Sea Blue Lens


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In Search of a Mission

img_3206Finding Myself

I am in the midst of Susannah Conway’s Blogging from the Heart course, and one of the first assignments was to write a mission statement for my blog. I have been stumped, pondering on this for almost two weeks. I wrote a lot of notes about the why, what, and how of my blogging. But I couldn’t seem to make it coalesce into a sentence or two that sounded anything like a “mission statement,” a phrase that has ponderous and corporate overtones in my mind.

Then, yesterday. Yesterday I found it — by accident, synchronicity, coincidence, or providence, depending upon your point of view. I found it posted on the Facebook page of the poet Mary Oliver.

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.
~ Mary Oliver, Sometimes (from Red Bird)

In these uncertain and often fearful times, it seems more important than ever to seek out the good, the beautiful, the curious, and the awe-inspiring in the world around us, and to notice even tiny things that astonish and amaze us. To embrace life and our fellow beings on this vast yet small planet with grace and kindness. To share our discoveries and our delight with others, so they might experience it, too.

And so there it is, my mission statement: I will pay attention, be astonished, and tell about it. That sums it up in a nutshell — the reason I take the photographs I do, the reason I write about them, the reason I press “publish” on this blog.

Thank you, Mary Oliver.

 


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An Anniversary

DSC_9963Portal

Today marks five years since I began this blog, intended to serve as a photojournal for an online photography class I was taking at the time (Kat Sloma’s “Find Your Eye” course). For the first time, I shared both my photography and my writing with a wider audience than just my family and close friends. Since then I’ve become more confident not only about my photography, but about myself. I’ve made connections online that have become friendships as real as any in the “real world.” I not only found my eye — I also found my voice.

IMG_1757Just Breathe

Why do I pursue¬†photography, anyway? My motivations haven’t changed in the five years since I first thought about that question for Kat’s class. I take photos to capture a moment, a memory, something I want to hold on to. My subject may be permanent as a mountain or ephemeral as a sunbeam, vast as an ocean or tiny as an insect, but it is always something that has captured my eye and my imagination and demands to be captured in turn with my camera.

IMG_1119Quicker Than the Eye

I take photos to explore the world around me.¬† I love the way my camera helps me to notice things, and even to see things invisible to my naked eyes. I love the way photography allows me to share the things I discover with others. I think what keeps me going, photographing even familiar, “same old, same old” subjects over and over, is the possibility of discovering something new and never-before-seen — at least not by me.

DSC_0052Mother Love

IMG_0630Wings of Light

I photograph the places and things I love. My photography is not a means to an end, it is an end in its own right. I do enjoy publishing my photos on my blog and it’s a special joy when someone tells me one of my pictures has touched or inspired them in some way. But underneath it all is still just that basic need to express myself, to create something that seems beautiful and satisfying to my own eyes.

IMG_0621Summer Sun

DSC_0183Flight

If I’m troubled or anxious, a walk with my camera takes me out of myself and brings peace better than any meditation. Is my photography going to Change the World? No, probably not. But it captures a bit of the beauty I see in the world, and that makes me happy. If it gives you pleasure, too . . . that makes me even happier. Purpose fulfilled all around.

IMG_1796-3

 


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Summer Miscellany

A few random images of the summer just past, and random thoughts on the season to come….

IMG_1789From Stackpole Bridge

As I begin writing this, it is Labor Day in the United States, and for me this holiday has always marked my personal end-of-summer. Here in Maine, the three-day holiday weekends of Memorial Day near the end of May and Labor Day at the beginning of September bookend our “official” summer tourist season.

IMG_3961Summer Rain

While I’m reluctant to see summer go, I do love fall. The crowds are gone and there are a couple of months of warm sunny days and cool nights to enjoy before winter descends…and of course there are the glorious leaves to look forward to.

IMG_4436Between Cities

When I was growing up, school used to start — always — on the Tuesday after Labor Day. Though school days are (thankfully) a distant memory, September still feels like a time of new beginnings. Maybe it’s just old habit, or maybe there really is something in the air that triggers the urge to clean things out, get my “nest” in order, and embark upon self-improvement projects.

IMG_4059Johanna’s Garden

One thing I’ve been wanting to do for a long time is blog more regularly. I began this blog four years ago as a photo journal for an online photography course I was taking. Without the class to hold me accountable, and to “tell me” what to photograph and write about, I haven’t really known what its purpose was/is.¬† But I do like having a place to share some of my photographs (which otherwise just sit in my computer) and I enjoy writing about them. I also treasure the friendships I have with people I’ve met online here, many dating back to that first “Find Your Eye” class.

IMG_3948Summer Sky: Scarborough Marsh

Last week I pledged to one of those friends — and to myself — a commitment to publish at least one post a week during the months of September and October. After that, we’ll see! I feel that I need the structure and discipline. I also need to do something with all these photos I keep on taking, or what’s the point? I hope by the end of October to have found a purpose and direction for the blog. Perhaps it will just be my own personal photo journal, pretty much as it has been all along. Perhaps I’ll discover that I really don’t want to keep doing it at all.

IMG_4504At the Farmers Market

So…come along, if you’d like, on my journey of random exploration. Welcome!

IMG_5334Season’s End

And welcome to you, too, Beautiful Autumn!


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Breaking Through

The next lesson in my Journey of Fascination is called Creative Breakthroughs. My first reaction was, “I don’t think I’ve ever had one.” I believe that my photography has improved over the years, but it seems to me that it has been a gradual process, rather than anything as dramatic as a “breakthrough” — especially a creative one. There has never been anything that has propelled me in a totally different direction with my photography.

But then I started thinking about it and a few things did come to mind.

One I recalled was my move to Maine. A new environment stimulates new output, and what a gorgeous new environment it was. I felt lit up as I attempted to capture the fresh things I saw around me. Soon after that, I got my first digital camera. Suddenly I could take all the pictures I wanted, at no cost, and just delete any that didn’t turn out. Also, it was a very small camera and I began carrying it with me everywhere. I’m in another new environment now, and again am excited about exploring its photographic possibilities.

First photo with Canon Digital Elph

First photo with Canon Digital Elph (SOOC)

Another was signing up for my first Find Your Eye course. I learned a great deal from the lessons. But that wasn’t the real breakthrough. In order to keep the photo journal that was required for the class, I started this blog. I connected with fellow FYE-ers and even random strangers, and for the first time ever, began to put my work (and myself) out into the world. Literally the WORLD. Making those connections, getting feedback and encouragement about my work, and seeing the work of others has inspired my photography and my life. I want to photograph more, and better, and to release it into the wild.

First photo published on blog

First photo published on blog

One of my happiest creative breakthroughs came with the discovery that giving up seriousness and expectations of perfection can actually improve my photography. I’ve mentioned it a couple of times before — that time when I forgot to make sure my camera was in the bag before meeting a friend for a photoshoot. I didn’t even have my small backup camera with me. So I pulled out my iPhone and started taking photos with it. I didn’t expect to get anything good out of it, but hey, I was there, so why not just have some fun? In spite of its limitations, or maybe because of them, I had a blast and got some of my favorite photos ever.

First photo from (accidental) iPhone photo walk

First photo from (accidental) iPhone photo walk

Recently I had another breakthrough when I took a couple of classes from Kim Klassen on post-processing with Photoshop Elements and Lightroom. I’d been using Photoshop for years, stumbling along with it on my own. Just a couple of lessons with Kim and I learned things that amazed me. I don’t know if it was a breakthrough in creativity, but it sure revolutionized my processing.

Fun with Photoshop

First Photoshop assignment: Learning layers at long last

My latest breakthrough actually happened as I was working on our lesson on Contrasts. I did my photo walk and downloaded the images to my computer. I was so mad! They were not sharp, despite being taken in bright sunlight at very fast shutter speeds. Every single one was just soft, even though my camera is supposed to have one of the best picture qualities out there. I was totally fed up. So I started researching, looking through manuals and online forums, and guess what? I discovered I wasn’t the only one with that problem, and there are camera settings to fix it. So I tried variations on those settings, taking test photos, downloading and comparing them, and then I went out and redid my photoshoot. Now I’m getting the nice sharp images I’ve been looking for all along. A breakthrough in creativity? I don’t know if that will be the result, but now I’m a lot more eager to get out there and see what I can make the little beastie do!

It may not be Art, but at least it's not fuzzy.

First photo, second time around. It may not be Art, but at least it’s not fuzzy.

So I have had and I hope will continue to have breakthroughs. Are they Creative Breakthroughs? I guess only time will tell. But one thing Kat said really rang a bell with me: When I go out and try to force it, it doesn’t happen so much.

Here’s to letting it happen. And maybe just encouraging it a little bit!

.


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Shootout at the Cole Road Cafe

I am famous now. Well, maybe not famous, exactly. More like notorious? Yesterday my friend Susan, who blogs as Happy No Ears, wrote about — me! And posted pictures. I had hat hair. I vowed revenge.

Here you go:

Gotcha Back!

This is Susan, gloating over her “Don’t you dare!” capture. Doesn’t she look pleased with herself? I’m not sure if she even noticed that I snapped her back. (I know, what kind of revenge is this? She looks good in this picture!)

When I took an online photography class last year, the last thing I expected was to find a real, flesh-and-blood friend. Because we were supposed to keep a photojournal that we could share with classmates, I started this blog. As I read the blogs of fellow students literally from around the world, it was a shock to see one of them posting images of subjects that looked awfully familiar. That train station, for example — wait a minute, that’s MY train station. The one I can see from my window! Turns out she lives just a few miles down the pike from me.

She noticed it too. “Hey Neighbor,” she wrote one day in a comment on my blog. It wasn’t long before we were tossing around the idea of getting together for a photoshoot. And so we have done, followed by breakfast, several times now.

Cold Hands, Warm Coffee

If you’ve ever read Susan’s blog, then you know she’s a very quirky and funny writer. She’s really like that. It’s even better in person. She’s very considerate, too. She switches to decaf after the first cup, “for the world’s sake.”

As Susan noted, we are very different, but somehow it works. We get together and she does her thing and I do mine. It’s comfortable. And it’s fun!

Going Her Own Way

The wonderful thing about blogging friends is that they stay with you no matter where you or they go. We can connect in deep and meaningful ways, even though we may never actually meet. Getting to know Susan in person has been an unexpected gift, and when I move away I’m going to miss her. But we will keep in touch, and she can be sure I will call when I’m coming back this way. Meanwhile, there are those daffodils to look forward to . . . and another breakfast. With coffee, but please — only one cup of regular for Susan. We’re trying to keep the world safe here.

PS — Like Susan, I highly recommend Kat Sloma’s Find Your Eye e-courses. They got me to look at my photography and at myself in a whole new way. You’ll probably make some new friends, too. If you’re very very lucky, one of them might even be close enough to have breakfast with.


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Thawing Out

Thanksgiving Blooms

Despite our continuing unseasonably warm weather, I have been rather frozen in place, wondering how to carry on here. I started this blog as a photo journal for an online photography class I was taking. I finished the last lesson a couple of weeks ago, and now I’m wondering, “What’s next?” What shall I do here now that I no longer have twice-weekly assignments to photograph and write about?

Our final bonus lesson for our Journey of Inspiration was the same as after the Journey of Recognition: to look over our Inspiration File (a collection of our own best/favorite photographs), reread our photo journal entries, and assess what we have gained from the class.

I loved these classes. They have brought me back to photography in a whole new way and have rekindled a new interest in my old love. In the pursuit of that interest, I’ve bought a new “serious” camera for the first time in years — my first dSLR. I’ve updated my Photoshop Elements software and dipped my toe ever so gently into the world of post-processing. And I recently found a good enough deal on Lightroom that I added that to my photographic arsenal as well.

Now, what am I going to do with all of this? First of all, try not to become overwhelmed by having so many new things to learn at once! Spend a little time each day on one thing at a time, taking it step by step. Remind myself that it takes practice to master anything new.

One of the most surprising things I discovered from my Find Your Eye classes is how much I enjoyed writing this blog. Thinking about my photos, about the process of taking them, about art and creativity; combining my words with my pictures here on this virtual page; and then clicking “Publish” so other people could read them … all that has been more rewarding and more fun than I ever imagined.

It’s not easy for an extremely introverted person to put herself “out there” for the world to see. I’ve been warmed by the positive responses not only of my classmates but total strangers who have somehow found their way here. When I despair over all the terrible things the news media stream at us daily, I can visit the blogs of new friends from the next town or across the globe and see the world through their eyes. The desire to seek and create beauty and meaning with our cameras links us into a community that transcends politics, geography, race, religion, education, occupation, or whatever else so often divides people. Despite our differences, we have a connection. This gives me hope and brings me joy.

I don’t know where this blog is going. Perhaps a direction will show itself in the future, but for now, it will simply continue to be my photo journal. I have a lot of ideas for my own self-assignments, and there were a number of class assignments that I’d like to do again, or take further. I also have a lot of things on my mind as I contemplate life changes in the not too distant future.

I hope we can stay in touch, my new friends!

Kat Sloma will be offering her Find Your Eye classes again beginning in January. She calls them “photo classes with heart and soul,” and they truly are that! I highly recommend them, as well as her lovely blog, The Kat Eye View of the World, where she shares inspiring thoughts and helpful tutorials … not to mention her own beautiful images.

.


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Why?

Beside the trail yesterday: one tiny blossom

Why a blog? Because I’m taking a photography class called “Find Your Eye.” A class requirement is to keep a photojournal.

But why photography in the first place? What do I love about it? Why do I take pictures? I don’t know that I’ve ever thought about it before.

I began taking pictures as a child of 11, with a tiny plastic “spy” camera I ordered from a magazine. I don’t remember exactly what compelled me, but I had to have it. (No doubt the “spy” aspect was a large part of it.) That camera didn’t last long, but I still have the photos I took with it, black and white images that bring back to my memory in vivid color the best summer of my life.

Since then, I’ve used photography to try to capture the events, people, places, and things around me. I photograph things that interest and attract me in one way or another.

Photography helps me discover things I might not otherwise have noticed.

Just an ordinary dandelion. But see the surprise?

Sometimes it reveals details I didn’t even see with my naked eye.

The second surprise…who knew dandelions had all those cute curly bits?

My photography has always been very personal, to capture my own feelings about something rather than consciously to create “Art.” Few of my pictures are taken with any intention of sharing them with an audience, though I am always pleased when someone sees my photos and likes them.

Perhaps photography is my attempt to nail down and hold on to a fleeting moment in time. I know that I see things that stir me, and I want…no, I need to have my camera to save them for me.

I’m not satisfied that this answers the question, but I’m sure that I will be thinking more about it as this course goes on.