Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Yesterday while driving to Mason, the quaint little county seat about ten miles south of where I live, I soaked up the agrarian landscape. Vast fields of swaying corn were interrupted by an occasional silo, farmhouse or barn. The sky was moody; the sun would shine brightly for awhile then hide behind clouds that warned of stormy weather.

And then I noticed this one, segregated tree. Athough alone, it didn't seem lonely. What an honored position to be in, I thought.

Perhaps I'll go back there often, at different times of day, various weather conditions and in each season to document this tree until I leave beautiful Michigan.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Musical Instruments: An Intimate View

When I was a little girl, my older brother Joe played jazz recordings for me and taught me how to identify each instrument by sound. Because of these basement lessons I learned how to distinguish an alto sax from a tenor sax, an oboe from a bassoon, brass from reeds, etc. Later, I played tenor saxophone in the Dominican High School (Detroit) band and orchestra. All of the musical instruments were visually intriguing. While we sat listening to our maestro, Larry Egan, talk about how he wanted us to interpret a piece or while he was guiding the mischievous and somewhat inept percussionist, I would look at the instruments around me; the sensual curves of the French horn, the playful slide of a trombone. Music still offers great joy and intrigue for me today not only aesthetically, but intellectually as well. PBS recently aired a compelling exposé entitled The Music Instinct/Science and Song which I highly recommend.

Until this year, it never occurred to me to combine my love of music with photography. Since I have a few friends in the instrument repair business, I decided to prevail upon them to loan me some of the junk pieces floating around their studios. Gary K. offered me some trombones, sousaphones and saxophones, and here are a few photos from today's shoot.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Looking for Decay

One year from now we'll be in the throes of moving from Michigan to New Mexico, a process that will take several months. With that in mind I'm treating this as my last "conscious" summer in Michigan. Once we put our Okemos house up for sale, half of my heart will have already left the Great Lakes State.

I try to imagine what I'll miss. Friends and family, obviously. But when I'm looking out at the Jemez, Sandia or Sangre de Cristo Mountains or enjoying the flora and fauna of high desert living including road runners and sage brush, what will suddenly come to mind that will put a lump in my throat?

When we are familiar with something, we tend to overlook it. This is a time for me not only to pay attention, but to savor deeply. So I've given myself an assignment for the next year, and that is to visit many of the small towns that surround our area and photograph them. I'm not interested in renovated train depots and spiffed up diners, I'm talking about small towns, ghost towns, decay. I want to see peeling walls and abandoned buildings. Rusty bicycles and broken signs. Tidiness is highly overrated.

Yesterday Dick accompanied me on my first excursion, to Lyons and Muir, north of Portland.

Above: The building that surrounded it is long gone, but at some point this tile flooring was not exposed to the elements.

Abandoned church "M. E. Church, 1881":

Use Other Door:

The tiny sign at the top right reads "I have found the perfect woman. I could want no more. She's deaf and dumb and oversexed..." I shudder to think of the last line.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Part Three: Meet Blueberry

At Review Santa Fe, Tony Bannon from the George Eastman House suggested I get "darker" with my doll photos. He thought maybe I should remove the dash of color in their faces. Maybe I should consider inflicting my own dark side by - oh, how shall I say it? - aggressively modifying their faces.

For this experiment I used a doll's head to which I never emotionally connected. It had never been loved. It may have been old but it was pristine, blank; it didn't belong to a body. It didn't have eyes.

Poor Blueberry. First, I smashed and burned her. Then I meticulously placed the fruit after which she was named onto strategic parts of her face and let them sit overnight. Finally I applied oil crayons as if I were a five year old trying to negotiate lipstick and eyeliner.

This was a fun exercise, but it didn't mean anything to me. Maybe I would do it again, but only if a doll's face strikes me as being more of a palette than a character, as Blueberry's did.

For the first photograph shown here I used the same technique as with the Spirits of the Secret Keepers but like many dolls before her, the process doesn't work at all. It is so ineffective, in fact, that I considered not posting it. Howevert, it's nice to illustrate how things work - or not - and to give the whole picture. The second photo is straight color, and the third is black and white.

Do you like her?
If so, do you like her in color or in black and white?
If you don't like her, why not?

What should I do with Blueberry now? Maybe I'll prop her up somewhere in my studio to remind me to challenge myself, not just in my art but in every aspect of my life. Thanks, Tony!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Bali Workshop - Feb. 26–Mar. 5, 2010

Bali: Beyond the Snapshot

Are you ready to grab your camera and spend a week on the magical island of Bali? For our photo adventure we will settle in the small village of Amed on the east coast. This is real life in rural Bali, tiny settlements of poor but happy people who live off the land and sea. Every activity that the Balinese people engage in is infused with artistic expression, so inspiration will surround us every moment of the day.

As a group we will have the opportunity to see and photograph verdant rice paddies, enchanted temples, bustling markets. There is also plenty to discover just a few steps from our villas. On one of my walks I observed a family going about their chores outside their bamboo hut. The smiling mother welcomed me in, excited to show off her tiny, windowless, dirt-floor kitchen. This kind of experience is our reward for staying off the beaten path.

The week is tailored to every level of expertise. We will have discussions on how to take better photos, and demonstrations of how to process the photos in Photoshop. There are group activities and plenty of opportunity to venture out on your own.

You'll return home knowing how to elevate your pictures to fine art status. Your portfolios - as well as your mind and your heart - will be filled with colorful impressions of this magnificent place.

To whet your appetite, here are a few of the places we'll see:

• The market at Amlapura is where the locals go for food and clothing. You can shop for exotic fruit, grains, sarong material, temple decorations, even fish heads. It's an intense experience for sure, and for those who can't stand the heat (literally) there is plenty of action on the street as well.

• Lush Tirtaganga Water Palace. Such a treasure trove of photo opportunities here, in addition to simply being a very refreshing place to spend some time. There is a tiny little village nearby also worthy of photographing.

• The Temple of A Thousand Steps. Because it is such a strenuous climb, we won't be negotiating the thousand steps, but the temple at it's base is beautiful. On a clear day, you can see across the valley to the commanding volcanoes hovering over the land.

• My personal favorite: On one evening, we'll be driven up a hill and then have a leisurely walk down. There are incredible views of rice terraces, more quaint settlements (look closely or you'll miss them!) and lots of curious villagers who are happy to pose.

Arcangelo Productions is hosting this workshop, and we will stay at their incomparable Apa Kabar villas. Although this information will not be posted to their website for another few weeks, you can contact them directly to register for the workshop and to take a peek at the villas. The cost of the workshop is $2750 and includes accommodations, food and the workshop fees. It does not cover the cost of your flight to Indonesia.

If you have any questions by all means ask me!

This was taken on the walk down the hill:

Just outside the gates of our villas I saw this fisherboy:

Rice paddies up the hill:

Thursday, July 2, 2009

How Did I Get Here? (Part Two: If I Had a Hammer)

Tony Bannon of George Eastman House challenged me to dig deeper into my dark side with the Spirits of the Secret Keepers series. He suggested I inflict damage on the dolls, and although that defeats the purpose of the series, or at least how I've thought of the series, I decided to give it a try.

The bin of yet-to-be-photographed doll heads is in my studio. They are all looking at me expectantly. Is it my turn yet? Try as I might, I cannot view them as inanimate objects but rather as personalities with various levels of worthiness. Usually some are more worthy than others of being photographed but now I'm having to decide: who is worthy of being abused? With hammer in hand, here I am choosing whose head to smash and it feels really unnatural.

Get over it and choose you big wuss!

Ah, there's a candidate.

The head is placed between a folded towel on the coffee table in my living room. This is a safer way to hammer, right? Don't want any pieces of her skull flying around the room and putting someone's eye out. (Plus, I won't be able to see her face as I strike.) I'm wanting to feel angry about something but can't conjure anything. I turn on the television thinking that some Law & Order or Cops episode will put me in the mood and Farrah's Story is about to start. As a cancer survivor, perhaps I can get pissed off that I got cancer and had to endure chemotherapy. But I was never pissed off in the first place, just frightened. Besides, that was nineteen years ago and I'm a survivor, how angry can I be? Still, watching the needle go into her arm reminds me of how sick I felt whenever the chemo drugs flowed into my veins and I use this as an excuse to smash the doll.

Boy, what a wimp. I'm hitting her but she's not breaking. Peeking into the towel I see her cheerful little smile and the glint in her eyes. It takes several times, but the only thing that breaks is the back of her head, and her eyes fall out. That's it. I'm done. If I were living a Twilight Zone episode her smile would have turned into a frown and she would have been whimpering "Mama, mamaaaaaaaaa."

A couple of days later I catch a glimpse of a recent Ebay purchase. What was I thinking? It's one of those porcelain bisque doll heads that looks fresh out of the factory. She never had a body, if indeed it's even a she, and was surely never loved. I hate it.

A towel isn't necessary here, I just smash her head for instant success. Big pieces of her skull break off and I get slightly giddy. The flicker of a candle catches my eye so I hold her face down over the flame. A steel brush, some blueberries thawing in a bowl, a red crayon...time to get painterly! (Still undecided how I feel about that word.)

My fascination with the dolls I choose to photograph has as much to do with the mystery behind them as the way they look. Momentary giddiness aside, nothing felt particularly satisfying about altering them for photographic purposes. There are no kept secrets here; I know a blueberry stain when I see one. That being said, I love Michael DeMeng's approach to altering dolls for assemblages, and I do have some dolls set aside for that purpose. What's the difference? Still pondering that question.

Blueberry (this is what I've nicknamed the porcelain doll) is still "cooking." When she's done I'll photograph her as I've done the others, turning her head this way and that, chin up, chin down, from above and from below, and see if she holds a candle to my other pieces, if you catch my drift.