The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Exploring Yosemite’s Wintry, Arty Wild Side, Camera In Hand

By Karen D’Souza, San Jose Mercury News (TNS)

A lone coyote darts through a snowy meadow, disappearing into the mist enshrouding a grove of cedars. Icicles sparkle from the mossy trunks of massive pine trees. Snow drifts and waterfalls tumble down the faces of majestic granite monoliths.

No matter how many times you have been to the jewel of the National Park System that is Yosemite, you haven’t really seen it until you’ve glimpsed it over freshly fallen snow. Amid the solitude of winter, when snow blankets Half Dome, skaters zip around the ice rink at Curry Village and a hush of beauty and calm beckons, it’s the perfect time for the artsy among us to descend on Yosemite. It’s now, when the madding — and maddening — throngs of summer are a distant memory, that the majesty of the place, from the roar of Yosemite Falls to the elegant white peaks of Glacier Point, sparkles more brightly than ever before.

That’s true even when those dainty ivory snowflakes suddenly turn into a bone-chilling rain, as you’re tromping through Yosemite Village behind one of the guides from the Ansel Adams Gallery, which offers free camera walks several mornings a week. Shooting in snow can be magical, the radiant light revealing the glamour of the natural world and making it easy to see why Adams looked through his camera lens and saw art, where others only spied rivers, rocks and trees. These camera walks are the perfect start for an art lover’s whirl through Yosemite in winter.

Wielding your iPhone in a torrential downpour is another matter entirely (let’s just say a bag of rice comes in handy), but getting to see the valley floor through the eyes of the photographers who walk in Adams’ footsteps is priceless. The gallery’s photographers all know the history of the park as well as the science of photography. So the camera walk is a chance to look beyond the surface of things.

“When you first get here, it can be overwhelming,” says Evan Russel, curator of the gallery. “It’s hard to focus the shot, because everywhere you look, there is a photograph waiting to be taken. That’s Yosemite.”

Certainly my guide, Christine Loberg, moves fast, stashing her camera inside her parka and nimbly scampering over sheets of ice like a deer as we students scurry in her wake. She’s been capturing Yosemite on film for 30 years, but she still jumps with joy when she discovers a particularly fluorescent patch of lichen creeping up the side of the tree.

“The trees are like ballerinas today,” she says. “They’re dancing in the fog.”

Like Adams, she sees the sublime in the natural, the wonder in the way the mountains seem to vanish in the fog, the whimsy of pine cones winding through the icy waters near the site of John Muir’s cabin. She advises iPhone shooters to concentrate on contrasts, the play of light and texture in an image.

So entrancing is the craft that you might not notice the frost nipping at your fingers and the slush trickling into your hiking boots. Sometimes getting the perfect shot demands a sacrifice. It’s a small price to pay for a morning of feeling like you have a private audience with nature.

“No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite,” Muir once wrote. “Every rock in its wall seems to glow with life.”

For the record, the gallery’s shutterbugs are a hardy lot, eagerly leading tours in rain and wind and snow, willing to hold their ground in the face of a snarling winter storm. Come bundled up — and be prepared to take your time to find the perfect tableau.

“If you want to get that amazing storm shot, you have to be out in the storm waiting for it. That’s how Ansel got those shots,” Russel says. “You have to be there in the moment. If you are inside somewhere waiting, you will miss it.”

Built in 1927 as a retreat luxurious enough for the robber barons of the day, the stately Ahwahnee manages an impossible balance of opulence and simplicity. Gilbert Stanley Underwood’s design glories in the intricacy and richness of its appointments, from the Native American-inspired stencils on its walls and its gorgeous kilim rugs to its grand dining room, but it also fits perfectly within its landscape nestled at the foot of the imposing Glacier Point. It’s a photo op all by itself.

As if the views weren’t spectacular enough, the hotel is also bejeweled with exquisite details: Steinway pianos and stunning stained glass windows in the Great Lounge, the fanciful images of the Mural Room, the brightness and warmth of the Solarium and the charm of tea service in the afternoons. The palpable sense of grandeur in the famed dining room, an august temple to food that makes everyone feel straight out of “Downton Abbey,” is as decadent as the eggs Benedict.

There’s an air of graciousness here that makes you feel as if you have stepped back in time to the days when the hotel opened to much fanfare. Celebs and titans were, of course, invited to mark the launch, but alas, so many of the creme de la creme tried to make off with the hotel’s antiques that the managers decided to cut their losses and scale back on some of the extravagances for the public opening.

Hammill can regale you with many a story about Lucille Ball and Judy Garland kicking up a ruckus, or Queen Elizabeth II having a bidet installed — or how the front of the hotel is actually the original back. The architect had planned for carriages instead of cars, so the whole thing had to be flipped around.

You could happily listen all day — until you look out the window and remember the vast snowy terrain still beckoning for exploration. There’s still time to frame one last shot of Half Dome in the waning light.

Yosemite Camera Walks

The Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite National Park offers free camera walks led by staff photographers several mornings a week. Find details at

©2016 San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Sarah Selwood, left, and Ashley Wilson from Australia take a selfie at Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park, Calif., on December 30, 2015. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group/TNS)


Move Over Hollywood, This Is The Age Of The YouTube Star

By Karen D’Souza, San Jose Mercury News (TNS)

Issa “Twaimz” Tweimeh got his big break two years ago at Vidcon, the annual YouTube convention in Anaheim, Calif. He stood in line for four hours to meet his idol, YouTube sensation Shane Dawson, and present him with a drawing of Dawson’s beloved dog.

When Dawson later raved about Twaimz on social media, the 20-year-old from Hercules got on the cyber radar himself, and another YouTube star was born.

“I was so inspired by it that I wanted to do it myself, I wanted to inspire people like that,” says Twaimz, who performs humor- and music-laced video monologues about pop culture, self-esteem and sexual identity.

Now Twaimz (pronounced Twames) has his own massive fan base. We’re talking more than 1.4 million subscribers to his YouTube channel, Twaimz, and nearly 70 million views to date.

His Hollywoodesque rise from obscurity to pop-culture stardom is hardly unique on YouTube, which has become the place where comedians, musicians, lifestyle and beauty gurus and others go hoping to get discovered, like the Tinseltown starlets of yore. The top five YouTube stars _ the most popular people you have probably never heard of _ now have more subscribers than Mexico has people.

Most YouTube personalities, of course, will never achieve red-carpet status.

“I have spoken to teens who were convinced if they kept working on their YouTube channel, someone would come across them and make them a star,” says Scot Guenter, professor of American studies at San Jose State. “Many youth think they are extremely talented even when they aren’t. … I’ve checked out the YouTube channels of some of the would-be stars I know personally, and my critical sense is they better keep their day jobs, if they have any.”

Still, some do grab the brass ring. Meet the next generation of stardom, digital celebrities who cash in directly from their YouTube popularity or, like the comedy duo known as Smosh, parlay it into a movie deal.

The Bay Area has more than its share of YouTube stars. Twaimz has become famous for his smart-alecky sense of humor, his love of llamas and his candor about his life and his sexuality. There’s also Joey Hernandez, a San Jose-based fast-food critic who chomps down on burgers and fries from the comfort of his car, whose views are closing in on the 10 million mark. And Meghan Rienks, a Marin-raised 21-year-old beauty video blogger, specializes in makeup, hair and fashion tips laced with perky commentary.

Twaimz, who shoots his videos from his studio, ahem, bedroom, in his parents’ house, is part comedian, part musician and all snarky. He shares the details of his life in a freewheeling commentary. It’s the kind of raw and uncensored stream of consciousness that you might share with your BFF, which is part of its appeal.

“I do vlog about boys I am crushing on and things like that,” says Twaimz, whose August video titled “The Crush Song” has netted 2.7 million views. “But mostly I vlog about how you have to love yourself first before you love someone else. I like to try and get a message out.”

Hernandez wins over viewers for his channel, JoeysWorldTour, with his unpretentious appeal, reviewing Whoppers instead of haute cuisine, cracking jokes and sharing his struggles with his weight.
Rienks started vlogging from her bedroom at the age of 15. She shares beauty secrets, her love of unicorns and her bubbly personality with 1.9 million subscribers to her self-titled YouTube channel. She traded in her childhood love for theater for a chance to have a global audience online.

“I started doing this because I felt like I didn’t have any friends,” she says, “and then I went on YouTube and suddenly I had thousands of them.”

Her most popular video is a tutorial on how to create a waterfall braid (nearly 3 million views) that she filmed when she was 16. Now she has her own line of temporary tattoos and a budding acting career. All of that has its roots in her YouTube wattage.

“I am very fortunate that I was able to make enough from YouTube to be able to leave college and know that I could make a living,” Rienks says, “but being on YouTube has never been about money for me. This is my passion.”

Many YouTube stars make a lot of their money from the advertising sold on their channels, which is based on the number subscribers one has. Indeed, YouTube, which has been owned by Google since 2006, now owns about 20 percent of the growing U.S. digital video advertising market, according to eMarketer. Perhaps the biggest YouTuber, a Swedish comedian-entertainer known as PewDiePie, pulls down an estimated $7.4 million a year for posting videos of himself playing video games.

On the other hand, Hernandez, who started vlogging about drive-thru fare when he was out of work, doesn’t have big enough YouTube following yet to quit his day job as a personal chef.

“Unless you get lucky and have that one video that goes viral,” says Hernandez, 45, who sprinkles his reviews with comedy, “you have your work cut out for you.”

That sense of connection is the key to hooking viewers. Twaimz, Hernandez and Rienks all have loads of authenticity, the secret sauce of online fame.

“You have to be yourself on YouTube because you are your brand,” says Rienks, who often gives her followers supportive advice such as, “Don’t give up, young grasshoppers!”

That’s good advice for YouTubers as well, because competition is stiff: YouTube estimates 300 hours of video are uploaded every minute.

The biggest YouTube channels, based on number of subscribers
1. PewDiePie: aka Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, Swedish comedian and producer, 39.7 million subscribers
2. HolaSoyGerman: aka German Alejandro Garmendia Aranis, Chilean comedian, 24.5 million subscribers
3. YouTube Spotlight: YouTube’s own channel featuring top videos and other news, 23 million subscribers
4. Smosh: aka American comedians Andrew Hecox and Anthony Padilla, 21.2 million subscribers
5. Rihanna: pop/R&B singer, 17.6 million subscribers

(c)2015 San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Issa Tweimeh is photographed at his Hercules, Calif., home on Aug. 18, 2015. “Twaimz,” as he is know in the Internet world, has become a YouTube celebrity with a fanbase of more than 1,270,922 subscribers, and his work has attracted over 62,418,338 views. He is a self-described comedic personality. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group/TNS)