Posts Tagged ‘Shepherdstown

05
May
13

Another (fantastic) Sam Abell Workshop

Friends and readers of this blog know that I am indebted to Sam Abell for his mentorship and aesthetic. I have just finished assisting Sam in his private workshop in Shepherdstown with a group of great photographers. We had four days of fellowship and fine photography, kicked off by a wonderful dinner hosted and prepared by Dianne and Paul Chalfant. (to continue the alliteration…..fabulous family festivities!)

Seriously, we spent each day engaged in conversation and creation of photography on a very high level. I’m posting a sampling of great images made during our time together, but they don’t illustrate the willingness to engage and stretch creatively that each of the photographers brought to the workshop. The thing that sets a workshop above another is not the instruction or the work produced, but the enthusiasm the participants bring to their work and to the conversation. Because of that, this workshop achieved a high water mark for earnest, thoughtful work.

Sam and I thank each of you for your spirit and your work. I am energized by your devotion to your craft and am carrying that force with me into my next project now that I am back in Portugal. Soon I’ll be on Whidbey Island for Sam’s first of two workshops with the Pacific Northwest Art School. Then I will be preparing for my own workshop there! I hope you’ll think of joining me.  Later, in August, I’ll return to assist both Sam Abell and Arthur Meyerson! August is always a high point in my year. The students that come to the workshops are inspiring and marvelously creative….but they’ll have a long way to go to top our Shepherdstown Group!

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.

29
Dec
10

defining moments

A friend just asked me if I feel settled in West Virginia yet. The short answer: No. The longer answer is that I don’t think I will, as I believe I will be traveling more than ever and therefore unable to nest properly. I’ll be testing my ability to feel at home in the world. The future holds travel for months on end in vastly different locations.

I am on the cusp of what could be a defining moment. The lead up has been exciting, excruciating, full of twists, with a few disappointments, but the forward momentum has held. As this has been a protracted process I have had plenty of time to consider the nuance and flow of this period.  The moments that stick with me are the moments that I have been able to stop and make a photograph.  I don’t mean click the shutter, I mean stop and see something that may have lasting value as a photograph. These are the nuances that give fullness to this experience of waiting, of being on the verge. It’s a prickly spot for me to endure as I am generally fond of action and clicking off items on the agenda.  Yes, I often procrastinate, horribly, but once in motion I can be tough to rein in. So this limbo experience is uncomfortable and forces me to look to things that make it less so.

I’ve chosen these images for two reasons: they have all been made since I have been in West Virginia these last four weeks, and they speak to me of waiting with a feeling of motion, transition or impermance in the waiting. The train is moving in the shot, the rain drops are falling, I am still for 5 minutes. The snow has fallen in the river scene, lightly, ice remains on the sycamores to highlight its structure. But the river moves, unceasing, and the ice will melt to become the river. The apples have fallen, defiantly holding their cheeky color in the face of decay and blanketing snow. The tumbling weed is still, for a moment, in a landscape that has changed greatly in the years I have been away. The snow creates a quiet resting place, a backdrop of calm and quiet. It is, in fact, an intersection leading to a fast food restaurant.

In this flow…in all this motion, change, and possibility, I am still, Keron.

07
Jun
10

Departures

I’ve just returned from a long trip to Brazil that was hard work, thought-provoking, and often just plain good fun. But the circumstances just prior and after the trip have kept me thinking about the deeper meaning of travel. I’ll explain:

Our destination is usually what we’re thinking of when preparing for a trip.  The excitement, the planning, the packing and preparation all combine to keep us looking forward….ahead to our destination.  This is especially true when traveling to a new location or an exotic locale.  But this time, all I could think about was the act of leaving and how that had impacted me and changed the nature of my travel.

Leaving West Virginia to go to New Jersey and then to Brazil to work was a heart-rending experience this time.  I left the hospital, my Grandmother’s bedside, with the doctors telling me I would not see her again. She had been in a coma for 5 days and I had spent the last several nights with her, doing whatever I could to comfort her, and I hoped, ease her passage.  I was also leaving my mother to walk the rest of this journey by herself.  I had no choice, but that only made me feel worse.  And so my departure this time was filled with sadness and introspection.

I began to think about what “home” means to me. I live on two coasts these days with a lot of travel in between to other destinations.  So I’m never really sure where “home” is.  I refer to home as the “other” place that I live depending on where I am at the time.  Several years ago, while living in Europe for a spell, I came to know Paris as my home.  I also experience that going home feeling when I visit and work in California at Barbier Farm or Hope Township, New Jersey.  I know a bit of “home” in the southwest corner of Dartmoor National Park in a little place called Lydia Bridge, on a tree filled hillside in Hunting Valley, Ohio, and on Borgo Pinti in Florence, Italy. And now, having spent several weeks in Brazil, I find myself longing for the home that I discovered just outside of Sao Paolo.

I’ve been lucky in my travel these last ten years.  Often I’ve been able to stay longer than the usual week or so in whatever my destination has been, and I’ve made good friends that I look forward to seeing again.  As I’m writing this I am beginning to understand that I have been able to give myself the comfort of home no matter where I am on the planet, that it is the world we create for ourselves that resonates and lasts.  I’ve learned that departures can be devastating and still the right thing. I’ve learned that the best part of home is a smile and a hug from a loved one. And I’ve learned that those things are waiting for me wherever I go.

When I returned from a walk across Spain in 2001, I was asked repeatedly, “what did you discover?” It took a long time for me to answer that question appropriately. I discovered that the world is a vast and wondrous place, made intimate by the connections we share with others.

Next time I’m departing I’ll remember that I’m always headed home.

17
Jan
10

the editing process

I am engaged by photographs that elicit an emotional response.  I want my own photographs to meet that standard and yet I realize that it is totally subjective.  What one viewer finds sorrowful or joyful will likely be different from another’s view.  But still, if we (as the photographer) are moved by a scene, a moment, or an event then it is likely that our audience will catch on to something that pulls them in.   So the question for me, when helping clients or friends edit their work, is this: Am I engaged?  Am I taking some extra time to really see the photograph or is it a ‘one look’ photo, a photo that might be graphically stunning but is one-dimensional? What are you trying to communicate as a photographer?  Anything? What is your point of view?  Do you have one?  Or is it simply a picture of  a pretty scene, thing, event?  What does the photograph say about you, the photographer?  Are there clues or is the mystery part of the appeal?  In short, to paraphrase Sam Abell: Is it involving? 

Of all the challenges to creating a successful or engaging photograph, among them lighting, technique, composition, setting, and gesture, the communication of feeling is for me the most important. Here is a small gallery with a wide array of subjects for you to critique. 

A note about Sam: Over 1,000 people attended the opening of his new show, Amazonia, at the University of Oregon on Saturday, January 16th.  Sam, along with the wonderful Danish photographer, Torben Nissen, spent months in the headwaters of the Amazon and came back with compelling, thoughtful images that tell the story of one of earth’s most precious resources.  I hope you’ll get to see the show.

17
Nov
09

knowing your subject too well?

In my last post I mentioned that in order to photograph your subject well you must know it deeply.  But knowing my subject too well became a challenge.  Upon my return from Europe in the summer of 2006 I was deeply frustrated photographically.  I had spent the previous four months photographing in France, Italy, England, and Holland, and then had a magical trip on a yacht up through the Southeast Passage in Alaska.  The visual feast of having something new and exciting to see for virtually every second of every day had dulled my senses to the familiar.   I turned back to my books for inspiration and a new subject.  This statement, from Ernst Haas, changed my thinking in an instant:  “I am not interested in shooting new things, I am interested to see things new.”  

I am not overstating it to say this sentence changed my life.  I went out that evening  to see things new; things (my home town) that I had such familiarity with that I could tell you when a certain flower or shrub would bloom in a particular back yard, or when a building was last painted, and didn’t it need painting again?  There is value in knowing something so well, I suppose it’s the meaning in the phrase “my home town”.  Shepherdstown had been my home for 44 years at this point….and with the arrival of Ian and Jessica, my family had called Shepherdstown “home” for six generations.  I never could have predicted that I would move, or move all the way across the country to Seattle…but that summer, my last summer in Shepherdstown, taught me that I can photograph wherever I am….an exotic locale or from my elevator each morning….and see things new.

13
Nov
09

The landscape of memory

Thinking of Eudora Welty’s landscape triggered thoughts of my own.  Growing up on a small farm outside of Shepherdstown, WV, shaped me in particular ways.  It was a quiet place with 40 acres to roam that was bordered by larger farms on all sides.  There was a marsh and stream on the front of the property that  would flood in the winter and spring, thereby making a long walk to the end of the lane for the bus a soggy, cold task.   There were woods at the back of the farm that remained  mysterious, there was a spring on the north side that I was convinced was a haven for cottonmouth snakes (probably not, but still scary), and we had a great old barn with a hay loft and stalls beneath.  While the memory of that landscape is clear, and dear to me in many ways, what I’ve realized is that my personality was shaped by this experience of place.  By nature I was a quiet child, content to be alone.  Having the farm to roam and explore encouraged that and it also insisted that I develop the capacity for introspection and long periods of solitary pursuits.  Walking and reading became the rhythm of my life on the farm.  Book in hand, dog at my side, off I’d go to find a place to settle for a while.   My two favorite books:  Frederick the Mouse, by Leo Lionni, and Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh.   

Frederick_cover

What does all of this have to do with photography?  I think it’s central to who I am as a photographer. Harriet was insistently curious and engaged with the world outside her, but in a stealthy, analytical way.  Frederick was consumed with “storing” the rays of the sun, the colors of the poppies, and the scents of the new-mown meadows to offer to his extended mouse family when the days of winter were long and bleak.   I believe it’s essential to know your subject deeply to photograph it well, so I put the time in to educate myself about a place or place in time (The South, or Pre-War Paris, for example).  But after all that work is done, I open my heart while photographing, to absorb the feeling and gather the sensory feast in front of me.  It can be a solitary pursuit, but offering  the harvest connects me to an ever growing community. 

Rocky Marsh evening, II

late summer evening, Rocky Marsh, near Shepherdstown, West Virginia




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