An empty street.
A silent city.
Buildings left to witness.
Caught between night and day.
An empty street.
A silent city.
Buildings left to witness.
Caught between night and day.
Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain.
~ Langston Hughes, 1932
The season that I celebrate the most is here. Winter. I think it's the most romantic, dreamy time of the year. Unlike summer, when we are all flung outdoors and scattered to the four winds, Winter is the time when we return to home and hearth. It's a restful, cozy season, one for enjoying simple pleasures with family and friends.
(See slideshow below.)
I just love seeing the bare trees against the night sky, and bundling up against the cold; scarves and mittens and winter wraps. And taking our invigorating hikes in the quiet winter woods is a thrill. I love that it gets dark early and seeing the dim glow of yellow lights in the windows of houses as I ride through neighborhoods, knowing that families are together and warm and cozy. Winter is the time I entertain most, candlelit dinner parties with fireplaces roaring, sharing hearty meals and heartier conversation. The house gets festive, decorated with fresh winter greens, winterberry and bittersweet. I love photographing in the winter with its distinctive winter sky and long shadows. And when the first snow falls I feel like I'm five years old again going from window to window to watch my neighborhood transform into that winter wonderland. And how quiet and peaceful the city becomes under a blanket of snow. Is there a better time for fresh baked donuts and hot cocoa? And, of course, I will photograph through my windowpanes, as each snowfall is so different, it will never be the same scene again. It always feels so new and exciting.
The beauty of living with four seasons is that each brings its own experience, and with that a different lifestyle and routine. As a photographer, because each season has its own light and atmosphere, and couldn't be more different visually, I find it very stimulating, creatively. So, round and round we go, to enjoy it all. And now Winter, the Ice Queen of seasons, is starting and I'm excited at the prospect of seeing it, photographing it and experiencing it. So, welcome, Winter, I've been waiting for you.
While out on a hike in the woods last week I saw a profound shift in the season's light. The harsh summer light has now fully given way to a much more gentle, low contrast, diffused light. And with half the leaves now off the trees the light filtered through the woods in a most romantic, dreamy way.
When I feel the urge to raise my camera to capture what I'm seeing, more often than not, I'm attempting to capture what I'm feeling about what I'm seeing or experiencing. And that's not always the full reality of what is in front of me, because sometimes what I'm actually seeing is very subtle, even though my feelings may say otherwise. And my own feelings, projections and imagination will be layered on top of reality, so hopefully, it's in how I take the photograph that all of that can be communicated in a single image. It's a very different creative challenge. And I enjoy that.
In the end, this hike was not about exercise, it was about experiencing the mood and the ethereal quality of this gentle light and the beauty and solitude found in the woods. The image is an attempt to share that experience and dreamy state of mind with the viewer. It was one of our more enjoyable hikes, it was about taking pleasure in this beautiful shift of light that is uniquely found in mid Autumn.
The softened light, the veiling haze,
The calm repose of autumn days,
Steal gently o'er the troubled breast,
Soothing life's weary cares to rest.
~ Phebe A. Holder, 1890
Have you ever peered into a puddle to see what you might find? It can be a bit like Alice going down the rabbit hole. Sometimes the unexpected is found down there. And sometimes, for me, the scene it holds can stop me in my tracks. Last night I found my city in a puddle; a dark, liquidy, mysterious, upside down, mirrored world. One that, as I stared at it, I wanted to pass through and enter... a night blue, shadowy, empty cityscape. The scene that the puddle held was so much more visually intriguing to me, and it held my attention unlike the same scene that actually stood before me. It was a new interpretation of my city. A city that I know so well.
What made this puddle most interesting was that the puddle was not made of water, it was a liquidy white substance that was pooling into the street from the head of an alleyway. The white liquid made a perfect surface to catch the dark blue tone of the night sky giving the cityscape that it held a wonderful blue monotone. And the slight breeze that came and went altered the watery scene with each shot I took. The golden glow of the paint on the restaurant sign wonderfully remained in the reflection.
Visual interpretation with a camera is, of course, a very personal experience. In the end my images will only reveal how I choose to reorganize and interpret what is in front of me, and that is often far from reality. At least it is for me as a photographer. And that's the absolute pleasure I find in working through the viewfinder. So if I'm walking home after dinner one night and I find a new interpretation of my city in a puddle, of course the camera will come out to capture a fleeting image of a city that doesn't really exist and I know won't be there the next time I walk by.
There are several ghost signs in my city, but there is one in particular that I feel a connection to. It's the writing on the Tri-Store Bridge. Whenever I walk down Westminster Street I will always peek down the alleyway to make sure the bridge and signage is still there. Someday I know it won't be. It reads: The Tri-Store Bridge, Cherry & Webb, Gladdings, Shepard. The bridge that connects the two buildings was built just before 1900 to connect three major department stores of that era, allowing the ladies to shop without having to step outside. I remember walking through this odd bridge as a child many times when shopping those stores. That's when people still went downtown to shop the big departments stores before the malls came along.
The department stores are long gone now, the buildings luckily remain, and for now so does the bridge and the signage giving one a clue of the history of this place. I have from time to time photographed it. I took this photo last week after having dinner down the street. It's not that the bridge is beautiful, it's not that it's important, I photograph it because it's one of the last tangible reminders of a century past on that spot. And because it's a bit of my childhood that hangs between those buildings.
There's an ancient, isolated chapel in Tuscany that I have photographed on five occasions during two different trips to Italy. It takes an effort to find the chapel; a drive down a long dirt road where at a point you have to leave your car and hike the rest of the distance on foot. The hike takes you through rolling open fields with views of the beautiful distant hills dotted with the occasional cyprus trees. How do you say "big sky country" in Italian? It is a glorious hike. I went at different times of the day, both mornings and evenings, to catch the chapel in varying light. I was pleased with the photographs that I took during the first few visits; an assortment of compositions, different light, different skies, some with beautiful cloud formations, a few with the chapel bathed in the amazing tones of a Tuscan sunset; lavender and pink. For composition, the surrounding elements needed to be organized and simplified by positioning myself and framing. There's a well house close to the chapel, a large barn next to that, and a house further down the path that I wanted to avoid. So there were limitations to the composition, but I came away with a few wonderful portraits of the chapel.
On my fifth visit to this magical place, however, my context became different. I was no longer simply photographing the chapel, but more the journey, the pilgrimage. I had something else to say. After so many hikes down that dirt path from the distant hills, my final pilgrimage and the ultimate composition needed to speak to that.
I put the chapel off to the side with the face of the building turned to the left, the only other element I left in the composition is the lone tree, keeping the well house just out of frame. The diagonal plane of the side of the chapel and the diagonal line of the cyprus tree trunks point toward the distant hills and light where the pilgrimage begins. On the right side of the composition the path and tree create a complimentary diagonal line bringing your eye to the same distant hills and light. The elimination of all other elements beyond the one biblical tree, which anchors the right side, gives the place a remote and peaceful feeling. Both chapel and tree also add sub-framing for that distant point, creating space for the eye to pass through and wander to that far horizon.
The final photograph of the chapel not only shows the beauty and isolation of the place that I wanted to capture, but in the end it expressed my experience and feelings; my pilgrimage to a lonely and remote chapel.
"What a silver night!
That was our bench the time you said to me
The long new poem -- but how different now,
How eerie with the curtain of the fog
Making it strange to all the friendly trees!
There is no wind, and yet great curving scrolls
Carve themselves, ever changing, in the mist."
~Sara Teasdale (1884-1914)
When you look at this photograph what do you see? Or perhaps I should ask what do you feel?
When I photograph something I try to shoot it in a way that, hopefully, gets the viewer to feel how I was feeling about what I was seeing. I often do this by narrowing and isolating what I'm looking at, and by visual reorganization of what I'm looking at. And I certainly do this through my own visual interpretation of what I'm looking at. I find it an interesting challenge to try to express my thoughts and feelings to the viewer in a single frozen moment in hopes that the same feelings are evoked in them. I always loved having the same challenge when I worked as a choreographer in the theater, but there I certainly had an enormous amount of time to accomplish the same thing.
I know what I see and feel in this image, my own childhood. It brings me right back to being a young child, playing on a swing in an empty lot behind our house in the city. I often was alone, my head thrown back just like this, my eyes closed, feeling the sun on my face, the rush of air on my skin from the movement, the rhythm of the swing rocking me like a baby, the sound of the squeaky metal chain keeping time like a metronome. So innocent, carefree, happy, peaceful.
The fact that you can't see the face, and that you don't even know if the child is a girl or a boy, or what time frame this is lets the viewer personalize the moment with his/her own feelings rather than looking at a portrait of so-and-so. For me it's such a sweet throwback to my own dear childhood. And hopefully it will evoke some of the same feelings for others.
"Will you walk into my parlour?" said the Spider to the Fly,
'Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I've a many curious things to show when you are there."
~ Mary Howitt, 1829
Photographs can be very successful in capturing a moment, but when they embody the subtleties of fine composition they soar.
This is a delightful family photograph, shot in 1924, of my Dad and my grandfather on an idyllic summer day. It has all the appeal and warmth of a period photograph, it has wonderful costuming with my grandfather looking so dapper in his straw hat, vest, starched white shirt and a chained pocket watch adorning his vest. And my Dad is dressed in his white, rather victorian looking dress and leather shoes. The choice of setup is sentimental and romantic in nature, with a woodsy surround, a tree stump, standing in a field with wildflowers, it's all utterly charming. Notice the crown of the hill and how it gives grace and movement and a visual lift to the figures while dividing the composition's dark background and light foreground. And how fortunate that the straw hat caught the light.
The positioning of the figures is to me, as a former choreographer, completely successful and takes the composition of this superb photograph over the top. Why does this work so well? The father's body language is creating diagonal lines in harmony with each other. The lines of his arm, tie, chin, nose, hat, line of vision and the tilt of his back are all pointing in one direction... at the subject of the photo, the baby. And the baby, who's face is in the spotlight, is looking directly at the viewer, while the direction of the father's shadowed face is bringing further attention to the baby.
As a choreographer I worked for years perfecting angles; angles within the dancer, and all the angles and lines that movement and multiple dancers create together as a unit on stage. It's a constant flow, contracting, expanding, moving. Lines and angles that always need to be in some artistic relationship with each other as they move... And what am I saying to the audience? Where am I directing their attention? How am I engaging the viewer? As a photographer this is my context as I look through the viewfinder. Visually organizing what I see to create a composition that is pleasing to my eye, a composition that can communicate what I'm feeling about what I'm seeing. A composition that, hopefully, will engage and draw in the viewer and, if I'm successful, allow the viewer to participate and experience that frozen moment.
And in the end, beyond the composition, I see the love, I see the optimism, joy, and potential, and I can see life's completed story that was yet to be written in that little baby boy.
"How well do I recall that happy day
When turning from the noisy world away,
By quiet lanes that never failed to charm,
I sought my home, the old deserted farm.
It was a winsome day in early fall,
A time when nature broodeth over all
Her broad domain of fruitful fields and woods,
And wooes the wand'rer in her gayest moods..."
~ Clarence Hawkes, 1895
Last month the Providence Art Club, of which I'm a member, needed ideas and finished material for an invitation for an upcoming art and antiques auction they were holding as a fundraiser. The visual solutions I gave them ultimately ended up being used for invitations, posters, a full page ad in an art magazine and an enlarged framed image for hanging in their gallery and in the auction venue.
The Problem: I couldn't show any of the items that were going to be auctioned off in the photographs. So I needed images that could tell the story without using the actual objects and the images had to pique the interest of attendees and potential buyers.
My Solution: To take artwork and antiques of different shapes, drape and wrap them in vintage linen, and photograph them. The look I was after was a mysterious and artistic one; where each image would be a piece of art in of itself. And of course images that would be intriguing enough to catch the eye of collectors and compel them to attend the auction.
I don't normally take on commercial photography but the project was a blast to work on and I had creative freedom which is a great motivator. The club was happy, the auction a success, and I now have the enormous framed image hanging in my library and it looks fabulous.
Click through for images:
The weekly snow storms continue and I've been looking forward to photographing my city in the snow for a while now, but the sidewalks have been treacherous, and the streets have become too narrow to safely walk in them. Driving home today at the start of yet another snowstorm, and feeling frustrated that I haven't been able to get out and photograph for weeks, I picked up my camera as my husband was driving and shot some images through the car window as we traveled down the snowy streets. It became a bit of a game, to shoot while we were moving and without slowing down.
I have to admit, I enjoyed the challenge; of having to quickly spot something visually worthy as we zoomed by, having just a split second to compose and shoot, and having no second shots. Plus the added fun of timing the windshield wipers to shoot in between their quick swipes. I felt I was shooting at a carnival gallery but the ducks were traveling at fast forward speed. Of course the resulting images have a different feel to them, certainly a shoot from the hip look. I think I liked the exercise so much that I will continue it even if there isn't a reason for me to do so. Just for the fun and challenge of it.
Click through for images:
For three weeks in a row now we've started the week with a blizzard. So far the snowstorms haven't been the big beautiful fat snowflakes that dazzle the eye and camera lens that I had hoped for, instead, just lots of the fine stuff that came down very hard and managed to accumulate to 16" or so.
On the first day of the storm, in the thick of it before dusk, the world became a ghostly whiteout. Not a soul on foot, no cars even attempting to go through the unplowed streets. Silence. All but the howling wind. We don't see this too often in our neighborhood in the city and I was excited to step outside to experience it. Our neighbor's house, a colonial painted a pumpkin color, became the only bit of color in an otherwise mono world. A magical sight.
We took a trip to New Jersey, a seemingly curious choice for a vacation, a trip to Ringwood, NJ, to be precise. To a turn of the century castle that caught our attention and became our destination. A fifty-four room grand, granite Tudor Revival mansion that would be at this time of the year virtually empty. And the frosting on the cake was that the castle is set in the state's one thousand acre Botanical Gardens. I'm smiling as I write this. And there is nothing like taking a trip to the Old World without a passport and without having to get on a plane.
Click through for images of the Castle and gardens:
I will admit the castle would not be everyone's cup of tea. Updates in bathrooms were sorely needed and if they were to have served airplane food for breakfast it would have been a vast improvement to what was actually served. But, the romantic side of us was fully absorbed in the grand, old world architecture, the vast formal gardens and the beauty in the dusting of snow that blanketed us on our first night. To be tucked away far from the maddening crowd was a pleasure in this ancient and nearly empty castle, and to be inspired visually with camera in hand was a huge bonus.
We also took an excursion from Ringwood to Hope, PA and to Lambertville, NJ, driving along the Delaware Water Gap taking the back roads and scenic drives. We usually set our GPS to "no highway" when we travel, always willing to trade off speed for beauty and discovery. I don't think any adventures can be had on a highway, and it often is the road less travelled that is the most rewarding no matter where you go.
Click through for images of New Hope, PA and Lambertville, NJ: