Remember Who Wins Forgets

Historically, people who trail tend to pick over what’s left in the wakes of winners. Winners make wakes, which means, winners are going forward.

Winners move any way they can, not any way they are allowed to. And not in the way that others have moved. Movement must equal course correction, so winners adjust.

Winners stay focused on what they want to accomplish. Accomplishment is one-hundred percent new activity. New activity has nothing to do with the past.

Learning from the past is forming useful ideas from legacy information. Dwelling on the past is facing backwards and standing still.

Be prepared for negativity. Someone in your party, that’s their biggest luggage. You don’t want them to drop their bag. You want them to switch it out on their own, empty it, exchange it, and to do whatever it takes to sort it themselves. Maybe they’re loaded with negativity because that’s all that happened to be around them when they had the opportunity to pick up what they could.

Winners stay fluid by forgetting. They park old glories and seek the new. They don’t languish over failures and setbacks. Winners only carry what’s useful, and stick with a team that steps up.

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To The Lady I Met

I’m not a fan of ingredients, but I’m a big fan of the soup. People, roaming randomly, bring me nothing; people, gathered, and talking, is everything.

It was 7PM, July 3rd 2021 at the Harris Teeter on Palm Boulevard. You were standing in a long checkout line, your full cart indicative of taking care of a large family. You were stationary, smiling, with kind eyes. We shared hellos.

You were a brown-haired fortyish lady from Atlanta, Georgia. You had a timeshare at Myrtle Beach that you lamented you missed out on. Where was I from, you wanted to know?

You were visiting Isle of Palms with a dozen family and friends. As we chatted, your teen daughter politely asked you, friend in tow, “Mom, can I get an Everything bagel?” She also asked if she could get a few other things. You said yes to all her requests. I was impressed how she asked your permission. It was respectful.

Our supermarket line wasn’t moving–this was the pre-July 4th crush. You and I rolled our eyes at what was in front of us, lots of people, waiting to buy their private stocks of food and drinks, and sandals, and Everything bagels.

Your dark-haired friend joined our conversation. She was happy to be away from the stress of her own two kids, she said. It was a wholesome expression. I could tell she cared, and that she was glad to be far from her everyday hassles and routines. A few words and a certain look told me so much.

From the look of your group, your men were either not a part of this vacation, or were sitting this shop out.

The line crept forward and I said to you, “Oh, ask the cashier if she can scan the visitor VIP card for you– you can save a lot of money.” You thanked me, again showing your kind eyes. Southern friendliness sweetens even a simple thank you.

And then you were gone. Registers opened up and a store manager directed you one way and me, another. I began unloading my cart and focused on my here and now.

I should have taken an earlier moment and asked your name. How forward would it have been for me to do that? How bold would it have been to want to exchange numbers? Unthinkable! Right? Oh, why not? You knew I was married. This was about making a friend.

That didn’t happen– of course it didn’t. Food shopping on summer vacation isn’t about being bold, it’s about grabbing what you need and getting the heck out of there. Getting to your car, and back to the beach or cottage.

Oh but what I needed was in my cart, and in that line.

I should have connected with you, because we connected. I should have asked, because it was the South and you were from Georgia and what would you have said? Even a decline would have been the nicest thing, I suppose.

Instead, we turned back into ingredients again. Separate, and somewhat lesser for it.

I caught a last glimpse of you. Your checkout line was several over from me but I caught your eye, as you managed your kids and all the bags of stuff. I waved and said goodbye. Nice meeting you!, I mouthed. You smiled, and said the same.

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Wild Dunes Walking

Welcome to Wild Dunes Walking, a photography & writing exhibit of Wild Dunes, at Isle of Palms South Carolina.

Click on the photo to see it big! Hit the back button to return to the show.

This exhibit features 30 photographs captured with the Sony A7R full-frame camera and 55 mm Carl Zeiss lens. With commentary written in situ during the week of photography, July 3-9, 2021.

ABOVE: Early Morning. Take a look. How can I present the color of sand to you? How can I tell you about the excitement of being right here, at this moment? Let’s start by sharing as much as I can.

There are many Photoshop adjustments that can change what we see. Which setting is best? Should I leave the picture untouched, directly out of camera? Or maybe click one of many auto-correct buttons– auto level, auto tone, auto color, etc.? Or effect a custom mix of some sort?

None of my photographs are presented directly out of camera. Pictures always need some work: Lightening, cropping, hue, and other conversions. The reason for this is artistic choice. I am making a picture, not taking one.

The sand color you see came after a few hours of studying the dune, on site. The work continued in the condo unit, which was a twenty-second walk from this exact spot. I edited all the photographs in the unit at night, last week, when the pictures were shot. This was my true standard for the best choices. I was there; I was open to the flow of what was being captured and made ready.

Color, here: It’s not just sunlight. It’s 8:00AM angled light, filtered through sub-tropical clouds, and humid island air.

Color, here: It’s not just sand, it’s fine particles layered from high winds that have folded fresh patterns overnight. This sand was dredged directly offshore a few years ago to build up the beachfront.

A lack of footprints does not equate to a lack of people. It equates to, no people yet today– many will traipse, and soon.

Early Morning is getting out of bed and getting out there. Early Morning is wondering if stopping at this spot is keeping me from getting to a better spot. Early Morning is my setting proximity aside, as an interest factor. It’s hard for me to believe when I’m on site that the viewer does not care about proximity! But you do not care, at all. The viewer’s sole point of reference is what the photograph provides. If there was a dumpster just out of frame, it would only influence my perception of the scene, not yours. That is why I say, you do not care about what you don’t see.

The easy appeal of Early Morning is the warm color, yes, but also the mixing of fence shadow and dune ripples. These shadows are like choral voices, originating separately, emerging collectively, where the blend makes something big.

Shadow exceeds source. Source is bland and unartful. Shadow is the presence we notice. Shadow makes money. Remove source and shadow’s gone.

Early Morning is how I want you to start the Wild Dunes Walking 2021 exhibit. Now let’s get your feet wet.

ABOVE: Separations. How does a photograph rate for the second selection in a series of thirty? If you love grades, and tactile changes, and unity of difference but not of type, then you’ll understand why I assigned the high rating. Sand to water, left to right, and here you stand, in the soft, muddy middle. What you feel under your feet, you can hear behind your ears. It’s the mucky slap back. What you touch, is sticking with you.

Do you understand that coincidence is communication? And with coincidence, you are being spoken to. This is what I’ve learned in 56 years. Here is the only picture in the series where I wasn’t shooting for the exhibit. This picture was for my own use, for sun values and capturing beach goers. I didn’t see anything artistic here, when I was on site.

That night, during editing, the magic of the four demarcations became obvious to me. Oh, what a grand evening that was! I had the understanding that in this picture, yes, something was working that I hadn’t seen. That evening of editing was warm and dark, I was draped on a couch with a Dr. Pepper Cherry Zero double on full ice, in the tallest glass I could find. Law and Order CI on the TV, for sound only.

Heaven, in other words, in which to work.

I cropped out the people up top, and allowed the photo to be a narrow horizontal piece. I squeezed it together about 10%. Then I selected colors that shifted the entire being into this perfect little thing. This picture is not just about wet and dry. There are tons of glorious footprints to the left, and no prints possible to the right. That is what we call range, and I love the concept. Range is grounding. It gives me my field of play.

We can see a few prints in the wet sand, that the tide was just beginning to reclaim. The third quadrant was glass-smooth, where the latest wave just receded.

A word about what I just said, selecting colors. You might say, “Wait, these colors look natural.” Think what a lens polarizer does. Or if you don’t know that, then take into account the wealth of color 36 megapixels provides. We have the power to adjust any hue we wish, in a combination that defines the theme. I started with a washed-out photo with little separation and formed this, as something without obvious effort.

Final observation. I like the curvy separations. As is often the case, I went back to the site in subsequent days, to “shoot it better”. I didn’t see anything as clear and obvious as Separations. The next days’ demarcations weren’t artful. This picture was the one that worked best.

ABOVE: Day after Tropical Storm Elsa. Elsa hit Isle of Palms on the night of July 7th. Winds reached 50 MPH. A tornado briefly touched down. The next day the rough water added a great subject to our Wild Dunes Walking show.

The seabird in this picture is a treat because she isn’t one of the more common birds on the Wild Dunes shore. We hardly ever see this type. The lines of her wings and body are accentuated by the red beak.

A theme you may see repeated in this show is a flag motif, where horizontal bands of color call for you to step back and look, to see the flag. A focused subject matter to the upper left also adds to the flag presentation.

ABOVE: Day after Elsa, picture 2. What was here, is still here. Every bird playing on the day after the storm, survived the storm.

ABOVE: Sunrise. I have a lot to say about the sunrises at Wild Dunes. Sunrise comes at 6:15, about an hour later than my native Massachusetts. This picture is from about an hour into it.

For the waterfronts I’m most familiar with, up north at Wingaersheek and Perkins Cove, sunrise comes from the right, or in front of me.

On the other hand, Isle of Palms is situated such that, to me, the sun appears to rise in the west. I will probably never get past this false orientation, since it’s my lifetime impression of where I am when I face the waterfront. The left will always seem west.

Let’s talk about the challenges of sunrise photos on Isle of Palms. When I get up in the morning to hunt early sky, I’m betting on a certain combination of clear and clouds, and am fighting time.

Fighting time is a two-front war. Yes, getting onto the beach by 5:45 is just the start. The real battle is the camera’s temperature and humidity transformation from air-conditioning to the outdoor humidity.

The camera and lens system needs about 20 minutes to equilibrize. The lens fogs, not just on the outside glass, which should be wiped frequently, but also inside the lens, where you can’t touch. You just have to wait it out, outside. If you don’t have patience, and don’t plan your time, you’ll end up with blurry photos.

This is one of two Sunrise photos I had prepared for you. The photo I didn’t include in this show, I can describe. The sun was a small pink ball that had just breached the sea horizon. It radiated a larger orange circle, on a dark-but-lightening beach. The camera wasn’t fully de-fog equilibrized– the picture’s a bit fuzzy– but the shot was suitable for use. The slight blurring effect actually aided the image.

The photo captured a woman in close-up pose and she is smiling at us. The sun is precisely between her pretty hands, and her fingers reach to the sky, in a way that would pause Angels from their morning’s work. The woman is not cupping the sun or doing anything with it that she’s aware. She is simply being beautiful, as the tiny fireball backlights her. She did not want the picture to be exhibited and I respect her wishes.

For the Sunrise photo shown above, you would be disappointed if you saw how I set it up. What you see is beautiful and open. You don’t see me crouching in front of a 2-foot square pathetic clump of reeds awkwardly growing in the middle of an otherwise open beach. Once again, the proximity matters so very little. All we care about, is the world we see point blank. And then, we fill in all the other details for ourselves.

ABOVE: Wild turtle walk. A brash, good-sized turtle decided to take a walk from the shrubs. When it saw children, and me, it took an about face. Back to the thicket.

You can be strong, and only have to use that strength once in your life.

Don’t focus on the chigger bites on your legs. Instead, think about where those legs will take you today.

ABOVE: Fetch! Keep your eye on the ball, whoever you are, and as best you can. No one can fault you for being sharp. I’ve dipped the horizon line a half a degree, to open up the field of play. Crazy artists, like me, equate the wave to the dog. And the frisbee, to the water’s shine. There are four characters, you see, and they are playing for us.

Aim for a score of 100, and be satisfied with an 85. Don’t be satisfied if you aim for 85 and get it.

Bound, when you’re unbound.

ABOVE: Peaceful. I was here, and it was just like this. Essentially two sky overlays were flooding grays and blocking light. Dear sky: I can see what you’re doing because the ocean betrays you. The ocean could sell your reflection as moonlight but it’s too damn honest.

The color range in this picture is very narrow. How, then, does this scene work so well? Because you are simply watching magic. I want to help place you here.

Crashing, rolling, stereo surf, gulls are midrange, human voices fade out.

Sea foam sizzles. Wet sand hisses as the water retreats. Tick, tick, tick goes the sand holes, and what lies beneath.

Sparkly surf, due to low angle of the sun. Very few people see this view.

Later in the day, the straight-up sun washes out everything, including the masses of people lost in the glare and center of the Bell Curve.

ABOVE: With me. Studying the social life and hunting method of Sand Pipers was alone worth my week at Wild Dunes.

Dear visitor: What put you here? How was it placed before you? You don’t have to ask, but you do have to know.

If you don’t enjoy the world, you’ve failed all the people who have made great efforts, most of which not for you.

Sand Pipers teach us a lesson. Let’s stick together when someone drops off. Let’s stick together when someone joins us.

ABOVE: With you. You can dig without scraping. You can get into this without getting out of that.

You can take this in without taking it away.

I don’t want to shoo you, but I want you to be shoo’d. Take flight so I can see your next change. Someone needs to scare you to get moving. Then you can pause again, when the jolt is over. And you’ve forgiven me.

ABOVE: Look to me. The partially-buried sea creature said, “Dear beach visitor, I’m a being in need. One of many, at your mercy. We count on you to be strong. And I think, you count on us when you’re weak.

“Look away, if you want me to die. Look to me, if you want me to live.”

I needed a conversation with someone who didn’t want to talk. And that’s how we got started.

“Sir,” the creature said, “Don’t look back unless it’s great there. Skip the present, that’s passing. Force your future exactly as you want it to be.”

“Hello creature: I came very far and very fast, to slow it all down. It seems to me, you are in complete living peace. I am locked-in on that.”

“You can focus on relaxing but I would skip the focusing.”

“Ouch,” I replied.

The creature said, “I can’t take a step, and I’ve traveled no place; only you have come to me. You’ve done me a great service. With your hello.”

“Sea creature, I have a question for you. I am counting on you to dig deep for your answer. What is here that is not here? As I squint at you in this terrible sun.”

“Dear visitor, if the sun burns, then what sears the dungeon? If the wind stings, would you prefer unfeeling skin?”

I asked, “Why is life not this right, all the time? What place can I carry, if I have to set you down? I must be so out of balance, to have this need! To compensate for the extreme that’s called normal.”

“Why is this not the right time? For anything you wish to do?”

“Sea creature, let me put it this way: Do the waves dream of the city?”

“How can something so free and and so fluid, be held to one place? I’m speaking of you, not the sea. Someone who thinks they’re worth nothing, will spend all their wealth to prove it.”

I understood.

“You can only divide your time,” the creature said. “Everything else that you split, will either rejoin or disintegrate while your attention is turned away. This is why you are searching.

“I have an answer for both of us,” he continued. “I’ll make a particular kind of noise, for your particular kind of ear. Ready for it?”

I nodded. “Please, yes.”

“If it is given to you, you will give it away.

“The more you share, the less apart we’ll be.”

ABOVE: Waiting. When you’re having fun, why stop? Why not stop the place but not the feeling?

Why not keep it going, the fun I mean, and flow the smile into your work and toward others.

ABOVE: Sorry. The saddest sight on a sunny beach is your empty chair. Paid for, carefully set up for you, holding a place that won’t be taken.

I want you here!

You wanted to be too, but something pushed you away and now for six hours this shaded spot goes to waste.

I can’t stand to look at it. It reminds me that you’ve been disappointed today, on a vacation you’ve long waited for.

Too much wind? Neighbors rude with a radio, or smoking, or being obnoxious?

Breaks my heart to let you down.

ABOVE: Your time. It’s all laid out in front of you. Look and see. Leave it for others. Take as much as you can away.

The shade in the sun is the only cheating allowed. Beach shadows cover the water until the sunshine returns from its bathroom break.

The only thing that lasts is the same view through different eyes.

If the waves break, I’m fixing to sea.

ABOVE: Trails. As the tide pushes forward and pulls back, a trail is created, soon to be erased– by the same forces.

ABOVE: Shell 1. Look down while you’re walking, or you won’t miss the pretty shells; observe, pay attention, or they will cut your feet.

Observe, pay attention, or you will crush them. Better walk before the tide turns! Better walk after the tide turns!

ABOVE: Shell 2. The finest natural pottery shard. Shells look so much better by the sea.

ABOVE: Shell 3. Natural wetness from the ocean a foot behind me, and rushing. The water is the only way we’d see the blue and brown.

ABOVE: Shell 4. Take a good look at the shell fragments that surround this pretty thing. They were all part of something bigger, until they became part of bigger still.

ABOVE: Shell 5. If I show you a pretty shell, don’t tell me you’ve gathered many like it; you have never seen it from me.

If I take a picture, don’t tell me we have many of these. Think of it as, I’ve never taken this photo before.

Tell me you can’t wait to see how it came out.

ABOVE: Sand dollar. You say “No secrets,” and then you hide me.

Every crushed shell in this huge mass of Isle of Palms shore was once and still living; it’s the state of matters.

ABOVE: Three-Inch Dead Rhinoceros Beetle. The creature with no overseer is such a crushing shame. Once a body looked after, is now under no control. Your tidy legs, you used to groom, your magnificent shell and body, you would align in the order of your life, now lie abandoned.

It has to be, and I have to see.

Where now do you go? As I walk away.

ABOVE: Life bubbles as water retreats. Imagine if you could talk to me, without wanting to change my mind.

Imagine being in a room full of dear people, where no one accepts your dearest point of view.

Think of what it would be like, to never be able to ask for what you need, your name never making the list of Okays and We Understands and That’s All Rights.

That’s where I walk.

The answer to Life isn’t: “This is what makes sense to me.” The answer is, this is what’s been shown to me, for dozens of years, gently, over and over again.

And there’s no one on Earth that will accept my point of view, if they get their answers via other men.

ABOVE: Crying out. This shell looked like a canine’s yelp, complete with the fanning of water stains. I had about five seconds to stage this shot before the tide killed the dog, for good.

ABOVE: Opaque shell. The translucent shell, a large lens to only let through my kind of light.

My sight isn’t stopped by a solid plane, when what I’m presented halts the rest of the world.

ABOVE: Very old. No one will believe the colors of Wild Dunes beach, the shapes, or the wear of the ages. But you have seen it.

ABOVE: Blue-gray. Blue-gray points, blue-gray all over, just a fraction of its shell, getting a sense of its life. The being on the inside of this that I touch, built it for itself, for its life and battles.

Imagine this creature’s prime, eclipsing this piece. But it sure did.

ABOVE: Very thick. The clam grew its shell so thick, there was no way it was going to die.

ABOVE: Lost sunglasses. Isle of Palms is a very clean beach. There is no litter to speak of. Shell shards form a base for these pristine lost sunglasses. I took the photo and caught the sky, with a foreshadow of the storms to come.

ABOVE: You’re gone. There will always be good options. Pick one and enjoy it. The ice cream you didn’t buy was enjoyed by someone else.

Things are disposable, and will be gone soon, while we are here, all are too.

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Posted in Charleston, Photography | 6 Comments

Wild Dunes 72 HOURS

Wild Dunes 72 HOURS by Ara Hagopian is a 20-piece photography exhibit covering the Isle of Palms beach resort in South Carolina. The work was captured with the Sony A7R full-frame camera and 55 mm Carl Zeiss lens.

My 72 HOURS exhibits cover popular United States destinations such as New York City, Manhattan Beach CA, Perkins Cove ME, and Isle of Palms SC. The pictures are not intended to be a highlight of the best, or most famous, of the attractions’ sights. As such, today’s exhibit is not a collection of what a visitor must see if they’re staying at the resort.

What viewers get is this artist’s impression of what was beautiful or interesting during three-plus days on site. To be free to wander the area with a camera—and without a checklist—is the heart of 72 HOURS.

Once again, and perhaps for the last time, I present the photographs in their shooting order. Why is this worth mentioning? When I took the pictures, I had no inkling to consider their order. Now that I’ve arranged two shows this way, I will never shoot innocently again, if I for a moment think I’m filming the series flow.

Wild Dunes 72 HOURS.

ABOVE: First steps. Monday, ‎June ‎17. Here’s what it’s like to step out at 7 AM. Have a fruit breakfast on the balcony, and decide what wonderful things to do today. In fact, how about we explore this beach, together, right now?

ABOVE: View. The week had several short, heavy rain storms, plenty of sun, and wind–lots of wind! The only sun umbrella that withstands the force is the kind the housing authority can set up for you. It’s the only way to go, if you want to read near the water. Believe me, there is nothing in this world like reading a good book on a beautiful beach, where you’re not fighting with your drug store umbrella and sinking-sand chair. A cold drink at hand, and you’re on vacation baby.

ABOVE: Layers. Here we can see the four textures from sand to sky. I wish I’d shot it in landscape but portrait brings focus. What’s missing from the photograph is the hissing sound as the foam rushes us, and retreats, both movements in victory.

ABOVE: Front six. What caught my eye was the beach, so white and clean from the constant wind. Then the homes looked smart and beautiful, their colors adding to the casual walkers’ pleasure. What made this photograph an inclusion to this exhibit is the sky. That perfect sky, a drop-in complement to the structures and the sand.

ABOVE: Storm coming.

ABOVE: Interlock. Have you read their story?

ABOVE: Three old souls. I love the splay; they are laying like cats on a sunny rug. The turtle with the most-dry shell has been enjoying the warmth the longest. He wants me to go. I obey.

ABOVE: Condense-tension. A funny thing happens when you carry a camera from an air conditioned living room, out to the humid morning– the lens fogs up, on the outside and inside of the camera, too. One simply has to wait about twenty minutes for equilibrium to take place, naturally. Most of the time, condensation-lens photography is a waste until the glass is clear. In this case, the fogginess has added a pleasing haze.

ABOVE: Party’s over. A beach ball has lost its mojo. The kid or the parents have moved on. Maybe they didn’t realize their possession had become trash. An exit question, at their moment of purchase in the store that morning: “How long before you stop caring about this beach ball, and where it’s going to end up? Seven hours from now? Six?”

ABOVE: To be removed. An old ribbon marker on a long-gone branch. Some time ago, maybe a decade or longer, a city worker marked this branch to be removed, like so. The wood was cut, the ribbon remained, and everyone has moved on. Except, the trace that remains tells the story. Was the branch removed because it was unsightly? Isn’t leaving the ribbon at least equally unsightly? Respect your work. Finish the job.

ABOVE: Pelican run. A serious storm is approaching Isle of Palms and this bird is heading home. I wish I got a bit more of the beach houses into frame, but this photograph is full of tension and energy, and the moment came and was gone– one picture only. Cropping the rooftops added nothing to the composition so they remained, grounding us in this uncertain moment. How will nature pummel us? We will see!

ABOVE: The Wild Dune. The thing with the world is, you’re going to miss most of it. If you really understand what I mean, you would look around, a lot more than you do now. That would be fighting our nature, which regulates on the routine. And the routine is an artless world.

This is the money shot. Take a look at the prettiest thing I saw all week. What we’re looking at is a scrub brush after a night of heavy wind. The wind blew so hard, and so long, it left a trail of sand ten feet long.

See this dune. Not only is this a deposit of the lightest, finest sand, but look at that lay. Look at nature’s design, so fragile but created with such force! If it were even possible, this wedding gown train could only have been made by the gentlest of human hands, and where would they plant their feet! –but we know Man had nothing to do with this arrangement. Except perhaps, to share it.

Once again the reward of photography is delivering something new to someone like you. You weren’t there but you are here. For another view of this gorgeous creation, go back to the title graphic of this exhibit.

ABOVE: Fill ins. The beating rains of the night have hardened the dune. Then the winds fill the grooves with light, dried sand. Incredible to see; irritating to feel as it hits your body; decibels louder than city traffic; and wilder than anything else worth seeing.

ABOVE: Being. I think about the highest being, and the lower beings too. How one made the other, and one makes the other. This crab was walking the beach, as I was. He looked at me. He didn’t seem afraid. Oh, the gulls love his kind.

I study this picture and I look at his claws. What I see is this. His two arms are perfectly suited to bring food to his mouth. It’s that simple. Look for yourself. How can I be disgusted with him? How can I fear him? A fragile creature wanting to nourish himself, and I can say, I get it. I understand. I am beginning to understand.

ABOVE: Right here. The beating force makes you hold your hat, then maddeningly you take it off for the duration. The white grains rush past you like they’re in a race and you are a useless overpass. Don’t bother about getting out of the way. They’ll go right around you.

The color of the sand can be captured but not encapsulated. It is this color you see here and is not one hue or even a themed palette. Are you ready for the truth? The color is shaped by the sound, and what you hear is a forced whipping, that alters intensity depending on where you happen to point your head. And on Wild Dunes beach, you are looking all over.

There is a fine place you’re going to, but this isn’t the way. This is a diversion from a worthier destination. You’ve chosen this time but it isn’t the best time, you’re filled with thoughts that are out of place here.

Yet, by the time you’ve finished this end-of-day beach walk, you have been to the one place you needed to be. You have turned to look at what’s exactly important, heard the one kind of quiet that the wind has carefully filtered for you. You have well-filled your footprints. It started out all wrong but you stuck with it. Not because of your superior judgement or intuition, but the superiority of right here.

ABOVE: Time laps. Ten pelicans scrape the water, always stopping people in their tracks, to stare.

ABOVE: Storm. Here it comes. The rain and violence push you away. Yet, we stay. Because, it will change. We won’t want to give up our place. We don’t want to be harmed, so we cover up and take it. To claim what’s to come after. And here it comes.

ABOVE: Sun shadows. There’s a moment you can’t recreate, set up, or plan for. You can only be ready, if you haven’t fled or hidden yourself. This is why we stay– and for so much more.

ABOVE: Your pace. Southern birds have longer tails than their Northern cousins. The South Carolina flourish makes me happy. I know you, kinda. Show me more, at your pace please.

ABOVE: The one question on everyone’s mind. How do you stay so clean on the beach of Wild Dunes?

Posted in 72 Hours, Photography | 6 Comments

Interlock

I can’t see you; can you hold my hand? Your voice is assuring and your presence is appreciated.

Can you help me get steady? I promise, it will only take a moment. Even though I know, you need steadying yourself.

I was shaken so badly last night. Yes by the wind, but that’s nothing new to oldtimers. What shook me was a change, in me, something I can only describe but can’t explain.

The forestry people have checked me and tested me, tested my trunk, asked me to tell them again: “What happened to you Sunday? But you were feeling normal Saturday?” And after listening to me, and me listening to them, they told me the odds. There’s a 33% chance I won’t be right again.

Hold my hand. I can’t hear you. Your sureness fills me up and our interlock secures. To what direction?

Thankful that you’re here.
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Charleston 72 HOURS Part 2

Charleston 72 HOURS Part 2 by Ara Hagopian is a 30-piece photography exhibit covering the historic seaside city of Charleston, South Carolina. The work was captured with the Sony A7R full-frame camera and 55 mm Carl Zeiss lens.

The 72 HOURS exhibits cover popular United States destinations such as New York City, Manhattan Beach CA, Perkins Cove ME, and Isle of Palms SC. The pictures are not intended to be a highlight of the best, or most famous, of the attractions’ sights. As such, today’s exhibit is not a collection of what a visitor must see if they’re staying in Charleston.

What viewers get is this artist’s impression of what was beautiful or interesting during three-plus days on site. To be free to wander the area with a camera—and without a checklist—is the heart of 72 HOURS.

I’m doing something new for this exhibit, I’m presenting the photographs in the order they were shot. I usually arrange the photographs into a flow, with subgroupings. Today I wanted to change that. The decision for chronological order wasn’t planned, and as a result, the layout is completely natural—you’ll see the shots as I saw them. We can both be surprised together.

Charleston 72 Hours Part 2 is my 6th photography exhibit of South Carolina. I hope you find the experience worth your while.

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ABOVE: This is Maiden Lane. IMAGE# 354, SUNDAY 6/23/2019 9:07AM. I stayed at the Andrew Pinckney Inn and this tiny road called Maiden Lane greeted me each morning. The cobblestones date back a few centuries. Will you step along with me?

There are three forms of history: Recorded, remembered, and unobserved. What’s recorded is but a single page and what’s lost are the thousands of thick books of facts that could tell us who was here, how they lived, and what they did. The accounts of past eras are gone, as we stare after Maiden Lane.

When I look at this picture, it is easy to imagine older times. The clock works backwards and the cycles of sun and shadow pull the age out of frame. The 1960’s fade to the ’50’s and the Lane, with her stone and green coloring, looks universal from then and now. The years wind further back, still.

Clear your mind, and watch for it.

Forget where you happen to be sitting right now, and look at the picture. Let go of who you are. Your identity is the anchor to the present.

Look to the far right. An early-1800’s man is hustling at full-walking speed on stones that have a rougher look than the worn curves of today. His left hand clutches a piece of paper, on it is evidence exonerating a lady friend from a heart-breaking family matter. He’s worked hard to gain this evidence and is moving quickly to share his discovery with her cruel father. Our eyes follow our traveler, to witness his success, but he passes into the next street, and oblivion. We have seen a glimpse of what happened here.

The sun moves faster and a warm breeze takes hold of us. Maiden Lane has preserved everything ever done in her dominion. Take you time, stop, and she will show you. Let her walk you back through the old days.

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ABOVE: White Horse. IMAGE# 403, SUNDAY 6/23/2019 9:22AM. The white horse stepped into frame. Sunlight on furry feet and a unicorn ear add to the moment. The palette of white, grey and green was in step with the start of the day. This touristy sight is seen every hour all over Charleston but you, dear viewer, have never seen her before. A question for you: Where is a spoonful of sugar most appreciated, sprinkled into a sugar bowl or on top of  your breakfast cereal?

If you have never visited Charleston, then good morning. The sugar analogy is an example of how photography distributes what’s plentiful to where it’s needed. Ladies and gentlemen, a treat for your breakfast.

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ABOVE: Male House Sparrow. IMAGE# 438 SUNDAY 6/23/2019 9:30AM. No one will ever care about this particular bird, but I did. I had to travel 2,000 miles to give regard to the ignored and uncelebrated.

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ABOVE: Walk down street. IMAGE# 454 SUNDAY 6/23/2019 9:34AM. As regular and routine a day it was to everybody else, it was extraordinary for me. How can I show you?

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ABOVE: Broken wall in parking lot. IMAGE# 457 SUNDAY 6/23/2019 9:36AM. When you come to the South and cause damage, you’re being rude. Guess what? The damage will be repaired. The artifacts belong here; you do not. What you’ve destroyed was put in place by better men than you.

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ABOVE: Flag. IMAGE# 490 SUNDAY 6/23/2019 9:40AM. Always respected by the good; always welcomed by the grateful. The fabric of the highest standard, our flag of the United States.

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ABOVE: Colorful buildings and tree. IMAGE# 508 SUNDAY 6/23/2019 9:42AM. Like nowhere else. 

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ABOVE: Big tree and brick building. IMAGE# 515 SUNDAY 6/23/2019 9:55AM. Screaming, “1910! 1910!”

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ABOVE: Run down space between buildings. IMAGE# 527 SUNDAY 6/23/2019 10:01AM. We’re not allowed near the building, there are warnings posted on the property. A close examination of the picture shows structural damage to the upper deck near the support. Rot and disintegration have taken residence. The home’s best days are gone.

A towel, set to dry, waits for the owner’s return. If this towel was ever to be reclaimed, brought to a good home, washed, dried and folded, it would still bear the sun-bleached band of these days. The towel’s renewable moment will never come. The home in this photograph will probably be demolished, and its items thrown in a dumpster.

I wanted to explore the space between the homes. The alleyway was an overgrown area leading to an intriguing fenced-in backyard, also overgrown. Welcome to a place in Charleston no one wants to look at. Except us, of course.

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ABOVE: Top of building and church. IMAGE# 536 SUNDAY 6/23/2019 10:07AM. What is immense, grounded, and weighty? Versus, what will last, and encompass all?

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ABOVE: This is Charleston Blue. IMAGE# 551 SUNDAY 6/23/2019 10:08AM. Part one of three motifs, capturing the spiritual colors of Charleston. If you think it’s mamby-pamby artistic bullshit, randomly-grasped and shoved forward by a navel-gazing Outworlder, then it’s too late to turn back. Those blues have got you.  

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ABOVE: Meet Judy, the ugly tree. IMAGE# 567 SUNDAY 6/23/2019 10:13AM. Have you read the story DERELICTION OF JUDY? Oughtten you to?

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ABOVE: Old shed. IMAGE# 580 SUNDAY 6/23/2019 10:15AM. Private property—has this lot been touched in years? What’s inside? Dear Public, just keep walking. Don’t look, unless you want to see the ultimate shell of prevention. Because here you are forbidden from seeing what’s even worse.

No one plans for junk. A property loaded with forgotten items started out as a perfect structure on a sunny day.

We let it fall apart. We allowed ourselves to walk away from a moment of tidying up, thousands of times repeated. The sum of moments is monumental. I can tell you this: It’s far easier to leave a situation, than to resolve it. Easier still, is to live with it.

It’s the same way with relationships. This decrepit shed is our personal failing, every cluttered corner a nasty word.

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ABOVE: Sidewalk date. IMAGE# 585 SUNDAY 6/23/2019 10:17AM. Thank God for Fred. Fred, buddy, you were feeling so carefree that day thirty-eight years ago, weren’t you? Just look how you signed your name in the cement! What flourish!

I remember December 17th, 1983 very well. It was a Saturday, and was my first day home from my first semester at college. That finals week in western Massachusetts had been magical for me, I remember faint, swirling snow, a romantic campus walk with a girl on an impromptu night and on my arm, and feeling the thrill of burgeoning young love. In two weeks we’d made plans to get together again, with the campus empty of students, save for a certain private townhouse. I asked her, “What do you want from this relationship?” And she answered, “You.”

And Fred, here you were, thousands of miles away, crouching over wet cement with a stick in hand, and a plan all your own.

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ABOVE: This is Charleston White. IMAGE# 628 MONDAY 6/24/2019 8:43AM. If you see the two thrusts then I’ve succeeded. If there’s nothing special for you here, then you have failed the photograph. Move past it, like everyone else walking by that day, who didn’t look up and see the sacred movement of the building’s edge and the reach of the tree.

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ABOVE: Tree and house, in the Buroughs. IMAGE# 636 MONDAY 6/24/2019 8:46AM. The Buroughs are a fun place to walk, but you don’t want to be caught feeling out of place there. The camera protected me, it provided interference from trouble and was the most powerful weapon I could possess. Powerful because of the bold beast it made me. 

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ABOVE: Moonlight. IMAGE# 638 MONDAY 6/24/2019 8:56AM. I want to talk about the upper window, and who might have been up there in the old days. I imagine hundreds of years ago a daughter was punished, held prisoner suspected of being wicked. At this moment the man from Maiden Lane was hustling with evidence to free her, he’s successful but it doesn’t go how everyone thinks. And then I want to talk about the building’s cracks; what’s caused some and what’s prevented even more. Lastly, I want to celebrate the plant that found its life high away from soil. My love of the loner, of supernatural survivors, and the brave who are living differently, caught in the moonlight. (These words were my sketch notes for what I wanted to write for the caption. In the end, I kept them as the caption itself.)

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ABOVE: Judy’s friend, Judy’s fear. IMAGE# 654 MONDAY 6/24/2019 8:59AM. Judy’s friend had no voice, and no warning.

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ABOVE: White house. IMAGE# 671 MONDAY 6/24/2019 9:10AM. Haunting, the white finish is the finest shade of green in sight.

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ABOVE: Discarded table in Harleston Village. IMAGE# 679 MONDAY 6/24/2019 9:21 AM. Useful for decades, thrown away one day; cared for and cleaned many times, but not this time; card games, to grass stains; upside to outside; friends gathered ’round to no one around; family’s laughter to a stranger’s shutter; lady’s luck to dump truck; hidden scrapes’ ugly swirls, immodesty for the leering world; family gave you care, family gave you up here; solid and sturdy on four, no good reason anymore; no feelings, left leaning.

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ABOVE: Spikes. IMAGE# 692 TUESDAY 6/25/2019 8:12AM. This is how we forced human property to stay in place. Unfettered weeds were allowed on the streets, but not Black slaves.

Yard-wall implements like this get me thinking. When we invent ways to hold people back, we’re only demonstrating our own containment.

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ABOVE: This is Charleston Red. IMAGE# 700 TUESDAY 6/25/2019 8:16AM. As authentic as I could translate it for you.

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ABOVE: Bike. IMAGE# 701 TUESDAY 6/25/2019 8:17AM. A man can enjoy his life as he wants it.

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ABOVE: Discarded brick at the Slave Mart. IMAGE# 720 TUESDAY 6/25/2019 8:23AM. I’m sad to say history dissolves, piece-by-piece.

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ABOVE: Dogs in scooter. IMAGE# 746 TUESDAY 6/25/2019 8:41AM. They came down King Street very fast and loud, too. The dog’s ear, flapping in the wind, is the clincher.

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ABOVE: Another Touch. IMAGE# 747 TUESDAY 6/25/2019 9:37AM. You don’t need to read the story TOUCH from several years ago, to imagine how this tree felt underhand. The essence of two beings can heal, both.

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ABOVE: Angel Oak 1. IMAGE# 772 TUESDAY 6/25/2019 10:15AM. The most magnificent tree in the South.

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ABOVE: Angel Oak 2. IMAGE# 784 TUESDAY 6/25/2019 10:17AM.

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ABOVE: Angel Oak 3. IMAGE# 803 TUESDAY 6/25/2019 10:19AM.

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Posted in 72 Hours, Charleston, Photography | 4 Comments

Dereliction of Judy

The public works manager said to Judy, the ugly tree, “With a little help, you’ve kept your part of the bargain. The city complies with standards, and you’ve adapted to the space we’ve provided for you.”

The tree said, “You’ve said nothing of my beauty, my age, or my being a home for birds and animals. And providing welcoming shade for tourists.”

The manager said, “None of the creatures you protect are anything exotic or special. To be honest they’re considered nuisance animals. If they’re gone, more will simply move in. If you’re gone, they’ll find another home.

“As far as beauty goes, well, you’re awkwardly shaped where most people view you—at the trunk—and to be honest they hardly look up at all. You’re not a visitor’s attraction, not a destination. Unfortunately for you, Charleston has beautiful trees. And we do protect the habitats—the homes—for desirable animals. You are neither beautiful, nor that kind of home.”

Tree: “Here’s how I ended up being oddly-shaped. I gave up forty-percent of my roots to a worker with an axe and a sidewalk layout order. From someone like you. And this was before the benefits of a leaf tree could be explored. Before conservation was a word that applied to one’s actions.”

Manager: “That happened before,”

Tree: “Before conservation was a word.”

Manager: “Before my time. That was long ago.”

Tree: “Allow me to tell you. Right after the axeman left, I went into emergency mode. I flowed extra growth to my remaining roots. They bulked up. They held. I’m here.”

Manager: “It’s funny how nature is asymmetrical. And buildings have specific design. Town planners have employed branch trimming, essentially tree reshaping, to accommodate tenants’ wishes. We’re sorry but your top-half shape was never a classic tree form. Blame nature for that. Not the city. Not man.”

Tree: “The only way my roots were going to support me was by my growing disproportionately large branches to establish a center of gravity. I had to compensate—a lot!—to grow most of the mass on my right, where I wasn’t cut. The asymmetry was not what I wanted to do, not what I wanted to grow up to be. This was why you didn’t get your pretty classic tree.”

Manager: “I’m sorry.”

Tree: “Counterbalancing over my intact roots has kept me from falling over in storms or from saturated soil.”

Manager: “We built a courtesy fence that arcs around you. Our accommodation. Your guarantee for the free earth you need.”

Tree: “The people who built the courtesy fence barely looked at me. I have seen trees removed for lesser intrusions than what I impose on this block. So when will I be gone? I shake every time a city worker cocks his head at me. What’s the basis of his evaluation? Who’s my advocate? Does the city man think I’m an eyesore? Because I admit it. That’s exactly what I am.

“Does he know that cannonfire sailed through my branches when our city was bombarded? And that I deflected some of those shots? Destroyed their destructive energy? And I would do it again, gladly, for Charleston.

“Like all of the other legacy out-of-favor oddballs of the world, I’m banking that I’m not worth the resources it would take to remove me.”

Manager: “I understand—I understand now. You are part of this community. You will not be removed. We will take consideration for any future municipal work. Not just for you. For all our living things.”

Tree: “From my height I can see far. I’ll be keeping watch. What is said today grows weaker tomorrow.”

Manager: “I’m just a public works manager with a clipboard and no political pull. What can I do?”

Tree: “Value me. Understand my worth. Spread the word. Grow your numbers.”

Meet Judy, the disfigured tree of Charleston. How did she get to look this way? Care to know?
Posted in Charleston, Fiction | Leave a comment

My book is reviewed in Classic Images magazine

My 2013 book of short stories, WHAT HAPPENED TO VICKY LEE? A COLLECTION OF STORIES was reviewed by Laura Wagner in the June 2021 issue of Classic Images magazine.

Ms. Wagner called my book one of the few gems in the self-publishing world.

“I enjoyed all the pieces,” she wrote. “I felt like I was getting to know the author personally, his often poignant words coming from somewhere deep inside him.”

Ms. Wagner went on to say, “The title of the volume is also the name of one of the book’s longer stories. This one really had me thinking. The route this story took did not lead me where I thought it would. Two days after reading it, I am still puzzling it out in my mind. A writer who can do that is one to treasure.”

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Petey’s Reflection

In 17 years I’ve never known a force so powerful as death when it stopped you. Why aren’t you here? Why aren’t you calling to us? Your sheer will to live makes me ask this.

Remember when you’d sit and stare at your reflection in the oven?

You never hissed, you just sat on the kitchen floor and looked at the reverse image of yourself.

When we’d see you planted there, we’d joke and say, “Petey’s looking at his brother in the oven.” These days I wonder if you knew exactly what you were doing. Yes, I think it’s true. You knew that what was there, was you. How exceptional!

You were taking an opportunity on your own terms to see who you were, not being forced to look in the bathroom mirror, held up awkwardly in my arms against your will.

Instead, you took a quiet personal moment and used that oven’s door as a means to see yourself. Oh, what a clever guy you were.

You worked it privately, not aware of an audience. You sat at attention, a foot from the glass, and thought, “That’s me. That is who I am.

That is the cat those two people love.

Wow I’ve come a long way. I’ve done pretty good.

Look at the guy who was born feral in Puerto Rico in June of 1999, sent to the USA as a kitten with his siblings, and was the last to be adopted from the kennel.

Look at the guy who never tried running off, never made a break for an open door, all I ever wanted was to be with my owners, to love them and rest with them.

I’m not looking too shabby, not looking too bad at all!”

Petey my boy, my first cat, my favorite animal in the world, who I knew as long as I knew my own father– today we bought a new appliance, and your personal reflection system will be taken away soon. It’s just one more mourning of an inanimate object, as if throwing away your bed, your toys, and your towels wasn’t hard enough.

How the world is changing with you gone.

Posted in Cats | 2 Comments

Bringing Him Forward

Al would want me to order two ice cream cones. “Get one for me,” he’d say, so I would do that. I’ll buy two ice creams and give one to a friend. I don’t tell them it’s from my buddy. He wouldn’t want it that way. It’s a just a wink through time, from him to us.

Stan would want me to make a friend in a new state. We were in San Francisco on leave, on our bikes in a densely-packed neighborhood, when I heard a lady’s sharp voice. She was leaning out of her third-story apartment window, calling to her kids in Armenian. I’m a Lawrence, Mass boy, but our language is our language, so I called back to her: “Hey, I’m Armenian!”

She looked at me and said, “Come on up! You want some lunch?” And I said, “I have my friend with me.”

“Bring him up too.”

Later as we relaxed with her two children, she said to me, “Any time you are in a strange town, and you need something to eat, or a place to stay, you open the phone book for an Armenian name. Even if you just need a friend.” And like that the room became very warm. Stanley, the Polish kid, was smiling at me, ear to ear. Beaming with pride, for what I’d learned that day.

Rick would want me to read that book. I told him I loved stories but hated reading. He patted his haversack and said that’s because I’d not found the right writers. He was in one campaign, near the end of the war, Okinawa. I’d been through four. He was picked off by a sniper on a trail that’d been cleared, and his CO gave his book to me. I’ve shared that book with two-hundred and sixty-five readers since.

Buddy would want me to enjoy my time in the shade. I was wounded way worse than him, I got evacuated and they propped him under a piece of canvas to keep him out of the sun.

The medics worked on the worse-injured, lying all around him, while he laid patiently for his turn. Which never came.

When I’m in South Carolina and sitting at the Hilton’s Homewood Suites pool, I grab a nice shaded spot. I have my sweet tea on ice and enjoy the sounds of the children in the water. Buddy: I’m doing what you’d dearly want me to do.

Al, Stan, Rick, and Buddy. We bring you forward because we need to live well. That’s your lesson for us: Make this count. And we do. We remember you.

Posted in History, The Literate War, WWII | Leave a comment