Archive for September, 2011


Monday, September 19th, 2011
Ventura's Western Gate

Ventura's Western Gate


catalyst |ˈkatl-ist|
a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change.
• figurative a person or thing that precipitates an event : the governor’s speech acted as a catalyst for debate.
ORIGIN early 20th cent.: from catalysis , on the pattern of analyst.


As I stood next to a wheelchair with reclining back, which was now the principal means of conveyance for Mamie Cohen, I sort of found myself laughing a bit inside.

Today, (Monday) is her Birthday. She is 89 years old and lives at Samarkand in Santa Barbara, a beautiful and well run retirement home that offers the type of care she requires.

As I gazed at the woman who I have become acquainted with and affectionate for,  I realized that my girlfriend Donna’s Grandmother had undergone quite a transformation in these past few years. She looked beautiful and at peace. The best I have seen her appear, as if she had grown younger. The image before me made me wonder, but I already knew that inside, Mamie had changed. Her disposition was a new one to me.

Last week at an Art Show-Luau at the Stoneworks Gallery in Ventura, Donna told me how one of the dancers, a muscular tatooed man, had come up to her at the event, and in full wardrobe, said these words: “I know you! You are Mamie Cohen’s grand daughter. You need to come see her more often!”  Turns out he is one of her care givers. I had not recognized him as he coaxed Michele Chapin and others, into a dance on stage. I had been too busy laughing as I was required to race from one thing to another in what was possibly one of the most rewarding, and hectic weekends of my Photography career.  (More on that in an upcoming series of three blog posts).

Donna told me that he and Mamie had taken to watching football together. Now that was  a shocker. Mamie had been quite an Artist when she was younger. I actually have one of her paintings, a beautiful seascape of Baker Beach and the Golden Gate, in Donna and I’s home. Thinking of her watching football with a Hawaiian dancer was simultaneously incongruous and hilarious.

Michele Chapin and the Dancer

Michele Chapin and the Dancer

As the Birthday party ended at the Crane home in Montecito, Mamie turned happily to Donna and I after two choruses of Happy Birthday, and said something that made me grin: “You know? I really think I am beginning to like football quite a bit”

We seldom ever realize the affect our sharing and kindness has on others. But in this case it was an abject lesson to me of how one man, and in turn many people within a  Community, could be tremendous catalysts for healing and restoration.

As the ladies who run the Easy Lift bus came to take Mamie and her wheelchair back to Samarkand, I realized that I had needed that Birthday experience. It was an abject lesson. Everybody does indeed, matter.

Amber Dreams

Amber Dreams

Art Show: Ventura

Saturday, September 10th, 2011
The Stoneworks Show

The Stoneworks Show

Last night was intriguing. It followed on the heels of a busy day.

Robb Havassy rang me on my cel phone as I drove down Ventura Avenue, car loaded with stuff to be part of our joint installation at Michele Chapin’s, Stoneworks Gallery space.

“What are you doing?” he asked. “Oh just driving down the Avenue. You?” “Just getting to your gal’s place. The boys from Surf Aid (Randall and Dr Dave) are meeting me there to pick up our stuff for the Benefit tonight. Go there.” “Okay see ya in five.”

And on a beautiful Friday afternoon I meandered into Betty B’s little shop to find two guys whose vision had transformed so many lives, standing there casually chatting with Donna. Robb meandered in about a minute later. If you do not know about Surf Aid, you really ought to. Here is a little link to their story and website. Fantastic thing about Betty B. It is what looks to be a typical small business. There is nothing typical about it. Things happen there. Here is Donna’s website

The five of us spent some time reconnecting in the warmly lit little shop, whose tiny size belies little real telltale of the global scope of her business, then we scattered. It was to be one of those impossibly busy days for each of us, as we all had events to build. Surf Aid was hosting a gala fund raiser that night and we would all meet in Malibu to attend and lend support. (I will write more on that in another blog. It would prove to be something special.)

The Surf AId Malibu Fundraiser

The Surf Aid Malibu Fund Raiser

It was 4 am when I awoke this morning. Padding down the spiral staircase from Donna and I’s bedroom loft I began to sift through my Literary office. I have three spaces at home (Donna would say four) dedicated to my craft and trade. In the Lit office are book cases and shelves with binders of slides, and thousands of magazines, book, reference works, tapes, DVD’s etc. It is some of the physical evidence, the artifacts as it were, of my years as a Editorial, Commercial and Arts Photographer and Cinematographer.

I cannot count the number of pages, covers, spreads and works I have produced. The film segments, stills, etc. I think the sheer volume of work is going to be impossible to ever share in any real manner. So I picked a final lane for this show at Stoneworks. I grabbed some of the artifacts, and some gear, and put it in a pile on the office floor.

This would be no Museum or glitzy polished up high end gallery show. It would be about the artifacts that comprise the foundations of my work. A glimpse into how I do things. It really is quite bizarre and knowing photography as a craft, is quite possibly the LEAST notable of the number of things I need to know how to do, in order to film what I want.

Larry Ugale: Down Valley

Larry Ugale: Down Valley

I want to share that.

Later this morning Robb and I will wrap our installation. If you do not know about Robb Havassy you really should. His website is here. He and I have been steadily working on a new series of companies that will bring a bit of a game change to a lot of people’s lives. Seeing what Dr Dave Jenkins has done and people like him, is sort of our bar.

We both believe that in applying our lives to our Art, and love of, and care for people, that we can build something sustainable, a company creature composed of creatives and business people that could eventually bring a lot of light into a world that sometimes seems to be all about dimming things down.

Michele Chapin is a new collaborator. If you do not know about her, you really should. Her website is here. I only have one word for Michele. It sticks in my head each time I walk away from a conversation with her: amazing.

So starting at 5 PM today “The Event” begins. The address is 300 N. Ventura Ave. (corner of Ventura Ave. and E. Park Row) Ventura, CA (805-643-5431) (Park on Ventura Avenue and walk down Park Row to the Stoneworks. ) There are no huge budgets. No radio, TV or City sponsored advertisements. This is just a few Artists getting together. It is what we do as a community a lot. We sharpen and inspire each other. So if that interests you today as a way to spend your Saturday night: come. This is your invitation.

Mai will be roasting a pig. Hula and fire dancers will perform. There will be music.  The event has a fee to pay for all the food and stuff,(45.00) BUT at 9 PM it turns free, and we invite all of our friends to attend, join in the fun, and hope that it will help accommodate everyone’s fiscal positions. So come early for dinner, drinks and dancing and music, or come later. But come. It should be fun, it definitely will be different than most things one would expect to find in Ventura California. (made me smile writing that)

Michele's Garden

Michele's Garden


Friday, September 2nd, 2011


I had planned a nice little piece on Water for this week. A large SW swell had been making it’s way towards Ventura, and the subject seemed rather appropriate. Teahupoo in Tahiti had gotten it earlier in the week. Mass carnage, as surfers turned media whores, went for the liquid hammer that was a pretty much unrideable swell, were it not for jet assist. Cool, and somehow not…

I left the office late in the day for a drive down coast, and as I pulled into my normal checkout spot for one of those remote waves that rarely breaks, a white Ford Focus 4 door sort of cut me off. As I nosed my car in to a stop, I watched a woman get out, and look around in bewildered fashion.

Standing on the cliff I watched as a big set loomed and then fired down the rocky point. A double overhead barrel throbbing with energy from that distant storm which spawned it, was remarkably impressive.

Turning, I saw the woman get back in her car. The sight was one that sort of made me shake my head. Something just seemed wrong. Eyes went back to the surf. A moment later and in a glance left, I saw the white car do an abrupt right turn, accelerate at the berm on which I stood, and fly over the cliff. I was running immediately, dialed 911 and gave an operator the details.

Below me lay the crashed car, engine running, perched on it’s driver side. Looking down, I realized I was wearing thongs. “Shit” I slipped them off and clambered down. The car seemed to be safely pinned against a large boulder. The passenger side was high in the air. Fluids leaked from the destroyed front end, and remarkably the engine was still running. Not good. It looked like it would roll over and into the water if I tampered with it.

A quick look at the wedge points, and I decided it was reasonably safe to go in. The driver’s window was down about 6-8 inches. The airbag had deployed and the woman was laying against the glass, not moving, with a tuft of auburn hair blowing in the breeze.

I reached in and checked her. She was out. Pulse was steady. I could not reach the key to turn off the engine, no matter how I maneuvered myself. She began to stir and I began talking to her, stroking her hair, and told her where she was, what had happened, that she was going to be okay.

In process, she said she needed to reach her mother and made motions to the passenger seat with her arms, as if she was trying to grab a hold of something. No one was there. The car was filling up with smoke and exhaust fumes and I knew that if I could not get the engine off, she would not last long. I saw a rock. But it meant the back window, and climbing in. I did not want to do that.

“You need to turn your car off. Reach up and turn the key!” I said it loudly. Repeatedly. She was out of it. Not cognitive. “Shit” I went to the back of the car, resigned to get the rock and remarkably, the car shut off. Happy. A group of bystanders was cliff side and cameras were out.

I could hear sirens. Maybe ten minutes had elapsed since my call. That was fast, I thought. I went back and checked on her and she was out again. Elderly woman. Maybe 65 0r 70. Once more I told her that help was on the way. I then climbed back up the cliff, slipped into my sandals, went to my car and shot three frames.

I moved my car down from the scene and got out, just as the first fire truck arrived. I stayed for a few minutes and shot a few more images. Then headed down coast. Not wanting to be anywhere near the place, as traffic began to pull over and new hazards began to develop. I have never understood why people do that.



Soon I was at another break, and camera in hand, decided not to make the trek down to Malibu. I felt like being alone. But as is typical of this stretch of coastline, a few people saw my lone car parked, and pulled over. The large RV behind my car with five people, each with cameras in hand looking at me, said it all. Bleah. Dangerous place to stick a family and RV, on the narrow shoulder. My car was nestled far offroad. Their’s was not. People sometimes seem to have little regard for the consequences of their actions.

A much larger set broke up coast and as I suspected, the real sets were spaced approximately 20 minutes apart. One of my friends, an expert waterman and swimmer, told me he had almost drowned surfing that morning. I had been talking to some of the other water photographers in my network, warning them about this swell. It was going to be risky to swim due to the way the energy would sequence in, from two separate directions, with long and relentless, wave rich sets, that would recycle you back into the impact zone.

Big swells are funny. It is as if people get intoxicated by all the energy being released, and can do things similar to what one would see a drunk person engage. I shot a few more remarkable waves, as the Pacific unloaded in all it’s glory, the light turned deep amber, and flared down.

Driving back up Hwy One I saw emergency vehicle lights, two sets and locations now, not just the first airborne incident. “Shit”

Here is something I hope no one will ever need to use. How to escape from a sinking car.

I spoke with my son Jon on the phone as I pulled into my driveway and flicked on the carport light. “Man Dad, I am glad you are home safe. That sounds crazy” he responded to my little story of the evening’s events. “Yea it sorta was Jon. Hope she made it. I think she will. ”

Ringing off, I went in to start dinner for Donna and I. The cats were glad to see me. Outside, some birds sang in the last bit of waning light. A few days earlier I had watched online while up in SF, as Teahupoo in Tahiti unloaded on this very same swell we had here at the moment. A few were doing the unthinkable, and being launched into death barrels that would slap shut mercilessly. Carnage and confusion reigned in the clips I watched. I did not spend much time with it, as what I saw, made me feel ill.

I am all about life’s challenges. But I swear, when cameras come out and our tech gets used to elevate and facilitate the exercise of inordinate stupidity in order to achieve media coverage, I feel somewhat ashamed of the human race. I like what Bruce Irons, one of the few people thoroughly qualified to ride Teahupoo,  pointed out, as he called it quits. “I have a family, my kids, wife, they come first. But then again, we are surfers.”

At the end of the day, your choices,  knowledge, and application of your skill (or lack thereof) will have been illustrated. Life is about living, and learning. That part never stops: the learning. I am not sure if the woman in the car had attempted suicide. Could be. Maybe not. But she was alive when I left her. I hope that as we move further into what I am convinced will be a very active year in terms of challenge, that we realize collectively,  our actions can affect many.


© 2009 David Pu'u. All rights reserved.