Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Humans Being

Music by the composer Steve Reich is a favorite of mine when processing photos, as it tickles my brain with unique sounds, fascinating instrumentation, and no discernible harmony or melody.  Reich has been on the forefront of American music and is known as a founder of the minimalism movement along with Philip Glass and Terry Riley.  I recently had the opportunity to hear a concert he curated at Carnegie Hall that featured the JACK Quartet and Bang on a Can All-Stars.  It was one of a series of concerts designed to celebrate three generations of new music composers.  Experiencing the music and listening to the discussion by the composers that followed reminded me of the importance of the exploration of the arts and how they are a testament to our times.

As you pause to notice something beautiful each and every day, I challenge you to engage in various art forms be it music, theatre, poetry, visual art, or some other creative expression that speaks to you.  In so doing, reflect on what they mean to you as a human being.  

It is easy to place art in a category of unnecessary fluff, but as I have learned through my “Flowers for Mom” exercise of pausing to photograph a flower every day in honor of an Alzheimer’s journey, we must live as humans being, not merely humans doing.  The arts help us do exactly that.

As Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney who was a sculptor, art collector, and founder of the Whitney Museum once said, “Art is an ascending or descending scale, the spirit of its joy reaches us in unexpected ways.”  Include the arts in your life by engaging in them, supporting them and celebrating new work being done to document our unique time in history.


What will you pause to experience today?   Dew on the bloom of a strawberry plant, a drawing by a child, music that makes your heart sing, a live performance, or something else?  Go on about life as a human being and celebrate it.  My mother would certainly tell you to do exactly that.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Family Stories

When I first told my brother about my “Flowers for Mom” series, he shared that whenever he sees Queen Anne’s Lace he thinks of Mom.  Clearly I do too because it was the very first flower I photographed for the series!  Above is the first shot of Queen Anne’s Lace paired with a faded bloom in the same location two months later.  As evidenced in the incredible responses to these flower photographs, people associate flowers with special people and events, and these flowers are resonating with them in lovely, unique ways.  This series is rich with stories tied to specific images, and I hope you enjoy these.
My father is my greatest source of flowers, and it has been a joy to learn names of plants from him and to open the door to see him holding a cup full of flowers he found in bloom at Jasmine Hill Gardens, a place he has long loved and nurtured.  It has been an unexpected gift to talk of flowers in addition to how Mom is doing that day.  On both counts, some are more beautiful than others.  As you enjoy the flowers from the Christmas cactus and bromeliad delivered by Dad, imagine my kitchen table serving as my “studio” for the photo shoots!

I had never heard of pearl bush before Dad delivered a cutting to me.  Something about the flower triggered memories of my maternal grandmother, so I pulled out an old dress of hers that she would have worn with pearls, to serve as the background.
In honor of my wedding anniversary on October 2nd, I photographed two calla lilies, the flower I carried down the aisle 23 years prior.  With becoming wonderful young women, in their honor I photographed pink kalanchoes.  The message for which I was aiming when setting up the shot was “Dearest daughters, walk towards the light - there are people ahead of you, beside you and behind you.”
The discipline of taking a photograph of a flower a day provides me and those around me with a moment to pause and think of Mom and her Alzheimer’s journey.  Some have more patience for the photographic exercise than others.  As you can guess, an energetic 12 year old nephew has less patience.  I was with him one afternoon when we stopped by his house to pick up his tennis racket.  While there, my goal was to take a photograph in his yard where my sister works so hard to nurture her plants.  After about ten frames of a hydrangea in its muted fall tone, he asked if I was finished.  As only an aunt can retort, I said, “Greatness takes time!”
At the rate of a new photo every day, I have lots of stories, but will stop for now and let you make up your own story for the photo above while I dream of a book one day in which I can tell you more.  Opportunities to share through my “Flowers for Mom” are taking root with one example here from the Teepa Snow Online Dementia Journal.  I remain passionate about people enjoying the great outdoors, and hope you will check out my photographs on the the shirts for the new Red Hills Clothing line that donates a portion of the proceeds to benefit Tall Timbers, stewards of wildlife and wildlands.

In closing I leave you with the flower my eldest and a group of friends selected on a day when I sent them into a flower shop to pick my flower for the day.  When back in the dorm room shooting in my daughter’s window, I remarked that the flower was purple.  My daughter responded, “Of course, purple is the Alzheimer’s color!”

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Amazing Grace

Just as flowers need water, light and fertile soil to flourish, we too need the right mix of support to grow.  On this Camera Journey, many rays of sunshine combined with gentle rain and miracle grow keep me going.  What began as a simple idea - take a photograph of a flower every single day in honor of my mother - has turned into quite a project!  Finding the flower is the first step, but then getting a good shot is another thing entirely.  Just yesterday it was after 150 frames that I decided I had worked every possible angle of a tulip tree, and that surely within the batch there would be one image worthy of selection for the day.


This gift to my mother has actually become a gift to me, and there are no better words to describe my experience than “amazing grace.”  The American folk tune by that name links to the unique opportunity given to me by the San Francisco based, Del Sol Quartet.  I was asked to use music as inspiration for my photography through a collaboration with their Soundings 4.2 project.  Del Sol will be performing Crossings, a work composed by Ben Johnston, which is comprised of two separate string quartets joined in the middle with obligatory silence.  Johnston describes the music as “a transformation/journey from one leaf of a diptych to the other, from one rim of a canyon to the other, from one quartet to another.”  Keeping with his transformation theme is my budding series of photographs, Flowers for Mom - my artistic response to the treacherous journey from one life to another as I face my mother’s days with Alzheimer’s.  I remain amazed that this opportunity to pair my art with music presented itself at this very time with a most fitting musical composition.


The second quartet of this Crossings piece titled The Ascent, is rooted in the Amazing Grace tune.  It sounds familiar, yet unlike the tune as we know it just as living with Alzheimer’s has remnants of what is known with the added variable of new feelings and new struggles.  Click here  for more details on the collaboration, and click here to check out a video of the talented Del Sol Quartet introducing Ben Johnston’s string quartets.  You can even see them rehearsing a few of those familiar Amazing Grace notes.


This Soundings project allows participants to explore a piece of music that is unfamiliar and challenging.  Del Sol will first perform Crossings without introduction, and then pause to discuss the work with the audience.  At that time I will explain my artistic response to the music and share details about my flowers hanging around the space.  On the second playing, my flower images will be projected on the wall, and because of the conversation and addition of a visual component, the audience will have an opportunity to more deeply experience and understand the composer’s work. 


Join us on February 2nd to experience this Soundings collaboration in person, or via live stream on Facebook as I celebrate the six month mark of Flowers for Mom.  Thank you to the visionary Del Sol Quartet for inviting me to join them as they skillfully play this challenging work of music and allow the audience to reflect on a journey from the tip of one leaf to another.


Keep those calls, texts, e-mails and flower deliveries coming to make sure I have a new flower on which to focus each and every day as my mother smiles and enjoys the gifts of love, care and compassion that surround her.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Budding

Have you noticed how many weeds put forth flowers, how dying flowers are rich in color, or how bugs on flowers are fascinating to watch?

Since the second of August I have taken a photograph of a flower every single day, and in doing so have begun to notice and appreciate those very things.  This budding new series is called “Flowers for Mom” and is my artistic response to being the daughter of one with Alzheimer’s.  There are days of feeling lost in the weeds, of grieving over what is no longer blooming, and of being bothered by pesky problems.  Even so, when I pause and pay attention, what I see are new buds showing promise, beautiful flowers to be enjoyed exactly as they are, and butterflies pollinating the garden to ensure future blooms.




I have given myself rules for this series.  All photos are horizontal and shot with the same lens.  Only one image can be added to the collection each day, and I cannot store up photos to count towards future days.  Digital cameras know the date when images were created, so even though I have some great B roll photos, I have to choose only one.  To give you a sense of this part of my challenge, below are some that did not make the cut!

When I began this Camera Journey challenge it was summertime and flowers were abundant.  My concern was that finding a flower a day in the fall would be increasingly difficult, yet each day naturally leads me to new beauty to be appreciated whether it be a fading bloom, a single stem in an arrangement, a vegetable garden blossom, or a roadside wildflower.  Winter approaches and I expect my assignment will be increasingly difficult, so feel free to send messages to alert me of blooming opportunities.

When caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, flowers remind us that we can discover beauty in the most unexpected ways.  May we choose to celebrate the good days and know that as the seasons change we can continue to find hope and cherish the flowers just as they are.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Puppy Love

What’s not to love about puppies and their unconditional love?!  As a photographer, what’s not to love about taking pictures of puppies as well as the beautiful dogs they become?  Covey Rise Magazine recently gave me such an opportunity, and I found myself awaiting the sunrise with eight gorgeous dogs and six wonderful humans ready to assist me with landing a cover shot for the magazine.  (If you’ve been thinking that being a photographer is stress free, imagine that setup and think again!)  Thankfully the sun, dogs, and people all aligned and wonderful photographs were created.


So the question for you is - what is easier - photographing a two-year-old child, or a well-trained Pine Shadows springer spaniel?  We know how Marilyn Monroe and Emily Dickinson would reply since one is known to have said “Dogs never bite me.  Just humans.”  And the other wrote:  “Dogs are better than human beings because they know but do not tell.”  What I know is that both puppies and toddlers bring great joy into this world and are worthy of the focus of our affection and cameras.  The challenge of capturing a good image is as exciting to this photographer as pointing to a quail in tall grass is for a bird dog.


Do take note of the beauty that surrounds you, and if you choose to take a photograph, remember to carefully select your focal point and pay close attention to the light and composition.  From dogs to clarinets, the fundamentals of a good photograph remain the same.  Perhaps I can claim to be the October Cover Girl since I have a photo on the cover of both both Covey Rise Magazine and the Montgomery Symphony Orchestra’s 40th Anniversary program!  Click here for a peek at the food, fire, pups, people and places I have photographed while on assignment.


My camera and I have exciting adventures ahead, and I thank you for continuing to share the journey.  Flowers are receiving my daily attention, so please do let me know when you spot interesting blooms for me to capture.  More to come…



Thursday, August 18, 2016

Friends Like Flowers

Were I a flower, I know I could remain strong through pelting rain and strong winds because of the knowledge that eventually bad weather passes.  Even still, a ray of sunshine in the midst of a storm can be a beautiful gift.  Friends recently provided rays of sunshine for me during a major thunderstorm, and how thankful I was.  While we may not think we need the sun to weather the storm, it sure does help us hold steady until blue skies appear again.



In the midst of recent cloudy skies I was reminded of a wonderful quote that has long been a favorite of my mother’s “Friends like flowers give pleasure just by being.”  With that in mind, I was inspired to begin photographing flowers and pausing to reflect on how unique each bloom is.  They come in different sizes, shapes, and colors, and during various seasons of the year.  Their simple being is indeed a gift and a pleasure.



Whether today be stormy or bright, make note of the friends and flowers that surround you while also remembering to be that ray of sunshine when one of your friends is being pelted with rain and needs a gentle reminder that the water will help them grow.



Thanks to those who have helped me bloom on my Camera Journey, I have been given a moment in the sun with this amazing article about my photography by Shotgun Life.  As if that were not enough, the Newberry Medalist, Jerry Spinelli, just sent me an advance copy of the dust jacket of his soon to be released novel, The Warden’s Daughter that features my photograph of him.  Sunshine feels so good, and while clouds will form again, for today, I am enjoying the warmth.  Thank you friends for being like flowers.



Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Flying

Reflecting on Father’s Day and cherishing the fact that I was able to celebrate the occasion with my own father reminded me of what a tremendous gift it is to be a parent.  Many a day I have felt like a mama duck - protecting my babies from turtles, teaching them how to fish, and anticipating that one day they will learn to fly.


Such a bittersweet moment it is when they do take flight.  We hope we have taught them the most important lessons, and we yearn for them to soar and discover beautiful things on their journey.  As they explore the world and face dangers, we wish for them to be amongst a flock that will protect them and encourage them to reach new heights.


My eldest recently took flight as a Pelican from St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire where she was given great challenges and also surrounded by amazing people who helped her test her wings and prepare for her voyage.


As a mother I am deeply grateful to those in my flock who have supported me in my efforts to nurture my fledglings.  Yes, it is nice to celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, but today I propose that we also remember to celebrate our fellow flight instructors.  Their feathers come in many shapes and sizes and sometimes they provide unexpected training of our unfledged.  There are even some who quietly blow on their wings to help them lift off.  With all of my fellow faculty members, I join in celebrating the inaugural flight of my eldest as I hope for many clear skies and grand adventures.


Speaking of adventures, they continue on the Camera Journey.  My fine art photography is in a Pine exhibit this month at the Mobile Arts Council where I recently attended the opening and marveled at the huge crowd of people enjoying the ArtWalk throughout downtown Mobile.  My work is also currently enjoying another place that actively supports the arts - Pietrasanta, Italy - where it is hanging out at the Palazzo Panichi in the Alabama Visions exhibit.  Thanks for continuing to travel with me!  Where shall we fly next?!