Get your motor running

Whether it’s going to an assignment or searching for an enterprise feature, I drive a lot for my job. I estimate that I’ve probably put in more than 200,000 miles for work, give or take a mile or two. Recently I had an assignment where I didn’t have to drive much at all.

Stroke survivor Herman “Max” Dierich, 75, was once an avid motorcycle enthusiast but now is confined to a wheelchair and recently started dialysis. Through the Twilight Wish Foundation, a group that grants wishes of deserving elders 69 or older, Dierich got to ride one more time.

From the Creekside Care and Rehabilitation Center in Stockton where’s he’s lived for the last 6 years, Dierich rode in a sidecar hooked up to a Harley-Davidson 2010 Ultra Classic driven by John Aires, a member of the California Valley Stockton Chapter of the Harley Owners Group. Other members of the group joined in the ride from Creekside Care to Eagle’s Nest Harley-Davidson store in Lathrop

When I arrived, Dierich was already in the sidecar rarin’ to go. I got some shots of the caravan as it left Creekside’s parking lot but I wanted to get shots of them motoring down the road. The problem was that it would be difficult, not to mention dangerous, to shoot and drive at the same time.

Reporter Joe Goldeen was also on hand for the story. He was headed toward his own car to follow the entourage when I called out to him and tossed him the keys to the company car I came in. “You drive” I said.

With Joe driving, I was easily able to shoot as Dierich and company drove through the streets of Stockton out to I-5. They then headed south to Highway 4 and then had a nice ride through the country east to Tracy Boulevard then to Matthews Road and finally to the Eagle’s Nest dealership in Lathrop. With Dierich too weak to get out of the sidecar, they literally toured the dealership on the bike. First through the showroom and then through the service bays. The ride home was just a straight shot back up I-5 to Stockton.

The whole time I was able shoot out the window, from the front, back and the side of them, telling Joe to speed up or slow down when needed. On the way home I had Joe move over into the slow lane and had the motorcycles pass us up, and Dierich gave me a happy thumbs’ up as they passed us.

It’s not often I have a chauffer on assignment, but when I do I try to make the most of it.

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Recently Margaret Kerry, 81, who was the original reference model for the Disney character of Tinkerbell, made an appearance in the banquet room of Valley Brew on the Miracle Mile in Stockton. She regaled those in attendance with stories of how she got the part, what it was like to work for the Disney studios and of Walt Disney himself. Spry for her age, Kerry displayed the impish humor that got her the part of the feisty fairy.

Children have always been the biggest fans of Tinkerbell and always will be, but of the estimated 50 to 60 people who came to see Kerry, only 8 were under the age of 12; the rest were adults. And while the kids were interested, the grownups were entralled by her stories.

Another octogenarian, actress Betty White, has been having a resurgence of her career lately. At 85 she’s recently been featured in commercials, was a host of Saturday Night Live and played a part in a new TV series. Perhaps this renewed interest in our elders is because we Baby Boomers are aging, too, and are looking for role models for doing it gracefully. And in those such as White and Kerry, we have found those who have done so.

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Do you remember the old computer/video game of Tetris? In the game colorful bricks in various shapes descended down a vertical screen and the player had to orient and arrange them as they fell. Aligning the bricks in a continuous row across the screen eliminated them and made room for more bricks. It sounds easier that it actually was. As levels increase the bricks would fall faster. In the background some Russian-sounding music played and sped up in sync with the game. After a while the bricks would be falling so fast that it was impossible to keep up and the column would fill to the top and the game, along with the frantic sounding music, would come to an end with a great crunching sound

Under construction at the University of the Pacific in Stockton is the new John T. Chambers Technology Center, which is to be the home of the UOP’s school of engineering and computer science. A modern building that also blends into the rest of the campus’ brick and ivy architecture, it sports an interesting decorative design on a portion of its facade.

Multiple colored bricks make up rigid geometric patterns in a larger vertical column just to the right of the building’s main entrance. I don’t know if it was the architect’s intention, but the shapes of the patterns reminded me of Tetris. Although they were static, the bricks gave the impression of movement down the column like the game. The only thing that was missing was the music.

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How much is that doggy in the window?

After reading my column on my pet dog, Brownie, John Vail, Amador County Animal Control director, recently emailed me a photo of a dog at the county shelter that has a tilt to its head much like Brownie did. At the shelter since Jun 28, the adoptable neutered male is an American bulldog/boxer mix and has been named “Ivan” by the shelter staff. Vail didn’t have any more details on Ivan’s history and thus the nature of the cause of Ivan’s tilt. You can view photos of Ivan and other shelter animals at this link or you can contact Amador County Animal Control at:

12340 Airport Road
Jackson, CA 95642-9527
(209) 223-6378

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Man-made scenics

From majestic landscapes of Yosemite, the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone to quieter scenes of dew-covered meadows, budding spring blossoms and colorful wildlife, Mother Nature provides some great opportunities for photographers to take pictures.

In such scenes man-made objects like buildings or billboards are at the very least annoyances. At their worst they can destroy the beauty of the natural world.

However sometimes the man-made things can hold a beauty all their own. Many times they’re scenes that weren’t intended for some aesthetic quality, but by chance have become picturesque.

A few weeks ago I arrived early to shoot a portrait of Antonio Somera, a master at the Filipino martial art of escrima who was recently inducted into the Master’s Hall of Fame in Anaheim. As I waited for him outside the Maghoy Filipinio center in South Stockton I noticed a coffee cup sitting on the railing of a porch at the back of the building. The railing made a geometric pattern and the mug, a contrasting color from the rest of the scene, provided a focal point to complete the composition. If someone hadn’t placed the cup there I may not have noticed the lines and lighting of the scene.

On another assignment at the University of the Pacific’s Gladys L. Benerd School of Education I noticed light filtering down from a skylight above a door to a classroom. The skylight’s slatted interior cover caused a latticework of shadows to fall on the door to created an interesting pattern. Probably not in the architect’s intention, but eye-catching nontheless.

Sometimes it’s the stuff you see everyday that can be photogenic. The city parking lot behind the Record’s office on Washington Street near Stanislaus sits beneath the raised portion of the Crosstown Freeway on downtown Stockton.
While walking into work from my car, I crossed under the narrow gap between the freeway and the westbound onramp from Stanislaus. Both freeway and onramp framed the sky which was filled with light puffy clouds. The freeway merge sign in its bright yellow contrasted beautifully against the blue sky.

On a visit to my mother in Walnut Grove I saw the golden hues of a sunset on the Delta Cross Channel which connects the Sacramento River to the Mokelumne and San Joaquin Rivers. You may ask where is the hand of man in this picture, after all Mother Nature can handle sunsets all on her own. But in this case there is some indirect human intervention. The shimmering light is not directly from the sun itself, but rather it’s light reflected off the channel’s metal and concrete gates that regulate the flow of water between rivers. The light is coming from behind me, bouncing off the gates and then reflecting off the waters. In the usual sunset shots, the light would be shining into the photographer’s face.

The beauty and grandure of nature in all it’s forms is undeniable and always worth photographing, and sometimes the hand of man can ruin them, but if you look hard enough, man-made objects and scenes can hold their own beauty as well.

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Composition 103: Odd man in

The rule of thirds is a great tool, but it doesn’t (nor should it) apply in every situation. Some compositions can be considered an “anti” rule of thirds and still can be effective. You can use color, shape and line rather than placement of your main subject to compose a scene.

There are several compositional elements in this photo and not one of them falls on a “thirds” point. The deep red of the barn on the left is matched by the cattle ramp on the right. The block of blue sky helps to add the balance to the picture. The rectangular shape of the school bus is repeated several times in the picture — the barn doors and windows as well and the aforementioned ramp. Not only does the bright yellow of the bus draw the eye to it, but the power lines, especially the shadow of one on the barn, help to direct the viewer to the bus.

I used the horizontal lines of a flag to draw the viewers’ attention to WWII pilot Dick Dennis as he spoke at a Veterans Day observance at French Camp School. To get the full effect of the flag, I placed Dennis at the extreme right edge of the frame with the lines of the flag leading to him. Finally the field of stars on blue on the upper left helped to balance Dennis on the other side.

Although there is no central subject to this photo, the uniform vertical lines of this barn wall are broken up by a cable and its wavy shadow running through the photo. The eye seeks out the diagonal cable and shadow as refuge from the visual tension of the corrugated wall.

This close-up of support cables on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco has a cryptic feeling to it. One of the cables fits the rule of thirds, but all the other elements are outside of the rule’s parameters. The horizon is close to, but not quite, dead center horizontally. The City in the background on the right balances out the cables to the left. The offbeat composition adds to the photo’s enigmatic aura.

If you adhere to the rule of thirds, then your subject should be to one side or the other of your photo, and never in the center. In this photo of people touring the living roof at the Academy of Science in San Francisco, the subjects are just about dead center, but the lines of the stairwell’s railing all point to the middle.

Going beyond the rule of thirds, some approaches to composition may be unorthodox and eccentric but still can be aesthetically pleasing.

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Composition 102: The negative zone

Like an actor’s dramatic pause that can carry as much weight as the spoken word, the use of negative space can be an effective compositional element. It refers to the area that fills up the empty space next to or around your main subject.

Despite its empty nature, negative space can have a substance of its own. In this picture of a sandhill crane in flight, the blue sky makes up the negative space and creates a shape of its own. Even if the bird itself is taken away, the negative space makes a recognizable shape and composition.

Negative space it can be used as a simple counterweight to a subject placed in the rule of thirds. In this photo of harmoncia player Robert Bonfiglio playing for students at Banta elementary School, the tightness of the shot combined with the open white space to the left helps to convey the passion with which he performed.

The space around the devil horns that Delta College student Ashley Munoz of Stockton wore during Halloween at the college in Stockton adds to the playfulness of the picture.

Negative space can carry and emotional weight as well. In this photo of Pete McCloskey after his failed election bid to unseat congressman Richard Pombo at his home in Rumsey in northern Yolo county, the dark negative space carries some visual weight and helps the contemplative mood of the picture

It can have a literal or informative meaning. A secondary element, say a sign, building, pattern or person, can be placed in the negative space and relate back to the main subject. The murals painted on the ceiling of the St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in Jackson fills the negative space around the main subject of the church’s protodecon Treva Pavlov and balances not just to the composition of the photo but the information as well.

Negative space can be used as the primary or secondary tool of composition, but as far as composing a photo is concerned, its OK to be negative.

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Composition 101: Thirds

Learning about composition can be one of the harder things in photography. There are very few rules, and most of them can be bent, if not broken. There are a few common sense things, such as don’t have a tree branch sticking out of aunt Martha’s head. (That’s more about being aware of what’s going in the frame than composition.)

One rule worth noting is the rule of thirds. Bisect the picture into three equal parts horizontally, then do the same vertically. Where the lines intersect are what are called “points of interest.” The rule of thirds calls for placing your main subject at or near one of these points.

The easy way to achieve it is to put your subject off center to the right or left, and you’ve got it covered. Or you can be a little more specific, perhaps using the lower right third or the upper left. If you have two or more subjects you can use more than one third. The variations are limited only to your imagination.

In the end, the rule of thirds is more like a guideline than a rule, but it’s a good one to keep in mind.

The Rueters web site has a link to a gallery of photos that adhere to the rule of thirds. Check it out here.

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Yippee ki yay!

“Keep rollin’, rollin’, rollin’,
Though the streams are swollen,
Keep them dogies rollin’, rawhide.
Through rain and wind and weather,
Hell bent for leather,
Wishin’ my gal was by my side.
All the things I’m missin’,
Good vittles, love, and kissin’,
Are waiting at the end of my ride.”
Part of the theme to Rawhide by Ned Washington and Dimitri Tiomkin

Like many other kids my age, I wanted to be a cowboy. I wanted to be a quick draw, ride the dusty trails and camp beneath the starry skies. But that was before I knew how hard they had to work and what a tough lifestyle it was.

Al Golub, former director of photography at the Modesto Bee and photo instructor at Modesto Junior College, recently told me about a great photo opportunity open to photographers of all levels. On Aug. 7 and 14 there will be two day-long photographic workshops at the Erickson Family Cattle Company in the high country near Yosemite National Park. From the beautiful scenics of the Sierras to the rugged working cowboys, there will be lots of photo opportunities.

Golub and photographer Rebecca Harvey will be the faculty and will be on hand to give shooting tips and to critique the participants’ work. So you can capture the hard work and rough faces of the hired hands, take in the majesty of the mountains, and, for a day, get a taste of the cowboys’ life.

The workshop costs $250 and the registration deadline is July 19. Here are some contacts for more information:

Rebecca Harvey
PO Box 250
Coulterville, CA 95311
(209) 878-3055

Andra Erickson
PO Box 207
Snelling, CA 95369
(209) 852-2276

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A boy and his dog

Part of the power of photography is that of memory. Like a whiff of a scent or the snippet of a song, a photograph can rekindle memories long buried and thought gone.

At my mother’s house in Walnut Grove I recently found a suitcase full of old photo albums and loose pictures. From old black and white pictures to relatively recent color ones, hundreds of photos filled the case. There were shots of my dad in his army uniform during basic training, my mom as a bobby-socks-wearing teenager, and images of my brothers and me as children. Then I uncovered a picture of a medium-sized dog sitting the grass outside our home, its head tilted to one side as if listening to something in the lawn. And I remembered Brownie.

Brownie was a Heinz-57 mutt, I don’t exactly remember where we got him, probably a stray found on the farm where my dad worked as a mechanic. I was about 4 or 5 when my father, brothers and I took him out for a walk one day.

Being the youngest, I wasn’t allowed to hold the leash, just a simple rope tied to his collar. I begged to hold him. “PleasePleasePleaseLetmeLetmeLetme!” I pleaded. Finally my dad relented and I was given the rope.

Just as he was handed to me, Brownie bolted. I can still remember the rough feel of the rope as it zipped though my hands just before my fingers could close completely on it. The frayed end tickled my fingertips as it slipped past them. We shouted for Brownie to come back, but he ignored our calls. At the same time, about a half block away, Mr. Maeda was backing his car out of his driveway. As we ran after Brownie, I remember the crunching of the gravel of the unpaved streets beneath my feet. How I wished that I could run faster.

Perhaps I closed my eyes or maybe it was just too traumatic for my young mind to process, but I don’t remember actually seeing Brownie get hit by the car. When we reached him, he lay in the street behind the car, unmoving and lifeless. Mr. Maeda got out and said in apologetic tones something in Japanese to my dad.

My father told my brothers to get an old Radio Flyer wagon as I stood next to him weeping. In a few minutes they returned with the faded red wagon with the rusting wheels. I remember how Browine’s legs, which hung over the edge of the wagon, flopped and bounced as we pulled it over the bumpy street. My steady stream of crying was only interrupted by the deep shuddering gasps of air when I took a breath.

My dad went to get a shovel to bury Brownie in the backyard when something miraclulous happened. The dog awoke, a bit disoreinted, but very much alive. There didn’t seem to much wrong with him but, we took him to a vet to have him checked out. He came back with a clean bill of health with one exception. His head was permanently tilted to his left with that curious questioning look that dogs do.

Brownie lived out the rest of his natural days as a normal dog. Every time I looked at him with his canted head to one side, waves of guilt would wash over me. Looking at his picture brought back those feelings once again.

I dug a little further in the suitcase and found another picture taken around the same time as the first one. It was me on what looks like a nice spring or summer day. I was wearing a silly hat and goofy glasses lying on the lawn with a great big smile on my face. Browine was on the grass next to me, his head in my lap. It was then I remembered that Brownie and I laughed and played like little boys and their dogs do. Despite the accident and the constant tilt of his head, he held no resentment of a young boy’s carelessness.

A photograph can capture and hold forever moments of loss and tragedy, but it can also bring back memories of better times as well.

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    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
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