Monday, April 23, 2007

Social Whirl

It has been a very busy week. Last Thursday, the WGA Foundation hosted the screening of a new documentary film about writer Harlan Ellison. It is wonderful. I have no idea when it will actually be released to the public (there's some talk of filming Stephen King and a few other people) but there's some terrific footage with Robin Williams and Neil Gaiman. The historic footage, going back to the days when Harlan still had dark hair and a 28" waist, was well worth seeing. I still don't remember whether my first "in the same room" contact with Harlan was 1980 or six years earlier--I've got to check my negatives--but even in 1980 he was wiry and dark-haired. By 1989, when I photographed him for my Portrait Project, his hair was mostly white and he had grown heavier. His personality, however, had changed very little.

We initially stopped by the Hollywood landmark Pink's Hot Dogs, where Harlan was holding court to a group of about 20 people before the screening. His plan to arrive at the screening in his "Silver Ghost," a 1947 Packard, went awry when the machine began spewing smoke on the way down through Coldwater Canyon. His beloved car was towed away on a flat-bed and we became the ride for the rest of the evening. After the screening, the four of us joined Lisa Jane Persky and Andy Zax for dessert at a coffee shop on Beverly Boulevard. By the time we dropped Harlan and Susan off, it was way past their bed-time, and we did not get home until 2 a.m. For me it was a school night, and I did not get enough sleep.

Saturday night, we went over to Mogo's Mongolian Bar-b-q, Harlan's favorite dinner haunt along the Boulevard, to join him for dinner. Harlan had copped out, sending Susan down along with Josh Olsen (Oscar (R) nominated for scripting A History of Violence) to entertain the remainder of the folks who had come in from out of town for the documentary screening.

Sunday, we went for brunch with Steven Gould, author of Jumper, a sometimes banned book which will be released as a feature film next year. Steve was in from Albuquerque for the weekend because of "The Big Read" honoring Ray Bradbury. We picked him up at Union Station (where he had dropped off his rental car and was killing time until the 6:45 train departure home) and went up to Pasadena, which has a nice, community feel on a Sunday. It gave me an opportunity to window-shop at my favorite gift store, the Metropolitan Museum of Art Store. I was saved from buying an interesting watch with a moving gray-scale only because there was not one with an appropriate band length for my skinny wrist (probably the only skinny thing about me.) Steve picked up gifts for his wife and daughters. We also made a pilgrimage to The Container Store for my never-ending quest to bring order to the Wein-Valada mess.

I guess that's enough name-dropping for one post.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Six Degrees--or Less--of Separation

The tragedy Monday at Virginia Tech brings home the point of how close we can find ourselves to an event without realizing the connection.

In the 1990s we fell in love with a television series called "Home Front." It became one of those wonderful series which prompted articles entitled "The Best Television You Aren't Watching." My husband and I have subsequently become friends with the creators, Lynn Latham and husband Bernard L--uh(I can't spell it without looking it up and it's a joke on their screen credit as well.) One scene which has remained with me all those years was of a character saying you should never be more than three (I think it was three) phone calls from the President and, in the episode, put that to work.

At the time, Bill Clinton was president. His Vice-President was Al Gore. His cousin-by-marriage was my son's day-care provider when I lived in Vienna, Virginia. Three phone calls to the Oval Office. I used to belong to a women photographers group that also included Tipper Gore, so in a national emergency--or correct counting of votes in 2000--I might have cut the steps by one.

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon raises this game to an art form (the University of Virginia, I think, has a computer program to make this even easier to play.) As it happens, My husband has direct contact with people the game only puts him at 2 or 3 degrees of closeness (Harlan Ellison and Hugh Jackman both come to mind.) On days like Monday, it becomes a reality of our shrinking world.

Christoper James Bishop, the professor of German, killed in the gunman's assault on the classrooms at Virginia Tech, is the son of Michael Bishop, an award winning science fiction author. Michael is one of many science fiction professionals I photographed for an on-going personal project and exhibit, beginning back in 1988. And, of course, I was the lawyer for the Science Fiction Writers of America for six years, so our paths would have crossed more than just through the photo session--such as at the Nebula Awards or the World Science Fiction Convention or the World Fantasy Convention. One degree of separation.

My heart goes out to Michael and his wife. In a post I saw earlier today on a list-serve of writers I am on, Michael Bishop let Walter Jon Williams know that a memorial fund would be set up at Virginia Tech in his son's honor. Any contribution, no matter how small, will be appreciated:

Donations may be made payable to the Virginia Tech
Foundation for the Jamie Bishop Scholarship
(for German Majors):

Virginia Tech Foundation
University Development
902 Prices Fork Road
Blacksburg, VA 24061

Monday, April 9, 2007

Food, Glorious Food

We spent Friday night gaming at the apartment of J. Keith Van Straaten, former host of "Beat the Geeks" and the live, on-stage version of "What's My Line" which ran several seasons at the Acme Theatre on La Brea. J. Keith's been in New York for the past few months and dropped back here for about a week.

I spent time talking with the delightful Tory Davis, whom I had seen at previous J. Keith parties but whose name I did not remember. The topic of food (starting with cheeses) became common ground. Tory's blog, The Way to Eat, was my first stop this morning and you should check it out. Not only does she write nicely about food, she's a pretty good food photographer as well.

Back in the days when I was a full-time photographer in the greater Washington, D.C. area, some of my favorite assignments were food shoots. Not only was there wonderful stuff for visuals, you also usually got to eat afterwards. For the Washington Post, I photographed food classes (once watching someone make a smaller version of the timbale I later saw in "Big Night"), food competitions (the French chefs from the best French restaurants competed against each other for a trip to a cooking competition in Europe--a pre-Iron Chef evening if I ever spent one), and various other food-related events.

I photographed the late, great Jean-Louis Palladin several times, my favorite being the day he wound up in the wrong race at a "taste of Washington" event. He finished last, but he did finish. I never ate at his famous restaurant at the Watergate, but I did get to sample his food that day and at an evening where some of the great chefs of the world gathered in D.C. I don't know what he was like to work for, but he was an absolutely charming individual and recognized me when I would show up to take his picture. (Here is a link to the Jean-Louis Palladin Foundation.)

Many of the food shoots I did were with or for Phyllis C. Richman, then the food critic for the Washington Post. She was fun to work with and my goal is to have as many cookbooks in my collection as she had in her office at the Post. One day, while I was working at the photo department, she came in and said something about The Russian Tea Room. I mentioned that my then husband had proposed to me there. The article she wrote started with something like "Everyone has a story about The Russian Tea Room," and the proposal was mentioned in passing. I accompanied Phyllis to two of the events where I photographed Jean-Louis. I have no idea how Phyllis disguised herself to do reviews since she seemed to know everyone in food in Washington.

In the summer of 1985, after I had stopped freelancing regularly for the Post's photo department, I went off to Italy for a two-week workshop in food photography. The instructor was Aldo Tutino, who had photographed much of the food for the Time-Life cookbook series. Aldo was a native of a city near Naples (Positano, I think), but he and his family lived in Alexandria, Virginia and had purchased a retirement home near a small town called Vernasca in Emilia-Romagna, one of the great food regions of Italy. (Is there any region of Italy which is not a great food region?) Aldo decided to give teaching photography a whirl and I was one of five students to attend his first workshop.

I don't remember much about the other students, except Gail, who was the chief photographer for Marriott Corp. and an acquaintance of mine in the D.C. photo community. She and I traveled to Italy together on the flight from hell--four hours on the tarmac in New York because of storms--and she gave me advice on where to shop for jewelry when I went on to Florence (Quaglia & Forte.) Another photographer was also from the D.C. area and the other two were from greater New York City.

We worked in large format--4 x 5 transparencies--but there were plenty of opportunities to shoot 35 mm as well. For some of the projects we went off to find props at the local marcato and for others, Aldo and his wife provided everything. There is truly nothing so beautiful as the produce at an Italian open-air market. I had never seen peppers of such a variety of hues before in my life (California's farmers markets, though not so large, remind me of the ones I saw in Italy.) The smells of fresh or aged cheeses were intoxicating. It was remarkably easy to create a variety of photos from a trip to the market. One of the photographs that Gail and I designed and shot was later licensed by the Washington Post, so the trip even helped pay for itself.

In 1987, I attended a board of directors and chapter presidents meeting for the American Society of Media Photographers in Santa Barbara. We had a joint dinner with the Advertising Photographers of America's board of directors and chapter presidents. During the course of the meal, one of my fellow board members said that his idea of heaven was to die and go to Italy where you would drive a little and eat a little throughout eternity. I completely agree.