Monday, January 25, 2010

Midwestern City Lights

In honor of the two week trip North (by Northwest) that I am about to leave for (in, like, 5 minutes, after I post this blog) I want to share some cool images of Cincinnati I took right before we moved to Valdosta in the fall. The light was amazing, the weather was great, and I was able to capture day light and night light from the KY side. Here are a few of my favorites!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

In my own backyard

There's this little place, only a short bike ride from here (in the same neighborhood even) where I had been planning to go and take some photos. And yesterday, when the world was covered in a simply amazing blanket of fog, with the sun straining to come through, I decided there was no time like the present. I got some awesome photos - and this is one of my favorites. I will post more as I go through them. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

After the Storm

My favorite time to go to the beach is right after a violent thunderstom - when the dark clouds are still gathered in the sky, the sun is breaking through in warm, quiet ray, the surf is churning, the sand is wet, the colors are saturated and the whole world looks new. Here are some of my favorites from just such a day two summers ago at Ocean Isle Beach NC.

Monday, January 18, 2010

On the fly

I took this one in downtown Valdosta while I was doing a portrait session a few weeks ago. This guy rode by on his bike and called out to me "take my picture!" So I did. Of course the camera wasn't set for the bright light, so I am amazed it still turned out!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Over the river and through the woods

Living in the South now, I can look wistfully back at the blanket of white that covered Dayton this time of year, every year we lived there. Though it never stayed for long, it was beautiful when it fell. Most of the time I was too darn cold to leave the house, but on the rare occasion the snow came, the sun shone and the temperature was definitely worth braving to get some cool images. So here is one photograph I took last winter when we had a wonderful snow day. Snuggle up. Have a cup of cocoa. Enjoy! I'm going to go play in the 65 degree January sunshine of GA now.

Side note: Yes, I did some post production work to this to include adding tilt shift and texture as well as upping the contrast and cooling it down ...and probably a few other things that I don't remember. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

One Moment of Fall

One of my very favorite reflections (no photoshop) from one of the few moments that fall comes to the south. This image was taken in Goldsboro, NC in a rare place where the trees actually turned with an amazing blaze of reds and golds and ambers and auburns. I just love the fall. It's my favorite time of year.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Corridor

Another of my favorite images - this one taken in a church in Wilmington NC with a film camera, hand held. A favorite element for me in photographs is repetition. And it's definitely present here, in the arches and the lights and the pews. The leading lines take the viewer straight into the image, all the way to the end. Do not pass go. Do not collect $100. Just walk the corridor, embraced by the warmth of flickering candlelight, engulfed by the scent of heavenly incense and enfolded in the wings of the heavenly hosts of angels singing. 

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Waiting for Morning

This is a cool image for me because it embodies a lot of the things that I love about photography - reflections, mood, water and travel. I took this photograph in Western Ireland in 2008 - more specifically along the Rossanrubble peninsula. It was near to sunset, which (along with pre-dawn light) is a great time for reflections to really pop. I did some post process work to this around the edges, giving it an aged feel, which to me matches the mood of the piece. It's titled "Waiting for Morning" because many of the boats anchored there would be in that same spot until morning (and their owners) came and the day's work would begin again. 

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Looking for Work

First, let me tell you that it's tough to blog every day! I definitely have the images, and the ideas, but before you know it an hour (or two) is gone in the telling of the story and everything else I meant to do gets allotted slightly more time. Not that I mind. But I hope that I have some faithful readers out there (I know I have a few) and I'm not just doing this for me : ) soooo, on that note, would love to "hear" your comments and feedback. Always and forever.

Now, to the story of this image (and back to the intent of these first posts of the new year being about my favorites). This one was taken in a small cafe bar in Utrecht, Holland two summers ago. I was visiting my friend, Canci, who I have known since high school. She and I had just spent an hour or so walking around the downtown area in miserable weather (gray, drizzle, certainly not conducive to photography) and though my camera was in hand, I took very few photos. Canci suggested we adjourn to a local cafe beneath the Dom tower and have a drink. A grand idea I thought. So we settled into the crowded cafe at a table near the middle. I packed my camera away in my bag and was just settling in to a nice pink beer (yes, really...very refreshing) when I saw him. Straight ahead (about 125 feet or so) sitting alone at a table with the large picture windows at his back. And I got all goose bumpy. This was A Moment, capital "M". The absolute amazing window light. The ash trail from his cigarette. The curling smoke. The slight despair in his bent head as he perused the paper. The half drunk cup of tea. Slowly, sooooo slowly, I drew my camera from my bag and switched lenses (to my 70-300). Must not attract attention. Must stay covert. Conversation around me faded, I was no longer listening. I hoped Canci didn't notice, or care, that I had entered the quiet zone. It was also the nervous zone. What if he looked up? What if he got up? What was I doing? Hand held, in a shadowy bar, with a not very fast lens, I took the shot. And again. And again. Hoping hoping hoping that they would (be clear convey the moment capture the essence) come out. I took one quick peek at the display, zoomed in to be sure I had at least one sharp image, and tucked the camera away.
I became aware again of my surroundings, the chatter, the yeasty smell of beer. The Moment was gone. But I had caught it. The title of this image is Looking for Work. I have no idea if he really was, or if he ever noticed me taking the photos. He is an unnamed man in a bar whose name I cannot remember. But to me, he is the essence of the last two years of economic crisis (because, yeah, I really think it is) we've been experiencing.  He is the poster child for how many Americans feel. Harried. A little desperate maybe. Seeking but not finding. Hoping but being afraid to hope. Do I feel bad about taking the photo and not getting permission first? Truthfully, a little. Maybe not as much as I should. Not sure if that makes me a bad photographer or just an honest one. But that's another blog for another time.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Follow your dreams to Toby's Cup, the best hotdogs in NJ (the world?)

It's really not a surprise to me that I am an entrepreneur. While starting my own photography business was never in my early life plan, the desire to be my own boss and certainly to make my dreams a reality were clearly lurking somewhere in my bloodline (perhaps closer to the surface than I might have imagined) soaking in my environment as I grew into adulthood.

As a child you know (by observation) what your parents and grandparents do for a living and could tell a stranger if they asked. But a child rarely wonders how or why a job becomes a profession - what made you decide to do this? How did you get there? Was this your dream? I do wish I had asked these questions of those who are now long gone, but I didn't. I can look back, though, and piece some of stories together.

I can imagine my grandmother (mom's side), younger than I am now, cooking in her restaurant that served Bethlehem Steel workers for three squares a day (the restaurant was Geri's Luncheonette and was bulldozed over, many years ago). Later, in my first infusion of entrepreneurship, I heard her stories and learned her secrets at her knee as she continued to make amazing meals (fit to feed an army) the rest of her life.

I can imagine my great aunt and uncle (mom's side) who operated a bar / restaurant / hotel on the east side of Bethlehem, with the help of my grandparents, during the same time period (50s) as they catered to out-of-towners staying in the city while doing work at Bethlehem Steel. Hearing these stories served as a second dose of entrepreneurship, now coursing happily undetected in my bloodstream.

But most influential over my business decisions is what I did see - and can still see with my own eyes (because some things last a lot longer than others) - the business that was my grandfather's (dad's side) dream on a little corner of a very busy highway (Rt 22) serving the best hot dogs in NJ. It's called Toby's Cup. And is perhaps my truest example of how dreams come true, but there is a price to pay.

Have a side of history with that:
Toby's Cup (or "The Cup" as it's known to those intheknow) should be a historical landmark (in fact if anyone knows how to go about accomplishing this, please contact me!). It has been in the same spot, sporting the same bright green facade, with the same slightly scary clown on the side for 64 years. The menu hasn't changed much - still hot dogs on a warm bun served with everything (mustard onion pickle) and a milkshake. The updated grill menu now includes chicken cheese steaks, pork roll sandwiches and of course the original cheese steaks and hamburgers. It used to be a Coca Cola only business but later (due to popular demand) started carrying Pepsi and bottled water as well. But the favorites are still the extra thick milkshakes made with Breyer's Ice Cream (no wonder it's still my choice among ice cream, I was practically raised on it!). And if you haven't yet, try the cherry vanilla shake.

Toby's is the original mom and pop shop. It's a greasy spoon. It's a novel and amazing business. And my father and grandmother own and operate the business with family intercession now and again (my grandfather passed away 8 years ago, leaving the legacy to my father).

Working at Toby's was a rite of passage for me and my two brothers - each of us did our time (one still does) serving up steaks and burgers and scraping grills. And let me tell you, there is nothing more challenging and nothing to keep you more honest than working in food service with family at the helm in a very, very physically small building. Definitely another heavy dose of entrepreneurship for me, this one from actual experience.

What did I learn from all this? That there are a myriad of challenges in this country for small businesses. That as the options - like the fast food chains that crop up around The Cup - grow to serve a population determined to have variety, small businesses do suffer and must find a way to stand out and keep up. That even the best businesses can be constrained by location, lack of space, and minimal parking (Toby's happens to face all three in addition to being at the mercy of the weather, having only outdoor seating and minimal indoor standing room) so you have to rise to the challenge and get creative with what you have. But I also learned that giving back to the community is part of the equation for a good business. Toby's receives many awards, accolades and thanks for donations to high school events, fire department and police fund raisers, etc. It is a place that serves the community. I learned that lesson well and follow the example as best I can.

Looking back, I can see what I learned. I also see what I didn't. I never really understood the time, effort, ingenuity and sheer determination to never quit that went into owning and operating a business or appreciated the blood, sweat, tears and frustrations that came with it - especially when it comes to keeping a business going in the face of the future. Now, of course, I do. And as I reflect I also reiterate, dreams do come true at a price, but the price is worth it (at least to me) in the long run.

Want to know what sets me apart from other photographers? I believe it's my quality, customer service, personal attention, creativity and desire to never stop learning. I can't give you a photograph for the price of a portrait session at a chain store, but I can give you a simply amazing product that will stand out from any portrait session you've ever had before.

Want to know what sets Toby's apart (because there's really NOTHING else like it in the world)? Don't take my word for it (because, ok, I might be a little biased). Check out the facebook fan page that was NOT started by anyone related to the family - it was started by a local guy (Allen-Michael Yavor) who loved the place - the idea - enough to make a statement. And check out this independent rating as well at Holly's Eats online

And while, no, you can't get fries with that, you just never know what 2010 may bring. And you won't get a better hot dog anywhere.

So yeah, this is kind of a plug for Toby's. But it's also a plug for me. And for the small business. A plug for living the dream. If you know anyone who owns and operates a small business, or you do yourself, be sure to give your money back to a small business today. You - the fans (the True Fans) understand that you may pay a little more, but you're getting a product that goes a longer way. And word of mouth  - from your mouth to the ears of your friends - is the greatest way to advertise. And if I've learned anything of value, it's that honoring you - the true fans - is the heart of success.

So, no, it's not a surprise that I am an entrepreneur. The only surprise is that I didn't end up in food service.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Barbie goes to the Beach

You just never know when the camera might come in handy to capture something really unusual. Since I am already off the "regularly scheduled program" and a day behind (best laid plans an all that), I thought I'd go way off. So here are four for the price of one. 

I took these images on a summer trip to Ocean Isle Beach, NC with my family. I was walking the main drag to the beach and wandered past this little sandbox right in front of one of the beach rental houses. You have to understand, I had Barbies when I was a little girl and so this brought me back to childhood, but this little tableau also fascinated me for what it revealed about the child who left them there. Before she (I assume she) wandered off to other things...maybe lunch, maybe the beach, maybe a nap, she left them carefully posed, as though a thought interrupted, rather than lying disregarded, face down in the sand. So enthralled was I that I actually walked the distance back to the rental we were staying in (no small feat when it's 100 degrees at high noon on a humid Carolina day) and got my camera, trudged back and took these photos. I have to say, I felt a little bit like the paparazzi, hoping not to be seen as I snuck up on the gang at the picnic table. And as a result, I didn't spend as much time as I would have liked - after all it was on the main road, and anyone (including the girl or her parents) could have emerged at any minute to see a grown woman in a bathing suit snapping pictures of dolls in their front yard. There goes my reputation, eh? But it was fun, and unexpected, and I think worth doing and thus worth sharing as well. So see, it's not all barns and sunsets and pretty flowers on this side, no sir! Come on Barbie, let's go party!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Glimpses of St Augustine

A little look at St Augustine, Florida from a brief one night excursion to the oldest city in the US. Beautiful architecture, blue skies and some of the best Spanish Tapas I've had since Barcelona. Ole.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Color of St Augustine

Here is a quick look at two collages I put together from the weekend road trip to St Augustine  - one is the more colorful images I took and one from the various doors and windows (not quite as colorful as those in Ireland, but still unique)! Will post more tomorrow!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Eye of the Staircase

This favorite image of mine has a briefer story - taken in one of the Dupont mansions in Delaware, the only point of interest is that I literally was on the floor with a tripod trying to get this photo while the tour group I was part of stood collectively gawking at me (I happened to be slightly behind the tour guide, trying very hard not to cross the red velvet ropes of death keeping me from being where I needed to be). Sometimes it's not easy to get the photo. And sometimes I don't. This time, I did. : )

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Windowledge Remembrance

This first "new" week of blogging is going to be about my all time favorites (though there are more than just one week's worth. I always have such a hard time deciding!). What that also means is that these posts will be lengthier in text because every image has a story (of course) worth telling.

Often the photos that are my favorites are not the ones that sell well in the galleries, which is a testament to the fact that art speaks to the heart, not the head. Something technically correct and impactful can go unnoticed when compared to a quick snap of something that stirs emotion in the viewer. However, as with everything in life, there are exceptions to the rule. And this image in an exception for it happens to be one of my favorites AND one of my best selling.

The story: This image was taken while I was walking a lonely and deserted alleyway in Brugges (Belgium) about 6 years ago. I was still using a film camera at the time (that's important to the story) and my trusty Nikon N80 was loaded with ISO 400 color film (not slide film mind you, also important). Not really having a destination in mind I was just wandering the streets (my favorite way to see cities is to simply wander and see what happens) when I chose this particular alley to walk down. Again, no purpose in mind, I glanced up at the windows (about a foot above my head) and saw this wooden carved relief of Jesus carrying a cross in the window. I focused, took a few photos, and walked away (later discovering that the building was a local Abbey).

The amazing thing about the image is that it turned out at all.

I returned from my week long vacation and sent my film off to be developed (I had used a mixture of slide and regular film on the trip). Imagine my surprise and utter horror when most of the film came back extremely underexposed and in some cases utterly black. What had gone wrong? A little sleuthing revealed that my camera had accidentally been set to underexpose every image by 2 stops (making every image darker than expected) and because of the nature of slide film (having little latitude for mistakes) very few of my slide images turned out. I was saved, somewhat, by having used regular film throughout the trip but still, of the 18 rolls of film I took, I kept maybe 15 images. This was one of them.

Looking deeper: another thing I always marvel at is the ability of people to interpret meaning from photos. Certainly you can add meaning after reading the above story (miracle image, meant to be, etc.) but I had an astute artist friend once point out to me the repetition of crosses in the image - something I certainly did not notice at the time I took the photo. But indeed, if you look closely (beyond the actual cross), you'll see a second cross in the window that comes through high in the back and of course the forward window has a cross that forms the panes. This is an interesting religious connotation in that three is a powerful Christian (and other) religious number (from the standpoint of Christianity you have the major three in the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit). Thus, this becomes a very meaningful religious image as well.

Sometimes we don't always see everything that's right in front of us, but in the end what's meant to be seen is revealed - whether by accident, by the observations of friends, or by our own ability to look deeper. Another life lesson, perhaps?

Friday, January 1, 2010

All That Remains

I wanted to start the blog off with one of my all time favorite photographs. This photograph has a lot of back story - and a lot of meaning for me. It also forecasts a lot of what I want my new year to be about - remembering the past, marking the moment, using the right combination of persistence and luck to take something of impact and let it truly shine and, most importantly, moving forward into the future, turning full face into the rising sun.

Remembering the past and marking the moment: "All that Remains." So called because this dilapidated building was once someone's home and now, as seen in this image, is abandoned and derelict. The year after I took the photograph the building collapsed, returning to the elements that once formed its structure. And while I often have trouble coming up with interesting and telling titles for photographs, I had no problems with this one. Sometimes they just come - and when they do I know the image is magical. But rather than being sad that the building is gone, I can remember that I was there to capture the story  - a story that can and will be retold for many years to come. Gone but not forgotten.

Persistence vs luck: I often joke about how good photographs come when the sun, moon and stars are aligned properly in the heavens and luck is on your side. And while I say this tongue in cheek, it's really kind of true. In this case especially. This image, the realization of a picture that had been running through my head for many years, was the result of the perfect moment captured after going every few months, without fail, to this location  - at sunrise and sunset, in various seasons and climates  - with disappointing results. This time everything aligned to show the essence of the season  - tilled fields waiting for spring planting, the quality of the light at sunrise, the mist burning off of the NC morning  - and became an impactful image that lived up to its worth (The Center for Fine Art Photography recognized it as a print worthy image and published it in one of their quarterly magazines as well as requesting the framed image for a temporary exhibit at the Denver International Airport where it exhibited for 3 months).

Moving forward into the future: interestingly (tellingly) this image was one of the first I created with a digital camera. I began my "professional" training using a Nikon N80 and fuji slide film but about a year or so after I really started learning to use it, Nikon came out with the D200 - the first affordable (for me) digital camera. I knew that digital would (rock my world) advance my learning because I'd be able to see my mistakes and correct them immediately, rather than waiting for the slides to come back and trying to remember what I did wrong. And to this day I have no regrets about leaving film for digital. I use film as a more creative medium now - for experimenting (a la the Holga camera) and for nostalgia. But I kept my understanding of how it worked and applied what I could to the digital era.

So, as with most of my favorite images, this one tells a story. Of where I've been. Of where I'm going. And of the importance of journey. Not a bad way to start the new year.