A dedicated group of paddlers training for a race spawned from a 2,000-year-old Chinese legend. A gumshoe who would rather be sailing than solving cases. A tugboat engineer who has captured the beauty he finds in the sides of ships he moves through the water. Startling photos of sunsets and aerial views of the 1,000-mile waterway in our backyard called the Delta.
Capturing the quirky stories and unique beauty of that waterway is the mission of photographer Rich Turner, who has launched an online magazine called “Soundings: Bay & Delta Art-Culture-Environment.” It's named for the nautical term for determining the depth of water, as well as the voicing of comments. The website is https://soundingsmag.net.
A commercial photographer since 1990, Turner, 71, had spent the previous 15 years as a photographer at The Stockton Record and has enlisted colleagues and friends from his journalism days to capture the essence of the Delta.
“There are two camps of coverage of the Delta: me with my pretty pictures and a little information about the Delta,” Turner said. “The other side, if you Google ‘Delta,” you’ll get 100,000 hits with white papers and environmental and political stuff. What are we missing? People.”
After the success of his show and book, “Delta Grandeur,” Turner embarked on another project he called Tidewater Tales, whereby he planned to take photos and write short snippets about the people who inhabit those 1,000-miles of waterway.
One of the first stops was Clarksburg, where a friend took him to lunch at a café called Shorty’s. When he met the 80-something owner and cook, a Mexican immigrant who had taken over the restaurant in 1972 with her husband, bought it in 1975 on agriculture worker wages and raised eight children, seeing all of them graduate from college, Turner knew he couldn’t cover the story in a short paragraph.
He approached his friend Howard Lachtman, a writer and former reporter for The Record, with his magazine idea.
“He wanted to do something he’d not done in his life, that hadn’t been done in the area and would be a benefit to the region,” Lachtman said. “My ears perked up. My first response was, ‘what can I do for you.?’”
A film noir aficionado, who has written mysteries and fiction, Lachtman has created a Delta-based detective who would rather sail than work. The first of four parts of Lachtman’s second fictional story was posted last week.
“I’m thinking of it more as a blog than a monthly magazine that arrives once a month with 12 stories that nobody has time to read,” Turner said. “If I do one or two stories a week and you get an email about a new story, it will be more engaging than a magazine with 12 new things.”
Turner launched “Soundings” in November and now has more than a dozen stories posted. The content is currently free for readers but he’ll begin charging for subscriptions at the end of January. He’s avoiding advertisements, looking instead to support the effort with corporate sponsors and subscriptions.
So far, his contributors put the free in freelance. Unable to pay them anything yet, Turner still got enthusiastic responses from former colleagues and others he asked to contribute.
“I’m limited on time with a 3-year-old and (wife) Ann is still in school, but I wanted to participate,” said Alex Breitler, who wrote about the Delta for The Record for 13 years before leaving in February 2018 to become the public information coordinator at San Joaquin Delta College.
He found time to pen a piece about the Delta Dragons, a group of paddlers from Stockton who are training in San Francisco for the annual dragon boat races. He just finished another story about a woman who takes photos while tending a bridge.
“I enjoyed flexing my reporter muscles again,” Breitler said. “Why I’m glad he’s doing this is that policy makers involved in talking about the Delta talk about water management or the environment. The third leg of the stool, something that’s missing, is the Delta as a place where people live and go to have fun and recreate and has unique cultural values.
“That’s important, and that’s what he’s trying to do, to tell the stories of the people in the Delta, the lives they lead, the interesting things out there. It’s the only way to give the Delta an identity. Right now, it’s a blank spot on the map to people in the Bay Area.”
Turner, who said his magazine won’t shy away from important water issues, had tried to pitch a Delta story to an East Bay magazine and was told the magazine catered to Bay Area readers, who didn’t care about the eastern side of the Delta.
Turner hopes to change that.
“I want the Bay Area to be my audience as much as the Delta,” Turner said. “There’s a huge population over there that’s literate enough to enjoy the stuff we’re doing.”
He has published pieces by former Record outdoors writer Pete Ottesen and one by longtime Record columnist Mike Fitzgerald about a crazy water skiing stunt in Stockton’s turning basin in the 1940s.
“It’s an opportunity for me to continue to keep in contact with those that enjoyed my work over the years,” Ottesen said. “It allows me to write on topics I have great passion for: the Delta, the environment and nature. It seemed like a right fit.”
Ottesen doesn’t write for free, but he gave Turner a couple pieces.
“I was glad to do it,” Ottesen said, “to help him out and do something I believe is all good for the Delta and the whole region.”
Turner, who has invested countless hours and his own money to launch the project, hasn’t set a timeline for making “Soundings” profitable. This is a passion project, and any money that comes in, he said, will first go to pay his contributors.
“I’d love to build a subscription base of 1,000 people. That would pay expenses I’m figuring on, and I would be able to have a lot of really good material,” Turner said.
Because, he said, there’s a thousand miles worth of material out there.
Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lorigrecord