Summer is a reason in itself to celebrate in the Pacific Northwest but this summer, there’s one more thing to celebrate and that’s the silver anniversary of the Bellingham Festival of Music.
I’ve written before here about the festival which happens every July since I moved from Los Angeles to Bellingham. In fact, the festival is one of the reasons that brought me and my family to Bellingham. Although I didn’t realize, the festival at the time we first began to consider and explore this area was only three years old. As the three visits we made before deciding to relocate here were all in August, we missed the festival but became aware of it.
Soon after settling in, we began to buy tickets to attend some of the concerts and we’ve been faithful festivalgoers ever since. Through the years, we’ve heard some amazing music performed by an orchestra with top-notch players from major orchestras around the country, including the N.Y. Philharmonic, the L.A. Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the Atlanta Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony and the Montreal Symphony. And the guest artists who have soloed with them are world-class. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I’m sitting here in my small community listening to the kind of classical concerts that you usually only find in large, metropolitan cities.
For any music festival to have survived 25 years is an accomplishment, let alone one that thrives in a community of 100,000 (and less when it first began) and now runs on all volunteer help. Much credit must be given to the festival’s hard-working boards who put in hours and hours of time all year to bring the festival together.
A salute must also be given to the man who’s been the artistic director and conductor since the beginning, Michael Palmer. Palmer, who I’ve come to know in recent years, has a gift for pulling together musicians, most of whom only play together once a year, to present tight, strong performances of classical favorites as well as contemporary new pieces. It’s a strenuous and demanding job in the three short weeks of the festival’s duration.
Of course without such talented and professional musicians, the festival would not nearly be the quality it is. Sitting among the ranks of players are the first oboist for the Boston Symphony, the first violist of the Cincinnati Symphony, the first clarinet and flutist from Atlanta’s Symphony and the first bassist from Seattle’s Symphony, to mention but a few.
This year, much to my delight, also joining the violin section is a young woman named Rachel Frankenfeld Charbel who grew up in Bellingham, played in the Sehome High School orchestra before going off to college at the University of Texas in Austin to study music. She was among one of my sons’ closest friends as a kid and now plays with the Cincinnati Symphony. It makes the festival’s 25th anniversary particularly special to those of who have watched her mature into the fine musician she now is.
Also special to Bellinghamsters is the Calidore String Quartet that has become recurring guest artists at the festival. This young, gifted ensemble has emerged as a major chamber group winning awards, prizes and recognition throughout the world. To have them return every year for the festival is a special treat for all of us. The violist also happens to also be a Bellingham native and coincidentally, a classmate of Charbel’s.
Only three concerts remain in this year’s 25th anniversary season; one this evening with guest violinist Simone Porter playing Prokofiev’s “Violin Concert No. 1 in D Major;” a free chamber concert on July 18 at the Whatcom Museum of History and Art and the final closing concert on July 20 featuring the festival chorus singing Poulenc’s “Gloria” with the orchestra. If you’re in close range, I encourage you to attend one of these and if not this year, plan to go next year and celebrate yet another season with the Bellingham Festival of Music.
On this weekend in the U.S., people are honoring the memories of the country’s military who died in action. But another memorial is on my mind today prompted by an article that appeared the other day in the local newspaper. That is the beautiful totem pole memorial that stood along the trail of Whatcom Creek on the edgeof Whatcom Falls Park in our city.
Sadly, the totem was recently removed, I read in the Bellingham Herald after someone vandalized and ‘tagged’ the pole with graffiti. Not long ago, a friend of mine had told me that the box that sat atop the pole, was missing and wondered why. Now the entire pole and the two carved wooden benches that sat beside it are gone after city workers removed them and placed them in protective storage until they can be restored.
While the city’s action is commendable, that of the vandals was disrespectful and, frankly, inexcusable. I am giving those individuals the benefit of the doubt that they apparently are unaware of that they not only did they deface a significant Native artwork, but in so doing they insulted the artist, the Lummi Nation and the families of those killed in the 1999 Bellingham pipeline explosion for whom the pole was intended to memorialize.
The 15-foot cedar log pole was created by the Lummi House of Tears carvers under the direction of Lummi Nation’s master carver Jewell James. Its bright, bold and beautiful paint was applied under the supervision of head painter Ramona James. The pole took months to carve and paint before finally being erected and dedicated during an Earth Day ceremony in 2007. “The pole is to restore the stream and its habitat and to remember the three boys who lost their lives,” carver James told American Profile reporter Heather Larson.
James referred to the three boys–Liam Wood, 18, Wade King and Stephen Tsiovras, both 10, who were killed when the Olympic pipeline (now owned by British Petroleum) carrying gasoline exploded dumping an estimated 277,000 gallons into the creek that runs through Whatcom Falls Park, located in the middle of Bellingham. Liam was fishing after having just graduated from high school; Wade and Stephen were playing, as they often did together, further down creek. It was a day that darkened the sky over Bellingham as the black cloud billowed above the park. The explosion literally stopped life in town as everyone, myself included, wondered what had happened and emergency first responders rushed to the site.
The explosion made national news, changed national pipeline regulation (although the families of those who died will tell you not enough) and some believe awoke Bellingham to the dangers that unregulated and aging pipelines pose for not only our city, but others like it throughout the country.
I was present, along with a few others, on the day of Lummi Nation gave and dedicated the totem and benches to the city. The ceremony was emotional and moving with other Pacific Northwest Native Nations witnessing the event in order to pass the story along to the next generation. Those gathered listened solemnly as carver James spoke eloquently about the need to promote healing for all those impacted by the explosions, wildlife as well as human life, and about the importance of being good stewards of the environment. Members of the Lummi Nation, also delivered a heartfelt messages for the family members attending. Lummi drummers and flutists played. Blankets were draped around the shoulders of the deceased boys’ young friends, now high school students, participating in the unveiling during the ceremony.
Then, James asked the family members of the victims to bring forward the items that they had brought to be placed into the memorial box positioned atop the totem. One by one the personal belongings of Stephen and Wade were handed up the tall ladder to the tribal member who carefully laid them inside. A teddy bear, a baseball card and cap were among the things. The lid was fitted tightly and sealed. Tears streamed down the faces of not only the family members but others who were that day.
And, as the ceremony was ending, two solitary eagles soared and glided over head, just as James had told Wade’s mother, Mary, earlier that day that they would.
It was a day I’ll never forget. When I read about the vandalism of the totem and its removal, my heart ached. The city is apparently intent on repairing and restoring the totems and benches but in the meantime, there is a huge emptiness where they stood in the opening by the creek. The runners, walkers and visitors who pass by it will miss it. The totem served as a somber, dignified reminder, as well as a memorial, to those who tragically died on that early June day in Bellingham. That’s what’s on my mind this Memorial Day.
A company called Light is introducing a new compact camera that uses new technology. They enlisted some photographers to mention it in their blogs and to write about one of their favorite locations to shoot or a unique spot in their city. I was one of those contacted for Light’s #VantagePoint project.
A request like this isn’t easy for me because I have so many favorite spots and so many favorite images that I’ve created over the years. But I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk to you about one of my favorite local subjects (besides the people I photograph). And that is Bellingham’s old City Hall building, now part of the Whatcom County Museum of Art.
It’s an iconic building in town and safe to say probably the most photographed in Bellingham. Completed in 1892, it served as the town’s official city hall until 1939 when new offices were built and the museum moved in.
The noble red-brick and Chuckanut sandstone structure was designed by local architect Alfred Lee in the Second Empire style of Victorian architecture. According to the City’s website, is “currently one of this style’s most exquisite example in the Pacific Northwest. This building epitomizes the general characteristics of this French inspired style, which are tall, bold and purposely three-dimensional. Some of the design elements are also an eclectic mixture of the Queen Anne and Romanesque Revival style.” It includes a high mansard roof, classical columns on either side of the main entrance, and a prominent, central bell tower, all of which draw the photographer’s eye.
I have photographed the building, or elements of it, from a variety of spots, angles, times of day and year. It has been the setting for many of my senior portrait sessions and the choice of seniors who want their portrait to reflect something uniquely Bellingham. And I’ve used a variety of cameras over the years from my Mamiya RB67 and Nikon F5 film cameras, to my digital Nikon D700s to (yes,) my cell phone cameras. It all depends upon what I may happen to have with me or what I’m using at the moment. The images included in this post were taken on all of these various cameras.
The building now houses part of the museum’s collection and its spacious Rotunda Room is frequently the site for concerts, including the Bellingham Festival of Music‘s popular free lunch-time chamber concerts. I even photographed one of those this past summer.
When you visit Bellingham, which I hope you’ll do one day, be sure to stop by the old City Hall. It’s likely to be as memorable for you as it has been for many photographers and visitors before you.
I’ve not seen or tried out the new Light camera but according to the company’s website, the camera, Light L16, is sold out until 2017. You can check it out yourself.
Summers in the Puget Sound area, where I live, don’t officially start, weather-wise, until July 13, according to local meteorologists. But in Bellingham, summers begin when the musicians from around the country arrive for the Bellingham Festival of Music. That happened last week.
The Festival, now in its 23rd season from July 1-17, is one of the things that I look forward to every summer. In fact, the Festival is one of the amenities that attracted us and ultimately convinced us to move to Bellingham. It must be a draw for the musicians too as every summer, 44 musicians from major orchestras across the U.S. and Canada (plus additional players as needed) assemble here to play two weeks worth of some of the most beautiful music in the world. We like to think that they are also playing in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
It all begins with a welcoming picnic for the musicians, conductor Micheal Palmer, the chorus members, sponsors and the families who host the musicians in their homes during their stay. This year’s picnic took place at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal which offers a terrific view of the Bay and Bellingham. It’s an ideal spot for returning and new musicians to meet this year’s Festival board members, local sponsors and the home hosts.
The potluck picnic, provided by the Festival Board member and volunteers, is tasty and plentiful. Following appetizers and drinks, with local prize-winning microbrewery Boundary Bay serving up some of its finest beers, the picnickers head off to the buffet table and dinner. Afterwards, this year’s Board Chair, Karen Berry, officially opened the season by introducing maestro Michael Palmer who, in turn, introduced this year’s team of musicians.
Section by section, starting with the first violins of course, the musicians took their turn at the podium to share with the evening’s guests their answers to the question: “What was your most embarrassing moment as a musician?” There were some great ones: insects falling onto instruments and being flung into the audience, missed cues, parts of bassoons falling out during performances, women’s undergarments landing on violin scrolls during a Tom Jones’ show, auditions that turned out well despite mishaps and being encouraged to pursue other professions. It all made for some entertaining anecdotes.
Many of the Festival’s musicians have been coming to Bellingham for years. They have become a ‘family’ in the sense that they know one another’s spouses and children, have forged long-lasting friendships with their home hosts and share in the joys and sadness of one another’s lives. Last summer, one of the musicians stayed beyond the Festival dates in order to have her wedding in Bellingham. This year, a group from the orchestra is throwing a baby shower for an expectant father who’s playing here while his wife, nearing her due date, remained at home.
This long-term bonding has, over the years, made the orchestra tighter when they play together onstage. At least that’s my belief having now gone to concerts for the past 20 years. Although together for only a short time, with rehearsals only days ahead of each concert, they meld into a solid sound. I have often found myself astounded to be sitting in my own backyard–nearly literally as the concert hall at Western Washington University where they play is within walking distance–and listening to world-class performances.
For Festival goers, the concerts are a bargain with ticket prices topping at $45 for premiere seating in a small, intimate performance hall of just 650 seats. I recall the many years that I lived in Los Angeles and
was a subscriber to the L.A.Philharmonic. Travel time from our home was 45 minutes at least, depending upon traffic, bargain tickets were usually no less than $45 and in the top tiers of the 3,000 seat hall, plus parking costs and don’t forget money for the babysitter. Granted, I no longer need to pay a babysitter, but all the other costs of hearing live classical music and experiencing outstanding performances in as beautiful a natural setting as you’ll ever find make the Bellingham Festival of Music an incredible deal. Especially for us locals.
If you don’t live in the immediate area, you can spend the week vacationing and enjoying the classical music concerts at night and any one number of activities during the day–strolling the art galleries and shops, tipping a few brews on the ‘Tap Trail,” hiking or biking on one of our many trails, playing golf on one of 22 courses here, fishing, kayaking or sailing on the Bay. I can’t think of a place I’d rather be.
June 10th marks a day of both great tragedy and great celebration in my small city of Bellingham, WA. That’s because 17 years ago on that date, a pipeline carrying gasoline from a refinery north of the city and that runs through our Whatcom Falls Park, in the middle of the city, exploded.
The fireball that erupted when the Olympic Pipeline ruptured sent flames down the park’s stream burning everything in its path, including three boys, an 18-year-old who had just graduated from high school and who had gone to the park to fish and two 10-year-olds who were playing downstream in the water.
I was just about to leave with my own 10-year-old at the time, for his baseball game in a school ball field located not far away from the park. As I was standing by my car, I suddenly saw a giant plume of thick, black smoke curl up in the sky and over the general area where we were headed. Although I had no idea what was the cause, I recognized it as some kind of oil-related fire because I had seen one exactly like it when the pipeline ruptured and exploded near my home in Los Angeles as the Northridge earthquake in 1996, just three years previous.
I, like hundreds of other residents, instantly turned on our radio in hopes of learning what was happening. And I told my son that we were in no way going to the baseball field. The news was spotty and unconfirmed but one local caller to the station knew exactly what it was: a pipeline explosion in the park.
We learned later that was precisely what had occurred. A faulty valve at a pumping station located 30 miles south failed to open. Workers, thinking it was yet again the faulty valve, overrode the controls to close the valve, causing the pressure in the pipeline to build and burst in the park.
My oldest son, Matthew, then 14, says he “remembers looking up to see the plume like it was yesterday. I’ll take that image to the grave.” As will many who were living here at the time. It was a day that awakened the residents of Bellingham to the potential dangers and disaster, both for the environment and in human life, that unmaintained and unrestricted pipelines carrying gasoline, trains transporting noxious coal and tanker trains loaded with flammable oil can have on a community. We learned that lesson long before the accidents that occurred in West Virginia, Quebec and most recently in nearby Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge just this month.
I have no doubt that it’s one reason why companies wanting to place a shipping terminal just 20 miles north of here in order to send coal to China encountered such strong opposition from local and state residents. Building the terminal would have meant that as many as 25 trains a day would have rolled from Wyoming, across the farms and ranches of Montana, Idaho and Eastern Washington, up the coast of Western Washington, through Bellingham along its waterfront and past neighborhoods with houses standing less than 100 feet from the rails. It would have meant that the fishing grounds, where the Lummi Nation people have harvested salmon for hundreds of years, would have been jeopardized and likely threatened all the sea life dwelling in that deep water area of the Salish Sea.
Five years ago, environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben spoke at rally at the Village Green to kick off the campaign against the coal trains. At that time, he told the crowd of approximately 1,000 that “Bellingham, by sheer accident of geography, is the front line in the global battle against the use of coal.”
This past Friday, June 10, an estimated 1,000 people gathered again on the Village Green. But this time, they were there to celebrate the recent decision by the Army Corps of Engineers to uphold the Lummi Nation’s treaty rights and deny the permits required to build the coal terminal as well as the announcement by the state’s Department of Natural Resources that it had denied the land lease also required.
Some warn that the project is still alive until the local permit application at the county level is denied but those at the Village Green on Saturday were jubilant with these latest turn of events and what they hope will put an end to the coal terminal.
And those of us, who, like my son and myself, remember the June 10 of 17 years prior, also paid our respects for the event and lives lost that sparked the debate here and derailed the coal train terminal.
I had planned to write something else for my blog post today, but decided after participating in today’s Climate March that I needed to write about this instead. I, and about 750 other Bellinghamsters, gathered in chilly 30 degree weather this morning in Maritime Heritage Park to show our support, along with marchers in 2,000 other cities throughout the country, for the United Nations’ Conference on Climate Change which begins tomorrow, November 30.
After a moment of silence for all the victims of recent terrorist actions in Paris and elsewhere, the group was rallied with signs bearing environmental slogans and set out on a short march through downtown Bellingham. The mood was not exactly festive but determined as people made their way en masse to a downtown building that currently serves as the Salish Sea Marine Sanctuary space.
People poured into the building to the lively beat of drummers positioned at the front doors. Shortly afterwards, Lummi Nation elder Darrell Hillaire introduced the guest speakers who took to the stage and spoke about the importance of taking care of our environment as one day we will all meet our creator and have to account for our actions. They instructed us to ‘listen with our hearts, instead of our ears,’ when it comes to climate matters because if we do, it will stay with us.
The Lummi Nation will send an Indigenous Delegation to Paris later this week to participate in the conference and to present the video, “The Earth is Alive” which has been made especially for the big event. The Lummi Nation has taken center stage in the environmental arena locally as they work together with other environmental groups such as ReSources, Climate Solutions, 350 Seattle and the Sierra Club to block the construction of a shipping terminal that would threaten and likely destroy their fishing waters.
Treaties made back with President Ulysses S. Grant gave the Lummi Nation protection of its natural resources, salmon being among them. They argue that building the proposed shipping terminal, intended to ship coal from here to China, would jeopardize and break that that treaty.
No decision has yet been made regarding the terminal but it has bonded, and in some cases, divided the entire county and the state. At stake is the environmental well-being of the entire corridor that runs the length of the Salish Sea as increased train traffic, up to 25 trains per day, would run to and from the terminal carrying loads of coal destined for export.
Today’s march, while part of the larger worldwide effort to show solidarity for climate justice, was much more personal to those in Bellingham.
More of my photos from Bellingham’s Climate March can be seen on my Portfolio page.
When author Harper Lee‘s newly published novel, “Go Set a Watchman” was released two weeks ago, it was heralded with special screenings of the film based on her now classic book, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird”, midnight book parties and readings, and all sorts of other events all intended to celebrate or promote (depending upon your point of view) this book. The book, despite or perhaps because, of the controversy surrounding it, quickly climbed to number one on the New York Times best seller list where I suspect it will remain for a while. Lee’s other book, after all, is now regarded an American literary classic and is studied by schoolchildren and beloved by readers.
It is one of my personal favorites too. A few years ago, I found an anniversary copy of the book which I purchased as a gift for my husband and then, as luck would have it, actor Gregory Peck signed it when he came to the Mount Baker Theatre with his ‘one-man’ speaking tour in 2000. He still cut a striking and statuesque figure even then at age 83 and was as gracious as he appeared to be in many of his on-screen roles. I must admit that I was appropriately starstruck with the 6-foot 3-inch tall actor who played Atticus Finch as he stood right there before me after his onstage performance writing an inscription and his name into the book .
I was reminded of all this recently when Lee’s other book made the headlines. My backstage encounter with Peck also came to mind a couple of years ago when I was commissioned to photograph a group of local political activists promoting women candidates for the cover of our weekly alternative newspaper, the Cascadia Weekly.
We staged it, with permission, in the courtroom of the three-story Federal Building in downtown Bellingham. The building, designed in the Italian Renaissance style, is prominently located on a downtown corner where, every Friday since the 1960s, there has been a ‘peace demonstration.’ (I’ll have to write another blog about that one day.) Few locals ever go inside the noble structure except to purchase stamps or to mail a package from the post office branch located in the southeast ground floor corner. But they should as it’s a real design treat.
The courtroom where the photo for the cover was done at a time when the courtroom wasn’t currently in use. It was once a Federal District Courtroom. (More recently, it’s been proposed that the courtroom come back into use as one of the city’s courtrooms.) I was so taken by the beauty of this judicial room that I stayed after my photo session for the Weekly to photograph it for myself. Although not an exact duplicate of the courtroom seen in the classic black and white film, it clearly is of a similar style and period so that just walking through huge wooden door so you transported through imagination to that setting. I could see Atticus Finch sitting at the defendant’s large, heavy oak table appealing to the judge positioned in the behind the big bench at the front of the room.
An elegant Honduran mahogany rail separates the court floor from the mahogany benches for the audience. Tall, two-story arched windows line one side and allow natural light to fill the entire room. Running beneath the windows is the jury box, where, if I closed my eyes, I could see the jurors of that classic case intently following the arguments being presented before them.
There is no balcony in the Bellingham courtroom, as there is in the movie, but your eyes are led overhead to a coffered, vaulted ceiling that is 20 feet tall at its highest point. “Each octagonal ceiling coffer has an egg and dart moulding that surrounds a delicate stucco rosette planted in the coffer’s center,” according to the building’s nomination for the National Register of Historic Places. It is an impressive judicial setting, one that certainly harkens to another era when such detail was the norm for important institutional structures.
Indeed, many small towns in this country have courtrooms of this sort built, as was this one, in the earlier part of the 20th century where the trial as seen in “To Kill a Mockingbird” could have taken place. They remind us of a time when attorneys, like the fictional Atticus Finch, were eloquent, righteous and respected. Perhaps that’s one reason why some are so disappointed by the Atticus Finch of Lee’s new book, and why it has given rise to the controversy of whether the author ever intended it to be published. Regardless, if you live in the area, or are visiting, and have never seen the courtroom inside the Bellingham’s Federal Building, go upstairs sometime and have a peek. And let me know if it doesn’t make you think of Harper Lee’s literary classic.
Bellingham’s Festival of Music’s 22nd season got off to a bang on Friday evening when the orchestra, under the baton of Michael Palmer, performed the rousing Overture to Royal Fireworks Music by George Frederic Handel. Though evening was unseasonably warm inside Western Washington University’s Concert Hall the audience wasn’t deterred and applauded for an encore from soloist Vadim Gluzman who gave a stunningly beautiful performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. The orchestra too sparkled when it played Mozart’s wonderful (never can have too much Mozart) Symphony No. 36 in C major, the “Linz”.
I often have to remind myself that I am in Bellingham, a city of only 80,000 located 20 miles from the Canadian border, and not in Seattle or San Francisco or even Chicago or New York when I hear this Festival orchestra perform. Of course, the musicians who play in this orchestra for two weeks in the summer, come from orchestras located in those cities. As many of them have said, it’s equally a treat for them as well to perform here year after year (some have been with the Festival since the first year). They have made many friends with their ‘host’ families and those who come to hear them play. They enjoy the opportunity to play in a our beautiful city by the bay and welcome the chance to escape from the heat of their home environs. (This summer has been unseasonably warm for Bellingham.)
It’s one reason the New York Times singled out Bellingham’s Music Festival, along with that of select others in the country, for its article by Michael Cooper which appeared in today’s paper. It is, as Cooper so aptly put it, like ‘summer camp’ for classical musicians.
For concertgoers, the festival brings to the stage some of the world’s best classical music and musicians, without setting foot beyond the city’s boundaries. In my case, I am only steps away from the WWU campus where they perform.
I have had the pleasure of listening to and getting to know, for example, former New York Philharmonic principal oboist Joe Robinson, both as a member of the orchestra and as a soloist. (Pinch me.) Robinson retired from the Festival two summers ago but his spot was filled by protegé, Keisuke Wakao, principal oboist for the Boston Symphony. And I’ve heard some of the finest soloists, such as the Israeli violinist Gluzman, performing in classical music today.
It also brings back to Bellingham local artists such as soprano Katie Van Kooten who’s singing with opera companies and symphony orchestras all over the world, and young rising talent, such as the Calidore String Quartet, whose violist, Jeremy Berry, grew up only blocks from the concert hall where he saw musicians on the very stage where he now performs as part of the Festival’s guest artists.
At this writing, tickets are still available for some concerts. If you’re lucky enough to be in the area, or coming to this corner of the Pacific Northwest in the next two weeks, make it part of your summer. If you can’t make it to Bellingham’s music festival this year, put it in your travel plans for next year. And then you, like so many of the festival musicians, may also find yourself returning year after year!
I’ve often told people who ask that the city where I live, Bellingham, WA., is like a small European community. One reason is because the city has a rich arts lifestyle especially for its size. “Bellingham is ranked the second best arts community in the country, with the ranking being based on the number of active arts businesses per capita,” according to Downtown Bellingham, a non-profit organization of local businesses and civic-minded residents that works to promote the city’s lively and historic downtown.
During the 1980s, local galleries opened their doors four times a year for what was known as the Gallery Walk. In 2009, it became a monthly event that takes place on the First Friday evenings , even in winter. It has become a highly popular outing for locals as well as visitors who wander from shop to shop, gallery to gallery taking in a wide variety of art created by the many talented artists who live here.
Downtown businesses, in addition to the galleries, showcase the work of local artists with openings from 6 to 10 p.m. during Art Walk. I am often among those who enjoy the evening viewing the artwork. But at the May Art Walk to be this Friday, May 1, I’ll be showing some of my own portrait work in a group show at Dakota Art in its relatively new gallery space.
The show will focus on the art of portraiture and different styles of portraiture. Three other artists, besides myself, will also be featured. Everett Aison will show five framed triptych portraits of “New York Subway Faces” and a series of “63 people looking at Art” water-color drawings and digital prints. The portrait art of the young artist Katie Johnson, originally from Hillsboro, Ore, whose works are very stylized large-scale oil paintings of the faces of various Bellingham brewers. Also included is Tessa Asato who creates large-scale drawings that are heavily detail oriented and have strong concepts.
Five or six (space dependent) of my photographic portrait prints will be displayed. They represent a good variety of both my photographic media and my own portrait style. Some are portraits which I was hired to create for clients, others are ones that I initiated myself. Some clients own copies of the prints but most are from my personal collection and are the only existing print. Many have not been seen outside my studio doors. I am pleased to present them at Art Walk.
There’s a story behind each print, but I won’t be able to tell them that evening. I’ll share shortened versions here and with the images so that those of you who don’t live here can see them as well. As someone commented to me last week, you won’t get the full impact of the image without seeing it firsthand, just as with any piece of art. You can’t see here the finish used, the artwork done or the type of paper on which it was printed. I won’t get into a discussion about how I work other than to say that when photographing someone, whether for a personal portrait, a business or a high school senior, I do my best to reveal something about that subject, their personality or inner self. That comes with getting to know them quickly, making them comfortable enough to not be self-conscious in front of the camera and then capturing the moment on film or digital realisation.
“Fairy in the Forest,” was created during this young woman’s high school senior portrait session. Her mother asked me to photograph her daughter in her ballet clothes. After shooting some in the studio, I asked her to come outside with me to forest. She took off her ballet slippers and followed me out. I didn’t really have anything specific in mind at the time, I just like the idea of putting someone out of context. I placed her on the path amongst the towering trees and asked her to move into various ballet positions. Later, in looking at the raw proofs, this particular image reminded me of Shakespeare’s play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” one of my favorites. I had the print pressed into a fine weave canvas after scanning the original negative and doing some digital artwork.
I asked Richard Knight, the father of my Pilates instructor, if I could photograph him for my “The Noble Knight” after hearing about his remarkable accomplishment of winning six gold medals in swimming at the Senior Olympics. (You can read about that in my blog post: A Knight in Shining Armor.) Richard, then 79, wasn’t too certain about my idea, but once we met at the session, we became instant buddies, in part, because we’re both swimmers although I can only dream about winning six gold medals. I had hoped to persuade him to shed his jacket so that his medals would gleam against his bare chest but when he wasn’t willing to do that, I just went with it. He was a good sport when I told him I wanted him to stand out on the rock surrounded by chilly water. But the look on his face and his stance caught at this instant, created for me a priceless image of a man at his the peak of accomplishment.
“Nikki, The Girl in White” was also done for a client’s high school senior. She was great fun to work with as I photographed her at a local boatyard. The rest of the images from this session are full of bright color from the boats, equipment and buildings. But towards the end, she slipped on a white t-shirt and I moved her away from the color to a spot nearer the water with only the sky behind her. The contrast between her shirt, the sky, her hair and skin tones was stunning. She was smiling in most of the images but then her expression changed and I had a moment that I thought said more about her than all the others. I gave the print a high gloss finish to make it pop even more and give a high-fashion flavor.
“Rachel in the Field” is a much softer image. The young woman pictured here is the beautiful daughter of my cousin. Rachel is a horsewoman so we had gone to the stables to photograph her with her horse. When we were wrapping up, I placed her for some final images in the adjacent pasture with the treeline silhouetted in the background. She sat on the ground for the first few then I asked her stand and instead of looking at me, gaze off towards the horizon. When she did, I captured it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in editing her images later, I realized those last images bore direct references to artist Andrew Wyeth‘s indelible “Christina’s World.” I then applied digital artwork to create a feel I thought similar to that conveyed in Wyeth’s watercolor, although I didn’t want to duplicate his work,and that expressed the mood of my image.
“Madonna and Son”, the only print of which I don’t have a digital version to show here, also has considerable artwork, most of it done by hand on the print itself, in order to achieve the end result I had envisioned. This image feels very Italian to me, which is why I guess I gave it that title.It was done for a friend of mine in Los Angeles shortly after the birth of her second son. I arrived at her home for the session. Rarely, if ever, do I give my subjects props or clothing to wear but in this case, I loaned a silky white nylon robe to her. I can’t say that I had this image in mind when I shot it on film, but when I saw it in the camera’s viewfinder, I knew I had something special. She and her son were photographed in her hallway with the white light from the living room windows streaming in behind her. To this I added a feather screen on the print and then finished it with a lot of pencil work to give it the ‘etched’ look I was after. It is one of my own, as well as that of my many clients’ favorite portraits. I often have it hanging on the wall of my studio.
Lastly, but not least, is “The Pianist.” This portrait was created at the request of the Mount Baker Youth Symphony for a concert poster. This young man had won the orchestra’s concerto competition and was to be the soloist for the concert. When he arrived at my studio for the session, I took him into my home and had him sit at the piano. I asked him to play some of the music he would perform. When he did, it was as if he had left my room for his own personal world. Me too. When he stopped, I simply asked him to turn and look out the window but to leave one hand touching the piano’s keyboard. He clearly was still thinking about the music as he did so because you can see him so lost in reflective thought. The film image was made on watercolor paper as a delicate giclée print after I scanned the image and added my digital artwork to it.
I wish that all of you could come to the gallery next Friday and see these prints for yourselves. If you can’t, I hope that this offers some insight into my own portrait work and how I, as a photographic portrait artist, approach my work in creating my these images. You can always see more of my own portrait work on my studio website.
Read more about Bellingham’s Downtown Art Walk on Whatcom Talk.
The Bellingham YWCA is a remarkable organization. It does incredible work within our community’s and is one of my favorite organizations to support whenever and however I am able.
The Y’s Womencare program, for instance, provides emergency, confidential shelter, 24 hour crisis support services and community education for women who are victims of domestic violence. It’s transitional housing program is available for single adult women in Whatcom County to give them a safe, supportive place to stay while connecting them with the appropriate resources to get their lives back on track and become self-supporting. The Back to Work Boutique provides low income women in Whatcom County with new clothes sot that they feel confident and look good while applying for a job. And, an especially popular program at this time of year is the Prom Dress Program, that allows young women of all incomes access to a formal dress for a special occasion. The YW currently has more than 200 formal dresses in stock.
The organization also sponsors the Northwest Women’s Hall of Fame. Since its founding in 1999, the YWCA has honored 56 contemporary Whatcom County women, living and deceased, and 12 Legacy Award winners, from the early days of the county, whose service has inspired later generations. This year’s awards event will be this upcoming Sunday, March 23 at Northwest Hall in Bellingham.
I was honored to have been asked to photograph for the event three of this year’s four awards recipients–Julianna Guy, Ann Marie Read and Deborra Garrett whom I had photographed for her campaign in 2012 in her bid for Superior Court Judge. Ramona Elizabeth Phare Morris will also be a recipient. To be selected, honorees must have made a lasting impact, served as role models for women and girls, demonstrated perseverance and vision, and overcome obstacles to achieve their goals.
Julianna Guy is a delightful woman whose eyes sparkle with life when she speaks. I had a lovely time getting to know her during our studio session. A former accountant for network and local television, she moved back to Bellingham to retire and is now persistent spokesperson for a park and branch library in the underserved Cordata neighborhood, She is now helping to create a park in the King Mountain area. Juliana formed the Cordata Neighborhood Association, resulting in a park being built & greenway being designated. She is a former SCORE counselor, helping entrepreneurs – especially women – start new businesses. Juliana is also involved with Planned Parenthood, and Big Brothers & Sisters.
Ann Marie Read and my path’s crossed many years ago when our sons were studying piano from the same teacher. I was delighted to catch up with her and to learn what she and her family are now doing. During the past twenty-five years, she has been a parenting educator at Bellingham Technical College (BTC). She has provided critical early childhood education for parents in a variety of venues, including weekly parent/child classes, free drop-in groups for low-income parents such as “Baby Connections”. In addition, she has worked with special populations, including parents participating in the “Early Head Start” program, parents from the Nooksack Tribe, and student parents in BTC’s professional technical programs. How she has done all this and been a mother of three sons too, I’m not exactly sure.
Judge Deborra Garrett is someone I also came to know through our sons who attended the same middle and high schools. (She was the subject of my blog post in August, 2012–Primarily Primaries which you can read by clicking on the link here.) Her career in Whatcom County spans more than 30 years. She has represented individuals, organizations & businesses. Often her representation provided her clients the only remaining opportunity to resolve their legal issues. In 2013, Judge Garrett became the first woman elected to a Whatcom County bench as Superior Court Judge and I was proud to contribute to her campaign by photographing her and some of her campaign events.
The fourth recipient is Ramona Elizabeth Phare Morris. She is a strong proud Native women who has advocated for Lummi People as well as all Native Americans, advocating in important areas such as jurisdictional and fishing rights, BIA Land Trust, roads on tribal land, Tribal Taxes (fish taxes) Treaty Tax Force (Nationally), Health Care and Youth Education, tax issues & concerns for tribal people. Ramona has represented the Lummi People proudly and has worked alongside many other tribal leaders .
There’s still time to make a reservation for Sunday’s Northwest Women’s Hall of Fame dinner and ceremony to recognize the contributions and achievements of these extraordinary women who have all made Bellingham a better place to live. I hope you’ll join me in supporting this, and other YWCA programs. For more information just click on the link( in green lettering) or phone the YWCA at 360-734-4820.