the beauty of different podcast, episode #3: overcast skies, wildflowers & the music of kwizera alfred

Welcome to The Beauty of Different Podcast, Episode #3!  I hope you guys are enjoying listening to these podcasts as much as I am making them -- I find that buy talking through how I shoot, I'm becoming more mindful of my own photography.  Hopefully if you're using these podcasts as inspiration for your own photoshoots, you're finding the same about your own practice.

Some highlights from this week's podcast:

1.  The artist being featured this week on the podcast is the gifted young singer, Kwizera Alfred, from Rwanda.  I first learned of Alfred from my friend, photojournalist Stephanie Roberts, when she interviewed him a year ago on one of her trips to Rwanda.  His story is amazing, and he clearly has a beautiful soul -- please click here to see the video.  You'll fall in love with him, as I did.

2.  You can now subscribe to this podcast for free on iTunes! Simply click here to make the magic happen.

3.  If you're interested in sponsoring future episodes of The Beauty of Different Podcast, please email me at for more information.  If you have a great organization or an awesome product (especially if you're an artist or small business), I'd love to work with you to get the word out about what you do.

And with that, please click on the small triangle below to listen to this week's podcast (approximately 13 minutes long):










The Beauty of Different Podcast is an experiment at the intersection of photography and music.  You can now subscribe to this podcast for free on iTunes.  Click here to make the magic happen.

See an index of all previous podcasts here.


Episode #3, audioplayer0011

the story of my perfect man list

So last week, when I talked about the Definite Chief Aim, I mentioned  that while it could certainly be true, I wasn't completely certain that simply writing a strong desire down on paper was enough to make it happen in real life.  Still, I asked someone to remind me to tell you the story about the list of the characteristics of my perfect man I made about a year before I met Marcus.  Well, someone did, and so now, this is that story.

It was late 2000, and I was a couple of months away from moving to London, to be the attorney for the Europe/Africa/Middle East region of my company.  I was very excited to go:  I had been living in Houston for 10 years since university (7 years since law school), and I felt like I knew the town like the back of my hand.  I wasn't currently seeing anyone, so I had very little holding me back.   I was ready for an adventure, and London seemed the perfect place to do it.  

During that time, I had a friend -- let's call her "Jane" -- who had recently moved to Los Angeles.  We hadn't seen each other in a while, and on the spur of the moment, she invited me to come stay with her one weekend.  Since I knew the chances of me getting to see her after I moved were slim to nil (because, honestly? I was already trying to figure out a scheme to convince my company to let me stay in London forever), I decided to take her up on her offer.  I'd not been to Los Angeles since I was a child, and I thought the change would do me good.

The weekend was very low-key -- she showed me the sights, we went to Venice Beach, and pretty much spent the weekend like any local would.  We drank rum punch (of course), and lamented our history of dating incredibly inappropriate men.  It was a good time.

Finally, toward the end of the weekend, we wandered into a bookstore, and I picked up a small, blue book.  I think it was called something like "The Book of Spells."

"Jane," I said laughing.  "Check this out. There's a spell for attracting the perfect man."

"Dude, we should get this," she immediately said.  "Let's do it."

"You're kidding, right?"  I was incredulous.

"No!" she said.  "I mean, what could it hurt?"

I started to protest, but she was insistent:  we were not leaving without that book.  We split the cost (there was only one left), and left the store.

Once in the car, I started to read it.  "According to this book, the spell is supposed to be performed during the new moon," I said. 

"When's the new moon?"

"Hell if I know."

It turned out that the new moon was in two weeks' time.  I have to admit, I was relieved: I really had no interest in practicing witchcraft, seriously or not.  Thanks to the moon, it looked like I was getting out of it; I was leaving the next day.

"Fine, we'll do it in two weeks," Jane said, decisively.  My heart sank.  "I'm not kidding, Karen.  You're doing it too.  I'm going to call to make sure you do."

She copied down the spell, and gave me the book.  I flew back to Houston and didn't think much more about it until to weeks later, when I got an email. 



After work, I went home, poured myself a glass of wine, and pulled out the book.  The spell in question said something like I should write every attribute I wanted in my dream man on a piece of parchment, and then roll it up and stick it in a silken bag.  Then, I was required to sprinkle lavender water on it, take it outside, and say something like higgledy-biggledy-boo.  After that, I was supposed to sleep with the bag under my pillow for a fortnight.


I didn't have any parchment paper lying around my apartment, but I did have printer paper.  And I didn't have a silken bag, but I did have a tiny little jewelry bag that came with a silver ring I'd bought myself.  And I didn't have any lavender water, but I had a spray bottle of some cheap perfume that someone had given me.  And there was no way I was going outside to say those words:   I was the only black woman in my neighbourhood -- and from the West Indies, no less -- so it seemed like going outside in the dark of night to say some freaky incantation was just inviting my neighbours to call the cops.

Anyway, I did promise Jane I'd try, and I figured, what the heck, the least I could do is make the list in earnest.  So I did.  I spent about an hour writing down every ridiculous, nitpicky thing I could possibly want in a man:  I mean, after all, this was just a joke, right?  Might as well ask for the world!  So I put everything on that piece of paper -- ridiculous things, like he needed to be tall, even possibly freakishly tall.  He needed to be both analytical and artistic -- equally.  Also? He needed to be a good cook.  Like chef-quality.  He needed to be athletic, but not make me be athletic.  He needed to wear funky glasses.  Seriously, I wrote everything down.

What was interesting about that exercise, though, was that after about 20 minutes, I really started thinking about what I wanted to write down on this list.  And in so doing, it also made me realize what wasn't important to me. Like, for example, while I wanted him to have a job, he didn't need to be wealthy:  just be able to take care of himself (I figured I had a good job, so I didn't need him to take care of me financially).  I surely didn't care about what kind of car he drove, or if he knew how to order wine, or things like that.  However, it was of utmost importance that he be a kind man -- not just to me, but to everyone around him.

So I wrote this list.  By the time I was done, I had, no lie, about 200 items on it -- it was as selfish a list as anyone could've ever written.  And then I rolled it up and wrapped it in the stupid bag, and I even put it under my pillow, so at the very least I could report to Jane that I did the thing ... more or less.  (I didn't spray the perfume -- it really was a horrible scent.)  But even then, in the middle of the night, I woke up noticing my discomfort was due to the bag under my head, and rather annoyedly threw it into the drawer of my bedside table.  And then, I promptly forgot about it.

Two months later, I moved to London.

Six months later, I met Marcus.

Four more months after that, we went on our first date.

Eighteen days after that, we got engaged.

Six months after that, we were married.

Immediately after we were married, my company transferred me back to Houston -- and I was required to take over my new position immediately, so I had to be packed and back in the States in 2 weeks.  I quickly booked the packers came to pack up all my stuff, and as they were in the kitchen boxing the dishes, I sat in my bedroom, going through my dressers and my bedside tables, cleaning them out. And as I reached toward the back of one of the drawers, my hand touched something.

The little bag.

I smiled when I remembered the spell, pulled out the piece of paper.  It had been 18 months, and out of curiosity, I wanted to see how close I'd come to my list, now that I was married.

And damned if Marcus wasn't every last thing on that list.


Image:  Photographed with my Nikon D300, 60mm.  aperture 3.2, shutter speed  1/1000, ISO 320


Song: Son of a preacher man, as performed by Joss Stone.  Lawdy me, but this girl can sing.

chookoolinks: the good ideas edition

While I'm traveling (Towson/Baltimore peeps, will I see you tonight?), I thought I'd share some of the awesome I've seen around the web lately:

London vs. Paris -- My friends Irene, a Paris native, and Xanthe, a London native, have started this wonderful collaborative blog, showing how these two beautiful cities do what they do.  It's so smart, and visiting their site is like enjoying a mini European vacation.

Lens on Life -- my sweet friend Stephanie Roberts has begun a not-for-profit called Lens on Life, designed to "reveal and illuminate a visual voice for the unseen, particularly children living in impoverished conditions around the world."  In a nutshell, this organization (of which I'm proud to be a board member) is designed to put cameras in the hands of young people to teach them photography basics, enable them to document their stories; the prints of which will be sold to help support their communities.  You can learn more about it here.  And if this floats your boat, you can learn how you can help here.

The Makers Project -- This beautiful photo project by Jennifer Causey features photo essays of people who handmake different types of products in Brooklyn, New York.  Jennifer's gorgeous images will invite you to get lost in their stories.

And finally, please go visit my sweet friend Maile.  Not only did she take my favourite family photos ever taken of Marcus, Alex and me (and I mean ever), she's also giving away a free copy The Beauty of Different -- so please leave a comment!

Image:  Photographed with my Nikon D300, 50mm lens.  aperture 1.4; shutter speed 1/200; ISO 200.


Song: Her morning elegance by Oren Lavie

occasionally technical tuesday: look for the light

Gather 'round, children.  I have a secret to tell.

As you know, on Occasionally Technical Tuesday, I've already told you tales of how to buy a camera and a lens, and we've discussed how a camera works.  This week, I shall expose the secret all good photographers know about making a beautiful shot.  This secret, once you know it, will be the key to transforming your good photographs into great photographs.  It will minimize or even eliminate the amount of time you'll want to spend on Photoshop, or using other photo processing software, trying to edit away mistakes or flaws in the image.  When you learn and master this secret, my lovelies, cherubim and seraphim will sing, harps will play, and viewers of your images will gasp in wonder.

And the secret is:


Now, when I say look for the light, I'm not just saying notice if it's sunny or overcast out, and then just go ahead an take the shot anyway.  Oh no, my pretties.  I'm saying forget all the rules and look for itStudy it.  Watch what it's doing, how it's falling, the shadows it's casting.  Examine it -- watch to see if it's glowing, or streaming, or dappling.  Study it so hard that you almost forget what your subject is.  If you're doing it right, in fact, your subject will almost become secondary

To illustrate, the following are examples.  To be clear:  all the photographs in this post are taken straight out of the camera:  I haven't processed any of them in any way.  This is not to say that I wouldn't eventually process them -- I tend to process all of my shots -- but the focus should always be to take the best shots you can with your camera, to minimize the photoshopping or processing you do on your desktop.  Your motto when you shoot should always be do the work before you click the shutter.   Minimize the work you do post-processing.



Okay, so this first shot was taken early one morning in Austin a couple of years ago:

On this particular morning, my friend wanted to go kayaking.  As she was putting on her life vest and getting her kayak ready, I looked out across the lake, and noticed that there was mist rising from the calm water; however, looking in one direction, away from the sun, the mist, while discernible, was hard to make out.  Looking into the sun, however, the mist was easily seen, and the result was that the lake seemed to come alive.

"Would you mind paddling out toward the sun?" I asked my friend.

She did, and then I composed the shot.  Now, obviously, she's almost in silhouette, but the fact is I wasn't photographing her, per se -- if that was my intent, I would've taken a picture of her while she was stlll on the dock -- instead, I was focusing on shooting the scene.  The mist, with the golden light of the rising sun, combined with my friend's solitude and the stillness of the water, gave an ambiance of total peace.  And that's what I wanted to photograph.  And being able to accomplish that, it was far more important that I paid attention to the light, more than pay attention to the subjects in the shot.

Make sense?

Now:  later in the day, when the sun is high in the sky and is at its brightest, it becomes even more imperative to pay attention to what the sun is doing.  The reason is because even though intuition would indicate that a bright sky is best when taking a photograph, the truth is that a brilliant sun can cause harsh shadows and stark contrasts.  For instance, have you ever heard a photographer say that they prefer to take photos under overcast skies?  That's because it can be challenging to take a decent portrait in bright sunlight, because noses and hairlines can cause strange shadows.  Here's what I mean.

The following shot of Marcus was taking midday, when the sun was right overhead:


See all the shadows that are happening on his face as a result?  His eyebrows are casting shadows on his eyes, which gives his face almost a sinister look.  His nose is casting a shadow on his upper lip, giving him a Hitler-esque look.  Those two things alone are enough to result in a poor (or at the very list, slightly evil) shot.  And yes, in theory, I suppose, I could "fix" those shadows in Photoshop, matching the light on his left cheek to the one on the right, but frankly, that is way more work than I care to do.

What I'd rather do is ask Marcus to please move his chair into the shade provided by the overhang in our house.  So this shot was taken at the same time of day, in the same back garden, but this time, with his chair moved:

See the difference?  No weird shadows on his face and you notice his blue eyes instead.  This is why photographers like overcast or diffused light -- it's much kinder to portraits.  (It's also why, by the way, you'll see photographers use reflectors, or even flashes on bright days -- it's to get rid of those awful shadows.)

That said, don't write off bright sunlight entirely -- because the truth is that stark, overhead light can be beautiful for emphasizing colour and texture, as shown below.



Of course, there are other things to watch for when looking at the light;  for example, I'm fond of noticing when light makes things translucent -- for example, in the petals of these daffodils that I bought last week:

Or Marcus' orchids:

Again, in the last two photographs, I wasn't shooting the flowers per se, as much as I was shooting what the light does to the flowers.  When you photograph with the light in mind, it allows you to see the subject with a different perspective.



Similarly, take a look at dappled light:

Dappled light occurs when there are several points of light falling on something -- like light through the leaves of a tree, or in the case above, through plantation shutters.  Dappled light wreaks havoc on faces when you're taking portraits; however, it's awesome on flowers and other still life subjects, like the gerberas in our living room.



Sometimes, when you're looking for the light, all you really notice are the shadows -- the depth that the darkness can add to the final image.  Unless you're talking about portraits (like above), don't be afraid: sometimes shadows work too, as in the following shot:

Notice how, in addition to the light on the tops of the petals of the flower, what really brings some depth to this image are those parts of the flower which are in shadow. 



"Bokeh" is one of those words that photographers love to throw around, which basically means an obviously shallow depth of field.  However, you'll find the term used most often when lights are in bokeh, particularly points of light, because it makes for such a beautiful shot.

Remember this shot from the last podcast?

The image above is the unprocessed version.  What helps to add appeal to this shot is the shallow depth of field (which, you'll remember, is achieved when you've sent your aperture to a low number).  In this particular image, I concentrated the focus on the tree to the far left of the image, allowing the rest of the image to go out of focus (a shallow depth of field).  Because of this, all of the lights in the receding trees go into lovely circular blurs of light.  Bokeh, is a great way to add interest.

And finally, let's just go ahead and dispel that myth of the light "always has to be behind you," once and for all:



There comes a time, usually during the Golden Hour (that time before sunset, when the light turns all lovely and golden), that results in all objects in its path getting a lovely halo effect, as shown below:


The trick in getting a shot like the above is to not actually shoot directly into the light -- otherwise, the flowers would've been in total silhouette -- but to angle your camera so that it points slightly away from the light.  That way, you still get some colour from your subject, but you can also capture that lovely halo effect the light gives.


Hopefully, all of the unprocessed photos above give you an idea of how to look for the light -- maybe even more than (or at least as much as) you pay attention to your subject.  Because here's the cool thing about this secret: once you know how to see the light, and are familiar with how your camera works, you'll find that the images that result will require little or no processing.  We'll talk about Photoshop more in an upcoming OTT post, but I'll leave you with this thought:  in my opinion, post-processing should be used to either (a) enhance, or (b) create art, but it should generally never (or at least very minimally) be used to hide mistakes.  For the most part, the power to create a good shot lies in your eyes, your knowledge of the camera and in the camera itself.  And by training your eyes to see the light, at least 80% of your shot will be made.

And with that, have fun practicing seeing the light, friends. 


Occasionally Technical Tuesday is a new feature here on Chookooloonks, where we'll tackle topics like choosing a camera, how a camera works, how I choose lenses, how I use Photoshop, how I pack for a photo trip, that sort of thing.  You can see an entire index of subjects we've addressed here.  I'm no expert, but I'll share what I know, occasionally.



A quick reminder:  I will be speaking at Towson University tomorrow at the University Union -- It's absolutely free, and open to the publicDetails can be found here.  If you're in town, I'd love to see some friendly faces.

Song: Put your lights on by Santana, featuring Everlast

galveston, oh galveston

This weekend, Marcus, Alex and I drove down to Galveston.  I had great plans to get down there and grab some shots in the bright morning light (like I did a few months ago), but apparently the weather wasn't having it:  much like the clouds behaved during the night of the supermoon, as we made our way down to the coast, they rolled in, and the sky became really overcast.  Plans for shots of bright blue skies were totally scuttled.

I've mentioned before: I'm not a big fan of Galveston beaches.  On a good day, the waves are muddy and there's trash on the beaches.  On this particular day, the beaches were also covered with jellyfish and Portuguese man o'war.  And having tangled with a tiny Portuguese man o'war in my youth in Trinidad rendering me still scarred from the experience, I shuddered repeatedly as we picked our way across the beach (and I made Alex stay far, far away from the shoreline).

Still, we were there, and I had my camera, so I grabbed a few shots.  Besides, there was a ton of seaweed ...


... which made for interesting pictures, I'll admit.


Then, just as I started really getting into taking the photographs and not minding the beach so much, a lone fisherman gave me a new reason why my commitment to never going into Galveston water was a good one.


I mean, I'm a scuba diver and all, and am totally cool with coming across sharks in the deep ocean; however, when a short man wading in thigh-deep water can snag a baby hammerhead, it's time for me to draw the line.  I think it has something to do with me being comfortable going into a shark's habitat because I don't plan on doing anything to piss them off, but once they start encroaching into my land-based world, that's just unwarranted aggression, or something else completely illogical?  Anyway, the point is that while that little one probably couldn't do much damage, who knows how far away his mama, dad, and mean-spirited cousins were.*


To be totally honest and despite man o'war, I will come clean and admit the three of us had a great time.  Marcus had packed us a surprise picnic, and it was lovely munching on good food, listening to the waves and feeling the warm breezes.  And even though I didn't get the shots I was hoping for, I did get some cool shots I didn't expect. 


*  Second admission:  Even though they frighten me, I'm totally fascinated by sharks.  So I couldn't help feeling really sad when the fisherman tried to remove his hook to let the shark go, but he wasn't able to do it.  Poor tiny thing.

* * * * * * *

Heads-up to those of you in the Baltimore/Towson, Maryland area:  I will be speaking at Towson University this Wednesday at the University Union -- I just learned it's absolutely free, and open to the publicDetails can be found here.  If you're in town, I'd love to see some friendly faces.


Images:  Photographed with my Nikon D300, 35mm lens.  First image: aperture 1.8, shutter speed 1/800, ISO 200;  Second image:   aperture 4.5, shutter speed 1/5000, ISO 200;  Third image:  aperture 1.8, shutter speed 1/800, ISO 200;  Final image:  aperture 1.8, shutter speed 1/1250, ISO 200.


SongOffshore by Chicane

'round these parts, we call 'em "pigeons"

This afternoon, while I was sitting in front of my computer looking for ways to avoid working, the doorbell suddenly rang.  It rang repeatedly, persistently, and with great gusto.

I looked out the window.  It was my next door neighbour.  She was hopping around from one foot to the next, looking as if she had something incredibly urgent to tell me.  There was clearly an emergency.

I opened to the door.  "Hey, what's up?"

"Sorry to bother you.  I just wanted to tell you that you might want to grab your camera.  There are peacocks walking around."

"There are ... what??"

I followed her pointing finger and, I'll be damned. Peacocks.


Now, to be honest, this wasn't entirely a shock to me:  I had heard that there were some peacocks who lived nearby, ostensibly wild, that would occasionally come visit.  No one seems to have the same story about where they come from.  Some say that they're from a mansion in an area several miles from ours where there are huge plots of land; others say they belong to the grounds of a very fancy restaurant that is also a few miles away.  Nonetheless, these peacocks occasionally travel a bit downmarket to visit our quite-obviously-not-mansioned-neighbourhood.  But even though we've lived here for 4 years now, I had never actually seen them. 

Until today.

"Wow!" I practically yelled.  "Thanks!"  I ran inside to grab my camera and my 70-200mm lens, and raced back outside.  I didn't even stop to put on a pair of shoes.  By then, the birds had reached the end of the block.  So I hurried down the sidewalk, taking care not to get too close to them, and started clicking away.



They didn't seem particularly bothered by me: they just slowly wandered around, snapping at insects and acorns and whatever happened across their path.  There was a peacock and a peahen, and since I'd heard a rumour that peacocks and peahens couple for life, I wondered if these two were mates; or if, you know, maybe the peacock left his wife back at the mansion, and this was just his little peahen-on-the-side.

These are morally questionable times we live in, folks.  I'm just sayin'.



I followed them for about 30 minutes, snapping away.  At one point, they quite lazily crossed the road (why, I wonder?), and I almost threw myself in the path of a car to make sure they didn't get run over.  Finally, after a few more paces, they wandered into someone's back garden, and since I wasn't brave enough to follow them, I started home.

It was only at that point I realized what a figure I must have cut: there I was, running through the neighbourhood into everyone's yards, barefoot, hair all crazy, chasing birds for the purposes of shooting them.

Yup, it's official:

I've become a bad Texas cliché.



Images:  All shot with my Nikon D300, 70-200mm lens, aperture 2.8, ISO 320.  Shutter speeds:  1st image 1/6400; 2nd & 3rd images, 1/250; 4th image, 1/800; 5th image, 1/2500; 6th image, 1/4000; 7th image, 1/6400.


Song: Three little birds, as performed by Sean Paul featuring Ziggy Marley (I know there are only two birds here, but I couldn't exclude the wife back home, now could I?)

a definite chief aim

Two days ago, famed film critic Roger Ebert posted the following image on his blog.  It is a note written by Bruce Lee, entitled "My Definite Chief Aim," detailing his most important goals in life.  Take a look:



I love this with a crazy passion. And I love that, for the most part, it happened -- or, at least, it looked like it was going to happen, up until his untimely death in 1973.

After I saw this, I sat down at my kitchen table, took my journal, found a clean page, and wrote my own Definite Chief Aim.  It only took 5 minutes or so to do, but I have to tell you, it was a really empowering five minutes.  By the time I finished writing it down, I had convinced myself that my Definite Chief Aim was not only possible, it was probable; moreover, it was simply mine for the asking. 

Now, I don't know if I totally believe that simply writing down your intentions makes them happen (although, remind me to tell you about the list I made on the qualities that I felt made up the perfect man, about a year before I met Marcus), but I do know that writing down goals like this make you feel more serious about them. And that can't be a bad thing, right?

So, I'll encourage you today to take 5 minutes to write your own Definite Chief Aim. You know, just for kicks.  I think you'll actually find it pretty fun.  And if you decide to do it, might I suggest the following tips, as inspired by Mr. Lee:

1.  Write it down on a special piece of paper.  I used my journal, but obviously, if you're not a journaller, there's no reason to go out and buy one especially for this.  But write it on a nice piece of paper -- forego using the back of a used envelope or a napkin, and instead make sure that you have a sheet of paper especially chosen for this purpose.

2.  Write it in longhand, as neatly as possible.  I'd actually skip the word processing software for this one.  Instead, I'd grab your favourite pen, and practicing your very best handwriting (isn't Lee's handwriting incredible?), write your words neatly and purposefully.  The act of handwriting rather than typing necessarily slows you down, making you think about every word you write.  I think, for this exercise, this is important.

3.  Don't write what you think you're supposed to write -- write what you really, truly, deep in your heart, soul, down-to-your-toes want to do.  For example, don't write that you want to be the head of your accounting firm if, in fact, you despise accounting.  Only write down that you want to be the Chief of Surgery at a major metropolitan hospital if you actually have an interest in practicing medicine (and not say, because your family seriously wants you to finish that medical degree).   This needs to be all about what will light you up, not someone else.*  And be bold:  make a goal of being something grand, something that you wouldn't even dare whisper for fear of being thought silly.  Do it.

And if that seems risky to you, then please remember number 4....

4.  No one else has to see this.  You know what my favourite part of Bruce Lee's Definite Chief Aim is?  The fact that at both the top and bottom of the page, the word "SECRET" appears.  This isn't about proclaiming this from the rooftops -- this is about making a commitment to yourself about what your goals truly are, to help make them concrete in your own mind and heart.  This is about spending some meditative time with thoughts, and really capturing what you want for yourself.

5.  Sign it.  Nothing makes a writing feel more serious than when you sign a piece of paper.  Trust me.  I'm a lawyer.

Anyway, find a quiet spot, take a few deep breaths, and give it a whirl:  it's finally spring, after all, which seems as good a time as any to give birth to grand schemes, bold ideas and fantastic plans. Besides, I'm really, really starting to believe that part of living a good life is doing so with purpose -- consciously making your life worth loving, as the talented Kal would say.

* In the off-chance you find you're stumped, unable to think of a concrete Definite Chief Aim, never fear; consider starting slower, making a list of what you love, instead. I found that for me, it was a great place to begin.


Here's to audacious dreams and daring aims, my friends.  Happy Love Thursday.


Images:  Daffodils shot with my Nikon D300, 50mm lens.  Top image:  aperture 1.4, shutter speed 1/100, ISO 400.  Bottom image:  aperture 1.4, shutter speed 1/100, ISO 200.


Song: Has to be done by Eat More Cake

the hands project

"I've swum with them, climbed with them, gotten freaky with them.  I've used them to put my ring on when I got married. I cycle with them.  Coded software with them. I've expressed anger with them. I've flipped people off.  I've broken them. I've defended myself with them.  I shot hoops with them, both in high school, and semi-professionally.  I've used them to hide and I've used them to distract. I've cleaned sinks and cleared trash with them. I've molded clay and made art with them.  I've cooked with them and burnt them.  I've saved people from drowning with them.  Celebrated with them.  Carried animals with them.  I've measured with them.  I've made music with them, and built bicycles with them.  I've bent metal with them.  And this morning, I put a butterfly ornament in my daughter's hair with them."

~ Marcus, age 41

* * * * * * *

I've always loved hands.  I love that they literally hold so much of our history: they betray us our ages, show if we've lived a life of hard manual labour or relative comfort, they can tell tales of things we've made, or written, or hell, even photographed.  I love how people adorn them with rings, or nailpolish, or even tattoos.  My secret confession:  often the first thing I check out of any person I'm meeting for the first time is their hands:  it's not that I can tell anything about them definitively, of course, but I love how they spark my imagination about the kinds of pasts they might have experienced.



Incidentally, this is how all of my personal photography projects start:  I'm playing around with the camera, and wonder what I might learn if I actually focused on one thing.  So don't be surprised if you see some hands popping up on the site every once in a while; in fact, I may just start a new experiment, where I take portraits of people, ensuring their hands are in the picture, and ask them to tell me what their hands have done. This isn't for money or anything in particular -- just something I'd like to try.  Something in tandem and in addition to my 1000 faces project.

It could happen.


Images:  Photographed in our back garden with my Nikon D300, 50mm lens.  All photos shot at aperture 1.4, ISO 200.  Top two photos were shot at a shutter speed of 1/2500; bottom photo at 1/2000.


SongPlace your hands by Reef


sights and sounds of spring

As Monty Python used to say: and now for something completely different.

While I was surfing the web yesterday (as I am wont to do), I came across the video you will see at the bottom of this post.  It is called Luxe Aurumque (which apparently means "Light and Gold"), by composer and conductor Eric Whitacre.  What's stunning about this piece is that while it's a lovely classical choral arrangement, it also happens to have been put together virtually:  185 singers from 12 different countries sang their individual parts -- soprano, alto, tenor and bass -- into their personal computers, then sent the recordings to Eric, where it was then digitally put together to form an entire choir.

The result is a work that is completely hypnotic, and it reminded me of how spring slowly unfurls from winter.  So I decided to photograph our accommodating Japanese maple in our back garden, which has just begun to flower, to look at while the music from the video played.

For me, it sort of feels like a springtime meditation. I hope you enjoy it.






on keeping on keeping on

So. Anyone else noticed that there's a lot going on in the world lately?

Lest you think otherwise, I've been acutely aware.  I know that Haiti isn't close to recovering from the earthquake a year ago, while 14 months later Japan has been devastated by an unimaginably greater one, almost 20 times more powerful.  I know that a war continues in Afghanistan and military operations continue in Iraq, and even though the only words currently being used to describe what's happening in Libya are "confrontation" and "targeted military strike" and the mission has been given a hopeful-sounding name like "Operation Odyssey Dawn," it still smells suspiciously like the third international war that has begun in an Arab country in recent memory. I understand that world leaders continue to treat their countrymen like they're nuisances rather than people who they have a duty to protect; I understand the economy is shaky, that education in many parts of the world is failing our children, and that people around the planet are dying of both curable and incurable diseases, starvation, and even lack of clean water, for heaven's sake.  If there's anything I've been lately, honey, it's aware.

Still, I sit here in my little home in Houston, nervously refreshing and donating what little money I can when I can, but otherwise having dance parties with my daughter, drinking wine in the evenings with my husband, taking pictures of pretty things, and generally trying to keep my little corner of the internet shiny and happy.  And when I think of it this way, I can't help but feel somewhat petty and selfish. So, the other thing I'm aware of is that with all the turmoil in the world, it's easy to feel really small, and helpless, and unable to change anything. 

But sometimes all we can do is what we know how to do.  Sometimes, if we can't do big things on grand scales on global levels, all we can do is double-down and help make our individual corners of the planet as safe and comfortable for the people we love as possible, and show some kindness to the strangers in our communities in the hope that some of it will catch on.  Sometimes, when things get intense, we have to shift our focus a bit from making the world a better place, and focus on making our individual worlds better places.

All this to say hang in there, friends.  Just keep on keeping on.


Image:  Photographed with my Nikon D300 and 50mm lens in my parents' back garden this weekend, at sunset.  aperture 1.4, shutter speed 1/640, ISO 200.


Song: You gotta be by Des'ree