Thursday, June 30, 2011

Peru...

A good friend of mine, Bob Thorp, does something that very few people, I think, honestly have the drive to do.

Bob can come across as a pretty gruff guy. Bob’s a big guy. He’s got a big gray goatee. He rides a Harley. A really loud one. If you didn’t know Bob, at first glance, you might think he’s the kind of guy you might not want to know. He can be kinda’ scary. He scared me the first time I saw him. But Bob’s got a heart the size of Texas. I know this to be true. I know Bob, and I’ve been to Texas. I consider myself qualified to make the comparison.

The most impressive thing about him, though, is that his desire to help others is overshadowed only by his will to actually do it. He walks the walk, so-to-speak.

Now, every year, Bob and his wife Angel travel from San Diego, California to Peru. I don’t even know where they go in Peru. It’s one of those towns that, simply stated, is too small to get on any map. They go on a mission to build schools, orphanages, and probably a lot of other things that we in the States take for granted, for the poor people who live in these little “never-find-‘em-on-a-map” villages. They live in tents set up on raised platforms to avoid the jungle wildlife, they battle exotic bugs, and essentially deal with a lot of hardship while they’re doing their good work.

About three months ago, Bob asked me if I wanted to accompany them this year to document, photographically, the work that they’re doing. Sure, they have pictures from previous trips, but they’ve never had someone there who’s dedicated to documenting not only the work they’re doing, but also the relationships and friendships they’ve made there. I told Bob I would love to go but, frankly, three months would be a pretty short amount of time to raise the approximately $4,000.00 it would take to make the trip. You see, the people paying for the trips to Peru are the people who are actually going to Peru. They hold fundraisers throughout the year, and also rely on the generous donations of others. There is no wealthy benefactor financing their trips. If they can’t raise the money they need to go, they don’t go. It’s as simple as that.

Bob and Angel left San Diego today, and will return on July 14. I won’t be accompanying them because, as I suspected, three months just isn’t enough time to find $4,000.00 that hasn’t already been earmarked.

I intend to join them next year. Somehow, I need to come up with four grand for the trip.

To that end, I’m going to be taking every penny of profit from the sale of my book (and any books I do between now and June 1, 2012), my prints and my calendars and putting it towards that trip. If the photography gods smile upon me, and I exceed the $4,000.00 goal, every penny made, over the actual and real expense of the trip, will be given to Bob and his people to help offset someone else’s trip there in the future. Their organization is a textbook example of the phrase “every penny counts”.

Normally, when I sell a book or a print, I make a certain amount of profit. That profit goes into my pocket. It may pay for gas, buy a few rounds of drinks, or it might go towards some new camera equipment. But, between now and June 1 of next year, it will go towards this effort, and this effort only. Every red cent will be put towards the goal of being able to venture to Peru to do whatever it is they need me to do. Sure, my main gig will be shooting. But I would suspect that there will be more than one or two times when I’m picking up a hammer or pouring concrete. That seems to go on a lot there.

Upon my return from Peru, there will be, as you might suspect, another book, specifically about the work being done by Bob and his band of constructionaires (and I don’t even know if that’s a word), will be published. Any and all proceeds from the sale of that book will also be donated to Bob’s organization. Every person who purchases a calendar, book, or print, between now and June 1, 2012, will be listed in that book.

I’m not much of a fundraiser. I just don’t know how to do it effectively and, truth be told, I may be falling on my face with this effort, as well. But I would ask that, if you’ve considered buying a print, calendar or book in the past, and just haven’t pulled the trigger, you consider doing so now.

While I’m not someone who keeps up with “causes”, I think I know a good one when I see it. I want to help them, but I need help to do that.

Thanks, and feel free to hit me with any questions you might have. I’ll do my best to answer them.


Here are the links, if you're so inclined:

Continental Cuisine

Steve On SmugMug

Steve's 2012 Calendar  (You can get 10% off on this!)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Quebec City...

As old a city as Montreal is, it's not nearly the oldest in the Province of Quebec. That distinction goes to Quebec City (Ville de Québec), founded in 1608, and about a two and a half hour drive to the east from Montreal.

I woke up early on Tuesday, and I left my hotel in Montreal at about 7:30am. Despite calls for rain, it was remarkably clear, and the sun was shining all day. I was heading to Quebec City to meet my buddy, Grammy winning guitarist Wayne Johnson. We were doing a show that night, and we'd decided to try to get in some "touristy stuff" beforehand.

I've never stayed the night in Quebec City. I always drive out from Montreal, do what I gotta' do, and then drive back to Montreal. Wayne flew from Los Angeles to Quebec City on Monday, so we decided we'd get together early and head out into "Old Quebec", or Vieux Quebec.

Vieux Quebec is an area surrounded by thick ramparts, built when such things were necessary to help fend off invaders. The district of Vieux Quebec was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985, so the walls will forever stand:

The ramparts of Old Quebec

The city within the walls has a very distinctive "European" feel. The streets are narrow, many are cobblestone, and shops and restaurants are plentiful. It's easy to forget that you're only about an hour's drive from the United States:

A side street in Vieux Quebec
An "artisan's alley" in Vieux Quebec

Like any North American city, there's plenty of traffic in Quebec City. The traffic, however, isn't confined to just motor vehicles. Like Montreal (as well as other Canadian cities), horse drawn carriage is a pretty popular way to go about seeing the town:

A horse drawn carriage in Vieux Quebec

 The architecture in Quebec City; at least the Vieux Quebec district, is pretty awesome. They did it big and they did it proud, and there are countless building with roofs reaching skyward:



One of the most imposing buildings in all of Quebec City, in or out of the Vieux Quebec district, in the Fairmont le Chateau Frontenac. Originally built in 1893, it sits on a cape overlooking the St. Lawrence River. It's hosted world leaders such as Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. Although it's not the tallest building in Quebec City, it is arguably the most recognizable, and certainly one of the most photographed:
 

The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac

Everywhere you look in Vieux Quebec, you're reminded of some "old world" environment. Every street looks like it could've been plucked out of some random European city and dropped into northeastern Canada. There's a charm there, and which which isn't lost on the locals. They know their city is viewed as something from a by-gone era, but they also know that, despite the architecture and decor, that they're very much a 21st century city.

But the cool side streets abound:




After spending the better part of the afternoon wondering around the city, it was, sadly, time for us to go. We decided that, before we did, we would hit one of the local eateries for a late lunch. I opted for the "smoked meat" sandwich. That's it. That's the only way they identify it. They don't call it beef or pork or anything else; just "smoked meat". And it's ridiculous. Wayne opted for some seafood pasta thing, which looked pretty damn good until I saw the mussels.

Mr. Johnson, however, approved...

Wayne Johnson in Vieux Quebec

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Canon G12...

I often extol the virtues of the Canon G12. Frankly, I think it's a crazy good "point & shoot" and, if I didn't need my DSLR's for my concert photography, I honestly do believe I could get through life without them. I really do think the G12 is that good. So, as you might suspect, on my current trip to the province of Quebec, all I brought with me was the G12. The 40D is back at home, snuggled in its' bag with nary a care in the world.

Last Thursday, I was going to visit a client close to my hotel, but also very close to the Old Port section of Montreal. The Old Port section is thick with photo opportunities so, naturally, I would want to have my camera with me. I hit the steps of my hotel and made my way down the street and across Boulevard Rene Levesque, and on down Avenue de l'Hotel de Ville.

About halfway to the Old Port section, I found a cool, ivy-covered doorway I wanted to get a picture of. I just saw it as one more thing that makes Montreal such a cool city. I unzipped my small camera case, pulled out the camera, and took a couple shots.

Here's what I ended up with:


Yeah, I kinda' dig it. Like I said, I see it as another reason why Montreal is so cool. Doorways like that are all over the older sections of town.

So, happy with what I had, I put the camera back into the small case and started to walk down the sidewalk.

I didn't get far.

I swear, what I heard can only be described as the sound of whatever it was that hit the back of Joe Pesci's head in the movie "Casino" when they buried him in that field. It was an absolutely sickening sound. But I heard it, and its' source was near.

I looked down at my feet.

There, on the concrete sidewalk, lay my beloved Canon Powershot G12.

A million thoughts raced through my mind in an instant, the first one being, I believe, "Can I find a camera store in Montreal which stocks the Canon Powershot G12 because, clearly, this one is toast."

I had neglected to close the zipper on the camera case. As a consequence, as I changed hands with the case, the G12 fell victim to gravity and found the quickest path to the ground. I was sure; in fact certain beyond belief, that the camera would be inoperable. It had, after all, fallen about four feet to the concrete. Surely, I surmised, it was done.

I surmised poorly.

I picked up the camera and inspected it for damage. I saw none, save for a slight scuff on the eyelet where a strap would go (say, there's an idea, huh?):



I hit the power button, and the camera turned on. I manipulated the zoom control. All was well. I ran a check in every mode the camera had and, much to my great surprise, the camera passed with flying colors. In fact, with the exception of the lunatic in the seashell bra holding his blow-up date, every photo in the previous entry ("Montreal") was taken with the G12. The camera has performed flawlessly since taking a dive on a quiet Montreal street.

I am now a true believer. Don't get me wrong; I've always been a big fan. I don't think I'm breaking any news by saying that. But this incident has proven to me the durability of this camera. While there are many fine cameras in this range available, they would have to do some pretty fancy tricks to woo me away from the Canon.

Montreal...

This has been a long trip.

I flew to Montreal last Wednesday, the 15th of June. I was here on business, but I also wanted to try to work some leisure time into the trip, as well.

Mission, as they say, accomplished.

Montreal is a great town. If you've never been here, you're the poorer for it. In summer, there really are few places I enjoy more. The "Vieux Port" section is an amazing collection of restaurants, merchants, buskers and tourists and, on weekends, it's probably one of the most crowded locations in Canada. It's very, very French and, while I've never been to France, I have to imagine that walking the streets here isn't unlike walking the streets in some random neighborhood somewhere across the pond:

Rue St. Paul in Old Montreal

Rue St. Paul at night

If you like people-watching, this is the place to be. You never know what you're going to see, and some of it often defies any reasonable description. For instance, their are a lot of "balloon guys" in this area; those people who spend their days making hats and animals out of balloons for kids. These guys are usually a sight, wearing clothing that would likely never make it out of the closet if they were anything but a "balloon guy":



"Balloon Guys" in Place Jacques Cartier

Now, as comical as the official Balloon Guy uniform might be, it's actually relatively tame. I know, I can hear you now. "But, Steve, he's wearing polka-dots."

Completely understandable and, under normal circumstances, I would probably agree with you. Rare are the times when one can successfully pull off a polka-dot jumpsuit with a balloon hat. However, when you consider what else people are wearing, I think you'll see my point.

Case in point, I give you "Banjo-Canoe Guy:

Banjo-Canoe Guy along Rue St. Paul in Old Montreal

So you see my point.

Moving on...

Aside from the occasional hilarity of Place Jacques Cartier, there's far more in Montreal. On block up and about five blocks down is Basilique Notre-Dame de Montreal. This is arguably the single most impressive building in all of Montreal. Whether you count yourself among the faithful or not, it's difficult to not be awed by the sheer grandeur of this place:


 The eastern tower, nicknamed La Tempérance (Temperance),
was completed in 1843 and houses a carillon of 10 bells

The High Altar
Visiting the Basilica used to be free. There's now a very nominal charge of $5.00 (CDN) to visit. It's well worth the money, and it's absolutely worth your time.

Another "must see" in Montreal is the site of the 1976 Olympic Summer Games, Parc Olympique. The Olympic stadium is a futuristic looking building which has the tallest inclined tower on the planet, known simply as Montreal Tower. Interestingly enough, the tower wasn't completed until 1987:

Montreal Tower

Parc Olympique

The view of downtown Montreal from the top of Montreal Tower


Standing in front of the Olympic pool at Parc Olympique in Montreal

Back down in Old Montreal, one other thing that cannot be overlooked is the shopping. It doesn't matter if it's Chinatown, one of the countless souvenir shops on Rue St. Paul, or one of the artists along the back alleys of Place Jacques Cartier, there's probably something for everyone. Take me, for example. I'm not normally a "hat guy" but, c'mon. I have to admit, I was tempted: 

I could totally rock this lid

Alejandro, a painter in Old Montreal

A fruit merchant in Chinatown

There are plenty of characters in and around Montreal. To be sure, there are plenty in the Old Port. But, sometimes, you're lucky enough to catch some people, who aren't hanging out or doing business in the Old Port, who absolutely defy description:

This guy was one snappy dresser

There are no words
As I said, Montreal is truly one of my favorite cities. From restaurants to shopping to sightseeing, there's more than enough here to satisfy even the most voracious travel-appetite, and it just never seem to get old.

Cheers!





Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Austin, Texas...

This is going to a longer than normal entry, only because this trip was so cool. I was doing an album cover shoot for my buddy Jeff Pritchett, a guitarist out of Houston. I'd been looking forward to this trip for a while, and it was an absolute blast.

It started with me flying into Dallas. My frequent flyer points wouldn't cover the flight to Austin, so I flew to Dallas on Thursday and drove down to Austin on Friday. I was told the drive wasn't bad; a mere three hours. Ordinarily, a three hour drive isn't too daunting to me. I do it all the time when I'm in Canada. But, at the end of this particular three hour drive, if you'd have told me that I'd just driven for five hours, I would've believed you. 

The drive absolutely sucked the life out of me. I made it, though, and was happy when I pulled into my hotel on the north side of Austin.

The first night, we took it kinda' easy. Jeff had just driven in from Houston, and neither of us was too ready to spend much time exploring the local night life. We decided on dinner at Uncle Billy's, a Bar-B-Q joint overlooking Travis Lake. Good ol' pulled pork with beans, and a view that was pretty damn impressive:

Sunset over Travis Lake
Dinner at Uncle Billy's
Neither of us had too much life left in our tanks following dinner, so we decided to call it a night. Jeff dropped me off at my hotel before heading back to his sister's house, where he was staying. We agreed on breakfast the next morning.

Saturday was going to see the lion's share of the shooting, so we wanted to make sure that we had our nourishment. Jeff recommended what is, apparently, a local legendary eatery, Juan In A Million. They serve something called the Don Juan Taco and, if you order it, you'd better bring your A-game.

We did not bring our A-game.

Eggs, cheese, potatoes, bacon, and presumably a whole host of other things that aren't good for you, all wrapped up in steamy hot tortillas:

Breakfast at Juan In A Million

The first thing I noticed about this joint was how crowded it was. After spending an eternity looking for a parking spot, we walked around the front of the restaurant to see no less than 20 people waiting for a table. I expected the hostess to tell us we'd have about an hour wait. "About ten minutes" was the response to our question about the wait. It was ten minutes that were worth waiting.

Breakfast for the two of us was a whopping $12.00.

After breakfast, we decided to go scout around for places to shoot. Our first stop was a park called Auditorium Shores, which is adjacent to Lady Bird Lake. It's across from downtown Austin, and it's ridiculously picturesque:


Downtown Austin, Texas

Downtown Austin, Texas at night

Auditorium Shores has a pretty large "leash free" zone for dogs, and there were no shortage of them. As the temperature was hovering near 100 degrees, the dogs availed themselves of the lake to cool off:

Dogs at Lady Bird Lake

These dogs had little interest in swimming to the shore

Auditorium Shores also had a bit of significance for me. I'm a huge Stevie Ray Vaughan fan. I never got to see him in concert, but I'd always wanted to visit his memorial at this park. He's cast in bronze, holding his Fender Strat, and he's wearing his signature hat and poncho. It was alnost weird, really; this larger than life statue on the banks of the lake. But it's a way, I suppose, for people to show their respects in a way, and I certainly showed mine:

Stevie Ray Vaughan

We decided we'd come back to Auditorium Shores that night. We liked some of the locales we found, but we both thought we'd get better results at night.

After Auditorium Shores, we decided to head over to the Capitol Building. Jeff wanted to do some shooting there to get some true "Texas" flair:

The Texas State Capitol Building in Austin

Taking a break in the Capitol Rotunda in Austin

We spent about an hour or so shooting in and around the Capitol; lots of cool little niches and architecture to use. After deciding to move on, we stepped outside the front steps into a protest against the TSA. While I won't get all political and get into what the protest was about (you can get that by Googling "Texas TSA protest", it was interesting to see the vast array of characters all pissed off at the Federal government:

They are not happy

Protest on the steps of the Texas State Capitol Building

After that exercise in the 1st Amendment, we decided to head up to the South Congress district, which is just a few blocks from the Capital building. "South Congress" is a funky, hip part of town with cool shop after cool shop, as well as cool eateries along the road:

One of the local eateries in South Congress

We decided that it might be time to enjoy a cold adult beverage, so we headed over to the Continental Club. I've heard of this joint. Stevie Ray played there "back in the day", as well as guys like Junior Brown and Johnny Winter. Much to our chagrin, though, it wasn't yet open when we arrived:

The Continental Club

As the Continental was closed, we concluded that it was time to head down to 6th Street. 6th Street is to Austin what the Gaslamp District is to San Diego. It's where you go when you want to go to a restaurant, hear a band, or just relax in a quiet pub for a beer.

We started with a Guinness as B.D. Riley's, an Irish pub which was quiet and cool. I gotta' tell ya', there's nothing like a Guinness in an Irish pub. Jeff and I decided that, if one Guinness was good, two would be better. That second one was pretty tasty:

There will be no brawling in B.D. Riley's

Jeff and I at B.D. Riley's on 6th Street


After B. D. Riley's, we decided to simply walk along the street. We were still scouting locations at this point, and enjoying refreshments along the way. 6th Street is simply one of the coolest stretches of city street anywhere in America. Walk into one bar and, if you don't like the music, walk out and go into the next, which is usually the next door you come to. And it's no big secret that Austin is proud of its' extensive musical heritage:

A rather large sign along 6th Street

We soon found ourselves in Coyote Ugly. I've heard of this bar; I never saw the movie, but I suspect it wasn't a whole lot different than this place. Bartenders tell dirty jokes over the PA, berate customers for whatever they deem offensive, and even enjoy the occasional cocktail with the clientele. In short, it was pretty damn cool. Reanna, one of our bartenders, took great care of us, and I'm pretty sure she threw a few back with us, as well.

Reanna, one of the crazy-good bartenders at Coyote Ugly in Austin, dancing on the bar

We spent some time on the deck at Coyote Ugly, and before long, we were approached by one of the bouncers, a rather intimidating guy with one of the most bitchin' beards I've ever seen. He just wanted to sit down and shoot the breeze before the place started coming off the rails. Mack's a former Marine, and he also competes in beard contests. Unbeknownst to me, there's actually something called the World Beard and Moustache Championships. Who knew? Mack's been growing his beard for 14 months, and I think he's gonna' do pretty well in anything in which beards are judged. I mean, c'mon, look at this; it's awesome:


Mack, one of the bouncers at Coyote Ugly
Somehow I managed to leave alive

After hanging out at Coyote Ugly for what proved to be way too long, we walked back to the truck to get ready to do some shooting. The truth is that, up until this point, I'd been doing a lot of shooting with the Canon G12. I know I talk about this camera a lot, but it's deserving of it. It's one Helluva' camera. A number of the shots that will end up on the album cover were taken with the G12.

After doing some shooting in the parking garage we were in, we decided to head back over to Auditorium Shores and do some night shooting. It was a bit of a challenge, but both Jeff and I were happy (well, he happier than my hyper-critical self) with what we ended up with, so we counted it as a success.

A quick edit of one of the shots from Auditorium Shores

After spending about two hours shooting, we'd both had enough. It was a long day and, the longer we stayed out, the longer it would be. Jeff dropped me off at my hotel and headed out into the night.

While we'd originally planned to shoot Sunday morning, as well, I don't think either of us were too eager to get out into the heat of sunny Sunday June morning in Austin, Texas. Instead, we decided that we were satisfied with the shooting of the day before, and simply opted for a (very) late breakfast before I had to drive back to Dallas to catch my flight.

It would be another life-sucking siege of a drive but, hey, at least I had coffee:

Let's Talk Apps...

From time to time, I'll be talking about cell phone apps as I find good ones. Let's face it, it's almost impossible to get thro...