Thursday, January 24

from the dailies

it was a bad week to drive mitsubishi monteros. i covered a car fire and a roll-over on back-to-back days. i don't think i'll be getting behind the wheels of one of these anytime soon. i think a little space would have helped these photos tremendously. i gotta remember to back up sometimes.

got a sportrait assignment near st. louis for a high school QB recruit for MU. he's the #1 QB in missouri, but the writer told me after the shoot that he's also the #1 QB recruit in the country. maybe knowing that ahead of time would have made me more spastic setting up the shot. this shot of me was what i was going for with the extra layer of the bench in the foreground.

when the kid actually showed up he was much taller than i anticipated. i switched some lights around and tried the bench layer, but it just didn't look right, so i simplified.

and then simplified again, just to have something in the bag. it's not perfect, but i was happy to get something i was ok with. now to brainstorm for the next one.

from an assignment today on mini-marts in the public housing projects in columbia. part of the reason they're opening is as a training ground for residents to get experience in retail that will help them get other jobs around town.

Monday, January 21

small acts of courage

lucy sent me an article from the oregonian that struck a few chords. before it finally arrived in my mailbox (seriously, i think the pony express could have delivered it faster. doesn't the USPS have planes?), she told me the author had risked something and that act of courage created something meaningful.

i've been thinking a lot lately about courage, risk, fear. it's a cliche in our society that you must risk to move forward: "no pain, no gain," "she who risks nothing, gains nothing," etc. but where does that intersect with the work i am inspired by and the work i hope to create?

the first answer is from robert capa: "If you're pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough." there are plenty of interpersonal hurdles in achieving a physical and emotional closeness to the people we photograph and write about. countless hours of practice, patience, self-recrimination, and doubt. it's one of the easiest things to pinpoint in a portrait or photo story that just doesn't work. we're not close enough to really "see," so the photos don't "feel".

then there's a middle ground where we are close enough, seeing enough, maybe even feeling enough, but, for me at least, there's still something missing.

the work that moves me is revelatory. it involves a whole other round of risk taking, this time by the subjects themselves. the whole process is reversed, and now we are the ones showing them how to be vulnerable without building walls, how to sit with fear, or push through the uncomfortable. and it's this second round of risk-taking that i get the most satisfaction from. maybe it's the would-be therapist in me, but the photos come so much easier after an interaction like that.

this article touched that. the beauty we can find in strangers and how they help us understand ourselves.

"So, I keep searching the faces of strangers, taking the empty seat, watching and waiting for that moment of grace that always seems to come in the unlikeliest of places." --INARA VERZEMNIEKS, The Oregonian.

Monday, January 14

i got to hang out with a neat little girl the other day. she was born with hurler's syndrome, a rare and often fatal disease resulting from a lack of enzymes in her body. usually children die by age 10, but alana is showing major improvement after a stem cell treatment.

she's the first person i've met who's had a stem cell treatment. it's always seemed like a promising science just over the horizon; cures "to-be" if only there were more funding for research, less opposition from conservatives. but here she is, a bubbling four-year-old fighting a death sentence.

the disease has left her with an enlarged head, swelling of her throat and lymph nodes (that necessitates a feeding tube), a heart murmur, slight dwarfism of her limbs and some developmental delay. what the disease has not claimed is her outgoing personality, her goofiness, her penchant for twirling around and falling on her face like a ham, her vivid imagination and infectious laughter.

for the first 90 minutes she played by herself with dolls, baking imaginary meals, drawing pollock-inspired masterpieces. she ignored me for the most part. until she needed someone to play the part of sponge-bob in an underwater adventure with the little mermaid. i had enough photos at that point and knew i had to leave in another half hour, so i picked up swiper and we played. when i finally had to go i got a big hug and kiss. i hope she keeps getting better. she's a great kid.

the underwater adventure was staged on my knees. sponge-bob, swiper, and dora the explorer were looking for the little mermaid.

for a story on prenatal belly dancing, i was introduced to candace. she was already a week overdue and had agreed to let us (myself and a reporter) be present during the early stages of her labor when she would be "dancing" to help ease the contractions.

the first thought that crossed my mind was skimpy outfit, hand cymbals, heavy eye shadow, big bare belly. i was brought quickly back down to earth. labor is hard enough without a costume and loud clangy music.

during our initial interview, i wanted to make sure candy was comfortable with my presence at the upcoming birth. i'm working on being more upfront with the amount of time i would like to spend with people.

sometimes this can break the spell of blending into the background, but for such a sensitive situation i wanted to make sure she was comfortable and i was comfortable. if i hadn't had this conversation with her i would worry the whole time i was intruding too much, staying too long, marring the memory of this birth with "that pesky newspaper photographer".

she said the early stages were fine. that's when she would be using the belly dancing moves, but when the labor progressed she didn't want extra people around. she would let me know when she was ready for me to leave.

when i finally got "the call" i drove to her house with less anxiety than i'd normally have. we had met, i told her my needs, she told me hers.

in the end, i photographed for about 20 minutes before she told us it was time to go. her labor was progressing more rapidly than she had expected.

and a great thing happened, i didn't feel frustrated at the lack of time, or crestfallen at unmet expectations for my level of access, or guilty for staying too long. all my emotional energy was spent appreciating the time i did have with her, gratitude for allowing us into this intimate slice of her life, however short. i want to feel like that more often.

catching up

a few years ago, i lost the best dog in the universe. she had been in our family since i was in the 5th grade. a lifetime. since her death i haven't had the sort of lifestyle that would support another dog. too little time, sporadic schedule, no yard, yada yada.

every now and again i'll wander into a pet store just to fluff some ears. and if a subject i'm photographing has dogs or cats or dwarf bunnies, i'll usually linger a bit to get some playtime in.

i was happy to put in a few hours this past week on a pampered pet artcile for our lifestyle section. it was an excuse to feed the habit.

first stop was the doggie bakery. this guy wasn't exactly salivating on the glass, but he did want a taste.

this little girl reminded me a bit of me back when we first got Rags. slightly chubby, a bit rough with the puppy, but glowing with adoration. she was trying to keep him from lunging for the cookies.

then onto the groomer. i need to send a thank you note to the owner for this blue wall.

getting the cuffs trimmed.

every other dog at the groomer was a tiny white fluff ball. worked nice with the wall.

Wednesday, January 2

went for a walk in the last daylight of 2007.

i'm not one for resolutions, but i like the idea of a theme. maybe a theme is just a non-committal resolution. hmmm.

so far i'm thinking: plan less, adventure more.