Book Talk

With twists and turns, this summer has been a wild one.

Living life was sometimes hard as I watched my mother’s life slip away. And yet, there were reasons to celebrate everywhere. In a summer when we had no money for vacation and no way to feel good about leaving Mom, we made the best of what we had. Money for gas. Picnic lunches. Maps. And time.

With my husband driving, we covered miles in every direction — stopping to make pictures, hike, explore, relish farm fresh peaches and watermelons, read books aloud (mostly me to him), wade in the river, make new friends, and sit in awe of the beautiful place we call home. Always, back home each evening to check on Mom.

The collection of images grew and became the story of our summer travels. It’s a colorful and creative journey. But when I look back over the pictures, there is one part of the story that I think I must tell rather than show, epilogue: standing on the side of the road with a camera in hand.

Taking pictures on the side of the road requires caution. I tried to be careful about trespassing and made sure to stand safely on the shoulder, well off the road. As cars raced by, it was not uncommon for drivers to honk. I seldom knew whether the honk was a friendly greeting, a warning, or a threat, but I smiled and waved every time. Instead of shirking back and apologizing for my presence, I explained, at every opportunity, what I was doing and why I thought making these pictures was important to whoever was interested or concerned. I experienced a beautiful state of creative flow where time seemed to stand still, the only movement being the swirl of warm summer air around me. I felt a deep reverence for the land and the people and the work felt good and important, even if only for me.

A few notes on publishing a photo book:

I can’t say enough how much I love photo books. I won’t even pretend I like to look at pictures on a phone or a screen. I’m all about pictures in print, pictures I can hold in my hands. As I considered publishing my collection of roadside images in a book format, there was a lot to learn. I took the most direct route and used the book module in Lightroom to create a book, exported it as a PDF, and uploaded the complete book to Blurb for printing. The most fun and the most challenging part of making the book was editing and sequencing the pictures. I have the proof copy in hand and I love the finished project.

But printing a book is expensive. My hardback book from Blurb costs about $65 – and that was with a coupon. I’m picky about books. I want the best paper and the cleanest design. I’ve explored a few other options, including submitting the book to a few publishers. This seems like a long shot.

I came across some fine advice on the submission page from Martin and Ann of Hoxton Mini Press:

Finally, remember, if we don’t accept your work it’s not because it’s bad, it’s because it doesn’t fit with our brand and tone. Being a photographer requires a soft heart and thick skin, a rare combo indeed, so we are very sorry if we have to turn you down. We've had our own work repeatedly rejected from other publishers - hey, maybe that's why we publish.

In the meantime, I’m sharing the entire collection of photographs here, as my personal project, how to be found by the world. The title is a line borrowed from the poem, Ten Years Later by David Whyte, that feels as though it was written just for me — in the summer where I was alone on the edge of the road, giving myself away, while my mother was blessed to be returning home.

I’ve learned these years,

how to be alone,
and at the edge of aloneness
how to be found by the world.

Innocence is what we allow
to be gifted back to us
once we’ve given ourselves away.

There is one world only,
the one to which we gave ourselves
utterly, and to which one day

we are blessed to return.

Click on the book cover to see the full collection.

leaves turning red

I drive a familiar route and pull over to admire this tree with the first leaves of fall, turning color. The tree, with its red leaves, stands out in a sea of green.

I catch myself charging forward, without even thinking.

I focused only on the single tree that stood out,

and now I wonder why I didn’t step back and capture the whole scene. The row of trees alongside the road with the one tree turning early.

Maybe next time.

Bug Off

After my mother’s passing, there was a void with wide expanses of time and nothing to do. I knew I spent a fair amount of time visiting her and managing her affairs, but what I hadn’t taken into account was how much of my head and heart were occupied by her in one way or another — worrying over her, feeling guilty and sometimes resentful, loving and anticipating, preparing to let go.

And if I am honest, caring for my mother was a socially acceptable answer to the question, “What are you doing these days?”

In my mind, there lives a list of shoulds, especially now that she’s gone. I should get a job. I should volunteer. I should exercise more. I should take a class.

I resist the urge to fill the time with distractions. It’s hard.

I wonder if I listen to every voice but my own.

But I am done with busy, and I am reclaiming my happiness with new definitions of success. I am a photographer who takes pleasure in making pictures without worrying about the market or an “audience” most of the time.

But sharing my work is an important part of the creative process. I ask myself why. Do I seek validation for my work? Of course the answer is yes, and this need is deeply intertwined with my upbringing. Can I reassure myself? Is external validation a need or simply a want? I am coming to terms with the fact that there will always be people who do not like my work.

And yet, I still make pictures. This practice does not simply fill the time; it is about trying to see the world and moving through the world with an intention of honest existence. I rejoice in my steady daily practice.

With the sharing of my photographs, there comes conversation and connection and community.

One of my favorite communities, Don’t Take Pictures, presents an online exhibition, Bug Off, on view August 21 — November 19. I’m proud to be a part of the exhibition. I’m sharing the photos I considered for submission. And if you visit the gallery, you’ll see which photograph was accepted.

Spiders in the shed, ants at a picnic, and butterflies in the garden. Love them or hate them, insects are an important part of our world. Using lenses as microscopes, this call presents photographers as entomologists. Whether photographed for study or décor, preserved in amber, captive in a jar, or smashed on the windshield, for this online exhibition, Don’t Take Pictures presents photographs of insects, bugs, and arachnids.

Butterfly in the Forrest

Still life with Dragonfly

Wasp Nest

Polyphemus Moth

artful inspiration

Broken Butterfly

I can’t say enough good things about Don’t Take Pictures and the magazine’s editor, Kat Kiernan. You can read Kat’s thoughts on Living and Sustaining a Creative Life. And you can view her poignant photograph, Hairpins, online or in person at Candela Gallery in Richmond, Virginia.

Congratulations, Kat. I am grateful for the inspiration and education and the art you bring into my life.