Black and White

I decided I was going to be a photographer one way or another after taking a basic black and white course at the Maine Media Workshops in Rockport, ME.  I ran across the photos I took before everything went digital and I was just out having fun. Right when those little Italian schoolgirls came running toward me, I knew I was hooked.  If you are ever thinking of getting away from it all and learning a new skill, I highly recommend this little gem of a place.  I learned to see Paris, Florence, and my own backyard in a completely new way.   (The last photo is my favorite.  My nephew Sean sipping pretend tea – those cheeks are gone – he’s 16!)

Atlantic City

“Everything dies baby, that’s a fact, but everything that dies someday comes back.”  Bruce Springsteen’s lyric from his song “Atlantic City” came to mind when I found this old photo of my grandfather’s brother Phil strolling along the boardwalk in Atlantic City – dressed to kill.  He signed it for my grandfather, “To Rog, Phil”.  I don’t think I’d want some of the backward attitudes and beliefs to return, but can some of the class, clothes, and music come back?    What a dapper man (even the little girl in the picture is turning around to look at him) and what a great photo to remember the New Jersey Tennants.

The Most Beautiful Girl in the World

My first memories are of spending time with the most beautiful girl in the world.  Last month she turned 80.  She’s taught me a lot about beauty – in life, in the world and within ourselves.  My mother Virginia never feared aging, never loathed getting older, and never stared in the mirror wishing her wrinkles away.  She always sees the positive and she literally glows because of it.  I’ve been a bit different and I’m hoping that her constant urging to not fear aging is somehow getting into my consciousness.  I know that I would chose her beauty over the fear and the clinging to youth that can be seen on the frozen faces of many of my generation and beyond (but check back with me, you never know as I get further on down the line).  All I know is that if I can emulate her spirit, her intelligence and her active lifestyle when I am her age (if I am lucky enough to be her age),  I will be eternally grateful.

In the 70’s Charlie Rich’s song  “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” was a radio billboard hit and I rememeber singing it with my mother on long road trips in our station wagon.  All of her ways demonstrated what a beautiful girl should be.  Yes, she was going to “exercise class” long before aerobics, Richard Simmons, and Jane Fonda came along.   She also had a sense of style and sort of emulated this Elizabeth Taylor and Donna Reed meet the swank 70’s look.  But really, it was her behavior that demonstrated her beauty.  I grew up in a household full of males that included two older brothers, my father, and a male dog.  In the next town over you could find my first cousins – all boys.  We had 2 female cats, but she was the only female human I could really look to.  I remember thinking that she was like the woman version of Mr. Rogers.  I used to stare at the screen and wonder why they weren’t married.  They were like twins to me.  She was always telling us to believe in ourselves, to be happy and loving, to follow our dreams and believe in the possibility of life, no matter how hard it got.

But it was her presence and her daily commitment to me that made the biggest impression.  I recently had a friend tell me she wanted her son to be proud of her career, and all I could think of was how I felt about my mother.   Not that I think women or men should ditch ambitions and go back to staying home all day, but those memories of having that person with me, sharing my daily activities was most important.  That’s what sticks in my head – not her accomplishments.

After Mr. Rogers was over we’d often go out for errands around town while my brothers were at school.  One of my favorite activites was going to have our hair cut.  At the end, she would give me a quarter to put into the pop machine and I’d pull out an orange Fanta from a contraption I haven’t seen in 40 years.  Once, I dug into the magazines while she was in the chair and found a Playgirl magazine.  I ran over to my mother with the centerfold wide open and showed my mother and the hairdresser the naked 70’s god that was only wearing a mustache.  I remember my mother just chuckling as if it were no big deal, but our hairdresser looked appalled and she buried it.   A few weeks later, I dug it out again.

I frequently had to attend my brothers’ events (I was the youngest, I had no choice), but it was my mother who attended mine.  Horseback riding lessons and acrobatics didn’t really attract a male audience.  After falling in love with horses at the age of 2 (thank you Kentucky/Churchill Downs), my mother encouraged and supported my dreams of having a horse of my own one day.  She took me to riding lessons at the barn near our home and we developed a friendship with the woman who owned the barn.  One time she called us in the middle of the night and invited us over to see the birth of a foal.  I’ll never forget my mother waking me up with the surprise and we hurried out the door with coats over our nightgowns to go watch this little miracle while everyone was sleeping.  It felt so magical and special.

Both of my parents helped me to establish a savings account and I would put my birthday and allowance money into that account whenever I could to save for my horse.  I’ll never forget that little white book in my mother’s desk drawer.  I would open it and look at the typed amount get larger and larger.  Then, I’d put it back into its sleeve and continue to hope.  When I was in 6th grade, the time was right.  I had saved enough and I had a paper route to support a horse at a barn.  I looked through the newspaper and found an ad that caught my eye “Palomino pony for sale, 8 years old, $250”.  A cream colored pony.  Who wouldn’t want a cream colored pony?  We went to look at her and that was it,  I finally purchased my dream.

The day they delievered her, we waited at the barn with my friend Julie, and as the trailer came down the street I remember my mother tearing up and saying, “Your dream is coming true!”  Being a pre-teen, I think I rolled my eyes a bit, but now I understand – now I see how beautiful that moment was for me and my mother.

This is just one of the dreams she encouraged me to pursue in my lifetime.  My next dream?   To be just like her as I get older.   And maybe throw in some botox, some chemical peels, and a whole helluva lot of courage.  (just kidding, I hope!)

This one’s for you mom!  Happy Birthday you beautiful girl.

Full Circle

About 16 summers ago, I met my parents for an outdoor concert at Grant Park in Chicago.  While I was waiting for them, I saw this cute young family playing nearby.  Little did I know that that family would be in our lives now.  When my parents arrived, I pointed them out and we commented on how cute their boys were (then about 3 and 1).   My mother brought wine, but forgot the corkscrew, so we asked if they had one.  The woman said “How did you get that in here?!  They took ours away!”  Turns out my mother had a pathetic look on her face and the security guard said, “Oh go ahead.”

We shared our wine with them and got to know them better.  Later that evening, my mother called and said “You’re not going to believe this.  We ran into them again in the parking lot and they saw our license plate and told us they were moving to Indiana.  I said, ‘Where?’, and she said ‘Dyer!’ and they are looking for a church near there!”  A few months later, they were attending my parents’ church and Katy was helping my mother at her preschool.

That little one year old I was watching is now graduating from my old high school (Lake Central) where he was the star kicker on the football team.  How strange but great it was to photograph this dashing, blue eyed young man’s senior photos on my old school’s new football field.   Also strange to think that it is the same school where my father started his career as the school’s very first football coach.  Congratulations Austin – go get em’.

Hunting with Girls with Hawks

A couple of weeks ago I went to my second meet with the Indiana Falconry Association.  I was told it was often the best because it was the last of the season and the food was “to die for” (I kept hearing things about bean soup).  The last meet I photographed was held at a church and it was pretty funny seeing raptors and their owners hanging out in a sanctuary hall.  But this meet in Terre Haute, Indiana proved to be just as interesting.  I pulled up to the address I was given and there they were, hanging out with their birds near storage units at “Don Garvin’s U-Store-It”.  Unsurprisingly, there was Don, stirring a huge pot of bean soup.  The soup and the corn bread were amazing but the best part was going on an actual hunt with two teenage sisters and their red- tailed hawks.  Although the demograhics are changing, falconers are usually male and middle-aged.

Stephanie and Caroline Thomson have been hunting with their hawks “Drea” and “Criere” for about 3 years and this was going to be one of their last hunts before letting them fly free.  It was unseasonable warm for late February (60 degrees) but the light was great.   I was warned by many of the other falconers that the warm day made the birds “lazy”.  One guy said, “They’re like a bunch of teenagers in love right now and the warmth produces hormones that make them want to hang out on the tree and look for a mate, not food.”

Caroline was up first with Drea and we headed into a small field on the border of suburbia and farmland.  It was amazing to see this 17 year-old direct the hunt and make her own decisions with just the counsel of the other members who came along to help ( made up of of mostly men).  After Caroline let Drea go, the hawk flew up to a branch and the crew began whaking the bushes to scare up rabbits.   I followed Caroline and was glad that her younger sister told me to take off my fuzzy winter hat.  She said, “If you want to keep that hat, you better leave it, or you’re gonna give it up to Terre Haute.”   I found out what this meant after being impaled and hung up by numerous thorn bushes.  Rabbits were plentiful, but Drea did just as the other falconers predicted and she sat in the tree while Caroline attempted to coax her down with fake and dead prey.   We were all instructed to leave after about an hour so Caroline could work with the bird alone.

One man said something like, ” That’s the way it goes – sometimes you get nothin’.”   I wasn’t disappointed, the whole thing was fascinating and I was kind of glad that a rabbit was spared that day.  Just before I was getting ready to leave I heard Stephanie talking about her bird Criere.  She said,  ” I’m not a very emotional person, but I’m going to have a tough time letting him go.”

Avalon and the Ancient Sport of Falconry

Last week I spent a Saturday with a group of falconers at an Indiana Falconer’s Association meet, and on the drive home, I wondered what had led me there.  Honestly, my initial fascination with this ancient sport shallowly started with Roxy Music’s album cover for “Avalon”.    (From what I’ve read, Bryan Ferry put his girlfriend in a Medieval falconry hood and had her pose with a hawk to evoke King Arthur’s last journey to Avalon).  I also began associating flying with that album,  as my Walkman (an ancient piece of electronics that played cassette tapes) would frequently have Avalon rolling while I was taking off and landing.  I’ll never forget my first descent over European soil in college – the album’s song “True to Life” was playing as we landed at Heathrow.  Whenever I hear it, it forever gives me the feeling of soaring over a patchwork of English farms and cottages with the all of the excitement over the novelty of a new place, a new quest.  It’s a harder feeling to obtain as you get older, but that song brings me back to it.

After I discovered this amazing piece by photographer Asher Svicensky about a 13-year-old Mongolian girl huntress on my twitter feed, I wanted to learn more about the realities of falconry and photograph it myself.

Lafayette, Indiana didn’t have the mountains or the little girl, but it had a very passionate group of falconers that included two teenage sisters.  I missed their hunt, but I learned so much about how much it takes to learn and maintain this ancient art. Over 70 percent of birds of prey die within the first year of life, but falconers save some of them and teach them to be stronger hunters with better survival skills.  If you want to become a falconer, you must pass a written exam and are strictly monitored by the DNR.    You must also apprentice for 2 years with a General or Master class falconer.  The realities of participating in this sport do not negate the absolute beauty and mystery of these birds, and seeing them up close takes your breath away.

I’ve told friends and family that if I am on my deathbed, please play that album in its entirety while giving me a bit of whiskey and graham crackers (a surprisingly great pairing!). If  I am ever to be reincarnated, I want to be a hawk.  A British hawk.

The Ghost of Christmas Past Shoots

Back when I was a staff photographer for the local papers of Chicagoland (Pioneer Press – now TribLocal), we’d be sent to cover every Christmas/Holiday event in just about every church basement, school gymnasium, pubic library and town square.  We loved our jobs, but I remember (fondly) all of us whining  a bit:  “I’m so sick of Santa Claus!”  “What kind of shot am I going to get at another craft fair?!”  Let me tell you, finding a good photo in a church basement is far more of a challenge than shooting  any story in oh… pick an opulent, bucolic setting….. anywhere.  I was going through some of my old files and I found these.  Thanks to all those photographers out there who taught me to always believe that there CAN be something worth sharing in the depths of bad light and a church basement.

Max’s Album Cover Shoot

Well not really, but my old neighbor’s child is a really cool kid (extremely nice too).   I hadn’t seen him in awhile, but when I saw those long legs, that great hair and that touch of  early-teen awkwardness (just a touch Max – and yours is cool), I said “I have got to photograph him”.  (Add some Midwestern background and his talent and we may just have the next Eddie Vedder or Tom Morello).  If he is, he’ll have some great early photos and I’ll have my bank account ready.   Thanks, Max!  No pressure or anything.

Goodbye to Summer 2015

Photographed this boy at Marquette Park in Gary, Indiana at the beginning of the summer.  I saw him looking into the water with all of this wonder and it reminded me of myself when I was that age.  I used to go to local ponds and collect aquatic creatures of all sorts  (and then I’d come home and scare my older brothers with them).  If this kid doesn’t bring summer in the Midwest (and a little Opie) to mind, well you’d better hurry and find your own summer nostalgia before it’s all over.