Dear Academics…


I have a message for you.  A serious message – illustrated by a serious, intent baby.  Please do not steal my blog posts or photos.

You see, I have this nifty little gadget from WordPress that allows me to check how people got to my blog.  And if suddenly I start getting large amounts of views from a website titled “Alternative Photography 2015” then I’m going to be suspicious and click on that link to go see what you’re up to.

To be completely honest, I’m not very happy about you copy/pasting large chunks of my blog posts for your cyanotype syllabii.  Granted, I’m happy you included a link to my cyanotype tutorials so that your students can read up on my trials and errors.  I am NOT happy to see my work used instead of you getting off your arse and actually, you know, doing the job that you’re PAID to do and creating your own course work.

To be brutally blunt, I’m appalled.  Universities are the last bastion against plagiarism.  Professors spend an inordinate amount of time checking their students’ work for plagiarism.  And to turn around and blatantly steal my work?  You should be ashamed.  I’m ashamed for you.  What a bad example you set!

To your students: I’m glad you’re here.  Poke around, check things out, and feel free to message me if you have questions about my work.  I can’t promise I’ll swiftly reply, but I’ll do my best.  I really hope that my work can challenge you, intrigue you, or inspire you to do better than me.   Good luck with your projects and remember that sometimes, alternative photography is a series of interesting mistakes.  Run with it!



Sorry, I don’t want to talk about my pain


Low tide

There are two main news stories right now about students enacting change on campus, and I won’t get mired down in details or opinions. One comment a student made stuck in my head though, and I’ve been mulling it over, along with thoughts about the campus situations and the conversations about race going on in our country right now.  Go to this Atlantic article for a thoughtful look at the Yale story that began with an administrative admonition about potentially offensive Halloween costumes.

Specifically, the student (unnamed in the article, although I’m sure you can find them named elsewhere) wrote “I don’t want to debate.  I want to talk about my pain.”

I began my adult life as a naive idiot.  I’ve learned a lot along the way.  I’ve been through a lot, including a lot of heartbreaking things.  Not as bad as some people have it, for sure, but enough to state that yes, I’ve known pain.  Mental, emotional, and even physical pain.  Some of it was bearable, some of it was heartbreaking, and some of it I still deal with to this day.

I could be a rare bird or whatever, but in my experience, the more people hurt, the less they want to say about it.  I rarely hear someone say “let’s talk about how I’m feeling” after experiencing the death of a loved one.  One of my own painful experiences – multiple miscarriages – is not something I ever hear talked about in casual conversation.

That said, it’s purely anecdotal and a massive generalization. Take my opinion for what it is.

I don’t want to talk about my pain.  I don’t want YOU talking about my pain.  Bringing this kind of thing up makes everyone uncomfortable: they don’t know what to say, or how to relate, or even to how to be compassionate or empathetic.  I want to suffer through it without your well-meaning, clumsy comments that only inflict more pain. Later, when I’m better able to cope, perhaps I’ll tell you a little about it if I know you really well and I feel emotionally stable enough to do it.

Perhaps this isn’t a healthy way to live.  It reeks of paranoia and privacy.  It can go overboard to internalizing issues instead of dealing with them.  I don’t know.

All I know is this: in my experience, people who say “I want to talk about my pain” are one of two things.  Either they’re extraordinarily strong emotionally, or drumming up angst to make themselves feel important.

So how does this relate in any way to the image in this post?  I gravitate towards photographing things that stand alone.  Alone.  That’s the most I feel like saying.

Photographing children – the law vs. Mamma bear


There’s a very fine, thin line when it comes to photographing people in public places (I’m completely avoiding the public vs. right to privacy places.)  The law generally says you can photograph to your heart’s content, and even post online, sell (commercially is another can of worms,) or use as a promotion or part of your art work.

In reality, people expect more privacy from a photographer than the law allows.  Especially when it comes to children.

I AM a photographer, and I absolutely hate for people to take pictures of my kids.  I’ve asked that none of our family post my kids’ pics online, especially on Facebook, and most of them have honored that request.  My husband pointed out that I blithely post photographs of them on this blog so Facebook shouldn’t matter that much.  Somehow that’s different.  I know anyone with a halfway decent photo editing program could edit my watermark out of the pics, but using a watermark makes it a bit more difficult.  Plus, it stamps a “This is MY photo, by gosh, leave it alone!” comment all over the image.  For the casual copy/paste thief it’s probably enough deterrent.

This weekend we had a purely negative experience at our neighborhood’s fall festival over just this issue – someone taking photographs of my kid.  This kid.  Kelton.  And if some of my neighbors happen to read this and get upset because they know the offender, I’m sorry if I offend you, but I stand by what I said to her.

The two older kids were decorating pumpkins at a small table and I was keeping an eye on them and watching Kelton at the same time.  Kelton was sitting in his red wagon watching all the action, close enough to see everything, but not close enough for the wagon to get in everyone’s way.  I turn around from trying to keep A from sticking foam on her nose to see some random woman with a wanna-be SLR crouched down on Kelton’s level.  At first I thought she was talking to him.  No big deal.  Then I saw her raise the camera and start snapping pictures of him.  I should point out that these were head shots – close up images of just Kelton.  No one else was in the shot, and no festival activity was included.

I asked her what she was doing, and she replied that she was taking pictures of the event to post on the community website/Facebook page.  Not cool.  I asked her not to photograph my kids, saying that I didn’t want them posted online.  She became very offended and defensive.  I told her that she needed to ask first, and that set off a nasty escalation of personal insults.  Since I got the results I needed I backed down and avoided making the situation worse.

Now, you might think I’m crazy to be so cautious and paranoid.  And in reality, you’re probably right.  But did you ever think what kind of social/economic/private information might be gathered simply by compiling information about your kids online?  For example, one mom I know has multiple social networking accounts and work networking accounts.  If you Google her name, what pops up first?  Images of her little girl.  If that’s not scary, I don’t know what is.

Add that to the multiple information accounts that are so easily hackable (doctor’s office network, anyone?) and I think being cautious isn’t a bad thing.  In just our family alone our credit cards have been stolen from routine transactions and our medical information has been hacked.  This included critical information like Social Security ID numbers, contact information, and birth dates.  That information breach was for all of us – the kids included.

The crux of the matter is control.  Who has control over the kids’ information?  Is it us, the parents, or is it widely spread out and easily searchable online?  If I take an image of my kids, my choice of where to post it is critical.  Facebook’s rules on ownership make me very wary as a photographer.  If someone else takes an image of my kids I have no idea where it might end up.

As a photographer mom, my own personal rules rely on common sense.  I will not take close-up shots of kids without asking permission first, and I make sure that parents get copies of those images whenever possible (playgroup, sports events.)   I’m fine with some group event shots but I still try to blur out other kids and focus only on mine if that’s the intent.  I will not post images of other kids online and I even avoid putting images of other kids in the photo books that we hand out for family Christmas presents most years.

I dread the days of teenagers being rebellious and crazy with internet access, but I hope that I can instill this caution in them as they grow.  Who needs a future employer rejecting you as a candidate because your mom posted naked baby pics (bad idea all around, that!) on Facebook when you were little?  Given the way technology evolves, we may face discrimination if our pattern of behaviour online doesn’t fit an HR department’s criteria.  Who knows?  I only know that I will do my best not to sabotage my kids before they even become a teen.

And people with cameras?  Ask first before shooting pictures of my kids.  Don’t make me go all Mamma bear on you!

Deal with it and move on


It’s been said 20 zillion times, but photographs truly have the power of transfixing a moment.  When I look at certain photographs of my kids I can remember all the details of that day or moment.  Mostly the good ones, but sometimes the bad ones too.  One picture of Corbin that we used for a Christmas card (baby in the snow, smiling and laughing) brings back horrible memories of fear and panic – because that photo shoot happened the morning of the day he ended up in the hospital with symptoms no doctor could explain.

This is one of the good ones.  I look at this photo and I can feel the wind in my face, the cool crisp day, and hear the laughter of a delighted 2-year-old trying to drive a push cart.  This picture makes me smile.

I tend to remember the glorious days that rarely happen like this one.  That’s because they’re pretty rare around here.  I have good days and bad days, and we try to take advantage of the good ones when I can.

I’m not someone who likes to whine or complain (although my husband would contest that statement!) so it’s hard to open up and talk about personal health issues.  After all, that’s MY business, right?  Not yours – especially since you probably don’t care and would promptly forget it anyway.  So why bother?

Today I’m tired.  My reflux kiddo was up a lot last night.  My hips are killing me.  My meds are off or something, and I can really tell.  So, since this is what’s on my mind, you get to hear about it.  Sorry!

I have 2 autoimmune diseases, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and Vitiligo.  The first one is a doozy, but can be managed.  The second one is mostly cosmetic and is incurable.  I have a heel spur, a partially torn hip tendon, and the beginnings of arthritis.  Add that to migraines and a permanently tight IT band on my leg and that’s a recipe for a mess.  Right now my body is all messed up – despite taking my meds I’m not converting them the way I should.  In other words, I might as well not be taking anything.

What does that really mean?  It means I am in constant pain.  I have no energy.  I feel defeated, unmotivated, and constantly tired.  Small tasks like doing the laundry seem like insurmountable mountains.  Getting out of the bed in the morning is an act of will.  People looking at me think I’m just lazy because there’s no obvious disability.

Looking at a picture like this gives me a ray of hope.  It’s not all bad.  I can rise above the ocean of defeat at times and celebrate a good day.  It reminds me that I don’t really have it that bad, and to stop whining and push past the problems to accomplish something.  Even something as minor as a blog post.

So let’s hear it for all those who live in pain, for those who take life one day at a time, for those who feel defeated and worn out.   Because sometimes, a little glimpse of happiness is enough to keep us going.

I hate it. I love it. I just don’t know…


Ever stared at a word long enough that it starts to look mis-spelled?  I do that with images.  If I fuss over it long enough and dither back and forth, I eventually end up hating it.  Even if it’s a good image I can over-analyze it to death.  And sometimes, if it’s a bad image, I get to the point that I simply can’t tell.  That’s pure death in an artistic vacuum.

I think I’ve reached that point with this image.  When I shot it, I loved it.  I like the motion, the colors, the shapes.  After I stared at it for about 15 minutes of back and forth editing, I decided the center post is glaringly annoying and that’s all I can see when I look at it.   That’s usually the point that I walk away and leave it for a few months so that my editing eye has a chance to forget my initial reaction.

Instead of leaving it, I’m going to post it.  Because even if it’s a horrible shot, true to my goal with this blog, it’s what I’m working on.

I think the main reason I decided I hated it is because I went out of my comfort zone and tried messing around with altering it.  Right now its only edit is (beyond correcting the light and a square crop) adding a vignette.  I think vignettes look artificial and corny unless you do it the hard way (with the lens.)  I admit, I’m an old-school snob at times.

So there you have it.  A weird shot with a weird effect.

Details: Subject is a wind spinner, paint weathering is all natural.  f6.3, 1/400, and ISO 400. (don’t ask, was working with low light on another shoot and forgot to change it.)  Square crop, lighting adjustment, and mild vignette added.

Watching for fins


Here’s a sobering thought – someone caught an 8 foot Bull shark in the Potomac river this summer.  Not the part really close to the bay, but further in.  The Washington Post ran an article about it a few weeks ago and it caught my eye because it was only a few miles down river from our favorite spot.  So on top of other obvious worries when I take my kids to “the beach” (Leesylvania State Park) I’ll be worrying about sharks too!  Because drowning, accidental sand ingestion, and weird little spiky seeds that puncture feet like needles in a balloon aren’t enough.

Other than worrying about shark attacks, LSP is one of our favorite places to go.  The kids love playing in the sand and water, and I think it’s one of the best photo shoot locations we’ve found.  On a lovely day in the summer you’re likely to see white sails floating out on the water, and the beach is pounded by boat-created waves.  The kids’ favorite place to play is right beside the marina, so they get to see speed boats, sail boats, and jet skis zooming around.  I prefer this spot to the area closer to the fishing pier, after finding a few large fish hooks in the sand.

It’s quite a pretty spot.  We’ve seen seagulls and eagles (yes, I promise, American eagles!) in this beautiful park right outside of DC. It’s rarely busy except on the crazy summer weekend days.  On our last visit right after the schools went back into session we had the whole place to ourselves.  When I’m planning a photo shoot it has two of the main components that I need – distractions and no crowds.

I know I’ve blogged quite a log about the challenges of doing a succesful photo shoot with my kids.  As they get older the challenges are still there, but they’ve changed.  Now I’m hearing “mom, no pictures!” from my 4-year-old and “no camera!” from my 2-year-old.  They absolutely refuse to pose for the camera, and in fact, getting a minimum of 2 out of 3 kids to simply look at the camera automatically makes the shot a keeper.  Forget smiling, or even looking pleasant.  I’ll settle for calm faces, with no crazy expressions and open mouths (from talking non-stop.)

As my kids finally get old enough to survive a few minutes without constant hovering (the stories I could tell!  it’s amazing we don’t go to the ER more often) I’m slowly starting to ramp up my own photography again.  C happened to be in this shot and it made the image stronger, but I didn’t point the camera in his direction just to get a picture of him.

He did think it was quite funny that “his” picture won a ribbon at the county fair this year.

This is what failure looks like


Well, this blog has gone beyond abandoned to bereft, forlorn, and all those nasty adjectives that make me feel super guilty.  I’m sorry I haven’t posted in so long.  I’m even more sorry that I haven’t been able to actually do any work.

Brief update – we now have 3 kids, and the last, Kelton, is 11 month old now.  If trying to keep up with 2 kids was crazy then dealing with 3 under the age of four is insane.  I’m just now starting to catch my breath and start inching toward beginning my cyanotype work again.  I wanted to enter some photographs into the recent county fair here ( I know, quaint! that’s the best I can do right now!) and I was seriously depressed to only find pictures of my kids that I could work with.  Good pictures of my kids, true, but very one-note.  So…here’s to new beginnings and grand promises that I probably won’t be able to keep.

So, first I have to admit: these aren’t my photographs.  Nope!  But it doesn’t really matter because you can’t tell what they’re supposed to be anyway.  We hosted a French exchange student this summer, and while she was here we tried printing some of her photographs in cyanotype.  Wow, what a difference location makes!

I vividly remember struggling with the heavily chlorinated water in NY when I printed, but I finally found the process that worked for that set-up.  Here it’s totally different.  We tried to print using the same process and the prints looked like we fogged them in direct sunlight for a minute or more.  It was bad!

There seems to be some sort of chemical reaction in this water as well.  I’m not a chemist, so I can’t explain what the problem is.  So far, it looks like I’m going to have to do a single coat of emulsion, maybe skip the sizing, and probably adjust my curve to account for wonky effects.

I have a Herculean task ahead anyway due to a new printer.  It’s not an HP, so I can’t hope that the ink is the same.  It’s a very basic Epsom workhorse that we needed for office stuff, although it prints fairly decent photographs too.  I’m probably going to be working through a ton of charts as I figure out how this Epsom printer does with digital negatives.  And since I have almost nil free time that’s going to take a while.  Boring!