Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Little Things

I remember being in kindergarten and working on an art project where my classmates and I made imprints of our hands in clay. I remember that art project like I created it yesterday.

I glazed my hand-imprint-clay-glob a boyish, dark blue color, and then my teacher sent it off to be fired in a kiln. My classmates and I later wrapped our hand imprints in tissue paper and proudly presented them to our moms on Mother’s Day...a gift-giving of such import that today, some 50 years later, my Mom still has my blue clay glob in her house.

I recall how eager-for-approval I was when I gave my mother the art project, and I can picture quite vividly that my mother opened the gift and gushed about what an amazing artist I was. I’ll never forget how proud I felt to have made her happy on her special day.

This week I had a flashback to that experience of creating something and then hearing, happily, that someone enjoyed my art. I shot the picture you see above on a recent hike on the Washington Coast. Leah saw the photograph later and enthused that it’s one of her favorite ocean pictures of the dozens, perhaps hundreds, that I’ve shot over the years.

Leah loaded the picture onto the new, “smart” cell phone she bought recently (Leah is not one to make a big deal about possessions, but she really loves that phone.) She made the ocean picture the background to her phone’s main page, and I felt like I was five-years-old all over again.

To be honest, the picture to me seemed like a bit of a snapshot...but Leah liked it. That's all that mattered.

Here I am, a photographer in his mid-50’s, but if, during my career, I’d had FIFTY of my pictures published on the cover of National Geographic (in reality I’ve had just one,) I wouldn’t have felt the rush of acceptance as completely as I did this week when Leah put the ocean picture on her phone.

Maybe it’s just a human trait that little things can mean a lot to us.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fall Getaway

This is the time in the seasons when Leah and I feel like we are in need of a change in scenery. I can’t really say why this is so...why this desire to go someplace, this antsy-ness, seems to be autumnal in nature, but it is.

Maybe we sense the winter season is not too far off, and we know the rains will soon saturate the lowlands of the Puget Sound region and snows will blanket the mountains that surround us...all this meaning we’ll be spending more time than usual indoors.

Leah and I have found that the antidote to our itchy, fall wanderlust isn’t necessarily a long trip, just a trip: A three hour drive to the Washington coast will be fine, or, better yet, a road trip east to the rain shadowed, sunny side of the Cascades.

Earlier this week three travelers -- Leah, our friend Jim, and I -- drove east over the North Cascades Highway and into the Methow Valley, a place of incredible, high desert beauty. We rented a cabin that served as our base camp for exploration and good times.

We hiked picturesque trails and took in views that stretched from here to infinity; we stood in an open field one night and beheld a harvest moon that turned darkness into near-daylight.

We did this trip, intending perhaps to get away from it all, but finding, I think, great appreciation of the here and now.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Painting with Light

I remember the first day of the first photography class I took in college.
I can picture very clearly in my mind’s eye -- now 35 years removed from that classroom -- the professor sanding before my classmates and me, looking us over, sizing us up. I remember too the first thing the professor did. He asked us: “Does anyone here know the definition of Photography”?

I remember that question very well because...none of the students, myself included, had an answer. There was a sense in the air that we students had failed our First Big Test in a class that had barely begun.

“Photography means: “Painting with Light,” the professor said, casting a chilling scowl toward a hopeless lot of pathetic wretches.

That little 35-year-old scene popped into my head early last evening as my friend Jim and I hiked down a Pacific Ocean beach in the Olympic National Park. Jim is a fellow photographer I’ve known my entire professional career. There were other hikers out on that beach last night, but they were finishing their day’s outings and were headed back toward the trailhead and their cars, as Jim and I were just getting started.

Jim and I had a plan, you see. We wanted to be on the beach when the light was good. We wanted to paint with that good light.

We hiked for about 45 minutes. The sun was beginning to sink toward the western horizon when my friend and I arrived at some ocean sea stacks we’ve visited and photographed before. We set up our camera gear and then we waited. The light got better and better. We used our cameras to play with the visual elements of the stark rock formations, and we reveled in that beautiful sunset light.

Even after the sun slipped below the horizon, the light show went on. Warm reds and oranges were replaced by cool blues.

Some time later we repacked our gear and retraced the route we had walked earlier, down the now dusky beach. Eventually the full moon rose to light the way for us, back to the trailhead and our car.

It was a perfect evening to be out.

Friday, September 17, 2010

In the Service

I have a young friend who is in the US Army and is serving in Afghanistan. I heard the other day that my friend’s tour will end at Christmas, which is of course good news for his family and others who are close to him.

The friend worked with me at weddings for a while, back a number of years ago when he was a college student with a growing interest in photography. He had a wonderful eye and talent for making images, and he went on to shoot for newspapers for several years. I guess photography wasn’t difficult enough for him because he decided to join the Army, where he trained as a paratrooper.

I’ve climbed many mountains here in the Northwest, and being up in airy places doesn’t scare me. I can’t imagine, however, jumping out of an airplane. My young friend has courage that impresses me beyond words.

A couple of weeks ago I photographed a wedding where the groom is a Navy pilot. He wore his dress whites for the ceremony, as did members of his squadron. After the ceremony, when the bride and groom were formally introduced to the wedding guests at the reception, the men from the squadron formed an archway with swords, through which the newly married couple passed. It was a very cool thing to see.

I later learned that the groom and his squadron recently returned from deployment in Afghanistan.

All these folks who are now or have been serving in Afghanistan got me to mulling over the idea of “service,” ... a word that could be spelled serve-us. I got to thinking about all the people I know who, in one way on another, serve others: Family members who volunteer at church; a friend who runs a nonprofit foundation for families who have a child with a life-threatening illness; neighbors who donate produce to the local food bank. I could go on and on. I was kind of amazed to realize that I couldn’t think of one person I know who does not do something to be of service...

To serve-us.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Leaving Notes

One of the things I hear fairly often when I’m shooting a wedding ceremony is Relationship Advice. Though the advice is not directed at me per se -- as a Priest or a Rabbi or some other learned official stands in front of the couple being married and talks to them, publicly, about challenges they’ll face in their coming years together -- the wedding guests (and I) certainly benefit by the lecture nevertheless.

I remember one minister who addressed the guests, telling them: “If a year or 10 years from now, you guys are out with the groom, or you ladies are out with the bride, and he or she begins to gripe about something their mate has done, your responsibility is to be a friend of the marriage, not of the bride or groom. Tell the bride or groom you don’t want to hear their griping; encourage them to go home and communicate with their mate, to fix things."

It’s interesting how we human beings communicate with one another. Just this morning, for example, as I did chores out at our barn, I saw a feather that I realized Leah had found and tucked under a fence post wire. I took Leah’s impromptu, feather-on-the-post art installation to be a kind of note to me, which I interpreted to read: “Hey, check this out! Pretty cool, huh?”

I’m fairly sure I’m correct in what my mate meant to communicate to me through that feather, though I also suspect that, had she been there in person, she would have gently added: “While you are in the barn, could you please give the sheep fresh water, and feed the chickens, and...”

Friday, September 10, 2010

Playing the Cute Card

I don’t know about you as the audience, dear reader, but earlier this week your obedient photographic thespian (that would be me) so enjoyed doing a post of newborn baby pictures that I’m going to go for an encore.

Wassup with all these babies in my life these days? Could it be that there is something in the water around here? It seems like a lot of babies are being born...or at least babies are being born to couples whose weddings I shot in recent years.

Whatever it is that's bringing all these babies into my photographic life, I'm fine with it. There are worse things I might be asked to photograph than cute.

Cute is a good thing...though it might be said that babies are also wondrous, and precious, and...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Strong Magic

There’s a jelly cabinet in the corner of our kitchen and Leah has it decorated with a small collection of sentimental family knick-knacks: Tiny wood and ceramic figurines from one of Leah’s dear aunts; a brass bell that Leah’s mother passed down to us; a feather and starfish we found on a special hike; and a photo that Leah shot 30 years ago of me, then a skinny marathon runner, holding Abell, a newborn.

Recently a young couple I know (I photographed their wedding several years ago) asked me to come to their home to take pictures of their newborn son (one of the resulting images is posted below.) Though many moons have come and gone since I held our own newborn in my hands, I remember the day he was born like it was yesterday. I can look at the picture Leah took and remember the smell of the old house we lived in, and the walks we did, carrying Abell around the block to show him off to neighbors. The picture that Leah took is not the only way I recall that time, but the picture certainly gives my brain a bit of a nudge.

I walk past the jelly cabinet and the picture gently reminds me not to take life for granted.

Though I make my living taking photographs and there are days when I’m editing a shoot and, quite literally, a thousand of my own images might flash past my eyes on my computer screen, I hope I never, ever, get so jaded that I forget what an amazing medium I work in.

This photography stuff is strong magic.

Friday, September 3, 2010


Our kitchen must be a place of great mystery to the two dogs who live here. Leah and I are adventurous eaters, and in just the past week our kitchen has been filled with the aromas of Thai, Indian, Italian, and good old, red-white-and-blue ‘Mer-kin foods. Even when we’re not sitting down to a meal, our table is always decorated with some kind produce: Oranges from the market, or, this morning, eggs from our own chicken house.

I happen to think that Leah is as accomplished at cooking as Yo Yo Ma is when he draws a bow across the strings of his cello, or Picasso was when he put paint to canvas.

We keep our four-leggeds on their toes because we're forever introducing new scents. I watch with a grin on my face and a camera in my hand as the dog Buddha comes around to check out the aroma of the day. He sniffs from a polite distance, never close enough to get dog goobers on our human food.

He’s like a wine connoisseur checking the nose of a fine Cabernet.