Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Year in the Oregon Vineyard

Rare Holiday photograph proves it's true

A couple of nights ago when all was quiet on the earth, suddenly I heard this swishing roar in the sky. I wondered if it was a bird, a plane or even Superman. But then I saw a mysterious red glow coming towards me. My eyes nearly bugged out from fright. It had to be aliens coming for my body parts.
But wait, what was that? A jolly Ho Ho Ho filled the sky. Instantly I knew the mystery riders of the dark Winter sky. It had to be Santa with his reindeer delivering good cheer on earth.
No, it can't be. Did I have too much Pinot? Those are reinrhinos. Fortunately my Venus-flytrap reflexes enabled me to grab my trusty Nikon to snap this one frame. Otherwise I didn't think that you would believe me.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving blessings

Here I'm blessed to share a meal with a group of Karo in the Omo region of Ethiopia. This is where the man in the T-shirt–he was my interpreter–lived unless it rained. His wife, in the foreground, cooked our meal. Anyone who happened by on the trail was welcomed to join us. We all ate and drank from a couple of communal dried-gourd bowls. No one went away hungry.

Thanksgiving reminds me about a presentation I gave at a college about my Africa's Undiscovered Myths project. I was showing photos of life in the remote villages I visited. During question time at the end of the presentation, a 20-something student in the back asked: "You mean people actually live like that in those mud huts with no electricity, no running water, no air conditioning?"

His question was asked in all sincerity. I answered something like, "I would guess that about 1/4 of the people on our planet live like that." He had no idea how blessed he was.

This is my youngest son–at an earlier age–finishing a picnic meal.

Here's hoping that you have lots of little blessings to count this Thanksgiving time.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why was I put here on earth?

Coming home from an other-worldly Salud–the Oregon wine industry's over-the-top auction, dinner and wine celebration to raise money for vineyard workers–with my head still spinning from luscious food and tasty wine all compliments of Ste Michelle's Erath winery, I laid my whirling head on my pillow to read an article about photographer Frans Lanting. I've admired his work because he thinks big.

In the article, he talked about making a long-term commitment, for him it's to preserve nature. He says it's one measure of commitment to take a picture of an old-growth forest or a glacier and move on to the next topic. It's quite another to devote long stretches of time and significant resources to become fully immersed in all of the intricacies, concerns and realities of why that forest loses trees every year or why that glacier recedes so dramatically. Communicating those stories in images is the crux of what a conservation or environmental photographer does.

Those words stirred something inside of me. I realized I have put Africa's Undiscovered Myths Project–where I've interviewed the elders, shamans, witch doctors and storytellers of Africa's most remote tribes about their myths and archetypal dreams–on the desktop where it has gathered dust. Anthropologists still tell me that I'm the only person who has ever recorded those oral stories for almost all the tribes I've visited. And the Dogon tribe elders and "Pope" told me that they had never heard of the stories that were attributed to them.

Before I die, I need to finish the Undiscovered Myths work. But now I am loving doing wine stories and getting paid for it. Yet I've spent 8 years on the Myth project. Ringing in my ears is what an Omo elder told a couple of invading tourists: "We were a lot closer to god before you came."

So what am I suppose to do while here on earth? Why was I put here? What is my purpose? Myth, wine, good life, hard work, father, husband or .......?
Warrior with face paint. Karo tribe, Omo River area, Ethiopai
The elders told me that god had colorful wings, a rainbow-colored chest, no legs, flies through the sky and can kill a man easily. Mursi tribe, Omo River area, Ethiopia.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Photos etched on wine bottles

For Salud–Oregon wine industries' fund raising event to provide health care for vineyard workers–we donated 4 vineyard photographs to be etched and painted onto 3 liter bottles of Erath wine. These will be auctioned at the event this weekend. Check out the great work Scott Schoenen and his crew at Fresh NW Design did in etching and painting the images onto the bottles. Let's see how much the effort brings in.

Vineyard Light

A selection from my upcoming book, Vineyard Light, Insights on our Earth, Character and Spirit.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Vineyard Light Book Cover Choices

Thank you to everyone who provided feedback as to which photograph we should use as a cover for my upcoming book, Vineyard Light. Here are your top three choices. Of course even with these results the big-boss publishers usually have the last say in the cover photo.

Choice #1 Morning light on Five Mountain Vineyard and Mt Hood

Choice #2 Morning light after storm on Red Hills vineyards

Choice #3 Sunset over vineyard

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dream Assignment

Talk about a wonderful life full of blessings. Last week I spent 3 days photographing landscapes in central Washington for Ste Michelle Wine Estates. The scenery had to look like wild horses, if they existed in the area, would run there. Most of these were taken in the Yakima River Canyon, some along the Columbia River. And they paid me to do this. How can life get any better?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Oregon Harvest 2010

Some claim Oregon never saw a summer this year. It did rain. Our neighbor and one of our winery friends didn't even harvest because of rot. But I photographed vineyards which were carefully managed and sprayed often that produced some great tasting fruit. Harvesting in late October and early November permits some great hang time. Ask the early Oregon wine pioneers who regularly harvested in November. While I'm not an expert, I'm looking forward to some interesting 2010 wines.
For me, it's always great to brush up on my Spanish to photograph Oregon harvest workers. These photographs are from Turner-area Willamette Valley Vineyards and Dundee-area Prince Hill vineyard which provides fruit for Erath winery.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

40 years to Wine Spectator article

It only took 40 years (yes, it's years not days), to write this article for Wine Spectator magazine. Forty years ago my extensive college-wine-expertise declared that Mogan David blackberry wine beat anything from France. Then I was sure that Peking duck would pair well with any Mogan David flavor.

So 40 years after my college Mogan David period, I'm writing about Chinese wine. Check out pages 79-83 of Wine Spectator's latest issue (Oct 31) to see the Chinese winery story I did–writing and photography
. Who knows, in another 40 years I might be ready to do an article on Myanmar or Ethiopian wine.

Regardless, the article's China wine facts, culture, personalities and predictions of the future will surprise (at least entertain) even hard-core Asian wine lovers. After all, I personally drank a boatload of wine in China as background research.

(A quick thank you shout to
Thomas Matthews
for long-term faith and Mitch Frank for gentile editing.)

Sorry, the WS magazine folks would frown if I posted the entire article here. So if you don't want to spring for a copy, head to your local bookstore magazine rack. Or you can swing by the studio here to read it while looking out the window at our neighbors' vineyards. Just bring a bottle of blackberry wine.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Help choose a book cover

Vineyard Light on our Earth, Character and Spirit is the working title for one of the new books I'm creating. The text is quotes from 100 winemakers, owners and vineyard workers plus excerpts from my personal vineyard journal telling what we have learned while in the vineyard. Heavy and humorous stuff, all synergistically combined with knock-your-booties-off photography.

I've done a layout with the title as a sample, but those PDF cover photos are dull.

Need your help with the cover. Which would you choose? Why?

(Note that the numbers and titles are below the photo.)

Sample cover
Sample cover
Photo #1 Morning light on Five Mountain Vineyard and Mt Hood
Photo #2 Sun streaks on Red Hills Vineyard
Photo #3 Breaking storm at Sunset
Photo #4 Morning light after storm on Red Hills vineyards
Photo #5 Sunset over vineyard
Photo #6 Stormy light on Napa vineyard
Photo #7 Sunrise after storm Napa vineyard
Photo #8 Foggy sunrise over Red Hills vineyards.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


This unretouched picture might not be worth a 1000 words, but probably a couple.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Essential Photo Equipment: Flu shot

Part of this photographer's gear is the flu shot.
When I travel to China, I don't want to be responsible for quarantining the entire airplane for 7 days. But the nice shot lady didn't even give me a band aid with pictures on it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Which has more magic, a pencil or camera?

Reading a book about pilgrimages and vision, art critic Robert Hughes said that back in the 19th century every educated person drew on a regular bases. He said: "Drawing was an ordinary form of speech used as a pastime or aide-memoire (something I find I need more and more), without the pretensions to 'high' art." His contention was that drawing was gradually abolished by the mass camera market and implied that now we see less.

While working on my Masters degree in drawing and painting, often we would strengthen our ability to see by closing our eyes and drawing while touching the subject, or drawing models without looking down at our paper. With practice and trust, amazing results happened.

Now, after some 30 years as a pro photog, I find myself doing two different kinds of photography: 1) documenting the subject 2) looking for the magic in the subject. There's a world of difference. Zillions of photographs cluter our planet. Only a small percentage have magic.

What do you think? Would you see more with a pencil than a camera?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

China & Cancer 2

Thank you for the hundred or so emails confirming that I made the right choice about not going to China. Wife Eddi and I have been studying intraductal carcinoma with surgery scheduled the day I would have gotten back from China.

Monday, October 4, 2010

2000 years of China wine history gone?

From what I can tell, wine was first recorded in China's northwest region of Xinjiang Province during the Han Dynasty, beginning about 200BC. That's when one of the emperors brought back both grape seeds and wine makers from the Middle East. While the Han emperor enjoyed the flavor of these wines, somehow the plants and techniques were not passed down.

That's why, when Zhang Bishi decided to build his own winery
–which he called Changyu Winery–in Yantai in 1892, he found only a few edible grapes in China. So he first brought 2,000 plants from the United States, but few bore fruit and were not sweet enough. Then half of those vines rotted before harvest. Being persistent fellow and a Chinese ambassador to other countries, he bought 640,000 more from Europe. Unfortunately these plants too found difficulty growing in China, with only 20 to 30% of them surviving.

Changyu's first winemakers. Check out the foreign influence.

In order to save his venture, Zhang Bishi brought back wild plants from northeast China that produced a bitter fruit but were hardy. They were grafted to the foreign vines and planted in the Shandong Province vineyards. The new vines survived, granting fruit rich in sugar with good color and were insect, disease, and cold resistant.

This is the main Changyu winery's huge factory-like facility.
Each of these Changyu factory winery fermenting tanks holds enough wine to fill a Southern California swimming pool.

All day long this beautiful Chinese woman imprints the Changyu logo on corks. My Chinese was not good enough to ask her if she counted her work.

Chinese wine security is tight in the Changyu cellar. These guys look as if they traveled the 2000-year Chinese time warp from the Han Dynasty. But they aren't as stoic as the British Royal Palace guards as I could get these Chinese guys to crack a smile. Just in case you were wondering, they are not allowed to drink on the job.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

After the Flood, first thing, Noah plants a vineyard

If you had just spent more than a month on a cramped wooden boat packed with two of all the planet's animals–think huge smelly number of beasts and critters, perhaps getting seasick floating on a flooded earth, what would be the first thing you did when you stepped on dry ground?

If you were Noah, you would plant a vineyard and become a winemaker. Why? That Bible story
in Genesis 9 always amazed me. I picture a waterlogged earth covered with flood mud much as the Willamette Valley was covered with silt brought down from Montana and Washington by the Missoula floods some 40,000 years ago. Then I picture this old bearded guy–some 600 years old–with the foresight to have taken grape cuttings with him on the boat, stepping off the arc into the gooey flood mud to plant a vineyard. What are the priorities here?

Then Noah's after-the-flood vineyard story continues as a drunken affair where he curses one of his sons–Canaan–to become a slave, affecting the rest of human history. Now that's a vineyard story that's hard to match.

So why do vineyards and wine take on so much importance in Biblical history? Any ideas as to what varietal Noah planted?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Leave room for action

Originally I took this photograph trying to do a self portrait. (Look carefully for a large moustache in the water reflection.) It turns out clients wanted to use it too. (Obviously they had bad vision so didn't see my face.)

Then by chance I saw one of those uses. It was cropped. Something was missing. Somehow the photo seemed wacked off at the knees, like someone was choking it. I want to see space for the water drop to fall into, room for action.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

China & Cancer. Did I do the right thing?

This past week my core values felt waterboarded. I'm not in China as scheduled. Nor will I be going anytime soon.

Let me paint the moving picture. For about the last 5 months, I, along with my Hong Kong friend Houghton, have been making arrangements to interview key people and photograph 9 different Chinese wineries in Yunnan, Xinjiang, Ningxia, Shaanxi and Hebei Provinces. If you look at a map, that covers all of China-about the same size as the USA. While making the arrangements, there were boulder-sized snags, hundreds of emails and the Silk Road.

I wanted to visit the Shangri-la winery vineyard sitting at more than 9000 feet in Yunnan Province near Tibet. But the road was under construction, making a 7 hour journey into a 3-4 day bone-jarring Genghis-Khan type expedition. I'm told that when the construction is finished, it will be a 3 hour trip. And winemaker Emma Gao in Ningxia Province invited me to stay with her family during my visit. And Loulan winery sits right on the Silk Road–I could have walked in the footsteps of Marco Polo. That area,
way out in western China, is the second lowest dry spot on our planet . Talk about adventure city.

Plans were set. Seat assignments–window in front of the wing–confirmed. Airport pickups arranged. I spent 2 weeks fine tuning my packs, making sure that every sock and piece of photographic equipment was absolutely necessary. Heck, I didn't even pack my hair dryer.

Then Wednesday before I'm to leave, Erath Winery asked me to postpone for one week to complete some web and newsletter projects. With some teeth gnashing, I did that. I will leave one week later. This quick change of plans only took 5 or 6 hours to make all the contacts.

Then yesterday,
"Microcalcifications," the doc called them. Oh yes, there was also another spot. A follow up mammogram for my wife Eddi showed these "abnormal" areas. "The soonest we could schedule a biopsy is next Tuesday," the white-coated doc says. "We went ahead and scheduled a consultation with the surgeon the following Monday."

"But my husband goes to China this Friday," Eddi interjects.

The cold water of reality splashed on us right there in the Mammogram waiting room. Mentally I canceled my China trip. Pain. I needed to be with Eddi through this. That's what family means. That's what the marriage vows mean "for better or worse." That night after she went to bed, I just looked at my meticulously packed suitcase and sobbed at the whole situation. How the big winds of chance can so easily change the course of our little ships. Who can say why?

Did I do the right thing?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Judgement day Dec 21, 2012

When an oak seedling sprouts, is its nature to dominate the space it will fill?

What if all of humanity on our planet were judged as a group on December 21, 2012? It's up or down, Heaven or Hell for everyone.

We will be judged not on individual merits, but rather on:
How well we all take care of each other.
How well we all accept each other's beliefs.
How well we all take care of our planet home including other species.
How well we all help each other rather than let selfish greed rule.

How well are we doing? Are we as humanity in Heaven or Hell?

(Sorry, I just had to get this out of my system.)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Which would you hang on your wall?

Tamarah, my Digital Asset Manager, and I are getting ready to reinvent our fine art website. As we were pulling photographs, we got into a discussion about which photographs people would hang on their walls. Tamarah insisted more people would like her selections. Naturally, I am right.

Please help us regain peace in the studio.
Which of the following photographs you would hang on your wall, at home or at the office? Oh yes, please tell us why you chose that particular photo or photos.

#1 - Aramenta Cellars Vineyard reflected in a still pond

#2 - Oak and Vineyard Mandala, taken from Cain Vineyard in Napa

#3 - Full Rainbow over Grinnell Point and Swift Current Lake, in Glacier National Park, Montana

#4 - Giraffe Couple in Etosha National Park in Namibia

#5 - Feather Shaped Cloud, Sherwood, Oregon

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Was I right to charge a fee? Update

About a month ago I blogged that I had discovered a wedding web site using one of my photographs without permission. When I sent an email to the business inquiring as to where they had gotten such a beautiful photograph, the reply, "from the internet."

When I explained that the photo was copyrighted with the US Copyright Office and, as such, I am entitled to collect $10,000, in addition to all attorney's fees and the
regular usage fee. An intern immediately called back, on the verge of tears, explaining she had downloaded the image and put it on the wedding photographer's site. She also said that her boss had just fired her and she would have to pay any fees.

Later the intern called explaining that she would make monthly payments on the usage fee I charged the wedding business, but that her husband was unemployed and they had two kids.

In the end, the boss wrote a check for almost 1/2 of the fee. Since the intern was to pay the rest, I said we were even and
refunded the $25 the intern had already paid. It also turns out that the intern did not get fired.

I have so many mixed feelings about the whole downloading (as in stealing) photos from the net situation.
• Should the intern be held responsible? I use interns all the time.
• How do we stop people stealing copyrighted photographs from the internet? Many young people feel it is their right to do so.

Oh, yes, a day after I found the wedding site theft, I found another site using one of my images illegally. Since they are associated with a very large company, they shuffled me around a bit, but they are paying the usage fee. Should I have charged the punitive fee? You would recognize this company.

What are your thoughts?

Am I the visual vineyard porn king?

I came across an article in an old radical environmental journal, Wild Earth, titled: "Eco-porn and the Manipulation of Desire."

So the author wrote how he had "struggled for, rose before dawn for, thawed an ice-filled coffee pot for" this particular sunrise moment. Right next to the cameraless author was a photographer who "trapped a sacred moment like a rabbit in a snare" using a camera. And worse yet, the photographer's "fragment of this brilliant dawn could be re-experienced by someone warm and comfortable in an easy chair, leafing through a magazine or calendar."

The author likened landscape photography to pornography, "a physical persona of unsurpassed beauty has been grotesquely trivialized by being removed from essence and context."

He thought that "landscape photographers resort to the methodology of creating a pornographic image," but also that "the intention of most landscape photographers is to appeal to, even seduce, the beholder with an image removed from its physical context, amplified into a commodity by technique to evoke a subjective response for commercial gain, to sell calendars and magazine subscriptions or to connive contributions."

Now there are even web sites that tell a photographer when is the best day and time to take a snap at scenic locations around the United States. Bring your coffee, camera, easy chair and show up.

So then am I the visual vineyard
porn king?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Results Most Scenic Napa Vineyard competition

#6 Spring clouds hang over the valley view seen from Newton Vineyard in the Spring Mountain district.

Hands down (3 to 1 if your into numbers) the above photograph of Napa's Newton Vineyard in the Spring Mountain district was the winner in our Most Scenic Napa Vineyard competition. Respondents commented on the Springtime feel, clouds and distant valley.

While only a few comments were posted on the blog, both my assistant's and my own email boxes
were inundated with votes. It seems that many of you do not want to become Googlers. One typical comment was: "I don't want to get more accounts and have to remember more passwords." Amen.

One comment by a famous Napa winemaker declared than none of the photos could be the most scenic Napa image because they do not really show the valley. He reminded me that it's Napa Valley.
My under-the-breath response: shucks, while growing up in Napa I hiked all over those hills so I must be a hillbilly who just
likes pretty pictures.

Here's the distant second place:
#1 Spring-time mustards grow between the rows of Screaming Eagle vineyard from Silverado Trail, valley floor looking west.

Nervous about new Mandala-Photo work at gallery

A new group of photo images I call the Mandala series will be shown for the first time ever at the Art Elements Gallery in downtown Newberg beginning Thursday August 26. The free-wine opening is Thursday evening from 5 to 7.

Frankly, I'm a little nervous about reaction to the works as they obviously do not look like traditional photographs. I'm putting it out there.

This Mandala–
a Sanskrit word meaning circle–series is inspired by the meditation art in the Hindu and Buddhist religious traditions I first encountered while traveling in the Himalayas in 1976. The basic form of most Hindu and Buddhist mandalas is a square with four gates containing a circle with a center point. Each gate is in the shape of a T.
While the Buddhist and Hindu mandalas have spiritual and ritual significance, as a grasshopper-like novice, I simply tried to work on a theme and chose images in a synergistic way. They became like meditations while doing them.

In various spiritual traditions, mandalas are employed for focusing attention of aspirants and adepts, as a spiritual teaching tool, for establishing a
sacred space, and as an aid to meditation trance induction. According to David Fontana, its symbolic nature can help one "to access progressively deeper levels of the unconscious, ultimately assisting the meditator to experience a mystical sense of oneness with the ultimate unity from which the cosmos in all its manifold forms arises." The psychoanalyst Carl Jung saw the mandala as "a representation of the unconscious self," and believed his paintings of mandalas enabled him to identify emotional disorders and work towards wholeness in personality.

I'm excited about where this Mandala series might go with future work. Naturally, I would appreciate any feedback. Come to the show.

Tamarah, my digital asset manager delivering the new Mandala work to Art Elements Gallery.

Oh yes, Gallery address:
604 East 1st Street (The main drag going north)
Newberg, OR 97132
(503) 487-6141