Isabella’s Jewel Box

Thanks Again Community!

(BTW, it sounds strange calling us a “community”.  I never really liked that word… it’s like we meet for Bingo at the sad community center that smells like old tapioca pudding or something…  maybe you know a better word?)

I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you again for all the support, encouragement, and enthusiasm! I really enjoy reading your comments, getting your emails, tweets, FB comments and more. I feel bad I can’t respond to all of them, but I still do read them all. There is a lot, but the reading is not yet overwhelming. The responding is. Something maybe people don’t realize is that comments appear all over the site every day, even on posts that are several years old. For example, someone just dropped a note on a 2-year-old post “Girl in Qatar” looking for a penpal.

I also quite like it when people post links to their websites, their photos, or whatever they find interesting. I encourage it, and it helps YOU get to know OTHER nice people here in the community here too. I know my mom will track you down (like she did Gail) whenever you suddenly stop leaving comments. She gets worried (she called me one day and said, “Do you think Gail is sick or something?”)

If you have more ideas on things you’d like to see around here to help this process, let me know! 🙂

Daily Photo – Isabella’s Jewel Box

Up high, in one of the tallest towers of all the land, in the highest castle by the sea, sits a perfect bedroom, and it shines like the inside of a floating jewel box.

This amazing place is in one of the two peak towers atop Hearst Castle. Getting up into these rooms via tiny, twisting stairways is not the easiest thing in the world. The paths in and out of these bedrooms are almost so serpentine that they seem secret. When I was inside, I felt like I was one of the few people in the world to ever experience it.

HDR Photo

Relapse Photo – The Castle From Below

I’ve included a second photo from the outside of the castle. Towards the top, you can see the two towers, each of which contains one of these little slices of fantasy.

Hearst Castle

My Hollywood Adventure, Part 3 of 3

And now the last section of the three part story. Perhaps I have built this up too much to somewhat of a Lost Finale ending that confuses people. Maybe it has already become tiresome by now? Yes, probably… In that case, you can just enjoy the photos… !


A 3-Part Story…


And then I went inside.

Can you even take photos in here? I really doubt it! But I take some anyway…. being the “beg for forgiveness” sort of guy. Actually, that’s not true. I don’t beg for forgiveness – I feel like I have an in-born right to record my life.

Am I wrong there? No… of course not… I take photos of things with all the confidence of a man who knows how natural an in-born right can feel.

However, I do respect the privacy of things that deserve it, so I won’t be posting any photos of the inside.  Perhaps leaving it all a mystery makes it more intoxicating; it is something quite like JJ Abram’s idea of the “Black Box”. You’ve seen his wonderful TED speech about that, by the way? I have it here on my “Best TED Speeches” page.

I end up having a variety of meetings about this and that. Anything interesting? Yes. Anything I can talk about? No. Will anything actually happen? I have no idea… When anything becomes solid, I’ll be sure to share it!

The only thing announced thus far is CAA’s representation of me, and, among other things, my agents there handle speaking engagements. Look there I am in the “R’s” between Sally Jessy Raphael and RuPaul. You go girl.

By the way, the next time I am speaking is in Dallas at My friend John Poz from OneMansBlog put together a cool thing where three of my Limited Edition Prints will be given way. This is a New Series on Metal. It’s printed on high white gloss aluminum and you just gotta see them. So, besides a chance to win those, I’ll be speaking on all sorts of subjects… and be sure to come over and say hello if you see me around!

Back to my meandering story… I exit the building out the front. Many drivers & bodyguards look at me and then at one another. They must be wondering, “Why is ‘the help’ using the front doors?”

The walk back is nice, I think. I stroll along and then suddenly remember that I should go visit the Annenberg Center for Photography. It a great space in the courtyard of CAA that has different special photography events. I saw a great exhibit there early on sports photography and was excited to see whatever new event was currently happening.

But, I lament, I would have to walk through the lobby and all these drivers again, who were already quite sure I was lost. Who cares, I thought, walking back in the way I had just come five minutes earlier. I got to the Annenberg. It was closed. This meant immediately walking back out again past all the drivers. They had already established that I was lost and clueless before. Now it was just plain sad to them.

I begin capturing a few more photos as I walk. I think about “obviousness of the shot” and Clyde Aspevig, one of my painter friends. You may remember my reference to Clyde in my latest book (and my Clyde Aspevig video interview here). Here’s the thing about the obviousness problem — I’ll do my best to explain.

Once you are in a location for a while, let’s say a day or so, it all becomes quite familiar. It can reach a point of familiarity that makes everything a bit obvious, and you just don’t feel like taking a photo. Standing there, looking at the scene, it can be thought of as dull. But if you force yourself to muscle through and take the shot, forget about it, then review it again later back at the studio, there can still be magic there. It’s almost impossible to appreciate on the scene, and time will give the shot more perspective.

Clyde goes through this with his paintings. At times, he has his easel set up in a field, makes a painting, then finds it all dreadfully boring when he is done. He resolves to take it back to his studio later to give it a second look, and often sees the finished product of his original vision. This seems like a nice way to go about things… and I decide to follow the lead of Clyde once again.

I begin to wonder why I am so much more fascinated with painters than with photographers. That’s not to say that I don’t find other photography and photographers interesting — but only interesting to a point. The mystery of skilled painters is what I find most intriguing. Why is this?

In interviews, I’m often asked “Who are your favorite photographers?” I’ve got a few, sure. In fact, I have a little Tribute Page here to Edward Curtis. That guy is amazing… and then nerdy photographers have the gall to leave comments amounting to, “You know he’s a disingenuous hack, who willing clone-stamps out modern conveniences like clocks from the Indians’ tent, right?” Yes – so what? He’s incredible.

I’m also inspired by the generic, yet individual “Internet Photographer”. I have several on the “Things That Inspire Me” page. There are so many great photographers out there nowadays… after a few moments flipping through some of my favorites, I’m instantly inspired. And we have a great many of them that are regular readers of Stuck In Customs. I do enjoy it when they post links to their work, and I wish I had a better way for everyone to share. That is part of the reason that we started — but that only solves a subset of the problem of sharing.

While going down the road, I spot something I missed when going the other direction. The Church of Scientology in Beverly Hills! I should stop by to have them check my electro-levels or whatever the hell they do. This building is kind of run-down and scary-looking. I take a quick picture and move on… since I worry a little about someone in all black jumping off the roof to grab my camera.

Then there is restaurant after restaurant, each with outdoor seating filled with dynamic-looking people. I look at them all, and they don’t seem to mind. LA isn’t a place where people are surprised if you look at them. It’s a place where they expect to be closely examined. And since I like people-watching, it’s just about perfect. I take pictures here and there of people and they’re all cool about it. Of course they’re cool about it – it’s LA.

It’s getting a little later in the day by now, and the streets in and around Rodeo Drive are getting even busier. Nicer cars are rolling in and the tops are going down. I’m getting a bit tired, but I power through and keep weaving through the streets to find interesting bits.

I think fatigue becomes more and more relative compared to the day before. Hiking day after day through the mountains on a photo adventure is not too tough after a while. So, I wonder why a leisurely walk around flat LA is getting tiresome. It makes me feel even more wimpy, and I resolve to keep searching about for shots. I know that I may end up throwing out most of the shots, but I feel soft pressure from within to experiment. Sometimes I’ll feel like experimenting for fun and without any effort. Other times, I have to force myself a bit. Nothing is easy when it comes to this sort of thing.

Finally, I make it back to my hotel. Even though it’s afternoon, the lobby is fairly dark. A nice woman of indeterminate origin is behind the bar, busy lighting candles to set around various rooms. She smiles and offers me a drink. I’m too tired and graciously say no. I head back up into my room, set all my equipment down on the floor, undress and get in bed for a nice afternoon nap. I feel a bit lazy, but don’t really care after my head presses into the pillow.


After you go inside these doors, anyone caught with a camera is killed in a dramatic Hollywood action-scene.  So I won’t post any photos from the inside.


Just outside, nearby The Annenberg Space for Photography, two enormous skyscrapers shoot up into the sky. The left one is filled with lawyers. The right one is filled with attorneys.


Graffiti artists have a good time decorating the edges of Beverly Hills. And who doesn’t like seeing the shocked monocle-millionaire from Monopoly?


This place was creepy. The building was not really in the best condition, which was surprising in its high-toned location. Maybe I saw a few famous stars running in and out of this place. And maybe I didn’t. It’s all a blur after Tom Cruise glamoured me.


The street side bistros and cafes are filled with colorful sorts. I saw this guy and gave him the universal sign-language for “Is it okay to capture your awesomeness?” He gave the universal nod, meaning, “Yes, you can capture my awesomeness.”


To show you how awesome my agent is, this is not even her car. It’s the car of her assistant, Michelle. Actually, it’s her backup-car.


After a long day of apparently aimless wandering, I arrive back at my little hotel. The friendly gal at the bar is lighting candles to help make things as homey as possible.

My Hollywood Adventure, Part 2 of 3

This is Part 2 of 3


I’m getting closer to the CAA building, but still taking my time with my 50mm to poke about.

I feel prepared to deal with strange bits and pieces that might crop up while I am here. Maybe there is something about being a photographer. I feel like I can grasp meaning from ambiguity. Or, I can take that ambiguity and make it more tangible.

Has anyone here read Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer? I feel a bit like I had read it to prepare me for these sorts of events.

Of course, Beverly Hills is a redonkulous place. Personally, I’m not much of a shopper, but I do know this is quite the mecca for people that are really into this sort of thing.

I felt a bit like a redshirt on an away mission, studying the peculiarities of the local inhabitants. The women would walk from one store to the next with a sense of purpose. Of real purpose. In fact, they had as much seriousness in their movements as I did taking photos of the scene. So I try my best not to be too judgmental, since I figure it doesn’t matter what the heck you do with your life, as long as you do it with a sense of purpose.

Everyone needs a hobby, and I guess shopping ranks right up there with other “gathering-esque” ways of spending your time. I’d argue that photography is a better and more fulfilling hobby, but maybe that is me. Of course, I am writing all of this now because I was thinking of it at the time… And I also made a mental note that I should write an eBook entitled You Need A New Hobby: It’s Photography! and then lay out inside all the goodies and the first few steps to getting started in a productive and enlightening new hobby… But who has time to write all these eBooks? Anyway, I decide to put it on my to-do list and keep moving about.

But then I am still thinking about it while I am walking about, even though I tried to get it off my mind by resolving to put it on the to-do list. I was reminded of some quote… I could barely grasp the edges… something to the effect of, “You cannot find yourself; you must create yourself.” I think that sounds nice.

Then I was thinking of another quote from Buddha that I have always liked, “It’s better to travel well than to arrive.” It’s quite tranquil, and I need to figure out a way to work that into the blog or the Stuck In Customs thing in some way. It’s a very nice little saying… maybe I’ll squeeze it in somewhere? Don’t want things too cluttered… maybe replace “Daily Photo Adventure” with that nice little quote? I don’t know… I resolve to let it simmer in my subconscious for a few more months before making a decision.

Sometimes I force decisions and sometimes I just let things work themselves out. Making decisions in the flow of time with many other moving variables can be tough. I’m not sure the human brain is great at dealing with this. I believe I grasp at the shadow of time and place and do my best to bend it around to my will. It only sometimes works.

Seeing the cars driving around the streets, I remember an interesting analogy about decisions and time and variables. I’m sure you all have experienced the following. Sometimes, you’re driving along on a pretty crowded road. You need to pop over one lane because your exit is coming up. It’s not immediately coming up, but in a few miles. But there is a car hanging out there in the perfectly wrong place. You can’t get over naturally. Then he moves along and is replaced with another car. And then that car speeds along and another car swoops in to block you. It is almost a perfect symphony of things getting in your way… as if the universe is conspiring against you. So, you begrudgingly decide just to wait a minute, perhaps change the radio station or direct your attention elsewhere for a short bit. And then you remember you need to pop over one lane. You look, and it’s wide open. It’s hard to remember exactly what made this so difficult before.

Sometimes I go ahead and force the decisions through anyway — and other times I just let them drift along until the move is obvious, calm, and almost Zen-like in execution. I prefer the latter, of course, and I do my best to help things flow in that direction.

As I’m walking through the streets, it’s beginning to get a little warm. It must be about 75, which is not traditionally warm, but I am wearing some blue jeans and a button-down shirt. It’s fairly heavy, made of one of the thicker Robert Graham designs. I have a messenger bag thrown around my back with my laptop and an extra lens. I unbutton one more notch to keep it cool.

I take photos of interesting bits, happy that I have decided on a “square” composition for everything. I think to myself I should do it more because it’s different and challenging. It’s quite tough because the viewfinder itself is a rectangle. I have to ignore what I see on the edges… this is harder than it might seem.

There is a strange sense of beauty here in Beverly Hills. Very strange. Everything is manufactured and hyper-planned to the point of undeniable beauty. No matter the store, the shrub, or the sign, the viewer is meant to be left with a feeling of awe. And it is all quite nice, but almost in an overly-manufactured manner. Like Stepford Wives. Or like a snow globe of a perfect village. People glide around inside the bubble, mimicking the beauty.

But around and through this bubble, I think there is perhaps real beauty. Bits if it here and there, and it’s as elusive and surprising to find as happiness.

I think of that wonderful promo ad made by the Discovery Channel. Have you seen it? Here is a link to the video of “I Love the World”. It is both cheesy and spot-on… smart.

I turn onto “Avenue of the Stars”. How can a road with such a silly name actually exist? More importantly, what is someone like me doing on it?

I’m just about the only one walking around. LA is a driving city. It’s pretty much just me walking around, the occasional homeless person, and drained-looking people who are walking from huge buildings to bus stops.

Soon enough, I approach my quarry: the CAA building.

The front of the building has a long driveway, filled with fabulous cars, scary-looking body guards, security personnel, drivers, and lots of black suits and dark glasses.

This is the vaunted spot where countless stars are whisked in and out of their cars for meetings with the agents inside the CAA offices.

It suddenly occurs to me that security will assume I am paparazzi, since I am walking up to star-central with a giant camera.

They don’t.

I get several sunglass-ed nods. I don’t know if it is because CAA knew I was coming or because I did not look the part. Either way, they did not bother me… My spidey-sense is always on high alert around people that are ready to hassle you for taking photos. Just in case, I have a rich array of oratory comebacks, ready and armed for full frontal assault. But, alas, I did not get to unleash the salvo.

What good is it to think about this stuff? I have no idea, I think to myself, as I walk in the doors…

This was Part 2 of 3


Walking through the streets of Beverly Hills is filled with just the sorts of things one might expect to see.


The entrance to the CAA building, which I would soon reach, made for interesting subject matter.  The staff there figured out I wasn’t paparazzi once I started taking photos of the building itself.


The buildings that tower around the edges of my walk could be seen as rather mundane.  In fact, they were quite mundane.  So to find their proper edges within a frame was challenging.


Jane Goodall would be proud.  I observed the youths from a safe distance.  These young females, now of the age of mating, mimicked the gathering patterns of their mothers.  Nearby, a richly festooned elder female sat, attended and cooled by mechanical horses.


The famous street in Century City, which lies on the southern edge of Beverly Hills.  The name of the street is more interesting than the actual street itself.


Many architectural designs from 20 years ago can be eyesores.  This building had a feeling of 50 years old, so it kept a certain charm.   Certain designs have a timeless feeling to them, while others fade in and out of fashion… I don’t know why things are this way.


As I approach the CAA building, the drivers and cars align the driveway, waiting to whisk Hollywood stars to and fro.  I’m clearly not one of those people, so they largely ignore me and give me a vibe of general disdain.

Slipping into the Pool

Great Photo Contest!

There is a great new photo contest I encourage all of you to join!  Get the details on the page!

The prize is a fantastic metal print from Image Wizards.  I’ve had many things printed there, and you will be amazed.  Really.  I’ll be one of the judges along with Frederick Van Johnson.  So, if you don’t like the choice in the winners, please blame Frederick Van Johnson.

Daily Photo – Slipping into the Pool

This vast indoor pool at Hearst Castle is just about perfect.  The only thing that would have been more perfect is if I was actually inside of it!  If I wasn’t such an honorable guy, I would have stripped down and jumped in for a bit.  It would have taken at least 15 minutes for security to get me out of there.  But it would have been a sweet sweet 15 minutes.  I could just say that I lost my mind for a bit…  like Hearst Castle was Shutter Island and I was a bit loopy because of the drugs.

A friend was looking at my other photo of this pool (You can access it by clicking on the Hearst Castle category below.  He remarked that he thought it was a slick, reflective floor and not a pool!  I had never thought of it like that, but then I noticed… and I could also see it like that.  A bit like a Necker cube!

HDR Photo

The Mysteries of Rodeo Drive

New Limited Edition Print – The Edges of the Flatiron

We have a new, wonderful print to announce! As with all, each is a unique numbered print that is part of a series. Once they are gone, they are gone.

This one today is a bit different than the usual lot. It’s a black and white image of one of the most famous buildings in New York City: the Flatiron Building. I’ve always wanted a photo of this building, so I went here, day after day, waiting for the light, traffic, and pedestrians to be just right.

Daily Photo – The Mysteries of Rodeo Drive

I have a long-format piece coming up about something very cool in California. While I was putting together that whole piece, I made some time to get out at night for some HDRs.

There’s one very strange and mysterious store right in the middle of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Who can figure out what is happening in this photo?

Into The Sea

Site of the Week

We made the coveted Abduzeedo Sites of the Week!  Pop over there to see some of the other winners too.

Daily Photo – Into the Sea

I wonder what percentage of photographers live on the West Coast versus the East Coast. Of course, the west gets all the great sunsets over the ocean, and the east gets all the great sunrises. Given that most sane people are asleep at sunrise, and given that most photographers are insane — I am not sure! What do you think?

This one was taken at sunset on the beautiful San Clemente pier. The sunset was coming on, and it was a high-pressure time to get up onto the pier and find a good spot.

Sunset at Hearst Castle

New Book on Book List!

As some of you know, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Matt Ridley and his wife, Anya Hurlbert. I knew of Matt previously because I’ve always been a fan of his unique science/genetics books; these have delightful and unexpected hooks into economics, anthropology, history, and critical thinking. And then I found out his wife was also of a different sort of scientist, with a concentration in Visual Neuroscience. If you saw my Google Talk, then you’ll know that is also a big interest area for me! Follow her link above if you want to read more.

Matt has a new book that just came out called “The Rational Optimist“. If you want a taste of it, read Matt’s recent Wall Street Journal article.

Anyway, here on the site, I have “Trey’s Book List“, that has all sorts of suggestions. There is surely something for everyone in there!

Bonus Book Suggestion!

I just finished listening to the Audio Book of Daemon. You gotta get it! I haven’t heard anything this good in a while… and, as opposed to most books, I really do recommend the audio version. Jeff Gurner does an amazing job with the voices, and hearing the computer voices talk is more than entertaining! The author, Daniel Suarez, really knows his stuff. And, I would not be surprised if he has read some of Matt Ridley’s books — particularly “The Red Queen”.

Daily Photo – Sunset at Hearst Castle

Maybe people in California get spoiled by good sunsets. Not living there, I don’t know! But, when you are sitting up high on a mountain, in a castle-mansion, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, how could you not get spoiled?

And this isn’t even the main castle. This is just one of the guest-houses. Hearst had several guest houses there, each one as stunning as the next.

If you are enjoying these Hearst photos, I’ve now published six so far. You can see all the Hearst Castle Photos. Note: These are also accessible via the “Categories” down on the right side of the page.


Secret Meetings in Hollywood

New eBook now Available to Newsletter Subscribers!

Issue #14 will be flying into people’s email boxes some time this Sunday morning. Note that I made a big mistake yesterday! I had the signup form on there, but the “Submit” button did nothing! I can’t believe it… that was so dumb of me… I think a ton of people put in their info and clicked submit, and just assumed it worked!

But now it is fixed… you can sign up below, and, after confirmation, you will get a Welcome email that has a link to the new Newsletter #14. It’s the prettiest newsletter in the world! Thanks again for forwarding it to all your friends, family, and other loved ones!

Newsletter Map!

I haven’t updated this in a long time… I need to… but a few hours after we opened up the Newsletter, you can see how many people subscribed and where you all are from — cool!

Newsletter Subs

Daily Photo – Secret Meetings in Hollywood

This photo was taken in Los Angeles (Santa Monica to be exact) after I got finished with one of those Hollywood Power-Lunches you always hear about. I’m not yet ready to talk about it… but I just wanted to put out a little teaser for you. I’ll be sure to put out the full story when it is ready to be told.

So, anyway, after the meeting I took my camera and tripod across a few streets over to the beach. I’m not sure, but I’m fairly certain this is where they filmed the opening to Three’s Company. It’s burned into some deep layer… strange bits of my 70’s brain were firing away as I was walking down the coast. The palm trees and the blue sky — they were so LA — so I set up to grab a shot.


Hearst Castle in San Simeon

Any Problems with New Server?

We’ve recently moved over the entire website to the Rackspace Cloud.  This was done because our traffic is growing like crazy, and we wanted things to be nice and speedy for everyone.  Also, from time to time, Twitter can cause big surges in traffic that brought the whole thing to a grinding halt.

Let me know if you see anything is awry.  It’s hard for me to test anything, and there are always niggling little problems…  Like, for example, I found out that Firefox didn’t work because of some silly Facebook <iframe> code that still broke it even though it was commented out!

I’ll put together a full review on Rackspace soon enough… along with a whole list of all the backend stuff that keeps the site humming along.  I know we have lots of technical people that come to the site, and we all like geeking out about the specs and “how things work”!

Daily Photo – Hearst Castle in San Simeon

Did you know that Hearst Castle is only a few hours north of LA? If you ever end up in LA for a trip, be sure to set aside a few hours for a trip up to see this place. After you get out of the LA city-scape-area, the terrain totally changes – so does the “feeling”.

Towards the end of the day, all the tourists had left. I had an escort with me for most of the day. This gentleman was a retired LAPD officer who spends a few days per week working up at Hearst Castle. There are several of these guys and gals that help keep the place secure. They take the job pretty seriously, as you would expect from any LAPD-type. After a few hours, I was able to wear them down with humor. I found they responded very well to anti-lawyer humor, btw. So keep that one in mind in case you ever get in a pinch.

Everyone there was extremely nice, and I loved the opportunity to capture Hearst as it is meant to be captured. I kept returning to this fountain time and time again — until the skies and light was just right…

Hearst Castle

Under the Docks in California

New Interview with Matt Brandon

Matt is a really nice guy, and I enjoyed our time together for the interview.  He runs a website called The Digital Trekker, and he has just recently posted the interview at that link.  His podcast is called “Depth of Field”, so be sure to check it out!

Want to know something really strange?  We were on the same flight from Tokyo to San Francisco a few weeks ago, and I didn’t even know it! 🙂 I found out about this later via Twitter — he walked by me, and I was deeply engrossed in something on my laptop!

Daily Photo – Under the Docks in California

Some of you remember the great photowalk we had down in San Clemente.  I really had a good time there.  On my photowalks, typically I stop from time to time and tell the assembled crowd what I am doing.  Well, I finally got a chance to process this quintet!

I felt fortunate to have a good friend that had an amazing condo that overlooked this same beach.  Frankly, after a long day and night of shooting, I felt spoiled and happy just taking a few more steps to my pad…  grabbing some cool drinks… opening the patio doors to listen to the surf… good times!

Newsletter Sign Up

The most beautiful newsletter ever!