All in the Family

Memorial Day in this country is traditionally a time when families gather together to celebrate the day, to share the memories of days gone by and to make new ones and to honor those who came before us.  In my family, Memorial Day meant a car trip to the little country cemetery in Missouri where relatives from my mother’s family were buried.  We’d place artificial flowers on the graves, chat with other friends and family members who had also assembled at the cemetery that day and then have ‘supper’ at my great aunt’s farm-house before driving the 45 miles back to my hometown.  As a kid, it wasn’t always a trip that I enjoyed, but as an adult, I now cherish the memories of those Memorial Days.

Last weekend,  I attended a memorial service for my dear uncle in Phoenix.  While there, I looked at lots and lots of photographs, both studio portraits and snapshots, taken of my aunt and uncle’s family through the years, including many of my own immediate family.  Sifting through all those pictures brought both tears and smiles.    It reminded me, once again,  how priceless and treasured all those images illustrating a person’s lifetime are to those left behind when a loved one passes on.

To celebrate their 40th anniversary, Eileen and Richard engaged me for a portrait of the two of them.
To celebrate their 40th anniversary, Eileen and Richard engaged me for a portrait of the two of them.

I was thinking of that the other day, while working in my studio when Eileen Andersen, one of my family portrait clients, appeared at my studio door.  I photographed Eileen’s family last autumn. I had also made a 40th anniversary portrait of Eileen and her husband, Richard Studebaker.

Eileen and I had quickly connected during her portrait planning session.  The reason she wanted a professional family portrait, she explained to me then, was because she had been working on her family genealogy.  (Eileen is a retired school librarian so no doubt her research is very thorough.)  She was captivated by all the information she was uncovering and by the photos of faces from her past, faces of those whom she came to know as she continued to dig deeper into her family’s history.  Then, she told me, she realized that she had no professional family portrait of her own family to pass down to the generations that would come after her.  That’s when she phoned my studio for an appointment.

One of the family portraits that eileen Andersen found when researching her family history. Faces from the past bring us realizations and discoveries about who we are today.
One of the family portraits that eileen Andersen found when researching her family history. Faces from the past bring us realizations and discoveries about who we are today.

Eileen Andersen gathered her family for a professional portrait to create an heirloom for her family.Eileen Andersen gathered her family for a professional portrait to create an heirloom for her family.

Like Eileen, I too am fascinated with my own family history.  Thanks to a distant cousin, my family tree on maternal grandfather’s side of the family dates back to the 1500s.  They immigrated from Sweden in the 1860s to the United States.  As a result of the cousin’s research, I personally know my family who live in Sweden. We met years ago when my aunt, who is now deceased, and I made our first trip to ‘the home country.’  It was, my aunt told me, as if she was completing the journey back for her grandmother who had always hoped to one day return to see the family that had remained there.

My Swedish cousins and I have both visited each other at our respective homes and keep in touch, originally by mail but not electronically by e-mail and Facebook.   I realize that it’s a privilege for an American, whose families immigrated to this country generations ago, to possess this kind of extensive information about one’s ancestors and to actually know their descendants living today.

Cheryl with her cousin Sivert and his son in Sweden.
Cheryl with her cousin Sivert and his son in Sweden.

That’s one reason why, both Eileen and I, place such value on the portraits of those long since gone and why the portraits of those so dear to us bring us comfort, smiles and a few tears.  And it’s another reason why Memorial Day is, for me, so memorable.

All Aboard!

Today is National Train Day.   I have a long history, as well as a love, with passenger trains.  I grew up in a town where the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad had its regional headquarters. The company was one of the largest employers in town.  Two beautiful, brown brick three-story buildings owned by the railroad sat in the middle of town. One housed the company’s regional offices, the second was the station.  I still remember the marble floors, the tall, pane glass windows and wooden oak benches of its interior.

Sarah had just returned from spending a semester studying abroad in Europe and missed the trains that she took there to travel. When I suggested we stage her senior portrait in the old train station, she instantly loved the idea.
Sarah had just returned from spending a semester studying in Europe and missed the trains that she took there to travel. When I suggested we stage her senior portrait in the old train station, she instantly loved the idea.

Many passengers departed from this station; soldiers on their way to the World War II, sisters on their way to visit family in Kansas City or Chicago, or kids, like me, taking a short ride to the town only 20 miles away just so I could spend the day with a girlfriend.

Sarah was in search of a setting with a Bellingham landmark for her senior portrait.  The beautiful orange brick round towers of the abandoned Georgia-Pacific plant seemed ideal made even more perfect when  when the Amtrak made an appearance!
Sarah was in search of a setting with a Bellingham landmark for her senior portrait. The beautiful orange brick round towers of the abandoned Georgia-Pacific plant seemed ideal made even more perfect when when the Amtrak made an appearance!

On another occasion, my aunt bravely packed me at age 7 and my brother, age 4, onto the train for a cross-country trip to the coast of Oregon.  And what a trip it was.  I took lots of black and white snapshots with my Brownie Hawkeye as we passed through farmland, cr ossed mountains androde through ranches until we reached the spectacular shores of the Pacific Ocean.

The old train stations evoke a nostalgia of a romantic travel time gone by, at least in many parts of the country.  How wonderful if this country could have as many high-speed passenger trains as elsewhere in the world.  Perhaps as gas prices continually rise and fuel for cars becomes even more expensive, trains will once again come into widespread use and get people where they need to go.

Ferenc was safely perched on a pile of rusty old iron pieces when the Amtrak's train to Seattle went whizzing by.
Ferenc was safely perched on a pile of rusty old iron pieces when the Amtrak’s train to Seattle went whizzing by.

I love to stage photo sessions in the historic train station here in Bellingham whenever possible and always with permission. In recent years, there has been a trend among some photographers to use railroad tracks as a background.  This has been an especially popular location among the high school seniors.  I explain to my senior clients who come in with that idea in mind that it’s dangerous to shoot on the tracks and refuse to shoot on an active train track.  I have safe spots where I  shoot where the trains or the tracks are in the background.  But again, you must be extremely cautious even in these situations.

So here’s a big salute to National Train Day and all the choo-choos that pass your way!

Night Lights

I joined in with a handful of other professional photographers and some amateurs to have a little photo fun down by the water the other night at an event hosted by the Professional Photographer’s of Washington association, of which I am a member.  Here are some of my own results.  Can you guess how we created these special lighting effects?   Hope you enjoy them!

A real ring of fire sends sparks shooting in all directions as my camera caught it.
A real ring of fire sends sparks shooting in all directions as my camera caught it.

 

The giant freighter of Horizon Lines sits quitely anchored at Bellingham's port .
The giant freighter of Horizon Lines sits quitely anchored at Bellingham’s port .

 

Another kind of beach ball. This one only bounces light!
Another kind of beach ball. This one only bounces light!

 

A fellow photographer strikes a noble pose that brought to mind the early explorers from Spain and England who once landed on these shores.
A fellow photographer strikes a noble pose and brought to my mind the early explorers who once landed on these shores. Even the light wave reflects the color of the flags representing those nations.

His Guitar Gently Weeps

I have always thought that to be a great portrait photographer, you need create a rapport with the person to be photographed. That’s one reason why I include, in my preparations with my clients, a pre-session consultation here in my studio. This 30-minute time together, away from the client’s distractions of the day, gives me an opportunity to learn a little about them, their interests, their family, their passions, their lives.

I especially enjoy this time with my high school senior portrait clients because from them I hear about what they are doing at school, the classes they are taking, the activities they enjoy, the plans they have after they graduate and the dreams they hope to pursue.  This time allows me to become better acquainted with them and gives me a sense of their personality so as to help me to plan how to best photograph them. When you have only an hour, as I allow, in a senior session, you need to establish common ground and quickly be able to grasp the essence of their complex personality. Every one of them has a truly unique personality and that’s what I set out to capture when I work.

Marcus' eyes sparkled when we worked together during his senior portrait session.  I think he had as much fun that day as I did.
I tend to get pretty attached to the high school seniors I photograph, Marcus was no exception. His handsome dark eyes sparkled when we worked together during his senior portrait session. I think he had as much fun that day as I did.

As a journalist for TIME Magazine, I was very good at personal interviews. I knew how to ask questions to get the information I needed.  Of course, while this expertise is useful, I don’t use it in the same way in my studio consultations. My goal with my clients is to put them at ease with me as well as to learn about their life so that when they do step in front of my camera, we are working together in a way that ultimately produces the kind of results my clients have come to expect.

Consequently, I get pretty attached and close to the people with whom I work. This is true particularly with my high school seniors. Perhaps it’s because I listen carefully to what they tell me or because when photographing someone professionally, as I do,  I create a mutual trust in order for the person to comfortably reveal themselves to me.

I enjoy keeping up with the seniors even after they graduate. Sometimes I’ll bump into them at an event or somewhere they work and we’ll chat about what they’ve been doing. Sometimes I’ll hear from them on Facebook.  And sometimes they’ll drop by the studio if they are in town and in my area just to say ‘Hello.’ That’s the kind of relationship I pride myself and that I enjoy with my clients.

Marcus loved music and brought his blue guitar with him to his senior portrait session in Whatcom Falls Park
Marcus loved music and brought his blue guitar with him to his senior portrait session in Whatcom Falls Park

So when I received a phone call the other day from the father of one former senior client, telling me that his son, Marcus, had unexpectedly and tragically passed away, it hit hard. I saw Marcus several times after his graduation, mostly when  working at a local restaurant. I remember how much fun he was during his photo session. He chose Whatcom Falls Park as the location for his session because that’s where he spent a lot of his free time. When I learned during his consultation that he loved music, I asked him to bring his guitar too. It turned out to be a blue acoustic guitar that matched the blue plaid flannel shirt he wore that day.

His sisters, mother and father were also present on that day. The older of the two sisters had a great way of getting him to smile, although I don’t think it took much to squeak a smile from Marcus.  He also had this great little twinkle in his eyes that I feel I captured in his portrait. I can see why so he touched the lives of so many. He was personable, sincere and seemed to have a genuine concern for those around him. In fact, I read in his obituary, that he had just decided to study photojournalism at Western Washington University in order to expose the injustices he had seen in the places in the world he had visited. I’m sure he would have been a good one.

The park was a favorite place for Marcus to hang out and walk his dog so it was a natural location for his senior portrait.
The park was a favorite place for Marcus to hang out and walk his dog so it was a natural location for his senior portrait.

My heart goes out to Marcus’ family. I am honored to have been the photographer they chose to create his senior portrait. I’m happy that they have those photos, taken at a much happier time, to keep with them now. I hope they will help them through this tough time and bring them a smile or two, just as Marcus did to others in the 21 short years of his life.

You can read more about Marcus’s life by clicking on the link below and you can see more images of Marcus from his senior session on the Portfolio page of my blog.

Thanks for the wonderful memories, Marcus!

Therhttp://www.legacy.com/obituaries/bellinghamherald/obituary.aspx?n=ramon-marcus-garcia&pid=164688922#fbLoggedOut