Category Archives: Photographers

One year in paradise

Scottsdale, AZ.

Twelve months ago I left the increasingly foreign province of California known as Silicon Valley and moved to a place whose life style is infinitely preferable. One where you are not competing with loud strangers in their new land for a place in a restaurant and where your neighbors speak English because that, after all, is still the nation’s tongue.

And the carefully researched decision to leave the chaos, cost and noise of the Bay Area for Scottsdale, Arizona has proved to be right in every conceivable way. The other short listed candidates included Boise – Idaho, Santa Fe – New Mexico and Reno – Nevada. Anything further east failed the test of climate. The first two were excluded owing to the absence of decent sized airports with non-stop flights everywhere, the last because – you know – Nevada, land of trailers and gambling.

The big building boom in Arizona, fueled by corrupt banksters whose lending bubble popped in 2007, has seen the three prime states of crazy lending – Arizona, Florida and Nevada – with abundant housing inventory at well below the late-2006 peak. As ‘second home speculation pain’ has set in these homes are either being repossessed by those same banksters, where they are hidden off the balance sheet to keep the regulators happy, or marketed by owners heretofore in deep denial. And, indeed, I paid fifty cents on the 2006 dollar for mine.

Typical price history of homes in my zip code – this one still unsold after 7 months of listing at 15% off the peak price of 10 years’ earlier. Other areas are even worse. Reckon on over $1000 per square foot in the Bay Area.

North Scottsdale, exactly 30 minutes from Scottsdale International Airport, is not cheap as the Phoenix metro area goes, but nonetheless homes here sell for one fifth (yes, one fifth) of comparable properties in the Bay Area. I had dozens and dozens to choose from and any of my six shortlisted candidates would have been fine. In the event I chose one on the periphery of America’s largest nature preserve and what few changes were dictated largely involved the garden.

The garden when I moved in – bare minimum builder standard plants, there since completion in 1996, further enhanced with wretched battery powered landscape lights.

The garden today – a profusion of new plants, new irrigation, sculptures and a sun blind to enhance life on the patio. All new LED flood- and spotlights lend drama at night.

The surprising thing to me is that the previous two owners of the home cared so little for the spirit of place that these simple, obvious and inexpensive changes were not made 20 years ago. Life here centers around the patio with its outdoor furniture, mountain views and shelter from the sun. You might as well enjoy the garden while contemplating the meaninglessness of life …. But then, in contrast to western Europeans, Americans have never been high on the scale when it comes to appreciation of spirit of place, or for contemplative thought, for that matter.

What is wrong about Scottsdale? Well, one and all who have never lived here will point to three months of 100+F weather in the summer. Temperature without humidity data is meaningless when it comes to assessing climate quality and when I tell you that 100F in arid, high desert heat is not the same as 100F in the swamps of the Southeast you may understand.

But not for one moment would I suggest you move here. No siree! The hellish heat, the crowded potholed roads, the traffic – all utterly unbearable. I recommend the Bay Area for you.

Outside my little community in north Scottsdale. Hellish heat, the crowded potholed roads, the traffic, all those Rolls Royces, Bentleys, Ferraris and Porsches for the lower demographic – avoid at all costs.

Lewis Hine

A man who changed America.

Great men change societies for the better in various ways. Some do it through political action (FDR – Medicare, Social Security, WPA), others through large capital transfers and aggressive leadership (Bill Gates and his Foundation). Lewis Hine (1874 – 1940) was neither a powerful politician nor a Master of the Universe. This highly educated man (University of Chicago, Columbia, NYU) was instrumental in changing child labor law in the United States through his searing photography of young children put out to work.

The Guardian has a fine spread of his work which you can see by clicking his iconic image of the power house mechanic below.

Click the image.

Sadly Hine died destitute, living on welfare. The great nation which he had helped reform had turned its back on him.

Jules Aarons

Street photographer and scientist.

Jules Aarons provides concrete proof that talent is not equally disposed in the world of homo sapiens.

The scientific work of Aarons has much to do with the accuracy of the Google Maps app on your iPhone. But it’s his street photography which is of greater interest here. A long time resident of Boston and, like all educated men***, a devoted Francophile, his street snaps in Boston and Paris are luminous and delightful.

*** Aarons studied physics at Boston University, earning his M.S. degree in 1949. In 1953 he won a Fulbright scholarship and earned his Ph.D. at the University of Paris – Wikipedia.



You can see more at his web site here.

Elliott Erwitt in Pittsburgh

Before the transformation.

These newly discovered images of Pittsburgh by Elliott Erwitt document the old city built by the little Scots immigrant and his Carnegie Steel, before its transformation to the vibrant metropolis of today.

Erwitt is incapable of taking a bad photograph as this wonderful slide show attests.

Click the image.

Sadly, it’s many of the descendants of these same immigrants pictured here who would deny the opportunity of immigration to the United States to those who will only help make America greater. “Now that I’m here, stay away” being the thinking. That’s not the America which welcomed me with open arms on November 16, 1977, a day second only to my son’s birth in my memories.

Manhattan, 1949

The one and only Parky.

Looking at the images on my walls, there are two by Norman Parkinson, both of his future wife and one of the first ‘supermodels’, Wenda Rogerson. There’s another eye catching one in his archive which is perfection, this time of Lisa Fonssagrives, a contemporary of Wenda’s who went on to become Mrs. Irving Penn, and it has everything you could possibly want – the beautiful model, the wonderful clothes and that magical blur of the New York cab.

The narrative reads: “Oxford flannel finger-tip coat: Newest of coat-lengths in one of the newest of not-blacks. Worumbo flannel with rolling velvet collar; skirt, same flannel, paler. Tilted hat. All designed by Hattie Carnegie.’ Swedish-born model Lisa Fonssagrives photographed on Park Avenue for American Vogue, 1949.”

You can find the Parkinson archive here.