Monthly Archives: May 2005

B&W, Rural, Urban Photography

My friend Didi S DubelyeW, a photographer and screenwriter, is always putting me onto new photoblogs, because she knows that I can spend time looking at images all day. One of Didi’s latest finds is Kay Westhue’s Fourteen Places to Eat, which features a lot of rural Indiana. "In my photos, I am trying to view a very familiar landscape and people
as an outsider, to show the uniqueness in the everyday that we take for
granted," says Kay. "Like a documentary photographer documenting the back yard, so
to speak." Kay in turn has links to some other great photoblogs.

I grew up in the American South, but the scenery outside my window is much more urban these days. Walker Evans has become more and more a favorite of mine; I love how he was able to skillfully shoot both the South and New York. (He once took this picture of a church in Beaufort, South Carolina, not way too far from where I grew up.)

File Magazine showcases photos of Times Square by John Aaron. Dave Beckerman also highlights New York, my favorite city in the world, on his photoblog. I love his confession on why he prefers shooting in black and white.

Black and white also seems well-suited to the city. New York, for me, will always be a city best described in black and white. It is simply more dramatic, perhaps romantic, in monochrome. And now for true confessions — in all the years I have been shooting — nearly 35 years — I have never shot a roll of color film. Never. Not once.

I shot some Ilford XP-2 outside my window today, so yes, I do like black and white. Unlike Dave, though, I do, in fact, usually do, shoot color (especially now that I have gone digital, and it is easy to convert color images), but there is a lot to what Dave says about photographing New York in black and white. Certainly, the photos of Berenice Abbott and Andreas Feininger are among the first to come to mind when you think of the city (not to forget Margaret Bourke-White’s photo of the Chrysler Building)?

B&W, Rural, Urban Photography

My friend Didi S DubelyeW, a photographer and screenwriter, is always putting me onto new photoblogs, because she knows that I can spend time looking at images all day. One of Didi’s latest finds is Kay Westhue’s Fourteen Places to Eat, which features a lot of rural Indiana. "In my photos, I am trying to view a very familiar landscape and people
as an outsider, to show the uniqueness in the everyday that we take for
granted," says Kay. "Like a documentary photographer documenting the back yard, so
to speak." Kay in turn has links to some other great photoblogs.

I grew up in the American South, but the scenery outside my window is much more urban these days. Walker Evans has become more and more a favorite of mine; I love how he was able to skillfully shoot both the South and New York. (He once took this picture of a church in Beaufort, South Carolina, not way too far from where I grew up.)

File Magazine showcases photos of Times Square by John Aaron. Dave Beckerman also highlights New York, my favorite city in the world, on his photoblog. I love his confession on why he prefers shooting in black and white.

Black and white also seems well-suited to the city. New York, for me, will always be a city best described in black and white. It is simply more dramatic, perhaps romantic, in monochrome. And now for true confessions — in all the years I have been shooting — nearly 35 years — I have never shot a roll of color film. Never. Not once.

I shot some Ilford XP-2 outside my window today, so yes, I do like black and white. Unlike Dave, though, I do, in fact, usually do, shoot color (especially now that I have gone digital, and it is easy to convert color images), but there is a lot to what Dave says about photographing New York in black and white. Certainly, the photos of Berenice Abbott and Andreas Feininger are among the first to come to mind when you think of the city (not to forget Margaret Bourke-White’s photo of the Chrysler Building)?

Belly Dancer (Photo)

Belly Dancer

International Street Fair, New York

Taiwanese American Heritage Week

This week is Taiwanese American Heritage Week. My friend Welly Yang, the artistic director of theater company Second Generation, once told Newsweek what being "Taiwanese American" meant to him.

I wanted [to premiere the musical version of The Wedding Banquet] in Taiwan […]. The story is about a Taiwanese-American in New York. Ang Lee is Taiwanese. Although I was born in this country, my parents are from Taiwan. Taiwan has always been the underdog in the world. They were occupied by Portuguese, Japanese, Dutch. China won’t let them become a member of the United Nations. There are missile threats every other day. I guess I wanted to raise Taiwan’s status. Something in my American side makes me root for the underdog.

Taiwanese American Heritage Week

This week is Taiwanese American Heritage Week. My friend Welly Yang, the artistic director of theater company Second Generation, once told Newsweek what being "Taiwanese American" meant to him.

I wanted [to premiere the musical version of The Wedding Banquet] in Taiwan […]. The story is about a Taiwanese-American in New York. Ang Lee is Taiwanese. Although I was born in this country, my parents are from Taiwan. Taiwan has always been the underdog in the world. They were occupied by Portuguese, Japanese, Dutch. China won’t let them become a member of the United Nations. There are missile threats every other day. I guess I wanted to raise Taiwan’s status. Something in my American side makes me root for the underdog.

Natalie Portman on Harvard

Natalie Portman on Harvard.

The thing about school that upset me most, I think, was the “international student body.” When you visit colleges in high school they all boast about how many countries they have represented there, but what they don’t tell you is that those students are all vacationing together in places like Saint-Tropez. I mean, it’s fine to have a rich international component because that’s part of the world too, but having traveled so much after graduation, I’ve met all these people from different countries; it would have been so amazing if my class at Harvard had included a little of that as well. I mean, the students are diversified in terms of geography and race, but not really in terms of class – class diversity is practically nonexistent. It’s disappointing, particularly at a place that’s really devoted to providing you with an outlook on the world.

Aspiring Writers without Advance

Nicolas Clee of The New Statesman wonders if the Macmillan New Writing project, which eliminates writing advances, exploits aspiring writers.

One gets the impression that more people want to write fiction than
read it. A very small percentage of all the novels published in the UK
each year sells more than a few thousand copies. Yet creative writing
courses are oversubscribed, and multiplying; self-publishing is a
booming industry. Most leading publishing houses, and many literary
agencies, have abandoned their "slush pile" (unsolicited manuscripts):
the deluge was too great, and the chances of salvaging a jewel from it
too slim.

The Guardian quotes a Macmillan executive as saying the project allows the publishing house to find new writers.

In the Lens of Diane Arbus

David Seagall of The Washington Post tracks down some of the people who have appeared in the photos of Diane Arbus.

Tracking down the people Arbus photographed is tricky because the
executors of her estate won’t disclose the names of her subjects. But
the identities of a few are known because they stepped forward at some
point and said, "That’s me." Others are known because Arbus for years
had a lucrative sideline shooting family portraits, and some of those
subjects have provided copies of the photos, along with their names, to
museums.

In the Lens of Diane Arbus

David Seagall of The Washington Post tracks down some of the people who have appeared in the photos of Diane Arbus.

Tracking down the people Arbus photographed is tricky because the
executors of her estate won’t disclose the names of her subjects. But
the identities of a few are known because they stepped forward at some
point and said, "That’s me." Others are known because Arbus for years
had a lucrative sideline shooting family portraits, and some of those
subjects have provided copies of the photos, along with their names, to
museums.

Interview with Lonely Planet’s Don George

I have been a fan of the Lonely Planet (LP) travel guides since I first stumbled onto them when I was traveling in Asia in the late 1980s. Other guidebooks tend to give you cut and dried descriptions of well-known sites and hotels. LP gives you the kind of candid recommendations that you can expect from friends who have traveled to a location. And the books are also often colorfully written. So you can imagine my excitement when Don George, the Global Travel Editor of Lonely Planet Publications, agreed to an interview.

Don was travel editor at the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle. He was also the founding editor of Salon.com’s travel site, Wanderlust.  He has edited four travel anthologies. Earlier this year, he published  the Lonely Planet Guide to Travel Writing, which gives his tips on how to become a travel writer.

WY: You have one of the best "getting started" in the
travel writing business stories
. I cannot imagine one
that better illustrates how to marry audacity and
talent. How well do you think your experience still
serves as a model for others who want to get started
in travel writing?

DG: I think the general principles that story illustrates are still valid:
Identify what you really want to do, then identify and explore – with
sensitivity, intelligence, respect and care — all the avenues that
could
help you do that; keep refining your craft and your goals at the same
time;
knock on all the potentially appropriate doors and when they open a
crack,
keep them open. To all that I would add: Look for mentors and honor
them and
learn scrupulously from them when you find them.

WY: In addition to the rise of online venues, how has the market for travel
writing changed or not changed since you got started?

DG: I think there is more competition – more would-be travel writers — now
than
when I was getting started. Unfortunately, there has not been a
proportionate increase in the number of outlets for travel writing, and
the
budgets at the existing outlets have not risen proportionately, either.

WY: You have written that you became interested in
traveling because of your need to "understand
everything," "our reason for being here." Why did that
process involve reading, writing and traveling, and
what do you think you have learned about "our reason
for being here?"

DG: It was intuitive for me – I reveled in new experiences and the learning
they
embodied. Once I lived abroad, I quickly realized that for me, the
world was
the best classroom. Reading was a way to deepen my appreciation of what
I
was experiencing, and writing was a way to organize it and analyze it,
give
it a coherent place in the puzzle of my life.
As for our reason for being here, I’m still puzzling through that, but
I
think it has something to do with absorbing as much of the planet as we
can,
sowing kindness and compassion wherever we go, increasing global
understanding and respect, furthering the evolution of the planet
toward
peace and harmony, and living as fully, mindfully and reverently as we
can.

WY: Can you mention what reading was instrumental in your development as a
travel writer?

DG: James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot, W. S.
Merwin, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald – well, basically, the
usual-suspect 20th-century American and European canon of poets and
fiction
writers one studied in high school and university in the 1970s. These
were
my initial inspiration and nurturing to become a writer.

WY: Any which were particularly seminal to you?

DG: The most seminal moment for me was my senior year at Princeton taking a
small, selective writing workshop taught by John McPhee called "The
Literature of Fact." That taught me that nonfiction could be just as
artful
and elevated as all the fiction and poetry I’d been studying, analyzing
and
pedestal-izing all those years. The "travel" writers I have most
learned
from are Jan Morris, Tim Cahill, Pico Iyer, Annie Dillard, Paul Theroux
and
Peter Matthiessen.

WY: About traveling to Africa: you have talked about the overwhelming
feeling
that you were a human in nature’s country. How much of that feeling do
you
still get on traveling into the wilderness?

DG: I still get it, still overwhelmingly.

WY: How is that different from your feeling on urban excursions?

DG: Urban wildness can be overwhelming, too, but without that frisson of
being
in the presence of some universal power or truth infinitely greater
than you
are.

WY: You have said that travel writing is an art, not just
a letter home. You talk about shaping travel into
"tales." What makes good travel writing good?

DG: I spend much of my book
talking about this, but in essence: The writer has digested his/her
experience, gleaned a fundamental truth or lesson from it and then
shaped
the story so that it reveals that lesson step by step.

WY: What
are your feelings on how much creative non-fiction /
literary techniques should be used?

Essentially, a
good
travel story is like a good work of fiction, with a beginning, a middle
and
an end, characters and conflict, dialogue, telling details, a narrative
arc.
The full range of literary techniques should be employed.

WY: You once complimented a writer for how his book was
"very Lonely Planet-ish," because its focus was "very traditional,
rooted in
the ground." Can you give us further insight into what it means to be
"very
Lonely Planet-ish?"

DG: I think being "very LP-ish" means staying true to an experience,
staying
rooted in the nitty-gritty riches of a place and a people,
understanding the
place’s/experience’s background and context, experiencing openly and as
fully as possible, seeing with unflinching eyes, and traveling with
respect
and awareness.

WY; Submission guidelines seem to always discourage
writers from submitting photographs with their
queries. Obviously, the average writer is not going to
be a very good photographer. Assuming, however, that
someone is not deterred, that he thinks he is good at
both, how is the submission process different for him
as a writer-photographer?

DG: It is hard to be great at both writing and photography because you use
your
mind in different ways as a writer and as a photographer. But it is
certainly possible: When I was at the Examiner & Chronicle, I had to
take
photos to go with my stories, and some of these won photo awards. But
if you
want to do both, you have to leave sufficient time for both or master
the
art of switching from reporter-writer to photographer and back again. I
think someone who feels they have great photos to go with their great
story
should simply submit a dozen outstanding examples of their work when
they
submit their story. All the editor can do is say, No thanks. Submitting
photos will not disqualify the article. And there are some lower-tier
publications that very much welcome photo-text packages.

WY: In your own experience, you mention the importance of serendipity in
propelling your career, but obviously you put yourself in position to
benefit from that kind of good fortune. What steps (besides reading the
Lonely Planet guide "Travel Writing," of course!) should an aspiring
travel
writer take to ensure they see more serendipity in their own
development?

DG: I would repeat what I said in my first answer: Identify what you really
want
to do, then identify and explore – with sensitivity, intelligence,
respect
and care — all the avenues that could help you do that; keep refining
your
craft and your goals at the same time; knock on all the potentially
appropriate doors and when they open a crack, keep them open. We make
our
own serendipity. Part of it is talent, part of it is cultivating
possibility, and part of it is being open to opportunity when it
suddenly
presents itself.

(Rolf Potts interviewed Don in March.)

My favorite book of all is The Snow Leopard,
by Peter Matthiessen, a masterful combination of intensely personal
exploration and intensely vivid description, infused with a searing,
soaring humanity, spirituality and intelligence. Also on the list, in
no particular order: Paul Theroux, especially The Great Railway Bazaar; Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia; John McPhee, Coming into the Country; Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek; Pico Iyer, Video Night in Kathmandu; Tim Cahill, Pass the Butterworms; Jan Morris, Journeys (just about anything by Jan Morris is transcendent, but Journeys is a good place to start).

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