An Intimate Portrait (part 2)

The stories are about them, but they help me learn a little more of who I am as well.

Uncle John, the oldest male, number two in the order of seven, was always ‘the President’ in my eyes while I was growing up.  He carried the title and ran the family business.  John, along with his wife Ginny raised four daughters.  In my youth, interactions with Uncle John were always laced with a slight level of uncertainty.  Was it his position in the company?  My status as the youngest male to carry the family name?  He’d never said nor done anything to me, yet there was often some trepidation when I was in his presence.

As I grew older, I witnessed him suffer two significant losses.  The deaths of both his oldest daughter, Kathy, followed years later by the loss of his wife Ginny, showed me a much softer, more vulnerable man than I’d ever known.

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When I recently sent an email to my aunts and uncles asking them if they’d participate in my photo project, John was one of the first to reply with his consent.

He shared with me stories of his time growing up on the family farm; how influential his Dad was in his life.  From a letter that his parents wrote asking for an exemption for him from the draft (John declined the exemption and served in the Army Signal Corp during the Korean War), to the suspected role that his dad had in serving as matchmaker by having Ginny working in the family business when John returned from the war.

I also learned a surprising fact:  when John asked his future bride on their first date together, she was wearing a ring that had been given to her by another man.  I love learning that people are people, no matter the times, and not everything is as conventional as any of us might believe.

When asked what makes him happy, John replied with “Seeing my kids happy and content.  Watching my grass, and my gardens grow.”  The company of his dog Dixie, as he keeps up with the property named “Honey Hill” that he and Ginny bought together in 1979.

How about something that you’re proud of?  His answer came easily:  Creating S.A.F.E.  The Springport Area Foundation for Education. Both contributing to and raising funds for the advancement of kids from his community.  http://www.springportschools.net/domain/111

A few days after our time together, I got a follow-up email from Uncle John.  He wanted to share more, to send me both pages and photos of his days in the military.  Tales of the family business, and how he and his wife met.

This project is giving me more than I ever imagined.  I look forward to both learning, and sharing more.

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An Intimate Portrait (part 1)

You start from the beginning.

When faced with all sorts of questions, trying to figure out how best to embark on something, what else is there to do but to take a step?

One.  The first of seven.  Norma.

Norma

Absolutely beautiful.  Radiant.  And she completely ruined my pre-conceived ideas of ‘the project.’

See, the thought was that I would take at least 50 portraits of people this year.  Black and white, shot on a black background.  I need subjects, so why not start with some of the people I know, yet want and need to know more about?  I reached out to my father, his five siblings who are still living, and their spouses.

Aunt Norma is the oldest of seven.  And proud of it.  She’s 86; has already outlived her mother and appears well on her way to surpassing her father, “Daddy” as well.

She seemed both excited about, and perplexed by my endeavor.  “Who would want to take a picture of ME?”  Who wouldn’t want a picture of her?  Seriously?  Look at that smile;  that beautiful blouse that complements her skin tone.  The elegant, yet simple strand of pearls.  The way she just, GLOWS.  Nope.  I can’t use just a black and white photo.

Don and Norma say hello

Don is no dummy.  He noticed her.  In English class, at the University of Michigan where they first met.  In fact, “City Slicker Don” would create some conflict in that small-town, tight-knit family of hers.  Norma’s father wasn’t very fond when Don came calling and married her almost 67 years ago.  So distraught, he didn’t attend his daughter’s wedding.  In fact, he didn’t even speak to Don for 10 years.  That is until Daddy realized that Don wasn’t going to marry, then just as quickly leave his daughter.  Maybe, just maybe, City Slicker Don wasn’t so bad after all.  In fact, Don was pretty smart.  Two degrees from the University of Michigan.  A Masters from Clarkston University in New York.  And someone that Daddy respected and could trust enough to offer a seat on the Board of Directors of the family business.

Don

Don and Norma.  Together, they’ve helped me begin to tell my story.

So tell me, how do you really feel?

Well, I guess that depends on which second you’re asking me?  

I go from ‘everything is normal, what are you talking about,’ to ‘Oh my God I could die at any second!’  Often in the span of the same 60 seconds…

To catch you up to speed, I had ‘routine’ surgery just less than a week ago.  Arthroscopy of the left knee to be specific, the third time I’ve had such a procedure done on my knees.  It IS routine, and I suspect that a year from now I’ll look back at this moment in time with a bit of an attitude of ‘what were you really worried about?’

Yet it wasn’t routine either.  Just as the surgeon had cautioned, no surgery is ever completely without risk, and so far, I’m living proof of that.  Pain.  In the left calf.  Symptom #1 on the sheet of post-op instructions that say “call us immediately” if you experience this.  So I called.  Had another test which confirmed what I was already pretty certain existed:

A blood clot.  

Or is it:  A BLOOD CLOT!?!

Depends on which second you ask me.  Most of the time, it’s ‘a blood clot.’  Yeah, it exists.  Yes, it’s a concern.  Yes, take it seriously.  Yes, there are treatments, and yes, you’ll be fine.

Yet I’ve never dealt with this before.  And it sounds SERIOUS.  And by the reactions of those closest to me, it sounds REALLY SERIOUS.  And from what I know of this life I’ve lived so far, a blood clot DOES sound serious.  It’s killed people before, hasn’t it?  Hell yes, I’d say that qualifies as cause for concern!

It’s this ‘space between’ that I find really fascinating.  You see, I have an appointment with a doctor in an hour.  But so far, nobody that I’ve seen in the medical community has reacted with any sort of increased fear or trepidation.  Until such time as I meet with the doctor and he tells me that I should be worried, I’m not gonna worry.  Or at least try not.

It’s the concern and support and reactions of my family and friends (some of whom DO have medical background or experience) that make me feel like I should ‘Take This SERIOUSLY.’  Ok.  Thank you.  Like how?  What am I supposed to do?

I feel as if I have this ticking time-bomb sitting in my leg, just waiting to explode.  Sneeze.  Bump your leg.  Fart.  Any or all of them could dislodge the clot and send it immediately on its path to your brain or lungs and THAT IS ALL.

So what?  Sit home and worry?  (Ok, I’m kinda doing that).  Go on about your day as if nothing is different?  (Really, that’s what I’m doing because other than what feels like a cramp in my leg, I FEEL fine.)

How am I really feeling?  

If I’m honest, ‘terrified’ isn’t far off.  But of what?  Death?  Life perhaps?  That’s a fun and interesting proposition.  ‘Afraid of LIVING.’  What are you here for?  Are you DOING it?

Newsflash:  If you’re reading this, YOU’RE GOING TO DIE.  We just don’t know when.  Is that a blessing?  A curse?  Both more likely?

I’m thankful.  I’ve lived a great life to this point.  I hope and expect to live many more productive and happy years.  But I may not.  And if you’re given a diagnosis or a time-frame, what will you do in that time?

What WILL YOU DO?

I’m scared.  And I’m happy.  A blood clot helps me to think about my life and how I want to live.

Moments of 2013

I’m going to step out on a limb here, and call myself a photographer.  Never a title or description I’ve accepted for prior to this year, and one that I still have a little trouble wearing comfortably.  For sake of this post and possibly for my own self-image, “I’m a photographer.”

Something I’ve noticed that successful photographers sometimes do is come up with a list of their 10, or 12, or 13 ‘best’ images from their year.  The reasons vary, but one of the primary emphases seems to be an exercise of self-evaluation.  What images best represent their work?

It’s a difficult process.  Whittling through an extensive catalog of pictures, even throwing out several that are ‘really good.’ I’ve been at this a very short time (essentially since May of this year) and I have over 6,500 images saved in my catalog.  I’m learning that it is also about culling the herd, and deleting some of the junk.  Yes, I’ve got lots of ‘junk’ among those 6,500 images.

Onward.

I’ve set my number at ’10.’  Don’t ask me why, I’m not really sure.  But 10 it is.

Following, in date order, are my 10 favorite images from the year 2013:

Moments of 2013

Peru.  The Giving Lens.  In May I had the opportunity to travel with a group of 12 other photographers to Cusco, Peru.  Without going into too much detail about the trip, it was life-changing.  This was one of the children we had a chance to interact with while there.  Such a beautiful, genuine smile.  Her face just puts me at peace.

Moments of 2013-2

Another image from Peru.  The bewildered expression.  The intensity in the eyes.  The dirt smudged on her cheeks.  The colors in her clothing mixed with the stuccoed wall behind her.  My photography has a lot of room to improve, but I think this is an image that’ll always be one of my all-time favorites.

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The intimacy of being invited into their home and sharing a few moments with this family.  Again I say, my trip to Peru was life-changing.  I posted about this previously:  Welcome to our Home.

Moments of 2013-4

Jack.  What a good sport.  One of my closest friends and his kid came to visit me this summer.  Jack has an interest in photography so we got talking and soon experimenting.  Jack put up with me while I set up lights and lit several smoke bombs under his feet.  This image worked.  Seems like a poster from a Terminator movie to me.  I just love his stoic expression.  Actually, I think maybe that’s just the face he makes when he’s trying to hold his breath?

Moments of 2013-5

One of the few images that I like simply because of the picture.  No real back story; no deep emotional connection.  Love the hints of purple picked up in the flowers in the foreground.

Moments of 2013-7

Jordan River, Northern Michigan.  Another image that captures my interest strictly on its visual appeal.  However there’s emotion with this one for me too, based on the people I was with.  Genuine, authentic, good people.  And great memories.

Moments of 2013-6

Reflection.  This picture was taken on a night when I was frustrated with something; at this point I can’t even recall what it was.  I had in mind a place that I thought would be good for a sunset shot.  This wasn’t it.  But as I drove past, I had to stop.  This gap out to Lake Michigan just called to me.  I sat in the weeds a few feet off the road and let go of whatever it was that was bothering me.

Moments of 2013-8

My niece and nephew.  Great kids.  Photographically, I like the colors and the light on their faces.  Deeper, I like their spirits that shine through.  Emily-a beautiful and goofy young woman, perfectly at ease.  Her brother Anthony, a bit more uncertain in front of my lens.  Yet his mischievousness still somehow pops through here.

Moments of 2013-9

Atlanta after dark.  If you know me, you might say I’m a little bit adventurous, perhaps spontaneous at times.  I grabbed this image at the close of a long day.  There was this car for sale, in Florida.  So I flew down from Michigan, bought a car, drove to Atlanta, and rested for the night with this view just outside my balcony.

Moments of 2013-10

Found in a junkyard.  While touring an auto salvage yard scouring for interesting images of cars, I came across this.  An old boxing glove.  Bleached and faded, lying in a puddle of mud.   And a cigarette, casually discarded that found its way next to the glove.  I’m a sucker for stories.  I’d love to know more about how these items came to end up here.

That’s it.  My favorite 10 moments and images from the past year.

If you’re reading this and you found yourself the target of my camera at any point during this past year-know that I seriously considered including a photo of you.  For it is the people that I find most interesting.

There’s something about capturing a glance or a smile that offers a glimpse into who you are.  I have thoroughly enjoyed this process of taking photos; distilling the images; and sharing with you these Moments of 2013.

We All Have a Story

It was around 6:30 at night; dark, and a busy intersection.

I had just come off the highway, waiting to turn right onto 28th Street.  As I looked to the left waiting for traffic, I saw them.  Two people wearing dark clothing.  In an odd place-that busy intersection, on foot.  

They caught my attention, because I’ve been considering a photographic exploration of the poor, homeless, or otherwise disadvantaged.  As I studied them, I noticed one of them was bearded, wearing a hat.  He was clearly suffering some sort of impairment.  Drunk perhaps?  Maybe.  I’ve been there.  Wobbly and disoriented.  But the other one was there, holding him by the arm and guiding him across the street.  I considered how or if I could photograph them?  I’ve got my camera with me; but no, not the right time or place.

He lost his balance, briefly, as he crossed in front of my car.  Put his hand on my hood but eventually stumbled safely to the other side of the road.  I needed to get to the camera store before they closed.  I turned right, put them out of my mind.

About an hour later I’d completed my shopping.  Making my way back to the highway, I could see lights in the distance.  Police?  Fire? I don’t know, but whatever it is, there are a lot of them.  Closer still, I realize that the lights are coming from the bridge where I’d encountered them.

“No.”  I thought to myself.  Really?  It can’t be.  But what else could it be?  Damn it!  Should I have done something?  Is it really what I think?  Please, no.

As I got closer my thoughts were only confirmed.  A car, with front-end damage, parked in the east bound lane.  Shoes, gloves, and other personal debris, lying in the street.  Marked as evidence.  Damn it again!  What could I have done?  Sick; just a helpless, hopeless feeling.

Who were these people?  What were they doing out there?  Who should help them, and how?  

They’re human beings.  They have value.  They have a story.

I don’t know what it is (or was?), but we all have a story.  Some are cut short; some are untold.

Maybe there’s a reason I’ve got a camera; maybe there’s a reason I’m being pulled in this direction.

They were more than ‘panhandlers.’

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http://www.wzzm13.com/news/article/274692/48/Panhandlers-struck-on-28th-Street-near-US-131

I Bought a Car

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So, yeah.  I bought a car.  Call it a mid-life crisis; call it compensating; call it whatever you want.  I did it.  I’m not sure why, other than I’ve always wanted a red sports car.  A Corvette convertible, to be specific, but unfortunately I don’t fit.  So I bought a red Mustang instead.

Specifically, it’s a 2007 Shelby GT 500.  Yes, it’s a pretty kick-ass car.  But it really isn’t about the car.  It’s about listening to a tiny little inner voice or thought and taking a bit of a leap and actually acting on the idea.

It wasn’t completely impulsive.  I did some research.  I don’t know how long I’ll own the car.  I don’t know how much I’ll get if or when I attempt to sell it.  It isn’t an investment.  At least not from a monetary sense.

It was an investment in ME.  An investment in FUN; in living life, of saying “why not?”

Cars are transportation, aren’t they?  Meant to take you on a journey, or to your destination?  Sometimes they can be so much more.  This ‘trip’ started with a one-way plane ticket with a 6:00am departure on a flight to Baltimore.  Then an hour on a morning commuter train to Philly which led to a taxi ride to finally meet with my salesman somewhere in New Jersey.  Plane, train, and automobile.  Wasn’t there a movie with that name?

Sign some paperwork, slap a tag on the car and then I’m off on the first twelve hours of my experience.  Twelve hours of city, mountains, freeway and learning how to handle a 500 horsepower, six-speed beast of a machine.

Just the beginning.  Since purchasing the car last June, it’s taken me to many unexpected destinations.  A fall color tour through Northern Michigan:ImageTo a drag race track in Mid-Michigan:ImageAnd to several locations to serve as a model in my developing interest in photography as well:ImageMaking the decision to listen to the voice, and to act on a dream has also connected me to some really cool people.  Members of my local car club; participants in car shows far and wide.  Parades-and the chance to have my photo taken with our reigning Miss America 2013:

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I’ve even had the opportunity to interact with those whose job it is ‘to protect and to serve’

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The car has helped deepen a relationship with my nephew, who came along with me on a 48 hour whirlwind road trip to a ballpark in Kansas City.  Which, come to think of it, also served as a bit of confirmation that it’s ok to move on with life.

Visiting ballparks was a journey that my ex-wife and I had been making together.  Until the marriage ended.  But the dream of visiting all the stadiums didn’t need to, and hasn’t died with the divorce.  The car has been a part of all of these things.

Compensating?  A mid-life crisis?  I don’t know, and I don’t care.

I bought a car.

Oh what a ride!

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Family.

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Bubbles, like emotions and words, are difficult to capture.  

Grief, like bubbles, comes in varying forms, colors and depths for each of us.

I didn’t know that Julie loved bubbles.  I didn’t know Julie really all that well to be perfectly honest.  But what I did know was that she was good.  A beautiful smile.  A HUGE heart.  Warm.  Graceful.  Silly.  Compassionate?  An understatement.

Now, tragically, she is physically no longer with us.  Why?  How?  What happened?  My rational mind wants answers; to try to understand and pretend that this can’t or shouldn’t happen to anyone else; shouldn’t have happened to her.  Life doesn’t work that way.  

Sometimes our best and brightest are taken from us far too soon.  The rest of us are left searching for answers, fumbling for understanding, struggling toward peace somehow.  Like bubbles, this search is slippery, elusive and beyond our reach.  Just when you think you can grab it, the bubble bursts and you’re left seeking again.

Bubbles, like Julie, are delicate.  Beautiful.  Vibrant.  Gone too soon.

There is pain with her loss; but there is joy in her life and her spirit. That spirit LIVES, and will continue to live in each of us that had the honor of knowing her.  Our loss has opened my eyes to the LIFE that is at hand.  The comfort and support of family.  The pleasure of simple things; things that matter most.  A hug.  Sharing in conversation.  Appreciation for the chance to gather over a meal and spend time with those who matter most.

None of us know how long we have.  All of us should know that we have this moment.  To make the most of it.  Leave your mark.  Live your life.  Love those that are close to you.  FEEL-both pain and loss, but also joy and beauty.

I didn’t know that Julie loved bubbles.  I do now.

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“To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give of one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded.”  ~Bessie Anderson Stanley

100 Hoops; 100 Days

A year or so ago I had purchased a new DSLR but was struggling with ideas on what to shoot.

I’ve always been drawn to passionate people, no matter what their subject or medium. I asked myself the question “What are YOU passionate about?”

Struggling to answer that, I reached back to common themes in my life. One obvious answer kept popping up, and that was basketball.

Ok, so there’s the answer, now what are you gonna do with it? This video was my result; my first ever attempt at shooting and publishing anything.

The hoops occasionally keep calling to me. I’m either going to have to edit the video, or create a sequel…!

Welcome to our Home

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While in Peru we had the opportunity for an in-home visit to the family of one of the students.

This is arguably my favorite photo of the entire trip.

Physically, I didn’t fit in the home. Ducking under the smallish doorway, I stood a little crooked under the sloped tin roof. My eyes took a few minutes to adjust to the low, blue light cast from the tarped walls. Looking for a place to stand or sit out of the way, I found none. Eventually I settled into my space along one of the walls.

Listening to my three traveling partners interact with the family, I learned that Mom is the sole support for she and the kids. Dad ‘lives with another family.’ Language barriers and sensitivity forced that answer to stand alone, with no real clarification as to the ‘why’ that situation exists.

Eventually, I asked if I could take a picture. Mom gathered her son and daughter with her on the lone family bed, and I clicked the shutter.

Shelter. Family. Love.

I was humbled to have been able to witness a glimpse into this family’s most intimate time and place.

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!