Archive for December, 2011

Prescott, AZ knows how to party!

The Taj Mahal in Prescott, AZ

Living in this town for the last several years reminds me of the late Rod Serling’s 1960s television series, The Twilight Zone…specifically, Season 1, Episode 30 – A Stop at Willoughby, where a businessman stressed from a miserable city life starts to imagine visiting an idyllic small town named Willoughby. Prescott is better than Willoughby; there is scarcely a weekend when something isn’t happening downtown.

Next Stop ... Willoughby (The late actor James Daly in 1960)

Tonight it was Acker Night. Surprisingly, Acker night (named for its benefactor and for the benefit of local musical programs) does not seem to be as widely known outside of Prescott as I imagine that it could be. During one night every year in December, all of the town’s businesses stay open until 8:30 serving holiday treats, and hosting musicians of all genres.

Dinner (Indian)
Mike, Susan and I met at about 6:15pm and began our exploration. We were not methodical. We just started walking east on Gurley St., letting the crowds funnel us toward music that we liked. I like opera, so I was anxious to visit the Music Café.  At one moment, we shared Gurley St. with the Lynx Creek Cloggers:

But Susan won — she was hungry and wanted to try the Indian Buffet at the Taj Mahal Restaurant. When we walked in we were greeted like family. On the way to the buffet, I looked to the right and saw the scene at the top of this blog entry as well as the scene below. The food was great too!

Just Your Typical Night at the Taj Mahal Restaurant

Walking it off
After dinner we were on the move again.  The crowds were thicker than usual this year; I lost my companions in the crowd, which gave me a chance to check out the Music Café again. I was rewarded. Kathleen Cuvelier was performing (I had been waiting a year for this!)

…and rewarded again –because next, Efren Puig performed. I don’t know why I like this guy so much. Something about his eyes when he sings makes me believe in whatever he is selling. It’s a good thing he didn’t ask me for my checkbook. Today I would be calling my son for a loan.

Mike and Susan found me shortly after I arrived at the Music Café and so we headed east again on Gurley to the Hassayampa Inn to see the Song of the Pines Chorus. Last year, Prescott resident Toni Tennille walked in causing a bit of a stir here at about this time. I love this group and this setting could not be more perfect for them.

In my younger years, I would have seen a beautiful image ready to be captured and would be too embarrassed to do anything about it. This, for example happened in Krakow, Poland over a decade ago and I promised myself it would never happen again. So, I stepped in front of the crowd and approached the director to get a shot (a necessity, as I was sporting a 17-40L wide-angle lens). For a moment, there was trepidation in the looks of some of the chorus (maybe it was the Russian hunter’s hat). Then I raised my camera, about three feet from Suzy Lobaugh, the director and all previous sins seemed forgiven. I was able to get this great portrait as she warmed immediately to the camera.

Suzy Lobaugh, Director, Song of the Pines

Now, Mike had wanted to see the show at the newly remodeled Prescott Elks Theater, since we missed it last year. As we approached the theater, we could see that we had just missed the 8pm show, featuring PK Jugg’s Uptown Shenagan Band, so we decided to walk around the square for 30 minutes or so and come back to see if we could catch the last show for this year at 8:30.

Killing Time on the Square
On our walk down Cortez Street, we passed many shops, each with a different musical group or entertainer. There was an empty space left vacant by a former business — but we heard the sounds of silver flutes. And there they were, the “Junior Fluties” performing a canon:

The "Junior Fluties"

We made our way across the courthouse square; Susan wanted to see if a friend from work was still performing.  The Yavapai County Courthouse sits in the middle of the town square.  The informed reader will recognize this building from many movies, including Easy Rider and Billy Jack.

The Yavapai County Courthouse

We found Joe Bethancourt at the Kikkapoo Express on Whiskey Row.

We continued looking for Joseph Leal. I have met Susan’s friend and Native American Flute Player, Joseph Leal before. The talented man with several very credible Native American flute music albums was just packing up after three hours on the job. I made this image as we were running out the door to get back across the square to the Elks Theater.

Joseph Leal, "Flute Dancer"

Joseph was playing at The Artful Eye Jewelry Design Center. It was good to see him again.

“Bill! Take our picture on the square!” Susan burst. Since we were in a hurry with about 5 minutes to showtime, I turned the camera dial to the green “P” (P for Professional). Mike was rightly dissatisfied with the shot, which left all of the Christmas lights behind him in a black abyss. Ok, so I turned the camera dial to “M” (M for Macho), dialed in 1/25 sec at F4.5, ISO 800, pointed the flash at the stars and let it rip (so to speak). The loving couple was slightly more pleased:

Mike and Susan

Then I saw Mike’s eyes dart in a different direction and I couldn’t help following him. “Heyyyyyyy, can you take our picture?” one of the girls asked. There they were, three Acker Night fans who had come down from Flagstaff for the festivities. I told one of the girls, “Sure, but just before I take the picture, reach over and grab your friend to make [what photographers call] “happy hands.” She new what that meant. After attempting “happy hands,” every image will turn out great — guaranteed:

Heyyyyyyy! "We're from Flagstaff!"

Leaving all hands happy, we walked right up the street and into the line filing into the theater. We overheard one of the ushers mention that the seats were particularly good upstairs. At the top of the stairs, Mike peeked behind a curtain and motioned for me to follow. Box seats!

“Pump-Pump-Pump-Pump It Up!”
The show as fun, with a host of song parodies. The Band ‘rapped’ up the set with an audience participation number. Take a look for yourself to see how Acker Night was wrapped until next year.  See you then!

Want to know more?
The Twilight Zone, Season 1, Episode 30, “A Stop at Willoughby”

The late actor, James Daly


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Thanksgiving – A great chance for extended-family portraits.

Kay was looking for a photographer to capture the family on the Thanksgiving weekend. Scotty was sweet. She told her friend, “you’ve got to call Bill.” She did. As we chatted about the potential shoot, she informed me of the 12 to 14 adults, one infant and one 10-year old that would be in the house.

These occasions may have intimidated me once-upon-a-time. But that was before I met Monte, Clay Blackmore and Hanson Fong. Now, groups are opportunities for great fun!

And another phrase crosses my mind as I am talking to Kay on the phone:

If one person looks good in the image, it’s the person … if 14 people look good in the image, it’s the photographer!

We agree on the time and place, and I show. As I unload the lights, I muse to myself, “this is going to be fun.”  I can smell the turkey and dressing still surrounding the house from the day before, and I enter the living room with a large brick fireplace with a rustic feel.  Kay’s husband, John informs me who is there and how it will go. The chairs are lined up like a high school recital is about to begin. With John’s permission I lose most of the chairs and arrange two the way Monte would have: 45 degrees to the camera facing each other. And we begin.

Film and an old joke

First, as the family is getting ready in all corners of the house, I corral Kay and set her in front of the fireplace (before I remove the chairs) to confirm that the settings in the camera are good.  I can hear John, a man who spent 40 years in marketing explain to some of the family that are gathered in the kitchen that he remembers those days in the commercial world when they used to burn one roll of film in every shoot before the models would warm up.  I butt-in from the living room and remark that I agree — “in fact in the old days, I wouldn’t event put a roll of film in the camera for the first 20 shots.”

As Kay waits for me to shut up, I remark how great she looks, and how I only wish that I had put some film in this camera!  A woman accustomed to keeping her composure and determined to keep a smile on her face, Kay falls for the old joke:

Now, we were ready to get started!

Exploring the Concept of Giving an Inappropriate Gift to Grandma

Next, Kay’s sister — Linda … an attractive lady who has been introduced to me as the actor in the family, says that she often appears in print.  She looks like a print model — elegant, well-spoken and open.  She mentions that her latest gig was a gag shot for a famous luggage company in which she was obliged to make an expression that would match the slogan, “Don’t Give an Inappropriate Gift to Grandma This Season ….” “Please, I’ve got to see that pose,” I begged.  She warmly and quickly obliged:

Don't give an inappropriate gift to Grandma!

What a scream! Of course I couldn’t leave it like that; I quickly put her in a basic “Monte” pose and got the following portrait:

I couldn’t help myself. Every combination of portrait that we made was not complete until we had done the “inappropriate gift” shot — culminating finally in the whole family’s credible interpretation:

An Inappropriate Gift for the Whole Family!

This could be their favorite image; it certainly made my day.  (The astute reader will (of course) observe that the seasoned photographer was able to get the baby to perform!)


I was great to see these sisters in love and enjoying their respective families.


Lighting: Westcott Spiderlites.

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A Frontier Christmas

Every year during the fist week of December the City of Prescott, AZ lights the Christmas decorations at the Courthouse. I have missed it for two years, because I am a block away over at the Sharlot Hall Museum getting ready to capture some low-light night shots.

There are tricks to getting these images. No tripod? Forget it! On-camera flash? Might as well point-and click! I find a couple of off-camera, radio-slaved flashes on manual or TTL with a dragged shutter may do the trick. The issues though are many, including the guests moving quickly past the camera and the area lights over-powering the shots. It makes getting good candids a worthy challenge.

The architecture at the museum grabs me right away, but Mike Lange, who works there (and is a photographer in his own right) puts a hand on my shoulder as I am setting up shots of the buildings and reminds me, “we want people!” Yes, the guests, who instinctively run out of the way when they see the tripod set up — presumably as a courtesy to the photographer. I call out, “wait! wait! It’s you I was trying to get!” So I come away with lots of ghosts running through the images, which are typically shot at 1/4 sec at F5.6.

Last year, the weather was cold, but clear:

2010 Frontier Christmas at the Sharlot Hall Museum (Prescott, AZ)

This year, we have early snow. So I donned my best pair of plastic pants and did Mike’s bidding, but not before I took just one more architectural shot. I went looking for the reenactment of Sharlot Hall by the outside fire. She was in parts unknown, so I shot the fire anyway, with her house in the background:

A Frontier Christmas at the Sharlot Hall Museum (Prescott, AZ)

Oh, the people? Here is a loving couple up from Scottsdale (about 90 mi away). I spotted their hats from a distance. I had to go find them to bring their Christmas regalia in front of the camera. They seemed thrilled to be in the shot. I want the hats!

Christmas Regalia

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After a recent sojourn into the Mojave Desert to capture stories of healers, I guess that I was still overwhelmed even several weeks later by some of the testimonials. A typical snippet of what I had come back with would be Dianne’s story:

After showing my son, Damon some of these, he mused about doing a testimonial himself about some of his life experiences. Although he has a wealth of such experiences, there was no doubt in my mind that his stint in front of the camera was going to be something between tongue-and-check and irreverent. This presumably would be meant to confound all attempts by me to get to a deep level during an interview.

Knowing that he, like most photographers that I know would prefer to stay on the other side of the camera, I attempted to encourage him by adorning him with my favorite sets of Love beads and filling his hands with a sacred musical wood block, complete with mallet that I had retrieved years ago from the Yucatan.

“Camera is rolling, sound is speeding, and … ACTION!”

(Pause and silence).

Damon: “I don’t know … I’m not feelin’ it!”

Boy, have I heard that before! It has become my current obsession to figure out how to get someone in front of the camera beyond that spot and to dig deeply into those feelings to bring out something real. I try to remember the times spent with directors Rod Menzies and Shayde Christian to see if I can remember how they did it. I am not sure exactly what to do in every situation, but I instinctively feel that the performance in front of the camera springs from that twilight area very close to our fears and passions, like some artistic serpent coiled and ready to strike forth. As the photographers delving into video, we attempt to invite the serpent to strike, without invoking its ire.

As Damon continued to silently express his feelings, I saw in the camera moments of supreme facial realities that would rival any actor. These moments confirmed my feelings about that twilight area from which art springs from the deep subconscious. But the words, probably immovably blocked in some cerebral lobe would have to wait for another day to amaze me.

Finally, I couldn’t take it any more. Overcoming my own fear of being in front of the camera, I burst, “let me give it a try!” I took up the ceremonial musical wood block, left him standing there in the forest with the Love beads, and gave it a try.

Not to bore the reader with my impromptu script, I will suffice it to say that my sister, upon seeing the performance wrote, “what a bunch of [explicative deleted] mumbo-jumbo!”

"You've gotta be sincere?"

I don’t know, I thought it was pretty sincere, if not in a mumbo-jumbo sort of way.

Well, OK. So, Damon did try to make me laugh; I’ll show part of it:

Maybe this whole story is just an excuse to pay homage to the late performer, Jesse Pearson, who created one of my favorite characters, the man with the gold lamé jumpsuit, Conrad Birdie. Maybe I need look no farther than his performance for the answers I seek: “You’ve gotta be sincere — honestly sincere!”

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