Author: Rudy Owens

I have a professional background in journalism (MA from UNC-CH), public affairs, and more recently public health (MPH, University of Washington). I publish several online properties, including my web site www.rudyowens.com. My photographs have appeared in a diverse number of media and print publications. I also have traveled on six continents and in more than 30 countries. Most recently, I have just finished writing my first book.

Beautiful morning light in Lafayette Square

 

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During my last visit to St. Louis, I indulged myself. I decided to stay in a historic mansion that is now a a bed and breakfast called the Lehmann House, just off of Lafayette Park, in the historic Lafayette Square neighborhood of St. Louis. This beautiful section of urban space is unrivaled in any U.S. city. It was one of the earliest planned communities in the once mighty industrial city, and it catered to the very wealthy when it was developed in the 1800s. It was built around the oldest municipal park west of the Mississippi River, Lafayette Park.

I have shared photo essays on my blog before about the area’s exquisitely built brick homes and architectural styles. I did not have much time to enjoy the area as I had hoped, but I squeezed in two morning walks that were about as perfect as I can remember, ever. The light had that brilliant Midwest-morning Kodacolor glow, and the air smelled fresh from a recent rain. I wandered around the “hood” and snapped these shots, allowing my senses to guide me. If you visit St. Louis, you have to put this place on your list. You will then wonder what we have done so wrong in urban design since we built communities with craftsmanship and care not that long ago.

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Pre-game scene with Timbers fans

 

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The Portland Timbers, the city’s Major League Soccer franchise, have an enthusiastic fan base, including the noisy Timbers Army. I came down to Providence Park in early August for a work project and caught some of the pre-game action. One thing was clear. You don’t have to be a soccer player or athlete to be a hardcore sports fan.

Industrial yard and porta potty

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I took this shot with my Samsung smartphone, which has a mediocre lens, even for cellphones. Even then, it can occasionally capture something special.

This location is at the corner of SE 26th Avenue and SE Steel Street, in sourtheast Portland, Oregon. I used to bike by here decades earlier, when I attended college a few blocks away. Despite Portland’s massive gentrification, some neighborhoods outside of the Port of Portland still have the blue-collar industries that used to dominate the economy not long ago.

My first memory of Portalnd was of that time, and I loved its grittiness when I first came here. That seems long gone now.

July Surf at Seaside

 

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It has been more than six months since I surfed on the Oregon Coast. That is far too long.

I headed out Saturday, given the forecast and smaller waves that still suit my skill level at my favorite Oregon surfing beach, Seaside.

I caught 19 waves that I count as rides, and yes I count. I had some nice long ones, choppy short ones, and many in between. The skies were overcast, giving the water a beautiful, translucent green hue. I had forgotten how beautiful waves can be, to seem them barrel as you try to beat the them before they break on your board as you paddle out.

Hours after coming home I realized just how much I had overdone it. I knew the last five waves probably should have been avoided. Too many things hurt—shoulders, chest, neck. However, my Black Butte Porter never tasted better and my sleep was the most restful in months.

I took this shot of the few surfers who were still out in the water when I pulled out early Saturday evening.

Happy Canada Day!

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I spent eight and a half years of my professional life working for the Government of Canada, for its Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (now called Global Affairs Canada). I did that as a U.S. citizen, working for the Consulate General of Canada in Seattle and then for the Consulate of Canada, Anchorage. I enjoyed every minute of that experience, serving the Canadian people and helping build better relations between the peoples separated by the world’s longest and most peaceful border.

Tomorrow, on July 1, Canadians the world over and through that “blessed land” celebrate the confederation in 1867, known today as Canada Day. It’s a joyful time, and Canadians I know celebrate it traveling, with friends and family, and often in Canada’s beautiful outdoors.

To all of the Canadians I know and never met, thanks for providing me the wonderful opportunity to have visited your country, work for your country, and celebrate its values and traditions that remain a pillar of openness, democracy, and freedom the world over.

I took this photo during one of my many trips to Ottawa, when I worked for Canada. I positioned myself on Wellington Street, looking northwest on Parliament Hill to the Eternal Flame and the Parliament Building, the seat of Canada’s national government. If you ever get a chance to visit Ontario, add Ottawa it to your list. It is a beautiful city, and this building is among the finest I have ever toured.

Seward, tourist hub of southcentral Alaska

Seward, Alaska, the small port city on the Kenai Peninsula, remains one of the most visited Alaska tourist communities. Nestled along the scenic Resurrection Bay and sitting next to scenic mountains and nearby fjords, it offers fabulous views and access to Alaska’s abundant wildlife, as well as fishing. The foreign-run cruise-ship industry also docks in Seward and unloads literally hundreds of thousands of visitors every tourist season—an estimated 1.3 million people will visit Alaska by these floating behemoths of the sea in 2019.

I frequently drove to Seward when I worked and lived in Anchorage from 2004 to 2010. The drive offered spectacular views, and each trip was rewarded by equally great vistas and experiences in Seward. I loved late spring and early summer the most. Here are a few of the scenes from trips I made in 2009 and 2010. I miss it and remember the landscape fondly.

Icons of eastern Oregon

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During the past two months, I have traveled widely in Oregon. I always enjoy an Oregon road trip. The high and wide-open plateaus of north central and eastern Oregon, just before the Blue Mountains, rekindled my love of the open road and empty places.

I made two separate trips: one to Condon, in Gilliam County, and another to Pendleton, in Umatilla County. Gilliam County is bisected by the John Day River, a popular fishing and rafting destination. The landscape is dominated by a high plateau and constant wind, making it an ideal location for massive wind farms that sprout majestically above wheat fields. The county seat, Condon (pop. 682), is a charming community that felt alive and loved by its residents.

Pendleton (pop. 16,682) sits on the Interstate 84 corridor, further to the east, straddling a valley near the start of the Blue Mountains. The community is a true Western town. It is famous for its rodeo, woolen goods, and also whiskey. Nearby Umatilla is also famous for the now decommissioned 20,000-acre Umatilla Chemical Depot, run by the U.S. Army that was home to a massive stockpile of chemical weapons.

Agriculture, along with wind energy, are two major economic drivers in this sparsely populated area of Oregon. Native Americans have lived here for millennia. Pendleton lies within the ancestral lands of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, whose designs adorn Pendleton’s famous woolen blankets and more. The tribe also runs the Wildhorse Resort & Casino, a major economic resource for the area.

Visually, I was mostly struck by the iconic imagery presented by the grain elevators in both areas, along with the towering wind turbines. The site of large, manmade structures in mostly open spaces has always appealed to my visual sensibilities, wherever I may be.

Easter 2019, suddenly a day of sadness

It is a sad Easter, not a joyful one that most of us had hoped for. I woke up this morning to the news that more than 200 people in Sri Lanka had been murdered by coordinated terrorist attacks that targeted foreigners at luxury hotels and innocent civilians, Christians, at churches.

This terrible day is one of many that we may soon forget, given such attacks have happened at places of worship so many times in the past 20 years.

The news made me think about what I had heard the night before at an Easter vigil that I attended at a local Episcopal Church. I decided to go because I like the tranquility services provide me. I also like listening to a good sermon that touches on things we are too afraid to talk about outside of places of worship, like the meaning of life and death.

The sermon was delivered by one of the church’s Episcopal priests, a former registered nurse. She must have done palliative care, given what she described as her time spent with patients who were on their final journey in life, with hours to live.

She talked about what happens the last hours of life, when patients make a passage from this world to whatever is in the next. She outlined the changes she would see among some patients in their last hours, when they get ready to let go. She described it as a calm and even a glow. She used these images to compare to how Jesus would have looked after the crucifixion and what Mary Magdalene and Salome were expecting to find in the tomb after seeing a gruesome event—the crucifixion of three persons a day earlier. Leave it to a nurse to focus on the details like this and to make us connect with the thing we fear the most in life, which is the end of life.

No one lost in these incidents in Sri Lanka would have the peace that comes in such end-of-life moments. One of the terrible images we saw on the internet showed blood on a statue of Jesus, while other shots showed the victims, where they died suddenly.

What happened was chaotic and meaningless. Most of us likely would prefer a peaceful passing, and be ready when it comes. In reality, many of us will not pass that way, and for some, the passing is tragic and swift, as we saw for many in Sri Lanka.

I have no pictures that capture the end of life or Sri Lanka. I do have some photos of Israel, where events in the life of Jesus reportedly occurred according to the accounts left in the Bible. Here is one from Jerusalem, a holy city to three faiths and, reportedly, where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. The photo is from the interior of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, reportedly the place where Jesus was crucified by the Romans and entombed.

Easter is meant to be a day of joy and renewal for hundreds of millions of Christians the world over to celebrate the victory of their savior, Jesus Christ, over death, according to Christian teaching.

This year, Easter has another meaning. There will be no joy for weeks and months to come for far too many.

Remembering Rwanda on a sad anniversary

Today, April 6, 2019, marks the 25th anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide. During the 100 days that followed its start, the ruling ethnic Hutu government organized the mass murder of more than 800,000 mostly ethnic minority ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the tiny central Africa nation. The world stood by and largely did nothing.

The war and genocide ended only when a rebel Tutsi army called the Rwandan Patriotic Front (aka Rwandan Patriotic Army) defeated the government in a fight to the death that ended the mass murdering. Millions of Rwandan refugees then fled the country, leading to destabilization and civil war in neighboring Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) and the collapse of its dictatorship. Years of bloody war in eastern DRC and beyond followed and continue to this day.

I went to Rwanda three years after the genocide and then left after about three weeks. I succumbed to malaria and realized I could not accomplish my larger goal to report on the ongoing genocide trials. Violent reprisal attacks by Hutu extremists were taking place and the body count was rising. I decided to leave.

After I left, I did two more projects documenting genocide: in Europe, focusing on Nazi crimes, and in Turkey, focusing on Ottoman Empire crimes. After I completed my documentary project on the Armenian genocide, I was interviewed by a descendant of Armenians who fled the Ottoman Empire and survived the Armenian genocide in modern-day Lebanon. My Lebanese-Armenian friend, who did a story about my travels in Turkey to former Armenian communities, asked me why I did my project. This was my reply. I reflected on what I had learned between the time I was in Kigali, Rwanda, and the time I visited former Armenian communities that no longer exist in the fall of 2001:

My primary objective has been to use my camera as a tool to infiltrate the realm of evil. What ways do people express evil, this thing that seems to define the human condition? How do people express it? Why do they do it, and why do other people allow evil to triumph? What do they accomplish, ultimately, through evil?

That’s the nut I’m trying to crack by examining the genocides of the 20th century. If nothing else, this knowledge helps me live my life better. It’s now much easier for me to understand human history and human behavior because the very worst form of human activity, genocide, strips reality to its essentials. In other words, all that is not essential is not really relevant. Some concentration and death camp survivors see the world in these terms. For example, Robert Jay Lifton wrote about the Nazi doctors, and he interviewed an Auschwitz survivor, a dentist forced to pull gold from the teeth of dead prisoners. Lifton described his meeting with the dentist this way: “He looked about the comfortable room in his house with its beautiful view of Haifa, sighed deeply, and said, ‘This world is not this world.’ What I think he meant was that, after Auschwitz, the ordinary rhythms and appearances of life, however innocuous and pleasant, were from the truth of human existence. Underneath those rhythms and appearances lay darkness and menace.”

I left the memories of my genocide documentary projects behind me, though I still have essays on display on my website. I normally don’t think about these photos, but on anniversaries like today’s, I must reflect and, I hope, remember.

All You Need Is Love, Love…Love Is All You Need

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My mother and stepfather were lucky. They met at the right time for both of them to build a life together and find decades of happiness, love, and companionship. Their connection can be seen in pictures I took of them when we could spend time together. I took all these in Alaska in 2005, when we had one of the best possible vacations together, when I was living and working in Anchorage.

My mom looked as happy as I have ever seen her in some of these shots. I particularly love the shot on the ferry deck, in Prince William Sound, just as our ferry was pulling out the Valdez ferry terminal. I remember this ferry ride from Valdez to Cordova, Alaska, as if it was yesterday. Times are different now, so I appreciate these magical moments I was lucky to share with them.