Don O. Thorpe's Blog


Pardon me if I get thoughtful or even philosophic, but lately I've been reflecting on a French poet's analysis of life. He said that there is one word that describes all of existence, and that word is "Goodbye."  It's a grim thought, I suppose, because we are constantly leaving behind the moments of living. The first sentence of this blog entry as it is read is in the past. The last meal you ate is a memory no matter how good or bad it was. We can't hold on to the present moment and keep it with us except in memory. In our modern world we live longer and faster, but do we live each moment to its fullest? Perhaps we can anticipate an eternity where time does not exist and the magic word may be "Hello" instead of "Goodbye" and we will be able to keep the past and future always with us.

My art exhibit at the Foothill Library was so well received that the Library asked me to extend it for another month. This exhibit was my special approach to Impressionist Photo-art which I have done with a unique approach to a variety of subjects, including France, Italy, rural Utah, still life and landscape. The Library scheduled two special evenings for me to meet and discuss the art with anyone who was interested. We had some stimulating discussions about photography compared to other visual art forms.
     The exhibit was in the main gallery of the Anderson-Foothill Library in Salt Lake City.

My wife and I were in San Antonio, Texas, for a few days for a reunion of WWII flyers who escaped from occupied Europe. It was a nostalgic experience as we talked with the “evaders” of a bygone era. The organization is named, Airforce Escape and Evasion Society (AFEES), and you can visit their website at They are all in their eighties and some are in their nineties. Several “Helpers” from France and Holland also attended, along with a grandson of one of the Helpers and his family. In the general meeting of the association, we all reiterated that the organization should continue indefinitely so that younger generations can know of the principles for which these brave men risked their lives to preserve.
An old army friend emailed me today. We were in the army together nearly half a century ago -- in between Korea and Viet Nam. I previously emailed him about some mutual friends who were with us in the Army band at Fort Jackson. He told me that he still remembered them and the "old" army days. There was an unusual bond of friendship with the army people that I knew then -- part of it was because we were all musicians and creative by nature, but some of it was a "band of brothers" kind of relationship, because we all knew that there might be a time when we could be in life and death situations together. Luckily, that never happened, but the possibility was always in the background. The experiences and memories are still vivid for me as they resurface occasionally, and I wonder what happened to all those young soldiers I knew -- young then, and old men now. Life has a way of disappearing without you even being aware of it.

I seem to be in the midst of a new project or two every day. The latest is a dabbling in bolder colors and shapes in my Impressionist photography. I have to give credit to Matisse for creating this interest, although he was a painter and I am just a photographer, there are still some similarities in the way my images are created. The colors and simplicity of Matisse's paintings have inspired me for over 40 years.

Paris Bridge


Many people have asked me to describe what I am trying to do as an Impressionist photographer. It can be described in two words: simplify and intensify. In the practical sense, I look for emotional content in the everyday objects I encounter so that I can express the essence of its existence. Consequently, I do not photograph uncommon angles or juxtapositions or colors, instead I look for the everyday layers that makeup the common sights and events of life. I anticipate an enhancement of color and tone to recall the emotional impact of that moment. Later I apply colors to these objects in hues that are not seen with a camera. Often I simplify or remove texture and detail to further emphasize the object’s emotional content.  In all this I try to recapture internal feelings and color, and to project them so that they are felt as they were experienced, or to cause them to be experienced for the first time.


Place des Vosges

Just when I thought life was settling down to a comfortable cruise, I am informed that I have serious Sleep Apnia and have to wear an oxygen and CPAP mask to keep me breathing at night. I've heard about this kind of arrangement -- my brother-in-law has one, as do several other friends, but that was them, and not me, so I didn't think much about it. Isn't that the way it goes? You never understand someone else's predicament until you have to face it yourself. I'm wondering how all this will affect my artistic views. I certainly will not feel the freedom I felt watching the pigeons in Paris in summertime. Someone once told me that you don't ever get over tragedy, you just get used to it. I hope so.
Our family has discovered a "new" sport. And that's saying something for a family that is not usually sports minded. We rarely watch sports except for the Olympics and the Tour de France. However, now that I think about it, I quite enjoyed watching the Wimbledon tennis matches. Anyway, getting back to our new sport, we have begun playing Petanque on a regular basis. It happened this way: My wife's French school sponsored a short summer class called, Strolling with a Parisian, which played Petanque as one of the activities. We borrowed a set of Petanque balls from our daughter to augment the set of 6 that we had. Then several nights later one of Catherine's students called us to tell us that a store had Petanque balls on sale at a really low price. So we bought 3 sets -- 2 for us and 1 for our daughter. Now with all those Petanque balls around we had to make some use of them, so we went to the park and played until dark. And we loved it. So the next night we did it again. What fun. And that's how we discovered a new sport.
  I LOVE PARIS . . .
Sometimes it is strange to be home in the U.S. because France seems so natural to me. I really feel comfortable in the little villages of Burgundy. Although Paris is a bit hectic, I love its constant activity and charm. Paris sometimes has an outward indifference to the casual observer, but in back of its rush and unfeeling facade slumbers the finest culture the world has to offer quietly and patiently waiting to be appreciated. Sometimes it takes me a day or two to brush off the bustle and touch the gentle beauty that is Paris. I do love Paris.


D-day re-enactors & Catherine

This was the 65th anniversary of D-day in Normandy. My wife and I attended several of the D-day commemorations, and drove from beach to beach surrounded as it were by dozens of restored WWII army vehicles -- mostly jeeps. It felt like a throw-back in time as we followed jeeps being driven by men and women in WWII uniforms with U.S. insignia patches and flags. Bands in several locations played swing music from the 40's, and on one occasion we stood on a high out-cropping overlooking Arromanches and listened to the faint echoes of swing music with vocals in French. For some hardly explainable reason this was a comforting experience reflecting on a time when the world was clear in its directions. Yes, there was the horror of war and death, but people clearly knew what they were doing, and the unity of allies and the French underground was inspiring. I've mentioned before my wife's grandfather who helped allied airmen to freedom over the Pyrenees into Spain. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I connect to this era in such a positive way.
I had an enlightening experience on the Metro in Paris. I sat in front of a group of standing teenagers, obviously cocky and full of themselves. As I watched them an amazing feeling of understanding came to me and I realized that they are really feel fragile and insecure and are reaching out to each other to find a feeling of belonging. As they talked loudly and laughed, I slyly photographed them, was discovered, and I smiled showing them the photograph and winked. They connected to me immediately and smiled timidly, and for a short moment I was one with them -- they knew it and I knew it. Then the metro stopped and they were gone leaving me with a feeling of warmth for them that surprised me. As a wise old Arab in Jerusalem once told me, "Children, the same everywhere." And aren't we all just children trying to find our way?

Out of respect for their privacy, I do not show the photo that I took of them. Instead, here's a photo of the Eiffel Tower carousel.

Carousel Horse

B&B Window

The City of Lights never changes, yet there is something different about it each time I go there. Paris seems to be getting more "down-to-earth" and much more busy. The drizzling rain doesn't promote the "Paris in Love" kind of feeling, either. It didn't help that I arrived during the early morning rush. I  managed to catch the RER from the airport to Gare de Lyon with the help of a Frenchman from San Francisco. He was friendly and was going in the same direction, so we talked about France and America as we rode the RER to Chatelet. He got off and I stayed on for Gare de Lyon.
      Even though I had a satellite map of the station and the street where the B&B was located near Gare de Lyon, I still managed to get "turned around" and wandered in the wrong direction for about an hour. After I found the B&B and got settled in, Me. Vundeheiler was very friendly and helpful. Later I ate some onion soup and a ham sandwich, then wandered, this time purposely, to photograph "the spirit of Paris." It is a complicated and on going search, which I will continue because I know that Paris has a soul that runs deep. It is unlike any other city in the world.

My wife and I spent a week in Dayton, Ohio attending the AFEES reunion -- WWII Airforces Escape & Evasion Society. This organization was founded by airmen who escaped from Nazi occupied France. The founders wanted to remember and honor the brave French people who risked their lives to help them escape. They gave the group their motto: "we will never forget." Each year the group sponsors a dozen or so passeurs or "helpers" as they are often called, to come to the reunion from France. My wife's grandfather, who died before we were married, was one of the helpers that guided 8 allied airmen over the Pyrenees into Spain, and that is why we were invited.
      The Air force Museum opened an exhibit honoring the escapers and their French helpers, and we attended the opening ceremony. Most people don't know that for every allied airmen that escaped there was an equal number of French helpers who gave up their lives. The French paid a high price for their willingness to help the Allies. They truly responded to persecution with faith and courage.
      This year's reunion saw some big changes in the group, as there was a major shift from the older members to the younger members -- so called "First Generation" to "Second Generation." Although, amazingly, our new president is 91 years old -- and still mentally sharp and physically active.
      As we listened to some of the old airmen tell their stories we realized that those experiences were totally different than anything we experience today. There was a feeling of sacrifice and dedication by both the airmen and the French and Belgian "Helpers" that risked their lives to help total strangers. 
      We toured the National Air Forces Museum and saw many of the old and illustrious airplanes of the last century -- including the original "Memphis Belle."
There are some photos and information about the reunion on the AFEES website.

U.S. Air Force Band

One of my good friends told me the other day that she has been suffering for months without a chance to enjoy life. Sometimes life isn't fair, and the more I get to know about life the more I realize that we have to take things the way they are and still find some fulfillment and happiness in spite of circumstances -- or maybe it's because of the hard circumstances that true peace and happiness are possible. I remember a line from the movie about C.S. Lewis (Shadowland) when his sweetheart tells him, "You don't understand, pain is part of the joy." Lewis said, "The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before." But I think life is more than happiness, it is discovering who you are and what you are capable of doing. And perhaps I could restate what Lewis said, "The happiness I feel now comes from the pain I felt before."
One of my photos has come to represent a simple and peaceful style of life --  it is a bunch of Mangoes on a window sill at the Abbaye St. Fontfoid in the south of France. The simple shapes and vivid life colors impressed me with a feeling for the wonderful style of life that appears to have been lost in our highly mechanized and electrified society. This scene embodies the essence of the peaceful moments we yearn for but miss because we are surrounded by confusion and stress and don't have the time to see the simple beauty in everyday life. Provence is an area that reflects these feelings more than most.

Light of Moroni

One of my Impressionist photos was accepted in the LDS International Art Competition. There were over a thousand entries and I was happy to be one of the 197 that were accepted. My photo is entitled, "Light of Moroni" and it represents an angel's visit to a humble farm boy in New York. This photo was part of my special exhibit at the Springville Museum of Art commemorating Joseph Smith's 200th anniversary. When we looked around the exhibit, we were pleasantly surprised to see our good friend Anne Marie Oborn's painting next to my photo.
My wife and I took a short break to Laguna Beach in California. It was our second visit to this charming coastal city. As usual, when we travel, I looked for striking images to photograph, but also, as usual, I sometimes forget the camera and just enjoy myself. The warm breezes and quiet days were a welcome respite from the gray cold of Salt Lake City. We took a side trip to San Juan Capistrano and visited the old mission. I had a strange deja vu experience as I entered one of the rooms in the compound. There was a painting of Spanish cowboys that made me feel the personality and presence of my Great Grandfather, James Munro Puffer. He lived in California for many years before marrying a pretty Mormon girl and following her family to Beaver in Rural Utah. He was a handsome man and recklessly charming. My Great Grandmother thought he was a Spaniard when she first saw him, and asked, "Who is that handsome Spaniard?"

Tree at Laguna Beach

We had an unusual Halloween surprise this year. After a night of unbearable pain the day before Halloween, which we thought was acid-reflux; My wife drove me to InstaCare in Sugarhouse to get some relief. However, within minutes I was aboard an ambulance with sirens screaming headed for the University Hospital with a full-blown diagnosed heart-attack. The University Hospital staff wasted no time, and that evening I had an artery stent in place and was joking with the hospital staff.
     "Trick or Treat" in that setting had a whole new meaning. I wondered, as I lay in bed in the ICU, since artists' works usually increase in value after they are dead, how might a near-death experience influence the value of my photographs? <smile>
      Fortunately, my heart sustained only minor injury – which was a miracle given the circumstances – and I was reassured that there will be full recovery. In fact, I was told that I will probably be healthier than before, because I will be forced to change my life-style – more exercise, fat-free food, etc.
     This has been and will be a life changing experience for all of my family, as we change our diet, physical activities and attitude about life. But I seem to be doing very well, and I am almost my usual self again with, of course, a much different outlook on the fragility and mortality of life. We thank God for His obvious help and for the prayers, visits and kindness of all our friends and family during a trying experience. Needless to say, it was the scariest Halloween in our memories.

Gilbert Ramognino

My wife, Catherine, and I joined AFEES, the WWII Airforces Escape & Evasion Society, to see if we could fine information about the clandestine activities of Gilbert Ramognino, Catherine's grandfather, and his experiences during WWII, including his taking 8 allied fliers over the Pyrenees into Spain during the Nazi occupation of France. We attended the AFEES annual reunion in May and made several contacts with veterans who had been smuggled out of France during the war. One of them, Bruce Bollinger, later went to the National Archives in Maryland and discovered the original escape and evasion report made by Catherine's grandfather. Wow! Reading the report sent chills up and down our spines as we reviewed Gilbert's personal account of the harrowing events during their escape over the rugged mountains of the Pyrenees and how he hid the airmen in the snow, and kept curious French towns people from talking to them while they were at the train station with the Gestapo and police everywhere. We were transported back in time, and were filled with respect and awe for those brave French men and women who risked their lives to help the Allies during the war.

Gilbert and children

Abbaye de Font Froide

I've been thinking about my personal approach to photography. I don't think it is an extreme or unusual design or composition approach, in fact, I usually compose my image rather straight forwardly. But somehow many of my images have a dissimilarity to the usual photographs one sees. I think it is a combination of subject selection and isolation, with an application of color and surface enhancement that simplifies the total image appearance. Somehow these factors make my images unique and striking.
Here is a milestone in our lives -- our 40th wedding anniversary. I guess that doesn't mean much to the casual blog reader, but anyone who stays married for that long has accomplished a minor miracle. You might think I am proud of the feat -- well I am, but I also realize that staying married for that long is a trial of faith. My wife and I have been self employed for almost all of those years, and have been in each other's company for 24 hours a day most of the time. Try that sometime for over a month or two, and you'll begin to see why we are amazed at ourselves. Oh, it helps to be "madly" in love, but that wears thin without a real measure of endurance and dedication. Congratulations to us!

Catherine, when I met her

St Charles Bridge in Prague

I did some exploring of the neighborhoods of Prague, one of the most picturesque cities of Europe. It's a pity that the commercial tourist shops have taken over most of the central streets and alleys. And the tourists are everywhere in huge numbers -- it reminds me of the last time I went to Florence, Italy. Still the charm of the city manages to shine through. I took a short nap in the middle of the day, and later photographed and watched the Europe soccer crowds at Old Town Square.
My solo exhibit at the Eccles Art Center in Ogden, Utah showed over 100 of my framed prints. The exhibit was well received and many people asked how I accomplished the Impressionist effect of my images. I feel that my mixed-media Impressionist approach to photography using digital enhancement techniques has added vitality and color to my photographs. Mixed-media photographs have the inherent ability to express colorful emotions coupled with the sense of intellectual reality that is a part of every photograph. This advantage of believability can make an Impressionist photograph seem more “real” than a painting, while at the same time, lift the veil of reality to reveal the inner excitement of imagination.
     To strengthen the emotional impression of my images, I simplify the design and image elements by eliminating extraneous detail and smoothing out the tones of color and increasing or decreasing hue intensity and color saturation. The result has the appearance of a painting but the feeling of reflected reality. I like to say that my prints are not really photographs or paintings; they are something in between or something all together different. If anyone would like to see these photographs, they are at my website:

Hilltop Gate

The passing of years seems like a breeze across my face, felt for a moment then gone. And so I remember when I was a boy on my grandfather's farm, laying in the dark watching the passing lights of cars reflected off the old wooden pole gate at the top of the hill, and wondering where the cars were going and if any of them would stop for a visit. It was a magical time of hope and expectancy that still seems ahead of me.
     As a photographer and writer with roots in rural Utah, I have tried to recapture that magic and the tranquil values of my farm boy past. And I often find myself looking for the images that reflect those long-ago memories.
     The gate has long since fallen down, and as I look out the window of my big city house and hear the sounds of thundering buses and sighing cars, I sometimes think about the old gate, and I still look for the lights at the top of the hill.

Windows in Maine

Lately I have explored the photographic images from my trips to places like Maine, San Diego, and, of course, France. I say, of course France because of my strong attachments to that country -- my wife is a native born Parisian from the heart of Paris -- and I have been to France many times over the years we have been married. The majority of the photos at my website are of French subjects, and those taken some years ago in the Holy Land.
     If anyone has an interest in such matters, I invite you to look at my website and tell me what you think of the feelings my photos encourage -- if any. I try create images that will lift the spirits of the people who look at them.
I met up with my wife in Italy to attend a reunion in Sassello. I took a train from Zurich to Genoa to meet Catherine and from there we drove to Sassello, the little mountain village where her great grandfather Nicolas Ramognino was born, and the home of her ancestors before some of them became French. We had taken over a year to plan and organize this family reunion and were soon laughing and talking in three different languages standing together on the lawn of the only hotel in the village. There were 30 relatives from all over Italy and France, most of whom had never met one another. There were tears and smiles as we got to know each other.
     We had dinner in the hotel main dining room -- on a table about 40 feet long. One Italian lady came late because she had a difficult time getting a bus. She came up to my wife with tears in her eyes and thanked her for organizing the reunion. Then she did an amazing thing. Holding my wife's arm she took her hand and put a ring on her finger. She said she wanted my wife to have something to remember her by. We later discovered that this was an old family ring with diamonds. Such were the feelings of love and family ties we felt.

Hill top Sassello