Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Listening Exercise

My husband bought us a white noise machine for Christmas. I have to admit I love it. It helps drown out the sound of his snoring. In the summer we also run a fan in the bedroom (mostly blowing on me, but hey I am over fifty). The night is filled with constant and steady noise. But one thing I have noticed missing this summer, on the nights when it is actually cool enough to shut off the a/c and open the windows, is the hooting of the owl that often roosts in the tree outside my bedroom window, and the coyote calls in the woods across the street.

We seem to live in cocoons of steady white noise no matter where we go these days: at home, at work, in the car. There is no space for silence. Even church is no longer a silent place, and when we do have exercises in moments of silence, we are very uncomfortable. We may not like the drums and electric guitar, but we would rather hear them than our own breathing, or even worse, the breathing of the person sitting next to us.

I stumbled upon a listening exercise recently from a blog post by Kim Manley Ort. She, in turn discovered the exercise in the online publication Emergence (that's how inspiring rabbit holes work).  Kim shared her experience with the exercise, listing her results from each step and I knew I had to give this a try too.

My hearing ability is still pretty good, having given up really loud music a long time ago. But hearing always lags way behind seeing for me, which is why I was excited to try this exercise, to explore creatively with a greatly underused sense.

I have only completed the first exercise so far. Probably because I got so caught up in writing it all down before I forgot.

Exercise One: Where is the place you spend the most time indoors? Go to this place. Sit or lay down in a comfortable position. Spend 10 minutes with your eyes closed, listening to all of the sounds around you, nearby and far away. What do you hear?

I tried this exercise twice. Once on a 90 degree day with the windows closed and the air-conditioning on. It was four o'clock in the afternoon, I had just spent two hours mowing our grass and had taken a cool shower before lying down on the porch on my nap couch.

What I heard: the air-conditioning running (the whole ten minutes), the refrigerator, occasional cars going by, the windows and siding creaking as they were warmed by the sun. I also noticed the rustle of my shorts on the couch as I tried to get comfortable. The interesting thing is, when there was a noise I didn't immediately recognize, I tried to hunt it down, climb inside that noise. Some time in the last few minutes I dozed off. I dreamed of a tea bowl filled with colorful, small rectangular pieces of tissue paper.

The second time I tried the exercise it was late morning on a pleasant 65 degree day and the windows were open. This time I heard: the fountain in the pond behind our house, peepers down by the pond, an airplane, a cardinal, a crow, lots of cars going by on the road, the whine of a garage truck engine. Personal noises like my stomach rumbling, swallowing, and the chime of the breathe app on my Apple watch. There were more noises, but I was less curious about them. I missed the tea bowl.

Exercise Two: Seek out a public or urban environment -- a local coffee shop, a busy street corner, your rooftop. Again, for 10 minutes, listen to the sounds around you. Try to take it all in, with equal value, without judgement. What do you notice?

Exercise Number Two may be a good excuse to try my hand at a Coffee Shop Chronicle again and see how that goes. The "without judgement" part may be hard.

If you try Exercise One, I would love to hear your results.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

A Year with the Lensbaby Velvet 56

"It's easy to look at what is achievable in a single day and always come up short. But it is just as easy to underestimate what you can accomplish in a year."
                                                                               ~ Christina Rosalie, a field guide to NOW 

I began my 365 photography project purely on a whim. I took one picture that moved me deeply for no explainable reason on September 3, 2017. A year of heart-moving photographs seemed like the personal growth project I needed.

I chose the constraint of the Lensbaby Velvet 56 Lens for the project. The soft dreamy feel that the Velvet 56 gives images was perfect for what I hoped the project would become. I am a big fan of prime lenses, preferring to move myself instead of the lens. Also, having to manually set the aperture and focus, allowed me to compose better within the frame.

I had grand plans of being a different photographer these 365 days, one who photographed the people in her life on a regular basis, capturing special moments and daily life. And for a while I did good, of the 365 photos, 42 photographs have people. Half of those 42 were from my self-portrait photography phase. Only 14 photos were strictly of Findley, the granddog, which is pretty good, since he is a willing poser. That still leaves over 300 photos that were no different than the other 30,000 that have made me the photographer I have always been.

What I realized doing this 365 project, is that I spent too much time focused on getting the best possible shot for the day. How many little things did I miss? The bird songs in the air, the waves lapping on the beach, the ducks swimming with their babies in the channel. How many shots on my camera card did I dismiss because they weren't the very best shot that day?

Recently, I turned down the opportunity to go to Tuscany next May for a photography workshop. I woke up the morning after I had convinced my husband that it would be great idea, and said, "Don't worry, we aren't going to Tuscany." What I realized while I was sleeping is that I didn't want to spend our vacation solely focused on photography. I had just spent the last 365 days getting up every morning and thinking about getting a photo, I didn't want to spend our first trip to Italy with that same thought process.

Some people take adventures strictly so they can photograph. I am one who loves adventure for the sake of adventure, and I'll take some photos along the way to help tell the story. That doesn't mean that I don't strive for the best possible photos while telling the story. I would just prefer to stumble upon the shots than have to be hunting them every single day.

So in the end, I really am the same photographer that I was when I started. What this project showed me is that I love being that photographer.

I am experiencing some withdrawal from this daily shooting, wandering around in the morning not knowing what to do with myself. So, instead of doing short walks carrying a heavy camera, I am leaving the gear at home and taking longer hikes in the woods. This is especially appealing now that the temperature at night is getting down into the 50's. The mornings are pleasantly cool and bug free. Not everything needs to be photographed, some of life just needs to be lived.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Small Town Adventure - Bowling Green, Ohio

On a recent Friday morning, my husband called and said, "I have to be in Bowling Green, Ohio for a meeting Monday morning, do you want to come along?" Since his meeting was at 8:30 and Bowling Green is a good 3-1/2 hours from our house, he was planning to leave Sunday afternoon and stay overnight.

While he is asking me this question, I am lying on the couch on a bag of ice. I had tweaked a muscle in my back the day before, causing the whole right side of my body to feel like a pulled taut bungee cord. You would think my immediate answer would be, "I can't." But having been through this predicament before, generally a whole lot of ice and ibuprofen takes care of the problem in a couple of days. Since nothing was required of me but getting into the car on Sunday, I told him I would decide one way or the other Sunday morning.

Sunday morning while not perfect, I could sit with minimal discomfort. Googling Bowling Green, Ohio, an image search revealed: old buildings, a quaint-looking downtown, and some nature parks. Plenty to keep me busy on Monday.

At three o'clock Sunday afternoon, I climbed into the car, cranked the heated seat to high, and stretched out the best I could. Almost four hours later, we arrived at our hotel.

At dinner that night with one of my husband's coworkers and his wife, I posed the question - where would be some good places to go photograph? This can be a risky question to ask non-photographers. Chris suggested the Historical Center and Museum which was two stop signs down the road from our hotel. As soon as he said old buildings and cemetery, I knew that his suggestion could be taken seriously.

Shortly after eight o'clock Monday morning, I checked out of the hotel (Glen had already left with another colleague) and drove two stop signs down the road, crossed a country highway and found the Wood County Historical Center. Formerly, the Wood County Infirmary, i.e. county poor house. I was in heaven.

The Wood County Infirmary operated from 1869-1971. After 102 years of operation the Infirmary closed. It reopened in 1975 as a Museum. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

The Infirmary Cemetery is the final resting place of over 400 Wood County residents. Not everybody buried here lived in the Infirmary. Residents too poor to afford burial in a public cemetery were also buried here. The county paid for a simple pine box and grave marker noted with a number. They do have records of who is buried here, but none that indict which number belongs to which name.

Two parks that I also visited while in Bowling Green were: Wintergarden Park and Simpson Garden Community Center. Both beautiful parks, but it was too hot and too sunny for any good photos. I am hoping to be invited back to Bowling Green so I can explore further.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Losing the Nuts and Screws in Gary, Indiana

Jackson Five Mural in downtown Gary

"Some towns are as imperiled as the family farm, as sitting down to dinner together with the family. Many beautiful, important places are being lost; a few will be saved. In your lifetime you have likely seen small towns crumble like sand castles on the beach."        
                                                               ~ Howard Mansfield, Summer Over Autumn

Gary, Indiana is a town of loss. The loss of the steel industry that formed it in the first place, the loss of  The Jackson Five, the loss of Michael Jackson, the loss of over 100,000 residents in less than thirty years. Loss of money, jobs and self-worth is visually apparent everywhere.

Photo Credit: Glen Huizenga 
Before going to Gary I didn't do any research, didn't look at any photographs of either prosperity or decay. I wanted my experience to be uninfluenced by others.

But since I have been home, tucked safely into my suburban neighborhood, I have been doing plenty of reading about Gary. It is a sad tale.

Gary Screw and Bolt Factory - Photo: Glen Huizenga

Gary is situated squarely between Chicago and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and sits on the edge of Lake Michigan. Sounds like a tourist and summer people mecca, it is anything but that. Gary has lived and died with the steel industry. Summer people want cottages on the lake, not air polluting steel mills.

Inside Gary Screw and Bolt Factory

Gary was founded in 1906 by The United States Steel Corporation. The city was named after Elbert Henry Gary, the founding chairman of United States Steel Corporation. The steel mill provided ample employment, especially for immigrants newly arrived in America. The city's population almost doubled in the 1920's from 55,000 to just over 100,000 residents in the 1930's. It reached its peak in 1960 - 178,000. And then began the decline due to the competition of overseas steel production. By 1990, the population was down to 116,00 and in 2010 it was only 80,000.

Gary Screw and Bolt Factory

Due to loss of residents: schools started to close, hospitals closed and many homes became vacant. At one of the locations where our group was photographing, a gentleman on the Gary Demo Crew happened to drive by, and was curious about what we were doing. In talking to him about the abandoned places, he mentioned that there are over 10,000 properties on their demo list.

Gary Screw and Bolt Factory - Photo: Glen Huizenga

One place that I am thrilled hasn't succumbed to the wrecking ball yet, is the Gary Screw and Bolt Factory. Built in 1910 and opened in 1912 with 100 workers, a tenth of the workforce it eventually employed. The plant prospered through WWII and beyond, but the recession of the 1980's put the screws in the coffin. The plant closed in 1986.

This factory was my dream place to photograph. An abandoned structure full of wide open space, plenty of natural light, and dark stairwells leading to building connecting tunnels with heart fluttery windows. I have a thing for windows. Some might call it an obsession.

Back at home, reading through these articles of loss and hardship, I began to wonder about my delight in photographing abandoned buildings. But as I thought about it, it isn't the abandonment that delights me, it is the fact that in spite of the despair, there remains something to photograph. As long as something remains, hope remains as well.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

A Weekend in Gary, Indiana

Mercy Hospital
My husband and I spent last weekend in Gary, Indiana. Now if you are from the mid-west you are probably thinking, what the heck were you doing there? The only things in Gary are danger and abandoned buildings. But if you know me at all, you will also know that I am okay with a little bit of danger and a whole lot of abandoned buildings. 

Photo Credit: Glen Huizenga - City United Methodist Church

We were in Gary (during the day) for a two day photography workshop with Rad Drew and Sally Meyer Wolf, called Abandoned Gary. 

Photo Credit: Rad Drew - Group photo minus two.

There were fourteen of us seekers of decay. Most of us hailed from the mid-west, but a couple arrived via plane. This photo was taken at the last destination on the second day. We were a motley crew by then: so hot, so sweaty and so dirty. But there were still hugs all around as we parted ways. I can't imagine spending two days wandering derelict buildings with any other group. 

City United Methodist Church

This is the second workshop Glen and I have done with Rad. Last summer we did a one day workshop at Conner Prairie near Indianapolis on Mobile Photography. You can read that post here if you are interested.

Photo Credit: Glen Huizenga - City United Methodist Church

The Abandoned Gary workshop started on Friday night with a meet and greet dinner. Glen and I enjoyed a date day first, so we trickled our way down to Indiana by way of a few wineries in southern Michigan, and a late lunch at a favorite restaurant - The Stray Dog. We checked into our hotel in Merrillville, had a quick soak in the hot tub, and rested before going to the restaurant.

We spent the bulk of Saturday morning here at City United Methodist Church. Built in 1925 for $800,000. It was closed in October of 1975. You can see the destruction that abandonment will do. 

City United Methodist Church

The other place that intrigued me on Saturday was Mercy Hospital. A whole hospital completely abandoned. 

Mercy Hospital

Nothing left except for peeling paint, trash and dripping water. The dripping water can sound a little creepy when you are on a floor by yourself. 

Mercy Hospital

We were suppose to be on the buddy system, except every time I looked around for my buddy husband, he seemed to be MIA. That's because he was busy climbing up on the roof. 

Photo Credit: Glen Huizenga - Mercy Hospital

This is my favorite shot of Glen's for the day. So I guess the climb up to the roof was worth it, and he did bring me up there eventually. 

We ended the day with beauty of a different sort. Sunset over Lake Michigan in Michigan City.

I'll be back with Day Two and my favorite place from the workshop...

Sunday, July 22, 2018


"The dream of my life is to lie down by a slow river and stare at the light in the trees."
                                                                                                             ~ Mary Oliver

I didn't intentionally plan to start again, but I also never intentionally finished either.

Back in an early June post titled Summer Projects, I talked about my creative plans for June and for the summer. One being a film project, and one being a photography  project. Both were fun for the month of June. I did complete 30 days of filming, but have yet to finish editing the film. I am not too worried, I know I will get it done.

The other project, a summer long project - Abandoned Artifacts - was/is to be shot mostly at the beach, documenting the stuff people leave behind.  Mateless flip flops have been at the top of the "lost" list, but there has also been a stroller, a broken shade tent, a whole pan of watermelon pieces, and a pair of men's GAP brand underwear. But what pushed me to take a break for a while was a whole Fourth of July feast abandoned along the boardwalk, I know it was abandoned because I found it the next morning at 7 a.m. It became the seagulls feast.

Abandoned Artifacts became just plain trash left by people that don't give a s**t. It became too depressing. I had to find someplace new to walk for a while. I needed to find beauty and joy.

I returned a couple times to the meadow where I shot last summer's Meadow Project. It felt good to be back photographing wildflowers in the early morning light. But something was still missing. I wanted more sunrise without the barrier of large pine trees, I became a bit addicted to sunrises last year. So, I moved to a new meadow, one that is completely open to the rising sun.

This meadow takes more commit from me to get the shots I want. It is probably a twenty minute drive from my house. With sunrise at 6:22 a.m., I am leaving before six o'clock. Thankfully at that time of the morning there is very little traffic. I need to monitor the weather conditions: clear or cloudy skies, temperatures (cool nights create lovely ground mist). I must remember to pack the bug spray (mosquitoes are plentiful), and pack the rain boots for the dewey grass.

This meadow has a long winding paved path, no nice little circular loop like the other meadow. I won't shoot without my tripod, so that means carrying it or putting it in the holder on my back pack.

Last year's meadow was the beginning, this year's meadow is the middle. I am kind of hoping I stay in the middle for a while, that's where all the good stuff is.

I will go back to the beach and the trash abandoned artifacts, but I might spend the rest of July playing in the meadow.