"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

a gift i got

I am sometimes asked: Do you know right away when you've made a good picture?

I answer with a resounding yes! Then I go on to talk about the little hairs raising up on the back of my neck, goosebumps on my arms, etc.

It doesn't happen that often, but when it does, it's almost like a religious experience. I feel cloaked in photo goodness and gifted by the photo goddesses.

When this particular portrait presented itself to me on Sunday, I only had a few seconds to grab it. A kind of calm came over me, and I felt nothing but gratitude and reverence.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

love the one you're with

I have three cameras that I use regularly: my iPhone, a Canon 5D Mark III and a Hasselblad H4D. People always ask me which is I my favorite.

I say: the one I have on me.

In this case, I had the iPhone in my back pocket. Do I wish I had had one of the bigger gals with me this particular afternoon in Portland? Not really that important – things usually happen the way they’re supposed to.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

why i do it

One of my new pool images made earlier this month

If you saw my recent exhibition (or read the catalogue), you are already familiar with the "ode to photography" I wrote. If not, I hope you enjoy it now.

I was extremely flattered recently when Reid Callanan (director of the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops) asked my permission to share it with incoming students at each of the Sunday night welcome dinners preceding the week-long workshops this summer.

It's really nice to get that kind of validation from someone I have long respected.

Here it is:

Sometimes I take pictures to get a closer look.

Sometimes I take pictures to prove that something happened.

Sometimes I take pictures so I can remember how I felt.

Sometimes I take pictures so I can hide behind the camera.

Sometimes I take pictures because things seem confusing.

Sometimes I take pictures to introduce people to one another.

Sometimes I take pictures to make sure someone doesn’t disappear.

Sometimes I take pictures because it feels good to be alive.

Sometimes I take pictures because the sadness is unspeakable.

Sometimes I take pictures to change someone’s mind.

Sometimes I take pictures because there is nothing left to say.

Sometimes I take pictures so I know which way to go.

Sometimes I take pictures because things will never be the same.

Sometimes I take pictures so I can see things in a new way.

Sometimes I take pictures to give someone else a voice.

Sometimes I take pictures because the "ordinary" is so much more.

Sometimes I take pictures to leave reminders that I was here.

I take pictures because I have to.
And because there are very few things I’d rather be doing.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

home away from home

Living in Portland for part of the summer is probably the hippest thing I’ve ever done. Since college. (During those days, I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, and it was shortly after the 1960’s. Need I say more?)

Portland is all about farmer’s markets, record stores, coffee shops, bans on plastic bags, urban camping, off road footwear, grass fed beef, microbreweries, books, bike lanes, outdoor concerts, piercings, indie movie houses, street fairs, medical marijuana, urban parks, social services, body art and public transportation.

This morning I went for a massage and “soak” (that’s Portland speak for “sitting in a hot tub”) at a wellness center. It was as if I had slipped back in time – to a day long ago when Eddie and I took advantage of the $1.00 hot tub special at Esalen Institute, a “sacred ground” perched in the rocky cliffs along Highway 1 in Big Sur, California. Back in the day, this magical place opened its door to hippies, healers, insomniacs and other curious characters from midnight til sunrise. One could use the tubs and outdoor massage tables as one saw fit. I don’t remember much, but I do recall the sound of the surf crashing below us, the tapestry of stars above us, the sweet aroma of pot and incense and the fact that Eddie and I were quite sure we had discovered heaven (and the greatest deal ever).

My girl-scout-self punctually arrived at the wellness center fully prepared for the pre and post massage soak. (I had carefully folded my bathing suit and was carrying it in my purse). When I checked in, I was told I had arrived on an “all gender” day and was led to an area to disrobe and shower. There were women and men everywhere. Sans clothing.  Lots of tattoos (I puffed up my chest and started to feel particularly proud of mine), tan lines, macramé bracelets and, well, body parts. Everyone was respectful and pretty much kept to themselves. It was mellow and tranquil and lovely, and I felt like I might have the urge to sit out on the terrace at the student union afterward (oh, wait, that was in Madison). I felt a crunchy connection to my fellow meditators and soakers at the wellness center, like maybe they had been there that night at Esalen or maybe they had gone to school in Madison or, at the very least, that we had all thrown kale into our smoothies that morning.

If I had read the literature before heading over there, I would have been better prepared for the spirit of the place. From their website:

We are an all genders and clothing-optional wellness center that offers a safe, non-sexual space to relax and rejuvenate the spirit. We also offer men-only/women-only hours during the week, plus a monthly trans and gender queer night.

I bet you didn’t know that Portland has a unicycle gang, an underwater hockey team, a hand painted rock-n-roll portrait gallery spread throughout 51 rooms of a downtown hotel and a professional for-hire cuddler (30 minutes for $35).

The only thing about Portland that bugs me is its lack of diversity. (I’ve not yet stayed for a gray, rainy winter, so I can’t complain about the weather, which happens to be absolutely glorious during the summer!) If Portland could figure out a way to attract more residents of color (oh, and do something about the traffic, which gives me fits when I’m in my hybrid Zip Car), I say it’d be a darn near perfect place.

(Sound the Tibetan singing bowl, please.)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

car poolers

I love this body of work by Alejandro Cartagena. He began it by documenting how people in Monterey, Mexico (where he lives and works) use their cars - how they personalize their cars, how they drive from here one place to another, who they drive with, etc. He realized that construction workers in Monterey often live an hour or so away from the places they work, and because there is no public transportation for them to use, they load (and often cram) themselves into vehicles to get to various job sites. He started looking down from building and bridges to see how the cars and trucks looked. Cartagena was struck by the perspective and starting shooting!

"Car Poolers is a project that continues my visual research on how the Mexican suburbs impact the landscape, the city and its inhabitants. 

I´ve been shooting the project since 2011 on Monterey's highway 85 going south bound to one of the richest cities in Latin America, San Pedro Garza Garcia, one of the nine cities that form the Metropolitan area. 

I shoot from a pedestrian overpass that looks over the cars coming out of a small tunnel and 'predict' which trucks might have people in the back. These images present a not-so-subtle observation of overgrowth issues in Mexico; where suburbs are being built in far away lands, far from the urban centers, causing greater commutes and consumption of gas."
- Alejandro Cartagena

They remind me of Joseph Cornell's boxes.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

i'm not a look-alike

Have you ever been told that there’s someone else out there, someone in Buffalo or Tulsa or Paris, France, who looks like you? Just like you?

I once read that we all have a twin somewhere. An exact duplicate of ourselves, someone we’ve not met, but who would knock our socks off if we ever passed on the street.

I always wanted a twin. Someone just my age, just my size, just my frame of mind. Someone I could pin the blame on when I got in trouble, someone who would never question the obvious – that I am funny and smart and pretty - someone who’d know just what I was going to say and save me the trouble of having to say it if I didn’t feel like talking. A person who would fill up the space between the rest of the world and me, protect me from being alone.

That is the opening to the artist statement that I wrote to accompany my project about identical twins (“The Space Between”).

Just recently, my sister (the two of us are beginning to look more and more alike) brought the work of French Canadian photographer François Brunelle to my attention. He photographs unrelated look-alikes, doppelgangers. Brunelle’s goal is to find 200 sets, and he travels the world to photograph them. He doesn’t necessarily match people up; rather, he asks for couples to submit photos to him. So, if you know your unrelated look-alike, and the two of you can get together with the photographer, I imagine you, too, could be part of this project!
Here are a few examples from the series, which he calls “I’m Not A Look-alike”.

Monday, July 22, 2013

hey kids! once upon a time we pasted our pictures into scrapbooks

What happens to all the old photos? The ones that have fallen by the wayside and have no place to go. No frames to go into, no scrapbooks either. We've seen boxes full of them in flea markets and antique stores. Who are the people? What are their stories?

Will the pictures we've taken follow the same trajectory? Decades from now, will someone come across a photo of Eddie and me from our wedding day and wonder: whatever happened to this hopeful young couple?

(And what about this new generation that doesn't even print pictures? Most people now simply imprison store their snapshots on their phones.)

I'm fascinated by family photos - old or new, mine or yours. (I'm the one who will actually ask you to show me your photo albums!) I love the often askew compositions, figures and faces coming and going from the edges of the frame, the cutting off of heads (my father-in-law was actually quite good at this), the humor, the proud poses, the frequently odd wonderful use of space, things that accidentally stick out of people's heads and the ways family and friends relate to one another.

Below are some displaced family snapshots I discovered and fell in love with today (from a Tumblr site called Look at Me.) They are lovely, ordinary (and not so ordinary) moments, experienced by people who believed those moments were important enough to be remembered.

And here's a short film about a guy who calls himself The Photo Man. It is totally worth watching (get out some kleenex). He's a hero, breathing new life into old pictures sadly destined for trash bins - resurrecting the subjects and the photographers, alike.