Saturday, July 31, 2010

BVI Trip 2010: Day 3

On the morning of the third day of the trip you could tell there was a change in the weather. The morning rain showers seemed to get a bit heavier and continued for longer than usual. We all got up early (just in case you were wondering, the crew of our boat consisted of myself, Dad and Julie, Andy and Beth, and Jeff and Valerie) and set about the business of preparing to head out for the day. We decided that we would go east toward Virgin Gorda and pick up a mooring ball at a really cool place on the southern end of the island called The Baths. This a unique place because of the evidence of the island's volcanic history with giant granite boulders strewn about the beach, forming various grottoes to swim through. After we arrived at the The Baths, Andy, Beth, Jeff and Valerie all went ashore to explore and swim. Since I had already been there once before, I decided to hang back at the boat with Dad and Julie, maybe get some father-son time in. As Dad and I sat on deck drinking a Dark & Stormy and smoking a few cigars, you could see the rain coming in on the western side of the island chain. It was beautiful and so interesting to watch the ghostly form if the islands fade in and out as the rains fell. I made the photograph above that morning while floating at The Baths. It's one of my favorites from the trip.

After the crew members that went ashore decided to come back, we ate lunch and set sail for Norman Island for an overnight stay in The Bight Bay. There are several legends that accompany this island from pirates and treasure caves, but the biggest legend is that this island served as inspiration for the epic "Treasure Island" by Robert Louis Stevenson. It was supposed to be a smooth sail, all down wind, but as we neared the halfway point high winds and rough seas increased, causing us to drop the sails and motor the rest of the way. We were greeted with pounding rain and I couldn't believe how cold it got. The temperature must have dropped a good 20 degrees. Even though we were cutting through rough water and being thrown about, I never found myself to be anxious or worried about what might happen. It was exciting, a little scary, but in a good way. I positioned myself at the stern of the boat between two shrouds that ran from the top of the mast to the stern, held on tight, and enjoyed one of the most thrilling rides of my life. It was like sitting in the last car of your favorite roller-coaster.
We were also supposed to meet up with the second boat of our flotilla filled with friends from DFW that evening in the Bight. They were on a 48-foot sail catamaran named "Hotel California". As we pulled into the bay we heard music blaring from a boat just up ahead of us and as we drew nearer a familiar figure appeared. Glen, in his late 50s to early 60s and a guy I have known since the womb when my mom and dad were still married, was standing on the back deck pole dancing for his other shipmates!
We decided to stay on our own boat that night.
After mooring up, we made a quick trip over to Willie T's, a floating bar anchored in the bay that resembles an old pirate ship. None of us were really in the mood for the loud music, so we said our goodbyes to our friends from the "Hotel" and headed back to the boat. Andy, Beth and Valerie cooked dinner (marinated pork tenderloin, new potatoes and garden salad), we finished off a bottle of wine and talked about the day's adventure late into the night. Eventually, everyone began to migrate back to their cabins, but I stayed top-side by myself, as I tend to do every night. I like the peace and quite, the sound of the water lapping against the hull of the boat, and the whisper of the wind through the shrouds and halyards. I'd lie on my back at mid-ship and watch as the stars and fast-moving clouds streak across the sky, perhaps drift off in that dreamy half-asleep-half-awake state as the cool ocean air drops the temperature. It's one of my favorite times of the day. It's a time just for me to be still and think.

Friday, July 30, 2010

BVI Trip 2010: Day 2

After an almost sleepless first night due to the excitement of being back in the islands, the second day of the 2010 BVI trip went of without a hitch. The provisions from the local grocery store arrived bright and early as did the representative of Conch Charters who was going to do a quick walk through of the boat with us. Andy (my step-brother), Beth (Andy's fiance) and Jeff (a friend of my parents' and the guy behind the wheel in the above photograph) all walked down to the government house to secure fishing licenses while the rest of us gathered a few more grocery items, snorkels, fins and masks.
And after a final checklist of things on the boat, we motored out of Road Harbor into the Sir Francis Drake Channel and raised the sails of our 51-foot boat. We were finally underway. You can see the island of Tortola fading into the background behind Jeff in the above photo as we made our way to Cooper Island and Manchioneel Bay where we would pick up a mooring ball for the night. The sail was great! Everyone was happy, we made snacks, drinks and spent a good two or three hours cruising.

Once we arrived in Manchioneel Bay we picked up a mooring ball to stay overnight. For those of you who are unsure of what a mooring ball is, it looks a lot like one of those old-fashioned, round fishing bobbers you would use when you were a kid, except it is anchored to the ocean floor. You tie your boat to the mooring ball so you don't have to worry about dropping your anchor and possibly floating away in the middle of the night while you're asleep. Anyway, once we moored up, we threw out a float line tied to the stern of the boat, mixed a few more drinks and floated in the deep blue water of the bay.
After a few hours in the water we climbed aboard, dried off and set ourselves to the task of cooking dinner. And this is where the day takes a sad turn. Forgive me if I get a little emotional. Each boat is outfitted with a small grill that attaches to the railing of the boat by a clamp. As my step-mother Julie was placing our tuna steaks on the grill, the hinge that connects the grill to the clamp gave way, and $70 worth of tuna went diving back into the sea. That day will forever be known as "The Great Tuna Steak Escape". After a round of throwing utensils and a volley of a few choice words, we gathered our wits about us and boiled hotdogs on the stove. Not the best end to an almost perfect day.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

BVI Trip 2010: Day 1

After a four-year hiatus, I finally got back to the British Virgin Islands with my family. This marks the third trip I have taken to the island chain, the first was in 2004, then again in 2006. My dad and step-mom take a trip every two years with all the kids with the exception of 2008 when none of the kids went on the trip.
We charter a sail boat from the same company every year, Conch Charters, we provision and crew the boat ourselves and head out into the Sir Francis Drake Channel. I always enjoy the the 30-minute plane ride from San Juan to Tortola. I love seeing the islands from above. All the colors seem to a bit more vibrant from the air than they do from sea level. The first day was basically a day of travel. We left DFW International at around 5:00 in the morning and landed in Miami around 9:00 am. We had a bloody mary and breakfast and waited for our flight to San Juan. We had lunch in San Juan, hoped the puddle-jumper to Tortola, caught a taxi over to Road Town and were standing in front of our boat, the Panache II, that would be our home for the next eight days at around 6:30 pm.
We arrived too late in the afternoon to provision the boat and set sail for Peter Island, so the charter company said we could sleep on the boat that night so we didn't have to spend money on a hotel room. We had dinner at The Pub, an eatery at the end of the dock and celebrated our arrival in the BVIs. The restaurant was experiencing a power outage, not uncommon for the islands considering the only source of power is a diesel-run generator, but this outage was due to a massive thunderstorm that had passed through a few hours before. Little did we know that this weather pattern would influence our vacation for the next several days.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Quick Video Blast

Watch live streaming video from nppa at

I wanted to post this video from the National Press Photographers Association's recent meeting and workshop, Convergence '10. It is a presentation by the Denver Post's Craig Walker covering his three-year, 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning project titled "Ian Fisher: American Soldier". You can go HERE to watch the Post's multimedia presentation of the project. This is a great presentation by Walker, explaining the trials and triumphs of the project. It's long, so find a good chair and pop some corn.

Monday, July 12, 2010

July Photo Column

I didn't have a June "I Am West Texas" column, so this feature on Fred Wilson is the one that published this Monday. Fred was a cool guy and I'm glad to have met him. I was working another story with a fellow reporter about a local musician who was about to release her first album when I got to talking with one of the band members, Kelly Wilson. He said his dad hand-crafts mountain dulcimers for the fun of it and always has something in the works. I immediately thought of profiling him for the column. This is the photo that ran with Monday's (below) column.

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Ten or 12 years ago, Fred Wilson began going to therapy. His sessions were not at a clinic or hospital, nor were they in some ultra-exclusive resort reserved for celebrities. They were in his backyard, in his workshop with his tools and nothing but time. “It’s just a time where I can forget about the world,” Wilson said. “When I go out to the shop and sit down, the only way I have a judge in time is I’ll put on a CD, and when that CD is over I know I’ve been out there for an hour and a half. It’s therapy for me.” And that CD is not the only music being made; Wilson makes it, too, by hand-crafting mountain dulcimers, a name which means “sweet song.” From various types of wood and materials, Wilson puts a personal touch into each instrument, varying in shape, size and sound. Wilson has made 16 so far with a few more in the works and has never made a single dime, usually giving them to family or as a gift to friends. “I guess the reason why I’ve never sold one is because I can’t make one to order,” Wilson said. “You always have doubt of whether this is going to be OK or if this is going to work. And I’ve come to find out that good enough ... ain’t.” But money does change hands, though. If someone wants to pay for a dulcimer, Wilson just asks that a donation be made to his church. “I don’t care if it’s $1 or $1 million,” Wilson said, “ I don’t even want to know how much was given.” But just because Wilson may not get a monetary reward, he does get a payment of the heart and soul. “It’s a heartwarming feeling,” Wilson said of handing over a completed dulcimer to its new owner. “This is just a way that I can convey love and admiration for someone.” he added. “There’s no way I could do anything out and about that could give me that sort of peace of mind.”

Here is the audio slideshow that ran with the column:

SIDE NOTE: I have two videos for you today, the first from Doctors Without Borders/VII Photo project "Starved for Attention". It was shot in Mexico by John Stanmeyer. The second is a stop action video of graffiti that must have taken days to complete. It is very cool.

BIG BANG BIG BOOM - the new wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

Monday, July 5, 2010

I'm a WWII Combat Photographer

Well, no, not really. But I did get to see some World War II-era weapons demonstrations over the holiday weekend. My wife and I went down to Fredericksburg to met up with my parents who drove in from Lubbock, and my sister and brother-in-law who were driving in from Austin after attending a wedding. My parents had rented a Sunday house for the holiday and were scoping out activities for all of us to do. The city has just completed a new facility called the National Museum of the Pacific War in conjunction with the Nimitz Museum. And several times during the year there is a live re-enactment of a small battle between US Marines and Japanese soldiers. Very cool. But it was hot and muggy so bring water and sunscreen.

And then of course there is always the ever-present Fourth of July parade. Grand-parents, parents and kids line the street to wave at passing floats blaring country music. Question: When did float-riders stop throwing candy to spectators? We didn't see a single piece thrown.

And then as the day began to wind down, we made our way to the Lady Bird Johnson Memorial Park just south of the city. At 7:30pm the Air Force Band was playing patriotic music to be followed by a fireworks display. I'm horrible at photographing fireworks. I've never been able to figure it out, and this instance was no exception. I also forgot to bring my tripod with me so I had to brace the camera between my legs and hands to get something that resembled people watching the show. This was the best one of the take.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Play it Again, Sam

Here we go again. Yet another instance of law enforcement officials infringing on the rights of ordinary people photographing in public. Photographers Stretch Ledford and Carlos Miller were hassled by the private security guards of the Miami-Dade Metrorail and then the police. Ledford is working on a paper for his master's degree about photography in public places and wanted to see if he ran into any opposition at the Metrorail. He did. He even contacted Ed Muntan, Chief of Safety and Security of the metro, before he went out to do his assignment. Muntan said that if he was dong commercial work he would need a permit, but if not, he will be fine. Obviously, security guards and police did not get the memo.

I have been a journalist for almost seven years now, and I have to say how proud I am of being able to work with the San Angelo Police Department and the Tom Green County Sheriff's Department. I've always been treated with respect by both agencies and as far as I can remember, have not been hassled when covering something in public with my camera.
The next video for you today is an interview with VII photographer Ron Haviv. He shot the essay for the "Starved for Attention" project in Bangladesh I posted on June 23rd. He talks about the challenges he faced, people he met and the creative process of completing the story.

The last video is by VII photographer Christopher Morris covering the oil spill in the Gulf. I really like Morris' vision and the way he frames a scene. Be prepared, the video is slow-moving and a bit depressing and on the verge of being a bit over-dramatic, but it's still a cool piece.

"The Black Tide" from Christopher Morris on Vimeo.