Photography


This week’s posting looks at some of the signs of life I’ve photographed over the years. Why signs? My premise is that what gets displayed in public is a good indication of the social-cultural concerns of a certain time and place.

Left Bank, Paris, 1985

The now-defunct newspaper France Soir once had one of the largest circulations in Europe, approximately 1.5 million. Parisians are known for their sophistication, so the gaudiness of the newspaper’s self-promotion seemed a bit gauche: “the BIG BINGO! with France Soir, 250,000,000 to Win.”

Paris, 1985

This scene also stuck me as a bit incongruous. A houseworker wearily lugs home food for dinner while a semi-topless girl on a billboard behind her flirtatiously laughs, “My shirt for a beer.”

A city cemetery in northeastern Iowa, 1969

A sudden, unexplained shudder or shivering, according to some superstition, can be caused by someone walking over your future grave. Nonetheless, I figured it was highly unlikely my ghost-like shadow was giving some far-off person a creepy feeling so I took my time to compose an image.

San Salvador, 1982

With FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) guerrillas mounting an insurrection, armed soldiers and bodyguards were seen throughout El Salvador’s capital during the weeks before the 1982 general election. The political billboard these men are passing says: “All for the Homeland, Defending Justice, Together the People and the Armed Forces.”

Note the Lions Club sign at the right.

San Agustín, El Salvador, 1982.

Control over San Agustín in eastern El Salvador went back and forth between the government and leftist guerrillas for months. On this wall pockmarked with bullet holes, guerrilla graffiti warned, “Death to the Ears,” the ears being townspeople who were government informants.

San Salvador, 1982

Coming upon a patrol of Salvadoran soldiers in pursuit of a guerrilla sniper outside a Coca-Cola bottling plant, I couldn’t help but remember the 1971 Coca-Cola commercial: “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.” Fat chance.

Alas, even though the insurrection has ended, El Salvador is still wracked with criminal violence.

San Salvador, 1982

This election center had been under fire from guerrillas earlier in the day, and the office was under heavily armed protection. With a national election only weeks away, the official slogan was: “Your vote: the solution.”

The election resulted in a rightwing demagogue, Roberto D’Aubuisson of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA party), becoming head of the Constituent Assembly (the national legislature). More significantly, days of political negotiations ultimately led to a moderate, US-educated economist, Alvaro Magaña, becoming head of state.

As time has passed, the former guerrillas of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front have gained legitimacy as a political party, and on March 12, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, FMLN’s candidate, won the presidential election in a runoff.

Before I sign off, I should note there are many collections of public-sign photography — each different because of time and place and because of each photographer’s unique framing of the world he sees. If you get a chance, pick up a copy of Neon Nevada by newsman Peter Laufer and his wife Sheila Swan Laufer. It’s fascinating in style and concept (and available online).

With airlines becoming increasingly unpleasant — airport security treating passengers as suspected terrorists, flight attendants abusing fliers, and seats too close together to sit comfortably — there are better ways to travel.

Three weeks ago when Lynn and I traveled to Durango, Colorado, we saw no need to let an airline ruin an otherwise happy trip, so we didn’t. It was a good decision.

On the first part of our journey, we rode Amtrak from Emeryville to Grand Junction, Colorado.

Our roomette gave us space to stretch our legs and to sleep lying down. Unlike airlines that travel at roughly 30,000 feet, trains travel at ground level, and the scenery we passed through, such as this stretch of Utah desert, was spectacular.

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From Grand Junction, we drove almost 150 miles to Durango.

South of Ouray, Colorado, Highway 550 crosses Red Mountain Pass, and last year USA Today described that section of highway as one of the “world’s 12 most dangerous roads.”

As The Durango Herald reported while we were in town, it shares that distinction with the “Highway of Death in Iraq” and “Death Road” in Bolivia.

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“Red Mountain Pass, per mile, has the highest avalanche hazard on the North American Continent,” The Durango Herald added. “The narrow, two-lane road winds through the mountains like a drunk crazily stumbling, and there’s no guardrail to protect cars attempting hairpin turns from hurtling into the jagged ravines that lie, stunning and ominous, hundreds of feet below.”

While Amtrak locomotives, of course, burn diesel fuel, steam locomotives still burn coal. The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors (ISWNE), whose conference Lynn and I were attending, took an excursion on the 132-year-old Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad from Silverton to Durango. I had as much fun as a kid with a Lionel Train set.

While trains in general are rich in history, steam engines are especially rich in nostalgia — even for the trainmen. Our engineer, Mike Nichols (seen releasing extra water for making steam), has been on the run for 43 years.

The route of the Durango and Silverton Railroad provided spectacular scenery of its own. Some passenger cars on the train have traditional, enclosed seating while some are open-air for enhanced sightseeing.

You may recall Arlo Guthrie’s hit, The City of New Orleans, in which: “The conductor sings his song again: the passengers will please refrain….” The line may be an allusion to a ribald ditty that folk legend Oscar Brand popularized with a 1956 recording. Sung to the tune of Dvorak’s Humoresque, it begins: “Passengers will please refrain/ from flushing toilets while the train/ is in the station, Darling I love you….”

Toilets on trains traditionally dumped their sewage on the tracks, which was unpleasant for track workers and for anyone below a bridge the train was crossing. At the insistence of Congress, Amtrak between 1991 and 1996 installed holding tanks for sewage in all cars with restrooms. Likewise, the Durango and Silverton Railroad’s toilets no longer empty onto the tracks although its restroom sinks still do. ___________________________________________________________________

Like all the Amtrak crew members we encountered, Nathan, the attendant for our two-level passenger car, was friendly as well as efficient.

Not only did he maintain the car throughout its trip from Emeryville to its ultimate destination, Chicago, he converted our roomette seats to beds at night and back to seats in the morning.

He also provided passengers in his car with free coffee, juice, and snacks.

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A view of Utah from a window in the dining car.

Passengers in sleeper cars pay nothing extra for their meals, and Amtrak does not skimp on its fare. Steak and seafood were among the dinner entrées.

Travelers typically are seated with other travelers at tables in the dining car, and all the strangers Lynn and I ate with turned out to be pleasant, friendly folks. Train travelers, we soon realized, more easily socialize with each other than air travelers do.

Amtrak’s lounge car was great  for sightseeing, snacking, and socializing. Some passengers brought their computers there to work in pleasant surroundings.

Riding Amtrak provides a tour of numerous towns that remain part of the Old West. This is Truckee near Donner Pass over the Sierra Nevada.

Winnemuccca, Nevada.

Amtrak does not own the tracks it travels on, and our train rode on Union Pacific rails the entire way. Union Pacific freight trains have priority, and Amtrak trains have to sit on a siding or stay in a station whenever a freight comes along. As a result, Amtrak is almost never on schedule.

We spent an unscheduled 90 minutes in Winnemucca while waiting for the Union Pacific’s relief engineer and conductor to show up. The delay was no problem for Lynn and me. It just brought to mind the old Hank Snow song I’ve Been Everywhere, which begins with a trip to Winnemucca.

Airplane contrails high in the sky over the Utah desert. Eighty million years ago, the USGS website says, most of this area was covered by a warm, shallow, inland sea.

Seen from our Amtrak window, the Colorado River flows past Utah’s dramatic rock formations.

Ouray, Colorado

After enjoying a family get-together with my cousin Leck Mitchell and his wife Pat in Grand Junction, we embarked the next day on a mostly relaxed drive to Durango. Along the way, we stopped for lunch in the old mining town of Ouray. The city of only 1,000 residents is full of historic buildings and offers a variety of places to eat. __________________________________________________________________

South of Ouray, however, our drive over Red Mountain Pass became a challenge.

“Although the speed limit is 15 mph for much of Red Mountain Pass,” The Durango Herald noted, “more than 300 accidents took place there between 1995 and 2010.

“The majority occurred in dry conditions and involved only one vehicle. Eight accidents killed nine people, including five highway workers.”

The newspaper quoted Nancy Shanks, the local Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman, as saying, “It’s so scary it forces people to focus and slow down.”

Another reason there aren’t even more wrecks, a shopkeeper in Silverton theorized, is that there’s no cellphone reception going over the pass, so drivers don’t get distracted by texting as they skirt the precipices. ___________________________________________________________________

With no guardrails and — in many places — no shoulder between the asphalt and the edge of a cliff, the pass must be impassable for drivers bothered by vertigo.

Heidi Pankow, public relations manager for the Ouray Chamber Resort Association, told The Herald, “People stop in and ask, ‘Why are there no guardrails?’ We explain there’s no room because plows have to push the snow off the edge in winter. It’s definitely a topic that comes up a lot.”

The road is also known as the Million Dollar highway. However, “the origin of the ‘Million Dollar’ name is clouded in myth,” Road Trip USA has noted. “Some say it was first used after an early traveler, complaining of the vertigo-inducing steepness of the route, said, ‘I wouldn’t go that way again if you paid me a million dollars.’

“Others claim that it derives simply from the actual cost of paving the route in the 1930s. But the favorite explanation is also the most likely: when the highway was first constructed, the builders used gravel discarded by nearby gold and silver mines, only to find out later that this dirt was actually rich in ore and worth an estimated ‘million dollars.’”

Lynn prepares to board the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Silverton during the ISWNE excursion.

Silverton was born as a silver- and gold-mining town in 1874, and at one time Blair Street (pictured) was lined with 40 saloons and brothels that served the miners. Most of the old buildings are still standing, and the downtown area is now a National Historic Landmark District. With an elevation of 9,308 feet, the town has a summer population of around 600 but far less in winter.

The town’s 139-year-old newspaper, The Silverton Standard, is now a nonprofit owned by the San Juan Historical Society, which took it over five years ago when The Standard was about to go out of business. The paper is now marginally in the black, its editor, Mark Esper, told ISWNE members when we met with him in the old county courthouse.

In keeping with Silverton’s rakish past, the town council is now considering modifying its zoning to allow a retail marijuana shop just east of downtown, The Standard reported while we were in town. Current zoning would already allow a marijuana-growing facility in the area, the paper noted.

ISWNE members gaze at the scenery as the narrow-gauge railroad crosses the San Juan Mountains en route to Durango.

Train conductors warn passengers not to stick their heads or arms out the window during the ride. The train passes so close to rocks and trees a passenger could easily bang into them.

Like the “Highway to Hell,” the train route in places winds along the edge of cliffs. The precipices, however, seem far less daunting when riding on a train than when driving above them in a car.

Air travel too, of course, includes a lot of looking down from high places, and that makes some people even more queasy. All in all, Lynn and I found traveling by train and car far preferable to flying, and the scenery was immensely better.

As last week’s posting noted, our destination was an annual conference of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, which this year was in Durango. I was there to give a talk and receive ISWNE’s Eugene Cervi Award, and these were the highlights of our trip. But getting there, around, and back was great fun too.

“Thinking is more interesting than knowing but less interesting than looking.” — Goethe

While in the Seahaven neighborhood of Inverness a week ago, Lynn and I happened to park under one of the everyday world’s oddities. I was once again intrigued by the sawed-off section of a tree limb that years ago had grown around the guy wire to a utility pole.

A closeup reveals how thoroughly the cable became embedded in what remains of a long-gone branch of a long-gone tree.

Nor is there only one overhead reminder of arboreal history. Further down Drake Way on the other side of the utility pole, another limb had grown around a pole-to-pole cable. The tree may be gone, but this relic of a limb remains.

A log in a tree? Now that’s a real widow-maker, I said to myself last week when I spotted it teetering 10 feet off the ground in a crotch of a pine tree. The pine grows at the entrance to neighbors Skip and Renée Shannon’s driveway.

However, when I walked around the tree to get a better look, the optical illusion became apparent.

A Western gray squirrel soaks up the morning sun beside my birdbath. I see squirrels around Mitchell cabin fairly often, but it’s hard to photograph one. The moment they’re aware I’m around, they dart out of sight. Last week I got lucky. The squirrel didn’t see me.

There’s always evidence that squirrels are around. They leave the ground underneath my pine trees littered with well-gnawed pine cones and the green tips of limbs. Squirrels like to feed on pine trees’ cambium layer, which is immediately under the bark. The bark that’s softest and easiest to gnaw through is at the narrow ends of growing limbs, resulting in squirrels forever gnawing off the ends.

“Well, we brought reinforcements too, so you can warn your king we’re going to keep advancing a pace at a time and over two until none of his knights is left standing.” (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

California quail

A mother quail marched across the yard a week ago as a dozen chicks ran to keep up. Males and females both have crests. The males’ is black, the females’ brown. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

When a noise in the bushes caused momma to suddenly stop, the nervous chicks collided in a quailing pileup. But there was no danger, and soon all of them were off and running again. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

A purposeful doe and her small fawn hurry past the bedroom window.

“We live in an old chaos of the sun,/ Or old dependency of day and night,/ Or island solitude, unsponsored, free/ Of that wide water, inescapable./ Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail/ Whistle about us their spontaneous cries.” — Wallace Stevens, Sunday Morning

 

I suggest you mark on your summer calendar four first-rate shows featuring people I know and admire. The venues will take you from Olema (or SFO) to Nicasio to Marshall to Cazadero.

Cow Crossing — Spaletta Ranch. (Photo © Art Rogers)

Point Reyes Station photographer Art Rogers held a well-attended opening reception Saturday in the Red Barn at Point Reyes National Seashore headquarters for an exhibition titled West Marin Views.

“For more than 150 years, photographic images have told the story of the American West and an era when life was simpler,” Art wrote in announcing the show. “They highlighted the beauty and tranquility of the western frontier and captured the intimate relationship of humanity with the land and animals. But it is not just a cultural memory, it is our American identity.

“I have lived and worked in West Marin as town photographer for over 43 years. These photographs are selections from this retrospect…of places that are beautiful, tranquil, dynamic, and that connect you to humanity, the land, and animals.”

Photographer Art Rogers with Stinson Beach gallery owner Claudia Chapline.

Since 1975, Art has provided The Point Reyes Light with weekly Point Reyes Family Album portraits of families, children and babies, large groups, rural scenes, and landscapes of West Marin. He is a recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and has also received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Marin Arts Council, as well as the Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art award from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

His background includes stints as a baby photographer, a photojournalist and as a teacher at the San Francisco Art Institute and Indian Valley College. His photographs are included among the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the International Center of Photography, New York; the Center for Creative Photography Archive, Tucson; Le Musée de l’Elysee, Switzerland; and the de Young Museum, San Francisco.

He has produced a series titled Yesterday and Today, in which the same subjects have been photographed in the same place after a time span of as much as 30 years. His portraits have documented the agricultural community on the North Coast for more than 35 years.

Art’s exhibit in the park can be seen — by appointment only — through Aug. 5. People wishing to make an appointment need to contact Annalisa Price at 663-1200 (email bookstore@ptreyes.org) or Carola DeRooy at 464-5125 (email carola_derooy@nps.gov).

Ranch Dogs at Sunset, Tomales, 2006

Those who don’t want to go to the trouble of getting reservations for Art’s exhibit at park headquarters can drop by the San Francisco International Airport museum where he has a separate exhibit titled The Rustic Landscape showing until the end of August. The museum is in Terminal 3, Level 2. _____________________________________________________________________________________

Art by the Bay Weekend Gallery is featuring works by Chuck Eckart of Point Reyes Station on weekends through July 27.

Also on display will be art by Nancy Stein, Jude Vasconcellos and Denis Bold.

Lynn and I were there when the exhibition was unveiled Saturday. The opening reception, however, will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, June 22.

The gallery, which is located across Highway 1 from Tony’s Seafood restaurant is open from noon to 5 p.m Saturdays and Sundays.

This abstract painting is from Chuck’s Ground Cover series, which is rarely shown in West Marin.

“The Ground Cover paintings are abstractions and inventions taken from the natural environment surrounding Point Reyes and Alice’s garden,” according to a gallery announcement. (Chuck’s wife is named Alice.)

San Francisco Chronicle art critic Kenneth Baker has written that “Eckart (left) locates, or brings into being a focal plane where we can dwell on the pleasure of seeing paint regain the materiality it sacrifices to subject matter in most figuration.

“On the same plane we experience what anyone who knows painting will recognize as real expertise.”

Chuck himself adds, “Seeing paint, especially very thick, heavy paint being moved around by various tools I find very attractive to the eye.

“As the layers build up, the richer the visual experience becomes.

“It is my chief aim to attract the eye of the viewer and hold it as long as possible.  It gets the viewer to see how the picture is made.

“Very seldom does this happen when viewing realist art.”

In addition, Chuck will exhibit a hand-produced book, Midnight Ride, which consists of 30 etchings that were created as Christmas cards during the past 50 years.

This etching is titled Artist’s Reflection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Apparition, one of Nancy Stein’s pastels, is also on display at Art By The Bay Weekend Gallery. ____________________________________________________________________________________

Oil Slick Sky by photographer Jude Vasconcellos is part of the exhibit at Art By The Bay Weekend Gallery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nicasio artist Thomas Wood will hold an opening reception from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 28, and from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 29, for an exhibition titled The Cliffs of Point Reyes. A closing reception will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 5. His studio, Thomas Wood Fine Art, is located on Nicasio Square.

Cliffs at Drakes Bay

“To me,” writes Thomas, “the most striking features of the Point Reyes Peninsula are the cliffs above the shoreline of Drakes Bay, where the grassy pastoral hills terminate in sheer facades, their siltstone-sandstone geology revealed by the eternally sculpting wind and weather.

“In this series, I explore the cliffs’ shapes, textures, colors, lights and shadows, from different viewpoints, as they stand sentinel over the beach and surf.

“The work was largely completed on location. I like to paint directly from nature because, if successful, I achieve a freshness and immediacy obtained no other way.” ____________________________________________________________________________________

“Shakespeare in Cazadero? Mooo!” jokes Cazsonoma Inn owner Richard Mitchell (above), mimicking radio’s old commercial for Berkeley Farms milk. “No one believed there’d be ‘farms in Berkeley’ either.” The inn’s pond and waterfall can be seen out the window.

The stately old redwoods around Cazsonoma Inn will be hosts this summer to the Bard’s great comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“With Stanford cheerleaders and Berkeley scholars chasing each other over the streams and through the woods, into romantic bliss we go,” Richard writes.

“And no one knows the way like lovable, ‘puckish’ Kate Kennedy. Kate has been directing Shakespeare in and out of Sonoma’s vineyards for 35 years, and has assembled the Avalon Players, a talented troop of local actors to relive the ‘dream’ performed 400 years ago.

“Lush sets by Ross Heil, wacky costumes by FIDM’s Renée Brimm Mitchell, produced by Pezzo Unico Productions with Castles and Concerts, featuring ‘the magic flute’ of Matt Eakle, and sponsored by Boheme Wines, Flowers Winery, Paul Mathew Vineyards, Wild Hog Vineyards, “Estero Gold” cheese, Santa Fe Sausage Company, and River Road Olive Oil. The entire illusion portends to be a night to remember.”

The audience will move between the sculpture garden in front of the inn and the waterfall beside it for different acts.

Tickets and reservations at CazSonoma Inn are available at 707 632-5255 for June 25, 26, and 27 performances (5:30 p.m. sharp). A Saturday, June 28, matinee is already sold out. Along with the performances, the $75 tickets include hors d’oeuvres and wine before the show plus a four-course dinner afterward.

“Every picture tells a story, don’t it?” — Rod Stewart

Cows heading toward the milking barn at Steve and Sharon Doughty’s ranch in Point Reyes Station. Of all the photos I’ve shot of West Marin agriculture, this is my favorite (2004).

The newsroom of The Point Reyes Light when the newspaper was located in Point Reyes Station’s Old Creamery Building (2004).

One day I heard something banging around in the firebox of the newsroom’s potbellied stove, which was not lit, so I opened the door to look inside. This house finch, which had apparently fallen down the chimney, flew out and started flying around the room, banging into the closed skylights.

I opened a skylight, but the finch didn’t fly out. Instead it landed on the antenna to our weather radio and perched there looking out over the world. The scene seemed so symbolic he could have been an avian journalist.

Before long a house finch outside the building began singing. The one inside sang back. After several seconds of their calling back and forth, the finch in the newsroom finally flew out the open skylight.

A Golden-crowned sparrow disguised as a stained-glass window, Point Reyes Station (2004).

Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley (2005).

The castle was built in the 1920s by Albert Mussey Johnson, a millionaire from Chicago. Scotty (Walter Scott) was a con man, who took advantage of Johnson, as well as others. Nonetheless, Johnson kept Scotty around to entertain guests with his storytelling.

Thailand (1986).

Two mothers and their children in one of Thailand’s semi-isolated hilltribes.

A Thai hilltribe father and his son (1986).

The father is holding a Point Reyes Light ballpoint pen, which I had given him. The pens were made in 1979 to commemorate the paper’s winning the Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service.

Thailand’s hilltribes grow opium poppies, as well as bananas and other crops. Here a man in his hut without windows — only gaps between wall boards for light — smokes opium in a pipe (1986).

Rangoon, Burma (1986).

Two Buddhists pray outside the Shwedagon Pagoda. In 1989, the military government changed the country’s name to Myanmar because Burma was the name the British used when the country was their colony. Some citizens, however, question the military’s right to change their country’s name, and many continue to use the name Burma. The name comes from the name of the country’s largest ethnic group, the Bamar.

Mandalay, Burma (1986).

Buddhist monks in Thailand and Burma are considered novices before they turn 20. Most live monastic lives for only short periods, a few years or even just a few days. Youths receive schooling inside or outside of their temple. Helping take care of the temple is one of their main responsibilities. Novices are not expected to be continually solemn, and these boys felt free to roughhouse with each other.

Boy tending water buffalo at the edge of the Irrawaddy River at Mandalay (1986).

Guatemala (1982).

Two Mayan girls wash dishes at a pila (outdoor trough) because their homes on a finca (plantation) lack running water. For many women in rural villages, washing dishes and clothes together at a community pila is their primary time to socialize.

El Salvador (1983).

Government forces take cover during a firefight with FMLN guerrillas. The government patrol, which had been fighting all night, was exhausted and retreating under fire.

Guerrilla-held territory — El Gramal, El Salvador (1983).

A guerrilla stops a vehicle belonging to Antel, the government-owned phone company, and then sends it on its way. Earlier in the day, an Antel driver divulged a bizarre arrangement whereby the guerrillas regularly borrowed the four-wheel-drive Toyota for night patrols but returned it to Antel in the morning. Such cooperation probably explained why an Antel manager in El Gramal said the government phone company in his area was able to operate as usual even though Popular Liberation Front guerrillas had by then occupied the region for six months.

During an open house and reunion Saturday, a happy throng of Point Reyes Light readers, staff, and columnists joined with former staff and correspondents to celebrate the 66th anniversary of the newspaper’s first issue.

The reunion drew staff and contributors who had worked at the paper at different times during the past 44 years. A number of former staff traveled hundreds of miles to attend. A couple of them arrived from out of state.

From left: Laura Lee Miller, David Rolland (who drove up from San Diego), Cat Cowles, Wendi Kallins, Janine Warner (who drove up from Los Angeles), Elisabeth Ptak (back to camera), Gayanne Enquist, Art Rogers (talking with Elisabeth), Keith Ervin (who drove down from Seattle), B.G. Buttemiller, and (in blue shirt with back to camera) Víctor Reyes. (Photo by Dave LaFontaine) ______________________________________________________________

The party was also a celebration of the Tomales Regional History Center’s publishing The Light on the Coast: 65 Years of News Big and Small as Reported in The Point Reyes Light.

Stuart Chapman of Bolinas, a former member of the staff, shot this photo, which he titled “Dave, Proud Father” because I authored the book.

My co-author was Jacoba Charles. Jacoba reported for The Light under its previous ownership and is a member of the paper’s board of directors under its present ownership, Marin Media Institute.

The colored Post-its, by the way, mark selections that I, along with others, would be reading to attendees. ____________________________________________________________

From left: Co-author Jacoba Charles, photographer Art Rogers, scientist Corey Goodman, photographer David Briggs, editorial consultant on the book and former member of The Light’s ad department Lynn Axelrod, and Spanish-language columnist Víctor Reyes. (Except where noted otherwise, the photos in this posting were shot by former Light reporter Janine Warner)

Michael Gahagan (left), who drove down from the Sierra Nevada town of Columbia to attend, published The Light from 1970 to 1975. Here he reminisces with historian Dewey Livingston of Inverness. Dewey for many years provided a weekly historical feature titled “West Marin’s Past.”

During the Gahagan years, Lee Sims (left) was the newspaper’s main typographer. This was back in the days before offset printing, and each page that went on the press had to be composed in lead.

In a piece written for The Light’s 30th anniversary in 1978 and reprinted in The Light on the Coast, Michael Gahagan’s former wife Annabelle comments, “Poor Lee, he had the disadvantage of being a friend of ours. One can always depend on friends — and we did lean on him! He was always underpaid and overworked. (Weren’t we all?)”

Catching up on old times are (in foreground from left): former news editor David Rolland, who drove to the reunion from San Diego, former typesetter Cat Cowles of Inverness, and former reporter Joel Reese, who flew in from Chicago. Standing behind them are current reporter Christopher Peak (left) and Matt Gallagher, who filled in as managing editor from February through July 2011. _____________________________________________________________

Samantha Kimmey (on the left) has been a reporter at The Light for the past year. With her is Tess Elliott of Inverness, who has been The Light’s editor for the past eight years   ____________________________________________________________

Gayanne Enquist was office manager during much of the 27 years I owned The Light. She was there when I arrived in July 1975, and she was there when I left in November 2005. (I was away reporting for the old San Francisco Examiner between September 1981 and the end of 1983.)

Former reporter Michelle Ling trades stories with Don Schinske, who was business manager during the 1990s and was co-publisher from 1995 to 1998. At left is her father, Dr. Walter Ling who teaches at UCLA. With his wife, May, Dr. Ling drove to Point Reyes Station for the celebration. In the background, Mary Papale listens intently to Laura Rogers.

Ingrid Noyes of Marshall (left) tells a story to my co-author, Jacoba Charles, outside The Light office.

Former staff recall the days of yore. From left: artist Laura Lee Miller, news editor David Rolland, typesetter Cat Cowles, reporter Janine Warner, and San Geronimo Valley correspondent Wendi Kallins. (Photo by Dave LaFontaine)

Sarah Rohrs was a reporter at The Light in the late 1980s. When several of us took turns reading aloud selections from The Light on the Coast, I read Sarah’s wonderfully droll account of a county fireman in Hicks Valley having to get a cow down out of a tree. (Photo by Joe Gramer)

Larken Bradley (left), who formerly wrote obituaries for The Light, chats with librarian Kerry Livingston, wife of Dewey.

Photographer Janine Dunn née Collins in 1995 traveled with news editor David Rolland to Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Canton of Ticino and to war-torn Croatia in doing research for The Light’s series on the five waves of historic immigration to West Marin. Here she chats with the paper’s current photographer David Briggs (center) and her husband John Dunn.

Former Light graphic artist Kathleen O’Neill (left) discusses newspapering in West Marin with present business manager Diana Cameron. _____________________________________________________________

Former Light reporter Marian Schinske (right) and I wax nostalgic while photographic contributor Ilka Hartmann (left), looks on and Heather Mack (center), a graduate student in Journalism at UC Berkeley, takes notes. ____________________________________________________________

Former news editor Jim Kravets (left) jokes with photographer Art Rogers.

John Hulls of Point Reyes Station and Cynthia Clark of Novato have in the past worked with The Light in various capacities. In 1984, Cynthia set up the first computer system for the newsroom and ad department.

From left: Stuart Chapman of Bolinas, who formerly worked in The Light’s ad department, swaps stories with journalist Dave LaFontaine of Los Angeles and Light columnist Víctor Reyes.

Historian Dewey Livingston (left), a former production manager at The Light, poses with former news editor David Rolland while former business manager Bert Crews of Tomales mugs in the background.

In preparing to shoot one of his signature group portraits, Art Rogers directs members of the crowd where to stand. With the throng crowded into the newspaper office, getting everyone in the right place to be seen was such a complicated operation that some of the photographer’s subjects began photographing him. _____________________________________________________________

In shooting a series of three-dimensional photos, Art had to use a tall tripod and balance precariously on a window ledge and ladder.               _____________________________________________________________

Art’s wife, Laura, who didn’t have to work nearly as hard, pages through a copy of The Light on the Coast. _______________________________________________________________

The party was in part a book-signing, and I signed copies off and on all afternoon. ______________________________________________________

Light editor Tess Elliott reads Wilma Van Peer’s 1998 account of working for the paper’s founders, Dave and Wilma Rogers half a century earlier. The newspaper was called The Baywood Press when it began publishing in 1948. The paper’s fourth publisher, Don DeWolfe, changed the name to Point Reyes Light in 1966.

Originally the readings were scheduled to be held in the newspaper office, but so much socializing was going on they had to be delayed until the party moved around the corner to Vladimir’s Czech Restaurant where the banquet room had been reserved.

Among those reading besides Tess were Dewey Livingston, David Rolland, Matt Gallagher, and I. Anyone wishing to watch me read former publisher (1957 to 1970) Don DeWolfe’s account of his initiation to running the paper can click here.

It was a grand party, and I want to thank present Light staff, who made arrangements for the party, and former staff, some of whom traveled significant distances to attend the reunion.

Two other book readings are also scheduled. At 3 p.m. Sunday, March 9, in Point Reyes Presbyterian Church, Point Reyes Books will sponsor readings from The Light on the Coast and from Point Reyes Sheriff’s Calls, Susanna Solomon’s book of short stories inspired by Sheriff’s Calls in The Light.

At 4 p.m. Sunday, April 27, in its Corte Madera store, Book Passage will sponsor readings from The Light on the Coast. Refreshments will be served.

Lynn watches as the final days of 2013 come to their end.

By the way, despite complaints from the illiterati, spelling Christmas as Xmas does not amount to “leaving Christ out of Christmas.” As the American Heritage Dictionary notes, “Xmas has been used for hundreds of years in religious writing, where X is understood to represent a Greek chi, the first letter of  Χριστός, ‘”Christ.'”

Likewise, religious scholars have often spelled Christian as Xtian. Half a century ago when I took a course in Theology and Contemporary Literature at Stanford, the professor shortened the spelling even further to Xn.

No doubt thankful that they were blacktail deer and not reindeer so they wouldn’t have to drag a sleigh all over the globe on Xmas eve, two bucks graze in my fields and gaze at my camera.

Also spending a bit of the yuletide in my fields was the bobcat seen here crossing my driveway. Bobcats tend to be merciless loners, sort of like Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge.

If you recall Dickens’ 1843 novella A Christmas Carol, you know that Scrooge is transformed from his grasping, cynical ways through a series of nighttime visions:

• First, he is visited by the tormented ghost of his late partner Jacob Marley, who regrets his life of avarice, for it has left him cursed to wander the earth forever, dragging the chains of his greed.

• Second, he is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, who reminds Scrooge of his innocent childhood.

Lynn and I as ghosts of Christmas Just Past (right).

• Third is the Ghost of Christmas Present (odd name), who shows Scrooge people enjoying Christmas as well as the meager Christmas dinner at the home of his employee Bob Cratchit, who cannot afford treatment for his chronically ill son Tiny Tim.

• Fourth is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be, who shows Scrooge the death of an unloved businessman, whose servants quickly steal his belongings while no one tends his grave.

After all this, Scrooge is terrified. He no longer rejects Christmas as “humbug.” He anonymously sends a turkey to Bob Cratchit’s family and gives his employee a raise so he can get care for Tiny Tim. A thoroughly new man, he begins treating everyone with kindness.

With 2014 beginning on Wednesday, four contrails enhanced by a lens-flare sunburst on Sunday morning heralded the coming of a new day. In the words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us, everyone.”

When I was a student at Stanford, I once received an ominous message in the mail. Scrawled on the back of an otherwise blank postcard were the words: “THE FALL IS IN FOR YOU.”

What was the threat all about? I had no idea. Ten minutes went by before I remembered trying to buy a copy of Albert Camus’ novel The Fall at Kepler’s Books more than a month earlier. The bookstore had been sold out but offered to order a copy for me. Apparently it had finally come in.

Fall colors along the driveway to Heidrun Meadery in Point Reyes Station Sunday.

Fall is a gaily colored but bittersweet season. Its foliage is beautiful, but it also heralds the coming of winter. Perhaps because of this dichotomy, Fall has always had particular significance for me.

The first poem I ever wrote concerned Fall. My second-grade teacher assigned our class to write a poem about Autumn, and I came up with: “Autumn is the same as Fall. Autumn should not come at all, for when it’s Fall it is a rule all of us go back to school.” No doubt the teacher was offended.

Cows graze on the Dolcini Ranch at Four Corners north of Nicasio Square Sunday.

West Marin in Fall may not be able to match the colors in New England, but it nonetheless has its own share of spectacular countryside.

Canada geese on Nicasio Reservoir across Nicasio Valley Road from the Dolcini Ranch.

Marin Municipal Water District in 1961 erected Seeger Dam on Nicasio Creek, creating Nicasio Reservoir. The reservoir inundated part of the old Nicasio Valley Road, including this bridge, so a new alignment was built to the east.

MMWD’s seven reservoirs collectively are currently at 64 percent of capacity compared to 75 percent at this date last year. Sixty-six percent is average. Nicasio Reservoir looks especially low now that the old bridge has reemerged.

Even the centerline of the old Nicasio Valley Road is now visible on the reservoir’s bottom.

A stand of colorful trees between the reservoir and the Nicasio School campus.

A short distance further south lies Nicasio Vally Farms’ Pumpkin Patch, seen here on Monday. Every harvest season, especially on Saturdays and Sundays, hundreds of families pick through the crop looking for squash to carve into jack-o’-lanterns.

Horses just south of Nicasio Square seem quite blasé about the splendor at their stable.

A tree in the redwoods still further south catches a ray of sunlight while vines of poison oak frame the scene in red.

Fog begins to roll in off the ocean Sunday as the afternoon turns to dusk at Nicasio Reservoir.

A gaggle of geese take flight, probably to flap over Mitchell cabin on their evening commute to Point Reyes.

Because of Fall’s significance for me, this year as always I assembled a cornucopia in Mitchell cabin. It’s a symbol of the bounty of the harvest, and may you too be blessed with the horn of plenty this harvest season.

West Marin is finding ways to deal with the federal shutdown as conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives hold the national budget hostage to their goal of eliminating the country’s new affordable-healthcare program.

With the Point Reyes National Seashore, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and Muir Woods National Monument temporarily closed, some residents and visitors are paying more attention to the coastal art scene.

At least on the first weekend of the closure, some pieces of national parkland were less closed than others. In the town of Stinson Beach, sybarites continued to use the federal beach but were barred from its parking lot. At Pierce Point, some park visitors simply ignored the “closed” sign in the parking lot. “This was all they put up in the way of a ‘barricade,'” wrote Sarah Paris of San Francisco, who took the photo. She added there were “lots of people parked there and quite a few on the trail.”

Meanwhile, other visitors upon learning they couldn’t explore the Point Reyes Lighthouse decided to explore Point Reyes Station instead. What they found were two art galleries showing a variety of first-rate exhibitions.

Point Reyes Station artist Sue Gonzalez (left) is showing her highly regarded paintings of Tomales Bay at Toby’s Feed Barn Gallery. This painting titled Evening Fog is priced at $4,800.

The exhibition at Toby’s will run throughout October, and Sue will hold an opening reception from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12. The gallery is open until 5 p.m. seven days a week.

Sue at work in the studio of her Point Reyes Station home. She attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison and graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute with a major in painting. She also studied with prominent Beat artist Wally Hedrick at Indian Valley College and with Ted Greer, who in 1981 made a video of Hedrick.

A visitor to Toby’s Gallery is intrigued by Sue’s painting titled Tomales Bay.

Ripples on the surface of the bay are almost always prominent in Sue’s paintings, but that doesn’t make her art redundant. The movement of the water and the play of light upon it are a large part of her paintings’ appeal. Sue is seen here with her painting titled Reflections 2.

A visitor from Australia admires Sue’s painting titled Teachers Beach.

Besides being a painter, Sue is a “reading-intervention” instructor at West Marin School.

The elementary school includes students with a wide range of abilities in English, especially because many of its students come from Spanish-speaking homes — although Sue herself does not despite her last name being Gonzalez.

That’s the surname of her husband Anastacio Gonzalez, who’s known in West Marin for his jars of Anastacio’s Famous BBQ Oyster Sauce.

Here Sue stirs a brush in the paint on her palette while working in her studio.

Also exhibiting his art this month at Toby’s Gallery is printmaker Tom Killion of Inverness Park. Tom works in Japanese-style woodcut and lino-style prints.

Nicasio by Tom Killion.

Vicente Canyon, Big Sur by Tom Killion. Actually it should be Dr. Tom Killion since he holds a PhD in history.

The opening reception for Tom’s exhibit will also be from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12.

As it happens, just a block away, Gallery Route One also has some fascinating exhibits at the moment. One that I found particularly engaging was a display of works by members of the gallery’s Latino Photography Project.

In the GRO project, professional photographers coach Latinos as they document the immigrant experience, and 10 up-and-coming photographers are represented in the show. This photo by Juanita Romo is titled Mi Primera Comunión.

The Abundance by Rubén Rubledo shows workers with a barge of oyster bags.

Gathering the Harvest by Rubén Rubledo.

The present exhibitions at Gallery Route One also include humorous paintings by Andrew Romanoff of Inverness, grandnephew of the last tsar of Russia, and mixed-media art by Madeline Nieto Hope, who has a wide variety of interests. She holds a Master of Arts degree from UC Berkeley and is the county’s “West Marin education coordinator” for its solid-waste-reduction program.

The exhibits at Gallery Route One will remain up through Sunday, Oct. 20. The gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day but Tuesday.

This is a story that meanders from Montmartre, the nightclub district in Paris, to Storyville, the historic red-light district of New Orleans, to San Francisco’s seedy Tenderloin.

Henri de Toulouse Lautrec (1864-1901) is, of course, famous for his post-impressionistic paintings of nightclubs and prostitutes (right) in Montmartre.

You may recall he broke his left leg when he was 12 and his right leg when he was 14. Neither healed correctly, resulting in his never growing beyond 4.5 feet tall.

Although he was mocked and bullied because of his stature, he was a sociable man, especially when drinking, and was well liked by his prostitute models.

The American photographer E.J. Bellocq (1873-1949) was a contemporary of Toulouse Lautrec, and by chance his growth too had been stunted.

Bellocq earned his living as a commercial photographer but is famous today for his photographs of prostitutes in Storyville.

He was a shy man, but the women considered him a likeable gentleman and quite willingly posed for him.

Prostitute, Storyville, New Orleans (right), c. 1912, by E.J. Bellocq

Only a few of Bellocq’s negatives survive. Long after his death, the photographer Lee Friedlander managed to buy and salvage them and finally made the Storyville photos public in a show and in book form in the 1970s.

A few years later, in August 1980, I had a couple of hours to kill in San Francisco on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I had just left brunch on Broadway with a friend, and as I drove away, I noticed a streetwalker making eye contact with a pedestrian. My camera was in the car, and I got a sudden inspiration: why not do a series on the streetwalkers of 1980 at work in San Francisco?

In the future, I reasoned, such a collection might have some of the historic interest of Toulouse Lautrec’s painted women in Paris or Bellocq’s prostitutes in Storyville. So I drove a few blocks and soon found myself in the Tenderloin — that rough neighborhood southwest of Union Square and north of Market Street.

Having stopped for a sign, I watched a white prostitute (at left) across the street pick up an Asian man and lead him around the corner to a shabby hotel on Eddy Street.

Eddy is a one-way street, and there was a parking space on the left curb almost opposite the hotel entrance. I parked, turned off the motor, and put a telephoto lens on the camera. I looked at my watch; it was 3:05 p.m.

After adjusting my sideview mirror so I could see back up the sidewalk and my rearview mirror so I could see up the street behind me, I lit my pipe and put a coat over my camera. Then I sat back to watch.

Almost immediately, I spotted a very drunk couple sitting on a doorstep with their feet on the sidewalk. Although they were less than 20 feet away, they were oblivious of me. The woman’s face was puffy — apparently from drink and physical abuse. The man had numerous scars on his face. A front tooth was missing.

For awhile, the couple cooed and flirted with each other. Then they argued. Twice the man shoved his companion back against a wall, but they remained seated, and she didn’t appear to get hurt. Soon they were cooing again. Then arguing. Then more cooing. Occasionally, each would take a drink from a bottle, but mostly they just smoked cigarettes.

Suddenly, a wisp of smoke made me notice that one of the woman’s green tennis shoes was beginning to smolder from a cigarette burn. Soon she noticed too and slapped at the ember a couple of times while remaining seated.

The man, however, did not see the persistent little burn and kept up his alternately aggressive and affectionate ramblings. Within moments, the woman had forgotten about her still-smoldering shoe and resumed her part in the arguing and cooing. Periodically, she noticed the ever-growing column of smoke and took a few more slaps at her shoe — the man still not noticing and she still sitting down. Nor did he notice when she finally pulled the shoe off and set it on the sidewalk, where it continued to smolder.

Up Eddy Street came another woman, also about 30 and apparently a resident of the neighborhood. She was pushing a baby cart, but when she saw the smoking shoe, she stopped and stomped on it a couple of times. At this point, the man finally noticed the shoe was off and made a clumsy attempt to put it back on his companion’s foot, still not noticing the smoke.

This bizarre drama was interrupted, however, by the jolt of a 40ish black man bouncing off the back of my car and landing on his backside in the street. He was drunk, and so was his assailant who had just knocked him into a traffic lane, a white man in his late 20s with his shirt off. The white reminded me of photos I’d seen of weightlifters in prison — pale skin over huge muscles. For some reason, he was furious with the black.

Two car lengths behind me, a long, brown sedan pulled abruptly into a vacant parking space. While I watched in my rearview mirror, a black man in expensive cowboy garb, dark glasses, and a white hat jumped out of the car. The white man wheeled around, and the black cowboy quickly held up the palms of his hands to him.

Somehow, the new arrival managed to calm the angry white and then curtly ordered the terrified man in the street to get up and into the sedan. The black men did not appear to know each other. It was a brother helping a brother get away from trouble — and done with great diplomatic skill, given the fury of the white man.

A century ago, she could have been a model  for a Henri de Toulouse Lautrec painting or an E.J. Bellocq portrait instead of a subject for a photojournalist on the street.

As my eye followed the sedan driving away, I saw the customer walk out of the hotel across the street. A moment or so behind him came the prostitute (above). For a few seconds, she stood in the doorway surveying the street as I clicked off a couple of photos. When she headed off up Eddy Street, I checked my watch; it was 3:20 pm. What a range of Tenderloin reality I’d seen in 15 minutes.

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