Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Story Behind the Picture: "A Brief Pause"

This is an image I see less frequently now that I am a mother of two and no longer put in the grueling hours of training I once did. Now that my sole focus in life has shifted away from simply moving a boat as fast I possibly could. Now that I've achieved a modicum of balance and discovered that stepping away from the competitive arena of rowing doesn't mean having to leave it behind forever. But this image is one that will stay with me, hopefully, even when most other details in life fall out of focus. Rowing has brought me the dearest of friends. The kind of people that became like family (or in my case, that became my husband, even after I hit him in the head with my boat). The friends that, a decade after college graduation, still keep in touch. The friends that, when I moved to a new country, welcomed me completely, made fun of my accent, and were my compass when I needed one most. The friends that, despite our having to compete against one another on a daily basis, would be there to hold open the church doors at my wedding and to hold my hand when I needed strength deeper than my own. The ones I cheer for as they finish their PhDs, receive promotions, as they say "I do," as they drop off their dogs at my house on their way to the delivery room. The ones I hold tight when they suffer the most unimaginable loss. The ones that I hope to have in my life for decades to come. This photograph is our collective story: just a moment to rest and take in the view, together, before setting off once again.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Story Behind the Picture: "Oslo"

The cold snap in the weather prompted my four year-old to rummage through the drawer for winter hats this morning. He chose one woven with intricate patterns of snowflakes and reindeer, complete with tassel on top. "Where did you get this hat, mommy?" he asked, his brown eyes peeking out from under the blue and white wool. "I bought that in Norway, a long time ago," I replied, remembering my solo trip to Scandinavia with the foggy wistfulness that comes from years of "amnesia," the kind that helps you forget the biting cold winds, the rough waters of the fjords that threatened to make even the most seasoned sea traveler ill, or the overnight train that stalled somewhere in the wilderness above the arctic circle, surrounded by nothing but fir trees and the occasional howling wolf. I was young, only a graduate student a the time, and I carried everything I owned on my back for five days straight. I stayed in hostels. I ate strange foods that I could not pronounce. I spoke enough Norwegian to get by, although most people took pity on me and kindly communicated with me in English (especially after I tried to order a pint of "wool"...the word for "beer" and "wool" in Norwegian are remarkably similar...). I learned to navigate foreign cities and foreign terrain without doubting my own instincts. I learned never to hop on a trolley without paying (hey, I was poor...but that didn't stop the transport authorities from confiscating my passport...they held me on that same trolley for about 45 minutes until they saw I was scared enough to never fare dodge again). I learned how to pluck wool from sheep, and card, spin, and weave it into sails as Norwegian women did so long ago (the real reason I was actually there...and you all know without sails, there would have been no Viking exploration, no discoveries. You can thank the Norwegian ladies for that!). I took this photo on the last day of my trip: I had just enough money to buy a roll of film (and yes, still pay for the trolley to take me to the Oslo airport). I walked through Vigland's Sculpture Park, listening to the snow crunch under the treads of my hiking boots. My ruck sack weighed about 50 pounds and it was slow going through the deep, white drifts. I was grateful to come across this paved, nearly clear pathway with its rows of welcoming trees, leading me onward.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Story Behind the Picture: "Old Friend"

This is a portrait of our thirteen-year-old friend, Bronco. Bronco and I don't often get along: he and my husband lived happily (and messily) together in bachelor bliss for five years until I entered the picture. Each time Bronco would stroll past, aloof and uninterested when we first met, I could hear him thinking "everything was fine until YOU came along." In a way, he was right. No more sleeping on the couch. No more sleeping on the bed. No more digging holes in the lawn. No more free run of the house when the humans were away (he figured out how to open locked windows and would regularly escape). And then came the other animals, each one adopted as he had been. And then the children, climbing over him, using him as a step-stool, "petting" him with a little TOO much love, at times.
Bronco and I pass each other in the halls like two polite co-workers: occasionally we'll stop for a chat (or a pet), but he's made it clear he's got more important things to do. Like nap. It makes me laugh because I know our aloof relationship is all a facade, an act. I know this because one day, years ago, Bronco saved me from two men who entered our home. They never had the chance to execute whatever their dark plans may have been: my fifty-pound mutt of completely unidentifiable origin made sure of that. And then, one year later, on a frigid November morning at the beach, Bronco was carried away by a rip-tide. I watched in horror as his head went under the waves and I jumped in after him, despite being fully clothed and very pregnant.
It took almost fifty attempts to take this picture: he was simply not interested in looking at me (although he is nearly blind, so eye contact isn't really his strong suit anymore). Perhaps he didn't hear my calls, my cajoles, for his hearing is certainly not what it used to be. Perhaps he was feeling grumpy because his hips are continuously sore. Perhaps his ego has been irrevocably bruised because he needs my help to climb the stairs at the end of each night. But then, as I was about to give up, I whispered his name softly. He turned to me, just once, and waited for the shutter to click.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Story Behind the Picture: "Cadillac Collage"

Welcome and thank you for joining me for yet another funny story! This photo to the left is a collage of four images I shot for a wonderful customer in Florida (her boyfriend and my husband share a love of automobiles!). She provided me with a list of cars that her boyfriend loves and I was off on the hunt...

Person at Car Dealership Sales Desk:
"Hello, how may I help you?"
Me:"Hi! I'm a photographer and I'm looking for the blah-blah-blah car - do you have any in stock that I'd be able to photograph?"
Person at Desk: click...dial tone....
Me: "Hello? Is anyone there?"

[repeat above conversation several times]

Then, finally, I found a helpful salesman! He had my Cadillac XLR in stock! Happy dance!

Joe the Salesman: "Uh, yeah, we gotchya Caddy in stock hear at da showroom. When d'ya wanna come in?"
Me: "Right away!"

So I pack up my 30 pounds of gear (including my great-aunt's old Kodac Duaflex viewfinder, which gives these photos a wonderful, grainy quailty) and trundle off to the dealership. There, glowing bright white under the sun-filled skylights of the spotless showroom floor, is my car. A chorus of angels sings, a halo of white light surrounds my 2009 Caddilac XLR, and I unpack my camera bag, eager to begin my work. The chorus comes to an abrupt halt when I recognize the voice of Joe the Salesman.

Joe: "Hiya"
Me: "Hi Joe, thank you so very much for allowing me to come in and-"
Joe [moving closer to car]: "Yeah, yeah, no prob. So do you, like, do this for a livin' or somethin?"
Me: "Well, I'm certainly trying!"
Joe [now standing in front of car]: "So do ya want me to lay across the hood or somethin'?"
Me: stunned silence, mouth open
Joe: "I have a speedo I can wear."
Me: "Erm, gee, Joe, I really appreciate that offer but I think I'd never sell another photograph again."
Chorus of Salesmen in Background: "OOOOOOOH, JOE, she told YOU!"

Luckily for me (and my customer) Joe quickly flees the scene and I'm free to capture the car. Without Joe. Or his speedo. And everyone is happy.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for next week's story!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The story behind the picture: "Belfast 23"

I've just recently unearthed this photo from the thousands of images I've collected over the years. Originally taken with my Asahi Pentax on 35 mm Illford film, I scanned the negative and converted to a digital file...I know, snore! Get to the story bit, right? Okay.

This angel keeps watch over a beautiful cemetery in Belfast, ME. My then-boyfriend (now husband) and I were on vacation in Maine during August of 2000 - we'd been hiking for several days (not non-stop, I might add) and I was still wearing my thick-treaded trail boots when I saw this cemetery and begged to go inside. This statue was breathtaking....and she towered well above 10 feet tall on top of a hill. Even with my telephoto lens, I couldn't get the angle I wanted. Rather than give up, I asked my then-boyfriend (now husband) if I could stand on his shoulders. Me, my muddy hiking boots with the vicious treads, and my 900 pound camera, climbed up and stood precariously perched 6 feet above ground level on the shoulders of my then-boyfriend (now husband). He stood patiently while I clicked away, taking at least 20 shots before I agreed to remove my boots from his shoulders.

Now, just in case you all think he should be canonized for his patience and sacrifice, I must add that he owed me for putting out the fire HE accidentally started in the state park and for finding our way back to the tent the night before when he assured me he knew which way the trail was headed. It's amazing we ever got engaged after that trip...

Every time I see this photo, I laugh when I think of how I managed to capture the shot - I couldn't have done it without him.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The story behind the picture: "Holding Water"

An idea came to me last night: why not tell the story behind some of my favorite pieces? No one wants to hear about what I had for breakfast (cheerios the children didn't eat, in case you were actually wondering), but perhaps you'd like to know exactly what I was thinking when I created my pieces. Or not thinking, as is often the case...

This image is one I call "Holding Water," and is in fact a photograph of my son's hands. I took Danny outside in early spring when morning light was throwing some nice shadows (never photograph at high noon! Total washout!) and had him do all manner of crazy things with his hands - as he is only four years old, I could tell him to do whatever he wanted without fear of obscene gestures. After about 30 shots, I realized the lines of his pudgy little hands weren't showing up all that well, so I asked him to go find some dirt and rub it on his palms. He happily obliged :-) When I was through, I told him he'd been a great model and had to remind him to unlace his fingers - he was so sweet and kept standing there, hands together, waiting for me to take a few more pictures. Later that night I liked what I saw on the monitor, but thought it could use a little more texture. I accidentally clicked the "saran wrap" layer in Photoshop and this was the result: definitely the happiest computer mistake I've ever made. This is the image currently on display in the "Green Exhibit" at City Hall through January 23rd, 2009 and is available on:

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Thank you for visiting "mkc photography by Michelle Ciarlo-Hayes." Each week I invite my readers to go behind the camera with me as I share a different "story behind the picture."

I'm an award-winning fine art photographer and digital artist from Philadelphia, and my work has been featured in a number of venues, including the Tiberino Memorial Museum (PA), City Hall (Phila, PA), and the Straube Art Center (NJ). My photography appears on the cover of the 2009 "Paws for Charity" Art Book, and my whimsical collection of nursery art called "Alphabet Soup!" is now available as children's book by the same name. I photograph everyday things in extraordinary ways: come see the rest of my work at: www.mkcphotography.com

If you live in the Philadelphia area, you may also pop in to
Artista or This Little Gallery, as they both carry a wide selection of my art glass trinkets.

I have a number of exhibits and shows planned for 2010, so please visit my
news link for details and mark your calenders!

I accept custom, commissioned assignments from anyone who loves my style but wants me to create something to fit their exact needs. Please feel free to
contact me - I would love to hear from you.

Exhibitions and Publications:
The Tiberino Memorial Museum (Philadelphia, PA)
City Hall (Philadelphia, PA)
Milkboy Cafe (Ardmore, PA)
Landfillart Project (
Abington Memorial Hospital (Abington, PA)
Straube Art Center (Pennington, NJ)
Once Upon a Gallery (Philadelphia, PA)
Mew Gallery
(Philadelphia, PA)
Artista (Philadelphia, PA)
Steel City Coffee House (Phoenixville, PA)
This Little Gallery (Jenkintown, PA)
ArtistRising.com (featured artist, January 2009)
Tattoo Highway Literary Journal
Paws for Charity 2009 Art Book benefiting the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade (cover art)
"Alphabet Soup!" by Michelle Ciarlo-Hayes

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Readers are welcome to contact me through my artist website.

Please join me on Facebook and Twitter and subscribe to my monthly newsletter if you would like stay up-to-date on new work and upcoming exhibits/receptions.

Looking forward to hearing from you!
Best Wishes,
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