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Project / Projection

Last year I entered a couple of photo competitions that came with a submission review - it’s no secret that LensCulture does this. I knew I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in a Texas July of even placing or even getting noticed when it came to the competition itself, but it was worth it to me not only to try anyway but also to get the feedback of an industry professional about my work. Part of what makes the process useful, in my observation, is not being afraid to come right out and be honest: to ask the question that you’re seeking the answer to when it comes to your photography.

Number one for me, based again on my own observations, since I look at a lot of photographs every single day (thanks mostly to my work on the Film Shooters Collective Instagram), is this question: should I even bother putting my work out there when it isn’t cutting edge. It doesn’t push any boundaries. It isn’t making any kind of political or social statements, it isn’t trying to redefine what photography is, it isn’t multimedia, multi-process, manipulated, going-beyond-the-frame kind of stuff. More than one person has told me I was “born in the wrong decade.” I’m not trying to reinvent any wheels here, or drive myself crazy trying to do something that’s never been done (can you even DO that anymore?). I just photograph what I see, what I love. Really my camera is just an extension of my eyes, and my brain.

So, in this day and age of everything going BEYOND: should I bother? Because putting your work out there is most certainly a bother. Never mind the physical and mental effort; when you put it out there a little piece of your soul goes with it.

I loved the reply I received to this question so much that I printed it out. I’ve read it about 10 times. It may be the most productive piece of feedback I’ve ever received. The reviewer didn’t mince his/her words, didn’t blow a bunch of smoke up my you-know-what, but really gave me an honest answer. Among it, s/he encouraged me to “. . . .focus in on a specific vision and work towards molding that into a strong, cohesive project. Don’t let rejection hold you back. . .be relentless.”

So simple, yet so complex.

A project.

Cohesion.

Accurate visual representation of what usually happens to the projects I start

Accurate visual representation of what usually happens to the projects I start

I have a tendency to have big ideas that never go anywhere, either due to my own enthusiasm waning or my inability to sell the idea to others in such a way for it to get off the ground. A few years ago I started a project that was intended to be about womanhood, photographing women in masks. I made a bunch of work, tried unsuccessfully to get it shown, took some criticism about it too personally, and ultimately had all the wind sucked out of my sails when coordinating with models fell through time and time again. All the masks in my closet make for some fun mother / daughter time, tho.

Part of the Mask project, which is part of a show right now at  TAG at 120 Art

Part of the Mask project, which is part of a show right now at TAG at 120 Art

At one time I also thought I would go around photographing all the Austin landmarks to try and preserve a city in flux. I kinda did that for a little while, but then realized that it was an impossible endeavor and who was I to presume I had the talent or skill to do such a thing anyway? The dragon of self doubt ate that project too.

In hindsight, my project may have petered out but I sure am glad I made this photo

In hindsight, my project may have petered out but I sure am glad I made this photo

A few years ago I was so excited about the work I made during a road trip to Big Bend that I actually named it as a project (Into the West). I waited patiently like one of those 100 year insects for a time when I would be able to go West again, and continue the work.

It took 6 years, but we finally were able to travel that way again last summer. When I came back and developed the film I was beside myself; I’ll admit it: I was super proud of what I had made. Then I looked at social media and POOF my enthusiasm was gone. Look at all these other, far more talented photographers, who went pretty much the exact same places as me and made similar work and dang who knew that everybody and their dog toured the American southwest during the summer well what’s the point in even bothering sharing this work anyhow. So I only shared the street photography, which wasn’t what I considered to be the real body of work at all.

But it is a project.

And I’m planning on working on it more.

And I’m writing about it.

So, this is my NOW. Slowly conquering the dragon of self doubt. Trying to transform the me who tears myself down into a THEN when I put the work out there. When I’m relentless. When I don’t let the figurative bastards get me down.

Now and Then

“This is the first day of the rest of your life

'Cause even in the dark you can still see the light

It's gonna be alright, it's gonna be alright” — Steve Wilson / Matt Maher


I don’t look at Facebook much these days, but lately when I drop by I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of sadness being shared. Loss. Illness. Difficulties. Real Life stuff that isn’t pleasant at all. So much sorrow. Last year when I was barely managing to keep my head above the water of my own challenges, it was good for me to have friends to focus on instead. I was too mired in my NOW as it was. It consumed too much precious time that should have been spent on other things. Sometimes circumstances demand your attention, and the more significant they are the more attention they demand. So the suffering, the sorrowful thing, becomes NOW. RIGHT NOW.

This was my NOW for a good portion of 2018.

This was my NOW for a good portion of 2018.

Of course, this applies to joyful things as well as sorrowful ones. After all, anyone who has lived either one of these wonderful events knows that they are not the type of experiences that can take a back seat. (And they shouldn’t be made to take one, either; they both deserve the best!)

One of the beautiful things about life, however, is that NOW passes away. It softly shifts into THEN. This applies to joyful times as well as the painful ones, but it comforts me either way just knowing how transient moments are. And of course I think this is a perfect reason to photograph all of it.

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The above photo is one of the first self portraits I made, just after my 38th birthday. I’ve carried on that project, making occasional photographs of myself and publishing a set each year around September. These photographs aren’t meant to be for me; I know what I look like. They are for my daughter. The photographer of the family can almost disappear, so I thought there might come a day that she would like to see how her mother looked at different stages. Sometimes, I’m not alone in them, because after all she is a huge part of my NOW.


I don’t beautify myself for a self-portrait. Half the time I’m not even wearing makeup, or I might be in my pajamas.


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What I want is the Real NOW. I might add symbolism to it (see the one 3 above), but mostly I want it to be an accurate representation of who I was at that moment. Sometimes, symbolism adds itself, as in this one from my 41st (42nd? I’m losing count) birthday. . . .

Overlapping frames

Overlapping frames

It’s interesting to me, already after just 4 years of this exercise, to see what my camera sees of me. The mirror shows me a new NOW every day, but mostly I don’t feel like it changes much. My daughter’s NOW changes with astonishing rapidity. Even keeping my finger on the pulse of her daily life, it’s difficult to keep up. Being able to see the change in her in photographs highlights how quickly NOWs become THENs. NOW, she sometimes uses my camera to photograph me.

The NOW that burdened me last year hangs around. I haven’t been able to get rid of it entirely yet; it may be years before it’s banished to a THEN. But I know it will happen, just as surely as I knew the moment my daughter was born that (God willing) she would grow up and become a strong, independent woman. The spirit of my own female ancestors is too powerful to ever fade; it’s a constant NOW that pushes it way onward through generations.

This was a test of my OneStep 2’s self timer. A momentary NOW, like every other

This was a test of my OneStep 2’s self timer. A momentary NOW, like every other

A morning NOW from last summer, on the road. Our travel NOW doesn’t include fancy hotel rooms. I doubt it ever will but who knows. Also I need to remember to suck in.

A morning NOW from last summer, on the road. Our travel NOW doesn’t include fancy hotel rooms. I doubt it ever will but who knows. Also I need to remember to suck in.

A NOW in Llano, which is a lovely THEN to me now: the memory of the first day of a road trip that changed my life

A NOW in Llano, which is a lovely THEN to me now: the memory of the first day of a road trip that changed my life

Every day is a fresh start, a fresh chance, a new beginning, a new NOW. I might be waiting for the lingering sorrow in this house to become a THEN, but there is joy in the meantime: the joy of waiting and a new becoming. Each day is a shadow of the ones that came before; every NOW soon becomes a THEN.

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Pedernal

This is a cell phone photo of a Georgia O'Keeffe painting from a calendar I bought in Santa Fe last summer at “her” museum. It’s of “her” mountain: Pedernal. According to a book (purchased at the same place as the calendar), she thought if she painted it often enough God would give it to her. Or something like that. I’m not sure God works that way but boy howdy could she paint.

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I had never heard of Pedernal mountain. I had never heard of Ghost Ranch or Abiquiu either, until we visited the Georgia O’Keeffe museum. But I knew I had to see it before we headed home. We drove south from Colorado, passing up a frighteningly abandoned (and equally frighteningly boiling hot & dry, with similarly frightening toilets) campsite at Echo Canyon, and chose a big flat (dusty, windy) campsite in the shadow of the mountain instead. It had showers! I was thrilled.

Campsite view of Pedernal (iphone photo)

Campsite view of Pedernal (iphone photo)

There was some discussion between us about the mountain. Walt said he had a feeling it was important in some way. A sign at the bathrooms confirmed his suspicions, adding an extra layer of happiness to our already happy evening at camp. We watched a storm swirl by, with lots of lightning. Laid in the tent while the sides and roof whipped around like sails. Hoped it wouldn’t collapse like it did in Taos. Made dinner. Observed with trepidation the arrival of a large group of young men armed with a large quantity of grocery bags and alcohol at 9pm......and barely got a wink of sleep thanks to them. Folks, if you are ill enough to need to hock loogies (and then later retch and vomit) at a shockingly loud volume every 5 mins all night long, please don’t go camping at a place where you’re right next to other people. Please. I guess the plus side was getting to watch Mars rise and the constellations move across the sky in spectacular fashion.

Clouds gathering (iphone photo)

Clouds gathering (iphone photo)

Morning came, and the second the families around us were up & at ‘em we packed and loaded our things, with Sunday radio blaring, and roared out of there. Left it in the dust. Drove straight toward ghosts.

It was a breathtaking morning. All the pain of loud-drunk-guys-induced insomnia aside, I am grateful beyond belief that we were on the road so early that day. To enjoy the morning and THAT LIGHT.

We went to Ghost Ranch, all the way up the drive to the visitors center, but after rambling on the road and in state parks for a couple weeks it seemed too complicated, so we drove right back out again. We already knew they didn’t have any available campsites anyway. These photographs are from little stops along the road on the way there, and inside the ranch itself.

By the time we pointed the truck back toward Texas, everything looked different. The glow was gone. But the memory remains, possesses my heart. Calls me back.

This is the only film photograph I made of Cerro Pedernal. A day or two after we arrived at home, I dreamed I was still in Abiquiu. In the tent. Under that sky. I woke up confused in my own bed; it took me a while to remember where I was. And for the first time ever, I wished I wasn’t home. I wished I was still on the road. I guess some places can claim a piece of you and keep it there without your knowing.

Hasselblad & Ektar (all photographs unless otherwise noted are Kodak Ektar)

Hasselblad & Ektar (all photographs unless otherwise noted are Kodak Ektar)

I also made a bunch of photographs with a roll of Lomo Turquoise (that I had been hoarding for ages) the same morning in July 2018. You can see them here in Into the West.

Shying away from Street

“It is easy to harden your heart but opening it is the hardest thing” — Emmet Brickowski

It’s probably been a year, maybe more, since I felt inspired to do street photography. That’s not to say that I haven’t done ANY during that time, but it’s been spotty and mostly lackluster. More than likely, my lack of enthusiasm shows in the photographs. Sometimes life deals you a rough hand, and for me one of the side effects of last year’s hand was backing away from the type of photography I’ve been passionate about for over 15 years. My faith in a lot of things took a major blow, and I’m not sure how to candidly photograph my fellow humans with so much doubt in my heart. When I have tried, I’ve felt like an impostor, fearful behind the lens, afraid of being seen, of being spotted and called out, unwelcome. That’s not a good place for a street photographer to be, and seems rife for becoming a self fulfilling prophecy.

When your eyes have been opened to How the World Really Is, can you ever look at it the same again? Can you repair rose colored glasses once they’ve been smashed?

Last year the better option for me was to photograph landscapes, quiet places, familiar people, or within the safe structure of employment, instead of seeking out compelling compositions on the street. It was a year of searching with my camera for things that I have lost. It feels like I am trying to be something I’m not; it’s strange to be exploring a new path, but mainly what I miss is the fire and desire of the work itself.

In December 2018 I went to a local Christmas festival (alone), and felt the joy start to come back to me. The air was filled with it! I felt safe there, and welcome. I photographed with happy confidence, but since that hour or so in Georgetown have managed very little. I haven’t even wanted to try.

There is always goodness, and kindness, in the world, if you are open to it, if you know how to look. These days it takes me by surprise every single time - I don’t take it for granted. I have been seeking motivation to get back out on the street with my camera: in photobooks, in working with local businesses, in little dreams of pursuing photojournalism (which may be a crazy idea), in my search for the resurrection of my faith in humanity. I’m starting to wonder if maybe part of healing my broken view is just getting back out there. After all, I have seen some incredible examples of community and love lately, and felt a part of it. I know it’s there, I just need to keep looking.

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I’ve been thinking about all of this for a while, and after last week’s post sharing a collection of photographs I made a few years ago, now seems like the right time to talk about it. Looking back at that work has inspired me. I’m still not at the place where I want to prioritize street photography, or go out of my way to make it happen, but I am getting there. Festival season is coming up, and fingers crossed by then I will have a little bit of a revival of my own.

Love of Place

Hartley Coleridge asked if love was a “fancy or a feeling.” My question is: can you love a place as it changes over time? Can you love a place even if the changes break your heart?

For me, the answer is yes. I’ve been in Austin regularly for just about my entire life. It started out with visits to my Grand-mere, who lived in an apartment behind where the Chuck E Cheese used to be on Burnet. My Mom and I would drop off my Dad for a day of caving, hit Northcross Mall for some ice skating (including a pizza slice from the place in the mall), then go visit her. I remember sunflower seeds in the carpet, a fish tank full of those kind that look like they’ve swallowed neon, a lively miniature Schnauzer named Julie who would go out a sliding glass door to a little patio, and paint-by-number.

By the time I was a teenager, my Grand-mere was long gone from that apartment, having moved to Louisiana to live on my uncle’s horse farm. My parents became inexplicably obsessed with blues music, so our trips to Austin revolved around hitting up a few landmarks (Amy’s Ice Cream and Threadgills, especially) before spending a long, smokey night in Antone’s (when it was on Guadelupe). This happened just about every weekend when I was 16 or so, and that’s when it hit me: I fell in love with the city. I knew it was where I wanted to be - a big (I’m from Waco y’all), laid back, open minded town full of sunshine and people out enjoying it. A place where not very many people knew me and I could really be whoever I wanted to be.

Life brought me to the University of Texas when I was 19, and that was it: I WAS HOME. I loved every single day of the 4 years I spent in Austin in the late 1990’s; even bad days weren’t that bad because hey I was where I wanted to be. How bad could it be if I could go to Zilker Park? How bad could it be if you were living exactly where you’d dreamed of for years? I wept for hours when life shifted and I had to leave it. Everybody I met during the 10 years I lived away from there probably was sick to death of hearing me talk about it; even the things I loved about Manhattan were things I loved because they reminded me of Austin.

My heart waited a decade. I didn’t visit it more than a handful of times during those years. I moved back as soon as life turned again and gave me that chance. And I’ll be honest: after a short time of kinda reliving the glory days, I couldn’t ignore the fact that the city I loved had changed almost to the point of being unrecognizable.

Where I perch my boots these days is in a town north of there but most people consider it a suburb. It’s growing like wildfire; it’s where my family has put down new roots, and we have a deep love for it that I will talk about another time. I still drive in to Austin, but not regularly, and when I’m there it just doesn’t feel like home anymore. Where is the love? Where did it go? I’m looking for it; I’m holding on to those shreds of it that remain deep in my heart. Under the condos clinging to the land like barnacles, I know the soul of the city is still there. Maybe a lot of creatives / artists can’t afford to live there anymore, but we can dream about it. And where the dreams are - well, that’s where the real action happens anyway.

All the photographs I’m sharing with these words are from 2012-2014ish *. Like the city, they’re some of the ones I love most.





* from back in the day when I decided I should watermark my jpegs and what can I say I just didn’t have it in me to dig out the negatives and redo them in time to get this out to you, so here they are watermarks & all.