2015: My Year in Photos

There’s a saying in the photography world that goes something like this: “If you want to take better photos, go to better places.” Over the past year I took two separate trips that for me qualify as ‘better places.’ Photos from those two trips dominate my favorites from 2015.

They’re FROGS!

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Powerful pictures evoke an emotion or reaction. It isn’t always necessarily positive. Every time I look at this picture, I cringe just a little. While walking through a fresh (VERY fresh!) market in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I spotted this basket. There was something about the way the light was hitting it and the pattern of the mesh that drew me in, but as I looked closer, I realized what I was seeing. Frogs. Lots of frogs. And they’re alive! And one of them is looking at me! Eew. Gross. Yet somehow intriguing at the same time. Did you see the toenails on the one?

I See You

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A village in Northern Thailand. A dozen or so photographers wandering around snapping photos of everything and everyone we see. I stood back a little ways, taking in the scene. I don’t like to be in the front of a group and I’m generally not the one to direct or set up a shot. So I watched. This young man was the subject of many photographs. He smiled and posed for the others and when they moved on to another subject, he sat off to the side on this stump. I liked that he wasn’t posing and that he was taking a momentary breather-so I lined him up in my viewfinder. Yet he totally saw me and couldn’t help but give a subtle little smile.

Potato Farmer

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Rural Thailand. Again a dozen foreign photographers spill out of their vehicles and make their way through a field to take pictures of natives simply doing their everyday jobs. I especially liked this man operating the tractor, as his straw hat and plaid shirt reminded me of my grandfather, who also was a potato farmer.

Pride

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This photo shows me the importance of engaging with your subject. It’s the second of two I took of her. (Here is the first shot) As much as I like the first photo, it’s this second one that captivates me even more. Chin up and out, head wrap readjusted, and staring me straight in the eye. As soon as I snapped this photo, I said “I’m done.” I knew I had my signature shot from my trip to Thailand. I’m curious-how old do you think this woman is?

She’s Watching

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What it lacks in technical merit is made up in emotional impact for me with this photo. My kid, laying hands on an elderly elephant. We had the opportunity to visit a rescue park on our last day in Thailand. The animals roam free. No chains and they certainly aren’t ridden. We learned that in order for an elephant to be ‘tamed’ enough to ride, they’re first broken. Often by very cruel means. The animals in this park are treated with respect. I was awed by their size and their presence. If they wanted to, just a flick of their trunk or their head and they could send a large human tumbling. We learned to approach them slowly. We got to play in the river with them and bathe them. We watched their handler sing to them and intimately interact with them in their space. It was an awesome way to end an incredible trip. Elephant Nature Park

Sunset at Skyline Arch

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Well, that was the idea, anyway. Until we got there and realized that our view of Skyline Arch was facing east. There would be no sunset behind this arch from this vantage. However a clear sky would give us a good view of the stars. And it was sheer good fortune that one end of the Milky Way seemed to emanate from directly behind this arch. I still have no idea what the pink and purple glow is, but I do know it was beautiful.

What a Ride

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Braeden enrolled for his freshman year of college in California. I thought it’d be a great opportunity to drive him out there and experience the Western United States in the process. By far my favorite park that we visited was Yosemite. He had to convince me that it’d be a good idea for him to take his bike off the Jeep and ride it around this curve. I was nervous, more than a little. But he was right. I absolutely love the sense of scale he provides. And that he’s momentarily captivated by the expanse in front of him. Indeed, what a ride.

MacKerricher State Park

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I’d just dropped the boy off to college a few days prior. I was now wandering the Pacific Coast Highway, trying to figure out what being an Empty Nester was supposed to feel like. It was lonely. And exhilarating. I watched the sun set, then began walking back to my campground. I turned back again and noticed this couple enjoying the same sunset. Isolated. Serene.

A Full Moon Lights up Old Faithful

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I’d made a stop earlier in the day at Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park. I discovered that I had very little patience for the crowds. If I was going to visit Old Faithful, I decided I was going to do it after dark-when most everyone else had given up for the day. After setting up camp I came back and waited for about an hour in temperatures that were rapidly dropping. Yeah, I can live without the crowds.

Alone at the Badlands

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I literally made this shot out the driver’s side window of the Jeep. The Badlands are a weird place. Massive hills one minute and vast plains the next. As I wound my way along the route, I spotted this guy soaking in the view. I like simple, minimalistic stuff and the combination of both the distant hills and expanse of grass in the foreground made this an easy pick for one of my favorites for the year.

Home

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After experiencing Thailand earlier in the year and the beautiful National Parks and scenery of the Western US, I came home and pondered what it was that I got to experience every day that visitors might be impressed with. Big Red and a Lake Michigan sunset provide one possibility.

Brooklyn

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I thoroughly enjoy portraiture and am constantly trying to improve my own work in this area. I’ve not done much work with children, however. They certainly don’t hold still for very long! I love this shot of Brooklyn as I was able to catch her in a very brief pause. Her little red nose and lips match the pop of color in her hat, and her eyes bring out the blues in the rest of the scene. I also love how you can tell that she’s measuring me. “Who is this guy following me around with that camera of his?” 2016 will bring a little sibling into Brooklyn’s life.

What does the New Year hold in store for you?

I’m Struggling

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To re-acclimate. To resume life ‘as normal.’ What is normal anyway?

I’ve been told to expect this; to give it time; to spend some time alone; to journal.  Not to make your feelings public until you’ve had time.  Well, so much for that last piece.  I’m real.  Good or bad, which is why you’re able to read this right now.

I knew that visiting Thailand would be an emotional experience.  It was, and still is.  I spent only two days with the girls at COSA (Children’s Organization of Southeast Asia) and I probably even built a little wall inside because I knew I didn’t want to get attached.  Well.  They tore that wall down pretty quickly and easily!

Meay

This is Meay.  Her name shouldn’t be hard to pronounce.  It’s very similar to “May,” the month after April.  Except it’s not.  At least for me.  I must’ve tried pronouncing it at least a hundred times during my stay with her.  Every once in awhile I’d screw up and get it right.  But I had no idea how or what I’d said to be able to replicate it.  She humored me and didn’t seem to mind.

She also was the first to steal my heart.

The morning of my first day at COSA, we sat in front of a group of the younger girls (ages anywhere from 7 to 13) and commenced with introductions.  Once that was done, the girls and volunteers were paired in order that we could conduct a  photo scavenger hunt.  The idea was to teach some basic photography skills to the kids.  Since I couldn’t even pronounce Meay’s name correctly, I quickly gave up on much instruction and focused simply on having fun and trying to knock the items off our list.  She seemed to understand much of what I was saying but occasionally she would grab my list from me and run to a volunteer who could interpret what we needed.

After 30 minutes, or an hour, I don’t even know the time it took, we finished our list and Meay’s camera was full of images.  One of the photos she was supposed to take was “a selfie, while spinning in a circle.”  Did I mention that my communication with her was limited?  I did the best I could to demonstrate what she needed to do by holding my arms out and spinning in a circle.  She took a picture of me.  Not exactly a selfie, but close enough.

We gathered in the shade to wait for the other children and volunteers to finish with their lists.  While sitting there, I asked Meay to go through the pictures and show me her favorite one.

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Geezus.  Are you kidding me?  Stop it.  I don’t want to cry in front of a bunch of kids and people I barely know before lunch is even served on our first day!

As I said, it didn’t take long for the walls I tried to build to come crumbling down.

There was so much bonding that took place in such a short amount of time.  There’s a significant backstory to the girls and to why COSA exists and what their mission is.  I want to spend some time on what I understand, and what can be done.

But I can’t do that now, not just yet.  I’m still processing.

If you’ve followed along with my trip or with my photos, do me a favor and click the link: http://cosasia.org  Take a gander at their website and familiarize yourself with what they say they’re doing.  They need some help right now.

I’m still contemplating how or what else I can do to help.  I visited.  That helps a little.  I’m home, attempting to tell their story.  That helps a little.  I’ve started my own account to contribute to their fundraiser.  That helps a little more.  Just by reading this far and becoming aware of the kids and the issues they face, that helps too.

There are a thousand worthwhile causes in the world to which we can donate our time or resources.  If you’re moved to contribute something financially?  Awesome.  I’m thankful and the girls would be forever changed.  If you aren’t in a position to help financially?  That’s ok too.  Just be aware that they face significant challenges in their lives and be thankful for what we have and that we might take for granted.  Be open to my photos; their stories.  Share this post; share my photos.

I hope to share more as I get my feet back on the ground here at home.

pink sandal

2014: My Year in Photos

That time of year again, to reflect and contemplate. For me, that means an exercise in reviewing and selecting my favorite images that I’ve taken over the past 365 days. How many to include? Why one over another? What order to display them in?

All good questions; none with great answers. My photos, my (arbitrary) rules, my stories.

In date order, here you go:

“An Intimate Portrait”
This photo is representative of a project and series of photos I took. My father and his siblings were kind enough to play along with me as I met with each of them and their spouses for a brief interview and photo session. This particular photo appeals to me for the tender embrace and placement of their hands. Also for the care that went into my aunt prepping for her photo shoot; choosing a perfect blouse to complement her skin; the beautiful strand of pearls and the makeup done just so. It was a fun experience for me. I learned a ton about my relatives and some of the things that shaped my own childhood and upbringing. And I’m glad that I embarked on the project when I did. Sadly, we lost one of my uncles this year. I’m thankful for the time I had with each of them.

2014 my year in photos

“Ready?”
I don’t like to pick favorites, but every time I ran across this image in my catalog it stopped me. I was on my first wedding shoot, acting as the second shooter. I was privileged to have been with the bride and her father just prior to the doors opening to her new world. You can almost feel each of the powerful emotions she must be experiencing in that last private moment. I absolutely love this shot.

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“Home.”
I live here? Really I do? Yes. I do. This shot was taken on the shores of Lake Michigan while on a shoot with a friend who requested my help with her website. Peace. Tranquility. All just a short distance from my front door. It’s a good reminder of how blessed I am with Mother Nature’s abundant beauty so nearby.

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“Game Ball.”
Unscripted. Pure youthful exuberance and joy. That gap in his smile! Maybe this takes me back to my first Major League game with my own parents. When I was his age, I was fortunate enough to get an actual game ball. Just like this one. I had no concept of how lucky I was and how rare an occurrence that is. CitiField in New York marked my 25th separate visit to a Major League stadium. Only five more to go!

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“Courage.”
A friend diagnosed with cancer. Scary shit. The strength to stand and fight, on her own terms. She wasn’t going to let her hair fall out due to chemo, she was going to cut it all off when SHE chose. Her kids decorated her hair before they helped remove it. Her husband, in his own show of support, shaved his head as well. This shot taken at the end of an emotional, ceremonial exercise. That shadow! She’s still fighting; still smiling; still awesome. It wouldn’t hurt that if you pray, send one her way. Keep her and her family in your thoughts, or others you know that are fighting their own battles. And remember to embrace each day for none of us know what tomorrow may hold. Rock on, woman.

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“Senior Season.”
My niece is a senior in high school and was one of a handful of kids who asked me to handle their senior photos for them. This was my first year doing something like this, and for the most part, I enjoyed it. I could have chosen almost ANY of the images from my session with her as she was so comfortable and confident in nearly every one of them. I liked this one, however, because I was trying something a little different than what I’d done before. She made my job easy.

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“Morning in Motown.”
There was effort in this one! Waking up in the middle of the night, to get to Detroit before sunrise? On a weekday when you’ve got to work after? Heck yeah! A bit spontaneous. A fair amount of uncertainty. But worth it in the end? Absolutely!

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“Make a Wish.”
I got to spend time with this young lady and her family on their farm, looking for fun or interesting spots for pictures. It’s the ‘between’ moments that are sometimes the best. Unrehearsed, unexpected. Another instant of innocence and fun.

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“Sitelab.”
I don’t know who she is. I’m not sure she ever got to see this photo. I tried to send it to the organizers of the event in the hopes they might be able to share it with her. She was a volunteer at a public art exhibit. There was something about the light, the flaking paint, the way she looked dead into my lens and didn’t flinch. Who knows how long she’d been there that day? Or how many other people had already pointed their cameras her direction? I do know that this is another image that stops me every time I see it and I’m happy that she put up with me.

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“Friends in High Places.”
I’ve met some cool people and had some pretty awesome opportunities recently. This is an example of both. She wanted an updated profile photo for her employer’s website. Something a little less traditional and more authentic maybe. She also knows the right people to get us access to the helipad on the roof of one of the taller buildings in West Michigan. This photo makes me smile because she played along. We tried a few ‘posed’ shots prior to this. Finally something clicked and we both relaxed. Totally her. Totally powerful. Effervescent. Fun!

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“Humor Me.”
“Go stand over in that doorway, will you?” By no means am I a pro or do I get things right every time, but the combination of the light, the colors and my subject told me this had the makings of something good. It was a cool, rainy, day. We were wandering through a back alleyway looking for stuff that captured our interest. Her coat. Her scarf. Her eyes. The shades of green in the door and the shadows. It’s gritty. It’s real. I like it! And I like that I’ve suckered someone else along into this creative hobby. Sorry not sorry!

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“Into the Mist.”
Plans change. I started out intending to go to a camera store that afternoon. Before I got out of town, the foggy weather had me convinced that I needed to change course. Instead of looking at cameras and gear, I needed to go USE my camera. I knew the exact spot I wanted to go. I pass by this barn often enough to sense there’s something I like about it. The conditions made it irresistible. There are more shots of this place waiting to be had. I’ll have to be patient to find the exact mood I’m looking for.

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That’s it. Twelve of my favorites from 2014. As we tear the last page off another calendar I want to say “thank you” for following along. For your ‘likes’ and comments on my photos. I do this because I enjoy it. I enjoy it even more when I realize there are others who find value in what I’m doing.

Happy New Year!

Motown Memories

It started by stumbling across a photograph that had been taken in a unusual location, one of Detroit’s most recognizable landmarks looming in the background. “Where was the photographer standing when he created that picture?” I wondered if I could find it, then create my own unique image from the same location.

My childhood days were spent in a small town in rural mid-Michigan. Most started by doing chores on a family farm located three miles from my home. My father would wake me each morning to join him on the trip to feed and water the animals before he went to work and I went to school.

I hated those mornings.

Didn’t like getting up early; didn’t like venturing out in the cold and dark; didn’t like conversation when all I really wanted was 40 more minutes of sleep. The routine consisted of hopping in the truck with the radio tuned to WJR, the voice of JP McCarthy broadcasting from the “Golden Tower of the Fisher Building” accompanying us as we drove to and from the farm.

So when I found the location from which to photograph my car, there was something familiar and comforting about the Fisher Building watching over me.

It doesn’t make sense to drive almost three hours each way to take one photo. I scoured the maps for something, anything else that might be interesting nearby. When I saw a large, vacant lot at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull only blocks away, I knew that I had another spot that I needed to visit.

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A baseball fan may recognize that intersection; A Tiger fan will definitely remember it. Tiger Stadium served as the home of the Detroit Tigers baseball club from 1912 to 1999.

My first trip to the stadium took place in August, 1977. I was nine years old and I was sure that I’d get a baseball hit to me that day so I came prepared by bringing my glove to the ballpark. Three seats in the first row along the railing down the right field line.

Tigers playing the Twins. I couldn’t tell you who won that day but I’ll forever remember the name of Milt May. It was Milt, the catcher/designated hitter for the Tigers, who fouled a ball off his bat that rolled perfectly to a stop along the fence directly in front of me, my mom and my dad. Even with my glove, I was too short to reach the ball. Thankfully, my dad wasn’t. He plucked the ball off the field and handed it to me, thereby cementing in my mind the guarantee that “every time you go to a game you’ll get a ball.” (I have since been to 25 of the 30 MLB stadiums; that ball is STILL the only game ball I’ve ever actually had hit to me.)

The ball came with me back to the stadium from which it originated.

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Tiger fans will also recall the flagpole in deep centerfield. 125 feet high and just to the left of the 440′ sign painted on the centerfield wall, the flagpole is “the highest outfield obstacle ever in play in baseball history,” and one of the few things that remain from the old Stadium.

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What began as a quest to make a photo of my car instead turned into a nostalgic trip down Memory Lane.

Ahhh, Detroit. Thanks for the memories!

Ice Bucket Challenge?

Icebucketchallenge
No thanks. Not for me.

I can’t seem to avoid it. And it bothers me. And it bothers me that I’m not sure why.

It’s for charity, right? It’s harmless, right? It’s kind of fun to see people you know playing along and looking a little silly, right? All true.

So what’s the problem then?

Let me just rant for a minute and see if I can sort this out. At least for myself:

I hate being told what to do. It’s peer pressure and it just reminds me of some uncomfortable days from my youth. “Come on, just try it. Everybody’s doing it.” Ummm, no? That seems stupid. Just because everybody is doing something does not automatically mean it’s a good choice.

ALS is a good cause. Absolutely. Fortunately, I can’t think of anyone that I am closely connected to that’s been affected. I’ve seen the videos and stories of those that are and have been touched. It’s tragic and the ice bucket challenge is doing great things to bring both awareness and funding to the issue. Kudos. This one just doesn’t hit close to home for me. I’m thankful for that.

The money. Ten bucks or a hundred bucks. Theoretically, if you DO the challenge, you’re supposed to donate $10 to ALS. If you DON’T do the challenge (within 24 hours of being nominated), you’re supposed to donate $100. Who’s to say that I can afford ten bucks? Or a hundred? I’ve seen several celebrities who have been nominated (and who’ve participated). Don’t you think ten or a hundred bucks is different to them than it is to you or me? Yes, many people are donating a different sum of money that is relevant to their own personal situation. That makes sense. Ten bucks or a hundred bucks is arbitrary. I don’t like that.

Dumping ice cold water on my head? I’ve seen people say we’re wasting ice and/or water for a silly challenge. Probably true, but I’m not gonna stand on that soap box. Whatever. I’m sure I waste more than my share of water. I do my best to recycle and to conserve water but I’m far from perfect here. I think my biggest issue with this one is that it just plain looks COLD and UNCOMFORTABLE! Nah. Don’t think I need to do that either.

Why ALS? Aren’t there other worthwhile charities? Absolutely. Hundreds, if not thousands probably. Livestrong has been another popular charity that I’ve been connected to. The iconic yellow bracelet seemed to be everywhere a few years ago. For what it’s worth? I never wore the bracelet, either. Just seemed too ‘pop-culturish’ to me.

One last thing then I’ll quit my rant. Referrals. I’ve always hated them. If anyone ever asked me for a few friends or family that could benefit from their services? Nope, not gonna happen. I value my privacy and don’t want any unsolicited contact from a vendor. You can bet I’m not going to give up names and/or contact information of those people close to me. Why would I do that? I’ve never asked for referrals in my profession, either. I simply try to do right and trust that people will speak highly of me if and when the conversation turns to a subject in which I might be involved.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is a good thing overall. It’s raising money and awareness. I’m honored to have been nominated. That means people are thinking of me. In fact, the second time I was nominated, it was from a video in which three of my high school basketball teammates were participating. I have fond memories of those three (and all my teammates) and I was sincerely flattered that they would think of me. Bob, Kevin and Tony? Thank you. I need to do better and catch up with you fellas someday soon.

Basketball has been central to my life, and I’ve been touched by cancer. Which is why I’m taking the opportunity that the ALS challenge has presented, and donating an amount that’s relevant to me to a charity of my choice: The V Foundation.

Not gonna nominate anyone else. If you’ve gotten this far? Pick a cause that’s meaningful to you. Do your research. Here’s one link to check out: Charity Navigator.org Donate your money, or your time, or your talent, whatever makes sense. And do it on your own timetable.

Thanks for letting me vent.

Happy 50th, Mustang!

Celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Ford Mustang, in Las Vegas, Nevada?  Heck yeah, why not?!

It was an excuse, really.  To make an epic road trip and to have a good time.  The anniversary party in Vegas was simply a convenient destination.  Ok, perhaps ‘convenient’ is a stretch, but a destination nonetheless.

I bought a car in June, 2012.  Since then, I’ve looked for most any opportunity to go and enjoy the ride.  “Hey Paul, wanna do something a little crazy?”

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We left Holland, Michigan at 3:00 on a Wednesday morning.  Target destination:  Amarillo, Texas, a mere 17 hours down the road.  Somewhere in Illinois, we start to get hungry and need food.  A chain restaurant would be too easy.

While Paul pilots my 2007 Shelby GT500 south on Highway 55, I grab the atlas and say, “How about Farmersville?”  Not even 7:00am local, we arrive in a tiny town that doesn’t look promising.  There’s NOBODY around, let alone a restaurant.  Paul nearly blows a stop sign and is almost t-boned by a truck.  (It may have been the only stop sign in town.)  “Hang on, where is that truck headed?”  Turns out it was headed the same place we were:  the Silver Dollar Restaurant and Bar.

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Like a tired Hollywood cliche’, we walk in and heads turn our direction.  “You serving breakfast by any chance?”  Joyce is busy counting change for her cash register.  The locals are patiently waiting for her to finish so they can get their morning coffee.  “Have a seat at the bar, I’ll be right with you.”  Her sister is the owner of the establishment, but as of this minute, Joyce is the lone staff.  Cashier, cook, and hostess all in one.

It’s a small place and we’re obviously ‘not from around here.’  “Where are you headed?”  “What are you doing HERE?” We explain the trip, quickly making friends with the folks who give “Farmersville” its name.  30-40 minutes later, we’ve been refreshed both by the food, but more by the people.

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Paul and I agree that our visit to Farmersville was an absolutely fantastic start to the trip!  What started as a spur of the moment thought quickly became a rule:  “No chain restaurants.”

Lunch then, brought us to Claremore, Oklahoma and a cafe called the Boomarang Diner.  Chris, the owner’s son, Tammy and Lyndsey recommended the ‘best catfish in the County’ to Paul, while I dined on a non heart-healthy dish of chicken fried chicken.

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Three great young people, all with smiles to match their attitudes.

As we piled up the hours and the miles, we neared our destination for the first night.  However, along old Route 66 in Shamrock, Texas a destination that I’d been tipped off to presented a photo opportunity.  The Tower Station and U-Drop in Cafe.

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While detoured in Shamrock, we drove past what appeared to be an abandoned bar.  Behind the bar was a ‘junkyard’ full of old cars.  We pulled over and walked past an open door.  Debbie nearly scared me to death when she poked her head out of the building.  “Any chance we can go wander through the cars parked out behind your building?”

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Debbie didn’t mind, she had nothing to do with the abandoned lot.  She was merely working a roadside gaming establishment that contained a handful of video slot and poker machines.  “You’re going to Vegas” she asked?  “What do you play, machines or cards?”  When the answer was “cards,” she seemed happy to hear it.  (did I mention she was working a gaming room filled with machines?

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Early Thursday morning, we made an obligatory stop at the iconic Cadillac Ranch just west of Amarillo.

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I had no idea that Texas could be so COLD!

Onward.  We’ve got a date in Vegas.  First, we stop briefly in Grants, New Mexico, to have a Badlands Burger served to us by Kayla.

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Another brief stop, this one courtesy of the Albuquerque PD:

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The officer was kind enough to verify the readings on my speedometer and to alert me to the many State Police patrolling between Albuquerque and the Arizona border.

Once into Arizona, we were easily distracted:  METEOR CRATER!  “Ah, Hell, why not?”  We’re never getting back here again, right?

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“We paid sixteen bucks for THIS?!”  The two young men echoed our sentiments exactly.  With signs like “Main Shaft,” “Raised Strata” and “Thrust Fault,” we quickly deemed this an ‘adults only’ observation deck.  Sophomore humor comes quickly and easily when you’re on an expedition like this…

Friday dawns, we’ve arrived at our destination.  A quick breakfast outside the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and we attempt to wind our way around the buildings to get to the main entrance to the track.  Wait, what’s that?  Those are COBRAS!  We’ve GOT to stop and see if we can wander around.  Dorothy happily gives us an unofficial guided tour around Speedway Classic Cars as we listen to Mustangs rip around the road course just outside their doors.

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Once at the track, I was overwhelmed.  So many Mustangs, how do you capture all of them?  Not possible.  But the creativity in the personalized plates gave me an idea:

Mustang 50th Personalized Plates

A sample of some of the uniqueness of both the owners and their cars on display.

One more overnight in Vegas, then back on the road.  Dinner and beers in Fruita, Colorado, served by Jen, who rides her purple Schwinn to work each day.

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Somewhere west of Colorado, however, we had a Ford SUV pull up alongside us on Route 70.  The driver of that vehicle smiled as he pointed to the iconic Shelby Cobra snake tattooed on his left shoulder.  “Sweet!”  Another Mustang fan.

Imagine our surprise when we stopped in Beaver, Utah (no, the sophomore humor never ends!), and bumped into Kailen and his passenger at the same gas station.  They had traveled from Mankato, Minnesota to the Mustang anniversary party we just attended.  Kailen is a huge Mustang (and Shelby) fan and really admired my car.  “Come on over when you’re done filling your tank, we’ll chat and grab some photos.”

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I could see it in his eyes; there’s definitely a Shelby in this young man’s future.

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Oh, what a ride.

Happy 50th, Mustang!

An Intimate Portrait (part 6)

“To complete a project.”

This was his answer when I asked “What makes you happy?”  Is it any wonder, then, that I’ve got this underlying uneasiness knowing I haven’t yet finished my Intimate Portrait series?

I must come by it naturally.

“Tell me about your father.”  He described a story in which his father had told them ‘he could do anything his kids could do, until he turned 50 years old.’  At first, it sounded a little like a competitive thing.  Then as I thought more about it, perhaps it was meant to serve as motivation or a challenge to the kids?

Growing up, I remember stopping by the telephone office in town, then racing him the two or three blocks to the house.  Also, of occasional games of one on one basketball against him in the driveway after work.  Was that competitive?  Or motivation?

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This is Bill.  Fifth in the birth order of seven children.  My Dad.

He’s both a competitor and a motivator. And prideful, and smart.

As I got older, taller, and better at basketball games, he quit playing against me.

I asked him to look back on his life, if there was anything he wished he could do over?  “Useless exercise” was the reply.  He’s also extremely practical.

Look again at the picture above.  Do you see what I do?  The slight smile?  The twinkle in his eye?  My dad also has a tremendous sense of humor, a strong playful streak.  It was hinted at when I interviewed my other subjects.  One said, “Your dad was a little wild, you know.”  Unfortunately, that interview ended before I could get some background or details on that comment.

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Even in this picture, there’s a mischievous hint of a smirk.

Or maybe he’s just happy that he’s been married to Sandy, my Mom, for 54 years?

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“What’s the key to marriage” I ask.  “Many” she says.  “Be willing to forgive.””Always kiss goodnight.”  Really?  Always?  “Well, sometimes you don’t want to.”

I feel like my mom glows.  She seems genuinely happy.

What are you most proud of?  “My family.”  I kept pushing.  “The person I’ve become.”  It’s true.  I’ve witnessed her become more confident the past several years.  I feel like she’s comfortable in her own skin.

My mom and dad.  Beautiful people.  Awesome parents.  Tremendous role models, as are each of the subjects I’ve profiled.

What started out simply as a photography project has turned into something so much more meaningful.  I got to spend quality time with fascinating people; to hear tiny tidbits of their lives; to weave together a little background of their childhoods and understand more about who they are, as well as who I am.  I am grateful for their openness and willingness to share with me, and with you, the reader of this blog.

My project is complete.  I am happy.

An Intimate Portrait (part 5)

Not as planned.

If I’m supposed to be writing these in birth order, well, I’ve mixed it up.  Sorry, this one doesn’t follow the script.

Jean is actually the sixth of seven children born to Ira and Edna Hammond, the “baby girl” of the family.  If you’ve been following along, you can thank (or blame?) her for these words and photos in front of you right now.

See, I’d had a concept brewing in my head to take photos of people.  To practice, really.  If you’re just starting out, why not start with some of the people you know best, that you’ll be most comfortable with?  As long as you’re doing that, how about maybe documenting a little bit of family history along the way?  That thought process led me to my father, his siblings and their spouses.

I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do or how to go about it, so the idea simply percolated in my mind for a month or two.  Can I get everyone together?  Will they cooperate?  What will I ask?  When and where will it be easiest to assemble a makeshift studio?  Lots of questions I needed to answer, which was fine, since Jean and Robert and both my parents were still spending the winter in Florida anyway.

Then Jean changed the plans.  More accurately, her heart changed.  Out of sync.  Both her heart, and my project.

Jean

Life (and death) happens.  Nothing is guaranteed.  Jean’s the youngest; she’s not ‘supposed’ to be one of the first to go.  Don’t you know that by now?  Of course you do.  So what are you waiting for?  Get your butt to Florida and start shooting and talking to your relatives!

Tell me about your father.  (Grampie to me)  What was he like?  “Stern.”  He dished out the punishment.  “Spanked me for something I didn’t do.”  Alright; how about a positive memory, what do you recall?  “He was the one who took us places.”  Educational trips.  He was the one who always took us to see and do things.

What about your mother?  “Loving and gentle.”  “And strong.”

I admire this generation.  They seem to set a great example.  So I asked:  “What is the key to successful marriage?”  Jean replied that many people say it’s communication.  “That isn’t it, we never communicate.”  Really?  “Well, we both have the same values.” We’re both the sixth child in each of our respective families.

Next I bring in Uncle Robert.

Robert

I ask him the same question:  What’s the key to a successful marriage?  “Keep breathing, I guess.”  “That, and communication.”

I did my best to keep a straight face; he had no idea how his wife had answered the question just minutes before.

Perhaps marriage, like life, is a bit of a mystery.  Take each day and be grateful for it.

JandR

 

Aunt Jean and Uncle Robert?   Clearly you’re doing something right.  Thank you for being you, and for giving me the nudge to get started with this project.

 

 

An Intimate Portrait (part 4)

Grace.  Peace.

When crafting the story of my visit with Aunt Lois, these are the words that bubble to the surface.

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Asked what she’s most proud of, “Being a child of the King” was first on her list.  Eager, it seemed, to tell her story.  Lois not only welcomed me with open arms, but she had prepared for my visit.  You could say she’d done her homework.

Fitting, isn’t it?  Since she’d spent the majority of her working days in education, it should come as no surprise that the homework was done.  Lois received her degree from Berea College in Kentucky.  It was in school where she met Garland, her first husband.  Together, she and Garland moved to Maryland in 1965 to begin their careers, both earning their income as teachers.  I had no idea that the date of my visit was also the anniversary of Garland’s death.

Waiting for me on the table in their living room when I arrived, a folder containing family photos and neatly typed stories had been prepared.

Purposely, I avoided the folder.  I wanted to hear the unscripted version.

I could see it when she talked about the picture on her wall.  You couldn’t help but notice in the way she attended to her husband.  What makes you happy?  “Harry.”  “My family.”

Children of the King

Due to geography and circumstances, Lois was the first person I reached out to when I actually took steps to begin this little endeavor.  Harry’s health is declining, so they travel less these days.  I was pleasantly surprised, however, when I arrived.  Harry is still plenty sharp to share stories of his childhood.  Of days spent growing up in Uniontown, Pennsylvania.  Memories of one of his early jobs selling “soft seats” (cushions I presume?) in the grandstand at Pittsburgh Pirates baseball games.

I like Harry.  He’s a baseball fan.  It was fun to hear of him speak of stadiums like Forbes Field and Shibe Park.  Places that exist only in history archives to me, but once were very real places that Harry had experienced early in his life.

Harry reminisces

 

I returned home and have read through the folder that Lois had laid out for me.  Times were different.  Life was hard.

Family was important.

Some things, fortunately, remain the same.

An Intimate Portrait (part 3)

This one’s a little different.

In my grandparent’s house there was an embroidered picture of six sheep hanging on the wall.  Five of the sheep were ‘traditional’ white sheep; the sixth, however, was black.  I’m pretty sure it was never defined who the ‘black sheep’ was, yet there was often speculation as to who it represented.  (I’d be willing to bet the label may have been passed around depending upon when and who you asked!)

Yes, this one was a little different.

Pressed for time, I decided to bring both Alice and Grit into my makeshift studio together and ask questions while the other sat just off camera.  I went into the project really wanting to isolate my subject; to get answers that weren’t rehearsed, or weren’t crafted in such a way so as to please or somehow fit a pre-determined path of what something was ‘supposed to look like.’

With Aunt Alice, I’ve never doubted that I’d get anything but the truth from her, regardless of whether her husband (or anyone else) was sitting right next to her.

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She looked straight into my lens as she shared stories of what it was like growing up and working on the farm.  Her parents treated her ‘as another boy,’ expecting her to do the same jobs as her brothers.  Difficult perhaps, but also a source of pride for Alice as she was the one who drove the tractors.  In fact, she was the one who could drive every tractor on the farm.

Aunt Alice didn’t stop to pose or primp for the camera.  She just kept sharing, honestly and directly.  Stories of how she still likes to use a lot of things her mother taught her.  Family recipes.  Quotes.  Pressed for an example, she quipped:  “Do what you want, you will anyway.”

She told the tale of seeing Grit for the first time, walking up the road with her brother John.  “That one’s mine,” she stated as he came over the hill.

Alice and Grit

 

Born in Flint, Grit grew up the oldest of seven kids.  Alice says he fell in love with her family before falling for her.

He played basketball at Alba High School in northern Michigan, graduating ‘in the Top 10’ of his class.  Shortly thereafter he would serve his country in the Army Air Corp, traveling to Japan by boat in a tortuous 18 day journey through extremely rough seas.  Grit worked several different jobs in his day, the most interesting of which I found to be his stint as a prison guard in Jackson.  Making $45 a week, he lasted eight months before a riot caused him to reconsider his line of work.

Grit

When I asked Grit “what makes you happy,” he paused to give thought to his answer.  It wasn’t long before Alice interjected:  “Sex!  Sex makes him happy!”  Yes, this interview was a little different.  And I really enjoyed it.

Black sheep?  I don’t know, think what you want.  You will anyway.