On my recent trip to Akron to visit my Aunt and Uncle and Ohio cousins, my kindred spirit Nicolette graciously took me around town on a photo safari. We got to the Goodyear blimp hanger just as a Midwest summer thunderstorm was traveling across the vista. This was a brave moment for me because I’m afraid to be out in lightening, but the moment won out over my fear. It was also a chance operation because I had to hold the camera above my head to clear the barbed wire fence. In photography, as in life, you have to override the voice inside your head that tells you why you can’t do something you want to do. I often have to override it when it tells me not to lug my camera (or the monopod) on the plane. Just who is it in my head offering this sage “advice?”
What amuses me about the actual photo is how blimp-like the cloud looks. What amazes me is the shaft of rain in the distance and how the cloud tapers down to this one point. What I am glad about is that it was only a thundercloud and not a funnel cloud as I began to wonder as it morphed across the sky.
Many are wishing for autumn’s return and it’s cooler temps, including me. But with it, the drama of the afternoon skies will dry up and fade away just as this cloud did after it dispersed its cargo.
There are two major influences that inform my photography. The obvious one is I shoot a lot of pictures and I have since I was about 19 years old. The second, is a consistent daily mindfulness practice that I’ve had for nearly 25 years. I cannot conceive of my life without it. I consider myself to be one of the luckiest people in the world to see magic in the mundane, the opulent in the ordinary. The muse and the spaciousness of stillness will both show up if you do. Both practices have helped me keep the sense of wonder of a 10 year old. I never, ever think I’ve seen a cicada wing before when I see one again, (or a cicada for that matter). Each time it is new. I try to do that with my friends too, although it is harder. Have you ever tried to see a familiar friend as if you didn’t know them?
I remember when my mother, who would often feel a sense of discontentment with her life because she couldn’t possess the material things she wanted, was succumbing to the effects of Alzheimer’s. When she would wash her hands, her face would light up and she would say, “Feels nice.” It was a teachable moment. She also developed the capacity to comment on meals that displeased her, “Tastes like S#@t.” I was glad she was freed from the concept of not being outspoken. I haven’t mastered that one yet. As her memory faded, her ability to be directly experiencing the present moment was taking over. It is also an influence on my work that I’m realizing only as I am writing this. I feel my mom around these days. Maybe it’s because my birthday is approaching. Or, maybe I’m expanding my capacity to sense what is present that we are not aware of. I don’t really know.
In regard to today’s Black and White Friday image, I was rolling out my garbage to the curb and this little gift was in my driveway. What struck me was this delicate, bedazzled wing, was a product of the intense thunderstorms that have been passing through Columbia the last few nights. This too, is a teachable moment.
My love of communicating my experiences of the world around me through photography was born in the days of disco, in the infancy of my coming out in the gay community, in its infancy as a movement. That’s what it was called then. Eventually, we referred to ourselves as the gay and lesbian community. A while after that, bisexuals were included and then transgender and queer. My friend, Mark and I used to refer to ourselves as GiBLeTs. It’s easier to say. Even within our community, who is still fighting for the dignity of first-class citizen, inclusion has been a journey and we have not been immune to categorizing each other by color, class, creed, and degree of acceptable “gayness.” But the successes we’ve achieved in our journey toward equality have come about because we’ve realized that we are stronger together.
In any event, I was talking about photography.
Friday night I went out with some friends after dinner to a gay club for a drink and when we arrived, a drag show was underway. There is something universally home spun about a drag show. I’ve seen them in Ann Arbor, Detroit, New York, Chicago, Paris, Key West and right here around the corner from the state capital. Even if the performer is really convincing, or creative in the presentation, there is an unsophisticated charm that wraps the experience. I’m having difficulty finding the right adjectives, but perhaps those of you who have been to them can help me out.
I hope you enjoy them and if you would like to see my early photos of the “ladies” in my life click here.
Perhaps that is no longer a derogatory term, considering how nice dogs are and how not nice we humans can be. They master spiritual teachers, in my opinion. People always think they give us unconditional love. I don’t necessarily agree with that. I think they teach US how to love unconditionally and we love them the better for it. They can do something completely exasperating, like chewing up a favorite hat, or peeing on the floor, or accidentally biting your finger when you’re playing with them and within seconds, we forgive and forget. If a human did that we aren’t quite so quick to let them off the hook. Love, devotion, joy, exuberance, simplicity, sweetness and vulnerability in limitless supply. Here’s to going to the dogs.
I decided to treat myself to a special coffee at Drip in Five points after an early morning photo shoot this week. I was walking out of the shop, latte in hand, when I glimpsed this English Lab further down the sidewalk, facing me with an attentive, “sit.” He was earning his keep guarding the sidewalk and storefront of his owner’s shop. I Set the coffee on the hood of my car, grabbed my camera, but as it is many times with animals, the minute you get out a camera they completely change their pose and the moment is gone.
Already on my mission, I had just gotten to the shop door when the owner had brought the dog inside. I asked him if he would be willing to bring his dog back out so I could photograph him. He kindly obliged, but the scene I had seen could not be recreated. However, this look of adoration was far better than what I thought I wanted from the moment.
Glad I went for coffee.
This is a topic I’ve wanted to explore for a while. What works as a black and white image, and what doesn’t? Especially, images we are really used to seeing as color. As I’ve explored in the past, the American flag works surprisingly well as a black and white. It translates. So, I wanted to take another iconic symbol of Americana and see if that translates also. I found this gem of an old county store on the back roads heading to Charleston a couple weeks ago.
Let me first say, this was a challenging shot to work with both in color and black and white. It was taken with the sun blazing from its apex in the sky making it a very “contrasty” image. As a color photo, toning down the contrast without washing it out was a challenge. As a black and white, the contrasts were even more challenging to work with. I did the conversion in Lightroom, creating my own preset that is almost infrared in its treatment. I did not want to bleach out the trees that true infrared would have done, but I wanted that blue sky to go dark to create the backdrop for the clouds.
Both versions required a lot of work to bring the detail back in the shadows below the awning and in the dead Christmas wreath. (I wonder how old that wreath is?)
So, does it work? How does the color one feel? The black and white? Let me know your thoughts.
Last Sunday I drove from Columbia to Charleston taking the back roads as long as I could. I was delighted to find the headwaters of the Congaree river. Finding a river’s source is always special. Of course I was hoping to stumble into something that would be visually interesting to photograph. I think this image qualifies!
I saw it out of the corner of my eye, too late to pull over, so I had to slow down to let the car behind me pass before I could make a U turn and go back.
Simultaneously fascinating and creepy, it definitely projected, “I’d turn back if I were you.”
What amuses me the most is if they want to discourage human interaction, leaving it plain might be more effective. This arouses curiosity almost enough to ignore the “no trespassing” and the “beware of spike strips” signs. At least it would for some I know.
What do you make of this?
Today is a 1 for the 9. It was on my mind a lot before 49 became a new number. In this last week we’ve heard a lot of numbers. 9…49…51…23…33,000, the list goes on.
There are other numbers – ages – ages of children and of young people and not so young people. People who are falling at the front lines of our collective dysfunction.
Whatever our differences politically, ideologically and however we fall on the issue of gun control, can we agree the we are a nation that is in distress?
I offer this poem again because to me it speaks of a different silence that is needed before we proceed with all our words. It is not the silence of indifference, or helplessness, but of a willingness to drop the arguments that separate us and just come together in the open air and see each other for the first time.
”KEEPING QUIET” BY PABLO NERUDA
Now we will count to twelve and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fisherman in the cold sea would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve and you keep quiet and I will go.
It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.
What is essential is invisible to the eye. – Saint-Exupery
Seeing these root structures—beautiful and intricate—reflects to me our own beautiful and intricate interior life. On a physical level they look like human lungs for sure. But the vulnerability of the tree’s life system bared for us to see is especially captivating, more so than the beautiful and majestic tree itself. The names etched on the roots make me think of all the people we encounter in a life that are etched in our memories, forever becoming a part of us.
These roots are also a reminder of the paradox that in our vulnerability, lies our strength. We seem to learn how to create a million defense strategies in our adaptation to being a well-defined grown up. But the truth is, our beauty radiates out from our vulnerability and defenselessness. When we reveal our inner life to one another – especially that which seems to scare us – we find strength and stability, and more often than not a sympathetic and understanding ear. I know it is my journey to trust that. I have a spiritual mentor that says in a joking way, “When all else fails, tell the truth.” She jokes because we usually exhaust all other possibilities before we will expose our inner world. But we long to do it. We crave connection that only letting down our guard can bring.
Next time I am faced with exposing my inner life (like writing this) I’ll think of these great big tree lungs and B R E A T H E.
Are there life lessons that nature has taught you? I’d love to hear from you.
I was with a friend today hiking at Paris Mountain in Greenville, SC. We were walking down a trail and she commented as we passed by a divergent path that as a kid she would be all about exploring it. I asked, “do you want to?” She hesitated, but then allowed her inner child to be indulged as we walked up the path. We were met with pond that was the source of the streams that meandered through the trail we were on. Frogs bellowed as dragonflies with slender cobalt blue bodies danced and darted around it. It was exactly the kind of magic a child hopes to find on an adventure.
The magic of summer is upon us and this image reminds me of the lake I lived on as a kid, and the endless hours I would spend playing and plunging into the water off a dock just like this.
Next time, I’ll take my swimsuit and indulge my inner child as she beckons, “Jump in, the water’s fine!”
What adventure or experience does your inner child want you to do?