Monthly Archives: November 2013

Scout night at the Zoo

The gang upon arrival, before football took over.

The gang upon arrival, before football took over.

Last evening both boys had the opportunity to attend the “Wild Night” boy scouts campout event at the Sanford Zoo. Both dens attended and the turnout was pretty good considering this would be a fairly short event.

Scouts and their families were to arrive at 4:00 on Saturday night, setup tents and the campground, then be prepared to meet our Zoo tour-guides at 7pm. Since the daylight savings time clock change happened a few weeks ago, it was fairly dark by 6:00, but that did not deter the 7 footballs that were flying between the trees and bouncing off the tents. These boys were non-stop and all roaring to go, especially since none of them has to return to school for at least another week……at this point, I was beginning to prepare for a long night!

Scouts had to test their red gels to make sure that they were not too bright to scare the nocturnal animals.

Scouts had to test their red gels to make sure that they were not too bright to scare the nocturnal animals.

Our guides arrived at 6:45 and gave instructions on what to do, and what NOT to do. We would be split up into 5 individual groups, and would be getting a 90-minute tour of the actual zoo. Everyone that carried a flashlight had to have a red colored gel affixed to their lights, as to not disturb or blind the wildlife. These gels were doled out and tested by our guides….then we were off in search of wild beasts and hissing insects.

A zoo volunteer shows a deadly scorpion that stirs in the nighttime hours.

A zoo volunteer shows a deadly scorpion that stirs in the nighttime hours.

Each group stopped at predetermined check points and saw such critters as scorpions, owls, Madagascar hissing roaches, alligators, porcupines, cougars and a fully loaded bat house. The time passed fairly quickly, and then it was back to camp.

Zane cutting the American Flag prior to its retirement.

Zane cutting the American Flag prior to its retirement.

We met up under the fan covered meeting spot which featured at least a dozen picnic tables, a few of which were strewn with old and tattered US flags.  Tonights lesson/activity would be to teach the boys (and a few visiting girls), how to properly retire a worn or tattered US flag.  The process begins with cutting out the blue patch with the stars, and then meticulously cutting the red and white stripes into individual ribbons or strips.

The flag ceremony around the fire.

The flag ceremony around the fire.

One of the US flags gets retired in accordance to the Scout manual.

One of the US flags gets retired in accordance to the Scout manual.

Fireside, a few small words were spoken by the parents and scouts, and the flag segments were placed into the fire, in order.  At this point, the flames grew taller than most of the kids that were surrounding it, and the heat radiated at least 30 feet from its popping and cracking center.  In a matter of minutes, the fire was back down to its normal size with no trace of the flags, and the group was off for banana pudding.

A :30 timelapse as the clouds were moving in, the orange is from the City of Sanford light pollution.

A :30 timelapse as the clouds were moving in, the orange is from the City of Sanford light pollution.

The clouds slowly moved in and at 11pm and there were still youngsters running through camp, screaming and giggling as little boys do…..!

Blaze, my 10 year old, decided that we should shoot some long exposure images before the clouds totally blocked out the stars that we could still see. We filmed for about 30 minutes and he lightpainted the bottom of both palm and oak trees…..nothing too spectacular came to us, but just being out there with him made the entire trip worthwhile!

A :30 timelapse as the clouds were moving in, the orange is from the City of Sanford light pollution.

A :30 timelapse as the clouds were moving in, the orange is from the City of Sanford light pollution.

James Risen-Prosecuting the Press event


A few weeks back I was invited to shoot an event at the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. The event was titled “Prosecuting the Press” and featured the world famous investigative reporter Lowell Bergman, a true badass and currently producer/correspondent for the PBS documentary series FRONTLINE. Bergman is so tough and experienced that actor Al Pacino played him in the feature film “The Insider”, needless to say, he is the real deal!

His guest for this lecture was the currently embattled Pulitzer Prize winning American journalist and New York Times reporter, James Risen. Risen is also as tough as nails and has been challenged by the courts to reveal the name of his source for a chapter in his book State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. Chapter 9 in his book talks about a secret mission called Operation MERLIN that the CIA totally screwed up. Risen caught wind of this mishap and wrote about it years later, unfortunately, both the Bush administration and the Obama administration are still trying to punish him for bringing the said incident to light. He is currently challenging the ruling of the court system who looks to send him to jail if he won’t divulge his source of the leak, by taking his case to the Supreme Court. This is currently scheduled to happen in a few months, and that is also why I chose to accept this assignment, the verdict in this case will have HUGE implications on the way the Media/Press deal with acquiring and writing their stories in the near future. Risens’ challenge is one of the bravest things for a journalist to attempt, and I fully support his rights and ideals.  With the amount of hype that Julian Assange (Wikileaks), Eric Snowden and Chelsea Manning have received in the past few years for their specific leaks, the Risen case may seem miniscule in comparison. However, it must be noted that he was not the “leaker”, he merely wrote about the events the occurred, as told to him, by a trusted source…….but he is also a journalist, and is protected by the laws of the land…..right? One would think, but the rules have changed rapidly since 9/11, and the U.S. government is trying to set him up as an example….don’t burn us or we will burn you seems to be the statement they are screaming!

“The basic issue is, can we continue as journalists to protect and offer the confidentiality to someone who knows something going on in the government but doesn’t want to go public?”, asked Risen.




His question and answer event was scheduled at the Berdahl Auditorium on campus and was held in front of 300 invited guests. Among those in attendance was Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, one of the first ever to leak secrets, most famously the “Pentagon Papers” that he copied and delivered to The New York Times in 1971. His leak changed the way the Vietnam war debacle played out, and his decision and bravery no doubt helped save the lives of  many U.S. soldiers.


I was fortunate enough to film all of these men and listen to their stories as well….a bonus if you will. I had read the book ahead of time to judge for myself if the leak was really worth going to jail over…..I don’t think it gave away anything that would have jeopardized or hurt America…..unless showing how reckless and childish the whole CIA plan actually was…! I truly believe that the people trying to punish Risen are embarrassed by what he revealed, and the simple fact that they got caught.


The Berkeley professors, Dean Wasserman and the students/staff who helped and attended this event should be proud of the program that they put together this night and I am glad that I could attend and do my part in capturing this small segment of history….James Risen is a true leader, and will be seen as one by years end.  When asked about his own future and why he published his book, Risen responded to the crowd, “I thought, I either publish these stories or I’m getting out of journalism. The default position for a reporter should be to publish.”

The entire event was videotaped and will hopefully be around for many decades to teach other journalism students the ethics and responsibility of being  professional writers.


In other happenings, I was invited to put together a small workshop on the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism campus and it couldn’t have gone any better! I was to discuss being a “Pool photographer” as well as how uploading images to the Associated Press wire service happens. I had about a dozen excited and curious students in attendance in the library, and we spoke for over 2 hours. We talked ethics, responsibility, PhotoMechanic, editing, cropping, metadata, code replacements, Photoshop actions and FTP servers……and then went through my traveling camera case. Students set up my cameras with Pocket Wizard remotes and tried my selection of different lenses and bodies……Hands on was the motto of the day.   I want to personally thank everyone at Berkeley, and I truly hope to return there one day for a longer workshop to train these excited students. This was one of the best teaching experiences ever. Go Bears!!!



Alex Menendez leads a workshop at the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.


More images found here:

Dia De Los Muertos

“DAY OF THE DEAD”…..what a title for a Holiday!



I had heard about this for years, but didn’t know if it was the title of a movie or the name of a song, or both…..but it stuck…until a few months back….


A friend mentioned it to me and explained the concept and origins…and I have been waiting impatiently for these few days to begin ever since.

For those of you that aren’t quite up to date, or just simply lost like I was….lets take a look at Wikipedia’s definition of this worldly ritual:


Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de Muertos) is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Mexico and around the world in other cultures. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. It is particularly celebrated in Mexico, where the day is a bank holiday. The celebration takes place on October 31, November 1 and November 2, in connection with the Christian triduum of Hallowmas: All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.[1][2] Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars called ofrendas honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these as gifts. They also leave possessions of the deceased.

Scholars trace the origins of the modern Mexican holiday to indigenous observances dating back hundreds of years and to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. The holiday has spread throughout the world: In Brazil Dia de Finados is a public holiday that many Brazilians celebrate by visiting cemeteries and churches. In Spain there are festivals and parades, and, at the end of the day, people gather at cemeteries and pray for their dead loved ones. Similar observances occur elsewhere in Europe, and similarly themed celebrations appear in many Asian and African cultures.



Get it? Well, let me take it from what I experienced at the Mexican Consulate event in Orlando, Florida this past weekend.


I saw Skeletons, flowers, food, cigarettes, cerveza, face paint, honest feelings, sad faces and a huge sense of pride. Friendly folks tried in vain to explain the purpose to me, while speaking in Spanish and feeding me and my son Blaze the best Beef and Sausage tacos I have ever eaten….. in short, I was very welcomed, accepted and taken in.



I first made the connection to photograph this event on Friday afternoon after searching endlessly on the internet for “Dia De Los Muertos” festivals in the area. The closest was in Fort Lauderdale……..a bit too far to travel for me……but with some persistence and tracking down and translating the El Sentinel newspaper, I came across a very small article about the Mexican Consulate public event. I knew this was my only chance to capture this festival, so I cleared my cards and charged my batteries. My son Blaze also wanted to shoot, so he agreed to tag along with his DSLR.



Saturday arrived with the cold front, and all of the ofretas that had been arranged outside were packed up, and moved indoors. The first heavy rainfall in weeks arrived to try and ruin the event, but it was not to be…..nothing was going to supress this day.


The event went off without a hitch and the Consulate was packed to capacity. The altars were stacked with candles, old photos, Catrinas, sombreros, paper figures and sugar skulls……It was colorful and GRAND!





Blaze and I took many photos of the surroundings and the parade of worshippers……it was a fantastic experience and we hope to film it again next year. Thanks to everyone who granted us permission to photograph.



Please see photos here:!/index/G0000kZvwSdxZ_I0

All Images on this blog property of Alex Menendez.

Dictionary text usage: Credit Wikipedia