Expressing My Personal Perspective through Wedding Photographs

Summer is the season for weddings. They start in May and for every weekend through the end of September, caterers, photographers, florists, musicians, DJs, and planners are booked solid. Two weekends ago, I attended, for instance, to my cousin’s daughter’s wedding and two weekends before that I went to the wedding of the daughter of a close friend.

Sometimes it’s hard to get an image of the wedding couple sharing what seems to be an intimate and private moment. They were between photos with the ‘official’ photographer, when I saw them caught up in laughter and snapped this image.

As a the daughter of a professional photographer, I spent countless weekends at weddings assisting my Dad behind the camera. (This was a big help when it came to planning my own wedding years later because by that time, I had been to and seen so many weddings that I knew exactly what I wanted to do for our own.) The routine was a bit different then. We could shoot three weddings in one day–morning, afternoon and evening– with either myself or one of my brothers finishing up at one wedding while my Dad went to start the next.

My cousin beamed with pride when he had his Father-Daughter dance at his daughter’s wedding. I had my Nikon pro camera with me that evening and good lens so I managed to snag this image of him when he turned on the dance floor with his daughter, the bride. Sometimes, it’s not all about the bride.

That era ended with photographer Dennis Reggie in 1980, who Ethel Kennedy had hired to ‘cover’ her daughter’s wedding. Reggie, a photojournalist, took the assignment and then hit the professional photography speaking circuit to show and tell professional photographers all over the country how he did it.  I attended one of these sessions and knew then that the art of wedding photography, as I had learned it from my Dad, was changing.

The mother of the groom is usually much more relaxed and available during any wedding but is sometimes overlooked n the ‘official’ documentation. I caught Sheila at a moment when no one else did.

When digital cameras were introduced, it changed yet again because photographers could capture literally thousands of images at the ceremony. They soon discovered that this wasn’t such a great idea because clients were overwhelmed by that many images. Too much of a good thing, you might say.

Wedding photographers have since trimmed it back to a more reasonable delivery but some still present as many as 1,500 images. Think of the editing process entailed in cropping, adjusting color, retouching, adding special effects and eliminating  all those images. The post-production often takes longer than the 12 hours wedding photographers now typically spend photographing the event. I’m not sure even National Geographic magazine photographers turn in that many images to their editors.

Toasting the Bride and Groom
Taken with my pocket point and shoot, I raised a glass to toast Yuliya and Yama at their wedding and took this image while I did,

While I rarely accept wedding assignments these days as a professional photographer (except for special clients and smaller ceremonies), I almost always take one of my cameras with me whenever I go to a wedding because I, like you, enjoy having a visual memory of that day, particularly when family is involved.  Usually I take my pocket point and shoot, or my bigger but compact trusty Canon (yes, I do own one Canon), instead of one of my professional Nikons. I seldom use my mobile phone to take the pictures even though some phones images are terrific. But when it comes to preserving those images in the form of prints (which I still make and encourage you to do) or printed albums or books, cameras produce the higher quality high-resolution images you need.

My friend the mother of the bride, was way to busy the day of her daughter’s wedding to stop for many photos, but I managed to get her beside the ‘cookie instead of cake’ table during the reception.

For me, the images I capture on that day are personal and often are not the same as those the ‘official’ photographer is shooting.  That’s because while the hired gun is busily photographing every moment of the bride and groom and the wedding party, I’m focusing on my family and friends who are there, and the moments that capture my eye from my point of view as a guest. It’s something you can do too but you must be mindful to respect the working pro so as not to get their way as they attempt to capture the ‘perfect’ photo of ceremonial kiss,  the cake cutting, send off or formal portrait of the bride and groom.

From my seat. I was able to get the groom, Matt, and one of the bridesmaids boogeying during the processional. Note the photographer in the background, Matt s brother, the officiant, and the mother of the bride enjoying the moment on the left. I love this scene because of its spontaneity.

There are ways to get those same images, from your own vantage point. I like to find a seat on the end of a row where, if I want to stand during the ceremony to grab a quick shot, I won’t block anyone’s view. And while the official photographer is off shooting the bride and groom immediately after the ceremony, you can zero in on the family, the cake table, the altar decorations, whatever it is that attracts your eye and you want to remember.

Ringbearer Brody stands beside the table bearing the Bible and center candle that belonged to my aunt. The table, also my late aunt’s, served as the altar at my cousin Anna’s recent wedding.

Sometimes, it turns out that the images I’ve captured are ones that my family or friends also want because unless the bride and her mother (or whoever plans and directs that day) specifically point out the family member who’s never around, the best friend who traveled across country, the arrangement or setting that has special significance, the official photographer will never know to include it in their shooting list.

My aunt and uncle with my cousin Barry at his wedding reception is a special image. Only 18 months later, my aunt passed away from complications of dementia.

As a guest and/or family member, I have a history and relationship with the people gathered for this memory-making day so I know things others won’t and that is  reflected in my photographs.

I took this of Yuliya and Yama with my compact Canon while the ‘official’ photographer was shooting on the other side. Later, I used Photoshop to improve the exposure, give it a painted appearance and heighten the romantic feel of the image.

I love today’s style of photojour-nalistic wedding photography. I also love being artistically creative with the images I take at these ceremonies. But what I really love is the memories they bring to mind of the people, places and times that are unique and meaningful to me and my family.  And that’s essentially what wedding photography, whether from a hired pro or personal photographer such as myself, should be.

Fourths Full of Fireworks, Family and Friends

This morning was quiet when I awoke.  The stillness wouldn’t be that unusual for a holiday morning except for the fact that this was the Fourth of July, the U.S. day to celebrate its independence. When I was a kid, that meant starting the day off with a bang, literally, as my brother and I hopped out of our bed, threw on some clothes and raced outdoors to light what would be the first of many firecrackers that day.

My son, Marshall, ready to celebrate with his string of Black Cats.

Times have changed as setting off individual fireworks have been banned in many communities, such as my own, leaving it to the pro pyrotechnicians to provide a choreographed aerial night display. For the most part, it’s a good thing although I do miss seeing kids faces light up as they swirl the glowing wands of sparklers. And I loved the ground fountains that burst up with sizzling flares of color.

But the silence of the morning made me think of all those wonderful Fourth of July holidays past here in Bellingham.

A fireworks show on the front yard of our house.

I smiled remembering nights when my own middle-school aged sons gathered up their collection of fireworks, call us all out to the street in front of our home and set them off to their own choreographed show, complete with patriotic music blasted from a boom box that had been turned up to full volume.

Then there was the family barbeques at our friends’ home who lived then on a local lake.

The kids line up for hot dogs right off the grill.

Food was plentiful, with everyone bringing baked beans, deviled eggs, hot dogs and hamburgers, salads, pies, cookies and ice cream, all pretty much considered to be ‘traditional’ American Independence Day favorites.  Moms and Dads would talk and drink beer while we watched the kids leap off the end of the dock into the still chilly lake water. A few others would hop into the kayak and paddle a short distance out from the shore where they would still be within sight of parental eyes.

The kids take a break from swimming and kayaking to eat a Fourth of July picnic.

And then, of course, as night began to fall (nearly 10 p.m. here in the Pacific Northwest), the homemade fireworks show would start with the explosions from Roman candles being directed out over the water.  When it was over, we bundled up the leftovers and our sleepy-eyed kids and headed home.

Firing off the Roman candles from the dock.

Later, when our friends moved to a home on the bay, we did the same thing sitting on the beach, watching the sun sink as he dug into the delicious apple and cherry pies that had been baked especially for the occasion. Of course, we always had a fire going so that we could make s’mores–those wonderfully gooey treat of melted chocolate and toasted marshmallow squeezed between two layers of graham crackers. And the fire also kept us warm because Fourth of Julys here can be chilly, if not rainy.

A festive pie for the Fourth of July.

I recalled the more recent holidays when our sons, now grown, were not home to celebrate or, if they were, preferred to head off with friends to watch fireworks than join the ‘old folks.’ One memorable Fourth was spent out on a boat in the bay enjoying the company of friends from the annual summer music festival and viewing that night’s light show from the water. Quite an experience. Still another found us sitting nearly directly beneath the big blast over the harbor as we sat with another couple on the terrace of a shore side restaurant, savoring the food served up for the special evening while overhead the ‘bombs’ were bursting in air.

The Fourth of July on the boat in the bay gave us a spectacular view of the fireworks show that night.

More recently, we’ve headed over to a friend’s home late in the day for a potluck on their deck.  After dessert, we settle into one of their patio chairs, usually with a blanket close at hand, and wait and watch for the big fireworks spectacle, sponsored here for years by one of our local markets. They have an excellent vantage point from which we can see it all, including the show also being staged in nearby Blaine, just up the coast and the individual efforts from the Lummi Nation across the bay.

Happy Fourth of July. Long may our Star Spangled banner wave.

While the colorful aerial pyrotechnics are fun to watch, it’s mostly the company of the friends and family we are with that really make the evenings fun and memorable. It’s that feeling of fellowship, of sharing a special day with people special to you, some who you may only see on this day once a year. And that’s what I remember most about this holiday. I hope your Fourth of July is equally as memorable and as full of family and friends as it is of fireworks.

A Festival of Flags

Today is Memorial Day here in the U.S.  It’s celebrated with family get togethers, barbeques, concerts, parades, races, car shows, about anything you can think of to bring people together. Originally, it was created to honor those who served in our nation’s military and that’s still the real reason for the holiday, which, over time, has come to mark the start of summer in most of the country. (Summer comes about a month and a half later to the Pacific Northwest.)

But in small towns across America, people still take time to salute those who served and they do it in ways that aren’t the big spectacles you find in places like Washington D.C. or our other large metropolises.  To me, those small town commemorative services seem more genuine and reflect the true heart and soul of this country. Just ordinary people paying tribute to fathers, sons, uncles, aunts, mothers, daughters, brothers, sisters and cousins who gave their lives in military service to this country.

More than 1700 flags line the paths of the cemetery on Memorial Day weekend.

Northwest Washington state, where I live now, is nestled in a corner of the U.S. considered to be progressive politically and not so prone to an overabundance of patriotic fervor even though the state has a fair number of military bases located here.  Yet we have one of the most moving Memorial Day displays I’ve ever seen.

The Festival of Flags is sponsored by the local American Legion post and a local funeral home. It takes place at noon at the Greenacres Memorial Park located in neighboring Ferndale. I only just discovered this ceremony a couple of years ago when a friend of mine mentioned that she was attending. I suspect that many local residents, like myself, still aren’t aware of it.

A quiet bench offers a place for people to reflect.

The three-hour event starts at noon with food and music, this year provided by the barbershop group known as the Mount Baker Toppers. The opening act is followed by a short remembrance speech delivered by a military officer from somewhere in the region. This year’s ceremony will close with the unveiling of a new World War I memorial and the release of a dove, a nod to the peace that never quite seems to last for long in today’s world.

However the true highlight of the event is the more than 1,700 American flags that flap in the wind and line the pathways of the beautiful cemetery grounds throughout the Memorial Day weekend.  I went out to the cemetery two years ago just to have a look.  It was the year after my Dad had died–hard to believe it’s now three years since his passing–and I felt going out to the cemetery, particularly on Memorial Day, was a way I could remember him and pay my respects since I couldn’t visit the little country cemetery in Kansas where he and my mother are buried.

My first glimpse of the Festival of Flags was from the rain spotted window of my car,.

Memorial Day was rainy and dreary that year. But the day brightened for me when I pulled off the road, drove through the cemetery gates and caught my first view of the red, white and blues through the rain spotted window of my car. I sat quietly in my car reflecting on the year before while hoping that the rain would let up.

The gentle breeze kept the flags furling.

Eventually it turned to a light drizzle so I grabbed my camera, hopped out and began to photograph the flags.  Capturing the flags, so to speak, was a challenge. There were so many. A gentle breeze furled and unfurled the Star Spangled banners as a photographed. I pretty well had the cemetery to myself, except for a handful of people who had come early to set up for the ceremony that followed.

I walked through the forest of flags, not having to say a word to anyone, just me, my camera and, I felt, my Dad.  The time was a welcome break from the usual Memorial Day madness and just what I needed to personally honor the day. Whatever you do this day, I hope you’ll find a way to personally give tribute to those you love who may have given their lives or served time in our armed forces.

Christmas Card Photos Create Future Memories of Past Holidays

I had not planned to write a Christmas piece. But when I came across this photograph while working on my own Christmas cards earlier this week, I changed my mind. I intended to insert the photo into one of my brother’s Christmas cards but missed it in my haste to mail the cards.

Memories came rushing back as I was looking at this photo the other evening after discovering that I had failed to enclose it into the card.  I had just taken a family portrait last week for a client prompting me to think about the importance of our own annual Christmas card photo.  This was an annual event when I was growing up from my very first Christmas.

The annual Chistmas card family photo.
The annual Christmas card family photo.

This photo is more than just my parents’ Christmas card photo that year. Many memories are bound within the borders of this one image.  For instance, the photo was taken in my parents home. That door behind us led to the office of the motel co-owned and operated by my parents with my aunt and uncle.  I spent the first 16 years of my life living in at a motel. I never gave a thought to the fact that other kids didn’t live in a place that had ten guest rooms and a black top courtyard where my brother and I and my best friend from across the street played baseball games, held parades and rode around bikes round and round the evergreen tree that grew in a center planter.

The green satin dress that I’m wearing was made by my Aunt Marie, an excellent seamstress as well as cook.  I wore it in the wedding for a young Japanese couple–Aikio an Sojii–who were exchange students at the local community college and who were married in the Washington Avenue Methodist Church in town. I, along with my friend, Dru, were the candle-lighters.

The older of my two brothers, Richard, standing by my mother, was the ring bearer to Dru’s sister’s flower girl.  The suit and bow tie he wears was what he wore for the wedding too, maybe minus the white socks. This photo also shows how much my brother’s son resembles him. I have seen that similar look in my nephew.

The toddler on my mother’s lap is my younger brother, Brad. On the reverse of the actual photo, my mother had written: “Leon Crooks family – 12/64.” Brad was nine months old. My Dad took him into the studio and made a New Year’s baby picture of him wearing only a big smile a diaper and holding a bell. I am reminded how much my youngest son looked like him when he was that age.  The picture is still one of my favorites and I have a small wallet-sized print of it on display in my home.

My youngest brother is the New Year's baby in this studio portrait made in 1964.
My youngest brother is the New Year’s baby in this studio portrait made in 1964.

That rocking chair my mother is seated in was her Mother’s Day gift.  We had put a big yellow bow and ribbon on it, I remember, and surprised her with it after church that day. But when we came home, we learned that our prize-winning white Persian cat, Prince, who had one blue eye and one brown, had been run over and killed by a car.  It turned out that Prince was deaf, a defect often found in Persian cats with eyes of different color. I will never forget that Mother’s Day. I suspect my Mom didn’t either.

The print hanging on the wall behind my mother is one my Dad took of me sitting in Swope Park in Kansas City when I was four years old.  He entered and earned a merit with it in competition in his professional photographer’s association. I still own that print.

The big television behind us was a popular model at the time made by the now defunct RCA company. Besides the ‘big screen’ television, it housed a stereo turntable on one end with the control panel hidden on the other. No one makes anything like these electronic dinosaurs anymore.

And I couldn’t overlook the fashion statement of my Mom and Dad’s clothing. Although her fashion budget was tight and limited, my Mom always looked stylish.  I can’t see enough detail in the dress she’s wearing here to know for certain, but I bet she had purchased it at either Stephen’s Women’s Wear, the ‘upscale’ women’s clothing store in my hometown at the time, or Lane’s, which occupied a big retail space across the street from my Dad’s studio downtown on Main Street.

My Dad, of course, is wearing one of his signature bow ties.  My brother’s bow tie is undoubtedly a clip on, but my Dad wore nothing but the real deal.  When he passed away two years ago, those of us from the family attending his funeral, including myself, decided to each wear one of his bow ties as a nod to his trademark. Unfortunately, he had never taught any of us how to tie a bow tie. We had to find someone to show us how to execute the bow tie knot just hours before his service. Fortunately, one of my family’s lifelong friends, Pete Hughes, came to our rescue. I now can tie one on with the best of them. Also note the handkerchief nicely folded and peeking from his coat pocket. How often do you see that today?

Finally, since my Dad is in the photo, he obviously wasn’t the one tripping the shutter for this picture. I am certain that he had placed the camera on a tripod and had asked my aunt Marie, a pretty good amateur photographer, to press the shutter for him. Marie was often recruited for this task.

Your annual Christmas card photo may appear to be merely an image, but the picture truly is, to coin an old, time-worn phrase, ‘worth a thousand words.’ I’ve written nearly a thousand words here inspired by this singular photo when I had not planned to write anything this Christmas holiday. The photo unexpectedly stirred memories of wonderful times with my family.  And that, is a gift in itself. My wish for you is that you too will create future memories with a family photo of your own this holiday season.

 

Historic and Iconic Bellingham City Hall Captured on Camera

A company called Light is introducing a new compact camera that uses new technology. They enlisted some photographers to mention it in their blogs and to write about one of their favorite locations to shoot or a unique spot in their city.  I was one of those contacted  for Light’s #VantagePoint project.

The towers of Bellingham's old City Hall rise above a modern day mural depicting the days when the historic structure was built. My photograph was made in 2012 using a Nikkon D700.
The towers of Bellingham’s old City Hall rise above a modern-day mural depicting the days when the historic structure was built. My photograph was made in 2012 using a Nikon D700.

A request like this isn’t easy for me because I have so many favorite spots and so many favorite images that I’ve created over the years.  But I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk to you about one of my favorite local subjects (besides the people I photograph). And that is Bellingham’s old City Hall building, now part of the Whatcom County Museum of Art.

It’s an iconic building in town and safe to say probably the most photographed in Bellingham.  Completed in 1892, it served as the town’s official city hall until 1939 when new offices were built and the museum moved in.

I've photographed the iconic old Bellingham City Hall from a variety of angles and spots. This image made in 2008 with my Nikon F5.
I’ve photographed the iconic old Bellingham City Hall from a variety of angles and spots. This image made in 2008 with my Nikon F5.

 

The noble red-brick and Chuckanut sandstone structure was designed by local architect Alfred Lee in the Second Empire style of Victorian architecture.  According to the City’s website, is “currently one of this style’s most exquisite example in the Pacific Northwest. This building epitomizes the general characteristics of this French inspired style, which are tall, bold and purposely three-dimensional. Some of the design elements are also an eclectic mixture of the Queen Anne and Romanesque Revival style.”  It includes a high mansard roof, classical columns on either side of the main entrance, and a prominent, central bell tower, all of which draw the photographer’s eye.

Walking out of the museum one evening, the silhouette of the old City Hall's towers with the new moon just appearing behind it caught my eye and my camera. This was taken with my Nikon Coolpix S3500 point and shoot.
Walking out of the museum one evening, the silhouette of the old City Hall’s towers with the new moon just appearing behind it caught my eye and my camera. This was taken with my Nikon Coolpix S3500 point and shoot.
This senior's vintage clothing set the tone for his senior photo session at the old City Hall building in Bellingham. It was photographed using my Mamiya RB 67 film camera in 2007.
This senior’s vintage clothing set the tone for his senior photo session at the old City Hall building in Bellingham. It was photographed using my Mamiya RB 67 film camera in 2007.

I have photographed the building, or elements of it, from a variety of spots, angles, times of day and year. It has been the setting for many of my senior portrait sessions and the choice of seniors who want their portrait to reflect something uniquely Bellingham.  And I’ve used a variety of cameras over the years from my Mamiya RB67 and Nikon F5 film cameras, to my digital Nikon D700s to (yes,) my cell phone cameras. It all depends upon what I may happen to have with me or what I’m using at the moment.  The images included in this post were taken on all of these various cameras.

The building now houses part of the museum’s collection and its spacious Rotunda Room is frequently the site for concerts, including the Bellingham Festival of Music‘s popular free lunch-time chamber concerts.  I even photographed one of those this past summer.

Two young concertgoers sit patiently waiting for the Bellingham Festival of Music lunch time program to begin.
Two young concertgoers sit patiently waiting for the Bellingham Festival of Music lunch time program to begin. Taken with my Nikon D700 f3.5 1/50 sec ISO 3200 28-200 @28 mm

When you visit Bellingham, which I hope you’ll do one day, be sure to stop by the old City Hall. It’s likely to be as memorable for you as it has been for many photographers and visitors before you.

I’ve not seen or tried out the new Light camera but according to the company’s website, the camera, Light L16, is sold out until 2017. You can check it out yourself.

 

Crewing for TIME at ’84 Olympics

I wasn’t a kayaker in 1984. I had never sat in a kayak, never seen a kayak (except on TV), and didn’t know the first thing about paddling one. It wasn’t until I moved to the Pacific Northwest that I became a passionate paddler.

Likewise for rowing. Growing up in the Midwest, rowing just wasn’t the sport that it was on the coasts even though my youngest brother was on a crew team for Washburn University which had and still does have a respectable rowing team.  I never had the opportunity to watch a race firsthand.

Canoeing was something I may have tried once or twice as a kid on a lake with my Girl Scout troop or vacationing with my family somewhere. But I have little memory of it so the experience must not have been impressive.

The Olympic venue at Lake Casitas was a colorful place as you can see here in this photo of me walking through one of the main entrances.
The Olympic venue at Lake Casitas was a colorful place as you can see here in this photo of me walking through one of the main entrances.

Given my extensive background in each of these sports, I seemed the natural choice to be the reporter to cover those events for TIME Magazine when the 1984 Olympics came to Los Angeles. Once again, my home location then, on the north side of the San Fernando Valley, proved to be to my advantage. To me, this was plum assignment. I had to drive every day during the competition up to the Ojai Valley, about 90 minutes north, to Lake Casitas Lake where the kayaking, rowing and canoeing events were staged. The drive was relatively traffic free as I whizzed up the north side of the Valley and cut across to the 101 freeway to head on up towards Santa Barbara and Ojai.

Traffic during the ’84 Olympics was one of the big fear factors.  People were urged to work from home, to stagger their work hours if they had to go into the office, to take the time off and go to the Olympics in order to help minimize clogged freeways. In fact, many Angelenos left town, renting out their homes to Olympic ticket holders and cashing in on the demand for housing. So the dreaded deadlock on the freeways and city streets never materialized.  In fact, it was some of the fastest-flowing traffic that I could remember in all the years that I lived in that car-loving city.

Men compete in the kayak singles on Lake Casitas. The venue was like a 'mini-resort' to the athletes.
Men compete in the kayak singles on Lake Casitas. The venue was like a ‘mini-resort’ to the athletes.

The athletes competing in the Lake Casitas events were located in the Olympic Village in Santa Barbara. Initially, many of the teams complained that the distance between the Village and their venue was too far. But those concerns too soon vanished as people settled in and began to enjoy both the venue and the trip there.

As I wrote for TIME: “The site itself inspired festivity. Bright, Olympic pink roadside banners mark the two-lane highway as spectators near the north short venue. The spectator viewing area is bursting with vivid color. More than 31,000 annuals, marigold and petunias were trucked in and planted along with several sycamore and alder trees to create park-like setting. Spectators spread their blankets on a grassy knoll where they have apanoramic view of the 2,700 acre lake.”

The Swedish women's team give each other a big hug on the podium after receiving their gold medal for the 500 meter kayak doubles. Canada took silver and West Germany the bronze.
The Swedish women’s team give each other a big hug on the podium after receiving their gold medal for the 500 meter kayak doubles. Canada took silver and West Germany the bronze.

To the athletes, it was, as then Olympic rowing commissioner Barry Berkus put it: “almost like a resort.”  Because their primary quarters was located 28 miles away, a mini-village was created at the sight that overlooked the lake complete with a pool built especially for them.

The big names on the U.S. rowing team that everyone was pinning medal hopes upon were John Bigelow from Seattle. Bigelow’s chance for a medal chances was washed away by Finland’s powerful Pertti Karppinen but Brad Lewis from Los Angeles and his partner, Paul Enquist, also of Seattle, considered ‘dark horses’ surprised many by taking the gold in their doubles race. All three rowers figure prominently in journalist and author David Halberstam‘s masterful book about the ’84 men’s eight row team, “The Amateurs: the Story of Four Young Men and Their Quest for an Olympic Gold Medal.”   I recently read Halberstam’s book, right after having finished another good book about the sport, “The Boys in the Boat,” by Daniel James Brown. Both are excellent books, set in different time periods (Brown’s takes place before and up to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin) and detailing the drama behind the dream.

A member of the Australian women's coxed four rowing team shows off her bronze medal to an admirer.
A member of the Australian women’s coxed four rowing team shows off her bronze medal to an admirer.

But it was the women’s eight who  thrilled the crowd by taking the first gold medal in for the U.S. in that event. Champagne flowed. Fans cheered. Autographs were signed. As I overheard one observer say:  “How things have changed in rowing. They’re getting autographs. It used to be lucky to get anyone to come.”

Olympic team members signed autographs for the fans.
Olympic team members signed autographs for the fans.

Indeed, the sport of rowing has grown even more popular. In 1981-82, only 43 NCAA schools had women’s rowing teams. Today, that number has more than tripled to 143, including Western Washington University in Bellingham, where I live. Over the years, I’m proud to say that several members of the women’s Division II championship crew teams have worked with me as my studio assistant.

As for the ’84 Olympic teams, the U.S. took home eight medals tying with Romania, one of the only Eastern bloc countries to participate in those Summer Games.  In fact, the Romanians took home more gold medals in rowing than any other country. They also cleaned up collecting ‘gold’ onshore from spectators as they sold Romanian t-shirts and model wooden shells to earn money to buy and take back with them stereo sound components.

The Romanian crew team sold miniature wooden sculls to spectators to earn money for stereo equipment.
The Romanian crew team sold miniature wooden sculls to spectators to earn money for stereo equipment.

Lake Casitas is again vying for to be the venue for the Olympics in 2024 if Los Angeles is selected in what would be the 40th year reunion of the Olympic Games. If it’s successful, I might see you there!

 

 

Let the Games Begin

With the Summer Olympics set to open on August 5, I thought it might be fun to write a couple of posts about the year that I covered the Summer Games as part of TIME magazine’s staff. I was reminded of that summer after receiving my copy of this week’s TIME with  the Summer Olympics on the cover.

TIME was still a major media force and a far heftier magazine in 1984 than it is now. (Nancy Gibbs, the magazine’s current managing editor is doing a terrific job with it.) The proliferation of the Internet as an immediate source of news and information, has eclipsed the magazine’s role as a definitive news outlet that served to ‘wrap up’ and put into perspective the week’s worth of news and current events.  It still fills this purpose but not nearly to the degree that it did in 1984 when the Summer Olympics descended upon Los Angeles.

Press pass, contact book, guides, maps along with copies of TIME's Olympics issues from 1984.
Press pass, contact book, guides, maps along with copies of TIME’s Olympics issues from 1984.

You may remember that the ’84 Olympics had its share of controversy too.  Four years earlier, the U.S. and 65 other countries had boycotted the Games held in Moscow over protest of the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan (how things do change). In response, the Soviet Union and 14 Eastern bloc countries refused to send its athletes to Los Angeles in ’84.

I was reporting from the Los Angeles bureau of the magazine, whose ranks numbered about 7 or 8 full-time staffers, nearly an equal number of  full-time stringers, and a handful of L.A.-based photographers, including one staff photographer, who were called in for assignments. When the Olympics came to town, those numbers swelled with additional editors, reporters and writers imported from the New York office as well as a couple of correspondents who specialized in sports coverage.

Along with others in the Los Angeles bureau, I covered the 1984 Olympics for TIME Magazine. On one of my day's off, I visited the L.A. Coliseum, where the opening and closing ceremonies and some of the track and field events took place.
Along with others in the Los Angeles bureau, I covered the 1984 Olympics for TIME Magazine. On one of my day’s off, I visited the L.A. Coliseum, where the opening and closing ceremonies and some of the track and field events took place.

Each publication was given a limited number of press passes and tickets for the Games, not nearly enough to cover every event. Whatever the magazine lacked in ‘press’ tickets, it had to purchase like everyone else. And though we may have had a media pass to give us access behind-the-scenes, we sat with the rest of the spectators wherever our seats were located during the event itself. Our vantage point was that of crowd’s.

For the most part, our assignments were divided up according to either one’s knowledge of a particular sport or the location of our home. The top events were assigned to either one of the New York sports writers or one of the bureau’s senior correspondents.  Because of where I was living at the time, I ended up with four water sports–rowing, canoeing, kayaking and water polo.

As taken from my seat in the stands, the U.S. Waterpolo team, silver medal winners, congratulate the gold medal winners from Yugoslavia at the 1984 Olympic games.
As taken from my seat in the stands, the U.S. Waterpolo team, silver medal winners, congratulate the gold medal winners from Yugoslavia at the 1984 Olympic games.

I knew next to nothing about any of these sports and so had to do some ‘crash course’ learning to bring myself up to speed about what I was to be covering. TIME actually prided itself then on being able to plop down its reporters wherever news was breaking and  have them cover the given event as well, if not better, than anyone else. (One reason, perhaps, that I became the L.A. bureau’s medical reporter even though I had a college degree was in music.) Becoming an overnight expert of sorts in these four sports was not only essential to doing the job, it was required.

Before the ’84 games, I had never heard of an ‘egg-beater’ kick, knew what was meant by ‘fours’ and ‘pairs’ or had never seen a crew team compete even though my youngest brother had been on a college crew team. I did what I could to quickly become versed in these sports so that when I headed out to my venues, I knew what to watch for.

Upon receiving their gold medals, the Yugoslavian water polo team greeted their fans in the stands. Yugoslavia opted not to join the 14 other Eastern bloc countries that boycotted the '84 Olympics.
Upon receiving their gold medals, the Yugoslavian water polo team greeted their fans in the stands. Yugoslavia opted not to join the 14 other Eastern bloc countries that boycotted the ’84 Olympics.

We were given our press packets, lanyard with our media pass attached, and various other media materials and dispersed to our various locations. Filing our reports was much different from it is today, as well. Some of had desktop computers, but there were no laptops, cell phones or other mobile devices on which we could instantaneously write our files and send them off to the editorial office in New York. We had to return to a desk somewhere to write and send our files.  I, no doubt, returned to the office in my newly purchased home, where I probably wrote my reports upon the dinosaur of a desktop computer.

Sweden's king, Carl Gustav is interviewed by members of the press following one of the rowing events at the 1984 Olympics. I was among the media covering those competitions.
Sweden’s king, Carl XVI Gustaf is interviewed by members of the press following one of the rowing events at the 1984 Olympics. I was among the media covering those competitions.

Covering the Olympics was without question one of the high points of my career as a journalist. Never had I dreamed as a young reporter that I would or could one day be chasing down world-class athletes for a ‘telling quote’ or asking the King of Sweden if he pleased with his country’s team’s performance, or getting close-up access to Olympic events. But it was all part of the job.

Technology has vastly changed the way we watch the Olympics today. With ‘streaming’ videos, blogging, live 24-hour broadcasting, the mainstream media, like TIME, has scrambled to find new ways of covering the Games.  With all the issues surrounding the host country this year, as well as controversial athletes who have been barred from participating, some of the lustre and thrill of the Games themselves have perhaps been diminished. For most of us, however, the heart and spirit of the Olympics remain in athletes themselves who train for lifetime, who dedicate themselves to reaching the highest level of their sport, who sacrifice other pursuits just for the chance to represent their country and wear its uniform in the Olympic Games.

Let the Games begin!

 

 

Going Back to Gotland

Relatively few Americans can trace their family’s history, even though the U.S. is a nation of immigrants. Even fewer know exactly the place where their ancestors lived before leaving for this country. And, I’ll wager, even fewer have ever been to visit that spot.  I’m one of the fortunate who have.

Even within my own family, only three of us (so far) on my mother’s side, have made the journey “home;”  myself, my mother and my aunt Hazel.  And we know our family from my great-grandfather’s side who remain in the ‘old country’ although we were lucky to find them.

My aunt points to my great grandfather's name written in the registry at the House of Emigrants in Sweden.
My aunt points to my great grandfather’s name written in the registry at the House of Emigrants in Sweden.

Until 1970, we had no idea that my mother’s family still had relatives living in Sweden. We only learned this after considerable sleuthing by Bo (see last week’s blog post), who helped us track down my mother’s Swedish family history. We knew from Bo who located the records of embarkation stored in Växjo, Smaland at the Utvandranus Hus (House of Emigrants) that my great-grandfather, Johannes Frederick, had come from Anga on the Swedish island of Gotland.  There he had been a ‘crofter’ or someone who had worked the land for the farm owner.

With this information, Bo set out to find the family on Gotland. He eventually found the farm in Anga where my great-grandfather had lived through a death registry at the ‘county’ archives in Visby. There was listed someone with my family name who had had a brother living in the U.S.  He then turned to a record book with the names of those who had owned farms in the area.  This led him to the farm in Anga. But finding the rest of the family wasn’t as easy.

My parents visited the farm in Anga during their trip to Gotland and met the farmer and his wife who lived there. My mother's cousin Bengt, left on steps and his son, Sivert, seated, joined them.
My parents visited the farm in Anga during their trip to Gotland and met the farmer and his wife who lived there. My mother stands opposite her cousin Bengt, left on steps and his son, Sivert, seated, joined them with the couple who own the farm at the top.

Somewhere along the way, my great-grandfather’s brother’s family (following?) had changed their last name. The reasons for this, so the story goes, is either because they were embarrassed by a family member who had been a Lutheran priest in Dalhem, Gotland, and who was known to imbibe a bit too much of the communion wine or, depending upon who you believe, a family member, Johannes Frederick’s brother perhaps, got into a little trouble with the law (possibly during the prohibition era in the United States). We’re a little hazy on the details. But the end result was that Johannes Frederick’s brother changed his last name. It wasn’t until Bo discovered this that he located the other side of my family still living right there in Gotland!

My mother and her cousin, Dorothy, who was, at the time, researching the family history were ‘thrilled’ that Bo had found our relatives.  As my mother wrote to Bo in 1970: “We realize that we are fortunate in having you do our research as I don’t think anyone else would have been able to find them. I have a sister living in Arizona who is planning a trip to Sweden next year so she is more than happy to receive all the information as she will, no doubt, visit them.”

My aunt Hazel, left, meets her Swedish cousin Bengt for the first time as Bengt's son, Sivert, translates for them.
My aunt Hazel, left, meets her Swedish cousin Bengt for the first time as Bengt’s son, Sivert, translates for them.

As it turned out, my aunt Hazel, to whom my mother referred, wasn’t able to go on the trip in 1971 with her cousin Dorothy. So it was Dorothy who was the first to meet her cousin, Bengt, and his son, Sivert.  Hazel finally met the family 1991 when she and I went together on our first visit to Sweden. (Click the link here for that story.)

Meeting the family in Gotland was something I’ll never forget.  Sivert and Bengt greeted us at the airport, then we drove us to his father’s home where we met his wife.  My aunt sat next to Bengt on the sofa, who sat next to Sivert who was translating as Bengt spoke limited English as neither of us spoke any Swedish at the time. (I have since learned the language.) Chills shot up back as Bengt began to speak. I couldn’t believe it.  I recognized that voice. I had heard it before even though I had never met Bengt. Bengt’s tone was the same as that of my own grandfather, who had died when I was only three but who had lived the last days of his life with my parents. His voice had obviously stuck with me and now, more than 30 years later, was giving rise to a memory long forgotten.

This summer, Sivert and I returned to the farm in Anga where we took a photo beside the cottage where my great grandfather had lived.
This summer, Sivert and I returned to the farm in Anga where we took a photo beside the cottage where my great grandfather had lived.

Since that first meeting, I have returned to Gotland three times. I have visited the farm where my great grandfather lived and worked before leaving for the U.S. and met the farmer and his wife who now own it. My parents too travelled there in 1993 and also drove from Visby, where my cousin Sivert lives, to Anga.  One of my three sons has also visited Gotland with me and stood beside the cottage where my great grandfather had lived. Most recently, my husband accompanied me on a trip there. Going to Gotland feels like going home. I guess, in a way, because it is.

My cousin Sivert's daughter and I cool off in the Baltic Sea. Connecting our children, the next generation, is important to both Sivert and myself.
My cousin Sivert’s daughter and I cool off in the Baltic Sea. Connecting our children, the next generation, is important to both Sivert and myself.

My cousin and I have become, well, cousins. We keep in touch. We know each other’s families (he has visited the U.S. twice), exchange Christmas cards, shared the loss when both our parents, Hazel, cousin Dorothy and other members of our family died just as we will share the happiness when his daughter, Natalie, soon marries. As Sivert says, we both want our sons and daughter to know one another; to know that they have family who, although separate by a great distance, aren’t really that far apart at all.

 

 

Finding My Swedish Family Roots

The PBS network is airing a popular series on American television titled “Finding Your Roots.”  Its three seasons worth of programs features Americans–some of them prominent, others not–tracing their family history. Many know little or nothing about their ancestors prior to the show, not an uncommon thing for Americans.  During the show, researchers, historians and genealogists uncover as much as they can about the individual’s personal family. Sometimes the results are startling, surprising, delightful and often fascinating.

CrooksDalhem 750
The research that Bo did for my family led us to the place where my great grandmother’s family lived. My parents, right, visited the farm in Fagerdal where they met the farmer and his mother, who I saw on my recent trip there.

I am fortunate in that I have known my family history on my mother’s side of the dating back to the 1500s for the past 30 years. This is because nearly more than 40 years ago, my mother’s cousin Dorothy decided to dig out her maternal grandmother and grandfather family roots.  This was prior to all the Internet services available today that make such an endeavor easier. But at that time, Dorothy spent countless hours and money visiting libraries, traveling to see distant family cousins, aunts and uncles and reading every letter she could find that made mention of the family in Sweden.

Somewhere along the journey, my parents connected her to Bo, the Swedish cousin of my aunt Marie, who was married to my father’s brother. Bo had come to the States several times on business and also to visit his family here who had moved from Sweden. I was still a young girl when I first met when he rolled through Kansas to visit Marie and her family who grew up and lived in Savonburg, KS., a tiny, largely Swedish town north of where my family lived.Bo and me 68 750

He was, and still is, a jolly guy, full of jokes and stories and little known facts about his homeland that he’s happy to share. He became computer savvy early on, largely due to his Swedish government job and quickly learned how to access historical records.

Dorothy had travelled to Sweden a time or two in her quest after exhausting her resources here. She and her husband visited churches hoping to learn more about the family. The Lutheran churches in Sweden have kept excellent records for centuries of baptisms, marriages, and deaths that anyone tracking down relatives can mine. But you must know where to start. Dorothy had gone as far as she could when she met Bo.

During my first visit to Sweden with my aunt Hazel, Bo escorted us around Stockholm and showed us the city.
During my first visit to Sweden with my aunt Hazel, Bo escorted us around Stockholm and showed us the city.

She and Bo corresponded by letter with her telling him everything she had learned and where she was stuck. In the meantime, Bo became a volunteer working in the archives of the Utvandranus Hus or The House of Emmigrants in Växjö, Smaland, a southern province from which many thousands of Swedes came to the U.S. This is a wonderful museum and a must-visit for anyone interested in their Swedish heritage. Built in 1968, it houses records that date from 1840 through 1930 when approximately 1.3 million Swedes, or nearly one-fifth of the country’s population, moved to the U.S.  The museum serves as an international research center and also displays permanent and rotating exhibits about that huge migration.

Combing through the library, Bo was able to find our family records which, in turn, led to other discoveries.  He found, for instance, that my great-grandfather had come from Anga on Gotland.  That revelation eventually led us to my cousin Sivert and his family (the subject for my next blog post).  A letter, tucked into the Bible belonging to my great-aunt Clara, and written by my great-grandmother to the family in Sweden, provided a breakthrough to tracing the family to He found both the homesteads of my great grandmother and great grandfather’s family. (Read my blog Father’s Day in Fagerdal.) Dorothy, my aunt Hazel, my parents and I all have been there and stood where their grandparents once lived.

My Swedish family records dating back to the 1500s, when the original family trekked across frozen ice (so the story goes) to Sweden from Poland, fill a large ledger book. The contents are the result of endless research and expense by both Dorothy and Bo. The book is one of my prized possessions and something I will hand down to my own sons.

Bo and his wife, Eva at a dinner together during my recent visit to Sweden.
Bo and his wife, Eva at a dinner together during my recent visit to Sweden.

We are still making new discoveries about my family, thanks to Bo. Just last summer, Bo presented me with an unusual birthday gift that linked me to one of Sweden’s most prominent authors.  That is a story I’ll tell in upcoming blog.

 

A Father’s Day at Fagerdal

My Father’s Day arrived a two weeks early this year while I was in Sweden visiting family and friends.

This was my first trip there in ten years and I wanted to return to some of the places where my great grandparents had lived before emigrating to the United States in 1868. Americans rarely know much, if anything, about their ancestors from the ‘old country’, let alone know exactly where the family resided before packing up and moving to America.  I am one of the fortunate who do.

About 30 years ago, my family learned from my mother’s cousin (with help from Bo, the Swedish cousin of my aunt by marriage), that my maternal great grandmother who had left for the States as a child with her family had lived in Småland. The family dwelled in the Swedish province of Småland on a beautiful, but rocky, piece of land near a lake. They were contracted for 49 years to the farmer who owned property.  It was, as the man who currently owns the farm explained: “a very bad contract.”

You can see the wooden fence that ran along the familyäs property in this photocopy of the original photo. My great grandmother's family was contracted to work the land for the farmer for 49 years.
You can see the wooden fence that ran along the familyäs property in this photocopy of the original photo. My great grandmother’s family was contracted to work the land for the farmer for 49 years.

Like so many others at the time, the family fell on hard times when a famine hit the country. Nearly 100,000 Swedes emigrated to the U.S. between 1868 and 1873. My great- grandmother was among them. My great-grandmother, in a letter written when she was 70 to the family ‘back home’ wished she could return and see her old home once more. But as she was 70, she never made the trip. (Click here to read more about this in my blog post of May, 2015.)

My great grandmother's family from Sweden. My great grandmother is one of the two little girls standing on either end but I can never remember exactly which one she is.
My great grandmother’s family from Sweden. My great grandmother is one of the two little girls standing on either end but I can never remember exactly which one she is.

Instead, my aunt, Hazel, and I made the trip for her, visiting the ‘homeland’ together in 1991. We went with Bo to the farm in Småland at a tiny spot known as Fagerdal. It was an emotional visit as we walked around what was left of the foundation of the farmhouse and explored the nearby root cellar. My aunt recalled stories her grandmother had told about being a little girl there. Then Bo beckoned us over to a juniper bush and upon parting the branches, revealed to us the stationary paper-sized copper sign attached to a post. The inscription, in Swedish, commemorated the fact that my great-grandmother’s family had lived there from 1853 to 1867.  Tears welled in both our eyes as we read the words.

Two years later, my mother and father travelled to Sweden to visit the family, as my aunt and I had done. They too drove with Bo to Fagerdal where they met the farmer and his mother living there and went down to the pasture to see where the house had once stood and to view the sign in the juniper bush.

Our family friend, Bo, made a map for me to follow to Fagerdal when he was unable to make the trip with us.
Our family friend, Bo, made a map for me to follow to Fagerdal when he was unable to make the trip with us.

On this trip, I journeyed alone to Fagerdal with my husband. Bo was unable to join us but he had mapped out the route for me and written instructions as to how to find the place. I hoped to see once more that farmstead in the field and the sign that had so moved me 25 years previously.

We turned off the highway just outside Åtivdaberg and headed south on a two lane, well-paved country road.  Although early evening, we had a few hours of daylight left as the summer season is one of very long days in Sweden. The countryside was lush and particularly verdant in the late day golden light. It was difficult to imagine that this area at one time had suffered such a famine that families had to leave in order to feed their children.

Our rental car had a GPS to help guide our way, but Fagerdal is such a small spot (if not just the name for the farms there), that it didn’t even appear on the electronic map. As we drew closer, I stopped at a ‘sommar stuga’, or summer cottage to ask if we were on the right track. We were. After asking for directions twice more, and pointing to the map that Bo had made, we arrived at a cluster of farm buildings sitting at the end of a drive at the top of a hill. An elderly woman shuffled in the yard apparently checking on her flower garden when I hopped out of the car with my map.

The current farmer and his mother, shown here, were warm and welcoming. She invited us for kaffe.
The current farmer and his mother, shown here, were warm and welcoming. She invited us for kaffe.

She spoke no English. I did my best to explain to her in Swedish why I had pulled unannounced into her drive. The woman had a sweet smile and kind eyes but she couldn’t understand my request. She called to “Stefan,” within the house and in moments her son, a man about my own age, appeared. He spoke some English so between my Swedish and his English he figured out my reason for the unexpected visit and offered to take us down to the field. I was ecstatic.

I stand on the stones where my grandmother's family home once was.
I stand on the stones where my grandmother’s family home once was.

We followed him in the car along a rutted road down to the place where I had been so many years before. Together we walked up the little hill to the spot where the house had been and over to where the stone walls of the root cellar were still intact although now a tree was growing up from the center. Then I looked for the sign, the thing I had hoped to see once again. The farmer knew it, had seen it but search as we did, we could not find it. He was mystified and couldn’t understand why it was not in the bushes, now grown into small trees.  We walked all around the area, looking in the tall grass in case it had fallen or been dragged off by the cattle who had grazed there. Perhaps, the farmer ventured, someone had taken it. Taken it? Why? How? Where? These were questions to which he, nor I, had any answers. As disappointed as I was, I was nonetheless thrilled to stand once more at the place where my great-grandmother had been as a child. Tears again came into my eyes.  As much as I would have liked to have stayed longer, dusk was settling in and we had further to go that evening.

The stone walls of the root cellar remain intact where the family stored their vegetables.
The stone walls of the root cellar remain intact where the family stored their vegetables.

I had fulfilled one of my goals for the trip by visiting the farm once more. The farmer and his mother were warm and welcoming. She even asked us to stay for ‘kaffe’ afterwards, an invitation that I had to decline because we had to yet to drive to our hotel further south. But before we followed her son down to the farm field, he disappeared back into the house and re-emerged with a large, manila envelope from which he pulled a few papers.

My great grandmother's family farm in Småland, as it appeared in 1916 seen here in a photocopy of the original picture.
My great grandmother’s family farm in Småland, as it appeared in 1916 seen here in a photocopy of the original picture.

Among the papers were photocopies of photos of my family’s farmstead, as it appeared in 1916, when relatives who came after, still lived there. I had never seen these photos before. I did my best to photograph the copies so I could show Bo and my family back in the States. I had just finished snapping the photos when the farmer picked up the other papers from the envelope that he had placed on the porch bench. A little slip of paper fell out.

I instantly recognized the handwriting. It was that of my own father’s.  My Dad had torn a piece of paper from the little pocket calendar that he always carried with him and had written upon it his name, address and phone number. The date at the top read: September 1993. “Det är min far,” I exclaimed. “Det är min far!” (That is my father!) Tears welled in my eyes at the sight of it.

My father had written down his contact information when he and my mother had visited. He had left it with the farmer and his mother who had kept it all these years in the envelope with the photos and other information about Väster Lund, as that farm was called, perhaps just so that it would be there when I returned.  Now, 23 years later it was as if my Dad was saying: “Remember, we were here too,” and sending me his love simply with this slip of paper. It was my Father’s Day in Fagerdal.