Fiestas Patrias

It seems sometimes that close to half the countries south of Texas celebrate their independence from one colonial power or another within a very few days. Some of this is history, some is coincidence, but what it means is there’s a really big party. In Texas and most of the United States it’s generally referred to as “Fiestas Patrias.” We throw parades.

And I generally try to shoot them… because, well, they’re parades. There are bands. There are dancers. There are floats. There are veterans and celebrities ON the floats. There are old cars, with politicians and celebrities in them or on them. There’s music. Lots of music. This year there were high school ROTC units practicing for Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving. There are flag-wavers and vaqueros and vaqueras and… it’s just a big noisy crazy spectacle and a heck of a lot of fun.

Also, for photographers, it’s what we might call a “target-rich” environment.

As always, the gallery is behind the picture.

In the moment….

One of the risks of doing “hyper-local*” media work is that if you don’t make a constant effort to look out past the horizon, your universe gets very small. A few weeks ago I noticed in passing that a delegation of Lamas from Drepung Loseling were scheduled to visit the Asia Society Texas Center to create another sand mandala. This is always a special event, but in Houston it’s not really THAT uncommon – one group of Tibetan Lamas or another comes through about every year or so. The thing is, though, after the first few minutes it’s not THAT much of a spectator sport, and I’ve seen it several times, so I marked it on the calendar out of habit and went on looking for stories.

The people involved with this are pretty slick about getting the word out, though, and the blip on the radar kept growing, and growing. And I kept thinking “nah, everyone knows about this, and every photographer within fifty miles will be there…”

See, my philosophy on covering minor news events without an assignment leans strongly in the direction of “hit `em where they ain’t”; if an event is going to draw a couple dozen other photogs, it’s unlikely I’ll find anything they aren’t getting, which means I’m mostly blocking the view of the paying customers, and selling anything after the fact is a matter of out-marketing those other guys… a thing for which I have no gift, little skill and even less inclination.

But as it turns out.. “everyone” was only most of the population of Houston proper. I mentioned the event, again in passing, to a Foreign Facebook Friend on Friday night, and he lit up like a neon sign. He’s at least 3/4ths of a Buddhist, you see, and had never seen the mandala work….and in and around the flood of words he typed at me over the next fifteen minutes I caught on that the message was “man, you just GOTTA go photograph this for me. You gotta, you gotta, you just HAVE TO…”



*a current buzzword – translates to “full coverage of the neighborhood, less coverage of the next street over, fading to virtually no information at all about anything more than twenty miles out…”

Training II


(Five letters. Three syllables. Impressive.)

Okay. I clamber into the front seat of the second coach, where I have a clear view of the engine on the curves, and settle in with the camera bag beside me.

Wooo! Wooo-wooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Shuf.. shufff… shuffa…shuffashuffashuffa clack shuffa clack shuffa clack clack clack

And… we’re off. If I didn’t know better I’d think this was a real train and I was off for a grand adventure somewhere.

But… no. No big grand adventures today. I’m out of clients and budget for those just now, so instead I’m aboard the SDF Express, one of two Chance Rides C P Huntington replicas in Hermann Park. It’s a bit too warm to sit inside, so I took a couple of hours “off” to ride the train and grab a few pictures.

The SDF Express and its sister, the Dr. Jack Express, certainly LOOK right for grand adventures.

In Training

I started to notice murals on my first major trip south – they’ve been a big part of the political and artistic landscape in Latin America for centuries, from the earliest civilizations we know of right up to now.

(Simon Bolivar, somewhere in a park…)

(The Hermit, Key IX of the Rider-Waite Tarot, beside the door of the Hard Rock Cafe’ in Cuenca.)

The last time I was in Ecuador I saw more straight-out graffiti than actual murals, which was disappointing, but they’re still to be found, everything from public art to portraits of political figures to advertising to political commentary for those who don’t own the newspapers….

Anyway, last Thursday afternoon I managed to beat the traffic down to Rosenberg for a Chronicle gig, so I spent some time roaming around and spotted this train-in-progress blowing through a side wall on 3d street. As you can see, it’s not small.

But, at the time, there was no one around, so I kept on wandering. I haven’t done enough small-town walkabout lately, so it was pleasant to get back to it. Checked out several antique shops and a couple of street scenes….

And about an hour or so later, I came back up the street, and met the muralist, Paul Sanchez. Nice guy, Paul. Puts up with all sorts of strange characters who come up and ask questions and stick cameras in his face and whatnot.

He says he’s done the entire mural with those little tiny airbrushes with the half-ounce paint cup, which I notice he has to refill about every ten seconds. He says he’ll be finished here in three or four days.

I’m going to have to go back next week and get the whole thing minus the scaffolding. It’s going to be grand.

(Mr. Sanchez has a website over HERE with some nice galleries, too. Take a look…)

Update, apology, and KITTEN!

Discovered about midnight last night that for some reason the blog wasn’t coming up. I’d been backing up the archives a couple of days ago so I know it wasn’t down long, but nonetheless it WAS down. I don’t know what happened or why, but when I contacted the tech support guys I heard bullwhips and vacuum cleaners in the background and a couple of fading screams that sounded like dustbunnies dying horribly, and the blog came back up again. So here we are.

I got nothing.

But, by way of apology, one of my neighbors has a kitten.

His name is Francisco and he’s very very cute.


I must get back to copying the archives. Only about three more years to go.

29.71529 N, 95.47829 W — Burnett-Bayland Park

GULFTON — There are days when making a living as a photojournalist doesn’t seem like the best idea I ever had.

Last Saturday wasn’t one of them.

Newspaper work , at its best, can be interesting and far from routine. But, as a guy I was working with on a story once commented, “You don’t work for a newspaper. You’re with the Comical.”

True enough – but that “with” is the difference. I’m not staff, so when there’s nothing coming in (which is the usual case these days, for most newspaper freelances) I get to go walkabout.

And I found a bunch of other people going walkabout, too….

Or rideabout as the case may be…

As well as a couple of politicos, basically waving the flag – they’re already well known in the area.

Houston City Council District J representative Mike Laster (center) with staff….

Sylvester Turner, a local with a long resume in city and state government, now running for mayor.

and an assortment of dancers, martial artists, skateboarders, teachers and students from Baker-Ripley Neighborhood Center just up the road.

29.697 N, 95.529 W

One of the most interesting things about Houston is the huge variety of cultures and peoples who’ve come together to create this melange we have…

When I go collect my daily bread, every few days, I walk past the True Buddha Temple in Sharpstown, for no good reason except that it’s between Base Camp and one of my favorite panaderias, the Arandas over on Beechnut. Usually it’s a morning walk for me, and the gates are always locked. Yesterday, I got a late start and they weren’t, and the light inside was quirky but workable. (Late in the evening it’s almost totally backlit, since the front of the Temple and the statues face due east…)


I actually shot the dedication ceremony when the Temple opened (it’s a converted church, I forget which denomination) and found the people there to be very nice and quite helpful. Unfortunately this was back in the film days and the slides, somewhere between then and now, have gone awry.

Somewhere about four years ago I grabbed the slightly wider view, en route from A to B..

Someday I’ll have to go back and talk with these folks… I’m idly curious which flavor of Buddhism is practiced here.

Cooling my heels… and other body parts, too….

Been camped in Mom’s back room for a few days doing the stuff you do when your elders get elderlier, and woke up this morning to find Fort Worth gone all winter wonderland and whatnot….





That’s not actually snow, it’s ice – we had a sleet storm come in about weird o’clock. Something over a hundred crashes this morning around the area, and my truck has neither studs nor chains. Looks like I’m here for a while.

I have food, coffee, running water, and crossword puzzles to work with Mom (one of our long-term hobbies). And intermittent Net access. All life is suffering.


Well, except when it’s not.

Forward into the past…

When I first got serious about black and white photography I spent days wandering the Arboretum in Memorial Park and some of the back trails at Brazos Bend. (This was a while back, long before there WERE digital cameras.) It was a lot of fun and I actually got reasonably good at it. And then came the newspaper work, and eventually came the digicams, and I largely quit the field. It was a lot of time, and effort, and nobody but nobody was interested in buying B&W, or even talking about it. I still have my darkroom but I haven’t actually done anything more than stroll in and dust in several years.

But this afternoon I went walkabout at a section of Terry Hershey Park I haven’t visited for a while, and when I got home and started really LOOKING at the photos I brought back I realized – I’m still seeing it.

I don’t like the results of the conversion quite as much as I do the results I get from film, but that’s probably due to not having practiced as much as I should.

But… it’s time to get the old cameras out again. There are still things they can teach me, and well, I think I’m ready to go back to school.

Onward, into the fog….

Last week I was wandering around at Bastrop, looking at fire damage and getting depressed. Then I found these guys, and they reminded me that there’s nothing to be sad about. It’s just the Wheel turning.

Sometimes you’re on top of the world, and sometimes things just run right over you…. but the Wheel keeps turning, either way.

Let’s hope 2015 has more up than down.

So the batteries are charging and we’ve got a bunch of blank cards; it’s a new year and time to hit the road.