Tag Archives: portrait

::hope from the homeless::

While in Florida for work, I had a few hours one evening to visit a nearby beach. If you’re visiting Florida’s west coast sometime soon and have never been to Indian Rocks Beach, I’d suggest going.  It was very down to earth, no high rises or gaudy hotels. No strip malls.  Lots of locals to talk with and few tourists.

I hit the beach with my sigg, a towel, and my camera and spent the first hour or so walking along the shore, picking up shells and letting the water cool my feet. After a while I started to observe the people around me. Mostly everyone was with family, small kids and friends. Lots of people were busy building sand castles and applying sunscreen and reading magazines under a large umbrella. There were a few men fishing and some wake boarding.

While walking back towards my towel I noticed for the second time a man who was alone. It was obvious to me that this man was enjoying himself. He had a mini radio softly playing classic rock hits and was bobbing his head to the tunes while laying stomach-side down on his towel, smiling at anyone who walked by. I had to pass him to get back to my towel and although now I can’t remember why, part of me hesitated. I figured it would be obvious if I walked out of my way to avoid him since had seen me sitting by my towel before and knew where I had to go.

As I walked timidly past I started to sing along with the song that had just started playing on his radio. To my surprise he quickly turned the song down and switched the channel while smiling up at me and declaring “Some of those ACDC songs just aren’t the best to blast when kids are around!” just as a small boy ran by us dragging the tail to a kite.

“I guess you’re right, but half the music they listen to these days isn’t any better- often worse” I replied. His smile grew wider as I followed with “Care if I take a seat?”.

I ended up staying for almost an hour and most of it was spent listening patiently as Rick eagerly spilled his life story to me.  We discovered some connections we had- after receiving scholarships for basketball and football he had gone to Westmont, a liberal arts christian college like the one I attended and which I knew well since I played against them at the national tournament for women’s soccer.  We talked about some time he spent in Buffalo, NY, debated who had better wings The Anchor Bar, or Duffs (I voted Anchor Bar since I lack in knowledge about their wings but know they have great pizza) and both shared of the times we had visited Niagara Falls.

He shared that he’s been through three marriages, a million dollar career as a real estate agent in Huntington, California, and although I didn’t learn how he eventually ended up on that beach that day, I finally inquired about his current state. He told me he was homeless. That he had come back to Florida after things got bad in California to be with his mother but she didn’t want him around. They had gotten in a fight and his eyes got angry  and he grabbed my arm as he declared “She hit me on the head with her shower rod and then called the cops on me and they put me in prison for 3 months! I know i can’t go back there. So I’m here. I’ve spent the past 4 weeks trying to get a job but it’s been dry.”

His grasp softened on my arm and a look of defeat came over him.

“Where do you sleep?” I asked.

“Please don’t tell anyone because this is a great spot and I don’t want to be kicked out. You know that doctor’s office back on main street? They have a small bench in the back and I’ve been sleeping there. It’s hidden from the parking lot so cops can’t see me but there’s a light that stays on at night so I can see.”

When it was time for me to head back to my hotel and get ready for the work event I had to attend that evening, I hesitantly asked if I could take his photograph. I told him I wanted to remember him and his story. I half expected him to soberly glance my way when I lifted the camera to my eyes to shoot but he immediately struck a pose and gave me a warm smile.

 

 

He was a laughing and talking with me while I snapped a few quick shots.

“Wait- before you have to go let me show you something.”

Rick’s possessions were held in a torn plaid duffle- his most valued fitting in the small front pocket. He reached for the photographs with excitement.

“See? This is me when I was 9. Handsome devil, huh? I told you so.”

“And I wasn’t making that stuff up about being a football star- see? Look at my hair!”

He showed me a few more photographs before gingerly placing them back in the pocket.

I stood there knowing it was time to go but wanting to say something. I wanted to help this man. I wanted to assure him that everything would be ok, that his life would turn around, that someone would give him a home, that he would find a job, that something would happen to make all of this right. Emotions swelled in me as I looked into his eyes and stammered “Is there anything, anything I can do to help you?”

“You’ve already done something. You listened to me.” He said.

“But, I wish I could do something for you. I don’t have money to give you. I don’t live here so I don’t know how to help. I wish I could. ” I sputtered.

Rick’s striking blue eyes welled up with tears and he told me “Just know that I am trying. That I want things to get better. That I am doing the best that I can. Just trust me. I’m trying.”  He noticed that I had started to tear up and patted my arm as he said “Oh, and remember my name. Put my face on a poster and make me famous.”  His original smile reappeared as he shook my hand firmly.

While reading an article a few weeks ago about the death of Tyler Clementi and the other young men who committed suicide due to bullying and pranks, I was deeply moved at the author’s words:

“…because we may now finally be compelled to tell the truth about ourselves: that we are broken and beautiful at the same time, and that none of us is fully who we claim to be. We are stumbling pilgrims trying to figure out what it means to be human. And if I tell you the truth about me, then maybe you might feel safer to tell me the truth about you.”

I thought back to my interactions with Rick and his plea for me to believe that he’s trying. I realized that I’m trying too. Just like Rick and Tyler and this author and everyone else. We’re trying to figure out what it means to be human. We’re working through struggles and we’re all stumbling around as lost pilgrims. None of us has it figured out.

My hour spent on the beach with Rick was easily one of the most impacting times of my life. I realized how deeply bruised we all are but I was able to rejoice in the pure beauty of another human being. I was thankful that Rick was compelled to tell the truth about his life to me and that we were able to encourage one another.  Ironically, my time spent with this man who has no home, friends, family, or means of provision was one of the deepest expressions of hope I’ve ever witnessed. And hope is something we desperately need to cling to today.

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::spiritual moments::

I heard a sermon last week in which the preacher was talking about her experience on her family vacation in the Catskill mountains.  She mentioned this moment where she hiked alone to the nearby waterfall one morning, sat peacefully beside the stream, and dove into the clear mountain water. Immersed in the frigid water she felt renewed and refreshed. She said it was a ‘spiritual moment’ for her. One in which she felt complete, and spiritually whole.  She went on to describe what she did next.  She carefully collected small rocks-shiny and colorful, smooth and marbled, and placed them in a bag.  She was trying to gather mementos of this spiritual moment.  Mementos that she could place about her home, on her nightstand, her bathroom sink.  Things that could tangibly bring her back to that place of peace and wholeness, once her hectic life started to crack through her being.

The preacher then began to warn of the foolishness of this kind of living.  She said she felt like the rich young ruler who was storing up his earthly treasures. She told us to be complete people, we need to live beyond those spiritual moments, tuning in to our real feelings and emotions and embracing them when things are hard.  We need to be careful not to idolize good times, and not to limit God to our description of what a ‘spiritual moment’ is.

Although I liked the point she was trying to make about not limiting God to our own version of spiritual moments, I felt hesitant to embrace the idea that we can’t rely on great moments of peace and restoration to help us through.  The past few weeks that’s what I’ve been doing. Trying to suck the life out of this beloved place I call home.  Grabbing up moments and taking pictures as mementos before our trek back down south.

Like gathering green beans with my Grandpa in his garden and canning them back in the kitchen with Grandma.

Feeling the early summer sun beat down on my shoulders while squatting to pick strawberries with a friend.

Sharing a cold drink with my cousin, dipping our feet in the pool while he helps me shell a bushel of peas.

Enjoying a late night piece of pie with good neighbors.

Running through the beloved woods across the street.

Cooking and laughing together in the home of good friends.

Taking my sister out on a Friday night date.

Trekking up to the sheep barn and letting a baby lamb nuzzle up to my knee.

Hiking hills of blueberry bushes and picking peacefully with my family.

Spending the morning exploring the landscape with a beautiful child.

These pictures are my mementos. Beautiful memories I can rifle through weeks from now.

And my freezer and cupboards will be filled with mementos of the richness and goodness of my home that I can eat in the lonely winter months.

These are my spiritual moments.

The moments that get me through.

And if my efforts to grasp onto these people and this place is in vain, then that preacher can call me a fool.

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::upward(week 1)bound::

This summer has held lots of exciting photo opportunities for me.  One was specifically something I had never before experienced or thought that I was even ready for.  A few weeks ago I was asked to teach a class on photography to high school girls.  These girls are part of the summer program called upward bound.

I wasn’t actually anticipating doing this at first, mostly for fear of my own inability to share information on something I almost completely taught myself. I have yet to take any formal coursework in photography(although I will be applying for grad schools this year). However, it was almost difficult to keep the information I wanted to share confined into two evening classes. It was exciting for me to share a bit of my work and passion, and hope that I was igniting some interest in other people as well.

The third night of each week we decided to have an actual photo shoot with all the members of the class. It was kind of crazy to try and shoot 7-10 girls within an hour and a half, all at different locations.  We made it work though and I am really happy with the shots we got.

Although I hadn’t spent much time with each girl, I tried to incorporate a bit of their personalities into each of their photos and make them as individualized as I could. This was a fun challenge and a great experience for me as a photographer.

As you can tell this group of girls was really adventurous and easy to work with.  Although none of them had had this kind of experience with a photographer before they were naturals!

All of these backgrounds were within 5 or 6 miles from Houghton. Sometimes it’s really easy to utilize the space you have and work with your location- you’ve just got to keep an eye out for good spots!

I love the shots above with her red hair, texture of the building and the bird house.

And last but not least, we did some group shots.  All of these ladies were willing and excited to be photographed not only near a waterfall, but underneath one too!

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::cute kids::

Some kids are just so stinkin’ cute they deserve to be photographed.   And that’s not to say that all  kids aren’t awesome… but I especially can’t resist photographing little curly haired boys like this one.  I’ve been working on a personal project this summer, in collaboration with a friend, and will be sharing more about it at some point.  As much fun as we are having in producing our own work- the set-up, communication, and interaction we’ve been having with other people has been a good time too.  Like working with little Ralph here… we tried to get him to pose with his friendly cat, Wall-e.  But all I got were these candid shots of Ralph.

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::Woolsey wedding preview::

Hey everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve been on top of my blogging. I’ve got some portrait sessions to post and yesterday I shot the wedding of J&H Woosley.  Their wedding was in Geneseo, NY and we had a beautiful day.  Pictures are being uploaded and edited and I’ll try to have them up by the end of the week so the honeymooners can come back to a full blog post showing their beautiful day. I couldn’t resist sorting through a few photos late last night and posting one for you to see- this one is practically SOOC (straight out of camera) and proves what a gorgeous couple these two are! Congrats J&H and enjoy your trip!

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::EB portrait preview::

This past weekend I attended and photographed Houghton Academy’s graduation ceremonies.  While I’ve been busy editing those pictures, I couldn’t resist posting this preview of a portrait shoot I did last week with our amazing friends.  I’m excited to tell you more about them once I finish processing their shoot.  As this photo shows, nothing has been more beautiful than the late evening summer light up here in WNY.

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