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Springtime in Blue

Spring is in full force where I live! Warm days bookended by cool mornings and nights, sunshine, and growth exploding everywhere. The redbud tree in my backyard went from blossom to tender new leaves in a matter of days, signaling to some hidden part of me that it was time to start making cyanotypes again.

What can I say, I’m a sucker for heart shaped things.

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Some of my favorite weeds are popping up again, having taken a break during the winter (although really it feels like it’s always weeds season in Texas, just like it’s always allergy season in some way). Seeing them again half-hiding in the grass was instant inspiration. I had to coat a load of fresh paper, and then after my initial flurry of photo-gramming I was surprised to realize that I already needed more.

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There’s plenty of sunshine most of the year here, but I don’t seem to be as motivated to make cyanotypes when it’s cold outside. I also don’t seem to be motivated to make cyanotypes that involve a part of my body (like my hand) until it’s at least 102 degrees outside. Nobody said motivation was supposed to make sense.

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Wildflowers are starting to show their happy faces all over the place. Dandelions in my backyard. (And front yard).

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Buttercups near the reservoir where I go for a run. The other day when I went to check the mail I found some lovely purple flowers growing next to the road.

And, of course, bluebonnets, which are not for picking but can be kinda sorta recreated.

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I’m thinking I would like to try wet cyan. I’m thinking about some plants in my neighborhood that I would like to harvest for the sake of a few prints. I’m considering playing with fabric sometime soon. Here’s wishing you a springtime that inspires you every day!

Enchantment

Tuesday of this week, I went to Enchanted Rock. Sitting here at my kitchen table searching for the words to convey all the thoughts that come to me when I consider the trip, I realize it’s not really possible, and most of those words I should probably keep to myself anyway. It was a day trip, pretty much spur of the moment, although keeping in mind that it’s spring break we did make a reservation online the night before: that’s a lot of planning, for us. I had been trying to get out that way with my daughter for a couple of years, but we wanted to camp, and camping in Texas during the summer isn’t much fun, plus lately the only time I get with her has to be spent on the Have To’s of life (school, school stuff, extracurricular activities and their accompanying stuff, dentist, doctor appointments, homework, etc.) rather than the Want To’s. You can’t spend your life waiting for the right moment or having enough time to do things, you gotta just go for it when the moment strikes. And that moment was Tuesday.

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It had been 23 years or so since I was last at Enchanted Rock. There was a field trip in 8th grade (I think??) and a brief stop in college. I left Texas shortly after I graduated, and since returning I felt like I needed to wait for little legs to be strong enough to make the climb without too much bellyaching. Considering the number of little kids I saw there, I have no idea why I waited. There were plenty of them running around & getting continually shouted at by their parents. The wind at the top was swift, apparently carrying their voices right past their children’s ears.

These are the stairs to the parking area, not up the batholith

These are the stairs to the parking area, not up the batholith

Enchanted Rock really is a magical place. There’s something magnificent about seeing it in the distance, and how breathtakingly steep the ascent seems to be. Vertigo when you stop midway to turn around and take in the view. The breeze building and whipping around your head to combat the noise of your beating heart.

I packed many cameras, since after all it could easily be another 23 years before I visit again. The hero with whom I share my life kindly offered to carry the backpack, so I was free to photograph. I made a lot of pictures with my Polaroid One Step 2; it had been months & months since I last exposed any instant film. One of the packs I used was expired Impossible Film (purchased from my friend Ruby); I hadn’t used expired instant film in this camera before, and the results surprised me.

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After my initial reaction of “oh so this is how people make those slightly destroyed looking Polaroids” I had a moment of disappointment, then I smiled at how art imitates life in the sense that things always happen exactly the way they are supposed to. Somehow, these photographs seem to have cottoned on to my thoughts, the place that geologic wonder holds in my memory. . . . . the nature of memory itself.

This one in particular has a lot of meaning for me - the burning bush of memory combined with the broken state of my love affair with my home state. I realize that probably sounds like a bunch of ridiculous artistic babble, but it makes perfect sense in my mind.

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From a photographic standpoint, I find Enchanted Rock to be a gold mine of character-laden trees and photogenic boulders. I made a lot of medium format images that I will more than likely share sometime in the future.

It’s funny how you can forget the things that work to heal you. Getting out into the Hill Country, especially out where all that’s required of me is hiking gear, snacks, and water, has always had a positive effect on me. Driving home, in the early evening spring Texas sun, I felt cracks letting the light back in to my heart. We stopped at Dairy Queen for ice cream. I photographed out the window. I felt hope that this springtime might be a time of new growth for so many things.

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All images Polaroid Originals One Step 2 and either Polaroid Originals I-type film or expired Impossible I-type film. I love that camera. “Scanned” with the app.

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.