Sunday, September 24, 2017

Merry-Go-Rounds and Backroads

Exiting off the highway onto Stony Lake Road, I let out the breath I didn't know I was holding. The morning rush hour traffic had dropped off a good ten miles back, but still I had a death grip on the steering wheel.

I had left the house at the first sign of daylight, as soon as I knew I would be able to see a deer paused at the side of the road. The very last thing I wanted to do was hit a deer, especially after my husband just had my car detailed two weeks ago. The morning held the promise of overcast skies, which made me feel less rushed, not having to hurry to my destination before the sun was too high. In fact a few rain drops hit the windshield as I drove northward, taking the backroads until I had to get on the highway.

The held breath could also be contributed to the book I am listening to: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. Great book but... I strongly dislike one of the main characters, Turk Bauer. I tense up every time his voice announces the start of his chapter. Now that his chapter is done, I push stop on the Audible App on my phone and eject the cassette tape adapter my phone is connected to. Safely off the highway and on one of my very favorite country roads, I want all my senses engaged with the drive. I discovered this road four years ago on one of my early backroads adventures.

Learning from my solo adventure last week, this week I had a destination in mind, the summer people community of Stony Lake, and the playground that lies at the heart of this tiny hamlet. When I first drove through this little community four years ago, my attention was drawn to the lake. As I turned my head from the lake and noticed the playground I had to do a double take: was that really a wooden merry-go-round? Three point turn and I was angle parked, grabbing my camera from the back seat and kneeling in the worn circle of dirt surrounding the merry-go-round.

I have tried to figure out what it is about the merry-go-round that captivates me, I think it boils down to being a treasure hunter and scarcity. I don't think I had ever seen a wooden merry-go-round in real life before that day, and there it was in tiny Stony Lake in all its chippy paint glory.

Lost in memories while I drive, I suddenly notice a crudely lettered sign for some haunted acres, and I want to stop and get a picture, but the fear of the sun emerging and taking away the lovely diffused light keeps me speeding along.

I angle park in the empty parking lot and notice that my merry-go-round sits in the shadow of a very large oak tree. Still, the overcast skies are creating such lovely soft light. My merry-go-round is still here, still the same, chippy paint and all. My intention is to do some self-portrait work here, capture myself with this treasure, so I unload the tripods, the camera body with the articulating screen, the remote shutter release, and the Lensbaby Velvet 56 lens I am using for my 365 photography project. I also have one photography prop with me, an old vintage camera from my collection, I figure I can use that to set focus. Focusing for self-portraits is no easy task.

I spend lots of time with the merry-go-round, walking round and round it, looking at it from every angle. Some shots I will like, some I won't, and some will be surprises.

Last year when I made this autumn drive and visited the playground, I explored beyond the merry-go-round and discovered a series of docks that were hidden down an embankment. This was about the time that my Canon 70D that I was shooting with decided to no longer work. I think I got all of two shots off before it froze up (I never travel without two camera bodies now). A lover of wooden docks, hmmm maybe wood is a theme here, I wanted to do some self-portraits here too. I need to invest in a longer range remote shutter release, because when I finally get the remote to work, I end up with a shot like this...

Not quite the tranquil, reflective moment I was going for. Glad the lens wasn't set any higher.

For this autumn season I am reviving my backroads adventures, I am having too much fun not to. So let's pray for an amazing October and a gentle November.

If you are curious about that first blog post I did at the playground, here is the link to it.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Solo Adventure

"Traveling for the sheer joy of it down a country road is a sweet search for things that are elusive; a quest for yesterday's pace and peace. Adventure for the sensitive."
                                                                             ~Doris Scharfenberg, Country Roads of Michigan

Four years ago I did a series here on the blog called Back Roads Adventures. I took a detailed map of all the different counties here in Michigan and began plotting different drives. All the roads began with the initial M (Michigan Road) or B (which probably doesn't stand for back road, but I can pretend). These roads were desired over roads that started with US (United States) or the worse of the letters, I (for Interstate).

Some of these M and B roads have become dear old friends, and I try to drive them at least once a year, usually in the Autumn so I can enjoy a fall color tour at the same time.

The one that calls me the loudest is B-35; a drive through small farming communities, past muddy cow pastures and golden corn fields. Even though it seems like just a scenic drive, there is a destination on this road, an old school house that is slowly, or quickly depending on the year, falling into decay. I pray every year that it is still there, so I can photograph it one more time, document the changes.

Four years ago, I would turn down any back road I came across, but I have found myself getting more hesitant to go out on driving adventures. It is so easy to just stay around home and not venture very far. But at forty-nine, I don't want my world getting smaller already. So I made a hotel reservation for an area of Michigan I haven't been to before, one night away seemed a good way to ease into it.

Last week when I set off on my first solo adventure since driving to Pennsylvania two years ago, my destination was east, across the state of Michigan, but somehow I found myself driving north first. Mainly to avoid those nasty US and Interstate roads, but also to set the mood for this solo adventure. The night before I left, I had a vision for the self-portrait that opens this blog post and I knew the perfect place to take it, the gravel road next to the decaying school house. The captured image turned out pretty close to what I envisioned; first time for everything.

There are a few things I will change for my next adventure:
  1. One night wasn't quite long enough, so next time I will do two.
  2. Less driving; spending more time in a few specific locations.
  3. My favorite images from this trip are the self-portraits, so I will do more of those next time.
  4. More research on a area, so I will know specific locations I want to explore.

There probably won't be any more solo overnights this year, but I am going to go out on some day adventures this fall. Getting started is the hardest part, now that that is conquered I know I can do more. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

At First Glance

At first glance, and let's be honest that's all we will give it, the culture of fast scrolling and double tapping so ingrained in us, we see a dog resting peacefully on a brown couch.

But as we scroll past and do a double tap, did we note what kind of dog is was? What was the material of the couch the dog rests on? Where was the light coming from? What time of day was it?

Twenty pictures further along in the feed, will we even remember we saw the dog?

Trust me, the finger I am pointing at you is also hastily scrolling on the screen on my own device. But  in your haste, in my haste, what are we missing? Are we missing the story, the hint of what lies deeper?

As you scrolled and tapped did you wonder how old the dog is? Did you wonder what his name is? Would you guess that this is a rare moment, the sweet adolescent for once sitting still long enough for me to manually focus on the catch light in his eye? Did you notice his catfish long whiskers?

What about the hint of what lies beyond the dog and the couch? Are you curious enough to run your eyes around the edge of the frame? Curious enough to linger?

I have been trying to be more intentional in my own social media browsing, taking my time to drink in the details, run my eyes along the edge of the frame. Is there something there that intrigues me? I will never know if I scroll at the speed of lightening.

My daughter's former boss and her husband are taking an extended road trip, exploring back roads and local small town eateries. I want to follow their trip. I'm curious to see where they go, make notes for our own future trips. I need to slow the scrolling, take time to linger, see where people are going, read their stories. I want to invest in their stories, I want to invest in my own story.

I want to find my way back to curiosity.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Scene & Story - August 2017

August was a long month. By the end of August I am so ready for summer to be over and for my favorite season of the year begin. I am tired of the sun, the washed out colors, the noise, the heat and especially the humidity, which is no friend of this curly-haired girl.

In spite of my strong feelings about August, it was good month. I completed a 30 Day Photography Composition challenge, learning many things about myself and my photography in the process, always a rewarding experience. I took care of a friend's puppy for a week and survived; I learned I am not quite ready for a puppy of my own. I continued to work on my personal photography project - The Meadow, only missing the week I watched the puppy.

But the best part of August was two trips North. One with my husband, which I wrote about in my last blog post, and one with my daughter for a long overdue girls' weekend.

I realized it has been over three years since my daughter and I did a weekend away, much too long for someone who loves quality time with her family. She wanted me to take her wine tasting, which we did, but I also added a twilight tour of the former insane asylum - perfect for the photographer mother and the history major daughter, coffee in our favorite up-north town, a trip to the bookstore and a book, some rock collecting, a food truck experience, a lighthouse, and a trip to the lavender farm - which is where the above photo was taken - enjoying lavender lemonade and  lavender shortbread cookies on the patio of the Secret Garden.

It was a great weekend, three years won't pass before we do it again.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Secret Garden

When I am in the midst of struggle and feeling overwhelmed it is impossible for me to see an end to it. That was my year last year. We were on a week by week basis on making a decision about our dear golden retriever, Scout. His decline was so apparent, but nobody wanted to rush the inevitable. Our daughter was still living at home with her golden retriever puppy, Findley. I love Findley, but a puppy is a puppy, especially when I saw the constant contrast between him and 13-year old Scout. Our daughter was on the verge of making a job change, a much needed job change, but one that would drastically change everyones' schedules. I felt creatively empty.

It was this exact same time last year that I was able to sneak away with my husband for a couple of days up north. He had to go for work, and I was able to tag along and use the car during the day to go exploring with my camera. It was the break I desperately needed. While none of life's circumstances changed when we returned, at least I felt refreshed and renewed. Scout hung on until October, and then the decision was made for us, our daughter did change jobs and it was challenging, but we made it work, and thankfully Findley continued to grow up. 

Here it is exactly a year later and I find myself up north again with my husband, he again for work and me exploring the places I love with my camera. Many of life's circumstances have changed in this last year: Scout is gone, and we are dogless; our daughter moved out in February to her own place with Findley, she changed jobs one more time, and now has a stable schedule that allows her to provide for herself, go home at lunch to let Fin out and not work nights or weekends. 

I feel creatively alive this year, finally having time and space without having worry constantly nagging me. But I am most proud of myself for never giving up last year, I kept pulling my camera out every chance I got, I kept writing. Even if none of that is my best work, it taught me discipline and resilience which will get me through the next period of struggle and feeling overwhelmed, it is inevitable, it will come again. 

While we were up north and having drinks with one of my husband's coworkers, he showed me photos on his phone of this Secret Garden Lavender Farm. I made that my destination on our last morning away, what a peaceful, awe inspiring place at eight o'clock in the morning. 

What a difference a year makes. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Scene & Story - July 2017

"We seldom get what we want without struggle and loss. We do not become who we want to become - the best versions of ourselves - without passing through the fire."                              
                                                                                      ~ David duChemin

I am constantly drawn back to this photograph. The contrast of light and dark, the depth. The delicateness of the spider webs, the heaviness of the shadows around the edges. A lot like life, there is goodness there, but we must look for it, and it will often be surrounded by struggles, darkness, and loss.  

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Be True

Why do we find it so hard to be true to ourselves?

My daughter recently stumbled upon a podcast called Makers and Mystics and shared it with me. In Season 2, Episodes 10 & 11, the host of the podcast, Stephen Roach, interviews one of our family's favorite musical creatives, Josh Garrels. We have all of Josh's music and have been fortunate enough to see him in concert numerous times. In the interview Josh talks about how he has remained true to himself, his family and his calling, by choosing to remain independent, even though signing with a major record label would have made his, and his family's, life so much easier. 

I have been pondering Josh's words for the last month. 

I have not been very present in this space this month, but I have been busy. I am putting the finishing touches on my website, and hope to have that live very soon. The class I am taking to build it, offered by artist Ivy Newport's husband, Chris, has been invaluable in building my Squarespace website. But the place I have struggled in staying true to myself is when the course talks about adding on-line classes to my website, and setting up e-commerce. As we walk through the different lessons, I think:  yes, I should have these things. 

But...if I am honest with myself, I don't want these things. 

The truest me does not want to be sitting at my desk creating class content and recording videos. I don't want to have to manage orders and shipping of product. I want to be out in the meadow in my paisley rain boots, or wandering the shoreline in my red Taos shoes. I want to be out, not in. 

But it is easy to listen to the admirers, to the supportive family, who are my biggest cheerleaders and are saying, "You should be selling your work".

Last weekend, I was reading the latest issue of Lenswork magazine (No. 131, August 2017) and the article The Best Time Ever by Brooks Jensen had some very interesting points that fueled my pondering...
"...I have often thought it odd that so many photographers are seduced by the idea of selling their work. Why? To those of you who play golf, garden, fish, knit, cook, or play an instrument, are you equally driven to turn your enjoyable past time into an income-driven career? All of those hobbies are just as expensive as photography, but I don't find many who are as tempted as photographers to find some way to subsidize their hobby with a professional income stream."

But it is later in the article that Brooks' words echoed the feelings in my own heart...
"This does bring us to the knotty problem of why we do our photography. Seriously, why are you a photographer? We each have our answers and they are all correctly a matter of personal choice. I decided a long time ago that my purpose for doing all this work (and spending all this time and money) is two-fold: first, for strictly internal motivations of personal growth, and a means to explore the world; second, to share my creative vision and production with the world as much as I can. Notice there is nothing in either of those goals that would necessarily lead me into the world of commerce as my first choice -- or for that matter, my second, third, or fourth choice."


Photography began for me as a way to find out who I was, not Glen's wife, not Mallory's mom, but Sarah. It has richly blessed me in the discoveries it has led to. It has allowed me the freedom to explore both close to home and farther abroad. It is the common interest shared among my creative friends, friends that I never would have met otherwise. It has brought my husband and I closer as we share, learn, laugh and gather stories together. It will probably never make me rich,  at least not monetarily, and I am completely okay with that. 

I need other people to create on-line classes, because I love taking them and learning. But I will continue to share my gifts and talents freely, through my pictures and words, and know that I am staying true to myself by doing that.