Sunday Editorial: The Forsaken

Last Sunday I rolled out my new photography business tag line: “Capturing the spirit of the individual and immortalizing the bond between loved ones.” This week, I want to talk about my other photographic passion — which almost the exact opposite of this statement. This week I want to talk about my Forsaken Gallery photography project.

Since the first day I picked up a camera, my favorite subjects have fallen into two categories: animals and abandoned “stuff.” The first subject, I’ve turned into a career. The second, I’ve made my private photographic obsession — until now when I begin to share it with you. I have always been drawn to what people choose to leave behind in this world — what they choose to forsake, so to speak. Whether it be a house or a dog; a whole culture or a single broken pot — what we leave behind tells a story about who who we are as human beings. These things were once valuable to their owners — someone once choose to be with them, maybe even treasured them and now, they have been left behind to rot, decay, disappear. This very human quirk absolutely fascinates me. And if it fascinates me, I want to take a picture of it.

I started my Forsaken Gallery project this past summer with the concept of shooting the abandoned homesteads around where I live. Urbanization, the economy and a host of other factors have changed the face of rural America. Where once were family farms are now abandoned homesteads leased out to and farmed by a larger farm operations (most of which are still family owned and operated, by the way). In the process, what was once the family farm home and its accompanying accouterments have become interesting ramshackles in various states of decay. Barns, equipment, outhouses, sheds, chairs, tables, shoes — once all important, now given back to whatever element will claim them.

So I started with the farm down the road, where the family house has been forsaken for many, many years. As I worked my way around the outside of the house, I started thinking about all the life that happened within the yard, and the rooms, and the barns. It was sad and beautiful at the same time. I spent several hours, just wandering and seeing and shooting.

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While I was editing the photos from the house, I got to thinking about the fact that many things I photograph fall under the header of forsaken. For example, I try to get out the Southwest every few years and photograph Anasazi ruins in places like Chaco Canyon, Bandelier National Monument and Mesa Verde. I am absolutely inspired by walking around entire civilizations left behind to the desert and mountains. I can spend days photographing these sites and never, ever become bored or run out of things to look at.

Then I thought about my work with local animal shelters and some of the dogs I photograph. They are forsaken as well. Some just because no one has cared about them, ever. Others, however, were once valued members of a family — and now have been forsaken because of their age or a circumstance. These are the most heartbreaking to photograph — the senior dog looking hopefully at every person who walks by hoping to see their familiar person or the once pampered lap dog now crated on cold metal.

So much of what I do is “feel good” photography — meant to capture the most precious of moments and memories. And I cherish the opportunity to share these moments with my clients and subjects. But just as there is another side to life, there is another side to my passion with a camera. I hope you enjoy the slideshow in this post. In a few weeks, I will be rolling out a separate blog and website devoted strictly to my work with The Forsaken. Until then, click happy!

Saturday Insight: Seeing in Pieces

Being a photographer is all about seeing — and translating what you see into a story using only images. Sometimes, the story is best told in the broad picture — the sweeping landscape, a family posed around the hearth, a road that vanishes into the horizon. Sometimes, however, the story is in the details — the wisp of a horse’s mane, the soft tail of a cat, the isolated curve of woman’s hip. All of these things focus us in on one small portion of the story, but in the process give us an insight we, as viewers, may have missed in a broader image.

The majority of my work is done with animals, especially horses and horses lend themselves very well to detail work. The feeling evoked by the big, liquid eye of a horse is moving and inspiring even to those who don’t own or work with horses. A wagging dog tale, a cat’s whiskers and the wing of bird are equally moving because they bring to the surface in the viewer both personal emotions associated with specific memories as well as globally shared ideals like happiness in the case of the dog or freedom in the case of the bird. By focusing the viewer in on such elements, the photographer becomes a true storyteller, letting the viewer in on her secret way of seeing — and that is both powerful and profound.

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When composing a detail photo, there really are no specific rules except to reduce the broad image down to a single detail (such as an eye) or set of related details (such as a horse’s  nose nibbling at a lariat). The rule of thirds applies, of course — but sometimes breaking this rule in a detail photo can set the viewer on his ear and make him take notice of something he might have otherwise overlooked. The best advice I can give you is to go out and shoot and discover what works because detail photography is all about discovery, and many times what you discover may surprise even you.

This weeks challenge is (quite obviously) to go out and shoot some detail photos. But I also want you to start looking around your world even when you don’t have a camera with you and really seeing the detail. Look on your desk, for example, if you were to take a photo here that would tell the story of your day, what would it look like — what item or items would convey the most meaning to another human being if they came with no words attached? Wherever you go, take a few minutes (even if you don’t have your camera) and see the details of the world around you. Ask yourself which details evoke emotion, conjure up memories, or relate to a specific sense (like touch, or smell) — chances are if the detail draws you in, it will also draw in your viewer. Most importantly, when you go out to shoot detail, do not let time be a factor. Don’t take a watch, or phone or other time-telling device. Go with only yourself and when you find a subject, don’t interact — just shoot. Push yourself with this assignment, stay focused and shooting past when it’s comfortable or past when you think you’ve seen every angle you can see. Sometimes, familiarity and boredom will give way to an entirely new way of seeing something (or someone).

Click happy! Kim

Sunday Editorial: The Essence

The new slogan for my photography business is: “Capturing the spirit of the individual and immortalizing the bond between loved ones.”

This slogan is born out of repeated customer comments when they review their proofs. “Wow that is so George,” or “That’s my Molly” or another comment that strikes the familiar refrain of capturing the uniqueness of that individual in an image — of still seeing the multi-dimensional being of the subject shine through even though it is now flat and two dimensional. The images my customers choose to buy and subsequently make part of their world almost always share this quality. And there is no better feeling as a photographer than delivering an image to a client that they proudly display in a place where they can look at it every day.

I can tell you here and now my ability to recognize this “essence” and make an image of it is something I attribute to God given talent — a talent I am immensely thankful for, by the way. I try to cultivate it every time I pick up my camera and I hope that is what makes the difference.

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Whenever I get into a conversation with an amateur photographer they want to know about the technical aspects of photography.  What f stop do I use, what lighting arrangements, how do I capture the horse in a specific state in their gait. Don’t get me wrong, understanding all these things is critical to making a good image. But, an image can be technically correct and still not be a good image. This is why my advice to any photographer who asks me about how to become a better photographer is to just get out and shoot — and then shoot some more and then shoot some more. The way you develop craft is through practice and repetition and experimentation. Learn the technical rules, but practice your craft.

Remember no matter what talent you may possesses, success doesn’t come free — you still have to work at it. And don’t be afraid to fail. I have boxes upon boxes of negatives that never made it past the proof sheet phase. It’s okay that now you know that doesn’t work — or you’ve found something that works better. That’s what it’s all about.

Over time you will fine tune your way of “seeing” your subject. You’ll learn to recognize the subtle cues that make that animal or person unique and you will start to see that turn up in your photos.

Sunday Editorial: Shooting at Hope

I have recently begun shooting for a couple of animal rescues/shelters in Kansas City. The goal here is to produce an image that will hopefully inspire someone to make one of these homeless creatures a part of their family — or induce a rescue organization to provide a really hopeless case with a semi-permanent or permanent foster situation. My camera is a shot at hope for these animals.

This past week, I met several dogs from the KCMO Animal Shelter. This shelter, now under new management, is pushing hard to find homes for an unimaginable number of animals. Just a brief walk through their kennel in search of my volunteer helper gave me a glimpse at how daunting the problem of unwanted dogs truly has become in Kansas City.

The shelter kennel is typical of many kennels I’ve been in — loud and a bit smelly because no matter how much you clean you can’t keep up. For those of you who know me, you know I come from a family consumed with dogs. My sister as well as several cousins and friends breed, show and promote purebred dogs — and I’m blood related to a small throng of dog groomers. I am no stranger to kennels or to dogs. And I’m no stranger to dogs in quantity. But something about the number of dogs here set me on my heels a bit. It takes a truly amazing army of volunteers to get all that work done — and an act of God to get as many adopted out as they do.

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The dogs I met at KCMO were not like the dogs I have met through the smaller animal rescue organizations. A couple of these dogs were really in need of serious help because they were at the first desperate stage of the process. A Pit Bull bitch named Kimba is a perfect example of a dog in need. Small and thin, she brought to mind anything but the powerful image of a Pit. In her eyes, there was story so deep it haunts me. I have no idea of her exact circumstances, but I can tell you, when you look into those eyes, you know she has seen things and experienced things unspeakable. Yet, this little dog looked up into the eyes of the volunteer holding her leash with pure adoration and trust.

Also in this shoot was an American Bulldog named Tristan. I have noticed he is not on the Petfinder site, so I’m hoping he got adopted this weekend. His stature was one of a fairy tale prince in a dog’s body — loyal, noble but humble. He looked at the volunteer as though she were his long lost princess. It was so sweet.

Cooper was a little dog with a big personality. He is the smallish, smooth haired brown dog. It’s funny how his personality came right though in the photos — bright, perky, loving. He reminded me of the stereotypical kid in an orphanage asking everybody who walks by: “Will you be my mommy?”

Princess, O’Malley and Rhett rounded out the dogs I worked with on Thursday. Each I’m sure has a unique story on how and why they have come to the shelter. Hopefully each will find a home to call their own.

To find adoptable dogs in Kansas City, go to: http://www.adoptadogkansascity.com/ or visit the KCMO shelter on Petfinder http://www.petfinder.com/shelters/MO579.html

If you’re a professional photographer (or a really good amateur), please consider volunteering with an animal rescue. Good photos make a world of difference in finding help for these animals.