Happy 101st birthday to the National Park Service!

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It’s possible Don and I are National Park Service (NPS) junkies.  We’ve spent a lot of time visiting national parks.

I used to think it was Don’s endearing Clark Griswold-ish dad qualities that landed us summer after summer in a national park.  For example … after Scott’s college graduation in 2015, do you know what we did?  A 4,320 mile road trip to visit six national parks.  Not kidding.  With a teenager and a Millennial in the car.  I still remember the kids and me trying to persuade Don before leaving that maybe you’ve planned too much this time, dear.  But Don persisted, and we did it, and we loved it. Since then I’ve taken several trips on my own (you can draw your own conclusions on that), and now I’ve grown to realize it’s not just Don who loves the parks. We both do.

So let’s take a look at a sampling of park offerings.

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These photographs were taken in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee.  The Smokies are the most visited national park. Last fall wildfires swept through and claimed 14 lives and more than 26 square miles. The good news?  The sites you see above were not affected and the park is still thriving. This is a great place to take your family.

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These photographs were taken at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.  The NPS website describes White Sands as “like no place on earth.” I went with a photography group.  The temperatures can be extreme and it’s easy to get lost.  You can take your family, but if you’re going for photography, expect to hike pretty far in. People and animals leave footprints and trails everywhere.

If I had more time and/or a quicker system to retrieve archived photographs, I’d show you Arlington Cemetery or Ellis Island or the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial to make the point that the NPS not only oversees parks with great natural beauty, but also man-made sites that honor and preserve America’s cultural heritage.  You want to experience something so moving you’ll never forget?  Visit Arlington Cemetery on a day when a horse-drawn carriage brings in a fallen soldier to rest.  Oh the power of quiet, respect, dignity, and grace …

Well, with the NPS celebrating its 101st birthday this week, it’s a good time to review some quick fun facts:

  • Did you know there’s a national park in every state?
  • and if you’re aged 62 or over, the cost of the lifetime senior pass increases from $10 to $80 tomorrow?
  • and 4th graders receive free admittance?
  • and so do current members of the military and their dependents?

So many opportunities!

I hope you can visit one of the parks this year.  I’ll be the first to admit that food and lodging can sometimes be challenging, but it’s only a temporary challenge.  The memories you come home with will last a lifetime.

For more information, please visit https://www.nps.gov.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will Photography Eclipse Your One Time Viewing Experience?

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There’s a great line in the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty when Mitty (played by Ben Stiller) has caught up with Sean O’Connell, acting the part of a highly regarded Life Magazine photographer who finally has a clean shot of the elusive leopard he’s been chasing.  Although the “ghost cat” is in full view and O’Connell is “camera ready,” he fails to take its picture. Mitty sees the leopard and O’Connell’s inaction and finally turns to him and asks impatiently, “When are you going to take it?” O’Connell answers calmly, “Sometimes I don’t.  If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera.”

So Nashville is on the arc of the eclipse and it seems everyone under the sun (no pun intended) is flocking here to view the eclipse on Monday.  Along with that has come inflated prices on airfare and hotel rooms, a healthy supply of eclipse T-shirts, a shrinking supply of the special ISO marked viewing glasses, and hundreds of tutorials on how to safely view and photograph the eclipse.

But just as O’Connell’s character chose not to photograph his prized “ghost cat,” I’m not planning to photograph the eclipse.  I mean – it’s only going to happen once in my lifetime.  Do I want “the distraction of the camera” (and in this case also the tripod, cable release and flashlight) or should I instead “sit back and experience the moment?”  I think the latter.

I learned the “experience the moment” lesson the hard way several years ago when my daughter was taking dance.  When she joined her studio’s competitive dance team, I photographed her performances regularly.  Then one day, her dance teacher met me in the back dressing room after a competition had ended and with tremendous excitement exuding from every part of her being she asked, “did you see her jump, did you see that split jump?”  I looked blankly back at her and couldn’t honestly answer. Apparently I hadn’t, at least not as she had, because I was too busy shooting.  So I looked back through my images to see if I had captured it.  I had, but I also then realized that in getting the photograph, I had missed the much more meaningful proud parent moment – you know, the kind that takes your breath away as you watch it unfold.  And while I could always look back at my photograph, I could never get that moment back again.

I continued to take dance photographs after that competition, but more and more I came to rely on a friend to take the pictures.  Hers were great, there was no need for us both to be shooting the exact same thing at the same time, and it allowed me to enjoy the thrill of my daughter dancing and then share that excitement with her right after the performance, much as her teacher had done with me that day.

This eclipse on Monday … is it more important to you to photograph it and own a version of one of the many duplicative photographs we’ll see posted all over social media in the days following or are you willing to pause and let the moment take your breath away?  

You know, you can make a decent facsimile of the eclipse in Photoshop like I did above in only a couple of minutes … and if the actual eclipse doesn’t look exactly like it does above, I bet I can tweak my facsimile pretty quickly to make it mirror the photographs.

This past week was a little stormy so the thought of a calm day with a wondrous view in the sky will be a refreshing and welcome change. Here’s hoping for clear skies on Monday, for those of us viewing the eclipse and for everyone in the world really.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have a favorite photograph?

Here’s one of mine.

_23A1711wIt was taken in March, 1953.  The teacher had taken her class of kindergarten students to Kentucky’s Blue Grass Airport to watch the airplanes fly in and out.  A photojournalist with the Lexington Herald took this picture as a feature for the newspaper.

Why is it one of my favorites?  Because the teacher is my mother and it’s a great environmental portrait.  My mother always loved children. Even when elderly and dementia prevented her from remembering familiar names or events, it was really not too surprising to walk into her room and find her singing or reciting a nursery rhyme to one or both of her very young great grandsons.  So I like this photograph because Mom is surrounded by children and looking happy.  It’s how I remember her looking at me as a child.  And I think the photographer achieved what all great portrait photographers strive to achieve.  He captured the essence or soul of his subject at that moment.  For me, that renders this otherwise 1950’s era photograph timeless.

What else do I like about it?  I like the leading lines of the fence and the kids hanging all over it.  I like that the girls are closest to the teacher and smiling for the camera while the boys, for the most part, are climbing every which way at the end of the fence and just being boys. They’re a mess.  I like the expressions on the girls’ faces and especially the shy grin on the girl closest to the camera.  I like all the coats, hats, bobby socks, Oxford shoes and even my Mom’s shoes.  I especially like that Mom is the only one pictured who is not wearing a hat, cap or scarf and her hair seems to be blowing freely in the wind.  To me that’s symbolic of the relative freedom in her life at that time.  Eight months later she would marry my dad and become a preacher’s wife.  While many good things came of that, I think it’s fair to say her hair never blew quite as freely again.

Mom died in November 2014, but I still think of her often and always on August 10th.  Today would be her 95th birthday.  Yes, 95th.  She was a little ahead of the curve in having a career first and then getting married and having children later in life.  She was years ahead of Sheryl Sandberg who penned the bestseller Lean In.  Look back at the photograph again.  Mom is “leaning in.”  

So … recently when attending a neighborhood happy hour social a new neighbor innocently asked, “What is your favorite photograph you’ve taken?”  His question caught me off guard and all of a sudden I had that sinking feeling you get when you’re interviewing for a job and the interviewer asks you a wide open question just to see how you respond.  It’s the “what’s your favorite book” question.  After thinking about my neighbor’s question for a minute, I answered, “I really can’t say there’s one photograph I’ve taken that I like more than all the rest.  Usually I have a group of favorites from each shoot, but there’s not one over-arching photograph I like better than all the rest.”  He seemed disappointed and we moved on to other subjects.

I’ve been thinking about my neighbor’s question and my response from time to time since.  In hindsight, I should have added, “but while I don’t have an all-time favorite photograph I’ve taken, I do have some favorite photographs – some I have taken and some others have taken.  One of my favorite photographs is of my mother who I loved very much.  One day in March 1953, a photojournalist I will never know took her picture …”

Do you have a favorite photograph?  I ask only because I’ve learned it’s worth taking a little time to think about.

The Visual Playground aka Chicago

Chicago.

Most people know it as the Windy City. Sports fans walk around the streets in Cubs uniforms still relishing last year’s World Series win. Many in Nashville know Chicago as the closest city to see Hamilton. Politicians and the media seem only to talk about its high crime rate or financial troubles. But for just a few hours on Thursday afternoon, I saw it only as one big and vast visual playground.

Just after lunch my sister (Jody) and I boarded a two hour architectural boat tour. It was very hot — so hot that I remember wishing at the beginning of the tour that the boat could spend more time under the shaded bridges and less time in the bright sunlight. But by 3 pm we were both saying — “wow, that was the best boat tour we’ve ever been on” and “the architecture here really is just amazing.”

We had made dinner plans for 6:30 with a friend from my OGC days in Atlanta, so after a little scurrying around in our hotel room and bits of conversation of what we could squeeze in next, Jody decided she would attend one of the intro sessions of a conference she was attending and I decided to do a quick trip to Millennium Park and the new adjoining Maggie Daley Park.  I had never been to Maggie Daley Park and they certainly weren’t ice skating in July, but there was still quite a lot of eye candy to take in.

Frank Lloyd Wright is credited with saying, “Eventually, I think Chicago will be the most beautiful great city left in the world.”

I really can’t agree or disagree with Frank Lloyd Wright’s sentiment, but I do think, based on my whirlwind exploration of Maggie Daley Park on Thursday, someone is trying very hard to preserve Chicago’s heritage of beautiful architecture and endless discovery, and I am thankful for that.

Architecture is art, it inspires, and it beckons us to explore, discover and to look up.

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Go Cubs.

 

 

 

 

 

Onlookers

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Photographers are often onlookers.  We stand quietly in the background of an unfolding event watching, waiting, and then recording it for posterity.  It’s not our wedding or soccer game or concert we’re attending, it’s someone else’s.  And we’re good with that.

In a similar vein, I have been an onlooker for the last several years to the sale of Don’s family’s farm. It ceased operation as a working dairy farm a couple decades ago, and as the years passed and his aunt and uncle grew older, the farm became more difficult to maintain.

Don stepped in about five years ago to help out and, whether he intended this outcome or not, he soon became the point person for the sale and maintenance of the farm.  It became, in essence, his full time job.

If you’ve never met Don, suffice it to say he doesn’t do anything half-heartedly. And so, to get the farm “sale-ready,” he didn’t just cut back the brush here and there; rather, little by little, and with a lot of blood (mostly on his head), sweat (all over) and perhaps even tears, he transformed the 200+ acre property into a wildly beautiful Southern landscape, with trails leading to all kinds of tangled and intertwined vines, much like the lives depicted in a good Southern novel. That got my attention.

So …  I started photographing the farm a couple years ago both as a personal project and for Don’s family.  I plan to make and give them books of farm photographs this Christmas.

The front part of the farm — arguably the heart of the farm due to the house and barn being there — sold earlier this year.  The back of the farm — which actually has some of the most beautiful acreage – remains with the family.  Nevertheless, I concluded the shooting part of the project last Sunday, the day before the buyer/developer took possession of the front acreage.

The photograph of the deer which you see above is the last photograph. From a photography standpoint, I’d say it’s nice but not amazing. I nevertheless am quite fond of it because, from a personal perspective, it provides a fitting closure to the farm photography project and narrative.

You see, as I was driving out of the farm last Sunday, this deer was also leaving the farm, running parallel to me on the other side of the brushy tree line that runs alongside the driveway.  I stopped at the end of the driveway to turn left, and then watched as it jumped gracefully to the other side of the road into a grassy field.  It then stared for the longest time back at the farm.  As it kept staring – probably waiting for more of its family to appear – I put the telephoto lens back on my camera, got out of the car (which caused the deer to turn to look at me), and took its picture.

So my last “farm photo” was not even taken on farm property.  It is of a deer across the street from the farm.  But the deer had been on the farm and was looking back, as an onlooker will do, standing quietly in the field, waiting patiently, searching with a focused gaze … until it saw whatever it had been waiting to see.

So yes this photographer and deer are onlookers, but that’s not the point of this post.  The point is that the deer who gracefully left the farm at the same time as me and then kept looking back … is a metaphor for Don and his family, now also onlookers both to “progress” and history.  I say that because although the farm will soon be repurposed into yet another Williamson County new home development, it will also live on as “the farm” in family memories and in photographs.

My friend Nancy Doyle recently defined heaven as the memories we hold of our loved ones.  I think it’s likely that if Nancy had ever stepped foot on the farm she would broaden her definition of heaven to include the memories we hold of our beloved property.

Don – Thanks for all of your hard work on the farm and for sharing your labor of love with me these past several years.  Below are some other photos from last Sunday – the snapping turtle who you successfully taunted to snap for its photo, one of the farm’s elusive eight point bucks, and the house before the trees were cut down around it the following day.

Yes, Virginia, there is still a need for still photography, and for onlookers.