Thursday, October 13, 2005

Ah, Astoria

Ah, Astoria. Been looking for a place like Astoria for a long time, i.e. a coastal village, preferably centered around fishing. Okay, so the fishing industry isn't at full tilt like it used to be, but it's still here, and that's all that matters to me.

After being brought up on the CT coast in a lobstering/oystering village, then living for 22 landlocked years in L.A. (don't ask me why, I'm not sure myself), finding Astoria was like returning to my roots. A pal once called me a "rootless root-seeker," and he was probably right. But no more!

I remember a good friend asking me, while I was in the process of moving to Astoria, how I could leave L.A.? I won't go into the potentially hundreds of reasons, and they didn't occur to me at the time, anyway, but all I could think of off the top of my head was, "I don't want to die in L.A." Then I realized that was so fundamentally true that it might be the pivotal reason after all.

Another biggie, aside from not wanting to croak in L.A., is that I wanted to get back to photography. There's nothing to photograph in L.A. except people, which is totally unacceptable, and I'll explain more about that in a minute. You can't shoot still lifes, or landscapes, or damn near anything ... the sun is so intense it bleaches everything out or hides it in shadows.

For many years after I first arrived in L.A. I worked for a marvelous lady photographer who specialized in shooting very upscale Bel Air cocktail parties. She was a terrific photographer in that genre, probably the best I've ever seen. She had a wonderful knack for making her subjects comfortable, and composing them very artfully.

I worked in the darkroom at first (I was a master B&W darkroom technician), then gradually began helping on the photo shoots. All of which made me realize I should stay the hell in the darkroom.

My last photo job in L.A. (after the lovely photographer I initially worked for retired) was of a wedding, a second marriage for both partners. I was hired by the bride. Such restraint, being only on husband number two, is positively inspiring by L.A. standards.

I took zillions of photos, presented them with the photo album, and the newly wedded wife declared she loved them to pieces. When she got back from the honeymoon a month or two later, she decided the photos were just awful, BUT ... she wanted to keep them all, but also wanted a total refund. I won't repeat here what I said to her, but it did involve several expletives, some of which were rather graphically creative. Fortunately, I had already cashed her check.

After her phone call, I stood up, grabbed all of my cameras and various equipment, and stuck them in a closet. Where they stayed for over ten years. To this day, I will NOT do photography of people. Family, and my animals, being notable exceptions, since none of them are in any position to whine or complain. My cocker spaniel, for instance, has NEVER asked for retouching, nor has he insisted he only be shot from his "good" side. He's so easy, he has never even demanded a make-up consultant.

Which reminds me of a job I did for the marvelous lady photographer when I was mainly doing the darkroom magic routine. The wife of a famous TV star (no, you don't need to know whose wife it was) had a passport that was about to expire. But they were going to be leaving the country shortly, and she needed a new passport photo. Pronto. And this was back when passport photos were primarily black & white.

She hired a make-up artist, a hair stylist, a manicurist, and God only knows who else showed up to pamper and spoil her through the photo shoot. This photo had to be GOOD, since passports were good for ten years.

I developed the films, and printed several different passport-sized photos. Which, back in the day of enlargers, was no easy task. The prints were hand delivered, and the lady in question went into a complete tizzy. I would not be surprised if smelling salts and a team of herbalists were needed to get her through this horrendous crisis.

OMIGOD, she looked OLD (meaning over 30 in L.A. terms). Well hell, she was 60 at the time. I was rousted out of bed to reprint those passport photos to make her look the age she thought she should look, never mind that passport photos are supposed to be accurate. I ended up fuzzying them a little with a nylon stocking between the enlarger and the paper, and that apparently worked quite well. But the whole escapade was an exercise in stupidity.

Okay, I will now stop ranting about L.A. But I'm sure you get the idea of how a photographer, or any creative person for that matter, would just quit whatever creative field they were in rather than deal with fools. The place literally sucked the life out of me.

About 5 years ago, I started fooling around with digital cameras for my own amusement (the old SLR's are still in a closet, even now). And then I came to Astoria. There is just no end to the amazing things to photograph here. I got inspired again, finally, and the result is Astoria Photografpix.

I started taking normal every-day photos at first. But they looked so blah to me, and didn't really show how I was seeing these wonderful scenes here. Besides, anyone with a throw-away camera can do a halfway decent touristy type shot.

So I started enhancing the photos, as a whim at first. Each image took on a life of its own as I would go through stages to alter them to make visual records of how I see Astoria. And that's what my images are ... they show how much I love Astoria, and how I see it in my mind's eye.

I was surprised and delighted by how well the images were received. My first day at the Sunday Market I was in abject terror of what would happen. I had never sold a "digital art" photo before in my life, much less something as personal as my vision of Astoria. I won't even go into the trials and tribulations of setting up a 10'x10' tent for the first time.

I've really rattled on, haven't I? Oh well, enough for now ...

Astoria Photografpix

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