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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Friday, May 1, 2015


"He was white and shaken, like a dry martini."
                                                                - P.G. Wodehouse


Let's get two things straight off the top. 

Cheeseburger in Paradise, Lahaina
First and foremost: I prefer vodka martinis. Purists will -- and do -- howl with protest that gin is used to make martinis, and that is true. I would call that a "classic" martini, and concede the point that vodka is a triumphant interloper which has managed to replace gin as the liquor of choice for martinis in the tastes of Americans, if not the rest of the world. And despite the argument from some people that vodka is essentially tasteless, I would disagree and suggest that the taste is subtle, and does vary from brand to brand as does the texture and "feel" of it.

The Roaring Fork, Austin
Second, virtually all of my images of the drink are of vodka martinis. I could lie and tell you they're made with gin, but I won't. You would never know (gin and vodka are both clear liquids), but I am an honest sort and that would be lying. If any of the purists find themselves shivering at the thought these are all made from vodka, insert "Belvedere" when you see "Tito's", or "Bombay" for any other brand and you will be able to handle the stress.

Whichever way you prefer it, the martini is a beast which enjoys a special reputation. If a photographer wants to convey an air of continental charm, chances are their tres chic model will be poised with a martini glass nearby or in hand. The martini glass is as iconic as a string of pearls, or a Rolls Royce. It conveys an image, an aura, which a simple tumbler of ice or shot glass lacks.

De Medici Restaurant, San Diego
A martini, made popular by the James Bond films as well as the Hollywood and Las Vegas Jet Set of the 1960s -- replete with the famous "three martini lunch" -- holds a place in our culinary culture unlike anything else save perhaps a glass of wine or champagne.
Beaches Cafe, Port Douglas

My love affair with the martini began in my forties. Prior to that my mixed drink of choice was either a cola and vodka, or tequila. The latter was ill-advised on nearly every occasion, so the less said probably the better.

But for the most part I was, and continue to be, a wine aficionado. 

So a little over a decade ago I began ordering martinis before dinner or while out with friends. My wife is a singer, and so many were the times I would be called upon to roadie then spend a few hours sitting at the bar or nearby table enjoying the music, waiting for when the time came to break down her gear and head home.

And at some point -- I'm not sure when -- I ordered a martini.

Fountain Court Lounge, Rapid City
Over the intervening years  since that chance occurrence I've enjoyed them in numerous spots in the world, and about a decade ago I began photographing them for fun. It gave me something to do while listening to the music, and an opportunity to explore an area of photography I had, at that point, only dabbled in. 
Martini Number 1
My first successful photograph of a martini (right) was taken in downtown Long Beach, at the Hyatt Hotel when the lobby bar still featured live jazz. I have several images from that evening, and -- to be perfectly frank with myself -- the vast majority were abject failures. Close up, ambient lighting shots are notoriously different than are well-lit landscapes or shoots where you bring in your own lights. When shooting a martini in a darkened restaurant or bar, you can't use a flash -- nails you immediately as an annoying and slightly disturbed person by the other patrons -- nor can you take the martini into, say, the restroom where the lighting might be brighter.

Inn of the Anasazi, Santa Fe
But I persisted, joking all along the way that I had to continue my research -- as my wife and friends looked at me with no sympathy for my disavowals. 

The Rooster Cafe, Charlotte
A martini is an acquired taste. Oddly enough I've had bourbon drinkers tell me they think it's too strong for them. (See above comments about flavors).

(I should mention why I'm a vodka martini aficionado. Gin has just never set right with my palate, probably related to my disfavor of brands like Grey Goose -- and again, I hasten to note it's me, not them. They have millions of fans and it's simply personal taste.)

The "10 Minute Martini", Boise
I will grant that the gin martini is the true basis for the drink. Vodka is sort of a latter-day wagon-jumper riding on gin's coattails. My father -- himself a mar contributor to my learning to drink and then love aa good martini -- is a gin man. With a twist, not with olives.

(I could take or leave the olives, but they're far more photogenic than a lemon twist. Usually. My taste preference is for blue cheese stuffed olives -- but I have to admit they look a little messy in most compositions. Yes, I think about these things. And a well done lemon twist can be a beautiful accent in and of itself, as I have hopefully captured a few times in the pages that follow.)

In the last five years I have amped up my collection, so that each time I visit a new city I will look up a list of the best places to find a great -- not simply good, but great -- martini and see if I can get over to try it out.

The SoHo Wine and Martini Bar, San Antonio

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