Certified Organic and Gluten-Free Modern Folk Music

Feeling wistful about the dwindling days of summer, I looked forward to the penultimate performance for Music on the Steps at the library. I've played the "Station Wagon" CD by Cabin Creek over and over this summer in my car on errands around town, on road trips down rural routes, and on roadside picnics, and seeing them in person was high on my list of summer adventures.

With darkening skies and lightning, the concert was moved inside to the library theater. I am not confident taking pictures indoors, but I snagged a front row seat, turned up the camera ISO to 3200 and hoped for the best.

What a blast! In this small venue, the band was relaxed and the concert became less a performance and more a personal interchange. Little things like instrument tuning and a missing band member only made the concert more real, more genuine. We are rooting for the success of these Virginia musicians, and I'm happy for all 20 pictures I took.

Formed in the hills of Virginia, Cabin Creek is built on a foundation of old time string band music from their childhood. All four members have been active musicians for over ten years, and their collective expertise culminates in the mature and concise songwriting of this project. Vowing to never over-process or over-edit their music, Cabin Creek is on a mission to restore some of what has been lost in the new wave of the music industry.

Sharing my favorite of the photographs . . . this one that feels the most authentic for me . . . the one that tells a story about a musician who loves mountains and a little boy who I bet is his son. And like Cabin Creek, I'm on my own mission to restore some of what has been lost in the new era of digital photography, vowing to never over-process or over-edit my images.

Cabin Creek Band

Cabin Creek Band

on color and the democratic camera

I begin by once again extolling the virtues of the public library. In our area, there are several branches of a larger central or headquarters library, and each branch has different books that reside within as their home, though all books may travel from one branch to the other as requested. So, you can see, it would never do for me to go to only one branch, I like to visit them all, as each presents something new to me. On a recent stop at the headquarters branch, I came across a beautiful photography book, William Eggleston, The Hasselblad Award 1998.

The forward and introductory essays of this book offer a fascinating history of photography, and in particular color photography.

From The Tender-Cruel Camera by Thomas Weski –

Eggleston’s use of color in his photographs is unspectacular, incidental. He uses it so subtly that we are no longer aware of it as a separate component of the process by which we perceive an object visually. “What makes his photographs of nonevents especially meaningful is his use of color to convey the ‘feel’ of a particular place. He emphasizes hues that soak the scene or resonate in a critical way, virtually creating effects of sound, silence, smell, temperature, pressure – sensations that black-and-white photography has yet to evoke.”

And it is these sentences on subject matter which help me to understand that I have Eggleston and photographers like him to thank for the freedom in my own picture-taking.

The choice of subject matter seemed to some critics to be totally indiscriminate, as though William Eggleston had applied no criteria at all. “Eggleston’s photographs often seem to have been taken not by a photographer but by a motorized camera swinging around the photographer’s head on a string. Whatever happened to be in front of the lens when the shutter was tripped got photographed. Whatever was not, did not.”
Eggleston speaks again and again of the ‘democratic camera’ which considers every object worthy of depiction. Naturally, this seemingly impersonal way of seeing things makes no distinction between “beautiful” and “ugly”.
FoggyMorning_CityDocks_0016_crop.jpg

When William Eggleston's exhibition, "Color Phototgraphs" opened at The Museum of Modern Art in May 1976, it received negative reviews on all counts - form, content and execution. Critics labeled the photographs as unacceptable, amateurish, banal, boring, and mere snapshots.

As it turns out, our worst enemy is a closed mind.

In essence, I take photographs like these – subjective views from the City Docks on a foggy morning – hoping to enable the reader to relate emotionally to these places and to understand the meanings that dwell within them.

The Red of a Hanover Tomato

It’s sometimes hard to live with the unknown, hard not to be fearful of what might lie ahead, just down the road. But the unknown can also be useful in the sense that it gives freedom where not everything can be controlled, predicted, or prevented.

It’s really not true that everything will be okay, but what is true, what I take reassurance from, is that I can handle what comes my way.

It’s okay to wander and get lost along the way, and oftentimes there is no greater joy than losing myself in the pleasures of simple experiences like the first bite of a farm fresh Hanover tomato.

Photography helps me to create the stories that I use to navigate my way through the world.  

backward

I’ve had the privilege of watching my now 20-year old son embrace photography as a passionate hobby. His method of learning to take creative pictures has been significantly different from my own. I am fascinated by the way he learns, and in this case, he has taught me a thing or two.

I spent years reading How-To books and camera manuals. I took a few classes through our local community college, the camera shop, and online. I worked hard to master the camera. I think I believed that if I could just get a handle on the technical aspects, making beautiful photographs would be easy. But all of this need to prepare and practice and get it right kind of got me stuck in some infinite loop, round and round, waiting and desperately wanting to make something that mattered. At the heart of creativity is the unbridled need to make and to show and to share; and these needs went largely unmet while I tried to master the camera.

My son, who has grown up in the smartphone generation, approached photography “backwards.” On more than one occasion I offered to teach him to use my dSLR but he always declined. I’ve set about explaining aperture and shutter speed, but all he wanted to do was take pictures, and he did just that, fearlessly. He started with the fun stuff – just jumped right in – and learned the technical stuff along the way as needed.  

Photography is art and we each have our own journey.

My path was slow and methodical for a long while, and now I am more carefree. I am just on the cusp of my best work, and I can feel this truth pulsing through my entire being. I have finally arrived at the fun stuff.  

I don’t know if photography will be lifelong hobby for my son, a part of his career or professional path, or simply a passing phase, but I am certain that taking pictures has shaped the way he sees, what he feels, and how he interacts with the world.

Thanks, Jacob, for teaching me life lessons about the order of things, where pictures and stories come first, long before rules and settings and modes.

timeless

My husband has been scanning old film photos from a family album for his mother. His family is devoted to heritage and history. These pictures matter to them. They are worth preserving and sharing.

As he prepares to scan the images, I study the pages intently. This kind of album is familiar to those of my generation, a three-binder with a burgundy vinyl cover, embossed with gold-foil trim. The album is filled to capacity with magnetic pages where photos stick to the page as if by magic. A clear plastic sheet folds over the pictures like a blanket for protection.

Many of the pictures are out-of-focus and faded; even so they tell the story of his family in bits and pieces. Pictures document the baby shower hosted for his mother as she awaited his birth, his sister on the night of her senior prom, and his brother riding a first-ever ten-speed bike down the road in front of their home. Amidst the nondescript photos and casual snapshots, every once in a while, I come across a picture that stands out as timeless.

I am drawn to this black and white photograph. I recognize the location as Virginia Avenue in Colonial Beach where my husband’s parents lived for the first few years of their married life. That’s my mother-in-law on the left, smiling as she looks on the scene. My sister-in-law, Norma, is the baby and she’s sitting on the lap of a family friend, Susan Pepper. Norma is playing with a can, and if I’m not mistaken it’s a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Susan is relaxed with the baby in her lap, summer shorts and Keds sneakers, feet propped, a clip in her hair to set a curl. And there’s the white picket fence as the backdrop.

While I might not be able to define the specifics of what makes a photo timeless, I know that this one is. I ask my husband about the picture. He tells me that Susan’s father, Mr. Pepper, was a fine photographer with a good camera and likely took this photograph. Mr. Pepper developed his own pictures in a makeshift darkroom in the shed behind his house. I marvel over the magic that led Mr. Pepper to take this picture of his daughter, a neighbor and her baby in his yard in 1960. I wonder if he realized when he pressed the shutter that he was creating this timeless image.

I set out to research what makes a photograph stand out to viewers so that it remains engaging as time passes, despite changes in fashion or trends.  No two ways about it, determining which pictures are timeless and which are not is a subjective business.

I found a good place to start understanding the nature of these classic photographs with an article by John Barbiaux, What Makes A Street Photograph Timeless? John discusses characteristics such as subject matter and style, the merits of black & white versus color, and story-telling through photographs with depth and context. He offers sound advice –

Your job as a photographer is to set the stage for such a story, capture the characters and place the props.

Going back through my albums, catalogs, and storage drives, I search for my own timeless photographs. And moving forward, I am ready to create the most meaningful images of my lifetime.

The privilege of seeing the world in this way is inspiring . . . and documenting my life and the time I live is my life’s work.

Self Service

There is something deeply compelling about the framing of this photo with “self-service” as the title, and the subject, The Salvation Army Church, neatly tucked within the borders. I know this church. I pass it almost every day. I love the bright red and white banner on the front that proclaims, “Celebrate Recovery.”  Often I see folks waiting outside the doors, cigarettes in hand, huddled in quiet reverie or engaged in lively conversation. I can only guess at what they might be waiting for – a meeting, a meal, new hope, or new life.

Radical self-care is what we’ve been longing for, desperate for, our entire lives—friendship with our own hearts.
— Anne Lamott
self-service

Influenced by

A compelling book with one paragraph of text and a single photograph per page, Blind Spot by Teju Cole.

In the foreword by Siri Hustvedt -

Some of the mental “ties “ are apparent; others are veiled or masked – there to be found if one cares to look, but if one doesn’t look and doesn’t read closely, if one doesn’t take time to uncover what lies in, between, and beyond the words and pictures, one will be blind to their meanings.

On an evening photo walk, I hold the truth of these words in my heart.

The feet move, and mental connections are made step by step . . . I follow a meandering, not a straight, path, one that branches into many paths, paths that then cross and recross over the course of my journey . . .

Exploring the streets around my home, seeking to overcome my own blind spots.  

The camera takes in and records everything in the frame, but my eyes do not. I cannot focus on everything at once. I pay attention to what is most salient to my eye – color or shape or subject – prone to my own biases. My way of seeing is unconscious and ingrained.

Can I see beyond my expectations?

Or have my blind spots revealed visions I’ve never seen before?

Isn't all art really the art of seeing?

borders

borders

stay out

stay out

petite garden

petite garden

quotidian

quotidian

gridlock

gridlock

evergreen

evergreen

untamed garden

For a long while, I’ve taken every photograph I could.

I’ve practiced and practiced. In the process I’ve sometimes taken more pictures than needed – ones I didn’t feel connected to – ones that I didn’t feel excited about or inspired by. I took them because I could, or perhaps because I thought I should. This results in a kind of “overshooting” whereby I end up editing and processing photos that I don’t really care about.

Borrowing from the words of David duChemin, “Don’t spend your time polishing turds.”

I’m more selective about the pictures I take these days. Trusting my instincts.

I passed on the picture of the turquoise bicycle leaning against the house on a side street.

I passed on the picture of the student in the coffee shop writing furiously with a ballpoint pen on a legal pad.

I passed on the pink coneflowers against the while picket fence on Princess Anne Street.

I stopped when I noticed the workers harvesting produce in the garden. I knew, without a doubt, that these were the pictures worth taking for me. I didn’t press the shutter endlessly, hoping to “catch” a defining moment. Instead, I watched and I waited. I interacted with my garden friends, and knelt on the ground and immersed myself in their world.

Click, click, click, click. Four pictures in the untamed garden.

Instant Love

I never know what I may find as I stroll through thrift shops. A recent find, a Polaroid SX-70 in working condition with a film pack, sent my heart fluttering. It was love at first sight, and I bought the camera without a second thought.  

I’ve been practicing.

Studying the nuances of this technological marvel.

Falling in love with the magic of pictures that appear before my very eyes.

Reveling in the memories of my Dad with the sexy SX-70, snapping pictures of us during vacation on a Florida beach.

Realizing that for all the technological advancements in cameras, the act of taking pictures itself remains relatively unchanged.

Photography is a universal language, no matter the means.

sitting on the docks

The docks along the river feel like home to me. Sometimes I sit on the bench along the river and enjoy my morning coffee. Sometimes Dave and I stop by the docks on evening rides. We watch folks fishing and listen to conversations about weather and what’s happening around town.  

In all this time, I’ve never actually seen anyone catch a fish. This is true.

On a recent evening, I stopped to talk to two fishermen who assured me they did indeed catch fish on the Rappahannock at the City Docks. I said, “Sure, I bet you do,” but I doubted it.

A few minutes later, the man with the fishing pole waved his arms and yelled to me, “Look, we caught a fish. You wanna take a picture?”

What self-respecting photographer wouldn’t respond to such an invitation? I ran over to their fishing spot and aimed my camera at the little fish (a perch, I think) twirling on the line. I didn’t have the nerve to ask, “Please hold that fish still, or better yet, can you pose with it?” I took the picture anyway, against the backdrop of soft pinks and blues reflected on the river. Not well-focused or creatively composed, but my first catch.

Walking away, I could hear the guys talking about the fish that was too small. I watched from a distance as they tossed him back into the river.

All we have in life is time, and this is how I want to spend mine.

closer than you think

The best places to take photographs are closer than you think.

From David duChemin, on where to make photographs –

The best places are within; places of receptivity and possibility, of courage. They are places into which you go empty and emerge filled. You will find none of these on a map or in a guidebook.
They are places to which you can often never return, and to which nothing but your curiosity can lead you. And I want so much just to be able to put my finger on a map and say, “Here, friend. This is where the magic is.” But whether it is or it isn't depends not on the place but on the eyes with which you see it.  

Even when I imagine that there is nothing left to photograph in my town, that I have combed every street and taken every picture, that the pictures I make will be uninteresting and boring, I am wrong. I need only to set off on foot and sink deeply into the walking. To see, to feel, to trust. And, as if by magic, I am transported by wonder. I am lost. I make something so much better than my expectations.

Fresh

Too hot for a photo walk, so I practiced still life photography using the abundance of fresh produce, flowers and eggs from my weekly trip to the Farmers Market.

light and airy gives a modern, contemporary feel . . .

while dark and bold gives a renaissance style . . .

and tones a little more middle of the road, can go either way.

Busy Fun Is Still Fun

I am striving for balance in my life – emotional, physical and mental. I’ve always been a high energy, productive person. Sitting still does not come naturally to me. Getting out of balance sneaks up on me. And sometimes I have difficulty shifting back to balanced activity as though I get used to too much activity. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to slow down to relax, and then recently I read something that helped me to see myself in a different light.

“People with Too Much Activity (TMA) will probably never embrace the lie-in-the-hammock version of time off. For them, balance is usually better found in busy activity, as long as doing the activity is not a way to avoid anxiety but a way to use some energy in a fun way. Whether it is a day of gardening, a 40-mile bike ride, or hitting every garage sale in town on a Saturday morning, high-energy people usually want their fun time to be busy, not leisurely. Discharging energy is good for TMA people . . . That said, the person with TMA needs to distinguish between the pleasure of accomplishment and pleasure just for the sake of pleasure. The act of doing the activity – not just accomplishing it – should be pleasurable.” –Margaret Wehrenberg, The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques

More than anything I want to nurture my creativity, to protect this passion I feel for photography, and to see where it might lead. But this won’t happen if I burn myself out. I take pictures every day, write blog posts and schedule them for weeks out, and seek ways to learn and challenge myself. And these are all worthwhile activities – in good measure.

But being a prolific photographer isn’t the same as being a creative one.   

Paying careful attention to what feels like fun, I’ve discovered that I really do love the act of taking pictures. It feels like a walking meditation. Where I fall down and begin to feel that need to finish and complete and accomplish is when it comes to the organization, editing and processing of the pictures. I nearly always process the pictures on the day they were taken. I want to rate, sort, and process the images right away so I can get it over with. And this is where my obsessive nature takes over.

Recently I’ve discovered a marvelous work around for managing my anxiety over “keeping up” with image processing.

Film photography. I've been taking an online course from Mastin Labs, The easiest ‘Learn to Shoot Film’ course in the world.

While I will certainly continue my digital work, adding a few rolls of film into the mix, slows me down and helps me learn to direct my focus and attention. Busy fun is still fun.

#FirstRoll

#FirstRoll