Courtroom Drama

When author Harper Lee‘s newly published novel,  “Go Set a Watchman” was released two weeks ago,  it was heralded with special screenings of the film based on her now classic book, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird”, midnight book parties and readings, and all sorts of other events all intended to celebrate or promote (depending upon your point of view) this book.  The book, despite or perhaps because, of the controversy surrounding it, quickly climbed to number one on the New York Times best seller list where I suspect it will remain for a while.  Lee’s other book, after all, is now regarded an American literary classic and is studied by schoolchildren and beloved by readers.

It is one of my personal favorites too. A few years ago, I found an anniversary copy of the book which I purchased as a gift for my husband and then, as luck would have it, actor Gregory Peck signed it when he came to the Mount Baker Theatre with his ‘one-man’ speaking tour in 2000. He still cut a striking and statuesque figure even then at age 83 and was as gracious as he appeared to be in many of his on-screen roles. I must admit that I was appropriately starstruck with the 6-foot 3-inch tall actor who played Atticus Finch as he stood right there before me after his onstage performance writing an inscription and his name into the book .

I was reminded of all this recently when Lee’s other book made the headlines. My backstage encounter with Peck also came to mind a couple of years ago when I was commissioned to photograph a group of local political activists promoting women candidates for the cover of our weekly alternative newspaper, the Cascadia Weekly.

Local political activists gathered in the Federal Buildilng courtroom for this cover photo.
Local political activists gathered in the Federal Building courtroom for this cover photo.

We staged it, with permission, in the courtroom of the three-story Federal Building in downtown Bellingham. The building, designed in the Italian Renaissance style, is prominently located on a downtown corner where, every Friday since the 1960s, there has been a ‘peace demonstration.’ (I’ll have to write another blog about that one day.) Few locals ever go inside the noble structure except to purchase stamps or to mail a package from the post office branch located in the southeast ground floor corner. But they should as it’s a real design treat.

Stepping into the courtroom in Bellingham's Federal Building is like stepping into the trial setting for 'To Kill a Mockingbird.'
Stepping into the courtroom in Bellingham’s Federal Building is like stepping into the trial setting for ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’

The courtroom where the photo for the cover was done at a time when the courtroom wasn’t currently in use. It was once a Federal District Courtroom. (More recently, it’s been proposed that the courtroom come back into use as one of the city’s courtrooms.) I was so taken by the beauty of this judicial room that I stayed after my photo session for the Weekly to photograph it for myself. Although not an exact duplicate of the courtroom seen in the classic black and white film, it clearly is of a similar style and period so that just walking through huge wooden door so you transported through imagination to that setting. I could see Atticus Finch sitting at the defendant’s large, heavy oak table appealing to the judge positioned in the behind the big bench at the front of the room.

The audience is separated from the court floor by a mahogany railing that spans the width of the courtroom.
The audience is separated from the court floor by a mahogany railing that spans the width of the courtroom.

An elegant Honduran mahogany rail separates the court floor from the mahogany benches for the audience.  Tall, two-story arched windows line one side and allow natural light to fill the entire room. Running beneath the windows is the jury box, where, if I closed my eyes, I could see the jurors of that classic case intently following the arguments being presented before them.

There is no balcony in the Bellingham courtroom, as there is in the movie, but your eyes are led overhead to a coffered, vaulted ceiling that is 20 feet tall at its highest point. “Each octagonal ceiling coffer has an egg and dart moulding that surrounds a delicate stucco rosette planted in the coffer’s center,”  according to the building’s nomination for the National Register of Historic Places. It is an impressive judicial setting, one that certainly harkens to another era when such detail was the norm for important institutional structures.

Your eyes gaze upwards to the decorative coffered ceiling.
Your eyes gaze upwards to the decorative coffered ceiling.

Indeed, many small towns in this country have courtrooms of this sort built, as was this one, in the earlier part of the 20th century where the trial as seen in “To Kill a Mockingbird” could have taken place.  They remind us of a time when attorneys, like the fictional Atticus Finch, were eloquent, righteous and respected. Perhaps that’s one reason why some are so disappointed by the Atticus Finch of Lee’s new book, and why it has given rise to the controversy of whether the author ever intended it to be published. Regardless, if you live in the area, or are visiting, and have never seen the courtroom inside the Bellingham’s Federal Building, go upstairs sometime and have a peek. And let me know if it doesn’t make you think of Harper Lee’s literary classic.

 

 

 

Squirreling Away Your Images

We have squirrels galore here in my part of the country. In fact, just yesterday I watched from my kitchen window as a squirrel straddled two nearby trees and nimbly chewed a tasty morsel. Made me think of this week’s power failure that took down the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) for several hours. Why?  Because those adorable fluffy tailed rodents have been the culprits responsible for two previous power failures of the NYSE. They were not blamed for this most recent failure, as I understand it, but the interruption to trading made me stop and think about something I constantly encourage my clients and friends to do–make prints of your precious digital images.

Some of you I know are asking: “What’s the New York Stock Exchange take down got to do with my pictures?”  I’ll explain.

A squirrel, not this one, was responsible for the NYSE 'take down' earlier this week.
A squirrel, not this one, was responsible for the NYSE ‘take down’ earlier this week.

As I tell all my clients and friends, digital images are in no way of the imagination a permanent record.  Many things can happen to them that can cause them to vanish–pouf!–in the blink of a computer screen.  Your computer’s hard drive can, and eventually will, fail. So will your external hard drives (happened to me just this fall). The CDs on which you my burn your images (and documents) will not work on computers in the future, many don’t already–again personal experience. Flash drives are great but try finding your images when you need them. Cloud storage you say?  Ah, yes, not fail-proof either although probably better than the heretofore mentioned storage systems.  But I know of at least one professional photographer who lost all his stored images when the ‘cloud’ storage company he was using closed its ‘doors’.

Don’t take my word for it. In an address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society, Vint Cerf told the audience that we’re may be heading towards  a “forgotten generation or even a forgotten century,’ according to Professional Photographer Magazine‘s June issue.  As Cerf said:  “When you think about the quantity of documentation from our daily lives that is captured in digital form, like our interactions by email, people’s tweets, and all of the World Wide Web, it’s clear that we stand to lose an awful lot of our history.”

Cerf was inducted to the Internet Hall of Fame and warns us of a potential 'digital Dark Ages.' Photo courtesy of Internet Hall of Fame.
Cerf was inducted to the Internet Hall of Fame and warns us of a potential ‘digital Dark Ages.’ Photo courtesy of Internet Hall of Fame.

Cerf knows whereof he speaks.  A Vice President of Google, he’s regarded as one of the founders of the Internet. Cerf warns of a possible Digital Dark Ages where the digital photos, documents, e-mails that we store today on our computers or on the cloud, will not be retrievable to you because the bits on which they were written can no longer be read by current technology.  Cerf has proposed an idea that would ‘capture the digital environment in which those bits were created’ so that they can be recreated and reproduced in the distant future.  He calls this ‘digital vellum.’

But another solution is for people to actually print out the images or documents that hold the most meaning for them.  I am an advocate for printed photographs, as is the Professional Photographers of America, the professional association to which I belong . As the PPA’s director of publication, Jane Gaboury puts it:  “…prints are the only way to ensure a pictorial history for generations of our families as well as for society.”

This charming snapshot of my Dad was taken when he was just a child.
This charming snapshot of my Dad was taken when he was just a child.

This has become especially close to home for me during the past year as I have sifted through the many photographs handed over to me from my mother and father’s collection of family photo albums.  Without prints, I might not have this connection to my family’s past. The charming photo of my Dad as young toddler feeding the ducks on the farm might be forever gone. As might be those of my own childhood, or those of my sons. So when clients come to me for a professional family or senior portrait, I insist on creating prints for them, instead of or in addition to, digital images.

I create prints for all my studio clients, just as I did of this one, which I call ‘Family Heirloom” of my parents and my sons.

I often joke that what will happen to their images should one evening, the janitor who’s sweeping up in the Cloud office after everyone’s gone for the night, accidentally snags the cord and unplugs the mainframe? I never thought it could be something else, something as simple as say, as a squirrel.

Making Music in Beautiful Bellingham

Bellingham’s Festival of Music’s 22nd season got off to a bang on Friday evening when the orchestra, under the baton of Michael Palmer, performed the rousing Overture to Royal Fireworks Music by George Frederic Handel. Though evening was unseasonably warm inside Western Washington University’s Concert Hall the audience wasn’t deterred and applauded for an encore from soloist Vadim Gluzman who gave a stunningly beautiful performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. The orchestra too sparkled when it played Mozart’s wonderful  (never can have too much Mozart) Symphony No. 36 in C major, the  “Linz”.

Violinist Vadim Gluzman greets fans and sign autographs following hisperformance at the 2015 opening night concert Bellingham Festival of Music
Violinist Vadim Gluzman greets fans and sign autographs following his performance at the 2015 opening night concert Bellingham Festival of Music

I often have to remind myself that I am in Bellingham, a city of only 80,000 located 20 miles from the Canadian border, and not in Seattle or San Francisco or even Chicago or New York when I hear this Festival orchestra perform.  Of course, the musicians who play in this orchestra for two weeks in the summer, come from orchestras located in those cities. As many of them have said, it’s equally a treat for them as well to perform here year after year (some have been with the Festival since the first year). They have made many friends with their ‘host’ families and those who come to hear them play. They enjoy the opportunity to play in a our beautiful city by the bay and welcome the chance to escape from the heat of their home environs. (This summer has been unseasonably warm for Bellingham.)

Audience members await the start of the chamber music concert staged in Bellingham's Ferry Terminal each year with stunning views of the bay and the city.
Audience members await the start of the chamber music concert staged in Bellingham’s Ferry Terminal each year with stunning views of the bay and the city.

It’s one reason the New York Times singled out Bellingham’s Music Festival, along with that of select others in the country, for its article by Michael Cooper which appeared in today’s paper. It is, as Cooper so aptly put it, like ‘summer camp’ for classical musicians.

For concertgoers, the festival brings to the stage some of the world’s best classical music and musicians,  without setting foot beyond the city’s boundaries. In my case, I am only steps away from the WWU campus where they perform.

Mary Kary and Joe Robinson play for guests during a farewell gathering given at a private home to honor their retirement from the Belingham Music Festival.
Mary Kary and Joe Robinson play for guests during a farewell gathering given at a private home to honor their retirement from the Bellingham Music Festival.

I have had the pleasure of listening to and getting to know, for example, former New York Philharmonic principal oboist Joe Robinson, both as a member of the orchestra and as a soloist. (Pinch me.) Robinson retired from the Festival two summers ago but his spot was filled by protegé, Keisuke Wakao, principal oboist for the Boston Symphony.  And I’ve heard some of the finest soloists, such as the Israeli violinist Gluzman, performing in classical music today.

It also brings back to Bellingham local artists such as soprano Katie Van Kooten who’s singing with opera companies and symphony orchestras all over the world, and young rising talent, such as the Calidore String Quartet, whose violist, Jeremy Berry, grew up only blocks from the concert hall where he saw musicians on the very stage where he now performs as part of the Festival’s guest artists.

The Calidore String Quartet visits the Pacific Northwest to perform in the Bellingham Festival of Music.
The Calidore String Quartet visits the Pacific Northwest to perform in the Bellingham Festival of Music at Western Washington University. The quartet is making a name for itself internationally and includes violoist Jeremy Berry who grew up listening to concerts on the Festival stage.

At this writing, tickets are still available for some concerts. If you’re lucky enough to be in the area, or coming to this corner of the Pacific Northwest in the next two weeks, make it part of your summer. If you can’t make it to Bellingham’s music festival this year, put it in your travel plans for next year. And then you, like so many of the festival musicians, may also find yourself returning year after year!