I had a rather interesting first job when I graduated from college. I worked a 1pm to 9pm shift putting together a tax magazine. The job was unusual in so many respects. I was like a medical resident. When they needed me, I was there. One day I’d be out reporting all day long and returning to the office at 3pm to start work. Other days, I’d sit around and do nothing for hours. Well, not really nothing. But nothing work related.

This was my beginnings with photography, you know when things got really out of control.  LOL.  I would spend all day looking at different pictures, different images just to figure out what I liked and what my aesthetic was.  My style at that time was kind of “point camera, take picture.”  I looked at so many images all day.  I was constantly getting ideas too about photographs I wanted to take.

One day I saw these pictures taken during the Great Depression by the Works Progress Administration, the WPA.  This was a government agency created to get artists back to work and this entire WPA aesthetic was created.  The aesthetic was modern and straightforward, not too much ornamentation.  I really liked it from the first time I saw it.  I particularly liked the color photos I saw done by the WPA.  There’s a set taken by the Farm Security Administration that I particularly love.  It’s like an encyclopedia of America life during the Depression.  What is the most remarkable is that most of the pictures are in color.  Looking at color pictures of the past can feel kind of strange.  We’re used to past being portrayed in black and white and seeing it in color is kind of jarring because you forget it was in color back then.  It’s all been in color all along obviously but when you see it in color, you think — that looks like now but why are all cars so old and the clothes and hairstyles so old fashioned and out of date?  

The pictures from that era too are marvels of technique.  They look so true to life because the cameras they were taken with were had such good optics and tone reproduction.  Everything is beautifully rendered.  You feel like you are right there with them.

Recently, I took my trusty Lubitel out for a walk around the neighborhood and inadvertently took my own WPA style photos around my neighborhood.  I guess in a way I’m also documenting what my neighborhood looks like now.  It won’t look this way in ten or twenty years.  But photography captures that and that is the magic of the whole thing.  Here are some examples of that:

Hey Jealousy

I know the title is a 90s song lyric, which now is … 30 years ago.  I just had a heart attack writing that, but whatever.

So yeah, sorry for the big gaps between writing stuff.  The pandemic has limited me to a one hour on foot radius around my neighborhood but that doesn’t really bother me.  Oh and I’m shooting film again and yeah, that makes the times between taking the pictures and seeing the pictures a lot longer.  

I don’t know why the pandemic drove me back to shooting film, but I’m kind of glad it did.  Digital is great for getting your images quickly but film is so much more creative.  I never become a photoshop person and I don’t really retouch my photos.  That just always seemed like overkill to me.  But the film stuff, I always loved and it’s been great getting back into it.

When I started photography, I remember seeing these images that had the film holes on them.  With black and white, you can do those with a contact sheet but I also saw them in color.  And I never knew how people did them.  All I knew was that I wanted to do them and I had no idea how.  And I was jealous of the person who had done it initially.  Because that really drives you with photography.  Jealousy.

To get serious here for a second, as a photographer, I have ALWAYS looked at other people’s images and thought — how did they do that?????  How do I get to do that??????  It this continual search to figure out ways to do images.  And it’s a lot of fun.

So I figured out how to take the sprocket hole photos.  Sure my first roll of film had exactly one image on it and I had to tweak the process a few times but I think the results came out very well.  I call this experiment a success.  Here’s sprocket photography, sure to be the hot trend this pandemic season:

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Where’s the line between an accident and art

So it’s the March 927th or something.  I don’t know.  2020.  Ok whatever, enough complaining.

Quarantine has driven me back in time, back to my film roots.  I spent so many years shooting film and generally messing around with it for the sheer joy of it.  Happy accidents.  Weird things on the camera.  All in good fun.  Photography in the spirit of DIY and experimentation.

I have always wanted to do a double exposure series, just to see if I could even pull it off.  I don’t know why I did do this before when I was messing around with tungsten film, infrared, low speed film and various kinds of cameras.  Recently I thought — wouldn’t it be fun to put a roll of film in the camera, take 36 shots and then stick it back into the camera?  Let’s just see what happens.

First, before I actually did anything, I watched some YouTube videos.  I guess this is a kind of a university now.  For my camera, there’s a way to do it where you wind back the film and can gets a double exposure.  That sounded too complicated and I preferred my cowboy let’s see what happens kind of a way.

So I loaded up the film and set out on my daily constitutional around my neighborhood.  I did shoot the film at a very big aperture.  If the camera recommended 5.6, I opted for 4 just to make it nice and light and for the images to layer on well.  I thought — how am I going to shoot 36 exposures?  I hadn’t even reached the end of my walk and I had already done them.  Then I got home, broke out my dark bag and re-ran the film through.

The results were well, interesting but on the good side of interesting.  Not interesting like a bad haircut or a potato salad with raisins in it but actually interesting.  It was funny picking out which pictures to throw up on Flickr and social media.  Is this actually cool or just two pictures layered onto one?

Anyway, here are the results.  Luckily I live down the street from a religious supply store so those images got layered over the other stuff I shot nicely.  And my neighborhood is pretty nice too, so that was easy as well.

Double exposing in all of it’s experimental glory:

The Mere Clicking of the Shutter

The pandemic drove us all inside and away from each other.  For me, something even funnier happened.  It drove me back in time, photography wise.  There I was shooting with all manner of digital cameras for almost 15 years.  Now I’m shooting with my film cameras again and getting back into that big time.

Now I’m lugging my medium format camera and my old Canon film camera with me everywhere.  I’m festooned with cameras, happy as ever.  I’m already starting to take a lot of film pictures again.  I have a digital darkroom kind of a set up now with a scanner for the film.  I unspool my rolls of film and this magic just happens.  I can sit and scan for hours without stopping.  I do though sit there sometimes and wonder why I’m doing this, why I even ever picked up a camera in the first place.

A lot of people that take pictures talk about how they got interested in it because they loved how the image showed up on the paper in the darkroom or that they were interested in how the camera actually worked.  For me it was always that you created a world or a memory that only existed inside the camera.  But for me there was always so much more to it than that.

For me, it was growing up in New York City in the 1980s.  Growing up, it was always just me and my parents.  Us three.  No siblings.  No babysitters.  Me among the adults, along for the ride.  We used to walk around New York for hours.  I saw people break dancing and guys wearing gold chains and Adidas.  I saw Wall Street Yuppies.  I saw wealthy teenagers.  I saw it all in that city.  New York City lit up at night alone would make you want to take pictures of it.  What was there then is now lost to the world.  What fascinated me most doesn’t really exist anymore.  There is no more Tower Records in Greenwich Village.  The B Altman building is still across the street from the Empire State Building but it’s not a department store anymore.  I wish I had been able to capture what it was like to go to Tower Records in the 1980s and what the entry to B Altman looked like.  I remember thinking I wish I could capture this stuff for myself.  It was such an interesting world. 

We also went to Poland to visit my family a lot in those years.  We visited Poland in the 1980s, when it was still communist.  Just sitting in my grandparents’ living room in those days.  I can still picture it with all the furniture, the black and white television and the dog.  They lived in this communist apartment block and you could see the rest of the buildings in the complex from their balcony.  They looked as desolate and cold as anything you saw in any movies or pictures of those places at that time.  I remember the tiny kiosks that you would go to buy tram tickets and even the trams themselves, old, wooden creaky things.  There were these old communist stores with these neon signs on them.  There were these fancy old style delicatessens.  And that was just in my city grandparent’s area.  I remember riding my bike around my country grandmother’s house and seeing a guy standing there with a sickle.  I remember wishing I had a camera at that moment to capture that.  It all made such an impression on me that I wish I could have documented it on my own.  

That desire to document the world around me never really left.  Now its really funny because I don’t really leave my neighborhood but I still find tons of things to photograph around me and seemingly never run out of things to photograph.  Here’s some recent pictures from my neighborhood.  I’ve been in Boston now for eleven years and living in my “new” neighborhood for the past two years but the desire to document it all is fresh as ever.  Once the photography bug bites you, it never really leaves you.

What I Saw At the Politics Show

I guess putting the word “politics” in the title of the blog entry, well that mean I’m going to talk about politics.  Well, I am but not the here and now politics.  I don’t really want to open that particular can of worms.  Rather, I’m going to talk about being a fresh faced kid in big bad Washington DC.  Nah I’m kidding.  But I am going to talk about my time in DC, what I saw, who I met and what (if anything) I learned.  Buckle up.

We have to start at the beginning, as good a place as any I guess.  That I would live in Washington was almost a foregone conclusion.  Growing up every night my dad would watch the McNeil Lehrer news hour.  Every single evening.  I mean it was with good reason.  The family was far away in a place where a lot of political upheaval was happening and hey, its always good to know what’s going on.  I was just a kid.  I remember sitting in our living room in our old house in New York, playing with my Legos where people like Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski held court on one topic or another.    

But the real show was on Sunday.  Every week we watched This Week with David Brinkley.  The courtly, slyly witty David Brinkley, firebrand Sam Donaldson and the country squire firebrand George Will.  What a combination.  Brinkley would always have his funny asides at the end about postage stamps and hilariously named bills in Congress.  

Needless to say I was fascinated by all of this.  There was this spark and this fun in this world, but they also seemed really serious at the same time.  I remember having conversations with the adults around me about one political thing or another.  Never mind I was in ninth grade at the time.  

Ninth grade is also pertinent to this story.  It was when we went on our school trip to Washington DC.  I remember our school trip pulling up to the White House.  I sat there on the bus and said to myself — one day you’ll be in there.  Same thing for the Capitol building.  One day, you’ll be there.  Little did I know how soon that would actually be.

You always hear about the science and math geeks in high school but I think not enough attention gets paid to the history and politics nerds, which is the herd I belonged to, although in my high school, that was a herd of one.  Still the interest persisted into college, where I became a political science major.

Now, now you want to hear some straight shot story about someone studying political science, graduating with extreme and excessive honors and busting out, ready to take on the world.  Well, that’s not the story here.  Yeah, I graduated with some kind of latin distinction after my name but I really did not find political science that interesting, the deeper I got into it.  When it came down to the nitty gritty of it, I wasn’t really that interested in campaign finance reform and things like that and the experience overall was uneven, to say the least.  

The real story was that in my junior year, I did study abroad in Denmark.  A lot of stuff happened during that semester, that I detail in another blog entry.  Initially I thought I was going to go to law school but the semester in Denmark made me rethink those plans.  My dad said to me — so, what now? By the end of that week, I had formulated that I was going to go do journalism.  Looking back on it now, I don’t even know how this even worked out for me.

Around that time, I went to my academic advisor, a guy named Charlie Tarlton.  He was a political science professor at my college but he had been some kind of hippie in California in the 1960s.  In other words, he could understand this 21 year old that was a bit lost.  I still remember our conversation though, a less auspicious beginning to anything you could not find.  I went to Tarlton’s office wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  The night before somebody had gotten attacked in the area next to my dorm.  It woke up the entire dorm.  I’m sitting there half asleep and Tarlton goes — so why are you here?  I said — well, I’m eight credits short of graduation and I don’t want to study anymore.  Tarleton sat back and said — we have this DC internship program you could do.  Your GPA is ok.  You should be able to get into the program.  

I went to DC and did an internship at the Voice of America.  This is twenty some odd years ago now, but still working at the Voice of America is one of my favorite work experiences.  I showed up on my first day of work and people from the office were coming over to talk to me.  One of them said that they had heard I was from Chicago and I said — no, I just lived there when I was a little kid.  I was 21 at the time and the guy said to me — when you were a little kid??  I have TIES that are older than you.  I don’t know but I just found this super funny.  These people were straightforward and honest and that’s all you can really ask for.  Working at VOA was my first brush with Washington and I saw it at it’s best.  The people in the office had worked for some DC grandees but they didn’t seem too taken with themselves.  I wrote crime alerts and editorials for worldwide broadcast which was such a thrill.  I would sit at the desk everyday and look out at the Capitol Building.  It never stopped being a thrill for me looking at it, corny as that might be.

My other internship was at this place called Connection Newspaper, which was a local Northern Virginia weekly that wrote about high school band concerts, football games and other kinds of local news.  The guy I was assigned to sort of shadow handed me a folder of stories and said — these are my dogs.  He didn’t mean canine.  He meant stories he didn’t feel like writing, so I as the intern could have at them.  I wrote a story about a guy and his butterfly collection and attended and wrote about the aforementioned high school band concert.  By the end of it, I had six clips.  I think.  Six pieces of journalism with my name on them.  I thought — journalism in DC.  I mean that’s a real long shot.  

A couple of months later, I was applying for jobs when I happened upon this place called Tax Analysts.  I’ll never forget what happened the day they called me for my interview.  It was the end of the summer, three months of job hunting, no offers yet and I get a phone call from Tax Analysts.  I had a cell phone then, an actual phone not some glowing rectangular electronic Swiss army knife like we have now, but a phone phone.  I called the number back to book the day I would go for my interview.  It was raining.  I’m standing on Pennsylvania Avenue and a car goes by.  Every single person on the street has stopped.  The window rolls down and it’s Bill Clinton waving at everyone and smiling.  Everyone waved back.  It was odd because at that moment, I thought — you are going to be OK.  You are going to be OK.  A job will come and you will be fine.  Bill Clinton, and I’m sure you frequently read this blog, thanks for the reassurance.  

All the other jobs I applied for had been in DC but this one was in Falls Church, Virginia.  I walked into this job and thought — I will work here.  I was interviewed by this slightly intimidating older editor and the staff, including a guy wearing a t-shirt with a basketball on it.  More on him a bit later.  I was to be formatting a magazine and there would be reporting opportunities.  I thought — hopefully not really soon because I was still kinda learning journalism.

By then I had moved to Capitol Hill and soon, there were reporting opportunities.  Soon there were many reporting opportunities.  Soon there were many many many reporting opportunities.  I mean there were a lot but I was also very willing to take them and I lived a couple of blocks from the Capitol so it was easy enough to get there.  The guy in the t-shirt with the basketball on it, my best friend of the past 20 years, Herman Ayayo, told me that I got the reporting opportunities because I lived in the neighborhood.  LOL.

There I was finally at the politics show.  Heady stuff for a person who had just six years earlier walked across a stage to get their high school diploma. There I was seeing people I had read about in books and seen on the news.  It all had this surreal quality to it.  

There were so many moments that were just unbelievable.  I remember seeing Ted Kennedy a few times.  He was the lion of the senate by that point but all I thought was — my mother, who grew up in another country saw your brother get killed live on television and here I am standing in front of you.  There was the time I was standing next to Tom Daschle when he was talking to the press and I was on the news that night.  Mitch Daniels, former governor of Indiana, yelled at me.  I mean he didn’t yell at me but he got smug and an attitude with me when I asked a question.  Jerold Nadler pointed at me at a hearing once and said — nobody from the press is here.  Kevin Hassett, an advisor to George 43 at the time, said — Paul Krugman always gets his tax wrong and you can quote me on that in Tax Notes.  

I went to the White House a couple of times for work.  The first time I went was in 2001, for the signing of the Bush tax cut.  Going to the White House, no matter who you are, how old you are or how jaded you are takes your breath away.  It just does.  I remember going there and feeling like was walking around in the back of the twenty dollar bill.  Yet more surreal was at another event I went to with the prime minister of Spain at the time, where 43 tried some Spanish on Jose Maria Aznar and Aznar was having none of it.  That day, the Spanish press were giggling and taking pictures of themselves on the presidential limousines.  Oh and smoking everywhere.  After the big meeting, there was a press conference at a very fancy hotel across the street from the White House.  The Spanish contingent crossed the street and they’re smoking in the lobby of the hotel.  I’m thinking the hotel personnel is going to lose their minds but on it all went.  Oh and I went home that night and you could see the back of my head on C-Span at the White House.

It wasn’t until much later that I thought — I was in the White House inside of nine years since being on the school trip with the high school, just as I had predicted.  I didn’t realize how remarkable that is until very recently.

A couple of things struck me about all of this.  Washington, inside the beltway, operates on a completely different set of rules than the rest of the world.  Sometimes, a lot of the time it felt like a lot of smoke and mirrors but there was real work being done under the smoke and mirrors.  But also at the same time, you could see how human they all were.  Human beings made all of this government policy, imperfect as it may be.  I remember sitting in the House press gallery, waiting for some briefing to start and Dick Armey, the House Majority leader at the time, walks in.  He was this really tall tanned Texan, who could have been a movie actor playing a politician, except he was a real politician.  There was a bit of time before the press briefing began and Armey started this stand up comedy routine.  I could not believe how funny he was and even more, I could not believe I was laughing this hard at jokes told by a guy whose politics I so vehemently opposed.  A lot of them were funny and very charismatic.  The fact that their political beliefs weren’t aligned with yours didn’t really matter.  

That was the thing that struck me the most.  When it came right down to it, when dealing with a crisis, they did actually work together to mitigate the crisis.  This is what great politicians do.  Teddy Roosevelt is considered a great American president who created our national parks.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt rescued America from the Great Depression.  Ronald Reagan, along with many others, worked to end the Cold War.  How many people remember that two were Republicans and one was a Democrat?  The great ones transcend party.  

I still have an abiding love for the Capitol building.  Now when I see it on TV, I remember all the times crossing through Statuary hall or the rotunda to get to some hearing and thinking — I was here when I was 15.  Now I’m rushing to get to a work thing.  Even now I see people reporting from there and I still remember standing at the same spots in the Capitol.  The affection for the building has never left me.

Well, anyway, enough talking.  Did I mention I used to bring my mini camera with me to all of these meetings?  No.  Well, I brought my tiny little sneaky Russian camera along to all of my meetings.  I had to.  I never knew what I would see.  So here are shots of former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, Jeff Flake, Dennis Hastert, TV actor Bradley Whitford, a shot when I was definitely the only woman there, shots of a couple of the policy forums I attended and some other stuff.  Enjoy what I saw at the politics show:

Stars Hollow

TV isn’t really something that we should use to gauge reality.  It is really bad at doing that.  Really bad.

Case in point — the Gilmore Girls.  A charming story about a mother and a daughter living in this idllic place called Stars Hollow.  It’s a town full of quirky characters and the town just looks so beautiful.  Who wouldn’t want to live there?

I remember watching the show continually and thinking — that looks like any other town in New England.  New England, I mean that’s a normal place.  What’s so special about it?  But then you realize that what’s normal and workaday is exotic to someone else.  When I went to Chile, I couldn’t get over how beautiful the mountains were off in the distance in Santiago and the locals just said — eh, las montañas.  That’s how I always felt when people were amazed by places like Stars Hollow or wherever I lived.  Eh, it’s just New England.

But no, it’s actually really special.  Here are some places that are close to home for me that I realized recently are pretty special and beautiful — Jamaica Plain and Walden Pond.  Oh and these were shot on film, my first film shots in 15 years.  Hence why they look like freshly done paintings.  Enjoy.

Remembrance of Concrete Pasts

Proust had the madeleines.  I have concrete.  We’ll get back to it.  Promise.  But first, join me on a journey back in time.

I’ve spent the better part of the past two months going through all my old negatives.  I shot and shot and shot until I put the camera down for five years.  But before that I shot a lot of pictures.

As I have mentioned before, I got into the photography seriously in college.  I joined the school yearbook staff.  We’d have weekly assignments or we would just figure out what to photograph on our own.  I look at the college year books now and they have this hard 1990s edge to them.

I ended up at college at the University at Albany, where these pictures were taken almost by accident.  I had a hard time in high school with the people I went to school with.  Everything I said was wrong.  Everything I did was wrong.  When it came time to take the SATs, I didn’t do well on them at first.  A lot of people I went to school with would say things to me like “oh you didn’t get a perfect score.  I thought you were smart.”  I kind of started thinking I was stupid.  

My SAT score was high enough to get me into a lot of really good universities but not high enough for me to get any scholarships.  I still remember have to write these letters to all of these universities I had gotten into to say that I wouldn’t be able to attend.  I remember what a failure I felt like.  

I had gotten into the University at Albany early on in the process.  Truth be told I really did not want to go to that school for a myriad of reasons.  I wanted to be away from the type of people I went to high school with and that place was teeming with those kinds of people.  I wanted a fresh start.  

I remember thinking back then that college was like high school without parents, at least in the first few years.  When I was a freshman, nobody ever slept.  There was this lawless kind of environment everywhere.  Drugs and alcohol was everywhere.  To me even then it all seemed really overblown.  College would go by in a flash.  It would be over before you knew it and you had to start your life.  But everyone around me was just focused on the here and now.  I remember hearing a lot of stories about how drunk how one of them was last night or the night before and it was funny, I guess but I kept wondering — are you going to keep doing this once this whole thing was over?  College isn’t forever.  It’s really not that long of a period of time in your life, in fact. 

I really remember feeling like everyone around me had it all figured out and I didn’t have anything figured out.  So many people went around talking about how smart they were or how the people around them were so smart.  I remember one girl telling me that a guy in our dorm was so smart he knew he didn’t have to be in school.  Another guy told me that he knew he could do so much more not being in college.  I kind of felt like a chump for sticking it out in college.

Now it sounds like adolescent chatter.  I mean we weren’t that far removed from that part of our lives so it is to be expected.  Everything seemed so important at the time.

Now back to the yearbook thing.  I was on the staff and spent many an hour picking the brain of everyone on the staff on how to take good pictures.  The pictures they wanted was really focused on the social life in the school, something that I really did not feel like participating in and which made me just this side of uncomfortable.  

As is frequently the case when I tell these stories, I was off in another world.  I sat at my class in the Brookings Institute and all I did was try to figure out how the pictures hanging on the wall had been taken.  It was the same at college.  They wanted us to photograph drinking and drugging and I’m up there photographing the architecture of the college.  I photographed it constantly.  Now in hindsight, I wish I had photographed it even more.    

Albany had this really unique architecture.  It was another thing I hated about the school, I’ll just say right here.  All of these concrete and this weird looking 1960s space age fantasy.  It was all too much.  To me college was red brick buildings and ivy.  What was all of this?

But as with everything from that time in my life, somehow the passage of years has really given me a new appreciation for it.  The campus really had this futuristic kind of cool to it.  I really wish I had appreciated it at the time.   There was something about it that was out of date and yet modern at the same time.  Downtown Albany had that same feel to it too.  Futuristic and yet out of date at the same time.

What has really struck me over the past few years is that I’m now working as an instructor in the universities I couldn’t afford to attend as an undergraduate.  Now those places that I wouldn’t help me with tuition ask me if students should be admitted.  I’ve been working at Boston University for the past two years and it never ceased to amaze me that the school isn’t actually a leafy green campus.  It’s a city campus.  I always think college is what you make of it and it isn’t just one kind of campus or one kind of experience.  Pretty soon I will have spent as much time teaching the undergraduates as I actually was one.

The college experience gave me things I didn’t really except either.  My own was far from the stereotypical one from movies and television.  Now as an instructor, I try to guide the students and help them in ways I was never really helped when I was their age.  And for what it’s worth, I never really heard about the people who were much too smart for school or could achieve more without it.  Funny how that works.

Here’s to the modern out of date futurism of the University at Albany and Albany, New York.  One small corner of my heart is in fact made of concrete.



It All Makes Sense Now

So my spelunking through my old negatives got me thinking about a lot of things. So here I’m going to tell an old story with a new image. If you don’t like stories, scroll down to the image.

So when I was 21, I moved to Washington DC to be an intern. It was my last semester of college and I was basically done and ready to start my life. We did our internships three days a week and went to class two days a week, at different locations. Often we had class in a place called the Brookings Institute, which is think tank in Washington, a pretty famous one.

The professor I had was an old Washington person and he knew a lot of people. He would invite people to come and speak to us on different topics. Now this was interesting of course. I’m not going to pretend that I was too cool to listen to those people. I’m not, but Brookings had one thing that got my attention more than anyone we ever heard speak. They had an amazing collection of photographs on their wall, in particular ones by a photographer I really like named Hiroshi Sugimoto.

I remember going to all of these different galleries and seeing these incredible seascapes. There was so much detail rendered in the water and on the beach. There was nothing going on, you weren’t looking at anything particularly beautiful but wow, you were transfixed by these pictures. Sugimoto also photographed different old style movie theaters and those pictures were amazing too. Emptied of people but with these amazing details rendered. It’s not an overstatement to say that I was obsessed with these photos.

One day I was sitting in class after, um, a particularly late evening. I was drinking coffee and listening to today’s expert, after I had gone by the Sugimotos on the way into the conference room and it just hit me — he used medium format film, probably medium format slides to shoot the picture I had seen on the wall. I spent the rest of the class thinking about medium format slide film and how detailed it was.

Anyway, pretty soon after that, I got my Lubitel and learned to take pictures with a twin lens reflex. I didn’t shoot any seascapes, but I did fall in love with the color and the detail rendering on your average medium format film. Now I have a Rolleicord and where did I take it the first chance I got? Yes. To photograph the ocean, of course.

So, here I am “reinterpreting” Sugimoto’s style. I love how the ocean water looks like glass in all of these. The things that happen when you let your mind wander, right?


The Wilderness Years

Well, hello again.  No, I have not abandoned the blog but I had some business to attend to.  First, I decided to digitize all my old pre-digital stuff, after they’d been sitting in a couple of drawers at my parents house for over a decade.  This was quite the undertaking but TBH, I could have sat there and scanned those negatives for hours on end and really that’s what I did and it took about a month and a half to go through all of it.

Second, I got a new computer.  Not as big of a deal as other new computers but my old machine, much as I loved it, I had to close for now.  But I will never stop loving it.  I say this so the computer doesn’t suddenly decide to break down or something.  I love the old computer and the new one equally!!!!  

Anyway, while going through all the old stuff, I found a lot of pictures I took in Poland when I was studying there and it led me to the title of this blog entry — the Wilderness Years.

So what were the wilderness years and how is Poland connected to that?  Well, read on and you shall find out.

In 1997, I went to study in Denmark and I didn’t know it at the time, that began the Wilderness Years for me.  I went to Denmark and everything changed for me and I traveled quite a bit too during that time period.  I came back to the United States having visited four countries in a short period of time.  Here I was this person who had had all of these experiences back at a college I didn’t particularly like, among a group of people I really did not fit in with.  Nothing much really made that much sense.  I remember being in my dorm at college and wondering if anything would ever make sense again.  To make a long story short, it did but not in the way that I expected.

It was around this time that I really started to question where I lived and definitely who I was around.  It got really confusing for me about where I belonged, even life wise.  My parents lived in a place called Westchester that I utterly hated.  They had moved away from where I had lived when I was in high school to another part of Westchester so I didn’t even really know anyone from there anymore.  My parents had also turned my old room into a gym, which hey was totally their right so there wasn’t a real spot for my stuff.  I was off in the wilderness, in a way.  I knew where I didn’t want to be but I didn’t know where I was supposed to land yet.

The summer after I returned from Denmark, I decided to go to Poland for the summer.  At that time, I visited the country quite frequently.  I had always thought I would return to Poland at some point for school just to get in touch with the roots.  I also always thought it would be weird if I didn’t speak the same language as my grandparents and family.

My university had an exchange program with Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland.  For a couple of weeks before the program began, I spent time with my family.  My cousin is the same age as me took me on these hiking trips with her friends that would last days on end.  Those trips were also some of the key features of the Wilderness years.

She had this very interesting group of friends to go with.  We’d carry these enormous backpacks and hike for hours and I’m not going to lie, get utterly and totally lost at times.  One time we stopped to rent a room from this woman who had this huge upstairs full of just beds.  All six of a us slept in there.  I wanted to take a shower because I was sweaty and hot and the woman told me she would turn the hot water on for me.  Turns out the hot water was only on for about 30 seconds.  Another time we stayed in a “hotel” from the communist era with the faucets reversed.  Again I was just trying to take a shower and fiddling with the knobs until I gave up.  Turned out the hotel had switched them to keep people from overusing the hot water.  In yet another hostel, there was an enormous, mismatched picture of a waterfall in this dining hall whose menu included items like “the taste of the Witch.” I’m not sure which part of the witch they had used in the dish.  I almost forgot to include the time we slept in a converted utility closet in a school.  Again, the wilderness years.

I guess I should say some words here about how this all shaped me but really it was seeing this country I was born in from this funny perspective and enjoying being hidden away from everyone and off doing my own thing.

Going to Krakow for school also turned out to be a key experience in the wilderness years.  The program was so bare bones and not flashy but really good at the same time.  We were in this dorm that chronically overfed all of us, so after classes and lunch, there was dorm nap time.  All of these grown people were napping at 2pm like children.  

Everything was so spartan.  There was nothing in the dorm rooms besides beds, a table and a chair.  No televisions.  One phone for four people.  But I don’t remember ever being bored or lacking anything to do.  I had a roommate whose family had moved to Germany from Poland in the 1970s who was one of the coolest people I have ever met.  We became best friends and she was someone I talked to for 15 years afterwards.  Every night people would be heading to the center of Krakow to go out or just watch some soccer in the main square.  Then on the weekends, they would put us onto a bus and drive us to some interesting place near Krakow.  Everything was so simple, but so nice.

My Polish class was taught by one of the best teachers I have ever had, Pani Dorotka.  Pani means “mrs” in Polish.  The classes were in a junior high near the dorms.  Every morning I would walk over with this coffee I would drink from a plastic cup.  I could speak Polish fine but I could barely read and I couldn’t write at all.  Pani Dorotka helped with all of that.

The school also had the program of my dreams — an art class taught with Krakow as the backdrop.  The teacher would talk about a certain period in art history and oh over here we have an example.  Outside, sweaty with a camera wandering around all day.  HEAVEN.

In total, I ended up in these study abroad programs for a year.  They shaped me as a person but it never, ever, ever, ever crossed my mind to work in the programs.  I had no idea what I would even do in them.  It seems crazy now when I say it, but you know, the wilderness years.  Time to figure out where it’s all going to go.

Going through my old photographs recently, I realized how grateful I was for the wilderness years and how much those years ended up meaning in the course of my life.  I felt lost as a student in the study abroad program and thought — I don’t want other people to feel lost in their lives.  It’s funny how these seemingly insignificant experiences can clue you into what you will do in the future.  

Here’s to what shapes us and how the wild, unstructured times in our lives help us become the best version of ourselves.  Here are pictures from the beautiful Krakow.  Hashtag Wanderlust!!!!!!!

I’m Really Not That Original

So, I studied photography.  Kind of.  Well I was on my college yearbook staff but I was just over there learning how to do everything.  I would just ask a lot of questions and figure out how to take better pictures.  Oh and I took a class called History of Photography, where we traced the evolution of photography, via images.  We looked at images by this photographer named Walker Evans, who loved straight lines and this unfussy approach to photography.

Now that I’m in stereotypical New England and there are a lot of just random car rides to places, we drive through these towns.  They have big squares, churches and town halls.  All I think is — that church is so Walker Evans.  Now I have the opportunity to live out my Walker Evans fantasy — photograph all of this.

Here’s New England, in all of it straightforward glory:

sudbury church black white steeplesudbury church clouds black whitesudbury church lightsudbury first unitarian church black white entrysudbury grange hallsudbury town hall cloudsudbury town hall wide view