Guatemala Then and Now

My love affair with Guatemala, it’s rich culture, friendly people, beautiful villages and remarkable scenery has become one of great admiration. You see it was 22 years ago last month (April) that I made my first journey to this beautiful country.

In January of 1991 I was feeling that pull that all travel and documentary photographers feel when they’ve found themselves stationary for too long. Like a junkie I needed a quick fix to set my mind straight and give me perspective. So I began looking for that creative outlet, one that would fulfill that itch to shoot something different. I’ve always loved Latin America, and because it’s so close to the U.S. it’s relatively easy to hop on a flight and experience a different world in just a matter of a couple of hours. So I began researching a trip for the spring. My first thought was Peru. How I’d love to visit Machu Pichu, but there was an issue with schedules so I needed something closer and easier to access. I stumbled upon a festival that I’d never heard of, Semana Santa. As I researched this more I realized that Semana Santa was the celebration of Easter in Latin America and what a celebration it is. I was pumped and started making plans. In April of 1991 I and two photographer friends flew down to Guatemala City and rented a Suzuki Samuari 4×4 with the intentions of traveling the country for nine or ten days during the Semana Santa celebrations. We based ourselves out of the incredibly beautiful village of Antigua and made day trips from there with a couple of over night stays in two other villages. Antigua is rich in culture and history with many buildings dating back to the 1500 and 1600’s and Antigua is the center of the Guatemalan Semana Santa celebrations. I’ve had the good fortune over the years to travel on assignments to many countries around the world and to all but one state in the U.S. but the time I’ve spent in Guatemala will always be one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. And now, 22 years later it has such special meaning in other ways as well. The photos below are from my first adventure to Guatemala.

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You may be wondering what I meant when I said that Guatemala has such special meaning in other ways as well. In June of 2002 we adopted a baby boy from Guatemala. It was one of the most special days of our lives. Trish and I had discussed China and other countries but Guatemala has always had a very special place in my heart. So it was decided that we would pursue adoption thru Guatemala and in June of 2002 we were notified that a three month old baby boys was ours if we were interested. Well of course we were interested and as soon as we saw photos of him we knew we were in love and we knew we had a son. When determining where we wanted to adopt from one of the factors that came into play was the proximity of Guatemala to the U.S. and how quickly we could travel. So in 2002, eleven years after my first adventure to Guatemala, Trish and I took a second adventure there together to pick up our new baby. Because of my love for Antigua and the wonderful memories I had from my prior trip eleven years earlier, I wanted Trish to experience what I felt for the area. So we decided to fly down a few days prior to the date that had been arranged to complete the adoption paperwork and pick up our baby in Guatemala City and spend that time in Antigua.

And now another eleven years have passed and we’ve taken yet another adventure to Guatemala, one that’s even more special than the previous two. March 26th through April 6th of 2013 we returned with our 10 year old and our 11 year old sons. It would be the first Guatemalan adventure for both boys but an extra special one for A.J. as it would be his first time back to the country of his birth. The time we spent in Guatemala was magical and that’s the only way to describe it. We were in Antigua for the Semana Santa celebrations again, the first for Trish and the boys, and we had the opportunity to travel to some of the same villages I spent time in 22 years ago. After three trips to Guatemala I now have thousands of photos. Below are a few of the photographs I made on this incredible adventure.

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Fishing & Photography or Photography of Fishing.

Another Boys’ Life assignment and one that I have to admit I was just a little concerned about. No, not the actual shooting part of the assignment but the possibility of sea sickness part of the assignment.

When Garth called me from BSA and asked if I’d like to shoot a possible cover story assignment on deep sea fishing off the Alabama coast I said, “sure thing, you betcha” but after I had the details and hung up the phone I had a sudden deja vu of sorts. You see, back in the mid 1990’s I shot a week long assignment on snorkeling in the Florida Keys for American Way Magazine. Sounds like fun doesn’t it ? And it was fun except for the underwater part of the “snorkeling” assignment but then it wouldn’t be a snorkeling assignment without the snorkeling part would it? The assignment wasn’t just about the actual act of snorkeling though, it was also about the people who’s livelihood depends on those who come to the keys to “swim with the fishes” and the local area.

Before you jump to conclusions, no, I didn’t get sea sick but I did get very close at one point during the week. Early one morning I boarded a large boat, or small ship depending on how you look at it, docked in Key Largo and we headed out to see the Christ Abyss Statue which was about 4 to 6 miles off the coast if I remember correctly. The boat was packed with tourists of every shape, size and skill level. The water was calm and clear when we arrived. After directions on the do’s and don’ts from the captain everyone geared up and once donned in masks, snorkels and flippers, plodded down the boat to jump in, or fall in some cases. I waited until everyone had entered the water and then joined them. Everything was going great, the water was beautiful, the statue was incredible and I had many nice images. Then it happened, the storm front moved in. The waves and swells grew and the captain and his first mate were becoming concerned. Starting to sound like Gilligan’s Island isn’t it. With so many novice snorkelers in the water and with the front creating huge swells El Capitan decided it was time to load up and head back to the dock. Again I waited until everyone had climbed aboard, thinking not only about my safety but also the safety of my gear. The swells were huge at this point, the boat was being tossed pretty good and everyone was hanging over the rails puking their guts out. To climb aboard I had to swim through an ocean of hotdogs, hamburgers and sushi to reach the ladder attached to rear of the boat. Once I reached the ladder the real difficulty of getting aboard began. Each time I would grab the ladder and attempted to step up one rung and each time a swell would hit the boat and I’d be tossed five feet into the air, landing in what had become an aromatic ocean of lunch. Multiple times I attempted this climb and each time it seemed I was tossed higher in the air. After several tries, it began to be somewhat fun, like a carnival ride gone bad. This went on for what seemed like an hour but was most likely no more than 10 minutes. Finally I timed the swell just right and was able to get the majority of my body on the deck of the boat where I was quickly dragged on board like a prize tuna in a fishing tournament. The ride back to the dock was, well, memorable. I never joined the others in the game of cookie tossing but I came REALLY close.

So, needless to say my first thoughts about this new off shore fishing assignment, the one I had just accepted, brought back some wonderful memories. All went well and the Alabama assignment was a success. Below are a few of the images and the cover shot for the April 2013 issue of Boy’s Life Magazine.

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Boy’s Life Magazine

I LOVE shooting for BSA and Boys’ Life Magazine. I’ve shot several assignments for them over the last three or four years and those assignments, while sometimes very challenging, are always fun. The staff at Boys’ Life are top notch and they allow me the freedom to take the story and shoot what I see. Several years ago the design director, Scott Feaster, and I worked together many, many times when he was the design director at American Way Magazine. That’s when AM Way was actually a quality magazine. The photo director, Garth Dowling, and the picture editor, Edna Lemons, are both a joy to work with. The photos below are just a few from a feature I shot about a place called Keet Seel, in the Arizona desert. Keet Seel is a cliff dwelling that is supposedly the best preserved Native American cliff dwellings in the entire U.S. and this is probably due to the fact that it’s a pain in the rear end to get there. I joined a troop of Boy Scouts at the park headquarters the night before and began the 9 mile hike down into the canyon at 5:30 am to reach the ruins. Did I mention this assignment took place in the middle of SUMMER. Now, while a 9 mile hike may not sound like much, it was truly brutal. As we hiked down into the canyon we descended 2,000 feet to a small river in the bottom of the canyon. My pack weighed in at 60 pounds and in addition I also carried two Canon 5D bodies, battery grips, two heavy L lenses, flash and enough food and water for two days. We crossed the river approximately 36 times on the hike in and arrived at our camp site in the late afternoon. Once our camp was set up we made our way over to the ruins and I began to work on photographing the cliff dwellings. We were only allowed in the cliff dwellings for a short time and then headed back to camp. Everyone crashed early with the knowledge that we would all wake at 5:30 am to start the hike out of the canyon. Unfortunately these plans would change. At 10:05 pm the Scout Master came to my tent and woke me, he was going into shock and needed to leave the canyon asap. In his real job he’s a physician so he knew he was in trouble. We broke camp and found ourselves back on the trail out at 11:30 am under a full moon. The hike out, even though the temps were cooler, was much more physical than the hike in. The 2,000 foot climb out of the canyon was killer but we all made it out. The Scout Master ended up being fine and we all have a great story to tell about the time when we hiked 18 miles into a desert canyon in the middle of summer in less than 24 hours.

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Portraits… Portraits… Portraits

When I first became interested in photography, about 30 years ago, I wanted to shoot documentary & travel assignments for National Geographic, Travel & Leisure, etc. but I had no clue how to get a travel or documentary assignment so I shot just about anything that came along in those first five years or so. Fashion head shots, weddings, products, just about anything to make a living. Then I went to work as a photography assistant at a really large studio in Dallas. The studio specialized in catalog and advertising photography and it was there that I truly learned about the photo biz. I spent 2 years working for John Wong in the studio, shooting products for the most part and then the following 2 years as Greg Booths assistant. Greg was one of the top ten corporate shooters in the world at that time and I was fortunate to travel the globe with Greg while he shot annual reports for some of the largest corporations in the world. I still craved documentary & travel photography but became very comfortable shooting corporate portraits and annual report work. Unfortunately I still had no idea how to get an assignment from any of the travel magazines so I stuck with what I knew at the time. When I struck out on my own I picked up editorial assignments, a large part of that was editorial portraits because, well that’s what I had in my portfolio. Because that’s what I had been shooting. Eventually I did receive assignments from National Geographic and others but portraits were sort of what I’ve been known for all these years. Yes, I would love to shoot more travel and documentary assignments and less corporate & editorial portraits. To see more of my work, check my web site at:  http://www.greendogpictures.com

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Fun with my son.

For about 10 years one of my clients was the Fredericksburg CVB (Convention & Visitor Bureau) and I shot a ton of photos for them during these years. Most of those photos were used in ads to promote the city of Fredericksburg and shooting for the CVB was always fun. One assignment was to photograph a group of local bicyclists riding some of the back roads around Fredericksburg to promote bicycling around the Texas Hill Country. The afternoon shoot provided many beautiful images but this one was one of my favorites. As we were driving home at the end of the shoot I looked back and noticed my son Hank with his head out the rear window just as we were starting to slowly pass the bicyclists. I quickly grabbed about 10 or 12 frames. His expression is one of pure joy. This image was used by the CVB in a series of ads that ran in Texas Monthly, Southern Living and many others.

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Wow, I’ve done it again !

My last blog post eluded to the fact that it had been some time since my last post and that I’d do a better job of posting more regularly. Yeah, right, that didn’t work out as planned. I have an excuse though, I blame it on LIFE. Yep, every time I was about to sit down at my laptop to blog, LIFE came up. A.J. had a baseball game or had to be at practice, Hank had to be a theater practice, the dog was sprayed by a skunk, the pool needed cleaning, I had to go out of town on an assignment and the list goes on. BUT, one of my New Years resolutions was to get back into the swing of things and make time for blog posts.

Here it is May 14th and I’m just now getting around to keeping that resolution. So in an attempt to stay on top of this blog I’m going to go back a few months or a year and post some things that have happened since my last blog posting. There’ll be some interesting new changes taking place during the new few months, a new website with a new name is in the works, I’ll post some great photography from several assignments as well as some personal work and maybe even a video or two. So stay tuned and I’ll work at getting back on top of the blog.