Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Winter Solstice

Yesterday morning, I flew into Cleveland Hopkins Airport from New York, to spend Christmas at home with my parents. It was an eventful morning - getting out of New York the Monday after a blizzard, during which many weekend flights were cancelled proved difficult, although not impossible. I'd never seen LaGuardia Airport so busy, let alone at 5 in the morning! Upon landing, I was interviewed for a story on travel delays by Cleveland's local Channel 5 News.

Cleveland's proximity to Lake Erie gives it an advantage for yielding white Christmases due to what is known as "lake effect snow," and it's been snowing gently ever since I arrived. This evening, officially the longest night of the year, I took a walk on the grounds in front of my parents' house to take in the brisk air, and reflect on this season of hibernation. The short hours of sunlight, the life of plants dried into brown, crisp carcasses, the stillness of animals hidden or sleeping or having flown south, all laying groundwork for looking deeply inward - for letting go of last year's harvest, and preparing to start fresh next year. Decay brings both sadness and, then, new life. We cannot reach the new life without the period of decay. Winter asks us to go inward, to slow down, to unravel. And, unravel, many of us do this time of year - with old family scars and triumphs revisited, with familiar patterns reignited through reminders of our youth, and with appreciation for what has unfolded in our lives, and how far we've come.

Many Christmases I've looked out these giant windows at my parents' country home, and many times I've pondered my past and my future from the presence of a winter trip here. This year, something is new for me. I have no regrets. I am just observing. I am looking at where I came from, where I went, and where I might go from here, and this year, none of it feels so dire, yet all of it feels worthy of acknowledgment. Perhaps my youthful days of pushing and fighting as if I must stake a claim on my desires and demand their fulfillment are decaying under the snow, as nutrients for a blossoming attitude of acceptance and full presence in who I am, with trust in the way things always unfold. Perhaps the right amount of self-belief and effort are developing in me as I grow older, and like the seasons, something is turning in me, as my own pure nature makes appropriately tantamount my ego. Fighting and pushing are devices of excess, and the correct effort requires far less. In this dark, quiet time, I am glimpsing what I knew when I was five years old, when I fought for nothing, but just consistently did my best; and took a stand not through taking one, really, but simply by abiding in what is right.

There are certain things we come back to every year, like the darkness of winter, and there are things that have longer seasons. If we can let ourselves sink down, past the cerebral hustle and bustle, down past the sensitive heart that takes cover behind shields of laughter and defense, deeper, to a place where the movement is nearly imperceptible, like cells dividing in preparation of a new organism, we can find the microscopic turning of our own inner seasons. It manifests signposts as drastic as the heat of summer or the cold burn of snow. Yet, deep within, it is as mild and constant as our own breath, and the earth in its revolve around the sun.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Crafting a Personal Family Portrait

As my work has evolved over the past couple of years, I have realized that what most deeply interests me is people's stories. Whether it's the story of two people eloping to New York City from Australia, the details of a child's birth, or a tale of some haphazardly serendipitous occurrence, I love the recounting of immersion in experience through story.

Christy, one of my clients from this November's VIP Studio Day, shared with me her tale of multi-tasking as a mom, wife, and art director, in order to create a holiday portrait that would truly reflect her family's personality when they sent out their greeting cards this year. When she arrived on my set that day, I couldn't help but be impressed with the tone she had created through the carefully selected props and wardrobe. Here's the story in her own words:
The VIP Photo Shoot was Saturday. We decided to do it on Thursday night. Greg and I had batted around some fun ideas for holiday photos….but never committed to anything. So Thursday night I decided if we were going to do a VIP Shoot I had to style a VIP idea….in one day. Starting with a few items I knew we could get our hands on (antique skis from Greg’s design firm, a vintage fur white hat from my closet and a white coat) I came up with a mixed era snow theme.

First thing Friday morning I posted a request on the always amazing Bococa Parents Yahoo Group. I asked to borrow white ice skates (any size), white ski bibs (men's medium), tall white women’s boots (size 7) a vintage sled (ala rosebud), a white muff and white ear muffs. Then I bundled my 1 year old daughter, Mason, into her stroller and set out for the stores. Target was the best stop…I found ear muffs and a great pair of white vintage looking gloves. DSW for tall white boots for me…no luck. Next…Old Navy where I found fur boots for Mason and a white sweater …but no white coat in her size.

Rushed home to feed Mason her lunch (and to check for responses from Bococa Parents….nothing) then stuffed her back in the stroller in hopes that she would nap while we ventured into Macy’s to find Men’s white turtleneck sweaters, maybe a white coat for Mason and a white button down for me (for our “regular” shots…forgot to mention I was finding clothes for some normal photos as well). Found three sweaters for Greg to choose from (my favorite was a Sean John).

Mason woke up about 15 minutes into the trip so I plied her with rice cakes while I raced through the store, tried on and bought 3 white button downs and had no luck in the baby department. In the meantime I had put out a call to my friend Kimberly who has great shoes in my size. She had some tall white boots and lives across the street from the photo studio in Williamsburg…PERFECT! Remembered I had a vintage fur muff in a hat box in my closet. Greg was mountain biking with friends that day and secured a promise to borrow white men's ski pants from a friend. Just need a sled and a white coat for Mason. Have to feed Mason dinner and put her to bed…ARG! Got home and fed Mason….decided Mason could go to bed a bit late, got her back in the stroller…more rice cakes… and ran back out to The Children’s Place at the Fulton Mall. Found an excellent little white long sweater with an Eskimo style fur lined hood.

Back home satisfied with what I’d found….then FINALLY had a response from a Bococa Parents member. Turned out to be an old friend who happened to have a wooden sled hanging around the house. All set! Next morning we piled everything into the car, ran by my friend’s house to pick up the sled and headed to pick up the white ski pants. Oy! The first and only snag…Greg and his friend never set up a pick up time…he wasn’t home and wasn’t going to be for awhile. I shed a few tears then we headed back home to pick up some Khaki pants to try and blend with the white theme…after all Greg couldn’t go without pants (unless…he had some white boxers? No.). Next stop AvroKO on Elizabeth Street for the vintage skis then we headed to Williamsburg.

I transformed from panicked art director to pampered model when we were greeted at the gorgeous studio with champagne and cookies. The shoot was fantastic. Mason had fun kicking off her little fur boots and living it up for the camera. Sarah’s encouragement and enthusiasm made us feel like pros….and it shows. The photos are amazing…the difficulty is in narrowing down the options. We truly had a VIP experience.

-Christy Bradshaw, Brooklyn, NY
What I love most about Christy's family portraits is that you don't have to know the whole story to perceive that there IS one behind these photographs. And, the story itself is pretty impressive, too.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Hip for the Holidays - Rock-n-Roll Family Portraits!

This weekend's family portrait shoot in Brooklyn ROCKED! Highlighted by some brilliant family photo set-ups, the day also included tasty meats and cheeses to accentuate the bubbly... and Hope, Faith & Gluttony absolutely smothered us in tasty sweets like cookies, cupcakes, and butterscotch bars - plus special gift bags with more treats for the road!

Stay tuned to the Sarah Sloboda | Photography facebook page for more highlights as they are processed. (And become a fan to receive the updates in your facebook feed.)

If you're interested in getting on the list for the next NYC studio day, send an email to rsvp@sarahsloboda.com.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

VIP Studio Sessions, Rock-n-Roll-Style

Families get hip for the holidays!

Sarah Sloboda Photography announces the first in a series of VIP family portrait sessions for the holidays.

Gone are the days of snowflake sweaters and uncomfortable seats on a bed of faux leaves or with a background of synthetic pine trees. For hip families looking for more from their holiday portraits than saying cheese and posing awkwardly, Sarah Sloboda Photography offers a series of VIP family portrait sessions at the super-cool new K Studio in Williamsburg.

Beginning Saturday November 7th, Ms. Sloboda and her team will provide a swank studio space with tasty snacks from Hope, Faith and Gluttony and bubbly (for the grownups), as an environment for her photo-journalism inspired family portraits.

“People love the annual tradition of a holiday portrait, but parents want photos that capture their style and spirit – something that shows off their unique tastes,” Ms. Sloboda said of the inspiration for her VIP sessions. “A beautifully framed photograph makes a truly meaningful gift. Definitely better than a blanket with sleeves.”

Sessions are by appointment only and for $500 families receive a 40-minute rock-n-roll style photo shoot (families are encouraged to bring their own iPod soundtracks), super-fast proofing (three-day turn around) and a final package of two 8x10s, three 5x7s, and one digital file for holiday cards (gift list – DONE, in one fell swoop).

To request your timeslot, email rsvp@sarahsloboda.com or call 917.279.3445.

About Sarah Sloboda
Sarah Sloboda is a renowned New York City children's photographer and an optimist, inspiring people with photographic evidence of their lives working beautifully.

Trained in filmmaking and documentary-style photography, Ms. Sloboda's passion resides in anticipating a moment's emotional essence and ensuring its capture. Her rock-n-roll-style kids photography has also been featured in Wondertime magazine, and highlighted online in Urban Baby and A Child Grows in Brooklyn for its fresh, storybook approach to allowing kids to be fully expressive.
View her work at http://www.sarahsloboda.com.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


"I've never been to Paris."
"Doesn't it seem like I've been to Paris?"
"Many, many times."
Several years ago, my friend and I were strolling down Broadway, having that conversation while I noticed a large patch of NYC sidewalk that had somehow been infused with sparkles, and made the ground glisten while we walked. He later wrote a beautiful song lyric, "You turn these leaden streets to gold," which always reminded me of that walk.

I studied French for 6 years, lived with a French roommate for 5 years, and dated a 1/2-French man for the better part of 2004. For the brief moment of my life when I was an architecture major in college, I studied the flying buttresses of Notre Dame, and for most of my young adult life have been bombarded by images of Paris - literal and figurative - through my studies and the company I kept. Let's not even start on my fascination with Henri Cartier-Bresson.

When I was in college, I directed a short on 16mm film, called "Au Café," (b&w still featured above) based on a piece I had written in a café in Ann Arbor, daydreaming about what it would be like once I had moved to New York, and been to Paris, and the strange fleetingness of an emotion's importance as its significance is changed over time. I wrote, "Soon I'll be in New York, then Paris, and all these words will just be words one day."

My father is obsessed with French culture - an obsession that spilled over from his interest in wine. He has constructed details all throughout my parents' home to emulate the architectural nuances. This past summer, I was home visiting, and my father said to me, "Did you know that Grandma has always wanted to go to Paris? First Grandma, then me, now you. Sarah, you HAVE to go."

That same week, I accepted an opportunity to fly to London to produce and direct a short film for my friend Clara, and decided that the 3-hour train ride was just too easy to pass up, and finally - after a veritable lifetime - I was going to Paris.

Immediately upon my arrival, Paris set out to prove itself just as magical as I had ever hoped. I walked out of my hotel and crossed the street to the Jardin des Tuilleries. A man pedaled up on a bike, and started asking me something in French. Six years of study instantly failed me, and
I apologized in English for having no idea what he was saying. "Ah! You're not French?" He said in a thick accent. "Where are you from?" I told him I was in from New York, and he gave me a look up and down and declared, "You are too stylish to be American!"

I walked approximately one city block through the park and found myself looking at the Louvre, framed by a pastel sky of soft light, blue and soft pink fluffs of cloud, and forgive the obvious metaphor, but it truly looked like a painting! I turned towards the river, and walked just one more block and down some stairs, et voila - I was walking along the Seine in the late afternoon sunlight. Right then, I knew this place was ethereal. It had crept into my dreams, and my thoughts, and my work, and my life, and when I got there it was not as if the dream had come to reality - it was as if I had finally fully stepped into the dream.

And, it was a miraculous dream, full of twists and nonsensical delights. Once, I walked right up to a cart in the middle of the street, and selected from a huge array of candies - soft and chewy ones, chocolately crumbly ones - filling a little white-and-pink-striped paper bag. I got a pizza from a hole-in-the-wall shop, and they put crême fraiche on it. Whenever I bought something, the shopkeeper would put extra little presents in my bag. And, every time I left a place, they said, "Au revoir," as if I were a long-lost friend, and they had been truly thrilled that I had stopped by.

In creative works from the French culture, like films and music, I have always sensed a certain ironic other-worldliness. Like the French saw some hilarious joke about life not being real - about the possibility that we don't have to take it all so literally - something they would imply, but if you weren't in on the joke, they weren't about to bother to explain. In Paris, I wondered if maybe none of it was real - if maybe I had finally fully understood the joke.

To view more photos of Paris, please visit www.sarahsloboda.com, as well as the Sarah Sloboda Photography facebook page.

Friday, October 9, 2009

London - Film Shoot, Flying and More

When my super-talented actress friend Clara Perez (with whom I collaborated on my 2003 short film, Métier) slightly jokingly asked me to come to London to direct a short film she had written, I immediately took the suggestion and ran. Within a few weeks of our first serious discussion, I was boarding the trendy Virgin Atlantic plane at JFK and on my way to her side of the pond to light, shoot, record, direct and produce Clara's project.

Clara's short, "The Accent Coach," is the story of Hester Sound, a fictitious accent coach to the stars and self-perceived guru, who is being interrogated in a faux Hollywood interview by a TV host named Charlie, played by Max Dowler. Also starring Damian Lynch, as a pseudo-voodoo-shaman, we think it promises to be a pretty hysterical little piece.

Since then, the directing bug bit me again, and new ideas are spawning for how to integrate my film school background back into my photographic practices. (I've also been playing with sound using this very cool little recording feature on my iPhone called iTalk Lite.)

Whilst in London, my birthday arrived! I treated myself to champagne flight on the London Eye, which offers pretty spectacular views of the city, particularly on a clear, sunny day, like my birthday turned out to be. In fact, for most of the time I was in London, I was lucky enough to see very little fog.

To view more of my photos from London, please visit my facebook page, and be sure to become a fan to get instant photo updates from wherever my wanderings take me.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The High Line

This afternoon, at the end of a lovely portrait session starring a charming 2-year-old, I found myself atop New York City's High Line, and just had to take the opportunity for a stroll.

It was a perfect late summer day in New York - cloudless sky, warm air, cool breeze - and the sun was shining all over the place, literally. For those of you not familiar, NYC's High Line is old railroad bridges [turned urban park-space] that wind over, under, and through the buildings of Manhattan's west side.

It is located near the Hudson River, so as the sun went westward this afternoon, the nearby buildings reflected bright, beautiful light in all kinds of directions off the windows of the surrounding buildings. The result was something like movie set lighting, only more abstract.

I was fascinated with the way the light was playing into the landscape - I learned that much of the foliage was salvaged from the real growth that occurred on top of the once-used elevated train tracks, that had been left to the elements for decades, until the High Line's recent renovation. While there was something slightly artificial about the way it was bouncing around due to all of the reflective surfaces, it was still natural light, in that its source was the sun. It gave the whole scene a rather magical feel.

A tangential highlight to my excursion was running into a few friends as I tried to make my way out of the park - a ran into a friend of mine, and then a couple I'm friends with - and had one of "those" New York moments. My mom never used to believe me that in a city of eight million people you could, very often, run into people you know. Well, this one's for you, Mom: this afternoon, I ran into three people I know in five minutes' time, amidst wispy and flowering plants and heavenly light, hovering over West 18th Street.

So, the High Line is a truly magical place.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Merry Un-Birthday Party

My dad is turning 60 this year, and we wanted to throw him a party while all three of us children of his were in town for a visit - a rare thing, in and of itself, with our habitats spread from the east coast to the Rocky Mountains! The timing fell in the beginning of September - nearly 3 months before his actual birthday. As I planned the event, I couldn't help thinking of Alice in Wonderland's mad tea party, featuring the "Merry Un-Birthday" song, and used the idea of a colorful, festive tea party as inspiration for a soiree suitable for my old man and his guests (ranging in age from 4 months to 65 years!) in my parents' country home.

The goal was a festive occasion without a lot of fuss for my parents, who were looking forward to the rare time with all their kids and grand-kids. So, I created bright-colored invitations, asking the guests to take part in a potluck by bringing an entree to share - that way reducing the cooking and preparation time for my parents. Then, I baked shortbread cookies, almond biscotti, and a white layer cake with cream cheese frosting topped in berries (all recipes from joyofbaking.com). The day of the party, I picked flowers from my parents' gardens, and arranged them in assorted teapots. I brewed sassafras tea, iced it, made it sparkling by adding cream soda, and topped it with a scoop of Honey Hut vanilla ice cream for root-beer-flavored gourmet mini-floats. I also concocted St. Germain cocktails, using the elderflower liqueur and Prosecco for a Happy-Birthday-singing toast.

The party was a hit, despite having to take cover from the rain (we simply moved the party indoors after we ate dinner, when the rain began to fall). My 3-year-old niece was the highlight of the evening, when she ran over to my dad's cake and blew out the candles before he had a chance to do it himself.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Captioned Photos Now Online! - Plus, Submit More!!

Several weeks ago, I launched a reverse photo caption "contest" (inspired by the New Yorker cartoon caption contest, and my brilliant consultant Melea Seward) to create captions for photos not yet in existence. My facebook fans have come up with lots of captions for non-existent photos, and I just want to give a big, fat THANK YOU to everyone who submitted one of these really interesting, creative, and inspiring captions. I was intrigued by what people came up with, and surprised at the various ways that people undertook a somewhat unusual request (although, one would hope, by degrees more interesting than some program's algorithm determining what Disney princess by which one would be most accurately represented - for example - which is what they might otherwise be occupied with on facebook).

It was such a strange challenge to make photographs that adhered to the captions, and it was knowing that the people who submitted them would be checking back to see how I did that really drove me on this project. I absolutely love the collaborative nature of having people's ideas in the mix to stretch my work in new directions, helping my creativity by giving it parameters I could never have established all on my own. Since my fans so generously shared caption ideas with me, I wanted to share a bit about my internal process of creating the photos, as well as some of the results.

Shooting the captions developed, over the course of the project, into an assessment of various creative approaches to solving a problem. This in and of itself is interesting, because it demonstrated to me that I had been truly stretched out of my comfort zone, and had to explore a few different ways of approaching the task at hand.

First, I tried shooting my literal impression of the images - letting them into my head, and then "trying" to get a photo of the thing I envisioned. This definitely worked, but it felt somewhat belabored.

"The other side of the coin."
Photo caption by Stephen Sloboda

Next, I tried just mulling the captions over in my head, and being alert to when opportunities to capture one manifested. This felt a LOT better - more fun, more creative, more room for synchronicities to form.

"Bun in the oven."
Photo caption by Hope Jones

Finally, after nearly memorizing the list of captions I wanted to shoot, I let it go completely, and just went out and shot what was interesting to me. It was pretty remarkable how much more creatively the images matched up with the captions then. This was, by far, my favorite method - both in terms of enjoyment of the process, and in terms of how pleased I was with the results.

"Figments of your imagination."
Photo caption by Melea Seward

Letting go after memorizing the captions, and just being in the moment, allowed for something more instinctual to take over. In my heart, I believe that my subconscious mind was still working away at the captions, prompting me to make more interesting decisions about what inspired the shutter's depression. It was great to have the entire process to work through - to have the more labor-some stages in the beginning to explore and test and review, and ultimately lead to the familiarity with the subjects I was exploring that allowed for creative leaps to unfold.

I've decided I'd like to keep this project going! Please take a moment to visit my facebook page, where you can view all the photos shot to this point, and add your own "caption" for ROUND 2! Make sure you're a fan of the page so that you'll be automatically updated on the process.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Recently, a colleague of mine said, "I've noticed you're saying 'no,' a lot."

The striking thing was, she meant it as a compliment.

You've had those moments when you're just not sure what you want to do with yourself, right? Is this job right for me? When should I start / expand a family? Where should we go on vacation? How did that annoying piece of decor manage to come with us when we moved? Should I start / change an exercise routine? What is that random object on my desk?

Some people [yogis] call it "monkey mind," others [shrinks] call it "ADD."

I call it, "not having a pre-occupation of the moment." When one has a pre-occupation of the moment, there is a default thought that one can turn to when bored, annoyed, or otherwise under-stimulated. For instance, if your pre-occupation of the moment was "bread pudding," every time you had a down moment, you would be thinking about bread pudding. I.e.: Where can I get bread pudding? Is bread pudding easy to make? How can I find the best recipe for bread pudding? I wonder if I could eat bread pudding for an entire meal... etc.

Pre-occupations-of-the-moment are a godsend. They provide a soothing effect, because there are answers to the questions they raise, many of which can be determined with a simple google search, or series of delightful conversations with people knowledgeable on the subject.

I love having pre-occupations-of-the-moment, and often try to have several going at once.

Even still, there are occasions on which I find myself wondering about what I am doing with my life.

And, when one is wondering that, not google nor any length of series of delightful conversations with knowledgeables will be able to supply a satisfying answer. Perhaps this is why larger questions of career and life are often referred to as one's "occupation" (minus the pre-).

What many of us experience in this state is a rampant, trying-out of opportunities. Someone suggests a consulting job or a business referral or an introduction to another person in a similar field, and we say, "Yes."

We try things, frantically measuring them against the voice in our monkey ADD minds to see if anything's registering on the "what to do with my life" scale. Sometimes something sort of does but sort of doesn't, and it's hard to assess what of it worked, and what didn't. Sometimes we get so overwhelmed trying to take up opportunities simply because they were presented, that we forget what we were taking things up for to begin with, and fall into what someone else thinks might be a good idea for us.

As you can see, there are many pitfalls to having too large an occupation, and not enough pre-occupations.

So, I began saying, "No."

Recently, I said no to a proposed speaking engagement [I get stagefright, and only something spectacularly aligned with my goals warrants facing it], no to continuing a networking group with people I respect and admire [my time and energy was better spent on marketing that was more in tune with the way I enjoy promoting my business], and no to the idea that I will live in New York City forever [I love New York, but it's a big world out there!].

Does this "saying no" instantaneously provide clarity on every aspect in question in terms of what to do with myself?


But, it does establish clear boundaries in my head - and boundaries, I have found, are the baseboards of creativity. As soon as our limits are clearly defined, we begin to see more clearly the resources we have to work with. Have you ever felt overwhelmed with a project, then sat down, created a budget for it, and instantly saw how doable it was? Even budgetary constraints can be a blessing, when it comes to creativity, because rather than have infinite options to and from which our minds can bounce and deliberate, we can see a limited list of choices to be made, and easily determine which of those viable options will be most pleasing.

So, I'm going to keep saying no, until it's perfectly clear exactly all the directions I would not like to go, and finally I box myself into exactly where I would like to go. And, if I'm boxed in, I'll already be contained therein, and the answer to the question about what I'm doing, I suspect, will be right before my eyes.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Send me a photo caption!

I am doing an experiment to foster creativity in myself and the readers of this blog. That means you!

Please send me a photo caption - for a photo that doesn't yet exist. It can be anything - a person, place or thing, or something more ethereal. It can be abstract or specific, leading or obscure. For example:
- "The Silliest Kid in the World"
- "Adventure Walk"
- "Looking for Transformation"
- "Awakening Delight"
Post your caption to the wall of the Sarah Sloboda Photography facebook page. I will select the captions that most inspire me, and try to capture the essence of your caption. You can keep up with this experiment on the Sarah Sloboda Photography facebook page - and if you're not already, be sure you're currently a fan.

Send me a photo caption!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Blinking Yourself Wise

I blink. I wonder, how many times in a day? When I was 15, I had a boyfriend who was looking in my eyes one day and said, "You blink a lot." So, perhaps I blink more than the average person.

When I blink, information seeps in. Not visual information from the outside world, but information from the inside. Maybe from inside my own head or my own heart. Maybe from some unknown inner world I wouldn't begin to explain here, as there are many other more gifted and credible resources on the unknown.

Whatever you believe, you know that the minute you stop trying to think of the words to that song of which the tune is stuck in your head, they come to you.

I am supposing - just supposing - that it is entirely possible that this is somehow related to what happens when we blink.

I walk down the street, taking in an exorbitant amount of New York City street information - colors, people, signs of danger, oncoming traffic, cultures, religions, sales pitches, images, architecture, communication between people, sounds of the train coming or going - and all of this information is processed by my brain, in order to decipher what of it, if any, is pertinent or needs reacting to. I have what seems like a million strains of thought going at once, from all the external stimulus, not to mention new business strategies, new creative ideas, what's going on with my family and friends.

Yet, somehow this information seeps in.

Information like, "I would like to spend more time in Europe." Or, "There is still more to be said about the peacefulness of watching the sun go down on a warm night in the lush green summer of Ohio."

How does it get in? Every moment possible is filled in this city, and whatever's not full I take the opportunity to fill with ample use of my iPhone's capabilities.

There must be some secret portal where wisdom sneaks up on you, so that you get it, even when you are not thinking about getting it - even when you are thinking about everything you possibly can BESIDES getting it. Reading on the subway while listening to one's iPod can't even stop up this magic portal!

So, I am supposing, it has something to do with a blink.

In meditation, or in deep concentration, we close our eyes, we let images and thoughts come to us, and we release them just as easily. Anyone who has practiced any exercise to help clear one's mind, can certainly attest to the fact that there is wisdom there, once the clutter has cleared. "Ah ha!" we think. "There really is something brewing with all of this life experience! Insights are forming - I just need to give my mind the space to see them clearly."

But for me, lately, I haven't made time to sit and meditate. I just keep going about the day, enjoying my portable electronic devices as a well-loved distraction from the otherwise bombardment of stimuli from city life. And yet, this information is still seeping in.

"Go for a walk," says the information to me. And when I take that walk, a connection occurs to me, or I run into someone I've been needed to see.

One would think, if it's just a blink, as opposed to a long period of concentrated close-eyed-ness, maybe not as much information can come through. But as a photographer, I wonder if it's something like a camera - there are two ways to let light in on a camera: 1) the length of time the shutter is open (blink versus long meditation), and 2) the size of the opening of the aperture. So, maybe, if I am toying with larger questions in life, it is like the opening of the aperture is VERY wide, and all it takes is a blink to let the information in.

Here's an experiment, when you're walking along, minding your usual business of incessant multi-tasking, just notice whether there is other information coming to you. You will know "this" information because it will seem calmer than other details, and speak to you in command sentences. It will be merely suggestive, yet firm. It will make you aware of an alternative to the way things are.

What wisdom can you find in a blink?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Death and London - Honoring Paul Nicholls

I recently found out that my friend Paul Nicholls, founder of Team Continuum, which supports the immediate needs of cancer patients primarily through New York City marathon sponsorship, had passed away last month. He was 61, although Paul would tell you he was 15, given that he was born on February 29th, and had only had that many birthdays. In reflecting on his life, I could feel the presence of his energy, still, and I knew that I had lost nothing. I will always have the beautiful way that he inspired me - the change he instilled in me was permanent. It became abundantly clear to me that death is simply a transition of energy states, and that the energy he brought during his life is absolutely still alive and present.

Below is the entry I wrote in his online memorial guestbook:

Paul first hired me as a photographer to shoot a Team Continuum event in New York before Christmas in 2005. From the very first production meeting, he struck me with his powerful forward momentum and energy. I had just founded my photography business, and Paul’s support of my work meant much more to me than a paycheck. It meant that the “real me,” that I was trying to put forth in my work, was coming across - someone was noticing - someone very special and full of powerful energy himself.

A couple months later, after shooting a few events for the organization, Paul and I were chatting, and he said, “I have to go to London in March. Do you want to come?” Because of the somewhat random nature of the invitation, he made it clear that it was an entirely friendly invitation (always the gentleman), and having never been to London (although a dear friend of mine was living there at the time), I accepted.

What a strange and exciting experience to have a client ask me to fly abroad with him, just for fun! At this early stage in my career, I was absolutely floored that work could lead to such magical experiences as getting to see London for the first time, and getting to spend time with my friend, Clara. I began to suspect that his likenings to Santa Claus were not unfounded, by the way I had lit up about the possibility of going to London (was he joking when he first asked? I’ll never know!), and then he making it happen.

Paul was there networking for the London Marathon, so I didn’t spend the whole time with him. But he insisted on taking Clara and I to dinner, and I also attended a marathon luncheon with Paul the afternoon of the event. At the luncheon, Paul said to me, “You should run in the New York Marathon this year.” And I said, “I can’t, I have asthma.” Paul said, “So? I have cancer!” (Paul had run in 2003, just 6 weeks after a bone marrow transplant.)

I knew right then that I was witnessing a truly unstoppable person, and that I had met exactly the right example for me and my then seedling-sized photography business.

You see, it was not just “becoming a photographer” or “starting a business” that I had undertaken, although my endeavor was both of those things. What I was doing was trying to follow my truest heart’s desires, and make my life as authentically my own as I possibly could. Paul was the best example of that I have ever met.

I took his generosity in our trip to London as a challenge, in that I wanted all my heart-felt whims and expansive ideas to take flight just as easily as we did on American Airlines that day. My work took on a new level of accountability.

2006, my first full year in business, was a huge success. I wrote Paul a heartfelt letter of thanks for the way he demonstrated what thinking big really means - following his example of making things happen in business, I was able to make my business thrive. I presented him with a framed print of London at night that I had taken on our trip, and a check for $1,500.00 made out to Team Continuum. I had never been in a position to make a donation of that kind before in my life, and it felt extraordinary. I knew that, inspired by Paul Nicholls, I would live this life of mine as big as I could.

With heartfelt love to his family, his wife (who I met), and his ex-wife, children and grand-children (who I never met, although Paul threatened to fly me back to England to photograph the grandkids once), I wanted to share this story, in the hopes that telling “Paul” stories will have us all living out our lives in the biggest ways we can, given both our advantages and our shortcomings. Paul saw the gift of his condition, and that, in and of itself, is one of the greatest human accomplishments.

Photos, top to bottom: London street shot, London from the Oxo Tower (the same photo I presented to Paul in print form), Kids laughing at a magician at the Team Continuum Party in 2005, Paul Nicholls presenting a gift (also in 2005).

If you would like to learn more about Team Continuum, run in the marathon, or make a donation, please visit: http://www.teamcontinuum.net/

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ohio Field Trip - July 2009

Admittedly, I've taken quite a few "field trips" to my hometown (Cleveland, Ohio) and surrounding area. As I grow and change as a person, I find I get more and more out of these returns home. My relationships with each of my parents and my brother, who all live there, each become more nuanced with time. I have grown to appreciate them immensely, and the relationships are flourishing!
When I go "home" to Ohio, I like to do things I don't often make time for in my usual bustling city life. This recent trip, I baked cupcakes, and helped my mom plant new flowers and ground-covers in her garden. I always take lots of walks down the long, straight rural road on which my parents live, listening to the roosters crow, feeling the air on my skin, and watching the clouds move across the sky. It is the time when I remember most acutely to slow down, to just be.

This trip, I hosted a photo event at my parents' residence, featuring the delicious treats of Honey Hut ice cream. I also had the pleasure of photographing the senior pictures of my young friend Olivia - who I used to babysit when I was her age! And, I photographed my mother's friend Arthur, with his wife, in their home on the east side of the city. So, although I was soothed by the natural surroundings, and the somewhat slower pace, it was, indeed a working field trip this time. I got to see some of my cousins, their kids, and some of my mom's siblings. It is unusual for me to get to see so many of my relatives in a single weekend, and there was something deeply comforting about feeling part of a large family again. Not that I am ever not a part of it, but sometimes the chaotic, constant motion of city life distracts me from truly connecting with what it means to be part of my family.

Perhaps most special about this trip, was an evening visit with my Uncle David. He had twittered me (ah, modern family life!) a few months back to inquire as to when I might be home, and was sincerely interested in my life and my pursuits. David has always been a person I greatly admire - when I was young, he would tell me all about his travels to Egypt, and he is one of the smartest, most educated people I know. Not to mention, one of the kindest. It touched my heart that he had specially requested to see me at this time - you see, he is in a time of transition. He has accepted a prestigious position at a university in Austin, Texas, and will be soon relocating to a new life down south. In my experience, transitions are a time when we want to express our truths (perhaps prompted by a tangible time-frame in the otherwise never-ending-ness of "someday I will..."), and I could feel that David was recognizing the we way share a zest and curiosity for life. It felt wonderful to have someone point it out to me.

It was hard to leave the beautiful, long summer days in Ohio, where it doesn't get dark until close to 10 p.m. in early July. My parents nurtured me with their constant loving support, helping with my shoot, and doing everything they could to make sure I was comfortable and happy. It dawned on me, they have always done this. I am deeply loved.

I wonder if everything that happened had to happen for me to have this sink in. If I had to go off to college, to move to New York City, to start my own business, to travel, to see the world, to study, to explore spiritual practices, to read about psychotherapy - and keep checking back in with what was truly my "home," the place I came from, the people who believed in me the most - in order to finally arrive at the place where I could feel the love that has been there from the very start.

I just want to say thanks to my family, the whole, big lot of them, for being the wonderful, kind, loving souls that they are, and for supporting me, even when you thought I was crazy.

To view photos from some of the portrait sessions in Ohio (as well as other recent shoots), please visit my online proofing gallery at http://pa.photoshelter.com/c/sloboda/gallery-list.