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.

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.

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.

Meet Anarah



Hullo blogging world

Meet the newest addition to the family – Anarah.  She decided to wait until her exact due date, and she weighed exactly the same as her older brother when he was born.  Go figure!  We’re glad to have her here – me especially! pregnancy with a toddler in tow is no picnic.

When we had Corbin, I decided to do a monthly photo shoot with him documenting his growth for the first year because they grow so quickly at first.  We’re doing the same thing this go around with Anarah, although I’m having difficulty hitting the exact month schedule.  This image is Anarah at  about 5 weeks instead of a month.  We’re a lot more casual about things with the second kiddo, but I’m astounded by how quickly she seems to be doing some developmental things – like reaching for her image in a mirror and holding her head up.


I can already see that my next big cyanotype project will be a set of images of my kids when they were little – I tend to like the more conceptual images in black and white while the family prefers the color shots.  Both are good to have, but the conceptual ones will make a good series.  I might, if things go well, get this series done by the time they’re teenagers.  We live in hope!

Seriously though, I’m tearing my hair out trying to tend to the needs of both children without neglecting either of them.  Bedtime is a much appreciated milestone in our day – the parents, not the kids, duh!  I shouldn’t complain really – Anarah is truly a happy, well-adjusted baby who sleeps well, and I’m so blessed to have two wonderful children.


About the image:  shot indoors, with natural light and a pretty hefty ISO. Basic darkroom edits only – like I have time to manipulate images these days!

Over thinking things

I have a tendency to over think my shots – I worry about composition, lighting, and the noise factor.  Film cameras produce grain, digital produces noise. I don’t really like either of them.  Usually my attention to detail pays off with decent shots that are exposed ok and don’t have a ton of noise.  This photograph is a prime example that perhaps I shouldn’t worry as much about the little stuff.

I had one shot at this photograph – a “helpful” lady in the group decided that I really wanted a photograph of the dress form without the plastic covering it, so she grabbed the plastic and lifted it up.  Even when she released it, it didn’t fall back into the smooth lines and lighting that caught my attention in the first place.

I took a quick shot before she grabbed it and didn’t have a chance to change the ISO.  It’s really noisy.  It was badly composed because I ran into a barrel and couldn’t adjust my angle.  The plastic bag itself is annoying because the symbols on it didn’t fit the look I was going for.  Even with all of this, it’s still my favorite of all the shots I took – with or without the bag.  I didn’t want to hurt her feelings so I thanked her and snapped away to make her happy. 

Even with all of the wrong parts I like the shot.  It’s not perfect.  Still, it captures a lot of what I was going for, and I’m happy with it.  I would love the chance to go back and try again but I don’t even know if things would be the same.

I’m starting to realize that my “style” leans more towards evocative than documentary.  All of the shots without the plastic (except for a small portion at the neck of the form that looked like some bizarre scarf) are detailed, exposed ok, and try to show as much of the form as possible.  This shot captured the mood.  That’s something I want to continue working towards in all my work.  Perhaps ignoring the small stuff will help with that.

Plotter Kill Preserve

First, before anyone freaks out, that is the name of this preserve – no typo.  Second, a Kill is a creek.  It confused me the first time I saw it too.  According to Wiki (not the best resource, I know) the word Kill is from the Middle Dutch word Kille, meaning riverbed or water channel.  This area was first settled by the Dutch if I understand my history correctly, and remnants of that history still linger.

Background aside, it’s a lovely hike, although quite strenuous if you do something stupid like climb the walls of the gorge.  Like I did. 

I love rocks.  If I didn’t have too many hobbies already I would probably be a rockhound.  They intrigue me.  If I’m hiking, the bigger the rocks, the better.  I also love water – lakes, creeks, rivers, the sea – all of it.  Add rocks to water and I’m one very happy hiker.  It sounds very stupid and cliché, but I can spend hours in a creek flipping rocks, looking for critters, and enjoying the sound of the water. 

Plotter Kill has 3 large waterfalls that are currently dripping down the sheer rock face instead of flowing.  That’s ok, because if there was more water I couldn’t have gotten to the places I reached by hopping rocks.  It’s obvious that when the Kill is in full swing there’s a lot of water involved.  Tree snags are polished smooth and huge boulders are moved down the Kill easily. 

It’s amazing how much you can tell about the region just by following the creek bed.  The waterfalls occur in this preserve because of the way the slate – I think it’s slate – snaps in sharp straight lines.  A lot of the rocks look like they were cut for building purposes – straight blocks right out of a castle wall. 

I kept thinking that the few pink granite rocks I found in the creek bed were interlopers – added at some point by the park service to a pathway or retaining wall and washed into the creek.  Then I came across a boulder as tall as my waist – it probably weighed as much as a small car! 

This photograph is disturbingly organic.  It’s the same form of rock that much of the falls are composed of, but it looks like cooled lava.  If I saw this rock in a city somewhere I would assume it was a sculpture.  The clean surface indicates that it was only recently exposed – otherwise it would be covered in moss like every other boulder.

I finished my hike by climbing the walls of the gorge.  As long as I didn’t look down or think about what would happen if my foot slipped or a root handhold broke, it was fine. The last half of the climb was more like climbing a wall than a hill.  Note to self: remember the bug spray next time!

Finding my voice

I haven’t been blogging long, but a brief scan of my posts pointed out to me that I seem to have no style.  No artistic voice, as it were.  My photography is all over the place – everything from cyanotypes to nature to random odd shots.  I say “seem” because it’s not totally the truth.

This blog has taken the form of a photo journal.  If I stuck to only cyanotypes every time I posted (because that’s really more my artistic form) I would rarely post.  I am a photographer – that means I shoot a lot.  Not all of those shots are good.  In a year’s time I’ll probably look back at the archives and blush because much of what I posted is utter crap and I was too close to the shot to see it.  While I post a lot of photographs and some inane babble to go along with them, I think I can safely say my artistic voice shows up in my cyanotype work more often than not.  

A lot of people make the mistake of assuming that an artistic voice or “style” is something you do in post processing.  I tend to view it more as a type of seeing, or shooting.  I print my cyanotypes from the strongest selection of my photographs, but I still shoot them the same way I shoot raspberries or thread spools.  That’s not to say my “Style” is set in stone – I would hate for that to happen because it means I’ve stopped experimenting. 

I guess I’m saying take this blog with a grain of salt (all 4 of you who are reading it.)  It’s more of a journal that tracks my life as well as my photographic processes.  It’s not a professional site, it’s not a marketing tool, it’s not a “pat-me-on-the-back-and-say-I’m-wonderful” site.  It truly is an accurate record of what I’m doing right now.  And I appreciate you reading – I do!  If my mistakes can entertain people or keep them from doing the same thing, all the better.  At the end of the day though, I’m doing this for me.  And I do apologize if you subscribed and I’m spamming your inbox with posts.

Thacher State Park

Today’s shooting trip started in frustration and ended with a decent hike down the Indian Ladder Trail at Thacher State Park.  Thacher showcases the Helderberg escarpment – the website calls it one of the richest fossil bearing formation in the world.  I haven’t hiked any of the other trails at Thacher yet.  Indian Ladder is the only one I know to find, so when my planned trip to Thompson’s Lake State Park ended up scrapped, I detoured to Thacher instead. 

The story goes that the trail on the escarpment (read, sheer rock wall on top of a mountain) was part of a trail used by the Mohawk Iraqois tribe en route to Hudson’s trading center.  All this happens around 1570 according to the state website.  A part of the trail involved a long wooden ladder to scale the rock wall, and one side of the trail has a sign with a 1800-something period picture of the ladder and some tourists (ladies all dressed in frilly skirts, men in suits.)

Today’s tourists don’t use a ladder – instead, we hike up and down a set of steep steps on either side of the half mile trail.   Steep is an understatement.

Once you reach the bottom of the escarpment, there’s a looooonngggg drop on one side and a sheer wall on the other.  The trail is actually closed off for the majority of the cold season because the freeze/thaw cycles bring tons of rock crashing down on the trail. 

After you reach the bottom and start breathing again, you head along the rock face toward one of the waterfalls.  This trail requires a bit of agility and scrambling, not to mention decent walking shoes.


It’s frustrating for me to try to photograph the scale of the escarpment.  It’s like trying to photograph a 4-story building standing just beside the front door – you simply cannot show the entire thing. 

After you hike a little ways, you reach the first waterfall.  Our drought dropped the waterfall to a mere drizzle, but the spray still looks lovely in the capricious sunlight.  I wasn’t exactly planning this venture so I didn’t bring my tripod.  I probably looked rather funny propped up on a rock, trying to not breath while I set the shutter to 1/15th of a second.  

The second waterfall was entirely dry, but the underground spring beneath the escarpment still dribbled out and down the hill.  Unlike the dry top of the escarpment, the lower area is filled with small damp caves, lots of mosquitoes, and dripping ferns everywhere. 

Although I don’t enjoy climbing the stairs, they do offer some of the best pictures of the escarpment.  Shooting from a distance anywhere else means a long fall down the steep hill.

Trying to meter this place is a challenge – the rock itself changes color, the caves are dark and damp like all caves should be, and the sun keeps coming out here and there to pop the contrast up.

One more set of stairs to reach the top, and I pause along the way to breathe for a minute and catch a shot of ferns nestled into the rock face some 30 feet high.

After I reach the top, it’s a short hike across the top to my car, slapping flies along the way.  They seem to think the bug spray is a perfume.  

One of these days I’m going to find a map of this place and figure out where the old farms and foundations mentioned in the website are.  Of course, the website could be wrong – it certainly was about Thompson’s Lake – no hiking trails to speak of and a campsite area only.


Oakland Cemetary isn’t quite as large as Albany Rural, but it’s equally interesting and overgrown.  Apparently the iconic Uncle Sam originally lived in Troy, NY and is buried in Oakland.  The cemetary is across the river – I don’t usually visit because it’s a longer drive than to Albany Rural.  I couldn’t find a certain crypt in Albany Rural that I wanted to reshoot though, so I retraced my steps to Oakland and managed to find it. 

As always, I saw a ton of wildlife.  After a bit of research on the web, I discovered that the large mammals I saw several times (and almost broke a leg in their burrows a few times as well) were in fact, groundhogs or woodchucks.  It was slightly disconcerting to see large holes under tombstones and under graves.  They were extremely shy and I couldn’t get a decent pic of them even with my long lens. 

Despite its name, Oakland has a lot of maple and cedar trees.  One of the maples was buzzing – what looked like a swarm of honeybees was circling around a hole in the trunk.  I’m not sure if something got into the hive and disturbed it, or if they were planning to head out to a new hive – either way, I wasn’t sticking around to see. 

Shooting in a cemetary is an interesting challenge for me.  I don’t want to photograph the tombstones – that gets boring and old after the first few shots, so it challenges me to think differently and look for things to photograph that I wouldn’t normally notice.

To manipulate or not


I can’t speak for all photographers on this issue, only myself.  The tldr: version – I don’t like it.  I especially don’t like it when photographs are manipulated digitally to appear something they are not. 

Photographic manipulation is such a wide field of possibilities, so perhaps it would be easier to discuss if I break it down into the common sense categories that I use. 

  1. Traditional darkroom type editing – bumping contrast, fixing highlight issues, cropping, color correction, and other exposure type things. 
  2. The “That’s not possible” type editing – stitched photographs, panoramic photographs, and HDR (high dynamic range) that combines multiple photographs for the best possible exposure.
  3. The Fakes – adding reflections, adding textures, adding pieces of other photographs, sticking the totally fake digital photo corners on them, etc. 
  4. Art manipulations – collage style photographs that are clearly manipulated and don’t care if you know it.

1. Traditional editing is usually done for one purpose – to produce a good print.   While you can produce some photoshop-style images in the darkroom, that sort of process calls for precision, dedication, and ruining of your film.   I have great respect for those who chose to manipulate their film the hard way – and they generally don’t try to pass it off as unmanipulated.

2. I have mixed feelings about this.  On one hand, some photographs are obviously manipulated – the average person does not have a panoramic camera.  While on an instinctual level I know it’s manipulated, it doesn’t stick out and bother me as much.  Stitched photographs, if done well, are the same way.  Sometimes the digital confines requires stitching to get the size pic you need (I think I could print a billboard off my RAW files, so that argument isn’t as important these days.)

HDR is a different issue altogether.  I look at an HDR picture, and it screams FAKE at me.  There’s no way in hades that someone managed to correctly expose both the sky and the shadows in a bright sunny day pic.  Sure, it’s a beautiful picture, but it bothers me.  The only HDR pics I’ve seen that didn’t bother me as much were interior shots that gave the normally hot windows some detail in the highlights.

3.  I think the guttural reaction I have to manipulated photographs is a sense of dishonesty about them.  Call me a purist, but if you truly want a photograph with interesting brush strokes on it, do it old style and actually put those brush strokes on it with an alternative process.  I saw the most horrible photograph the other day while browsing the web – a quite pretty close up of a flower that was utterly ruined by the addition of wide brush strokes on the edges.  I could only focus on the brush strokes that I knew had to be fake – no alt process I’m aware of produces color pics with applied emulsion (ok, gum bicrocromates have some color, but its a visible difference.)   That same site had a pic with the fake photo corners – they had been stretched to fit the photograph and were pathetically abnormal.

If you wanted to add a color tone to your pics, add texture, paste in more stuff, and so on, that’s fine.  Just don’t act like it’s a clean, unmanipulated photograph.   Truth in photograph is pretty much a myth, but don’t make it so darned blatant.    

Ok, so that’s a nice rant there about photography – what does that really mean when you apply it to mine? 

  • I will not manipulate my photographs beyond traditional methods.  I can and will crop them, fix their color to what I remember the object as, adjust the contrast, and even at times darken or lighten a pic to get the effect I want.   Basically, what you see is what you get.  If I chose to manipulate my work in a collage method, I will either make it so obvious you can’t miss it, or title it as such.   While I may use a digital camera, that does not mean I go nuts trying to digitally alter my photographs.  

The whole point of my photographs is to show you, the viewer, what I see.  Manipulating my photographs would ruin that and makes them utterly dishonest.