Monday, April 25, 2011

Guest Blogger: Photographer Dan MacDonald

Today I'm pleased to have a guest post by Dan MacDonald. I attended the School of Film & Photography at Montana State University with Dan and had the opportunity to witness his creativity through his photographic projects and the installations for his work at our senior shows. Today Dan shares his new project with us:

Sometimes I Stop Along the Way

I started this project while on a trip this past summer, but the idea had been germinating for sometime before that. I should also start by saying this project is probably an outgrowth of a larger interest I have in architecture. I am not so much interested in the technical aspects or even the design of buildings, but I am interested in them more as a potential physical expression of personal, social, and cultural feeling. Which leads me to the rest areas. Some are utilitarian, some are quite elaborate (sadly none of the ones I’ve shot so far), some have extremely trendy architecture that screams out which decade it was designed in and some are for more modest with a specific era of design and construction difficult to pinpoint. What I find interesting about them is their purpose is extremely utilitarian, primarily a sanitary place to dispose of bodily waste, and secondarily a place to stop along the way for rest from a journey. Yet many states have used them to showcase quite a bit of local pride, and often the designs of these areas reflect some version of the local culture of the region they’re in. Yet I think they’re often overlooked, people are usually in a hurry to get wherever they’re going on a trip, and I mean honestly it’s a place to poop. Yet someone, perhaps a team of someones, spent hours designing this unusual space and yet oddly purposeful place, and more people spent many hours constructing it. 

So I’ve set out to document as many rest areas as I can, my criteria for the project so far has been to only shoot ones that I actually have to stop and (ahem), rest at. I’ve tried to shoot them in a straight-forward documentary fashion that doesn’t try to make them more than they are, but I am taking a more considered shot than just jumping out of the car and snapping the first angle I see. Usually I’ve taken no more than 5 shots at each one and these are shot digitally but have nothing but the most modest of color correction comparable to what would be easily achievable with color film and C-prints. The rest areas seen so far in this project are mostly in Montana, but there are some from Washington, Oregon, and California as well. I see this project continuing for quite some time to come as my travels hopefully take me all over the country.

More of Dan's project and other recent work can be seen on his blog.

Monday, April 18, 2011

From Homelessness to Home: The Young Family

This is a continuation of a series. You can see an explanation of the project and the first family here and another family here.

Today I'm pleased to introduce the Young Family:

Karen is raising her two sons, Bryan (12) and Nathan (7), in this apartment that she's had for the past four years. It's the very same apartment they moved in to after their Family Promise experience.

Click here to hear from Nancy and her praise for Family Promise:

 The two boys (Nathan, left and Bryan, right) share their room equally, each getting a wall to decorate as their own with posters and memorabilia. 

Nathan was super excited to show me all of his favorite things, although sometimes he had trouble choosing his favorite. :) His bed is made up with a quilt each boy received from Family Promise.

 I had a great time hanging out with the kids and trying to capture their smiles. Even 12-year old Bryan starting loosening up a bit towards the end...

...even enough to show me his mad hacky sack skills.

What do you think of this project and images so far? I'd love to hear any feedback you have, positive or negative, or ideas you might have to share. I understand that your comments will won't have anything to do with the families I photographed. One thing I miss about being in school is having regular constructive criticism of my work. Thanks for any comments you might have!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Landscape Photography as an Opportunity to Slow Down

I recently had an email conversation with a friend who asked my advice about photographing a particular scene he had come across while hiking. He was frustrated with the photographs he made because he felt like he wasn't able to capture the beauty of what he saw. I admitted that this is actually one of the reasons I do not like landscape photography very much - it seems like I can only make boring landscape photographs. I can relate to the frustration. However, after giving him some suggestions of a few things to try, I came across this blog post by photographer David duChemin. I love this advice from his short blog post:

"Don’t allow yourself to be seduced by your subject matter. A beautiful scene isn’t necessarily a beautiful photograph." He goes on to encourage us: "Instead allow yourself to be seduced by, and fall in love with the light, the moment, and the geometry of the frame."

When I first started really concentrating on photography and learning about light, I felt like the world was new. Potential photographs were everywhere! In other words, I paid attention to how the light fell on things and I noticed the beauty in the things around me everyday. One of my daily prayers now is that I will be more aware of my environment and my surroundings. I don't want to surf through life without taking in all the little beautiful details. I want to find things to love about every moment.

This is one landscape image that I feel did turn out the way I had hoped. I photographed this herd of buffalo hanging out in the fog while traveling through the southern section of Yellowstone park early one morning. The fog was so thick it felt sad and heavy yet peaceful.  
©2011, Leslie McDaniel

What are your frustrations with landscape photography and what tricks or tools have helped you to make the photograph you want?

And finally, how do you make yourself slow down and take in the fleeting moments of your life?

Monday, April 4, 2011

From Homelessness to Home: The Reuter Family

Meet Nancy and her son Austin. Nancy's story from homelessness to home involves going from living in an unsafe roommate situation to living in a warehouse. Finally, she was connected with Family Promise and has now lived on her own with her son for a couple years. She and Austin both loved their experience in Family Promise, but were obviously ready for their own place towards the end. Even now, they remain connected to Family Promise who also helped them to find a working vehicle when their old one died.

Austin loves having his own room and has decorated it to represent the things he loves. He also has a goal to climb Mt. Everest one day so he hung the Nepali flag above his bed.

Listen to Austin's response when I asked him how Family Promise has changed him: 

In the hour and a half I spent with these guys, I could tell this mom & son duo have a great time together. 

 Nancy & Austin pose outside their home.

Do you have any ideas or suggestions for ways to photograph my future project participants?