Monday, November 29, 2010

MSU Photography Students to Serve the Community

Today I am pleased to have a guest post from one of my former professors in the School of Film & Photography at Montana State University, Alexis Pike. In her post, she talks about something that is close to my heart: community service. She is working with one of her photography classes to host a service-oriented photography event that will be held this Saturday in the photography studio at MSU. This event is being held in conjunction with the Help Portrait movement which was started by photographer Jeremy Cowart.

MSU School of Film & Photography Portrait Project
by Alexis Pike
The photography students enrolled in Advanced Studio Lighting (MTA 342) course at Montana State University will be photographing families from the community who could not otherwise afford this type of opportunity. The event will involve students meeting and greeting families, making them feel at ease in the studio, capturing their image, helping families chose their favorite photograph to have printed, and archiving images to cd for use by the family. Families will receive a free portrait session and F-11 has been extremely generous in offering to donate a 5x7 print (following the event) for each family from their cd of images.

This is an opportunity for my students and myself to work with our community. In my previous teaching position, my classes were involved in various service-learning events. Note the word “service-learning”. The students provide a service (typically to the community) and the students learn from that opportunity; it’s a perfect partnership—everyone involved benefits from the event. In the past, when I’ve pitched the idea of service-learning in classes, many students seem hesitant to participate, probably because they don’t know what to expect. But, I’ve always found that the students involved find it very rewarding on both a personal and professional level. It’s a positive experience; it places students in a real life situation where they learn from the experience and they want to continue to find ways to serve others. Since Montana State University is a land grant institution, I feel it is especially important that students at MSU learn about community outreach. Students need to understand that learning is a life-long process and part of that process is discovering how one can share their “gift” with others.

This week will be full of preparation so we can make sure we are fully prepared when that first family walks into the studio on Saturday. Over the past two weeks the students have been doing a wonderful job in arranging the event. On their own, they’ve contacted various businesses to solicit donations for the event (food, coffee, gift bags for kids). The students' involvement and enthusiasm has been like a snowball rolling down a hill, it’s getting bigger and picking up momentum. We’ve also been working on making sure the information about the event is distributed to families. The Bozeman based organization, Thrive, has been very helpful in passing on the word. Since this is the first time we are holding this event, we are only taking appointments for twenty-five families. My guess is by the end of the day, we will have worked with roughly 100 people. I think it’s important to consider this is an event about “quality” and not “quantity”. We want to make sure that every family who leaves the studio is happy and has had a pleasant experience. When it comes right down to it, the event is just a day in our lives, but the photographs from the event can be something that lasts a lifetime. I believe I speak for my students when I say that the event will provide a service that spotlights the families in front of our cameras, it’s not just for those behind the camera.

  • When: Saturday, December 4th 
  • Time: 10:00am-3:00pm, by appointment only
  • Location: Montana State University, Visual Communications Building-VCB Building, corner of 11th and Grant, Room 211 (Photography Studio). (Parking is free on Saturday.)
  • Contact Information:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New Look!

Today I launched a new look for my blog including a new logo with my name. I'd love to hear your feedback as I anticipate making a few tweaks here and there in the future. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting if you have ideas or suggestions!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Goodbye Fall, Hello Winter

I had planned to post a new image today, something that I haven't already posted online somewhere, but I am in a very pondering and reflective mood today. This image was taken last week, not long after our very first snowfall of the season. Since we moved to Bozeman, MT at the end of September 2005, we have had the first snow every year in September or October. We had a couple of very warm weeks this fall, so the late snow seemed to really usher in winter for me. When the snow starts earlier, I know that the real winter is still a long way off so it's sometimes harder to digest. I am happy with both the warmer fall weather we had as well as the beautiful first snow (although it is a bit wet and mushy). I chose to post this image (recently posted to my Flickr account) because it just seems to match my mood today. I'm thinking about things past and the future to come. I'm thinking about today and the gifts I've been given in my life. 


Monday, November 8, 2010

Art & Fear - Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking

The words "required reading" usually evoke feelings of dread and/or dismay for me rather than excitement and eager anticipation. However, there was one such book in college that caught my attention as soon as I saw the title: Art & Fear. Just by joining those two words on the cover captured my excitement about what this book might hold for me. I was recently reminded of this book and decided it was time for me to revisit these "Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking" that the subtitle mentions.

I initially read this book during my second year of photography school. Just to be real honest, it took me a really long time to call myself an "artist". I still struggle with that term at times. This book lays it all out there - the fears I have about myself with regards to my work, the fears I have about others, fears about the lack of creativity, etc. I must mention that my re-reading of this book comes during a time when I am learning about/realizing/contemplating the creative nature of all humans. Although this blog is not focused on my belief in Jesus as Lord, this belief informs every area of my life, including my life as an artist. I mention this because I guess I missed the verses that state very plainly that we (me, you, your Mom, your best friend, your worst enemy) were all created in His own image (Genesis 1: 26-27). These verses come right after a description of God in the act of creating. As a former science teacher, I am continually amazed at the way He designed things in His creation. I'm amazed at the way He created things to work. So anyway, I was created in the image of the Creator. 

I was like many people who believe that you are either creative or you aren't. "They" (the painters, musicians, writers, and OTHER photographers) were born with the ability to create, but not me. This book is helping to remind me that "creativity" is not some elusive trait given to a select few, but something that we all have. Whether or not we grow and cultivate this trait, however, is up to each of us.

I wanted to share just a few things from my re-reading of this book so far that I believe are worth dwelling on for a few minutes:

  • The point is that you learn how to make your work by making your work, and a great many of the pieces you make along the way will never stand out as finished art. (p. 6)
  • Artmaking has been around longer than the art establishment. (p. 6) In other words, people (cave painters, potters, etc) have been making art from the beginning of our existence but the earliest people probably never thought of themselves as artists.
  • Quitting happens once. Quitting means not starting again - and art is all about starting again. (p. 10)
  • What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears, continue; those who don't, quit. (p.14)
  • Fears arise when you look back, and they arise when you look ahead. (p. 14)
  • Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all-pervasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the pre-requisite to succeeding. (p. 21)

If you struggle with "Art & Fear", I highly suggest you pick up this little book. It's very inexpensive and it's a pretty short read but packed with great insight. You can buy it here.

Have you given up on a creative pursuit? If so, what was it? What made you quit? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Two Camps

There are often two camps in any creative field. In the first camp, you have the people who don't like to share. And by "don't like to share", I mean they aren't willing to share anything. These people will not help newcomers (or "emerging artists" as they are often called), they will not share information about the industry, and they certainly will not answer the "how'd you do that" question. I'm sure you've encountered this type of person so you know what I'm talking about. In my experience, those who are in this camp also seem to come with a superiority complex. Do they feel as if they need to act like they are complete experts in their field to cover up for any possible gaps in their knowledge?

In camp two, however, are those who are gracious with their knowledge and experience. They willingly take time out of their schedules to help others. They share their knowledge of lighting, their experience in the industry, and their own resources for learning and improving. Rather than an attitude of superiority, it seems as if these "camp two" people will readily admit that they may lack knowledge in certain areas and they have no problem seeking out experts to help them fill the gaps. I have met MANY who reside in this camp over the past few years and I am extremely grateful to them for their willingness to share without any expectation of a return.

One such photographer in the gracious sharing of knowledge category is Chase Jarvis. I have watched many of Chase's videos and I consistently read his blog. He points out that he was not looked upon kindly when he first began sharing the "industry secrets". I watched him speak live (online) via ChaseJarvisLIVE at last week's PDN Photo Plus Expo in New York. The topic of his talk was "The New Creativity & the Social Art of Photography". If I remember correctly, I believe he mentioned in this talk that he was at first ostracized for simply offering information. Why are people afraid of sharing knowledge? Perhaps they're insecure and afraid that someone else will take their place. Chase also began CreativeLIVE, what he calls "the world's first live creative education internet channel" (view the reference for this quote on Chase's blog post in where he announced this endeavor in April of this year). Go ahead and check out Chase Jarvis' blog and website. Chase no longer has to contend with the naysayers since he pretty much has his pick of work these days.

I personally believe that sharing and helping others will ultimately help us all. I am indebted to those who have helped me, and I feel the need to not break the chain by passing on what I know to others. Therefore, I am not afraid to have guest bloggers on my blog. Even though it brings attention to others who are in the same field, I am not threatened by this. I offer this space to these guest bloggers in an effort to expand our collective knowledge.

If you would, comment below with the answers to these questions: Has anyone in your industry taken you under their wing as your mentor? Who has taken the time to share valuable information about your field with you? To whom can you pass along what you know? In which camp will you reside? You may not fall at either extreme of the continuum, so what can you do to start moving towards camp two?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Guest Blogger - Rebecca Herem

Today's blog post comes from a fellow photographer and friend looking to make her way in the big, wide world of photography. My guest blogger is Rebecca Herem and among the many reasons I admire her is her willingness to up and move to a place that she loves to do something she loves. As you will see from her post today, that move has not been without difficulties but she is determined to make it work. I believe she has learned a lot from the process and she is willing and open enough to share those insights with us here. Although the title of her post mentions "recent grads" and "new photographers", I think even seasoned photographers or anyone looking to make a change could gain insight or maybe inspiration from Bek's journey:

Relocating: Tips for recent college grads and other new photographers

Just months after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in photography, I
decided to leave the land-locked and way-too-cold-for-my-tastes state of Montana
in search of new opportunities (and a warmer climate!). I had exactly 1.5 years of
professional photography experience under my belt, and felt confident in my ability
to find new clients in a big city over 800 miles from home.

But then I hit a snag: once I got there, I couldn’t find work! And this was for good

Though professors and photo pros throughout college did their best to cement into
our brains the need to “network, network, network!” I hadn’t realized just how true
this was until I moved away from—and mostly out of—my own network. Suddenly
it dawned on me: geez, they weren’t kidding! Literally every photo job I’d gotten
had been dropped in my lap by a professor, classmate, friend, or family member.
I realized that, in a nutshell, I didn’t know how to go about getting these jobs for
myself. Not surprisingly, this created problems when I relocated!

This brings me to offer two pieces of advice for photographers in similar situations:

1. Network in as many ways as possible before, during, and after you relocate. Try to
avoid the mentality that it will be easier to find work once you get to where you’re
going (otherwise, like me, you may find your hair falling out from the stress levels
associated with watching the bank account slowly empty…) It’s true that it’s harder
to job hunt and make contacts from far away, but by no means impossible! Even
one, small job will ease you into your new environment better than simply showing
up and finding yourself asking the inevitable “Now what?”

2. Utilize every tool and resource available to you. This means advertizing your
business services in as many places as possible (both online and in person) and
enlisting the help of anyone you know who has knowledge that could smooth the
transition process. (If you paid close attention to that last bit, you may have noticed
that, again, this involves networking! ;)

Since I had been living on Easy Street (metaphorically) before I moved, I neglected
to secure any kind of job opportunities prior to arriving. I thought it would be easy
to find clients, and had only researched the market casually. I thought, “It’s a big city,
there will be tons of jobs!” Well, it’s true that there were more jobs, but just as true
that there are also many more people clamoring for those jobs!

Fortunately for me, I had better luck with point #2: utilizing resources. I enlisted
the help of several of my best friends in getting my business off the ground in my
new city: Thomas designed my professional website, Lucas got it online and fully
functional, Daniel provided invaluable business marketing advice, and they all gave
much-needed suggestions and words of encouragement. I could not ask for a better support team!

Lastly, if, like me, you are relocating with a shiny new degree and solid experience,
but jobs still aren’t coming in like you hoped, help yourself out! Ease any financial
strain by getting a side job with scheduled hours (guaranteed income) or build some
good credit by taking out a small business loan. These things can, at the very least,
fund your business and land you more contacts.

In my case, I found that as soon as I ditched the more conventional methods of job-
hunting (looking for job postings) and began contacting potential clients that I found
through my own research, the pieces began falling into place. This makes good
sense, as ours is certainly not a very conventional job market!

Whatever you do, keep your head up! Even if you do find yourself taking smaller
steps than you hoped, take comfort in the fact that you are getting somewhere!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Reunion With Friends

In addition to teaching photography & computers at a youth mission in Brazil last May-June, Eddie & I spent a big amount of time developing relationships with those who are involved in the mission church and the youth club where we taught. We have been lucky enough to see several of those people back here in the states this year. This past weekend we had the opportunity to see the missionaries that we stayed with for a month as they were traveling through Bozeman. They are in the U.S. for a few months fundraising in order to continue their work once they return to Brazil in December. Although I know it's extremely hard for them to be away from their home and the people they work with, we loved seeing them and hearing what's happening with the mission. 

Aaron & his Brazilian wife Cris now have two beautiful children. Cris was nearing the end of her pregnancy with her second boy when we left last summer so it was pretty cool to finally meet him. We took a few minutes to do a little backyard photo session of the boys after we shared a rather large lunch (true to the Brazilian style!). 

 Believe it or not, I didn't pose him this way. He sat right down and said "I want to pose like this." I told him that he must have experience working as a model. So cute!

I'm not sure the little guy was enjoying his kiss from big brother!

 I learned that he's still just as obsessed with Spiderman as he was a year and a half ago. He really seemed to love being photographed but as soon as we were finished, back into his Spiderman costume he went!

 Action shot! I had to throw this one in because he kept wanting me to photograph him as he jumped off the porch.

 Yay! We got a smile!

We had a great time chatting, reminiscing, LAUGHING, and catching up. We had so many great memories of late night chats in Brazil. Good times! Cris' infectious laughter gets me going and I end up clutching my sides and gasping for air. Aren't reunions with great friends a sweet thing?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Please Don't Look

A few weeks ago, guest blogger Tessa Roche wrote about self-portraits on my blog. During that same time, I invited Tessa to the photography class I teach since I had already planned to do a lesson on self-portraits. Some of the students initially felt that self-portraits seemed very "self-absorbed" but after the lesson, I think they began to see another side to photographing themselves. Although it can be challenging (technically and emotionally), we talked about how self-portraiture can really help you to work through things partly by just focusing on what you are feeling and why. 

Juliette is one of my students who initially had some reservations with photographing herself. If you've followed my blog for very long, you may remember Juliette from my Forever Families project on the adoption of older children from other countries. That was about a year and a half ago and even back then, Juliette impressed me with her maturity. Now that she is taking my photography class she continues to impress me with her dedication to the things she loves, her work ethic, and her gratitude towards me as her photography teacher. A class period or email never ends without Juliette expressing her sincere thanks for whatever I've helped her with that day.

So, today I wanted to share with you one of Juliette's images from the self-portraiture assignment. I recognize a lot of similarities in the way Juliette approaches her work and the way I approach my own work, so I continue to encourage her to recognize her strengths and not to be so hard on herself. The following self-portrait by Juliette, entitled Please Don't Look, was my favorite of the images she submitted for this assignment. I believe the title shares her reservation in photographing herself.

Please Don't Look - A Self Portrait by Juliette Osen
 Overall I've been very impressed with the students' work and with their dedication to the class. They also encourage me on a weekly basis to continue pushing my own photography. In the future, I hope to expand my class offerings to include a film camera class and possibly an image editing class. Do you know of a student in the Bozeman area who would be interested in a photography class? If so, let me know. I'm in the planning stages for classes to be held in the Spring and Summer of 2011. Additional possibilities for 2011 include classes for adults and online classes for students outside of Bozeman or in other states. Do you know of anyone who might be interested in adult or online classes?

Monday, October 11, 2010

How To Combat the Slippery Slope

You know how you sometimes have those days when you just don't feel like doing anything? And you know how it is on those days when you don't even feel like doing the thing you love the most? For some strange reason, you've (momentarily) lost the desire to do the thing you're passionate about. It could be for a lot of reasons, or maybe just one reason. Maybe that day you felt like you were never going to be able to make a difference. Maybe it was something someone said that caused you to doubt your abilities. Maybe you were comparing yourself to someone else in your field and felt the chasm of inadequacy widen during that very moment. MAYBE, it's that you know what you want to do when you grow up but the work is just not coming in...oh wait...maybe that's just me...

The lies we tell ourselves, like we'll never make a difference or we'll never be able to do this or that, only keep us stagnant. See, I know from past experience that whenever I let those dark feelings crowd my mind, I can begin to fall ever so slightly down a slippery slope. And, by the slippery slopey nature of the slope, it can be difficult to climb back out. It's easier to just detect those blah feelings early on and cut them off rather than succumb to them and their after effects...which in my case is often a feeling of not wanting to do anything. When I realize what's happening, I can combat the thoughts and feelings with prayer and a little "one foot in front of the other" mentality.

I blogged about combining my passions a few weeks back. I absolutely love teaching - making something make sense to another person - and I love photography. Jumping back in to photography and teaching has really helped and encouraged me in other areas of my life. I'm in my element in a lot of ways, and the students I'm working with are probably also struggling with some of the same doubts that I have. It's helpful to encourage them, and to take my own advice of "just keep practicing". Working on a personal project or just carrying my camera around helps keep me motivated and working...even if the work is only commissioned by yours truly.

A couple of weeks ago a friend and I decided to get together to hang out, but also to go on a photo walk. I think we both needed to pick up the camera again and start pressing the shutter without any concerns for what the images would become. It was actually super inspiring and motivated me to keep on keepin' on.

Here's an image from that walk: 

So, here's my suggestion if you are lacking the motivation to do something, even if it's something you love: just get to it. Just as I tell people who ask how I "stick to" my workout plan, take the first step and put on your shoes. Motivation, encouragement, and inspiration, once you find them, all seem to beget more of the same.

I'd love to hear from you! What do you do to get yourself moving if you're in a slump?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How-To: A Makeshift Set Up for Headshots Against A White Background

Last week I had the opportunity to photography people who attend Journey Church as part of a project to celebrate our five years here in Bozeman, MT. The goal was to make close-up portraits of people (read: anyone who would show up at the designated time) against a white backdrop. The portraits of the models, who were asked to make funny, happy, or silly faces, were to be slightly overexposed.

Since the portraits were only going to be from the neck up, I didn't have to worry about having a full-length seamless white backdrop. I didn't have access to a white wall at The Commons where I photographed, and I don't have any type of solid white sheet or other white backdrop material. Instead, I taped together three or four sections from a roll of white craft paper. The roll of craft paper was probably about 1.5' wide and each section I cut was several feet long. The result was a white backdrop that was about 5' wide and long enough to cover a wide range of heights. Now...on to the lighting...

I don't have a studio, so all of my lighting must be ready for "on location." For this reason, I choose to travel light. My main light was an Alien Bee 800 located in front of the model and raised up about 8-10'. Since somewhat harsh lighting was called for in the style of portraits we wanted to create, I simply used the small reflector that comes with the Alien Bee rather than a softbox or some other modifier. The light was angled down over the model's head.

Since I used overlapping sheets of paper and the background needed to be very bright, I brought along two flash heads to aim at the white backdrop. I didn't use modifiers on the two flash heads and I pointed them directly at the background. The flash heads and Alien Bee strober were triggered by the Pocket Wizard attached to my camera. You can see my lighting set up in this diagram: 

I stood under and just barely to the left side of the Alien Bee's light stand (although this was difficult to show in the diagram). I brought along a step stool for me to stand on to photograph tall people and for the younger kids to stand on. Overall, I think the job was a success!

The technical:
* Canon 5D with 85mm f/1.8 lens
* Camera settings f/11 @ 1/125
* Alien Bee 800 setting: lowest power
* Flash Settings: both at 1/16 power

I hope this has been helpful. I plan to do more "how-to's" in the future. If you're a photographer, or even just a parent taking photographs of your kids, how have you had to improvise with a background or lighting to create a portrait you have in your mind?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Guest Blogger - Tessa Roche on Self-Portraits

Today I have the privilege to introduce my very first guest blogger, Tessa Roche. She is a friend, baker extraordinaire (with a specialty in scones), and fellow photographer. In today's post, she talks about her desire to explore her personality through self-portraiture:

A Study of Oneself

“While a mirror or a photograph can tell a person what he or she looks like, that physical image does not reflect the whole self. Self-portraiture insists the artist embark on a journey of self-exploration in order to make decisions about how to represent him/herself authentically” (National Gallery of Art). I have been intrigued by self-portraits for as long as I have been a photographer and turning 25 seems like a great time to focus and work more on this concept. 

A self-portrait allows an artist to express many veins of their interests and personality. It can also show the changes in a person from day to day or year to year. I guess the best place to start would be to focus on what distinctively makes me, me. A self-portrait is meant to say something about oneself, whether it be physical or emotional. A fellow photographer friend of mine, Bek, seems to create self-portraits almost naturally. She shows where she is, how she looks and how she feels all in one portrait. And they are not just photos of Bek; they say something about her personality in her artistic style. I strive to be able to photograph myself as Bek captures herself. I just have to start clicking that shutter and experiment with techniques that work best for me.

Kudos to all of you who are successful in your self-portraiture and good luck to those of you (like me) who are choosing to start dabbling in the subject.
Famous self-portrait artists worth studying:  Van Gogh, Cindy Sherman, Kelli Connell. 

Photograph Copyright Tessa Roche

Monday, September 20, 2010

They Caught Me...

In the beginning days of my photography class, we're spending a little time each day talking about how to critique images as well as simple ways to improve their compositions. After the "practice" time during our last class, we started to talk about the images they took. The lesson was on the use of aperture and depth of field, but again, I interjected a few things here and there about composition as we went through their images. One of my main goals in the early days is to get them to really slow down and think about the image they are creating. When working with people, I had mentioned a few times that it's usually pretty important to pay attention to the things in the background that intersect with their model's head. Another main goal I have is to get them to move their bodies in order to select the best composition rather than just standing in one place the whole time. I had just happened to do this very thing with an image of one of the students while we were outside. Now, this is in no way an awesome portrait, but I quickly snapped the first image, then decided that I didn't like the way the mountain went right through her head. So, by crouching down just a little, I was able to  get the same image but with the mountain in a different spot behind her. As I mentioned, this is not an award-winning portrait work, but just a quick snapshot example of how moving your body can give you different options. There are actually quite a few things I don't like about these images, but they are just to illustrate a point. Well anyway, little did I know, one of my students actually caught me in action as I was "crouching". As they were all complaining about how bad they look in their portraits that they took of each other, I laughed and said I looked like a little old granny. I even asked them to send the image to me so I could post it. I'm not afraid...laugh all you want! It's better to just laugh at yourself rather than complaining about how awful or silly you look, right?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Back to the "Classroom"

Today was my very first photography class for home school students. As I mentioned in my last post, I'm combining my love of photography and teaching this Fall by working with 7th-12th grade students. Today I spent some time getting to know them through the photographs I asked them to bring, going over a few quick ideas for improving their photographs, looking at examples of different types of photography, and working on a photo-scavenger hunt. Here's a couple pics as they were looking for items on the scavenger hunt:

I know the weather may not hold for long but we sure had a beautiful day today! Since the only other time I taught this class was in Brazil, it was much easier not having to teach through a translator! 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Oops! & Combining Passions

Since my first blog entry, I have written about various projects (adoption, abstracts, Brazil, suicide) with something less than consistency. Since my renewed commitment to posting on my blog a few weeks ago, my plan has been to make at least one update to this blog each week. I even added this task to my calendar each Monday. Oops! I missed last week and it's already Thursday this week! I don't think I've let anyone down except myself, but sorry to any of you who have been waiting on pins and needles for my next exciting update. Just kidding...I have no idea how many (if any) people actually read my posts after I make them public. I think that's the bane of most bloggers, isn't it? We all want to think that someone out there cares about the words we share with the world. Many give up. For me, I just need to remind myself that my commitment to blogging is as much for myself - to weekly renew my commitment to photography - as it is for anyone else. If you happen to be someone who clicked on a link to read this, however, thank you! As I mentioned in my very first post for this blog, part of the reason I continue is to also allow you, the reader, to get to know me better as a person and a photographer.

Even though photography was my first love, I spent several years as a middle school science teacher. When my husband and I moved nearly 2000 miles, I had the opportunity to pursue photography. Even though I LOVE photography and the ways it has changed me and the means of expression it provides, I have never completely forgotten my love for teaching.

Now that I have finished my photography degree, I'm unsure of how to get involved, by using photography, with the things I'm most passionate about. One such opportunity came up last summer when my husband & I traveled to Brazil to teach at a youth mission. I taught photography and he taught a computer class. No matter where I end up using photography, I think I'll continue to find ways to combine it with my passion for education. In fact, I am starting a photography class for home school students next Tuesday and I hope to continue offering classes in the future. My hope is that I will be able to offer classes to both kids in the US and abroad who may not otherwise have the opportunity. Unfortunately, this requires funds. I recently came across the AOL 25 for 25 grant opportunity and I'm in the process of getting my submission together for the second stage of the application process. I have no idea what my chances are to be one of the 25, but my idea of offering photography to kids in under-served areas is something I'm passionate about and a grant like this would make my dream a reality.

One of my Brazilian photography students took this photograph of me and another student during class last summer.

As blogger Chris Townley recently wrote in his blog about actually doing something with the things that get your blood pumping, "The first thing you need to do is IDENTIFY what you want to be involved in." I have been passionate about both education and photography for a long time, and what better way to serve others than to offer them something that I love and that just might make a difference in their life? Combining two of my passions is one way for me to take a small step towards living a better story

What are you passionate about and how do you get involved?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"You Complete Me"

I would imagine that most of you have seen the movie Jerry Maguire, or at least heard the over-quoted line, "You complete me". Despite how the movie ends, at this point in the film, Renee Zellweger's character believes that Jerry Maguire is the yin to her yang, the one thing that will make her life perfect. This is a lovely thought, isn't it? The idea that there's one person in this world who will make everything amazing and who will somehow, through their own perfectness, make all of our problems disappear would be a comforting thought. Maybe you've never fallen prey to this idea in relationships, but have you ever thought "If only...?" If only I had this or that thing, my life would be so much better!

Last night I had the opportunity to photograph Jon & Michele's 25th wedding anniversary celebration through the renewal of their vows. Twenty-five years! Wow! They are an amazing couple and I think part of the success in their marriage probably has to do with the fact that they don't look to each other for completeness. I don't want to put words in their mouths, or boil the success of their entire marriage down to one statement, but I would guess that both of them hold their hope to be complete elsewhere. And, that "elsewhere" cannot be found on this Earth, or in the form of another human or in the next best thing.

I'm also reading Don Miller's latest book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Towards the end of the book, Miller talks about how he believes that many of us are living life by just waiting for that big moment to happen...forever hoping that this thing or that, this person or that, will make us complete. In the meantime, we're wasting much of the time we're given TODAY. His take on the whole thing is to start living a better "story" right now, at this very moment. Don't wait until the planets align and everything is just so because honestly, that will probably never happen. I don't mean to be negative, but it's just a reminder (to myself mostly) that I need to stop wasting time waiting for something...for something to make things better. I need to make a difference now! I need to just take the steps, day-by-day, to live a better story. Life is not perfect for anyone. Why then, do I continue to look for wordly things to complete me and to make everything perfect?

What are you doing to live a better story?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Photographs As Memories

On my recent travels to visit my parents and my grandmother, I also visited a very cool state park in Missouri. At Elephant Rocks State Park, you can hike up and climb around on ginormous granite rocks. It's a very cool and unique place but it wasn't my ultimate destination. I actually wanted to visit the newly reopened Johnson Shut-Ins which is just a few minutes away from Elephant Rocks. I recently read somewhere that Johnson Shut-Ins was ranked as one of the top "natural swimming holes" in the U.S. Unfortunately, we had to walk nearly two miles to get to the swimming area from where we had to park. I don't have a point and shoot, so I decided not to lug my camera down to the water since I knew there wouldn't be a safe place to stash it. So, I don't have any pictures to post of the Shut-Ins.

The idea of photographs providing memories (think Blade Runner) intrigues me. I have memories for both of these places from childhood, but I wasn't sure if they're mostly because I've looked at the old photographs for so many years or if I truly remembered experiencing them in the first place. So, since my parents live pretty close, I was curious to see if each place would evoke any actual memories. It was oh so hot and humid the day we visited but the skies were beautiful and blue:

So, the first thing I realized is that there is a trail leading around through the woods and up to the top of the rocks that I definitely do not remember. Secondly, there are many trees now but I guess that can happen over the course of 25+ years. Once we reached the top of the rocks, I could not really recall any concrete memories of actually being there...I just kept picturing myself posing on top of and in front of the rocks, as a child, from the old photographs. It was actually a weird feeling to know I had been there around age 7 and that my memories where mostly from the photographs. It would've been cool to compare the old and new photographs but I forgot the grab the old ones of me in this place as a child.

In this photograph you can get an idea of how big the rocks are:

If you're ever in the area, you should definitely visit both Johnson Shut-Ins and Elephant Rocks State Park.

What memories do you have that only exist from photographs?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

This is the Start of Something New

Although I have wanted to make it a goal to post to my blog more frequently, at least once per week, I haven't lived up to this goal for the past couple of months. I could throw out a lot of excuses as to why this hasn't been the case, but the reality is that I just haven't made my blog a priority. Along with many well-intentioned blog writers, I plan to work on making this change. My blog will continue to be focused on my work as a photographer along with a few related (and maybe unrelated) posts along the way.

Even though the majority of my work has been in portraiture, I haven't really dealt with portraits since my suicide survivors series, The Last Best Place: Suicide in Montana, in the Fall of 2009. Sure, I've made some portraits here and there, but honestly, I wanted a break after the arduous task of photographing and interviewing those who have lost a loved one to suicide. So, during some of my travels this summer, I photographed my only remaining grandparent. I have actually been planning to do this for about a year. I ended up not getting as many portraits as I wanted, but I like to think of it as the start to a long-term project.

I don't see my grandmother very often for a variety of reasons. In
fact, it had been a year and a half since I last saw her when I made the following portraits of her a few weeks ago. The last time I saw her at this location, at her home in Kentucky, was when I visited for my only grandfather's funeral. Unfortunately, it had been seven years since I had seen him. That is something I have to live with for the rest of my life. I won't go into the reasons, but no matter what the reasons were, I should have visited.

So...moving on to a more positive note...I decided last year that I would make more of an effort to see my grandmother when I can. Living over 2000 miles away doesn't make this an easy task, but my parents live within three hours from her house so that will make it easier to visit her when I visit my mom & dad. That's exactly what I did on this rare summer trip "home" to spend some time with my parents.

My grandmother will be 89 at the end of this month and let me tell you, she is PROUD of that! There's nothing wrong with being proud of your age. Honestly, I think she feels like she looks mighty good for her age. I think so, too. When the weather is ok (not extremely hot or cold), she walks up to four miles per day. This is something she's done for as long as I can remember. She doesn't take any medication and from what I know, she is a very healthy woman. She lives by herself and still gets out in the yard to pull weeds or work in the flower beds (which sometimes causes her to get stung by bees - exactly what happened the day before I saw her). She probably pushes beyond her limits, but she is a strong woman. I know she must have passed on her love for keeping busy and staying active to my mom who in turn passed that very same trait to my sister and I.

So, this is my Mamaw:

I didn't ask her for outfit changes or variations in her location
. I didn't direct her very much but just photographed the look she was willing to give me. Even though I had already planned to photograph her, this "session" materialized very naturally after my mom and I were looking through old family photographs. I simply asked her to sit in the chair nearest the window because I loved the diffused light coming through the sheer curtains.

I also couldn't pass up the opportunity to make a quick photograph of three generations. This is me with my mom & Mamaw:

So this is a start of something new. A renewed commitment to my work and to sharing it here on my blog, and a commitment to initiate more contact with my only remaining grandparent. Since I never knew my father's parents, it seems all the more important to me, even at this late date, to make a better attempt to stay connected with my grandmother.

If you've read through this whole post...thank you for sticking with it! Would you become a follower of my blog, or at least check back often, and let me know what you think of my work and my words? Also, if you're lucky enough to still have grandparents, visit them as soon as you can.

And on a totally non-photographic end note...when was the last time you visited someone who really needed to see you?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tire Swing Through a Holga

Whenever I visit a new place, I always like to find at least one local thrift store. I love thrift stores in general and I often buy things used (especially my clothes). An added benefit to seeking out thrift stores in new places is that it takes me to parts of the city I probably never would have seen otherwise. In this case, I stepped out of the car and saw this lovely tire swing hanging right next to the road in the residential neighborhood where I found a thrift store. I immediately thought the scene was perfect for my Holga.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Kayaker at House Rock on the Gallatin River

One of my favorite things to do on sunny afternoons when I just want to chill in the sun is to hang out at House Rock and watch the kayakers. Today I saw both kayaks and rafts. This first guy got turned around while coming around the rock but he let out a big "whoo hoo!"...I guess because he didn't flip over. I would be pretty happy about that also!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Opening Day of the World Cup - Portraits of Soccer Fans by Ian van Coller

I wanted to share with you the work that my former MSU professor, Ian van Coller, is currently doing in his home country of South Africa at the World Cup. Take a moment to look at some of his first images of soccer fans and how they express themselves through their clothing and other regalia. Check out his photographs here:

Friday, June 11, 2010

More Holga Fun - Playing in the Fountain

Here's another Holga image from my recent travels. It was so fun to just sit and watch these carefree kids running in and out of the fountains that randomly squirted from the ground. This little girl looked so hesitant as she stepped up to the edge of the fountain area while clutching her little skirt...but I knew she secretly wanted to get drenched!

I don't remember encountering this sort of fountain when I was a kid but my summers were certainly filled with the local pool and a backyard slip-and-slide! What's your favorite summertime memory spent in the water?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Ferris Wheel from a Holga

I've recently pulled out my Holga again to take along on our road trips. It's so fun to imagine what this dreamy, toy-like plastic camera will produce when I click the shutter. There's no pressure with this camera - just click the non-negotiable shutter and be done with it. The softness, vignetting, and potential for light leaks just add to the appeal of this no-frills semi-light tight piece of plastic. These things, and the fact that it is a medium format camera, are what I love about the Holga! This first image from my recent travels, a Ferris wheel sitting below a sky that's torn between the sun and approaching storm clouds, is one of my favorite. What do you think of the dreamy nature of Holga images? Take it or leave it?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Bannack State Park - Bannack, MT

Eddie & I visited Bannack State Park for the first time this past weekend. Bannack, once a thriving gold mining town, is one of the best preserved ghost towns. The town was acquired by the state in the 50s I believe but it still had year-round residents until 1975 with summer residents until 1983. This is probably one of the reasons why it is so well preserved. You can walk through most of the buildings and one of the park rangers even let us into one of the locked buildings. The ranger also mentioned that it's very dry in that particular area with very little snow which probably also helps the condition of the buildings. Thousands once lived in Bannack, each hoping to strike it rich with the nearly pure gold found in the Grasshopper River behind the town. While most gold ranks at 80-90% pure, some of the gold found in Bannack rated at 99.5% pure - as pure as refined gold.This is a pic of the valley, taken near the town cemetery which is on a hill that overlooks the town:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Uniform Project - One Girl, One Year, One Dress

I came across this project today in which one girl, who was raised in India and wore the mandated uniform to public school, just finished a year-long project to wear the same dress for an entire year. Actually, I think she had 7 dresses, one for each day, but the dresses were identical. She completed her outfit each day with vintage, hand-me-down, borrowed, and other used (sustainable) items to make a unique outfit each day. While doing this, she raised money for supplies, uniforms, and education for children living in slums in India. Check out this slideshow of photographs of each outfit from the entire year. There goes my "I don't have anything to wear" excuse!

Uniform Project Picture Book from The Uniform Project on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Sunday Poem: “Making A Fist” – Naomi Shihab Nye

I came across this blog post today by James Pomerantz, author of A Photo Student blog. The post is a beautiful poem along with a beautiful image by Michal Chelbin. I love Michal Chelbin's photography and it's especially fitting for the poem, so I thought I'd share his post with you.

A Sunday Poem: “Making A Fist” – Naomi Shihab Nye

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Graduation Day!

Today marked the final ritual for my B.A. in Photography from the School of Film & Photography from Montana State University - graduation! This was me earlier today, waiting to "walk the line". It was actually pretty fun to sit and chat with my friends while waiting for the ceremony to start and the the final handing over of the degree (cover) was a nice bit of closure for the past four years. The real degree will apparently be in the mail at some point in the future. :)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I Heart America Exhibit

Yesterday morning, I woke up feeling pretty bad and with my throat feeling all swollen and sore. I set up my panels for the one night only MSU Senior Photography Thesis Show and then headed home to rest. Throughout the afternoon, I just started feeling worse and worse. I knew I wouldn't be able to stand there and talk to people about my work so I had to make the decision to stay home. Major bummer! My husband even went to break down the exhibit for me last night since I ended up in bed around 9:15. So, last night was the final time my work was exhibited as a student, and I wasn't even there to enjoy it! I'm hoping to feel better by the end of the week so I can attend graduation and feel the closure I'm hoping for. :)

Sunday, May 2, 2010


As of 4:15 this afternoon, I have officially completed all of the formal requirements for my B.A. degree in photography! After four more years of school, off and on self-doubt as to my ability to pursue this passion, and lots and lots of hours spent in both the black & white darkroom and the digital lab, I'm happy to see the end of this phase of my life.

Being in an academic environment for photography is so much different than just chatting with friends who like photography. There are both good and bad things about the academic environment, but overall I am extremely glad to have made the decision to get a degree in photography rather than simply self-teaching. Although the second option is more than sufficient for some, spending four years studying and practicing photography in a formal environment has been very beneficial for me. Now that I will not have regular formal critiques for my work, I will need to work to find similar constructive and honest feedback. I want to make sure I continue to push myself just as much as I have in the past four years. When I look back at my work from four years ago and compare it to my current work, the improvements I have made are glaringly obvious. I hope and pray that in four more years I can look back and say the same.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I Heart America

( © 2010 Leslie McDaniel)

At project focusing on Americana has been edited down and is ready for showing! The project took a bit of a turn, which I kind of expected, from where I started. The work is now a collection of images that represents my personal homage to the iconography of mid-century Americana. Although the project is considered "completed" for my senior project, I do consider it a work in progress since it's something I would like to continue. The images that "made the cut" so to speak are different than most of the images I have put on the blog so far, so if you should come by the Montana State University Senior Photography Exhibition on Monday, May 3 at the Emerson Cultural Center in Bozeman, MT to check out the complete work!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Made to Stick & Starting a Revolution with Seth Godin

I recently finished reading the book Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath & Dan Heath. I'm not sure what made me pick up this book at the library, but I know I've always been fascinated with how to best communicate my ideas so that people will actually remember them. I can trace my initial inclination to become a teacher to this desire - to communicate ideas of importance in a creative way. I believe my desire to photograph also comes from this basic interest in communication. I'm always on the lookout for the best way to communicate what I'm passionate about in the hopes that my work might make a difference.

I must say that my interest in reading non-fiction was pretty much zero until about 3-4 years ago when I read Fast Food Nation. Anyway, Made to Stick was an awesome non-fiction read. It's full of great stories of how ordinary people have made their ideas or products "stick" (most of which you will be familiar with but may not know the back-story). As the book jacket says, "In this book, you'll learn the six key qualities of an idea that is made to stick." Check it out if you have time.

On another note, I just came across a post on Tasra Mar's blog with a Seth Godin video embedded. It's a TED talk about starting a revolution. It actually touches on a few of the same ideas that were in the book, such as telling stories to the audience who may be interested in your idea or product. It's about 17 minutes long, but it's well worth it. Here's the link to Tasra's blog post with the video: Starting A Revolution

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Route 66

I recently completed a pretty long road trip, a small part of which was spent on Route 66. I've often "reminisced" about this place that I've never seen. As with most things, when I finally see something that I've heard about or thought about all my life, it didn't exactly measure up to my expectations. Here's just one of the anomalies I came across on my way to Flagstaff, AZ. I typically name my image files with something that is in the photograph...this one I simply named "Strange":

Friday, March 19, 2010

I'm a guest blogger today...

I was recently contacted by Skin Cohen who runs Marketing Essentials International, a marketing consulting blog for the photography industry. I "met" Skip through Twitter. Although the jury is still out (as far as I'm concerned) as to the value of Twitter for me, I have met some people I would never have had the opportunity to come across by networking through Twitter. Skip saw something I posted, checked out my website, then contacted me about being a guest blogger on his blog. Our phone conversation focused on the importance of maintaining personal projects, so I geared my post towards that along with how it intertwines with where I'm at in my life. Check out Skip's blog (and my post from today) by clicking the title of this post. Thanks!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Parkway Motel

I'm in the midst of packing and getting ready to move, but I'm taking a break to look back through some of the images I've made in my project so far. I like to look through them real quickly the first time I scan them, then I'll come back to them a few days later, and so on all the way through the project. It helps me to discover things I may have missed the first time around. It also helps me to see where I'm headed and what I should work on. Sometimes I'll have a greater appreciation for an image I didn't like at first.

As I continue to look back over my work, images that I continue to like (such as this one) and that have received positive feedback from others have a greater chance of being part of the final group. As I've shown my work from this project to three photographers with differing styles, they have all picked this one as one of the stronger images. What do you think? I love that they're advertising "Color T-V"!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Red, White, & Blue

I spotted this old trailer in Butte and was intrigued enough by the composition I saw in my mind to stop. I just loved the way all the horizontals just seemed to line up and also the detail the tire tracks added.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Flag Disposal?

As I continue to photograph for my "American vernacular"/"Americana" project, I find myself still drawn to the way Americans show patriotism through the display of our colors and our flag. As a junior high student, I had the job of raising and lowering the flags before and after school since I was a member of the crossing guard. Since we had the responsibility of handling the flag twice per day, proper flag etiquette was drilled into our brains: the flag must never touch the ground, it must be lit if displayed at night, it must be properly folded in order to be stored, a ripped or otherwise imperfect flag must be replaced, flags that can no longer be used must be destroyed by burning. These rules of etiquette play through my mind as I come across varying displays of the flag. This "flag disposal" receptacle is the first I've ever seen. After a tiny bit of research, I discovered that you can apparently take old flags to the American Legion for disposal if you prefer to do that rather than burning them.

I'm also really attracted to things that have a nostalgic feel, such as this building with the "Eddy's Bread" sign painting. It seems like a large majority of things I'm photographing are signs, such as in these two images:

These two images still have strong color relationships and still include red, white, and blue. I'll have to wait and see if that theme continues in all of my images.

This project has been a lot of fun for me so far. It's a totally different type of photography than my previous two projects (Forever Families and Suicide Survivors), but it's a great change of pace for me. I kind of like the idea of heading out on a scavenger hunt to see what I can find, what draws my attention, and the shape that this project will eventually take. Thanks for reading and checking out my work!