Lawrence of Arabia

Mr. Dryden: Lawrence, only two kinds of creature get fun in the desert: Bedouins and gods, and you’re neither. Take it from me, for ordinary men, it’s a burning, fiery furnace.
T.E. Lawrence: No, Dryden, it’s going to be fun.
Mr. Dryden: It is recognized that you have a funny sense of fun.

There is a great stillness in the sand and her sights and sounds are tastefully presented in a easy tempo to our senses. Long endless miles of sand dunes and scorching heat, this is the image one has in mind when one thinks of the Sahara.With the reputation for the hottest place on earth, temperatures can reaching up to 57.7 degree Celsius (135.8 degree F). Which makes working conditions uncomfortable and first degree buns common. I relished in shooting midday, capturing waves of heat rising from the scorching sand and apparitions of lakes beyond our reach. My camera would get so hot to the touch I’d soak my kefflyeh with water and wrap it around the camera to keep it cool. I learn to do this when I first came to the Sahara and rested my cheek on the side of the camera while looking through the viewfinder. My face burned with such intensity  that  for a couple of days I had one  large red rosy cheek. From that first experience I learned to have long sleeve shirts, long pants, a hat and a kefflye in my kit.

Our bodies are about two thirds water and when we get dehydrated, it means that amount of water in our body has dropped below the level needed for normal body function. What is uncanny, is that it’s so hot sweat will evaporates before leaving a wet stain on clothing so drinking water at interval (even if you don’t feel thirty) is essential. Drinking to much water will washes away the electrolytes which is why I carry powder electrolyte supplements in my pack. In spite of all the discomfort the Sahara desert is my favorite place to work. The Sahara’s is one place on earth where all men become brothers to survive her embrace.

A silence so great that I can hear the earth breathing, I have found my Atlantis.

Lawrence of Arabia

Reporter Jackson Bentley:  What attracts you personally to the desert?

T.E. Lawrence: Its clean

UPDATE : June, 17, 2012,  Rodney King, the man who was at the center of the infamous Los Angeles riots, was found dead this morning He was 47. According to media reports, King’s fiancée, Cynthia Kelly, found him dead at the bottom of a swimming pool. King recently marked the twentieth anniversary of the Los Angeles riots – the mayhem that took place after four police officers were acquitted of beating King in 1991. The beating, which was caught on camera, sparked national outrage and put King at the center of heated debate about the state of race relations in America. Mr. King, whose life was a roller coaster of drug and alcohol abuse, multiple arrests and unwanted celebrity, pleaded for calm during the 1992 riots. More than 55 people were killed and 600 buildings destroyed in the violence.

This is my video journal of the first night the L.A. Riots.

On April 29, 1992, twelve jurors in Simi Valley, California rendered their verdicts in a controversial case involving the 1991 beating of Rodney King by four LAPD officers. The case had received heavy media coverage dating from before it even went to trial, when a video of the beating hit the national airwaves. It came as a surprise then, as the verdicts were read: One of the officers was found guilty of excessive force; the other officers were cleared of all charges. The verdicts were broadcast live, and word spread quickly throughout Los Angeles. At various points throughout the city that afternoon, people began rioting. For the next three days the violence and mayhem continued. Mayor Tom Bradley imposed a curfew, schools and businesses were closed. Governor Pete Wilson dispatched 4,000 National Guard troops to patrol the streets. People stayed home, watching on TV with the rest of the country as live TV coverage showed fires raging throughout the city, innocent bystanders being assaulted and looters sacking businesses.

I was freelancing for several news organization and picked up an assignment for CBS News that evening. I was to cover Spike Lee speaking to the students at the University of California, Irvine. The drive is about 45 miles from L.A. After it was announced that Mr. Lee was unable to attend I made my way back to L.A. on the 405 freeway. I listened to KFWB all news radio for leads and followed police helicopters to cover the riots.

 


On Monday, May 4, schools and businesses reopened and life returned to some semblance of normality. The toll from the worst civil unrest LA had experienced since 1965 was devastating: more than 50 killed, over 4 thousand injured, 12,000 people arrested, and $1 billion in property damage.

 

 

 

Link to video: http://youtu.be/4vHRw9XiFMI

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window is one of my favorite movies. The story is about photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (James Stewart) who is recuperating from a broken leg during a sweltering New York summer. As a successful photographer, he’s known for taking difficult pictures no one else can get, including the one of an out-of-control race car which smashed his camera and broke his leg an instant after it was snapped. Jeffries lives in a small apartment, and spends his time looking out the rear window into the courtyard of the building; he can also see into the lives of all his neighbors, catching glimpses of their daily routines. It’s the sort of thing only an invalid might do, watching them eat, clean, sleep and argue. There’s the girl who exercises in her underwear (Georgine Darcy), the married couple (Sara Berner and Frank Cady) who sleep on their small balcony to beat the heat, the struggling songwriter working at his piano (Ross Bagdasarian); and there’s the salesman who lives across the courtyard from Jeffries, the one with the nagging bedridden wife. They seem to fight all too often.
Like archeologist digging into the earth and discovering ancient artifacts I will pause the DVD so I can check out L.B’s camera gear and admire the work of cinematographer Robert Burks . For any photographer, no matter what you market this movie is fun and beautifully filmed.

Filmmaker Jeff Desom has created a brilliant and beautiful homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” . By editing a panoramic time-lapse video of the courtyard through the lens of Jeff Jeffries. Mr. Desom definitely captures the spirit and the subtext of  “Rear Window” by observing the lives of others – which is what we photographers do best. Link to Jeff Desom’s time-lapse of “Rear Window” video: http://youtu.be/4vHRw9XiFMI   Also, check out Mr. Desom website, very creative. http://www.jeffdesom.com/

Director Hitchcock on the set with James Stewart
1954 Rear Window Movie Trailer Link: http://youtu.be/6kCcZCMYw38

A Rear Window’ recreation by Scarlett Johansson & Javier Bardem.

We were not mentioned  in S. E. Hinton’s book, The Outsiders.  The novel is about troubled teenagers growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the mid-sixties and the class division between the Socs, (“the abbreviation for the Socials, boys with money and dry hair)  and the greasers (a term that refers to the “poorer boys who use Brylcreem”). We were the nameless kids from North Tulsa who’s economic standing was somewhere between the Socs and the Greasers. We were  the nerds, the geeks and socially inept when it came to girls. It is true that one of the most important qualities that can help teens establish their own identities is the ability to “fit in.” Finding friends who understand their problems and relate to them is paramount for teenagers. It wasn’t long until we realized that what we had in common was our interest in doing cool stuff instead of campaigning for popularity at school. We created our own tribe and we called ourselves  “The GTO’s,  Order of the Pythons” .

 


From 1964 to 1968  we produced movies using our parents Bell and Howell movie cameras. At first, we filmed our friends acting goofy around the house and favorite hang outs -that was in the 8th grade.  By the 9th grade we were charging kids 50 cents to be in our movies and they didn’t just hang out at the parents’ house anymore.  Kids were being blown up, shot at and chased by the bad guys in War movies, Spy movies and even a Roman drama.  Growing up in Oklahoma the culture allowed hunting as a normal recreation which gave us access to shotguns, black powder and a great locations. The Verdigris River which is northeast of Tulsa was our favorite location and isolated from civilization and parental control.  All the tall guys had to be the bad guys (the Germans) the little guys were the good guys (the Americans). We bought army surplus and dyed the fatigues black and spray painted the helmets and wore them backwards so they would look like German helmets.  Once we had a old, gray ’59 Ford station wagon.  We painted a couple of swastikas on it, filled the back up with black powder and drove it down the river and blew it up.  We did this until we graduated from Will Rogers High School in 1968. Needless to say, we went our separate ways pursuing a life outside of Tulsa.

 In 2010 as a result of facebook this little band of brothers reestablished the brotherhood -but, not without loss. In May of 2008 Dean Bishop who crated the GTO’s and was our mastermind passed away from cancer – Dean was financially supported and cared for by fellow members Rex and Ricky Gray until his death. Dan Lundy the tallest member of the GTO’s passed away in the mid 90’s from cancer after being exposed to agent orange in Vietnam. The surviving members of the original six GTO’s including myself are: Rex Gray and brother Ricky Gray and Dan Battreall. 

I am eternally grateful to my band of brothers for not only giving me wonderful memories but laying the foundation for the career I enjoy today.

 

Journal Excerpt: Marathon des Sable / Morocco / Sahara Desert.

“This is our fourth day of covering the Marathon des Sable; so far we’ve managed to lose our way, we’ve been blasted by a sand storm, we’ve run out of toilet paper and are now surviving on granola bars, turkey jerky and hot bottles of Coca-Cola. I have no idea how many miles we have traveled or how many times we’ve managed to get stuck in the sand. My driver, Nouh, speaks no English and smokes three packets of Marlboro Lights a day.  He’s also fond of breaking wind each time he exits the Land Cruiser.

What I can tell you, should you not already know, is that the Marathon des Sable is a stage race that lasts 7 days and covers 243km/151 miles. To make things even more difficult, each competitor has to carry everything they may need for the duration of the race (apart from their tent) on their backs in a rucksack – their food, clothes, medical kit, sleeping bag, etc. In addition, runners’ water is rationed and handed out at each checkpoint.

The backdrop to this event is the Sahara Desert. Not only is the Sahara the largest desert on earth, covering an area of 3.5 million square miles, (which amounts to 8% of our planet’s surface area), it stretches from the Atlantic Ocean in the west across half of Northern Africa, to the Red Sea.  It then extends down to the highlands of Ethiopia with temperatures recorded as high 40° +Celsius / 120° + Fahrenheit. The Sahara is a great leveller, making all men equal regardless of their station in life. So, when you come across another soul within this vast arena of sand, you stop, share, and remind yourself that here, we are all brothers.


Depending on whom you ask, the estimated population of the Sahara Desert varies from 2.5 million to 4 million people – so you would think finding a singing rabbit would be easy. Oh contraire.

The singing rabbit is competitor Derek McCarrick of the UK. Mr. McCarrick has been running marathons for Leukemia and Breast Cancer Research for the past 20 years and is still going strong at the age of 73.  Mr. McCarrick has personally raised a staggering £200,000 ($ 319,920.00) for charity, an achievement which is all the more impressive as he has completed each race dressed as the cartoon character, Roger Rabbit!

Eureka! On the horizon we spot a lone figure of a man with the head of Roger Rabbit tied to his backpack.



‘I’m the only rabbit in the world that’s run across the Sahara,’ Mr. McCarrick once told me. He also added, ‘People think I’m bonkers!’ In 2008, this former coal miner was awarded the MBE (Order of the British Empire) by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. For those who are not British, an MBE award is one of the highest distinctions that can be gained by a British citizen.  Not bad for a chap from Minster on the Isle of Sheppey.”


April 17, 1993, Saturday, 2:30 a.m. I am fully clothed and laying in bed watching Sting in the science fiction movie “Dune,” while eating Girl Scout peanut butter cookies and drinking coffee. I am in a hotel room at the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Commerce, California along with off-duty San Jose detectives and ex-Navy Seals, all of who have been hired as freelance and assigned to me as bodyguards, and all of who are armed to the teeth.  A Seal will drive our bulletproof Crown Victoria that is being rented by the production company for a thousands bucks a day, and one of the detectives will ride “shotgun.” Our team has been issued flak jackets, Kevlar helmets, pepper spray and Israeli gas masks. Ironically, the instructions for the gas masks are in Hebrew and none of us can reads Hebrew. Unlike the first intifada – the L.A. Riots of 1992 – I now have an official backstage pass to the “L.A Riots Part 2-1993 Tour.”   I’m embedded with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Special Enforcements Bureau, in a platoon made up of thirty-six Sheriffs Deputies traveling in sixteen marked patrol cars and one “armored hostage rescue vehicle.”

The Call…..

3:15 a.m. The call comes in to prep the gear, check out and travel to a new location. Crap! Dune is not over and I will miss the best part where giant sandworms appear out of the desert floor and destroy the Harvesters that mine for the Spice on the planet Arrakis. In the hotel lobby I am informed that the production company has had second thoughts and now feels the thousand-dollar-a-day bulletproof car is too expensive.  They do not want to be held responsible for any damage to it. Looks like I will be riding in a Deputy Sheriff’s patrol car.

Platoon Rendezvous…..

8:25 a.m. We have rendezvous with several other platoons of uniformed deputies in what appears to be an abandoned hotel parking lot. Some deputies are relaxing in their vehicles, others are outside, pacing nervously. It is here that I hear the verdict and sentencing of the defendants in the second Rodney King trial as I’m searching for a place to get some coffee. Several of the patrol cars have their trunks open with portable radios tuned to the KFWB all-news station. The newscaster’s flat voice echoes across the parking lot along with news of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a nuclear accident in Russia, a fire fight with the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas and a nifty review of Billy Crystal hosting the 65th Academy Awards and the shows ratings.

9:20 a.m. The platoon relocates to a substation located at the City Hall Complex in Lynwood.

Falling Down For A Meal……

11:25 a.m.This is our first sit-down meal since Thursday night the 15th of April. “Today is Saturday the 17th of April” I think. I’m sitting in a chair at a table where both have been bolted to the floor. This is Angelo’s Burgers on Atlantic Boulevard in Lynwood. I am getting ready to eat a breakfast burrito, in the company of fifty deputy sheriffs in this small burger joint. After the meal we talk with the deputies and drink coffee when I notice a homemade sign made of cardboard and a magic marker on the counter where you place your order. “The Movie ‘Falling Down’ with Michael Douglas was filmed here on May 12th, 1992.”  It was here at Angelo’s that the famous scene where Michael Douglas’ beleaguered character is trying to order  breakfast from a fast-food chain called  “Whammy Burgers” was filmed.  The menu has changed from breakfast to lunch and Michael wants breakfast not lunch.   In short, the movie is about a man in L. A. who goes bonkers. It’s ironic that we are sitting here at Angelo’s with deputy sheriffs having breakfast waiting for a city to go bonkers.

Saturday 2:15 p.m. It is not the result of the announcement of the court’s verdict that sends us racing at top speed from Lynwood to an amusement park north of Los Angeles. Apparently a scheduled rap concert has been oversold by a thousand tickets or so.  As expected, some of the fans were upset, and out of frustration windows were broken at restaurants across the street from the entrance to the amusement park.

I love Scottish Food……

4:35 p.m. The deputies, our crew and assorted bodyguards are in a holding pattern at the upper entrance to the park. Everyone is hungry. With my supply of Atomic Fireball jawbreakers, Balance Bars and gum gone, the production company finally breaks down and decides to get McDonald’s quarter pounders for everyone. Half way through the order, McDonald’s runs out of quarter pounders and we end up with Happy Meals for most of the crew and seventy plus deputies.

7:46p.m. The sun has set. I tag along with a squad of seven deputies, taking in the sights and sounds of the park. I wonder if we can stop long enough to get a corndog.  Occasionally families and kids looking for a way out of the park stop us and ask for directions.  None of our group are familiar enough with the park and we are not much help in answering their questions. We have not been in the park longer than fifteen or twenty minutes at the most when there is an atmospheric change in the night.

Jurassic Park…..

There is now a lull in the sounds. The normal sounds of a carnival atmosphere where laughter and excited screams of kids on a wild rides are mixed in the night air have diminished. There is something different happening here. There is a different kind of screaming now. A disconcerted screaming that builds and continues until all laughter has been swallowed by the night. A swelling of emotions rises from my stomach and settles into my chest and heart. My instincts are telling me something that I don’t yet consciously perceive.  It is at this point that time becomes a series of different scenarios in slow motion and other craziness in “quick time”.

Like locusts swarming upon a field of grain, kids and families are pouring out of nowhere, surrounding us. The deputies react by creating a circle in the middle of a concrete walkway.  If you were to look down from overhead, you would see a circle of tan helmets surrounded by a sea of bodies.  A sergeant is in the middle trying to hear the two-way radio above the human sounds. My eye is glued in the Nikon’s viewfinder, and the cameras motor drive whines with click-click-click-click-click. The framed faces are growing with expressions of dread, concern, and confusion as the volume of pandemonium rises to a higher decibel.

Somewhere in the park ahead of us panic strikes like lightning and like the delay of thunder, so is my reaction and that of the seven deputies. We catch the first swell of the crowd seeking safety. It is a stampede of hundreds of people coming right at us, and we are a mere wall of eight people. The noise level of crying, shouting and screaming rise again to a decibel level higher then an AC/DC concert. I hear a deputy shouting ” Was that gunfire ? Was that gunfire?”

The mob recedes and confusion fills the void. Again  gunshots or firecrackers are set off somewhere in the park ahead of us and a larger tidal wave of families in sheer panic descend upon us. Unlike the 1992 riots I covered nearly a year ago to the day- this had the element of the vulnerability of families caught in the middle of a total breakdown of civil order. They have become a captive audience for Mad Hatter’s Wild Ride and Freak Show.  A group of teenage boys and girls run up to us screaming that a park security guy is getting beat up behind us. We turn but can’t see anything but a wall of humanity one hundred yards deep.

More deputies arrive out of nowhere and we make our way across a sea of glass shards, white plastic coat hangers, price tags and paper images of cartoon characters. A helicopter flies overhead with its powerful spotlight shining down on the throngs. The beam creates a massive shadow from the tree limbs and scaffolding which slowly crawls over the entire area like a black web.

A Table, Chair and  a Chef……

Passing by a restaurant I notice that the doors are cracked  I peer into the darkness and silhouetted in the foreground are chairs, tables and serving trays stacked on top of each other. Beyond the barrier, a young man dressed in his chef’s whites stares at me with a dazed and anxious look.  I can only assume that he has chosen to stand sentry with fire extinguisher in hand as the world outside goes for a roller coaster ride into a momentary lapse of sanity.

The park is now quieter as the deputies contain and prod the visitors to the main entrance. I pass a long line of kids at a pay phone trying to call their parents to come and get them while near by is a marble statue of a rabbit riding a horse waving goodbye to his guests.

April 19, 1993,  Morning Coffee and the Times….

This morning I read in the  L A Times, “The park reopened Sunday to an enthusiastic spring break crowd as law enforcement officials, park managers and a music promoter tried to pinpoint blame for two melees that damaged both the park and its reputation as a place for family entertainment. An all-night repair job replaced broken windows and looted merchandise in time for Sunday’s 10 a.m. opening”

I later learned that the  “melees” cost the park an estimated 2 million dollars in damages, 40 people were emergency evacuated and that it took 450 deputies to move 40,000 people out of the park. Urban legend has it that a body was found underneath a roller coaster ride four days after the riot. In ShowBiz news, there is big buzz about the release of Steven Spielberg’s film “Jurassic Park” It’s about a team of genetic engineers creating an amusement park full of cloned dinosaurs – then all hell breaks out.