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 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.