Two Girls in Dresses on HP5

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Want to know a secret? I hate photography. I read the absolute minimum required to function each camera and film that I buy. I hate reviews. I hate specs. I hate numbers. I hate metering. I hate directions. I hate manuals. I am, in essence, an anti-technical photographer averse to the learning process. Which is why I am consistently drawn to point and shoots like the Polaroid SX-70, Holga 120N and Canon Sure Shot.

For me, emotion is principle. Composition is principle. Being able to press click at the decisive moment is what draws me back to photography over other mediums. Tuned into my sixth sense, I rest. This is my therapy and sauna and self-care package. Where I sleep; my bed. I applaud every person and personoid out there who thrives on the camera-as-machine model, who can perfectly calibrate their instrument to catch the wings of a hummingbird. But to inhabit that process makes my skin crawl. I have one aim alone and it’s an emotional one. To capture the Thing and keep it.


I recently heard a designer say of his work, “I like the shittiness” in regard to skipping some Photoshop smoothing process that designers know about. I thought yes! We Like Shittiness Club. This roll was horribly overexposed (I forget what I did since I never write things down nor actually learn) but that ended up lending a nice nostalgic grain to them. This roll is split between walking around the grounds of our neighborhood, candid shots at home and some seated portraiture. I am drawn to untouched nature. I am experimenting with how to document our daily lives on film (likely a few rolls of HP5 on Canon Sure Shot a month?). And I’m always inspired by a formal sitting, where the subject is a contributor. Since I haven’t shot that way in a long time, I decided to try it out again.

My sweet big girl. She was excited to do this. Afterward she “took my photo” after I had already emptied the roll. “Now close your eyes,” she instructed me like I had done to her. This girl is aptly named — Vivian, full of life. Participation is her strength. We had fun making these.

Eleanor “shh”ing Eeyore. I know you’re not supposed to have a favorite child, but at this point it’s out of my hands. I truly adore this baby/girl in an unrelenting way. Perhaps because she is still nursing. Perhaps because she may be my last baby. Perhaps because 18 months — 2 years is a golden age of blossoming of words and identity and wearing “packpacks” and sunglasses.

I shot this roll on the Canon Elan that my mom got me at a garage sale for $10. It does the job. I was experimenting to see if I’d like to leave the world of SLR forever, and I think the answer is yes. Although after scanning I often think, “shoot. I wish I had more control here.” I never wish for the process while shooting. Point then shoot is the most intuitive possible format for me; everything else feels bulky and makes me feel like a paparazzi (mamrazzi? which is worse?) while out. These are self-scanned. Woot woot!

Can we all raise our hands in hallelujah for HP5? There’s something about this film. I think it feels a lot like the photos in my dad’s photo box, especially when contrast is low. It gives me what I’m looking for: memory felt.

A with love

My First Roll of Portra 400

It seems only yesterday I used to believe there was nothing under my skin but light.

If you cut me I could shine.

—Billy Collins

 

When you have golden light pouring into a window it barely matters what camera or film you're using. So I credit the sun with the magic of these. And the whispy, untamed hair of these sisters. My first roll of Portra 400, shot on aperture priority. Because the light was strong I could focus on composition with these. Wouldn't it be lovely if that were always the case? 

Welcome to Syllabus

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Remember college? Sweet, sweet structured assignments. I turn 30 in two weeks, which means I've been out of my small, online Creative Writing program for five years. Before that I went to a community school where the world's most nurturing creatives are hiding out, pouring their lives into individual students like me. From 18 till graduation I had a creative impetus other than melancholy and drive; I had a syllabus. 

After the births of Vivian and Eleanor, I had a choice to make. Not whether I would stay an artist at heart, but whether I would stay a functioning artist. A producer. Most of that thinking shut off for the first 18 months of their lives, but right around the time when they dropped to one nap (praise Jehovah on high) the thoughts returned. The subtle knocking at the door. The tugging at my skirt. I have called my creative work my third baby. 

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Jokingly, I often say this baby is dextrous and naughty and dangerously climbs out of their crib at inopportune times. "Get back, baby!" I say. I'm not afraid to whack this baby with a newspaper (I have never had a newspaper in the house, but I really should given this scenario). But this baby is relentless; I've never actually considered giving it up or locking it away. But I have wondered how it will fare as I nurture myself and my true babes; how atrophied it will become under my neglect as I toss it a few crumbs here and there.

Pleasant, right? Enter Syllabus. I posted in Stories recently about how to practically juggle art-making and full-time mothering time-wise. I see no philosophical conflict with the two callings, but a fiercely divided clock. Child-care and adjustment of expectations topped the list of suggestions, and I need both in my life pronto. But the one that appears clearest in my mind's eye is this: work ethic and time management. Wah wah. 

Since having children I've realized how solitary my life till marriage was. As a girl I spent hours in the backyard by myself (gathering rain samples in film canisters and feeling scientific af). As a teen I was absolutely glued to my walkman (hey now) then iPad then computer. I drowned out the emotional rev-screech-crash-fire-rescue of my alcoholic household with music and visual art. I papered my walls with posters and locked the door. I made collages and drawings and wrote for hours every single day. As a result, being alone, making, is my homeostatic state.

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You're anticipating the conflict, right? A deeply held desire to be home with my girls, feeding their bodies and souls each day. But then, the house. The life that needs propped up on stilts and refuses to walk on it's own. The question slowly getting clearer: how much art can Cinderella make in a day? Week? Month? Year? I'll tell you! A good amount provided she is willing to work harder than she has before. I have had to change.

I haven't figured it out. I often stay up way too late to the detriment of the next day. My husband (who knows exactly who and how I am) sometimes comes home and I simultaneously run out the door after inspiration or under emotional collapse, leaving a trail of unfinished business and no dinner plan behind me. I am reading Mary Oliver's Upstream right now where she details (and justifies - woop woop!) the phenomena. Creating isn't all muse and inspiration and voodoo, but for the most part this child is a bad baby; this child does not obey the rules.

Despite my martyrdom, I tend to give baby the side-smile. Her tirades take me from the quotidian and tether me to painters and writers and photograph makers before me. Slowly I am seeing how I can function well in both worlds. Emphasis on slowly, okay? 

Back to college. Assignments! Deadlines! Those great motivators of humankind. In that effort (and as a way to psychologically return to the collegiate landscape though I'm currently not student or teacher) I have created the Syllabus series. As much as I'd like to make this a public service, with delightful offerings for the creative mind, I'm starting in seed form. Small (small, doable) assignments for myself. Challenges to say: you have a window, use it. 

Assignment 01: CREATE PHOTOGRAPHS THAT MAKE ME FEEL WITHOUT FILM

 Taken with 5Dii, edited with VSCO + Lomograph app

Taken with 5Dii, edited with VSCO + Lomograph app

Dear God, this "tampeen!" She loves it not only because it is a giant bouncy surface, but because this is what certifiable big girls do. No matter how many times she falls belly-first (the more the better from her perspective) the experience is one of mastery for her. "I'm doing it!" says that little grin.

My first assignment was inspired by being out of film on an overcast day. Welp, no use picking up a camera today! Wrong. I rely heavily on film + light to tell the story I am forever chasing, so I posed it as a challenge to capture photographs without those tools. What's left? Emotion, action, story, composition, edit. So I gathered the digital tools I have lying around (5Dii + iPhone) and set out to see if my voice could find it's way. 

No matter how much I try to reign in the clicking with digital, it's simply a fact: I have unlimited attempts. I find this unavoidably degrades my creative process; that nervous energy and consequence of pressing the shutter with film makes the cream rise to the top of my work. Second to aesthetics, the confines of the shooting experience is my reason for shooting film. You have to get it right. The sixth sense awakens fully, and you are forced to See.

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Proposal to end world hunger: gather all the apples that children have taken three bites of out of and reuse. After taking these photos and running them through the mill of post, I remembered the bottomless pit of digital editing. How no matter what you do there is still a glossy, grainless surface that covers your photos in saran wrap. After seeing some trending (I could be months behind on this - or years - lightyears) photos on IG edited to look like VHS tapes and disposable cameras (PSA: shooting with a real disposable is magic, spend the $15 and ditch the lie that it's inconvenient) I decided to look it up in the app store. 

When I saw the Lomograph app I was intrigued by the name (no association) the examples and the price (free!). It adds distortion and light leaks that don't look half bad in my opinion. Although the truth of film (book title!?) ever-calls to me and I basically can't be forced to pick up a digital camera these days, the app added an emotional layer to these photographs that I consider non-negotiable in my work. I wouldn't have shared them without it.

  SOOC vs Lomograph app

SOOC vs Lomograph app

Is this a strong photograph because it was edited to look like film? No. It brings us back - to childhood and to Eden, my creative aims - and we not only see but feel. Recall. The emotional brain responds. When I wanted to take better pictures, film was the answer. Film don't lie. Your actions are recorded in chemical form. But a good picture is a good picture, and taking good pictures is what matters to me, what sets my heart ablaze.

In this assignment, I got two portfolio-worthy images using a system I've completely outgrown (5dii + great glass + VSCO) and my phone. The experience was one of force; you must try harder, take more steps than usual to arrive at the same end. But because of my digital process, the waste is abundant. There are only five that struck me of about 100 (this says more about me than it does about digital) and two that I find heart-worthy. Strong. In a typical school that would come out to an F, but this is the millennial school of shooting-while-protecting-Eleanor-from-swinging-girls-and-trampolines-with-no-nets, so I hereby give myself a participation award. 

What about you? Do you give yourself assignments? What should my next assignment be? Film shooters, could you create images that stop your heart with digital? Mamas, what's the secret to nurturing creative and domestic life? Here's my take, copied from a recent Instagram post:

I am comforted by the idea that a creative life only requires doing to qualify. I see, I intend to act and then (eventually) I do. I observe the form I’ve made and react. This feedback loop supplies a quiet dignity amidst practical life; not requiring validation in any form (cough likes cough). I am devoted to the practice, so I create. In this doing I live a creative life. Using this measure (devotion) has been transformative for my work. Stated simply: just make, every single day.

A with love

Simple & Meaningful Photo Gift in Three Steps

The idea for these simple & meaningful photo gifts began when I saw the way @amandajanejones used family photos at her Thanksgiving table this year. I printed a few for that purpose, but then a few turned into several, and what started as table settings became collections for both grandparents and the three aunts as a way to thank them for their huge love this year. I enjoyed watching their faces as they unwrapped the string and discovered the contents within — their beloved babies, my kids.

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My process here used both Photoshop and a paper trimmer, but a straightforward method is printing through Artifact Uprising instead, who offers both a standard border and the 3x25.4x25 size. The reason I opted for typical photo paper here was because my local Walmart just installed Fujifilm instant print kiosks whose quality is surprisingly stellar! I wanted these photos to have a specific look (some are 35mm, some digital) reminiscent of the tones found in my Dad's photo box. I thought family members could hang some at work, some on the fridge, put some in frames or like Grammy said: carry them around with her wherever she goes. 

Simple & meaningful photo gift in three steps:

Step 1. Print photos in monochrome with white border

Step 2. Stuff into string enclosure envelope with a note

Step 3. Date stamp front + gift 

These envelopes are made by American Crafts and can be purchased on Amazon, Hobby Lobby or similar stores.

I got my date stamp from Amazon and really, if you don't have one -- now is the time. It's just a thrill everyone needs in their life: date-stamping envelopes, letters, photographs, the kids' art, etc.! If you decide to make a gift like this, I would love to see! Shoot me an e-mail or DM. Check out the video below to see the photos I used.

Happy memory-making, picture-taking and photograph-making, my friends.

Anastasia

 

 

Dad's Photo Box

As a girl I discovered these photographs in a box. Because I was born when my dad was 45, he had lived an entire life before my sister and I came along. Dad on a cruise, Dad at a wedding, Dad in front of the White House. Dancing! Playing the guitar! Pointing a gun! Standing in front of house number 18. Holding them in my hands, I had access to the thing I had always wanted: his story. It was at that point that two things became inseparably wed in my psyche: the tactile, papery sensation of a photograph and the thrill of knowing another. 

He was born in 1940's Greece in a village that culturally operated more like 1840 according to my mom. My Dad is not macho per se but rather is full of machismo: excessive masculine pride. The male connection is the only legitimate connection. When I asked him a few years ago whether he would ever get married again he said, "Woman? Pain ass!" Pretty much sums it up.

His connection to my sister and I is strong and deep but non-verbal. He knows the concrete details of our lives (where we work, how much we make) and has faithfully, generously thrown money in our direction for our entire lives. He yell-demands that we take his entire plate if we ask for a bite of what he's eating and will. not. back. down. He came to my soccer games as a girl and stood with hands behind his back. We used to sit on his couch (my parents divorced when I was 2) and watch Greek soccer and Maury. He would take us to Sports World, an indoor arcade and fall asleep behind reading the Greek newspaper. We would wake him up by going on either side of his ears, counting to 3 and yelling, "DADDY!!!" and laugh until we cried. 

My attempts to know his history are always, without doubt, waved away in signature form: an angry face but a gentle heart. When my husband sits with him in the front seat, he gets stories about escapades in Australia, military formation, his first job. I am allowed to listen but asking questions of my own is a dead end. Sometimes I can catch him in a mood, usually when I lay out the photographs. He'll pick one up and point at it and with a twinkle in his eye say something like, "These ones! This was a good dog!" like I deeply disagree and he's convincing me. 

As a girl he took polaroids of Mia and I, usually standing in front of his car and always at a diner. I loved that camera and have been entranced with the instant medium since. But the attention! A picture of us, his girls! It made me feel cherished. I would hold my hands nervously and eak out a small smile while my sister would beam and dance and stick out her tongue and act like a monkey until I smiled a real smile. And he would pull the trigger. 

I have heard it said that talent is irrepressible; at the intersection of interest and ability is the thing you can't not do. I can't stop making photographs because of my interest in what they represent: identity, persona, family, place, time, style, nostalgia, memories made and intentionally remembered. The personal story. And because of my history with the photographs below. The feeling I got to know something about him, to see his joy, to be allowed in the narrative just a little bit. 

We Dream in Film

I shot these polaroids of my dear friends and their five children tonight. Holding them in my hands I realize something:

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Our minds see in film.

Shoot after shoot, digital feels more like an advertisement. A commercial for the life we want to be living, meant to convince and persuade. The tones and grain of film are a language our hearts already know: a poetry that hits in the gut. 

Have you seen photographs of Giverny, Monet's garden? Beautiful, but not more impressive than every stunning garden on earth. But Monet's garden painted. A glory greater than the garden itself, electric in it's depth. A veil that conceals and reveals.

Are our fantasies in film too? Our hopes and dreams and childhoods? Going with this metaphor, what of the subjective is seen in digital form? Our reflection in the mirror? The face of a tormentor as the words escaped their mouths? What we wish our bodies looked like? The searing detail of digital.

Photographing the family narrative has sometimes made me feel uncomfortable. I don't want to add to the violating onslaught of imagery in this world. Perfection and it's powerful chatter. Instead my desire is to add words to another conversation. Making images unto ends like these: self-reflection, praise, pause, humility, gratitude, wonder, covenant love.

Film, let's run away together and never come back. I'm ready.

(Last shot taken by Guinevere, the second-born of this family and my photo assistant for the evening)

 

From Mind to Form: Making Memories Tangible

This year we took our first vacation as a family of four to California. An overall success! Despite a few serious hiccups. I find travel with kids to be like everything with kids: infinitely harder and infinitely better. Can you relate? I grew up going to the beaches of New Jersey, so giving my girls some memories in the sand each year is a definite goal. Faithful Matt lugged my backpack around... five cameras and a bunch of silvery, wonderful polaroid packs later... I happily present the results. I purchased this box at the gift shop of The Huntington, which is one of my easy travel traditions. Buy box, put trip stuff in box. It keeps the spirit of memory-keeping on my heart as we travel and inspires me to keep creating even if inconvenient.

Thoughts on Form

My creative process usually begins with a discontent with form. Something about the medium I'm using doesn't allow the voice of The Thing to emerge. I felt this way about painting with acrylic until I discovered oils. Messy! Movable! Thick dollops of black, mistake-proof. Freedom. 

With photography I became disenchanted with digital a few years deep into a business that I hated. Is this a service merely? Am I being hired to achieve a result or tell a story? That was almost ten years ago. Now-a-days I joyfully admit to being center-wave in this tide of creatives returning to antiquated mediums. The physicality and irreversability of instant film was a breakthrough. YES. 

My paper prints allow me to use the best about digital - the ability to take a bajillion photos during a shoot - and keep the romance of film. I like to insist on this designation of myself: photograph maker. Meaning my aim for all images is that their eventual end would be in print. As a writer I likewise favor the physical - taking field notes and reporting back vs. creating fictional worlds.

My desire with Instagram-as-microblog is to document that process - the process of physical art-making. Sharing perfected (nothing wrong with perfect, you know I love you, perfect, you're my friend) IMAGES of humans without story feels exploitive for me. Another beeeeautiful family or couple or wedding. Eye roll. I realize this is revelatory of my general cynicism and creative superiority but there it is. Images feel like commercials to me; selling the same old lie I fall for every single day when I scroll Instagram and feel inferior. The lie that says when I have ______ like this person, I will be whole. I feel conflicted about contributing fodder to this aptly-named "feed", even if they're good. 

So! One solution? Story + embodiment. The paper trail of our lives that explains our values and choices. The shaping forces. The trauma, the legitimate triumphs, the things-still-in-progress that should be more established but just aren't yet. Not that physical photographs tell this story always, but in a way distinct from digital I feel they testify to it's presence. That we are time-bound human lives in process. And that is the master I seek to serve creatively: all hail process. 

I've been thinking about ways to share my photos that are not an infinite scroll of digital images. How to incorporate polaroids? How to show the texture of these living rectangular memories? I've landed on stop motion for prints and I think it suits it well. Enjoy!

Super 8: the medium of memory
 

It all started one Thanksgiving when my mom popped in a VHS tape saying, "I got these old home movies from my Dad!" Her father had digitized their super 8 home movies from the 60s. Watching it, I could see the thread of intention and love that connected their family before the waves of brokenness came in... before the divorce, the Vietnam war, the unspoken trauma that characterized their later years. Working in the medium of the family story my intention is to specifically not idealize relationships ie. make commercials for perfect happiness.

In my experience film testifies to this: despite the darkness of life there is light undeniable. There is love and connection. They did visit the Grand Canyon as a young family of six, the girls in bob-haircuts and the boys in shorter than short shorts. They had Christmases and they were good. There were presents hard-won and unwrapped with joy. There was a kiss between my mother's parents, at that time high school sweethearts who were trying. I find that inspiring.

So when we decided to take our trip I knew I wanted to revisit the medium I had come to associate with family memories. Super 8 film. Film in general hits me in the gut every single time and I typically observe the same reaction in others. It's permanence, tangibility, nostalgia all allow it to capture the visceral nature of memory. It looks like how we feel when we remember: sun-drenched and hazy; clips instead of long, hard days. Joy.

I am please to now offer super 8 films with my family archival packages and look forward to building up my portfolio and sharing in the furtherance of this charming, romantic medium that speaks so deeply to me.

Polaroids: Reflections

I took two polaroid cameras with us, the Instax Mini and Instax Wide. I'm in the process of purchasing an SX-70 and wasn't going to lug the land camera around in addition to the excessively heavy metal-body super 8. I favor the mini absolutely, in color quality, ease-of-use and because you have the only necessary function (in my opinion, but I'm right) on a point-and-shoot: flash control. I love these babies for what they give me: they capture the loveliness of the scene. But I long for the control a 600SE or 195 land camera would give me. Alas, funds. In time! 

Photo Notes: The Original Caption

One of my favorite things about old photographs is the notes on the back: Mary, age 4. Jack at the lake. Santa Monica, 1974. My mom the optimist and general happy-person used to include lots of exclamations and proclamations which I see emerging when I took up the mantle with these. Vivian, lover of strawberry ice cream cones! Whenever I find a note or photo from my Oma who is now passed, seeing her 40's-style cursive with it's sharp peaks brings me back to her in a way that nothing else can. Hopefully these prints will be the same for my girls one day.

Duplexity: Creativity and Mothering

Duplexity: (of a machine) having two identical working units, operating together or independently, in a single framework or assembly.

I feel this in myself. Though the units are identical, they produce different ends. Both require my whole being: mind, heart and hands. Creativity and mothering. Perceiving: a quiet and receptive act. Nurturing: a communicative process in the form of output. I fought laziness and idealism this trip when I wanted the creative process and mothering to co-exist peacefully and in complete obedience, thankyouverymuch. They don't. They can't. There is no philosophical tension whatsoever, but practical. I am one woman with one lens with which to focus. As much as I would like to shoot wide open (photo lingo) and zoom fully into the subjects that interest me, in this season of mothering wee ones I am forced to pan out and keep it all in sharp detail. Exhausting, new and therefore uncomfortable, but worth the discomfort in both arenas. Often I feel I am doing both areas in mediocre-ly by not devoting myself whole-heartedly to either. But my conviction that doing so would annihilate me keeps me from diving all in to the exclusion of the other. 

And so this is me right now: a mother cutting grapes in two while rationally explaining why we can't sing Jingle Bells at the top of our longs over and over and over in June; also while unconsciously and irresistibly writing in mind about covenant and essence and place and other things that call me to them like a whispering adulterer. Does this sound grim? It's not yet settled. Take heart, dear soul. Process, right?

 

details

Digital images taken on 5D Mark II and printed by Artifact Uprising on 5 x 3.5 paper
Polaroids on Instax Wide and Instax Mini film
Super 8 shot on a Canon 518 with Pro 08-13 film, processed and digitized by Pro8mm
Super 8 song: We Will Say in That Day (Isaiah 12) by Wendell Kimbrough
Paper prints song: Sewee Sewee by Mountain Man

 

Love in Paper Prints

Heirloom paper prints, date-stamped of Madalyn and Daniel's special day. It's my hope that their prints somehow contain the depth of that day, and when they open their wooden photo box they are transported back like a locket, like hand-written note, like the smell of your lover left on clothes. Home. Happily ever after, you two. 

Family Photos in Physical Form

Families + prints. A good match. 

During this shoot I pulled into the bay and saw Danny and Malakai throwing rocks into the water. I had been there the day before envisioning them on this coast. If the rocks would be too jagged for his little feet; if the clouds from scarce Phoenix rain would stay. We talked, we walked, we examined rocks and Malakai said "eew," as he picked up a piece of fishing line. Jessica and I talked about babies and birth and long mothering days, our kids being five months apart. I got to create photographs for this family of three and it was an honor being a part of their story.

The Franklin Family

I photographed the Franklins at home on their acre farm. Lauren is a woman and friend who I always find to be a few steps ahead of me in life, motherhood, art and work. Her words sink into my soul as the thing I'm usually needing to hear next. She allowed me to photograph their paper prints on a spring day while the kids hung out and ate quesadillas. I'm grateful to have called these dear friends clients over the years, first as a couple, then through pregnancies, babies and now at their dream home.