Category Archives: Photography

Sparrow or Goldfinch?

It’s late August.  For those of us with backyard bird feeders this is the “slow” time of the year.  There’s an abundance of food in the fields so most birds are out in the rural areas taking advantage of the summer bounty.  We won’t see most of the local species again until the first frost hits or the food supply is gobbled up – whichever comes first.  There’s nothing wrong with that – it gives us time to clean out the feeders and get ready for those cold, wintry days that are on the horizon when more birds than we can count will be back, scavenging for the nuts and seeds we’ve safely placed within their grasp.

I can sit out on the deck for an entire afternoon this time of year and only see sparrows: House Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, or Field Sparrows, it really doesn’t matter – one brown bird looks pretty much like every other brown bird.  Whether there is a trace of rust or a stripe of white really doesn’t matter when all you can see is a plethora of ordinary brown birds at your feeders and in your birdbath.

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I have a rather large flock of mixed sparrows living in the brush pile on the other side of my neighbor’s fence.  They make the migration between the chain links several times a day, eating everything they can get their little bird beaks on and clamoring for space in the birdbath.  So, when I look up and there is a bright yellow male goldfinch swooping down to take his turn at the feeder – well, my heart starts to skip a beat.  To see that bright yellow bird with his black top hat sitting among those ordinary brown birds in my backyard when there is so much food for them available in the fields (and away from the neighborhood cats) I consider it a special treat.  As I watched one come to my feeders yesterday I began to think about the fact that their evolutionary path has taken them to a place where every female goldfinch can easily spot them – but so can all their predators.  They have a bounty on their heads and I’m pretty sure they know it as they are more easily spooked than most of the other birds that frequent my backyard.  But you know what?  Seeing that bright yellow male goldfinch sing his heart out among all those ordinary dime-a-dozen sparrows made me realize how backwards we have it in our society.

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From school age on, we clamor towards those people who mirror ourselves back to us.  (Heck, even as infants we are born looking like our parents and siblings.)  We make friends with people that are our height, weight, and skin color.  Later, we will migrate towards people who share our same religious, political, and world views.  We spend our entire lives trying to fit in – to be like everyone else – and what does it get us?  We become another plain brown sparrow, happy to be part of the flock and thrilled that we no longer draw too much attention to ourselves.

I can’t help but wonder: is that really who we were created to be?

Every single human who has ever lived has had their own unique set of DNA (with the exception of identical twins that start from a single fertilized egg).  Funny thing, though, even twins don’t have the same set of fingerprints – even at birth.  So we come into this world different from everyone else and then we spend a lifetime trying our best to become like everyone else – to fit in among the other sparrows.  Why?  Why would we do that?  Why would we try so hard to be a sparrow when we were built to be a goldfinch – a masterpiece of form and color?

Of course, the answer is easy: we do it for acceptance.

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But think about what happens when someone new and different comes on the scene – an artist that creates something in a way that nobody has ever done it before – or a singer who makes their entrance onto the stage with a voice like no one else’s.  What happens then?

Then we turn and run towards them – and we leave our own special identities behind again, now taking on bits and pieces of their identities.  We want to sing like them, dress like them, drive the car they drive, eat the food they eat, and live where they live.  I’ve seen it a thousand times in the photography world, too.  One person thinks outside the box and creates a new type of photograph.  Next thing you know, we all want to know how they did it and how we can do it, too.  A year later, there we all are, doing the same photo in the same way as that first person until it gets to the point where that style of photograph (or that creative process) has become the latest sparrow at the birdbath.  It’s now brown and ordinary and nobody gives it a second thought.

So be who you really are and make art that’s only yours.  Seek out those who are different in the same way you are different (if you have to), all the while maintaining your own identity.  Stop lusting after who someone else is or how someone else makes you feel about yourself and just. be. you.

And for those of us that are sure we’d be famous, too, if only we could learn to sing like them/live like them/do “art” like them…think again.

You’ll never be a goldfinch if you keep flying with the sparrows.

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Kansas City’s Own Garden of Eden

I first found the garden in the fall of 2012.  I had been photographing the same old places for five years and was looking to add some new destinations that were close to home to my rotation of places to photograph.  I happened to come across a write up about the garden online one day and decided to go looking for it that next weekend.

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Many of the people I know who have lived in Kansas City most (or all) of their lives don’t even know it exists. When I mention that it is only two blocks south of the Nelson-Atkins Museum and directly across from the Kauffman Conference Center they look at me with a puzzled expression.  “It’s on Rockhill Road, you say?  Between the Nelson and UMKC?  But I’ve driven by there a hundred times and I’ve never seen a garden there.”

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If you were in a hurry, you could probably walk through the entire place in 10 minutes – but I’ve never managed to get out of the garden in under three hours.  Everywhere you turn, there’s something new growing for you to look at, study (and photograph).  It’s not nearly as large as it’s counterpart, Powell Gardens, but then it’s not a 45 minute drive to get there, either.  I can be out of my home in the Northland area and be pulling into the garden’s driveway in 15 minutes.

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And, although I love walking through the garden at any time of year, spring is THE time to visit.  Between the thousands of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and pansies stand two rows of flowering Crabapple trees that will literally take your breath away when you first see/smell them.  It is an intoxicating place to sit and just “be” for a while.

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Once you’ve seen the garden in the spring, you’ll be back to see what the other seasons hold as well – everything from lilacs, hydrangeas, roses, clematis, magnolias, flowering quince and dahlias…it is an endless parade of what grows well in Kansas City.

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And every time I make the trip there I walk out feeling renewed, refreshed and at peace.  To some, it is just a garden, but to me – it’s become a sanctuary.

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When life deals the hard blows or work becomes overwhelming, I know its time to pull out the camera bag and head south to the Kauffman Garden on an early Saturday morning.

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If I get there early enough, I’ll have the whole place to myself (well, except for the feline protector of the garden – she’s always there to greet me when I come.)

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If you live in the greater Kansas City area, stop in for a peek sometime.  There’s never a bad time to be there. If you go in the next week or so you’ll get the added bonus of seeing the Crabapple trees in bloom beneath the clear blue Kansas City sky.

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(Now don’t you feel better already?)

The Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden is located at 4800 Rockhill Road, Kansas City, MO 64110 and is open every morning at 8 am year round.  Although professional photo sessions are no longer allowed, you are always welcome to photograph the beauty of the garden.

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Whether you take your camera or not, you’re sure to walk away with a special place in your heart for this wonderful attraction that lies in the heart of Kansas City.

 

Saucer Magnolia Study

“…Peace is joy at rest and joy is peace on its feet.” ~Anne Lamott

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That’s what I think of when I remember the day I took these images last spring.

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What a magnificent day it was.  So peaceful, yet so inspiring.

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I remember standing beneath this Saucer Magnolia tree with my camera

pointed straight up through the blossoms and I never wanted it to end.

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Everything about it was magical.  The light – the air – the tree…

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I look back on it now and can remember exactly where I was standing and

how it felt to be seeing that tree at the perfect moment in time.

Saucer Magnolia_13-0414_7439-2  And it’s almost here again!

True Beauty

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I’ve been photographing the world around me for the past nine years (not counting the year before that where I spent endless hours learning how to use a digital camera and how to compose and expose an image properly.)  I used to practice every day and felt incomplete if the camera wasn’t weighing heavy against the back of my neck (kind of like how some people feel when they take their wedding ring off to do a special project, then forget to put it right back on again.)  I still look at my camera as one of my dearest friends; it’s been with me through so much and has always pointed me towards new discoveries about myself.

I was probably five years into photography when I started to put together a portfolio of my favorite images and I noticed a pattern emerging: I had an overabundance of single-item images.  One leaf, one tree, one bird, one flower – the pattern was unmistakable.  I was a single person taking images of single items.  Hmm…

Yesterday several of us were looking through some old family images and someone pointed out that I am overly critical of myself in photographs.  I’ve always been that way – seeing the flaws that others miss (or never mention.)  I think almost all of us are this way.  We hear ourselves on a taped message and immediately say, “That doesn’t sound like me!” Then everyone else laughs and says, “Oh yes it does.  That sounds exactly like you.”  We tend to hear and see ourselves differently than how others see and hear us.

But photographs taken by a particular photographer over the course of time never lie.  We see the world in a particular way and, if patterns are searched out, we can tell someone’s work if we know it well enough without ever having to read the name below the print.  You would never confuse a Monet with a Van Gogh, right?  As an artist, we are unique in how we see the world and how we express it to others.  Speaking for myself, I tend to lean towards those single-subject images, with clean backgrounds and simple presentations.  When you see one of my photographs next to the others you will see some variations, but many of them will have all the same attributes because I am expressing who I am through this medium and who I am is largely unchanged over time.

The more I’ve learned about photography the more critical I’ve become of photographs – both mine and those of other artists.  I look at them with a detailed eye and try to learn from each one – what could have been done better?  Lower angle?  Different direction?  Light at a different time of day?  But, in the end, it doesn’t keep me from loving that flawed photograph.  If anything, it’s taught me that true beauty doesn’t lie in perfection; it lies, instead, inside the lack of it.  I may not love what I look like in photographs but I love how I see the world through them.  For me, that’s where the beauty of who I am truly lies.  And in my photographs of the world around me I always see the very best version of myself because that is where I am more “me” than anywhere else in this world.

Put a camera in my hand and watch me be me.  I guarantee you’ll never see that same smile in an old family Polaroid.