety in mountain climbing, but you have to conserve energy too. If you rush to take a step and stumble, you waste energy. So I took it easy and methodically climbed the glacier.

Soon we were near the summit but the biggest obstacle was still ahead. Maybe fifty feet from the top was a vertical ice flow. Slick and dangerous it could only be crossed without being roped to another climber. Fall while climbing across it and the search team would be looking for your lifeless broken corpse hundreds, perhaps a thousand feet below. We all got across, of course, but the terror of negotiating that slim ice flow left a mark in my mind.

Shasta is considered to be an active volcano. Just feet from the summit, I was reminded of this. Hydrogen sulfide, a gas that smells like someone else’s farts, was bubbling up through the mountain crust. As we passed a little field of bubbling mud I could smell the odor of volcanic activity.

A few vertical feet beyond the volcanic fart field, we summited. There below me was northern California; off to the east I could see a sliver of Nevada too. We spent about a half hour there looking at the landscape below us, having lunch, and then down we went.

On the Summit of Mt Shasta, 14,180 feet.

On the Summit of Mt Shasta, 14,180 feet.

Like I said, I was there to disobey my aunt. She said don’t do it and I did it anyway, because she said not to. I have to chuckle about this admission though. If she had said “Don’t go there, Stanny. Don’t climb that mountain. It’s too dangerous.” And then said “…and don’t even think about conquering France”, my Panzers would be drag racing the Champs-Elysees right about now.

On the way back down from Mt Shasta.

On the way back down from Mt Shasta.

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Field Identification of the American Redneck

Shell Station, where the American Redneck can be observed

Shell Station, where the American Redneck can be observed

 

 

 

 

 

In this blog, I am not the tourist but the tour guide and ethnographer.

I was on my way back from ten days of doing Vipassana mediation in Jesup, GA with a fellow meditator from Canada. He needed a ride to the Jacksonville airport and since I was going that way, I gave him a lift. We talked on many subjects but he was most inquisitive about one thing. He wanted to know what a redneck was. Seems they didn’t have any up in Ontario.

Having spent the last two days contemplating lovingkindness, I decided to soften my usual cynical description and carve a positive mental image of what a redneck is for my friend: They are caucasian and from the Old South and, therefore, have a distinct accent, which varies some from state to state. They are very religious and, by the way, if your are Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim or Atheist or something other than Church of Christ or Southern Baptist, don’t bring it up. They are hard working and most are devoted parents. They are homophobic. Conservative in their politics, with the TV always tuned to Fox News. Each has his/her own favorite college football team and are very passionate about it. Most know the number of months, days, hours and minutes until deer season. Always, always drive either a pickup truck or an SUV. All are very polite. My Canadian friend seemed to take it all in ok but I sensed he hadn’t really understood.

I needed gas so I pulled off the 301 at a Shell station. After fueling we went over to the mini-mart to get refreshments. We were met at the door by a large man with a camouflage ball cap and tee shirt and blue jeans who had just climbed out of his old rusted white Chevy pickup, the one with the front bumper ripped from the frame. He smiled. said “Mornin” and opened the door for us. Like I said, very polite.

Inside, running the cash register and stocking shelves, were two women. While I went to get my first diet Pepsi in 10 days and the Canadian his first coffee latte, the guy who opened the door took up a conversation with one woman with a plaster cast on her left hand. Seems she had gotten into a fistfight with her spouse only a few days prior. I didn’t hear what caused the melee but I suspect alcohol was a catalyst. Anyway, sometime during the fracas, she broke a bone in her left hand on the husband’s face. She said the doctor called it the “boxer’s bone” because prize fighters sometimes fracture them in a match. She kept her descriptions clean for the most part being that it was Sunday and she was at work. The other woman took my money for the Pepsi and latte with a big smile and an enthusiastic “Thank ewe! Hurry back!”

Back in the car and on the 301, the Canadian leaned over and asked in a lowered voice, even though we were a quarter mile away from the station, “Those were rednecks, even the women, right?”

“Yep”, I answered. So much for “carving a positive mental image.”

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I went with Plan C

Me and a Rainbow Trout

Me and a Rainbow Trout

Sometimes even Plan B won’t work.  Sometimes ya gotta go with your dead-last choice when traveling.

During my trip to Nepal a year ago, I met two very pleasant people from Canada who invited me to visit them.  They knew I was a photographer and that I liked to do night and landscape photography.  Joel and Kathleen described the beauty of Canada and, due to its location in the zone where the Aurora Borealis occurs, the Northern Lights could be extraordinary.  I began to fantasize about the photos I’d get there. Oh, and by the way, the fishing is great there too, if I was interested.  Historically, I have found that fish, especially Rainbow Trout, are safe from me, so fishing wasn’t a big draw.

However, when I arrived in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, I could see my fantasy photography plans were at risk.  A forest fire had been burning for days, spreading smoke over almost all of Saskatchewan and south to Minnesota.  Daytime, the sky and landscape looked exactly like the exterior scenes from the movie “The Road”.  In this movie the world was on fire and blanketed everything in dreary, ash laden soot.  Central Canada wasn’t that bad but close enough for me to ditch my photography ideas.

The plan was the day after arrival, we three would drive the four hours up to their cabin on a lake and go fishing.  The drive was pleasant and the conversation with them very interesting, so the time flew by.

A couple hours after arriving we were on a lake in their motorboat cruising to an area to do some fishing.  Joel took us to an area guaranteed to get me my first Northern Pike, he said.  The Pike is a finned beast I had for years read about and was best described as an “Attack Fish”.  It didn’t just fight for it’s life when you set the hook, it tugged like it wanted to pull you in and devour you.  And if you did get it reeled in, then you were confronted with some of the most vicious teeth short of a Great White Shark and possessed by one very pissed off slithering, writhing monster.

After arrival in a choice area with reeds and plenty of floating plants, we began fishing.  Joel caught a Pike almost immediately.  It was everything I’d heard of.  It fought and fought and when landed in the boat became a safety problem with those angry teeth.

My luck with fish was, well, unchanged.  I was up on the bow wearing my polarized lenses and could see down in the water.  There were Pikes everywhere in the shallows and even though I was using the exact same lure Joel was, and the fish showed much interest, none ever took the hook.  Dammit.

The next day, my luck changed.  Joel and I went to another lake and used his canoe with a trolling motor to get around.  After an hour,  I began catching Pike.  What fighters they were and every one I hooked was worth keeping.  Joel caught them as well and soon we had the luxury of returning to the lake fish that weren’t big as we wanted.  We fished all day at various lakes and it was a thrill to actually feel like I could be a successful sport fisherman.  That evening Joel showed me how to fillet fish and we had a very nice dinner.

Joel holding my first Northern Pike

Joel holding my first Northern Pike

The next day we planned to fish in the morning then go back to the cabins to pack up and drive home.  This morning Kathleen came along because we were going to a lake where a large beaver lived and she wanted to photograph it.  Not long after being in the canoe we heard a splash as a beaver entered the water and began swimming around.  Kathleen began clicking away with her camera and made some very nice photos.

I had it in my head that we would be after Pike again so when I hooked something very very aggressive and HUGE I figured I’d pull an Attack Fish out of the water.  It fought for several minutes and because the lake water was “tea-colored” as Joel called it, I couldn’t see the fish.  It pulled its way around the boat and I had to change sides just to keep up with its movement.  Soon it began to leap from the water and for the first time got to see it.  It was a Rainbow Trout.  As I said above, I don’t catch these things.  They flee my rig and I never catch them.  Now I finally had one and it was big, big enough to be one of those you see on outdoor magazine covers.

I reeled it in and Joel netted it.  What a magnificent fish.  It was about 16 inches long and 2-1/2 to 3 pounds.  It had a beautifully colored rainbow on its sides and was in perfect condition. You know, I was so impressed with this fish, I could’t see taking its life.  So after the obligatory photo was taken of me with it, I gave it to Joel and he returned it to the lake.  I had finally caught a Rainbow Trout and it was a beauty, any big time famous sport fisherman would be impressed.

So as it turned out, Plan A (landscape photography) wasn’t possible.  Plan B (night photography of the Northern Lights) was also out as the night sky was clouded with smoke.  Plan C, fishing, the one activity I had no interest in or hope would be memorable, was fantastic.  What a great trip.

 

 

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