T-Shirt Alert

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A few weeks ago, my husband came home from a visit with his father (who is elderly and ill – Doug is his primary caregiver but we recently hired a full-time nursing service to stay with him 24-7) with a collection of old t-shirts he’d dug out of a closet at the house. They’re mostly t-shirts he wore in high school, but there are some from as far back as elementary school. His mother (who passed away many years ago) never threw anything out, so I’m sure this is just a small sampling of what’s over there.

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So of course, the first thing I did was take pictures in them. 

I’d also ordered a few new wigs from Sam’s Beauty recently, so I immediately got to work dressing up and photographing myself in some of the shirts. A lot of them are old, original concert tees (Genesis and Rush, mostly), and even though they’re pretty cool, I didn’t feel like they would make very interesting photos so I bypassed those. But there are some rather silly ones, like the Disco’s Dead shirt above, that I just had to use – this one was made for Doug by his mom, in one of those old tee-shirt shops that were all the rage back in the 70s and 80s – does anyone else remember those shops? Most of them were in malls, and you could go in there and choose whatever type of shirt you wanted, and have the shirt say whatever you wanted it to say, in whatever style of lettering you wanted. They also had all sorts of decals and iron-on transfers you could utilize. In the days before the internet, all of those choices and options for personalization were a BIG deal. Who didn’t go into one of these shops at least once and get matching “so-and-so’s best friend” tee shirts with a buddy? I searched Google looking for a photo of one of these places, but the search terms were just too broad – but how I remember walking into those stores with their decal samples plastered all over the walls, and that acrid smell of slightly-singed iron-on-transfers from the big press-iron (not sure that’s a word, but it is descriptive) they would use to steam the letters and decals onto your tee. Ah, memories…moving on.

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The flip side of the “Disco’s Dead” shirt. Notice the apostrophe is on the wrong side of the N.

This shirt was made for Doug by his mom – and I just love it because it’s a great example of a mom trying to be cool and failing miserably. No actual teenage boy would have worn this shirt, even in the 70s, which is why it’s still in pristine condition. But hey – how could Mom have known that 30 years later her daughter-in-law would fall in love with it and use it in her photos? It’s absolutely awesome for pictures.

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This was a band shirt from when Doug played the tuba in high school. It was actually was worn repeatedly, and was pretty threadbare. This is the back side of it; the front has the school band’s logo on it, and apparently there were three tuba players who all got some phrase added onto the back that described them in a private-joke, you-had-to-be-there kind of way (those were always the best shirts back then). Unfortunately, I hated every single photo I took in this shirt; I’m not sure why, exactly, but I think it had to do with my color settings being off and wearing a wig that just didn’t work with the shirt. That’s why these are so over-edited; I kept trying to make them work when they didn’t. I hate both of them, which is sad, because this was the shirt I was most looking forward to photographing. I may try again with a different approach later, because in spite of my best efforts I never got anything out of these shots that I liked.

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I loved this one though; this is a baseball tee from a team Doug was on in fifth grade – it fit me, but just barely; I had a bitch of time getting it on, and was concerned I wouldn’t be able to get back out of it, but I managed. Isn’t it weird how some shots from the same photo session can be so good while others (the I’m Confused ones) suck so badly? I get that the outfit and hair are totally different, but the lighting was the same, as was the makeup I wore. The only difference in that regard was the aforementioned camera settings, which I know was part of the problem, but at the same time – how can it have made that much of a difference? I’ve had this happen before; since I usually do at least two major costume changes when I shoot, there will always be outfits that turn out better than others, but usually I can salvage something even from a costume change that doesn’t yield great results. But every once in a while I’ll come across something I put together that completely and utterly fails – and often when that happens, there will be other outfits from the same shoot that I think are some of my best. I go back over those ‘bad’ shots time and time again to analyze them and figure out the secret to their lack of success, but it still eludes me.

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I intended to look like a really burned-out groupie in this shot, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to make myself look good. Sue me. 

I think it might have something to do with interest on some level – most outfits I put together have some detail that takes it out of the realm of just a head shot into something more interesting; it could be a detail of the clothing, or the colors in the fabric, or the movement of either the hair or the clothing. Sometimes it’s actually the makeup that does it, if I really went out of my way to do something different, or sometimes I get all the colors working together so well that it unifies the shots.

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Interesting eye makeup and a wig with great movement saved these, for example, from being boring

In the shots that fail, I do get the sense that at least one of those elements is off, but usually it’s a combination of them that knocks something down. If the wig is short and boring and doesn’t have any movement to it, usually the clothing will, or perhaps the hair is in a really interesting color that makes it work anyway even if it’s short. But sometimes a wig is longer and just doesn’t move well, or something about the makeup is so off it ruins things (I’ve noticed some of the more pastel-colored lipsticks I wear at times tend to look ‘off’ on me, for example). Believe it or not, I can still vividly remember shoots from years ago where I didn’t get one good shot out of a costume – those shots haunt me, and I keep going back to them and trying to find some way to make them work, especially after buying new editing software, because I think maybe that new tool will be the one that makes those bad shots work in the end. But so far, that’s not happened. Oh well.

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Some older shots I’ve revisited this month, after buying some new software and thinking maybe it would make them work. It didn’t. I still don’t like any of them.

I’ve gotten a bit bored with posing for and editing portraits again, also, so I may back off of them for a while. I’ve gotten spoiled, though, by the relative ease of posing for them as opposed to full-length shots, however – so I’ve taken to trolling more old sets for movement and motion shots to play around with rather than putting myself through the motions for taking new ones.

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I’m trying to play around with processing to get more comfortable really mucking things up; in spite of all the experimenting I already do, I have fallen into a big old rut of editing photos the same old way – mostly because I have gotten so used to doing what I know ‘works’ that I don’t think outside of my own little box; for example, I love using the PortraitPro software for my portrait work, but I know that it works best when faces are looking directly into the camera, so I’ve started to limit myself to posing as dead-center as possible. This makes using the PP program easier, but it also gets boring, so at some point I need to lessen my attachment to always using it if I want to keep my photos feeling fresh.

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The bubbles are from a fairly new editing program I purchased; it’s a kind of cheesy effect but in order to break out of my rut I’m forcing myself to be comfortable with cheesy-ness.

I also have established a sort of routine when editing, even though it’s not something I’ve done intentionally, so working with older photos like this gives me a chance to break out of that mold as well; purposely changing up my workflow to see if it gives me different results. It’s all a little uncomfortable for me, and a lot of the results I don’t particularly like, but I feel like I need to do it at this point just to shake things up.

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I also decided to work with some blurry shots for the hell of it. 

On the work front, summer has been pretty busy; as I’ve mentioned before, none of my clients stopped working with me over the summer and I picked up a few more, so my June calendar was particularly full. But one of my clients took the whole month of July off, and another one has taken a week off here and there as well; I just found out last Thursday that another client isn’t continuing with me for the coming school year, and one of my academic coaching clients finishes up his program next Monday. So, all of a sudden I am looking around and realizing my dance card has gotten thin again, and it may be time to make some noise to drum up some new business as we move into the fall semester. This doesn’t concern me as much as it did last year; I did recently hear that a client I’ve been working with for the summer is going to continue with me in the fall so that’s nice, and besides, I’m just not all that nervous about having to advertise or network a little for business like I was last year. That said, I really want to get the academic coaching aspect of my business up and running – especially now that I’ve actually done it a few times and feel confident that I can coach kids successfully – so in order to move that along, I decided to head on over to Vistaprint and create a brochure I can leave at libraries and other places I think I can generate some interest.

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This is a proof of what I’ve put together so far; Vistaprint has some really easy to work with templates and really decent prices (100 for $60); I’ve sent this to some friends to review before I place an order, but I really want to get some in-hand before I finish up my work with the coaching client I have now, so I can give some to his mom to hand out to other people if she’s willing. I also want to make up a postcard similar to this one to promote my English tutoring business and leave those at the same places I put my coaching brochures. I probably need to update my website, too, since it’s been a year since I put it together and I didn’t really know what my business was going to look like back then. It’s pretty astounding to look back at where I was a year ago with all this and how far things have come.

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I had lunch last week with one of the teachers who worked with me in the program I ran at the private school, and I admit it was validating to have it confirmed for me that things did not exactly improve after I left. In fact, the general sense is that the people who stayed behind at least realize how hard I worked and understand that I had good ideas that would have benefited the program had I been able to stay on. I don’t think anyone feels that the arrangement the school made with current director was the proper one to make, and even though it doesn’t matter to me either way now, it’s still nice to hear that there are at least a few people there who understood and supported what I wanted to do. Moving on.

That’s all I have for now – happy end of the weekend to everyone, and I hope you all have a great week!

 

Makeup Work

Before I talk about my latest portrait sessions, enjoy a random shot of Simon:

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Simon likes to sit on this teeny little cat tower we bought for Violet when she was a kitty. It only has one little ‘bridge’ at the bottom but I Photoshopped in a second one for symmetry. 

I hadn’t been much in the mood for portraits the past few months, but two weeks ago I woke with the urge to put on a full face and play around. Ever since discovering the Portrait Pro plug-in about a year ago, I’ve gotten a bit lazy with my makeup application before a shoot, just because I can add so much of it when processing that it at least feels like it saves me a lot of time (applying a full face of photography makeup can take up to two hours). But in going over many of these shoots, I found myself getting frustrated with the limitations of the software, and how my end results just weren’t as good as I wanted them to be. More specifically, I was feeling like my recent portraits were not as good as they used to be, and I looked everywhere to find the culprit, thinking it was primarily some issue with my lighting that was off.

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The primary problem I was having with these portraits was skin tone; even with the editing software I kept ending up looking kind of ruddy and ‘off’ or over-processed when trying to correct it, and the tones just weren’t very rich in the end, and it was throwing off the whole photo (in my picky opinion). But I would go back to previous shoots and clearly see how much more vivid and rich the shots looked in the end, and how much more natural the shots ended up even with a ton of processing. I didn’t really know the makeup short cuts I was taking were the culprit when I set out to do apply a full face a few weeks ago, but once those shots were done the results were obvious.

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All these shots were so much easier to edit, and I had way more flexibility in how much manipulation I could do with the tones and lighting. And a lot of that came down to not needing to edit the makeup as much as I’ve been forcing myself to do lately. A “full face” for me is no joke – I start with an orange color corrector to cut the darker blue tones I have due to sun damage on my face (drag queens use orange to help conceal their five o’clock shadows) then apply a heavy Derma-blend foundation, and three different highlighters over the forehead, nose, and cheekbones (Derma-blend, NARS Illuminator, and a MAC cream highlighter). After blending all of that out with a sponge, I contour with a powder from MAC under my cheekbones, along the sides of my nose, and heavy on my chin to try to make it look a little shorter since I have a long face. I also apply a lot of highlighter under my cheekbones just to make them look more pronounced – I think you can see the effect of that in this shot:

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This was inspired by a photo the drag queen Trinity Taylor posted on Twitter; she had on a brightly printed top, cinnamon-colored hair, and orange lipstick, and I wanted to give it a go myself. 

Because my makeup takes so long to do if I’m really going to do it properly, I’ve started applying it in shifts when prepping for a photoshoot. If I do it all at once, by the time I’m done I am already so bored that I have to re-energize myself to take the pictures, and I also start getting really sloppy by the end of the application process. So, what I now do is get all the foundation and highlight/contour applied, then take a break. I may do a few things to set up the office/studio, like set up my lights or get the backdrops unfolded and propped against the wall, or take the dogs out for a bathroom break – just something to break up the monotony of staring into a mirror and applying makeup.

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The eyes take the most work for me; I’ve always known to apply a lot of black eyeliner and shadow, and to darken my eyebrows as much as I dare (even when being lazy and not applying a full face), but one thing I hit on last month was that applying a brightly colored liquid liner to my entire eyelid makes my lids pop in a way they don’t do otherwise; since I’m approaching 50, my lids are starting to droop, and they were never very big anyway, so they tend to disappear in photos. In my first of the two shoots, I’d applied a lime green liquid liner made by Lime Crime, and you can see how it really made my eyelids stand out in a way that, in the photos, actually looks pretty natural (in reality it looked very heavy-handed and costume-y, but who cares).

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The trick is to apply it to the entire lid, and then extend it a bit higher than that, so that if your eyelids get concealed a little bit by less-than-taut skin, they will still pop on camera (obviously the Trinity Taylor-inspired pic is from a different session, where I went with a different eye makeup look and didn’t use this technique). It’s amazing how much difference such a little detail makes in a photo, but it really does help quite a bit. In fact, my Lime Crime neon liquid liners are really old, and I need to dash over to their website and pick up some more since the ones I have (a neon green, a bright eggshell blue, and two shimmer liners in gold and silver) are almost done.

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For this shoot, I also used some more of my face stickers I bought around Christmas last year; the nice thing is that you can wear them in the shoots and Photoshop them out quite easily if you decide you don’t want them in the shot later. 

Other than that, I sometimes use the tape technique of placing a piece of Scotch tape on the outside of each eye, from the outside corner of the eye up to the edge of the eyebrow, to get a nice sweep of eyeshadow that is even on each side; this works well when creating a cat-eye shape with dark liners and shadows, which I usually do. And false eyelashes are really amazing eye enhancers, but I just cannot apply them properly or tolerate the lash glue, so I do add all my lashes using Portrait Pro (I apply mascara as usual, but in photos it just doesn’t show up at all). I tried blocking my brows to create a more exaggerated eye one time, but ended up losing a lot of eyebrow hairs in the process (and I already have thin brows) so I don’t do that anymore – if I want a higher brow line, I move my natural brows up in Photoshop instead, as in this picture:

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Sweaters are tricky for photos; they’re hot, which is a challenge under studio lighting, and the fabrics can look dull and heavy. But this one had sparkle and those two great zippers that I thought would add interest. 

After applying my eyes, I’m usually ready for another break, so I eat some lunch or maybe start some laundry and finish setting up my camera and props for the shoot. For some reason, working in shifts like this keeps me from getting impatient and frustrated, and it sets a more relaxed mood for the whole shoot (I can start to feel rushed if I don’t pace myself, and I’ve learned the hard way that bad things happen when the photographer AND the model get rushed. At the best, you just end up with  bad pictures, but at the worst you end up getting sloppy when moving about or handling equipment, and something expensive gets broken).

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This top was a fun discovery; in Goodwill I just liked the look of the polka dotted top peeking out from under the black sweater, but when I got home and put it on I was pleasantly surprised by the sleeves! They’re actually quite puffy and it creates an interesting shape; I had to get really creative with my posing to show them off, which happens sometimes when interesting sleeves are involved. Honestly, if this top wasn’t already worn out I’d add to my wardrobe – the sweater is dingy and pilled, though. 

For final makeup touches, I apply one of Laura Mercier’s sparkly powders in all the highlighted areas (you really can’t get enough highlighter, it’s true), apply some blush in both cream and powder form, do my best to contour my nose and jaw line, and apply my lips as best as possible – I’m not good with drawing on bigger lips, and I usually use a liquid long-wearing lipstick for photo sessions, so I just use the wand to apply a line right outside my lip line, then fill that in. Sometimes it works, sometimes not, but even when it works I usually end up having to fix some sloppy lipstick work later. Fortunately, it’s not too hard to fix. Then – and this is really important – I apply Derma-blend to my neck, chest, and arms; I have a lot of sun damage that, if it shows up in photos, is very hard to work with. There’s a million different tones to it, and dark spots, and all that skin ends up not matching my face or even some other part of the neck or chest. The Derma-blend is so high coverage, though, that it evens things out nicely, and makes those sun damaged areas much easier to work with later.

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The wig is actually a magenta color; had to use Photoshop to turn it red. I did a better job with that in the second shot; it’s actually tricky to do without also turning the background a different color around all the little flyaway hairs. 

The second shoot – the one these two photos right above came from – was a bit tricky because I got half of my makeup on, then remembered I needed to pick up some medications from the vet before they closed (it was a Saturday, so the vet’s office closed at noon). I only had my foundation on at that point, so even though it irritated me to do it, I put everything on pause to zoom up there and get Penny’s meds. Then, since I was out already, I figured I’d stop by our local Goodwill to see if they had any tops I could snag; I woke up inspired to play in makeup and take pictures, but I was running a little low on new things to wear in them, which is another thing that always ends up frustrating. Sometimes I’ll think, oh I can just throw on any old thing for these photos, since it’s only my head and shoulders showing anyway, but that rarely works out.

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Overalls are great, though. As are pom-pom headbands. 

The truth is, interesting tops are super-helpful for portrait shots, and way more important than you might think. A t-shirt doesn’t have a nice drape to it, and that material isn’t particularly attractive in a photo, so a sloppy top really can bring down an otherwise nice shot. When I hit up Goodwill, I’m always looking for tops with interest – high necks, textured materials, interesting details, flowy fabrics, vibrant prints, anything I know will add pizzazz – and on this trip I scored some real winners. The Hotrod Angel photo has to be the best acquisition, though; if you notice in those two shots above, one side is the front of the top, and the other one I have on backwards where there was another awesome logo (wearing tops backwards is a trick I employ often, if the back has more interest than the front). I didn’t even realize the back of that top had anything on it until I got home; as soon as I saw the front of it I knew I had to have it. It was a junior’s size small, though, and I barely got it on, and I even thought I might have to cut myself out of it, but it stretched just enough for me to save it.

So much more to process from these two shoots, but that’s all I have for now. So what have I learned? Patience, and planning, and proper preparation make for better photos. Seems I should have known that already, but shortcuts are always so tempting…more to come!

 

June Landing

I mentioned in my last post that I was headed out for my yearly visit to the Villa de Matel Ruah Center in Houston. I’ve written a lot about the place, so I won’t go on about it this time except to share how this most recent visit went. And to share some pictures:

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I brought along my Canon SL1 and my Sony camcorder for the hell of it – I didn’t use either one much, because I’ve taken so many photos of the place over the years I hardly needed more. However, I did spend time taking a lot of photos of the interior of the chapel, rather than just the usual quick pics I’ve done in the past. I asked my advisor if it was actually OK to go in and take a ton of pics, and she said it was – she also told me where I could find the light switches to turn all the lights on in there, since they are normally left off unless there’s an event happening. I was still too timid to turn them on myself, but I when I went in there to take photos someone was cleaning it, and they turned the lights on for me when they saw I was taking pictures, which was nice. I’d already taken a ton of photos before they turned the lights on, which also turned out to be great because taking photos of the chapel in low light turned out some nice results too – just very different ones from the photos taken with the lights on.

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A low light shot

I went to Ruah this time with a specific purpose, which was to re-focus on my tutoring job and decide whether or not to continue pursuing it or if I should just get a full-time teaching or counseling job in the public school system again. This whole past year, I was basically tutoring because it wasn’t a lot of work and it provided me a lot of time off, which was what I wanted. But lately that’s been feeling unsatisfactory. First of all, whether I like it or not I am getting more clients, and the more kids I get the more work I need to do to stay on top of all their different needs. This is something I wasn’t doing a good job of before going to Ruah, and I knew if I was going to keep tutoring I needed to really commit to it and start taking it seriously. What I decided in my time there was that yes, I do want to keep working for myself as a tutor, and that it was time for me to start putting in the work hours required to do the job properly. Once I realized that I was really on board with this whole thing, and really did want tutoring to be my ‘real job,’ I was able to come back home and attack it with the energy it needs, which has been nice.

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One of my low-light creations

I also wanted to dedicate myself once again to eating properly and being more healthy. As a result, I signed up for both yoga classes and a workout/bootcamp class. I need the yoga to stay flexible, and am not interested in anything super-challenging, but the boot camp I really need to get myself back into shape. I am taking the classes with a woman who’s been my trainer off and on for well over 10 years now, so it was nice to see her again and catch up. And as an added bonus, the yoga teacher at the class I attended last week was a former teacher at one of the public schools where I used to work, so I got to catch with her as well.

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I really hit the ground running the week I returned; summer tutoring is a lot different from the work I do during the school year, because my students are all off for the summer (with one exception, a student who is voluntarily taking English III during the summer to free up his schedule in the fall) and therefore do not have class work for me to help them with when I tutor them. So, I am having to create lessons for everybody, and when you tutor seven different kids in seven different grades attending seven different schools, it’s kind of like being a classroom teacher and having seven different classes to prep for. Except I am only planning for one hour a week. But still, as I take on more of a workload, the more planning I need to do, and I admit I’m still getting used to doing what almost feels like a full-time job again.

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My little fifth-grade student, however, failed her state exam again, and after working with me since February and failing the test twice, I told the mom I felt it was time for her to work with a different tutor, since clearly I was not helping her. I found her a reading specialist, and now that girl is working with her to get her caught up. The lesson I needed to learn there was to be much more cognizant of how my students are faring during our sessions, and speak up if I feel I’m not much help rather than sucking it up and trying to keep improving things. I don’t like to admit defeat, and it feels terrible to have to say to someone, sorry, but I don’t think I can help your child, but to not say it is worse in the end. I didn’t intentionally hang onto her too long, I just didn’t know any better than to keep trying, but still, I should have bowed out sooner than I did. Lesson learned.
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For a lot of time while I was at Ruah, I felt restless and unfocused, so in the end it’s surprising I got as much out of the visit as I did. There were plenty of distractions – the constant political news on Twitter, the knowledge of how much work I had to do after I left, and concern over another student who didn’t end the school year on a good note, just to name a few. And on top of that, my room this time was one of those  really creaky old rooms that makes a lot of noise, which kept my up my first night there; every time I was about to fall asleep a window would pop or a board would creak and I’d be awake again; after the first night I was used to it, but a creaky room in a 150-year-old building can be pretty freaky at 3 AM when one isn’t prepared for that. And I wasn’t, because usually I sleep like a baby when I’m there.  But by the time I left, I really did feel like I’d gotten past whatever barrier was holding me back from committing to my  new job, so Ruah worked it’s magic on me once again.

I did try to take some video of the center while I was there, and one thing is for sure: I am not a videographer. Still, I tried  to capture a bit of the sights and sounds of the center, so I’ll leave it to you to decide if I accomplished that or not.

So anyway, I’m back home now, and busier than ever, which I think is a good thing, even though it’s freaking me out a bit for life to be a little hectic when it hasn’t been for so long. But I was stressed enough when I was worrying all the time that I’d never be  busy again, so I’ll take it.

Meditation Station

I’m on my way back to Ruah tomorrow at the Villa de Matel, and am very much looking forward to another week of solitude and reflection. My visits there are hit or miss, as some of my previous blog posts can attest, but usually when I go during the work week and at the start of summer the retreat center is pretty empty, and I can have the place more or less to myself. I’ll share a few new portraits here as I ramble – haven’t had any new ones to upload in a while.

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I’m sure that a lot of my time at Ruah this year will be spent reflecting on where I was last year at this time, when I went for my summer visit a mere few weeks after I quit my job. At the time I was so sad, and broken, and frightened about the future that it dominated all the reading, writing, and reflecting when I was there (both times – last year I went in both June and July). I plan to take the old notebooks I was writing in then to look them over and see how far I’ve come, as well as make some plans for the coming year (as a teacher, I still measure my ‘years’ in relation to the school year, so June 1st is more of a “new year” to me than January 1st is). I know I am ready to grow my business a bit more, as well as try to utilize all my free time better in various ways I’ll get into in a moment.

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But first, my business. Along with English tutoring, I decided last summer to offer my services as an Academic Coach to middle and high school students. I figured I could use my school counseling background to help kids with low motivation or organizational skills much in the manner I did when I worked as a mentor at the private school. At first, I started offering this service on my own, but I found it wasn’t going so well, so I decided to take a course to get some structure I could follow. I signed up for an Academic Coaching training class, and since I did it in haste as I was already coaching a kiddo and feeling lost, I didn’t pay too much attention to the details (bad, I know) and was shocked to find out, during the first session, that the course was six months long. Yikes. I figured it would be six weeks at the most, but nope. Six solid months of a two-hour class, online, once a week. During these sessions, we’d discuss the week’s concept for about an hour, then spend the next hour  ‘practice coaching’ each other. I admit to finding most of this boring and tedious, and at most times not very useful – but then again, I never really gave it my full attention. For the most part, I would keep the camera on my webcam turned off so I could edit photos or scan Twitter for the first hour when the discussion was going on, then wing my way through the practice coaching the best I could.

I’ve never found practice coaching other students all that useful (in grad school, we had to practice our counseling techniques on each other also) because you’re working with someone who is obviously going to totally cooperate with you every step of the way, and make things easy. This does not translate to real life very well, and sure enough, I’ve already had problems outside of class that never came up much in the training. Then, when I try to ask someone who was either in my class as a student or who is affiliated with the program as an instructor, they all act totally surprised that I’m having issues, which leads me to believe that they either a) are not actually coaching and therefore can’t help me, or b) they are totally having the same problems and just don’t want to admit it. In the case of the other students, I think most of them actually haven’t gone on to coach at all, or are working with adults or college students who have a lot more investment in following through. In the case of the instructors, I’m becoming more and more convinced that they don’t actually coach much at all, and make their money by training other coaches instead. Whatever. In short, I’m not sure how well this whole coaching aspect of my business is even going to work; it’s not going as well as I want it to right now, and I am kinda feeling like the course I took was a ripoff that I should have investigated more closely before even pursuing. Oh well, what’s done is done, and I always have the English tutoring to fall back on, which is going quite well.

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One of my other goals for the year is something I make a goal every year and have yet to actually do – I really, really need to be a healthier person. As it is, I get back pains and body aches and stiff joints regularly, sometimes to the point of needing medication or bed rest, and it’s really for no apparent reason at all, other than being stiff and out of shape and therefore pulling muscles by sneezing or walking up some stairs. I’ve always had bad knees – runs in the family – and my right one is getting worse, so much so that I have a hard time getting up off the floor when I need to and it sometimes just gives out on me out of nowhere. I have sciatica that acts up, and the ever-present right arm/wrist/shoulder pain from too much time at the computer, and on and on – you get the idea. Oh, and my diet is utter crap. So, with all the free time I now have, I really have no excuse not to take a yoga class to improve my flexibility, and perhaps some of sort strength training class to get myself back into decent shape. And I must learn how to cook some decent, healthy meals, and stop with all the processed junk I currently consume. So I am going to spend some time at Ruah reflecting on all of this also, and coming up with a plan for how to do it. As I watch my parents grow old – especially my mom, who is not healthy and (like me) never has been – it reminds me how quickly so many years of not exercising and eating right can sneak up on you and steal you of your health, and with so many people in this life who suffer from real, serious health issues, it would be a real shame for me to squander my relatively illness-free existence in my later years by refusing to get it together. The rubber has hit the road, so to speak, and it’s time for me to move forward.

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So that’s where my thoughts will be this week, then it’s back to it when I get home next Saturday to fill out my summer tutoring schedule and start planning for June and July. This will be the first summer since the year 2000 that I’ve actually continued to work, but I’m not too bothered by that, because as long as I can stay up late and sleep in I still feel like I’m on vacation, so I’ve basically been on vacation all year. But I do love my trips to Ruah, where I really and truly feel like I don’t have to do ANYTHING at all. It’s what the place is made for. I do plan to bring along a camera, although at this point there’s nothing new for me to photograph there, and I’m going to try to remember to bring my video camera too; I’ve always wanted to film a little walking tour of the grounds, but have never been able to pull it off for various reasons. We’ll see if it works this time.

Have a great week!

Mansion Mention

As I stated in a previous post, I had yet to post any photos of the 1890’s Davis Victorian Mansion from my trip to the George Ranch Historical Park – so, here they are!

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Still not sure this would qualify as a “mansion” by today’s standards, but for time period and the location, this certainly was one fancy structure. Many of the buildings on this ranch were originally located several miles away in Richmond, TX where I live, but were moved as the town started to develop and grow in the 1970’s. I can’t recall for certain if this was one of the ones that got moved, but I’m pretty sure it was. It took three days to move the buildings, because they had to wait until late at night when they could shut down the traffic on the farm roads to get it moving.

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Th city of Richmond has a historical area where our city hall is, so buildings like this are a pretty familiar site out here. But this one has been restored to it’s original floor plans and decor, which makes it unique. Some of the houses in Richmond like this are residential, but many of them have been converted into businesses like law offices or tea rooms and museums.

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As some of the international tourists who were on the first tour I followed pointed out, the US doesn’t have the sort of ancient history you’re going to see elsewhere around the globe – and Texas has even less history preserved than most states. Texas doesn’t seem to have much tolerance for old buildings, for some reason, and tends to tear them down in order to replace them with a ton of concrete and glass. Perhaps that’s why we get so excited over any building that’s over 80 years old around these parts.

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The interior of the mansion was tricky to photograph, since I couldn’t get full shots of the fairly small rooms, but I did my best. There were a lot of lovely floral arrangements and place settings around, as you can see – even if all the flowers were fake. Easier to maintain I guess when all you have to do is dust them off!

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All the rooms were roped off as well, so I could only get a few decent angles to shoot from in each room. And since I was so focused on taking pictures, I didn’t pay much attention to what the guide was saying about the house, but it was mostly the usual stuff about how people were expected to behave and how a mansion like this functioned at the time.

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While the Polly Ryon home had no air conditioning and had all the windows open to keep the place cool (which didn’t work very well), this place fortunately had been updated with AC. Otherwise it would have been sweltering – and the Ryon home made me terribly nervous to wander around in due to all the  wasps that had gotten inside and were flying around everywhere. Sadly, I am terrified of insects – unfortunate, since Texas is known for having some real doozies when it comes to critters.

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There was also a family cemetery outside; the first time I visited it was closed off, and we couldn’t get in to look at the stones. But on my second visit, there were some employees in there cleaning things up, so I got to wander in and snap some pictures. I haven’t processed any of them yet, and I may not ever do so since in the end they were kind of boring, but I did a decent shot of the entire plot that would have been perfect if there hadn’t been that one woman in the shot who was not in costume. Oh well. From this distance, you probably can’t tell that the other guy was in costume anyway.

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And lastly, here’s a lovely shot of a very old tree; I just liked how it was framed by the front porch pillars. You’re welcome.

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I know this wasn’t a very informative post, but I’ve said so much about my visits to this park already that I’m out of ideas. Hopefully the pretty pictures will be enough!

 

Park Pics Part 2

As mentioned previously, I went back to finish up my trip through the George Ranch Historical Park two weeks ago. This is in no way the extent of the photos I took during both visits, but it’s what I have processed for now.

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The prospector telling tales outside his shack

The first time I went, I piggybacked onto a decent-sized group of tourists through as much of the tour as I had to time to attend; on my second trip, there were two elementary schools holding field trips, but no big groups of visitors for me to follow around. This didn’t seem like a big deal at first, but it did make parts of the tour a bit awkward.

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In theory I like this photo of a gardener sweeping up around these benched statue-people, but the composition itself annoys me. But you can see, in the upper left side of the shot, the edge of a really nice tree house that looks over this part of the property. 

At every stop of the tour, there are employees on site, dressed in the attire of the times, ready and waiting to tell stories and answer questions. When I wandered from site to site with a fairly large group of people, there was always a crowd willing to sit and listen to all of this, which left me free to wander around and snap photos without being bothered. The question and answer sessions also slowed the whole tour down, so I had plenty of time to snap all the pictures I wanted.

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Kitchen scene from the 1930s Ranch House, one of two large houses on the property you can only walk through on a guided tour. 

It was a different scene when I went back the second time and was the only person showing up on the employees’ doorstep. Especially in the two big houses, the guides were really rushed, and even seemed a bit put out at having to stop whatever else it was they were doing to walk this one person through the rooms and rattle off their well-memorized spiel. When there’s only one of you, and you’re clearly not interested in asking questions, the tour moves along at a fast, awkward clip, I don’t mind telling you.

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Chandelier at the 1930s Ranch House

Also awkward to me, for some reason: probably due to the lack of distractions, I was able to notice this time around that there weren’t really that many employees monitoring and working the sites; therefore, someone you encountered at one location might also pop up somewhere else an hour later, to walk and talk you through some other park site. I’m not sure why this felt weird to me; perhaps because I wasn’t in the mood to be chatty so running into the same person you’d been fairly disinterested in talking to an hour before somewhere else, and having to pretend to want to talk to them again, made the whole experience a little awkward.

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For example, the cowgirl in the blue shirt here was rounding up cattle for the elementary schools to watch at 10 AM, and at noon she was my tour guide through the 1930s mansion. For some reason, this dampened some of the magic for me. It didn’t help that I was sitting on the porch of the mansion, patiently waiting for the next tour to start at 12:30, but she rather hurriedly busted open the door at 12:15 and asked if I want to view the house. I felt a bit like a nosy neighbor showing up uninvited on her doorstep and looking for gossip.

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I’m not sure what this little house is for; it has window units on the side so the park uses it for something, but it wasn’t a part of the tour. Maintenance shed, probably. I peeked in the windows as best I could, but I couldn’t see much.

Then again, it could be they were short of tour guides on this day due to the elementary school kids that were galloping their way around the park. I saw one of the women who’d been sitting in a chair telling stories inside the Ryon Prairie Home on my last visit leading a huge group of fifth-graders up the walk to the Davis Victorian Complex; she was wearing the same long skirt and bonnet she’d had on the previous Tuesday, and it was pretty warm and humid outside – she looked hot, and grumpy, and I can’t much say I blame her for that!

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Remember her? She was not smiling this time. 

There were also alligators everywhere.  There are several creeks that run through the park, some of them quite wide and full, and gators were all in the water and even sunning themselves on the shore. I started out walking the tour this time instead of riding the tram, but I admit I got pretty nervous crossing the first creek bridge and seeing a huge, fat gator hanging out right at the edge of where the creek met the bridge. Alligators do not hunt humans and don’t see us as food; they hunt creatures that walk on all fours, so unless you bring yourself down to their level by crouching down, or for some reason decide to start crawling in their presence, you’re generally safe (your kids or your pets might be a different story, though, and of course this is all assuming that you are going to walk past them when you see them and not actually approach the hungry bastards). However, generally safe doesn’t mean entirely safe, so after my first close encounter I decided I would be riding the tram across the creeks from that point forward. As such, I got no photos of the gators: I tried, but I was too intimidated (i.e., terrified) to really stop and get a good shot, and they came out blurry.

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Windows inside the prospector’s shack; the sky and airplane in the distance are totally fake. In reality, they were just dirty windows looking out over some brush. 

I also tried to take some video of the park while riding the tram, but the roads are gravel and the tram is pulled by a tractor, so it was all way too shaky to be of any use. My videographer skills, once again, were lacking.

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Post and pans in the prospector’s shack. Another fake sky.

As it turned out, I hadn’t missed as much of the park the first time as I’d thought anyway. There was the other big house to tour, and in the end it wasn’t all that thrilling. It was amusing to hear the guide try to make the details sound like something awesome though; the house was built in the 1930s, so it wasn’t all that unique from loads of other old houses in the area, except for the fact that it’s a lot bigger than most. So, the tour guide kept having to point out things like all the Texas-themed ceramic doodads and geegaws  the owner of the house loved to collect – wee little cowboy boots and longhorns and shit you could go into any antique or resale store in Texas and buy by the boatload for five bucks each (although I’m sure the ones in the house were more expensive). Again, the guide on this part of the tour was rushed, and probably tired from roping cattle all morning in front of squealing sixth graders, and who knows, maybe she was either messing with me or making things up because she actually never gave the tour and didn’t know any of the interesting stories. But whatever – hey, look at that ceramic goat! Isn’t that cool?

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A scene from the stables; I don’t actually have any photos of ceramic goats.

There was one stop I really enjoyed though; the blacksmith’s shop. There was one kid working inside when I wandered over, and he was not only knowledgeable about what he was doing, I could tell he really enjoyed doing it and loved talking about it, so I didn’t at all feel like I was intruding upon his time. Not only that, but I didn’t feel much need to ask questions or struggle to make conversation; he just kept happily talking away about the history of the blacksmith shop and how they used to make things vs. how they make them now (they try to do everything as authentically as possible, but some of that authenticity would be either dangerous or cruel in the Texas heat, so adjustments have been made).

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This guy’s hands caught my attention right away; they were perfectly grimy and he had really long fingers that he kept using to point at this and touch that; I took a ton of shots of his hands while he yammered on, but the one above was my favorite.

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See what I mean? Great hands!

Here he was explaining something to me about this anvil that I no longer remember. The chalk line is important for some reason. That’s all I’ve got for you, sorry. It was something to do with the weight of it; there were three anvils on the site and he was explaining to me what was unique about each one. I’d be a terrible tour guide, wouldn’t I? Where are the ceramic goats again?

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This is metal and it is hot. Now give me ten bucks for the tour!

Although these two posts have at least touched on each part of the park I visited – except, I just realized, for the 1830s Victorian Mansion, which is probably the biggest stop on the whole tour, oops – I still have a ton more to process when I have the time. But I think I’ve covered everything now (sans mansion), even if only briefly.

To be honest, my favorite parts of the tour were riding around in the tram just watching the park roll by, and sitting on the big wrap-around porch of the Victorian mansion, waiting for the tour to start and feeling the breeze while looking out over these huge, hundred-year-old oak trees and listening to the cows and cicadas. I didn’t grow up on a mansion, but growing up in Texas I’ve still spent a fair amount of time riding around in tractors (even though they weren’t doing tractor-stuff at the time) or sitting on old front porches listening to the sounds of cows and bugs and begging for a breeze; I don’t think anyone else on the tour with me (the day I had company) was able to just sit there and feel nostalgic like I was, but also, when it comes to what constitutes a nice day for me it always has more to do with sitting and listening and being still than it does touring things and talking to people. It left me with a feeling of wanting to go back just to sit on the porch and stare for a while, but in the end this isn’t that sort of place; you can’t sit on a porch there too long without someone coming along and either shuffling you inside or sending you on your way. And although I did have a nice long chat about alligators with the tram driver when I hopped on and told him I just wanted to ride with him while he made his rounds, I felt I would have worn out my welcome had I asked to be a passenger a second time.

So, this was a cool enough place to visit once, and I got a lot of nice photos to work with while I was there, but it’s not somewhere I’ll be going back to anytime soon. Speaking of going back, it is time for my yearly summer visit to the Ruah Center at the Villa de Matel, which I am very much looking forward to; perhaps it is that impending visit that is making me long for a place I can just stop and sit and be still and listen; I do always start to crave that this time of year.

Ranch Dressing

First of all, thanks to everyone who offered feedback on my previous post about dealing with asshole neighbors. I decided to take down the post, though, since our situation with them is ongoing and well, you never know. So for anyone wondering what happened to it, that’s what happened. Moving on.

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My self-portrait-taking manic phase ended as suddenly as it overtook me; one day I set up the camera to take photos and felt bored halfway through, and that was that. I also became interested in taking more shots outdoors after processing the photos from my niece’s prom and enjoying playing around with the light and color in them, but taking self-portraits outside has always been complicated for me, so last week I decided to just focus on taking pictures of things outside other than myself, and made a last-minute decision to visit the George Ranch Historical Park, which is about 10 miles from my house, and bring my camera with me.

GR2Heavily edited; I might as well just admit that the sky in all of these shots is fake. In reality it was grey and cloudy out, and also high noon

I’d never visited, even though I’ve lived out here for 17 years, and in thinking about where to go take photos I landed on this park because I knew there would be volunteers there working the farm in character, and I figured I could get some interesting portraits. Being primarily a studio shooter who doesn’t venture out much with her camera, I also figured taking photos at a park like this would be more comfortable for me than going somewhere photographers aren’t already expected to be wandering around snapping pictures of everything that moved; I still tend to get self-conscious and/or nervous street shooting because I don’t want to offend or upset anyone by taking photos. I did get some good portrait shots, but I didn’t expect to enjoy the park as much as I did, or to photograph as many other things as I did, or for the park to be as HUGE as it was (20,000 acres, to be exact). In fact, I only got halfway through the park before I had to turn around and go home, since my phone had quit working and I knew Doug would be getting worried having not heard from me for several hours, and I had errands to run later in the day.

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The ranch has several historic sites on the grounds, spanning from the 1830’s through the 1930s, and focusing on several different families who were key to developing the area. At the majority of these sites, visitors can walk around freely, talk to the ‘interpreters’ who are really volunteers/actors dressing, working, and living as they would have during the time period – to walk the entire path linking all these sites together covers about a mile.

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I went by myself, but there were three other groups of people who arrived around the same time I did (all three groups were, interestingly, in groups of three), so I basically wandered the park alongside this big group of people. One group was from Italy, another was from France, and the other one was from Illinois – I was the only local out and about that day. I started out walking the trail on my own, but this is Texas and it’s already getting hot outside, as well as being terribly humid on this particular day, so after the first stop I ended up riding the tram around (which is pulled by a tractor) to the other sites, along with the rest of the group. Kind of sad that I wasn’t up for just walking the mile, but I didn’t want to get too sweaty since I had errands to run later. Excuses!

GR4We had about 30 minutes at each site before the tram came back around, and most of the guests would gather around the actors and listen to them tell stories about what life was like during their time period. I didn’t do much of that, choosing to wander around the site instead and take photos without having to navigate around too many people. As such, I ended up taking all sorts of photos I didn’t intend to take. In fact, I took way more photos of ‘stuff’ than I did of the people. No real reason for that, just that there weren’t too many people around (maybe 1-3 at each site) and once I’d taken one photo of them, well, I had to move on to other things. It was funny though, because I could tell they are so used to people taking their photos that they did have a tendency to “pose” rather than just stand around – like this guy:

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He just stood there until I got my shot, and I didn’t have to say a word

This was another reason I was comfortable taking so many pictures here; my subjects were expecting me to take their picture and giving me some nice setups in the process. You can tell they know how to provide people what they’re looking for! When not telling the visitors stories or posing for photos, the volunteers are doing chores around the site and basically working, for the most part, as they would have back in the day. So, someone at the site might be churning butter, or herding cattle, or – whatever the hell it is settlers would have been doing way back when.

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Not sure what’s she doing here, but it involved fire. You’re welcome.

The first stop in the pictures above was a stock farm, which represented a farm that had — livestock, I guess? I dunno, I have a brochure somewhere but I never read it. The next stop was the Ryon Prairie Home, which sure looked like a mansion compared to the stock farm:

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Yep, the sky is fake in this one too

At least, it looked like a mansion until the next stop, where I saw the real mansion. Still, the volunteer dressed up as Polly Ryon, the owner of the home, had a pretty interesting story to tell, at least the part I listened to – when she married her father actually made an arrangement that the family money would stay in her name instead of transferring to her husband, and throughout her life she was influential in capitalizing on the family’s considerable fortunes and preserving their legacy. It was kinda funny – one of the men in the group from Illinois was asking a ton of questions at every stop and creating this really anachronistic atmosphere, which was interesting to watch the actors navigate. He was particularly interested in this aspect of her story: “So, it was an early form of a pre-nup?” and then the woman had to acknowledge what he asked while at the same trying to stay in character. I’m sure they get that a lot, but this guy was so uber-inquisitive it made me wonder if the actors are under pressure to stay in character and might get in trouble if they do break it. I guess they are all volunteers, so the pressure can’t be too great – although, maybe I’m wrong, and they are all paid workers on the ranch. That would actually make more sense, as it sure would take one hell of a dedicated volunteer to dress up in all those layers of pioneer gear and stoke fires in 100-degree heat when she didn’t have to.

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Well, if pre-nups existed, then I guess you could call it that, but since they don’t…

There were some great shots to take in the Ryon house; I’d been unsure of which lens to take on this trip and ended up choosing my 50mm, which all things considered I think was a good choice.

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The 50mm has a shallow depth of field, which makes for prettier portraits and is why I chose it, but it’s also good in low light and works for most photography I might want to take in a walkabout situation. I don’t get as crisp or clear shots of architecture or landscapes, and I definitely could have used my wide-angle lens in the small interiors of these buildings, but overall I think it was the right choice. I say all this because I am going back to the ranch tomorrow to finish out the tour, and after considering different lenses I could use this time, I ended up deciding to stick with the 50mm. Of all my lenses, it’s the most versatile, even though in a lot of these shots I didn’t get the clarity I could have gotten with either my 40mm or my 17-40.

GR9I also chose to take my inexpensive Canon SL1 instead of my 7D because of how much lighter it is. I bought the SL1 several years ago for just this reason, when walking around with a camera for hours the 7D gets really heavy, and the SL1 is the smallest DSLR on the market right now. If I use my 40mm, it’s even lighter and smaller, but since I knew I wanted the DoF of the 50mm I sacrified a little of the lightness to get better shots. Still, it’s a great little camera for just this purpose, and it worked fine. It’s noisy, as is the lens, so in the one stop of the tour where we all had to follow a guide and couldn’t just wander around I did notice it was probably annoying to hear my camera going off so much. But other than that, it’s nice to get some real use out of this little camera since I haven’t used it too much since I got it. As I do more outdoor and walkabout photography, it’s likely to finally get some real use.

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That pink shot is my favorite so far; obviously because of the color, although it was much more mauve in the original. Also, I didn’t actually get a good centered shot of this (one of my weaknesses when taking non-studio shots is I often forget about things like getting a subject centered in front of background stuff like a fireplace) so what I had to do is take the left side of the fireplace, copy it, and paste it over the right side to make the shot better-framed. This is why if you look at the right side, you can actually see a curtain draping into the fireplace that appears to be growing out of the wall. In the original shot, that curtain was falling over into the fireplace from a nearby window, but I covered that up when I pasted the other edge of the fireplace over it. I couldn’t figure out how to realistically correct this, so I said to hell with it and left it. There was also a small mirror hanging over the fireplace that was also off-center, so the easiest thing to do there was to cover it up with more wallpaper.

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Once we left the Ryon house, we stopped off at the sharecropper’s shack shown above. The guy narrating at this site told us a family of TEN lived in this shack at one time. He had some photos of the family inside to prove it, too. I’m sure I took pictures of those pictures, but we’re about to the end of what I’ve processed from my trip so far, so it may show up in another post. I did get a few good shots of the friendly sharecropper though, because he was really embodying the spirit of the time period:

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And so did his shack:

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I’ll have more shots from this stop in the next post, and then it’s on to about half of the ‘real’ mansion – I ended up bailing on the tour halfway through that house. But since I am going back tomorrow, you really don’t need to worry about that, because by the time I get those shots processed I’ll have a whole new batch to add to them to fill out the rest of this set. For now, I’ll close with one of my favorite shots from the day – it’s out-of-order here; I took it when leaving the stock farm and heading over to the Ryon house (which you can see in the distance):

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Another fake sky! 

Tutoring My Own Horn

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I’ve got a lot of photos to share, as usual, and some thoughts on my tutoring endeavor, so I’m going to combine the two even though they don’t go together. But first, on the photography front – I have held several more sessions this month based in part on trips to the new Goodwill store that opened up recently in my area; this is a great place to get clothing for photoshoots as they get tons of great stuff.

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Including little kid tutus!

I also tried out using the live view technique I learned last month wherein I can attach my camera to my laptop and set up a shot – and take it – while looking at it on my computer screen. However, I actually found that this technique is often more trouble than it is worth, and while it’s useful, I think it’s only really needed for me when I’m shooting self portraits in more difficult situations (such as trying to pose lying down, for example) and for what I usually do, I’m better off just sticking to my old methods. I did discover that setting up a light stand with a bulb in the spot where I intend to pose helps me focus the camera AND helps me stay situated where I need to be to get in the frame of the shot: I often use a light bulb on a stand behind me when I shoot for some nice backlighting anyway, but I don’t always, and I never thought about how much it helps me focus to have it there. Now that I have thought about it, I just put the stand there even if I don’t intend to light it up, and voila – better focus in my photos.

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Tutus – they’re not just for covering your butt with tulle anymore

I also am playing around with more aggressive editing techniques on my self portraits just because. I tend to not like editing that imposes itself too much on the shot (unless the shot has flaws I’m trying to conceal) because I put so much effort into having the right makeup and costume and hair that I feel it rips all that effort off to then go and add so many overlays and filters to the photo that you can’t see those details. But often times, those effects can look very cool if done properly, and I certainly see other people’s edited photos and think how awesome it looks, so I’ve been trying to let go of some of my attachment to pseudo-realism.

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The shirt was a steal from Goodwill; both the shirt and the wig are actually orange

Also on the photography front: I agreed to take photos of my niece for her prom (which is not the sort of thing I usually agree to, but hey, every once in a while you gotta do the family a favor), and surprisingly, I found I really enjoyed editing the photos of her (and her date) that we took in the park near their house. Normally I am far from a “location” shooter; for self portraits the reasons are obvious (I like privacy when I’m doing my self portraits and would feel silly taking posed pics of myself anywhere in public) and some that are less obvious (I am just not accustomed to doing it and often mess up things like lighting, AND I have always leaned towards neutral backgrounds that don’t pull focus from my subject). But in this case, they wanted outdoor photos, so I acquiesced.

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He’s carrying her because her heels were sinking in the wet grass; I didn’t tell them to pose this way, but I love it. Thanks, wet grass!

And lo and behold, I found I really enjoyed editing these outdoor shots! They had me take some indoors too, and I made my usual mistakes there (I made some rookie moves like not positioning them properly in front of the fireplace and stuff like that), but I found that editing the outside stuff was quite fun, because I could work with light in interesting ways I can’t do with studio work – mostly sunlight and shadows.

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Composite shot here – in the original her skirt wasn’t flowing in the breeze like this; it was flowing in another photo so I stole the skirt from that pic and attached it to her dress in this shot. If you look down near her ankle, you can actually see a weird bit that almost looks like a pocket; I didn’t notice this until after I was totally done with the editing, but that’s an error from blending the two skirts together. 

This has me jonesing to find a model and get out and take more location shots, something I’ll need to do soon if I’m going to do it at all as it’s getting hotter here by the day and soon will be too hot and muggy for productive photos out-of-doors.

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Just another nice candid catch 

So that catches us up on photography. As I share the rest of my stuff, let me tell you what’s going on with tutoring. It’s been up and down – mostly up, but transitioning from full-time teaching to part-time tutoring (and I’ve got more business now, but not enough yet to call myself full-time, which is fine by me, honestly) has been an adjustment on so many more levels than I expected. For starters, re-scheduling can be a real bitch. Most of my students are involved in extracurricular activities, and as the spring rains start here in Texas, a LOT of canceled or re-scheduled games are cutting into my tutoring schedule. It’s not such a problem when people just cancel, but what most people want to do is RE-SCHEDULE, which is a pretty big pain in the ass. I get why it happens, and I get wanting to still get tutoring fit into the kids’ week, but on my end it kind of sucks. I actually like having a set schedule from week to week, and can get really thrown off by even one student requesting a last-minute change, much less 2 or 3 of them. I’m really committed to giving myself two guaranteed days off a week, with a third one on reserve as a backup, and more than once I’ve had to choose between sticking to that commitment and telling a student I just can’t meet with them that week, or scheduling kids on days I have set aside not to tutor to keep the money flowing and keep the kid caught up, but losing days off in the process. Boo.

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At first I was just telling everyone no if they could only meet with me on days I committed to taking off, but this has started to bump against another aspect of tutoring I hadn’t given much thought to until now: wanting to keep the money coming in. When I tell a kid I can’t re-schedule, I’m losing that week’s pay for that kid. That isn’t such a big deal when my schedule is full, but lately I’ve been awakened to the reality of tutoring’s revolving door; while I may have been able to get enough clients to keep me busy and pay me a nice amount of money, keeping them is a different story. Not that I’m losing kids left and right because I suck, but some kids only need intermittent help – one college student only calls me for a session when he has an essay due, another one only wanted academic coaching which wraps up after ten sessions, and still another one really just needed temporary help to get through one particularly difficult portion of his English class. So, I recently went from 8 clients back down to 6, with another one starting to taper off also, so then I’m down to 5. So, yeah. That whole I-really-hate-networking-and-I-hope-to-never-have-to-do-it-again-once-I-build-up-a-client-base dream didn’t totally come true. At least, not yet, and I’m looking at needing to put out some more advertising and peddling my wares a bit moving into the summer months (although I do also have three kids whose parents have already told me they want to work me in summer also).

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Which leads me to another big adjustment I am having to make: planning. This one is a bit trickier to sort out, but one thing I’ve hit upon lately is how big the whole concept of time is to my life. Not having the time to wake up peacefully in the morning or go to sleep when I wanted to when I was a teacher was always a huge reason why I felt dissatisfied doing it. Schools here start so damn early (7 or 7:30 AM) and since I didn’t live close to the schools where I taught, I always had to get to bed by 10 PM so I could wake up at 5 AM (and if you look at the time in which this posted you can see how much I love staying up late and, consequently, sleeping in). So tutoring providing me the time to structure my life the way I want has been truly miraculous and makes me really happy. But this time issue has manifested itself when working with students in less miraculous ways.

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I got word today that a student I’ve been tutoring since February did not pass her state exam; this is bad news because it is what I was hired to help her with. Not only that, but she failed by a wide margin; she wasn’t even close to passing, and in fact did worse this year than she did last year when she took the exam and also failed. After working through my guilt and panic about how I failed to help her, I realized many things (including the fact that while I clearly didn’tget her to where she needed to be before this test, it was not all my fault and I can find ways to remedy the parts of the situation which are my responsibility). I also had a conference with the parents of another student I tutor recently, and when they requested to meet with me I had this moment of realizing that I, in fact, wasn’t really sure what to tell them about the kid’s progress, because I hadn’t really been monitoring it all that much. I was basically showing up every week, doing some tutoring, and leaving, without putting nearly the proper amount of forethought and planning into the process. As such, I at first didn’t feel like I could tell the parents where the kid was progressing and where he was still behind. This was not at all a good sign.

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Wig and shirt in original color

Now, I ended up going back to my notes that I’d made on the kid when I first started tutoring with him, then I pulled out my calendar as well as the work we’d done and I’d kept in a folder (thank God) and, from all that information, managed to pull together and good summary of where we were, where we were headed, what weaknesses he still had, and how we might get there. Fortunately, the parents agreed with me, and there were no complaints (in fact, they ended up asking me to tutor their younger child next year, too). The meeting worked out fine, but it was the first wake-up call for me that as a tutor I need to be sure I am not just teaching, but also evaluating and assessing my students and making plans of action for progress – something that is naturally worked into the curricuum of a teacher, and is fact often dictated by administraton, but as a tutor there’s no authority around breathing down my neck to make sure I’m doing what I should be doing to address the needs of my students. And especially since my first few clients were kids who mainly just needed me to help them with homework, it makes sense it would take me a while to reach this realization, becuase my first few clients didn’t require me to plan and evaluate (and still don’t).

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In thinking through what happened with the girl who failed, I realized our sessions shared a similarity with my sessions with the other kiddo: I have a tendency to plan for my lessons in relation to time more than content. This is a holdover habit from teaching: when I taught 5 classes of 30 each a day, I became obsessed with time, because I believed the key to a well-behaved classroom was keeping everyone busy (this is actually true, at least in part). Therefore, my lesson plans had to teach concepts to kids, sure, but they also had to occupy an entire 55-minute segment of time, and they had to do that every single day or I was not comfortable. So every plan I made involved a time breakdown – how many minutes would the warm-up take? What about the reading? And the quiz? Then what does that all add up to? And if the things I planned did not equal 55 minutes, well then, I planned ways to pad the lesson and in some cases just kill time with busywork. I was a good teacher with some of the best-behaved classes you’ve ever seen (subs always loved to work in my classroom because the kids were so well-trained and I kept them occupied every second with activity) but it is not at all the way I should be approaching tutoring. And yet, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Consciously or not, I have kept my time-management attitude that makes KEEPING THEM BUSY a priority  over everything else, and well, it’s not a good look for any of us.

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I’ve been planning my tutoring lessons from this stance of: OK, what can I do that will fill an hour? And then, my second thought has been, OK, what do they need to learn and how will I teach it? And that hasn’t been the right approach. Much like with the boy whose parents asked for a conference, when I look back over my work with the girl who failed her exam I can see where at times, I worked on lessons with her that weren’t all that good at addressing her needs but were good at filling the time slot I was getting paid for. I never did this consciously, it’s just so ingrained in me to panic at even the thought of ‘not having enough to do’ that I was making this a priority without noticing it. And in the case of the girl who failed, I should have spent more time concerning myself with what she was going to learn from an activity than concerning myself with whether or not the activity would fill the time slot. It’s not that I wasn’t considering the content at all, it’s just that my perspective was warped towards filing time so the content wasn’t getting the focus it needed.

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I am certainly not proud of this, and I’ve spoken already with the mother and am going to do better moving forward. This is all still trial-and-error, live-and-learn stuff for me right now, and I am comforted by the thought that I didn’t do this intentionally and that my heart is and has always been in the right place. But I definitely need to do better. We have a meeting set up with her teacher right now, because I want to see what observations the girl’s teacher has and if they match up with mine.

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As I said, there are other reasons the girl failed that are not on my shoulders, but at least in part I need to learn from this and do better moving forward. It’s amazing to me how many unspoken assumptions I have made about this whole tutoring thing without questioning whether or not they are accurate at all; I want to go easy on myself because I am new at this and still learning, but the idea that I didn’t do more to help this girl pass her state exam is an awful feeling nonetheless (again, it isn’t all my fault and there are a lot of other circumstances in play, but I don’t want to come off like I’m making a bunch of excuses so I’m not mentioning them).

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And in general, I need to watch my obsession with time and check to make sure I am not making decisions from that perspective – in all aspects of my life and career, and not just the ways I’ve mentioned here, because there are a lot of other ways in which this obsession sets me back. It’s something I do in other areas, also, and those other areas also need work, but that’s probably a post for another time. Especially since I’m finally out of photos to share.

Forward, March

MAN did I process a ton of photos last month! So many that I doubt I have enough to say about them to fill the post if I upload them all here, but that doesn’t mean I’m not gonna try.

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This is a wig I bought from wigisfashion.com. Not bad for the price but the shipping took forever.

The first discovery I made in March involves using my laptop as a live view screen when shooting photos. I had some distant knowledge of the fact that I could connect my laptop to my camera and view the photos on my monitor after they had been taken, but for some reason I never investigated this far enough to learn that I could actually use my latop as a live view LCD screen and see what a photo was going to look like before taking it. Discovering this was a pretty big deal, since getting my focus and framing right has always been a major problem when shooting self-portraits.

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This is mostly my own hair, but I do have a little clip around the bun that has spiky hair attached. it’s a really easy way to add a little more oomph to an updo. It’s by HairDo and is pretty easy to find – Ulta has them here

After one particular shoot where so many good shots were ruined by either being out of focus or out of the frame, I became obsessed with getting a new camera that had an articulating screen, like my little Sony vidcam has, so that I could see the shots I was about to take when using my remote. In all my researching (which was frustrating, because higher-quality DSLRs don’t use them) I finally stumbled across some instructional videos showing how to use a laptop as an LCD screen and see what you’re going to shoot in a live-view mode. In short, this was a huge leap forward for me as a photographer, because it meant I could finally take shots of myself without purely guessing whether or not I was framed and focused properly.

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Figuring out where to aim the camera and then managing to lie down in the proper spot is a real bitch when using a remote. Normally by the time I get it right, I am no longer smiling like I am here.

The shot above is a great example of this, as taking a picture of myself lying down, when working blind from a remote trigger, had been impossible before, but with the use of the laptop screen to get into the frame properly, I was not only able to pull it off, but to get myself focused beautifully. And this was using my 85mm lens, by the way, which is already a tough one to focus properly for self-portraits.

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It’s not a perfect method, and I don’t think it’s useful in all situations. If what I want to do is fling a wig around and take photos that capture the movement of the hair, taking the time to get the shot framed properly on the live-view screen isn’t worth the trouble since I don’t have a set idea of what I’m going for anyway and tend to pull the focus back far enough to get all of me in the frame no matter what; full-length and jumping shots probably also don’t need the extra bother to get framed right either. But definitely any portrait where I want to pose in a manner other than standing and looking straight at the camera are much easier to pull off this way.

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Just another test shot using the laptop – one issue is that what I see on the laptop isn’t flipped, so when I move left it appears on the screen like I am moving right, which is a MAJOR bitch to manage. 

I can not only see the shot I’m about to take before I take it, but I can also color-balance the shot right there on my monitor, which is pretty awesome. And I can set the focus where I want it, although this is tricky when shooting self-portraits and I still miss the mark at times.

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Fake ponytail from HairDo that I hated – it’s hard to apply and so heavy it falls right off. So I wrapped it on my head like a dead animal and took some photos, then threw it away. It’s useless. 

I will say using this method is a completely different way to shoot than I am accustomed to, which is why I’ve realized it’s not necessary in every situation.  First of all, there’s the issue of my eyesight again – yes, I can see exactly where I am going to be in the shot, set the focus, and adjust the white balance. But at some point, I have to take off my glasses and hit the trigger, and many times that still messes me up. Moving even the slightest bit from when I set up the shot via live view can screw up the shot by shifting me out of focus or off the mark I was going for; this happens more than you would imagine just by taking off my glasses and setting them down (which is why in all these awesomely-focused shots I am wearing my glasses) .

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Fake bun, also from HairDo. This one is OK as it’s a banana clip, which is what I prefer for ease of use – but matching the color of hairpieces to the color of my hair is always a problem, which is why I don’t normally use them.

And, I am very used to my shoots being free-wheeling affairs, where I move about a lot and take a ton of shots in the hope that at least a few of them will end up being usable; this laptop live view process is completely different in that each shot is carefully constructed and posed before I click the shutter. So it feels much more planned and methodical than what I’m used to doing. And the truth is, sometimes I don’t have much of a plan for what I’m going to shoot, which can make working this way frustrating. So, this is a good technique for me to keep in mind for self-portraits, but not necessarily something I need to use every time. I will say that while it slows down the actual shooting part of the process, and makes me think and plan more about what I’m doing than I’m sometimes comfortable with, it makes the processing part quicker because another benefit to hooking the laptop up to the camera while I shoot is that the program immediately downloads the shots to my hard drive as soon as I take them.

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Random old shot I processed at some point this month. I don’t really care for it.

This means I can stop during the middle of the shoot and pull a photo into my RAW processing software to mess around with it and be sure the shoot is headed in the right direction – is the makeup right, is the lighting working, is the color balance correct, etc. Again, while this is great on one hand, it slows me down on the other, and makes a shoot more about precision than spontaneity. Working this way is slow on a shot-by-shot basis, and I end up taking a LOT less shots as a result, because every step of the way is slowed down and analyzed rather than being evaluated after the fact. It’s not a bad thing at all, but it’s not always what a shoot requires, so it’s made me think more ahead of time about what I’m trying to do and how best to do it – which mostly serves to remind me how little technical knowledge I really have about what I’m doing at all. My lack of real skill isn’t so evident when I’m just screwing around and worrying about the end results later. Oh well.

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On the processing end, I got the idea one night to play around with taking two photos of myself and merging them into one shot, as you can see here. This is a bit tricky, since I need to find two shots of myself where my head is positioned almost exactly the same, and in order to really work the mouth needs to be similar, too (in fact, in this one I just used the full mouth from one of the shots, since in the two separate portraits they didn’t match up). In the end, I wasn’t super-thrilled with this first effort, since the two sides I put together don’t really make much sense in one photo – I don’t think the two looks play off each other in any meaningful or interesting way, but hey, it was nice practice. Getting two shots where my face was positioned close enough to match each other was harder than I thought it would be, so in the end I just went with what I could find. Moving on.

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What this experiment really led to was me taking one portrait shot, then cropping it in half and mirroring that side by flipping and pasting it onto the original. In this way, I could create some really cool symmetry and interesting shapes, particularly out of flowy wig shots.

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Harder to do when the eyes are looking to the side like this than in the one above where I am looking dead ahead

As with the live view screen on my laptop issue, I’m not sure why  I never thought of this before, but for whatever reason I never had, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to do. Especially when I have SO MANY wig-flow shots where there’s some cool shape created on one side of the wig that was originally ruined by something boring happening on the other side.

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I’ve already edited this photo as an original but I loved how the hair moved on that right side so much edited it again as a mirrored shot. Also, from a different picture I added those waves around the hairline because in the original the hairline was really wiggy.

It also makes my face just a little bit freaky, which I am always down for. Going back and looking at old photos where I can apply this technique has been a real eye-opener; a LOT of lost shots that I never processed because that one interesting detail wasn’t enough to save the whole thing can now be seen in a new light.

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For example, the shot above, before it was mirrored, was pretty boring. It was a test shot for some fabric I thought about using (the fabric is actually a shawl from Anthropologie); I just draped it over my head and hit the shutter, and on one side it was hanging down awkwardly and my face was really plain. But once I mirrored and flipped it, holy cow – it looked REALLY cool. So, for the past week, I’ve been seeking out old photos to flip and mirror – but then I got distracted by another discovery!

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A few years ago, I did a big shoot with my friend Candace where I rented out a studio and took a ton of shots. I processed quite a few at the time, but then I lost track of the folder on my hard drive and at some point assumed I’d deleted it or lost it somehow and that all those additional photos were dead to me forever. I keep all my originals on external hard drives, and although I’d combed through them looking for this set I’d never found it – I have thousands upon thousands of old photos, though, so the fact that this one eluded me when I was looking for it specifically isn’t much of surprise.

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I was thrilled to find it though; not only is my friend is ridiculously photogenic, obviously, but she is also game for anything and comes up with really creative ideas for posing so that all I have to do is shoot. She also doesn’t mind at all if I edit her photos to near-unrecognizable proportions (although she does tell me that those pics freak out her kids a bit, LOL).

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Candace has what I think of as an ‘anime’ face – big, round, wide-set eyes, a round face shape, and narrow, really full lips. After working with my own face for so long, it’s really interesting to work with someone else’s, especially someone who shares exactly ZERO similarities with my own face. I actually had to stop myself from over-editing her eyes and mouth because those are two areas that I work the most on my own face –  my eyes are small and close-set, and my lips are really thin, but I am amazed at how rather perfect this woman’s lips are naturally. I did no enhancement to them in these photos AT ALL; neither did they require any lipstick as they are naturally a rosy red.

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Other things I tend to notice when working on portraits: Candace has a really interesting nose. It’s long and narrow, but the tip of it is an almost perfect upside-down triangle, again, almost the opposite of my rather short and pudgy one. In fact, in looking at and working with the different parts of her face, I’m miffed as to how anyone could accuse of being sisters, or mother (me) and daughter (her) as sometimes happens. There just seriously isn’t one facial characteristic we have in common!

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Although I felt the need to do a lot less ‘work’ on her natural state than I do myself, I of course couldn’t help myself from doing some retouching and mucking around. And since I was finally working with a different face, I made a few before and after collages for the hell of it:

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Candace’s skin is significantly younger than mine – she is 33 and I am 47 – so skin retouching was MUCH easier, and where my complexion tends to be sallow, her skin tone is very peachy in tone. In a lot of shots, she had one eye that tended to squint more than the other – something I’ve noticed in my own photos, too – so I had to work a bit to even that out, and I lifted her eyebrows in a few shots like I do to a lot of my own; it makes the subject look younger and also makes the eyes look more expressive. It can give the photo a odd or phony quality, though, so on someone less open to my manipulations I wouldn’t have done it, but I knew she wouldn’t mind.

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We shot these photos in March of 2014, and it was already quite warm outside, but I’d brought along that funky faux-fur vest anyway, and after the shoot was done Candace threw it on and we took some quick pics in the alley behind the photo studio. It was the middle of the day, so the light was horrid in  the original, but I managed to play around with it until I got a goth-y, winter-y look I liked. In the portrait, I really wanted to make her look like a china doll, so I widened her face to make it more round and lifted the brows again. I wanted to transform her into a total blonde, but when I went too light it looked fake, so I settled for a lighter brown and then added tons of light and texture to give the photo an antique quality.

So, that’s it for the photos I’ve been working on lately, and I have a lot more face-flipping and Candace-editing that I want to do. Also, in spite of my damn self I am REALLY DYING to try this new Jon Renau Sarah wig that retails for a ridiculous price; I didn’t notice originally that it was a fully hand-tied cap, so that explains the crazy $450 price tag a little bit (but not much). Name Brand Wigs has a 30% off sale going on right now, and I am super-tempted to buy one even though at 30% off it’s still a stupid amount of money for a synthetic wig. In fact, I haven’t been tempted to try either a Renau or a Raquel Welch in a long time due to their price increases, but man, that Sarah is really calling to me. I’m about 99% convinced at this point that I need to try her, so a new wig video may be on it’s way in the next week or two. I think I can justify it if I buy it in a really photogenic color and tell myself I can use all that long wavy length in photos (which is true). Stay tuned!

The Art of the Spiel

That title only slightly makes sense in relation to this post, but coming up with clever titles is hard, y’all. I’m sure you feel my pain.

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If not, then feel this photo instead.

First of all, I wrote a really long post yesterday about an experience I had with a former blogger-friend of mine a few years ago, left it up for a few hours, then decided it wasn’t a good idea to say all that I did publicly about someone else even though most likely no one would have known who I was talking about anyway and took it down. So, if you read that post yesterday and are wondering where it went, then no, you have not lost your mind. I moved it back to draft status while I decide whether or not to let it stand (I am leaning towards not re-posting it). Moving on.

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No, the dingo didn’t eat your baby. I did. 

I also had a ton of new photos in that post, so I will be working them in to this one now, and they most likely will not relate in any way to the topic at hand, but so be it. Everybody up to speed now? Then let’s get started.

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So let’s discuss this instead: A while back, I posted about some more art opportunities that sort of came my way. I say sort of because, as was the case with art opportunities I’ve had in the past, these new ones also involved a bit of work on my part to make them happen, mostly because there was an assumption on behalf of the opportunity-provider that I know way more about all this photography stuff than I actually do. Because what I know is next to nothing. Which will become evident to you by the end of this post if it isn’t already.

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Green-eyed monster, anyone?

I recall another opportunity that came to nothing a few years ago, wherein the art gallery owner ranted on and on to me about how photography wasn’t real art (not really surprising, then, that this opportunity never came to fruition). Her observation was that, basically, the technology of photography is such that one doesn’t have to have much real talent or skill to be a decent photographer, and that in the end photography is just a matter of ‘standing around long enough with a camera until something interesting happens and then clicking the shutter.’

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Oh, THE DRAMA…

Not gonna lie, but this description, rude as it was, was also shockingly close to describing my entire creative process, so I had to give her credit for that while still considering her pretty bitchy and losing interest in working with her immediately. But I digress.

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Which leads me to a similar experience I had after being given the opportunity to submit a proposal to a local arts organization for possible inclusion in their programs, as I wrote about here and here. When I met with this woman initially, she was super-enthusiastic about my work and had lots of ideas of what I could do with it. I told her I’d mull her ideas over and see if I couldn’t work something up that fit into this organization’s structure, and over the weeks which ensued I tried my best to come up with something I liked.

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I sent her a few versions of my ever-changing proposal, and occasionally asked questions, but I tried to learn from past experience and not ask for help from her too terribly much. But in the end, two things happened to put a stop to the whole thing before it ever got off the ground anyway.

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First of all was the familiar fading of enthusiasm for my lack of experience. Sure enough, after the first round of questions or two, she started taking longer and longer to respond to my messages – which again, I tried not to make too constant – until eventually she stopped responding altogether. No surprise there.

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But the other thing that happened was this: I finally realized, after well over a month of trying to take what I do and fit it into what this arts organization did and failing miserably, that I actually did not want to work with them at all. I had no enthusiasm for it, and was simply trying to make it happen because, once again, I’d fallen prey to the belief that if I’m good at something, I have to turn it into a thing – a career, a job, a moneymaker, a thing that I do instead of the other things I do to make money that other people see as less glamorous or fulfilling or interesting.

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This happens to me quite often. I’m not talking about people who see my photos and, as a simple compliment, say that they think I could/should sell my work professionally and own my own photography business. I understand that when people say those things, they are being complimentary and nothing more, and I take it as such.

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But there are other people who take it a bit further, by comparing the job I actually do work at and comparing it to my art, and finding my work lacking. Why are you an English tutor and not a photographer? they will say. Why are you wasting time being a teacher when you could be a full-time, paid artist?

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I’ve noticed that the people who want to guide me away from teaching and into photography as a career are of two types, generally: people who absolutely HATE their own jobs, and people who absolutely LOVE what they do. The people who hate their jobs look at the way I have this totally separate thing that I do that looks so creative and fun and think, man, this woman must be crazy to do a boring old working-class job like teaching all day when she could go out and just take pictures instead; if I had a hobby like that I could easily turn into a full-time job, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

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And the people who just LOVE their jobs look at my photography and can’t imagine how something like teaching could be as awesome as taking photos, and they feel sorry for me because they imagine I must only feel passion for the thing that looks super-fun and relaxing without understanding that the fact it isn’t my day job is a big part of WHY it’s super-fun and relaxing in the first place.

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Found this dress at Goodwill for $25, and it was SO TINY I almost ripped it in half just trying to get it on. It did not survive the shoot.

Again – to any of you who have complimented my photos and said you thought I could have a career at it if I wanted one, please do not think I am talking about you. I am not. I’m talking about the people who see what I have chosen as a career as some sort of cop-out because I’m chicken or something, or lacking in motivation, or selling myself short because I lack confidence. Because that truly is not the case. Knowledge I may lack, but confidence I do not – or at least, no more than the next person.

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It became painfully evident to me while I tried to force myself to work up a proposal for this arts organization that it simply didn’t speak to me at all, and that I was only trying to force myself into it because I was giving in to the voices that told me I was doing myself some sort of disservice by not pursuing it. The woman who originally came to me with the idea – and she was a very nice person, who no doubt was trying to do me a favor – even told me that day that I wasn’t “hanging out with my people” and that I really needed to get connected to this local art community of which she was a member. Which was – odd, to say the least.

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See the wide neckline of the dress? It was NOT wide before I put it on. In fact, it came all the way up to my neck. I had to rip myself into it! Also, I couldn’t get the side zipper more than halfway up, but I think I concealed it well here.

I mean, really this woman didn’t know me at all, but the fact that I had artistic talent meant she somehow knew with whom I should have been hanging out. Interestingly enough, one of her biggest contacts she felt I should definitely be getting to know was the owner of the other art gallery, the one who insulted photography all the while knowing she was talking to a photographer. I disliked that woman immediately and immensely, yet because she was into Art-with-a-capital-A of course we should be hanging out and getting along.

Sorry, but I just HAD to include this

When I wrote poetry back in the 90’s, I often found myself at odds with what I was doing. I loved to read poetry, but I never cared much for reading it aloud, or hearing others read it. I wanted to hear it in my own head, and I really needed to see the words because the visuals were important to me (line breaks, etc.). But being a “poet” meant being a part of the poetry community – and while workshops always floated my boat because I loved picking poems apart and getting feedback about my own – listening to people at poetry readings or hanging out in coffee shops talking about how important poetry was always a bit boring to me.

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To love reading and writing poetry is one thing – but in my opinion, to feel that poetry is essential to life and that it held within it all of the secrets of the world was just too much. It was fine if someone else felt that way, but I didn’t, so eventually, my connections to the poetry community faded and dissolved (for this and other reasons not mentioned because they have nothing to do with the subject), and after a stint in the 00’s writing poetry online with a fair amount of success, I discovered photography, and that became my much-preferred creative endeavor.

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OK, I’m rambling here, so what is the point of all this? My point is this: number one, I am not only a good photographer, but I am also actually a very good teacher, and i very much enjoy tutoring. I am not only fine with it being my job, but I have actively chosen to make it so, and I continue to stick by that choice. It is rewarding and worthwhile and I am quite good at it. So, there’s that. And number two: just because I am good at photography does not mean it has to become my job or else I’ve wasted my talents. My art is my passion, but it’s mine, and no one owns it but me. It has nothing to do with how I pay my bills, and that is just the way I like it. When I shoot, I do exactly what I want, when I want, and how I want to do it. There are no demands – not on my time, or my level of effort, or my results. And often times, my results just suck, and that’s okay (good Lord, if I knew I had to get good results out of a shoot, it would be the end of me). The more people try to put my art into boxes that make them comfortable, the more I learn about where my own boundaries are around it. I don’t even feel much like I’ll ever want to take photos of other people at this point – for whatever reason,  I like using myself as my model, and so be it.

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And one more thing – I am just not a ‘joiner.’ I’ve found this in the current political climate, too. As I think I’ve made very clear, I did not vote for our current president. And after the election, I was as motivated as anyone to get more politically involved. However, what I’ve found is loads of groups that, while they do good work organizing and focusing on very valuable issues, also have a huge social component I just don’t care for. I struggled with this at first, until I realized that I just simply don’t need these big groups of people with whom I have some common bond, especially when that common bond results in large gatherings of people sitting around talking about the subject.

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When these groups go out and do things, I am game for coming along, but I don’t really want or need to have dinner with them once a month, or meet at their houses for lectures and meetings. So what that makes me is a much less active member in these communities, which before I really thought about all this made me feel like a slacker who wasn’t doing her part. But now I see it as being a ‘doer’ instead of a joiner. Let’s face it, if all that’s going to happen is a meeting where people talk about issues over dinner and drinks, I’d rather be at home in a wig taking pictures anyway. And so it is.

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