Photographing Dan Brown in the Library

Dan Brown going down the stairs into Inferno, his new bestseller. Photo: ©2013 Isaac Hernandez.

With the occasion of Dan Brown’s launch of his new novel, Inferno, which sold 228,961 printed copies in the UK alone in its first week (who says books were dead?), Die Weltwoche in Switzerland contacted me to license a portrait I took of the author in Exeter, New Hampshire. The portrait in the mysterious stairway has a story, which I will revisit here.

When I was first invited to photograph Dan Brown, courtesy of Editorial Planeta, the Spanish publisher of The Lost Symbol, I was clearly told he wouldn’t pose for any pictures; photographs were to be taken exclusively during his interview time.

As soon as Mr. Brown arrived at the Philips Exeter Academy library (New Hampshire), where we were to interview and photograph him, he cordially allowed photographs and video taken of him while he stood surrounded by books, and by Spanish and Argentinian media. I went down on my knees to take a photo from a different perspective than everybody else, and when Dan looked my way, I couldn’t help but lower my head in submission.

Author Dan Brown at the Exeter Library.

He must have liked my demeanor, then and during the interview with Carlos Fresneda, US bureau chief for El Mundo, which you can read here (in Spanish), for he agreed to pose for me, if only for an instant, on his way out for the lunch break. We were to meet at the entrance of the library, but when I saw him taking the stairs, I followed (after all, I’m fond of stairs, and I had taken them on the way up to the sixth floor). There I saw the opportunity for THE photo. “Could you please hold it and look up my way?” That was it! The result was published in the printed edition of El Mundo, alongside a profile photo taken during the interview, shown above.

Dan was so kind, I had to run and buy The Lost Symbol, his latest novel while everybody else was eating lunch. I ran back to the library and, during a break of another one of his interviews, I asked him to sign it for a friend. I was sure to point out I bought it at a small Exeter bookshop, thus supporting not only him, but his local economy. “Thanks, I can put gas in my car now,” he joked.

Thank you, Dan, you’re a true sport.

Dan Brown, author of The DaVinci Code and Inferno, featured in Die Weltwoche, Switzerland, photo by Isaac Hernandez
Dan Brown, author of The DaVinci Code and Inferno, in Die Weltwoche, Switzerland, photo by Isaac Hernandez.



Remembering Paolo Soleri, architect

Paolo Soleri, architect, founder of Arcosanti. ©2010 Isaac Hern
Paolo Soleri (June 21,1919 – April 9, 2013), architect. Arcosanti, Arizona, 2010. Photo by Isaac Hernández

When I photographed Paolo Soleri three years ago, he was about to turn 90. He was very sweet, bright and sharp, even at his age. I was sad to hear that he passed away yesterday, but also grateful for the path that he chose in his life, and the difference that he made. Below is an excerpt By Nancy Black, from the book “Difference Makers: Photographs of Leaders in Art, Science, Social Justice and the Environment,” which Publishing by the Seas will launch shortly.

Paolo Soleri was a young 93 when his heart stopped beating on April 9, 2013. Nancy and I are honored to share his work, and remain inspired by his incomparable vision.

Paolo Soleri, architect
By Nancy Black

Paolo Soleri dedicated his life to reinventing the urban development model. After receiving his Ph.D. in Architecture in his native Italy at Torino Polytechnico in 1946, he moved to the United States to study with Frank Lloyd Wright. He was a pioneer in city design and a proponent for the car-less city as early as the 1960’s.

He created his original studio, Cosanti, in Scottsdale, Arizona, and developed a wind bell crafting business to support his architectural endeavors. Later he began Arcosanti, in the desert of central Arizona, as a prototype for “arcology”, putting
theory into practice. Arcosanti is still under construction, as well as serving as an international tourist destination, where workshops are hosted to continue teaching Paolo Soleri’s ideas. Through arcology, cities are designed to maximize
the interaction and accessibility of an urban environment, to minimize the use of energy, raw materials and land, reducing waste and environmental pollution, and to allow interaction with the surrounding natural environment.

His work has been exhibited worldwide, and he has written six books plus numerous essays and monographs. Soleri has received a fellowship from the Graham Foundation and two from the Guggenheim Foundation. He has been awarded three honorary doctorates, the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal for Craftmanship (1963), the Gold Medal from the World Biennial
of Architecture in Sofia, Bulgaria (1981), the Silver Medal of the Academy of Architecture in Paris (1984), and the Golden Lion Award at La Bienale di Venezia (2000). Soleri was the subject of a major exhibition in Rome on his life and work, titled Paolo Soleri: Ethics and Urban Inventiveness (2005), as well as being awarded the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement (2006), and the Arizona Technology Council, Arizona Governor’s Celebration of Innovation Lifetime Achievement Award (2008).


Flying with Richard Bach / Volando con Richard Bach

USA. Washington. Orcas Island. Richard Bach, author of Hypnotizing Maria and Jonathan Livingston Seagull, among many other books, with his Beech T-34 airplane. (Born June 23, 1936. Oak Park, Illinois). Photo: ©2013 Isaac Hernandez, All Rights Reserved.

I’m happy to hear that Richard Bach is recovering from the airplane crash he suffered last August, after four months in the hospital. Not only that, but he’s now writing again, and has written a final part for his best-seller, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and just two days ago released Travels with Puff: A Gentle Game of Life and Death.

There’s nothing that Bach loves more than flying. Carlos Fresneda and I visited him in 2009 to talk about his new book Hypnotizing Maria. The story below about my experience with the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull was published in El Mundo on October 4, 2009. I’m posting here both the English and the Spanish versions.
Bach nos recibió para hablar de su nuevo libro, Vuela Conmigo. Aquí abajo puedes leer la historia que publicó El Mundo, el 4 de octubre de 2009 sobre mi experiencia con el autor de “Juan Salvador Gaviota”. La versión en español la puedes leer más abajo.

USA. Washington. Orcas Island. Richard Bach, author of Hypnotizing Maria and Jonathan Livingston Seagull, among many other books, and his Husky A1-B seaplane. (Born June 23, 1936. Oak Park, Illinois). Photo: ©2009 Isaac Hernandez, All Rights Reserved.

“Those Are My Wings”
Above the clouds with Richard Bach.
©2009-13 Isaac Hernández
“Flying is something that you learn in a minute and a half and you spend the rest of your life perfecting,” says Richard Bach, as I tighten my harness cradled in the back seat of his loyal Husky A-1B aircraft. “If you want, you can fly it,” he surprises me.
After a quick lesson on how the control lever works, and checking that everything is in order and that “the engine is happy”, Richard directs the hydroplane against the wind and soon we’re lifting, Orcas Island under our feet turning into a silhouette against the blue Pacific.
I feel like one of the farmers in the Midwest to whom Richard offered flights on his plane for just three dollars, during the 70’s, after writing Jonathan Livingston Seagull. He was continuing a tradition began by returning WWI pilots.
From the hand of Bach and his book I began taking flight as an adolescent. Who was going to think then that three decades later Richard himself would take me to the top of the clouds to let me free with the wind?
“After some time,” points Bach, “the wings become an extension of your arms, and you can even feel the air ruffling your feathers. Those are my wings, that’s my power. You stop thinking that your body is here and the plane is there, you become one and only one creature; a flying creature.”
The metaphor of Jon Seagull becomes reality inside my bones. My teacher is not a “talking seagull”, but the writer that gave life to the book that he had carried inside him.
“Go up to that cloud,” asks my instructor. I pull the lever and up we go. I maneuver at 1000 meters with a smoothness of a seagull. I’m happy that my captain doesn’t ask me to stall and do a nosedive. And I remember the end of the book. “No limits, Jon?“ My race to learn has begun.

USA. Washington. Orcas Island. Richard Bach, author of Hypnotizing Maria and Jonathan Livingston Seagull, among many other books, flying over the San Juan Islands on his Husky A1-B seaplane. (Born June 23, 1936. Oak Park, Illinois). Photo: ©2013 Isaac Hernandez, All Rights Reserved.

“Esas Son Mis Alas”
Sobre las nubes con Richard Bach
©2009-12 Isaac Hernández
“Volar es algo que se aprende en un minuto y medio, y se perfecciona el resto de la vida”, dice Bach según me aprieto el cinturón de seguridad en el asiento trasero de su fiel avioneta Husky A-1B. “Si quieres, puedes pilotar,” me sorprende.
Tras una rápida lección de cómo funciona la palanca de mandos, y comprobar que todo está en regla y “el motor contento”, Richard dirige el hidroplano contra el viento y comenzamos a elevarnos, y la isla de Orcas bajo nuestros pies en una silueta contra el Pacífico.
Me siento como uno de los granjeros del Oeste Americano a los que Richard diera paseos en avioneta por tres dólares, durante los 70, tras escribir Juan Salvador Gaviota. Seguía una tradición que comenzaron los pilotos que regresaban de la Primera Guerra Mundial.
De la mano de Bach y su libro comencé a tomar el vuelo como adolescente. ¿Quién me iba a decir que seis lustros después acabaría él mismo llevándome a lo alto de las nubes para luego dejarme libre con el viento?
“Pasado un tiempo”, apunta Bach, “las alas se convierten en una prolongación de tus brazos y puedes sentir incluso el aire como si te tocara las plumas. Esas son mis alas, ese es mi poder. Dejas de pensar que tu cuerpo está aquí y el avión está ahí, te conviertes en una sola criatura; una criatura voladora”.
La metáfora de Juan Gaviota se hace realidad dentro de mis huesos. Pero en lugar de una “gaviota parlante”, mi instructor es el escritor que dio vida al libro que llevaba dentro de él.
“Sube hacia esa nube,” pide mi maestro. Tiro de la palanca y hacia arriba vamos. Maniobro a mil metros de altura con la suavidad propia de una gaviota. Me alegro que mi capitán no me pida hacer una caída libre, y recuerdo el final del libro, “¿No hay límites, Juan?” Mi carrera hacia el aprendizaje ha empezado…


Interview with Juliano Brotman, Hollywood’s Raw Vegan Food Chef

Julano Brotman and chard
Julano Brotman and chard
Chef Juliano Brotman and chard. Photo: ©Isaac Hernández
Chef Juliano on the back page of El Mundo.


If you are ever in Santa Monica, you must eat at Planet Raw. Not only you will have a delicious uncooked meal, but you may even run into actors Natalie Portman, Alicia Silverstone, Owen Wilson, Jim Carrey or Darryl Hanna, who eat there often. Juliano’s Planet Raw offers french fries, burritos, cheeseburgers, and many different dishes, but all raw and vegan. The cheeseburger is one of the most popular dishes, which includes their very own homemade mustard.

If you have a chance, spend some time talking to “the world’s number one premiere living raw chef,” according to The New York Times. Or better yet, take one of his raw food classes on Saturdays. You can also grab a copy of his book, Raw: the Uncook Book: New Vegetarian Food for Life.

Carlos Fresneda, from El Mundo, and I had a chance to talk to him before I took his portrait outside of Planet Raw. Since El Mundo’s audience is in Spain, he kindly spoke in his best kitchen Spanish. The story was published in El Mundo, right before the Oscars. You can find highlights of his interview in the following video. For those not proficient in kitchen Spanish, I did a lose translation of the video, further down the page. It’s truly worth reading. Enjoy! And bon appetit!

Translation to English of interview with Juliano Brotman. ©Isaac Hernández

Raw: The Uncook BookI started eating vegetables. We didn’t have tofu, Whole Foods, Internet… I ate fruit, vegetables and nothing else. One day my sister came over and said, let’s make milk. We put almond and water in the blender and made milk. It was very thick, it was cream. We made sweet cream. Once instead of milk and vanilla, I put garlic, parsley and basil, and made a savory cream, instead of sweet. When this happened, everything changed. Now we can put cheese in tortillas and vegetables and make cheese burritos, but with no cheese. I wanted to get out of the white dough because I knew it’s not good for you. I changed the tortilla for a collar green. And I made the first raw food burrito. It was the first raw wrap

Animals never eat cooked food, like the zebra. They are not obese, they have perfect teeth. Even the grandma is in great shape, she can run, fight… People say it’s because they are wild animals. No, it’s because they eat raw food.
We spend trillions of dollar a year in dentist. They don’t spend a dime.

Alzheimer’s, dementia, senility come from cooked food. It’s poison. We don’t have cancer, AIDS or diabetes. We have cooked food, cooked food, and cooked food. I was in good shape all my life. Every year or every other year, I would get sick (before switching to raw food). From when I was 17 until 40, I never had a sour throat, never had a cold, never had a cavity.

People tell me, “Juliano, it’s not right we need cooked food, we need meat…” I’m 40. In the last 25 years, I can’t get fat. I eat all day oil, avocado, walnuts. I sleep four hours and jump out of bed to go running. I see my brother who eats cooked food, and is three years younger than me; he and gets up, “ah, my back.” Just yoga and raw food and you’re going to be good all your life.

To do something you just don’t cook, and you’re raw. Isn’t that amazing? To do anything else, you have to do research, and time and energy. To be raw all you have to do is not do something. You just don’t cook and you’re raw. It’s pretty amazing food.

The food that you like without the bad things, that’s what we do here.

47% of the pollution in the world is for the production of the packaging and labels for cooked food. Then we throw this packaging and labels away, and 85% of the landfill is waste from cooked food.

It’s crazy to eat this, when an apple, an eggplant, a zucchini comes without a label or packaging and you know what it is, because it’s true. In the US, if they print something, you know it’s not true.

The only thing that can save humanity is if everybody stops working and goes to the beach. It’s what everybody wants to do, but nobody is going to do it. My friends say, “Who’s going to manage the cellphone communications so you can call someone?” You’re going to the beach with the family. If you want to call someone, you say, “Eh! Eh!” What’s going on? Forget the cell phone. We are going to have cell phone, but we are not going to have a world. How great! Who are we going to call when we don’t have a world anymore?

All this aggression is because we are eating meat all day. I always say, to make peace and love on Earth, start on your dish. If you start killing and torturing and murdering on your plate… Animals have wives, they have dreams, they have work… Ants have colonies. They have presidents. They have everything we have, only that they don’t speak English, so let’s kill them. Gringos want all metal and concrete. I don’t know why the gringo turn out so crazy. Because the Indians were great.

You can have a gun, but not raw almond.

Peace on Earth begins on your plate.

Juliano’s Planet Raw restaurant. Santa Monica, California.

Annie Leonard and Stuff

Annie Leonard, author of Story of Stuff, loves to dig through trash.

She has the power to investigate where our stuff comes from, and where it goes after we throw it ‘away’. Her determination to get to the bottom of the Story of Stuff has her digging through landfills all over the world. She can communicate powerfully, making fun little videos that attract millions of viewers.

Annie Leonard produced a little animation, Story of Stuff, seven years ago. By now, the twenty-minute video has been seen over 15 million times! The Story of Stuff, later also published as a book, evolved into the Story of Stuff Project, launching a series of short animations on different subjects, such as Story of Electronics, Story of Cosmetics and Story of Bottled Water.

Leonard loves to dig into trash. “It’s one of my favorite activities when I travel,” she says. “I love to see what people throw away: there’s no better way to get to know a family, a community, a country…. We should look more into our own trashcans, and see that very little of what we throw away is really disposable.”

As a little girl, Annie made her first connection about the story of stuff from seeing chopped down forests in the countryside and cardboard in her trashcan. Then she visited Fresh Kills, the dump island floating outside Manhattan. Over 50 years, Fresh Kills swallowed more than 11,000 tons daily. “When they shut it down in 2001, the mountain of waste was 25 times taller than the Statue of Liberty,” recalls Annie. “It really impacted me and gave me lots to think about. Who could have conceived this monstrous system? How do we allow for this to continue happening? I didn’t even begin to understand. It took me 20 years to make the connection.”

According to Leonard, each year we generate 25 million tons of e-waste as a result of a system that needs to change. “No matter how much we try to reduce the amount of waste in our trash can, the largest waste is produced by industry,” she continues. “That’s where social pressure and political action are key. We need laws of productive responsibility for the whole world. 80% of the impact of a product in decided in the design phase.”

She traveled to Bangladesh, India and Haiti, where she completed the story of our stuff, our system. In her book, she makes the connection between the deforestation in the Amazon and Indonesia, the removal of the mountaintops in West Virginia, the tar sands in Alberta, and the disposal of waste in remote places, out of our view.

“I don’t like that they call me anti-consumerist,” says Leonard, “I think there’s plenty of negativity in the world already.” The combination of Annie’s disarming smile, together with the simple animation by Free Range Studios, and her well-researched, straightforward message are quite captivating. No wonder she’s become a celebrity.

In the Story of Stuff video you discover fascinating facts about our consumption habits, such as how 99% of the things that we buy stopped being used after six months. “I do want to denounce the effect of hyper-consumerism, which happens when we take more resources than what we need, and that the planet can sustain. With 5% of the population, the US consumes 30% of the world’s resources, and produces 30% of the waste. One doesn’t have to be a math genius to realize that we would need three to five planets if all 6,800 million Earth inhabitants were to copy the consumerism of the American dream.”

A paradigm shift is needed. “People are changing their relationship to stuff,” continues the author. “We don’t need to posses and accumulate things, but simply have access to them: sharing them, reusing them, exchanging them, prolonging their use so that they don’t end up in a landfill… and creating community in the process.”

Leonard’s Story of Stuff takes you to an underside look at our manufacturing and consumption patterns in five steps: extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal, in a very entertaining and eye-opening way.

“There’s a fundamental truth, that what we call ‘waste’ are mostly resources. All of it mixed up is not good for anything. We end up burying them in a landfill, or what’s worse, burning them. If we separate them, we will be able to use them again. That’s why it’s important to know our own trash, to dig into it to see how much we can reuse. It’s a fascinating activity.”

Change is inevitable. “The question is not whether we will change, but how we will change. Will we do it gradually, with relative effort, but voluntarily? Or will we do it suddenly and by omission?”


William McDonough and the Circle of Life

William McDonough, author of Cradle to Cradle.

Imagine a world where disposable plates were made of rice husk, implanted with seeds. In this world, the signs would read, “Please litter,” as the plates would fertilize and plant new crops.

William McDonough has fully imagined this world. Using examples from nature, he wrote “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things,” with German chemist Michael Braungart. The book itself is made of completely reusable plastic. Dip its pages in hot water, and the biodegradable ink comes off so that you can print something new.

McDonough dreams of a world in which ecology, economy and equity go hand-in-hand.

“Industry still believes that sustainable and green is not economical,” McDonough says. “Many business people listen to these ideas with interest, but then say, ‘It looks good, but how much is it going to cost me?’ I keep telling them that innovation is not only good, but very profitable in the midterm, plus it makes your company socially and environmentally relevant.”

In our current “Cradle to Grave” model, we approach the world with eco-efficiency, meaning a slower destruction of our environment. “Instead of making our impact less bad, why don’t we focus on making it 100 percent good?” asks McDonough. Our current practices of recycling are really “down cycling,” because the quality of the material worsens in the recycling process, and in many cases it requires the use of toxic chemicals, he says.

Why can’t we be like ants, which have a larger biomass than human beings in this Earth and have been industrious for millions of years, yet they nurture plants, animals and soil? In contrast, as he says in the book, “human industry has been in full swing

Why can’t we be like the cherry tree, which takes from the environment and at the same time feeds it? A cherry tree is not efficient, it produces more blooms than it needs, but it’s effective. Rather than eco-efficiency, the authors invite us to take on eco-effectiveness.

“Efficiency’s become a sacred word. What if we’re doing things wrong, even if they’re efficient?” McDonough asks. “In nature nothing is disposable, and everything forms part of a regenerative cycle. That’s true efficiency, with one purpose: to maintain the ecosystem and make life possible. In nature, everything is a nutrient. ‘Waste’ is a human invention.”

Currently, we design packaging that lasts much longer than the products they are designed to protect. What if we could use rice husks to make the same products that are currently made of Styrofoam? Actually, it’s already being done in Korea. The rice husk packaging material can then be reused to make bricks.

In the Cradle to Cradle (C2C) concept, products are designed considering the present and the future of the materials. Everything’s a nutrient; even plastic, if we think of it as something that will feed future products, instead of just ending in a landfill. McDonough calls plastic, glass and metal the “technological nutrients”; cotton, wood and cork are “compostable biological nutrients.”

“The first requisite is to separate materials according to their metabolism,” says McDonough. “The second one, which I call nutrient management, is to decide what are we going to do with them after use. The third is that they’re manufactured with renewable energy. The fourth is to minimize water use, and maximize its reutilization. The last, and not least, is that products are made with social responsibility.”

McDonough has worked on C2C designs, such as the Think chair from Steelcase, made with 37 percent recycled materials, and with 98 percent of its content being “upcyclable.” So far, about 300 products have gained the C2C certification.

Many other products such as complete buildings, construction materials, carpets, artificial turf, roofs, diapers, etc., have been designed following this standard. China’s now adopting the C2C concept, as well as India, some parts of Europe and the U.S.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful, if, rather than bemoaning human industry, we had reason to champion it?” asks the authors. “If environmentalists as well as automobile makers could applaud every time someone exchanged an old car for a new one, because new cars purified the air and produce drinking water. If new buildings imitated trees, providing shade, songbird habitat, food, energy and clean water. If each new addition to a human community deepened ecological, cultural, as well as economic wealth?


Patti Moreno, Garden Girl

Patti Moreno, the Garden Girl and host of Garden Girl TV, started gardening in her backyard at Roxbury, Massachussets, after having gained weight during pregnancy, and she was hooked.

She has the power to attract thousands of viewers, inspiring them to healthier lives through organic gardening.

She’s Patti Moreno, the Garden Girl. She calls herself a modern American homemaker. Being “modern” these days is about growing your own food.

“I’m Newyorican,” says Patti, whose parents migrated to New York City in the 1950’s. “I didn’t know what a garden was.” As a kid, her experience of nature was limited to Central Park, very different from the farm life her parents had in Puerto Rico.

She moved to Boston, where trees surrounded her, but it took gaining seventy extra pounds during pregnancy for her to put on some garden gloves, grab a shovel, and jump into action, as a way to exercise and eat healthier.

“When I started, it was horrible. Se me moría todo. I think I’ve tried up to 500 different plant varieties in the twelve years I’ve been gardening. Every year’s an experiment. My first successes were two apple trees. They were the best apples I’d ever eaten! Then I knew what it was to eat fresh food.”

Patti believes in Gardening by Cuisine. Through her Garden Girl TV show, she teaches viewers not only what to plant and how to grow it, but how to harvest, cook it and can it. The dozen raised beds, filled with homemade compost, are divided according to the dishes that she plans to cook.

“Never plant potatoes with tomatoes,” she says, as she shows her garden. “In this bed I have all the ingredients for Sofrito, and this one is for Ensaladas, this one’s medicinal herbs, and this one Latin Caribbean cuisine. And here is the Mediterranean bed: tomatoes, garlic, onions, peppers, oregano, basil…”

Her love for the garden is palpable and contagious. “Start small, with cilantro and tomatoes and then grow to bigger things,” she advises.

The Garden Girl TV shows are a natural evolution, since her professional background is in filmmaking. Her short videos are fun and full of fun and useful trivia. Did you know that you could harvest as many as 30 pounds of tomatoes from a healthy plant? “I made the mistakes so you don’t have to,” she says, inviting viewers on her website to play with dirt, and food, and to raise rabbits and chickens.

“My mission is to inspire people to begin farming, to connect to nature, and to remove the stigma; growing your own food is not going back in time, but it’s the future, freedom, and money savings.”

Moreno has made over 200 videos for Garden Girl TV, her online TV show. Many of them are available in two DVD titles. She’s currently working on a book and TV Show named Gardening by Cuisine, which she has pitched to PBS.



And the walking man walks

John Francis, author of “Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence”.

After enjoying a private concert by James Taylor, I was reminded of John Francis, the Planetwalker. Francis witnessed the effects of an oil spill in the San Francisco Bay in 1974. He was shocked by the disaster, and he started walking, and he stopped talking. He walked the world for 22 years, 17 of them in complete silence. He was tired of explaining to people why he wasn’t riding in cars, buses or any other fossil fuel-burning method of transportation. He crossed continents and oceans by foot and sailboat.

During that time, he earned college and graduate degrees in science and environmental studies and was appointed  goodwill ambassador to the world’s grassroots communities by the United Nations.

John Francis walked around the world for 22 years, 17 of them in complete silence.

“Walking is the best way to calibrate where you are, where you come from and where you’re going,” says Francis. “One person can make a difference and show others the road less traveled. But each of us must follow our own road: mine was to walk in response to an oil spill. I learned many marvelous things along the way. I learned to listen.”

The children were the ones who understood his silence the most. “Adults would point at me and say, ‘There goes the man that walks,’ as if the normal thing was to go by car.”

He didn’t know how long he was going to keep his vow of silence. He would decide every year on his birthday if he would renew it. When he finally spoke, he did it to promote sustainability and social justice.

“I learned that sustainability is nothing more that how we relate to each other. The way we treat each other is equivalent to the way we treat our environment. While we have oppression, exploitation of others and wars, we can’t advance. We have to make peace with each other to make peace with the planet.”

John Francis walks on by, always carrying his banjo.

He has written two books, Planetwalker: How to Change Your World One Step at a Time and Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence. He still walks as many as 20 miles per day.


Justin Halpern Portrait

Justin Halpern rests at his home in San Diego.

I was commissioned by Random House Germany to photograph Justin Halpern, author of the bestseller “Sh*t My Dad Says”, and screenwriter of the TV show by almost the same name… Almost, because you cannot curse on TV, so Sh*t becomes $#*!. Go figure. Out of all the photos I took of Justin, the one relaxing under the window is my favorite.

Justin’s dad is a philosopher, with great truths such as: “Everyone thinks their opinion matters. Don’t argue with a nobody. A farmer doesn’tbother telling a pig his breath smells like shit.” And “You got good friends. I like them. I don’t think they would fuck your girlfriend, if you had one.” Or “You screw without rubbers, kids happen. Sorry-you don’t get to have the dog without the dog shit.” Just one more: “Bullshit. War ain’t over till people stop shooting. You can’t say you’re done taking a crap if shit’s still coming out of your ass.” You can follow Sh*t My Dad Says on Twitter to get your regular bits of Dad wisdom.

Halpern recently released another book, “I Suck at Girls”, available online at Halpern’s dedicated site, including more father wisdom.


Don Luis Leal (1907-2010)

Ventana Abierta published a double issue remembering Don Luis Leal, “father of Chicano Studies”, illustrated with some of my photographs of Don Luis, and some of Santa Barbara. I met him when he was 102 years old and he was in great shape. A week later he suffered a fall that sent him into the hospital. Not long after, he passed away. I wrote the passage below in his memory, which was published in El Mundo.

Obituary to Don Luis Leal (1907-2010) by Isaac Hernández, as it appeared in El Mundo.

Recordando a Luis Leal (1907-2010)

“Padre” de los estudios de la Literatura Chicana

by Isaac Hernández

Vio, de niño, entrar a Zapata y a Pancho Villa en la ciudad de México. De la mano de su hermanito, fue testigo de varios fusilamientos, cerca de donde ahora está el Palacio de Bellas Artes.

Llegó a Chicago con 19 años, el mismo día que Charles Lindbergh completó su vuelo trasatlántico, el 21 de mayo de 1927. Le siguieron las armas; en la peluquería mexicana a la que iba solía haber un gangster haciendo guardia con metralleta, pues el jefe era también cliente. Durante la II Guerra Mundial tomaría las armas, como soldado en las Islas Filipinas, de donde regresó con gran cariño por su gente, y por la herencia hispana que allá encontró.

En los años 50 y 60 llegó a ser uno de los principales profesores de literatura mexicana e hispanoamericana dentro de EEUU. Ha escrito más de 45 libros y mas de 400 ensayos.

Distinguido profesor en la Universidades de Illinois hasta 1975, se jubiló en Santa Bárbara, donde volvió a hacer carrera en la Universidad de California (UCSB), con tres décadas más como profesor, hasta casi cumplir los 100 años. Antes había enseñado también en las universidades de Chicago y Misisipi y la Emory University.

Compartía, caso raro entre catedráticos, las actividades académicas con las actividades culturales y cívicas de la comunidad: siempre preocupado por la condición de los mexicanos y de todos los hispanos. Su Breve Historia del Cuento Mexicano es un clásico, así como su libro sobre Mariano Azuela, el primero sobre el gran novelista de Los de Abajo. Fue uno de los primeros estudiosos del “realismo mágico” en los años 60 y en los 70, y puso el peso de su prestigio académico en el estudio de la literatura chicana, ignorada cuando no repudia en las Universidades.

En un sentido es el “padre” de los estudios de literatura chicana, los cuales promovió incesantemente. Dada la longitud de su vida y carrera, se podría decir que era el “Decano” de quienes se dedican en este país al estudio del español y de nuestras literaturas.

Aparte de su gran generosidad con estudiantes y colegas, le caracterizaba una gran sencillez e interés por los demás. “Trataba con la misma deferencia y afabilidad a Octavio Paz o a Carlos Fuentes que a una camarera o lavaplatos de un restaurante, quienes solían acercarse a saludar y decirle que le habían visto en uno de los programas culturales de la televisión en español en los que participaba”,  su amigo Víctor Fuentes, escritor español y profesor de UCSB con quien Don Luis fundara la revista literaria “Ventana Abierta”.

Tenía también un gran sentido del humor. Cuando algún chicano le preguntaba el secreto de su longevidad, decía, ‘porque como arroz y frijoles como ustedes’. “Finalmente, al cumplir 101 en la cena de cumpleaños  descubrió tal secreto”, recuerda Fuentes. “‘Es el amor que me tienes ustedes los amigos y yo a ustedes’, claro que en esos amigos implícitamente también incluía a la camarera y al lavaplatos antes mencionados”.