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

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

cutie pie

Eight-month-old Hiru (and her mom) dropped by my studio yesterday. Have you ever seen such eyes?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

5th anniversary of hurricane katrina

These are some of the photographs I made when I went to New Orleans 16 months after the hurricane hit. I worked as a volunteer for an organization called Nechama (Jewish Response to Disaster). I spent a week helping gut houses. Of course, my camera was never too far away from my sledgehammer.

I originally posted some of these in black and white. i realize now I like them better in color and in the square format.

Friday, August 27, 2010

anastasia pottinger

A little over a year ago, I was contacted by a photographer from Columbia, Missouri. Anastasia wanted me to be her mentor. I had actually met her when I was in Columbia earlier in 2009 as a guest juror for a photo competition.

I wasn't sure what that might entail, but being someones mentor sounded like an interesting challenge. So I took the job. Turns out Stacie (she prefers that moniker) is an accomplished portrait photographer with her own thriving studio. She has a full understanding of what it takes to light and compose a successful studio and on-location sitting. She does a lot of birth and newborn photos and captivating portraits of kids. You can check out her website here.

Stacie was ready to take her work to another level, though. She wanted to explore more completely the aspects of fine art photography and figure out how to begin assembling a body of work that was more a reflection of her own ideas and sensibilities. She had been taking pictures of her own two children, but hadn't quite figured out how to make those images transcend the usual "family snapshot" to become something more than simply that - family album/scrapbook pictures.

We meet every couple/three months. We email back and forth. We talk about living our lives as photographers, mothers and businesswomen. I suggest books, magazine, websites, blogs, shows to enter, photographers to explore and exhibitions to see. I give homework assignments. Stacie shows me her newest work, and I give a critique. We have developed a nice relationship, and I look forward to her visits. Her work has evolved a lot since we started getting together. I'd like to share some of it with you here.

These represent two different bodies of work. The first is an series of pictures about her children. The second is a body of work she is doing about centenarians. The subject featured here is Lucy, who is 101 years old. The last image recently won a top award in the Julia Margaret Cameron competition.

In Stacie's own words:

"I can remember my parents handing me my very first camera. It was a thin, rectangular Kodak 110 that I was to take with me on my very first solo trip to stay with my grandparents at their home in Georgia. The fact that I remember that moment clearly above so many others in my first 6 or 7 years of life is telling.

I devoured photography. I did everything I could to learn as much as possible about the medium: summer camps, merit badges, classes, anything. I practically lived in the darkroom of my high school and my parents even let me set one up in our basement bathroom. When it came time to pick a college, it was a tough choice between art school and photojournalism. Though I never really wanted to be a journalist, I was too scared to go to art school. So off I went to Mizzou and its famed J-school. It took exactly one semester for me to switch majors from J-school to Human Development and Family Studies.

I sold my camera equipment, pursued a career in early child education, married my partner Linda and we eventually had two beautiful children, Joseph and Isaac. Shortly after Joseph was born we purchased a point and shoot digital camera. Using a camera again reminded me of that long ago love for making images I had abandoned in college and I began entertaining the thought of seriously getting back into photography. Ten years have passed and I now operate a successful portrait studio in Columbia, MO as well as spend time developing my personal bodies of work. Single images from these have been recognized, exhibited and published nationally.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve been wandering along the edge of my life for a long time. In July, 2009 I asked Gloria Baker Feinstein to be my mentor and things started to shift. I finally had someone to offer guidance, some critical suggestions and a confidant in my determination to be more present in my work. These images represent two bodies of work that began to unfold after our initial meeting.

As a photographer, I had been using the camera to keep myself separated from my reality instead of present and vulnerable. I began to make a conscious effort to be more present in my work. To let you try to see something of myself instead of me telling you exactly what I want you to see with the most obvious images. It’s been a difficult and intense shift but ultimately it has been the greatest gift."

Being her mentor is a great gig. And you've probably guessed it already: I am learning as much as she is.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

street/fair photography

Helen Levitt, NY, circa 1940

I read a well-written account by photographer Blake Andrews today about his attempt to make pictures at his local fair. I received his permission to share it.

Blake mentions Helen Levitt, among others, when he wonders if street photographers from back in the day would be arrested in today’s environment for photographing children without asking permission. There are countless other well known photographers he could have included, of course, but seeing Helen’s name reminded me of part of the conversation we had when I visited her a few months before she died. I had asked her if she felt she could make the same pictures today that she became famous for. An emphatic NO. She explained that it’s simply no longer safe for children to play outside on their own, that most people become overly suspicious of a person with a camera and that even if she was younger and healthier she’d have no desire to subject herself to the verbal and possible physical abuse of the nutcases who have those suspicions.

Remember that when Helen was making street pictures in the early years, she often used a device that allowed her to point her camera in one direction and make an image of what was actually at a 90 degree angle to that. (Walker Evans’ subway pictures were made with a small “spy” camera that he attached to his jacket.) Even in the 40’s and 50’s, then, photographers were aware of the suspicions aroused by using their cameras in public places. Blake Andrews is right, though, in pointing out that the suspicions have escalated to unbelievable and scary heights. At the rate we're going, the genre of street photography as we’ve known it is likely to become history.

The experience that Blake recounts here is not unlike what many photographers frequently encounter in this day and age.

From Blake Andrews’ blog

“I used to roughly measure my productivity by the frequency of getting hassled while photographing. Cops, landlords, neighbors, angry pedestrians, I've dealt with all of them. Which was good. I figured if I was stirring things up it meant I was sticking my nose in the properly sensitive areas. After all most things worth censoring are worth seeing. 

Lately the hassle-meter has fallen off some, and it had been a few years since I'd been accosted for taking photos. I'd allowed myself to believe I was past all that. Wrong. Last Friday while shooting at the Lane County Fair, I was quietly surrounded by a small bevy of security guards in mirrored sunglasses. 

You street photographers and petty criminals know the drill. Stay where you are. ID please. Get your hands out of your pockets where we can see them. What's your name? Where do you live? Who do you work for? Why are you taking photographs? What are you going to do with them?

Bubble pricked. All these questions out of nowhere. I was a bit unprepared. Why am I taking photographs? What am I going to do with them? I've spent my life trying to answer those questions. The answers are quite complicated. Should I really get into that? No, probably not. Instead I went for the direct approach.

’Yessir, Nosir, Rightawaysir. Name'sblakeandrewssir. Er, what'sthisallaboutsir?’

We saw you taking photographs of children.

Aha! The real issue surfaces.

’Yeah, I was. I take photos of whatever I see at the fair. Kids. Grownups. Rides. Stuffed animals. Is that ok?


You can't take photos of children without permission.


Why not?


Who knows what you might use them for. A web site. A magazine. Something pornographic maybe? In this age you can't tell. I'm not saying you're doing all that but you understand our concern.


I'm not sure how I could take pornographic photos at a fair.


People do all sorts of stuff with computers nowadays. Get rid of clothes, alter postures, you name it.


Yessir, absolutely.’

You know what I'd do if someone did that to my kids?


Nosir. Whatsir?


Let's just say there'd be trouble. You got any kids? Would you be ok with someone photographed them secretly?


Yeah, I've got three kids. I have no problem with anyone photographing them.

'Well anyway, it wasn't just that you were taking photos of kids. It was how you were doing it. You were being sneaky. When I take a photo of my own kids I make sure they know I'm doing it. I ask them to smile. If it's not my own kid, I ask the parent's permission. We saw you taking photos like this (clasps hands in front of chest), without even looking. That's not appropriate at the fair.'

They'd scouted me well. I'd been shooting sometimes from the hip, apparently against fair convention. But that's how I tend to approach a busy frantic scene like a fair. When I have time to line something up I pause and look through the viewfinder. But when I see something in passing I react quickly, often before I can I stop and look. Sometimes from the hip, or more commonly the chest. I mix it up. I don't plan. Some of my best shots have come that way, along with many of my worst.

We talked a little longer while one of the cops ran my license through the bad-guy database. I noticed that they were carefully positioned on all sides of me, as if I might take off running. Then I was summarily booted from the fair, told not to return during any of the remaining days of the event. Which would have been ok considering that after the interrogation I wasn't in a mood to take any more photos that day. The problem was I'd been planning to come back on Sunday with Tab and the kids. 

On Sunday morning I shaved my beard, put in contacts, donned my sunglasses, and left my ratty cap and backpack at home. I'm not sure if I looked like a different person. I know that without a camera I felt and acted like one. I walked around the fair with my kids, ate junk food, enjoyed the rides. It was the first time in a long while I'd been out without any cameras. We spent a few hours, then left without any hassle.

Blake Andrews, Oregon State Fair, 2006

I don't mean to add to the pile of ‘street photographer accosted’ stories. I know this is just a drop in the bucket. It happens all the time, and in the grand scheme of things it's pretty insignificant. Certainly it doesn't compare to a Hispanic hassled in Arizona or an Arab hassled at airport security. That's a real hassle.

But I would like to ask the question, when did it become wrong to take photographs of children? Why is that wrong? Kids are the most carefree, spontaneous, unself-conscious humans on the planet. Why is it wrong to capture that? I can think of a few reasons, from basic privacy concerns to the increasing segmentation of childhood as a special zone in life with its own special rules, to a general societal paranoia which has draped itself all over the current epoch. I think all of these reasons can be easily debated, but there has been no debate. Instead the unwritten rule is ‘No photographing kids, period’ and don't argue about it.

The result is that the more discouraged people are from photographing kids, the less common it is, and the stranger it seems when it happens. It's a vicious circle. To paraphrase the NRA, if photographing kids is outlawed, only outlaws will photograph kids. We're basically creating a criminal class from scratch, for no clear reason. It makes me wonder if Helen Levitt or Lewis Hine or William Klein could make their photos of children in today's environment, or would they be arrested?”

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

my mom/my daughter

With my daughter's due date just a few days away, the realization that there will be a new baby in the family is finally really sinking in.

Suddenly I'm feeling sad that my mother is not here, waiting by the phone as I am now.

My mom would have already knitted a baby blanket and probably a little sweater with matching booties, too. She'd have asked if the baby's drawers are lined and if Abbie has put edging on the shelves. She'd have bought a pretty outfit for the the baby to wear home from the hospital. She'd have completed at least one needlepointed pillow or wall hanging for the nursery. She'd have already looked through catalogues for the perfect birth announcement. She'd have pulled out the baby pictures of her own grandmother, mother, herself and of me. Just to honor the past and to be reminded of the little pieces of us that may show up on the new baby's sweet face.

I could go on and on about what she'd be doing right now in preparation for the arrival of her great grandchild.

While I'm in this sentimental and melancholy mood, I'm going to share the words of my favorite song about a new baby. It's "Little Green" by Joni Mitchell.

"Born with the moon in Cancer
Choose her a name she will answer to
Call her green and the winters cannot fade her
Call her green for the children who've made her
Little green, be a gypsy dancer

He went to California
Hearing that everything's warmer there
So you write him a letter and say 'Her eyes are blue'
He sends you a poem and she's lost to you
Little green he's a non-conformer

Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There'll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow
Just a little green
Like the nights when the Northern lights perform
There'll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there'll be sorrow

Child with a child pretending
Weary of lies you are sending home
So you sign all the papers in the family name
You're sad and you're sorry but you're not ashamed
Little green have a happy ending

Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There'll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow
Just a little green
Like the nights when the Northern lights perform
There'll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there'll be sorrow"

I'm also posting the first formal portrait I ever made of Abigail. December, 1980. Just a week or two after she was born.

She's wearing a dress my mother (and maybe even her mother) had worn when she was a newborn. It was a little big on Abbie at that point, but I was determined to make the picture. I am, after all, my mother's daughter. Sentimental to the core.

Monday, August 23, 2010

senior picture

It's that time of year again! Today I photographed Thomas, Yes, I have an array of smiling-at-the-camera color pictures of this personable, handsome and smart young man. But this is my favorite.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

phillip toledano

I have posted a link to Phil Toledano's body of work, "Days With My Father" before, but for those of you who might have missed it, please take another look. After having recently read the following in The New Yorker, I got to thinking about the work again and decided to give it a second shot here.

"The premise is simple: after Toledano’s mother died, in 2006, Toledano started taking photographs of his father, documenting their relationship in what would be his father’s final years. 'I took very few pictures, maybe a hundred or a hundred and fifty total,' Toledano said. 'I didn’t want the picture-taking process to overwhelm being with my father.' After a while, Toledano started posting the photos on a blog, along with simple text, some funny, some painful. The response was overwhelming; to date, viewers from around the world have left more than ten thousand comments on the series, a testament to its unforced emotional power.

The pictures are spare and unstudied. 'I like photographs to be like unfinished sentences,' Toledano said. 'I want the person looking to fill in the other half.' Toledano’s father hated them. 'It was hilarious,' Toledano said. 'I’d just taken a picture for The New Yorker, actually, and I told him that, and he said, ‘Oh, that’s fantastic. What else are you doing?’ And I said, ‘I’m taking these photographs of you and me, and documenting our lives together.’ And he said, ‘Oh, that sounds great. You’re a genius! Show me these pictures.’ So I bring them out, and he looks at them, and after a couple of minutes he goes, ‘These are terrible!’ And then he said, ‘You’re gonna be at the bottom of the pile if you don’t wake up. You gotta wake up!’ I said, ‘What happened, a minute ago I was a genius, and now I’m at the bottom of the pile?’ (It didn’t go much better when Toledano told his father that he’d put the photos on the Internet. 'What’s the Internet?' he said. 'Is it in color?')

Whatever his father’s reaction, the important thing, Toledano said, was the focused time they spent together. 'It took my mom dying to make me take pictures of my father,' Toledano said. 'Over the past few years, both my parents died, my aunt died, my uncle—everyone croaked simultaneously, like an asteroid hit the Toledano section of the continent. One of the things I realized after the Toledano mass extinction is that all of the clichés are true, which is really annoying. When they say that your parents might be gone tomorrow, the people you love might be gone in a second, so the time you have with them is really important—it’s all true.'

Here’s a sample—but note that what really makes the series work is the combination of words and pictures. You can view the whole project at Toledano’s blog, or in the book 'Days with My Father.'"

-The New Yorker

Friday, August 20, 2010

christopher morris

It's been four months today since the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Among the thousands of images I've seen over the past 160 or so days, this is one that really stayed with me. It's by Christopher Morris.

Morris was born in California in 1958. A founding member of the photojournalistic agency VII, he has documented more than 18 foreign conflicts including the U.S. invasion of Panama, the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Persian Gulf War, the drug war in Columbia and the wars in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Somalia and Yugoslavia. Christopher documented the Presidency of George W. Bush for Time magazine creating a distinctive style of political reportage that has won him much acclaim and has influenced a new generation of photographers. He has continued his political coverage with his innovative video documents of Obama's presidency and has more recently branched into fashion reportage.

The photographer has received a multitude of awards for his work, including the Robert Capa Gold Medal and Olivier Rebbot awards from the Overseas Press Club; the Magazine Photographer of the Year award from the University of Missouri School of Journalism; the Infinity Photojournalist award from the International Center of Photography, New York; the Visa d'Or award; and numerous World Press Photo Awards.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

world photography day

View from the Window at Le Gras, the first successful permanent photograph created by Nicéphore Niépce in 1826, Saint-Loup-de-Varennes. Captured on 20 × 25 cm oil-treated bitumen. Due to the 8-hour exposure, the buildings are illuminated by the sun from both right and left.

World Photography Day originates from the invention of the Daguerreotype, a photographic processes developed by Louis Daguerre. On January 9, 1839, The French Academy of Sciences announced the daguerreotype process. A few months later, on August 19, 1839, the French government announced the invention as a gift “Free to the World.”

Another photographic processes, the Calotype, was also invented in 1839 by William Fox Talbot (it was announced in 1841). Together, the invention of both the Daguerreotype and Calotype mark 1839 as the year that photography was invented.

- from the WPD website

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

mini road trip

Yesterday I drove to Manhattan, Kansas (the "Little Apple") for an appointment with Jay and Barbara, owners of the Strecker-Nelson Gallery. I'm kind of embarrassed to say I had never been to Manhattan before. It's got a very quaint downtown (the town itself was recently noted as one of the Top 10 Places to Retire by Money Magazine) and the surrounding landscape is really beautiful (it's in the heart of the Flint Hills). I didn't even get over to the Kansas State University campus, but I've been told that it's really nice.

The Strecker-Nelson Gallery is the oldest commercial art gallery in the state of Kansas. The emphasis is on midwestern artists. It's upstairs in a building on the main drag and is a gorgeous space with hardwood floors dating back to 1908. Jay and Barbara were wonderful hosts, treating me to lunch at the very cool Harry's Restaurant in the historic Wareham Hotel. They also spent a great deal of time looking at my work and decided to add my Streetcar and Shredded work to their inventory!

One of my favorite area painters, Lisa Grossman, is also in the stable of artists there. I feel honored to be in her company.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


"From the Desk Of..." is a cool website that focuses on the desks of various people. I was asked to participate and here is the post about my desk!

Thanks for inviting me, Kate.

Monday, August 16, 2010

going away party for melissa and antwain

Change the Truth teams had a chance to reunite Saturday night at a going away party for Mel and Antwain. Mother and son will move to Uganda in just ten days! In no time at all, they'll be settled into their new east African lifestyle. Melissa will be social worker and CTT/St. Mary Kevin Orphanage liaison. Antwain will attend school. Both will be surrounded by and will be helping the orphaned children they have come to love and care about over the years. No doubt, there will be a lot of lifestyle adjustments to me made. Melissa has promised to provide us with blog posts and photos along the way.

Here are some party pics from Saturday night. Melissa had a big surprise at the very beginning of the evening when CTT board and team member Carol came in from New York for the festivities. The night was a lot of fun!

Eddie (Team 3) prepared a delicious dinner

Carol (Team 1,2,3), Mel (Team 1,2,3), Fred (Team 2), Sara (Team 3)

Kaley (Team 3), Antwain (Team 3)

Lynne (Team 1,2) Carol, Gloria

Ann (Team 1), Antwain, Jane (Team 1)

Lonnie (Team 1) and his wife Brenda

Melissa and her mom Pam