Reynisdrangar, Iceland

Fujifilm GFX 50s, ISO 100, FL 28 mm, 1/30 s @ f/20.

Reynisdrangar and the black beaches of Vik have got to be one of the most desolate places on earth.  Raging waves and winds whip across the seascape and even if you are with others, you feel vulnerable and alone, isolated by the extreme environment.  Vik is located in southern Iceland under the shadow of Mýrdalsjökull glacier, Reynisfjall mountain, and one of Iceland’s most dangerous volcanoes – Katla.  A population of around 300 brave souls call the town home.  The seascape is notable for basalt sea stacks as high as 60 meters and known as Reynisdrangar.  One area of  clustered, rocky stacks is iconic for the region and is known as ‘the trolls’.  Legend has it that 3 trolls – Skessudrangur, Laddrangur and Langhamar – were attempting to steal one of the village boats and were caught in the process at dawn and punished by being turned into rocks. Another legend (and the one I prefer) is that a husband caught his wife as she was being held captive by two trolls.  The trolls promised not to kill her but could not return her home.  So the love of this man’s life, whose free spirit he could not contain at home, lives out among the trolls, rocks, and seas at Reynisfiara.

It is a haunting landscape.  In 1991, the black sand beach of Vik was named as one of the ten most beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world.

The Handmaid’s Tale

fujifilm xpro2, ISO 800, FL 200 mm, 1/60 sec @ f/4


Two things in the news recently have made me think, once again, about the roles of women in our society.  Last week, Bill O’Reilly – one of the top grossing TV celebrities on Fox News was terminated because of allegations of sexual harassment.  His misbehavior was not a new item.  The network had paid millions of dollars of hush money over several years but an investigative reporter was able to unearth the gory details and published the findings in a print source.  And then, lo and behold! Current Mad Men began to pull their marketing dollars from his show.  As that movement escalated, Murdoch and his sons decided the negativity outweighed the positivity and O’Reilly was no more.

That was last week.  This week, HULU – a streaming media service – began their made for TV series, The Handmaid’s Tale.  The book, a dystopian science fiction, was written by Margaret Atwood.  I had read it years ago when the feminist movement was at its strongest.  I was particularly attracted to the book because Margaret, a Canadian writer, actually finished writing the book in Tuscaloosa, Alabama where she held an MFA chair.  So, that attracted me, a native Alabamian – a book started in West Berlin and completed in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  The book was published in 1986 and, at the time, I was a second year medical resident in a pediatric residency program in Alabama.  I remember when I read the book that I found it somewhat frightening but was reassured by the rapid changes that I had personally witnessed of the way women’s roles were changing in a positive way in our society.  There was no reason for me to think that the steady forward emancipation of women from traditional restrictions would not continue to surge. The book was interesting but definitely science fiction.

Understand, I was not naive.  I had personally experienced some of the obstacles often placed in women’s paths.  Some of those obstacles were blatantly obvious.  Some were very subtle.  It is only now, in my more advanced age (smile), that I realize that I had been so indoctrinated to the accepted role of women that I was blind to prejudice and discrimination when it happened right in front of me.  It was what had always been – those subtle little reminders by society of what the female identity should be.

I felt so privileged in my first year of medical school.  I had been an outspoken feminist and member of the National Organization for Women in college and I felt that choosing a male-dominated profession that I yearned to be a part of was a reflection of both my career goals, my desire for service to humanity, and my politics.  My class was a small one – that’s why I chose the medical school that I did.  My COM 1 class was exactly 68 students – 10 of which were women.  In the 4 years that we were together, we got to know each other very well.  Never once did I feel anything but equality with my fellow students.  The attitude was – we were all comrades on this very stressful battlefield and we supported each other without reservations.

But what was also very true is that there were very subtle whispers that constantly reminded the female students that women were different from men.  How?  We spent very long hours in the first year of medical school trying to absorb massive amounts of knowledge – gross anatomy, histology, cell biology, embryology, genetics, immunology, neuroanatomy, physiology.  The classroom hours were long and tedious.  One of the common distractions that the professors would use to try and jolt students awake after hours and hours of the eternal slideshow lectures  would be to insert random ‘pin-up’ slides of women, scantily dressed or nude, into the lecture slideshow.  I remember one example in physiology when we were studying the very complex Kreb cycle of chemical processes employed by all organisms to release energy.  I’m sure the professor, after hours of a long drawn out, complex lecture, decided it was time to wake us up. The distraction pin-up that he used was a woman on a motor cycle, dressed all in leather, with her jacket unzipped to her naval and a skimpy leather skirt pulled across her legs as she straddled the machine.  Kreb cycle – motorcycle.  And, as usual, everyone in the class laughed, some applauded, and the professor would smile approvingly.  Even the female students laughed!  And why?  Because we were told, both by our male colleagues and by our professors, that women frequently could be seen as sex objects but not all women.  Certainly not the female students in the room.  We were different than other women – we were professional equals.  Looking back at all those episodes, I realize now that we were as much a part of the problem as the men.  We condoned and we colluded and we did it from the viewpoint that it didn’t apply to us – we were different. I’m sure part of it was that we were also afraid.  We were a minority group in this fraternity of physicians in training and their medical school professors (not a single one of my medical school professors were female).  We felt so lucky to be part of the experience. If we raised a ruckus, if we questioned these subtle discriminatory practices, we might lose our place in line.

How often does that happen?  How often does an individual participate in subtle discrimination because they don’t see it as applying personally to them?  How often does an individual collude because of fear of being excluded, of having hopes dashed, of having dreams shattered?  How naive I was.  How imperfect I was (and still am).

Two years later, I’m pulling very long clinical hours in the hospital.  Basically, I would work two 12-18 hour days in a row and then a third day of 36 hours.  This was my schedule, week in, week out.  The only place that I could take a shower while working these long hours was in the physician’s locker room, which should have been okay because I was a physician in training.  BUT – the physician’s locker room was a male only locker room.  There was a nurse’s locker room but because nurses didn’t work longer than a 12 hour shift, they took their showers at home.  There was a shower in the nurse’s locker room but it had not worked for years and was basically used as a storage area for stacks of boxes of hospital scrubs.

Fortunately, my best friend in my medical class was also pulling the same long hours.  So, we had a deal.  We both wanted a daily shower so no matter how little sleep we had gotten on our 36 hour on-call stretch, we would meet in front of the physician’s locker room at 3 AM.  One of us would go inside the locker room and take a shower while the other stood guard outside the door, ready to give an alert if someone approached.  Then we would switch places.  This is what we did rather than asking for shower facilities for female physicians and medical students.

Why didn’t we ask? We were working the same hours as our male colleagues so certainly we were entitled to the same considerations.  But we accepted the subtle discrimination, we didn’t even question it.  I suspect fear played a role in this also.  The fear that if we pointed out the inequalities too aggressively, that we might be excluded, that we might lose the position that we had worked so hard to achieve.

Oh, we weren’t completely meek and humble.  If there was overt, blatant discrimination, we spoke up against it.  But there was so much of the subtle, pervasive, way it has always been discrimination that we just accepted.  Some of it, I dare say most of it, we just accepted as the way it had always been and we honestly didn’t see it being any different.

And now, we have as President of the United States a man that manifests all those subtle, pervasiveness nuances of discrimination toward women.  He wouldn’t even shake Angela Merkel’s hand!  He speaks trash about women when he thinks he won’t get caught saying it.  He is writing executive orders that severely restrict women’s choices and freedoms and he does it surrounded by men, posing for the television cameras.  This was not a faux pas.  This was deliberate.  He was sending a message to his base of male power and male machismo and male domination of women and their issues.

In my later years of wisdom, I’m a lot more perceptive than I was when I was a naive 30 year old.  I have seen equality among people, regardless of gender, religion, or culture.  I recognize the subtle, pervasive, erosions of that equality. And I will not accept it.

And I’m rereading ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ with a new recognition that equality and democracy, once achieved, may not last forever.  It’s more frightening to me than even my first reading.



Fujifilm x-pro2, ISO 200, FL 70 mm, 1/15 sec @ f/8


Kupoteya njia ndiyo kujua njia
To get lost is to learn the way

Swahili Proverb

On eating coconut butter on toast


This coconut butter is NOT what I had as a child.

I got taken by the wizened, wrinkled, sun-dried woman at the Florida roadside stand.

‘Cause I REMEMBER coconut butter.

That’s when Momma made beds in the car and Daddy drove all night.
When I woke up, I saw palm trees whisking by, past the car window.
And then the cottage – with the funny windows and tile floors
and the window AC chugging out cold air
into rooms that looked nothing like home but felt like family.
And the sand, everywhere, everywhere.
Seagulls plaintive cries.
And the siren call of the ocean.

Daddy said ‘Not now’ and Momma said, ‘He needs to sleep’
But still we would run screaming through the dunes to the water.
And both of them would follow, laughing.

Daddy would crouch down in the waves so that the water was at his chest.
He would pull me onto his knees.
‘Get ready’.
I would crouch down on his knees, most of my face under the waves.
1, 2, 3 – Takeoff!!!!
And he would push up, up, up on my crouching butt as he stood up
giving me wings to fly.

I swear to you! My head was in the puffy, white clouds and when I looked down
the water glittered far, far below and then my heart thumped, thumped, thumped me back down
and I hit the water and all the splashes around me sparkled
like diamonds in the sun.
‘Do it again, do it again!’

Coconut butter on white bread toast was so good.
Momma and Daddy hugging each other in the corner of the kitchen.
Like I didn’t see them, ha!

My gloomy sister scalded red.
She never tanned, only burned.
The rest of us brown as pecans in just a few days.
My brothers with identical crewcuts but nothing alike
Fighting over plastic ‘diver dan’.

This coconut butter is NOT what I had as a child.

Daddy saying ‘I don’t like the covers too tight on my feet’.
My Daddy that lifted me to the clouds is barely there.
So small, a tiny, tiny little swell in the white bed in the white room.
I can see him fading away right in front of my eyes.

And my Momma says nothing.
Just the beep, beep, beep of the machine
Tying her to the life she no longer wanted.

This coconut butter is NOT what I had as a child.

Diana Davidson, 2017


The Ties That Bind

Fujifilm x-pro2, ISO 300, FL 50 mm, 1/60 sec @ f/3.6

Do not cut those ties

To those you have lost.

The blade hurts beyond bearing

And cuts more than you know.

Let those ties fray rather

In the winds of passing time.

Thread by thread

Strand by strand,

Time wears the fabric down.

The first to fray is need;

Wiry like old roots,

It shrivels without feeding

Becoming dry and brittle

Before finally snapping

And becoming dust

That the wind catches

And blows away.

The next to go is illusion:

Flashing through rainbows

Of coloured pasts

That become slowly

Monochrome and clear.

You see things as they were

You see the truth

A skilful pen and ink sketch

Showing the bare lines

Of what there truly was.

Anger goes next,

Serpent-strong, writhing

Shrieking with fury

Dull red and thick with misery;

It grows quiet, finally

Stills its thrashing

Lies quiet and subdued.

You look again,

And it’s gone.

Each strand that bound you

One by one wears out

Frays to nothing


It’s gone.

And when each tie is gone,

You may find that one alone remains,

Bright shining silver,

Gleaming in the kinder light

That time will bring you.

This is the thread that never frays

Never breaks, never snaps.

If at the end of all the threads

This one remains,

Then leave it be.

Cutting this one

Only cuts your heart.

-Vivienne Tuffnell

Road Trip

I love the new Volvo ad that imagines a modern day Walt Whitman.  ‘Song of the Open Road’ has always called to me as I’m sure it has to others who have a wanderlust.  ‘The east and the west are mine, the north and the south are mine’.  And that fox!  Best part of the visuals.

The appeal of the ad, to me, is the call to the open road.  And for some reason, the open road has been a siren call to photographers forever.

Hearing Whitman’s words reminded me of some wonderful portfolios I have, in book form, of photographers who sought their muse on the open road.  And without a doubt, one of the best is Robert Frank.  Not only is it one of the best, but I think this collection of images is very topical for the increasingly dark, divided United States right now.  Frank’s book, ‘The American’s’, was a revolutionary work and changed the course of American photography in the 20th century.  At the time the book was published – 1959 – America and American life was portrayed in popular magazines in glossy, idyllic images.  Frank received a Guggenheim Fellowship grant that allowed him, in 1955, to travel all over the United States.  The people he photographed were not living the American Dream.  They were factory workers, elevator operators, transvestites in New York, black passengers on a segregated trolley in New Orleans. The images are all monochrome, gritty, depicting the politics, alienation, power and injustice at play just beneath the surface. One of the themes that the photographs evoke are ubiquitous loneliness, even in the midst of crowds or an urban city scene. Another emphasis is on race and class differences and the tension inherent in that polarization.

Jack Kerouac wrote the introduction to the book and by doing so, gave it the blessing of the Beat generation.  Which was a good thing because the book was not initially well-received.  It was perceived as being derogatory to national ideals because rather than portraying the myth, the images were a more realistic, honest portrayal of American life.  In time, however, because of its inspiration to other artists, it was considered a seminal work and the one to which Frank is most identified.

I highly recommend this book for all photographers and for all travelers.  

“That crazy feeling in America when the sun is hot on the streets and music comes out of the jukebox or from a nearby funeral, that’s what Robert Frank has captured in tremendous photographs taken as he traveled on the road around practically forty-eight states in an old used car (on Guggenheim Fellowship) and with the agility, mystery, genius, sadness, and strange secrecy of a shadow photographed scenes that have never been seen before on film….After seeing these pictures you end up finally not knowing any more whether a jukebox is sadder than a coffin. That’s because he’s always taking pictures of jukeboxes and coffins – and intermediary mysteries like the Negro priest squatting underneath the bright liquid belly mer of the Mississippi at Baton Rouge for some reason at dusk or early dawn with a white snowy cross and secret incantations never known outside the bayou – Or the picture of a chair in some cafe with the sun coming in the window and setting on the chair in a holy halo I never though could be caught on film much less described in its beautiful visual entirety in words.”                    Jack Kerouac



fujifilm x-pro2, ISO 200, FL 50 mm, 0.5 sec @ f/11


We are all just walking each other home.
Ram Dass

Golden after-glow

Fujifilm x-pro2, ISO 6400, FL 50 mm, 1/80 sec @ f/3.6. WB @ 5600 Kelvin

I’ve been very fortunate.  I have traveled all over the world and have been able to witness some incredibly beautiful landscapes.   Despite all my travels, tho, I still feel that America has some of the most incredibly beautiful and awe-inspiring vistas on Earth. And sometimes, sometimes – I witness a part of the beauty of my country and it grabs my soul and reminds me that the love I have for my country is deep and heartfelt. Last night was one of those times.  Abba and I were walking our usual, sunset beach walk.  I try to photograph as long as there is light but always, I run out of light before I run out of inspiration.  My camera was off because now the shadows  were a deep black and we had turned back for the trek back to the beach house.  The light was absolutely beautiful – the highlights in the ocean and the water-swept sands were the same color as the golden afterglow of the sun.  And then – just a flashing of gold on the surface of the water and it was gone.  I stopped and watched closer and sure enough, once again – a flash of a golden fin tip above the wave and then it dove back into the water.  Even though the light was quickly vanishing, I stood and watched for about 15 minutes as a group of dolphins danced in the waves.  They really seemed to be playing because two of them would surface at the same time opposite each other and then dive back into the water. The water was sheeting off their fins and off their backs and because of the backlighting, the water had the same gold as the dwindling sun.  It was amazing!  The ocean was very dark – the light was almost gone – but the breaching dolphins were bordered in this glowing, golden light.    Even Abba seemed to know that something profound was happening because he stood and watched the water as closely as I was.  It didn’t last long, maybe 15 minutes, before even that golden after-glow was gone.  But now I KNOW, even when I can’t see them – that somewhere underneath those dark waves – dolphins are playing. 🙂 

End of day

fujifilm xpro2, ISO 10000, FL 60 mm, 1/250 sec @ f/4.5

There is a quiet space, between waking life and sleep.  A transition from the busy, keep moving, check off the to-do list, yes, that’s been done, what’s next?  It is an in-between time, a pause, like the deep inhale before the exhale.  In this time, I focus on being rather than doing.  It is like slipping into a poem and it prepares me for the deeply metaphorical dream state. 

Left behind

fujifilm xpro-2, ISO 600, FL 50 mm, 1/250 sec @ f/8

“Recently abandoned women can be complicated.”
 Elizabeth Kostova, The Historian

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