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NEIGHBORS : Picture Perfect : Photographer focuses on the details when setting up family portraits.


On the wall just to the right of the entrance to the Mark Brandes photo studio in Westlake Village hangs a Norman Rockwell-like shot of a family doing some wallpapering. It shows two adults, four children and one dog gathered around a ladder.

"It's my sister-in-law and her family," said Brandes. "They borrowed the dog from a friend."

Brandes thought that the photo needed a dog, so he found a dog. Brandes has been known to go to great lengths to shoot a family portrait for non-relatives too. It's up to each client whether a portrait will be a traditional sit-down-and-smile version or a personal, action shot.

"We try to draw out of clients what their personality is," said Brandes about his unique style. "We try to draw out things that tell a story of their family."

His past assignments include:

* A Southern rowing scene for a man from Texas. Brandes had the client and his wife rent a boat. Then he had them dress in Southern costume and took them to a water hazard at Westlake Golf Course.

* An old-time fishing/picnic scene. Brandes and his wife, April, dug up some costumes worthy of Tom Sawyer for each family member, got fishing equipment and took the family out to a river. "We bought the fish from Alpha Beta," he said.

As you know, Friday is international tuba day--a day set aside for us common folk to sympathize with tuba players over the hassle of hauling their horns around day after day.

I thought it only fitting to do some public commiserating, so I contacted several local tuba players to see how much of a pain it all really is.

Tim O'Brien, a tuba player in the Ventura County Symphony, is philosophical about the whole thing. "You chose the instrument, so you kind of chose to deal with the problems," he said.

The biggest problem? "You have to buy a car with a huge trunk or a lot of space in the back," said O'Brien, the owner of a Suzuki Samurai with space for two tubas. "I had a moped that I dropped mine off of once. I had a backpack and carried it around on my back," he said. "It got caught in a closing gate."

Then, said O'Brien, there's the problem of carrying one, or sometimes two, tubas from vehicle to building. "They're cumbersome," he said. "The average one weighs about 30 pounds. I guess the total is about 40 to 50 pounds with the case. Trying to get through doors is a problem. And if you have two instruments to carry and it's raining hard . . . you have no place to put an umbrella."

Tim Durand of the Conejo Symphony has experienced similar transportation problems. His first car was a hatchback with room for a tuba, a bass and an amplifier. Before he learned to drive, though, Durand used ingenuity to solve his problems.

"When I was in junior high school I went to Redwood Intermediate out in Thousand Oaks," said Durand who, as he tells it, was less than five feet tall in those years. "They have these ramps instead of stairways in the back and I used to tie a skateboard to the bottom of the tuba case and I would sit on the tuba case and ride it down."

Mike Angelos of the Ventura Symphony can empathize with the others. He wasn't going to leave anything to chance when he bought his car, a Chevrolet Taurus, back in 1986.

"I took my tubas into the car dealership," he said. "I wasn't going to get caught buying a new car and find out my horns wouldn't fit."

Several weeks ago I wrote that hockey cards were challenging baseball cards in popularity among Ventura County collectors. As it turns out, I omitted a third contender--Desert Storm trading cards by the Topps Co.

That's right. Pictures of your favorite aircraft: the F117 A Stealth, the Stallion helicopter, the Canadian Air Force CF-18.

How popular are they? Laura Hedesh, manager of the Thrifty Drug Store in Port Hueneme, said the place sold out of the original supply of 864 packs of cards in less than a month. Most of the cards were purchased by adults.

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