Lessons from PHO 111

A few years back, I completed The Artist’s Way, a course (via book) by Julia Cameron designed to help creative folks move through blocks and re-spark their creativity. As I made my way through the exercises, it became very clear that what was missing most in my creative life was one thing: photography.

While I’ve always enjoyed taking photos, my love for photography really began in art school. The graphic design program I was in didn’t allow for a lot of electives, but at the first chance I got, I signed up for an “Intro to Photography” course. I bought a 35mm Nikon camera and some black & white film and dove into the darkroom world, instantly becoming intoxicated with the magic of it all.

Throughout my college career, I took any photo classes that I could fit into my schedule, secretly dreaming of switching majors, researching getting a post-baccalaureate degree in photo once I finished my BFA in design, maybe even eventually going on to get an MFA someday…

But after graduation, I got a design job right away and most of my energy shifted to growing in my profession. I was able to take a number of continuing education classes at local colleges in my free time though, experimenting with medium format and view cameras, digging into the history of photography, and learning my way around the color darkroom—which I fell madly in love with.

But then…I sort of fell off. I got laid off from my steady-paying job and had a few major life changes, so expensive hobbies got put on the back-burner. I didn’t necessarily notice how much I missed making pictures, but the further along I got in The Artist’s Way process, the more I realized how important it actually was to me. How it was most certainly the art form that I connected with on the deepest level.

When the course was over, I vowed to take a class at the local community college (which serendipitously has a really impressive photo program), but I put it off…and off…and off…until this winter when I finally pushed through my procrastination and signed up. I took an intro class to get my bearings in the digital world (my previous classes had been mostly film based) and it was perfect. I can clearly remember feeling a little flutter in my heart on a tour of the facilities when my instructor walked us through the darkroom and I smelled that familiar scent again for the first time in years. It felt so good to be back.

While I learned a lot over the course of the semester, like how to achieve certain photographic techniques, what all those complicated settings in my camera actually meant, and how to use Lightroom and set up a digital work flow, what stuck with me most was how fun it was to be a student again. I took so many classes as a kid, always wanting to learn as many new things as I could, but as most people do, I stopped once I reached a certain age. I think as adults we often forget that you can learn something new just because it’s fun. You don’t have to want to be the best at it, or try to make money from it, or even tell anyone about it at all. There doesn’t have to be a point or a reason aside from just being enjoyable.

Oh yeah…

I will tell you this too, I am a much better student at age 35 than I was at 18. I had no trouble asking questions if I didn’t understand something. I loved having homework assignments. I had no qualms about being a beginner and not knowing everything. And going to class honestly felt more like a treat than an obligation like it had in the past. If I could do art school all over again, goddamn, I would nail it.

So thank you PHO 111 for getting my creative juices flowing and for teaching me that you’re never too old to be a student again. Below are some of my favorite photos from the semester, and yes, I’m absolutely signing up for another class in the fall. 📸

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The photos above were taken on Cape Cod, most of which I shot when I was home for my Cousin David’s funeral in April. I didn’t necessarily set out to capture anything in particular, but my classmates noted that the images had a very lonely and solemn feel to them, which undoubtedly came from being home for such a sad and difficult reason. The last one in the series happened when I was trying to shoot the prayer card from David’s services at the beach. No matter what I did, I could not get the lens to focus, and the result was this eerie image where he appears as a glowing blue orb. It definitely stopped me in my tracks.

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I unintentionally spent a lot of the semester focusing on light, always looking for interesting ways that it could inform the composition.

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The two photos above were taken in Asheville, North Carolina where Dan and I celebrated our two-year wedding anniversary back in March.

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And speaking of Dan, here’s a fun long-exposure shot of him. 😊

Recently Enjoyed Quotes: Spring 2019

From books, articles, podcasts, social media, and more, here are some recently enjoyed quotes:

The experience that’s happening to you is always your greatest teacher. That is the true guru.
— Katie Silcox, The Ghee Spot Podcast

I’m just one person.
— 7 Billion People

There’s something so human about taking something great and ruining it a little so that you can have more of it.
— Michael from the Netflix series, The Good Life, on frozen yogurt

You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.
— Fred Rogers

Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.
— Banksy

Life is a hard battle anyway. If we laugh and sing a little as we fight the good fight of freedom, it makes it all go easier. I will not allow my life’s light to be determined by the darkness around me.
— Sojourner Truth

You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.
— David Foster Wallace

I did not know then that this is what life is—just when you master the geometry of one world, it slips away, and suddenly again, you’re swarmed by strange shapes and impossible angles.
— Ta-Nehisi Coates

Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise.
— Alice Walker

Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.
— Doris Lessing

I don’t think of all the misery but of all the beauty that still remains.
— Anne Frank

A number of these quotes come from the WeCroak app, have you heard of it? It spits out 5 notifications a day that Iife is ephemeral (in the form of an inspiring/sometimes morbid/sometimes funny quote), based on a Bhutanese folk saying: “To be a happy person, one must contemplate death five times daily.” Maybe it sounds dark, but more times than not it’s a good kick in the pants to seize the day.

Travel: The PNW 🌲

While I’m a Northeast girl through and through, I’ve got a major soft spot for the Pacific Northwest. The nature is incredible and easily accessible, the climate is mild with a winter that isn’t bone-chillingly cold, and let’s be real, hipster food, drink, and activity abounds.

Lucky for me, my brother and one of my besties live out in Portland, Oregon so I have a great excuse to visit often. Dan and I took a week last fall and spent time in Seattle, Portland, Mt. Rainier National Park, and Olympic National Park, and I racked up a solid list of things I’d recommend along the way.

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Seattle

We flew in and out or Seattle but didn’t actually spend a ton of time in the city itself. We had a solid day of exploration though and even lucked out with some sunny (mostly, at least) weather. Here are a few things we enjoyed:

  • Pike Place Market: Dan and I had never done the tourist thing in Seattle so we started here, which I found to be a great intro to the city. We explored the market for a while, ate breakfast at The Crumpet Shop and followed it up with a post-breakfast snack (isn’t vacation the best?) at Piroshky Piroshky, and checked out The Seattle Gum Wall, which I found to be…kind of gross? I also bought a lovely ocean wave necklace from a local artist because jewelry is my favorite souvenir to buy.

  • Space Needle: We found out when we got here that it was $35 a person to go to the top and quickly decided that it wasn’t something that we needed to do. We settled for the views underneath, but I had a few Seattleite friends recommend Columbia Tower and Kerry Park for views that are apparently just as good.

  • Olympic Sculpture Park: This was fun to walk through and right on the waterfront so we were able to take a little break afterwards and breathe in some ocean air.

  • Cloudburst Brewing: We always seek out local breweries whenever we travel and this little microbrewery was great.

  • Copal: A friend recommended this place and we had a great dinner there complete with boozie popsicles for dessert.

Mt. Rainer National Park

A cool thing about Seattle is that it has three National Parks within a few hours driving distance. We didn’t have quite enough time to hit all three, but we did make it to two, including Mt. Rainer which quickly made it to the top of my favorite National Park’s list. I looooooved this park.

  • Our home base for park exploration was Olympia and I found it to be a good jumping off point and just a cute little town in general. We stayed at this Airbnb which was only about an hour and a half drive to Rainer and it had a hot tub out back—great for post-hike soaks.

  • Skyline Trail: A friend of mine recommended this hike and holy hell, it was incredible. Truly one of the best hikes of my life. She sold it to me as having epic panoramic views the entire time and she wasn’t kidding. It was a challenging hike for sure, but the scenery was absolutely stunning. We lucked out with clear weather that day so it may not be as magical on a cloudy day, but man, if the weather is cooperating, I can’t recommend it enough.

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Olympic National Park

This park was different than a lot of National Parks I’ve been to in the sense that you don’t necessarily drive into the park and start exploring from a central area. There isn’t a road that goes through it, rather you have to drive a full loop around the entire Olympic Peninsula because the main attractions are pretty spread out. While we were able to drive it all in a day, it was a LONG day (13+ hours in the car), so I’d definitely recommend splitting it up into a few days if you can.

  • Ruby Beach: This was our first stop and probably my favorite part of the park (no surprise there, the ocean always wins for me). It was so beautiful and expansive with a crazy amount of driftwood everywhere. Plus we met a couple who were on a road trip with their cats who they were walking around on leashes on the beach. All of my loves in one!

  • Hoh Rainforest: Did you know that there’s a rainforest in the state of Washington? I didn’t, and I was pretty excited to see it. We started the drive in and just about when everything started to look like Fern Gully, we got to a road block that informed us that the road to the rain forest was closed for construction. Ugh. What lesson did I learn though? Always check National Park Twitter before heading out because it’ll give you important updates that can save you lots of time.

  • Sol Duc Hot Springs: If I’m being honest, this place was…weird. It reminded me a bit of the baths in Budapest but minus the grandeur. It was basically a number of hot mineral spring pools heated to different temperatures. A soak in a hot spring is always nice so I won’t totally knock it, but I also wouldn’t go out of your way to try it out.

  • Hurricane Ridge: We were losing daylight pretty quickly by the time we made it up to Hurricane Ridge but we got there with enough time to catch an incredible sunset and crack a bottle of wine.

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Portland

Out of any US city, Portland, Oregon is the one that I’ve visited the most. It has some of the most beautiful parks right within city limits, easy day trips to even more epic nature (so many waterfalls!), great shopping, awesome breweries, and truly my favorite food of any American city. These are some of my favorite Portland things compiled from my last few visits:

  • Food: I’ll start here because this city absolutely crushes it. ¿Por Qué No? is so, so good for Mexican, Canteen is where I was introduced to the “bowl” and is my fav healthy/hippie place (get the Portland Bowl), Lovely’s Fifty Fifty is A+ for pizza and so is Virtuous Pie for vegan pizza, Shalom Y’All is an amazing Israeli street food spot, and I can’t say enough great things about Pine State Biscuits and Tasty n Daughters (formerly Tasty n Sons) for brunch.

  • Parks & Activities: Mt. Tabor Park is nice to walk around and has some great views of the city, it may be touristy but when the roses are in bloom, The International Rose Test Garden is actually really worth visiting, one of the largest “urban forests” in the US, Forest Park is unreal and has great hiking trails, the Portland Aerial Tram is really cool to take at sunset to catch beautiful views of Mt. Hood, the soaking pool at Kennedy School is a great and cheap place for a soak, and for breweries I enjoyed Ex Novo the most on our recent trip, but I want to do a more extensive beer tour on our next visit.

  • Day Trips: Sauvie Island has some nice public beaches and the floating house community there is basically my dream life, the Columbia River Gorge is beautiful to drive through and has some amazing waterfalls like Multnomah Falls and Latourell Falls (which I personally enjoyed more), we also trekked out Hood River and had a great lunch and solid beers at Pfriem Family Brewers and then a glass of wine at Marchesi Vineyards & Winery, and of course the coast is only about an hour and a half from Portland and Cannon Beach and Cape Kiwanda are great to visit.

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A special thanks to my travel buddies: My brother Sean and his girlfriend Meredith (middle) and my husband Dan (right). And that’s me on the left of course, in awe of the beautiful Oregon nature.