Friday, May 27, 2011
Iggy the Wonder Llama
This is my old friend Iggy the Wonder Llama. I took his picture back in the 1980s when I worked as a reporter/photographer for the El Reno Daily Tribune.
You may wonder about the color - or the lack thereof. Yes, boys and girls, we worked in black and white in those days. Not only that, we used real cameras that exposed images on film, which we then took back to a darkroom and processed and made into prints.
Right now you're saying to yourself, "This photograph isn't even that good."
And you're right. It's not my best work. It's a little out of focus, and the contrast could be better. But I defy you to get this close to a llama, point a camera at him, and see how you do.
Because Iggy was nasty.
You've probably heard that llamas spit. They do. They also bite, and they'll stomp you if they get a chance.
I met Iggy and his friends one summer afternoon as I cruised around El Reno looking for front page "art." That was part of each reporter's job - to take a camera (whether you knew how to use one or not) and find good pictures to put in the newspaper. We didn't have a staff photographer.
Fortunately, I took a photography class at Oklahoma State, so I at least knew which end to look through.
As I drove down a residential street that afternoon, I noticed a house with a chain-link fence and a group of rather unusual bushes in the backyard. These bushes looked like dark clumps of moss, low to the ground, each with a single, bare stalk rising from its center. I had never seen bushes like these before.
Then one of them stood up.
Ha ha! Not bushes, city boy! Ostriches!
Six ostriches in the middle of El Reno. Not something I expected to see. I made a quick u-turn in the middle of the street, and parked in front of the ostrich house.
After ringing the doorbell, I introduced myself to the owner of the house, and asked him if I could come in the backyard and take some pictures of his ostriches.
"Well, OK," the man said. "But I better go back there with you. Do you have a zoom lens?"
I did not. Not that day.
"Oh. Well, I wouldn't get too close to 'em if I was you. They might snap at you."
I'll be careful, I replied.
"OK then. I'll try to hold back the other animals while you're taking pictures."
I followed the man through the gate, and all six ostriches quickly go to their feet and began running around the yard. They were moving too fast for me to get a good shot.
That's when I heard a kind of grunting and hissing sound. I turned, and there was Iggy.
Click. Got him.
Figuring that I had at least one usable photograph, I relaxed and began to look around the yard.
Something was rubbing my leg. I looked down to see a brown calf rubbing his head against my leg - and smearing something dark brown across my khakis.
I asked the man why he had so many odd creatures in his yard.
"I just like 'em," he said. "And the neighbors don't mind."
Postscript: Iggy the Wonder Llama was featured on the front page of the El Reno Daily Tribune the next day. The photo hung on the darkroom wall until I moved on to my next job three years later.
Next time: What happens when you give your girl cats boy names?