A Town Too Tough To Die by Bill Frakes


Last summer my daughter Havana and I were driving along Highway 20 -- one of the prettiest stretches of Blue Highway in America -- across the top of Nebraska. Approaching Cody -- A Town Too Tough To Die -- we saw a small football field nestled between hills just outside of town.

It pulled me straight in like a visual magnet.

As I stepped out of the car, I was mesmerized. The air was so fresh. That giant crystal clear blue sky was littered with puffy white clouds. Gentle prairie sounds hummed all around. I walked across the field and stooped to pick a blade of the sweet long grass.

I knew I had to come back in autumn. As it has been my entire life, a good chunk of my focus this fall would be football -- in Nebraska.


It's about the game, but more about community.  Life in a little Nebraska town.

My story and film about the Cody-Kilgore six-man football team is now on

Havana in Japan by Bill Frakes

Yesterday was Boxing Day. Havana and I were on the bullet train bound for Osaka. We blasted past Mount Fuji.

It seems like just yesterday when she was born. One of my favorite and most important of the more than 10 million images I've made in my career happened right after she appeared.


Now her 14th birthday is right around the corner.

We're traveling through one of the places I love most, and a land she's asked to see for more than a third of her relatively short life. It's a pleasure share with her.


She's learning again how important friends are. Our first day here two friends, Karou and Rie, took time led us through Harajuku and Roppingi Hills, giving generously of their time and consideration.

Two days ago, Christmas day, Gen broke away from work and took us through the city on an itinerary he created for Havana. He's my favorite creative director and one I've worked with on four continents over the years. Talking with him always makes me quite reflective and introspective. The twinkle in his eyes always brings a slow smile.

Watching Havana navigate a foreign land is fun. When she took her first step, I was in the room.

Her first day of school I delivered her, wide eyed and excited. John Hiatt's "Circle Back" playing premonitionly on the sound system in the car. I remember thinking that the things he referenced would all happen, I just thought it would happen slower.

Which circles back to this trip.  I'm on the road, a lot by anyone's standards. When I'm home, we go for long walks and talk about our worlds.

One of the people I turn to regularly for advice counsels me that my world is vast — as is her’s — and that changes perspective, and that I especially need to pay attention to that while I am working and teaching.

I've always been on the road — I was 14 the first time I visited Europe and the Middle East. Pretty exotic for a kid from rural Nebraska.  I was hooked immediately.

Havana got a much earlier start, and I think she'll be on the move for a long time too. She was on planes regularly hopscotching the country before she started preschool. She's spent time in Paris, Zurich, Istanbul and Tokyo. She speaks regularly with friends living in Europe.  I envy her future.


I learn a lot about communicating from her.

It helps me refine my message — something that's fairly critical to a storyteller.

Directly and indirectly we talk about what's important information and what's not.  How delivery is key.  Fast is crucial. Directness is extremely important. Subtly not so much.

She's an analog girl connected digitally to the world. She reads 1,000's of pages a week of properly printed materials, makes her own greeting and holiday cards with ink and paper, and yet she lives attached to her electronic umbilical cord — her iPhone is never far from her grasp.


It's that combination of near and far, new and old, fast and slow that I'm reaching for.

It's Here: The Nebraska Project by SARA TANNER


After six months of shooting and traveling around the prairie lands, I'm excited to announce the launch of Straw Hat Visuals' new artistic and storytelling endeavor -- The Nebraska Project.

To me, Nebraska is not only my birth place, but a rich terrain for the imagination and the journalist. It is a place of cowboys and poets, buffalo and meadowlarks.

Often overlooked as the middle of nowhere, Nebraska is actually the center of everything, providing sustenance and grit for the country.

Some stories are small, like the 60 year romance between Rodney and Delores, and some are as big as the Nebraska sky itself.

There are many more stories to tell and ways we can together preserve and record the beauty of America’s majestic frontier.

I hope you enjoy our project and learning more about Nebraska - the land and people who make it great.

Visit the Nebraska Project. 

Travel Traditions by Bill Frakes

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.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque, commonly called the Blue Mosque.

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.

Norway by Laura Heald


I grew up on a beach in Florida.  As a child, the idea of the far north always fascinated me. I loved reindeer and Santa Claus.  Snow was something from the movies, not real life.  My birthday cake on my 6th birthday donned three trolls.  My favorite part of Disney World was Epcot’s Norway.

So for me, the chance to spend a winter week in the arctic circle was like a childhood dream come true.

Tromsø, Norway, is a long way away.  It takes all 24 hours to get there on a good day.  On bad days - like our travel through New York, Paris and Oslo last week - it takes closer to 32 hours.  You leave home in the dark, you arrive in the dark and wake in the dark.  Sunshine is rare in the winter and snow is expected.

We were meeting friends up there.  Leigh Birch, a Brit who now lives in California. Dionys Moser, a Swiss photographer and tour guide.  Raymond Hoffman, a German photographer who lives in Sweden with his Icelandic wife.  Pascal Richard a native of France who runs Professional Services for Nikon Switzerland.  We were all there to see the Northern Lights.

Tromsø is considered one of the best places in the world to see the Aurora Borealis. But going to Tromsø doesn’t guarantee a northern light sighting.  When we first arrived, our chances to see the lights appeared dismal.  Clouds were predicted every night and the amount of solar activity was uncertain.

Instead of counting on the night to make our images, we took advantage of the day.  Bill, Leigh and I got up early one morning to watch the sun rise over a fjord.  Norway’s landscape is frequently hidden behind clouds and snow, but on a clear day it is breathtaking, almost unbelievable.  We used a D800 with a 14-24mm f/2.8 along with a Lee Kit-SW150 Super Wide Filter Holder.

We drove down icy roads with the heat cranked in the car.  We told stories and listened to American music on Norwegian radio.

We returned to Tromsø in time for a late breakfast and a nap.  We woke to the phone ringing.  Raymond was calling and he was excited.  The weather had changed.  The clouds would part.

We left the hotel at 5:30 p.m. so we would be out of the city lights by sundown.  At 7 p.m., with our tripods set and the intervalometers running, Raymond pointed to a small streak in the sky.  The light show was about to start.

The experience of seeing the northern lights is hard to explain.  It’s something I had heard about and seen in pictures, but it is something I had to see to believe.  Watching the green clouds move across the sky, change form and disappear as suddenly as they came, helped me understand why people in this part of the world believe in the supernatural.  It is easy to imagine something you see every night.

We were lucky.  We got to see the lights two nights in a row.  Mostly, it gave us time to absorb what we were seeing.  To fully appreciate the experience we were having.

You cannot easily capture the lights on video.  As bright as they are, they are too dark for proper video capture.  To fix this problem, we brought our Nikon’s - two D4s and one D800 - to photograph the lights, doing time lapses using intervalometers.  We tried different exposures.  Some time-lapses were captured at 6 second exposures, others at 10, still others at 30.

Bill and I move so quickly sometimes, especially with sports photography, that it is nice to slow down.  This trip was short, but was also a nice change of pace.  We went to have fun with friends, and we left with some amazing photos.

Next year, Bill and I are teaming up with Dionys and Raymond for a photo tour in Tromsø.  I can’t guarantee we will see the lights, but I promise it will be spectacular.

Eye on London by Bill Frakes

Currently, the world's attention is on the athletes and what's happening inside the stadiums. But sometimes it is fun to look outside and explore. With the wonderful words of SI writer Alexander Wolff, Laura and I created a short video on the spirit of the city and the paradoxes that make it unique. Hope you all enjoy this view of London, now SI. com.