Graduating My Assistant

Every year about this time I get a little sad.  That’s because it’s graduation time for many high school and college students. To be sure, they deserve to celebrate their years of hard work and accomplishment. But for me, the celebration is bittersweet when I have to say “Good-by” to my studio assistant.  I haven’t had to do this for three years so I guess I should be grateful. Still, I got a little teary-eyed when I said farewell and best wishes to my studio assistant, Megan Marler, on Thursday .

Megan graduated with honors from Western Washington University (WWU) this week with a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology.  She headed out-of-town early Friday morning for a road trip to her home back in Colorado where she will soon be married on July 5.  I can hardly believe that it’s been a little more than three years since she first contacted me about the possibility of working with me as my assistant.

Megan is usually behind the camera with me, not in front, having worked for the past three years as my studio assistant.
Megan is usually behind the camera with me, not in front, having worked for the past three years as my studio assistant.

I was pretty impressed with Megan right from the beginning. She ‘cold-contacted’ me about working me after searching out my information on-line. She already had worked in the studio of a Colorado photographer. It so happened that my previous studio assistant, also a Western student, had just recently graduated and moved back to her home in Indonesia, when Megan contacted me.  The timing couldn’t have been better.  Megan hadn’t yet arrived in town but we set up a time to meet once she got here.

Although she had an interest in photography, she planned to pursue an education that would lead her to physical therapy or something similar. I don’t remember now how it was she came to enroll at WWU, but I’m glad she did.  It didn’t take her long to settle into student life here.  She quickly made the university’s women’s crew team. (I was thrilled to learn this, having covered rowing at the 1984 Olympics for TIME Magazine.) Her height, six-foot, and strength clearly gave her an advantage, both in rowing and as my assistant. I jokingly tell my clients when we’re on location with my assistant that they are my ‘human light stand’. But it’s hard work as they must hold and position my reflectors in order to place my light just as I want it on my subject. Sometimes they are standing in the weeds, in the water or on the rocks just out of my camera’s view, but close enough so that I get the light I want. Megan learned quickly and was often able to anticipate exactly where I’d like her to go before I even directed her.

Megan, who graduated with honors from WWU, shows off her diploma on the Western commons.
Megan, who graduated with honors from WWU, shows off her diploma on the Western commons.

She excelled on campus in her classes and on the row team. Her classload wasn’t ever light but she managed to do well in them all. At the same time, she was up every weekday, on the water and ready to practice with Western’s crew team by six a.m.  It didn’t take long for this inexperienced rower to make the varsity eight-woman boat. WWU’s women’s crew team is nationally regarded and they prove it year after year by having been selected to compete in the NCAA Division II National Rowing Championships 13 years straight.  They won the national title seven consecutive years from 2005 to 2011. Megan was on the team that represented WWU in 2013 and 2014, and went with them to Nationals in 2014 to win third.  The team wasn’t chosen to go to this year’s Nationals. But Megan, and four others of her teammates, were named National Scholar Athletes by the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association.

Megan sits second from the right in this photo of WWU's women's varsity eight crew competing at the Pacific Conference Rowing Championships earlier this spring. The photo is taken from the WWU website.
Megan sits second from the right in this photo of WWU’s women’s varsity eight crew competing at the Pacific Conference Rowing Championships earlier this spring. The photo is taken from the WWU website.

Besides being on the crew team, Megan somehow found time to help coach a local girls select soccer team, stay active in her church and ‘job shadow’ with a local physical therapist. I have every confidence that she’ll continue to do well no matter what path she chooses to take in the life ahead of her. I will miss her big smile, conscientious work ethic, attentiveness to detail and cheery outlook every time she stepped through my studio door. I’m proud to have had her alongside me for countless photo sessions and in the studio doing work for me far below her skill level without complaint. I’m sorry to see her go, but at the same time excited to see where she goes next. Congratulations, Megan!

In the traditional manner, Megan gives hers graduation cap the celebratory toss!
In the traditional manner, Megan gives hers graduation cap the celebratory toss!

 

Shooting Fireworks

I’m reblogging (is there such a word?) this post of mine from a couple years ago in case some of you want to give a go at shooting frieworks tomorrow night. Good luck!

Photo Prose

It’s inevitable.  Every Fourth of July I see someone watching the big fireworks display pull out their point and shoot camera from their pocket or purse, aim it skyward and fire, hoping to capture the pyrotechnic  pageant.  More often than not, they are disappointed with the results.   I’m here to tell you how not to let that happen that to you should you decide that you simply must record the spectacle visually.

First off, turn off that flash!  Can’t tell you how many people don’t and what they end up with is a lovely view of the person’s head sitting in front of them.

Secondly, dial-up the ISO setting on your camera if it has that ability.  The higher the ISO the better chance you have at capturing the explosions as they appear rather than as big blurs that aren’t quite identifiable in the night sky.  A higher ISO…

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How to Choose a Wedding Photographer You’ll Love

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! With love in the air, what better time to talk about weddings and photography?

A short time ago, a friend of mine who lives in the Midwest, asked my advice in selecting a photographer for her daughter’s wedding next autumn. We sat down together viewed the on-line portfolios of photographers her daughter was considering.  

My own studio now accepts only a limited number of intimate, family weddings each year. Based on my years of experience and current working knowledge, I offered my friend some tips, which I’ll share here, to help in making their decision on a wedding photographer.

Your wedding is one of the most romantic days of your life.  Careful selection of your photographer will result in visual memories that you will enjoy for years to come.
Your wedding is one of the most romantic days of your life. Careful selection of your photographer will result in visual memories that you will enjoy for years to come.

Not surprisingly, foremost in the minds of most engaged couples and their parent is the price. Prices vary, depending on where you live, whether the photographer is a true professional or a hobbyist, how much experience they have, how much in demand they are and what’s included. Keep in mind that as with everything else, you usually get what you pay for. There are professional photographers out there that will fit your budget and many will work with you to come up with a plan that will satisfy your budget and your expectations.

Most of the time involved in the professional’s wedding work, and the cost, is not in the actual photographing the event.  About 7580% of a wedding photographer’s work, and thus their costs, occurs in the post-production end, in the editing, design,art and finishing process. The more photos the photographer takes, the more time that must be devoted afterwards to their preparation.

The bride and groom married on a boat in a beautiful ceremony but which also presented a challenges in controlling the light and exposure.
The bride and groom married on a boat in a ceremony that was beautiful but which also presented challenges in controlling the light and exposure.

I explained this the other day to a father of a groom who wondered why the photographer of his son’s wedding didn’t just download everything the next day and hand it over to them to see. To be sure, some photographers may actually do this.  If they do, they either have a very large production staff or they don’t care much about their work. RAW digital images from the camera, which is what most professionals shoot, are rarely perfect. They need color correction, exposure adjustment to bring out details in the shadows or the brighter parts of the image, called highlights. Most professionals also use a variety of ‘actions’ in their photo editing programs to punch up the color, correct complexions, brighten eyes, soften the light, or other special effects that will result in images that convey a romantic or exciting emotion.  This takes time, probably much more time than many non-pros are aware of or, perhaps, simply not willing to spend.

Following the ceremony, the wedding couple led guests in promenade preserved in this image.
Following the ceremony, the wedding couple led guests through a sculpture park in a promenade preserved in this image. Finding different points of view to create dramatic images is part of a wedding photographer’s job and talents.

Another consideration in a photographer’s price is the product. What, exactly are you getting when you contract with a photographer? And how good will the product be? By that I mean, if the photographer plans just to hand you a CD with the finished images (and be sure they are finished), will it be an archival CD? I personally discourage purchasing CDs only. The reason for this is quite simple. Technology. It changes so quickly. Prints or an album whether a book or an actual album, offer you a more permanent record of your big day. There’s no guarantee that you will be able to view or download from the CD in years to come. CD drives are already vanishing from some computers. Storing your priceless wedding images on an external hard drive or on the cloud isn’t foolproof either. For these reasons, I advise everyone to make prints or at least a printed book or album, of any event or subject that you’d like to have in years to come.

As for the albums, there are many fine products available today to couples. Professional photographers have a range of album styles that can be customized to fit you. Professional products differ from those generally available to consumers in that the quality control is much higher. The papers used in the final product are finer and often archival. The binding used is tougher. The selection of covers and designs wider and often sturdier. Reproductions of the image are held to higher standards. Quite likely, the album’s inside pages are custom designed especially for you. Yet another reason why it takes time to produce and why a professional’s cost is greater.

Compatibility is a huge factor in finding a photographer for your wedding. If you like photographer, you're going to be more relaxed and enjoy the wedding festivities.
Compatibility is a huge factor in finding a photographer for your wedding. If you like photographer, you’re going to be more relaxed and enjoy the wedding festivities.

A key factor in choosing your photographer is compatibility. How well do you communicate with the photographer and how well do they listen to you? Do they offer you advice about how to make your wedding photography go smoothly? Are they knowledgeable about the location of the wedding? Do they provide you with options for the images important to you? Do you the two of you click? Weddings can be as stressful as they are fun. The last thing you want is a photographer who’s disruptive, distracting to your guests, inappropriately dressed or imposing.

Today’s popular photojouralistic style of wedding photography means that photographers are less involved in “setting up the shots,” except perhaps for the wedding party groups. Still, your photographer should have a good working knowledge of how to make you look your best. There are little tricks and tips to how to stand, hold your hands, kiss, and cut the cake, for example, that can make a huge difference between a great image and an awkward-looking snapshot.

As a wedding photographer, you must be ready for anything, including a pair of doves about to take flight.
As a wedding photographer, you must be ready for anything, including a pair of doves about to take flight because there are no ‘do-overs’ for missed shots.

You may have friends or receive names of those who “do photography” on the side or as a weekend hobby and who are happy to photograph your wedding. They may be great but a word of caution. There are no “do-overs” when you shoot a wedding. Everything must work on command. Equipment can fail,weather can change and people can be difficult (or unfortunately sometimes drunk). Your photographer must be able to adjust to a situation quickly and still capture for you the images of your wedding day. Not all amateurs are as adept. You also don’t want to risk ruining a wonderful friendship should the photos not turn out as you had hoped.

Review the photographer’s portfolio, get together for a consult to meet and talk, study the plans available, revisit your budget, ask for referrals and then relax. If you’ve done your homework, you’re likely to end up with a photographer and wedding photographs that you’ll love.

Not your typcial wedding photograph, but this candid image of the bride seen through the beautiful hanging moss remains on my personal favorites.
Not your typical wedding photograph, but this candid image of the bride seen through the beautiful hanging moss remains on my personal favorites.

Conventional Wisdom

The first time I saw astronaut Gordon Cooper was on my parents’ television May 15, 1963, the day he made the history books by being thrust into space atop a Mercury-Atlas rocket. He  orbited the earth longer than any of the other five previous astronauts combined before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean. It was a period in America when kids like me watched wonderous and seemingly daring space flights on a black and white cabinet living room TV.

These early space ‘jockeys’, decked out in their bulky, futuristic-looking space suits and helmets, became instant heroes upon plunging back into the earth’s atmosphere. They were celebrated with ticker tape parades in New York City, photographed for the covers of national magazines, appeared on television’s pioneering talk shows and sought after as guest speakers for every type of gathering imaginable.

So it was that the second time I saw Gordon Cooper was in person, at the Professional Photographers’ of American national convention in Chicago. Although my father, a professional studio photographer, frequently attended these annual national meetings, and even served on the national council at one time, we kids rarely went along. But this particular year my parents decided that we should go too perhaps because Cooper was on the program or, perhaps because we could double-up the business part of the trip with a visit to my mother’s brother and sister’s families who lived there.

Astronaut Gordon Cooper was the keynote speaker at the 1964 PPA convention.
a Astronaut Gordon Cooper was the keynote speaker at the 1964 PPA convention.

Whatever their thinking, that trip, one of my first ever to a PPA convention, has stuck with me all of my life. I was almost 11 at the time. We stayed at the Conrad Hilton, where the convention was taking place. The hotel lobby was big and splendorous to a kid from small town Kansas. One day, while my father was attending meetings, my mother took us to Chicago’s grand old department store–Marshall Fields. We strolled past the store’s big landmark clock that extended out on a giant iron arm from one corner of the building. I remember walking through the store’s heavy brass-trimmed double doors and marveling at the store’s spectacular iridescent Tiffany glass  mosaic dome inside the store’s atrium. Riding up the escalator of the 12-story building I looked down in wonder at all the shoppers scurrying around on the floors below. I went back to visit the store a few years ago when I was in the city hoping to get another glimpse of its grandeur. But its current condition didn’t live up to my childhood memory of it.

Astronaut Gordon Cooper was the convention’s keynote speaker. I remember the thrill of being in the same room as the man who had been the first to sleep in space. My younger brother, Richard, almost got to go up onstage with ‘Gordo’, my Father recalled recently but security decided against it. That convention was also memorable because it was the year dad was awarded his Master’s, the degree conferred on photographers by the PPA once you have fulfilled certain requirements, including earning “merits” for having your work selected by the judges to hang in the association’s ‘salon’.

In 2008, my father was presented with a special award by the Kansas Professional Photographer Association for his lifelong contribution and work in the profession.  My mother,  my two brothers, my sister-in-law and I were there to help honor him.
In 2008, my father was presented with a special award by the Kansas Professional Photographer Association for his lifelong contribution and work in the profession. My mother, my two brothers, my sister-in-law and I were there to help honor him.

The first print my father ever hung was made while he was still an apprentice for then well-known Topeka photographer Tony Wicher. It was a “goldtone” print of a smartly dressed fellow photography student. Over the years, at least 100 of my father’s prints scored high enough to appear in the association salons, both at the state and local levels.

I remember how proud he was of me when I hung my first print at the state salon at age 16. Through the years, my father, who at one time served on the PPA’s national council and who was a national print judge, has been my mentor and personal judge of my photographic work. I have never ceased to learn something from him.

Before heading off to the PPA's Imaging USA convention in Phoenix, I was fortunate enought to spend a week with my father.  His lifetime of experience and knowledge in photography has been  a big benefit to me.
Before heading off to the PPA’s Imaging USA convention in Phoenix, I was fortunate enough to spend a week with my father. His lifetime of experience and knowledge in photography has been a big benefit to me.

In fact, before heading off to attend this year’s PPA national convention, I spent a week with him at the hospital as he was trying to recover from the flu. While resting, he and I looked through a selection of painted backdrops on-line so that he could give me his opinion of which ones would be best to buy. We looked at the “raw” images from one of my recent studio sessions so that he could give me his critique. We reminisced about his days in the studio and debated over exactly which Kodak Brownie camera was my very first.

By the time I arrived in Phoenix at the convention, I told a new photographer friend that I felt I had already received a week’s worth of personal workshopping with my dad.  I am grateful for all he has given to me over the years both in knowledge and love.  I can’t imagine not having him here.

A Model Senior

Every now and then I feature in a  blog post one of my  wonderful senior portrait clients.  It’s so much fun to hear about the activities they are engaged in and the dreams that they are pursuing.  When gettintg to know my seniors, I strive to engage them in a way so that their personality or interests are expressed in my portrait of them because it is, after all, a portrait about them. Earlier this summer, I put a ‘shout out’ for a senior model.  One of the first to respond was a young woman who attends Bellingham High School–Maya Norton.  Maya came to my studio, as do all my seniors prior to scheduling their sessions, so that I could meet her and learn more about her.

Maya's big smile is infectious to anyone she meets and it certainly was in her senior portraits.
Maya’s big smile is infectious to anyone she meets and it certainly was in her senior portraits.

She walked in my door with a big smile on her freckled face, a sense of poise and confidence, and an exuberance that is highly contagious. As we talked, I was even more impressed by all that she had already accomplished in her young life.  Last winter, for example, she went with her mother to Mexico, then stayed by herself to live with a family and volunteer with an organization that was helping women entrepreneurs start their own businesses.  Her high school culminating project, she told, will draw from that experience in a presentation about micro-financing. In addition, Maya has volunteered here at home for the Red Cross, the Bellingham Food Bank and as a tutor at Sunnyslope Elementary School.

As captain of her high school cross country team, Maya doesn't haven much time to sit.  Fortunately, running is her passion!
As captain of her high school cross-country team, Maya doesn’t haven much time to sit. Fortunately, running is her passion!

She’s also an athlete who has participated in track, soccer, the annual Ski to Sea race here, and cross-country running.  In fact, Maya, who’s now captain of her high school’s cross-country team, was recently featured in an article appearing in the Bellingham Herald’s sport section.  Here’s the link to that article:  http://bit.ly/1eWj7Cp. So it was that I selected Maya as my studio’s senior model for this season.  We scheduled a session down by the water, a location that we determined together.  I gave her the same guidelines that I give to all my seniors about clothing, expectations, props and other tips to better prepare her for working in front of the camera.

The dress, the long hair, the water, the rocks, the sky. the stance all lent to create a sense of romance in this senior portrait of Maya.
The dress, the long hair, the water, the rocks, the sky. the stance all lent to create a sense of romance in this senior portrait of Maya.

As it turned out, Maya was natural.  She brought with her a favorite dress that we used to create a romantic feel on the rocks.  She slipped on a simple, elegant black outfit sassied up by a pair of purple rain boots and umbrella for another set.  And naturally, she had to include her Bellingham track jersey for at least some of the shots. Each clothing change seemed to bring out another dimension of her personality which is, I suspect is indicative of Maya herself–a young woman who has depth and several facets to her.

The purple boots set off her black outfit perfectly and the passing train added an element of motion to Maya's senior portrait.
The purple boots set off her black outfit perfectly and the passing train added an element of motion to Maya’s senior portrait.

Her mother has kindly said:  “Your photos of Maya are great! The Herald’s photos are good action shots, but it’s hard to look ‘photograph-able’ when exerting oneself in a race! We’re so thankful for how you captured Maya in her racing jersey, in the town she loves. Thank you! ” Thank you, Maya, for coming into the studio and for giving me the chance to photograph such an exceptional young woman.

You can view more images from my session with Maya, as well as other senior portraits, underway now, that I’ve photographed by visiting my website gallery at  http://bit.ly/1avw5Ec

Local Drive-Ins Delights Locals

Sonic Drive-In announced today that it is opening several locations in Seattle. The Oklahoma-based hamburger drive-in chain already has one in Ferndale, Wa., near my Bellingham home that opened a couple of years ago. I’m familiar with the chain from my visits to the Midwest where they seem to be present in nearly every small town along the my routes to and from the Kansas City and Tulsa airports.

I usually make a stop there to buy one of its thick and creamy milkshakes and an order of onion rings when I’m in the Midwest or visiting my hometown and when there’s no local alternative. But I still prefer our locally owned drive-ins. There are several in Seattle–Dick’s (not the best hamburgers), Burgermaster (yum) and By’s in SoDo (which has gotten rave reviews) among others. In Portland, my friends favor the family owned Burgerville which started in Vancouver, WA. and now has 39 locations in Oregon and Washington. They serve great onion rings made with Washington’s own Walla Walla onions.  I indulged in those on a recent trip back from Oregon.

Boomers was one of Zach's favorite places in Bellingham so we both agreed it would be fun to stage his senior photo right there!
Boomers was one of Zach’s favorite places in Bellingham so we both agreed it would be fun to stage his senior photo right there!

Bellingham, where I live, also has a locally owned drive-in– Boomer’s.  Boomer’s has become something of a local landmark since opening in 1989.  http://www.boomersdrivein.com/  Although not as old as some Northwest drive-ins (Bellingham also once had Bunk’s but it’s been defunct for years), its white outdoor canopies, supported by fire engine red slanting metal poles, with black and white checkerboard borders and red-lettered in red menu items are classic. I have staged some senior portrait sessions there and love do so. I have even driven my 1954 Plymouth Belvedere station wagon over to be a part of the set.

I parked my '54 Plymouth behind Zach, shown here on his scooter, to give Boomer's even more vintage flavor during his senior portrait session.
I parked my ’54 Plymouth behind Zach, shown here on his scooter, to give Boomer’s even more vintage flavor during his senior portrait session.

You can pull up and park at the outdoor stalls, check the menu order board then turn on your lights and a car hop will come out to take your order.  No screaming back and forth through scratchy intercom boxes. Or, you can go inside, place your order at the little service counter and sit around the circular fireplace or at one of the tables and eat.

Boomer’s serves legendary burgers–my personal favorite is the Swiss/mushroom burger–and waffle fries. They also have a long list of milkshakes made by hand using real premium ice-cream from Whatcom County’s own local Edaleen Dairy.  I go for the chocolate-banana shake but the chocolate raspberry, when in season, is pretty tasty as well.  Kids meals are packaged in cool little box trays that look like vintage 1950s cars. It’s worth ordering a kid’s meal just to get the box.

The place is a gathering spot for vintage car club owners, high schoolers, families and people like me who just want to relive the golden era of drive-in hamburger stands once in a while.

Boomer's is on the must-go list of many of my out-of-town friends such as Elizabeth and Darsie, shown here enjoying their Boomer's baskets.
Boomer’s is on the must-go list of many of my out-of-town friends such as those shown here enjoying their Boomer’s baskets and shakes

Boomer’s is also a ‘must-go-to’ for several of my out-of-town buddies whenever they come to visit. You might want to add it to your own list and help keep locally owned drive-ins part of the American food scene. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to have to go get a burger!

Where’s your favorite drive-in burger joint?  Let me know!

 

http://www.boomersdrivein.com/

A ‘Special’ Spot Vanishes Brick by Brick

The old Morgan Block building in Bellingham’s historic Fairhaven section has been undergoing a facelift lately. Scaffolding now rises up the old brick wall on it’s exposed west side and workers daily painstakingly and carefully replace the crumbling old bricks with new ones.  And as they go up, the faded, painted advertisement for the once Washington-made Rainier Beer is vanishing entirely.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainier_Brewing_Company

This changing appearance of the aging wall will overall be a good thing for the building as it was in badly need of repair.  In fact, one of the building’s owners, Terry Nelson, alerted me last year the wall would be replaced.  I was grateful for the advance notice because that wall has become a local landmark over the years.  It’s a favorite location among my senior portrait clients for staging their photo sessions.  (More of my ‘Special’ senior portraits are posted on my blog’s Portfolio page.)

The old Rainier wall advertisement of Fairhaven's Morgan Block was a popular setting by seniors for their senior portrait.
The old Rainier wall advertisement of Fairhaven’s Morgan Block was a popular setting by seniors for their senior portrait.

Through the years, I have photographed many seniors with that charming wall and its simple message of “Special” as the background.  It seemed a perfect expression of the feeling each of them had about their senior year, the community they live in and, in particular, historic Fairhaven.

Now, it will be no longer.  At least not in reality.  But in the virtual world of digital photography, I have salvaged the wall in my image files in case someone comes along and wishes that they too could have had their turn beside the ‘Special’ sign.

Fairhaven's historic Morgan Block building was completed in 1890 for $8,000.  A local landmark, it has been a popular setting for many of my senior portraits.
Fairhaven’s historic Morgan Block building was completed in 1890 for $8,000. A local landmark, it has been a popular setting for many of my senior portraits.

The three-story building occupies a busy corner of Fairhaven’s business and shopping district.  Completed in 1890 by Phillip and Mary Ann Morgan, it first housed a saloon and a men’s clothing store on the ground level.  Windows on the upper levels of the building reportedly sported the advertisement: “private rooms for ladies.”  But a “proper lady” never dared go below 11th Street in those early days, according to local historical accounts.  However when co-authors Brian Griffith and NeelieNelson asked local historian Gorden Tweit if  a brothel had operated in the Morgan Building during Fairhaven’s early history, he replied matter-of-factly: “It had a bar with rooms upstairs, didn’t it?”

Markers such as this one can be found throughout fairhaven and notes curious local historical facts.
Markers such as this one can be found throughout Fairhaven and notes curious local historical facts.

Whether or not illicit sex was served up in those rented upstairs rooms, the building had another, rather unsavory distinction.  During the 1890s, it was the viewing area for the “unclaimed dead” for the transients who came to build the “New City of Fairhaven” and died of exposure, accidents or suicides. When their identities were unknown, they were loaded into a wagon and put on display in hopes that someone could identify them.  A small inscribed stone that sits in front of the building notes this fact for tourists.

Entry to the upstairs rooms of the historic Morgan Block building is through the green door at the street level.
Entry to the upstairs rooms of the historic Morgan Block building is through the green door at the street level.

The building itself is architecturally an example of the High Victorian Italianate Style.  A long staircase inside the heavy green entry door with the words: “Morgan Block” above it, leads up to the second and third stories.  Light streams through a light well open on the top floor and trickles down to the landing below. On the upstairs floors, tall doors, many with transom windows open into 18 large studio rooms now occupied by artists who are part of the Morgan Block Studio Collective.  The artists often host open houses so you can visit their studios and view their artwork and the building interior for yourself.

The symmetrical facade on the street level have wood-framed shop fronts on either side of a narrow central entry door to the upper stories.  One side is the home of the Good Earth pottery store showcasing the work of many fine potters from the region. The other ground level space is taken by Artwood, a shop selling beautiful, high quality work by local woodworkers. Both are well worth a stop if you’re in town.

The building has its own Facebook page if you want to learn more   https://www.facebook.com/MorganBlockBuilding?ref=nf. You can also soon read about it on Griffith and Nelson’s forthcoming website:  www.fairhavenhistory.com  More details about the building’s architecture can be found at the City of Bellingham’s page:  http://www.cob.org/services/planning/historic/fairhaven-district.aspx.

And that’s what has made the Morgan Block  so ‘special.’

Megan and Joy grew up together as best friends so when the time for their senior portrait, they wanted to be photographed together. We all had great fun during the photo session and the Morgan Block wall conveyed the message perfectly!
Megan and Joy grew up together as best friends so when the time for their senior portrait, they wanted to be photographed together. We all had great fun during the photo session and the Morgan Block wall conveyed the message perfectly!

The Power of the Internet: Digging Up Negro League History

As a follow-up to my own post: On the Baseball Trail in Historic Hot Springs, thought this piece might be of interest to some of you as well.

The Power of the Internet: Digging Up Negro League History.

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!

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