Dark Messengers

Dark Messengers

“Leave no black plume as a token of the lie thy soul hath spoken.” — The Raven, Edgar Alan Poe

One of the things that I love about being a writer and a photographer — artist — is that you hone your skill of seeing. Throughout my last trip, and even when I came home, ravens (crows here in Missouri) have been a constant presence for me. Or warning.

Every raven I see seems to whisper to me, softly inviting me into their obsidian world of truth and lies. It is a journey I am not sure I want to take. It is a journey I can not resist to take.

Lies masquerading as truth are a theme in my life. From childhood, though adulthood and very much so in the past few months. I have entertained them, courted them, denied them, begged for them, held them close and pushed them away.

It will be interesting to see where the journey takes me as I follow the ravens …  I promise, I will invite you along if you dare to follow.

Canyon Horses

Canyon Horses

One of the most sacred places on earth to me is Canyon de Chelly and Canyon del Muerto on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. I have no reasoning for this — it’s not a genetic link, but a spiritual one.

Years ago, and without any understanding of where I was going, a friend introduced me to this place. It healed my soul then — and now. There is something truly amazing about just being in the presence of this place where nature, erosion, the ancient, the past and the present merge into something that feels like it makes time not matter.

IMG_1945Today, Nick and I took a jeep tour through Canyon del Muerto to my favorite area ruin, Mummy Cave. I could stare into the eyes of this ruin endlessly.

On this trip, horses and ravens have guided me. The horses are here in this post, the ravens will follow someday in a future post. The light and the dark — I feel their lesson will be guiding me for some time ahead.

Self Portrait for my Birthday

Self Portrait for my Birthday

Most days I feel like this image … it is my favorite self portrait for that very reason.

Am I waving to the person looking in on me? I don’t know.

Am I struggling to break out of my wooden surroundings? I don’t know.

Am I about to be transported into the center of the universe? I don’t know.

And that’s the truth of this image and life… I don’t know.

So much of life is lived under the illusion of control — under the mistaken impression of being able to be understood. But even in the moment, the moment is not always understandable.

As I face down 50 years of walking around on this planet … with three mostly finished college degrees, a genius level IQ and 20 years of entrepreneurship under my belt, you’d think I’d know something.

But here is what I have all that has taught me: I don’t know.

And so another chapter of my life begins. I wonder when I reach the end of my days, what will I know? Let the journey begin …

Black and White

Black and White

As a photographer and a lover of art, I have always loved looking at a good black and white image.

I like how, sometimes, when you remove the color, the true intent of the image just pops out at you with power.

There is something in the simplicity of a black and white image that makes it feel complex — makes it something you can stare at for hours to find all the details.

At the recent Equine Photographers photography retreat in Wyoming, I felt several of the images come through my lens in black and white — even though they were made in color. That doesn’t happen as much any more – I spend  more time in the colorful realm it seems.

Years ago, I used to buy black and white film to make a black and white image — I had to choose between black and white or color. With digital technology, you get to have both, so the image can tell you how it wants to be seen. Sometimes, I forget to listen. That’s what makes retreats like this one so powerful — you can take the time to really create, listen, feel the images.

Here are some more of the black and whites from this same photo shoot:

Next

Next

Powerful. Capable. Confident.

Ready.

All of these words describe Holly True, the subject in this image.

Around the ranch, she has been dubbed the Stallion Master. That should tell you a lot considering she’s only 18. She is an accomplished horse trainer. She is well educated — she can talk with you articulately and all in the same conversation about politics, poetry and philosophy. She can, as her title suggests, handle stallions — as well as mares, foals, and riding horses. She is good with a gun. She can do whatever the task is at hand — gates, trucks, hay, trailers …

She never backs down. She is always ready for what’s next. That is Holly.

In this image, it looks to me like she’s ready to ride the NEXT horse she decides to cut from the herd.

We’ve all heard the story of some {insert country} tribe that doesn’t allow cameras because they {ignorantly} feel that a photograph can steal their soul. We laugh at the concept of someone so backward that they could believe such a notion. But is not that the ultimate goal of a photograph — to set to record the essence of a person, place, animal or object? Not maybe to “steal,” but at the very least to borrow or capture that subject’s truth in that place and in that moment in time.

When I was in college, I was a creative writing major. My favorite format was the short story — still is if you want to know the truth. Once I had a discussion with other writers and we came to the conclusion that novelists were short story writers who didn’t know when to stop writing and short story writers were poets who used too many words. The more economy to the words, the more intense the writing.

When I look at this image its economy of words speaks to me. Whether you glance at it or study it for an hour, it will tell you a story — and that, to me, makes it my favorite photograph out of the 6000 plus images I’ve shot this week.

What’s more, is that I didn’t force the image. As an artist, I trusted my process and I trusted my subject. I didn’t agonize over settings or measure the light; I didn’t try to wrangle the horses or manipulate the scene. I had just been there when Holly dismounted from the horse she’d been riding bareback — actually, she had caught that horse from the herd, jumped on, run full out for a group of photographers and, having completed that,  slid off to release him back to his buddies. When she walked by me, I noticed she had “bareback butt” — and I liked the thought of that in an image, so I had her turn around so I could photograph her dirty jeans. In the background, the herd of horses were milling around where the wranglers were holding them until the photographers could get down the hill to photograph them as they ran down. Next thing I know, this image was in my camera.

As a photographer, as a story teller, this is the best kind of image — real, raw, powerful, authentic and unplanned.

Below are two more images of Holly from this week’s shoots…

Unplanned Cat Art

Unplanned Cat Art

Some days art just happens. It requires almost no effort – you just simply show up and it happens.

And when it comes to photographing cats, well, that’s the only way art happens. Anything else is just a struggle with mediocre results.

I have set up a little studio in my basement. It is the first time ever that I’ve had 24/7 access to set up lighting and a backdrop. Everywhere else I’ve shot with studio lights, everything had to be taken down at the end of the shoot. No  random playing without unpacking everything, setting it up, testing it, etc. etc.

When my latest administrative assistant quit,  I would get very sad looking over at her empty desk. I have been through more assistants than Murphy Brown — so many now, it’s both depressing and comical. So last month when I decided to revisit my Skulls and Flowers project, I decided to heck with it (I used more colorful language, actually), I’ll set up my backdrop and lights and just GASP leave them up!

Here’s how the cats got involved … There’s a table. There’s interesting things on the table like boxes and skulls and set up stuff, etc. And there’s cats in my basement. Two of them: Serena and Rose. Now, if you were to try to pose them — lure them into the backdrop, set things up for success, it would NEVER, ever work. There’s a reason why they liken impossible situations to “herding cats.” Cats do what cats do and that is that — and rarely what is on your agenda meshes with what’s on theirs.

The fun thing is, the cats do like the backdrop. They are frequently in it — when I’m on the phone, when I’m teaching a webinar, when I’m in the middle of a very long editing session with a client — they pose and play and generally look very enticing to my photographer’s eye and as soon as I hang  up the phone, close the class or finish the edits, they’re GONE.

This morning, I came down to do an editing session and just as I hung up the phone, Rose jumped up on the backdrop with Serena. My camera was literately inches from my hand. One flip of the light later and I had cat portraits. I snapped about 10 frames before the battery on my Cybersync shot craps. So off I went to edit what I captured.

When I pulled up the images they were pretty. BUT, I am procrastinating going to the grocery store (I’m actually procrastinating the getting dressed part of going to the grocery store), so I decided to play around with some Photoshop techniques. I love to layer filters in Photoshop with masks and varying opacities. Creating unique combinations of filters and masks can create some amazing results, I’m very happy with the ones from this morning. (For you PS buffs I layered a neon glow filter over my base photo, adjusted with opacity and a mask and then used the Shadows and Highlights adjustment to create depth and clean up my shadows) and then I did brush touch-ups to make it all work.

So there you go … unplanned cat art.

Click to enlarge images below. Scroll a little more if you don’t see them right away.

Serena SOOC (straight out of camera)

Rose SOOC

Serena with filers applied.

Rose filters applied.