25 January 2010

Installment #3:Lessons From a Wood Pile and a Paint Room

I always thought it was a little odd that he would keep every little scrap of wood. They were little nubs or long thin strips, which, in my mind, were good-for-nothing pieces that should have been tossed directly into the fire. (Partly because I liked feeding the pot-bellied furnace.) But sure enough, against my wishes, great-grandpa, and later grandpa, would toss the scraps into the graveyard of useless wood.
There was also the cans. Shelves of partly used stains, paints, varnishes and other odiferous liquids, once quitessential to a project, now .... And from little hooks, there hung paintbrushes. Little, big, skinny, broad. Some bearing signs of previous use and others looking as if they came off the hardware store shelf just yesterday.
I didn't get it at the time. Why would you keep around these scraps, cans and brushes? I think I now realize what it was. It was the foresight to know that they might be needed someday. Why would you throw away perfectly useful wood or stain or brushes? You never know when you are going to need that same shade of green you painted on the chairs. Or a little strip of wood to shim a doorway. And, heck, it sure beats having to buy new supplies every time.
I think my generation misses it. They want the newest and trendiest. They think that something has become obsolete when it is no longer amusing or immediately valuable. I guess some might call it 'short-sightedness'. Well, whatever it is called, I think I would rather have my grandfather and great-grandfather's foresight.

The Wood Pile, Hoyleton, IL

The Paint Room

14 January 2010

Installment #2: Mr. Fix-It

Spring breaks weren't really a big thing in my house. We didn't take big trips or anything. It was mainly a time for us kids to not have to go to school...except for one spring break. I am not sure where my sister went, but my brother and I ended up at my grandparent's house for the week. We actually highjacked our passage with a truck driver from the company my aunt works for. (Josh, you remember taking the football to throw around in the back?) And after breaking a window in the rear of the cab of his truck, we arrived in sounthern Illinois ready to begin our adventure with our grandparents.

I have quite a few memories from that week: Being reprimanded for throwing a ball against a brick wall, missing television, being unable to eat all the food that we requested grandma and grandpa buy for us. But most of all I remember spending time with grandpa in his workshop. The big project was to craft a candle holder upon which the special Easter candle would be perched. This would be done for the Lutheran church my grandparents attended (any number of stories could be told about my time in those pews). Grandpa had been specially asked to do the job because of his skills as a woodworker. But as I got older, I realized it was because everyone knew my grandfather was the one who could craft or fix anything. I guess those years of being a woodworker's son and later an engineer came in handy to firmly establish him as Mr. Fix-It.

The final product was fairly simple. It was stained deep brown wood with four handles, if I remember correctly, and able to hold the substantial candle quite well. We were proud to see it in use later that Easter. The thing that really gets me is that it is still used to this day. Years later, when I was in high school, I remember seeing it go down the aisle one Sunday we were in attendance. And though Josh and I played a menial role in the matter, most likely slowing the process more than helping, I still felt a little pride well up in me because, if nothing else, I was there for its creation.
Even though the workshop has been out of use for years now, there are still a few things laying around that can make you feel like the band saw was fired up yesterday. The coffee mug in the picture that follows is fitting for so many reasons, but one of them is that my grandfather could fix, build, or draw up plans for anything, whether it was finishing a basement or building a wood candle holder.

Mr. Fix-It's Coffee Mug

Hoyleton, IL

09 January 2010

Installment #1: Driving Into Town

Family is hard to write about. The point of view is skewed, emotional, and is supported by old memories from childhood and not always fact. Yet I find myself compelled to share and write about a group of photos I took in my great-grandfather's old workshop. If memory serves me correctly, he passed away when I was 11 years old and after that I came to identify the workshop with my grandfather. It is a simple place; two stories connected by a wood set of steep stairs. The top floor, containing mostly old family relics or odds and ends, was the area I knew least of. The first floor contains the workshop, a paint room, and a barn area. It has been around quite a bit longer than I have and has the character to show it.
So trepidation aside, here comes a slice of my ancestry, family history, and childhood memories.
There were usually two times of the year that we would be guaranteed visits to Hoyleton, IL: Christmas and Easter. There were others, but these were the staples of connecting with my dad's side of the family.
Taking I-57 south to, what seemed like to my childhood brain, a labyrinth of state and county roads, we would then arrive on the north side of the tiny community of my dad's hometown. When making our entrance into the village (yes, that is its official classification), we would always pass by my great-grandfather's old workshop. A structure with nothing but a wood stove to keep the worker within from freezing during the winter. And until the age of 11 we would look to see if the light was on in my great grandpa's house, which was no more than 60 feet away from the workshop. It was one of the first landmarks which denoted our arrival. It was the first memorable sight for us kids as we came and the last one we bade farewell to as we left. And though I didn't grow up in that town and spend endless hours working in the workshop, it is one of the first tangible locations I can attach to the people from whom I came. So here is a simple shot of the front of the workshop; a common sight even today.

Great-grandpa's Workshop

Hoyleton, IL

04 January 2010

In My Mind's Eye

Of course everything else wasn't grey. What do we live in...a 1940's TV show? But when I walked into that little park at the base of the cable cars, it didn't take me long to spot the flowers, in blazing pink, resting amidst the otherwise seemingly drap backdrop of the French park. Colors do that. They grab you, bring your focus to a point and won't let you go. Who says you need to shout to be noticed. At times it is the quietest thing in the room (or the park) that can steal your gaze. This is just a photo that accentuates what took place in my mind's eye.

In My Mind's Eye
Grenoble, France
I haven't done much work on Photoshop before, so this is one of my first attempts at doing so. I am just teaching myself right now as time allows, so hopefully, you followers of mine (all 2 of you), will be able to see my work improve as time goes on.

28 December 2009

Ayla Happy with Jo

There is a sense of comfort being near your mother as a young baby or child. The closeness, knowing the care taken to keep you safe. At that age, you receive something from her different from anyone else in the world, even you father. A nurturing and familiarity. As if the outer world could evaporate away and you would be none the wiser. It can cease a crying spell or bring a smile to an otherwise mundane moment.

The best part of witnessing this take place with your own child is watching your daughter soak it up and seeing what it does to your wife. Here is one of those moments caught on camera.

One of Those Moments
Franklin, TN

21 December 2009

Me, Dad, and a Blue Sky

No one else really wanted to get up early that morning. Maybe it was the fact that it was vacation and you are supposed to sleep in, but my dad and I had other plans. Both being fans of photography, we knew the best light is in the morning and evening. But beyond that, I think we both knew it was the most dramatic part of the day as well. Like a symphony starting with a tap of the sun's wand on the pedestal. Then a slow addition of instruments as new corners of nature came to light with each wave of the conductor's arms. Why would we miss it for a few more hours of warmth and rest?

When we got on the road, we could see the sun was already on its way up, as if approaching the stage. So we took off up the mountain and when we realized we were high enough and the and sun was ready, we pulled off and gazed at the shadowed valley floor with the thin silver stream weaving like a serpeant toward the town below. The morning light peaked over the jagged horizon, catching a glimpse of who was willing to sacrifice their bed for the start of the show. And there we were, with no regrets for our beds, but enjoying a little father-son time...and the best show money can buy. I actually think I remember the rapping of the conductor's wand on the music stand.

The following picture is not the symphony, but two happy concert goers reveling in the brilliance of the show. And we weren't even thinking about our beds.

An Early Morning Symphony
Rocky Mountain National Park

19 December 2009

They Were Simpler Times Back Then

Ayla is coming up on one-year old and what better way to commemorate her birth by looking back at the first year. It is really bizarre to think about how much she has changed. She can roll over on her own, shoot, she can stand by herself too. She has 2 teeth, eats solid food and is can hold her liquor with the best of them. Just kidding. But all these changes, though they are good, makes life a little more interesting around the old homestead.

So I wanted to post a photo of when times were simpler. When she pull things off the shelves and follow us all over the house. A time when she wouldn't throw food off her tray. A time when the worst thing that could happen would be that she drooled like a...well, a baby.

Simpler Times
Franklin, TN

10 December 2009

The Redemptive Chipmunk

When we were kids, my family took a couple of vacations out west. But one in particular sticks out in my mind: we visited Rocky Mountain National Park. I was young and not the accomplished, world-class photographer I am now, and my dad let me try taking some photos with his camera. Now this was the fully manual kind. No auto-focus... or auto anything for that matter. And keep in mind I was young.

So as I was learning with my dad's SLR, I saw a chipmunk sitting right beneath me on a rock. I had him through the viewfinder, I set the exposure, I focused, I focused, I focused. I couldn't get what I thought was 'in focus'.
And then...he ran away.
I missed the shot.
What makes matters worse is that my sister has not let me forget about it for these almost 20 years.

But a couple years ago, I was back in Rocky Mountain National Park, with my own camera and quite a bit more experience.And what do you think happened to be sitting on the side of the trail? That's right, a chipmunk. (Probably a distant relative of the chipmunk of my childhood.) So what did I do? Did I panic and waste the shot? Did I break down and cry under the pressure? No, I snapped 20+ photos of that thing. And though my sister still likes to make fun of me every now and then...I have been redeemed!!

The Redemptive Chipmunk
Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
465 mm, 1/400 sec, f/5.6

06 May 2009

Gawking Over Babies

I love watching others look at babies. Don't get me wrong, I love looking at babies also, especially my own, but there is something that happens to adults when they get around newborns. There is always something that changes in the person. Whether it be because they loose inhibitions or get extremely uncomfortable, you cannot be around a baby and not alter your mannerisms in some way.

My wife and I are pretty free with letting others hold our child and so I have seen quite the gamut of reactions. There is the 'Am I Doing This Right?' reaction. This usually involves a timid hold, with questioning looks around the room to anyone who would know more than they do. And without fail, the baby starts crying, causing even more doubt in the holders mind as to whether they are the worst baby-holder in the world.

Other reactions include, but are not limited to, the 'This Child Only Understands High Pitch Squeals', 'Let the Child Cry for All I Care' and 'I Can't Help But Become Ultra-Animated'. Now I must say, the last one is my favorite to watch (also, I think I do this one the most). This is usually how it goes. The person gets the baby in front of them with some anticipation already built up, then peers deep into their glistening eyes and is swept up in the euphoria of being in the presence of such a magnificently innocent creature. They seek out the sheer joy of a smile or giggle. And they will use any means necessary to do so. For a short while they are transported to a magical place where they don't have to worry about a sharp retort to one of their comments or a malicious glance of the eyes. It is in this magical place that they find their own little time of childishness and freedom that often gets suppressed in the real world...or maybe being around a child brings out the child.

Happy Grandparents, Franklin, TN

28 April 2009

Ignoring Us and Proud of It

I am not one for approaching wildlife or bothering them in their natural habitat. In my opinion, many injuries to animals and humans are caused each year because someone really wants a great photo or says something like, "Honey, it's alright. Move in closer. I'm sure he won't charge at you or maul your face off.". This is usually followed by screaming, running or an emergency room visit. If you care to see the idiocy in action, go to Yellowstone National Park's Wildlife Safety Video's. They remind me of the time I saw a woman walk off a trail towards a feeding bear (not good to disturb a bear while it is eating) because her camera didn't zoom in enough. It was especially intelligent since her children were with her. But I digress.

During our visit to Rocky Mountain National Park last summer, we were driving on Trail Ridge Road when we saw a congregation of onlookers taking in the majesty of a herd of elk just off the road. So what was I to do, but hop out of the car, pop on my long lense and start taking some photos. Now before I get lumped in with the people in the Yellowstone videos, I was the mandatory 25 yards away from the wildlife and also, I was definitely not the slowest person there. I am sure I could get away before the guy next to me. (Sorry buddy)

The most interesting part of the whole scene was how sublimely unaffected the elk were by our presence. I think the constant human interaction has affected different animals in different ways. The animals in the videos were frustrated by the intrusion of the human vermin on their natural habitat, but the elk I saw that day had let it all go to their heads. They knew why people were stopping. They knew they were the center of attention and, consequently, figured they had the right to give everyone the cold shoulder as they basked in the mid-morning sun. Who knew the Hollywood mentality could creep into wildlife. What happened to the good ol' days of wildlife running off at the sight of men, or at least charging them.

Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National, CO

600mm, f/5.6, 1/500 sec

01 April 2009

Ayla On the Thumb

Babies are an interesting breed. All you have to do is meet their basic needs and they are as happy as a clam. Feed them, burp them, change them, put them to bed. This covers about 95% of their crying. The solutions are usually extremely simple. Their is no need to set up a three-ring circus for a baby because chances are they just want to be bounced or something. Take the picture of my daughter below. She is sucking on, what in her opinion, is a delectable thumb, and is as happy as a clam.

But at the same time, deciphering which of those simple needs is necessary at that moment is the difficult part. Does she need to be changed? Is there still some gas in there? Does she just want something to suck on or is she really hungry? And the worst part is that when you are in the heat of the moment and your baby is screaming, you tend to forget some of the simplest solutions such as swaddling your baby or holding her a different way.

And when you figure out exactly what it is that she wants, you move from absolute stress to a sense of accomplishment and pride previously unparalleled in your life. Because you know that you have met the needs of your child and, consequently, fulfilled the exact duty given to you through parenthood. I love that feeling.

Ayla on the Thumb, Franklin, TN
70mm, f/4.5, 1/30 sec

Sick for the Photo

We had driven all night. Tired, cramped, and ready to arrive at our destination. So when we stopped for gas in Flagler, CO we needed a little more time out of the van than simply to fill up with gas. As we filled up, my brother wandered off down the road and found a little park down the road, which was about the only thing in that direction. So we loaded up in the van once more to experience the wonder of Flagler's city park.

It wasn't much to look at, but we were glad to be out of the van. There was a big, spiral slide, which we used for a family photo op, those metal horses that rock on springs and, my favorite childhood piece of playground equipment, the merry-go-round. So with camera in hand, I imagined a striking photo with a blurred background and an in-focus subject. With this in mind, my brother hopped on with me and the others started spinning.

At first it was great, I held up my camera with the aperture closed and the shutter speed slow, but as we spun around and around, I became less and less comfortable. My equilibrium was thrown off, my stomach turned, and this fun ride had to end quickly. When they had stopped us from spinning due to my shouts of distress, I jumped off and tried to stay as still as possible. I don't think I have ever been that close to throwing up and not doing so before or since. The worst part was I stayed sick for the next hour and a half, but I got a pretty good looking shot. It just goes to show, sometimes your personal well being might suffer a little to get a good shot.

On the Merry-Go-Round, Flagler, CO
38mm, f/29, 1/25 sec

What Has Been Keeping Me Away

I realize that there has been quite a long silence between my last post and this one, so I feel it is only courteous for me to introduce her to everyone. This is my daughter Ayla Joy. She interrupts my sleep, sometimes screams without reason, perplexes me often and brings an incredible amount of joy to my life. She has flipped my world upside-down and I will never be the same because of her. She grows like a weed (already) and sleeps whenever she wants. And even though I could write about all of her little sighs, groans, cries and other noises, I realize that it would bore most people because she is not their daughter. And let's face it, many of those things are only interesting to the ones who also see the screaming, tears and fussing. So I will try to keep my musings about how darn cute my daughter is to a minimum. Instead, I will try to give insight to those who don't have children and a reminder of the wonder that accompanies kids to those who already have them.

This photo was taken just a few weeks after she was born. I can't go any further without thanking Rebekah Pope and Barbie Schwartz. I previously worked with both of them and they were kind enough to let me bring my camera during a photo session at Rebekah's studio. Be sure you check out their work.

Ayla in Her Mother's Hands

17 December 2008

Wrapping Up the Day

The stalls are empty and the gawking tourists have all headed back to their hotel rooms. The fish has been put away and there is no longer salmon flying from one end of Pike Place Fish Market to the other. Considering this is one of Seattle's most famous tourist attractions, it is eerily silent and abandoned. We had driven straight here from Oregon, but had not arrived early enough to see the daily festivities. So we took our time and looked around before getting back on the road and heading north.

One of the only guys left was on the other side of a gate which notified us to the off-limits areas of the market. I assume he was a security guard, most likely recovering from a day of watching for shoplifters and answering pesky directional questions of lost tourists. For the first time all day long, he wasn't surrounded by people and was able to simply look out at the water. The allure of the market had faded a long time ago, becoming a regular part of his day as opposed to fun stop during vacation. Sure there are thousands of people who travel to visit his workplace every year, but to him it is good to know his shift is about over and his tourism filled day is about to be over.

Wrapping Up the Day, Seattle, WA

06 November 2008

Streams of Water

I was a kid that day in Chicago, IL. It was a fun little day trip our family had taken. We took in the sights: Michigan Ave., Niketown, the Hancock building, and finally, Navy Pier. As we strolled back down the length of the man-made isthmus, we passed through an interior garden area. The plants were beautiful, but that was not what captured my attention. Arching over the pathways which crisscrossed the botanical floor were jets of water shot from one green island to the next.

What made these streams of water so interesting to me was their uniformity and compactness. It seemed to me that clear tubing was arching over the pathway and water was simply being piped through it. So what did I do? Touch it, of course. And what did I find out? That water, when interrupted from its original path, will spray in many directions.

I have pulled a few lessons from this. First, it is normal for children not only to watch, but also to touch in order to find out how things work. And second, water fountains are simple, but highly effective at captivating the attention of youngsters.

How is it that one of the most basic compounds on the planet can be so enthralling to wide-eyed children everywhere. Sprinklers, fountains, water hoses; there is never a sad kid in sight of these things. So when it gets down to it; who cares why kids are so happy about running through sprinklers in the front lawn. The real question is...why aren't we out there with them?

The following picture was taken in Charleston, SC. Though I am no longer a kid, I still enjoyed watching it.

18mm, f/4.5, 1/8000 sec
The Fountain, Charleston, SC