Due to my upcoming trip to Greece, I’ve been thinking a lot about my Grandparent’s immigrant journey from there to the United States. I’ve always felt a certain specialness that I am only 2nd generation American on one side of my family. It helps me tap into strength and courage when times are tough to recall what I am made of. I also love that on my dad’s side there was someone who rode as a minuteman. I love that I am a hybrid of those distinctly different American experiences. But, my Greek heritage has always been the dominant one, in part, from being raised Greek Orthodox.
In the early part of the 20th century, Elizabeth, Louis and my great-grandmother Caliope (my grandfather’s mother) immigrated from Asia Minor (now Turkey) to Ann Arbor, MI. My grandfather came across first – estimated around 1911 – the exact date isn’t verified. Elizabeth and Caliope entered New York Harbor on March 23, 1925, as recorded at Ellis Island.
I’m not sure of the complete accuracy of my family story from growing up, but here is the version I know. Elizabeth and Louis’ marriage was arranged. They were 13 years apart in age, married for just a few short months before Louis came to America, wherein Elizabeth moved in with her in-laws. I know nothing of my Louis’ father – my great-grandfather – nor do I know anything about either one of maternal great-grandparents. 13 years passed before the three of them were reunited stateside. Papou died 13 years before my grandmother. YiaYia died on Friday, the 13. Because of the language barrier between my grandmother and I, these were not questions I could have asked to get clarity on. Our communication centered around food. This was survival Greek: “YiaYia, δεν θέλω τίποτα περισσότερο για φαγητό.” “YiaYia, I don’t want anything more to eat.”
I have few memories of Papou, he died when I was 5. The one memory I do remember is a time when my sister and I were staying with our grandparents when our parents went out of town. I was 4. I came down with the flu. After a trip downtown to the farmer’s market with my sister, Papou returned with a get well gift of modeling clay. Perhaps he recognized the artist early on or just looking for a way to brighten my spirits. It worked.
Perhaps it’s because he died so early in my life, I have been focused on him in particular in anticipation of my trip. What did he feel on that ship, leaving his world behind to seek better economic opportunity and safety for his family? What were those 13 years alone here like? Why did it take 13 years to send for his family? Why in the heck did they settle in Ann Arbor, MI? I know there was a growing Greek community there and in other Detroit metro areas, but It’s always been a source of curiosity as to why people from the Mediterranean settled in the frozen tundra of the Midwest. It was before the auto industry boom, so I guess I’ll have to do more digging.
In any event, all this speculating has led me to photograph some of Yiayia and Papou’s possessions as a way of connecting with them and their journey. I call them my Greek artifacts.
Below is Louis’ backgammon board. I love all the little nicks and marks in the wood and the worn pieces that look like tires losing air, that reveal the many games that must have been played on it. I imagine the voices and competitive banter, the smell of cigars and cigarettes, and swirling smoke lighting up dust particles dancing in the low Northen light of a Michigan winter as it slants through the windows. Who was his favorite opponent?
Below are Louis’ worry beads. To see them in color click here
On March 7, 1925, Calliope and Elizabeth set sail for the new world from the port of Piraeus. Shorty, My sister, cousin Elizabeth, their husbands and I will also travel from the port of Piraeus, in the direction of the Aegean Islands. A different journey, to be sure, but one that I hope brings me closer to a sensory experience of the young Elizabeth and Louis and a mythical land called Greece. Opa!
Early in my college life, when I was just beginning to find my way with a camera, I subscribed to a photography book-of-the-month club. The very first book I received was Imogen Cunningham – A Portrait by Judy Dater. Imogen was one of the pioneers of modern photography, who along with her Group f/64 fellow photogs, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Sonya Noskowiak and others elevated and solidified photography as a fine art medium equal to its creative counterparts painting and sculpting.
This past Wednesday, my dear friend and fellow creative, Sonya and I had an impromptu artist date to catch the Imogen Cunningham exhibit “Seen and Unseen” currently on display through April 29 at the Columbia Museum of Art. The size of the exhibit is impressive. While I didn’t take an official count, there seemed to be at least 50 images spanning the length of her career, which ranged roughly from 1907 – to the late 1960’s.
If you have any interest in photography, this is a do not miss show. If you are a fan of black and white photography, this is a do not miss show.
In this age of image overload from social media, it is a rare treat to slow down, to be in a quiet space and look at expertly printed photographs, hanging in a museum, from a pioneering master of the medium.
Imogen is known, in part, for botanical imagery on par with O’Keefe’s sensibilities. She pre-dates Annie Leibovitz for striking celebrity portraits for Conde Nast publications and she also loved to create “stolen photographs,” taking pictures of unsuspecting subjects without their knowledge. She is a woman after my own heart. I also love to do this – especially in a museum. I have often said that if I could make my living just taking pictures of people in a museum (or a library) I would be very happy.
For a little tech talk.
Where Bokeh (the amount and quality of background blur) and wide open apertures are stylistically prevalent in photography today, during Cunningham’s time having everything in sharp focus was the standard, hence the Group f/64 name. I can’t imagine a lens with a rating of f64! With all of the filters and gadgets to manipulate our images, it is humbling to think that very little manipulation was employed in her photographs.
Today, still inspired by the exhibit and the morning light illuminating a century plant in my yard, I got my camera and set it on f16 – the smallest opening for my 50mm 1.8 lens. At the close-up range I was shooting, it is impossible to have everything in sharp focus, but nonetheless, I worked with what I had. I set the meter to spot and read off of the highlights to underexpose the background. The only manipulation here was to convert to black and white and to boost the contrast slightly.
Click or tap image for full view
I have tried to photograph this plant many times and have not been happy with the results. Thanks to the inspiration of Imogen, I came much closer to something that satisfied me! It’s a great exercise.
Which one do you like the best, I’d love to hear from you.
I’m so glad all those years ago I ordered that book. I know longer have it due to multiple moves in my life. It was a first edition and now a collector’s item. If you are in Columbia go see the exhibit. While you’re there, check out Renée Cox: Soul Culture for a very different approach to photography.
Kathryn Van Aernum is a teacher, speaker and mixed-media artist. She works with people who have buried their creative soul in the daily grind and helps them reclaim their creative confidence so they can thrive in their work and beyond. To find out more about coaching, visit her other location on the web: kathrynvanaernum.com
A few weeks ago the world was buzzing about the supermoon–blue moon–red moon–-and some other amazing quality moon. Some of you know that I am a big fan of photographing the moon, starting out years ago with just a modest point-and-shoot digital camera I had my first solo exhibit dedicated to the moon.
With the explosion of photo imaging in the last decade worldwide, what was cutting edge 15 years ago (5-megapixel point and shoot) is landfill now. We have literally hundreds of options for shooting images. To add on top of that, picture sharing has become a phenomenon that can both inspire and intimidate. What comes to mind are the phenomenal photos that have been taken of the moon rising behind the Great Pyramids or the Parthenon in Greece with super high-powered telephoto lenses that make the moon and the landmark in front of it look as though they are touching.
When it comes to my own camera lenses in this capacity, I think of the famous line from Crocodile Dundee, “You call that a knife?” However, I am compelled to try to find and capture my own images, despite limitations (both equipment and locale) and expectations (pre-conceived ideas). The portal through any creative challenge is to know how to work within it. Challenges come in all shapes and sizes. The key is to find the freedom within it – to develop a relationship with it and not to let it stop you.
Next, having photographed the moon many times, I know there is a short window of time to get the kind of image I seek. This too is a relationship, one that has been cultivated through repetition, observation, desire, and inspiration. And yet, I never presume I know exactly what I’ll see. Be open to surprises that can happen. Having stalked the moonrise here in Columbia, SC I’ve mapped out places to be for best view. What I don’t know is exactly within that window I’ll catch the first glimpses. Sometimes surprises come because there are clouds on the horizon or some other alteration to viewing. Sometimes they come in a human form like this year when I encountered a student on the bridge walking home from class. As she was passing, I told her I was waiting for the moon rise and said it was going to happen within the next 5 minutes or so. She decided to stay and watch. Her audible surprise at seeing the moon rise was worth the whole effort and now my memory will be entwined through the lens of that chance encounter. I hope that delight might have planted the seed of a life-long relationship with the moon. Who knows?
I’ve inserted both the color and the black and white versions. I’d love to know what speaks to you. For those technically inclined, this was photographed with a Nikon FX 610 in DX mode with an old 28-105 zoom. I used DX mode to amp the zoom to the equivalent of 157.5mm.
You may click on the images to see larger.
Kathryn Van Aernum is a photographer, mixed-media artist and helps people who have buried their creative soul in the daily grind. To find out more about coaching, visit her other location on the web: kathrynvanaernum.com
“The land is always there…it is you who has to return”
― Munia Khan
Black and White Friday returns with this first Friday in January. Several years ago, following a challenging time in my life, the theme of my first open studio was Return to Light. So I thought with this first post of the New Year as the Northern Hemisphere returns to longer, warmer, light-filled days, it only fitting to choose Return as the theme.
The image is a disintegrating leaf returning to the earth, its shadow and the traveling light and shadow of a Venetian blind cast on a wall in my studio. The theme of returning is a powerful one in our psyche and in contemplative and artistic practice. We return to sleep and we return to wakefulness in one of our daily rhythms. We wander away from ourselves, and the meditation cushion and our breath bring us back. We restore our creativity through avenues like drawing, painting, camera, dance, and song; returning our artistic soul into the light of the visible, however long it stays. With dance, the form arises and dissolves like a sand mandala. Whatever the avenue, its permanence is not the most important thing. It is our expression.
I derive inspiration, insights, answers to problems, and sheer pleasure through many mediums, but I always return to the camera and the immediacy of the moment. My daily return to the meditation cushion and yoga are the foundation of these expressions, creating a rich synergy of their own rhythms of departing and returning.
In addition to our personal mediums, we may be called to return to certain themes. I often cycle through themes of “reclamation,” “black and white,” “pathways” and others. Because they have been a part of my psyche and practice for so long, they return like old friends for a visit. Similarly, one can return to familiar locations, such as the beach, mountains or a busy cosmopolitan city to feed the creative spark. However our creativity manifests we are called, like the prodigal son, to return to the light that feeds us.
What ways have you found the theme of Return playing out in your life? I’d like to hear from you.
Kathryn Van Aernum is a photographer, mixed-media artist and helps people reclaim their creative soul. To find out more about coaching, visit her other location on the web: kathrynvanaernum.com
This detached cicada wing was hiding in the grass in my backyard. The sun caught one of the dew drops that it was trapping on its underside, glinting and capturing my gaze. My head turned and i crouched down involuntarily to see it more closely. It’s one of those moments when grace parts the curtain of thought and you are just present, responding. A gift. The wing’s fragile presence slicing though habitual preoccupation catapulting me into the realm of beholding. Once there i wonder why I ever leave.
What brings you to a state of beholding and wonder?
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we outgrow the lives that we’ve been living and how life supports us in that. That support can often look like everything you value falling apart. Because it looks like falling apart instead of falling together, we tend to freak out instead of cooperating. Even knowing this is what is happening, I can be very uncooperative in this process. It’s like our lives swell past the banks we’ve erected and all we can perceive is the shrinking shore, rather than the growing, flowing river of our life.
I don’t think I was aware of this notion consciously when I took this picture, but in looking at it now, I think that’s exactly what I was photographing. The overflowing river is beautiful. That same beauty is trying to manifest in and through us. It also is instructional to notice that there ain’t no way to stop those swollen banks. Better to get a raft and enjoy the ride.
There are times when you just get lucky with a photo, as I did with this one. However, what I mean by luck is not that it was just waiting for me to take. The gentleman that is in the right side of the frame is strolling with another man who is out of the frame along the Jardin des Tuileries. They are deep in discussion. I watched them progress from the left side of the frame along the trees and then cross and turn. As they crossed, the dog had a different idea. She/he decided to sit in the middle as if to say, “Alright Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” That’s when I raised my camera. The luck part is that a breeze tossed the ears as if the wind machine had just turned on, the capture of the lift of the owner’s footstep revealing his contemplative movement. And oh yeah, the Louvre is in the background.
This photograph and others from my stroll in Paris will be on display tonight at the State Street Art Crawl. I’ll be at It’s the Little Things, right next to Frame of Mind. 5-8pm. Please stroll over and stop in.
I was in my beloved Key West last week and on the first day I was there it was uncharacteristically stormy and overcast. I always cherished these days when I lived there, because they were so infrequent. Just like any rainy day they give one permission to be less active, maybe take a nap. Unless, in my case, you are on vacation and know that if you don’t get out and photograph it, the scene will not be there tomorrow.
The rain had stopped and I grabbed my camera and went down to the beach. I was staying at the Casa Marina, a lovely resort right on the water at the courtesy of my cousin, Elizabeth Bartz. As I looked west, this sliver of light was peeking through as the storm clouds were beginning to disperse.
I’ve chosen to represent it in black and white, because for me it conveys the drama of the moment. It also touches on my personal sense of emerging from my own storm clouds of 2016, a year challenging to many at the personality level.
No matter how thick the clouds seem to be, the truth is the light is shining brightly on the other side.
For the second year I was asked to be a judge for a middle school and high school art competition for The Atlantic Institute, which is an institution dedicated to interfaith and cultural harmony. This years theme was compassion in action. So this morning I had the daunting task and also humble honor to judge their art submissions.
It was very difficult to judge because the quality and creativity was really high. But what struck me most were their artist statements. How they see the world, and what they want the world to be was so touching. The sentence that jumped out at me was from a middle school child who said that he/she wanted us adults to see that we are all equal. “We kids know this, you adults teach us to see differences.” Out of the mouths of babes. I had to breathe that in.
So for the new year I intend to honor their hopes, vision, truth and compassion. My prayer is to be an adult that doesn’t teach differences.
This was taken in Notre-Dame Cathedral in Reims, France in 2013.
What strikes me beyond the light of the candles are the gothic arches that beckon our gaze heavenward. When you really look at them, these places are mostly empty space. They emphasize the smallness of men and women compared to the vastness of the universe. This space allows for a sacred experience that cannot come with crowding or noise.
I think that is what seems so unfortunate to me about our modern interpretation of the season of light. We have crowded it with so much noise, activity and obligation that the simple joy of light and space and silence is lost to many. I’m not exempt from being taken up in this activity. But I am aware and grateful that when a greater attention is given to just being simple, sanity and joy return.
Joseph Campbell states, “Your sacred space is where you can find yourself over and over again.” To me that is the meaning of Christmas. To let it be a time that returns me to true spacious self. To me it is sacred space.