That’s right, this is the final post, I won’t be renewing my .net URL when it expires this year. After nine years of sharing thoughts, plugging gear, and getting some cool freebies, I’ve decided to pull the plug on this .net blog. It’s been fun but I’ve decided to better focus on my .com website, posting at Instagram and Facebook, and shooting/editing pics more because that’s what I really want to do. Contrary to what some people think, blogging takes time, it really does. Below is a link to my digital business card, please follow me on social media, and thanks for your support over these years, it meant a lot!
Yes, there’s really parts of an old US Army fort here…
I arrived in Fort Garland, Colorado last night, driving through two lightning storms along the way, in a soft top Jeep, was not my idea of fun. I went to Lu’s Main Street Cafe which was pretty good, I’m sitting there again as I write this! I just finished shooting the Fort Garland Museum and Cultural Center, which was a great experience. It contains five buildings of the original Fort Garland, a US Army fort built in 1858. It was established to protect settlers in the territory of New Mexico. The fort had a short life as the US Army abandoned the fort in 1883. Interestingly, it’s commander from May 1866 to November 1867 was none other than Kit Carson who was famous as a mountain man, trapper, guide, and by this point an Army officer. Not only did Carson reside in the Commander’s Quarters, but he lived there with his wife and children. A pretty cool piece of history that I didn’t know about till this morning! After the Army closed the fort in 1883, it fell in to disrepair until a local citizen took it upon himself to restore and get the old fort designate as a Colorado historic site. The Colorado Historical Society purchased the fort in 1945, restored it, and opened it as a museum to the public with five of the original 22 buildings restored! Those buildings, with the parade ground and its restored original 1858 flagpole at the center of the compound are a perfect day trip!
However, the morning started off with an early morning visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park. I had hoped to shoot the sunrise but there wasn’t one. Well, there was a sunrise as there is every day, the park was clouded in. These dunes are the tallest in North America coming in at approximately 750 feet high and cover about 30 square miles! Because the temperature on the dunes can reach 140 degrees in the summer, I brought plenty of hot weather gear. But… the warmest it got was 57 degrees by the time I left. These dunes are so massive that the photos just didn’t do them justice so I had to include people for scale. Sometimes the human eye/brain needs people in a photo tOverall, even though Mother Nature didn’t cooperate, I think I may have still gotten some good shots.
Tomorrow I’m heading out early to shoot the little town of San Luis, Colorado, the states oldest town (establish April 5, 1851). After that I’m off to do some shooting in Taos, New Mexico, and finally spending the rest of the day/night in Santa Rossa, New Mexico on the old Route 66! I plan to shoot the old hotels and buildings, some still in use and some abandoned, on the old road in Santa Rosa and Tucumcari, New Mexico. Then a few more things to shoot on Saturday and home that evening. It’s been a pretty cool trip! Below are iPhone 13 mini shots, all except the shot of me are unedited (that was edited on the iPhone).
I left Manitowoc, Wisconsin this morning and headed for Dyersville, Iowa. Shooting in my hometown, for an extended period of time, was something I wanted to do for a long time. Two of the highlights for me were these; the people I met and the horses! There was a lady who let me photograph her horses, it made for an incredible experience. I learned a little bit about horses, and she actually knew who I was from the local Facebook page where I post. There was also the guy fishing at sunrise and the lady doing yoga also at sunrise, who graciously allowed me to photograph them. Even an elderly lady let me photograph her front yard while she worked. I had so many conversations, with so many people, they all made my day(s)!
But then there were the horses… I really got interested in horses a few years ago while living in Virginia. Photographing horses is especially a kick when they’re curious or affectionate. When these animals give out their trust it’s a pretty amazing experience. When I get back to El Paso I’m going to actively search out horses again.
After leaving Wisconsin today, I went to Dyersville, Iowa to shoot the movie set from the 1989 film Field of Dreams. Why? Because I’ve always liked the film and it’s a great baseball movie. It was cool, very cool. Tomorrow I will be on the road all day followed by an entire day shooting in Great Sand Dunes National Park. Below are a few iPhone shots from today in Iowa, hope you enjoy!
Shooing in and around my hometown of Manitowoc, WI is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and I’m finally getting to do exactly that. I’ve also wanted explore the nearby city of Two Rivers as every photo I’ve taken there sells. However, in the process I’ve been meeting so many people and taken a huge number of photos that I can’t wait to edit when I get back to Texas, and… was able to hang out with horses. Gaining the trust of horses and making friends while behind the lens is a thrill, apparently they like the sound of the camera. Since horses are found on farms, getting rural shots has been easy to do in the process. I’ve also been shooting flags and patriotic themed shots which, after Independence Day, are everywhere. In both Manitowoc and Two Rivers, many older buildings can be found, some of them even with corner stones, trying to capture those in interesting ways is more challenging than it sounds. Previously unknown to me was the fact that there are many building here that are on the National Register of Historic Places and capturing those has been a treat as well.
Over the next couple of days I plan to attempt to capture my hometown’s urban settings and possibly a sunset. Overall, from a photography standpoint, this has been very interesting. Now I’m seriously considering a trip up here in fall to capture autumn forest colors. Next stop this week, I’ll be off to Iowa to shoot the movie set for Field of Dreams and some back roads as I get there. See, I am making an attempt to get better at this!
Below are a collection of iPhone 13 mini shots of my photo subjects for today, it was a fun day! My day was interesting, lots of cool photo subjects while driving about a hundred miles of back roads over 5 hours. The day ended photographing one of my absolute favorite subjects, more on that in a bit. So, after waking up a little after 4am, I headed down to the harbor to catch the sunrise over the north pier on Lake Michigan here in Manitowoc, it didn’t disappoint! Other than getting eaten by some gnats, I think it paid off and I got some great shots. After shooting the sunrise I made my way down Mariners Trail to shoot the Spirit of the Rivers statue by R.T. Wallen depicting three Native Americans carrying a birch bark canoe. Manitowoc has a long history with the Native Americans but that’s an entire blog post on its own. This beautiful statue sits on the shores of Lake Michigan and is simply amazing at sunrise. I shot another nearby statue called On Eagles Wings by sculptor by Carl Vanderheyden. After shooting a few other sites in the city, I drove out to the county to shoot several lakes, a few farms, old cars sitting in yards, and a few other things. Then, I happened upon some horses…
Having lunch with my dad was THE highlight of my day but the horses were the best time with a camera in hand. I drove by this farm with nothing short of stunning horses and man… I LOVE taking horse photos; they are amazing creatures. I drove on the property and asked permission to shoot these beautiful horses and the owner was a super nice lady who let me go wherever I wanted. These horses were magnificent, I could have stayed here all day! When I have a camera in hand, horses seem to either spook or become interested in what I’m doing. It seems some are attracted to the shutter sound and when that happens it’s something beautiful. All in all, a great day shooting here in my hometown. I’m here till Monday when I’ll start making my way back to Texas with a few blog-able and interesting stops that should prove fun.
This is my first time back in Wisconsin in about four and a half years. The first week was with my family and this upcoming week is shooting time and I’ve got lots in the works! After taking my family to the airport for their flight home today, I shot the worlds largest free flying American flag. This is the 400 foot tall Acuity Flagpole of the Acuity Insurance Company in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The flag hangs on the tallest flagpole in North America, each star is approximately 3 feet across on this 9,800 square foot flag that weighs a whopping 250 pounds! It’s not just big, it B.I.G. While I’ve driven by it many times on Interstate 43, standing underneath this enormous Old Glory was a completely new experience. It’s gorgeous, Acuity (get it – couldn’t resist…). When it waves in the wind it sounds more like a low rumble than a flag waving. If you’re ever heading north of Milwaukee on I-43, get off at exit 123 and check out this jumbo sized patriotic wonder.
Lots of photos coming on this in the future! But for now, I’m seriously trying to get better about blogging a little each day so please come back!
Murphy’s Law states, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Nothing describes my trip from Washington State to Texas last December better… My wife had just retired from the US Navy at Yokosuka, Japan in December and had flown back to the naval base at Silverdale, Washington to begin out processing from the Navy. The rest of us remained in Japan so the kids could finish up with school, we later caught up with her in Silverdale, east of Seattle. We were hoping to be at our nieces birthday party on December 19th in El Paso. However, the airlines informed before leaving Japan that the kennel for our dog was too small according to new airline guidelines, so we were forced to buy a new and much bigger kennel. A few days after, the same airlines told us that while this behemoth of a kennel would fit on the airplane, it wouldn’t fit through the aircraft’s door. Hmmm…. to me that sounds like it won’t fit on the airplane but that’s just my opinion. Once in Washington we decided that we’d rent a vehicle and I’d drive with our dog, Lupe to El Paso from Silverdale, about 1,800 miles. However, my wife and kids would fly so they could definitely make the party. I’d make it if I could but wasn’t going to do anything stupid, just travel safely taking it easy, no worries. The weather wasn’t looking good and my wife and I decided I needed to get out in the morning if there were any hopes of making the party. By heading south in the morning from the Seattle area it looked like I could avoid most of the winter storms in the area.
Leaving Silverdale early on December 15th and heading south meant there was an extremely limited choice of routes needed to avoid storms. I had to drive I-5 South through the one open route called Snoqualmie Pass. I was up against the clock to get though the pass before the storms came, then chains and four wheel drive would be required to enter the pass and I’d be stuck. As I drove, the weather got worse heading south. By the time I was passing Ashland, Oregon and after driving almost a full day, a sign lit up a few hundred feet up the road saying, “Chains required in 20 miles.” Yes, this was Snoqualmie Pass. I immediately pulled over, called to get a hotel room in Ashland, then drove to the new hotel cancelling my previously booked stay in Bakersfield, CA along the way, I kind of knew it anyway because of the time lost during the storms. Making it to the hotel parking lot, which was empty except for a few cars, but that changed by the time I got to my room and looked out the window. The evening was spent watching the news and weather channel, this storm wasn’t going anywhere but it seemed that the weather improved considerably west toward the ocean. I decided to drive west in the morning and hug the coast south till I was safe from the storms, then hopefully get back on the original route.
On December 16th I woke early and got on the road driving west to Crescent City, California and south down the coast. At this point I didn’t realize I was actually on US 101, also known as The Redwood Highway. Suddenly, I was driving on one of the most beautiful coastal roads that America has to offer, literally breathtaking! I arrived in Klamath Falls and simply couldn’t believe my eyes at the natural beauty of the Northern California coast! I stopped to take a quick couple of photos, and before I knew it I was in the Redwood Forest, again unbelievable! One more time, a few quick photos and back on the road. Looking back, if there was one part of this trip I want to do again, and soon, it’s the Redwood Highway. Frankly, at this point in time, the detour was amazing. However, by the time I got to Fortuna, CA the GPS asked if I wanted save some time with a new route. Why not? I felt I was far enough south to avoid snow and was in the middle of some of the best scenery. I decided to go with new route, curving through the more Redwoods and then mountains, AGAIN absolutely gorgeous. Things looked so incredibly promising… until it started snowing again. Then another sign appeared, literally in the middle of nowhere, or snowhere, California, “Chains required beyond this point.” CRAP! I made a u-turn and headed back, in the opposite direction, down the winding road I had just traveled. I came around a curve previously passed only minutes before and suddenly, in front of me, stones slid across the road and I swerved trying to miss them. I didn’t and felt a large bump, then quickly lost traction going downhill so I immediately pulled over. DOUBLE CRAP!! Now the back right tire had a large hole and I was on a curve, I got back in the car and drove on the rim for about half a mile till I was in a safe place, near a farm house. No problem, just change the tire and get back on the road right? I began looking for the spare tire, I’ve owned a couple of minivans over the years so I checked the obvious places, nada. I got the manual and it stated the spare was located externally, outside and on the bottom, between the driver and passenger seats. Great, it stated a special tool was located in the rear to access and lower the tire. I found the location of the tool in the van, but no tool, TRIPLE CRAP!!! Now I needed to call my insurance company, no signal, QUADRUPLE CR… you get the point. I couldn’t get a signal, was sitting in a snow storm in a rented minivan, just wondering about my next move.
Just then, a man who I’ll just call Mr. Oblivious or Johnny Helpful, came out of the farm house. “You picked a hell of a place to break down” he said. I replied, “I didn’t exactly pick it.” This guy literally stood at his driveway gate saying things like, “wow, you’re screwed,” “you should change that tire,” and “man, you’re really broke down huh?” but never once offered any help whatsoever. While he was yappin’, my BS filter began to flow over, so I got in the minivan and drove another half mile on the rim, not recommended but worth getting away from my new friend. I parked next to the Dinsmore Airport which is to aviation like my driveway is to the Daytona 500; nada, nothing, just a simple airstrip but I also created distance from myself and California’s most obnoxious Good Samaritan. It was now about 1PM, I had no cell signal and was next to a field full of goats and sheep but also had a three quarter plus tank of gas. Lupe and I would be warm till I got help, well I was about 85% sure. Still no signal and it was still snowing. After about an hour, the sun came out and I finally had a signal, two bars. However, I still couldn’t make calls but once I opened the USAA app was able to send a message to them and they were able to ping my location; they said help was on the way within 60-90 minutes. As quick as the sun broke through the clouds, it went and more snow came.
By 4PM the tow truck hadn’t arrived and the sun was going down. Now I received a call from the towing company telling me there had been an issue but the driver was on the way, coming from Fortuna, the city I passed through hours before. If he just left, it would be a while before he arrived, but at least help was definitely on the way. By 6:30 the tow truck arrived and we were headed back to Fortuna, oh and the tire place closed at 6PM, now I needed a hotel. I struck up a conversation with the driver, he was helpful but informed me that company policy allowed him to take me only as far as the tire shop. I’d be on my own from there, and I still had no signal. Once in Fortuna at the tire shop, the car was dropped off and I had a cell signal so I began calling hotels. Finding a hotel was a very good thing, it meant not sleeping in my car for the night; but have you ever tried finding a cab at 8:15PM willing to take a passenger and an 80 pound labradoodle? That didn’t go well. So I packed exactly one t-shirt, a clean pair of underwear and socks in a plastic bag, putting it in my camera bag with a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and deodorant; I had everything I needed and began the two mile walk in the dark with Lupe, hoping nobody would rob me with thousands of dollars worth of camera gear. I safely arrived, got some sleep, then walked back to the tire place in the morning only to find out that not only was the rental missing the spare tire tool, there was NO spare tire. The Budge Car dealer in Silverdale, WA sent me on my way with no spare tire. I made my way back to El Paso only to fight with Budget numerous times on the phone trying to get them to pay for the hotel room and the tire. Don’t even get me started on call centers in India. It took a few weeks but they finally agreed to cover the costs. The rest of the trip, fortunately, was uneventful.
Lesson learned? Well… too numerous to mention. Honestly, had I checked for a spare tire upon accepting the rental, this trip would have turned out much differently. If it hadn’t been for USAA I don’t know what would have happened. Did I make it back in time for my nieces birthday party, no. But nobody was hurt, Lupe and I safely made it home to El Paso and below are photos from the adventure in chronological order. Then after that, my daughter and I got Covid, so there’s that… So in a game of “Would You Rather..” I would chose Covid-19 over California’s most obnoxious Good Samaritan, seriously I would, well maybe not but he did make an impact. Thanks for humoring me with the writing therapy.
Well, much has happened lately, but 90% had zero to do with photography and everything to do with life/family. In fact, I’ve only been shooting three times in almost six months. First, we relocated to El Paso, Texas from Yokosuka, Japan after my wife retired from the US Navy (couldn’t be more proud of her!!). It’s a major transition for our family to say the least. Part of that trip from Yokosuka will likely be my next post, watch for it, it’s interesting and falls sternly in to realm of Murphy’s law. Then, after settling in Texas, we bought a new home and that process in itself was no simple task. With moving, being boxed in again after moving to a new house, unpacking hopefully for the last time, getting the former house ready to sell, and all that comes with getting reintegrated in to family here while adjusting to civilian life, means there’s been big things happening. I retired after a 30 year naval career myself, then spent the last ten as a military dependent. My wife retired after a 26 year naval career, so our kids have grown up in the military since birth and this transition has been huge. That means photography hasn’t been a priority, we’ve had bigger fish to fry. This morning is the first time I’m getting in my Jeep and going out shooting, no plan, no idea if I’ll get shots (or not), but just heading out to shoot with no agenda and it feels great! The one thing I do know, I have a full tank of gas. 😎
I’ll be back blogging here so don’t write me off just yet. Just trying to get settled as a family, make new friends at 59 years old which is harder than it sounds, and find my place in life’s next chapter. Below are just a few photos I’ve taken since coming back to the US and hoping to have many more soon. As always, I appreciate your support!
Having a Wisconsin Collection is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. I grew up in Manitowoc but now live in Texas, so I try to get back every couple of years and hopefully now that my wife and I are fully retired I’ll make the trip more. Needless to say, I hope to get more photos in this collection very soon. Please check it out and as always, I appreciate your support!
I have a few collections at my website that are getting a little big so I’ve divided them up a bit. Instead a ‘Patriotic, Military and History’ collection, there is now Patriotic and History, it works for me (me me). In the process it seemed like a good idea to get all the DC photos in to one collection as well, since these photos have generated interest it makes sense. I honestly hope to add to this collection once back in the US, hopefully set up a fare alert from El Paso to Washington, DC. While I only lived in northern Virginia for a year, I shot a ton of photos. There is SO much history up that way it made my head spin, when I headed out to shoot after my wife went to work and the kids went to school, I’d lump locations together so I could shoot more than one site in the time I had. Except for DC, DC requires time to shoot because there’s so much in one little area. On the next trip, I need to shoot at sunrise and sunset, something I failed to do last time and during winter if possible. All of my DC and Arlington National Cemetery photos now have a home in the Washington, DC Area collection, I hope you’ll take a minute to browse, maybe even purchase something if you find something that flips your trigger!
As always, I appreciate the support I receive for my little hobby, whether personally from family and friends online from photo friends on my Instagram or Facebook Pages, thank you all!
This weekend we took a last family trip to Kyoto, Japan. It’s me with my wife and two daughters, since there’s no hope for departing the room before 10am I decided to head out on my own this morning to check out the local area where we are staying with AirBnB. On Billy’s personal agenda was the To-ji Temple and its 180 foot tall pagoda built in 1643, about a 15 minute walk down the road. On the way there, it was pretty chilly and my hands were getting pretty cold, I didn’t bring gloves… But this is Japan and nothing that two hot cans of coffee from one of the many machines I passed couldn’t fix. Instantly, liquid hand warmers for my jacket pockets, a wonderful thing! This morning was exceptionally beautiful and honestly, I couldn’t decide which I liked more, shooting the pagoda and temples or the autumn colors surrounding them!
This is our family’s last trip in Japan, we’re out of here in less than two weeks. In a few days we’ll be home and without a car, so I’ll be on foot capturing as much of Yokosuka as possible with my camera. Leaving Yokosuka is somewhat bittersweet, it’s a very underrated city and great location for sightseeing but at the same time going home to Texas is exciting as well. For much of our time here we couldn’t venture far from Yokosuka because of Covid-19, so most of my photography has taken place very close to home. While I’ve kind of become attached to this city, it’s also time to move on. After three years, there’s still a lot I want to shoot in this amazing place, so I’ll be out on foot once again and getting the last shots in. For now, Kyoto has been amazing in just about every way, including the food! This is also a target rich environment for photographers, just about everything here catches the eye in some way. Yesterday I spent 15 minutes shooting only the neighborhood intersection at the end of our street, yes I’m easily entertained.
All photos on this post are unedited and taken with the iPhone 12 Mini.
“It ain’t the heat; it’s the humility” Yogi Berra, the great American philosopher.
As a musician for almost 40 years of my life there were a few concepts that served me well. Back then, I would have never anticipated that photography could be so similar to music and if you’ve followed this blog for a while you’ll know it’s been written about before (My Two Photo Lessons – 2/3/2017). Back then, I had musical goals of what I wanted to sound like and listened to many great jazz trombonists; Jack Teagarden, J.J. Johnson, Jimmy Cleveland, Frank Rosolino, and my all-time favorite, Carl Fontana. Yes, there are so many others, but these are the ones I still listen to even today. I met Carl Fontana in the early nineties and what struck me about him the most was how humble he was. For a few years afterward I would call him and we’d talk, it was amazing to talk with my musical idol. This was a jazz legend who amazingly always had time to talk on the phone. He would usually tell me about the grand kids, or how he was sitting at his pool in Las Vegas. There was so much more to him than the trombone. He still listened to other trombonists, even those who were maybe not at his level, but he was still learning! I’m sure Mr. Fontana had an ego, we all do, but his was in check, 100% of the time. My goals back then were to master a specialized type of trombone playing called doodle-tonguing and sound like him. However, he had other qualities that became something to emulate; he displayed humility and loved being a grandpa, and that was simply amazing to me. From him I learned that my ego could be a dangerous and detrimental thing, but if he could keep it in check and be humble – maybe I should too.
Fast forward to today, while no longer playing music, I’ve tried to use the lessons learned from music toward to photography. Today, I still look at the work of legends to improve, artists like Trey Ratcliff, Annie Leibovitz, Arthur Fellig (Weegee), Joel Sartore, and the legendary Ansel Adams are a few who inspire me. There are photographers all over Instagram who inspire me daily as well! Looking at photos affects me much like listening to music used to, dissecting a photo beyond a glance is just too cool! It gives me goals, something to strive for when I have a camera in my hands. I’ve had two goals in recent years, the first has been to get better at shooting black and white. Not to just shoot black and white but visualize and capture something I specifically see in my mind as black and white; not simply converting a color photo to B&W. There’s an art to creating with no colors and using only textures, light, darkness, and shadows; this is stuff I’m learning by asking others I admire. The second goal, only in the last year or so, is to really work at street photography. It sounds easy in theory, but in practice not so much. Do you ask for someone’s permission to shoot them? Do you not ask in order to catch them naturally? Do you shoot and ask for permission after? These are things I’ve been confronting, the sometimes candid nature of photography has left me, at times, feeling somewhat like a stalker. Especially here in Japan where the people are incredibly polite. If a group of people catch me in the act of shooting, they sometimes stop because they think they are getting in the way and don’t realize I actually want them in the photo. When I ask for permission to shoot someone, I’ve had mixed reactions, but always polite. So there’s the immediate goals I have. But then…
There’s still that other thing, humility… One thing I learned after 30 years in the Navy, especially when I was a Master Chief, being humble opens more doors than it closes. The same is true with photography, just as it was with music. There are always those who will be better than you and there are others who might not be better than you overall, but have an aspect or specialty where they outperform you. Being humbles allows you to interact with these types of people. Honestly, humility even allows me to get feedback from my kids and wife! My daughters have always helped my photography, they both have an incredible eye but no desire for photography. In fact, the shot of the American flag at the top of this post was my oldest daughter’s idea. It was a brand new flag, still coiled, and I was shooting photos of it when she said, “Dad, you should shoot it from under here.” I’m not too big to listen to a 12 year old with great ideas! Whenever I’m editing a bunch of photos, I always ask my daughters, or my wife, for input and they’ve never let me down. Every time I’ve been out been out shooting with them, I pick up an idea or two. The point is, there are great photographers everywhere, some better than others, but if you look at the work of those REALLY trying, you’ll almost alway gain some nugget of knowledge.
I try to remember that this is photography, full of egos and passionate artsy type people, and just about everyone has something to offer whether shooting with a DSLR or cellphone. Set goals for yourself and be humble! My goals of becoming better at B&W photography as well as street shooting drive me with a purpose. As for practicing some form of photographic humility, that’s probably another goal, one that hopefully never leaves. Every great musician and photographer who has taught me something displayed something beyond their abilities with the instrument, it was humility and being approachable. Just like when I was in the Navy, I still try to continue learning from those around me, and it’s still proving invaluable. Trying to be humble and approachable helps me feel comfortable even when I’m the one getting the criticism and advice. Yogi was right, it’s the humility.
While I gave up playing the trombone back in 2012, music is still an important part of my life. There is always something going on in the background, music is always playing. In our car we have a collaborative Spotify playlist that we all put music on so when we travel it’s not just “dad’s old music”… emphasis on old. I seem to have playlists for just about everything, even when we leave the house and our dog is alone we leave music on for her. I read somewhere, years ago, that music or a television helps dogs when you’re away and they don’t feel as lonely. We have our weekly “Taco Tuesday” in our house, my wife is Mexican-American so it’s a matter of pride, like how my family feels eating brats, beer, and cheese in Wisconsin, or Italians feel when watching Godfather 1 or 2 (Sorry, 3 missed the mark for me). Anyway, “Taco Tuesday” always has some TexMex music or Selena playing, it begins when we brown the meat. At night, all of my kids went to bed listening to Pino Daniele ballads, my favorite Italian musician. Anyway, you get the point…
A few years back I decided to start wearing headphones when out shooting at the beach where I lived in Coronado, California. At first it just seemed surreal to be on a beach in southern California actually listening to the Beach Boys, yes, I’m an admitted geek. Then I started putting together a playlist for when I went out shooting, it made photography even more fun but I noticed an unintended consequence, my shots actually seemed better when I uploaded them and I just felt more creative. So the playlist evolved and, yes, it’s a weird collection of stuff from my entire life. There’s no one genre, it’s music my dad listened to at home when I was growing up, the jazz I used to love to play so much, some of the recordings that I’m actually on that are on Spotify, Italian music I’ve come to love after living there for 17 years, and music from different periods of my life. It’s music that tugs at the heartstrings of my life but this music takes me to another worldly place when I have a camera in hand. I shoot lots more photos and get more keepers statistically if I shoot more, well I’m hopeful for that anyway.
For what it is worth, my personal experience has been that music helps me creatively, makes me more productive when I’m shooting. However, it has the opposite effect when I’m editing because I can’t focus on the editing task at hand. For editing, I usually have one of my favorite war music playing, yes, it’s weird. But back to music, my photography playlist honestly works for me, I never get tired of it because it’s only on when I’m shooting. Below are a couple of selfies over the years, notice the headphones, I really do this. If you dare to check out the playlist (one of the links below) you’ll see that it’s kind of whacked to say the least, but it’s mine and I’m kind of weird, just ask my kids.
I’m in the process of relocating back to the US from Japan, part of that means I mail my camera gear ahead of the move. I do this because I trust the US Postal Service far greater than movers hired by the government. Call me paranoid, but I’ve been transferring like this in the military for almost 40 years. If someone is intent on taking your stuff when you do a military transfer, they’ll get it; that’s been my experience anyway. Mailing most of my camera gear back meant I needed to decide what I wanted with me here from August till November or December when I get home. There was no question I’d be using my old Peak Design Everyday Messenger bag, the 15 inch wonder bag that started the messenger camera bag craze. What I am surprised about is how great of a bag this still is! Having lots of bags, I don’t always grab this one, but now that I’m down to this one, well… it’s working superbly.
Today, I’m using it working out of my car shooting the little fishing village of Arisaki near Yokosuka, Japan on the Miura Peninsula. The lenses I decided to keep with me during this transfer to the US were a 15-35mm and a 24-105mm to give me some versatility but not take up a ton of space. I’ve discovered that carrying one less lens in this bag than I normally carry actually works better and keeps the bag more functional. Working out of a car means I can have the camera on the passenger side for easy access but the magnetic latch makes it super easy to close when not in use and driving. I’ve gotten in the habit of jamming too much stuff in this bag over the years and while it handles it, it’s just so much easier with only two lenses when it comes to access and weight. The bag still looks much like when I bought it a few years ago and I have no problem telling people to get this bag, even this original model! While there is a version 2 of the 13 inch Everyday Messenger (EDM), the original 15 inch EDM only received minor improvements. I would love to see an upgraded 15 inch bag with the improvements put in to the 13 inch bag, but I don’t think that’s likely. While I’ve used backpacks and still have a few, the messenger style bags just seem to work better for me. This is especially true when changing lenses, there’s just better use of workspace that I don’t find in backpacks. Backpacks seem to work better if you plan to lay it on the ground. No matter how ‘easy’ the access is, I always seem to needs something nowhere near the access points.
If you’re looking for a bag that’s going to hold up, inside and out, the Peak Design Everyday Messenger 15 is still an awesome bag that can be found just about anywhere at a great price. Why am I writing about it now? Well, I just got a little giddy using it today realizing it was money well spent a few years ago. When the EDM bag came out it was the head turner, people couldn’t wait to get their hands on it, it was followed by even more great bags. In the process it seems this bag has gotten lost in the mix by some of us. However, it’s still relevant, still working like it was intended, and hopefully I’m in the minority of those letting this thing collect a little dust. When I get home, I see me using this old timer a little more!
Trying to be better about blog posting has been something I’ve written a gazillion times before. We’ve got two months left in Japan and my photography goals are to get better at street shooting and to attempt to capture Yokosuka as I see it around me! Those two goals go hand in hand and it means lots of people pics, food, transportation, animals/pets, and just plain life. Those are the goals while trying to get out and shoot every remaining day before we leave. Yesterday, the plan was to shoot at Yokosuka’s JR Train Station and on the way to get some shots at Verny Park. While in Verny, I decided to shoot some Japanese naval ships in the harbor followed by the selfie that’s on this post. I sat down on a park bench, a minute or two later an elderly lady sat down next to me. Doing a few things on my phone, I noticed her taking out art supplies and she began sketching the US Navy ships across the harbor at the US Naval Base. Watching her, others also started setting up around us and began sketching various harbor scenes as well. I got the attention of the lady, pointed to my camera, indicated that I’d like to take her photo. She smiled as only Japanese people do and nodded ‘yes’ and I began shooting her. This was so cool and the other artists took notice and began to talk. I pointed to my camera, sort of gesturing for the their collective permission to shoot them. They all smiled nodding ‘yes’ as well. Well, this was making for an interesting morning!
This is what living overseas is all about, meeting locals, being part of the scene, and it was just beautiful. This was in line with the new goals, shots of life in Yokosuka with artists no less, and it was a fun experience. This got me out of my comfort zone to say the least. Finally, when done, I sat back down next to the lady, glancing at her progressing sketch, this nice little old lady obviously had skills. Who wouldn’t want a photo to remember this wonderful experience? I waited for her to take a break, politely and quietly got her attention again, indicating with my phone that I wanted to take a selfie with her and, again, she sweetly smiled like sweet grandmother nodding her approval. After the selfie below with her pointing to her sketch, watching her for a bit, I didn’t want to be rude and just walk away. A ‘thank you’ seemed like the proper thing to do at this point. Wanting to get the grandmotherly artist’s attention, I waited for an opening and did the light cough, a-hem, and she glanced up so I gave her my best thank you in Japanese (Arigato gozaimasu) followed by a traditional bow. I needed to get this right. At this point, she angrily waved her hand with an irritated “get the hell of my lawn” look and grumbled something gruff in tone. I had obviously annoyed this crap out of this lady…
When we arrived in Japan almost three years ago I just knew it would be an amazing experience. After hearing about Japanese food from many friends over the years, my family and I were ready for what was to come… or were we? Sushi and ramen certainly lived up to the hype, so much that we’re already looking for places to hopefully get our favorite dishes after we move to El Paso. While everyone in our family loves ramen, one of our daughters isn’t crazy about sushi, and I’m the only one who likes eel. Other than that, we never have a problem eating Japanese food, it’s always fresh, almost alway healthy, and tastee. However, what we weren’t ready for was the variety of international cuisine that the Japanese embrace. My first outing in Japan on New Years Eve, we went to a little park and there was everything from from curry, hamburgers, German sausages, to Shish kebabs. The Japanese have the ability to cook these foreign dishes to almost perfection, and the SWEET S. Huh? Yup sweets, you read that right! All in all, eating in Japan has been nothing short of amazing.
First, the sweets, and yes the Japanese have a sweet tooth, with a bit of a twist. Upon arriving a friend told us, “you have to try Japanese pastries.” Ok… something you don’t typically think of about the Japanese. But it’s true and you’ll find it all here; cakes, pies, cream puffs, ice cream, sundaes, chocolate, caramel, cookies, you name it and it’s probably a Japanese favorite! Yes, it’s all amazing, and you’ll find Americans really like the Japanese sweets too! So what is the twist or catch to it? Very simply put, they use less sugar and the emphasis (in my opinion) is on the flavor of the food and not the sweetness of it. The first time I ate a cream puff the taste of the cream was out of this world and the pastry itself had, well…. flavor! Sundaes are incredibly tasty too, again, not as sweet but every bit as chocolatey and tastee! Also, the Japanese exercise portion control, something not seen in ‘Merika since the seventies. After my doctor got on my case about not meeting her weight expectations for me, but actually exceeding them, I’ve found it easier to satisfy a sweet tooth and keep it healthier in Japan than anywhere I’ve live in my life. Japanese pastries are a definite treat and the perfect end to an evening or for something worth a family trip. My daughter, not the neatest eater on plante Earth, love ice cream but you’d better have lots of wipes. Here, she eats ice cream served from a foil package similar to a juice pack. It’s delicious ice cream and no mess, something my wife and I love! Japanese chocolate is another area where the Japanese excel, and by the same formula of apparently toning down the sugar a bit. When I write “less sugar” please don’t think it’s not as good. Most people arriving from the US upon trying Japanese chocolates and sweets wonder why we can’t have the same thing at home?
Having Italian food, in Italy, is about as good as it gets! Pizza, something of a work of art there, is amazing every time, and there is also nothing like it the variety of pastas! God knows that I’ve eaten my share of it while living in Naples. I never imagined Italian food would be so authenitic here and much better than most of the Italian food I’ve had in any ‘Little Italy’ across the US. Most of those ‘traditional’ places cater toward American tastes, not so in Japan. I’m not sure where they learned to make pizza but they learned it the right way, and the same for the pasta! Overcooked pasta is something most American-Italian restaurants specialize in, that’s not a good thing. Don’t even get me started on Olive Garden. Focus Bill, focus!! Pasta in Japan is cooked al dente just like Italy and it doesn’t break apart when you try to eat it. While pizza and pasta are done right the flavor is sometimes limited by those ingrediants only available in Italy, such as fresh mozzerella cheese. Again, the only catch with this in Japan is that, once again, portions are smaller. Seeing a theme here? Absolutely delicious but just smaller servings! I haven’t had the Japanese wine yet but the beer is very good. Japan is incredibly strict when it comes to drinking alcohol and driving, 0.03 BAC is considered drunk driving. It’s not worth chancing as one drink could spell disaster, even other adults in the car may be held liable for allowing the person to drive in Japan. When we go out to eat I drink nonalcoholic beer and I have to say that Japanese nonalcoholic beer has more flavor and body than Michelob Untra (again, just my opinion), I know that doesn’t say much… It comes down to this, I’m a pretty happy camper if I can find good Italian food and Japan does not disappoint.
Lastly, walking in to a bakery in Tokyo makes you honestly think you’re somewhere else! France… the US maybe… or even Italy, but not Japan. The scene inside Japanese bakeries is one from a magazine, bread and pastries lined up in a presentation all bakeries should strive for, it makes you wonder again, where did they learn? how did they? Just shutup and eat!! Seriously, Japanese bakeries are up there with the best of them and it may be possible to gain weight from the smell along! We bought some and took it to our hotel room and it didn’t last long at all. It comes down to this, whether you’re eating at a nice Japanese restaurant, Denny’s, or even 7-11 for that matter, the food is high end. Did I just say Denny’s and 7-11 were “high end”? Yup, not a typo. You can always find delicious and healthy food choices at even these establishments. Plus, I can find coffee 24/7 within minutes from my house but that’s a whole nother blog post! When Americans return to the US you’ll always here them talk about Georgia Coffee, and with good reason, it’s very good. But I personally feel there has been some sort of US business or diplomatic failing because it’s made by Coca-Cola, so should be readily avaible in the US too? Not so…
Now I finally see what the talk was about, Japan is a culinary wonder every time we head out the door. While I had been to Japan several times in the 90’s, I had never lived here till 2018 and it’s been eye opening! When the Japanese do something, they do it right. 7-11, Denny’s, Georgia Coffee, Italian food, and bakeries will floor you, they seem to have it all! As our time here winds down, the list of things we’ll miss as a family continues to grow, starting with the food. It’s been the journey of a lifetime.
Last week, we spent four days in Osaka, Japan with two of those at Universal Studios Japan. Theme parks wear me down, mostly mentally, and generally I’m good for one day. Don’t get me wrong, Universal Studios is very cool, the kids had a blast, but by the second day it felt like I was Teddy Kennedy’s drinking buddy after a weekend of carousing at Martha’s Vineyard. I was tired… Universal Studios Japan redefined expensive and almost made Disneyland seem cheaper, for the four of us to eat anywhere near Universal Studios or Universal City was about $300 a day. All in all, it was fun, and our kids had the time of their lives, for that alone I’d do it again. The next stop was the Osaka Castle, an iconic piece of Japan and because I’m a history geek who loves photography, locations like the Osaka Castle are usually the perfect storm. However, it would have been better if it had been an original castle, not a reconstruction, but you can’t have everything! Wow, with Hogwarts, that’s makes two fake castles in one week! I forgot to use my inside voice there… This five story castle sits in a large grounds of 15 acres that is mostly the rock foundation for the castle itself. While a reconstruction, it surely gives you the impression of how incredible the original structure must have been! If you’re worried about home invasion, nosey or noisy neighbors, or want to get your local HMO off of your back, I’d highly recommend this type of construction. Lastly, we ended up in Namba, the downtown area of Osaka that had everything from the most expensive shopping on planet Earth to mom-n-pop joints, very cool! Below are some photos from Universal Studios, life wouldn’t be complete without a plastic T-Rex… If we had more time left here in Japan, Osaka would deserve a second trip for sure!
It’s Memorial Day here in Japan, as a veteran it feels awkward when someone says, “thank you for your service” on this day. Yes, please thank veteran’s on Memorial Day, go to a national cemetery if you’re near one; if not, visit a nearby grave with flags planted.
Over the years I’ve taken a stab at setting up an Affiliate Page, but something has always gotten in the way. I’ve never minded plugging items or gear that I use and like, no problem there. However, I wanted my Affiliate Page to be different from the page where I review products or gear I use because I want there to be a clear line. There should, in my opinion, be a line where on this side of it I tell people about products I like just because I want to express an opinion (after all, this is America right?) AND the other side of the line is where I tell people about products and may receive compensation for my opinions. So what’s the difference? For me, it’s basically ethics because I’m really telling people about these products in the same manner, with the same info, but it’s the end result that is different. If I’m saying in a product review, “this lens is incredible” that’s just me expressing an opinion and if you click the link, I get nothing. However, if I’m telling you on my Affiliate Page, “this lens is incredible” you need to know upfront that if you click the link and buy their product, I may be compensated in some way. Honestly, for me it doesn’t change my opinion of the product. If anything, possibly being compensated makes me want to be even more sure it’s a great product in the first place! I wouldn’t want to be compensated for plugging a low quality product, ever, because I feel that’s basically scamming…
So that’s my rational, the products that are on my Affiliate Page are:
1) Peak Design: I’ve been using them since 2012 or 2013, they have incredible bags, tripods, accessories for carrying your camera, and the best customer service you’ll find!
2) Canvas People: For the last year or so I’ve been a fan of this company, great canvas prints at a great price. They have lots more available as well!
3) Luminar AI by Skylum: Luminar AI has become an important part of my workflow, every bit as important as Photoshop and Lightroom has been.
4) Geekoto: They make an excellent entry level tripod I used for about a year (provided by them). They also make higher level tripods and other camera equipment.
I hope you’ll decide to try one of these products and, as always, thank you for following!
Yesterday I was able to go out and shoot the USS Reagan as she departed for sea, through Tokyo Bay, from her homeport in Yokosuka, Japan. I was sitting at a parking lot on base looking in to the foggy bay, shooting in the rain, when my wife who is active duty Navy came from work. She came to have a glance mentioning this would probably be the last time she’d see an aircraft carrier departing. My wife is retiring at the end of the year and we’re off to Texas and we’ll both be retired, I retired 10 years ago. Until she mentioned this, the last time she’d watch a carrier depart, I hadn’t thought of it that way. It kind of hit home that I’ve been around the US Navy for 40 years now, I realized I need to get out there and shoot plenty of ships before leaving as the chances of finding ships in El Paso, Texas are fairly slim.
The USS Reagan, CVN-76, departed as I was shooting with a handful of families around me having soft conversations. It’s the part of the military most people don’t see, the part families don’t look forward to… Departing ships aren’t as much of a big deal as when they return, there was no band or ceremony, just these few families. There is nothing like the aircraft carrier departing, seeing the harbor tugs out there before waiting and clearing out the boat and ship traffic to be followed by a helicopter flying circles around the mighty ship slowly moving through the water; it’s a big evolution. On this rainy day, the weather was less than desirable as I stood there with the families photographing the Reagan. Now she slipped in to the fog bank quietly, with the loved ones aboard of those few around me.
Every now and then I check to see where my photos have been used, usually it’s just searching myself. Around January I’ll do a deep search with a Google Reverse Image search and that kicks up a lot more results but is more time consuming. While photography has provided the creative outlet that I really needed after quitting music, it’s been stock photography has given me a sense of photographic purpose. Creative photography and stock photography sometimes crossover in that the creative, or more artistic shots, that I never thought would sell as stock sometimes do! Even better, sometimes it’s like the gift that keeps on giving in that shots taken years ago still make money today. In fact, of all the shots below, only six of them were taken in the last two and a half years. Yes, navigating high seas of stock photography’s rules, the heavy editing that comes with removing trademarks or copyrighted material, can be a pain. However, in the end it’s been pretty rewarding and hopefully makes me a better photographer.Every now and then I check to see where my photos have been used, usually it’s just searching myself. Around January I’ll do a deep search with a Google Reverse Image search and that kicks up a lot more results but is more time consuming. While photography has provided the creative outlet that I really needed after quitting music, it’s been stock photography has given me a sense of photographic purpose. Creative photography and stock photography sometimes crossover in that the creative, or more artistic shots, that I never thought would sell as stock sometimes do! Even better, sometimes it’s like the gift that keeps on giving in that shots taken years ago still make money today. In fact, of all the shots below, only six of them were taken in the last two and a half years. Yes, navigating high seas of stock photography’s rules, the heavy editing that comes with removing trademarks or copyrighted material, can be a pain. However, in the end it’s been pretty rewarding and hopefully makes me a better photographer.
Retiring 10 years ago from the US Navy, I felt like my dad probably did when he retired after 30 years as a police officer. We all wondered what Dad was going to do. He took up copper art and welded amazing pieces that sold very well, we never saw anything artistic from him till that moment and it was awesome! Here I was in the same position, after 30 years in the US Navy Music Program I had no idea what I was going to do when I grew up. I taught US History for a couple of year with UMUC Europe in Naples, Italy and LOVED it but that ended when we transferred back to the states (my wife is still Active Duty). I had never thought of shooting stock photography and actually never heard of it till a friend suggested I try it in 2017. Now, my photos are doing better than ever at Adobe, Getty, Shutterstock and the others. However, while traffic goes to those companies from my website, I don’t sell much there. Now, I’m working on my website and have made photos more affordable. The company that handles my printing/sales does great work too.
– Paper Prints from .23 cents (4×6)
– Wall Art Canvis Prints starting at $19.95 (8×10)
– Metal Prints (Desk Art) from 17.99 (4×6)
There’s other gift items there as well, just click the red shopping cart to get started!
It’s always an honor when people spend their hard earned cash on my photos and it’s not taken for granted. As always, THANK YOU for your support here, on Facebook, and Instagram!
Recently, I had some spare time and haven’t been out shooting much, plus some other family events kept me close to home. Well, namely we had to put our four legged family member of 13 years down and it was a tough family event… Our daughters had known our yellow lab, Casey, their entire lives. I’ll just say this, our beloved pal had dementia for about the last year of her life and it’s no less savage on pets, it really affects the entire family. To get my mind off her loss, I decided to create another video promo for my website, BillChizekPhotography.com, and it was a labor intensive process which was something needed to keep me going mentally. While I’ve created other videos at my website’s Video Projects page, last year’s video was the first created for promotional purposes and people actually liked like final 2020 Promo. However, last year during that process I was actually working on two separate videos and one, the 2020 Promo, was panning out better while the other kind of dead ended creatively and was set aside.
Unfortunately, my daughters really liked the video that was shelved last year, so I picked it up again and tried to do something with it. The problem is that the project was still at a creative dead end, I was basically stuck in the same mud as last year, nowhere to go. I needed to use the same retro-themed concept of that video but decided to start over from the ground up. While the concept is the same as last year’s video, kind of a walk though the journey my photos have taken while using new photos, the format is a complete change from the last year. While I liked it, one of my daughters loved it and the other didn’t… Since they practically never agree on anything, and the fact that my wife didn’t say it was terrible, here it is. Please click this link, 2021 PROMO VIDEO, to see it and I hope you like it. As always, thank you all for your support!
While not a fan of Facebook, it’s a good place to post photos of my kids for family to view, a place to keep up on what family and friends are doing, and for getting my photography out there. However, beyond that, I really don’t enjoy it much. I find out about most things there because my wife sees something and tells me. Honestly, I like Instagram where people just seem nicer, that’s a bit strange as well because I don’t know most of the people I follow there. Just post a personal opinion on Facebook and watch how many of your friends suddenly become subject matter experts, Facebook lawyers, Facebook MD’s, and Facebook Political Experts. In less time than you can have a pizza delivered to your front door you’ll see a side of people you didn’t know they had. However, every now and then there’s something incredible like the video of Sir Nicholas Winton being surprised on a BBC Program called That’s Life surrounded by some of the 669 mostly Jewish children now grown up that he’d saved during the Holocaust. If a video like that doesn’t get to you, nothing will. Recently, a Facebook post was forwarded to me by my wife, it was historical and she thought I’d like it. It was about a Japanese man the article claimed was the “Japanese Schindler.” It claimed he saved some 6,000 Jews during the Holocaust, five times more than attributed to Oskar Schindler, the subject of the famous 1993 movie Schindler’s List. If everything in the article were true, it seemed to me that Hollywood had made a movie about the wrong person. Believe me when I say I love history and read about it plenty, but also trust me that you could fill an encyclopedia from A through Z on what I don’t know. It’s a vast subject; however, it seemed that something this big would be more well known.
The Facebook post, while having a few embellishments, I came to discover was mostly true so I began to read more about this incredible man named Chiune Sugihara. It turns out there had been a movie about Mr. Sugihara entitled, Persona Non Grata in 2015 and a PBS film as well, Sugihara: Conspiracy of Kindness. Chiune Sugihara “was born to a middle-class family in Japan’s Gifu Prefecture on the main Japanese Island of Honshu on January 1, 1900. Sugihara was also called “Sempo,” which was “an earlier rendition of the Japanese character for part of his formal name.”(1) Chiune, or Sempo, “graduated from high school with top marks.” He later studied English at the Waseda University paying for his “education with part-time work as a longshoreman and tutor.” Chiune spotted a classified ad in which “the Japanese Foreign Ministry was seeking people who wished to study abroad and might be interested in a diplomatic career.” After passing the entrance exam, he went to the Japanese language Institute in Harbin, China where he studied Russian, graduating with honors, and converting to Greek Orthodox Christianity in the process. Harbin, also then called ‘the Oriental Paris,’ opened Chiune’s eyes to the rest of the world. From Harbin he took on a role “with the Japanese-controlled government in Manchuria” and was “promoted to Vice Minister of the Foreign Affairs Department.” This job put him “in line to be the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Manchuria.” While in this job, Chiune “negotiated the purchase of the Russian-owned Manchurian railroad system by the Japanese” and “saved the Japanese government millions of dollars” but had ” infuriated the Russians.” However, as a sign of things to come, Chiune was “disturbed” by the Japanese government’s policies, the “cruel treatment of the Chinese,” and with that he “resigned his post in protest in 1934.” In 1938 Chiune Sugihara was sent for duty at the Japanese diplomatic office in Helsinki, Finland and by 1939 the Japanese government posted him in Kaunas, Lithuania “to open a one-man consulate” before the opening days of World War Two in September 1939. In late 1939, now the Vice-Consul for the Japanese Empire in Kaunas, Chiune had a random meeting with an 11 year old boy named Solly Ganor in a store. During their conversation, young Solly invited Mr. Sugihara to his family’s celebration of the first night of Chanukah. Chiune, and his wife Yukiko, accepted and spent that night with young Solly’s family with Chiune being touched by “the closeness of the Jewish families and how it reminded him of his family, and of similar Japanese festivals.”
While in Kaunas, part of Chiune’s job was to “report on Soviet and German war plans.” Once war broke out “the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania” and “ordered all consulates to be closed. Sugihara was almost immediately flooded “with the requests of thousands of Polish Jews fleeing German-occupied Poland.(1) As Nazi forces invaded Poland, waves of Jewish refugees “streamed into Lithuania,” traveling “without possessions or money” and bringing “with them chilling tales of German atrocities against the Jewish population” in Poland. The Lithuanian Jews “continued living normal lives” until the Soviets invaded Lithuania on June 15, 1940 ” At that point things began to worsen and “it was now too late for the Lithuanian Jews to leave for the East.” However, the Soviets “would allow Polish Jews to continue to emigrate out of Lithuania through the Soviet Union if they could obtain certain travel documents.” Thousands of Jewish refugees headed to Kaunas and began to line up outside the gates of the Japanese Consulate building. On a “summer morning in late July 1940,” Vice-Consul Sugihara and his family were “awakened to a crowd of Polish Jewish refugees” at the Consulate gates who were “desperate to flee the approaching Nazis.” They understood well “that their only path lay to the east” and only “if Consul Sugihara would grant them Japanese transit visas.” Their lives were literally in his hands as documents from Sugihara meant “they could obtain Soviet exit visas and race to possible freedom.” Sugihara “was moved by their plight, but he did not have the authority to issue hundreds of visas” on his own without permission from his bosses in Tokyo. He “wired his government three times for permission to issue visas to the Jewish refugees” but was denied each time. Finally, Chiune discussed “the situation with his wife and children” because this was “a difficult decision to make.” He had been “brought up in the strict and traditional discipline of the Japanese.” He was conflicted, while he was a career diplomat who “was bound by the traditional obedience he had been taught all his life,” he was also “a samurai who had been told to help those who were in need.” If he signed the visas, Chiune would likely “be fired and disgraced, and would probably never work for the Japanese government again” resulting in “extreme financial hardship for his family in the future.” Everything he had worked for would be gone. In the end, Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara knew what they had to do, while they “feared for their lives and the lives of their children,” they knew they “could only follow their consciences” and that the “visas would be signed.” These visas were called ‘Visas for Life.’
The decision made by the Sugihara’s to defy the Japanese government was made with no regard for their personal costs and from July 31 to August 28, 1940, the Sugihara’s “sat for endless hours writing and signing visas by hand. Hour after hour, day after day, for these three weeks, they wrote and signed visas.” They produced “over 300 visas a day, which would normally be one month’s worth of work for the consul. Yukiko also helped him register these visas.” During this time Chiune “did not even stop to eat. His wife supplied him with sandwiches. Sugihara chose not to lose a minute because people were standing in line in front of his consulate day and night for these visas. When some began climbing the compound wall, he came out to calm them down and assure them that he would do is best to help them all.”(2) Over a six week period in the summer of 1940, Sempo “worked 18-hour days, eventually writing out by hand 2,139 transit visas – a record only discovered years later in the archives of Japan’s foreign ministry.(3) “Hundreds of applicants became thousands” and Chiune worked hard to “grant as many visas as possible before being forced to close the consulate and leave Lithuania.”(2) Because Sugihara spoke fluent Russian, he was able “to bargain with Moscow to ensure the Jewish refugees had safe passage through the Soviet Union, as well as the right to leave Vladivostok for Japan. The promise of hard currency earned from the sale of refugees’ travel documents helped the Politburo reach its decision in July 1940. Stalin signed the order approving transit for refugees, which the Soviet document said included Jewish religious (yeshiva) teachers and students, salesmen, lawyers and other liberal professions.” And with that, the Sugihara’s had done all they could do.
Sugihara departed for Berlin on September 1, 1940 and later, during “Soviet army’s march though the Balkans in 1944, the Soviets arrested Sugihara together with other diplomats from enemy nations. Soviet authorities held him and his family, under fairly benign conditions, for the next three years. When Sugihara returned to Japan in 1947, the Foreign Ministry retired him with a small pension as part of a large staff reduction enacted under the American occupation.(3) After the war, Chiune Sugihara moved his family to Fujisawa, Japan and “to support his family he took a series of menial jobs, at one point selling light bulbs door to door.” It turned out that the Sugihara’s were correct in their assumptions some seven years earlier as Chiune’s training and promising diplomatic career were gone. In 1947, “his youngest son, Haruki, died at the age of seven, shortly after their return to Japan.” Sugihara “later began to work for an export company as general manager of a U.S. Military Post Exchange. Utilizing his command of the Russian language, Sugihara went on to work and live a low-key existence in the Soviet Union for sixteen years, while his family stayed in Japan.”(4) Today, “beyond the record of 2,139 names Sugihara filed belatedly to Tokyo months after issuing visas, there is no certainty over how many lives were saved.” Estimates of 6,000 people “comes from assuming each holder of a transit visa travelled with two other people, a wife and child. Other researchers have suggested that 10,000 people were saved.” While Sugihara was recognized by Israel during his lifetime, and his fame grew outside of Japan, he remained a humble man with only a few of the refugees finding him in Japan to thank him. “Despite the publicity given him in Israel and other nations, he remained virtually unknown in his home country. Only when a large Jewish delegation from around the world, including the Israeli ambassador to Japan, attended his funeral, did his neighbors find out what he had done.”(5) Chiune Sugihara died at a hospital in Kamakura, Japan on July 31, 1986. While there is no possible way to know the exact number of people saved by Vice-Consul Sugihara, it is estimated that 100,000 people are alive today because their descendants were issued his Visa for Life during the summer of 1940. (6)
Researching and writing this was a labor of love. Thanks to whoever got this man on Facebook where my wife spotted it. Mr. Sugihara was a rare human being who did the right thing, which was not easy. Not only did the Sugihara’s perform such a great deed that summer, they told practically nobody in Japan; Chiune and Yukiko were the epitome of humble. Finally, When I saw that Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara were buried at the Kamakura Cemetery near where we live in Japan, I had to pay respects to these incredible human beings. Getting to the cemetery was easy, finding the grave was not. In the end, we walked a few miles and thankfully four cemetery employees helped us find Mr. and Mrs. Sugihara’s grave. One of the men offered to take a photo of us by his grave, something I hadn’t planned on. While I do shoot gravestones, I don’t shoot them as a sort of tourist shot and try to be very respectful of my surroundings with a camera. The Sugihara’s were definitely humble people, humble in death as well. Their gravesite is also humble, ordinary in fact, so ordinary that we walked by it once without noticing. When people used to ask me, “if you could go back in time and meet anyone, who would it be?” I used to say it was Louis Armstrong that intrigued me, now it would definitely be Mr. Chiune Sugihara. He gave up practically everything to help people he didn’t know during the summer of 1940 and remained humble for the rest of his life.
“Even a hunter cannot kill a bird which flies to him for refuge. Do what is right because it is right; and leave it alone. I had to do something.”
On December 13, 2020, The released an online photo collection entitled, Virginia: Images of the Old Dominion. The article contains 33 photos taken at various picturesque locations in Virginia and three of those photos were mine. Virginia has had a special place in my heart since first visiting as a child in the mid-seventies. Later, in the US Navy, I would live there on and off for three years or so in the Virginia Beach area and another year at Fort Belvoir just south of Alexandria, Virginia (probably my favorite city in the US). I have many friends in VA and will always visit there and am looking forward to my next trip there!
In The Atlantic’s list and coming in at number 22 is Boush Street, taken in Norfolk at the USS Wisconsin. Number 24 is Mount Vernon, the was taken on our first day living at Fort Belvoir. My kids and I were out driving and I turned my head to look through a break in the forest and there was George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon with sheep grazing! Finally, at 30 is Summer at the Palace taken in front of the Governor’s Palace at Colonial Williamsburg, this is THE place that got me hooked on Virginia as a child in the seventies. As a completely nutty history geek, I could not be happier! As anyone who know me can tell you, I’m never happier than when my little photography and history worlds collide. It doesn’t matter if it’s where and when my photos get used or when I’m out shooting, in this case they collided hard. Living on Fort Belvoir for one year of my life was the absolute best one year of my photographic life, and yes, I miss it.
While 2020 was not the best of years for anyone, I’m hopeful that 2021 will be much better. Happy New Year to all of you following my blog!