Peace.

8:15am, August 6, 1945, Hiroshima, Japan was struck by the first atomic bomb that shook the country and the world testing both human invention and how tragic some of these innovations can be on human life and the human society around the world.

Held virtually every year since then, Japan and the world calls out for world peace with a ceremony of peace to mark remembrance of the over 140,000 irreplaceable human lives lost as a result of human conflict. Along with a solemn moment of silence, lanterns are set afloat along waterway shore where both the Peace Memorial Park and one the last surviving building stands to pay homage to these people and to look forward to a more forgiving future.

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Remembrance & Celebration. The Heiwa Taiko drum group led the heart pounding beats. The man in blue is a survivor of the bombing; he was only 14 years old at the time.

A few years ago, the San Francisco Bay Area Peace Lantern Ceremony was started to commemorate this tragic event located at Aquatic Park in Berkeley, CA. This is my first time attending and was quite surprised at the attendance – both in numbers and in diversity. Asian, white, black, latino, young and old et al, all congregating under one common theme: peace. Even in today’s current crazy world political and societal misgivings, people seemingly still crave for this most basic of all things … to live harmoniously with and amongst each other. From all appearances, 2 to 3 thousand were on hand as night fell with the guidance of ceremonial Taiko drum performances, survivor testimony and buddhist prayer led us towards the lantern launching. The glow of the lanterns began to release their messages that were personalized by many in attendance. As the gentle current of the water picked up ever so slightly to give life to the lanterns, somber Japanese themed music could be heard along the shoreline. It was a surreal event designed to touch the soul and (hopeful) in renewing the good in the human spirit.

Here are a few images from the lanterns … amongst all of the lanterns, there were a few that struck a cord with me, you can’t miss them when viewing them individually. Maybe there is hope for humankind … (click on any of the image below to view in full screen)

 

 

 

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Get off the Strip

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The Las Vegas Strip that is. Not far away, about an hour+ drive from all of the glitz, glamour and craziness of the commercial city of sin lies Nevada’s first state park. Upon taking the exit from the main highway from town, you begin to drive down a long straight away single lane paved road. Off into the distance, you can see mountain formations as you pass desert-like flat terrain. As you near these mountains, the road take a drastic (and very drivable I might add) turn … literally. The road becomes windy as you make your way for about 15 miles through this vast nothing-ness. At first, I thought to myself as I was driving along was, “… I hope this car doesn’t breakdown … cuz’ I ain’t seen anybody since I left the highway … I have some water, but not days worth …” This kind of thinking, yes, is self-preservation induced, but you have to think of these things as you scenery changes to complete remoteness – I’ve been there several times and yet, I’m still here!

 

Anyhow, making one last turn off from this road, a small sign reads, “Welcome to the Valley of Fire”. Encouraged to continue. Since the forecast (in July on this day) was supposed to be in the upper 90s to low 100s(*F), I wanted to arrive early enough to where the sun would be beating down on me straight overhead. Even at 8am, you can just feel it was going to be a toasty day – good thing is is that you’re out and away from the concrete and asphalt jungle which retains at least 20*F so it shouldn’t be too bad. After self-paying entry, make a few turns down the main park drive and you’re immediately transformed to another world.

The landscape turns to a rust colored wonderland of strange formations that (from movies) look like a scene from planet Mars – definitely not one that resembles Earth as we typically see it. The blacktop road undulates through this valley of fire colored pock- marked vermillion rolling hills. Along these roads are well marked vista points that point you towards the more structures such as Arch Rock, Elephant Rock with the Fire Wave not but a mile from a parking lot. This park, more than many others of this type have several easily accessible natural wonders to enjoy and marvel at. What’s even nicer is human traces around these wonders were far and few – I have seen the worst of human visitation in our grand state and national parks of the western part of the US. While setting out for one of the scenic areas, I happened upon a young couple making their way to the same spot. Being that they had been photographing it the night before, they knew the way – thankfully they helped lead the way.

 

Because of recent travels to places where heat is a factor, I have come to seek out lighter and lighter camera kit while upholding a certain amount of image quality (better than a quickie snap from my trusty iPhone), leaning towards a kit that has been making great strides in the digital area of photography over the past 4 or so years – Fujifilm. This trip was sort of an experiment for me to see what I can come up with with only a single focal length … ok, perhaps a screw on lens attachment to allow for a wide angle, I had two  lengths 27mm and 35mm. For the most part, the 27mm was on most of the time. I found myself not being bogged down by a zoom lens, let alone the carry weight. It was liberating in a way. For those of you who have ever lugged around a DSLR, you know where I’m coming from – especially those pro-type kits that border on 7lbs! This may not sound like a lot, but trust me, it begins to tug and tire you out more than you know when it’s strapped to you for more than 5 hours. My camera carry weight was around a pound and a half now. Heck, I schlepped more water (a definite must in these conditions) than I did in kit weight. Billed as a street photographers tool, I am becoming overwhelmingly convinced that the Fujifilm X100F is an all-around camera for most genres. Highly mobile. High image quality. Bonus … it’s whisper quiet shutter has allowed me to stealthy fire off frames in such forbidden places as monasteries …. shhhh.

 

We were lucky this day – weather wise. Although the sun was fully out and heating the desert, we were gifted a fair amount of cloud cover to filter the suns relentless beatdown allowing for a bit more exploration than usual for this time of year. It being just past high noon and the clouds beginning to disperse widely, it was time to leave and head back to the (even hotter) concrete jungle of the Las Vegas Strip. I highly recommend visiting this magical place for a day to give yourself a break from the one-arm bandit (and possibly from losing $$ too). Viva Las Vegas!

Ne Gases of the Past

Ne9Signs. It’s almost an American icon in and of itself. Whether a huge donut, an oversized pistachio nut, a purple dinosaur or a simple flashing motel light to tell us “No Vacancy”, the American backdrop has a strong history of signage and Las Vegas is probably at or near the center of all it. This is what drove me to want to see what a place called the “Neon Sign Boneyard Museum” was all about. Seemingly, it is a small operation operating on a small budget with a passion to tell visitors about the history of Las Vegas’ glorious past through signs. The boneyard isn’ particularly large in scale, but holds many of the familiar places most Americans have heard about while growing up, ranging from the Tropicana, Algiers, Las Vegas Club, Rivera and my personal fave the Stardust to name a few. The boneyard is just a fraction of what they have collected over the years and have resurrected them to pretty good viewable condition and in some cases restored them to a functioning state where the neon is actually operational.

Along the guided tour, you learn about the history of the signs, but also the politics of some and how they dictate what you see either downtown or on the Strip around signage. Very interesting I must say. The guide also educated us on the different expertise required to making these signs – from understanding science to engineering. Neon or Ne on the Periodic Table of elements, naturally gives off an orange hue and to get other colors, helium, mercury and other gases are used in combination to create yellow, blue and green. I surprised I remembered that! But before pumping any gas to create a vacuum, glass blowing experts have got to work their magic in creating tubes that can withstand pressure. Lots more techie stuff involved, but fascinating for sure.

Not much more to say about this place, but to encourage you to pay a visit the next time you’re in Vegas – you can do it in about an 2 hours door-to-door; if you’re staying downtown near Fremont St., less than that! I recommend booking in advance as tours at prime times (early morning and evenings) are usually booked. I highly encourage to book a tour just before sunset as it’s not quite dark yet not too light out. They don’t allow tripods so you need enough light to capture a cool background sky while capturing the essence of the signs themselves.

This is definitely a slice of Americana.

Life as it should be, a 1st Nation Peoples Experience. 

Last summer while touring Monument Valley, I met Ron, one of the tour operators. Since I opted to stay the night in The Valley that night (with requires an escorted stay by a Navajo (Diné) as it’s on their land), we were treated to a pow wow after dinner. My, of course, having had to photograph this event I ended up send Ron prints of he and his wife dancing in their full Diné Regalia. Since keeping in touch, he told me about an annual event that bring together many native nations for a huge pow wow. I thought little of it and stowed it away as a future ‘maybe’ thing to do.
For some reason, as karma would have it, I received an email that had an advertisement for “the largest pow wow of the year”. I thought … is this the same one that Ron mentioned. Curious forced me to click through the ad. It took me to a website called The Gathering of Nations. After perusing, I found that it was coming up in a couple of months. Almost immediately after leaving the site, I emailed Ron asking him … well you know … yep, same one! So, my quest began. During this quest, I ended up being sponsored as a photographer for a local magazine in New Mexico! With media pass secured, it was time to begin plans around the event.
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Ceremonial pray to kick things off.

Growing up in America, all we learned about in history class was how the new settlers from Europe traded and later fought the natives and how the aggressive and warring Indians fought the US Army in various battles. Our history paints “them” as savages. This is what we all mostly grew up believing. Further, Hollywood depicted Indians in similar light which further supported what we learned in school. Sadly, this is the complete opposite in reality. Here we have an ethnic race of proud people having foreigners stealing their land, treating them as second citizen people all b/c the new settlers wanted what they had (their land). Ugh. History aside, what I’ve come to know (now), that the First Nation People have band together in solidarity preaching love, tolerance, respect for once another, a deep commitment to their respective cultural importances to carrying forward to their future generations.
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I digress … Fast forward months of waiting … and arriving in Albuquerque for the first time, I quickly got my bearings and found myself readying my gear to shoot the event. I entered the event to a familiar sound. The sound of a Native American flute song. If you’ve never heard this before, the sound is emotionally moving and soothing. Such a powerfully peaceful sound reverberating off the walls of this large hall, oddly transforms you to a spirtual place. More native music ensues. Then, it’s time for what’s called “The Grand Entry” – a large procession of First Nation peoples dancing to the beat of drums. Arrrgh … the DRUMS. The arena was encircled with no less than a dozen different tribes from all over North America. Each tribe had 8 drummers sitting in a circle around their sacred drum pounding the it in near perfect uniscent with all their might while chanting in their own tongue. That alone sent me spiraling to a different place. If this wasn’t enough for the senses, in come streams over 3000 Native Americans from all over the US and Canada from some 300+ different tribal nations – dawning their tribal Regalia. It was an explosion of color, not to mention a sensory overload that was both exhilarating yet spiritual all at once. I didn’t expect this to hit me the way it did.
Just after a Grand Entry, I struck up a conversation with a tribesman sitting at his encircled drum. He said to me, (while glancing at a female next to me) “Would you like to sit, pointing at a seat next to him in the circle), it’s ok for you”. Come to find that this drum circle a sacred place for men only – no women allowed. Noticing a few things within the circle, I asked many questions and got some very interesting perspectives into what this circle entails. I was honored to be invited to his circle as he shared much knowledge with me.
These brief 3 days felt like 7 as it was a party and spectacle for 12 hours straight. I befriended a couple of folks both from the local area and neighboring states who helped clue me into snipets of Native culture & rituals that helped enhance the overall experience. I was told that once I set my belongings down, that it was completely safe as to no worries of it disappearing – it was against he spirit of the event. More over, everyone whom I interacted with in conversation of otherwise were the friendiest most generous I’ve experienced in the US. I felt like family in an odd sort of way – like they were taking care of me. It felt what I’ve experienced in Asian cultures – which I draw strong parallels from and think the two cultures are somehow descendants of one another.
I left with a few key messages that were both felt and spoken in Respect, tradition, spiritual awareness and forgiveness – all strongly taught to all generations within this proud nation of people. I am humbled once again.
After a longer than expected journey to the ever sacred countryside of the California Eastern Sierras due to road closures in the wake of punishing winter rains, we finally reach the valley floor of Yosemite. Arriving, we head straight for the daily campsite and get lucky in securing a site to bed down later tonight – it should get down to the mid 20*F by the time sleepy time rolls around.
Killing a few hours until nighttime, this winter’s snow melt is in full force as the waterfalls are spewing streams of gushing water from the surrounding walls of granite. Settling on a spot beside the shores of the Merced River with tripods setup, all you heard is the water calmly rushing past a fallen branch a few feet from shore. Ommmmm … no humans with just an occasional visit from grazing deer. Peace. As the sun begins to lower itself behind the granite monoliths from behind and all around, the star of the show begins to isolate itself from its competing peaks, reaching for the last bits of sun rays. Temperatures are dropping steadily sitting in the shade and the layers of clothing begin to appear. Not wanting to leave this surrender spot (not to mention missing golden hour), we prepare ourselves a mountain fresh gourmet meal. There’s nothing quite like scraping a 2-sided spoon/spork/knife instrument against the inside of a foil bag of chicken fettuccini alfredo sauce! What a feast I tell ya! It helps to have a portable water boiler to reconstitute your food. Full bellies, we wait for sundown.

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Calle Lily Alle

For a number of years now, when I first happened upon images online about this area down along the coast of northern California, I’ve been pining year after year to capture this rare event. What event? Well … first off, I’m not a big flower kinda’ person when it comes to making images. I don’t make special efforts to seek and find flowering blooms – it’s just not all that inspiring to me. But, plunk me down into the desert during wintertime where there’s a “Super bloom” happening and I’m already planning to be there, I’m all in!

I digress …

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Still looking fresh

Same goes for this little slice of paradise in a deeply covered revine somewhere alone Highway 1 just south of Carmel Valley about 15 or so minutes. Perhaps that’s why it has taken me so long to finally make the effort to scope out this place. So, driving along Hwy 1 like a lost dog, attempting to follow as many bread crumbs folks on internet sites have left behind in their wisdom to help others find this place, affectionately known as Calle Lily Alley. Why? Well, it’s filled with blooming Calle Lily’s – you know, the kind of white fleshy platters with a yellow plumes coming out of the middle during full bloom (otherwise curled like a roll of paper towels) you typically see during Easter Sunday and perhaps at funerals as well. It’s completely different when you see them growing in the wild in all their glory as they shoot skyward to grab a few hours of sunlight. Remember – they’re set in a deep revine. The unique thing about this revine is fresh mountain water makes it way to the ocean as there’s a steady little stream rushing water onto the beach/ocean not but a couple hundred meters westward – where fresh water turns into seawater. The ground is moist and soggy underfoot along with lush green shrubs and plants that flank both sides of the revine – spare the occasional Poison Oak shrubs.

Since I wasn’t in the area to specifically shoot this – more of a “while I’m here” kinda thing. I only brought my walk around camera (Fujifilm x100F), no tripod, filters or anything else to assist me in any attempt to getting creative, so I was fixed to one focal length at 28mm. Having so, it challenged me to work the revine as creatively as possible – not being able to zoom wide or in tight. I actually had to use my feet to zoom in and out – go figure!

I finally found the revine about 5pm’ish and stuck around until about 6pm or so. I really wanted to stay for sunset to grab the Golden Hour, but I had a hungry someone waiting for me in the car. The time I was there, the lighting was still a bit harsh for my liking, but felt it was a good enough first visit. Two last points of notice … shoot with your widest angle lens, work on crafty compositions and definitely wait it out for sunset … until next year as this event starts around mid-March and lasts about a month or less. Many blooms were starting to wither and brown around me.

More BTS …

Even though my workshops are photo centric, several have accompanied me on these photographic sojourns over the past 5 years everything from pro-level camera and even with a point-and-shoot camera and still had an enjoyable time in opening up new perspectives on local culture and how to make more memorable human connections. You will also find how to make more compelling travel photos as well! You will also learn how to interact within the local environment that allows you to be both present and invisible at the same time!

And, along the way, you just may discover a deeper appreciation for the world around you as being more inviting and welcoming in places you thought were only in storybooks. New friendships formed. New perspectives gained. Refreshed outlook on humanity … all through the lens that’s met with open arms and warmed hearts.

Come join a rewarding journey into a magical world of the visual language. You’ll soon realize it’s easier than you think!

 

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