The Fujifilm X-Photographers Nature and Travel Summit happened last week. So I packed up and headed out to Townsend, TN as one of four teachers for the inaugural event, held in the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains.
February, New York City. Fujilove LIVE. What the heck is Fujilove, you ask? Well, it’s a website, a Facebook group, a magazine, a podcast, an academy – a movement! It’s the passion and brainchild of professional musician and photographer Tomasz Trzebiatowski, who is one of the loveliest and most genuine people I’ve met in recent years. He lives in Lucerne, Switzerland – and we allllmost met when I was there last year. But a freak late spring snowstorm made me change my plans, so we missed like ships in the night. Continue reading “Fujilove LIVE, NYC: 2017”→
Anytime I visit New York City, I always make sure I get into Central Park for some nice airing out. This trip was no different.
What WAS different is that I recorded a couple of quick video segments, sharing some thoughts I had about “when to photograph”… and about keeping eyes ears and heart open for special moments that happen along your travels, wherever they may take you.
Today it begins! I’m in New York right now; later this week, Rome. After that, Germany, Switzerland and France. In all, close to 2 months, 4 countries and a world of experiences I can’t wait to embrace!
Here’s the thing. I didn’t want this to be one of those “Oh – Karen’s off doing her thing. How nice.” things. I wanted to be more inclusive than that. This experience is the result of a series of choices, decisions and life-changing events in my life that began years ago. I wanted this trip to account for all of them. But even more; count towards maybe giving ALL of us the juice we need to create a life more amazing than we ever dreamed possible. Maybe I’m a dreamer (Duh!)… but I know I’m not the only one. 😉
I just made this video this morning, introducing the whole idea. It’s super casual… I did it done on my iPhone, before heading out for the day.
I bet you wondered if I’d EVER spill what the heck has been going on behind-the-scenes over here!
I’m getting ready to embark upon a project that I believe in with all my heart and soul. It’s taken a ton of preparation (in some ways, my whole life!). At its core, it’s a story. A soul’s journey. And it’s all about finding our voice and embracing life itself as if it were our art. I believe this is what we were all meant to do. I believe it’s our birthright to do so. But it’s not alway so easy to pull off on Planet Earth, is it? Believe me, I know. Continue reading “Postcards From Rome”→
It just arrived. My brand new Fujinon XF50-140mm f/2.8 lens and 1.4x teleconverter. Giddiness has ensued. I’m like that.
A brand spankin’ new lens is always exciting. It usually makes my heart go all a’flutter, I even get a little nervous. It’s kinda like a blind date:
“What if I don’t like you?”
“What if you don’t like me?”
“What if you’re too big and heavy?”
“Will we see eye to eye?”
“If I like you now, will I still like you a month from now?”
“What if we break up?”
Just a shade over a week to go before I leave for Rome! But that’s only the FIRST stop. Lots going on behind the scenes right now, but I’m allllllmost ready to start talking about and sharing it all. In fact, I’ll probably have something for ya in a couple of days! Continue reading “Karen on TWiP! PLUS… Europe!”→
I ended last year and started this one thinking about how much photography is embedded in who I am. It doesn’t define me, but it’s definitely woven deeply in my soul. It’s how I see and relate to everything; from the most poignant & breathtaking moments, to awe-inspiring, mind-expanding flashes. Photos are like flash cards to the past that have recorded life-changing milli-seconds that I want to last forever.
I’ve also been mind-blown lately at how far photography has come technologically since my humble beginnings – and can’t wait to see what comes next.
THE BEGINNING: I BLAME THE NORWEGIANS!
My story with photography started way before I was born. My mother had photos of the Norwegian side of our family coming to America on a big steamer in the late 1800’s. There they were… smiling, having fun, looking like people you might like to know, but from a completely different era. The prints were incredibly well-preserved, like they were taken last week. I felt like these distant relatives could step out of the photograph and shake my hand and that thrilled me to the core! That was when I knew I didn’t stand a chance when it came to photography. It’s bigger than me. It’s in my blood.
AND MOM, OF COURSE…
My mother documented everything with her camera. She never had a chance either, because her family documented every move she made, as evidenced by this photograph of her from the 1920’s Great Depression era in San Francisco:
Through every decade of her life, my mother’s family photographed her. Small wonder; she was the perfect statuesque muse, every stitch of modelesque clothing handmade by her grandmother.
Best as I can tell, these photos were taken with one of the cameras you can see on these pages… from the 1930’s and 1940’s.
YOU SEE WHY DESTINY RULED…
By the time I came along (the little one on the front), we used Brownie cameras. (I mean seriously… how can you NOT love taking pictures with a camera named after your favorite dessert??
I mean, if Ozzie and Harriet used Brownies, they HAD to be the best! This commercial was current about the time the photo above was taken with this very same camera:
My mom had albums upon albums of photographs. Pouring through them repeatedly, memorizing every image, picking out my super faves was my favorite pastime. They inspired me, excited me – made me want to make my own photographs.
Of course, the Momster was all too happy to oblige, giving me her old cameras as hand-me-downs… starting with the Instamatix in the ’60’s. TOTALLY revolutionary! And the flash cube was the BOMB!!!
It took pictures like this (that’s me in the middle):
And when I got my own Kodak Ektralite 110 I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
(Then again, I always felt like that… and so very “can do” when it came to Michael Landon):
THAT’S IT. I’M GOING PRO!
By the time I got through high school, I determined that I wanted to be a professional photographer. I was given my favorite hand-me-down of all: The Minolta SRT-102:
I had a medium distance and a telephoto lens and they became like a second skin. I loved that camera SO HARD!! I did all of my junior college class assignments with it and developed the images in the school darkroom, including this one for the assignment: “Self Portrait”. hahahaha!
THE HAY HOOK SELFIE:
I had a wicked sense of humor back then. I lived on a ranch and we had horses. The movie “Psycho” had come out in 1960, so by 1974 it had had a chance to become part of our culture. I had what I thought was a brilliant idea: blend the “Self Portrait” assignment parameters with the “Psycho” movie vibe and place it all in my own world.
I was so excited! Staged it carefully. I set the camera on an upside-down feed bucket, grabbed the hay hooks and crawled into the tack compartment of our horse trailer… camera on timer. I had to do it a few times to get the timing right – so you can only imagine my glee when I saw the image come up perfectly in the darkroom!
I began plotting to build my own darkroom at home. Dreaming the images I’d create… both in color and black and white. Started talking to my dad (who could build ANYTHING) about where on the ranch we could create it.
THE END OF A DREAM
Then it happened. The blinding headaches, the debilitating nausea. It was the darkroom chemicals. I didn’t give up without a fight. I tried being super organized and minimizing my time. Cutting sessions short. Skipping days in between. But it got worse and worse until even stoic Me couldn’t’ take it anymore. I had to give up photography.
I was devastated. Thought I could just take the photos and let labs do the processing. But the prints just weren’t the same. They weren’t MINE. A good portion of what I loved most about photography was the darkroom creative processing. Without that, it felt empty. I had to move on.
I followed other dreams: figure skating, dance, continued with my equestrian career, acting, singing… and teaching all of these on a professional level. I photographed all along, with whatever crappy camera I could get my hands on… because photography was in my blood. I couldn’t stop.
I watched the development of digital cameras with hungry eyes.
The first digital images I saw were garbage… but knew the day was coming when they would rival film. So I waited. And waited. And friggin’ WAITED!
THE DIGITAL PARADE BEGINS!
Finally I jumped. My first digital camera was an Olympus Camedia, I think it was the C-900, with a whopping 1.3 MP resolution! Its specs are here.
The images weren’t great, but I just couldn’t wait any longer to see how far away Nirvana was. Meaning, did digital even enter the ball park of film yet? Answer: nope! But I was in the game and it was entertaining.
Then “Prosumer” hit the market in the form of the Sony F707 and F717. I had both. With a staggering 5 MP (you better be giggling about now!), plus then-craaaazy zoom ability of 5x (38–190 mm equivalent optical zoom)… both cameras had a 2/3-inch sensor and an articulating barrel.
I wasn’t yet willing or able yet to spring for a digital camera with interchangeable lenses. I really couldn’t afford it – nor did I think the images were good enough yet. But the price point on these prosumer babies meant I could actually feel like I was holding a real camera again!
(Images courtesy of DP Review)
They made me want to get out and capture the world again… (here, taken with the Sony F717).
When it was time to move on from my F717, bigger still wasn’t an option for me. So I went smaller. Looked for the best lens I could find on a pocket camera. I spotted Carl Zeiss on Sony units and jumped! First, with the Sony DSC W1. Still 5mp, but LENSES! Telephoto and wide angle. I even got a slave flash for it. Pimped to the nines!
These were the fancy pants lenses:
It took pictures like this with it:
I shot alot of flowers and macros back then. Partly because I love them – but it also wasn’t really the camera to make landscapes sing. Closer up worked better for composition and storytelling, which I was happy to work on.
I had a ski coach (I was a black diamond skier back then) who said that a good skier can tackle “any mountain, any condition.” It was an awesome goal – and I always tried to apply that to both my skiing and my photography. Any camera, any condition. I applied the rule every time I picked up my wee photo unit. Composition was and always will be king. But I was getting an urge… beginning to want gear that put no limits on what I could create. The artist in me was stirring.
Then my beloved W1 died. I howled at the moon! Soon, though, the 12MP Sony WX200 caught my attention. Good images, small and discreet and it would keep me humming for now. When you have a camera this small, you’re forced to move your feet, get creative and compose your ass off. I think of it as my 40 days in the desert. Only with a better camera. This is what it looked like…
And some of the results:
THEN… IT WAS TIME.
By now, just about every photo I took was accompanied with a resounding whine: “It’s just not what I’m seeing in my mind’s eye! I want more. I need a better camera!” Digital was getting damn good – and Photography wanted back IN to my life in a big way. I was having the visions – I wanted to see if I could make them! I waffled on my choice, I researched, I waffled some more.
Then on Christmas 2009, my husband gifted me with a Canon T1i and said… “You keep talking about the images you see in your mind… I want to see them too! Now go get ’em.” I wept. Hugged him… hard! Then headed out the door on an adventure that is still the most awesome EVER!
After the T1i, it was the Canon 5DII, the 5DIII, then the 6D… and now, my beloved Fujifilm X-T1 and X-T10 awesomeness. I feel like, over the years, my cameras have gone up and down, up and down… kind of like breathing. Or really bad weight swings. Right now, I have exactly what I need to create exactly what I want. It’s smaller… but who know’s what’ll be next? Truth is, the next level for me is already whispering in my ear.
TECHNOLOGY & THE ART OF LIFE
I can’t help but I look around and marvel at how photography itself has grown. It too has expanded – in both big and small ways. No longer is it a question of “which camera is best?” Now it’s a matter of deciding what you want to do with a one, because chances are someone makes an awesome camera that does exactly that – whatever it is!
There’s brand new, jaw-dropping technology like what the Light Company is making with the Light L16. Their small camera technology has 16 built in lenses, and uses 10 simultaneously to capture the detail of your shot at multiple fixed focal lengths. Seriously?? Who DOES that? And yet… there it is. Check out their story. I love “Outside the box? Let’s blow UP the box” stories! And I’d bet there are other innovations being dreamed of and worked on as we speak!
Full frame cameras, Medium format cameras… something for every budget and need. The number of images on the internet is unprecedented. An entirely new art world has been born before our eyes over the past few years in photography… life as art!
Thanks to what technology in photography can do now, I feel like I have a paintbrush of light in my hands. My sister is an artist, but I could never draw like her. And oh my, I wanted to with all my heart! Little did I know, LIGHT was my real, true medium… I just had to live long enough for the brushes to get AMAZING!!
And they have. In a few short years, I’ve been able to spread my wings, see the world, carve out a niche and express the what I’ve held in my mind and heart… for all to see. Some of it is strictly photographic, some of it mainly art. To me, being able to do that with technology’s help is nothing short of fantastical! Second chances DO exist! It’s all completely miraculous to me… and the journey continues.
Finally, here are some of the images that have evolved since moving from pocket cameras to DSLRs…
You’ll probably think this is odd. But here it is: I sometimes wonder if I’m doing things “right”. Do you ever do that? I do, and it just never feels good. Thing is, I know that when I worry about doing stuff right – it always means I’m comparing, judging, negating myself in some way and it makes me feel like that stuff you scrape off your shoe. I know I’m not alone on this. I also know it’s not where I choose to reside.
The solution? It’s simple, if you’re brave enough to leap.
As a result I see ALOT of photographers’ and artists’ work. Some of them are amaaazing. If the stars align a certain way, it’ll mess with my head. The litany in there sounds something like this: “Oh god. Am I even doing this RIGHT?? Look what [he/she] did. I should travel more. Maybe I should just focus on one thing, post more shots of a me or a human subject standing in the middle of my shot, looking up.” (Oh, please, don’t get me started on THAT!)
On Contrast (It’s Not Just For Photography)
Point being… that inner yapping makes me feel lousy. But you know what? That is actually AWESOME! Because if all of a sudden I start feeling lousy (this stuff usually happens all of a sudden, if you’re paying attention)… it’s such a dramatic contrast to how I feel most of the time, I know something’s up.
And at that moment, I actually get kind of excited, because now I get to course-correct myself into something even better. Some of my most awesome creations began as moments just like this.
On Breaking It Down
Here’s how I break it down.
The Worst: Is when I feel crappy. Frozen with doubt. When that nefarious naysayer voice in my head is blabbing, telling me lies, making me feel small and “less than.” What do I see through this lens? Nuthin’. Nada. Zip. My reality selection feels flat as a pancake on a dirty street in horse and buggy days. I resist everything.
The Best: Is when I’m happy. Joyful. Light. Looking forward to all the wonderful things I get to create in this lifetime. From that feeling, my ideas are better, my work is better… I SEE so much better through my lens! Better things effortlessly come my way, more delightful surprises… surprise me. Magic happens.
Who can change worst to best: Moi. Me. Myself.
How: By shifting the thoughts I’m thinking and the feelings I’m feeling. People think their thoughts and feelings “just happen” – or worse yet, think they depend upon ANYTHING outside of themselves. But pick out some better thoughts and feelings to focus upon and Voila! Re-landscape your whole life. I’ve observed and experienced this enough now for it to be one of those “What I know for sure” things. It sure is important to know for your creative process… and in life.
The Bonus: Oh yeah. There are usually fun surprises…
What’s It Look Like?
The Worst: Me doing the old “am I doing it right?” trick to myself in New York. I was there to speak, to have some meetings, to shoot when and where I could in between. It wasn’t technically a photography trip. Rather than relaxing about that… I started feeling anxious about what I was and was not shooting. (Oh NOW it’s a photography trip? WTF?) Comparing myself to others who have so brilliantly captured this city. Freezing up inside as I wondered if I was doing ANYTHING right. Nice, huh?
Who can change worst to best: Me. I palm-slap my forehead. “Stop it!” I holler in a firm-yet-loving manner. I consider this constricted, icky feeling in my gut. It’s definitely a brilliant example of how I DON’T want to feel. So… what WOULD I like to feel? (That’s the important next question. My little kid always gets excited about it, which is a good sign.)
I answer: Happy. Fun. Full of life. Loving and loved. And… free of judgment about what is or isn’t the right way to approach photography. Feeling so grateful to do what I do and blessed to get to see the things I do. Loving my life and the beauty I see all around me. In my flow. Just thinking about that stuff make me start feeling better. To take it all a step further…
I decide to go visit one of my besties and forget about photography for an afternoon. Shift gears. OF COURSE I always take a camera… and since I wasn’t sure if it would rain or not I grab my Fuji X-T1 and 16-55mm lens (they’re weather-sealed) and head downtown.
On Allowing Flow to Happen
Erica Hill and I go back 17+ years to the TechTV days. TechTV was a technology television network based in San Francisco. I was hired as the network talent coach, to teach the tech folk how to do TV… and the TV peeps how to talk tech convincingly. It was a BLAST! I met 3 of my best friends there… Erica being one of them. It’s been so thrilling to watch her success and happiness grow since then.
We’re both so stinkin’ busy it’s hard to find time… but that day we MADE some and met up at her office at 30 Rock (NBC headquarters at Rockefeller Center). It’s always fun stepping into her world, where we’re as likely to talk seriously about things as we are to take silly selfies with a sock puppet and a microphone:
The Best: In that moment, I felt full and grateful and full of appreciation for this dear friend who sings me a song on my birthday (and vice versa), who always makes time despite a busy family, an impossible work schedule, travel and commitments… who talks with me about things that matter and who is always there for me. And vice versa. I found myself not giving a rat’s ass about what was “right”… I was just having FUN, feeling all those things I wanted to feel.
The Bonus: Something magical happened. (It always does when you let go, choose better thoughts and feelings and let inspiration come to YOU.)
I had the chance to do this: shoot this 3-shot vertical pano overlooking the skating rink. I didn’t expect it, it just kind of happened.
It was organic; a real moment from my life and no one else’s. I didn’t have to think about it, it came to me as an inspired moment; one worth sharing. One that will always remind me that I have a choice about how I think and feel – and that choosing BETTER ones will always change my life.
I think of this photo as a kind of life-as-art love child.
Know what else? It felt RIGHT… as a fershure, not a question.
Why Focus on All This?
Why deal with all this “inner voice” stuff?
Because as an artist, an expresser of things, you’re all you got. You ARE the instrument, the interpreter of what you experience – whether it be photography, art, life. Your camera, paintbrush, experiences are all just waiting for your inspiration and enlightened direction.
If you’re all plugged up with fear, doubt and worry (as my dad used to say)… you’re out of your flow. You can’t access your muse, your higher guidance, your inspiration… your real, true VOICE.
And that sucks.
The beautiful thing: all it takes to shift out of that mess is to think a better thought, choose better feeling… then another, then another… rinse, repeat.
Photo Plus Expo 2015 in New York City streaked by like a Jedi star cruiser! By that, I mean FAST. Really fast. Is everything gonna be like that now? Because if so, I need to get me one ‘o them speed suits like downhill skiers wear so I can slice the air more effectively. Sheesh!
Of course, I provided the titles and descriptions for each talk. They were:
“The French Mirrorless Diet”: How I shed pounds, freed my muse and discovered Raw truth in France with my Parisienne paintbrush, Lady Fuji.
“Find Your Voice, Free Your Soul” and
“Live Your Life As Your Art”:Your Soul’s Genius Unleashed
Yes, Fuji approved these beforehand! Besides their incredible cameras, you can perhaps begin to see why I love this company. It includes, but goes so much deeper than, gear.
The X-Factor is You
To me, the overall connective tissue amongst all of these talks is the real estate BEHIND the camera. (That would be you. And me.) It’s great to have “the best” gear… but what IS that, exactly? I looked around at the thousands of people streaming through the Expo over those 3 days and thought to myself “everyone here is seeking that magic bullet. Wants it. Desires that something ‘more’.” But do they know what it is? How will they know when they’ve found it? And what will they do once they have it?
Truthfully, IMHO the best camera is the one you have in your hands. If all you have handy is your phone camera… then by god, THAT is absolutely the best one! It is also true that if you actually find a camera that inspires and entices you… the way you see, the possibilities you consider, the creative roads you travel… will all shift. These are not mutually exclusive notions.
The wild card is YOU. What do love, what do you stand for? That’s where it begins.
I used lots of my own images as illustrations… and this was our fun and intimate stage.
It Boils Down To This
As I walked around the expo, I listened to snippets of how-to talks and gear presentations. Very interesting, all. However, I chose to make a different set of points.
Because, you see, I believe with all my heart that feeling fulfilled, creative, joyful and ALIVE… all starts here:
(My pal Laurie Rubin caught me doing that thing I love so much. The photo I was shooting follows):
That Print Question…
OH BTW – for those wondering how Fuji images look printed? Yeah, they look pretty freaking fantastic! This was the one I was so honored to see hanging right next to one of Bill Fortney‘s:
Why do I think any and all of this matters? It’s simple:
And that, my friends, is what I truly believe all those people wandering the hallways of Photo Plus Expo are truly seeking. That moment of beauty and grace that awakens THEIR soul to act and shed its magnificent light.
After all… photography’s raw materials are LIGHT and TIME. It’s what we work with… it’s what our cameras help us spin into our most precious message.
“Panorama” is defined as: “an unbroken view of the whole region surrounding an observer.”
I like this notion. It feels good, generally.
And I’ve always liked panorama photographs. I think alot of us do.
I’ve always heard what a pain in the ass it was to make them though… and how time consuming. It made me shy to try for a really long time.
Well, I’m amending my previous stance because I’m starting to fall in love with the mighty panorama. Making them, I mean.
I’ve been dabbling. First with my iPhone, which I’ve been doing for years. My iPhone 6+ kind of kicked that into new realms… with images like this from France, for example:
"Love your blog. I stop by for the photography, I linger for the philosophy."
Kelley Morgan, Portland OR
"A beautiful mind will produce beautiful results. And to say the least, yours is a beautiful mind! Thank you for your wisdom and your inner "speak," as they both produce true art from the heart …"
Joe Hudspeth, Prineville OR
"Thank you Karen. A wonderful story but only the tip of the iceberg, the bigger part below the water is all the thousands of photographers you have inspired to chart their own journey, I know as I am one of them."
"Karen, thank you for the wonderful two day post. Your insights are truly thought provoking. I have never been a teacher, nor will I ever be, but to see someone see the light is a wonderful moment. Thanks again."
"As usual, another terrific story. I’m glad I found you but I have to be honest. I didn’t find you on Google + but did on Scott Kelby’s “The Grid”. Thanks for the inspiration in both images and by the pen/keyboard."
"Gads-what a girl! Thanks for the story, it is beautiful."
"Awesome story Karen — I loved reading about your life transformed. Of course I loved the photography theme and the geek in me is forever curious about the power of tech and the power of social platforms. But … for me it is the arc of lives transformed that inspires. Thank you so much for sharing. See you on G+ and in the Arcanum!"