Quote from a Distant Friend

I have a friend who has been periodically emailing updates to old friends from his retirement home out of state. Today’s update began with an admission that he has been somewhat depressed lately, like Michelle Obama, as he pointed out.

Sadly, this is the same friend I burdened with a six page lamentation for his reading enjoyment a few days ago.

Friend, you know who you are. I owe you my sincere apology. But thank you for your email today. In it you said some things that spoke for me. You called it a rant. I call it a prose poem. Here are his words, sans his original formatting:

I resent like hell the Cheeto-faced narcissist calling my father, father-in-law, brother, and even a cousin or two Losers and Suckers. Shame. Recent revelations regarding his pandemic response are proving to be even more shameful, if not criminal. [My wife] and I have been fortunate these last six months that we have been a few degrees of separation from a close friend or family member becoming infected or dying. However, at the current rates, promulgated and exacerbated by lies and “down-playing”, I fear that that may not be the case by year’s end – 200K is [250K] too many. I recall a number of co-workers coming into my office on Election Day almost four years ago to gleefully and proudly announce that they had cancelled my vote. I wonder…Are they still proud about what these last four years have brought? Are they still gleeful?

He speaks my heart. Thank you, old friend.

Things don’t change much here in Lake Jackson. You ask, “are they still gleeful?” Probably they are. Yes, that’s a Trump-Pence sign peeking around from behind the Randy Weber sign in my neighbor’s yard.

Lockdown Days 128-131: Venturing Out – Just a Little

Those “coronavirus walks” are a thing of the past. The heat-humidity index has regularly pushed up to 106 and even higher in the afternoons. Without the neighborhood walks, there can be no more chance meetings with old friends, no more handovers of delicious tomatoes from a neighbor’s backyard garden.

Notwithstanding the heat, I cannot resist a chance to shoot a few pictures when occasions present themselves. Friday morning, I looked out the window and saw that a neighbor had one of those celebration signs in the front yard. I went out to see what the occasion was and it turned out to be for their 50th anniversary. When I heard voices outside later, I gathered up the camera with the wide angle lens and sped out to see if I could get a picture of them.

It was a low exposure risk with a high payout in terms of a chance to help them celebrate their big day. We visited (from a proper distance) and I learned that their kids had arranged for the sign – a nice alternative to the kind of super-spreader parties that usually accompany the 50th.

I had received a call a few weeks ago to see if I could take a few photos for the drive-by kickoff for the virtual Vacation Bible School compassion camp. There will be some Zoom meetings and each child received a yard sign and an activity kit for the price of a donation to the local food pantry.

We were all checked in properly with a brief personal health and exposure quiz and temperature check and then we were given matching red masks and t-shirts with the “Be Loved, Be Kind, Be You” camp motto. Each team got a bottle of hand sanitizer and all the equipment for their stations.

God knows (really) that we need to teach children about compassion and generosity while those principalities and powers (aka DJT) glorify selfishness with daily tweets that are followed by millions.

And, in case anyone wanted to make fun of a kid for signing up for compassion camp, we had this bouncer assigned to deliver a Wesleyan quadrilateral to his mid-section. He wasn’t taking any guff off anybody.

So, there you have it friends. It was my nineteenth weekend in lockdown and it was a blast. What isn’t there to love about celebrating an anniversary with a neighbor and taking pictures for a Compassion Camp for kids?

Compassion Camp has to be an improvement over the vacation Bible school I attended when I was a kid. There were so many things they tried to teach me. But there was only one truly unforgettable experience and that was the “goat milk and unleavened bread” simulation they required us to force down one time before we could enjoy punch and cookies. It was to help us understand something we read from the Old Testament. It must have had something to do with goat milk and unleavened bread.

Buttermilk and graham crackers, I now know, are nothing like goat’s milk or unleavened bread. Although the crackers are clearly unleavened, they are nothing like bread of any kind. And crumbled up in buttermilk, they seemed designed to set off an eight-year-old’s gag reflex. And we sang “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus.” A man who could turn water into wine would never have done that to a child. That’s not what he meant by suffer.

There is just too much time for memories when you have been locked in for so long.

Remembering Ed Christman, 1947-2020

A great friend and photographer, Ed Christman, passed away June 30 after battling with Parkinson’s for many years. A few years ago, after his tremors became profound and disabling, he had a surgical procedure that helped some but it could not protect him from the continuing ravages of the disease and time.

Ed was my photography mentor. I met him sometime in the 1980s or 90s when he was Dow’s head photographer. I worked at United Way and we needed a volunteer to help us with our color brochures and other campaign graphics.

I was surprised to learn that Ed didn’t mind talking to a family snapshot photographer about some of the finer points of getting good photos. He didn’t pretend that better equipment makes you better photographer. Mind you, as a corporate photographer, Ed had the good stuff but it was apparent to anyone who watched him work that his genius was in positioning, distance, relationship with human subjects, ability to read the light and a lot of other things that the camera can’t do for you, at least not with the same degree of perfection as a human who understands his machine and knows how to make it do what he wants it to do.

This is a photo of Ed I took eight years ago when we worked together on some publicity shots for “Dividing the Estate,” a Horton Foote show being produced by Brazosport Center Stages. I felt happy to tag along with Ed, mostly to see how he went about his work. You will notice in the photograph that he has adorned his flash with that photographer’s cheapest and most cost-effective gadget, an index card flash reflector. But he did have the nice Nikon gear. I followed him around with my little point-and-shoot (a pretty nice one actually – the Canon Powershot G11) and got a few fair shots. Ed’s, of course, were spectacular.

The things he did with light outdoors gave me an education in the possibilities for softening natural light on sunny days. His interaction with people who were posing for him struck me as being icing on the Nikon cake. Equipment alone could not explain the cooperation he got from the play’s actors. He didn’t ask people to say cheese, he made them feel happy to be on the other side of the lens from such a genuinely nice and happy man.

There wasn’t a lot of energy in him for show photography after that. He came out to The Center in November that same year to take some publicity shots for the Elizabethan Madrigal Feast. He allowed me to post a few of them on my Flickr site so others could view them. He was a little too early for Instagram and all the online toys that photographers like to use now. But he was happy for me to put some online for the cast to see. They are all carefully attributed to Ed. I do that even though it would be apparent to anyone that the difference between his shots and mine would quickly show me up as a photo-plagiarist.  Here are a couple of Ed’s shots from that November EMF shoot.

I was stunned by the beauty of his work. Here is the steward bearing the wassail. And, then, there is this Dutch master. I found this one to be simply breathtaking.

When our son got married in 1999, we asked Ed to do the wedding. That, if you remember, was back when photographers used film. What Ed did with that film was remarkable.

Nor was there anything fake or plastic about Ed’s presentations. No scrapbooks, silver frames, special sets for Grandma and Grandpa. All you got from Ed were packets of prints and negatives. No watermarks. No special permission for reprints. No proofs to pick from.

I will never forget when he came to our house after the wedding with about twenty packages of color prints and negatives. He left them with us. That was his total presentation. I asked if he wanted us to go through them and pick some for final printing.

“No, they are all yours. You may print as many as you wish.” He recommended a local photo printer who could give us any size, matte or glossy, and who had scrapbooks, mailers, frames, etc.

He left and we started to go through the envelope – twenty envelopes, each with 36 exposures. They were almost all beautiful photographs. I don’t think there were half a dozen throwaways in the whole batch. The man wasted no film. It was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen.

He had no need for PhotoShop. In fact, his wife has told me he detested it mightily. His philosophy was that you should do it right when you open and close the shutter. And sure enough, all but a few were perfection. He made a precise exposure and an elegant, perfect composition with each frame. I am still in awe of his art and his skill in coaxing the best work out of the camera.

We had one more wedding to go after that. Needless to say, we asked Ed to do it again. By then he had moved to digital. I have also stored a few of those on my Flickr site. Again, his art is at another level. Those wedding photographs he took of our children have given us anchors in time on two of our happiest days. Ed was able to see those life events with the same intensity of feeling that the parents felt on those days and he captured them for us to enjoy for all these years. All these years later, they live on.

Ed was a photographer trapped in a literary family of writers, teachers, and actors. I don’t know which of them was the primary author of his obituary, but whether by the Christman team or one individual author, they have said it best:

While raising his family, Ed became one of the most popular photographers of Brazoria County. Early evenings—when the light was perfect—weekends, and holidays were filled with portraits, weddings, celebrations. Attired in a utility vest and a broad-brimmed hat, he captured moments of joy, solemnity, achievement, honor, camaraderie, daring, and love. Ed taught people to see, to focus on the light in the eyes, to find a person’s best angle, and—as light does—to illumine the beauty sometimes concealed by shadow. In his art, whether a portrait, a candid shot, a cityscape, an industrial, a shell in the sand, or an old oak draped in Spanish moss at dusk, Ed found the uncanny perfection hidden in plain sight. He showed us ourselves and our world as only he could see them.

We miss Ed’s presence in our community.  But he has captured time for us in photography’s special way. We see the images and we feel those moments again. Thank you for those treasures, brother Ed.

Graduating before the Pandemic – and After

Such a joyous occasion. Families and friends crowded onto football fields and into auditorium lobbies. The hard work has paid off with a treasured piece of paper (or parchment as you move beyond high school), the smiles, tears, and congratulations of adoring parents, extended family and friends.

That’s the way it was. And, who knows, maybe it will be that way again.

Now our graduates are treated to celebrations like this.

We line them up in the church parking lot and friends drive by and hand them cards and gifts of congratulations. They honk their horns. They smile, they cheer. They do everything but touch.

And if you made it out of A&M, you may even get a treat like this one.

Also Lost in the Pandemic – Group Hugs

If you have ever been in a group that needed to give someone a group hug, you know that there is nothing else that will do. And if you have ever been that person who needed a group hug, you also know there can be no substitute.

Here you see a group of Methodist teenagers in December, 2017, after they received news that their youth director was moving from Chapelwood 1 to Chapelwood 2 up the road in Houston. The hug was their spontaneous, genuine, and deeply felt gift. The photographer barely had time to point the camera.

This is not something that can ever happen in a Zoom meeting.

And that, my friends, is all our loss.

Remembering the Days of Our Innocence: Eating from the Party Table

Hover over the table with your friends. Everyone is commenting about how pretty the layout is. Stab an olive with a twice-used toothpick. It’s about saving the forests after all. Or glance furtively around the table. No one is looking. Grab one between thumb and index finger. Double dip the cheese melt with a cold green bean. No one noticed that first bite. Dip the other end. Hands are clean and dry. Now reach across the table and shake hands with a friend you haven’t seen in at least a week or two. On the return from that greeting, swoop down and land a chunk of sweet pineapple.

Moving on to the new year.

The crowd is still forming. Scotch eggs, maple-iced doughnuts, French roast coffee, artichoke dip, veggies, nuts, wassail. Before the morning passes, sixty or so friends will crowd in around the table, serve a plate, exchange greetings, and tell tales of the year gone by, hopes for the year ahead and mostly true stories from all the walks of community life.

Our love is manifest in food and words.

How will we greet 2021? There is virtually no safe and healthy way to do it the way we have been doing it. But January is so far in the future. We can hope.