On the road again

Summer is road trip season for my family (my guess is that it’s road trip season for a lot of people). It’s the favorite mode of travel for all of us; planes are handy but really not particularly pleasant. Also you miss out on all the scenery along the way (unless you have a window seat, I suppose, although it’s not the same). This year, for the first time in a few, we get to make a trip all together. . . . . in fact, that might just be where I am right now as you read this.

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I made the Polaroids I am sharing in this post when I was on the road last year. I shared many of them via cell phone snap on Instagram, when they were still fresh, and I was surprised by the attention they received. For that trip I only had black & white instant film with me, and I regretted not having color when I experienced the incredible light of New Mexico. The only place I could find that sold it, however (a shop on the square in Santa Fe), was charging 3 times the online price, so I took that as a sign to stick with what I had.

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Metaphors aren’t lost on me, especially when I find myself living one. Last year’s trip was a last minute, much needed escape. I was reeling from being kicked in the teeth by a system I had thought was put in place to protect me. I had been lost, barely keeping my head above the level of the water in the well of sorrow I’d been shoved into. By the time I returned home, I was most definitely found.

The road on that trip was a place of rebirth for me. I was reminded of the person I used to be - the free woman I had been before I started getting beaten down - the free woman I had been all along, without realizing it. The cab of the truck operated for me like one of those sensory deprivation chambers, letting me cast off all the baggage that had been clinging to me for so many years. Sometimes you have to step outside of yourself to get back to being yourself.

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The World can take away just about whatever it wants from you, but it can’t touch what’s inside of you. It can’t take away what it didn’t give in the first place. Its powers don’t extend that far.

I’m thankful I have the time to pay attention to the journey and not just focus on where I want to go. Time has taught me that the destinations I have in mind are usually little more than a mirage: shifting, moving, dissolving in response to the capriciousness of life. Where I end up isn’t entirely up to me, anyway; it never has been. Every day I reach back into the jar of hope for another helping of the grace that brings me the peace I need to relax and not worry about the illusion of control.

Wherever your road takes you this summer, I hope it’s a happy place that you reach in the end!

All photographs Polaroid Originals One Step 2 and I type B&W film. These aren’t all the Polaroids I made; there are tons more. I’ve been thinking about putting them together into a zine, but have so far lacked the motivation. . . . . .


When it comes to childhood, there’s Christmas Morning joy - which is awesome, of course - and then there’s last day of school joy - that super fantabulous stratospheric state of happiness when you know you get to just BE A KID and have tons of fun every single day for months! (Remember when it used to be 3 months? I remember wishing it was 5 months.)

iphone photo, last day of school 2013

iphone photo, last day of school 2013

As a woman who is fortunate enough to get to stay home with my kiddo, one of the greatest pleasures of my life so far has been to celebrate summer with her. It’s a golden time, short lived, just like her childhood.

Soon enough we all grow up and don’t get to have a seemingly endless break from our work to swim, sleep in, make art, watch movies, have adventures, travel, play, and eat Popsicles. This time will end for me as well; in a way, it has already ended. So you better believe I have extended myself to the max every year, giving all that I can to try to make every day awesome. Life should be a celebration, after all.

What makes a day fun has changed & evolved over the years, but one thing has remained constant for us: water. Lots of water. Specifically, the local water park (usually followed by ice cream). This is Texas, after all. It’s hot.

Summer isn’t my daughter’s favorite season, and it isn’t mine either. We both prefer fall - October, November, December - and we start getting excited about her October break from school (and our annual Halloween party) around August 2nd. During her earlier years, however, summer was when we had the most time together, so it was the most special, a sacred time that we both looked forward to from the moment the Christmas tree got put away. It’s the heat and frenetic joy of summer that makes the bedding down, cooling off, cozy time of fall stand out even more, after all.

Maybe I’ve written about this before. I did a summer project a few years ago, one of those 100 days things, that commemorated our season together and our favorite things. The mammoth output of it (a big, framed thing) still hangs above my bed, and we talk about it often. I’m so glad I made that effort, and that we have a visible reminder to accompany the reminders that are written in the sky, on the leaves, in the air, in my heart. I know she won’t always choose to spend her summers with me, but for now the thread continues, and I have hope that if she ever becomes a mother she will pass it on.

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Besides the first photo, all are film, mostly made with a Nikonos camera (an awesome waterproof tank) and Ektar film.

Bringing things into focus

I feel like I should preface the below observations by saying that I tend to be a (possibly overly) sensitive person in general, in mind, body, and spirit, and that the things I talk about here, in my own tiny insignificant nook on the internet, are nothing more than personal observations, thoughts, opinions, etc. So, please: don’t take it too seriously.

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In the relatively brief amount of time that I’ve been involved with the visual arts, I have perceived (possibly erroneously) that there’s an unspoken hierarchy embedded within them. (As I write this I realize that in fact I have been exhibiting work over a broken timeline of 10 years. Dang. I guess that’s not so brief but whatever.) I perceive this in the same way that I perceived it when I was a dancer: I was a concert dancer - dance for dance’s sake, mostly contemporary - and I certainly felt in my bones the unspoken difference between that and, for example, musical theater. I gazed across the yawning gulf that separated us from ballerinas. It’s a real thing; you can feel it when certain topics arise in the dressing room, in rehearsal.

In the same way, I feel the pecking order when I’m hanging around in galleries wondering if anyone wants to talk to me about the pieces I have hanging on the wall. There are the painters, the sculptors, the printmakers, and then way, way at the bottom, there’s the photographers - specifically, the documentary style photographers. I get it: after all, “everyone” is a photographer these days (thanks, iPhone), and heck I know people in my own genre who don’t consider what they do to be art. Personally, I don’t think labels really matter. They are limiting. I prefer not to have a stamp on me that people think they can use as some kind of filing system to identify and subsequently dismiss me. But I digress. . . .. . .

In the same way - again - I have perceived in the realm of film photography a certain unspoken thing that seems to give the people who use fully manual, older cameras, the highest badge of honor. I myself have, with a sense of pride, told more than one person in relevant conversation that most of the cameras I use don’t even take batteries. This is a bonus, to be honest, because it’s just one less thing to worry about; my Dad is absolutely correct when he says that batteries poop out at exactly the wrong moment.. . . . for example when you have just loaded the Noblex for a special roll of double exposures and you are way too far from anywhere that sells double A’s.

For the sake of this sense of pride, and because for some bizarre reason using autofocus makes me feel like less of a hard core photographer, I have suffered the profanity-inducing frustration of out-of-focus results for years. The annoyance factor and likelihood of having sub-par, fuzzy results from a manual focus camera increases exponentially in low light, especially when I am using my favorite camera (Nikon F) who just happens to have the World’s Most Irritatingly Terribly Dim focusing screen & viewfinder. I love that camera - its lenses are like nothing else - but dangit I have had it UP TO HERE with ruined shots of my family when we are indoors doing great things like having Thanksgiving dinner.

Enter stage right the realization that I never had this problem when I started out, using the Canon Rebel and 50mm lens my Dad gave me in 2002ish. Enter in the realization that this camera, along with the T2 body he gave me later, plus a whole host of lenses, is sitting in my closet, waiting with baited breath for the slightest glance. Enter in the similar realization that the reason I enjoy using my DSLR (oh the film guilt) is not because of the results (although I can’t argue with the beauty of full frame): it’s because it’s autofocus.

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So I have made a quick hop skip & jump back to my beginnings - well, adult beginnings. I started out with an Olympus RC whose rangefinder doesn’t even work anymore and Amy doesn’t mess around with zone focus in low light. I’ve been to two festivals in the past month or so with autofocus cameras, and you know what? It was a lot more fun. I felt free, like I had been running with ankle weights for years. Having one less thing to worry about was fabulous!

This doesn’t mean I won’t use my Nikon, or any of the other wonderful manual cameras that I am fortunate enough to have in my toolbox. It just means that right now, autofocus is feeling like the right thing, and it’s happy to be back on the menu. To bring it home even more, after 16 years of waiting, last week I finally managed to make another photograph of nuns - by chance, (chance?), after emerging from an amazing experience at St Mary’s Cathedral Austin. Back to my beginnings, back to where I started, bringing things full circle in the happiest way, bringing my life back into focus.

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All photographs autofocus cameras and Kodak Tri-X

Forever Bicycles

I’ve always felt like there’s an exact right time for things, and that this right time is exactly when those things occur. It isn’t a time I can know in advance, but I know it when it arrives, and it usually feels like an irresistible force of nature. Tuesday was that day for going to see Forever Bicycles, finally. . . . . and I say finally because I remember reading about it when it was first installed and thinking how I wanted to go see it.. . . . then just last week I saw an article about how the sculpture was fixing to be taken down. I thought it was a permanent thing, and I was shocked to realize it had been in place for 2 years! Had I really been putting it off for that long?

Ondu & Tri-X

Ondu & Tri-X

So Tuesday was the exact right time, with Wednesday being the day they would begin dismantling it. (Presumably, that is happening right now as I write.) It’s often difficult for me to motivate myself to drive into Austin, especially it if involves going somewhere that doesn’t have a parking lot or close street parking that I know about. This procrastination has grown over the past few years. However, part of my new journey is to try and rekindle a positive relationship with the city that called me out of my youth and has since morphed into a heaving, hectic, often downright mean and impersonal beast, so I resolved to make the effort and make the best of it. I packed 3 cameras, of 3 different formats, and we hurried out the door.

Ondu & Tri-X

Ondu & Tri-X

The first plan - poorly researched by me - was to take the metro rail to the downtown station. We arrived at the wrong time and didn’t have an hour to wait for the next train, so we drove instead and, miraculously, ended up parking at another place I had been wanting to visit for months but couldn’t make myself drive in for: the new public library. Along the slightly intense route to said parking spot, gingerly following posted P for Public Parking signs, I saw a lot of things I would like to photograph another day. Funny how things develop like that.

But my destination that day was not with the street; rather, it involved walking next to the water on the hike & bike trail where I used to run with a jogging stroller years ago. It sits below traffic level, so it was cooler and (running / biking / doggie traffic aside) far more peaceful. I didn’t realize you could walk under the Congress Ave bridge; it was nice to hear the bats chirping above. I also didn’t realize there was a kayak station and boat house type building there, right smack dab where we needed it by the sculpture.

Ondu & Tri-X

Ondu & Tri-X

The walk gave me a chance to make other photographs, with my Ondu 6x6 Pinhole camera. It’s been getting a lot of use lately, although it may well sit dormant for a while soon. I was ridiculously excited to see this guy on the edge of the path, although sadly he was frightened into the vegetation, and his shell, by runners before I could get my camera loaded. Way to not do it in advance, Amy.

Ondu & Tri-X

Ondu & Tri-X

Ondu & Tri-X

Ondu & Tri-X

In addition to my pinhole camera, I also lugged along (grateful thanks to my boyfriend for carrying the bag!) the Noblex Pro I was recently gifted by a member of my caving family. Learning to load it has been an interesting adventure, but I managed it (mostly) correctly this time and ended up with some images of the Bicycles that I am pretty pleased with. The first photograph is partial, due to the first image on the roll getting cut off as a result of my not loading it quite right. The last photograph below is a multiple exposure, which might or might not have been intentional. . . . .

Pinhole photographs of the sculpture. . . .

We sat and had refreshments for a short while before our walk back, along which I made other pinhole photographs that are as of now still resting as latent images inside the camera. Those will come later. For now, my heart is resting happily knowing that it was the right time to go, and I am thankful I was able to make the effort.

Mother's Day

I wrote a completely different post for today, and agonized over the wisdom of sharing its contents. It wasn’t very positive; it clearly came from the deepest place of my frustration and dismay over how mothers get treated by the world, including often by the people closest to us. It’s at times like these that I realize how much work I still have to do in order to leave my recent pain behind me. “They” say that if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy, but really if other people are unhappy somehow it all ends up being mama’s fault. Round and round we go.

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I made a completely different set of photographs to accompany those other words. The roll of film was almost entirely a failure, mostly because I used the wrong camera for what I had hoped to achieve. That failure made me step back and rethink things. I don’t really like mother’s day, not as a mom; I adore the day as a daughter, and I recognize how much it means to my own mother as well as my own daughter. When I get down to the nitty gritty of why I dislike the day, I feel ashamed.

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So what do I like? Being a mother. Of all the vocations I have tried on for size, this one is by far the best, and the hardest, because it engages my entire being and is constantly throwing me curve balls. What began almost 12 years ago as a crazy intense wild fun ride has blossomed into a new dynamic: a young woman coming into her own, finding herself, dealing with her own sets of challenges, navigating life. Our relationship has changed drastically lately, and I find myself with almost as much growing and adjusting to do as she has. 42 years old and trying to figure out a new direction for my life now that most of the time I am about as useful as an old sock.

So I made a new set of photographs, with the “right” camera this time. I made them as I sought to figure out my feelings about the here & now as I experience it. I want to honor my own mother, my grandmothers, all the women whose blood I share who have come before me, I want to honor the potential of motherhood in my own daughter. I want to honor all the women I know who are mothers, and all the mothers I don’t know. We all share a similar journey.

We do what we do out of love. We store up treasures in our hearts, and regularly take hits that break them in two; we bind them back up with hope, and we wait.

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I read very recently about how the woman who pushed for Mother’s Day to be an official holiday ended up regretting what it became. To borrow from the email where I read this: “She was successful in her campaign, but in 1923 she filed a lawsuit trying to stop a Mother's Day festival, arguing that she ‘wanted a day of sentiment, not of profit.’” Surely there’s enough pressure surrounding our daily lives without having every shop, radio ad, and TV commercial make you feel like you’re supposed to be doing a lot of getting. I don’t see motherhood as being about what you get; surely it should be more about what you give. I get to be a mom, and (for now) to be with my child on that day; surely that is enough!

I’m looking forward to seeing my own mom this weekend.

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I hope I - we, because her granddaughter is part of this chain too - get to honor her in person for many, many years to come. I hope every mother who reads this knows her value. The world might not acknowledge it much, but those of us who share the road with you lift you up.

All photographs except the last one, Ondu 6x6 camera and Kodak Tri-X . That last one is Hasselblad 500CM