It isn’t all Barbados, bikinis and body shots


I really didn’t even feel weird about having no plans for Spring Break. It’s never ranked high on my list of holidays. When I go to the beach, I prefer the sound of surf to a noisy house band in … Continue reading

Making Tintypes: Magic and Science

The smell of ether is sharp, sweetish, acidic and strangely sensual. The darkroom had been improvised from a closet  at the Morris Museum of Art. Since the process is not as sensitive as conventional methods, the room wasn’t completely light tight. I pulled the dark curtain across the cracks of light escaping through the door frame and flipped off the “white light.”

“It’s like magic,” the woman said. We watched the chemicals spread across the aluminum plate. An image began to materialize.

“…or science.” said Keliy. The tintype lay across her gloved palm. She rotated her wrist to coat the plate evenly with developer. When she was satisfied, she tilted it until a corner of the tintype rested inside the mouth of a glass bottle and then poured the excess liquid off.

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Anderson-Staley’s 8×10 Deardorff view camera

The dreamy alchemy, the deft ritual and the strange chemical smells really were spellbinding.

Wet plate collodion, which dates back to the  1800′s, has been experiencing a revival in the last few decades as a boutique historical photographic process. I was assisting one of the preeminent artists using this method and I felt like I had won the lottery.

The entire process must be started and completed with a wet plate within ten minutes so agility is required. In the 19th century, where it began, the sitter had to remain as still as possible for an excruciating long exposure.

Now you know why people looked so grumpy in those old-timey photographs.

On this day, Keliy was exposing at a ten-twelve second average.


University of South Carolina Adjunct Professor Eliot Dudik sits for his portrait with Keliy Anderson-Staley


Meg Griffiths, a photography professor at USC, sits for her portrait.

A tintype is a positive image that is made right on the metal plate.

A little fussier than Instagram, sure, but the uniqueness and craft of that singular image is a handmade, one-of-a-kind artist’s original. The very existence of the tintypes today physically connect us to a rich photographic history.

Even though I wore my gloves like I was instructed, the silver nitrate left a zizag across my pinkie nail; a little bronze lightning bolt. An initiation.

Observing Kiley Anderson-Staley, I would have to say that an artist of this measure must be equipped with many things; not the least of which is, generosity.

She instructed, she informed, she posed, she taught and she squeezed people in to a packed schedule with grace and patience.

There is some kind of magic in that, too. WP_006540 (1)

Think you might like this? Give it a whirl! Here are two kits to get you started.

Living Room Session #3: Birdcage


While I am a huge fan of Photoshop, I am not overly fond of using it to alter women’s bodies.

Ok. I will remove a blemish. Bless my heart. I do it with angst.

To those of us who are tuned in to it, the damaging messages coming from popular media are as blatant as a Kardashian. I am not playing by those messed up rules.

I think you are honest-to-goodness the best looking thing I have ever seen; with your history and your story all over your body.

Our latest Living Room Session was the first really conceptual collaboration we have done. Our first session was mostly iconography already in pop culture. Our second did the same, we just narrowed our focus to the B-movie genre.

Our latest session was inspired by Rococo themes of sexuality, using the birdcage to represent sexual awareness. We went nude (with our model), we moved our location and we used a brand new lady.

There was a good bit of flesh and Patron in the room. We talked about Photoshop, women’s bodies, runway angels, and Courtney Love.

The kids are hip. NPR recently reported that awareness of media culture and it’s effect on body image just might be increasing. Young girls are becoming  more critical of what they see in popular media. Does it matter that Lena Dunham was Photoshopped by Vogue? What do you think?

A good thing to keep in mind: Does the audience know it isn’t real?

Here is a simple example of the harmless (?) changes one can make to an image.

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The Spring 2014 Aerie ads feature women who have escaped the touch of the digital brush. It is a step in the right direction. They are already impossibly beautiful. Touching up their bodies would be a bit ridiculous (but it is done.)

I, for one, think the world would be a really boring place without bad tattoos, panty lines and scabs. I also want to interpret the woman as a whole person and not just a collection of lovely parts.

Doing what is true to my aesthetic doesn’t embolden me to flaunt my stretch marks, if that’s what you are thinking. I am quite comfortable on this side of the lens. I know it isn’t easy to ask someone to expose their bodies and their fears to the lens. That takes a lot of trust and confidence on the part of the sitter. It is a trust that is sacred to me. I couldn’t do my best work without it.

It also doesn’t stop me from admiring the amazing work by artists who choose to smooth and straighten all day long or to experiment with the tools they use. Heavens to Betsy, it is great stuff!

At the end of the day, the choices we make are what set us apart and define our style. The best thing we can do is embrace what makes us different. Good to remember in work and in life, eh?

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The line between editorial and art can get muddy. Styling, posing, lighting, digital editing; they are all part of the wizardry that creates a flattering image.

Here is our inspiration pinboard.

I wanted to see how we could use the symbolism of the cage to explain the complex, shifting relationship between a woman and her own sexual power.

I used a strobe (Speedlite 430ex II) flash and cable. I hope to have a lighting kit with a softbox soon. Same with the backdrop. It’s a flat sheet.

Art is expensive.


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A little history on the Living Room Sessions project:

This is a collaboration between two creative Columbia, SC women. We like to test new ideas, create cool, funky portraits and give other women a forum to express themselves. It is all done in our homes with minimal equipment and a lot of wine. We really hope you will follow us as we build up our gear and our body of work.

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Another year over and a new one just begun

This is it.


A new year and my final undergraduate semester. I thought I would never get here and now, as I settle into the last week of my winter break, I look forward to this coming semester with a sense of excitement, trepidation and unadulterated fear. It all seems so unreal and enormous.

What happens to the dream when you awaken?

I am lucky to have wonderful distractions: a family vacation, a wedding, Living Room Session #3 , and  a new toy; an Argus rangefinder. Of course, children move through life like small–but-mighty comets and, if you aren’t watching every moment, you are definitely missing things. I could spend all my time in starlight, watching them fly. They are moving so fast!

I had a really rewarding photography class with Eliot Dudik last fall that has me warily convinced I might actually be an artist.

And so now, I need to treat myself like a professional.

“Free” exposure is very alluring. Social media makes a lot of seductive marketing promises. And local jobs are actually paying…albeit, way below my asking rate. I am meeting people. My work is being seen and people like it! But, it comes at a price.

The film in my hands, the smell of developer, the finger bloodied from cutting mat board: physical manifestations of how valuable my time is. And it isn’t just the work done in the photo rooms at McMaster…it is the bedtime stories I sacrificed to be there…the family missing me so that I can have the luxury of time spent making art.

Once you post anything on the internet it is as good as gone, regardless (and often because) of current laws, etiquette or privacy settings. So, I have decided to seriously limit the amount and size of my work on the internet. Also, I am going to enter more shows. It requires research and a much tougher skin. I am getting there.

It is also time to join the clubs and follow up on the job postings that will get my PR muscles strong enough to enter the job market with some confidence this year.

So, wish me luck and I wish you the same.

More time doing what we love and more time with our families and more value for what we do. That’s all. And it isn’t asking too much!

Happy New Year.

Living Room Session #2 – September

Living Room Session #2 The tunes The tools The magic We took our momentum from the last session into October with a photo shoot inspired by B-movies. The medium is forgiving and wide open to experimentation so we went outside this … Continue reading

Living Room Sessions – August

I have always fantasized about taking empowering photos of women. So many messages in our culture tell us that we aren’t enough or that we need to be fixed.  The mass media (i.e., television, magazines, billboards, movies, websites, blogs, etc.) … Continue reading

It is National Doughnut Day: Meat on a Doughnut is Where It’s At!

I love the State Fair for many reasons. Here is one of them: The junk food. Anything can be fried and/ or served on a stick. Anything. And it is only in the spirit of the fair that you suspend … Continue reading

Why it hurts us all

When I heard the Chicago Sun-Times had laid off their entire staff of photojournalists, I felt worried. It began with thoughts about my own livelihood and my ability to support my family in a field where I was just starting to try and establish myself.

It grew into a greater fear that the entire profession was being dealt a blow. We had all been given a message about our value.

It didn’t hurt my pride. It went deeper than that. From as far back as I can remember, photography was an art that suited me. It is this troublesome compulsion to freeze forever all the moments I fancy.

My memories of the moments I miss stay with me for so long, like the occasion my husband and I visited Mission Dolores.

We were touring the Basilica before Mass and people were entering for the service. I was so excited to be shooting all the gorgeous light and architecture inside the historic church and I was inside my own creative imagination, as we artists get.

I turned to see a woman holding a rosary in both her hands. Her eyes were clenched closed. She rapidly whispered a prayer while pulling the chain through her hands.

It clicked.

Just like that.

The shutter button in my mind froze an image of a woman communing with such a ferocity that it gave purpose to the beautiful building I had been photographing for an hour. She made everything perfect.

Out of respect for her privacy and adherence to a code of ethics that I am very proud of, I did not take the picture. It took hours before I stopped being mad at myself for being so ethical.

You see, photojournalism is so much more than taking pictures. There are traditions, rules, ethics, and laws that create a framework from which we judge ourselves as professionals.

Dedication guides us into places many people would fear to go…,to seek out something special or something truthful or something beautiful. The industry is competitive, often unfair, sometimes cruel. We are driven by something within ourselves to play with time, light, and exposure to capture the Decisive Moment!

There is nothing more satisfying than the feeling you get when something special materializes.

I feel so proud to belong to the photographic community. Those of us hurt by the news of what happened at the Chicago Sun-Times aren’t just hurting for those individuals who lost their jobs and we aren’t just hurting for ourselves. This hurts everyone who loves and understands the power of pictures.

I feel that every time we devalue an aspect of the arts, we threaten all the arts. Who goes next?

If you don’t understand or share my belief, I urge your to discover Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus, Sally Mann, William Eggleston, Dorothea Lange, Alfred Stieglitz, Annie Leibovitz, Lewis Hine, Walker Evans, Robert Capa and any of the other brilliant photojournalists who have made their impact on a long journalistic tradition.

Let’s not neglect one of the cornerstones of our society too long. We might find that all we have left are rags filled with bong-throwing celebrities and trash-talking “real” women and they might not be so entertaining then.

Stinson Beach

As we were leaving San Francisco, the sojourn was impossible to prevent. This is the one part of my trip I stood up for. I knew my husband didn’t understand why it was such a big deal and I was … Continue reading

Stacey and Jenny

I was flattered to be asked to document the sweet friendship between two bohemian Americans who met in India while studying Ayurveda. Not many people can cause me to feel boring. This reunited duo had my inner goddess all revved up … Continue reading