Teenage Self Portrait circa 1970s

For My Friends and Fans,

Some of you may have heard that I was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer back in January. It’s been a journey filled with the expected ups and downs. I’ve had an amazing life – and even now there are amazing moments to every day. Don’t feel sorry for me.

That said, I did want to take a moment and thank you. Up until I became ill this year, I had blogged about my photography here every month without fail for six years – starting in January 2011. That’s more than 75 blog posts in case you’re counting. And you and you alone made that possible. You read my stories behind the pictures and inevitably responded with love and support. Your energy and feedback kept me going. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for that.

Yes, there were months when the blog came easy. An image jumped out at me and demanded to be written about. And then there were months when I lacked a spark –when I floundered and felt like I was forcing myself to write about an image I might have otherwise overlooked. But that’s when magic happened. Staring at my selected image, my heart and soul would awake and the story would inevitably pour out of my fingers. In those moments, I was an explorer, looking deep into my spirit as an artist and finding something new and unexpected. I have you to thank for that as well.

I’m not writing about my photography any more these days – but this blog will stay here for years to come and with six years of entries, feel free to revisit anytime.

Art is Love.



Let me say first that I grew up in Manhattan and lived there till I was about 30-years-old. Which is to say, this look if very familiar. The crossed arms. The look of disdain bordering on anger. And that’s why I’m drawn to this image – I feel at home. I captured this image a little more than a year ago in Rwanda. But, if I’m being completely honest, I feel like I’ve been looking at this image all my life.

Mountain gorillas live in relatively small family groups, and the Rwandan authorities limit the number of tourists who can visit any given gorilla family to eight people per day. And then, for only one hour. Combine that with the fact that, inside Rwanda, there are ten gorilla families that have been habituated to being visited by people, that translates to a maximum of 80 tourists per day visiting gorillas. Hence the need to buy a permit for your selected days months in advance.

I was traveling with friends Larry & Jerri and thanks to Jerri’s experience and marvelous organization skills, we had everything we needed, from gators to protect us from the mud to gloves to protect us from the bramble to the required permits – for two days of gorilla trekking.

The second day is, I hate to say it, better than the first. Everything is new that first day – the adrenaline is running and the hour you get to spend with the gorillas passes as if five minutes. Day Two, things begin to slow down and I had a chance to appreciate the interactions without my heart thumping. I can only imagine what a Day Three or Four must have been like.

On this particular day, we trekked through mud and bramble to visit a popular family of gorillas. Jerri had lobbied hard at the base station to make sure we were the lucky few who would visit this family on this particular day and her efforts paid off.

Three hours trek and we made it to the general area where the gorilla family was foraging. Jerri stood to my left as the last person in a line of six humans clicking away – all within five feet of the gorillas and sometimes closer. A juvenile gorilla climbed up a nimble stalk and as he got to the top, the stalk gave way under the weight of the young gorilla who couldn’t have weighed more than 30-40 pounds.

The stalk broke at the base, the rest of it holding firm, the young gorilla holding on tight at the top. Imagine a 10 foot stick falling to the ground and that’s what happened. Only this stick had a gorilla at the top of it. And this stick fell directly toward Jerri, missing her by not more than a few inches. The result was a juvenile gorilla inches from Jerri’s feet. The two looked at each other, Jerri smiled, and I glanced over at the Silverback. He didn’t seem to be bothered. And just as quick the young gorilla scampered off.

Nearly an hour later, Jerri was crouched down when an even younger gorilla came up behind her and began playing with her straight blond hair. Jerri turned slowly and the two just stared at each other, face to face, maybe three inches apart from one another.

Again, I looked at the Silverback and that’s when I captured this image.

There is so much humanity in this gorilla’s pose. That’s what I love about it.

Or maybe, just maybe, it reminds me of someone I know. My father perhaps. Or myself when I’m having a moment of frustration with my kids. Therapist anyone?

As a photograph, there’s a lot for me to like in here. The framing for starters – nothing is wasted. As a reminder, what you see here is what I saw in the lens. I have taken thousands upon thousands of pictures and can count on one hand the number of images I’ve cropped in post production. In fact, I think there’s really just one. This image is exactly as I framed it in the camera.

There’s just enough bramble in the foreground to help give a sense of the setting and enough head space at the top so we don’t feel jammed in. The eyes grab us and everything begins to fill in around that. I love the turn of the mouth, the crossed arms. And I appreciate the full range of textures of different shades of black and gray.

As a photographer in love with B&W, nothing thrills more than an image which lets you show off the full range of tone and texture. And all of that combined is why I am so drawn to this image.

We really did this.

As with many great images, there is a great story behind this photograph. I captured this image in the fall of 2006. Regent Seven Seas Cruises had hired me to create and lead photo expeditions across Europe. As a result, Helen, Jordan, Tamar and I lived aboard the ship pictured here, The Voyager, for six weeks. It was a memorable time for many reasons, not the least of which was that Jordan turned three and Tamar turned one during the cruise. I suppose I could write a short book on having kids that age on a cruise ship not intended for kids and for that length of time. But I’ll leave that for another space and time.

Of note in capturing this image was the daring captain of our ship, Dag Dvergastein. Captain Dag was an oversized personality who embraced every aspect of being in charge of a luxury cruise ship. He is a tall man and used his physical presence in combination with his confidence and charisma to smoothly take over every room he entered as a natural celebrity. He was – and still is, I’m sure – a terrific captain for a luxury cruise line.

In the pantheon of cruise ship staff, I was a nobody. I was hired by the shore-bound corporate team as a 6-week experiment. As such, my reception by the ship’s staff was mixed. Some people – the Cruise Director – cautiously embraced Helen, the kids and I and our mission. Others, The Hotel Director for one, made it perfectly clear that we were pests that needed to disembark and never return at the soonest. As for Captain Dag, we were well beneath his radar which was tuned, appropriately, to the VIP guests and, as needed, to his senior staff. To him, we were invisible.

On week three of the cruise, we sailed off the shore of Capri – and at sunset, in what I can only imagine is a somewhat daring move considering the stakes, Captain Dag navigated our ship between these two iconic rock formations known as The Faraglioni. Helen, kids and I, like all the other passengers, were topside taking in the spectacular view and wondering a) how we managed to navigate this tiny cut between the cliffs and b) how much risk we were actually taking in doing so. I also had a third thought – if only I could be off the ship, I would have been able to capture an amazing image of The Regent Seven Seas Voyager off the coast of Capri.

As fate would have it, we were destined to return past Capri two weeks later. Once I realized this, I spoke to the Cruise Director about getting off the ship to capture the moment should Captain Dag decide to again push the bow of his ship through the narrow gap between these majestic rock formations. I was introduced to one of the Captain’s staff to whom I explained my request. Over the course of a few days, I was asked to speak to increasingly senior staff members about my request until I was, finally, invited to the Bridge to explain my plan to Captain Dag himself.

Now I needed an actual plan – more than a simple, ‘hey get me off the ship’ request. Helen and I sat down and sketched out the rocks off Capri, where the sun was setting and where I thought I needed to be to capture the perfect image. My plan was to give Captain Dag a plan – something concrete that he could say “yes” to.

Captain Dag was no less a force to be reckoned with on the Bridge, among his staff, than he was out and about among the guests. Once I was ushered onto the Bridge, Dag put his arm around me – he towering above my 5’8″ frame – and made quick work of making sure I knew my place. “So you call yourself a photographer,” he said with a smile. Figuring I had little time to spare, I went into my pitch. “Captain,” I said, “I can get a great shot of your ship off the island of Capri if you can get me off the ship. I have a plan for where to take the picture,” I added, holding out the piece of paper with our rudimentary drawing.

Dag wasn’t the least bit interested in my drawing. His arm still around my shoulders – not so much out of friendship but out of dominance – Dag said, “You know where you’ll take the picture?” I tried to reply, to point out that yes, I had a plan and even a diagram, but I was cut off. “You’ll take the picture from exactly where I tell you to take the picture.”

I crumpled up the drawing and tucked it into my jacket pocket, “Yes, Captain.” I paused and then asked, “Where would you like me to take the picture from?” Captain Dag, barely letting go of my shoulder, told a story about another photographer he’d worked with that included a helicopter and standing atop one of the imposing Capri cliffs. I asked him again where he wanted me to be when I took the picture of his ship between the rocks at Capri, since clearly there wouldn’t be a helicopter involved in my shoot. His reply this time was about tides and timing and the factors that all needed to line up in order for him to repeat the performance. After which Captain Dag released my shoulder and pivoted to talk to someone else. He was done with me.

Adrift momentarily on the Bridge, one of the Captain’s senior staff ushered me over to charts of Capri to discuss the actual details. He wanted to be sure I was comfortable descending a rope ladder as the ship was moving. I was. He wanted to be sure I was comfortable in a Zodiac. I was. He mentioned the risk of transferring from the moving cruise ship to a moving Zodiac in the open sea. I told him I was comfortable with the risks. He then pointed to the chart and asked me where I wanted to be in order to take the shot. I pulled out the crumpled piece of paper from my pocket and started going over the options and my thoughts on the ideal spot from which to take the picture.

As we talked, Captain Dag came up behind us and peered over at the piece of paper with some amount of interest. I didn’t acknowledge his presence directly, clearly he didn’t want to be seen, but it was worth a smile.

Two days later, at the appointed time, I donned a commercial grade life jacket, put 40lbs of camera gear on my back and descended what can best be described as a classic webbed rope ladder and took the giant step into the Zodiac. Both the ship and the Zodiac were moving, the Mediterranean Sea was relatively calm with swells of three feet. Once securely in the Zodiac, I took my place at the bow and turned to the boat’s captain. “Has Captain Dag told you where he wants us to go?” I asked, half expecting us to be tightly under Dag’s control. The Zodiac captain shook his head. “He told me to take you wherever you need to be,” he said.

Let me say for the record that my plan on where to position the Zodiac was not a good one. At my request, we zipped several hundred yards off the port side. The sun was setting to our left, lighting up Capri and the ship nicely – but there was no drama to the shot. Worse yet, as the ship slipped in between the Faraglioni rocks, I lost sight of the bow. The shot didn’t work.

Quickly, I instructed the Zodiac skipper to come around the western edge of Faraglioni, putting the sun directly behind us. Again, I asked to be several hundred yards from the action. I did capture a lovely and peaceful shot from that position. And while I love that image, I still lacked the drama I really wanted. I asked the skipper to get our Zodiac as close to Faraglioni as he dared – and as we got closer and he slowed the engines, I urged him to get closer still. Here, finally, I saw the drama we all felt through my viewfinder. The distortion of the wide angle lens helped increase the drama of the cliffs and accentuate the point of the ship’s bow, all of which combined to make what I believe is a terrific image.

Back on the Voyager, and after a quick edit, I shared my images with passengers in a specially arranged lecture in the ship’s theater. When I was finished, one of the ship’s officers informed me that the Captain wanted me to show him the images in his private office. And so I went. I found Captain Dag a lot less imposing as he sat at his desk, much like a normal person. Before looking at my images, Captain Dag shared pictures he had taken in his native Norway. He shared some images he had of The Voyager. And then, after we had settled in, he asked to see the images I had captured.

I saved this image for last – and Captain Dag loved it. He asked for a copy, which I readily supplied. He later asked permission for the ship’s photo store to print one copy of the image as a gift for their VIP guests – of course I said yes, no problem. And then, finally, Captain Dag – in what I suppose was the highest compliment of all at the time – made this his desktop background image.

I’m proud of this image for a variety of reasons – working with the iconic Captain Dag being one them. As a fine art photographer, I found I was good at shooting things that existed. I am accustomed to maneuvering to find the right angle. But rarely, if ever, was I maneuvering in so much space, with so little time – starting from the entirely wrong position and, under pressure, needing to find the shot I wanted – a shot I hadn’t yet envisioned or planned for. In short, when I see this picture I am proud of having worked the scene and situation in ways that I previously didn’t know I was capable of.

Captain Dag sees his ship. I trust you see a dramatic image. I see all of that plus professional and artistic maturity that, at the time, I hadn’t realized I had reached.

Tourists in Thailand, afraid of missing out on an amazing experience, typically visit so many of temples as to become numb to their majesty. You might even hear them mutter, “oh no, not another temple.” The same is true of waterfalls in Iceland. There are roughly 50 waterfalls listed in the Icelandic guide books and plenty more that you just stumble upon every day as you make your way through the country. Imagine visiting five waterfalls every day on a ten day trip and if you’re like me, after day three, you’re cooked.

The challenge, then, is to determine which waterfalls are not to be missed. Even then, by the end of 10 days in Iceland, trudging to the next amazing waterfall is a chore. Even worse, I became spoiled and judgmental. How did this waterfall stack up? Was it worth the effort?

With that as a backdrop, we entered Iceland’s Western Fjords toward the end of our journey. The Western Fjords cover nearly 9,000 square miles and has only 7,000 inhabitants, most of whom are concentrated in one small area. What this means is there is a lot of natural landscape to explore. Which Helen and I did gladly in our rented Jeep, complete with fold out bed and fuel driven heater in the back.

At one point, as we traversed a dirt road that seemed to go on forever and on which we seldom saw another car, Helen suggested we take a detour to visit Fjallfoss (“foss” being Icelandic for “waterfall”). Helen thought the guide book description of this foss, also known as Dynjandi, was intriguing enough to warrant an extra hour of driving. I agreed and so we went.

We arrived at the base of the waterfall at 10:30 in the morning. It was drizzling and misty to point where it seemed as if we were inside a cloud. Campers were in various stages of getting up, packing up their tents and brushing their teeth. Helen and took advantage of the toilets (see: sleeping in the back of a Jeep) and began to walk the trail toward the waterfall.

As we walked up the trail, the mist became a soft drizzle. The sky was a flat, claustrophobic gray and we were bundled up in all of our rain gear. Very quickly, we saw the bottom part of the waterfall depicted above. But that was it. The waterfall behind it – the large impressive wall of water toward the top of the frame – was entirely obscured by the mist to the point where we didn’t know it existed.

Helen and I looked at one another. We had taken a one hour detour, donned all of our rain gear all to see this single small foss? At home this might look amazing, but in Iceland it didn’t rate. We laughed in disappointment. “You call this a waterfall?!” I joked.

But there we were, and feeling the need to stretch our legs we kept walking the trail. That’s when the 300 foot tall waterfall you see in the background began to appear, slowly, magically, emerging from the shroud of mist. Helen and I stood, mouths agape – we’d never seen anything like this anywhere in the world. It was large. It was powerful. It was, in a word, awesome.

I pulled my camera bag around, laid it down on it’s waterproof jacket, unzipped the main section and pulled out my trusty camera. Doing my best to keep the camera and lens dry (I had a rain jacket for both that another photographer/friend had given me earlier in the year in Rwanda), I began taking pictures.

I was enraptured. Every step closer to the foss gave me a new perspective and appreciation for the size and power before me. I captured image after image. Twenty minutes later, perched atop a few rocks in the water basin at the base of the falls, I thought to look at the face of my lens. It was, of course, covered in water from mist and spray. I wiped the lens dry and began thinking about how many shots I would need to recapture with the now dry lens.

It was 11:15 and the mist and clouds had lifted enough that I could capture several images including the one above. This turned out to be a magical moment in time – at least on that particular day. We were back at our car by 11:45, pulled out our camping stove, boiled water and enjoyed tea and two hot pots of camping junk food. By the time we finished and cleaned up it was 12:15 and the visibility had gotten decidedly worse. So much so that it was considerably less than when we had first arrived.

I don’t know what it looked like there for the rest of the day, but I daresay, Helen and I lucked into the small window during which we could see both the small waterfall in the foreground and the 300 foot monstrosity in the background.

When photographing moving water, I do experiment with different shutter speeds. The fastest shutter speed captures water as if still in a moment in time. The slowest shutter speed makes the water look like cotton candy, a soft often majestic blur. I didn’t have a tripod with me on this trip, so it’s all hand held. I tried my various shutter speed and aperture combinations and then have a painstakingly long edit process when I get home.

Suffice it to say, as I look over all of my images from Iceland, I don’t regret a single side trip or detour to see any of the waterfalls, least of all this one. And every time I see this image I’m reminded of my rush to judgement when we first arrived, and that moment as this tremendous waterfall emerged out of the mist. Bravo Iceland!

Woman at Kailasanatha Temple

Imagine walking up to a hill and deciding to remove all the vegetation and then carve a multi-storied temple out the underlying rock. That what the regional Indian King Krishna decided – and did! – in the 8th century. Helen and I visited the temple in the spring of 2002 and it remains one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen and photographed.

The Temple is located in Ellora just outside of Aurangabad and near the Ajanta caves. Nearly every structure in the world is built from the bottom up. Think of the Great Pyramids as an obvious example. One giant stone laid on top of another giant stone until a structure exists that takes one’s breath away.

At the world heritage sight in Petra, Jordan there are some rather elaborate architectural carvings made to look like buildings. The difference is that Petra, carved as early as 312BC, is merely a series of barren caves with ornate facades. And while the facades look wonderful, they have no architectural integrity. The facades are entirely decorative. The closest I’ve seen to what exists in Ellora were the rock cut churches of Ethiopia in Lalibela – churches cut out of solid stone and dating back to roughly 1200. But even those, as magnificent as they are, pale in comparison to what happened in India.

The date isn’t precisely known, but evidence indicates that it was during the 8th century when Indian carvers stood atop a small mountain of granite and began carving. Short of having a drone (non-existent in 2002) or a helicopter (not in my budget), it’s challenging to capture the grandeur of the entire temple, made up of more than one building as well as buildings of multiple stories. And so when perched atop a hill overlooking the temple, my eye wandered to details that could tell the story for me.

For me the story is about the splendor of the architecture, the sheer enormity of what was accomplished here. To capture this, I decided to focus my attention on the elephant carvings at the foot of the temple. Of course, the statues by themselves don’t tell the story – one needs the added effect of the woman in the image for scale. It’s terrific for the image that she’s wearing a sari – that places us squarely in India. I watched the woman walk slowly and with what imagined was a measure of peace into my frame from right to left. As thrilled as I was to have her walk into my viewfinder, I also struggled with the light. The entire side of the temple was in the shade with the sun peering over the far right corner.

Were I shooting today, I would be shooting digitally with lots of memory space. I would easily snap 20 frames as she moved across the temple. At the start, she would be in the far right corner, I’d have to shift the camera to the right to accommodate her position without crowding her in the corner of the frame. The challenge would be an excess wash of light from the sun. But no matter, with digital equipment, I would capture everything and suffer the time-intensive editing consequences later on.

But this was 2002 and I was shooting film. Film, I might add, that was a precious commodity for me back then. I didn’t have the luxury of clicking off more than a few frames, and ideally would take only one.

I remember seeing a contact sheet from famed photographer Garry Winnogrand once. Every frame on a roll of 36 images was a completely different image. At least on the contact sheet I saw, Winnogrand didn’t work a scene – he found his perfect shot in every situation, captured it and moved on. That’s what I endeavored to become and – with severely limited film resources on our round-the-world journey – what I needed to do here.

I waited until the woman had walked as far along the edge as I was comfortable having her, just before reaching the first corner. I weighed the challenge of capturing enough of the temple to give a sense of depth and receding into the distance – as well as providing a mystery as to the height – and weighed all of that against the blown out brightness I knew would overcome the top right corner. All of this happens quickly and in the moment, I clicked the shutter and captured this image.

There are times when I look at this photograph and am frustrated with the blown out corner. I wish it didn’t have to be there. But when I consider the alternatives to framing the image, I realize that the image is, for me, already perfect. I suppose if I have any doubt, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston – a venerable collector of fine art photography – acquired one of the limited edition prints of this image for their permanent collection.

Bravo to the Indians who constructed this. And thanks to the miracle of photography for permitting me to capture this image.

Iceland! – The Reynisdrangar Stacks

Helen and I spent ten days in Iceland last summer. One day we’ll return and spend a month – that’s how amazing it was.

We spent all but two nights at the end sleeping in the back of a modified Jeep – the back of the car converted into a bed that was quite comfortable so long as you didn’t attempt to sit up. The Jeep, a 4WD with Iceland-capable tires and suitable road clearance, gave us the ability to explore the island nation as we saw fit, on and off-road. The car also allowed us to drive to and park at some memorable and remote spots to bed down at night.

A quick primer: Iceland has a total population of 330,000. Recently, Iceland’s soccer team advanced to the quarterfinals of the European Championship and 30,000 Icelanders flew to France to cheer on their countrymen. That means that 10% of the entire nation of Iceland travelled in support of their soccer team. I love that.

Here’s another fun fact. From 2006 – 20011, there were roughly 500,000 tourists visiting Iceland annually. It varied from year to year, but not by much. But then growth happened. In 2015, 1.3 million tourists visited Iceland – 5x as many tourists as there are locals. And, to make things more interesting, most of these tourists transit Iceland in the summer months – for the obvious reasons.

Last August, with our kids in sleep-away camp, Helen and I landed in Reykjavik as two of those tourists, picked up our Jeep and began driving north along the coast. That first morning, we parked at the foot of a glacier and, aided by jet-lag, slipped off into a brilliant night of sleep. The next morning we explored the base of the glacier where we had parked and then began day two and our first full day of touring.

It was mid-morning when we pulled off the main ring-road at Reynisfjöru beach. This beach sits at the foot of Reynisfjall, a 1,000 foot tall tuff mountain overlooking the ocean and famous in part for it’s bounty of puffin nests. Puffins, of course, while not technically the national bird of Iceland (that distinction goes to a falcon), may as well be since pictures, postcards and all types of souvenirs depicting puffins overwhelm store shelves across all of this island nation.

And while we thought we were at the beach to see the puffins – and see them we did – we realized quickly we were there for much more than that. There were basalt formations which I’ll share in a future blog post – amazing geometric patterns of rock. And there were the Reynisdrangar Stacks – formations rising out of the sea – nearly 200 feet high.

There is also a slight cave set on the beach which we traversed and which I photographed as well. With the tide coming in, it was bit tricky both getting to the cave and then being inside the cave without getting wet. One particular set of waves came in and nearly did us in, but we managed to stay dry (just barely). Another tourist who’d arrived about the same time we did wasn’t as lucky and got caught up to her waist in the oncoming North Atlantic waves – which I could only imagine was bone numbingly cold. She escaped unscathed but for wet clothes and a bit of embarrassment.

For all the splendor at this Icelandic beach it was this single rock formation that captured my imagination most of all. It was, I suspect, a sight I least expected to see and which, truth be told, made the least sense. A single, skinny, 200 foot tall needle rising out of the ocean. How did it form? How did it survive?

As I made sure I was out of the reach of the incoming tide, I slipped on my 70-200 zoom lens and clicked off a few images of this formation. Next, I turned toward the beach and took the opportunity to scout puffins through my viewfinder – and while they are small birds demanding of a more powerful lens, I was nonetheless able to get one or two decent shots of them in flight.

It was then, out of the corner of my eye, that I noticed this woman walking along the beach and I knew instantly the image I wanted. Her, a vertical line in the foreground and out of focus on the right corner of the frame with the pinnacle in sharp focus behind her. I had to hustle a bit to get into position, pointed my camera and waited for her to walk through my viewfinder. For me, perfection.

I love the symmetry and peacefulness of this image. It’s unusual and, given the rock formation, unexpected. The image is also dreamy and contemplative – with the woman looking down, we can each put ourselves in her place, walking silently, alone on a beach, reflecting inwardly on some aspect of our lives. In the background, nature joins her in this private moment.

I am 1/3 of the way through editing my Iceland photographs. I’m excited to see what else I captured with my camera. At least here, from day two of our trip, I see that I was off to a good start.

I was in Rwanda last April with friends Larry and Jerri – we spent 10 days there and it was, in a word, magical. Traveling with them was easy and we all got along quite well. Toward the end of the trip, we found ourselves at the remarkable Nyungwe Forest Lodge for three nights and two days. Arriving at the lodge is as if finding an unexpectedly lush oasis in the desert. The architecture, design and finishes are far beyond anything we anticipated given Rwanda’s recent history and – to this day – struggles with poverty, refugees and the like.

The three of us checked in amidst some confusion amongst the staff who insisted I must be someone named Morris B – even as they stared at my passport. Morris B turned out to be Barry Morris – an Australian ex-Royal Marine with a broken clavicle and a will to not let that get in his way, combined with a tolerance for pain that I both admired and admonished at the same time.

The first morning at the lodge, we were up at 4:30AM for the drive to the dawn trek to see the chimpanzees. The trek was filled with fire ants and Barrie’s cries of clavicle pain induced by a slippery and root-filled trail followed by his insistence, “I’m okay, don’t stop, carry on,” and then finally punctuated by seeing a handful of chimpanzees in the far distance and with the sun rising directly behind them. Translation: no decent chimpanzee photographs.

Given the option to repeat the 4:30AM wake up and return to the trail of the fire ants or do something else the next day, the three of us opted for plan b. We would tour a local tea factory after breakfast and play the rest of the day by ear.

Barrie, the last I heard, stayed fairly well self-medicated for the day. I can’t say as I blame him. He’s one determined man. I heard he went on to trek with the gorillas later in the week – perhaps even more demanding trekking albeit without the 4:30AM start time. A remarkable man, that Morris B.

The tea factory tour was insightful. The tea they produced there looks nothing like any tea I’ve had before. It starts off as leaves, but after going through a range of machines that we watched in action, it ends up as small black dots of, well, tea. It tasted amazing, I’ll say that for the tea. Even my British wife loves it. And so today we’re buying the same Rwandan tea the only way we found possible – through a Chinese importer on Amazon. Globalization is amazing.

After a week that included a library dedication, two gorilla treks, a chimp trek, a tea factory tour and much more – we finally had an unscheduled afternoon. And, for the first time in more than a week, Larry, Jerri and I decided to part company, if only for a few hours.

I had heard that we could get a tour of the local villages and I was determined to go. Larry and Jerri were up for a break from their traveling companion if not a bit of relaxing at the Lodge. And so I headed into town where our driver brought me to a small office. In that office was an older man with a ready smile and bit of English. Just as quickly, our driver was gone and I was working through what the next three hours would look like – and how much it would cost me.

There is a brief and fleeting moment in which I accepted that I just put my safety in the hands of a stranger. It’s a safe bet that the camera equipment on my back was worth more than this man’s life savings. That’s not right nor fair, and it’s nothing to be proud of. It just is. And, I’ll be honest, there’s a nano-second where I’m painfully aware of that, that I recognize the injustice of it, and also my vulnerability should my guide decide he’s had enough.

My guide, Danny, sized me up and saw what was to him an average tourist, probably not up for much more than a cursory walk about. An hour into our village walk, he started to look at me a bit differently. For starters, it began to rain. Afternoon, African downpour rain. I pulled out my rain jacket, slipped on my baseball cap, put the built-in rain cover over my camera bag and kept on walking. It was a bit dicey in spots, and while I’m no mountain man, whatever I did, I was able to convince my guide that I was not his average afternoon fare.

Before the rain began, we happened upon a fisherman plying his trade in a pond. We stopped and with Danny’s help, I asked the fisherman several questions. What fish does he catch? How large are they? Were do the fish come from (it’s a pond)? How does he catch the fish? What do the fish eat? And so on. Danny had a huge smile on his face.

As we proceeded through three different villages, I asked Danny to introduce me to people and, where possible, to see if I could enter people’s homes. I wanted to see how people lived. I wanted to ask questions. Where it made sense and felt comfortable, I wanted to capture images.

Between my footwork on the slippery and, in spots, steep paths and my insistence on meeting people, in asking questions and seeing how the locals lived, Danny warmed up to me. He began pulling at different plants and teaching me their various medicinal purposes. Danny transformed into a fountain of information and folklore. He clearly was enjoying taking me around.

In the third hour of our 2-hour tour, we entered the village seen in the image above. We spoke with the man in the background for 5-10 minutes and I took a couple of pictures of him and Danny together. Everyone is friendly enough – but there’s also a distinct lack of what in the West we would consider posing for pictures. Which, to be fair, is perfectly fine by me. The ubiquitous smile is typically not what I’m after when looking around for a story to tell with my camera.

I captured this moment just as we left the village. There is a lot wrapped up in here. The adult with the young child in the background looking on at me. The slightly older child in the foreground. The scene suggesting a life completely different than our own, perhaps beyond our comprehension, and yet a scene completely at peace with itself.

For me, the story is clear. And, I see that story wrapped in an engaging composition. The boy’s head in the foreground sticks up perfectly into a space made by the outlines of the buildings behind him. He looks into the camera and grabs my attention and pulls my view up and behind him where I then notice his father and brother standing at ease, but also staring directly at us. All of this is perfectly framed by palm fronds and a wooden fence on the right and mud-built homes on the left.

There is depth and complexity in the composition and, when combined with the story, makes for a marvelous and moving image.

I had an incredible 10 days in Rwanda – thanks to Larry and Jerri for inviting me and including me. That took some courage and was, for certain, a leap of faith. This particular image, this afternoon, was but one of a series of remarkable moments and I’m pleased to be able to share it with you.

Henna Hands

I captured this image at the foot of the Taj Mahal in March, 2002. Helen and I were at the tail end of nearly a year of traveling around the world on $30/day between the two of us (airfare, scuba diving and our one safari in Kenya were outside of that budget). In all, we spent two full days inside the Taj Mahal compound, watching the light change, Helen sketching in her diary, me taking the occasional photograph (see: limitations of shooting with film).

At one point during the first day, with the crowds picking up and the light directly above and probably at it’s least interesting, Helen and I ventured forward, removed our shoes and walked inside the mausoleum itself. Seeing the chamber built for the tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal is a required visit, but the comparatively small space is less impressive than the building itself.

I was happy to get back outside, into the sunshine and where I could soak in the building’s famous exterior. That’s when I noticed this well-appointed woman and her tattooed hands.

As is my way, I approached her with my camera hanging from my neck. I smiled, pointed to her hands, and told her they were beautiful. She smiled and let me know it’s part of the wedding custom – she was getting married there, at the Taj Mahal. I asked if I could photograph her hands and that’s when she held out her hands as you see here.

I’ve since learned that this form of henna tattoo is called “mehndi” and is part of a larger Hindu wedding tradition. Among other folklore, one theory has it that the darker the henna, the more the bride will be loved by her husband and respected by her new in-laws. Perhaps one beloved tradition is that the bride isn’t allowed to do any work until the mehndi has faded away. In effect, across all fronts, darker is better.

Of course, the dark henna, meant to impress her husband and ward off the start of any work, was perfect for my camera and black and white film. What’s remarkable for me in the image is how all the elements come together – the intricate, dense and dark patterns painted on her hands offset by the also intricate but light and airy patterns on her sari, all separated by her symmetrical arms and series of bright bangles.

This is one of those images where everything came together in an instant to create, what for me, is the perfect moment. Shooting film – a resource I doled out carefully during a year of backpacking around the world – combined with the woman’s graciousness and clearly limited time, I took exactly one frame of her hands.

Clearly, I’m happy with how it worked out.

Reclining Buddha

I captured this image in 2002 at the Ajanta caves outside of Aurangabad, India. Helen and I were in the final three months of a year of traveling out of small backpacks and on $30/day between the two of us. It was a great trip – as Mark Twain once said, “adventure is discomfort misremembered.”

We landed in Bombay after a flight from Zanzibar (flights, SCUBA and safaris were outside of our daily $30 budget). And after five days in and around Bombay, our first challenge was to find our way to Aurangabad.

Enter our first experience with the Indian train system. For perspective, the Indian train system was once the single largest employer in the world and is still in the top ten (the US Defense Department is now the world’s largest employer). And consider that the Indian train system moves considerably more people than it employs. With this as a backdrop, Helen and I entered the central station in Bombay, successfully queued up and purchased two second class tickets to Aurangabad.

This, it turned out, was the easy part. Finding our way to the correct track and train, on the other hand, proved a nearly insurmountable challenge. All the signs pointing to different trains and tracks were written in Hindi script. I stopped a handful of people and asked them each in English if they could point me to the train to Aurangabad. English is not an official language in India, but it’s still there, lurking in the background among the educated class – a holdover from India’s days as a British colony.

Still, no luck. Everyone I asked just shook their head and flipped one hand, palm side up, in the universal Indian expression that roughly translates to “I have no idea what you’re saying.”

A bit anxious about missing our train and in a bit of desperation, I turned to the next well dressed Indian man I saw, embarrassingly adopted my best Indian accent and asked if he could direct us to the train to Aurangabad. To my delight and astonishment, my accent did the trick. We finally were pointed in a general direction and given a track number.

There wasn’t much to the town of Aurangabad. We stayed in a dusty hotel that sat right between the Ellora Temple and the Ajanta Caves. I’ll admit it, the Ellora Temple held me in sway. Helen and I had seen the rock-cut churches of Lalibella in Ethiopia several months earlier and the Ellora temple is India’s answer to that great Ethiopian treasure. Cut out of a single hillside of rock, the Ellora temple with it’s many floors, large elephant guardians and other intricate grandeur is truly a wonder of the world.

Helen and I spent a day exploring the Ellora Temple got a good night’s sleep and tackled the Ajanta caves the next morning. The caves date back to the 2nd century BCE and contain some of the oldest known Indian cave paintings. There are 28 caves in all, each representing a different Indian Monastery from the ancient era – and all the caves were consumed by the jungle and rediscovered by a British army officer during a hunting expedition in 1819.

The caves were each different, each amazing and many contained ancient drawings and carvings. That said, by the time we reached cave 20, I was feeling a bit worn out and tired of spending so much time indoors. As amazing as the Ajanta caves were, they paled in comparison to the grandeur of the Ellora Temple we had explored just the day before. Of course, having made the trek to Aurangabad, and being there in that amazing place, Helen and dutifully entered each open cave and in order – after all, we didn’t want to miss anything.

When we entered cave 26, we knew why we were there, at the caves, and walking in and exploring each of them. There, carved into the far wall near the entrance was this amazing reclining Buddha. The light shone in through the opening and cast an perfect waft of light across the Buddha from head to toe.

I pulled my camera to my eye and considered the light, my film speed and the composition. This was long before digital photography and back when the light limits of our cameras were defined by a combination of the aperture (lens opening) and film speed (ASA). You could push the film, essentially fake the film out and pretend you were shooting one that performed better in lower light. You’d then process the film differently in the lab. But the trade off was in the clarity of the image (it deteriorated the more you pushed the film) and the fact that the entire role of 36 frames would need to be shot and processed differently.

Bearing in mind that I carried 12-15 rolls of film with me at any given time, and considering that I would shoot perhaps six frames of this Buddha – at most – pushing the film was out of the question.

All told, given the light and the lens I had, I needed to shoot with the shutter open for a full second. Without a tripod. That’s an insane length of time to hold the camera steady. But seeing the Buddha and the light before me, I knew I had to try. To get this picture, I braced myself against the opposing wall, pressed the camera tight against my face, took a deep breath, held it, and slowly pressed the trigger – concentrating on the Buddha and trying to channel all the calm and inner peace that I could in that moment.

I’m very pleased with the result – and, of note, one of the limited edition prints of this image resides in the permanent collection at the San Jose Museum of Art.

To this day, every time I sit in the doctor’s office and get my blood pressure taken, I imagine I am in Ajanta, looking at this Buddha. I don’t hold my breath, but I focus on being calm, relaxed, and steady. And, in the moment, I am all of that.

As you read this, I am lecturing on photography and creativity and leading photo expeditions in French Polynesia in both the Society and Marquesas Islands. Internet coverage is only by satellite when we’re at sea and even when we’re at shore, it’s expensive. Which is to say, while I’m not using up precious bandwidth to upload and share an image from this tour, here is one of my favorite images from our last tour in Fatu Hiva slightly more then four years ago.

Here’s a confession. I find shooting in jungles a challenge. Let’s start with the light. Light inside forests and jungles is typically uneven to a fault. Light dapples in through some branches and is blocked by others. The result is often a series of deep black areas of no light whatsoever interrupted sporadically by white hot spots of direct sunlight. Good luck finding a balanced exposure. It rarely exists.

Once I get past the challenges with the light I get to the next most basic challenge in photography – composition. The jungle is everywhere. In its enormity and as we walk through it, we’re enveloped in its entropy. We’re one part amazed, one part intrigued and one part terrified. How does this tangle of life come to exist? What would it be like to live here, without the benefit of modern technology? And, lastly, what lurks within the tangle that can and will do us in? It’s all remarkable and demands to be photographed.

And herein lies the struggle. I typically find it all but impossible to capture the energy of being inside a jungle within the confines of a 35MM frame. IMAX, perhaps, but the dimensions that I work within, not so much.

Scale is as much the challenge for me as anything else. Occasionally, I’ll pretend I’m a National Geographic photographer and put a person in one of the bottom corners for scale. But absent that trick, and not wanting to stage anything, how to capture scale when inside a jungle?

Imagine my delight, then, when I walked past this spot on the island of Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas Islands more than four years ago. To be clear, this was alongside and slightly off the trail. But there it was, a tangle of jungle with perfect light that in all, told the quintessential story.

There are spots in a jungle or forrest in which no direct light falls. After years of attempting to photograph in various stages of heavy foliage, I’ve decided that I prefer the spots with no direct light whatsoever. Especially in this age of digital photography, the cameras’ sensors pick up a lot of light, so the dark areas can still read well. Sure, the light is flat, but it’s better than the alternative with rays of direct sunlight creating frustrating hot spits throughout the image.

On all the logs criss-crossing the image in the foreground, the light is mostly flat. That said, there are degrees of gray and black that provide depth and dimension. The strongest objects are in the front, near to the lens. As we fall back into the image, the tree trunks become smaller, weaker, and the ambient light works in contrast and becomes stronger, in fact lighting up the background. Even in the brightly lit backdrop, there are punctuations of dark trees that stand as markers throughout the image. You can’t stage perfection like this if one tried.

The result of the play of light, flat in the foreground, brightly lit in the background, along with the continuity of dark tree trunks throughout provides what is for me a unique moment of depth in a jungle shot.

I love too that the the trees disappear off the four corners of the frame. Look at the bottom left and top right of the frame, with the lines going off precisely at the corners – this was intentional, as was the asymmetrical jungle noise at the opposite corners.

In all, I love every bit if this image. For me, it is equal parts aesthetically pleasing and story telling. And that’s the most I can ask a single image to accomplish.

More than four years after I captured this image in Fatu Hiva, I am back here leading a group of photographers on a tour. I’m excited to share this magical place with fellow photography enthusiasts. And I am also excited to see what new images I come back with.