Saturday, June 27, 2009

Story Behind the Picture: Fern

Grocery shopping with two young children is, frankly, a nightmare. Now that he can read, Danny spends the majority of the time asking if we need certain items:
"Mommy, do we need Lima beans? Do we need toasted sesame oil? Do we need Twinkies? Do we need Smartfood? Will that really make us smart? Do we need denture adhesive?" and Lucas spends his time reaching for the most breakable items, trying to swat them off the shelves before I can intercept with my Matrix reflexes. In between answering "no, sweetie, we do not need any Imodium AD" and diving for the jar of grape jelly before it hits the floor, I also referee the fights that ensue over the shopping cart handle:
"I'm helping push!"
"Ow, stop pulling my hair!"
(What, you ask, does this have to do with a fern? I'll get there...)

This past week, after surviving the barrage of questions, the fights, and saving the glass items from destruction, we took our place in the self-checkout lane of the store. There were two people ahead of us, each with overflowing carts. I sighed in anticipation of a long wait, refereed yet another fight with one hand, and looked down for literally two seconds to check the time on my cell phone.

*tap tap tap*

A bony finger belonging to the woman behind me pecked away at my shoulder.

Me: Yes?
Woman: "Are you in LINE?"
Me: *confused, as clearly I was, in fact, in line* "Er, yeees..."
Woman: *in shrill, rude, condescending tone* "Well, that register is open! It's your turn! Hurry UP!"

I looked ahead to see that, indeed, the two people ahead of me had ninja-like checkout skills and had managed to ring up cartloads of groceries in under two nanoseconds. This did not, however, lower my blood pressure. At this moment, I had two options. My first (and frankly, the one I truly wanted to choose after a long afternoon in the crowded grocery store) was to smack Hanna Helpful and tell her to remove her finger from my shoulder blade before I did it for her. My second (and frankly, the one I knew to be better for my children to witness) was to channel my inner Tina Fey and pile on the sarcasm.

Me: "My goodness, thank you SO very much for letting me know."
Woman: *looks confused*
Me: "Truly, I am so very, deeply appreciative" *holding hand over heart for more dramatic emphasis*
Woman: *looks more confused*
Me: "I would never, EVER have noticed that the register was available for use, and I am so thankful that you took the time to let me know."
Woman: *backs away very slowly*

My blood pressure was still a bit high even after I returned home, fueled by Danny's constant questions:
"Mommy, why was that lady tapping you on the shoulder?"
"Mommy, why was the lady talking to you like you were in trouble?"
"Mommy, why is your face all red?"

After I unpacked the car and put the groceries away, I noticed the late afternoon sunlight was making the ferns in our backyard glow with the most beautiful shade of green. Green has a calming effect on the human mind I certainly needed a little of that. I took my camera and we all headed back outside to capture a little soothing summer magic. It worked.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Story Behind the Picture: Flying High

It’s the first time I’m posting a photograph that I haven’t taken myself, but I don’t think the artist will mind. He is, after all, my dad. He’s also the reason I ever developed an interest in photography. If not the most verbose teacher (“Hold the camera still. Keep the needle on that light meter in the middle. That’s all.”), he was certainly the most effective. I learned by watching him work: he would take ridiculous amounts of pictures, to the extent that “are you done YET?” became our family motto. His answer, invariably, was “not yet.”

I used to be annoyed by what I once considered to be his insane attention to detail, his documentation of every mundane item or event. Then, yesterday, someone asked me to name my favorite thing to photograph. I paused and had to laugh at the answer that came so easily. I, too, photograph the little things, the seemingly unimportant. I find myself sitting back and watching, taking note, just as he’s always done.

My dad took this photograph a few weeks ago on a beautiful night at the boardwalk. His camera wasn’t anything special (just a little digital point-and-shoot we gave him last Christmas), but then again, photography isn’t about the equipment: it’s about finding the calm inside the chaos. In the midst of all the lights, music, voices, and crowds, my dad captured a wonderful image of his oldest grandson swinging high over our heads on the giant swings. I recognized a striking synchronicity in their expressions as they both quietly absorbed all the sights and sounds.

Today, I would like to take a moment to thank my dad for teaching me the important things:
1) Sit down and be quiet.
2) I don’t know everything. (although I do find this item to be, at times, debatable)
3) Don’t shake the camera.

I’m sure there are things I’m leaving out. I’m sure I’ll think of them later. I’m also sure that these are the three most important things to remember, the ones I use every day.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Story Behind the Picture: Flags on the Boardwalk

Motherhood is a strange dichotomy: it simultaneously hardens and softens us. Having two boys has made me mentally tougher than I ever was, even during the most grueling training and racing of my rowing career. I thought life was tough, what with the constant injuries, hunger, and mental fatigue of competition. And then I became a mother. If I estimate correctly, it has been five years and thirty-two days since I last had a day – or a night – to myself. Since I slept soundly without being roused from bed by cries or my own worries. Since I spoke on the phone, drove in a car, or bought paper towels without the constant din of baby-toddler-preschooler-mayhem. Since I walked out of the house without a bag resembling that of the migrant workers heading west during the “Grapes of Wrath.” I’m amused by the recent debate over methods of torture used to extract information from prisoners. Why? Because I have a solution. Put them in a house with my children and a broken coffee maker for three days with no reprieve and I promise you, they will gladly spill the beans.

At the same time as I’ve been honing my tuning-out-the-screaming skills and the mediation-between-warring-factions-while-on-the-phone skills, I find my work has been affected – for the better – by being a mother. I used to photograph strictly in black-and-white: I had no desire to work in color or veer away from the moody, contemplative images I created. I have changed. I listen to advice of my littlest assistants. I see the colors. I climb into tents built from sofa cushions and blankets. I remember the rainy afternoons when I hunted for that magical closet that would finally lead me to Narnia.

This photograph, while taken on a perfectly ordinary day on a perfectly ordinary boardwalk, is anything but ordinary for me. It is the techni-color dream of castles and kings, captured by my eye, inspired by my (energetic, sleep-deprived, imaginative) life with children.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Story Behind the Pictures: "Vintage Daisy" and "Vintage Bloom"

By February, the winter months begin to take their toll: the unbearably short days, the frigid temperatures, the endless ordeal of coats/hats/mittens/boots that turns even the simplest errand into a Herculean effort. I was tired of photographing icicles and bare limbs, so I visited our local florist and spend a half hour browsing their selection of flowers until I found the perfect pink gerbera daisy. The florist actually joined me in my search when I told her I planned on photographing a floral still-life, and she suggested this particular daisy because “it had great character.” I laughed – this was a woman who truly loved her flowers.

My next challenge lay in the lighting: the pale winter sun coming through our windows wasn’t bright enough to properly light the flower. I placed the daisy in a white vase of water and decided to set it aside until the afternoon. As I escorted the boys to the bathroom to wash hands before lunch, I noticed that the bright white tiles reflected and amplified the light from the window to a wonderful level, perfect for what I had in mind. “Everyone head downstairs!” I called, “Daddy’s making lunch today!” I gathered my equipment – and my daisy with all that character – and climbed into the tub.

Danny: “Mommy, what on earth are you doing?”
Me: “Taking pictures, honey.”
Danny: “In the bathtub?”
Me: “Yes, sweetie – in the bathtub. The lighting in here is great!”
Danny: “Oh. Okay then. Anyway, Dad said lunch is ready.”

I started to laugh as Danny walked back downstairs and wondered if he’d tell his friends and teachers the next day that his mother was in the tub, fully clothed, taking pictures of a flower. If anyone thinks I’m crazy, I’ll inform them I’ve simply got character…just like my daisy.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Story Behind the Picture: You Hung the Moon

“Oh, I just thought he hung the moon.” My great-aunt’s words to describe the day she met her future husband – my absolute favorite saying – inspired this collage. Her blue eyes visibly deepen in hue when she remembers the day she met him on their first day of high school in 1937. He would later propose to her during a sunset flight in a twin-engine plane he flew over the New Jersey cornfields, just as the stars began to peek out from behind the darkening sky. It was 1941 and their plans for an elaborate wedding changed the next day: he received orders to deploy for World War II. They eloped instead, married at midnight by a Franciscan priest woken by their insistent knocking on the rectory door.

He never returned home: the plane he piloted was lost over the sea, the entire crew still missing today. It has been nearly 70 years since they stood together on that altar, the full moon rising high above, the priest smiling sleepily as they their exchanged vows, and my aunt has never found another who hung the moon quite the way he did.
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