Experiencing Totality Totally Worth the Time and Effort

“Mom, it won’t be back in the same place for another 375 years,” my son, Tim, was telling me in a phone conversation just a few days before the August 21 solar eclipse. The significance of the astronomical event was punctuated by the urgency in his voice. “We’ve got to go see it.”

I had considered making the trip south to Oregon, where my cousins live in Albany, almost directly in the charted path of the solar eclipse and where totality would take place.  After all, how likely was I to be this near a total eclipse again in my lifetime? But the prediction of the traffic snarls, shortages of food, gas and water as well as my own work schedule caused me to abandon my plans. Tim convinced me otherwise and offered to fly from New York to join me.

An essential to watching the solar eclipse, protective glasses.

I kicked into last-minute planning mode; first contacting my Oregon family to ask if we could stay at their home, postponing appointments on my calendar, reading what was required to photograph it, picking up food to take along on the five-hour drive south and even asking my uncle to purchase ten gallons of gas for me in case the anticipated fuel shortages came true.

When Saturday arrived, I hit the road, stopping in Seattle to pick up my son at the airport then continued on towards Oregon. The drive was uneventful and we arrived that evening in time to take part in a ‘name that tune’ challenge with my cousins while sitting around the backyard fire pit at their home.

Scouting locations for the eclipse, we visited Buena Vista park, a picturesque setting but not the location we chose for our viewing experience.

Early Sunday morning, Tim and I went out to ‘scout’ locations that might be best to view the eclipse. Tim had already picked out on possible spots on the internet. We headed off, driving north on country roads from my cousin’s home.  A few minutes later, we passed by an open farm field where the horizon could be seen without any trees blocking the view (not an easy thing to find in Oregon).  We wanted to be able to see the horizon line because at the time of totality, it would appear like sunset all the way around.

We drove on to a little county park, Buena Vista Park, outside the tiny village of the same name.  The unincorporated town, as far as I could tell, exists primarily as a toll ferry point to cross the Willamette River.  A few campers were in the riverside park enjoying one of the last summer weekends. Although a very picturesque, clean and relaxing spot, not ideal for eclipse viewing due to the tree line on the opposite of the river.  We moved on.

Back on the country road, on our way to Independence, six miles away, we pulled into Hilltop Cemetery. It was empty of visitors except for a woman walking her dog and two men studying some of the older gravestones. The view was encouraging. True to its name, Hilltop Cemetery  was situated on a hill that overlooked the beautiful Willamette Valley that stretched below.  So far, this was the best vantage point we had seen.

Independence Oregon is a historic town with quaint structures such as this little church.

The cemetery, established in 1849, serves nearby Independence, a charming little town of almost 10,000 with a two-block storefront downtown built in the late 1800 and early 1900s. As we drove into town, it was obvious a surge of eclipse viewers were expected as entrances to parking lots, driveways, school grounds were blocked. A big sign with an arrow pointed to “Event Viewing.” We stopped just long enough for me to take a photo of a historic church.

After searching for one more spot, which we never found,  we agreed that Hilltop Cemetery would be our choice for Monday’s eclipse. It was directly in the path for totality. The next morning, we hopped back into the car, along with my other son, Marshall, and his friend Trevor, visiting from Los Angeles.

During the eclipse, my sons and friend study the effects on their shadows. You can see the unusual quality of the light that occurred. This photograph has not been color corrected or adjusted in any way.

The last total solar eclipse viewed from contiguous United States was on Feb. 26, 1979, according to NASA. The longest total solar eclipse of this century, lasting 6 minutes and 39 seconds, occurred on July 22, 2009 crossing Southern Asia and the South Pacific. Totality in our location would last nearly two minutes!

My sons and I with our eclipse glasses pose for a family photo at the eclipse.

The last time a solar eclipse passed the U.S. from coast to coast was on June 8, 1918 and it would be 2045 for it to happen again.  No wonder millions of Americans, like myself and my two sons, were so excited for the chance to see it.

As television’s CNN reported: “According to NASA, this is a ‘celestial coincidence,’ as the sun is about 400 times wider than the moon and about 400 times farther away. From certain vantage points on Earth, the moon will completely block the sun. This is called totality.” We were about to be lucky enough to witness it.

Some eclipse viewers brought their breakfast with them along with their camp chairs.

Hilltop Cemetery had come alive with people who, like us, tossed their blankets, set up camp chairs, laid out beach towels for the eclipse viewing.  I could set up my cameras in hopes of capturing images of what was likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime event for me. The atmosphere was festive. People had brought their kids, their cameras, their eclipse glasses, their breakfasts.

With everything in place and ready, we donned the eclipse glasses that Tim had purchased in New York. (Local outlets in Oregon and Washington had run out several days before.) The suspense built as the moon first kissed the edge of the bright sun. As it slowly progressed, more and more people tilted their heads up towards the sky. Their chatter became anticipatory and hushed. I made the first of my exposures using my film camera which didn’t require the special solar filter that any digital or electronic device did.

My two Nikons fitted with atop tripods with 300 mm lenses and shutter releases were ready to photograph the eclipse. Neither had the solar filter as it’s possible to photograph without during totality and film cameras do not require one.

Gradually, the dark shadow of the moon eased across the sun’s face.  As it did, the temperature became noticeably cooler. I retrieved my jacket from the car. Someone pointed to the two vultures that swirled overhead. We hoped it wasn’t an omen of things to come. The light took on an odd quality, almost grayish-yellow in color, as if the sun had been shrouded by heavy smoke from a large wildfire.  Our shadows looked oddly muted and ashen, softened by the vanishing light.

In my image of the solar eclipse’s totality you can see the reddish glow of the sun’s chromosphere.

And then–totality! A spontaneous cheer went up from the cemetery. People clapped for the moon’s performance. I snapped a few more photos both of the eclipse and the view from the cemetery. I expected to be thrown into total blackness but it more closely resembled twilight just before the sun’s last light disappears. A couple of stars twinkled in the darkened sky. The eclipse viewers gazed in wonder at what they were seeing. Then, it was over. The bright flash of light, known as the diamond ring effect,appeared as the moon began to retreat.

During totality, our surroundings looked like twilight with just a sliver of light across the distant horizon.

We stayed, as did most of those gathered, until the sun was once again fully revealed, as if people thought staying could prolong the moment. And what a moment it was. The eclipse was a reminder of nature’s power, something so extraordinary that people will travel hundreds of miles, some even thousands, put up with hours of clogged traffic on the journey back to experience two minutes worth of daylight turning into darkness.

The drive home that night took more than twice the time as usual. But I would do it again because it created a memory for me with my sons, family and friends that I will talk about for the rest of my life.

Expressing My Personal Perspective through Wedding Photographs

Summer is the season for weddings. They start in May and for every weekend through the end of September, caterers, photographers, florists, musicians, DJs, and planners are booked solid. Two weekends ago, I attended, for instance, to my cousin’s daughter’s wedding and two weekends before that I went to the wedding of the daughter of a close friend.

Sometimes it’s hard to get an image of the wedding couple sharing what seems to be an intimate and private moment. They were between photos with the ‘official’ photographer, when I saw them caught up in laughter and snapped this image.

As a the daughter of a professional photographer, I spent countless weekends at weddings assisting my Dad behind the camera. (This was a big help when it came to planning my own wedding years later because by that time, I had been to and seen so many weddings that I knew exactly what I wanted to do for our own.) The routine was a bit different then. We could shoot three weddings in one day–morning, afternoon and evening– with either myself or one of my brothers finishing up at one wedding while my Dad went to start the next.

My cousin beamed with pride when he had his Father-Daughter dance at his daughter’s wedding. I had my Nikon pro camera with me that evening and good lens so I managed to snag this image of him when he turned on the dance floor with his daughter, the bride. Sometimes, it’s not all about the bride.

That era ended with photographer Dennis Reggie in 1980, who Ethel Kennedy had hired to ‘cover’ her daughter’s wedding. Reggie, a photojournalist, took the assignment and then hit the professional photography speaking circuit to show and tell professional photographers all over the country how he did it.  I attended one of these sessions and knew then that the art of wedding photography, as I had learned it from my Dad, was changing.

The mother of the groom is usually much more relaxed and available during any wedding but is sometimes overlooked n the ‘official’ documentation. I caught Sheila at a moment when no one else did.

When digital cameras were introduced, it changed yet again because photographers could capture literally thousands of images at the ceremony. They soon discovered that this wasn’t such a great idea because clients were overwhelmed by that many images. Too much of a good thing, you might say.

Wedding photographers have since trimmed it back to a more reasonable delivery but some still present as many as 1,500 images. Think of the editing process entailed in cropping, adjusting color, retouching, adding special effects and eliminating  all those images. The post-production often takes longer than the 12 hours wedding photographers now typically spend photographing the event. I’m not sure even National Geographic magazine photographers turn in that many images to their editors.

Toasting the Bride and Groom
Taken with my pocket point and shoot, I raised a glass to toast Yuliya and Yama at their wedding and took this image while I did,

While I rarely accept wedding assignments these days as a professional photographer (except for special clients and smaller ceremonies), I almost always take one of my cameras with me whenever I go to a wedding because I, like you, enjoy having a visual memory of that day, particularly when family is involved.  Usually I take my pocket point and shoot, or my bigger but compact trusty Canon (yes, I do own one Canon), instead of one of my professional Nikons. I seldom use my mobile phone to take the pictures even though some phones images are terrific. But when it comes to preserving those images in the form of prints (which I still make and encourage you to do) or printed albums or books, cameras produce the higher quality high-resolution images you need.

My friend the mother of the bride, was way to busy the day of her daughter’s wedding to stop for many photos, but I managed to get her beside the ‘cookie instead of cake’ table during the reception.

For me, the images I capture on that day are personal and often are not the same as those the ‘official’ photographer is shooting.  That’s because while the hired gun is busily photographing every moment of the bride and groom and the wedding party, I’m focusing on my family and friends who are there, and the moments that capture my eye from my point of view as a guest. It’s something you can do too but you must be mindful to respect the working pro so as not to get their way as they attempt to capture the ‘perfect’ photo of ceremonial kiss,  the cake cutting, send off or formal portrait of the bride and groom.

From my seat. I was able to get the groom, Matt, and one of the bridesmaids boogeying during the processional. Note the photographer in the background, Matt s brother, the officiant, and the mother of the bride enjoying the moment on the left. I love this scene because of its spontaneity.

There are ways to get those same images, from your own vantage point. I like to find a seat on the end of a row where, if I want to stand during the ceremony to grab a quick shot, I won’t block anyone’s view. And while the official photographer is off shooting the bride and groom immediately after the ceremony, you can zero in on the family, the cake table, the altar decorations, whatever it is that attracts your eye and you want to remember.

Ringbearer Brody stands beside the table bearing the Bible and center candle that belonged to my aunt. The table, also my late aunt’s, served as the altar at my cousin Anna’s recent wedding.

Sometimes, it turns out that the images I’ve captured are ones that my family or friends also want because unless the bride and her mother (or whoever plans and directs that day) specifically point out the family member who’s never around, the best friend who traveled across country, the arrangement or setting that has special significance, the official photographer will never know to include it in their shooting list.

My aunt and uncle with my cousin Barry at his wedding reception is a special image. Only 18 months later, my aunt passed away from complications of dementia.

As a guest and/or family member, I have a history and relationship with the people gathered for this memory-making day so I know things others won’t and that is  reflected in my photographs.

I took this of Yuliya and Yama with my compact Canon while the ‘official’ photographer was shooting on the other side. Later, I used Photoshop to improve the exposure, give it a painted appearance and heighten the romantic feel of the image.

I love today’s style of photojour-nalistic wedding photography. I also love being artistically creative with the images I take at these ceremonies. But what I really love is the memories they bring to mind of the people, places and times that are unique and meaningful to me and my family.  And that’s essentially what wedding photography, whether from a hired pro or personal photographer such as myself, should be.

Christmas Card Photos Create Future Memories of Past Holidays

I had not planned to write a Christmas piece. But when I came across this photograph while working on my own Christmas cards earlier this week, I changed my mind. I intended to insert the photo into one of my brother’s Christmas cards but missed it in my haste to mail the cards.

Memories came rushing back as I was looking at this photo the other evening after discovering that I had failed to enclose it into the card.  I had just taken a family portrait last week for a client prompting me to think about the importance of our own annual Christmas card photo.  This was an annual event when I was growing up from my very first Christmas.

The annual Chistmas card family photo.
The annual Christmas card family photo.

This photo is more than just my parents’ Christmas card photo that year. Many memories are bound within the borders of this one image.  For instance, the photo was taken in my parents home. That door behind us led to the office of the motel co-owned and operated by my parents with my aunt and uncle.  I spent the first 16 years of my life living in at a motel. I never gave a thought to the fact that other kids didn’t live in a place that had ten guest rooms and a black top courtyard where my brother and I and my best friend from across the street played baseball games, held parades and rode around bikes round and round the evergreen tree that grew in a center planter.

The green satin dress that I’m wearing was made by my Aunt Marie, an excellent seamstress as well as cook.  I wore it in the wedding for a young Japanese couple–Aikio an Sojii–who were exchange students at the local community college and who were married in the Washington Avenue Methodist Church in town. I, along with my friend, Dru, were the candle-lighters.

The older of my two brothers, Richard, standing by my mother, was the ring bearer to Dru’s sister’s flower girl.  The suit and bow tie he wears was what he wore for the wedding too, maybe minus the white socks. This photo also shows how much my brother’s son resembles him. I have seen that similar look in my nephew.

The toddler on my mother’s lap is my younger brother, Brad. On the reverse of the actual photo, my mother had written: “Leon Crooks family – 12/64.” Brad was nine months old. My Dad took him into the studio and made a New Year’s baby picture of him wearing only a big smile a diaper and holding a bell. I am reminded how much my youngest son looked like him when he was that age.  The picture is still one of my favorites and I have a small wallet-sized print of it on display in my home.

My youngest brother is the New Year's baby in this studio portrait made in 1964.
My youngest brother is the New Year’s baby in this studio portrait made in 1964.

That rocking chair my mother is seated in was her Mother’s Day gift.  We had put a big yellow bow and ribbon on it, I remember, and surprised her with it after church that day. But when we came home, we learned that our prize-winning white Persian cat, Prince, who had one blue eye and one brown, had been run over and killed by a car.  It turned out that Prince was deaf, a defect often found in Persian cats with eyes of different color. I will never forget that Mother’s Day. I suspect my Mom didn’t either.

The print hanging on the wall behind my mother is one my Dad took of me sitting in Swope Park in Kansas City when I was four years old.  He entered and earned a merit with it in competition in his professional photographer’s association. I still own that print.

The big television behind us was a popular model at the time made by the now defunct RCA company. Besides the ‘big screen’ television, it housed a stereo turntable on one end with the control panel hidden on the other. No one makes anything like these electronic dinosaurs anymore.

And I couldn’t overlook the fashion statement of my Mom and Dad’s clothing. Although her fashion budget was tight and limited, my Mom always looked stylish.  I can’t see enough detail in the dress she’s wearing here to know for certain, but I bet she had purchased it at either Stephen’s Women’s Wear, the ‘upscale’ women’s clothing store in my hometown at the time, or Lane’s, which occupied a big retail space across the street from my Dad’s studio downtown on Main Street.

My Dad, of course, is wearing one of his signature bow ties.  My brother’s bow tie is undoubtedly a clip on, but my Dad wore nothing but the real deal.  When he passed away two years ago, those of us from the family attending his funeral, including myself, decided to each wear one of his bow ties as a nod to his trademark. Unfortunately, he had never taught any of us how to tie a bow tie. We had to find someone to show us how to execute the bow tie knot just hours before his service. Fortunately, one of my family’s lifelong friends, Pete Hughes, came to our rescue. I now can tie one on with the best of them. Also note the handkerchief nicely folded and peeking from his coat pocket. How often do you see that today?

Finally, since my Dad is in the photo, he obviously wasn’t the one tripping the shutter for this picture. I am certain that he had placed the camera on a tripod and had asked my aunt Marie, a pretty good amateur photographer, to press the shutter for him. Marie was often recruited for this task.

Your annual Christmas card photo may appear to be merely an image, but the picture truly is, to coin an old, time-worn phrase, ‘worth a thousand words.’ I’ve written nearly a thousand words here inspired by this singular photo when I had not planned to write anything this Christmas holiday. The photo unexpectedly stirred memories of wonderful times with my family.  And that, is a gift in itself. My wish for you is that you too will create future memories with a family photo of your own this holiday season.


Walking in a Winter Wonderland

For the past several years, I have ushered in the New Year on January 1st, with a celebratory paddle in my kayak on Bellingham Bay with my ever-faithful paddling partner, Pat. But this year, Pat was away visiting family, temperatures had dropped to below freezing and I had welcomed the New Year until after 2 a.m. Consequently, I was less motivated to get out on the water this year although I did feel a little guilty when, later in the day while out walking with a neighbor, I note how flat and alluring the water was.

Instead, I answered the call from another buddy to go snowshoeing on the second day of the New Year. I had already been out the day after Christmas and was anxious to go again. So it wasn’t a hard sell for her to get me to agree.

We rounded up a couple other friends and by 9 a.m. were headed up to our local mountain, Mount Baker, only about a 90 minute drive away. We decided not to go all the way up to the ski area which we knew would be crowded on this sunny, but bone-chilling day. Instead, we opted to stop at the Hannegan Pass picnic area where you can follow the road, now covered in snow and groomed for snowshoers and cross-country skiers.

The views along the Hannegan Pass Road are stunning for snowshoers.
The views along the Hannegan Pass Road are stunning for snowshoers.

It’s not as high in elevation and comes just before you begin to make the twisting turns up to the ski area. And when we pulled into the parking, there were still plenty of places open. Also, the trail is relatively flat, which made it appealing to another of our party who had recently recovered from a rotator cuff surgery and wasn’t sure how much of a challenge he could handle.

One of the biggest challenges of snowshoeing is simply putting on and fastening the darn things before you can set out. Sure, the clips and snaps and latches make it a lot easier than having to lace up anything in frigid temps, but it still is a bit cumbersome when you’re layered with warm clothing.

Our snowshoe group hits the trail.
Our snowshoe group hits the trail.

I’ve learned that it’s best not to overdress for snowshoeing. During my outing the weekend before, I finally had to shed the sweater I was wearing on top of my long underwear and beneath my sub-zero rated down coat because I was overheating. This time, I economized and started out with only the underwear top and bottoms, my ski pants and my coat. That turned out to be just the right combination even though the thermometer said 20 degrees. I also switched out the bulky, but warm, fingered gloves I had worn the previous time for the warm, lined mittens with a  top half that could be buttoned back to expose my bare fingertips so that I could more easily handle my camera.

Thus attired, we struck out on the trail. This particular trail, or road, follows along the scenic, winding North Fork of the Nooksack River. The snow glistened, just like in the song, in the late morning sunshine. The river sparkled. It was truly like walking in a ‘winter wonderland.’

Just like in the song, 'Winter Wonderland', the tree glistened along the trail.
Just like in the song, ‘Winter Wonderland’, the tree glistened along the trail.

As we rounded one of the first turns, someone had even built a snow couple and just across the trail was another, larger snowman who could have been, I suppose, Parson Brown.

We continued on, talking, laughing and stopping every so often so that one of our friends who was having some equipment issues could rebuckle his snowshoes.  But it didn’t matter, we were in no particular hurry to get anywhere and didn’t really care whether or not we reached a destination, although our intention was to go to where the trail, or road, stopped, a little more than two miles from where we had parked.

The trail had been fairly compacted but was still good for snowshoeing overall. There were some places where the dirt and gravel beneath were exposed but by and large, it was fine.

The white barren birch trees stand stand starkly in the snow.
The white barren birch trees stand stand starkly in the snow.

Along the way, we marveled at the long icicles that clung to the cliff beside us or on the rocks where water still trickled down the gully. We’d stop to gaze at the snow-covered treetops and thickets of trees while catching our breath or take a swig of water. Very important to always carry water with you when you snowshoe as you work up quite a thirst and sweat as you push along. Hydration is essential.

One in our group, Maria, had brought along a beautiful new leather-covered flask filled with an apple liqueur that a friend of hers had brewed for the holidays. We each had a taste and agreed that it was far superior to water although probably not as good for us.

Finally, we arrived at the trail’s end, another parking lot where, during the summer the hike up to Hannegan’s Pass actually begins. It was ‘snack time’, always something to look forward to when snowshoeing. Out came the trail mix, the thermos’ full of hot soup, the energy bars, and sandwiches. Funny how the treats you eat everyday at home taste so much more delicious on a hike or snowshoe adventure.

The author enjoys a snack and water before heading back on the trail.
The author enjoys a snack and water before heading back on the trail.

After a short rest and the consuming of snacks, we turned around and headed back out the way we came. As a photographer, I’m always aware how even the same path can look very different coming from the opposite direction and how you’ll often see things that you missed the first time simple because looking at it from a another perspective. I suppose that same thing could be said of the things we encounter in our daily lives.

On the way back, we encountered many more people along the trail, after being somewhat surprised earlier at how few people we had met. I even saw a couple of other friends who had come up to enjoy the day in the snow and we stopped for a few minutes to chat and wish each other a “Happy New Year.”

The parking lot, when we returned, was now full to literally overflowing with cars. Families were out along the river and on the trail with children and sleds in tow. Despite the cold, everyone seemed to savoring the brisk, cold sunny day. Or perhaps they were just destressing.

A family enjoys a romp in the snow by the river.
A family enjoys a romp in the snow by the river.

In the January issue of National Geographic Magazine, writer Florence Williams describes how some researchers believe that we ‘do our brains a favor’ when we get closer to nature. I believe it.

As we rode back down the mountain, about six hours from the time we had initially departed, I felt tired but refreshed, relaxed and renewed. A hot shower would certainly be welcomed but it had ‘been thrillin’ to go ‘walking in  a winter wonderland.’

You can view a few more of my images from this adventure in my Portfolio by simply clicking here.







Taking Inventory for the New Year

For many in the U.S., the week between Christmas and New Year’s is a holiday time, time to spend with family and friends, enjoying each other’s company before resuming our regular, often hectic lives in the New Year. But for those who work in the retail world, this week is often one of the year’s busiest.  Besides the year-end sales that take place, retailers spend this last week of year taking inventory of their stock.

Many of the larger chain retailers bring in special staff to do the job, or, in some cases, allow volunteers to help out in return for a hefty donation to their organization. But for the small business person, it’s usually up to them and their employees.

I was reminded of this process the other day when in a local business where I purchase the paper stock used for making of my ‘Really Fine’ card line. The owner’s staff had already begun counting the hundreds of items in her paper and crafts store.

Dad on Front STep 750
My father in front of his studio entrance during the late 1970s. His was the oldest continually operated studio in the state of Kansas until he sold it.

It brought to mind the years that I spent in my Dad’s own store, helping to inventory cameras, projectors, albums, film, flashbulbs, Viewmaster reels, gadgets and frames sold in his camera shop and studio. I don’t remember it being a tedious job. In fact, I liked it because while taking stock of everything in the store, I became very familiar with every little thing we sold.  Especially projector lamp bulbs.

You can’t imagine how many different movie and slide projector bulbs there were. Standardization  didn’t seem to occur to these manufacturers. ELH, DAK,FGF,DFW,CLX. They all fit different models of projectors. GE. Sylvania and Kodak were the major makers of these bulbs which also came in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some were long and tubular with four or five prongs on the end. Others were rounder and short or looked like a miniature version of a car headlamp. They all needed to be counted and we had lots of them.

CAmera Shop stock 750
The cameras, cases, projectors, lights, film were neatly arranged on the shelves in my Dad’s retail camera store. It was part of my job when I worked there to keep them in order and dusted, as well as inventoried.

Then there were the frames. My Dad’s studio offered both ready made and custom made frames for his portrait customers. Frames were my favorite part of the inventory. I loved the range colors, shapes, profiles and designs. Boxes and boxes of them. Constructed of solid wood–or metal–they were moulded, carved and stained. The easel backs of the smaller, tabletop frames were usually covered in a velvet-like material, not like the flimsy, cardboard backs I see today on the shelves of chain and big box stores.

portrait reception 750
This photo of the portrait reception area of my Dad’s studio probably dates from the late 1950s, before I started taking inventory there. The displays on the wall give you an idea of the variety of frames that the studio stocked.

I could recognize the style of each company–Carr, Burnes of Boston, Hartcraft, Kendall, to mention a few. Many of these companies have long since been gobbled up by bigger companies and frankly, the quality has slipped. But sometimes I see a frame today and know exactly which company made it.

Taking inventoy was a good way to learn about every single item in the store. It’s similar to what many of us do in our personal lives when thinking about New Year’s resolutions. As the end of the year approaches, I find myself reviewing my year, taking stock, if you will, of what I accomplished, what I didn’t quite finish and what I never got started.  It pulls things into perspective and helps me figure out what’s really important and what’s is not.

Cheryl at Back Door 750
Not a great photo of me, but here I am headed into the back entrance of my Dad’s portrait studio. I recognize the bag in my hand as one from the studio. This probably is from the mid-1970s.

In a sense I’m still taking inventory, just as I did for my Dad’s studio, but the things I count now are much bigger than projector bulbs and picture frames.

Take Pictures, Lots of Them

There’s an ad currently airing on American television in which the main character tells the viewer to “Take pictures, lots of them. In 20 years, you’ll be glad you did.”  Honestly, I can’t remember the advertiser, or much else about that ad, but that one line stuck with me. Maybe it’s because I’m a photographer and pictures are not only my livelihood, they are my life.

In reality, I think people are actually taking more pictures than ever before. Consider just how easy it is to record images on devices such as phones and tablets, let alone digital cameras.  People are snapping pictures of themselves, their kids, their dogs, their food, whatever, every time you turn around. Just the other day, for instance, on my drive to Vancouver B.C., I watched in amusement as a couple, one-armed with a digital camera, the other with a phone on a ‘selfie stick’ struck a variety of stances in front of a bed of flowers planted in the color and shape of the Canadian flag. Their on camera antics were highly entertaining as I, and a long line of others, inched towards the border crossing in our cars.

So yes, people are undoubtedly taking more pictures than ever before. But it’s the second part of that advertising phrase that TK me.  In 20 years, will the people who took those images, or their progeny be able to see those pictures, or even know where they to find them?  It struck me because recently Photo Central, a photo supply store in Winnipeg, Manitoba, posted this image here onto their Facebook page.

The caption of this image from Photo Central says it all. Make prints of your precious photographs so you'll have them when your technology is outdated.
The caption of this image from Photo Central says it all. Make prints of your precious photographs so you’ll have them when your technology is outdated.

They have a point, one that I hope everyone who clicks a camera or presses a phone will take to heart.  I print all my own personal and professional digital images for myself and those of my clients.  Because, as I so often explain to potential clients who say they only want ‘digital images’, I want them to have that image in 20, 30, 50 years or more down the road.

Photo Central’s picture drew my attention too because one of my brothers’  recently had been researching our family history on-line.  He started it to determine whether or not one of relatives, James Crooks from North Carolina, fought with the Union forces at Gettysburg during the Civil War. He didn’t.  During his hunt, he uncovered not only some new tidbits about the family–that some members served in the American Revolution for instance–but found some old photos of great, great, great (maybe another great in there) relatives.  Like this one of Catharine Darr, who,  according to the research done by my brother, was the mother-in-law of one David Crooks of Lincolnton, N.C. , our great, great-grandfather and the father of James, mentioned above.

While reseaching the family history, my brother came across this old photograph of Catherine Darr, the mother-in-law of my Great, Great Grandfather.
While reseaching the family history, my brother came across this old photograph of Catherine Darr, the mother-in-law of my Great, Great Grandfather.f

It is he, who, according to family legend and my own father, told his son James when war between the states was imminent that “one day, these rivers will run with blood. When they do, you need to go North.”  In 1864 at the age of 19 or 20, he signed up the 13th Tennessee Calvary Regiment.  He may be one of those pictured in the reunion photos found on the regimental website. (I’d post one of the pictures here but the website strictly forbids copying them.)  But I can show you the photo my brother found of Catharine Darr who lived from 1794-1888, was married to Jacob Barrier and was mother-in-law to David, father of James.   Had this been an image taken with digital technology, we might not have this photograph.

My brother also found photos of the “Rock House” built by Adam Sprach Sr., our sixth great-grandfather. who was born in Pfaffenhofen, Germany in 1820 and came to the U.S. with his parents. They settled in North Carolina. In 1754, Adam moved near  Bethabara, N.C. and built himself a sturdy house, seen here,  of uncut stone, laid up without mortar, except for plastering inside. As you can see from the photos, there is a lower level beneath this one-story house. 

Adam Sprach's rock house had a basebment with an outside entrance so he could herd his cattle inside when under attack.
Adam Sprach’s rock house had a basement with an outside entrance so he could herd his cattle inside when under attack.

According to my brother’s research,  the house basement had an outside entrance so that during attacks, Sprach gathered his cows and drove them into the basement for protection. Each room also had loopholes, through which the defenders could fire. You can see in the pictures both the lower level door and loopholes in the walls.  But if these photographs didn’t exist, we would see neither.

This was the North Carolina home of one of my relatives. Even though it's a pixelated image, you can get an idea of what the house looked like.
This was the North Carolina home of one of my relatives. Even though it’s a pixellated image, you can get an idea of what the house looked like.

Then there’s the photo that I love best, the one of my own Grandfather Crooks’ sister, Katherine Crooks Moore.  She was a music teacher and is shown in this wonderful old photograph from 1907 in a class portrait. I believe that she’s standing, fourth from the left on the back row.  Don’t you wonder where they got all those guitars and mandolins?  Particularly since instruments weren’t cheap or easy to come by in those days.  I had never seen this photograph, or remember seeing one of my Grandfather’s sister before this one.  It’s a delightful picture to have. I’m glad it survived.

My great aunt is among these budding guitarist in this historical photo taken of her class in 1907.
My great-aunt is among these budding guitarist in this historical photo taken of her class in 1907.

Of course, my point is, that taking pictures is great.  But whether it’s a snapshot done with one of your own devices, or a professional portrait created by someone like myself, without prints, the images you take today might not be around in 20 years. And it’s anyone’s guess whether they’ll be there in 100 years or more, like these of my own family. Prints offer you a glimpse into your personal past, they bring alive your history and they are, by and large, permanent. Digital images can be deleted, erased, lost in cyberspace, corrupted or become merely ‘inaccessible’. So take pictures, lots of them. But please, also be sure you have prints of at least the ones most important to you because one day, someone’s brother may want to look back and learn about your family history.


Squirreling Away Your Images

We have squirrels galore here in my part of the country. In fact, just yesterday I watched from my kitchen window as a squirrel straddled two nearby trees and nimbly chewed a tasty morsel. Made me think of this week’s power failure that took down the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) for several hours. Why?  Because those adorable fluffy tailed rodents have been the culprits responsible for two previous power failures of the NYSE. They were not blamed for this most recent failure, as I understand it, but the interruption to trading made me stop and think about something I constantly encourage my clients and friends to do–make prints of your precious digital images.

Some of you I know are asking: “What’s the New York Stock Exchange take down got to do with my pictures?”  I’ll explain.

A squirrel, not this one, was responsible for the NYSE 'take down' earlier this week.
A squirrel, not this one, was responsible for the NYSE ‘take down’ earlier this week.

As I tell all my clients and friends, digital images are in no way of the imagination a permanent record.  Many things can happen to them that can cause them to vanish–pouf!–in the blink of a computer screen.  Your computer’s hard drive can, and eventually will, fail. So will your external hard drives (happened to me just this fall). The CDs on which you my burn your images (and documents) will not work on computers in the future, many don’t already–again personal experience. Flash drives are great but try finding your images when you need them. Cloud storage you say?  Ah, yes, not fail-proof either although probably better than the heretofore mentioned storage systems.  But I know of at least one professional photographer who lost all his stored images when the ‘cloud’ storage company he was using closed its ‘doors’.

Don’t take my word for it. In an address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society, Vint Cerf told the audience that we’re may be heading towards  a “forgotten generation or even a forgotten century,’ according to Professional Photographer Magazine‘s June issue.  As Cerf said:  “When you think about the quantity of documentation from our daily lives that is captured in digital form, like our interactions by email, people’s tweets, and all of the World Wide Web, it’s clear that we stand to lose an awful lot of our history.”

Cerf was inducted to the Internet Hall of Fame and warns us of a potential 'digital Dark Ages.' Photo courtesy of Internet Hall of Fame.
Cerf was inducted to the Internet Hall of Fame and warns us of a potential ‘digital Dark Ages.’ Photo courtesy of Internet Hall of Fame.

Cerf knows whereof he speaks.  A Vice President of Google, he’s regarded as one of the founders of the Internet. Cerf warns of a possible Digital Dark Ages where the digital photos, documents, e-mails that we store today on our computers or on the cloud, will not be retrievable to you because the bits on which they were written can no longer be read by current technology.  Cerf has proposed an idea that would ‘capture the digital environment in which those bits were created’ so that they can be recreated and reproduced in the distant future.  He calls this ‘digital vellum.’

But another solution is for people to actually print out the images or documents that hold the most meaning for them.  I am an advocate for printed photographs, as is the Professional Photographers of America, the professional association to which I belong . As the PPA’s director of publication, Jane Gaboury puts it:  “…prints are the only way to ensure a pictorial history for generations of our families as well as for society.”

This charming snapshot of my Dad was taken when he was just a child.
This charming snapshot of my Dad was taken when he was just a child.

This has become especially close to home for me during the past year as I have sifted through the many photographs handed over to me from my mother and father’s collection of family photo albums.  Without prints, I might not have this connection to my family’s past. The charming photo of my Dad as young toddler feeding the ducks on the farm might be forever gone. As might be those of my own childhood, or those of my sons. So when clients come to me for a professional family or senior portrait, I insist on creating prints for them, instead of or in addition to, digital images.

I create prints for all my studio clients, just as I did of this one, which I call ‘Family Heirloom” of my parents and my sons.

I often joke that what will happen to their images should one evening, the janitor who’s sweeping up in the Cloud office after everyone’s gone for the night, accidentally snags the cord and unplugs the mainframe? I never thought it could be something else, something as simple as say, as a squirrel.

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!


Art Walk in Bellingham

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.

Art Walk offers people a chance to view a variety of fine art by local artists.
Art Walk offers people a chance to view a variety of fine art by local artists.  (Photo courtesy of Leo Friedman)

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.

My portraits will be among those featured in a group show at Dakota Art in Bellingham's May Art Walk.
My portraits will be among those featured in a group show at Dakota Art in Bellingham’s May Art Walk.

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.

This image was created during a high school senior portrait session at my Bellingham photography studio.
This image was created during a high school senior portrait session at my Bellingham photography studio.

“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.

With six gold medals hanging around his neck, Knight is an inspiration to us all.
With six gold medals hanging around his neck, Knight is an inspiration to us all.

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.

Photographed as part of a high school senior photo session, this print will be among those on view during Art Walk.
Photographed as part of a high school senior photo session, this print will be among those on view during Art Walk.

“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.

The finished image was inspired by the work of Andrew Wyeth although when I created the portraitfor this senior portrait, I wasn't consciously thinking of the artist.
The finished image was inspired by the work of Andrew Wyeth although when I created the portrait for this senior portrait, I wasn’t consciously thinking of the artist.

“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.

The portrait of this young man was made for a concert poster.
The portrait of this young man was made for a concert poster.

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.






A Snap in Time

A friend of mine is in the process of downsizing from her big two-story house where she raised her family to a smaller place. She’s sorting through all the things that she neatly stored away in her attic. Drawings her sons made in grade school, letters from old friends, newspaper clippings about family milestones and lots of other mementos that she intended to one day pass on to her sons or future grandchildren. She sadly confessed to me the other day that she simply will not have the space to put everything in her new home. And that, she told me, includes all the boxes of photographs collected from over the years and taken of her kids, family and friends.

She’s now trying to figure out exactly what to do with them all. It’s a dilemma many of us have faced at one time or another in our lives. I suppose it’s a fair assumption to say that it’s less likely to be a problem for those who began snapping photos after the advent of digital photography. (The accumulation of digital photos presents its own sort of new problems. Maybe a topic for a future blog.) She’s considering tossing them after scanning and saving the prints to CDs, flash cards or external hard drives which would take up less space. But that is not a foolproof solution for storing and preserving your precious family photographs and snapshots. Those systems can fail too and in a single instant all your visual memories disappear. Forever.

This snapshot is taken from my Dad's family albums and shows him and some of his siblings enjoying a slice of watermelon. If you look carefully, you can see two men in the background the identities of whom I'm uncertain.
This snapshot is taken from my Dad’s family albums and shows him and some of his siblings enjoying a slice of watermelon. If you look carefully, you can see two men in the background the identities of whom I’m uncertain.

When that happens, and I’m sure nearly everyone these days knows someone who has “lost” their pictures or documents to a digital disaster, not only have your memories, once so well-preserved on paper, vanished, so has very important information that could serve generations to come.  The tradition of the ‘snapshot’ has been around since the first Kodak cameras in 1888 popularized and made more affordable to everyone the hobby of photography. People became entranced with taking pictures of one another in all sorts of situations–on vacations, family outings, celebrations, in their homes, businesses, churches and farms–doing all sorts of things.

The great American pasttime of baseball being played by my uncles as children on their family farm. An unknown photographer captured my uncle Buck's wind-up just as he was about to toss the ball to his younger brother, James.
The great American past time of baseball being played by my uncles as children on their family farm. An unknown photographer captured my uncle Buck’s wind-up just as he was about to toss the ball to his younger brother, James.

Those snapshots are often passed on to the next generation.  I myself have boxes of personal snapshots recently received from my parents’ home after my Dad died last spring. I now have the task of looking through them all, which I did frequently during my last visits to my parents’ home, deciding which to scan and then determining to whom the original prints should be handed. At the same time, I’m learning things about my family that I never knew, had forgotten or didn’t remember correctly.

This snapshot of my mother, brother and I on the porch where our refrigerator loaded with Coca-Cola brings back warm memories of my childhood home.
This snapshot of my mother, brother and I on the porch where our refrigerator loaded with Coca-Cola brings back warm memories of my childhood home.

The snapshot plays an important part of American culture. Unlike any other time in history, we can glimpse back into the past two hundred fifty years by looking at an actual photograph taken at that time.  Since the early 1900s, many of those photographs are ‘snapshots’ recorded by amateur photographers wanting to remember the day and to share it with their family and friends. From these everyday pictures stored away in photo albums, in shoeboxes, in slide trays or the like, we can learn what life was like for our family, what was important to them, what they wore, whom they loved, how they enjoyed their time together, where they went and what they saw.  In short, through these images, we can peer into their lives as preserved so well on paper in black and white and later, color. They can make us happy or a bit sad, cause us to reminisce or sometimes bring pain, solve mysteries or begin one. All this, from just a few inches of photographic paper. I find this pretty remarkable.

Mmy Grandmother's face is peeking out from the bush like a flower in this snapshot but I don't know the circumstnaces behind it. A mystery!.
My Grandmother’s face is peeking out from the bush like a flower in this snapshot but I don’t know the circumstances behind it. A mystery!.

I was reminded of the inestimable worth of the common snapshot when reading a recent article by Jon Feinstein on the Humble Arts Foundation blog. Feinstein was writing about Seattle-based Robert E. Jackson, a serious collector of American snapshots.  Some of Jackson’s more than 11,000 snapshots have been exhibited at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and at galleries in New York City, Los Angeles and Texas. Jackson is interested in the aesthetic and ‘unintentional’ artistic qualities found in snapshots rather than the historic aspects. Yet another reason why snapshots hold value and significance for people.

This snapshot of my mother, probably in her early 20s, performing a handstand for the camera is one of my personal favorites.
This snapshot of my mother, probably in her early 20s, performing a handstand for the camera is one of my personal favorites.

While your own, or my friend’s or my family snapshots may never be displayed at a gallery, they may be displayed in your home, on digital frames, in albums or on your walls. Even if you, like my friend, choose to scan and digitize your photos, be sure to hang on to the original prints. If you no longer have the space to keep them or don’t want to keep them all, select the ones most meaningful to you or your family to save so that future generations, who may not have access to your digital files, will have clues to who you were and the time you lived. For those that you decide not to keep, perhaps others in your family may want them. Or box them up and offer them to collectors such as Jackson or even your local museums or libraries who may want to add some or all of them to their collections or archives.

The snapshot continues to evolve with the emergence of new technology but one thing is for certain, it is here to stay.

You can read more about the impact that the snapshot has had on our society in a recent Smithsonian magazine article: The Invention of the ‘Snapshot’ Changed the Way We Viewed the World by Clive Thompson.