Author - Paul Schatzkin

Civilization? Ha!

How many napkins does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

We live in the most technologically advanced culture in the history of human civilization – Google, Gigabits, WiFi everywhere, cars that go 200mph ad planes that fly around the world – but this is what we have to do to keep a table from wobbling.


Photo Challenge #2:
“Pendennis from St. Mawes”

Pendennis from St. Mawes - May, 1976

For Day 2 of Ken Gray‘s Facebook 7-Day Photo Challenge, we’re reaching once more into the photo-wayback-machine.  This is one of the very first manifestations of my fascination (preoccupation?  obsession?) with medieval castles and abbeys

I made my first trip to the United Kingdom with my then-future-ex-wife Georja Skinner for five memorable weeks in the spring of 1976.  The tour covered almost the entire UK.

We started with a couple of days on the Isle of Sark in the  – a tiny refuged in the in the English Channel most notable for the nearly complete  absence of motorized vehicles.  Once in England proper we went as far west as Cornwall, north through the Cotswolds, Wales and the Lake District, and made it as far north as Edinburgh in Scotland.  Unfortunately our car was broken into outside of Edinburgh, and – in a demonstration of what international travel newbies we were – our passports were stolen.  We had to beat a hasty retreat back to the U.S. Embassy in London to secure temporary passports so that we could eventually fly home.

But I digress: the photo here was taken across the bay from the town of Falmouth on the south coast of Cornwall.

One either side of the mouth of Falmouth Bay are two fortresses built during the reign of Henry VIII to defend the English coast from invasion by the Spanish Armada. On the west side of the bay is Pendennis Castle; we spent a bit of time on the east side of the channel, at a nearly identical installation called St. Mawes Castle. While we were at St. Mawes, a spring storm rolled over the coast, and I captured the layers of clouds as they rolled past Pendennis with my Nikon F2, a 300mm lens and (I think) Ektachrome 400 film.

I have a print of this shot on the wall in my “library” (it’s just a small room with bookshelves, but I like the pretense of calling it “the Library”).  The print was made and framed back in 1976 – it’s the oldest photo of mine presently on display in the house.  I had it and several other photos from the era (like yesterday’s “Ground Strike“) scanned a few years back.  They’re all digital, now….

The image that appears at the top of this post has been “landscape” aspected to fit the way “featured images” are displayed in these posts.  Here’s the full “portrait”  aspected image, which shows many more layers in the clouds and sky:


Photo Challenge #1: “Ground Strike”

Ground Strike - July, 1973

Several weeks ago my friend and comrade-in-photo-arms Ken Gray sent me one of those “Facebook Photo Challenge” things.

If you’re on Facebook (and if you aren’t, bless you child, however have you managed that?) and you know any photographers (wait, isn’t everybody on Facebook a photographer??) then you are probably familiar with the breed.   It’s one of those (ummm…. pernicious?) viral things where somebody gets a challenge, has to post a photo every day for seven days, and then is supposed to extend the challenge to another poor soul who is then expected to follow suit – ad infinitum, ad nauseum…

The net effect is: lots more free content for Zuckerberg & Co….

I have rather dreaded  that such a “challenge” would finally arrive in my notifications.  When it did I promised Ken I would comply, but was vague about when exactly.

Now, I guess…

In preparation for this endeavor, I have begun scouring through all of my photos… all, I dunno, nearly half-a-million files on several terabytes of hard drives.  My thought is that rather than just pulling out my “best” photos, I’d dredge out some that are personal faves for one reason or another that have not previously seen the “digital light of day” – which is to say, I’ve never posted ’em on Facebook before.

With that in mind I started going back to some of the very first photos I ever made, when I first started shooting photos – back in, like, the 1970s.

The photo at the top of this post is one of those images.  If memory serves me (a questionable proposition these days), it was shot in the summer of 1973.  I had recently graduated from a ‘branch campus’ of Antioch College,  in the middle of Maryland, and had gotten a Konica 35mm SLR – my first camera with a built in light meter – as a graduation gift.

I was still living in Columbia, Maryland, and stood outside my apartment during a thunderstorm…

This image of a single lightning bolt stretching  to the ground from the thunderheads was captured on Ektachrome film, ASA (that was what we called it before “ISO”) 400… I remember the shot was handheld but have no idea what the camera settings were.  I just held the camera to my eye during the storm and fired away – and, of course, since it was film, had no idea what I’d captured until I got the film back several days later.

It wasn’t too long after this was lightning bolt was shot that I packed everything I owned into the back of a VW Squareback and headed out to Hollywood to ‘seek my fortune’ in the TeeVee business.  I never did find my fortune there… but that’s another story for another time.  First I gotta decide which photo to post tomorrow…

#TMITM #6 : Dueling Elephants Foretell
The Demise of the Two-Party System


#TMITM, for those of you who haven’t caught on yet, is the acronym for “The Medium Is The Message.”

One of my primary theses over the past several years has been that the advent of the Internet foretells the demise of the two-party duopoly.

For starters, remember: there is nothing constitutionally sacred about a two-party system. It is just the effluent of political convenience that has evolved and persisted since the emergence of the Federalist (for the Constitution) and the Anti-Federalists (for the Articles of Confederation) in the 1780s.

For different reasons, both print and electronic broadcasting reinforced the dominance of two political parties for 200+ years. But the Internet reverses all the primary forces of nature imposed by those media.  It is not your father’s media environment any more.  Nor your grandfather’s.  Nor his grandfather’s…

Print and broadcasting are organized around single points-of-origin and multiple points-of-reception; for every transmitter there are countless receivers. The Internet introduces parity between origin and reception. In the digital era every receiver is also a transmitter. This parity gives ultimately an engenders an infinite number channels through which previously “fringe” perspectives can gain considerable traction.

We have seen countless manifestations of this trend over the past 15 years.  We could argue that it first appeared with Howard Dean’s Internet-driven campaign in 2004 and rose  to a level of dominance with Obama’s digital organization in 2008.  Here in 2016, Bernie Sanders’ $27-a-pop campaign came within a few hundred pledged delegates of toppling the whole house of cards.

I contend that what we are now witnessing is the inevitable fracturing of political discourse that is empowered by an infinite number of communication channels. The Medium is The Message.

It comes as no surprise then to see Thomas Friedman – a major proponent of the mainstream media – advocating the formation of a new political party  to counter the unhinged lunacy of today’s Republican Party:

I know so many thoughtful conservatives who know it matters. One of them has got to start the N.R.P. — New Republican Party — a center-right party liberated from all the Trump birthers, the Sarah Palins, the Grover Norquists, the Sean Hannitys, the Rush Limbaughs, the gun lobby, the oil lobby and every other narrow-interest group, a party that redefines a principled conservatism. Raise your money for it on the internet. If Bernie Sanders can, you can.

Notice how the decentralized, distributed power of the Internet lies at the very heart of that argument.

In the  splintering of the Republican Party, I suspect we will unleash the even greater likelihood for a multi-party system of governance by fluid coalitions – all made possible by the myriad and largely unexplored functions of digital communications.

Be careful what you wish for, Tom Friedman.


Nashville Scene Cover Story & Photos:
My Weekend At The Races

The cover of the Nashville Scene - May 26, 2016

A few weeks ago I reported that I’d spent several days at the Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Alabama with my friend Craig Havighurst, who was working on a feature story for the Nashville Scene about Josef Newgarden – a Nashville-area native who is rising rapidly through the ranks of Indy-type race car drivers.   Craig had invited me along for the weekend of the Grand Prix of Alabama  provide the photo coverage for his story.

I can finally share the article, which was released today to coincide with this coming Sunday’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.  When the race starts, Josef will be in the front row, having qualified just a few hundreds of a second behind the pole-sitter.

Craig Havighurst reporting from the Fuzzy's Vodka Racing Team paddock at the Barber Motorsports Park

Craig Havighurst reporting from the Fuzzy’s Vodka Racing Team paddock at the Barber Motorsports Park

Even if you have negligible interest in auto-racing,  Craig’s article is entirely worth reading.  His eye for detail and ability to convey his enthusiasm for this muscular merger of men and machines comes through in a finally crafted narrative.  For example:

In race trim, Newgarden’s car, No. 21, sports a handsome white-and-gold livery, but on this day of preparation, its carbon-fiber skin and elaborate wing structures are resting as detached parts on bespoke racks. Revealed are the hoses and wires of the car’s respiratory, circulatory and nervous systems, clinging vine-like to a turbocharged V6 engine. With its tires off, the car looks like a robot insect sent through a wormhole to menace humanity.

Would that I could show you some of the photos of what he’s described here but alas: some frames I  shot of the inner workings of Josef’s car had to be deleted from my memory card, lest they inadvertently reveal some trade secrets to the competition.

What I can do is share this slideshow of all the photos that I submitted to the Nashville Scene, not all of which appear in the article.

This was a long but very exciting four days, and now that the final result is in print (gotta by five copies for my mother…) it’s great to see how well it all turned out.

It was a real privilege to work on this with Craig.  Thanks, Buddy.

Art Show Opening: “Signs Of The Times”

Endangered Species

File this under “Yesterday I couldn’t spell ‘artist’ and today I are one…”

Chromatics – Nashville’s high-end photo-print shop – was the first place that ever hung one of my photos in a gallery – back in, I dunno, 2008 or there abouts.  Fittingly, it was a print of a ruined abbey in Ireland.  I’ve had my work included in several shows at Chromatics in the years since.

Another show will be opening Thursday, May 26.  This one is called “Signs of the Times.”  The call for entries simply asked “What have you captured or created that portrays the current day and age in which we live?

I submitted three images, and, lo and behold all three were accepted and will be included in the show.

The opening reception will be tomorrow, Thursday May 26 at Chromatics, at 625 Fogg Street in  Nashville.  C’mon by – the serve great pupus.

The exhibit will be open until September 1, 2016.

Here are the three images and the statements that will accompany them:


“Endangered Species”
Over the past few years, the area of Nashville known as “The Gulch” has been one of the city’s fastest growing and most gentrified urban neighborhoods.  Condo and office towers rise above upscale shops, restaurants and bars as a whole new generation of residents and workers flood into the area.  Amid the crush of development, one tiny, one-story stone building remains as a testament to a bygone era, standing in stalwart resistance to the commonly expressed sentiment that “when they come for the Station Inn… Nashville is over.”
– – – – – – –


“Cleaning Crew” 
At night, Nashville’s “Lower Broad” hosts a sea of humanity that swarms in and out of its many honky-tonks, restaurants and bars.  The strip hosts bachelor and bachelorette parties all year round and some visitors patronize the many “Pedal Taverns” that let revelers propel their own guided tour while imbibing an adult beverage or three.  By dawn, the crowds have dissipated, the cleaning crews have taken over and, and one worker enjoys a joke at the expense of the few remaining passers-by.
– – – – – – –
Construction cranes are a familiar sight along any urban skyline these days.  It’s entirely common to see new high-rises going up against the existing towers of glass and steel.  What you don’t see much of in America, though, are construction cranes framed against medieval churches – in this case, Glasgow Cathedral in Scotland.  Built beginning in the 12th century, this imposing early-gothic edifice stands as a monument to construction techniques based almost entirely on human sinew, hammers and chisels.  As new construction rises nearby, aided by every modern convenience known to 21st century builders, only future generations will see which methods and materials will ultimately endure the ravages of time.

Addicted to #TheStupid

All this info... and yet we wind up with Trump?

The photo atop this post is not offered as one of my Great Works of Art.

It’s just a moment that struck me while Ann and I were wandering around downtown Portland, Oregon on Monday.

The “pose” you see here is hardly unique to Portland, so this is certainly no commentary on the common preoccupation on staring at tiny screens.  You see that in Portland, you see that in Nashville, you see it everywhere: people staring at tiny screens.

But in this particular moment, I was struck by this thought:  We live now in an era when we have all of the recorded knowledge of mankind literally at our eyeballs and finger tips.  There are no unanswered questions.   We live in an invisible digital ocean of information, and we spend a good deal of our lives retrieving that information.

So how come we wind up with somebody like Donald Trump within striking distance of the presidency?

Enquiring minds want to know.  I wonder if I can Google that…

Container Ship and Rainbow

Container Ship and Rainbow

It was mostly cloudy here in the Pacific Northwest yesterday. We spent much of the day just driving around, exploring.

After an early supper by the fire pit at Doc’s Seaside Grill, we came back to our parapet here on Morgan Hill, overlooking Puget Sound and Whidby Island in the distance.

While we were sitting here absorbed in our screens, the clouds lifted in the final minutes before sunset; suddenly everything around us was filled with golden hues.

We jumped up and looked out the windows and lo-and-behold, a faint rainbow formed a full arch… we could see both ends across the Sound.

And then a container ship passed through one end of the rainbow.  There must be a lot of gold in those containers…

My Weekend with the
Hot Screaming Death Torpedoes

You've heard of a "pit stop"?  I'm calling this one "Pit Start" - I grabbed it and Josef Newgarden went flying out of the pit during his qualifying runs on Saturday April 23

That’s what my friend Craig Havighurst calls those fragile, over-powered, insanely fast, open-wheeled vehicles (I hesitate to call them “cars” since a “car” is what we drive around town all day, and these are definitely not that…) in which daring young men hurtle themselves at ridiculous speeds  around oval-and-road courses all over America almost every Sunday afternoon through the spring and summer.

The “death torpedoes” line comes from “The Speed of Sound”  – a long-form essay Caig has written about the audio engineering at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which he’s offering as part of an experiment in crowd-funded independent ‘literary journalism’; follow this link to his Indiegogo campaign, or learn more about the campaign on this Facebook page. 

Thanks to Craig, I just spent an extraordinary, memorable four days covering an IndyCar Road Race – would you believe the “Grand Prix of Alabama”? (some how that combination of words seems almost oxymoronic: the elegant European traditions of a ‘Gran Prix” are not normally the sort of thing one associates with ‘Alabama’) – at the exquisite Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham.

Craig was on assignment to write a profile of Josef Newgarden – the Nashville (Hendersonville, actually) native who has risen through the ranks of motor racing to become one of the hot prospects on the IndyCar circuit, one of America’s two “major leagues” of auto racing (the other being NASCAR).  I got to tag along for the weekend to provide photo coverage for the story, which will appear in the Nashville Scene the Thursday before Memorial Day, aka the weekend of The Indianapolis 500.

Craig and I share some interest in what are generally called “motor sports” – that daring marriage of men and machines that has been around for as long as the horse was taken off the carriage in the late 19th century.  Admittedly, Craig is a far more avid proponent of the sport than I.  He closely follows the Formula 1 circuit, which some consider the zenith of all auto racing, though Craig actually prefers the somewhat more raw, more muscular world of the open-wheeled roadsters that have been racing around the big oval in Indianapolis almost every year since 1911.

My own interest in auto racing is relatively dormant compared to Craig’s.   I followed auto racing when I was in my early teens, following the exploits of Colin Chapman, Jim Clark and Team Lotus as they conquered Indianapolis in 1965.  Craig is very much up-to-date on the drivers, the equipment, the rules, the schedule, and the season-long championship standings;  I sorta lost interest when Jim Clark died on a track in Germany in 1968 – which, not coincidentally, was about the time my own interests were gravitating more toward girls and guitars…

Anyway, this past weekend was extraordinary.  Armed with a media pass, I had access to the entire facility, and spent much of race day in the infield, where these things were zooming around me in all directions and I could get right up to the edge of the track as they roared and screamed by.

Anybody who knows me knows that the word “awesome” is on my short list of the most over-used words in the English language, but the experience of being in the middle of all that was, how shall we say?  It was just was fuuuckinggggg aaaaaaaaaaawwwwesoooooome….

There was one the moment when I was standing behind a guard rail at the end of one of the fastest straight-aways, the cars going by me at their top speeds in the vicinity of 200mph…  And I had a moment where I realized where I was standing and just thought “this is inSAAAANE!”

I mean these “cars don’t just “crash,” they explode and throw parts and debris in all directions.  Granted,  there was little likelihood of a car going off the track on a straightaway, but it’s not impossible. For example, were one car to try to pass another and their open-wheels touch, the result can be two cars going in all but their intended directions; One could go off the track, strike a guard rail and explode, tossing wheels and other parts in multiple directions.  Yes, the actual likelihood of such an event was slim – but not quite nil.   And there I was, leaning out over the guard rail with a camera as these things screamed by…

I can’t post any of the photos from the weekend until The Scene has decided which ones they will use to accompany Craig’s profile of Josef, but I don’t think they’re going to use the “arty” shot at the top of this post.

I caught that one in a hot moment as Josef was blasting out of the pits for one of the qualifying heats on Saturday afternoon, the day before the big race.

You’ve heard of a “pit stop”?  I’m calling this one “Pit Start.”


Digest subscribers, I’m sorry that’s all I’ve got for you this week.  The past week has been pretty much “shoot / edit / sleep” – and tomorrow I’m off to Portland OR for the next 10 days to visit with family there.  Hopefully I’ll have some time to post from there.  Thanks, as always, for your interest and support.

Have You Ever Felt Like This?

Cartoon By R. Cobb

I was just text-messaging with a friend about the music business.

He said “What the hell do I know?”

I replied, “What the hell do any of us know?”

I wish I could remember where I first-ever saw this cartoon.  I know nothing more about than it was drawn by a cartoonist named Ron Cobb.

But I think of it often, like when ever I think of a foreign landscape (like the “new” digital music business) and how we often try to get “plugged in” with obsolete ideas and technologies.   The metaphor seems apt.

If that doesn’t make the point, then there is always this reliable chestnut that is often attributed to Hunter S. Thompson:

“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

Of course, that could probably be said about a lot of businesses…