Now, here is a man who appreciates his craft.

I’ve spent a few hours in the Nica Libre cigar factory here in Esteli, getting to know the process of cigar making, and photographing it.  While I don’t care for cigars myself, nonetheless, I find the process to be fascinating and the product to be beautiful.  And the folks here in Esteli, Nicaragua, are really friendly.

Check out these beautiful cigars.  They’re made by only one woman in this factory, who has sufficient skill to create them.  I bought several.  If you’re nice to me, I might give you one.

This is the tobacco as it comes from the plantation, to the fabrica.

This young lady puts those pretty labels on the finished cigars. This is Eli, with whom I talked at length about his art and writing.  Nicaraguans are pretty passionate about poetry, and Eli combines poetry with paintings and drawings.  And he manages the little warehouse at the factory, where the cigars are placed for several weeks to ‘finish’ prior to labeling, packaging, and shipment.

I purchased a number of Nica Libre’s lovely cigars, including some made from organic tobacco by local farmers.  The first two lengthy comments (from folks in the Portland area) get a free cigar when I return!

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  • February 19, 2010 - 7:43 pm

    Stacee Taft - Meaningful or just lengthy? 😉 You know I could go on for pages… tee hee

    I do love the first photograph you posted… seems like he’s creating his own job security by smoking his own work. 🙂 I love looking at their hands. They work so hard… most of us have no idea, here in the States, what work like that is like.

    I love that you not only take beautiful photographs, but that you stop to learn their stories. “Everyone has a story… tell me yours” is a phrase I’m trying to adopt so I’m not tempted to talk too much or make it all about me. 🙂

    We miss you guys, but are so thankful you’re having a wonderful adventure together! I love that you let us “travel” with you by posting stories and photographs!

    Thank you for being such an awesome role model in so many ways. (and I’m not saying that for a cigar, I really mean it!)
    – Stacee

  • February 19, 2010 - 8:01 pm

    James - Fritz, thanks for sharing these images from your adventure. It’s amazing to see these craftsmen creating a product, by hand, that many of us in the more developed world may take for granted. I can almost smell the pungent air as the fermented tobacco leaves are laid flat and transformed into these beautiful little uniform works of art.
    Is this a family cigar shop by any chance?

  • February 20, 2010 - 12:44 pm

    Marie - I want a cigar. Is that lengthy?

  • March 11, 2010 - 7:03 pm

    fritzphoto - Well Stacee, I didn’t take you for a cigar lover, but I’ll have one for you when I return!

  • March 11, 2010 - 7:07 pm

    fritzphoto - James, this isn’t a family shop–I’m not sure there are any here. There are 16 fabricas here in Esteli, and this seems to be one of the smaller ones. But they produce a lot of product, and it’s well rated in online forums.

    Remind me when I return; I have a cigar with your name on it!

  • March 12, 2010 - 4:02 pm

    Tobacco Farming and Curing in Nicaragua » Fritz Photography - […] interesting to note the similarities between cigar making and coffee production, both of which are major enterprises in this area. Listening to someone talk […]

The other day, while photographing in a Nicaraguan cigar factory, I noticed in the courtyard several cages containing exotic animals.  One contained a cat of some sort, perhaps a lynx or bobcat, pacing his 4-foot square cage.  Another contained several parrots.  And the third contained 2 capucin monkeys.

Monkeys are pretty cute creatures, and strangely familiar.  When they came up to the wire mesh and looked right at me, they were peculiarly sad looking creatures; I felt bad for them.

I pulled up my camera and started to photograph, and the monkey started squawking at me, and bounded away to the other side of the cage.  I put the camera down, and he returned.  Again, I hoisted my camera, and he made a face at me, squawked, and jumped away.  Nonetheless, I kept photographing, and a moment later he bounded toward me and threw something at me, hitting my hand and camera.  I thought it was a piece of food or a nut, and thought nothing of it, and continued to photograph.

My wife, who was standing nearby, called out, “He just threw poop at you!”

“Really?”  I replied.  “I just thought it was a nut or a berry.”

“No,” she said, “capucins throw poop.”  She pointed at the clod on the ground below me, saying, “And there it is.”

Well, there was nothing for it but to continue shooting.  I went around to the far corner and continued to photograph the monkeys.  I tend to like to be as close to my subjects as possible, and wouldn’t you know it, the little guy reached through the cage and swatted my lens!  He did so two more times as I continued to photograph.

I can honestly say I’ve never had anyone express their discomfort with having their picture taken as brazenly as this little guy.  Pooed and pawed in the course of two minutes.  What a day.

I love being a photographer.

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Granada, Nicaragua

On the Road Again

So I’m sitting on an American Airlines flight between Dallas and Miami, on the way to Nicaragua, reading Nexos, their Spanish-language in-flight magazine.  After twenty minutes, my head is already spinning, as I try to recall the meaning of words I haven’t studied in 20 years.  I made my way through a third of an article on Mexican basketball, and am pretty proud of myself.

It’s not like I haven’t been practicing.  Since returning from Thailand two weeks ago, I’ve spent about twenty minutes a day with a Spanish CDROM from my mother in law.  Even last night, fighting hard to stay asleep (why is it so hard to sleep when you know you have to get up at 4:15 am?), I found myself practicing Spanish in my head, then telling myself to shut up and go to sleep.

We’re headed to Nicaragua not just for the 95-degree weather and beans and rice, but more importantly, to immerse ourselves in studying Spanish, writing, and photography.  But the idea of four straight hours a day of Spanish class—one on one with a tutor—has me a little nervous.  First of all, I haven’t been in real school in twenty years (I went back and got a fine arts degree 8 years ago…).  I also haven’t studied Spanish in twenty years, since I took a year in high school and two in college.  And, honestly, at 38, I’m finding that my mental cognition is not quite what it used to be.

Two years ago, Shannon and I spent nine days in Zihuatanejo, Mexico with her family, and a close friend, Melissa.  I’d been in Mexico the previous couple of winters for a week of sunshine, but had a hard time getting out more than an hola here and there.  But in Zihua, the minute we arrived at our lodging, I started talking with the clerk in Spanish, asking if he could give us a quieter room.  For some reason, the Spanish just flowed out of me (in a halting, pathetic sort of way), and I took every opportunity I could to speak ith.  In fact, one day, exchanging money at the bank with my friend Melissa, the teller helping me told me that my accent was much better than Melissa’s.  This managed to piss off Melissa to no end, considering that’s she’s fluent in Spanish, and has lived in Central America for years at a time.  I, on the other hand, walked out of the bank glowing.

Encouragement from bank tellers aside, I’m far from fluent.  And what’s more, my wife eats languages for lunch, and has a brain like a magnet.  Every country we visit, she picks up on far more words than I—even surprising our Slovak hosts once by pulling a complete sentence out of nowhere: Dyacuyem za shetko (Thank you for everything).  She dreams in Latin names for plants.  She aces her nursing school tests using words like hydrochlorothiozide, hydrogen ion gradient, and gastrocnemius. She learned rudimentary Spanish on the job at Waremart selling video rentals to Mexican farm workers.  And now I have to go up against her, head to head in one-on-one Spanish study in Nicaragua.

Maybe a little friendly competition will do me good.

Cathedral in Granada, Nicaragua travel photographer central america

Our first stop is Granada, Nicaragua, a colonial Spanish city on the edge of Lake Nicaragua.  If you can stand the constant 98-degree weather, it is an interesting place to explore, most especially at 6:00 in the morning, when the light is lovely and the basureros are cleaning up after the party animals that will be sleeping for several hours to come.  You will also find, on a Sunday morning, people already in church services, hawkers out with the day’s La Prensa newspaper, and other folks sitting on their stoops, a natural extension of their front rooms.

Travel photography Central America

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  • February 14, 2010 - 1:50 am

    Amy Karki - My God, those pictures are so beautiful! I am so happy you guys have such a wonderful opportunity to spend time there. Also, perhaps, the slightest bit jealous 🙂 Can’t wait to see more.

I’ve been hard at work this past fall to design a new website for my artwork, and I’m pleased to announce it is ready for you to view.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve also created a variety of bodies of new work that haven’t been shown. New work in my Freckles, Cimitiere, and Adolescent Superheroes series are featured, as well as a new set of collodion tintypes. There’s also a set of lovely black and white images from Spain, as well as my other work in photography, encaustics, and printmaking.

Please take some time to browse the new site, located at

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This month, I’ll have a piece of my artwork in Newspace Center for Photography’s annual juried show, Carnival:


February 5th through 28th
Monday-Thursday 10am-8pm
Friday-Sunday 10am-6pm (First Friday’s 6-9pm)

Opening Reception: Friday, February 5th 6-9pm

Newspace Center for Photography is pleased to present our annual themed exhibition. This year’s theme is Carnival. The exhibition brings a diverse array of regional, national, and international photography to Portland and provides exposure for talented emerging and mid-career artists.

From over 300 entries and close to 2,000 individual images, Newspace Executive Director Chris Bennett has selected 45 images for this year’s themed show.

Although I’m out of town traveling in Central America, I hope you’ll stop by and see the show.  There’s some beautiful work in it.

You can also see lots of new work on my new fine art website.

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Thailand has a plethora of beautiful islands off of its coasts.   Some are well known and filled with tourists, such as Phuket or Koh Chang.  Others are much less touristy, where the slower pace of life is preserved and enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.

Koh Maak is an island in the Gulf of Thailand, southeast of Bangkok and near the Cambodia border.  To get there, we flew into Bangkok,  and took a van to the wedding I photographed on Saturday.  The next day we took a song-thau (a small truck with bench seats in the rear) to a pier, then took an hour-long speedboat ride to the island.

It’s a small-ish island (about 16 square km), but certainly big enough to explore.  After settling in to our beach-front bungalow (for an amazing $15/night, run by a family that used to be fishermen from their private cove that is now the Baan Ing Kow Bungalows), we did a lot of nothing.  Long afternoons reading in the hammock were followed by evening meals of Pad Thai and Pad Kee Maw, accompanied by lime smoothies.

We did some exploring, some off-road scootering (it wasn’t a motorcycle, it was a Honda automatic scooter…) through coconut plantations, beach walking, swimming, snorkeling, Thai massages, and lounging.  Nothing moved very fast on the island, and there was virtually no traffic on the concrete and red-dirt roads.  Just the right pace to make up for a very busy season of photography this past fall and winter.  Being stress-free for a week, I could feel the tension rise just by thinking about checking my email (which was infrequent and slow, and required a 20 minute walk).

Nonetheless, I did accomplish some useful things, including some stock photography, and a business plan for the year ahead that I’m excited about.

Our home for the week, a nicely designed little bungalow, on the beach, made of palm wood.

The view from our living quarters.  In Thailand, where it’s never below about 75 degrees, all homes (outside of the city) are partially or mostly open-air.  It was hard for me to get used to the fact that nobody here has any kind of heating equipment in their homes.

You can always view more of my travel and stock photography, at my Travel/Editorial/Commercial Photography website.

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An Australian getting married to a Cambodian on a beach in Thailand.  That’s a recipe for a beautiful day.

Seth and Gabi and their families and friends gathered together at a small resort on the beach south of Bangkok, and we all had a great time.  Seth’s a talented musician and sang during the ceremony.  And Gabi–she’s gorgeous.

I have to keep this post brief–I’m still traveling in Thailand–but wanted to share some images from this lovely destination wedding.  Being a photographer is such a privilege, and I love telling love stories like this, anywhere in the world.

This is the first wedding I’ve shot that had an elephant walk by in the background.  Something new every day.

One of the highlights of the day was the launch of 15 big paper lanterns into the sky.  After heating them up for a few minutes, the guests would let the lantern float off into the sky.  It was pretty awe-inspiring.  The lights you see in the black sky are lanterns that have already launched. I love to travel, and love to photograph destination weddings. If you’re getting married–anywhere in the world–let me know.  I’ll be there.

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This fall has been full of photo shoots, demonstrations, and stock and editorial assignments.  I thought I’d share some of them with you.  Some are pretty funny.  (Which reminds me of a statement from a customer this past week.  He was looking at my books, and said, “I like your work.  There’s a real touch of whimsy to it.”  I’d never had anyone use the word ‘whimsy’ to describe my work, but it certainly fits.  It’s a natural outflow of my character….)

There’s always more work on my editorial/travel/documentary photography website.

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Nick and Maria came to Portland from Chicago for their New Year’s Eve wedding at the Arista Ballroom.  After a beautiful ceremony (officiated by Maureen Haley) and dinner (with beautiful flowers by Broadway Floral), the DJ started spinning some tunes, and didn’t stop until well into 2010.  Which is great, because Nick and Maria and their family and friends like to dance!

The Arista is a beautiful space for an indoor wedding, and has some of the nicest little spaces for lounging…and for indoor portraits.  Which is great for me, and for beautiful Maria in her stunning dress.  The ballroom also a nice, open space, right on Hawthorne–just right for an intimate winter wedding.

And a Happy New Year to you, too, from one of the best Portland wedding photographers, Fritz Photography!  We’re looking forward to telling lots more wedding stories in 2010.

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  • February 14, 2010 - 7:29 pm

    Ashley - Hey! I wanted to say hello and that I LOVE these shots! My name is Ashley and I have a blog all about music at weddings (, and I’d love to feature this wedding! Maybe you could put me in touch with the bride to ask about some of the songs they played…but your imagery is wonderful so it would be great to have your presence on the site!

I have a Google Alert that lets me know any time my name or business name comes up on the web.  It’s entertaining and informative.  I’ve saved the last few, and on this snowy Portland night where nobody’s going anywhere (including my wife, stuck sleeping at the hospital where she’s working…), I thought I’d share some links with you.

Imago Theatre’s BigLittleThings

I had the pleasure of photographing Imago Theatre’s excellent performers and wonderful costumes in the studio last winter.  (See my post Anteaters, Rabbits, and Rhinos, Oh My!)  So it’s fun to see the images come up in the Oregonian, and elsewhere.  We took my nephew to see the show on Sunday, and it was hilarious and magical.  You ought to see it.

LensWork Magazine’s Alumni News

In 2006, my series Welcome to Wonderland was featured in an 18-page spread in LensWork, easily the most beautifully produced black and white photography magazine around.   They put out a monthly update on new projects by their past contributors, and mine was featured this month, along with Bruce Barnbaum and a few other photographers.

Other Photographers and Critics

A few of the other photographers and art critics that have links to my site on theirs:

Skeleton in the Closet

While I had a show of Skeleton in the Closet up at the art gallery at Washington State University, several articles came out that referred to the work, including this one from the Herald.

Katie Nolan

The loss of climber and friend Katie Nolan was painful for many in Portland and around the world.  You can read my tribute to her on my blog.  The Associated Press picked up some of my photos of her, and as a result, they were used all over the world, from CNN to the Washington Post to the Oregonian.  Unfortunately (and here’s my little copyright rant), the AP photo editors didn’t bother to look at either the title or the metadata of my images, find the clearly labeled copyright holder, and give the photographer credit.  I had to track them down to remind them of this little matter, and then it began showing up here and there.  Any photo you saw of Katie in the news was one I took, including the one the Oregonian’s photographer took a photo of at the memorial service.  (Yes, that’s right: he took a photo of my photo and published it in the paper.)  Not that any of this matters too much; I was only too glad to be able to give a little something back in memory of this beautiful, passionate, Christian woman.

Wedding Photography

The Wedding Window Blog has featured, at their request, a couple of my wedding stories.  See Carrie and Damon’s, and Daniel and Danielle’s.

The Blog

Every week I have a new wedding image and story on the groundbreaking blog My Portland Photographer.  It’s pretty cool to be in this project with 20 of the finest photographers in the Portland area.

Well, I guess that’s enough self-aggrandizement for one evening.  If you’ve actually read all the way to here, you’re either one of my very best friends, or you need to get a life, or you’re snowed in, like me.  I love living in the one city in the nation where the smallest amount of snow means a free vacation for everyone.

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  • December 30, 2009 - 6:31 pm

    Linda Shapiro - Fritz — I, for one, read every word, and although I was indeed snowed in (had to get chains put on at Les Schwab to get up our hill)I would have read to the end anyway! Congratulations on a year filled with outstanding artistic achievement, great public recognition and solid service to the community!

    I hope that 2010 is a wonderful, successful and healthy year for you and Shannon.

    Best wishes, Linda

Liedtke Missing Climbers

If you’ve watched or read the news this past week, pretty much anywhere in the country, you will have heard the story of the 3 lost climbers on Mt Hood.  Luke Gullberg, Anthony Vietti, and Katie Nolan went missing after a climb on Mt Hood on Friday, December 11.  Luke’s body was found Saturday, having succombed to hypothermia.  In spite of heroic rescue efforts, Katie and Luke have not been found, and as of yesterday, the 17th, the search has been called off.

Katie was a friend, and her loss will be felt heavily by many. My grief is not so much for her–she loved Jesus, and is home–but for all of those left with a Katie-sized hole in their world.  And my grief is also for all those who will never have the opportunity to know her and be cared for by her.

Katie had a way of smiling that lit up her face like sunshine, and warmed everyone near her.  She was servant-hearted, and spent her life caring for those in need.  Both in her job (helping homeless women get off the street and acquire jobs) and her volunteer work (she was a faithful supporter of Transitions Global, among other things), her heart was always for those in need, the oppressed, the poor.

She also loved the outdoors (she biked the Seattle to Portland bike ride a few years ago with my wife), which led to her loss this past week on Mt Hood.

Several years ago, Katie approached me while I was working on a documentary project called Skeleton in the Closet.  She volunteered to participate, and her honesty was a breath of fresh air.  Having spent a few years working on this project, I was encouraged to talk with someone who was finding hope and healing in the midst of what can be a crippling disorder.  She was also an excellent writer.  Her story is one of the most hopeful and beautiful of the series.

Fritz Liedtke-Katie N

I also had opportunity to photograph Katie at a few Transitions Global events, at which she was present as a volunteer and supporter.  This past September, she helped coordinate volunteers at their Bike for Shelter event.  (You’ll see Katie briefly in this video of the event.) Katie’s support of Transitions, and its work to create a safe haven for young girls rescued from sexual exploitation in Portland, Cambodia, India, and elsewhere, is indicative of her care for those in need.  Her love for Jesus was evident in all she did.


If you watched the news or read the papers, you saw a photograph (the one at the top of this article) of Katie that I took at the Bike for Shelter event.  The Associated Press picked it up, and it turned up everywhere: CNN, The Washington Post, The Oregonian, etc.  (I liked this article from KGW especially, as it talked a little more about the 3 climbers as people, not just statistics in a tragedy.)  Liedtke Nolan 1

Liedtke Nolan 2 Liedtke Nolan 3 Liedtke Nolan 4

Among many other ruminations this week, I (as have many) have had to grapple with the question: Why did such good, loving, servant-hearted people have to die so young?  Why not some evil losers?  We need more people like Katie, Luke, and Anthony in the world, not less.  There are precious few of them.

Among other answers, I am comforted by two thoughts:

It is easy to be angry with God for the loss of a beloved person at a young age.  I inherently assume that we have a right to a good 70 years with someone.  If they die at 29, as Katie did, what good does that do the world?  We’re left with a deficit of the other 40 years of Katie that God owed the world.  But then I’m reminded: what if there never was a Katie in the first place?  Shouldn’t I be grateful for the 29 years we did have her, for all the good that she did, for all the love and light she shared with us?  The glass is half full, not half empty.  No, truly, the glass is overflowing.

Second unto this, I’m reminded that my grief at the loss of young friends (and there have been several in the past few years)–that gaping hole left in their absence–really is a compliment to the quality of people I have in my life.  If I were surrounded by self-centered losers, I would not bemoan their absence.  But in reality, nearly every one of my friends and family members would leave such a gaping hole.  I am truly blessed.  And I am reminded that I want to be one of those people.  I want to live and love large, that I may leave as big a hole as possible when I go home.

For Katie Nolan

It is for the world

that I grieve the loss of you–

Not you, who rests,

slipping into sleep,
drifting silently like snow,
enfolded, home.

It is for the world

of the waiting and praying, who hope,
remembering a smile as wide as sunshine
and as warm,
who mourn, with hearts rent
like a mountain crevass
cold as ice.

It is for the world

who will not know
your eyes bright like a summer sky, open,
robbed of your daylight
in their darkness,
that I grieve.

We are

jealous as the grave.

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  • December 20, 2009 - 5:03 am

    Teresa Vice - wow, Fritz – I didn’t know her but feel the empty space she has left behind…..however, not so empty as I read your words about her. I picture her with the great cloud of witnesses that surround us challenging us to continue to run. Thanks for your words and pictures. -t

  • December 20, 2009 - 9:54 pm

    Kristi Kernal - Fritz, I watched the coverage on Katie’s situation, and felt such a burden to pray. The more I find out about the kind of woman she was, the more I understand why. Without knowing any of these things about her, I felt compelled to pray that God would raise up others to fill the huge gap that will be left on this earth, due to her departure. Now I understand why.

    Thank you for putting this together to honor her and the person she was.


    Kristi Kernal

  • December 20, 2009 - 10:19 pm

    Jodie - Thank you Fritz…this is so well put.

  • December 21, 2009 - 1:19 am

    fritzphoto - Thanks, Kristi. I’d sure love to see a her gap filled by many more people like her. I’ve been praying in a similar way. May we each be one of them.

  • December 21, 2009 - 3:29 pm

    David - Hi Fritz

    Thanks for your very nice tribute to Katie. Thanks for being her friend.

    David Nolan (Katies Dad)

  • December 21, 2009 - 8:48 pm

    Shayna Hutchens - Thank you so much for your post and tribute. I have had one of the photos of Katie that you took on my fridge since she sent it to me at Christmas a few years ago. I thought your photos captured a Katie who was healing and whole. I love that photo. Thank you

  • December 21, 2009 - 9:24 pm

    fritzphoto - Thank you, Shayna. Capturing the essence of someone in a photograph is a challenge that I have always enjoyed, and I’m encouraged to know that it means so much to other people when I do so.

  • December 21, 2009 - 9:31 pm

    Deb - Hi Fritz. This is a beautiful post. I didn’t know Katie personally, but would have liked to. Katie and I had a lot of friends in common so I definitely feel like a hole has been left in my extended community. I love your sentiments as well and feel the same is true for me – the Lord has blessed me with amazing people and relationships and I will be thankful for however long or short the time I get with them is.

  • December 21, 2009 - 9:57 pm

    J.B. Dorman - Hello Fritz:
    I grew up with Katie and one of my fondest memories of her was her laugh. She had such a heart-felt laught that made you feel good when you said something funny enough to get it out of her. It is what I will miss most about her and you captured it on camera. I can hear it much clearer in my mind now. Thank you.

  • December 21, 2009 - 10:04 pm

    fritzphoto - JB, her laugh is something I don’t think I mentioned in my post, but it certainly was there in my memory of her. An easy smile, an easy laugh, both of which made you feel welcome. I’m pleased the photographs help you remember laughter; that is, perhaps, one of the finest compliments I’ve ever received. Thank you.

  • December 22, 2009 - 1:11 am

    Jennifer Gabriel Tipton - Wow-how moving are these words! What a life and what a woman-I am honored to have spent a short time on Earth with Katie.

  • December 29, 2009 - 10:19 pm

    Fritz Liedtke All Over the Web » Fritz Photography - […] of climber and friend Katie Nolan was painful for many in Portland and around the world.  You can read my tribute to her on my blog.  The Associated Press picked up some of my photos of her, and as a result, they were used all […]

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