Sunday, December 4, 2016

Scene & Story - November 2016


I knew from the moment I saw this photo on my computer that this was my pick for November's Scene & Story.

I often struggle with showing a feeling other than solitude in my photography. This photo is brimming with feeling and emotion, and it may be the turning point in my work.

The scene involves my daughter, her 8-month old golden retriever, Findley, and a hike in the woods at a family favorite state park.

Now you tell me the story...


Joining my friend Leon of Sea Blue Lens for our monthly collaboration.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Maybe...


This is my 366th post in this space. On January 1, 2017 I will have been blogging for five years. I honestly never expected to make it this far.


We are only a few days away from entering the last month of 2016. While this year has been filled with change, loss, and frustration, those things have also made me stronger and more determined than ever to do something with the gifts and talents I have been given.


As much as I dislike change, I am also feeling the need for it. I always harshly judge others who stay stuck in the same rut, doing the same thing year after year, so why should I be the exception to my judgement.


I am not sure I want to continue in this space in 2017. Five years is a long time, maybe it is time for a big change. Maybe it is my renewed focus on photography this year that has stirred this need for change. Maybe it is the unexpected joy that my 52 week photography project is bringing me.


Maybe it is seeing how good my photographs look in a story telling space like Adobe Spark. Maybe it is my need for more photos and less words.


Maybe it is signing up for a year of Kelby One photography training, or a year of Vivienne McMaster's self-portrait photography classes that fuels the fire for change. Maybe it is reading an e-book like Stories of Home by Kate Densmore that makes me want to explore documentary photography.


Maybe it's a deeper exploration of self. Maybe it's just that time of year.


Maybe it is time to create my own website. Maybe it is time to finally get that portfolio done.


Starting Monday, December 5, I am going to be Celebrating Impermanence with Kim Manley Ort for three weeks. I am going to explore the resistance to change, the need for change, and some of these "maybes".


The end of December could have me exploring a new space, or slipping back into this one. Either way I will continue to change.

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Embody


"Dance like no one is watching,
Sing like no one is listening,
Love like you've never been hurt,
Live like it's Heaven on earth."
~Mark Twain

I love self-portraiture photography! I LOVE the shocked look on peoples' faces when I tell them I am taking a self-portrait photography class.


Last year I did quite a bit of self-portrait work with Vivienne McMaster and the various e-courses she offers on the subject. I loved the challenge of figuring out best body angle for the camera. I loved figuring out the technical stuff, i.e. focus, depth of field, perspective, post-processing. I loved the confidence I gained in my skills and myself by doing the work.


So many of the self-portraits I took last year I treasure deeply, especially the ones I took with my dog Scout. Although he is no longer with us, I have these precious photos forever.


This year there hasn't even been a hint of self-portrait photography, not that Vivienne hasn't been offering classes, she has, and I have been tempted by a couple of them, but in the end I always said "no", I wasn't ready. That all changed at the end of October when an email from Vivienne popped into my inbox. She was offering a new e-course called Embody - Getting our whole body into the frame. I personally would prefer to have my whole body in the frame, that fits the story of my photography.


I read the email and immediately signed up. The course started November 1st and ran for fifteen days. The perfect amount of time. The course came with daily encouragement emails, a prompt to work on for the day, and a private Flickr group for sharing our work. I love community.  But I always feel like a masquerader in these groups, I don't struggle with the body issues that many are working through. But...if I am completely honest with myself, I signed up for the full body self-portrait class because I would rather shoot my whole body, positioned the way I know I can to make it look thinner, than take a close-up of my face. Maybe I do belong in this community after all.


Self-portraiture photography is a lot like riding a bike, once you learn you never forget, so it didn't take me long to get back in the swing of it.


It was interesting once I finished the course to look back and see the progression in myself. I started out wearing the same Patagonia fleece everyday, most often either in hiking pants or yoga pants, which given that I am an active outdoor person is a true reflection of me. I incorporated the daily shot into my normal daily routine. But by Day 4, I picked a location with intention, brought my tripod, used my past experience to get great light and good focus. Then by Day 7, I was setting up scenes and picking outfits. The wardrobe selections continued to ramp up from there, the last day I wore one of my favorite outfits. Once the class was done, I went shopping. I shopped with intention, thinking about how an outfit would look in a self-portrait.


I have been toying with the idea of a 52 week self-portrait challenge for 2017, although I had convinced myself this week that that was a dumb idea. I already had a 52 week photography project I was working on, I didn't need two. Then, of course, the next email arrived. Vivienne is doing a year long self-portrait photography class called Body Peace. I am an epic fail at year long classes. But...self-portraiture photography is the reason this blog began in the first place. What if 2017 was the year that I finally completed a year long class because it was the right year long class...


I guess I will be working on those close-up, face issues in eight 15 day e-courses over the next year, or I will be wearing a Burqa for a whole year. Stay tuned...

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Therapy


As I prepared to drive north, I plugged my iPhone into the cassette adapter and tapped on the audible.com app. I knew exactly what I needed to hear on my two hour drive - the words of Brene Brown. I pressed start on her book The Gifts of Imperfection, which I also read a few years ago. As I pulled into the Starbucks drive-thru lane I stopped the book. The book wasn't narrated by Brene, I needed Brene's voice as much as her words. Instead I chose The Power of Vulnerability - Teaching on Authenticity, Connection and Courage. Only four months had passed since I last listened to this, but I am a different person than I was four months ago.


My drive north would bring me to a place filled with memories - Ludington State Park. I had been to the park only the week before with my daughter and her dog, Findley. Before that it had been almost a year and a half since my last visit, and before that at least a couple of years, which seems utterly ridiculous for as close as I live.


Being there had awakened all my old loves of the place. The only problem with last week was that it went too quickly. On my agenda for that day had been the 1-1/2 mile trek out to Big Sable Point Lighthouse, where I hadn't been since 2011. But my daughter, being the stickler for family traditions had insisted we do the walking loop around the dam, followed by our packed picnic lunch. After lunch, when Findley would be slightly tired we could take a leisurely stroll on the Lost Lake Trail. At eight months Findley's two speeds are fast and faster, so there was no leisurely stroll and I barely had time to raise my camera and take a few snapshots. But even with Findley's fast pace it was still four o'clock by the time we returned to the car. The journey to the lighthouse would have to wait for another day.


Only a week later, on a perfect early November day, sunny skies and temperatures in the low 60's, I was suppose to be home doing house projects while my daughter and Findley were gone for a few days and I had the house to myself. It is hard to get big cleaning projects done with a puppy running around. But instead I found myself in my car driving back to Ludington State Park and this time I would get to the lighthouse.


Even though I have been coming here for over thirty years, the drive into the park never fails to take my breath away. The summer homes and trees abruptly end and all that's left is the road, the dunes, and wide open space.


I pulled into the beach parking lot at 9:30, still early enough to catch some good light at the Big Sable River outlet to Lake Michigan.


Satisfied with my photographic captures thus far, I set off down the gravel two-track path to the lighthouse. About a half mile down the road, I came upon a sign that said Historic Shipwreck and the arrow pointed over the dune toward Lake Michigan. Hmmm...I didn't remember this from five years ago. Over the dune I went. As I came over the first dune this is what I saw...


Not a shipwreck, but it did give me that fluttery feeling inside. The bench begged to be photographed but it also beckoned for me to come and sit. I took off my camera backpack laid it on the bench and settled in for a therapy session with nature.


In Brene's sessions that I listened to on the way up she talked about the year she spent in therapy, therapy she needed to deal with her own issues that were arising from her work on shame and vulnerability. Maybe that's what I needed, a year of therapy to figure some of my crap out. But as I sat on that wooden bench surrounded by sand dunes, blue skies, Lake Michigan and lot of open space, I realized that photography is my therapy. I have access to it any time I need it, not just in scheduled fifty minute sessions. It may not talk to me in a physical voice like a therapist would, but it does have its own language, and I can hear it if I am only aware.


A few people commented on my last post about how self-aware I am. I am because I intentionally try to be. I want to figure myself out, where I am, and where I am headed. It is not a straight and narrow path, it is a constantly winding switchback without an end in sight.


One of the questions I asked myself as I sat on that bench. Why am I always anxious to travel and explore new places? Especially when places so close to home are amazing and filled with wonderful memories. Too often when I go to new places I feel rushed, always looking for "the shot" and usually not finding it, leaving me disappointed in the trip. But then I come to a place like this park, one that I know well and I can find all kinds of things to photograph, still not always "the shot" but the memories carry just as much weight here as perfect light.

I need to stop chasing the new and exciting all the time and instead seek the familiar places that I love. I think my photography and my writing will be stronger because of it.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Scene & Story - October 2016


2016 has been a creative wasteland for me. 2015 was a fertile wonderland.

Those of you who have been with me for a while may say "but Sarah you have had three magazine articles published this year, you have blogged more regularly than ever, and your photography is rock solid". And you would be right, all those things have happened. But 2016 has also been filled with constant ground shifting change. The only thing that has carried me though this year is what was in the storehouse from last year's bounty.

2015 was filled with self-portraiture work, adventures across the land to meet other bloggers and photographers, and the fertilizer of true growth for me - projects.

In the last month two things have revived my barren creative soul. The first is Lenswork magazine and podcasts. The editor, Brooks Jensen, is a huge proponent of photography projects. Lenswork has a new photography book out - Seeing in Sixes, six image projects from Lenswork Readers. I promptly ordered the book and have been devouring the pages since it arrived two weeks ago. Seeing the vast variety of photography projects/stories told in just six images started tilling the soil in my creative mind and heart. I have considered some ideas for my own project: a 12 X 12 project, one theme each month for a year, but eventually discarded that one, too dull. A 52 week self-portraiture project, I am still on the fence about that one, if it happens it will start January 1st and I am considering reviving my old blog, Becoming A Finisher, if I decide to undertake that project. Then THE project came into being - 52 weeks of retail excursions.

I am not much of a shopper, but I do have to go to the grocery store every week. I probably would have been content to photograph all 52 weeks at the grocery store. But as I sat down at my desk to compile a list of 52 photo prompts to use for motivation and inspiration, other seeds were sown. I wrote the word metal and thought of the 1970's era hardware store in my town that I have always wanted to photograph. I wrote high heels and thought of my friend's clothing boutique, knowing that she would be only too eager to help with my project. With each prompt I wrote, the location ideas continued to blossom.

Week One is complete. I will admit I felt a little weird taking my big dSLR out at the grocery store, but since I have 52 weeks to get comfortable, I am sure I will get there. This shot turned out pretty much the way I envisioned it, always a good feeling for the start of a project. I am exploring Adobe Spark to use for this project.

The second thing that is providing nourishment for my creative soul is David duChemin's newest version of the book Within The Frame - The Journey of Photographic Vision. His words always fill me with hope and inspiration.
"As you experience life, your vision changes. The stories you want to tell, the things that resonate with you -- they change and so does your vision. Finding it and expressing your vision is a journey, not a destination."
Words spoken directly to my heart. I feel the soil growing rich and fertile once again.

My friend Lee of Sea Blue Lens and I are sharing our favorite photo from the previous month in this new monthly practice Scene & Story.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Unexpected Destination

Photo Credit: Glen Huizenga

I have proclaimed in past blog posts that I am not one for doing much research ahead of time for road trips, and this continues to hold true. On our recent adventure to Indiana to photograph covered bridges, my research consisted of Googling Indiana Covered Bridges, which revealed this site with a map and listing of all the covered bridges in Indiana. I printed that first page of the site and then got my road atlas of the United States, I opened it to the Indiana page and looked for a bigger town near the main amount of covered bridges so I could find us a hotel. I found Crawfordsville, about a half hour from the start of the bridges, located a Holiday Inn Express there, and booked it. We have oodles of points to use from all my husband's traveling, so we were able to stay all three nights for free.


On Sunday, in route to our hotel, we stopped at an Indiana rest stop. I spied a fold out Indiana road map mixed in with all the tourist trap brochures, I thought it would be good to have that and easier to carry around than our big road atlas. I wanted to open it up and scour the surrounding land once we were back in the car, but due to life long car sickness issues, I figured it would be best to wait until we got to the hotel.


At the hotel, back from supper at the local "quaint" restaurant, I settled on the bed and spread out my map. I found where we were, found where the bridges started, and then studied other local attractions in the area. I was floored when I saw the words Turkey Run State Park right next to the first bridge I wanted to go to. Turkey Run State Park has been on my photography/travel bucket list forever. Any Midwest travel magazine I have ever read has listed Turkey Run State Park as a must see in the state of Indiana. Finally I could check it off my list.


The next morning at 8:00 a.m. we were at the Narrows Bridge, part of Turkey Run State Park to photograph the bridge at sunrise. Best bridge of the trip, and everything is better at the golden hour. After we were done at the bridge, I suggested we drive into the park and check it out. We wandered about a little, but knew that we needed more time than we had to do it justice, we had many more covered bridges to see that day.


Over supper that night at the less local, but with more quality controlled food, Cracker Barrel, we discussed what we wanted to do the next day. We both had had our fill of covered bridges, eventually they all start to look the same. I suggested that we go back to Turkey Run State Park in the morning and do some hiking. My husband went into research mode, looking for the most rugged trails we could do. You know the ones with ladders to climb to get out of the canyon, the ones with 140 steps, some of those "steps" being boulders to climb up and over, or navigate down. Visions of my trip to Pennsylvania last year and my friend Andrea falling and breaking her leg filled my head. I was looking for meandering trails that wound along Sugar Creek, flat trails with only a few wooden steps. But since my husband was being such a good sport about photographing bridges with me, I knew I had to do the rugged trails for him.

The only way to do anything without crowds of people in your pictures or in your way in general is to go early, so the next morning we were back at Turkey Run by 8:45 a.m., there were only two other cars in the parking lot when we pulled in.


To get to the hiking trails we had to cross this suspension bridge that spanned Sugar Creek. I knew then that whatever ruggedness I would have to endure it would be worth it to see the beauty of this place.

Photo Credit: Glen Huizenga

I did climb the ladders out of Bear Hollow, I did climb the 140 steps on the way to Boulder Canyon and climbed up and down boulders on the way to Falls Canyon. I did traverse little streams here and there throughout the canyons. I did not fall, but next time I will remember to pack my hiking poles, just in case. But even without the poles, I would do it all again because the views were incredible.


For the second half of our hike, we did take the meandering path along the creek that led to the Narrows Covered Bridge, and the Lusk Homesite, but it also led us across little streams and into another hollow with boulders to climb over, and rocks to squeeze through, even when you get what you want, you end up compromising.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Freedom

Photo Credit: Glen Huizenga

"What is this photograph about?"

I was reading the July-August 2016 issue of Lenswork magazine when I came across that question in the Editor's Comments section. The editor, Brooks Jensen, was talking about reviewing photographers' work that is sent to him to assess for the possibility of being published in Lenswork. Brooks said one of the first questions he asks himself when reviewing other photographers' work is - "What is this photograph about?"


I thought about the photographs that I had taken earlier that day and asked myself the same question. What are those photographs about? The answer that instantly came to mind was - Freedom. That answer could have been influenced by the fact that I was sitting on a chaise lounge chair next to my husband in the pool room of the Holiday Inn Express of Crawfordsville, Indiana, relaxing after a soothing soak in the hot tub. We were in Indiana for a mini getaway to photograph covered bridges, wander country roads and do a little hiking.


We had the freedom to get away because I no longer work outside of the house, my husband has oodles of vacation time left, we have a reliable vehicle, and enough Holiday Inn points to enjoy staying free for three nights. We had no set agenda, other than needing to be at the first covered bridge at sunrise, a very reasonable 8 a.m. We could wander anywhere we wanted for three full days.


With the loss of our dear golden retriever, Scout, there comes a new freedom. For the first time in thirty years, I no longer have a dog that I am responsible for. A huge weight of guilt about the desire to travel and explore has been lifted from my shoulders.


While my photographs have always been about adventure and discovery, I think there has always been a deeper theme running through them. Whether is was a few hours of stolen photographic wandering, a solo trip to the Pennsylvania countryside, or week long getaways to my favorite northern place, my photographs have always been about that deep need for freedom.