A Careful, Sensitive Temperament

“The glory of the disposition that stops to consider stimuli rather than rushing to engage with them is its long association with intellectual and artistic achievement.” – science journalist Winifred Gallagher

I’m a sitter, not a rover.
I found this out last year reading Susan Cain’s essay about introversion in the New York Times (“Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic?” June 26, 2011). Her essay made me very happy even if it did not put me at ease.

As someone born with a “sitter-like” temperament, I am predisposed to shyness and introversion; 15-20% of humans are also born with this disposition. Sitters notice things; we are careful, astute and, apparently, learn by observation rather than acting. So we notice the nuances of human interaction – the kindnesses, but also the slights, the rewards, but more so the risks in every social situation. The noticing makes us watchful; the watchfulness makes us take heed; we would prefer to take heed in quiet, minimally stimulating environments wherein we can really, really focus on noticing. Does the last sentence make you claustrophobic? Then welcome to the 80%! Likely, you would rather be hanging out with friends than sitting by yourself thinking about why so many people like to hang out with their friends. I’m sick!

Actually, I am not sick. I am sensitive and empathetic. I listen well and I am good at photographing people. Oh, and I truly KNOW I should come out of my shell and enjoy society. I’ve thought about it a lot and work every day on accepting opportunities to relax, explore, make friends and have fun. I am introverted, not stupid.

Susan Cain’s point in writing about shyness and introversion is to emphasize what is right about my personality type as counterpoint to the medical community’s pathologizing my fundamental nature. “Social Anxiety Disorder” did not exist until 1980 when it appeared in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the bible of mental disorders. Characterized as a “social phobia,” social anxiety disorder was not widely known until pharmaceutical companies received F.D.A. approval to treat it. I am highly valued as a customer of big pharm even if I’m undervalued in a culture that prizes extroversion.

Not to worry! Within my small group of friends, the conversation about my abilities or disabilities has never come up. So, I almost wept with the shock of recognition to discover Susan Cain’s essay and to read that 15-20% are like me! And we don’t need Zoloft!

Here is a link to the article:

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The Artists’ Sublime Sailboat

From ARTFORUM, Oct.29, 2009

Tacita Dean: “SOME TIME AFTER we worked together on Merce Cunningham performs STILLNESS, Merce asked me to collaborate with him on an Event. Through CalArts, Merce and Trevor Carlson, the executive director of his company, had found this huge space in Richmond—a former Ford factory. My interest was more in Merce at that point than it was in the dancers—my history with old men! I wanted to film him, which is why I chose to film the rehearsal because during the performance he recedes a bit. It was a shock when he died. I really believed he would go on for another few years.”


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These are Gorgeous – Wayne Lawrence

One of the reasons that I love these photographs is that the subjects are so present. Trust is palpable in these pictures; these folks know that Wayne Lawrence has good intentions. I would shoot at Orchard Beach too. People are at leisure – relaxed and open. They’re half naked, unguarded, but in public! Tension between the private and the public makes these photographs so good. His gorgeous subjects don’t hurt either.
These photographs appeared on Sunday in the New York Times (“Sand, Skin and Community,” NYT, July 29, 2012). Thanks for supporting good photography NYTs!! (Did you know you can subscribe to a digital edition of the NYTs that looks great on an iPad? Your subscription supports great journalism and photography).

Inspired by Mr. Lawrence, here are a few of my own photographs of bathers enjoying Cayuga Lake. I shot these last summer, 2011. I haven’t been back to continue the project. I’m tempted to change that in August.

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Feels Like the First Time

In honor of a new website under my own domain name, I’m re-launching my blog.

What follows is a re-post of something I wrote for the Ithaca League of Women Rollers website about

two years ago.  Perhaps, this group of women has skated the circumference of the globe in the time

that I’ve been photographing them — countless hours I’ve watched them skate around and around the track…

And the pictures?  They’ve improved as much as the skating!



I walked into a SufferJets practice session for the first time last August, 2009.  I had just finished a photography workshop and was anxious to find a project in which I could absorb myself photographically.  I love to document…life and people.  I love public events and activities in which people let loose.  When the Ithaca Journal wrote about the SufferJet team in May, 2008, I cut the article out of the paper and stuffed it into my “ideas” file.  I wanted to drive straight to the rink, but I didn’t.  I didn’t feel ready.  And it wasn’t until more than a year later (after the workshop, after a small photo exhibit at Gimme! Coffee, after I wondered to myself “What are you waiting for?”) that I worked up the courage to walk into the rink.  This is the very first photo I took.  There have been hundreds more since then.





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Step One: Head First into Metaphor

I realize.  My photographs grow from prose.  Perhaps, they are even prosaic.

I take them down from my office bulletin board, proud to show them, only to watch them deflate under the scrutiny of critique.

I see art everywhere, yet I struggle to make it.

Seems that a good place to start is metaphor.  And so I turn to one of my favorite poems.

LITANY / Billy Collins

You are the bread and the knife
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley,
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman’s tea cup.
But don’t worry, I am not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and – somehow –
the wine.

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A Room of One’s Own

School has started.  New graduate student orientation was the day after our family vacation and the transition felt…awful.

New day, no routine.  I have been listening to David Brooks’, “The Social Animal: the hidden sources of love, character and achievement” on my drives to and from Syracuse, and sometimes I have to turn it off because I find the text too painful.  He presents advancements in science and social science research to illuminate the human processes of obtaining an education, falling in love, pursuing a career, raising children – the full gamut of human interaction.  He posits the theory that we act out of a deep drive to connect with one another…this as I’m disconnecting from a life I feel is only partially successful (I have a fantastic  family…but why can’t I deeply engage with a group…do most career pursuits seem so thin to me because I don’t have some of my own…where is my confidence, my optimism).  I ache wondering if this endeavor will yield any peace.

Here is what I wrote during the first week of school.  Perhaps it seems melodramatic, but I perceived a big shift in my existence, a passing of some point I can’t return to.

So, my writing:

“I’m not gonna lie.  Without a doubt, this has been the most difficult transition of my life.  The school year officially has arrived.  This last week of August, 2011 is the first full week of classes for Syracuse University students, and that includes me.  I’m having a “what the *&%#$%@” moment.  As in,what the *%$@(#  have I done to myself?  I feel a bit like a snail that has been slowly moving through life, producing the snail secretions to make the shell home that has defined and protected my world.  And now, for whatever reason, I’ve decided to lose the shell and live like a snail unprotected.

 I miss my shell…so much.”

And now Virginia Woolf quoted from the essay referenced in my title.  This is why we need writers in our lives.

“…what happens when Olivia…sees coming her way a piece of strange food – knowledge, adventure, art.  And she reaches out for it, I thought, again raising my eyes from the page, and has to devise some entirely new combination of her resources, so highly developed for other purposes, so as to absorb the new into the old without disturbing the infinitely intricate and elaborate balance of the whole.”

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I’ve been working on summer project documenting Ithacans enjoying East Shore Park on Cayuga Lake.  This is a film project – 120 Fujicolor Pro 160 film shot with my beloved Pentax 67 II.

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Beg, Borrow, Steal

No, this is not a post about  The Debt Ceiling Crisis.  Although, that amazing piece of political theater, with its manipulation of governance and economics, got me thinking about three, less fearsome projects that tweak ideas of exchange.

Karyn Bosnak founded the website Save Karyn at the start of this millenium (2002).  In debt for $20,000, she had the brilliant idea to publicize her predicament on the internet and ask for donations.  Her pitch was straightforward and shameless:  “My name is Karyn, I’m really nice, and I’m asking for your help.”  More interesting to me than whether or not she was successful (she was) is the hierarchy of exchange that she redefined with her idea.  Although she offered nothing for something, and risked humiliation in turning a private issue into public matter, she attracted patrons through the sense of identification her plight engendered.

In 2005, Kyle McDonald used Craigslist to trade one red paperclip for a house.  It wasn’t a straight up trade, he went through 13 or 15 different trades before ending up with a free, one-year lease on a small house in Kipling, Saskatchewan Canada.  The project garnered  a lot of attention at the time, perhaps because it exposed two things: a latent potential for bartering, and, more interestingly, the internet’s capacity to activate a network of people interested in collaborating on an idea.  In the end, he needed track down only 13 renegade spirits to participate in the scheme, and all shared in the material “trades” as well as the publicity the project generated.  Activating public interest in his private need, Kyle secured himself a home.

The characters in Ryan Trecartin’s videos occupy a virtual/real mash-up world.  Giddy, creepy and oddly familiar, Trecartin’s work explores boundaries of identity, gender, culture and commerce. “I have something inside of me to give, something that everybody needs.  I know the world would pick me out of a crowd,” gushes Stephen, an orphan who opens I-BE Area, 2007.  One of several children “for sale” on the Adoption Network, he is on the market when the film opens.  His “something” —  inside, undefined, that we all need — does not yet command the value of a one-year lease or $20,000 of debt relief.  Later in the video (exactly minute 20:00), Oliver, a young adult hoping to escape her old lifestyle (her emphasis), offers this exchange: a one-way ticket to Brazil worth “$995 international dollars” for a box containing her cellphone, her outfit, all her passwords and a PDF describing “why I do the things I do.”  She is hoping that someone will identify with her strongly enough to purchase her identity, and set her free.

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Cristina Garcia Rodero

I look at and appreciate a lot of photography.  I spend hours pouring over images and am a big fan of the medium.

I can recall being blown away by a photographer’s ouevre exactly four times — when I first saw the photographs of Diane Arbus, Mary Ellen Mark, Sylvia Plachy and, most recently, Cristina Garcia Rodero.

On a recent trip to Galicia, Spain, I happened by her book, Transtempo, in the bookstore of the Galician Center of Contemporary Art.  The cover image is a haunting depiction of a woman farmer overseeing a grazing mare and her new foal.  The woman is slim, dressed in dark clothes and wrapped in a dark head scarf.  She holds the mare’s lead while the animal grazes — the mare’s new foal standing awkwardly behind its mother.  The weather is murky and the farmer’s hair blows in a wind, her features are obscured by the weather and by the picture’s shallow depth of field.  She and the foal stare directly at the viewer.  The foal is startled innocence (I am that foal); the woman holds a gaze as steady and old as days.  Hers is a look of hardship and salvation, strength and vulnerability.  She holds the mare’s lead as though it is a lifeline out of the gloom — gloom that a less fortunate figure in the background of the frame stumbles through without equine aid.  The foal and I want to follow her.

Garcia Rodero’s imagery is painfully, exuberantly human, aesthetically masterful and important.  She hails from Puertollano, Galicia and is the first Spaniard to join Magnum Photos agency (2005).  Transtempo documents Galicia and her people in an infinite reality, creating “a new story between the gaze and time” (Manuel Rivas in his introductory essay).  Her work in Galicia is part of a larger project Between Heaven and Earth for which she has traveled the world in order to witness spiritual rites and sites of religious and pagan observance.  She searches for the locus of contradiction in our human condition.  She sublimates herself to “an eternal learning about life in opposition to our implacable finiteness” (Miguel Von Hafe, essay for Transtempo).  She is one of the greats.

 La confesion, Saavedra, 1980

A link to Garcia Rodero’s Magnum Photos essay Between Heaven and Earth 

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Lighting – a baby comes a long way

I’m a huge baby about photography equipment.  I’m intimidated by it, and I kick and scream about new purchases.  I’ve avoided lighting for years mostly because of all the scary-looking equipment (and the fact that I do really love natural light photography).  But, I’ve been photographing the Ithaca League of Women Rollers (roller derby) for two years now and categorically state there are few less accommodating places to shoot natural light photographs than sports arenas and locker rooms.  I tried.  For many months, I shot roller derby with super-high ISO speeds trying to convince myself that the grainy, sickly green or magenta cast to my images created an authentic sodium vapor ambiance.  I also spent a lot of time in Photoshop attempting to bend color curves to my will – abracadabra transform these colors into something remotely pleasing!   Then, finally, I started reading The Strobist (the patient shepherd of many an amateur photographer into the land of true colors and full tonal range) and, over time, bought myself  some flashes*.  Now, not only are my derby photographs consistently better lit, I am gaining confidence in my technical skills.  Here is my path, in photographs:

An early photograph shot with high ISO and on-camera flash bounced onto the ceiling.  I’m not crazy about the color casts and the stopped-up blacks.

For the next shot, I moved my flash off-camera and was using a bracket.  Flash again bounced off ceiling.  I like this effect if the ceiling is low, and white, which usually it is not.

More recently, I’m playing with the balance between ambient light, a bounced on-camera flash and two remote flashes.  More range and better color.

*the flashes and other stuff I now own are:  a Canon 580EX II, two 430 EX IIs, two flash stands, two umbrellas and three Pocket Wizards.  By no means and inexpensive investment but one with an indisputable return.

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