Malcolm Venville photographed 150 Lucha Libre wrestlers of Mexico City for a project named LUCHA LOCO.
Photographic graffiti via camera gun!
This guy can secretly project graffiti onto other people’s photos with his gun camera (or “image fulgurator”).
Review: All For a Few Perfect Waves
All for a Few Perfect Waves: The Audacious Life and Legend of Rebel Surfer Miki Dora, by David Rensin
Why did I never know about Miki Dora before? How nice to meet a brother on the path, even if I’m not a surfer. Check it out:
Dora played the game as only a natural can. Soul surfing— surfing for the sheer art and pleasure of it— was his church long before the term was coined, and his passion for worship was equaled only by his drive to create and sustain a lifestyle that gave him the liberty to live free to seek thrills, spontaneous adventure, waves, and wonder, wherever he could find them.
Dora was there surfing Malibu at the beginning. The beginning is always a good place to be, except that you get a front row seat at seeing the mainstream come in and ruin things. Greg Noll remembers:
The whole Hollywood bullshit deal just brought more assholes over the hill from the Valley. If you’re from the Valley, don’t take offense, but this is basically what the beach guys thought. When you watch Stacy Peralta’s documentary, Riding Giants, they ask the guys, “What did you think of the Hollywood movies and surf music?” Answer: It was just a bunch of shit. Take the movie Ride the Wild Surf; it shows Tab Hunter and his friends sitting in the water, not a hair out of place, water calmer than a fish pond, no surf in the background. Suddenly someone yells, “Surf’s up,” and they cut to the same guys riding twenty-foot waves. Man, who’s gonna belive that? It’s one of the biggest laughs in the movie.
I guess I should say this before quoting more: Miki Dora lived to surf. He never sold out. A true soul. In fact, he would be against this very book about his life, which was only published after his death.
I go into contests once or twice a year for the pleasure of shaking up the status quo…the more restrictive they can make a contest’s (rules), the less (the judges) have to think or know about what you’re accomplishing in the water; thus making an easy job easier at our expense. What do these people care about your subtle split-second maneuvers, years of perfecting your talents?
I can relate to that, though I cannot claim the purity of Dora’s complete devotion to his art. I’m also leaving out a big part of the book that details Dora’s exploits funding his lifestyle without holding down a job and spurning most of the income his fame could have brought in. Lots of scams ensue and everyone compares his life to the film Catch Me If You Can. But here’s a paragraph to end everything with and send you on with the rest of your boring life. It’s Dora:
My whole life is this escape; my whole life is this wave I drop into, set the whole thing up, pull off a bottom turn, pull up into it, and shoot for my life, going for broke man. And behind me all this shit goes over my back: the screaming parents, teachers, the police [laughs], priests, politicians, kneeboarders, windsurfers, they’re all going over the falls into the reef; headfirst into the motherf*cking reef, and BWAH! And I’m shooting for my life. And when it starts to close out I pull out and go down the back, and catch another wave, and do the same goddamned thing again.
Review: Kill Bin Laden
It’s been so long since I posted a book review. It’s not that I stopped reading books, it’s that I just didn’t finish any. After carefully cataloging my library, I realized that I had started over thirty books in the past several months without finishing a single one. Time to get focused. So here’s a review of a book I got (and finished) over the holidays.
Kill Bin Laden: A Delta Force Commander’s Account of the Hunt for the World’s Most Wanted Man
Writing under the pseudonym Dalton Fury, a commander of the elite Delta Force tells about the attack on Taliban and al Qaeda forces at Tora Bora in late 2001, when Usama bin Laden escaped capture. Here’s a little bit about how Delta operates, and when I read it I thought about the company I work for:
In Delta, as in the most successful Fortune 500 companies like GE, Microsoft, and Cisco, the organization makes the individual its number-one priority. It teaches, nurtures, and implements bottom-up planning. That is the direct opposite of the U.S. Army’s structured and doctrinally rigid military decision-making process, which is too slow and inflexible for fast-paced, high-risk commando missions or minds, and one undeniably driven from the top down.
This won’t be much of a book review, other than to say that Fury provides a detailed account of his operators and their frustrations with the mujahideen soldiers hired by the CIA to help in the battle. Another quote:
The fundamental Delta principle has long been “Surprise, Speed, and Violence of Action.” It aplies to commando tactics. If during an assault you lose one element, the implied response is to increase it in the next. For example, if we lost surprise during a stealthy approach to a target before reaching the breach point, we would increase the pace from a deliberate move to a stepped-up jog or sprint. At the breach, if it became obvious to the team leader that whatever or whoever waited on the opposite side of the door or window was alert and expecting visitors, we escalated to an even more violent explosive entry.
In writing this review, my mind is obviously more focused on strategy and tactics than recounting Fury’s tale. But his is a story worth reading.
Kill Bin Laden: A Delta Force Commander’s Account of the Hunt for the World’s Most Wanted Man
Review: Stolen Innocence, by Elissa Wall
Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs, by Elissa Wall with Lisa Pulitzer
The raid on the FLDS Church’s YFZ ranch in Texas has changed the landscape of the FLDS story. Now that FLDS members are speaking out about their own lives, we’re starting to see things get a little more balanced. At least for the moment, the anti-FLDS crowd has to share the microphone with the FLDS themselves.
But this book is Elissa Wall’s turn at the microphone. And since Elissa is the person whose experience as a child bride resulted in the imprisonment of the FLDS prophet, Warren Jeffs, you can count on polarized opinions. People seem to love her or hate her. FLDS members, some of whom will read this review, probably see Elissa (or at least her work to imprison Warren and sue the church and UEP) as a tool of Satan. People on the outside see Elissa as a child bride and rape victim.
However, no one would say that Elissa Wall had a happy teenage experience. Her memories of childhood in a home with three mothers are bleak, with inter-wife rivalries and jealousy. Let’s be honest: polygamy is almost always a hard life of sacrifice and challenge, even when it works. That’s why its believers call it a higher law. They would say that greater challenges lead to greater blessings. But for Elissa, there were few blessings.
The most intriguing character in the book is Elissa’s mother, Sharon Steed. Her story couldn’t be a bigger downer, and I repeatedly wished I was reading her biography written by one of the great authors (if only such a title existed). Her life, as accounted in this book, is filled with heartbreak and loss even as she remains faithful to her religion. Troubles in the home result in various shuffles in her plural marriage. One wife and her children are removed from the home, then brought back while another is shuffled out. The kids endure countless separations The Wall family struggles to stay together, believing that if they just keep trying heavenly blessings await.
As Elissa’s older siblings grow up, many become disillusioned with the faith and leave for the outside world, and contact with them usually ends at that point. These family breakups are very hard on Elissa as a child, but I sense they caused immense pain for Sharon.
The sad thing throughout is to watch Sharon, as portrayed here. She is apparently a true believer, but her life is constantly beset with woe. Eventually she and her children are reassigned to Fred Jessop, who she later marries.
Uncle Fred is the one who, according to court testimony, set up the fateful marriage between 14-year-old Elissa and her cousin Allen Steed.
Looking at the trial, I always wondered why Warren Jeffs was the only one charged with crimes related to pushing this marriage ahead and trying to keep it together. Allen, the alleged rapist himself, was only charged after Jeffs’ trial. Others pushing the marriage forward were Elissa’s own family, especially her mother. From Elissa’s account of the wedding day:
“Do you, Sister Elissa, take Brother Allen, by the right hand, and give yourself to him to be his lawful and wedded wife for time and all eternity?” Warren repeated in a voice that made the question sound like a command. Even as the silence grew unbearable, I still couldn’t bring myself to formulate the words. Suddenly, I felt my fingers being crushed by my Mom’s death grip. It shocked me into the moment, reminding me that I had no choice but to respond. “Okay,” I said, almost in a whisper. “I do.”
The marriage between Allen and Elissa was doomed to failure. Never mind that she remembers him teasing her as a child, calling her “Tubba Tubba.” But there were bigger issues. Elissa knew nothing whatsoever about sex.
It felt like we were having marital relations all the time, at least once or twice a week.
And I don’t think Allen knew much more. Even put in the best possible light, this relationship was ugly.
“This is going to be the exact same thing all over again,” I blurted out. “All your promises, they mean nothing. Nothing has changed.”
“I’m doing it out of love,” Allen declared. Everything he did was a contradiction, and before I knew it he was playing the guilt card again. As he continued to put his hands all over me, I just froze.
“Okay, fine,” I uttered. “Get it over with.”
I covered the Warren Jeffs trial, so much of the book was a repeat for me. But Elissa offers bits of commentary. Some of it doesn’t quite reconcile for an objective reader. If you are in one camp or another (FLDS or anti-FLDS), you probably already reject or accept her entire book. But for someone in the middle, trying to see all sides, I had questions. For example, Elissa attacks Jennie Pipkin for being a tool of the defense without realizing that she’s filling a similar role for the prosecution.
“If a wife rules over her husband, is that considered a bad thing?”
“No,” she (Pipkin) answered firmly. “I do what I want whether we agree or not.”
Her statement shocked me. She was outwardly defying so many teachings of the FLDS in a desperate attempt to prove a point for the defense.
That one was especially confusing, since it comes after many pages that describe Elissa breaking so many rules of the FLDS lifestyle against her husband’s wishes, and not getting into much trouble over any of it. She’s rocking out to Bon Jovi, watching television, sneaking around, partying, and spending nights sleeping in her truck. None of that behavior seems to get her in much trouble, though Pipken testifying in court that she can can do what she wants is labeled a shocking statement.
At another point in the trial, Elissa recounts mouthing the word, “hi” to a defense witness on the stand. Even if they had once been friends, this act seems a little bizarre to me considering that the intent of Elissa’s own testimony was to imprison the defense witness’s spiritual leader and prophet. Not to mention her lawsuits targeting the community.
Elissa sometimes comes across as naive. But to be clear, that naivety may not be her own fault. Elissa Wall is a product of her upbringing, and that raises serious questions about parenting, education, faith, and who we choose as our spiritual leaders. Her situation, which may or may not be common in the FLDS church, is a troubling mark on the reputation of Warren Jeffs and his followers. Here she recounts her last meeting with her mother, who remains a member of the FLDS church:
My sister stared over me at Mom. “I don’t feel like you have the power to stop something from happening to those girls. I don’t feel like you have the power to protect them.”
“Yes, I do,” Mom insisted. It was sad to hear her trying to convince herself of that. I knew how much she loved those girls, and that she would never want any harm to come to them. But the ominous sight of the white truck with the tinted windows was an ugly reminder of what lengths these people would go to keep a hold on their followers.
“No you don’t,” Kassandra (Becky Musser) shot back. “You didn’t have it when it happened to Lesie (Elissa), and you won’t have it when it happens to those girls.”
“Well, that’s just something I’ll just have to put on a shelf,” Mom said, referring to her inability to halt my marriage to Allen. It seemed that no difficult conversation with Mom had ever been complete without this line.
“I’d rather see you die than fight the priesthood,” Mom said. Her words were a hard slap on the face. Everything Mom had ever done had been influenced by her loyalty to the church above all else, but to hear her phrase it in such indisputable terms was upsetting.
Sharon, I’m dying to read your story. And those of so many others.
Review: American Indian Mafia
I’m a big fan of hearing all sides of a story. Having absorbed books and documentaries that take a pro-AIM (American Indian Movement) slant on the takeover and 71-day siege at Wounded Knee in 1973 I happily delved into the 600+ pages that make up FBI Special Agent In Charge Joseph Trimbach’s American Indian Mafia. Be forewarned, it’s a book filled with detail and argument.
Trimbach takes aim at media coverage that overlooked the fact that the village was taken over, looted, and burned by militant activists:
The reporters who covered Wounded Knee probably thought they were doing the right thing by granting credibility to people who advocated violence as a means to effect social change. But, by coloring a story the way Wounded Knee was, the media created a major problem for themselves: they soon became a distinctly unreliable source of information. The media missed covering the most important stories of the occupation: those of the people victimized by the takeover, and those rumored to have entered the village never to be heard from again. Granted, much of the hidden tumult probably occurred in April, after much of the press had lost interest. Still, it is fair to ask the question: did the media, in its rush to give AIM favorable coverage, overlook the violence perpetrated against ousted villagers and victimized infiltrators, some of which may have occurred right under their noses?
The book came at an interesting time. I was heavily involved covering the raid on the YFZ ranch, where more than 450 children were removed from their polygamous families amidst a horde of media and little bits of controlled information released by the government. Trimbach examines the legacy of Wounded Knee:
The deficit of knowledge may be partly due to not properly recording the event. At the time government archivists should have been paying attention to what was really happening in the village, Watergate and the ever-changing Directorship drew the focus away to political considerations. Because Headquarters was not engaged in the day-to-day conflict, and chose to stay that way, they were unaware of how precarious the situation was becoming. My recent attempts to revive interest in telling the true story of Wounded Knee have not met with great enthusiasm. Despite several attempts to convince Bureau personnel of the need to include Wounded Knee history in the official record, the FBI’s recently updated Minneapolis Office web site (as of this writing) still reflects inexplicable amnesia with not one mention of what was the most historically significant operation in Bureau history. What Headquarters officials (still) do not understand is that the topic should not be left to ideologues and extremists. What bothers me the most about this conspicuous failure is that the Bureau has ignored a history worth remembering, namely, that of hundreds of their own Special Agents and support personnel in rare service to their country.
Throughout Trimbach’s book, he points out where he feels the focus should be in the history of the event: squarely on the crimes committed. Like militants firing on Marshals and FBI Agents. Like the looting and burning of the trading post. Like the desecration of the village’s Catholic Church. And finally the brutal execution of two FBI agents. Trimbach argues that no amount of government corruption or police brutality should justify murder.
Bob Taubert recalls the grisly scene, hours later: “The Agents had been dead for some time. Rigor mortis had set in, and both bodies were covered with flies in the hot sun. When I saw the makeshift bandage, I immediately surmised that Ron had tried to save his partner. The totality of it hit me hard. I was sitting on the hill with my head in my hands, unable to comprehend why someone would do this. By now, the press had started to swarm. A female reporter came rushing up to me and said, ‘What happened, what happened here?’ I looked up at her and motioned toward the bodies. ‘I don’t know, lady. Why don’t you ask them?’”
More on the murders, as he dissects Matthiessen’s “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse”:
When Agents Jack Coler and Ron Williams drove onto Pine Ridge, they were acting under the knowledge of an existing arrest warrant for Jimmy Eagle. Furthermore, there is no prohibition against FBI Agents’ presence on federal reservations. In fact, their sworn duty is to investigate serious crimes in Indian Country.
To make this tale sound even more sinister, Matthiessen takes it a step further. With a conspiratorial ear turned to his AIM friends, we learn the dark secret that the Agents drove onto the reservation that fateful day in June of 1975— with their long guns safely locked in the trunks of their cars— acting as an advance team for an all-out assault on the practically defenseless AIM members who were minding their own business. And that, “…paramilitary forced had been surrounding the Oglala region all that morning…” and “…within a remarkably short time, reinforcements arrived that can only be called massive, when set against of band of untrained men and boys armed mostly with .30-30 deer rifles and .22s.”
What’s not explained in this fantastic story is why a large force of BIA police, FBI Agents, and law enforcement officers, supposedly standing by with massive firepower, arrived too late to save the Agents from being murdered. Or, for that matter, how “deer rifles and .22s” were able to hold off “massive reinforcements” at all. In another twist, depending on which one you prefer, the Agents unknowingly served as sacrificial lambs, used as bait to draw out the peace-loving Indians for one big shootout, a massacre the white law enforcement men had been wanting for a long time. (Matthiessen’s looniest ideas are often the most vicious.)
Trimbach pulls from recent events in the hunt for the killers of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, including this chilling testimony from the 2004 trial of Arlo Looking Cloud:
McMahon: Tell the Court as best you remember exactly what he (Leonard Peltier) said.
Ka-Mook: Exactly what he said?
McMahon: Exactly what he said.
Ka-Mook (extremely upset): He said the motherf*cker was begging for his life, but I shot him anyway.
According to Trimbach, the historic version of the takeover of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement (AIM), has been dominated by pro-AIM voices. Reading his book has reminded me how important it is to listen to all sides of the story when forming an opinion.
Review: Breaking News
Breaking News: A Stunning and Memorable Account of Reporting from Some of the Most Dangerous Places in the World, by Martin Fletcher. [rating: 4/5]
Martin Fletcher, the NBC News Bureau Chief in Tel Aviv with a penchant for posing on top of destroyed tanks, provides a great look back at his life covering conflict.
War reporters face moral dilemmas all day: Is it reasonable to film a crying woman two feet from the lens? How about a lost child screaming for its parent? Should one film him or take him by the hand? If a man is to be executed and the soundman’s gear suddenly doesn’t work, what do you do? Delay the execution? That’s what the BBC’s David Tyndall did in Biafra in 1970, when he yelled, “Hold it, we haven’t got sound,” and the quivering man about to be killed had to suffer that much longer while the soundman sorted out his gear. Later, Tyndall was mortified by his instinctive response to the dilemma, as was the BBC, which severely reprimanded him. But every move in this job poses a different dilemma, and nobody can be right all the time. In fact, the most critical question is usually not moral in nature but practical: How far down this road can I drive and stay safe?
Fletcher takes us through his experiences beginning with the Yom Kippur War in Israel and then on throughout Africa (Somalia, Rwanda, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), South Africa), Cyprus, Afghanistan, etc. This from Albania, covering the Kosovo war:
Then there was the small matter of the bandits who preyed on travelers, especially foreign journalists flush with cash. One BBC television team hired a small truck and driver. Just as they were approaching the final leg of the journey into the country’s wild and poor northeast, they ran into a group of armed men who stopped their vehicle at gunpoint and demanded money. The producer handed over his shoulder bag with envelopes of cash, and they were allowed to proceed unharmed. The team was shocked, but the producer chuckled and said, “Don’t worry, I’m not dumb, that was just a token in case we got robbed. The real money is in my boot.” The team laughed with relief, whereupon their Albanian driver stopped the car, put a gun to the producer’s head, and stole the rest of the money. Then the driver forced everybody out and drove off with their gear. And he was one of the good guys.
Breaking News: A Stunning and Memorable Account of Reporting from Some of the Most Dangerous Places in the World, by Martin Fletcher. [rating: 4/5]
Thoughts on Newspaper Videos
It seems that one of the people at the forefront of newspaper video, Multimediashooter.com’s Richard Koci Hernandez, has had a crisis of faith regarding the traction videos have with viewers. I applaud him for his honesty. It’s a rough neighborhood to speak out in. Staffers who question video or multimedia are often labeled luddites and moved to the back of the bus.
His column triggered me to comment with some of the many thoughts I’ve had recently about this video push, which comes at a time when the people who run newspapers are only seeing the gloom and doom and are scrambling for any answer they can come up with. Some newspapers have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in video equipment only to produce videos that are small and badly compressed, and seen by only a few hundred viewers. Compare that to their 300,000+ print circulations and you see the problem.
Since it is a touchy subject let me just point out that until recently I was at the forefront of the Tribune’s multimedia efforts, planning our approach, ordering equipment, and training my colleagues. Whatever my current role, I’m all for great storytelling regardless of the medium and I remain committed to doing high quality work however I’m assigned: still, audio, or video.
Here’s the comment I left:
Is this a radioactive topic, or what? It seems like you can’t stand up and point out the obvious about video as it stands today (few viewers, no good monetization, and labor intensive) without a bunch of “forward-thinkers” shouting you down.
I’m not anti-video. Just open-minded.
Photojournalism is all about talent and storytelling. To attract an audience and a following your work needs to be something that “regular people” can’t do. That’s why still photos from a talented photographer are so powerful: Because there is no way the parents of the kid in the elementary school talent show could nail the award-winning photo a professional can. They don’t have the timing, skills, or experience, and that’s how our work becomes part of their lives, their scrapbooks, their histories. I don’t think those same skills are as apparent to the general public in video. They can spot a great photograph instantly, but video requires an investment of time that they’ve learned doesn’t always pay off.
There will always be something to be said about the power of high quality still photojournalism. It’s something we give the community that they can’t get anywhere else.
There are so many unknowns these days as the territory once owned by newspapers is invaded by the general public. But I’ll go down wondering if it was a good idea to abandon the power of the still image at a time when the public’s fascination with the still image was at an all-time high. Millions of digital still cameras being sold, billions of photos uploaded to sites like Flickr, etc. Couldn’t the best photographers in the world (us) be at the forefront of that movement, celebrating the power and joy of photography, rather than posting 320 pixel videos?
Answer me two years from now, from wherever you are. Maybe I’ll be shooting video, or maybe the fickle powers-that-be in newspapers will have realized that there are things newspapers have always done very well, and that those things (great reporting, powerful photography) can continue to bring them a profitable audience. We’ll see.
Sexiest Man Alive
A lot of the job is spent waiting. After going through this stack of magazines in a medical clinic while waiting for a subject to show up, I started talking to the receptionist about magazine theft (who knows how we got there). She said magazines like Good Housekeeping and Sunset are always being stolen, rather than men’s magazines.
She said women were thieves.
My only question is this: Who is the Sexiest Man Dead?
Private in Public
Creative input is everywhere. Today I heard the actor Wendell Pierce talk about his work on the television show The Wire, and acting in general. Listen to this:
“We should never be afraid to be private in public because that’s what art is all about, especially acting.”
His point is that great art is created through behaving in public the way you would in private. Think about that. To me it’s about honesty and being true to your identity, and not being afraid of who you really are. That will lead to creating art that reflects your identity.
When I think of my favorite artists, photographers, artists, musicians, etc., they are all true to their craft.
Am I? Are you?
I can tell you that yesterday I took photos that fell short of what I am capable of. But I can also tell you that today is a new day.
Are you afraid to act private in public? It’s a good question for us all.