Photo Walk 4-17-11


On Sunday I set out on a photo walk. I took about 125 pictures and these are my favorites. Moral of the story: When in doubt, take a picture!



I was about 8 or 9-years-old the first time I saw the Great Salt Lake. It was the grand finale of a week-long family vacation. We had driven all the way to Colorado to visit my mom's grandparents and then we met up with several family members to celebrate my paternal grandmother's birthday in Park City. We rode the alpine slide and took a nighttime ride on a ski lift. I had never seen a landscape quite like that one and I bought a postcard to try to remember the beauty I had seen. It was the perfect end to a summer day. It was sad to think that soon we would be driving home. It seemed we had been on the go for weeks (I had the blisters on my feet to prove it) but we had one more stop to make before heading back to California.

While I rely on postcards and photographs to conjure distant memories I will probably never forget approaching the Great Salt Lake dressed in swimming gear. My older sister ran out to the water with my two cousins. My parents had explained that the lake was shallow and the water was so salty it practically held you up off the ground. At that age I had a very difficult time floating in water (I was skin and bones) and I was fascinated with Peter Pan. I constantly wondered what it would be like to walk on a cloud. I looked out on the water and heard my sister and cousins playing and laughing and longed to join them. There was one problem: I was incredibly grossed out by the 10 foot stretch of filthy black silt mixed with seagull poop that surrounded the lake for as far I could see. The only way to get in the water was to walk through the muck. I stood on the sandy shore and considered my options: watch my sister and cousins have fun or go join them. Someone cheerily explained that the ‘mud’ would quickly dissolve the second I stepped into the water. “Hmm… that couldn’t be too bad,” I thought. I unlaced my canvas tennis shoes.

I set my shoes and socks in the sand and took a stomach twisting step into the slime. My other foot followed and I tried to move carefully so it wouldn’t spatter onto my legs. It was a torturous balancing act to move fast enough to suit my unsteady stomach but slow enough to ensure my footing. At last I reached the water and lifted my blackened foot over the water’s surface. The water was warm and I quickly stepped in, happy to be free of the wasteland behind me. My hopeful feet had expected to be buoyed up as though I were standing on a spongy cloud but in a moment I knew something was terribly wrong.

As soon as my feet were immersed they began to burn, and I mean burn. This mysterious water had somehow managed to set my feet on fire. I threw my head back and screamed. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I cried as loud as I could. How could my sister and cousins not feel this burning? Convinced that the seagull sludge was burning my feet, I futilely sloshed my feet in the stupid magic water in an attempt to unslime myself. Someone yelled, “Get out of the water!” To my great dismay I stepped back in the seagull poo. I shifted my weight from side to side crying, “My feet, my feet!” Through squinted tear-filled eyes I could see my dad running toward me. He picked me up and ran so fast toward the parking lot I thought I’d bounce right out of his arms and into the excrement. Luckily that didn’t happen. Instead he found an outdoor shower head and turned it on full blast. My uncle helped him point the freezing cold water at my feet. The water cleared away all the grime and exposed bright red blisters slightly obscured by transparent flapping skin. The salt water had done quite a number on my poor blistered feet.

After my feet were clean I sat wrapped in a beach blanket on the passenger seat of my uncle’s giant camping van. The pain soon subsided but I was so upset and confused it took a while to stop crying. Lucky for me my uncle had been generous enough to share a bag of ranch-flavored CornNuts with me and they were a great distraction. Finally the pressure in my chest released and I was able to laugh about what just happened.

I learned a simple lesson that day: you don’t expose open blisters to salt water. Ever. My parents always did their best to teach and protect me but there’s no way they could warn me about every single risk in life. I’ve had to discover many of them on my own. Sometimes we look at people in the distance and say, “That’s where I want to be. That’s what I want to do.” We put ourselves through a lot of crap to get there only to find out we don’t belong. Instead we have to turn and retreat. Sometimes it is a public spectacle but many times these battles are private. We can scream and shout when we don’t get our way. Our parents come running. Sometimes we accept their help and sometimes we swat it away. Regardless, they won’t abandon us in our hour of need. It doesn’t matter if we’re surrounded by darkness and filth or burning in a pool of consequences. They understand the world’s luring power but more importantly they understand what it is like to hurt. I’m grateful for parents who carried me from danger and showered me with love, even when the water was freezing cold.



I look in the mirror
and question what I see
"What do others think
when they see me?"

My eyes have power to judge
every passing thing
My ears are attuned
to every tiny ring

My voice can sing praise
or it can degrade
"How can I control it
when I am afraid?

My hands have betrayed
this heart they protect
"They give and they give
but never collect"

My legs walk fine lines
but sometimes they kick
"Why would someone get close
when I strike so quick?"

My minds wraps itself
'round life's mysteries
It fights to grow deep
like roots of strong trees

I ponder and wonder
at the world and attest
"Amongst such beauty and danger
there will never be rest!"

I hear a small voice stir
but continue to protest:

"The stinging bee is masked
in the shell of a flower
How can petals so sweet
hide something so sour?"

"It's thanks to your senses
the world has its power"

For a moment I'm stunned
someone's even there
But it doesn't take long
to continue my prayer

"The darkness of night
The warmth of the sun
Both kill in the desert
insensate as a gun"

"Without light and shadow
everything would be one"

Trickling rain seeps through the roof
The pattering splatter echoing round
"Why do storms deliver reproof
and tempt my aching soul to drown?"

"If not for your ears you'd never hear
this force of nature tumbling down"

"And what of mine eyes?
Oh, the pains they've seen today!
What, oh what is to be said
of the terrors on display?"

"Without your eyes you'll never see
the person you'll be at the end of the day"

My temper rages hot
It turns my heart numb
"I have no patience to see
the person I may become!"

The voice is silent and leaves me be
I may as well be deaf and dumb

In silence I can retreat
and hide from the light
With eyes closed no one cares
if I'm wrong or if I'm right

At least there's no pain
without sound, without sight

In time my hands tire
of clamping down my ears
In time fists loosen
and dry away tears

My eyes open again
and I search for the switch
So I can pull myself out
of this self-dug ditch

Ears prick at a sound
and I look aloft
To find the veiled source
of my name spoken soft

"Child, my dearest
Child, you're mine
I know how it hurts
to have wounds washed in brine

"This world can entice,
entrance, overwhelm
And at times it may seem
I've deserted the helm

"But look again please
Just listen once more
You'll see all the things
which I have in store

"See with your soul
Hear with your heart
And you will remember
what you knew from the start"


Painting with Light

Bellagio, March 2010

On Tuesday afternoon I couldn’t stop looking at the clock. I was worried about getting everything done before leaving at 4:45 in order to make it to a 4-hour photography workshop I had signed up for a month earlier. My roommate had found the deal on Groupon and forwarded it to me and I had forwarded it to my friend Leah. We signed up together and I was really excited because Leah was instrumental in helping me decide to buy a Digital SLR camera. I didn’t know exactly what to expect before stepping into the workshop – especially since it was discounted to $39 down from $400. We knew the workshop would be really full so we arrived early and sat on the front row. The owner of the studio introduced the two instructors: Russ and Adilfa, a husband and wife team of professional photographers who have been running Don Polo Photography for 16 years. They are both master photographers and travel the world teaching photography while maintaining their own studio in Utah.

Russ explained that his background was in information systems and he ran the technical side of the business while Adilfa was the artistic heart and soul of the business. He said they wanted to start the workshop by explaining how their company got its name. I kind of wondered why that was relevant but Adilfa stepped up and told her story of being raised by her grandparents in Venezuela. Her grandfather’s nickname was Polo and Don is a title of respect in Spanish. “Don Polo” was a huge influence in her life and as well as their surrounding community. He was known for keeping his word. Adilfa went on to explain that they run their business to the best of their ability and they don’t treat photographs as expendable images; instead, they are family heirlooms that will be shared with generations to come. She said that it was our duty as photographers to be prepared to capture images of those we love because we never know when our loved ones will pass on to the next life.

By this point all my doubts about the value of the workshop were evaporated and I was completely tuned in for the next 3.5 hours as Adilfa and Russ taught basics (the differences between point-and-shoot cameras and DSLR’s, shutter speed, aperture, ISO, raw vs. JPEG, etc.), techniques (lighting, posing, people skills) and the power of Photoshop. They shared best practices including being prepared for a shoot (“Bring two of everything!”), the best ways to store photographs (external hard drives are the best, DVD’s are the worst, CD’s are slightly better) and mentioned many local businesses that offer services I was never aware of (i.e., offsite photo file storage). At the end of the lecture I had a long shopping list (tripod, Canon flash, extra memory cards, external hard drive, Wacom tablet for Photoshop, fisheye lens, etc.) and wondered how on earth I had gotten myself into one of the most expensive hobbies on the planet. There is no potential end to the money you can spend on cameras, lenses and accessories!

The most illuminating part of the workshop was the travel photography slideshow they shared with us. As I watched pictures of exotic landscapes and magnificent architecture fly by I realized, “These are the pictures I take!” Obviously my pictures are not anywhere near professional standards but when I travel I am always taking pictures of buildings and other inanimate objects. When Jane and I were in D.C. and New York two weeks ago I was constantly pointing my camera off into space and she would ask me, “Do you want me to take a picture of you?” and I almost always said no. It is not uncommon for me to come home with 300+ pictures from a weeklong trip. Sometimes I regret not getting more pictures of people but for the most part I really love the ones I take. I was talking to my mom about photography last week and she said that even though people tend to photograph the same statues, monuments and buildings there is something special about knowing you stood right there with your own two feet and saw the place with your own eyes. It really is true. The travel photography slideshow confirmed that there are other people out there who get the same thrill I do when I see something (whether it is famous or ordinary, permanent or temporary) in a special way with my own eyes.

I can’t tell you how good it felt to walk out of the photography workshop having realized that photography doesn’t have to be a literal, static art form. You can create movement, direction, velocity, mood, drama and tone with settings, posing and edits. Russ and Adilfa repeated many times, “Photography is painting with light.” Adilfa had shown us dozens of pictures where she made slight changes to bring emphasis to the subject of her photo. She made Photoshop look so simple and emphasized the importance of using a Wacom tablet and pen for making photo edits because, “We don’t paint with potatoes.” (I hate my mouse anyway so I’m definitely looking at Costco’s offering of drawing tablets.) I also felt completely justified in buying an $800 camera. If anything I actually walked out wishing I had spent more on the initial investment. Russ and Adilfa pointed out that we use photography to capture images of the people, places and things we love the most. Why would we cheap out on something like that?

Even if I spent an arm and a leg on my camera I will feel the impact of this $39 workshop for years to come. I have been bitten by the “photography bug” and that combined with the “travel bug” have me itching to grab my passport and skip town. But, never fear, my full-time job is here to keep me in line.

Then again, it's never too early to start planning my next vacation, right?