January 30 – The Connecticut River

01-30 Connectitcut River post

In New England the character is strong and unshakable.”

~Norman Rockwell

– – –

Yesterday was an amazing day – like all good days, it was too short. I found myself being guided along by my uncle Rick, who has lived in this territory for the past twenty years. There’s no such thing as a transition between the southwest and the east coast – they are different worlds altogether. We didn’t cover a tremendous amount of territory, but New England is so dense with architecture & history, I imagine I could spend ten weeks in a ten mile radius and not ever – not for a single moment – feel bored.

Along the Connecticut River are a number of beautiful places to make pictures. This is just one of them, a position adjacent to the historic Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut.


January 29 – Grandma

01-29 Grandma Goodmans post

“True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.”

~Kurt Vonnegut

– – –

I’ll be spending the better part of today in airports, threading my way through Chicago and onto Hartford where my aunt and uncle live. Connecticut is one of the most beautiful states that I have absolutely no knowledge of; sadly, this will not be the voyage that finds me discovering much. My grandmother needs assistance traveling back home to Kansas City, and I will be the steady arm for her to hold onto.

These posts may not arrive until after I return; since I will be traveling far to see my grandmother for the first time in several months, and because I know our time is limited, I will be focusing on enjoying the trip and spending time with dear relatives that I woefully do not often get to see.

I’ll be gathering pictures and stories throughout.

I leave this short post pointing to the image above. For any soul who has traveled the roads south of Tucson, along the San Pedro river, you may have driven through the peculiar and verdant valley town of Saint David. The store’s full name is “Grandma Goodman’s” and I cannot recall a time that it was ever open for business. I like to imagine that it was a small general store, and I like to imagine that it was as quaint as its name suggests.



Remember That Starbucks Cup Incident?

Indiana Jones postThis is a soap box. Allow me to stand on it.

Whoever designed the 2015 Starbucks holiday cup was looking for a fresh Christmas design- one that hadn’t been done to death over the past sixty years, which have seen a ruthless increase in holiday commercialism. Sometimes, in a ‘diminishing-returns’ design scenario, brick walls are hit. Santa and snow men and snow flakes and sleighs – they’ve been used to death; it’s not like any of those things are “Christian” either, but that’s a whole other load of knuckle-dragging logic-fail that needn’t be addressed here.

The design team likely had a meeting, looked at a few dozen proposals, and opted for the one design that didn’t look like any of the others (or any of the designs from previous years that had already been used). Minimalism isn’t a bad thing, people. And we all know that red and green are the colors of the season – just look at the trees, candy canes, and mistletoe.

Shake it off. Nobody’s coming for your bible.


January 28 – The Lone Tree

01-28 The Lone Tree post“Lord save us all from old age and broken health and a hope tree that has lost the faculty of putting out blossoms.”

~Mark Twain

– – –

There’s a lone tree in a field along Kenneth Road south of the city. It’s a tiny family-owned plot of earth with a sign that proudly boasts “Welcome To Kenneth – Population 10” in drips white paint. A couple of ramshackle barns litter the adjacent field. Along the fence-line on the south end of the property is the family plot; a dozen or so headstones jut out from the island of manicured grass.

Family farms are becoming rare in the post-industrial age, but every now and again there’s a slice of land owned by hardened farm workers, proud to have held onto the family farm, and exclaim with bravado the number of generations their bloodline has worked the soil.

This place is the epitome of the Midwest – open spaces, flat fertile fields, and the whisper of the prairie wind in your ears. There’s a calm to the Great Plains that’s as unique a sensation as standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon. An ocean of water flows beneath your feet. On a cloudy day at dusk, there’s electricity in the air – a current strong enough that you can feel it on your skin and the hair on your arms stands up.

There’s nothing more beautiful on this planet than looking across a field uncorrupted by concrete and automobiles, monumental spires and neon light. Our cities are a grand thing, too, but in a different way. And certainly these fields have been sculpted by human hands. But to my mind, a properly run family farm is one of the last places a person can find a healthy balance between human intervention and nature.


Farewell, Abe Vigoda

Abe Vigoda post

Some people manage to live long enough that their passing isn’t considered tragic, but inevitable. No passing of a beloved figure is easy, but old age is a far lesser tragedy. Abe Vigoda was the subject of a rash of internet hoaxes over the years, with fake news articles and memes prematurely declaring the ‘Barney Miller’ and ‘Godfather’ actor dead. David Letterman often made ‘Vigoda is dead’ jokes on late night television, persistently poking fun at the rumors that had stretched back as early as 1980. As it was noted in his ABC New York obituary Wednesday afternoon:

“When a published report erroneously declared Vigoda dead in 1982, he responded by taking out an ad in Variety showing him sitting in a coffin reading his obituary. Abe Vigoda, until the real end, showed a sense of humor that he flashed one honest, pained look at a time. ”

It took a slow steady tide Wednesday afternoon for the news to settle in; this time it was real. Mr. Vigoda had indeed left us, at the age of 94. Most of us probably hadn’t thought about him too terribly much, but the news is still enough to give one pause.

I didn’t watch ‘Barney Miller,’ despite an addiction to classic television that started when I was about ten years old. I can remember summer evenings spent watching ‘Get Smart’ and ‘Dick Van Dyke’ marathons on Nick At Nite, but it was only the comedies that grabbed my attention. I never knew Detective Fish.

My earliest memory of the man stretches back to a living room at a friend’s house when I was in elementary school. The VHS cassette was the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan original rom-com. It was ‘Joe Versus The Volcano,’ and I loved it. I can’t remember why, exactly. Most of the plot escapes me, but I remember that weird tribe of orange-soda obsessed villagers (an irony today that reminds me of my father) and that classic scene at the beginning of the film when Tom Hanks quits his job.

“You look terrible, Mr. [Boss Man]. You look like a bag of shit stuffed in a cheap suit. Not that anyone could look good under these zombie lights. For 300 bucks a week, I’ve lived in this sink, this used condom!”

But this is all beside the point. The first impression of that long-faced grandfather that Abe Vigoda has always been, at least during my lifetime, came from that film. He was painted up and stoic looking, with that aggrieved look, that furrowed brow and that unsmiling face which, for whatever reason, made him seem wise and lovable. At 94 years of age, I am certain that he was wise. And with a career as long and successful as his, there’s no doubt he was greatly loved.

Good night, sir! Perhaps we will meet on the other side.


(and don’t worry, pal – I won’t mention your small role in Goodburger. I don’t think anybody involved – the studio, the actors, or the audience – really want to remember)


January 27 – The Back Alley

01-27 The Back Alley post“In any art, you don’t know in advance what you want to say – it’s revealed to you as you say it. That’s the difference between art and illustration.”

~Aaron Siskind

– – –

The thing about photography I find so wonderful is that it affords me the opportunity to look through the viewfinder and examine the world in a way that we rarely do in our day-to-day lives. Yes, that’s a sizable blanket statement, I know. But it’s true. It’s the only thing in my life that forces me to slow everything down – my thoughts, my heart rate, my emotions. It’s my meditation. Several years ago, while I was still in college, I used to walk around Tucson by myself, camera in hand.

Rather than the staid art of street photography – or the grainy, black and white portraits we often associate with ‘street photography’ – I found myself investigating the spaces in-between buildings and behind them. I would go to the warehouse district, down to the railroad tracks, out to the tire yards. Traveling at the speed-of-car, everything around us is a blur, save for what’s in the windshield – which is usually just traffic. When conducting noble battle with other 45 mile-per-hour aluminum projectiles, it’s a good idea to keep one’s head in the game. But we miss out on an awful lot.

After a couple of my earliest urban walkabouts, certain visual themes began to surface. Without even thinking about it while I was photographing, it was clear looking at the proof-sheets that my eyes were drawn to right angles. All of the pictures were nearly abstract, minimalistic compositions of windows, doorways, power conduits & boxes, architectural features, concrete slabs, and corrugated metal. A photographic DeStijl quickly became my new visual language

I would set aside time between university lectures and my job at the photo lab just so I could pack my camera and head out on my bicycle in search of new textures and colors. I photographed scenes like the one above for about two years. I haven’t revisited them in a while, but I occasionally think about the series. It’s meaning is still elusive to me, but it continues to feel significant. In a way that I haven’t been able to articulate, some of these images are deeply moving to me.

I think it might be time to put a show together, to reexamine this series, and see if I can crack the code.
Wish me luck.


Fallout – Red Army Propaganda

Propaganda postIn the Fallout Universe, the player character is forced to survive in a hostile nuclear wasteland, seeking out food and clean water in irradiated territories decimated by a war from two hundred years ago. Navigable roadways are rife with scavengers and bands of lawless raiders.

Because heightened tensions between the United States and Communist China preceded the nuclear conflict of Fallout, it would follow that the skeletal remains ‘old world’ city settlements, upon examination, provide clues to what life was like before the bombs dropped.

Surviving buildings are smattered with pro-America, anti-communist propaganda. The game designers took their inspiration for these posters directly from the High Soviet Modernist style from the real world. The image above is but one example of a true-to-life Red Army recruitment poster from the Soviet Union and it’s fictionalized ‘Fallout 3’ counterpart.

This is probably one of the greatest elements of the game. The designers took ‘world-building’ to a whole new level when developing the franchise. Each iteration of the Fallout Universe reveals the strictest attention to detail, resulting in an highly atmospheric and detail-rich game world for the player to explore. ‘Immersive’ isn’t a strong enough word to describe the experience of exploring the world Bethesda Game Studios has created.

January 26 – Agave Americana

01-26 Agave Americana post

Several years ago, I was in the habit of hiking the hilltop behind my house. I did this on an almost daily basis – sometimes early in the morning to try and capture photographs of the hummingbirds, and sometimes at dusk, as the light turned golden yellow. During the monsoon season, the skies swell with dramatic light-grabbing clouds. I think I made so many pictures of the area at that time, I began to forget how truly dazzling the scenery was; most of the pictures remain in the dark, unpublished and under-utilized in my catalog.

The silhouette is the dried corpse of an agave americana plant. These spires line the hills in the mountains of Southern Arizona and are as recognizable in the borderlands as the Saguaro Cactus (think Roadrunner and Wile W. Coyote cartoons) is just a hundred miles north in Tucson and the Coronado National Forest.

Commonly referred to as a “century plant,” they don’t actually live quite that long. These drought-resistant buggers typically live between ten and thirty years.

I figured a sunset photograph would be a nice book-end to my birthday. Thirty-three years ago I arrived on this peculiar organic spaceship, this mossy rock flying through the cosmos. A wetware android, my brain has been gathering information and making connections ever since that day, furiously trying to make sense of everything.

I’m not sure how successful I’ve been, but it sure is fun trying.
Most of the time.


Fallout – Bob’s Big Boy

Big BOY post

As Paradise falls, so falls Paradise Falls.

– – –

In the western hills of The Capital Wasteland a tall monument can be seen in the distance. The remnants of a commercial shopping center, Paradise Falls is the home of the largest slaver camp in ‘Fallout 3.’ A hulking fast food mascot hovers over the camp’s guard tower and chain-link slave pens, bearing a significant resemblance to a real-world mascot.

The Big Boy restaurant chain began as Bob’s Pantry in Glendale, California in 1936. “Home of the Big Boy Hamburger,” the chain is most recognizable by its trademark chubby boy in a red-and-white checkered pair of overalls holding a double-decker cheeseburger.

The early versions of the statues were huge, measuring up to 14 feet tall. Naturally, the version in ‘Fallout 3’ avoids infringement by eliminating the checkered outfit and replacing the burger with an ice cream cone – that and it stands significantly taller than any of it’s real-world counterparts. At one point in the early concept sketches of Paradise Falls, game designers were interested in having a scaffolding wrapped around the statue with a sniper’s nest atop the sculpture’s head. Time constraints prevented this from becoming a reality.

In recent years, Big Boy statues have come into conflict with local zoning ordinances, and  the closing of several locations has seen the dismantling some of the statues. Many of them have been acquired by private individuals, and they appear somewhat regularly on eBay. Smaller versions are still sold today as coin banks and bobbleheads (another theme in ‘Fallout 3’), and vintage Big Boy ash trays, salt & pepper shakers, and wooden counter displays are still floating around out there.

lard lad

References to the famous Big Boy statue are ubiquitous in popular culture. From Bruce Springsteen lyrics and Austin Powers to The Simpsons (“Lard Lad Donuts”) and elsewhere, the days of Bob’s Big Boy are far from over.

Have a happy holocaust!

A Self-Indulgent Birthday Post (and Claire Danes)

Claire Danes

It doesn’t always have to be serious, now does it? It’s my birthday, and I’m feeling nostalgic.

Four years ago, I had the extreme pleasure of driving hours in early-morning darkness north from the Mexico border to Tucson International Airport to visit my sister in Boston. About an hour into the drive, going through Tombstone, my car punched through a thick fog, crawling at a twenty mile-per-hour pace. Before me, like an apparition, more than a dozen deer, wreathed in fog, trotted confidently down the main stretch of road through the town like a team of brewery horses.

Watching them clop at an even unbroken pace, I felt as though I had been teleported. Steam blew out of their nostrils. My car didn’t frighten them. It was a sight.

I met my first-born nephew when I finally arrived in Boston. After climbing an ungodly number of flights up from the red-line to Harvard Square, my brother-in-law was waiting to take me to their flat. Having lived in a small southwest town for several months, it was an exceptionally peculiar transition into the bright-light bustle of Boston. Overwhelming even, but not frightening. It’s amazing how quickly we adapt to our surroundings, how quickly everything else becomes alien.

The squealing sound of the rails, the parade of lights rushing through the streets, the mass of rigid shoulders marching about, fists buried in winter coats – I had almost forgotten what winter was like for the rest of the country. I still prefer a chilly Arizona mountain to drifts of snow.

My sister and I went out for lunch the day after my birthday, a lovely restaurant with the gayest of the gayest of all hosts leading us to our table; lisping, delicate-wristed stereotypes abounded. Every café and restaurant feels like paradise when you walk in from the forbidding cold. My sis was happy to have some time away from the apartment and the rigors of raising a new-born child, and I was happy to drink a beer and warm my hands in a corner pub with my sister – someone I’m confident still knows me better than anybody else, despite years of living thousands of miles away.

When we eventually emerged onto Harvard Square, the ‘Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year’ parade was winding it’s way through. I wasn’t aware of this tradition, but it’s an event put on by the Hasty Pudding Theatricals Society at Harvard. Beginning in 1951, the society bestows an award to performers deemed to have made a “lasting and impressive contribution to the world of entertainment.” The television series “Homeland” had just wrapped it’s first season and had attracted a significant amount of acclaim, and at the head of the procession was Claire Danes.

I only managed to nab a few little snapshots, but it was still a lot of fun to walk up to the snowy street, not expecting anything, only to have a brass band and a load of wagons dig through the thoroughfare with crowds of people all about. Excitement is contagious, and the streets were lined with people. My birthdays, ever since I left home, have always attracted tragedy – break-ups, job losses, frustrations with family, work, or school. But this was a good one. The last good one I can remember. The only good one I remember since I left home for college.

I’ll never forget it. I have the pictures to remind me.