Portrait

‘A pair of star-crossed lovers’

 

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Tonight I had a wonderful call with an old friend, who I first met during another chapter in my life.

We have stayed in touch over the years. Talking about our journeys in life, I felt a wonderful affirmation about the importance of friendship and keeping alive the ties that hold us together. That short call left me deeply touched.

So, I dug up these photos I took of my friend and their spouse, who I also have gotten to know. They capture what William Shakespeare famously called “a pair of star-crossed lovers,” but without the tragedy of rival houses in Verona. I took these snapshots in June 2011, when I was living in Seattle and finishing a graduate program, and they had driven to town for a short trip.

I did little to plan for these pictures. All I did was compose the frame. Their warmth and affection did the rest. I have always said, photos never lie.

I am glad to know such great people.

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Being Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan meets with a fan at a book signing in Seattle (1999).

“In the pantheon of movie action heroes, there is only one true god, and his name is Jackie Chan.”

The Washington Post, 1998

When I found myself deep in the bush in northern Uganda in June 1997, a 12-hour bus ride from the nearest city, I had one of those memorable conversations that can only happen with people from different cultures and life experiences.

I sat outside of my darkened guest house, under a star-filled sky, talking with a young man. We had just met and were trying to learn what we had in common. We instantly found a shared love: Hong Kong action films starring Jackie Chan.

He couldn’t believe that I knew about the Hong Kong film star, or that I had favorite Chan films and even favorite Chan action sequences. We laughed and formed a memorable, short-lived bond because of the artistry of perhaps the world’s most famous action star and Hong Kong-native, Chan. We both loved him because he spoke a universal language on film that blended action, dance, grace, and physical comedy.

At that time, Chan already was a bona fide celebrity, having made dozens of Hong Kong action films few Americans had ever seen. Those films set the standard for physical comedy, death-defying stunts, and creative genius in a genre I can only describe by calling it Jackie Chan cinema.

My favorite of his actioners is the 1994 classic Drunken Master 2, which assembled some of the most elaborate stunt work I have ever seen.

As with all of Chan’s films, he did his own stunts and racked up countless broken bones and even near-death experiences.

In a Chan film, you can feel the brutality of a fall, the smack of a blunt weapon on the back, and the sweat falling off an actor’s face as a fist cracks their jaw. One of the funnest choreographed set pieces I adore comes from his 2003 Owen Wilson buddy flick set in Victorian England, called Shanghai Knights. In one scene, Chan riffs on Gene Kelly’s graceful dancing, using the Singing in the Rain soundtrack, as he escapes a gang of English ruffians with a deft touch that the great Kelly would adore.

Finally Meeting my Favorite Action Hero in the Flesh

A year after my trip, in 1998, Chan burst into the lives of American filmgoers with his buddy action comedy Rush Hour, co-starring Chris Rock. Since that time, Chan has continued to crank out films at a furious pace, and continued to get injured and trash his body as only Chan can.

In 1999, I finally saw my film icon for my first and only time at a book signing at a Seattle shopping center. That is where I snapped this photograph. There were hundreds of fans, waiting in line to see their beloved action star and have him sign a copy of his semi-autobiographic memoir, I Am Jackie Chan. The intensity of the adoration astounded me. I could suddenly understand why a young man in Uganda felt that personal connection.

To a filmgoer, Chan provides a guaranteed promise of pure cinematic escapism. The plots, outside of his earlier kung fu genre pieces, are flimsy at best. The films mostly provide a vehicle for him to cleverly battle his foes, improvise escapes from impossible closed spaces, experience immense physical pain, and somehow save the little guy. Anyone who sees a Chan film knows that Chan has beat himself up for all of them and is fighting just for them as he gets pummeled by bad guys in all directions, before he manages to limp away and escape.

A Star Is Trained

Chan likely draws from the deep well of his own tough experiences  being born in poverty, in 1954, in gritty and bustling Hong Kong.

A new Chan memoir just came out, Never Grow Up. The co-written tome provides insights into the cruelty of his brutal childhood and teenage apprenticeship and growing up poor in the former British colony. When he was 7 years old, Chan’s parents placed him in the China Drama Academy, a facility that cranked out performers for Peking operas and other popular acrobatic shows. Left by his parents who went to Australia, Chan was signed up for a 10-year “contract” that more resembled old-fashioned indentured servitude.

According to a story about his memoir in The New Republic, his formative years, were stark and brutal: “For ten years, Chan trained all day long, from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., with breaks for lunch and dinner. Along with the other boys, he slept on a thin mat, on a carpet encrusted with sweat, spit, and piss. When he misbehaved, he was beaten with canes; when he fell ill, he was told to suck it up and keep practicing his kung fu.”

It was during that time that star we love as Jackie Chan became that Jackie Chan, through the process that only comes from intense study.

The same story notes the China Drama Academy helped blaze the trail for Chan’s success in three ways. It created lifelong friendships with fellow action stars like Sammo Hung, who helped out Chan in his early films and later co-starred with him. It gave him the skills for stunt work and martial arts, which was the currency of the Hong Kong film industry when Chan came of age in the 1970s and later. It also “turned his body into an instrument that could withstand ungodly amounts of pain.”

That pain is nowhere to be found in this picture I snapped above. I remember a feeling of elation that I finally met a man who spoke a universal language that can bring together people around the world, rooting for the underdog, who always manages to escape calamity with cosmic luck, his fast fists, and the will power to win.

French style

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

For the second time in two weeks, my former college freshman roommate was in Portland, on family matters. This time, we caught up for a nice lunch. Sebastian has done well, and he now lives and works in France. I am envious of several things, notably his access to universal healthcare, and the fact that France is considered to have the best health system in the world, according to many credible monitoring groups.

I also am jealous of his chic French style. Wherever you make your home, you will adapt to the local customs and fashions. Sebastian proved that well. Me, I looked like I still came fresh out of an Alaska brewpub, sporting my Carhartts and rain gear.

Here’s to catching up on all of those past decades, ami. The years have treated you very, very well.

An Ode to my Former College Roommate

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Despite the inauspicious circumstances that led my former freshman college roommate to fly from France to Portland this week, I could not be more happy. It has been well over three decades since I shared the cramped dormitory living space in college with my friend, Sebastian. And fate brought him back to Portland this week. For that, I personally am grateful.

I probably could not have found a better person to share that tight living space with, when I was 18. It was the only time in my life I lived in a dorm (for one academic year exactly), and I am sure I was not the easiest person to be with. I had odd hours and was restless. I probably woke Sebastian up more than he would like doing those all-nighters that I tended to do during my undergraduate days.

Last night a group of us former classmates gathered at a local pub in Portland. I had not seen any of these folks in decades. I really enjoyed it. It made me realize how important connections can be, even when you part paths and move to different parts of the country, or world.

That get together inspired me to dig up two black and white shots I took of Sebastian, when I was more into black and white photography and darkroom experimentation. One shows him hard at work in his room during our freshman year. I always admired his ability to focus, not to mention his incredible intelligence. The other shows his creative side, which he had in spades. Thanks for helping to make that first year of college a success, and safe journeys, ami!

 

 

Family and the holidays

I have not shared Thanksgiving with my family now for nearly  30 years. Living at opposite ends of the continent, and in my case Alaska for a half-dozen years, makes travel on the busiest travel time of the year just about impossible. We may not be able to share another one together like we did when we were a unit, when I was younger. This makes me think of them even more this year. So, enjoy the time you spend with family. You might never know if it is the last time you do. (Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

 

 

Me, I like herding dogs most of all

Ever since I traveled to Omak, Washington, in 2012 and met a couple of amazing Texas heelers adored by their owner, I have been smitten by this breed. Herding dogs just have that certain special something. Hey good boy, you are looking might fine. Click on the picture to see a larger photo on a separate picture page.

The look that is love

Every now and then some research pops into the news cycle that tells us something we know: puppies make us feel good. One of the latest studies, whose rigor I cannot verity, found that gazing into a a dog’s or puppy’s eyes releases the hormone oxytocin, which makes us humans feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I think I already knew that. Hi there, cute girl. Thanks for making me feel that magic only puppies can create.

 

Three of my favorite mother and daughter portraits

I have published these photos before on either my blog or web site, or both. Some times, everything comes together nicely when you get family members to pose. You cannot fake a warm smile.

Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.

Tell me, you so wise, who among us does not have many masks

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

The expression “Janus faced” stems from Roman mythology. The god it represents, Janus, was two-headed. Sculptures show  two faces arranged in opposite directions.  The contemporary expression “Janus faced” is used to call out “two-faced” or deceitful persons, often politicians. Classic Greek theater  has a similar pairing many modern theater goers have seen of the two masks of drama, which show the classical Greek division of comedy and tragedy. They symbolize ancient Greek muses, Thalia and Melpomene. The muse of comedy is represented by the laughing face, and the muse of tragedy is represented by the weeping face.

I thought about the faces we present to the public, sometimes knowingly and sometimes unknowingly. No one is able to fully mask their emotions, and I would say all of us can wear each mask depending on our ambitions and circumstances. Many of us encounter this daily, perhaps in a work environment with someone who projects being a lovable person to impress an audience he or she deems important to his or her personal priorities, and then they wear the other face when they no longer need to put on an act and can display the polar opposite behavior, usually to subordinates.

A conversation I had last night made me think about this, and during my long run today I thought about a pair of pictures I have of someone I once knew. Her faces were wonderfully clear, and powerful. I took these photos more than a dozen years ago, when I was much more involved in black and white portraiture and fascinated by what those portraits would tell me and other viewers. I hope one day to have someone capture me with my masks so I can see how I project my masks to the public.

My faith in humanity

On days when chaotic people around me seem overwhelming, in that place called life and the real world, I always seek the solace in what I know to be universally true. And that is the goodness in others.

I ignore the emotional tornadoes who suck energy from others, and I bring back memories of people I have met everywhere in the world. Today, on a day when the whirlwind people were a bit too much, I got a jolt of the “rest of humanity” through some friendly old smiles. Here are a few of their faces, taken from my travels in Bali and Java, in Indonesia, in February 2009.

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)