A few years ago, Laura and I had the privilege of talking to Ken and Esther Bonham. This couple spent a life time together, both in work and in marriage. Today seems only appropriate to share their story and love. Happy Valentine’s Day!
When I was young, my parents would organize holiday trips to visit their families.
Mom’s family lived in eastern Nebraska. Dad’s siblings were scattered throughout the country, but his mother was in southeast Nebraska.
They didn’t have a lot of resources. Most of their money went to education — various college degrees and books. Not a lot of spontaneous spending.
Travel was accordingly frugal. Mom would bake bread, make sandwiches and cookies. She would freeze small jars of water and milk, serving the dual purpose of keeping the small cooler cold, and eventually, quenching our thirst as they melted.
We only travelled by car. The family Ford was a rolling fortress. All cars then were giant hunks of solid American steel. Ours was basic, and perfect.
Trip preparations started a week in advance with Mom making sure everything was perfectly organized and prepared.
Gas money set aside in an envelope on the table by the door. They did have a gas card for emergencies, but seldom used it. Cash, always paid in full. Children of the Great Depression – they didn’t go into debt. (Mom owned three houses in her life. Two of them she had built and when she got the keys, the carpenter got his money right then.)
Letters were written and posted to folks we would be visiting, confirming their status. It wouldn’t do to drive 400 miles to find nobody home — although I am not sure where any of them would have gone except to visit us. My Dad made one long distance call every two weeks at the most, and never talked for more than three minutes. Mom didn’t make any, seriously. Never, just too expensive.
Planning the route was pretty simple, not a lot of paved roads went where we were headed.
Packing the clothes was done well in advance. Sorted by day, everything neatly folded, and stacked into the old Samsonite suitcases.
They made sure there were a few frames of film left in the camera, just in case we needed to photograph something more than the usual group portraits.
Good bonding experience. We had hours to talk, and talk. Family history, practical information related about how the crops were doing as we rolled across the state — important information for our farmer relations. We read, did crossword puzzles, and played car games usually involving memorizing some arcane trivia my Dad had studied.
A week on the road meant hours in close proximity, lots of sharing.
Times change, traditions remain.
We are still travelers. Constantly in motion. For right or wrong, I flew more than 400,000 miles in 2013.
This time our flight to Istanbul was at noon. We packed that morning. In fairness my wardrobe hasn’t changed much since I was two. It’s winter so that means hoodies not t-shirts, the only seasonal variation. For a few years, I got crazy and wore white running shoes instead of black, but that fad changed, and I’m back to basics — and as an aside, very amused that Chuck Taylor’s are so incredibly popular again. I always wore mine out so I couldn’t still be using them, but still I wonder…
We checked connections, confirmed hotel reservations, made sure the credit card companies were advised that we would be using our cards in Europe and Asia the next few days, and wrote to our friends during the 30 minute drive to the airport.
Havana did do some advance planning, she made sure she had the right books, music and films downloaded to her old iPad (didn’t want to risk losing her new one — it’s her lifeblood). With me constantly traveling, we are not always in close proximity, but are somehow always electronically connected. Even when I’m home editing, my office in a building a scant 150 feet from our living room most of our communication on school days is seemingly via wifi.
We got to our hotel in Istanbul 11 minutes ahead of when we planned to be there. Pulling into our hotel just in time for Havana to have some Salep before dinner.
My extended family now includes some of the world’s great photographers, storytellers. In Istanbul, it’s Kerim Okten, a wonderful journalist, who had just returned to his hometown after a multi-year stint as chief photographer for the European Press Agency in the United Kingdom. One of the tough cadre of globe trotting photojournalists I’ve spent my life with all over the planet, he dropped everything to take us to his favorite little coffee shop. It was a sweet venue riverside on the mighty Bosphorus perfect for relaxing and looking a first Asia and then Europe – Istanbul being the only major city in the world spanning two continents.
It’s odd how well I know this foreign capital. Laura and I shot a short film here two years ago and spent a little time getting to understand the rhythms of the place.
I loved showing this place, in person, to Havana. Sunrise over the Bosphorus. The Blue Mosque at sunset, surrounded by the haunting, lovely sound of the call to prayer, form the terrace of the Safir restaurant. Walking through Taskim, site of this summer’s massive protest, it took three tries to get down the road to a favorite bookstore and a lovely CD store… not because we had to stop in the jewelry and dress stores, although we did plenty of that, but because the riot police and protesters blocked our way. No danger, but enough drama to get Havana’s interest.
Unlike most of the American cities we visit, Istanbul is teeming with life at night. Shops, restaurants… throngs of people coursing through the streets well after sunset. But make no mistake, it’s happy, kind, and friendly.
The traffic here is crazy, but we saw no accidents. It might crawl, sometimes it zips along, but never stops.
Just like our travel schedule.
The Sportsman of the Year issue of Sports Illustrated features a photograph of Peyton Manning by SI staff photographer John McDonough.
Peyton is having an incredible year. One more brilliant season in an amazing career. Thirty seven years old. Fifty-five regular season touchdowns.
I shot Peyton’s first SI cover. In New Orleans, on a racquetball court I converted into studio. We were in and out quickly. He was perfect.
But that wasn’t the first time Peyton was in front of my camera. I’ve been lucky to photograph him – and the rest of the Manning family – many times. My first shoot with Peyton was years before, but he wasn’t the main subject of that story. His dad, Archie, was.
It wasn’t the second time he was in front of my camera either. That happened when when I went to New Orleans to do a piece on Peyton, the most sought after recruit in the country. I went to one of his football games, had breakfast with he and his mom, and watched as he sorted through seemingly endless boxes of recruitment letters.
I was in Oxford years later doing a story on Eli, the youngest Manning brother. Peyton was in town, and we agreed to meet in the Grove — the legendary center of the Ole Miss campus. A place special to all of us. Walking through the beautiful cluster of trees, Peyton turned to me and said “You’re the professional Bill, just remember that I am taller.” Eli smirked and I laughed. It was never in doubt. As usual, Peyton came prepared, wearing cowboy boots with heels, and Eli was in running shoes. Classic.
Through the years, Peyton has always been friendly and gracious. He always says hello and extends his hand, unprompted. A gentleman through and through. The grace comes naturally. The Mannings are a unique blend of sports royalty and the folks next door. Once, when I was staying at the Windsor Court hotel, the concierge called my room excitedly and announced, “Mr. Bill, come quick! Archie Manning – his own self – is here to pick you up!”
McDonough I have known much longer. Since I was 17 actually, and that wasn’t yesterday. I was a freshman at Arizona State, where John was getting a second undergraduate degree. Separated by a continent, we’ve stayed close with constant conversations about photography, music — storytelling. When we were kids, he would spend hours making a single print for reproduction — most photographers would be satisfied with a try or two. Not John, just like now everything he shot, it had to be perfect. I value his friendship and respect his immense talent and drive.
Just like Peyton’s.
It’s New Year’s Eve day, 2013.
The first firework photograph I saw today came from, where else? Sydney, Australia.
In 2000 at the end of the Games of the XXVII Olympiad, I was frankly whipped.
Along with Dave Callow, my great Australian brother who selflessly devoted his time in Sydney to helping me make the best images I could possibly make, I had put in 25 straight 20 hour days. Exhausted from the stress, strain, physical and mental exertion, and last but not least the heat, we just wanted to get through the Closing Ceremony.
But then SI’s picture editor Jimmy Colton asked me where I thought I would like to work that last night, and I knew I needed to do something special. Most of my colleagues wanted to be inside the Olympic Stadium, but after 10 days of track and field — shooting every single heat of every race at every distance, I desperately needed a change. Not only that, I was more interested in the overall spectacle showing the closing of the Games in that magnificent city that had welcomed us so wonderfully.
There was no other place possible, we had to be looking on from Mrs. Macquaries Chair. A spectacular vantage point overlooking Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Legend has it, if you sit there at just the right time and make a wish, it will be granted.
I had brought 25 cases of gear to Australia. So many single lens reflex cameras. All kinds of lenses. And a trunk containing some very unique and special medium format cameras. Three of which were modified by Dave to give a different look. A look that no one else would produce at these Olympics.
Sports Illustrated ran the image above across a three page gatefold in the front of the magazine and maybe best of all the reverse side of the gatefold was an image by Heinz Kluetmeier. A former Director of Photography at the magazine, and the man who brought me to SI initially, Kluet is the best there’s ever been at sports action photography. Starting with the first time I covered the Olympics for the magazine in 1992 in Barcelona, he had encouraged me to own the finish line at track, and that included figuring out ways to take Kluet’s trademark images and make them even better — something I couldn’t have done without his brilliance and generous teaching.
Standing in the finish pit three days before Closing Ceremonies, Dave and I were suddenly struck with the realization that we had 60 Nikons, a slew of lenses, all kinds of specialty gear for finish line images and underwater shots… everything, but a panorama camera. We started frantically calling every resource we could think of from our position trackside. Nobody had anything available. Every big format and panoramic camera was already rented. And then from five feet to my left came the distinctive voice of Joe McNally.
“I have a couple with me. You can use them.”
Stunned. Really Joe? “Of course, just pack them up when you’re finished and leave them at the front desk of the hotel, I’ll collect them when I get back from my assignment in the Outback.”
Friends. My wish for great ones has been granted many times.
About 150,000 folks were on the hillside with us that night and when the fireworks erupted they broke into a mass a cappella version of the de facto Australian national anthem, Waltzing Matilda. I will never forget the moment. Just magic.
With the call to prayer reverberating through the old city of Istanbul, the pianist in the lobby playing Bach Sinfonia in G – from the Christmas Oratorio, and happy laughter in the streets, I have to think, this is the way it should be. Peace on Earth.
Happy Holidays from all of us at Straw Hat Visuals!
Fresh snow in Alaska.