I’ll Hush Up My Mug If You Fill Up My Jug

I moved to Columbia from a small town mere minutes from San Francisco.

I am a military brat whose family tree is deeply rooted in rural Southern soil.

My father grew up in a house at the end of a dirt road where our people lived for so long the street took our family name.  A city sign today legitimizes the spot where a handcrafted, wooden sign displayed our surname my whole childhood.

As kids, my step-sister, Jen, and I visited from the west coast during summers. The humidity would wrap around me like a familiar sweater, getting tighter with each step toward the airplane door. A strangling hello, welcome back to South Carolina.  We would disembark in Columbia. Jen would head off to Sumter to stay with her maternal grandparents. We would meet in the parking lot of a Shoney’s or Red Lobster to say goodbye or reunite.

My mother would claim me for four weeks. Under her supervision, I could wear make-up and watch rated-R movies. I dined on pizzas made from english muffins, Ragu, and slices of American cheese.

My mom wouldn’t leave the house without heels.  Her bathroom smelled like aerosol hairspray and Halston. I listened to records from her wicker archives for hours; Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Rod Stewart, Europe.

On one visit, she gave me my first camera.

It looked a lot like this

Fisher Price Kodak Camera
Image from The People History at http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/1985toys.html

I entertained myself shooting pool, visiting cousins and listening to my dad’s brothers play banjo and sing, “Mountain Dew.”

Every summer, I spent a weekend with my maternal grandmother, Viola. She would warm up a can of corned beef hash because I always requested it on my visits. I would combine the salty hash with slices of white bread and drink from a plastic pitcher stained ombre from years and years as a vessel for her homemade sweet tea. In the afternoons, I played with her braille books and her reed organ.

Blackberries grew wild in her backyard. I would eat them without rinsing them off.

In California, we were a family of four. In Swansea, there was a tribe, a history, a story.

The more time I have lived here in the South, the closer I feel to that story even though I know I will always be an outsider.

I allowed myself the opportunity to explore this relationship when I took some classes this fall semester with Eliot Dudik. His course on southern photography was most influential.  I am as Southern as I am not; A duality that has always sort of haunted me.

With his encouragement, I went to Swansea, South Carolina with my camera.

Here are some of the images.

(I think that toy camera is going into the slideshow. This is a wordpress quirk that I haven’t figured out a way around.)

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I learned a couple things. Foremost, dress appropriately. It is easier to meet people that way. Never, ever wear flip flops out into a horse pasture. Just don’t wear them on location at all unless you are going to be shooting on the beach and, even then, I recommend keeping a more athletic pair of shoes with your gear.

HOLGA

These are some images from my toy HOLGA camera. When I shoot with my HOLGA, I feel freer to experiment.

I think I feel for film photography what my husband feels about his vinyl collection. Some call it soul.

I am connected to the art in an entirely different way than my digital work. As a result of that connection, I shoot in a much more personal way. I think about what I love, what I want to expose.  The process of making art overcomes my inner critic.

HOLGA totally takes it to another level. There is no way to really predict the outcome.

It’s instinctive. It’s natural. It’s exciting.  And, it doesn’t work without accidents. I feel like an equal collaborator with the light and the moment and the subject.

Surrendering myself to fate binds me to the experience.

Ghostdog

Double-exposures and light leaks are part of the fun.

This is my favorite storefront on State Street, Clark’s Beauty Shop. I remember when it was so pretty, covered in peachy tiles.

I used to think, “If I ever own a business, I want it to be a shop that looks like that…” Over the years, I have seen it deteriorate. It started with some chipped tile and spread to full-blown vandalism. I keep hoping someone will save it. I am trying to preserve what I can, with my photographs.

 

My Day in Pictures

I am a light junkie. Sunlight. Studio light. Neon light. Direct and indirect light. The light in your eyes.

Light, of course, is essential to photography. I seek it out in the sun flares and the overexposed subject. The golden orb sending radiant rays down upon shoulders. Gaudy illumination. A soft flattering caress to win over the person who tells me, “I never look good in pictures.” When I see a golden sunset strike the face of a friend and I don’t have my camera, I am totally pissed off. I get twitchy.

I sometimes feel so addicted, that I have to remind myself there are other ways to emphasize my subject. The eye can be drawn with techniques like leading lines…

(...for example...)

…and framing and dominance and the rule-of-thirds. I often feel textbook-y when I isolate techniques. My truer goal is to have these elements incorporated into my bag of tricks so that my work doesn’t lack variety. I am drawn to work which controls the eye with more sophistication or that draws me into the composition awkwardly and off-kilter. I’ll stop digressing.

Point is, I’ll never earn my own style unless I keep experimenting and keep having fun.

That is the reason for my phone “Day in Pictures” posts. So, here is another one of those days.

I was helping move family. It was a monumentous day. I got to see dreams come true.

 

My Day in Pictures

Gorgeous community building. Preparing for a tomato tasting. Every inch of this place is an experience of beauty and light. I feel crazy with inspiration every time I walk inside.

Taken with my Windows phone.

Jay Matheson and the Jam Room

I took these portraits of Jay Matheson, recording at The Jam Room music studio in February 2011.

It was my first session using a strobe flash. I kept forgetting that the flash reflects the color it bounces off.

Image

I happen to like the dreamy effect of underwater blue from the equipment storage room where this shot was taken. Before some photoshop tweaking, Jay was just as blue as the amps.

Of course, you can desaturate and remove color entirely.

Image

Image

The Jam Room is celebrating 25 years in the business with a music festival this fall.

The Palmetto Tasty Tomato Festival

What’s up, tomato lovers! Don’t miss the awesome festival coming to City Roots on July 15th. I will be taking photos at the event alongside some of the best talent in Columbia at The Palmetto Tasty Tomato Festival.

So much fun to be had: Heirloom tomato tasting, live local music, bobbing for tomatoes. If that doesn’t grab you, I have three words: Bloody. Mary. bar.

Viva Polaroid!

Trying to figure out why Polaroid film is so expensive and hard to find, my husband called Ritz Camera. I don’t know what I was expecting with packs of Polaroid film going for upwards of $45 on amazon. I was shocked when he told me that Polaroid had gone out of business.  In 2008!  That was three year after we bought our last Polaroid camera.

Digital is the new Film

Last Spring I was pretty dispirited when the news broke that Kodak was going out of business for the same reason.

It isn’t that I use Polaroid often. Our Polaroid One600 was purchased seven years ago to take pictures for our wedding album. It has been BFF with our Monopoly game in the hallway closet since then.

Artists will always esteem film photography and, I am fairly confident that, a “boutique” demand will keep film photography relevant otherwise. With Urban Outfitters fostering many vintage, rare, collector’s edition, and cool looking cameras I know, at least, there is a safe haven and a demand for something quirky and capricious.  When they go on clearance I might shiver in my oxfords just a little bit.

Palming the Polaroid One600, my husband disdains, “This is worthless.”

“A COLLECTOR’S ITEM!” I panic.

He is a photographer, too. He doesn’t argue.

We decide to include it in a time capsule we have been building for our son. Not because it is obsolete but because he is too young for the guardianship of such a special object.

We hope that one day the frenzy over digital perfection will settle down enough that he can buy a pack or a roll of film near his house. His camera will teach him that artistry is achieved from taking risks and skill is the reward of patience and effort. I want him to know how if feels to create something outside the realm of all he thought possible and to crave mystery, wonder, and the alteration of perception.

I hope he discovers that the vision of his heart and his guts and his environment are just as important as what he sees with his eyes.

I find myself optimistic to think that, while we may have closed the chapter on an era where the imperfect photograph was commonplace, we are embarking on one which appreciates the magic of film photography.

My Day in Pictures

Taken with my phone.

Strolling around the zoo. Keeping my eye sharp. Driving my kid absolutely batty. “Alright, that’s enough pictures.”

She saved up her money and used it to buy a cotton candy ice cream cone.

Time for the 3D Turtle Movie. Again.

“We all get dressed for Bill.” -Anna Wintour

Bill Cunningham is looking for "some marvelous exotic bird of paradise" or someone wearing "something terrific."
Bill Cunningham is looking for “some marvelous exotic bird of paradise” or someone “wearing something terrific.”  Zeitgeist Films/ Time Lightbox

I recently watched a fascinating documentary about an iconic fashion photographer, Bill Cunningham.

He is wise and unique, full of moxie and possessing the most terrific vintage New York accent. Living proof of the expertise (and mad respect) that can be earned when you apply dedication to your passion.

What a delight to see him shooting a film-loaded Nikon in the front row of a haute couture fashion show.

“It’s as true today as it ever was, he who seeks beauty will find it.” -Bill Cunningham

La Cage aux Folles, Such a Drag!

I saw my first drag show at a club called Metropolis. It was located in a warehouse on Blanding Street in downtown Columbia, S.C.

It was the 90’s and the club scene was hot. The music was spinning on vinyl and the dancefloor was colossal.

My friend and I were admitted free one night just for showing up in the line wearing neon wigs. I used to dance there with a massively talented kid named Dwayne Cooper who has since made a name for himself on Broadway and on the fourth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race as Milan.

giphy

 

I was nineteen, new to the city and I had a role in a local theatre production. I played a coquettish teenager who drank hootch with the neighborhood boys and liked to flirt with the pastor. My stage manager initiated me into the Metropolis nightlife after our show closed. It was my first exposure to live drag and I was hooked even before he took me backstage to get mascara tips from a drag queen. I was nineteen-year-old when I saw Dorae Saunders perform and win the title of Miss Metropolis.

I got the awesome opportunity to see her on stage again when I was invited to attend USC’s BGLSA and Carolina Productions La Cage aux Folles. 

Some of Columbia’s most sensational entertainers worked that night. Shangela from RuPaul’s Drag Race literally tore the stage down and danced on the pieces like a delirious Barbie doll. It was a great show!

Spirits in the Material World: My Work in the 55th Annual Student Competition

I was honored to be accepted into the 55th Annual Student Competition at the McMaster Gallery at the University of South Carolina School of Visual Art and Design.

I entered two pieces from a series I produced exploring modern relationships using mythical iconography.

A woman is draped with a blanket from the waist down and a man holds her waist, wearing a sailor's cap.
The mermaid and the sailor evoke feelings of estrangement. These two people are from different worlds, intertwined.
dragons-blog
Dragons. Rage.

Discovering Columbia

Freelancing for our local parent’s magazine, Palmetto Parent, has been such a great opportunity for me. I’m in print and I’m getting amazing on-the-job experience. I get to meet and photograph all different kinds of people.

I’m really getting to know my city, too. I have travelled to suburban culs-de-sac, brick-walled urban schools, lakeside apartments and country farmhouses surrounded by open land, all within a half hour’s drive.

My favorite spot so far, in downtown Columbia’s Central Business District, is a certain floor of the Keenan Building. The Keenan Building was only significant to me before, albeit completely unidentified until my assignment, as the source of the mysterious broadcast of Cocky’s crow (and the Gamecock pregame song) every fall during football season.

The entryway is old deco-ish marble.  I was happy to escape a rather spooky elevator lined with curtains and emerge into a hallway of well-worn carpet bordered with white wooden office doors. I imagined their distinguishing numbers of gold-trimmed black carefully rendered onto the frosted rectangles of opaque glass by a mug in a flat-cap and suspenders.  I was missing my birdcage veil and desperate to fling myself into the shadowy office of a hardboiled Sam Spade or an adorably confused Jason Schwartzman.  Totally filing away this location as a “must shoot” spot in the city!

The shoots take a fraction of the time I spend driving to the locations and so my car has become my “office” as well as a comfy phone booth where I catch up with friends and family that never get a shout because I’m always at home with two toddlers.  For readers without kids, turn on your blender, your stereo and an episode of “Jersey Shore” while you try to prepare a plate of crackers and cheese. Now, call your mom.  Kinda like that.

This particular assignment really inspired me to shoot a little more creatively since it was about music, something I am passionate about and something that’s just fun to take pictures of.  It must have showed because my editor was very happy with my work and the feature offers have continued. 🙂

Peep my work, starting on page 8 !

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