Archive for the 'inspiration' Category

28
Nov
14

Cuba, part three of three

I’ve been back from Cuba for a little over a week though I am still living in a bit of a reverie. Time there had a different dimension. Spending 8 days completely unplugged from the cell phone and internet was a wonderful way to decompress. I was able to give myself the luxury of being taken over by pure photography. And yet, I am left with a feeling of sadness and frustration from what I witnessed. It is not for me to speak about the situation in Cuba from a political standpoint. I must leave that to others. But I can speak about what I saw as a woman and a mother.

Before I left for Cuba, I had many friends who had visited speak forcefully about the beauty and spirit of the Cuban people. While I did see this fully expressed I also saw sadness, resignation, frustration, suffering, and even boredom. I saw children trying to learn in schools open to all the noise and confusion of the streets. I saw elderly citizens in a daycare with no medicines and people everywhere surviving on their wits and little else. I searched for stores to purchase food and basic necessities. There are none. I was told about the monthly ration stores and even visited one. But there was nothing to ‘purchase’. Deliveries are unpredictable. I have no knowledge of the quality of health care. But I do know that you can not drink the water or brush your teeth with it. Here as in other developing nations, waterborne illnesses are prevalent and serious. Even walking on the streets becomes an exercise in self-preservation. Gaping holes, broken pipe, garbage and sewage, unearthed cobblestones and refuse from crumbling buildings make navigation an art form.

But there was progress to be seen as well. Crews worked nearly around the clock to build a new hotel beside the Parque Centrale, one of the main tourist hotels. Streets that had been unearthed were re-paved with all new piping installed for water, sewer, gas, and electricity. But these things are works in progress. One morning, while visiting an elderly woman living alone in Vedado, the electricity was off. I asked “is this normal”? (As it was 9:30 in the morning and not a particularly ‘high demand’ day.) The reply: “Everything is normal in Cuba.”

So, ten days later, I am reliving my journey, searching for a deeper understanding of all I experienced. It is true that music and laughter were prevalent and beautifully expressed. But sadness and lack and a certain heaviness of spirit were just as prevalent. The Cuban people survive by their wits and generosity with each other. But to thrive, they will need access to clean water, educational and economic opportunity. There is hope for the coming years, but also a resignation to wait and see. I will be watching, and waiting to return. There is hope and deep beauty there amongst the decay and ruin. Walker Evans saw and photographed it 80 years ago. I will be forever grateful for my experience but will be wondering ‘how long will it survive?’

I hope you’ll take a moment to click through the slide show. There is more information to accompany the captions. As always, with gratitude for your time and interest. (Please share!).

 

 

 

 

22
Nov
14

Cuba and community

I’ve been writing about community now for the last several posts. This past 10 days I have seen community in action on a grand scale. I’ve just returned from a photo odyssey in Cuba, where I was part of an amazing group of photographers participating in a marvelous project: In the Footsteps of Walker Evans. We were commemorating his trip there in 1933 to create images for the book The Crime of Cuba. This project is the brainchild of my friend, and  a great friend to photography, Skip Klein. Once again, Skip…hats off to you!

We had wonderful Cuban guides for our time there. By the second day, Grency and others were happy to talk to us about what life was really like in Havana and in the countryside. For example, most transport for medium and long distance happens by hitchhiking. It is completely safe and everybody does it. Everybody. Havana is a study in circumvention and ingenuity. If you need a different house or apartment (say you switched jobs and locations in the city), well you go to the Swap meet for apartments. Everyone knows it is on Friday morning on a corner beside the Prado. Ownership is unusual in Cuba…but there is no rent, either. Perhaps you need to call the US? Well, it’s illegal, but you can call Toronto and have the operator transfer you.

Windows and doors are apparently optional in Havana. It seems that all life takes place on the street, or inches from the street in the living room that is open to all passersby. I suppose this helps to support the idea of community…and the “we’re all in this together” attitude.

One last example: traveling back to Havana from Vinales in an early morning cab ride, we had a flat tire. The driver simply hailed a horse and cart passing by (on a 4 lane highway) and asked the driver and his companion to take the tire to their house. He indicated that he would pick it up on the return trip. We asked ‘did you know that man?’ He replied ‘no, but it’s no problem, he told me where he lives, I’ll just stop by on the way back to Vinales and pick it up.’

Community. Everybody helps everybody at seemingly every turn. It’s true that it’s a survival mechanism in Cuba. But how nice is it? It was an eye-opening experience.

Here’s the first set of images…there will be several. As always, comments are most welcome and sharing with your friends (in the spirit of community) is a great thing to do!

03
Nov
14

Crafting our lives, part 2

This is a continuation of my blog from last week about creating community. Thanks for checking back.

As I have aged over these last 10 or so years, the idea of crafting my life became and has remained sharply focused. Perhaps it is perspective that is the gift of aging. This has allowed me to consider moves, changes both planned for and unexpected, with a bit of detachment. I don’t take things so personally and I hope that I offer compassion more easily than frustration or anger.

What has this to do with photography? I think that the same gift of perspective and a willingness to feel and express compassion are present in good photography. Perspective allows us to consider the whole scene as well as the details, angles, and different points of view. How then will we craft what is in front of us from what is presented to us? Life/photography is full of possibility! We see this when we detach from what is immediately presented and allow the scene or image to  sink into us. How will we greet it then? With anger, with frustration, or with compassion (even if just for ourselves) and allow the scene or situation to rest more easily as we observe, sense, and craft our response/photo?

This is a philosophical post. But it needn’t be heavy or plodding. I’ll leave you to ponder on these thoughts and just present you with some images from the late summer. Each of these was taken during a class I was teaching at the Pacific Northwest Art School or during a class that I assist each year with Arthur Meyerson. My time there each August is one of my favorite things that has been crafted into my life. (And here is the link for one of my classes there next year: The Photography of Intent) (And here is the other: The Fine Art Book)

The images are varied in subject matter, but looking at them now, with several months of detachment, allows me to see what value there is in them without emotional attachment…and yet, happily, it recalls for me the time that I spent crafting each of them. A warning: there will be a part 3 to this post! Until then, I hope you enjoy the images.

23
Oct
14

How we craft our lives, part 1

I have a few excuses for not blogging for such a long time. (Teaching, leading tours, working, writing, too much time on airplanes, LIFE.) None of them is sufficient. But I’ve also been at a loss for a meaningful subject. It hit me three days ago at the end of an equine photography workshop that I taught in California: community.

I have a mentoring client that has shaped her whole life around the idea of community. That has always seemed perfect to me for her photo work and projects….but I hadn’t thought about the concept in relationship to what I’ve been building. What else am I doing but that when we are gathered together to learn, to create and explore? And then that idea is compounded when I hear my students say “well let’s get together in Seattle and….” and “I’ve created a Facebook page to post images each month and you’re all invited”.

When a class comes together and builds on the friendships and community created during the workshop and extends that into their everyday lives, for a teacher, it is the most gratifying thing to behold.

It happened as well with a group that was traveling with me (and my co-leader, the indefatigable Arthur Meyerson!) in Portugal. They enjoyed each other’s company during the trip and have continued their dialogue after their long journeys back to real life.

I have my own community too, well, communities. My mentoring students keep me in touch with other work and other inspirations. They push me as much as I encourage them! And my own mentors are generous with their time and conversations. But this summer I’ve seen that I need to nurture my communities a little more. My students (they are always teaching me!) have shown me the value and I am grateful for the strong reminder.

So though photography is a solitary pursuit, demanding quiet, thoughtful intention, we can be part of a raucous, joyful bunch! I’m going to craft more time in my life for these days of joyful sharing.

Here are some images from Portugal, from California, and from Whidbey Island. All created this summer, in a community of friendship, photography, and inquiry. More to come in part two.

And for those thinking of returning or coming to the next equine workshop at Barbier Farms in June….OR on a trip to Portugal with me in 2015….here is some food for thought. My thanks to John Paul Caponigro for writing about his experience in a most elegant way.

http://www.johnpaulcaponigro.com/blog/12327/return-to-the-same-well/

 

21
May
14

a question of light

I’ve just finished teaching two workshops on two coasts in two weeks. And too many times I heard myself say “look at the light”! After talking for seven or eight days you can get very tired of hearing your own voice. So now is the time for me to be quiet and think about all that happened during these workshops in order to improve the next. I use many concepts and quotes from my teachers to break up the ‘me-ness’ of the class. But I think I need to add more. I found this quote this morning, thanks to John Paul Caponigro’s blog and it answers a question a number of students posed:

“Today’s photographers think differently. Many can’t see real light anymore. They think only in terms of strobe – sure, it all looks beautiful but it’s not really seeing. If you have the eyes to see it, the nuances of light are already there on the subject’s face. If your thinking is confined to strobe light sources, your palette becomes very mean – which is the reason I photograph only in available light.” – Alfred Eisenstaedt

Larapio, Lusitano Stallion, available light

Larapio, Lusitano Stallion, available light

I don’t like painting all my fellow photographer’s with such a broad brush, but the point is well taken. I don’t use flash for two reasons: first, horses don’t like it and second, I don’t use it well enough to make it seem like there is no flash. In other words, I prefer natural light.

I like the challenge of discovering a way to use all the light available. Very often, this means finding solutions to difficult lighting situations. It’s hard to put a horse in a soft box type of environment and then ask them to be dynamic. It can be done, but why not learn to see the beauty in light we are given? Seeing deeply, and truly learning how our cameras see light will create confidence and boldness.

Suplicio da Raposa, Lusitano stallion

Suplicio da Raposa, Lusitano stallion

“When I have a camera in my hand, I know no fear.” – Alfred Eisenstaedt

Shoot into the sun? Why not? It can be magical! No light? Get a light horse and shoot the movement. There is more light there than we think! Bright sun in the middle of the day? Find some open shade or shoot a sunny portrait. Better yet, look for some bounce light and make a beautiful, softly glowing image. The point is, there are always photographic opportunities.

Abby and Stella, PRE Mare

Abby and Stella, PRE Mare

 

Keeping an open mind and an open heart will help to bring these to your awareness. So, one last quote from Alfred Eisenstaedt, the great master: “Once the amateur’s naive approach and humble willingness to learn fades away, the creative spirit of good photography dies with it. Every professional should remain always in his heart an amateur.”

My students keep me humble and stoke the fires of inspiration and creativity. Thank you for a marvelous two weeks! And a special thank you to Patewood Farm in New Jersey and Barbier Farms in California. The people and the horses in both locations made work fun and filled the days with laughter and good spirit!

 

22
Mar
14

The Beginning of Photography!

Last weekend I was in Chalon Sur Saone, France, to visit the Musee Nicephore Niepce. It was an extraordinary experience…made more so because it was completely unexpected. To be sure, I had planned to visit, but the unexpected part was the breadth of history and an incredible collection of contemporary photography. Click the link above to visit the site for the museum and learn all about Monsieur Niepce. In brief, he was the first person to fix an image on a photo (light) sensitive plate using a camera obscura. After several years of trial and error, he invited Monsieur Daguerre, a chemist, to join him in a partnership to develop this budding technology. Niepce died just four years into their partnership and Daguerre went on garner wide acclaim.

Monsieur Nicephore Niepce

Monsieur Nicephore Niepce

After deciphering as much of the history as possible (the exhibits are mostly in French), I turned a corner to be confronted with Arnold Newman’s great portrait of Igor Stravinsky. Turning left I saw that I was in a very large room with walls hung with images from the greatest photographers, living and dead. Hanging was a selection of photographs from Florence and Damien Bachelot, passionate collectors.

Arnold Newman's iconic portrait of Igor Stravinsky

Arnold Newman’s iconic portrait of Igor Stravinsky

Bruce Davidson, Mitch Epstein, Saul Leiter, Luc Delahaye, Cartier-Bresson, Andre Kertesz, Willy Ronis, Dorothea Lange, Lewis Hine, and so many more were in this one room. I was in heaven. It was one of those unexpected moments that was so perfect, so sweet, and entirely captivating. I spent the next several hours enthralled, and then in true American fashion, went to the boutique to buy gifts for other photographer friends!

One of the things I encourage my students to do is to fill themselves with great imagery when they are not photographing. Attend a ballet, an exhibition, take a walk in the woods, browse a great book…life is enthralling and the creativity and genius available to us knows no bounds. So this last weekend I was busy feeding my soul, my brain, and expanding my visual literacy. Happy girl.

“If the beautiful were not in us, how would we ever recognize it?” ~ Ernst Haas.

20
Mar
14

in the footsteps Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Bonnard

Long before I became a photographer I was a lover of art. The Impressionists were my first love and though I have expanded my list of favorites to include the renaissance and Dutch masters, modern expressionists and a number of great American painters, I continue to return to the vibrancy and searching feeling that I see in much of the Impressionist’s work.

Because of this it was a great pleasure for me to have several days in the South of France to take in the landscapes of Cezanne, Van Gogh, Bonnard, and many others. The artists were attracted to the light of Provence, but I think they must have been attracted to the shapes in the land. The fields in the valleys are covered in ancient gnarled olives and tiny, hardy grape vines. They mirror the twisted shapes of the olive trees in miniature. The miniature iris were blooming, hinting at the explosion of color to come. And the almonds were just coming out…the peach trees were in full bloom.

The weather here can be difficult; too hot, sometimes icy cold, often windy, ever changing. The wind comes from the north carrying moisture and cold, or from the south with a fierce heat, or from the East or from the West. Each of these Mistral (meaning ‘masterly’) winds has its own name. Basically, it’s windy. But the winds clear the atmosphere of dust and other matter and lend the luminous quality to the light. Think about what the light looks like on an early evening after a terrific afternoon thunderstorm. This is the light of Provence for much of the time.

I visited the Chapelle Saint Sixte (12th century) on a calm evening without a cloud in the sky. This area in and around Eygalieres was painted many times by Van Gogh. I was happy to know that I was walking the same ground as the Masters…seeing the same forms…and seeking to create my own vision of this storied landscape. But that night my vision was a darker, more nuanced one….so I created the images below.

19
Mar
14

an update, sadly

I have just returned from a visit to the Czech Republic, Poland, and Germany. The day before I arrived in Prague for this last trip I learned of the death of Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest known survivor of The Holocaust. In January I wrote about the gratitude for the inspiration I had received from reading her story and watching interviews and videos of her remarkable life’s story. I carried the inspiration with me while photographing again in Terezin (Theresienstadt), and later, in Oswiciem (Auschwitz).

Sometimes it seems to me that sadness upon sadness and sorrow upon sorrow are all that remains. But that is not true. Mrs. Herz-Sommer’s infectious laugh, her twinkling eyes, and the joy she expressed in her music remain and will continue to inspire many more people.  What remains for me? I think it must be gratitude. Gratitude that joy expressed during the darkest moments created enough light, enough hope to sustain one soul…and that one beautiful soul can inspire many others for lifetimes to come.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/28/world/europe/alice-herz-sommer-pianist-who-survived-holocaust-dies-at-110.html?_r=0

SOMMER-1-obit-master675

Photograph of an original program from Theresienstadt/Terezin listing concerts by Alice Herz-Sommer.

Photograph of an original program from Theresienstadt/Terezin listing concerts by Alice Herz-Sommer.

 

The photograph above was made from materials exhibited in the Spanish Synagogue, in Prague.

10
Jan
14

encouragement

I am working on a project that is very important to me…though sometimes I despair at my seeming lack of progress. Every time I have felt a little lost, uncertain of my purpose or without hope, the Universe has given me a sign. It’s just a small thing, but enough of an encouragement that says ‘go on, there are things to uncover still’.

Today, even while enduring a migraine, I picked up the laptop to check a few sites that always lift my spirits. But this day was different. Not only are my spirits lifted, but I stumbled upon another story that goes directly to the heart of the project I am working on. There is no mistaking the dual message: first, my quest is supported, and second, my hypothesis is correct.

I am no different, no more or less deserving than any other person on the planet. But I have learned that when we follow our hearts, when we allow ourselves to be known and our intention to be expressed, we are supported. If you need a little encouragement today, open your heart…express your intent…and follow the signs.

There’ll be much more to come about the project in this space, but for now, follow the link and enjoy. Life is beautiful. I am grateful. Thank you, Alice Herz Sommer.

http://theladyinnumber6.com

Alice Herz Sommer, mother, daughter, pianist, 110 and loving the beauty that is Life.

Alice Herz Sommer, mother, daughter, pianist, 110 and loving the beauty that is Life. 

25
Dec
13

a quiet time

It has poured rain for several days. A relentless wind makes sure it seeps through doors and windows and blasts down barn aisles. I find myself alone, far from family, mucking stalls in Portugal this Holiday Season. All the horse photography comes from a love of horses…and anyone that loves, truly loves horses, knows a lot about pitchforks and wheelbarrows. I’m adding to that knowledge bank now. While I do feel a little lonely I woke this morning thinking of how lucky I am to have this quiet time.

I have had a lifetime of wonderful Holiday Seasons. I have lasting memories of warmth and family from my childhood. Favorite gifts of, surprise, horse books, stand out along with visits to and from beloved Grandparents. Even in the sixties there were epic searches for items on the “list”. My grandmother told me she traveled many many miles to find “Don’t Spill the Beans!” Years later I would enlist friends and my delivery drivers to find Power Rangers for my son. History repeats.

The Holidays were about much more than gifts though. My favorite memories of all were the Christmas Eve concerts at church. I sang with our youth choir for years and during junior high I accompanied the choir on my flute.  I grew up in the Presbyterian church. Ours was a great cavernous rectangle, devoid of decoration, but filled with light, old creaking pews, and in my child’s heart, spirit.

My favorite song to perform? Do You Hear What I Hear? We sang from the four corners of the church…two groups on either side of the balcony and two groups on either side of the front of the church. I was thrilled to be part of the group on one side of the balcony. It really did seem as if our voices could reach the heavens and have the Angels echo our song.

How lucky am I? The world is filled with people in the midst of violence, hunger, cold, and hopelessness. But I have memories of warmth and plenty and wonder. So I’ll be thankful for the opportunity to exercise, spend some time with horses and the unconditional love they offer, and absorb the glow from the warmth of years of happy memories. My hope is that you are doing the same or making more! And now it is time for me to go back to the barn, and my trove of memories.  My memory of this time will be one of quiet but profound gratitude.

 

 

 

29
Nov
13

November…not for the faint of heart!

Wow! It has been an action-packed month! On November 1st, my latest book arrived. The Alchemy of Lightness was written by Dominique Barbier and Dr. Maria Katsamanis and includes 40 of my images in large format. I helped with the editing of this book over the last several years so it is with great joy that I can say it is now available!  Click here to order your copy. It has been very well received. Thank you once again to Martha Cook, Rebecca Didier and all the team at Horse and Rider Books! You can see all their catalog of fabulous books by clicking on the button to the right!Unknown-1

Then on November 3rd, I had the great pleasure to give a lecture at InVision Photo Festival in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The talk was very well received (I was invited back!!!) in a gorgeous venue. I was a little nervous of course, but once I get started talking about my passion for photography I am difficult to stop! It was also fabulous to see old friends and students from the Banana Factory where I taught several workshops in 2009 and 2010. Thank you Janice Lipzin for the incredible opportunity! You have created a wonderful event that shows your professionalism as well as your passion.Unknown-3Unknown-2

I flew that night to Portugal to host a group of ladies for two weeks. They came to enjoy the Lusitano Festival that happens each year in Golegã. We enjoyed great weather (a welcome change) and spectacular events. Along with the horses we visited some cultural sights and then went to Pedro Torres’ barn for four days of intense training! See the link at the top of this page for a fuller description of the trip…and scroll down to see some more images.  It was so good for me to share the parts of Portugal that I have come to love. Already looking forward to next year!

After the trip was over I flew to Prague to continue work on  a personal project of mine. I’ll keep those details for another post, but I did find the PERFECT music to accompany the work I am doing. Prague is a city filled with all the arts, but especially music. Wait for it to load…it’s worth it! Alexander Shonert has very graciously given me permission to use his music for the launch of the project. More about that soon! But go to his website for more beautiful melodies and stirring performances!Unknown

And now I am back in Portugal, catching up on image editing, blog posting, and emails. I have posted a new page (see above) that outlines a Mentoring program that I began this past August. It has brought me so much satisfaction and affirmation. Throughout my career as a photographer I have been the beneficiary of the best teaching in the world. It is an absolute honor to give this back to my students. Check it out if you are interested in advancing your skills!

I wish you all a joy-filled Holiday Season! Now…almost time to switch on the snowflakes. (Readers of this blog may remember this…) From a warm, palm-tree silhouetted evening in Portugal….thank you for checking the blog!

27
Sep
13

playing in the light & a gallery show!

I am happy to say that I am back in Portugal for several weeks. I’ve been feeling a little ‘down’ about not photographing enough, so I did something about it!

Photographing in an indoor arena is always tricky. And knowing we were going to visit Senhor Manuel Braga to photograph horses in his picadeiro gave me more than my usual apprehension. I remembered that the footing in this particular arena is nearly black. Oh well….nothing to do but try! When I arrived I had a big surprise though…just the week before, Manuel had replaced the footing and now there was a lovely white reflective floor!

It was late in the afternoon so the light was slanting and a little warm. Horses were presented and ridden and photographs were made. I was generally happy with the result when in came a gorgeous young black stallion. Manuel turned him loose for me to photograph him in liberty, saying “he is very expressive”. This was an understatement!  The horse was a fabulous mover and he loved playing with Senhor Braga and Pedro. I was a very happy photographer.

There are some straight shots, a black and white conversion, and two with my favorite Flypaper Textures! Enjoy….more from the last several weeks coming soon!

If you are in the West Virginia/Maryland/Virginia area, there is a great photography show coming up in Martinsburg at the newly minted Berkeley Art Works:  October 3 through October 27 in the gallery at 116 North Queen Street.  I’ll be showing proudly but humbly with Mark Muse, Frank Robbins, Rip Smith and Robert Clark. I’ll miss the reception, but just manage to see the show when I return to West Virginia after some work in Brasil! I can’t wait. My fellow photographers have taught me a great deal and I am a big admirer of their work.  Passion for learning, for printing, and capturing the light unite us though our visions are wildly diverse. Go see the show!

18
Sep
13

considering the portrait

I visit the Whidbey Island County Fair each year during my week with Sam Abell at Pacific Northwest Art School. It’s a highlight for our students and a highlight for us. It is a place that is familiar, but full of surprises each time we go. This year, I fulfilled a promise that I make to myself each year. I went back to the fair after class was finished. That’s a luxury for photographers…the go-back. I am always so inspired by the work that the students produce, and this year was no exception. I was filled with ideas and creative fire, so off I went.

After photographing a number of subjects that were on my list I took a walk through the animal barns. I found this little girl, sitting in the pen with her pygmy goats, with no sign of parents or relatives nearby. I stayed for a while and made a number of images, trying to talk with her a little, offering to show her the picture on the back of my camera, but she remained in her own world. I thanked her and walked away. About twenty minutes later I decided to go back and see if she was still sitting all alone. She was. I asked her if I could make a few more pictures, to which she nodded her assent. That was the only interaction she offered the entire time.

So my thought process in making the images became this: how can I show her in the isolation and detachment that I feel? It’s not that she wasn’t animated, she was quite involved in her own story….talking on a (pinecone) cell phone, acting out the entire conversation, and alternately hugging and scolding her goats. But she was totally detached from the adults, adolescents and children walking past, some trying to talk to her, others reaching to pet her goats. It was unsettling.

Here is a small selection of images…the last being the one I chose to pull as THE portrait. Now I am undecided. I’ll come back another month from now and look at the images. Emotional detachment in the editing process is a good thing.  Emotional detachment at a fair? Well, it was certainly photographically intriguing for me.

Comments, as always, welcome and appreciated. And if you like this post (or others) how about sharing the blog with friends? Thank you!

16
Sep
13

“you must have something to say about the world” ~ Paul Strand

When I teach I tell my students that in order to have a viewer care about or become involved with their image, the photographer must care about the image they are making. But I like the way Paul Strand says it, that we must have something to say about the world if we are to create photographs.  In other words, what are we trying to communicate? What do you want the viewer to know, to feel, to ASK? What implications are there in your photographs? Is your photograph suggestive, documentary, or literal. A combination of these? Perhaps all three?

I think about these questions unceasingly. I have come to the realization that I want to create photographs that transcend the literal, yet do not deny it. (borrowed from Sam Abell). What does this mean?

Consider the photo below of the sea stacks off First Beach on the Olympic Peninsula. It’s a straightforward photograph of a landscape, yet, it is suggestive of the eternal. The sea, the fog, a voyage to an unknown land, all evoke timeless existence, timeless desire. So, yes, it is a photograph of a seascape, but it communicates more because we, as humans, are wired in our DNA to look at the ocean with a sense of wonder. Where does the wonder come from? From a time when anything apart from the land was unknown, mysterious and dangerous? Perhaps from a time when a journey across the water meant freedom or opportunity…even servitude. Certainly it meant danger, but an ocean voyage could mean riches and fame as well.

James Island and sea stack, Olympic Peninsula

James Island and sea stack, Olympic Peninsula

Consider the image below….far different than the peaceful contemplative issue of the sea.  But look deeper…there is solitude, and the image of a single candle to light the darkness. The eternal flame. It is a simple image of an interior, even a detail of an interior, but it is evocative of consciousness, thought, searching, and for me, hope.

Convento dos Capuchos, interior

Convento dos Capuchos, interior

For thought and discussion far more cogent than mine, check out the video. It’s part one of six on Paul Strand. It’s worth the time to hear the great master in his own words. And the catalog/book from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s show Stieglitz Steichen Strand is a revelation.

The book that was published for the exhibition of masterworks by the photographers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The book that was published for the exhibition of masterworks by the photographers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Here’s a review of the show. Sadly, I missed it, but now I have the catalog to bring the imagery even closer. http://www.photography-collection.com/exhibitions/alfred-stieglitz-edward-steichen-and-paul-strand-at-the-metropolitan-museum/

15
Sep
13

favorite books from childhood

Picking up on the theme of important books (a’ la Robert Frank’s The Americans)I have been thinking of the books from my childhood that live strongly in my memories.

There are books that mirror and strengthen experiences. There are books that supported my passion for horses and there are books that helped shape who I am. But there was one book that spoke to me about what was important in life.  First the books that paralleled my life at the time: From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Harriet the Spy.

My Mother took me to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York when I was 12 years old. I had read the book by E. L. Konigsburg (…Files…) and was excited to visit the very place where two children had their adventures. I saw the bed that they slept in, the armor and paintings that impressed them so much, and the fountain where they gathered coins to buy food. The book had the effect of engaging me in a museum that otherwise would have been challenging for a twelve-year-old tomboy from the countryside of West Virginia.

Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh, is a story about an introverted young girl that ‘spies’ on her friends and family. It wasn’t so much a parallel (I wasn’t a spy) as it was a book that made it ok to be the introverted and introspective girl that I was/am. I was always shy, but my mind was never quiet. It was challenging to fit in, but Harriet made it a little easier. I suppose it’s that ages-old story of a child seeking affirmation.

The books that supported my passion for horses were all of Marguerite Henry’s books along with Walter Chandoha’s A Foal is for You, and Mary O’Hara’s My Friend Flicka. A Foal is Born was a gift from a great-aunt who was loved, but feared. In addition to being a tender, loving book about a baby horse, the gift of this book showed me she had a softer side and that she cared for ME. My Friend Flicka opened up a world of adventure and emotion for me. The Wyoming ranges and meadows came to life, just as the possibility of loving something, someone, so fiercely that you would give up your life to care for them. This resonated so strongly with me…especially as it was about a horse! But throughout the book danger and beauty were intertwined. The lesson I took from that was to seek beauty, to value beauty and love and caring, but to understand that you must hold these things lightly. They are fleeting and delicate.

Finally, the most important book I had was Frederick by Leo Lionni.  This slender book was filled with beautiful images of a humble field mouse in his home. His stone wall, the meadows and fields around it with their wildflowers and bounty, the blue sky above and the warmth of the sun were food for Frederick’s imagination, for his soul. In the dark days of winter while his family and friends were huddled deep in the stones, seeking shelter, warmth, and nourishment where there was little to be had, Frederick recounted his impressions, the things that filled his senses and gave him sustenance. The other mice realized that when they thought Frederick had been daydreaming rather than gathering corn, he was seeking, and storing, strength and inspiration. The entire mouse community was inspired and ‘fed’ by Frederick’s quiet introspection and subsequent offering of his feast of the senses. At eight or nine years old the message in this book was shockingly, deeply resonant. There was no one in my world to tell me that this was a way “to be”. The possibility that value could be placed on the thoughts that swirled around in my head was profoundly encouraging.

My path to becoming a photographer and writer was circuitous in the extreme, but Frederick was always there to light the path. Even when my feet were planted firmly on another road, on tiny mouse tiptoes he would slip quietly into my consciousness to remind me to sit and feel the warmth and color around me. His enormously round liquid eyes would look into mine and say “see the world around you”.

Look quietly, and deeply.  And read good books.

 

05
Sep
13

great interviews: Sam Abell and David Alan Harvey

Click on this link for a great interview with my friend and mentor, Sam Abell.  And here’s another: Story Matters. Thank you to Jonathan Blaustein and Story Matters for the interviews. And thank you to Honey Lazar (click this link to see her amazing project, Loving Aunt Ruth, along with a stunning body of work) for bringing the first to my attention.

I continue to be inspired and stunned by the creativity and quality of photography being produced around the globe. This week I came across a great Street Photography site (on Facebook) that has me itching to shoot in Lisbon. My biggest question is how do I fit it in to an already overloaded schedule? I struggle with this each day while remaining grateful for all the opportunities that stretch out before me.

Enjoy these links…I’ll be back in a few days with a discussion about a portrait series….stay tuned…and go make some photographs!

Oh! one last one: David Alan Harvey interview in Vice. Here’s the link to David’s burn. online magazine.

new work from Sam Abell

new work from Sam Abell

 

an old favorite

an old favorite

 

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Filipe Correia, Portugal, from Streetview

David Alan Harvey from Visura Magazine

One of my favorites from Honey Lazar's Loving Aunt Ruth project.

One of my favorites from Honey Lazar’s Loving Aunt Ruth project.

 

25
Aug
13

Robert Frank’s French First Edition ‘Les Americains’!!!!

It’s not often that I get to touch an important piece of Photographic History.  But two weeks ago, during the Sam Abell workshop with the Pacific Northwest Arts School I did just that. We took our class to Port Townsend for an excursion and Sam spied in the case of a bookstore a hand-lettered sign that said they had the Robert Frank French Edition of The Americans (Les Americains).

In the eyes of many photographers, this book IS the Holy Grail of photography, even more so than Henri Cartier-Bresson’s The Decisive Moment.  Paul Stafford, gentleman proprietor of William James Books, offered to show us the copy (as we had met him on a previous trip and he knew that Sam had a serious interest in the title).

We threaded our way through tall stacks and shelves to reach the back of the store. After four locked doors on various levels, steps in between, we arrived at the sanctum sanctorum.  Paul placed the bubble wrapped package on a table and invited us to open the book. But first we had to get over the cover! A Saul Steinberg drawing??? This is a photography book….what’s happening? And then to open the book and discover so much narrative, in French? There is so little in the English edition that came later. But the images? The same photographic erudition, the same searching, frank observations, the same humanity. Indeed the images are mostly the same as in the later English edition.

It was a thrilling moment for me in several ways. I was there with my mentor, Sam Abell, who has his own richly deserved spot in photographic history, and I was seeing this book in its original state, its first incarnation…and in near pristine condition. As a book lover, this is a high-water mark for me! But then I had the opportunity to return with my other beloved mentor, Arthur Meyerson, during our class that took place just last week.

Again, Paul Stafford was tremendously kind and offered to show Arthur the copy immediately. I think Arthur was even a little nervous to be handling it! To my great joy, I photographed Arthur with Paul, and listened, as I had with Sam, to him recount why this book was so important to him.  Personally, there were favorite images for Sam and Arthur…different images for different reasons. But they were also generous in their discussions with Paul about why the book was so revered and how much it influenced the world of photography after its publication.

Never before had people thought to make a lunch counter a photographic subject, or a funeral for a black man, or an afternoon picnic in a park with cars, blankets and young people making out. It wasn’t ‘done’ to photograph a black nanny with her white child. He broke the taboos and barriers, and expanded the consciousness for what could be considered art in photography. The tension, nuance, and cultural sensitivity that exists in his photographs was a clear contrast to what other contemporary photographers were doing. Low light, unusual focus, and cropping were all in contravention to the accepted photographic technique of the time. But the work produced a reflection of life in America in the 1950’s…not the world of Ward and June Cleaver, but the world of factory workers, transvestites, and segregation.

The art world was slow to embrace the imagery, even reviled it, but young people saw the worth of it…as did other street photographers. It energized the medium and changed it forever. Few works of art in any medium have had that effect. The Americans did.

There are far more sophisticated reviews of his work available than what I can offer. Here is one, a link to a story by National Public Radio. It’s worth the time! http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=100688154

Once again I must thank my dear friends and teachers, Sam Abell and Arthur Meyerson, for lighting my photographic world and path. We do have the best times together and I know there will be many more.

09
Aug
13

for all our horses, in gratitude

I recently lost my stallion, who was 31 years old. He shared his life with me for many years, offering love, teaching, light. Today I learned that a friend lost one of their horses. It has made me reflect about the nature of sorrow and loss. What I feel most strongly is gratitude. Had we never had the beauty and love they offered our lives would have been so much poorer. Thank you, Fol Amour….and thank you Xama do Top, for the brief time we shared.

Xama do Top, at Japu, Sorocaba...with Paulinho

Xama do Top, at Japu, Sorocaba…with Paulinho

20
Jun
13

Dreamworld

Sintra has long held a fascination for me. Years ago I read a number of books that spoke of this ancient city as a spot of initiation. Initiation into what? The greater esoteric mysteries, including the knowledge held by the Knights Templar and passed along to the Alchemists, Rosicrucians, and Freemasons. This is not a blog about the verity of any of this, but a musing on the feeling of mystery.

Any time we wander the streets of an old village or city we can try to transport ourselves to a time in the past. Some places, like the Marais in Paris or the Old Town of Prague make it easier to imagine what life may have looked like centuries ago. Sintra holds this appeal for me.

I visited the town again just a few days ago. I often take clients and friends here as one of our ‘must see’ places for their visits to Portugal. Generally I photograph lightly while hosting, but as my friends are also photographers, I was at ease with spending the extra time to make meaningful images. My intent was to reflect the mystery that I sense is present in the streets, the architecture, and the landscape. I wanted to add to that mystery a strong dream-like quality. So, lensbaby firmly affixed, off I went.

We visited my favorite spot in Portugal, the Convento dos Capuchos, where I have photographed a number of times. There are few visitors here so lingering to make images is an exercise in tranquility. The perfume of the woods, plants, herbs and stone all combine to make you feel like you are breathing a vibrating life force. Water emerges musically just as it did more than 500 years ago. It cools while it adds the feeling of movement and life to the silent surroundings.

The National Palace was a delightful surprise. In simple unaffected ways, the traditional art forms and high points in the history of the Portuguese people were displayed. Tile work of sophistication was expected because of the cultural treasure of the azulejos. But there were tiles of many different colors, mosaics recalling Moorish influence, and raised botanical tiles that are unique in all of Europe. Gardens glimpsed through mullioned windows and fairytale chimneys give the feeling of being in a time and place apart. Chandeliers in intimate reception rooms await the footfalls of liveried attendants. The intimate scale, so different from the grandeur of the Chateaux in France or Palladian Villas in Italy, invites you to imagine yourself in this court, among the travelers, discoverers, men of learning and science that attended here.

Photographically, I was enjoying a feast of subjects and impressions. I’ve created a gallery with one thought in mind: portray the mystery of this very engaging town. I started with shooting with the Lensbaby to distort and bend the light…like creating a visual tunnel to walk through. Then by further interpreting each image using various layers from Flypaper Textures, I arrived at the feeling I wanted to express in the images. This is how I followed my intent to its full expression. If you are interested in more about Flypaper Textures, scroll down through the blog, or click on the button there to the right….

One last thing about the images: at the end of the gallery you will see an image that was shot ‘straight’, but textured like the others. I’ve placed it here so that you might recognize how even a ‘good’ image can destroy the flow and mood of a set of images.  Creating the photographic essay is a process of refinement. It’s about delicious and surprising small plates, not a sumptous feast. I have a ways to go with this one, but I am loving the process!

Perhaps it was the intent of the various Mystery Schools to engender an appreciation for the unexplainable, or perhaps Sintra is just a special spot on the planet, one of those ‘points of acupuncture’ most often marked by silent dolmens or soaring cathedrals. Whatever the reason, Sintra holds a special feeling for me. I’ll continue to visit, to explore with my camera, and work to give full expression to all I experience.

Thanks for stopping by the blog. ~K

 

 

09
Jun
13

a Lensbaby walkabout, Obidos!

In preparation for my upcoming class (July…Pacific Northwest Arts School), I popped my lensbaby on and had a great walkabout. My intent was to create images of intimate subjects as well as medium and wide landscape shots. It was great fun with a non-focused focus.  Ha.

All the photographs were made in Obidos, Portugal. Obidos is a lovely village near the coast, about an hour and a half north of Lisbon. It was probably settled hundreds of years before the Romans occupied the area. The walls of the fortress/village went up around 700 A.D., and were strengthened under King Dinis I. In July the whole town turns into a medieval festival.  I was glad to be there on a quieter day. The best part? Walking and creating with two dear friends visiting me in Portugal! Thank you, Riley and Karen!

Browse the images in the slideshow mode. I’ve added some of the thoughts I had while making the images. As always, comments most welcome.

And a reminder…there is still space left in Arthur Meyerson’s second week….and Robert Stahl has space in his September workshop. You couldn’t go wrong with either of these gifted, caring teachers. I have the great pleasure to be assisting Sam Abell and Arthur Meyerson again in August. A special thanks to Lisa and Karen for the fantastic program they have developed at PNWAS!!!

14
Feb
13

Today’s post comes entirely from a message from a dear friend.  I thank him and wish you ALL a Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

images

Happy St. Valentine’s Day!

Saint Valentine was a Roman Priest at a time when there was an emperor called Claudias, who had an edict that prohibited the marriage of young people. This was based on the hypothesis that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers because married soldiers might be afraid of what might happen to them or their wives or families if they died. However St Valentine secretly married them anyway.

In the year 269 AD, St. Valentine was eventually caught, imprisoned and tortured for performing marriage ceremonies against the edict. The story goes that the last words he wrote were in a note to the daughter of a Roman official encouraging her to faithfully love to the end her new husband.

He inspired today’s romantic missives by signing it, “from your Valentine.”

10
Jan
13

playing a bit

Life must be lived as play. ~ Plato

Every once in a while I enjoy looking back at images in the archive. I thought it would be fun to play with Flypaper Textures on some old favorites. I think it’s useful to examine old images from an emotional distance. I often tell students that the best time to edit is at least a month from the time you made the images. Yes, we all have to look at them as soon as possible…but don’t throw them away for at least a month or more. When the emotional energy/heat has faded we can begin to see our images much more objectively. It doesn’t matter how far we had to climb or how long we had to wait or what light we had to battle…the image must stand on its own merit.

That may sound strange coming from me in a post about texturing and layers. After all, it is image manipulation. But here’s the caveat: a bad image will not make a great textured image. Start with a good photograph and then enhance the image in a way that amplifies a concept you are trying to communicate. When I am photographing I am always thinking about communicating what intrigued me, what made me care enough to stop and create images. Then, if the image can be enhanced with textures or layers, then I think about those qualities again. Perhaps I felt a somber mood or a mysterious brooding atmosphere. Maybe I just felt the image was going to be painterly and planned right then to add textures. Its likely that if that was the case, I photographed in order to support that intention.

Here are some old favorites re-invisioned. I’d love to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment if you want to learn more about using textures and layers. Have fun with your images (and CLICK MY BUTTON….over there on the right…for Flypaper Textures)!

05
Jan
13

The tree

“Why are there trees I never walk under but large and melodious thoughts descend upon me?”  ~Walt Whitman

I’ve been blessed to live with magnificent trees throughout my life. As a child my world was bounded by a great maple for climbing, an ancient half-shattered walnut, and a pear tree that brought wasps in summer to devour its decaying fruit. There was also a great cedar tree that was home, periodically, to Stanley, and later, Ethel. These were blacksnakes that terrorized my mother, were pets to my father, and mysterious challenging beings to me.

Later I lived on the side of a mountain adjacent to the Appalachian Trail. The vast forest was sheltering and nurturing. Terms like BTU’s, cord, cured, and standing dead became important to a household that heated primarily with wood. But the woods also held mystery, challenge, and triumph for two growing boys.

A mighty oak stands sentinel in what was my backyard for the fifteen years I lived on my farm in Shepherdstown. I watched it spread its canopy and offer its shade, increasing each year until it covered what once was a bed for sun-loving lilies, bee-balm, and peonies. Summer evenings brought dinners outdoors. Candlelight and dancing fireflies from its branches illuminated the smiles of guests faces. Heavy mast years warned of big snows in the winter and the yard would become a feeding ground for far too many deer and squirrels. But the animal I enjoyed most was a club-footed crow that sat on a branch near my bathroom window. He cawed at me for years, especially during winter months. Listen! he said. Listen to the moonlight make its way through the branches and the crinkly soft crunching of the snow. Listen to the quiet.

I live now in a land of cork oaks and olives. What they lack in stature they trump all others with their history of partnership with the land and its inhabitants for several thousand years. The rhythm of life is largely unchanged for the people that harvest the olives and cork. I’m enjoying it visually. But I am also in-tune with this rhythm and what it means to live by the seasons.

I’m going to write more about this in my next blog. For now, here are a couple of tree pictures from many years past, and a few I made two days ago. Enjoy. A dear friend from home keeps me updated on the Sycamore near the railroad and the mighty oaks at the turn at Hendricks farm.  I hope you have special trees in your life too.

31
Dec
12

At a loss for words

I have been thinking all day about what to write on this last day of the year. In the midst of thought I received a note from my from my very dear friend, (and super-amazing photographer) Honey Lazar. She shared a link for her latest blog on Loving Aunt Ruth.

I read, and then re-read the post. It says everything about what I am feeling and would try to say. With a full heart, I encourage you to visit Honey’s blog. http://honeylazar.blogspot.com/2012/12/aunt-ruth-and-father-kevin-oneil.html

Wishing us all a peaceful end to this year and a sparkling beginning for the next. With love and appreciation, Keron

Aunt Ruth and Honey Lazar

Aunt Ruth and Honey Lazar

16
Dec
12

fishes and loaves and bunnies and chicks, OH MY!

I never liked chickens as a child. I thought they were slightly scary. Probably because I considered them unpredictable. But as a photographer, I have grown to love them! I’m sharing a few chicken pix (and other critters) with my readers and asking you to think of them in a new, non-scary way: think of them as hope and opportunity.

And who doesn’t think a lamb is a very cute thing? But do we think of lambs as a meal (yikes) or as a way to a better life for a family because of the gift of its wool and progeny?  The lambs, the cows, the burros, the bunnies….all are potential symbols of hope. Only you and I can turn that potential into action.

A number of years ago I was introduced to the good work that is being done by Heifer International. I’ve encouraged friends and family members through the years to consider them during this season of giving. There is so much need in the world, amongst so much excess. Something as small as a flock of chicks can bring hope, nutrition, and stability to a family where there was little or none before. So…..click the link!

 

14
Dec
12

Love must be as much a light as it is a flame. ~ H. D. Thoreau

Offer your light.

Offer your light.

This is a season to reflect upon the Light that has been offered to us all. All faiths, all paths, through all time. As I have come to understand it, the only appropriate response, in gratitude, is to offer your own light to others.

My photographs create a way for me to express my gratitude for all the guidance and inspiration that I have been given and then pass along my experience to those who are interested. The amazing thing is this: in the act of creativity I am blessed layer upon layer.

I experience the moment of inspiration (a divine spark) and then get to prolong that experience by discovering more layers in what I’m seeing/feeling. This experience grows exponentially when I can share it with others. I am always amazed (and continually grateful) that people write to me to talk about the photos and the inspiration or insight that they have received. This gives me the opportunity to speak about the guides, teachers and mentors that I have in my life.

They share their light, unceasing. And it is glorious.

Honor and share your own. It is just as glorious.

 

22
Nov
12

Thanksgiving

I have been too long away from my blog and as the days and weeks passed, returning to it seemed an enormous challenge. But today is the day! I try to be mindful of the spirit of gratitude every day, but in browsing the photos that I wanted to share I was strongly reminded of the gratitude I feel for the earth we inhabit. It is full of wonders. They are just waiting to be noticed and appreciated. I think all living organisms share this trait. Often the touch of mankind disturbs this beauty, but if we are gentle, we can exist in harmony within the landscape and exhalation of our earth. So today I will inhale the beauty and strength that we are offered and exhale gratitude.

For my photographer buddies, most of these images were taken with an AWESOME Zeiss Distagon 2.8 21mm hunk of glass.  I am still coming to grips with it, but I’m loving the challenge. Thank you, Mark Muse (Super talented photog and total gear geek) for showing me the beauty of this lens.

05
Jul
12

Vision and Verb!

I’m tickled pink!!!  I’m the guest blogger today on Vision and Verb…..a blog by a great group of female writers and photographers.  I hope you’ll click on the link and check it out! The topic is an important one for me and one that will resonate with most photographers.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments. Thank you!

http://www.visionandverb.com/at-home/2012/7/5/creating-awareness.html

 

03
Jul
12

more good news!

I continue to be delighted by great reviews for Meditation for Two, my book with Mestre Dominique Barbier. Here is the link for one from Patty Lasko, Editor of Dressage Today: http://broadcaster.aimmedia.com/dm?id=7BE80CE7103D774A158CFCBAFC4638F1

And we also received a wonderful notice in the USDF Connections Newsletter:

A LOVE LETTER TO THE HORSE….Sometimes we get consumed by the extrinsics of riding — this aid, that aid, this competition, that award. We lose sight of why we fell in love with horses and dresssage in the first place. In a pretty little book they call Meditation for Two: Searching for and Finding Communion with Your Horse (Trafalgar Square, 72 pp., $24.95), French-born classical master Dominique Barbier (Dressage for the New Age) and photographer Keron Psillas bring us poetry and flowers and flowing manes and Iberian horses in stunning seascapes. Musings on the nature of horses and horsemanship. Even a training tidbit here and there. Meditation for Two begs to be given as a gift or to be enjoyed in a quiet moment in your favorite sun-splashed nook. 

It is so gratifying to know that people are enjoying the book. And it has really ignited a fire in me to get the next book underway!  Stay tuned for that news.  You can click on the link above in the site header (Meditation for Two) to order the book from me. Thank you!

 

30
Jun
12

Horses give us the wings we think we lack

I have had a super busy three months, with many miles logged on 777’s and the like. But wherever I land, I have the pleasure to be with beautiful horses and even more beautiful people. It makes all the hard work worth it! As I am sitting here in Cotia, near Sao Paulo, watching the setting sun rim everything in gold, my thoughts turn to grace and good fortune.  As a photographer I sometimes complain that all I ever get to photograph are horses. First, it’s not exactly true, and second, how ridiculous!  They are spectacular beings that have brought so much beauty to my life! How utterly human to be a bit ‘bored’ with this from time to time. And again, how ridiculous. So I’m giving myself a good kick in the pants and adjusting my attitude. The time will come when I am somewhere else on the planet and engaged in another photographic endeavor. But for right now I can only say ‘thank you’.

For my photographer readers….forgive the lack of editing? I am offering this gallery to my horse-lover friends! It is a collection of images from Brasil, Portugal, and Apassionata in the US.  Enjoy!

06
Mar
12

Simple Gifts

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free…’  Elder Joseph, Shaker Community

I made a new friend Sunday. He is sweet, sensitive, curious, kind, genuine, handsome, intelligent, gentle, angelic. We had a conversation that lasted for hours with neither of us able to move away. We talked about adventure, friends, animals (his favorite is the horse), racing, work, making new friends, imagination…..an entire galaxy of topics in this relatively short time.

Ten days ago, I had to fly overnight to Frankfurt, Germany, and then photograph the entire next day and night without rest, little food, and all the while feeling not quite up to the challenge. This was an important job for me and one that I wanted to create the absolute best images I could for a variety of personal and professional reasons. When I walked into the Festhalle in Frankfurt I was immediately concerned about my ability to do so as the space was so dark and cavernous. I don’t shoot with flash, and it would have been forbidden in this instance as my subject was horses. I was photographing the performances of Apassionata and the team that Mestre Luis Valença will be sending to the United States. The show debuts in Lexington, Kentucky, in late April.

I was prepared, had all the appropriate equipment, but I knew that if the technical challenge of such low light could not be overcome then even the most compelling image would be useless if it could not be used for print or projection. So I cranked up the ISO (1600 and 2000….EEK!!!) and set about the work. I resist chimping the screen in most instances, and with the action so fast and furious I would have lost the moments had I been looking at the back of my camera.

So about half way into the first half of the show I let myself relax and enjoy the actual performance. I noticed that I began to have a natural smile on my face rather than a conscious one….and I could feel some of the tension leaving my body as well. I decided to dial the ISO down…and choose moments to shoot rather than chasing every shot, every gesture. I was laughing out loud during the comedy parts, and floating into the romance and magic of the story. I was enjoying myself and allowing my curiosity to push aside the doubt and concern.

Back to my new friend: In all likelihood I will never see him again, but the impact of this meeting was so strong that it has caused me to write this blog post, and more importantly, to re-examine the swirl of my present life. Alexander, in the short time I shared with him on a cross-country flight, crystalised the lesson I had offered to me last week. His insistence about combining the world of imagination with the world we have built and others have built around us showed me that it is possible to remain a creative being, uninhibited by daily circumstance or momentary challenge. His self-discovery in the midst of self-creation was powerful to watch and reminded me that its okay, even better to PLAY while working. His example reminded me to drop the fear (the real word behind concern, worry, and insecurity) and rest in the knowledge that my intention will create a way.

Our teachers are all around us. Open your eyes and see with your heart. Thank you, Alex, for the simple gift of your spirit and kindness. You are so wise and wonderful. I hope your fourth birthday brings you all you can imagine.

24
Nov
11

“He does not weep who does not see”

I made my journey to Auschwitz and Birkenau knowing fully that it would be sorrowful and perhaps impossible to photograph through tears and stunned disbelief. All these emotions swirled through me and rendered my whole being mute. Not just my voice, my entire being. I couldn’t formulate a thought, much less express one; verbally or photographically. Then, I raised my camera as I was stumbling along, stopped to make a photograph, and began to come back to myself. Gradually, I understood that this act of creation was more than an act of self-preservation, it was a way to look deeper. With this intent, the overwhelming sorrow lessened just enough for me to regain some composure and begin to walk purposefully, to see, purposefully.

The lasting impressions from both Terezin and Auschwitz/Birkenau are of silence and permeating cold. I created the photos below with this awareness.  In the photographs I’ve chosen for this post, as an idea to portray a silent conversation, I have blended images from Terezin with images from Auschwitz/Birkenau. Most of the people that were sent from Terezin on the dreaded transports perished in Birkenau.

I hope my viewers will keep this in mind: the photos are an artistic expression of what I saw and felt. They are not indictments, religious commentary or judgement. My intent is to simply reflect my personal experience in a place that has infinite layers of horror, grief, loss, and teaching. My intent is not to create offense or add sorrow. If you are troubled by the imagery, write to me. I want to hear your thoughts.

I’ll close with a quote from Longfellow: “Therefore trust to thy heart, and to what the world calls illusions.” As all the places I visited retain only the faintest trace of the living, I had to rely on a deeper sensibility to gain a small foothold in the incalculable darkness. I hope that the images I offer will resonate with you. It is simply my heart speaking.

18
Nov
11

a traveler’s tale and the threads of history

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber

I am a student of history. What began for me, in the winter of 2000, as a fascination with medieval history, and particularly the history of the Knights Templar, has brought me to Tomar, in Portugal. It is one of the oldest Templar sites and one of the best preserved.

When I decided to come to Golegã for the Lusitano Festival, I thought briefly about visiting Tomar and then let it go. After all, I had serious work to do! When it came time to find a room, the best option – as Golegã was completely booked – was a lovely B&B in a little village called Vargos. Vargos is exactly half way between Tomar and Golegã. So I chuckled and booked the room. Over the years I have become used to the synchronicity of the Universe and am only mildly surprised (but always delighted) when it surfaces. Arriving in Lisbon after an overnight flight through London, I found myself in a rental car in pitch black night with tons of traffic in a driving rainstorm.  Fun, right? With nothing to do but move forward, off I went with a GPS in search of a tiny village.

I arrived in the Vargos after several hours…no problem…but where was Casa dos Vargos? There are no numbers….no visible street signs….no lights. After a little scrambling on the Iphone for an email and number I located and called Dona Pilar, the proprietress of Casa dos Vargos. In no time I was warm and dry in a tremendous salon.  I can’t call it a room. The ceiling was at least 16 feet high and the furnishings were tasteful and very very old. I was happy and relieved.

As I was trying to settle in to sleep, I read from the various literature in the room about the majesty and antiquity of Tomar. I resolved to go there before I visited Golegã the following day. Below you will see a gallery of images from the town of Tomar as well as the Convento do Cristo, which was the original 11th century fortress, church, and seat of Gualdim Pais, Master of the Order of the Temple in Portugal. The Convent of Christ has been home to many other important people, including Prince Henry the Navigator.

The Templars are famous, or infamous depending on your point of view, for many things, but most notably for the occult wisdom they were said to possess. Many people believe this wisdom was the basis for the Masonic Order and the Rosicrucians. During my time in Scotland in 2002, 2003, and 2005, I traveled to various villages in search of traces of this order, and to uncover connections with the aspect of the Divine Feminine in sacred and theological traditions.

Now the story returns to the present. After my visit to Tomar and the Convento do Cristo, I had to get to work in Golegã! I put all thoughts of mysteries and investigation aside….until Monday morning when Dona Pilar asked “have you seen the chapel?” What chapel? I had no idea what she was speaking of.  At that very moment I was stuck in a quandary about what to do next and where to go…..but I went along with her, happy for the distraction. We went out the door and around the courtyard while she was explaining that the home had been in her family since the 16th century…and that I was going to view their private chapel.  “It is full of the most beautiful Azulejos….all very old and of very high quality…you will see, it’s lovely!”.  Lovely doesn’t begin to describe it.  Dedicated to Saint Anna, the artist had created a vision that enhanced the architecture of the church, fitting every piece in a tapestry of depth, detail and perfect symmetry. I was entranced. Upon leaving, we turned to have a last look at the door and Dona Pilar says oh so casually “Oh, have a look at the cross.” I lifted my head to see the cross on the tower and it was a perfect Rose Cross.  With my mouth open I turned to look at my host and she said, “oh yes, they are very rare. As you may know, they were destroyed all across the country, but as this was a private chapel, it was left alone.”

What does any of this have to do with anything?  Just this personal observation: when I am unsure of my next step or searching for the correct path, I am almost always given an assurance of some sort to ‘move forward’. This was one of those instances. It was the trip to Scotland in 2005 (for a deeper investigation of Rosicrucian philosophy and evidence of the Divine Feminine teaching in architecture) that got me started in photography. I have come a long way since then, but I remain grateful for all the guideposts, the mystery and abundance of the Universe, and for the care of people like Dona Pilar.

Images below from Tomar, the Convento do Cristo, from the Cistercian Abbey of Alcobaça, and the Casa Dos Vargos. Thank you for taking the journey with me.

15
Oct
11

“…the rhythm comes back” ~ Bruce Davidson

The Widow of Montmarte, Mme Fauche ©Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

Wow. Sometimes the synchronicity of existence stuns me. This morning I was reading my favorite photography blog (Lens, NYTimes) and the words of Bruce Davidson jumped off the page. While speaking of making a group of photographs nearly forty years ago, he said  “What’s great about looking at your work is the emotion comes back. The emotion comes back. The rhythm of what you were photographing comes back. It’s almost like a musical score.”

I had just come in from photographing the actual harvest of the grapes and was considering an edit to yesterday’s post on rhythm. Before I jumped into the edit I decided to stop and breathe a bit and open up the NYTimes Lens blog. There it was, my thought and emotion, my INTENT reflected in Mr. Davidson’s words. To celebrate the publishing of his retrospective, (“Outside Inside,” a three-volume, boxed set — published by the master printer Gerhard Steidl.) James Estrin and Josh Haner conducted this deeply thoughtful interview at Mr. Davidson’s home.

There is no way I could/would ever compare my work to Bruce Davidson’s, but I recognize the similarity in how we work and how we feel about what we do. This is incredibly affirming to me. I’ve always been grateful for the artistry and humanity of his work, now I feel just a little closer to it. Thank you, Bruce Davidson, for the images, your humility, and your thought.

Click here to read the entire interview and see a bit of his stunning imagery. http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/28/showcase-177/ It is a bounteous harvest.

Outside Inside, ©Bruce Davidson, 2011

14
Oct
11

Rhythm and Harvest

Autumn has always been my favorite time of year. This year for the first time I’m in California during the grape harvest. Instead of watching the maples and oaks of Eastern forests clothe themselves in ruby and gold, I’ve been watching the grapes ripen. Tasting a few dew-covered purple sugar gems has been the morning’s highlight. Watching the leaves change color and listening to the local growers discuss the intermittent rain, the sugar content of the grapes, and whether the skins are still firm, has deepened my appreciation of the tenuous nature of all farming, of living close to the earth. I know nothing about their harvesting, but I’m enjoying language and rhythms of the grapes.

Learning the language and feeling the rhythm. Hmm.  I think this may be a metaphor for living a good life. As we learn the language of our endeavor, be it photography, classical dressage, grape growing, or any other pursuit, we broaden our awareness and deepen our knowledge. It makes us fuller, more interesting humans. Now layer in the rhythm of life. We have all felt it when we are with the rhythm…..and maybe felt it a little stronger when we are out of rhythm. I’ve been practicing my ability to stop and appreciate when I am in it and stop and breathe when I am not.

Harvest (of any task or effort or sowing) has it’s own rhythm. Previously I have thought that it was an endpoint, a gathering of fruit from labor. Now I am seeing that the gathering clears the way for new effort. And that effort is most likely a result of your harvest, whether it has been a success or failure.

This fall has seen the release of my first book. It is very gratifying, but it is also a time to re-double the labor to ensure that the work that has gone into getting it this far will only be the platform for a greater bounty. So I have to immerse myself in the language and rhythm of promotion and publicity. (This is the real (read: unglamorous) life of a photographer.)

And along with this effort I am launching into the second phase of my personal project in the Czech Republic. I’ve written before on this blog about how I prepare for taking a photographic journey. My process remains the same. I read literature of the place and that place in time that I want to photograph. I listen to music and recorded books in the language of the destination. I slip into the feel and sound of my journey long before I arrive. I do not look at imagery as I want to see things new. To be successful at this I’ve learned that I must begin the process with an empty mind, an empty cup. There’s no room for expansion when your mind/cup is already full. No room to reap the sounds, smells, scenes when you have preconceived notions about your destination.

I’ll spend the next several weeks in hyper-drive to prepare for my trip and sow the seeds for greater promotion for Meditation for Two. But I’ll stop every so often and remember the dew on grapes, their luscious sweetness, the bite of the skins and crunch of the seeds, and the sounds of birdcalls in the early morning of the vineyard. Next time I see the vineyard the grapes will be gone and the vines will be pruned. The earth will rest for a time before offering new growth. This rhythm is eternal. Stepping into this rhythm and harvesting the memory of the light and softness, the delicious fullness of earth’s bounty, has expanded my world.

A note about the images: I used my favorite Fly Paper Textures to illustrate the juiciness and softness of the mornings here in the vineyard.

20
Sep
11

Images from Coupeville

Here is a small gallery of images from last Monday during Arthur Meyerson’s workshop.  There are more to come.  Feedback, as always, is deeply appreciated.

 

17
Sep
11

The Most Interesting Man in the World, an appreciation

You may think you know the most interesting man in the world. You don’t. I do.  Some know him as El Don, The Great American. I know him as Arthur “Danger” Meyerson.

Workshops have an energy (when they are good) that keeps you in a state of flow and good humor. Such was the case this week with Arthur Meyerson in Coupeville. Once again, Pacific Northwest Art School was the venue for learning, friendship, and photographic exploration.  A great mix of alumni and new students bonded on the first day and set the tone for the rest of the week.

At their best, workshops provide students and teachers a platform to push their boundaries.  To a person, each student this week allowed Arthur to guide, encourage, and challenge them to expand their vision and make images beyond their established styles and skill levels.  A lot of good work was produced, but most importantly, each student embraced the challenge and worked to create interesting images.

As the assistant it was my great pleasure to watch this unfold, to get to know new students, reconnect with alumni, and of course, enjoy the fabulous imagery and storytelling from Arthur. The encouragement I received for my own work from the class and from Arthur is deeply appreciated. It will keep me enthusiastic as I jump back into all the travel and work that keeps me in a state of “busy-ness” and often keeps me from feeling creative and engaged.

So what’s the point of this love fest? It’s simple: Find your own.  The camaraderie and collective vision that arises in a workshop will energize your own work and keep your spirits buoyed during creative down-time. The new skills and the expansion of your vision will give you confidence and a platform to launch new (and often, better) work.

Arthur says: “I don’t always do workshops, but when I do, I do it with Keron Psillas.” Arthur, it was an honor and a great pleasure.

Stay thirsty my friends.

27
Aug
11

A few more thoughts about Sam Abell’s workshop

If we are lucky, we get to experience an event that stays with us and molds us for the rest of our lives. I have had many blessings of this nature, but this last week reminded me of the importance of that initial experience.

In the late fall of 2005, I had the good fortune to take a workshop with Sam Abell on the mid-coast of Maine. The first night of the class offered us the opportunity to hear a lecture by Sam titled “The Photographic Life”. Sam’s sonorous story-telling style had the audience rapt, but I was struck by the deep humanity in the images as well as the personal stories of a life well-lived. Since that week I have worked hard to embody Sam’s advice of making the best picture in any situation and I have been helped by the voice that I hear while composing. It comes in from over my right shoulder and says things like this: check your edges; are the elements separated?; do they exist in their own world?; is it involving?; are there layers in the image?; setting, expression, gesture.

I’ve been assisting Sam in classes and with lectures for more than five years now. This past week I encouraged a number of good friends from all over the country to come to Whidbey Island for at least the lecture, if not the entire class. A number of (very intelligent) people took me up on the invitation. I heard from them the exact remarks that I made six years ago: It was wonderful; The sensitivity and depth of emotion in the images and the stories is deeply moving; it gives us a totally new way to see images and to think about our own photography.

Thankfully there are many wonderful teachers and mentors in the world. I’ve had several in different areas of my life. I suppose what I want to say with this blog post is this: Find a mentor or teacher whose vision and life you respect and emulate them. Make your own path, but hold on to the tenets they have lived by and see where it will lead you. The photographic life is just one life among millions of choices, but as Sam said, “it is the right life for me”. Building layers of depth and breadth in my life as well as my photographs has brought me to a place of deep appreciation and offered many moments of joy.

This state of being is open to us all but if you want to ignite a fire, take a Sam Abell course or at least experience a lecture he’s offering. Next up: Sam will be appearing at the INVision Photo Festival in Bethlehem, PA ( http://www.artsquest.org/invision/ ) Prior to that he is teaching at the Santa Fe Workshops in early October. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Here’s a gallery of images I’ve made over the years on Whidbey Island and around Seattle. I vow each year during the class to spend more time photographing…this time I made it happen.  You can too.

23
Aug
11

Sam Abell Interview

First Drafts: How Sam Abell Makes a Photograph, Alex Hoyt and Ross McDermott

I’m busy finishing the book layout that was created in our week-long workshop at the Pacific Northwest Art School in Coupeville, Washington.  The layered life on Whidbey Island, as it is everywhere, became the backdrop for Sam to teach his method of photography, one of layers, of “compose and wait” and one of still life scenes that have a life or incorporate life. This interview encapsulates that teaching in a marvelous 10 minutes of a deeply considered philosophy and lifelong process of making photographs. Take the time to view it and you’ll have the outline of  our workshop and a sense of the meticulous care that Sam takes to create Life in a Still Life.

Next post:more thoughts and favorites images from Coupeville over the years of (gratefully) assisting Sam.

18
Jul
11

unbearably sweet

I’m away from home again so my thoughts often fly there. This blog is often introspective and therefore personal, but I rarely mention family in a direct way. This post is different.  My niece, Jessica, has created a new business: Baby Cakes Creates.  (Everyone in my family is a good cook or great baker…except me. I chose a different path.) I made some photographs for her to get the blog started and help her to see how marvelous her creations are. I’m often surprised when looking back through photographs when I experience a moment of “wow, did I do that?”  I wanted Jess to have that same experience so I created the photographic evidence!  Enjoy the sweetness and contact Jessi to satisfy your sweet tooth. Her email:  baby.cakes.creates at gmail.com  Enjoy one for me!

 

25
Jun
11

Abundance

The trip to Portugal and Spain was one of abundance. Everywhere I turned was a feast for all the senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Although I no longer like this word, it was dizzying.

But the strongest feeling I got was one of connection. Of course I am at home with the horses no matter on which continent I find them, but watching a bullfight?? or visiting the village of Goléga, and Mestre Nuno Oliveira’s old manege, a Flamenco performance in the Gitane area of Jerez, the famous Bodegas of Terry and Domecq, and then the Convento dos Capuchos?  Each location was filled with a familiarity or sense memory for me that was suprisingly strong and completely unexpected. My challenge during this trip was to make meaningful images AND hold as much of the experience in my heart as possible. This can be very difficult when so much is packed into such a short time. In one day we saw a performance at the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, had lunch on one of the most beautiful windswept beaches I’ve ever seen, visited a monastery built into the rocks at the top of a mountain, traveled back in time to visit the Manege of Mestre Nuno Oliveira, and finish the night (very very late) at a Fado restaurant in the Alfama district….smack in the middle of the celebration for the Feast of St. Anthony.  And on top of that, I needed to make meaningful photographs of all the participants enjoying their trip.

I always remind myself that when I am working, I am happy to get ONE picture a day that reflects what I have seen and felt. It is hard to put into words the satisfaction I feel having created an image that speaks to me.  If I had to use one word I would choose affirming. A successful photograph affirms my connection with the subject and in a very real way, my connection to life. This experience of being in the flow of BE-ING is one of the most rewarding parts of photography. As my friend and mentor says so often, “photography is a great way to BE in life”. He’s right.

It’s often demanding and tiring, especially during a trip like this. Folks are snug in their beds by 2 am and I’m up downloading images and cleaning cards and gear, preparing to be ready to go again at 8 am. Looking, with intent and a desire to see deeper is tiring as well, but often rewarding.

I’m at home now, working through a mountain of files, and video too, and trying not to think (yet) about the next trip.  As always, thanks very very much for checking the blog. Please do tell a friend or two about it. Wishing you an abundant feast for all your senses. ~ Keron