Self portraits on a path to voice

By Susan Greene

As I was pondering our theme of voice this month, I came across this self portrait of Henri Cartier-Bresson.

It’s not often I turn the lens on myself. So I decided to give it a go. The photo of Cartier-Bresson captured my eye with his use of three different views of himself and his involvement both working and pausing to look out the window. My kitchen window is the same sort of set-up for me. I have spent countless hours standing at the kitchen sink looking out the window while washing dishes or twirling around doing the kitchen dance of food prep, throwing dirty dishes in the sink and washing fruits and vegetables while preparing and cleaning up meals. For many years, I was the privileged observer of my children’s games and make-believe worlds. As they grew and ventured from our immediate backyard – their backyards expanding into the larger world, I started noticing the sometimes quiet other times flurried rhythm of the birds, trees and flowers in the yard.

self portrait in window

Thinking of the backyard days of my children triggered thoughts of my own backyard days and the pure joy of playing outside. It has been quite awhile since I have done that.

self portrait backyard activityFor a time, I was transported to the backyard play of my youth, able to tap into the carefree times of romping in the backyard. The difficulty of running back and forth from inside the house to the outside counting down the seconds to shutter release trying to capture a jump at just the right moment then back in to check the result was a small price to pay.

In the Accidental Creative, author and speaker Todd Henry poses “ten questions that will help you find your voice.” One of the ten: as a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?  I think we can benefit from re-examining our younger selves to clarify our future selves and hopefully this will lead us to creative outlets for expressing our voices.

~ Susan

A one, and a two…

By Susan Greene

It has been called the “universal language of mankind” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, attributed with beginning where words leave off by Heinrich Heine and having “charms to soothe the savage breast” by William Congreve.  Music is powerful and musical instruments are beautiful tools for expression.

cello The gorgeous woods and metals formed into beautiful shapes which will produce enchanting sounds are works of art in themselves.

french hornSome are huge, I don’t know if the Korean Bell of Friendship in San Pedro, CA qualifies as an official musical instrument but I like to think it does. This symbol of friendship between the United States and the Republic of Korea sits in a pagoda overlooking the Los Angeles harbor and Pacific Ocean.

Korean Friendship Bell, San Pedro CAA wooden log hanging next to it is used to strike it. Four times a year it is unchained and used to ring the bell, to learn when click here. I haven’t heard the bell yet but would like to and am going to make an effort to get there on one of these ringing occasions this year.

Other musical instruments are smaller and more portable.

percussion instrumentsMany a kindergartner has begun a love of music with these percussion instruments.

percussion instrumentsAs an early oatmeal box drummer turned piano player and student of the cello, I have found music provides many opportunities. From an avenue for sharing your voice with others to exercising your mind, especially should you take up an instrument later in life. It is a good challenge for your brain.

conga drums being playedIn this story on public radio about French percussionist, Christine Salem, from the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean, she shares how her music allows her an outlet for expressing herself which she wasn’t always able to do.

Music, whether listening or playing, has been associated with many health benefits in the body and mind. From helping us de-stress to boosting our moods and our pace when exercising, there are many well-documented positives to taking in a note or two.

turntable, record playerSo in this week of Valentine’s Day, I leave you with these words from William Shakespeare, “If music be the food of love, play on.”

~ Susan

Come out, come out, wherever you are!

By Susan Greene
Finding your artistic voice, what does that mean? Is it anything like locating your misplaced keys or the missing sock in a pair? Maybe, a little bit, in the sense that it is there and just needs to be discovered. There is much written on the subject and even courses offered to assist people with finding their photographic voices. This month’s literary term of exploration is voice/sound.

breaking waveMost know what a wave sounds like and maybe seeing a photo of one conjures up the sound of it crashing in your mind. Some are gentler and quieter.

susnet wheelie rider on shore Others are big and powerful,

large breaking wave, redondo beach CAcrashing,

breaking wave, surfer and photographers, redondo beach CA with a loud boom.

large crashing wave, redondo beach CA Can a photo convey sound?  This month try to imagine what a scene sounded like when you contemplate photos. As for finding that artistic voice, it might be quieter and gentler thus requiring some introspection. Artistic voice is your unique story to tell how you wish, no matter the medium, you choose the style.  For a photographic voice, look to the photographers that inspire you and the things you are inspired to photograph.

I’ll be looking at the beach!

~ Susan

Washed Up

By Susan Greene
Taking a walk along the sea shore, with eyes cast down, encountering the multitude of items washed up on the sand can get the curious wondering. “Where did that come from?”, “is this flotsam or jetsam?”  and more questions will flood the inquiring mind.

seaweed and seashellsSeaweed and sea shells, even though an expected sight, will trigger pondering of the places they’ve been.  What happened to the rest of the plant or the sea creature that once called a shell home?

seaweed and sea shells

How far have these bits traveled?

seaweed on shorePhilosophically, how did these end up in this location, at this time, in this shape at the same time as I?

seaweed on shoreSeaweed, according to the NOAA website, is “utterly essential to innumerable marine creatures, both as food and as habitat, they also provide many benefits to land-dwellers, notably those of the human variety.” It also comes in many shapes and sizes. seaweed on shore

Finding myself tangled up in seaweed thought, I stumble upon something unexpected.

sea shells on shoreA mussel shell like a tiny bowl full of water, even though the tide is out and everything in the immediate vicinity is dry makes me curious, but not as curious as this…

rope on shoreIf only it could talk, what stories would be shared of its journey and ultimate arrival on the sand in Redondo Beach, California?

Spotting sea glass on the local shores is not an everyday occurrence and when it does, I view it as a gift, and also start wondering: how long was it in the sea? what type of bottle was it? how did it break apart?

sea shells and sea glass on shoreIn the absence of concrete answers, let your imagination run wild. The rope is from a colorful fishing vessel off Mexico. The glass is from a Japanese saki bottle and has been in the water for 25 years. The seaweed has floated down the coast from Alaska before getting caught in a current and deposited on this shore all the while playing host to many sea creatures. You get the picture.

Visit the NOAA  website if you would like to learn a bit more about seaweed regarding some of the health properties and benefits to humans and sea creatures.

I will be at water’s edge creating back stories for the lost and found.

~ Susan

We’re Walking, We’re Walking

Santa Monica Bay morning

By Susan Greene
As the minutes tick away, our carpool slowly cruises down the coast in our neighbor’s VW van. Their mother keeps her eyes peeled for the telltale spout of the California gray whale. Upon spotting one, she pulls over urging careful observation. This was my first introduction to the annual migration. The whales would surface several times spouting sea mist and then take a deeper dive indicated by the appearance of the fluke. The fleeting moment was gone, as was the chance to be on time to school. Every winter, I recall the thrill in her eyes. While I certainly did not appreciate the majestic creatures because I associated them with tardies, that is no longer the case.

CA gray whale spoutingIt is exhilarating spotting one of the large creatures on its way to Mexico, especially when, on  the rare occasion they are close to shore.

CA gray whale in waveThis one seemed to want to ride the wave. Every winter, since those carpooling years, I keep my own eyes peeled on the horizon from late December through March hoping for a sighting. More common but still exciting is spotting some bottlenose dolphins swimming in the surf.

two swimming dolphins finss The dorsal fin popping out of the water is the first and sometimes only sign. If your lucky, you will see a head pop out of the water.

bottlenose dolphinPresenting the opportunity to see their smiling faces to anyone fortunate enough to be in the vicinity.

bottlenose dolphinInevitably, they will head back out to sea.

bottlenose dolphinSaying “goodbye” with a wave of the fluke.

dolphin flukeA dolphin sighting always elicits ooohs and aaahs from lucky walkers, joggers and/or beachcombers. I have begun a quest for catching dolphins in all their glory. I am hoping to capture at least one jumping and more of their behavior. I will be devoting at least a day a week for taking my camera to the beach, zoom lens attached, with dolphins in my sights, and if I spy a whale or two, all the better.

Click here to read and hear a story from NPR about a recent “traffic jam” of whales off the southern California coast.

With eyes on the horizon,

~ Susan

Putting Pen to Paper

wooden dip pen with ink on tip

By Susan Greene
Wrapping and packing up the holiday accoutrements, produces, in me, a conflicting sense of sadness and excitement. Sadness for the end of the holidays and the joy of spending extra time with family and friends yet, excitement in the start of a new year. The house appears barren when the holiday decorations are gone but an opportunity to take a fresh approach to the everyday decor presents itself. With the new year, comes a chance to re-evaluate and set new goals for the next twelve months, a blank piece of paper to fill as you wish.

hand writing on blank paperThis year, the backyard sisters are using literary terms as springboards for stories, photos and teaching; maybe even some food.

writing with dip pen

Sharing thoughts, experiences and emotions with others, through writing, is an art. The writer of the sisters will provide the terms and offer her insights while I will supply a photographic interpretation. I am excited to see what the “writer sister” of the backyard sisters has up her sleeve for challenging and sharing with us.

wooden ball point pen on paperMy tools are ready for the inspiration. Writing is an important part of how we communicate and to write well is a gift. Our backyard father has been sharing his memories of growing up through an ongoing book titled “Jaunts with the Memory Elves”. Each year at Christmas, for the past ten years, he gifts us with the addition of a new chapter. These are priceless gifts and I am grateful for the ability to experience, through his narration, not only our grandparents as parents but also living in New York and driving and moving cross country.

keyboard typing handsMy fingers are ready for typing and my pen to be put to paper.

dip pen tip on paperI am anxiously awaiting the first term, sister . . .

~ Susan

How Shallow is your Field?

angel tree topperThe halls are being decked, the tannenbaum’s lovely branches are becoming adorned with lights, beads and ornaments and the spicy aroma of molasses crinkles cookies baking in the oven is filling the house. The perfect time to grab the camera and capture some of the details. This week we are exploring shallow depth of field.  A shallow depth of field will be achieved by using a large aperture which is represented by the smaller f-stop numbers. Using an 85mm f/1.8 lens and opening the aperture to its widest or almost widest, is my method of focusing on a specific area or item in a scene.

_MG_2653With the aperture open to f/2.8 I can focus solely on the mug and blur the books or…

_MG_2655focus on a portion of the books only and everything else will blur. If you want to isolate your subject from the other elements in the photo this is an excellent method. Shutting down the aperture to f/8 will allow you to achieve focus in most of your scene.

_MG_2659At f/1.8, the focus is on the top book and cider inside the mug;_MG_2662 at f/7.1, all the items on the tabletop are in focus.

_MG_2661  A shallower depth of field can be used to isolate ornaments on the tree.

_MG_2666

_MG_2668Also, using a large aperture enables focusing on one item in a group.

_MG_2671Which depth of field is used is based on what you are trying to communicate in your photo. With people gathering to celebrate at this time of year, there are many opportunities for experimenting.

~ Susan