My Photographic Roots

My interest in photography came from watching my mother take photos. She had an old Rolleiflex that only she understood. It was square and boxy with two lenses on the front and some knobs on the sides. The magical thing about this camera is that you had to look down into a prism to take the photo – before an LCD screen even existed, many photographers had grown to love the experience of framing their shots in that lovely square box – it was like watching a TV screen.

This camera is substantial in your hands. That texture on the sides is actually leather.

This camera is substantial in your hands. That texture on the sides is actually leather.

Mom’s camera was just a bit newer than this one – it was probably from the 1950s. One day in my early teens we were on a trip with some other girls and their moms when she decided to show me how it worked. It wasn’t something she trusted me to take off with it, but that day I saw photography differently – somehow in my mind it shifted from capturing snapshots to making something look great on that screen. With the Rollei you had to move – there was no zoom or macro settings – you moved until the object you wanted to highlight was in focus. I think that early experience is why I love to shoot primes today. When I studied photography in college, mom entrusted me with not only her Rollei, but her new Pentax to use in my classes. I think it was at this time that I really understood photography as art – not just in the shooting of images, but in the processing and developing of film – the making of images.

Now my mom was a super-talented woman who never saw herself as an exceptional. She was a master pattern cutter, seamstress, and tailor. I would show her two dresses I liked – I would like the bodice on one and the skirt on the other – we would go home and she would make me a dress that was the perfect combination of the two. Her doodles on the phone book looked like the sketches you see designers make when developing fashion concepts. She was an amazing cook. She would try something new and then go home and figure out how to make it. She was exceptional in so many creative ways. If I were to call her a photographer she would probably cringe – but I look at her shots and I know that she had some skills. These aren’t etherial landscapes or anything like that – just shots of family and friends.

This Mother’s Day, like all days I miss her. She left us far too soon, but her mark on our lives was indelible.

She’s always with you. She’s the sound of bacon crackling in a skillet on Saturday morning. She’s the aroma of the lilacs and magnolias in the spring. She’s your breath in the air on a cold winter’s day. She’s the sound of the rain on the roof that lulls you to sleep, the colors of the rainbow; she is Christmas morning. She is the place where you came from, your first home, and she’s the map you follow with every step you take. She’s your first love, your first friend, even your first enemy, but nothing on earth can separate you – not time, not space, not even death. 

Shutterbug Notes:

You can learn a lot from looking at old photos. As your skill grows you can appreciate the skill it took to make them work. You can also learn a lot about shooting from the heart – to not so much try to capture what something looks like, but what it feels like. It’s more that skill that makes a great image – it needs heart.

Paper or Ice? Maybe We Got it Right in Kindergarten.

I grew up in the desert. I saw snow in a measurable amount about once a decade. Even so, making paper snowflakes was one of my favorite projects in school. Over the years I made them out of various types of paper – tissue paper, construction paper, my report card…you get the idea. I still love to make them – here’s one I made with my power bill that just arrived…

Seems pretty appropriate, given the winter we have had so far. I think I will only pay the parts I can read...

Seems pretty appropriate, given the winter we have had so far. I think I will only pay the portions I can read.

I still love to make snowflakes and have taught dozens of children how to get the open and airy feel over the years. What never occurred to me was the idea that my desert-born imaginings of snowflakes might not be so far off the mark.

A couple of weeks ago we were pummeled with about a foot of show on a Sunday afternoon. People were stranded getting home from church, the grocery store was out of milk and bread, and I had been busy shooting cardinals and other birds as they flocked to the feeders.

I stepped outside and noticed that the snow was really fluffy and wondered what it would look like shot through my macro lens. I knew I needed contrast so I looked for the smoothest flat black objects I could find to capture the flakes. I tried a microfiber cloth, a crock pot, a frying pan – ultimately I ended up turning a black t-shirt inside out. In the weather at the angles I was trying to focus at, a tripod was out of the question, so all of these images are handheld shots. Click through for your very own micro snowstorm:

So, I guess my power bill really doesn’t compare to the complexity and beauty of something so delicate and perfect, but I think that my classmates and I got closer than we could have imagined.

Shutterbug Notes:

Shooting macro handheld is easier if you use some breathing techniques. It’s kind of like firing a rifle – take aim, exhale, fire the shutter. Exhaling eliminates some movement. It also helps to pull your elbows into your body to make yourself into a tripod.  I prefer to shoot macro from a tripod because it’s easier to focus and play with aperture and shutter settings. the challenge is always to get the depth of field right. When snow is falling you have to move fairly quickly because the flakes you are shooting are covered pretty quickly. 

Ancient American Mysteries – Carhenge

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As Karen and I sped across Nebraska hoping to find the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument we stumbled upon something truly special. Our GPS directed us to take something called “Cut Across Road” which doesn’t appear to exist. It was getting late so we decided to stop and the next town and call it a night. We hit Harriman, Nebraska at about 5 and asked at the gas station to see if anyone could help us find the park. Not only could they not help with directions, the gas station attendant let us know she had never heard of the park. She also let us know that she had no gas and that Harriman had no motels. We asked about the next town and she warned us that Crawford had even less to offer than Harriman, “There’s nothing there!”, she warned. “Go to Alliance!” We took her advice and trekked the 30 miles towards lodging, gas, and information. Once we hit town Karen thought we should cruise the town to check our options. We stopped for gas and I noticed a brown sign (all passport stamp seekers look for brown signs) that said “Carhange – 1/2 mile”. I had heard of Carhenge – I read something about it back in the 80’s in People magazine, so I told Karen that we HAD to go there! She accepted that I was the expert and we headed down that country road hoping to see something truly amazing – we were not disappointed!

For the most complete experience I recommend that from this point on you read with the sound of Leonard Nimoy as narrator in your head…

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Isolated on the Nebraska plain – what can it mean?

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Made from ancient building blocks like this 73 Vega – who would have had the technology to build this?

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It appears to be aligned with some specific axis. It must have been some ancient super race that built it. Their knowledge clearly exceeds that of our society. Analysis of the parts indicate that they were some how moved here from Detroit, Michigan! How is that even possible?

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Time and the elements have taken their toll on the site – this Caddy is slowly sinking into the plain.

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Facing directly east the opening between the monoliths elements clearly points to another clue.

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Facing west the sun sets beyond this ancient and obviously hallowed place.

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The mystical structure is even more mysterious as the sun sets.

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A random tribute against the evening sky – a salmon leaps from the unfamiliar Nebraska ground.

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Karen ventures north to the shrines offered to this mysterious place.

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The fins of an ancient caddy reach up to the Nebraska sky.

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Karen hurries back to the monolith to capture the sunset through it’s ancient pillars.

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The colors of the evening sky illuminate the mysteriously rust-free surfaces of the monolith. I am certain that this is just as the ancients intended.

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The ancient snack bar in the distance must have provided sustenance to the race of men who built this.

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Sunset and mystery – what a conundrum!

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From the east I wonder if this Vega is pointing to Vega?

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What kind of civilization would have so expertly placed a Willys between a Gremlin and a Volare?

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This close-up does little to solve the mystery – no pins or notches hold these structures together!

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An ancient dinosaur stands guard over what appears to be the “rosetta stone” of Carhenge. Will this solve it’s mysteries?

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Apparently some ancient sage believed that foreign cars would end our civilization. I wonder if his descendants drive Hondas?

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A last look back at that snack bar fills us with wonder – we need to find someplace to grab dinner!

When we finally checked into a hotel we found that no one in Alliance had heard of the Agate Fossil Beds either. As I fell asleep at the Holiday Inn, I couldn’t help but wonder if some strange force had lead us to this place of mystery…