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“The Landscapes We Have Women to Thank For in a Photographic “Man’s World”” – On Medium

During my time in the Outer Banks this spring, I spent some time photographing Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head. Today, it’s a playground for young and old alike. Forty six years ago, one woman stepped into the path of a bulldozer led her community to save over 400 acres of ecologically priceless dunes from development.

I spent some time photographing Jockey’s Ridge State Park in North Carolina’s Outer Banks this spring, and I was only able to do so because of her: the late Carolista Fletcher Baum. North Carolina has long been a nurturing ground for my earliest photographic interests. It is a state with ugly parts and beautiful ones. Where there exists an opportunity to tell the story of a strong woman in the midst of those parts — tell it, however you can. If you’re ever in North Carolina, pay a visit to the Ridge (and its museum).

To learn more — and see photos — check it out on medium.

Image: it felt appropriate when this lined up. Left, the ridge in 2018. Right: photograph of a photograph included in an advertisement printed in 1972 by “friends of jockey’s ridge”. Diptych.

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“Just Some Critters to Help You Celebrate the Ousting of Scott Pruitt” – On Medium

The recent news of Pruitt’s resignation is music to the environmentalist’s ears — the reality of Wheeler’s replacement of him, thunder on the horizon. But just for today, I wanted to celebrate the news of one obstacle being long gone before the introduction of another assailant on environmental rights. I’ve collected a bunch of my favorite wildlife moments in a brief photoessay on Medium to remind everyone to keep fighting the good fight going forward.

A Force To Be Reckoned With

Happy International Women’s Day to the strong souls I have had the privilege of meeting over the years (and of course, the many I am privileged to know privately). Their portraits give me strength: because I believe in the strength within myself, I can see it in others.

May these snapshots of women’s efforts to fight inequality continue to represent our truest face as a force to be reckoned with — and importantly, a force inclusive of *all* who identify as female.

Photographs in order (first column, top to bottom, then second):

“Mother daughter moment”, Women’s March London 2018.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (veteran, first Samoan American and first Hindu American to be elected to the United States Congress), Davis California 2016.

“Why They March”, London March for Science, 2017.

“Beauty in the Snow”, Time’s Up Rally, Women’s March London, 2018.

“Standing in Her Midst”, demonstrators stand against the women of World War Two memorial across from 10 Downing Street, Time’s Up Rally, Women’s March, London, 2018.

#feminism #internationalwomensday #feminist #socialdocumentaryphotography #journalism #photojournalism #womensmarch #timesup

“Treatment That Could Heal” – a Note on Body Idealism in the Portrait Photography Industry

I decided to pick up a photography magazine recently for my flight to Iceland, hoping against hope that I would be pleasantly surprised. Instead, I was reminded of how far the photography world has yet to come in recognizing its power and responsibility.

Magazines like this which advocate for the use of software which encourages false, unobtainable ideals and body perfection among women, particularly, still exist. They lurk on glossy pages where all-male editorial boards glow with wonder at the “retouched” versions.

We have a responsibility as a photographic community to use our lenses to make the world better. This is not how we do that. A fitting contrast to a quote from a book review I read recently: “Like physicians, photographers cast their work as treatment that could heal rather than simply record the appearance of bodies“ – A. L. Volpe

On Prints

📷 Some fun news after a period of hard work and filtering through thousands of images. Folks sometimes ask whether or not I ever plan to sell prints of my photography. If you’re interested, (first, I’m flattered, second —) now’s your chance, but there’s a catch.

I will be opening an eBay for Charity platform in February where 20% of each listing will go to the World Wildlife Fund (W.W.F.) or the Natural Resources Defense Council (N.R.D.C.) (I am unaffiliated with either, their projects, or initiatives in any way).

I’m tired of seeing things like this when I photograph our planet. If practicing and producing my art is reliant on calling attention to the beauty of our world or the complexity of its civilizations, it is my responsibility to do something in return which protects its interests — as long as I am in a position of privilege to do so. As I’ve said before, you can’t eat your ethics. But you do have to sleep with them.

If this sounds interesting, check out the full artist’s statement on the PRINTS page and follow me for updates. But please, above all, work towards a day when I don’t have to take photos like these anymore.

Radio Silence

As some may be aware, I will soon be embarking on the next step of my educational career as one chapter comes to a close. That chapter, of course, being my M.Res. in English Literature from the University of Glasgow, the dissertation for which I am currently in the process of wrapping up.

And as of this moment, I have felt some admitted reticence to write — on top of the frank inability to do so due to the overriding domination of my research, the political climate of the world, it seems, is in total upheaval, and there is so much which needs to be said, and not enough people listening to what is being said.

So as I have sat, between piles of notes and books and drafts of my dissertation, self-conscious of my evolving writing style, forever tempered with the sometimes – direct tonality of academic discourse, it has been, admittedly, hard to pick up on the backlog of forty-plus projects which I have had to neglect for the sake of my postgraduate, or Master’s degree.

Beyond this, I have reached the point in my progression as an [person-who-feels-she-is-yet-undeserving-of-the-titles-‘artist’-and-‘writer’], where, despite this, I would like to begin pursuing more formal avenues of publication, leaving me hesitant to ‘pre-release’ work in this very public, digital atmosphere.

But this does not change my affinity for WordPress or for the community fostered here, so at this time, I have decided upon the following solution both for my own edification and such that I may continue interacting with the wonderful folks I have been lucky enough to digitally meet here.

Photography and writing are the reasons I get up in the morning. Every week, I take thousands upon thousands of photographs, travel to various locations with the intent to photograph and write, and scribble two-in-the-morning thoughts on bedside napkins or carry out menus. Every week, the people who interact with me tolerate this forgivingly. A fusion of the two has always been the point upon which my work and my life pivot, and a balance between both is what I desire in the release of that work. As I proceed in my professional career, I want WordPress to remain an enjoyable avenue where readers can view that balance, comment on the thoughts it hopefully inspired, and interact with me.

For this reason, going forward, I will begin sharing more of my photography — and accompanying prose — for the majority of my posts. This does not preclude my inclusion of the occasional reflective piece, story, or notification of some work being published elsewhere — all of which I will continue to feature as well — but for the sake of interacting with this community as much as I used to (and because I enjoy it), I think it is time to feature the other side of my life much more heavily, as I intend it as well to be the cornerstone of my MFA thesis, and hopefully, further academic research in years to come.

I send thanks to the WordPress community and greatly look forward to sharing more of my work in the months and years to come!

(The current featured photograph for this post features a wave crashing on the shores of Traigh Ghearadha, or Garry Beach, in New Tolsta, on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland — roughly equal in latitude to the very North of Newfoundland in Canada.)

Wednesday at the Louvre: On Paying Respects

While in Paris recently, practising my own art and photographing the city, I had the opportunity to visit the Louvre. The pilgrimage I had anticipated as an eager six-year-old proved the closest I have yet come to the documented neuro-chemical feelings typically attributed to religious experience (and is, hopefully, the last time I have an “I’m not crying, you’re crying” moment in a public place for a while).
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We recognise these iconic glass pyramids and think of culture, of mastery, and perhaps, even, of perfection in the field. We see their reflection, itself an impressionist image glittering on the surface of now-calmer metaphoric waters, and in it, the sins of the historically-elitist ‘Academie’ are more easily distorted, or even washed away, hiding in folded curtains of water (perhaps, themselves, so becoming art).

It was fated that the days of Van Gogh would see him misunderstood and rejected by the very same community which would one day study and celebrate him perhaps above all others. Of Da Vinci, to be persecuted on the grounds of Christian morality — of Caravaggio, to be skewered for boisterous recklessness — and of countless other artists’, whose work is not displayed on the more heavily-trafficked floors, their names all but lost to history, eroded from the stone — and for thousands of others, their work to become the dirt beneath our cities, our towns, and our streets, where dust settles on them even now.

It is they to whom I sought to pay my respects, poring over paintings and sculpture and textile for hours, wandering endless rooms filled with art, in a graveyard as much as in a dream. It remains our duty to the global art community to remember them — all of them — through our current actions, as much as it is in our best interest and the best interest of our children (viz. our young students) to examine the works of the masters in our museums.

Buy local art. Encourage others and yourself to enjoy and explore expression: it is here we will find our voice in history. Pay attention to the art made by the artists from lesser-acknowledged communities, because those long-dead masters won’t benefit from your belated respect and adoration… They will.

 

Alcatraz Island in Full Colour: On Taking the Plunge into Photography

A year ago, living in California, I headed to the infamous Alcatraz island — a rite of passage for all bay area Californians locals and tourists alike. And thankfully, sunny (for once!) San Francisco did not disappoint in providing a good experience.

We think of Alcatraz as it is portrayed culturally — black and white, bleak. We think of the inside of the prison walls, of the stories which have been passed through oral tradition by way of campfire stories and through the big-name Hollywood media machine. We think of the cell block, of sensory deprivation and stark interiors, and of the stories of the haunted pasts of the people whose lives often ended on the island (sometimes, of the stories in which these haunted pasts surpass the limitations of the grave). We think of the “ghost hunting” shows with artificially-tanned, muscle-bound hosts, castigating the dead for their perceived inadequacies in life and jumping at the slightest indication of something which could evidence their own black-and-white, apocryphally-informed opinions. Often, we think of the tourists as perhaps the most colourful addition to the site.

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Our imagination captures the idea that our experience in visiting such a place will be the same as our inner vision so permanently that anything which suggests the contrary can come as a shock — and sometimes, a cultural faux-pas, perhaps seen as “glossing over” the darker side of its representative means. For how can a place beset with memories of such pain, darkness, and sometimes, the worst examples of humanity and best examples of poor choices, be anything but what we have heard?

When I visited Alcatraz, I had been grappling for weeks with the decision to buy my first professional camera (beyond my prized, pink, first camera given to me by my father at age fifteen). I had just finished my undergraduate course in art, and was struggling with which direction my heart wanted to take it. While I was fortunate enough to be in a financial position to make the investment, the final push to press “buy” was still off-putting.

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In the past, I had been told by people I was close to that I photographed “too much”, that it consumed me, and retrospectively, they were right. I stopped the pursuit of my earliest endeavours into the photographic arts for this reason, and picking it up again carried with it the fear of being chastised. But everywhere I went, my eye would reel for a camera in my hands, and ultimately, providing myself a momentary lapse in self control to snap a photo here or there was simply not working. As a young child, I had prayed for a lens in my cornea which would close the shutter when I blinked a certain way — a prayer which had turned into a lamentation at that point. I knew I could not wait another month, but the final push came from my Alcatraz photo series, however small and comparably low-resolution they may have been — for finding colour in a place I had, perhaps ignorantly, viewed as purely black and white.

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I took the guided tour. I stood inside the cells. I shuffled along the halls with tourists wandering aimlessly in every direction. I had read intensely in weeks prior of the island’s acquisition by Native activists in the late 1960s, and of its tribal significance as a place of evil and malcontented spirits prior to its acquisition for correctional purposes for the United States. History abounds from every angle over this tiny rock of land in the San Francisco harbour. The tour of the interior seemed not bleak, desolate, or illustrative of an inmate experience, but like a side show at a carnival.

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But as I walked around the grounds of Alcatraz, among the gardens which, previously maintained by inmates enabled to do so on the basis of good behaviour, were as much a testament to the island’s heritage as anything.

On the outside looking in, and in viewing the outside in portals and windows from the inside, a more authentic experience emerged — yes, life on the inside was bleak, desolate, and at many critical junctures, probably an affront to human rights.

But to portray it in this light alone — through the lens or otherwise — devalues the fact that an ‘outsider’s perspective’ is all most visitors will ever have, and lessens our ability to empathise with those who did, in fact experience life on the block — sometimes with a temptingly technicolor view of the world they were cast away from.

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My eye was drawn, increasingly, to these more colourful aspects of the Island for that reason — the rusting keyhole, the blue ocean viewed through a broken window with white sailboats drifting ever out of view, the irises lining the steep steps to an observation point, staring back at my own and imploring the pursuit of one of my most natural inclinations. It was windswept, it was heartbreaking, but it was beautiful, and it was in full colour. I bought my camera the next day, I have stopped every five minutes since to shoot, wherever I am, and I haven’t looked back since. I never will again.

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Dear Dad

I don’t know every detail of the full story. Just the important ones.

Sitting in some room somewhere, no idea where home was or wasn’t for having travelled too far from it to know, and almost done with your time in the United States Army, they asked you to join an elite tactical division of Special Forces. The Cold War was beginning to thaw, your time serving a country to which you did not officially belong was coming to a close, and I imagine what they offered you was tempting.

I always pictured you, a still-young man, sitting in a plastic chair in a room with flourescent lights and suspended ceilings, perhaps somewhere in Germany where you served most of your time, a Sergeant telling you from across a table that they wanted you. Telling you all that could mean for your future. I always pictured it as a short conversation because of the way you told the story: short, sweet, and to the point — “in, out, done, gone” as you would say in my childhood as we ran to the grocery store or similar errand, as though this decision of yours was nothing to dwell on.

I don’t know how long you deliberated over that decision.

But I know why you chose “no, thank you”, snapping a photo of your dirty, worn-out standard issue boots in the bin on your last day as you packed your single suitcase up from your years of service and headed instead for college.

You decided that no man has ever seen enough of life to act on high-tier, morally-complicated orders without a second thought, and that decision was respected.

I think you knew, ultimately, that entering Special Forces meant that you would have to carry out whichever high-tier, high-stakes orders you were given indiscriminately of your view of right and wrong. You weighed this in light of the worst possible scenario and the best: knowing that while you had already demonstrated the ability to do take orders, but that, had your superior required it in a special operations task force, you would have had no choice but to kill, to drive, to do.

I have seen your choice follow you as the shadows I watch flicker on your face peel away at your stoicism — the way you looked at the television screen, unblinking, as CNN replayed the falling towers in September of 2001 — again. And again. And again, like bullets every time. Mom, preparing me on the drive home from my middle school’s resulting early-dismissal “Just letting you know. Today, your Dad wishes he were still in the army. Be quiet when we get home, understand? He’s hurtin’, boy”.

These days, I see the contempt which underlies your countenance as you watch poison gas take the lives of children, as refugees die senselessly, as world leaders bandy about with their fingers on the button, disgracing the two folded flags already lining the shelves of our home.

Many days I wished I would grow up to have served, just like you, but saw that you had chosen a different path for a better reason. I by no means think you dwell on what it would have been like if you had said yes. But for the moments when you do, know this.

Thank you for your service to our country and for your service to represent what that truly means: standing behind the nation for the role you are committed to without following blindly. Thank you for saying ‘no’ when saying ‘yes’ held strong potential for compromise of the right thing to do.

Thank you for saying no.

And thank you for being my Dad.

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“We’re Here For A Good Time, Not A Long Time”

This week, my grandfather, Dr. Ronald T. Abbott passed away. He earned his medical degree at the University of Glasgow, and his father, Dr. Sydney Gilchrist Abbott, earned his veterinary degree at Glasgow Veterinary College (which would later become part of the University). As a young man, Grandpa loved fast cars, his country, beautiful women, alcohol, bathroom and absurdist humour, and dogs. As an older man, he loved fast cars, his country, alcohol, bathroom and absurdist humour, his dogs, and a beautiful, tender and kind lady who cared for him until his last.

Ronnie B & W 1956.jpgGrandpa was a rabble-rouser, an adventurer, and was always busy with a new object of his focus and affection, motorized or otherwise. At twelve, I heard about his adventures riding his motorcycle from Iowa to Tierra del Fuego, at fifteen, of his adventures to Alaska and close encounters with bears. At twenty, he sent a short story about the time he mistook a brothel somewhere in the wilds of Mexico for a hotel. And no, he did not speak Spanish. Throughout those years, he had a habit of showing up out of the blue (usually in a different car each time), waltzing in with a belch, a smile, and a “hi, Dearie!”, typically in that order. Seeing him was never boring and was frequently a delightful break from ordinary days.

He was, at times, an abrasive man, but was a man who thought clearly with an evident sense of charisma and confidence which carried him through life effortlessly — going through a reported approximated eighty sports cars in five years in addition to airplanes, dogs, and motorcycles. The impeccable Scottish brogue didn’t hurt either.

At the peak of his medical career, his personal choices, career, and life path often took him away from the responsibilities fathers often encounter at bedtime — checking for ghosts in the shadows, reading, and telling bedtime stories — but my own father was never less grateful for the happy times they did share despite. I would ask that he tell them, in all hilarious detail, over and over as I lay down to sleep on nights when my mother was teaching a late class at a local University. Dad would always repeat the same ones.

I would beg for more stories of this ultimate reckless adventurer-leader — camping in Yellowstone and hearing the dogs fighting with bears as the camper rocked my father and his brother, being stalked through the woods, fishing for dinner, and my Dad, riding motorcycles across the great plains with his .22, being chased by bulls — but would, more often than not, come up empty. There was a finite supply of stories to tell, and I had heard all of the ones my father wanted me to hear. I wanted desperately to have these adventures — the three of us — on our own. Grandpa was an easy character to idolise.
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But Grandpa was still busy ticking things off the list of adventures to have, and I respected that. My father painted him as a character in a story book — Mr. Toad from the Wind in the Willows was a favorite parallel, always looking for another wild ride and always captivated by the sights, sounds, and smells of a clean engine. I came to admire and adore this feature of him — for his absence was in fact a distant presence as this character, off to seek more stories, and I learned early to appreciate this from a distance.

But where Grandpa was still busy with his adventures, others filled the void. A wonderful neighbour, Professor Kent Newmyer, came into our lives, and is always there to listen and share stories (he will probably never know how much this means to me).  My father gave up his own adventures (of which there were many) to check for ghosts in the shadows of my room, read bedtime stories, teach me to whittle, to work on cars, and take me fishing or to the flea market.  I dreamt up adventures of my own. And Grandpa was still there, too — a character to admire and adore.

The night he passed away, the streets of Glasgow were eerily vacant as if bereft of the normally-lively spirit of the population. All the pubs were empty but one, appearing equally sombre from the outside, in which an impromptu, ten-piece fiddle and cello band enjoyed some drinks while playing a lively melody to what seemed the entire population of the city. I couldn’t have known, but as he passed, I sat in that Glaswegian Whisky bar and knocked a few scotches back with an elderly, politely-vulgar Glaswegian man (with certain disdain for the English) with whom I spoke for hours about politics, culture, and current events. I thanked him for his time. I explained that Grandpa was passing and how much a simple conversation meant. We talked and laughed until the bar spilled onto the streets and bequeathed back to Glasgow the fervor it had been missing.

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I was his first-born grandchild, and I will forever respect him for the gifts he gave to the people I love and cherish: humour, adventure, and a love for the parts of life a Glaswegian cab driver named Stevie best described when he once told me “we’re here for a good time, not a long time”.

Whether right or wrong, we often pursue things in life to seek the pride of those we love, or to otherwise fill the spaces which are, to some extent, unfilled either due to our own flaws or the flaws of the characters in our lives. In seeking the adventures I have seen thus far, I hope only to have achieved the pride of my Father, for everything he has sacrificed, so that I may pursue my own ‘Miss Toad’s’ adventure.

So, if you partake, knock one back tonight for the man who in is part responsible for my globe-trodding — and if you don’t, picture my Grandfather staring at you, belching, and bluntly asking “Why not?” in perfect Scottish brogue.