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?

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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.

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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!

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!

Did it change me?

ImageI’ve been home a little over a week now; settling back into the routines of ‘ordinary’ life.  I’ve spent time being frustrated at work; played golf with friends; performed routine chores around the house and I wonder if my trip to Peru has changed me at all?

The short answer is ‘yes.’  It has to have had an affect.  I think often about the people I met; my fellow travelers and the other adults we interacted with.  The kids, of course, and their beautiful smiling faces.  Those smiles will live with me forever!  The awesome scenery at Machuu Picchu, and the contemplation of what that site was and is.  Some tricks/tips/pointers I learned about photography, as well as the overwhelming sense of how much more I need to learn.

But did it really change me?  Before leaving, I felt called to this trip; to this group; to this ‘thing’ somehow, and I had faith that something important was going to happen for me.  It didn’t, or at least hasn’t yet.  At least not in an obvious or major way.  I had no idea what it was going to be-but just knew that it was going to be there.

Maybe what I learned, is that ALL of life changes us; and it’s rarely something big or major or obvious.  While I may be a little disappointed that lightning didn’t strike me from on high and I didn’t hear voices speak to me, I DID have an impact.  I got to play with those kids; got to share their joy and even captured a few moments of it on my memory card.  I was invited into a family’s home; shared their modest space and was humbled by the experience.  We didn’t communicate well verbally, but we connected.  I connected.  To the kids; to that family; to my newfound photographer friends; and to me and my inner voice of who I am and who I’m becoming.

Am I still living the same superficial life on many levels?  Certainly.  But deep down beneath the surface have I changed?  I have no doubt.  My thanks to The Giving Lens for the opportunity-it was a great experience!