Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

the importance of a photograph.

September 13, 2013

Emails like this make my heart soar, and reaffirms to me that doing what I love is the right thing to do.

Hi Susan,
I just wanted to let you know about what [this] moment you captured meant to me. I probably cried for about 2 weeks when I saw this. I couldn’t figure out if it was because Tony and I were truly happier than we had been in months in this picture. Or because I looked so much like my mom in her young black and white pictures when she married my dad. Or because I was wearing the sweater I had bought for my dad exactly the year prior in April and [had] given [it] to him in the hospital from my trip to Peru. That was one of the [most] difficult moments in my life.  He fought cancer for a quick 4 months but it felt like an eternity.  He never got to wear that sweater because he passed away on Father’s Day last year but somehow this picture captured every emotion I had last year and our movement forward for both Tony and I. You captured us in a truly happy moment and [because] that [had been] so rare for us for so long, I was filled with emotion when I saw the picture. Tony was so confused when I kept tearing up when I looked at the picture, but you are truly a talented person. I looked so much like my mom when she was young. It really reminded me of the old black and white pics I’ve seen of my parents on their wedding day and brought happiness and emotion to me at the same time.

It’s a simple picture but I loved it. To me, it reminded me of my dad, and the man I married and love so much and that life moves forward even when you don’t realize it. Feb really was a transition time for me. We passed the first holiday w/o my dad and it was just after my parents 40-something anniversary. I never thought I would see myself smiling like that for a long time. Thank you for capturing this even if you don’t realize what you captured. It was a genuine moment and means more to me than you realize. It made me happy and emotional at the same time.
Thank you.
-JK

I don’t often hear back from people whom I’ve photographed. Mostly because I think life gets the best of us all, and people become too busy to reply, or send a note. So it’s especially delightful when I do get a message like this, especially one so heartfelt & expressive. Even more delightful for me, because I honestly had no clue when I took this image that it would have as much impact as it did, but it really does go to show you that these little moments do need to be captured in our lives. And it just tells me that yes, photography is my path, and I am so grateful to be able to share with people not only what I see when I look at the world, but to give them tangible memories. Moments that allow us to reflect on our growth, and look back at where our life was, and is, going. Who we were in that very moment the image was taken. This is a powerful gift, and I an honored to be able to give it.

———-

See the blog post from this trip.

Ah, Yosemite. Few places in the world have my heart like you do. The first time I ever set foot in Yosemite, it was in the winter of 2011. I was in utter awe. There is something to be said about standing in the middle of a valley like that, with granite walls several thousand feet above you. Upon returning after that first trip, I told Zach about a month or two later — “I want to take a solo camping trip. To Yosemite.” A few months later, I did.

Now this is something I like to think about quite often. Solo trips are something I truly love to do. The first one I took was in 2009 — I drove up and down the west coast to Seattle (driving along the coast for the majority of the way up). The reason I do these solo trips are largely because I need time to myself — to mature, grow, and learn about myself. Not that I can’t do that at home, but I feel like when I’m taken out of my element, I am more daring. I learn more, and the entire time, I learn very much how to lean on myself. No longer do I have another person with me to fall back on for decision making, I have to make all the decisions. I have to trust my gut — that still, little voice within. This is actually a very big lesson that I learned on this trip, and an experience I’ll describe later in this post.

This is not to say that I’m totally alone on these trips. I am very conscious of safety, and I usually make sure that I am safe on these adventures — I just don’t have another person alongside me the entire time, which is a distinct difference. I still make connections with people that I cross paths with, which is something that is very important to me, seeing as I am a person who loves human interaction.

So, why take a trip like this? I wasn’t entirely sure, to be honest. Initially, it was tied to figuring out what I truly believed in religion & spiriturality. But in the end it became much more than that. When the idea came into my head, it was more of a gut feeling. I knew I had to do this. This was something that would be very important to me, for my growth as a person. And thankfully Zach was extremely supportive, which I am so grateful for. I simply had visions of me doing yoga in the trees, on rocks, and I knew I just had to make that happen. So just before Memorial Day weekend, a year ago, I packed all my camping year, and at 11pm, set out for the 7 hour drive to Yosemite.

Once I arrived, it the first light of dawn began spreading over the trees.

Driving through the night is absolutely NO fun alone, but once I was greeted with this view, it was so completely worth it.

After I settled into my campsite, I set out to explore, to SEE! To take AMAZING PHOTOS! Problem was, I was exhausted. And an exhausted Susan = a grumpy Susan. I had a couple of days in this amazing location alone, and I was wasting it! Or so I felt at the time. When really, I was just putting too many expectations on myself. I needed to rest, I needed to recharge. So after a looooong day, I finally slept, and woke up the next morning, refreshed and ready to tackle my newest adventure.

The first hike that I decided to do was totally on a whim. I packed all my gear, ready for a hike, with absolutely no plan at all. This is very much how the rest of my trip went — I didn’t plan a whole lot, and a lot of time, I just let my instincts guide me. So I began walking in one direction, when I stumbled upon a path for Upper Yosemite Falls. It’s early, I’ve heard this is a lovely hike — why not?

Later in the evening, I took off for Mirror Lake, and watched the sunlight fade on Half Dome, while I did yoga on a rock in the middle of the “lake” (which is totally dried up now).

The next morning, I woke up, and headed for the nearby meadow for a bit of morning yoga & contemplation.

The funny thing is, I don’t think I really did all that much yoga in the meadow that morning. I just did a few breathing exercises, and maybe some balances. It wasn’t until later into that hike that I truly dug into a yoga practice. As well as the first time I consciously heard my intuition talk to me.

As I left the meadow on the trail, I began to follow the Merced River. Once I was hiking along the river, I realized that it would be a great location for another, longer yoga session.

When this thought occurred to me, I saw the perfect location. There were a few large rocks, and it overlooked the river and Half Dome. There were people just getting up to leave. It had the view, the rocks! It should be perfect!

And then I heard it.

No.

I stopped dead in my tracks. The voice was so small, I wasn’t sure. I shrugged, thinking I was imagining things, and began to take another step towards the “perfect spot” when I heard it again.

No. Move on.

…. what?? This was all so strange. I thought to myself, “Well, I’m all alone, it won’t hurt to move on, so, I’ll move on.” I walked several hundred feet when I found the next “perfect” location, and I heard it again — this time it was a little louder.

No. Move on.

“What is going on?!” I wondered. But I decided to listen to it, and kept walking on.

The next spot that appeared to me as a potential spot had a large, flat rock. Right next to the river, with a large tree overhead. Before my brain had a moment to ask myself if this would be a good spot, my feet were already making it’s way over there. I knew this was it.

As I stood on that rock after doing some yoga (with my dirty, dirty hippie feet), I began to meditate, to which I asked myself — what the hell just happened over there?? I have never experienced something like that, or at least, I have never really been able to identify it.

After some contemplation, I realized that, that small little voice, was my intuition talking to me. The other, loud, chattery voice? That was my brain. Maybe you could say it was my head versus my heart. Either way, it was a big deal, and almost like I had tapped into a completely new source of myself. And I felt more… whole.

So, I decided that now that I could hear my intuition (at least a little bit), I would let it guide the rest of my trip. I would do my best to tell my brain to shut up, and I would let my heart guide me.

And so I did.

Later that evening, I took another hike, this time to Vernal Falls.

Along the way, I would stop and do yoga on random rocks when I felt like it. I could hear my brain going “What are you doing? People are going to see you and think you’re a weirdo. They’re going to judge you!!” And to which I simply said, shut up!

I hiked to the top of that falls, which was probably one of my most favorite hikes on the trip. They call this trail the Mist Trail, and rightfully so, because you pretty much get sprayed by the falls when you get close to it, but I thought it was lovely because it created a magical haze through the light.

The next day was the last one on that trip, so I woke up, set on spending another morning in the meadow.

That quickly became my favorite location to be when the sun rose, because it was peaceful, and I felt like the only person in the entire place.

When I first walked into the meadow, there were no clouds in the sky, but as I sat and watched, I saw clouds began to dance around the cliffs. They hugged, and looped, and ebbed and flowed. The clouds were a sure sign of what they had been warning all week — that it was going to rain, so I was glad to be leaving that day.

After enjoying a warm breakfast and packing up my campsite, I headed towards Sentinel Dome. One of my fellow campers had recommended it, because it had 360 views of the entire valley. The hike was only about 5 miles round trip and mostly flat, so it should be a relatively easy hike. So I headed off.

Before heading to the Dome, I decided to stop at Glacier Point, where you could see some great views too. The problem was that it was massively crowded, and I wasn’t a big fan of all the tourists, so I took a few photos and left. (The lower falls you see in the photo is Vernal Falls, which I had hiked to the day before)

So as I hiked out to Sentinel Dome, the weather became more and more stormy. I figured I could handle some rain, so I wasn’t worried. I had all my protective gear on, so I didn’t think it would be a problem.

(Photo above is the now dead Jeffery Pine that Ansel Adams photographed)

It was actually pretty cool out there, but after a little bit, the wind picked up, and the clouds began to cover any sort of view I had. And as I stood out there, it began to snow!

I became so massively excited that I called Zach to tell him. (Funny enough, I had full bars up there, something I totally did not even have IN the valley) Then I decided I should probably head back before it got crazy.

As I walked back, I stopped every couple of feet to take photos. I mean, of course, right? At first, the snow didn’t stick, and then it began to. First the path was easy to see, and then that began to get covered up. I began to rely on other people’s tracks after that. And then, I stopped to take a photo, and once I looked back down, I realized…

… the path was gone…

… there were no more footsteps to follow…

… I had lost the trail.

I was lost.

This would probably be no problem for people who grew up in the snow, or if the path had been marked properly in the snow (this area is usually closed off in the winter). But for me, it was bad.

Interestingly, in hindsight, this was a perfect lesson of my head vs my heart. Deep down, in my gut, I knew if I kept going left, I would hit the main road eventually. Luckily I had studied the map of the trail well enough to know that. But my head began to freak out. The snow was getting stronger, as well as the wind, and I began to panic. So I called Zach with my one bar left, and freaked out. He calmed me down, and as I kept walking, I spotted the bathrooms. Yes! So I told him I saw the bathrooms (which was next to my car, but I unfortunately left that information out), and he told me to call him once I got to  my car. Well, of course, once I got to my car, I was so shaken up that I simply wanted to leave, and I had no reception at all, so I began to drive down to Mariposa Grove, which is where I wanted to stop to next.

Of course, I had absolutely no reception for several hours after that.

I wish I could tell you I was good, and called him right away once I got to a pay phone, but I did not. I think I was still in shock, and I was dead set on going to the sequoia grove that I simply headed straight there. Once I finally emerged, I began to get reception back, and thus a zillion messages hit my phone. My heart & stomach hit the floor. Crap!

(My digital camera had died at that point, so I only had a very small amount of images from the sequoia grove on film.)

After calling Zach back and assuring him I was fine (understandably he was stressed, and angry at me at the same time — he actually called Search and Rescue on me as well, who informed him that another man had been lost on that same trail, so it wasn’t just me!), I began to head home. Stressed and tired, I saw all sorts of crazy things on the way home. Every time I saw a tall shadow (like a building) alongside the freeway, I thought it was a cliff. I totally needed to get home and be in bed!

——–

Even with all the crazy, all the getting lost, and the snow, I am so glad I took this trip. It was a large growth experience for me, seeing as it was the moment where I truly began to hear my Voice. As an artist, and a person, this is something I am constantly trying to hear and understand, especially in a society where everyone else is proclaiming their opinions on the internet. It’s hard to hear what you truly think, when you can’t help but hear the noise of other people’s voices. And I heard it best when I was alone, not under the influence of anyone else. Now that I’m back in the regular hum of life, it still gets difficult to hear, but I am always constantly striving to listen to it, especially when I am creating & taking photos. That intuition that tells me yes, or no. It guides me not only in my art, but my everyday life, and I know that as I grow as a person, that voice will not only get louder, but so much stronger. :)

 

I sat here for some time, trying to figure out what to write about this session. Not because I had nothing to say, but because I wasn’t sure how to formulate my thoughts into a cohesive manner. I could tell you about what a beautiful dancer Tara is (because she is), or I could tell you about my obsession with ballerinas and pointe shoes (give me a camera and put me in front of a ballerina and I’ll be irrationally happy).

Or I could talk about how these images were a lot of things for me.

Growth, because this was the first time I shot a dance session 90% on film. I learned so much doing this session, about the technique of photographing a dancer like this as well as how I want to approach sessions like this in the future.

And this isn’t like my Movement sessions — this was something else entirely.

This was a small seed, planted in the dirt of an idea, about capturing the beauty of a dancer. I started first with Tiffany’s session (a full blog of which is forthcoming) & Tara’s is my second. When I start projects like this, or have ideas, they usually don’t solidify until I’ve gone through and put myself in the thick of it. Had trials and errors. Experienced and seen what I truly wanted.

To be honest, this idea is still a bit like vapors to me. Capturing the beauty of a dancer? Isn’t that supposedly what photographers are supposed to do anyway? Am I offering anything truly new to the dance photography world? I want to believe I am. Deep down, I know I am.

My voice will solidify as I go, my images will hold meaning and beauty in the way that I want them to. It’ll all come in time. Right now, all I can do is create.

Styling: Susan Yee

ben howard .

May 1, 2013

The first time I heard Ben Howard was through this video. A fellow photographer had posted it on twitter almost two years ago, so I clicked on it and fell completely in love. With the video, the song, and the person singing. If you’ve never heard of him, I highly recommend you click on that link and soak it all in. Two other favorite videos/songs is this lovely soothing number & a recent one — the last one is trippy, and mesmerizing to watch. The song itself is amazing live — it gave me chills.

I am fortunate enough to have seen him live twice — the first time back in October, and the second just this past April. He is amazing live. Have I already said that? Cause it needs to be said more than once. He. is. AMAZING. live. Better than his recordings. Like 1000x better. His emotion, passion, and love for this art and expression simply permeate the air. He’s somewhat “small” now, but his talent is too large for it to stay this small for so long.

So I share with you the few images that I got from this incredible experience. It was a somewhat last minute decision for me to grab my camera and shoot off a roll of film, and I had to wrestle my way up to the front to get these shots, but I am so glad that I did (it helps to be tiny). :)

So as we headed back home from Mammoth, we decided that we would stop at a place called Alabama Hills, which happens to be a location that is very popular for westerns and movies like Iron Man. Once you step foot here, you can definitely see why — with these amazing rock formations, and a backdrop like those mountains, it’s easy to see why Hollywood loves to film at this location.

Whenever I travel, I always end up learning something new about myself — my behaviors, and how I cope with things. Putting yourself into new situations always does that. One of the biggest lessons I learned was how much pressure I put on myself to “perform” when I’m shooting sometimes & how valuable it is for me to let go instead.

I had challenged myself to shoot only film for this entire trip (I didn’t even bring my digital camera — I only had an iphone if I ever wanted digitals), and I found it difficult for me to get in the “mood” of shooting. I think mainly because I was putting pressure on myself to produce amazing images. And I was having a hard time feeling good about the images I was creating because 1) I wasn’t feeling how I was expecting myself to feel (inspired at every. little. thing!) & 2) I couldn’t actually see what I was producing, so I didn’t know how good my images actually were. But after realizing that I needed to let go, stop putting those expectations on myself, and just let things speak to me, it made the experience so much better. I began to feel good about the images I was creating, even if I couldn’t see the end result of what I was actually shooting. And that in itself made the whole trip even better, because I was fully allowing myself to be in the moment, and letting that move me, rather than putting thoughts of what the trip should be, and how I should feel.

Putting expectations on yourself and your work is never a good thing, because you end up creating from a not-so-honest place. You end up creating from a place that isn’t your own. Images that truly move are from a place of authenticity. A place that comes from deep within. And from now on that is where I want to be when I create images.

. . . . . . . . . . .

Mamiya 645 | Portra 160 & 400
Canon QL17 | Tri-x

On our second day in the Mammoth area, Jasmine and I decided we would do two things — visit the top of Mammoth Mountain and then head to Mono Lake and explore. The top of the mountain is beautiful — it’s a shame that 1) I’m pretty afraid of heights & 2) I can’t snowboard well enough to go down any of those slopes, because I’m sure it would be an amazing ride.

After seeing the sights on the top of the mountain, we headed to Mono Lake, which actually ended up being colder than the top of the mountain due to the high winds. But it was also completely magical, with its strange tufas, foam (yes, that is foam next to the water — not snow) & magical sky sunsets.

Stay tuned for day three, the final day — where we visited Alabama Hills — a magical place & a film location to many a westerns as well as the movie Iron Man ;)

Mamiya 645 | Portra 160 & 400
Canon QL17 | Tri-x