Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Passion for Photography

What are you passionate about? Not counting family, what makes your heart sing, makes you smile when no one is looking?

These thoughts crossed my mind while I was processing my Timeless India portfolio for the Review Santa Fe event in June. It was so exciting for me to convert the colorful images to black and white, exciting to tweak the sliders to give them the look of an antique plate. And looking at these people once again on my screen excited me. I touched the screen where the little girl's face looked up at me and I recalled being in her village in Rajasthan. I fell back into my chair and grinned from ear to ear remembering an exchange with the Gujurati Hijaras.

What I love about travel photography is that is gathers all the things I feel most passionate about: experiencing something new, meeting people from cultures very different from mine, making photographs and later processing them, then sharing the experience with others. This is my raison d'etre'.

Let me tell you a little bit about the hijaras of India. For the most part they are eunuchs, but some are transvestites who have opted into this way of life. The hijaras in the photograph below (I have posted both the color photo and the black and white version from Timeless India) had low voices so we assumed that they fell into the latter category. They are considered to be auspicious people and are welcome at weddings and births to offer their powerful blessings - for a fee, of course. Lisl Dennis and I offered these two hijaras twice their normal fee to sit and pose for us - 40 cents! - for the honor to have them sit for a moment on the stoop of a shop in a small village in Gujarat. I love their gestures and the intense eye contact. The moment we finished photographing them, the Muslim call to prayer wafted through the village and I realized...I am living my dream; this is such a glorious moment.

Tell me one of your glorious moments!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Plastic Relatives Have Names!

Thanks for the suggestions of names. These are but a few; a dozen or more will be exhibited at the Jennie Cooley Gallery in Santa Fe from June 12 through June 16.

Ora Belle:


Hubert's (not identical) twin sister Hazel:



Wednesday, April 22, 2009

It's Earth Day! I plan to participate in the Earth Mosaic project and urge you to do so, as well.

One of the things I love about New Mexico is that it is impossible to be unaware of the beauty of our planet Earth. While looking through my photos from the Land of Enchantment, I came across images of one of my favorite structures which happens to have been built from scratch using sun dried mud bricks.

Every artist and their relatives and neighbors have photographed/painted/sketched this adobe church in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico. In fact, it is said that no other public building in the U.S. has been depicted as often. Built between 1772 and 1816, its official name is the Church of San Francisco de Asis.

While at one time it loomed large among the dwellings in the village, the distractions of traffic, businesses, parking lots and power lines now make it easy to miss. If you're driving north on NM68 towards Taos, it's on your right just before the intersection of NM518. It will take your breath away.

The massive bulk seen from the road is actually the back of the church. I have photographed it a few times and noted, as countless artists have, that it offers as many different looks as there are moments that the sun skims across it's earthy skin. What strikes me most is that the lines and curves are quite sensuous. The photo above, which I shot in 2004, looks like woman's curves, don't you think? Considering its patriarchal history and intent, I see this is a quiet victory for matriarchy.

One of Ansel Adam's photograph of the back of the church:

An O'Keeffe painting:

This is an old photograph of the front of the church:

A painting I began a few years ago and never finished:

Two photographs that I've taken, with a solarized effect:

Monday, April 20, 2009

And the occasional pretty thing...

Michigan is trying so hard to embrace spring. For a few days we were blessed with sun, warm temperatures and subsequent uplifted spirits. But now it's cloudy and cool again. This, too, shall pass. Soon spring will be (figuratively and literally) in full bloom. In honor of the season, I am posting the "occasional pretty thing" that my blog byline indicates I am capable of producing.

These were taken at a Buddhist temple in Singapore. Such a peaceful rooftop garden with the chanting of monks adding to the magic.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

We have a title, now we need first names!

The names that some of you suggested for this series of altered antique portraits were all enticing, but I decided to go with "Plastic Relatives." About ten of these will be included in an exhibit at Jennie Cooley Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in mid June. Here are three of the portraits; I'll post more in a couple of days.

Now that the series itself has a name, the characters need good, old fashioned first names. Any ideas? A few come to mind: Ida, Mildred, Vera....I'd love to hear some more! I'll need a couple of boys names, too.

These will be exhibited with some of the Secret Keepers images. I thought an appropriate title for the show was "The Secret Keepers and Their Ancestors" but it's a little too long. If you're in New Mexico, I hope you can stop by. Detailed information about that exhibit will be posted later on the blog, or check the news link on my website.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Running With Scissors

By nature, parents are protective of their children. We don't want them to be hurt by a person or circumstance, or to get hurt by sharp things, things that fall or doors that slam.

In my travels, I have seen small children using tools that my parents would never have allowed me to touch. In Oaxaca, Mexico, a little boy was pounding away at a piece of wood with a knife that was larger than his head. His father, who carves exquisitely shaped animals out of wood, looked on with pride. In Bali I met little Wayan, pictured here, while he chopped shallots with his uncle. That sickle was awfully sharp! To borrow a phrase from my mom, he "sure as shootin'" cut his finger in the process.

His mother kissed the wound and I could see that, although there was some blood, he wasn't seriously hurt. He kept his attention on the camera as I documented his tears while mom looked on, unfazed by the accident. All in a day's work for the Balinese who work hard in the field just to get by. We saw a lot of villagers while we were there and I never saw someone without a digit.

Perhaps it's not a good idea to run with scissors, but I am up for taking risks now and then. Especially emotional risks and risks that challenge how I think, even what I think. If we don't push ourselves outside our comfort zone, how can we learn? If we shed a few tears in the process, then we're doing it right.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

An Easter Image

Chimayo, New Mexico, is located on Highway 76, about 25 miles northeast of Santa Fe. It is famous for its chile, weavings, and the Santuario de Chimayo (sometimes referred to by locals as the "Lourdes of America.") During the week before Easter, pilgrims from all over the state of New Mexico come to the Santuario to pray and be healed.

There are many crosses dotting the area and this large one is located just a few miles from Chimayo. I photographed it after Easter with a backdrop of a beautiful New Mexico sky and the "shroud", leftover from the celebrations, flapping in the breeze.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Faces of Bunutan, Bali

My brother Jim and I used to leaf through National Geographic magazine and fixate on images of people with rings around their necks, women baring their breasts, tribes who paint their faces, etc. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine myself coming face to face with someone so culturally different. And although it was never my goal to do so, getting off my complacent butt and seeing the world for myself was a natural progression of my growing curiosity and eagerness to challenge my comfort zone.

Here are but a few of the wonderful characters that I came upon during my walks up and down the river road in the tiny village of Bunutan.

Above is a photo of a couple in a nearby village further up the road. I kept thinking how nice it would be if my brother were able experience this with me now that we're adults!

Here is a fisherman walking home with his catch:

Loved this woman. She stopped to pose for me but made sure her mouth was covered:

This man was trying to sell Dick some picture postcards earlier and now he has become our own:

Another wonderful woman, feeding oranges to the pigs:

There are endless opportunities to photograph children:

This little boy's mother was so proud of her son and her home. She waved me into her kitchen, which was a tiny windowless room with dirt floors and bamboo walls. It was tidy and wonderful and I was so overwhelmed it didn't even occur to me to photograph it! Doh!

Last but not least, here is a "faceless portrait" of a little fisherboy. This was taken in front of Apa Kabar, where we stayed.

Allow me to interrupt...

I'd like to take a quick break from posting Bali photos and stories by thanking The Marmelade Gypsy for honoring me with a blog award. Be sure to check out her blog, too, at themarmeladegypsy.blogspot.com. She is one of the most energetic and inspiring women I know. Thanks, Jeanie!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Roadkill Bra - Grab One Now! (Plus a secret revealed)

Sifting through the Bali photos, I came across a few lighthearted snapshots and thought I would feature them today. There are always images that present themselves that I am compelled to take but really have no use for other than to chuckle about them later. Maybe I should call it "Low Art" - thanks to the suggestion above.

On the river road in Bunutan I found the sexiest road kill ever:

A shop window in Amlapura. Yeah, I want to fly with this airline:

Talk about being torn!

An image from Chinatown in Singapore. Looks like someone got grabbed, all right!

Tomorrow I'll feature some of the locals I had the honor to meet in Bali, including "Honda Woman" and "Fisherboy." With that in mind, I am going to reveal something very personal that few people know.

When I come home from a trip and settle down to process photos, there always comes a singular moment when I become overwhelmed with emotion. That moment blindsides me, and always happens when I'm looking at a portrait. The memory of the connection made with one of the locals and how profound it is to share a simple smile with someone who is literally and figuratively worlds away, brings me to tears.

So there you have it. I cry. My hands pull back from the keyboard, I sit back in my chair, and take a minute offer thanks. First I thank the person whose image sparked that reaction and then I thank this magnificent universe for diversity and opportunity.

"Fish heads, fish heads, roly poly fish heads...eat them up, yum"*

* "Fish Heads" by Barnes and Barnes, 1978.

The market at Amlapura in Bali is not like any farmer's market we see here in the States. This is where the locals go to do their shopping for: very freshly killed chickens (do I want to know what the chicken feet are for?), fish heads (eat them up, yum), neon pink and orange sweets, ceremony supplies (great gifts for friends!), a dizzying array of sarong material, rows of udeng (hats that men wear for ceremonies)...

We went on a day so crowded that our bodies were pushed up and down the narrow walkways by the throngs of local shoppers. Sweat was pouring out of me and at times the smell of fish reeked but this was real Bali. My only frustration was that it wasn't easy to take photos because there was no place to stand without being in the way. I wished I had my flash, although then I would have been too intrusive. I'll have to consider how to approach this particular photo destination next time. First thought: go when it's not as crowded. That day, it turns out, people were preparing for yet another ceremony.

Selling the freshly prepared chickens:

A sacred offering nestled in the bananas (moments later someone through money on it and it didn't look quite as sacred...):

Rows of udeng:
(I asked a local dude if they wore this head gear any other time than during ceremony, and he replied "No. If they did they would look crazy."

Ceremony trims:

Stay tuned...tomorrow I'm going to post some goofy photos that really have no other outlet than here.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Balinese New Year (or, Happy Nyepi from an American in Bali)

The last two weeks have been a delicious adventure in Bali, thanks to our hosts Rob and Stacey from Arcangelo Productions. "Hosts" is too formal of a word; they have become family and part of our bonding occurred on the Balinese New Year called Nyepi (pronounced Nippy). This is the day when Bali shuts down - even the airport! - and all are confined to their homes where quiet prevails and no lights are permitted. 
There were many ceremonies leading up to this day, and one of them is Melasti or Mekiyis. For this occasion there is a long procession to the sea, populated by a gamelin orchestra and members of nearby villages who carry their temple accessories. Once they get to the beach, there is some playful running with the shrines before prayers are offered to the sea. Because we are used to saying "Happy New Year" or "Merry Christmas" we asked locals what they say to each other on that day. They would laugh, not quite sure why that was so important to us. They don't share our need to acknowledge a special day with a special greeting. So we took it upon ourselves to say "Happy Nyepi" to each other and jokingly wonder what gifts were under our non-existent Nyepi Tree. 

Here are a few photos from this event. I am grateful to the Balinese for not feeling threatened or imposed upon by cameras on this sacred day.