Friday, January 30, 2009

Story Behind the Pictures: "My Funny Valentine" and "Offering"

So I have a little obsession with hands - I write stories about them, I photograph them, and I constantly wish my own were not showing early signs of the same arthritis which afflicts my mother and grandmother. My great-grandmother possessed such lovely hands that her husband decreed she wear white gloves when working behind the counter at their jewelry store, lest the gentlemen customers become smitten by their beauty. Mine? Well, they've been calloused by years of rowing, gripping my pen the wrong way, handling and training horses, and changing more diapers that I could possibly count. But what I love most are the hands of my children, still plump with baby fat, unable to tie shoes, yet oh-so-able to open doors they shouldn't and pull the dogs' tails. My two year-old (whose little finger is pointing to the red candy) snuck up on me as I was taking this photo...apparently he thought I wouldn't notice him giggling and stealing the cinnamon dot that formed the bottom point of the heart. The next photo is the hands of my four-year-old, who has grown into the most lovely, lively boy. He often asks if we can donate our extra toys and food to those who need it and helps me to collect and pack bags to bring to the city shelters.
Just yesterday I held my eldest's hand as he was prepped for surgery, giving it one final squeeze before he was wheeled away from me to the doors of the operating room. When he woke up a few hours later, he reached for me, and I sat thinking of the first time each of my boys grasped my fingers in their own, how we communicate first through our hands before any of our other senses have fully developed.
So, long after their wonderful baby dimples have faded from the backs of their hands, long after they can dress, feed, and even drive themselves, long after they've refused to hold my hand in public, I will have these photographs to remind me of how sweet and tiny (and occasionally troublesome!) those little hands once were.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Story behind the Picture: "Love Park"

I wasn't sure why I was so drawn to this statue that sits in the center of a little park in the heart of Philadelphia. But the sun was shining and it was a Saturday (meaning my husband was home and I had trying to photograph while my boys ran wild or complained or picked fights with one another while I tried to concentrate). We all drove downtown together; Marty let me hop out at a red light when it was apparent we were not going to find a parking space in this lifetime. "Just do your thing - we'll circle around until you're finished," he said. Driving repeatedly around a city block with two boys fighting in the back seat while I took hundreds of pictures? Now that's love.
As I circled the statue and clicked away, I finally noticed that the "O" is off-kilter. Maybe it was the artist's way of creating a perfectly square statue. But I think, actually, that lopsided "O" is meant to remind us that love isn't perfect. I think, in my marriage, I'm often the off-kilter "O," held in place by my husband's steady, immovable "LVE." Love isn't an ideal, glamorous, glossy-magazine-spread-worthy affair. It's not something you can define and legislate. It's not something you can control. But if it's the true kind, the kind that won't fade or falter, the kind that keeps you safe and sane, and makes you hold tight to your off-kilter "O" or feel secure with your "LVE," then you are a lucky person indeed.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Story behind the Pictures: "Awakening" and "Hope is the Thing With Feathers"

I went off in search of a colorful photo to discuss today in order to lift my spirits in the midst of this dire cold snap we're suffering. Of course, since I usually gravitate to shades of grey, "colorful" is not usually in my repertoire...but then I remembered the day in November when I went out trolling cemeteries (yes, again) with my camera and my father in tow.

My parents live in VA, just outside Washington D.C., and I when I asked my dad to be my chauffeur for a sunrise field trip through the city's graveyards, he agreed (bizarre, as he is not exactly a "cheerful morning person," shall we say). But, armed with buckets of coffee and all my equipment, we trundled off to Rock Creek Cemetery. It's not in the worst location, but I was still happy to have dad along for the ride. After a few wrong turns (has anyone every tried to navigate the roads of DC? Seriously, it's insane), we found our way to the wrought iron gates. The sun was starting to rise and I spotted my statue as soon as we entered the grounds.

Me: "There! Go that way! I see a beautiful one!"

Dad: *sips coffee, takes foot off gas pedal, looks around*

Me: "On the right! Over there - quick! The sun's exactly where I want it!"

Dad: "Hmm? Did you say something?"

I unpacked my viewfinder and took a few shots, including this first one ("Awakening"), as the sun slowly crept over the tops of the trees. I was too busy to notice that my dad had disappeared. Until, that is, I heard a shutter clicking behind me...

Me: "What are you DOING?"

Dad: "Taking pictures of the photographer at work!"

Me: "Seriously? You're standing behind me and I really do not want a photograph of my toosh, thank you very much. Is that a video camera over your shoulder?"

Dad: *laughs* "Oh, you don't want me to take movies?"

(In case anyone wonders, yes, I am an only child and yes, every second of my entire life has been documented on slide, film, video, Polaroid and every other medium available).

After we agreed on a one-camera-only arrangement, my father then decided to give himself the title "Location Scout:"

"Oh, that's nice! What about here? How about there? Did you see that? This? There? That one?"

I appreciated his enthusiasm. Really, I did *she says, knowing her father will be reading this at some point*.

We moved on to Arlington Cemetery at nine o'clock. The morning light was lovely - clear and bright - and the day was warming up nicely. We took some time to walk the hill, striding past tour groups, my father making snide comments about how I should be walking faster than him (I reminded him I was carrying an insanely heavy camera bag). I shot rows of bright white headstones, stretching out like sad white pickets in an endless fence. I photographed the memorials of JFK and RFK, fire and water, nestled in the vibrant green hillside. We walked to the memorial to women in the military and gazed across the immense white stone amphitheater to the city that lay sprawling out beyond. I thought of all the men and women lying under those silent white stones. I thought of the presidential election that was coming in three days. I took this second photograph and thought of Ms. Dickenson's beautiful poem, "Hope is the Thing With Feathers." So, during these dull winter days, I wish each of you a bit of sunshine, warmth, and hope.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Story Behind the Picture: "Wheel in Winter"

First, I'd like to wish everyone a happy new year! Second, I apologize for being a blog-slacker and I hope to make up for this in the coming weeks (but don't quote me on that...).

The ferris wheel above lives in Ocean City, New Jersey. It's a gigantic affair, towering far over the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, delivering beautiful vistas to anyone brave enough to ride. My children? They love it. Me? I prefer to keep my feet on terra firma.

I took this photograph during a solo venture to the shore during a frigid December weekend. The temperatures hovered around 20 degrees, but the relentless winds that caused mini-sand storms and that howled through the bare trees brought with them wind chills near zero. I couldn't hold my equipment properly with gloves on my hands, so I removed them and hoped my fingers would retain enough sensation to at least not drop my camera in the sand. In addition to my heavy wool coat and scarf, I also donned a pair of Wellingtons (knee-high rubber boots) over thick wool socks. I was ready. Bring on the wind.

This particular morning, in addition to the thrill of blowing sand stinging my exposed hands and ears, the sun decided to play a game of hide-and-seek.

Me: "Oh! Look! What beautiful lighting!" *fumbles with frozen fingers to remove lens cap*
Sun: "He he he, time to disappear behind those huge grey clouds!"
Me: "Never mind, perhaps I should go back and try again tomorrow." *sighs, replaces lens cap*
Sun: "Hey, lookee here, I'm back out again!"

This went on for at least an hour. Finally, as I turned once more toward home, the sun broke through the heavy grey storm clouds and gave me a few beautiful moments of light. I snapped away, capturing at least twenty different views of the silent ferris wheel as it loomed brightly over the winter seas. I kept stepping backward, further toward the water, as it afforded me the best view. I had my Wellies to keep my feet dry and I was smiling. The sun warmed my nose and allowed my fingers to function. I felt the waves lapping near my ankles but paid them no mind - I had an image to capture, after all. Then I felt the waves IN my boots, as I apparently wandered much further into the surf than I anticipated. The sun, of course, chose this particular moment to shine her brightest, so despite wearing boots filled with frigid ocean water, I stood still and took this last shot.

It was a long walk home, made all the more challenging with the addition of sodden wool socks and numb toes...but I survived, driven by the idea that, at the very least, it was a funny story to put in my blog.
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