Reclaiming Our Artistry


What do you need to make better images? You don’t need a fancier camera (truly - you can make amazing images with a camera made out of an oatmeal box). You don’t need to take another Lightroom class. You don’t need to understand hyperfocal distance (seriously).

When we believe we need all this, that we can’t be artists until we have it all dialed in - that takes our power away. Because, our hearts and souls aren’t in the equation when it’s all about gear and technique, you know?

I hear a lot of photographers talk about how bad they feel about their gear, how inadequate they feel about their skills, how they don’t measure up to Photoshop pros with more expensive kits.

It breaks my heart because I know these things are a TINY part of what it really means to be an artist. Tiny.

It’s transformative to take a deep breath and let go of all this so we can focus on the things that really matter. The important stuff: the people and places we love in the world, the experiences that make us laugh and cry and jump with delight, the things that connect us more deeply to life, love, and the human experience. The things that bring us home to ourselves.

That’s the good stuff.

When we focus our energies there, that’s when we start making images that really go above and beyond.

So, it starts with you. It’s about who you are - what you bring to the table as an artist. You already have access to that. It’s just a matter of digging deep, looking inside with an open, honest heart, and making images that reflect what you find there.

If you’re ready to let go of the distractions and develop a more intimate, nourishing relationship with your art, join me in my e-course Candela: Finding Inspiration Through Photography. It starts tomorrow. Candela is six full weeks of guidance, support, and conversation (and lots of gorgeous images!). It’s so much fun, and I can’t wait for it to start!

Learn more and sign up here.

We’re going to reclaim our artistry and start making images that light us up inside. Would love you to join me!

Exhibit Your Work with Confidence: Exhibition Masterclass is Open Now


I remember the first time I had a big exhibition of my photographs. I was showing a portfolio about my family history. It was about the beauty and nostalgia of childhood - as well as the shadows.

I'd worked on the series for about a year and a half. I photographed alone, edited alone, imagined and envisioned alone. I was in a little creative bubble - making work that meant the world to me, but not showing it to anyone.

I used to go to the photo center where I worked every morning at 6am to work alone in the lab. I made print after print after print while listening to This American Life and watching the day lighten outside.

There's a lot of solitary time on the creative path, and I spent 18 months alone with those images. In a way, I was listening to them - figuring out what they needed, and learning how to take them there.

I put so much heart, soul, and effort into birthing that series.

When the gallery opening finally rolled around, I was a bit of a stress case. I actually remember not wanting to go, if you can believe that. I had an unfortunate pimple on my chin and I'd spilled something on my sweater at the last minute. But I did go, of course...and it was such a profound experience to see my work on the walls.

I was surrounded by family, friends, and kind people who didn't care about the ridiculous stain or the pimple. People were looking at the work deeply, talking about it, responding to my vision - and truly seeing me as an artist.

I often think about threshold moments in life - those moments when we step into a new version of ourselves. That first big gallery opening was a threshold.

After that night, I had the confidence to call myself an artist without fear that it sounded pretentious. I claimed it. I felt it in my bones.

I made heartfelt images that filled me with joy, I shared the work with a beautiful, supportive community - and I stepped into a stronger version of myself.

Making work is powerful stuff - sharing it is even more amazing.

I would absolutely LOVE you to have an experience like this. If you feel called to put your work on a larger stage, to connect with people who can move your work forward, and to fine-tune your skills so you're truly ready for wider exposure, I'd love you to join my new e-course, Exhibition Masterclass: Bravely Showcasing Your Photographs.

Registration is open.

I'm going to share everything I've learned from 20+ years as a photographer, curator, competition juror, and portfolio reviewer.

I'm sharing it because I want to empower photographers to exhibit their work with excellence and confidence. If you're ready to take that next step, please join me.

Learn more and sign up right HERE.

Begin Today

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I made this self portrait oh...maybe 18 years ago. The sweet Polaroid I'm "shooting" was actually broken - so it got a second life as a prop. When I made this picture, I was 22-ish, head over heels in love with photography (still am), and doggedly determined to make it the center of my life.

My parents are supportive of what I do now, but when I was young they encouraged me to focus on "something serious" instead of photography. I'd tell my mother about my photo projects and teaching and she'd say, "Hm...I don't know, Laura. How are you going to make a living doing that?" I had lovely friends and family, but no one ever thought my passion was terribly worthwhile or realistic. They said it would be better to think of photography as a hobby - that it would be smart to get a "real job." (I'm making a mental note here to never say this to a passionate young person).

Despite all that, and despite the fact that there's not a clear career path for artists, I kept at it. Looking back, I think there's one thing that made it work out for me. Idealistically, naively, and completely ridiculously - whenever I wished for something (more photo community, an exhibit, a fun new class), I'd just go out and create it. For whatever reason, I never felt I had to wait for permission or find someone older or more experienced to lean on - I just cobbled together what I could and naively put it into the world. 

And, I'm not talking fabulous, amazing stuff here - I'm talking scrappy, unsophisticated, raw stuff. I'm talking exhibitions in weird warehouses and apartment building hallways (hey, invite your friends, serve cheap wine and it's a gallery opening!). I'd come up with wacky class ideas and then just dive in and teach them (I guess I still do that). I put up fliers at grocery stores with my phone number on tear-off tabs - advertising a critique group I decided to form. All it took was some construction paper, markers, and scissors. And people called. And we started a group. It was innocent, organic, and free. I never waited around for someone to hand me the keys - I just...started. 

Since there's not "one right way" to do things in the arts, anyone can do this at any time. It's actually much more possible in the arts than in other fields (you know...because you can't decide to give brain surgery or jet piloting a whirl on a whim).

I'm deeply passionate about this working method: want something? Make it. Start now. And this:  "A year from now, you'll wish you'd started today." Yes, yes, yes. 

Photographing Gratitude


I made this image during a meditation retreat at Deer Park (a Buddhist monastery started by Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh). It was the last retreat he gave on the west coast before he was incapacitated by a stroke in 2014. After reading his books for years, it was incredible to listen to his talks and walk up the mountain with him (...and a million other retreat participants) each morning.

I'm thinking now of the way we'd walk, silently, SLOWLY, taking care with each step. When we got to the top of the mountain, we'd sit and Thay's attendants would pour him a cup of tea. He'd sit facing us, sipping the tea, with an expression of complete peace and joy on his face - and we all just breathed together, looked around at the hillside, and blinked in the lovely light. We just soaked it all in - having tea with Thay. Nothing to do, nowhere to go - just sitting, breathing, enjoying. I didn't have the nerve to make any photographs. But, I carry the experience in my heart - and I think that's more important sometimes.

This sign greets you as you enter the monastery. It’s a reminder that, as long as you can breathe, you're alive and you have so much to be grateful for. If you're sick, injured, or emotionally pushed to the breaking point - - you're still breathing. You can still experience beauty and access peace if you look deeply, if you remember to be kind to yourself. I don't know how many times this idea has saved me - it's a lot.

My upcoming photography e-course is very close to my heart. I created it during a challenging year that included divorce and a really sick, hospitalized father. It was a doozy. I wanted my photographs to bring more peace and beauty into my life - so I started photographing all the things I was grateful for. It was so simple - but so incredibly healing.

Meditations on Gratitude is a 6-week e-course about cultivating happiness and hope through photography - photographing through a lens of gratitude. If you're struggling right now (with the news cycle, with personal challenges) and you're aching to be calmer, more present, more in-tune with your creative work, please join me.

Class starts on April 9th.

Light, Love & "What Else"

  Clarendon House, Tasmania

Clarendon House, Tasmania


Every winter, when Oregon is a drippy, dark, freezing mess, I like to head to a warmer, brighter place for a couple weeks. Seasonal affective disorder therapy. Change of scenery. Ideally, I'm off grid for most of that time. No ringing and dinging. Just light, breathing room, and creative space. It does the spirit good - and when I get home, I can channel all that energy and creative juju into new projects. 

This year, we did a little Pacific Rim tour - Korea and Australia. I grew up in Korea, so it was fun to show my partner around Seoul. Australia was uncharted territory for both of us. We explored the southeast and spent a few days in Tasmania. It's wacky to look south from there, to know that Antarctica is just a quick flight over the water. It's also lovely to look north, to imagine the rest of the world stretching away beyond the horizon.

  Looking north from Tasmania. Hello, world!

Looking north from Tasmania. Hello, world!


I feel strongly that photography is less about what we photograph and more about how we do it. The things, subjects, and scenes matter less than our treatment of them, you know? It's especially easy to forget this when traveling, I think. It's easy to spot novel things and snap pictures without considering light, mood, emotion, or meaning. Pictures that simply show what something looks like are a dime a dozen, though. So, even if we're only in a place for a short time, it's essential to dig deeper, to look for "what else" is there, as Minor White would have said. Sure, it's a painting hanging over a couch in a historic home - but what else is there?

The first time I made the image at the top of this post, I just photographed the reflection of the light on the frame. On my second pass through the room, I noticed my silhouette in the glass and realized that was the stronger shot. It captured a little more of the "what else" - especially because the volunteer guide started chatting about ghost sightings just after I made it. 

Now that I'm home, I'm sorting through my images with "what else" in mind. It's a great way to edit. Is this too straightforward, too guidebook-like? Does this have a sense of mystery about it? Does it go deeper than the surface level? Does it pull at the heartstrings? If so, it's worth a more serious look. If not, I take a breath and let it go. Sometimes, that means I have to "kill a darling," but it's worth it for a stronger overall body of work. It's worth it to have a collection of images that really means something, instead of a collection that's watered down by images I'm trying to convince myself about. Shoot passionately, edit ruthlessly! It's the advice I always give myself - and it has served me well. 


Portfolio Review Boot Camp: An e-Course


“Take this class. Take this class. Run, don’t walk. Take this class. One of the best investments I have made in myself. I wish I had been able to take this course before attending my first review a couple of weeks earlier. I met with two of the people who were interviewed, and it would have been helpful. Not only that, but just hearing the reviewers' points of view confirmed my experiences, and would have gone a long way to put me at ease.” 
- Dianna Nicholette Jeon


November 13 - 18     $95

Registration is now closed.

I'm teaching a very focused one-week e-course via Photolucida about preparing to attend a portfolio review event. If you're considering attending a portfolio review and want to make sure you have all your ducks in a row before you go, this is the perfect place to start. If you've been to a portfolio review in the past and want extra guidance, up-to-date info, and feedback on your preparations, this course will also serve you well. 

The brass tacks: participating in a review is one of the best ways to make connections with the photography professionals who are poised to promote your work. A portfolio review is an opportunity to get the conversation started around your photography, to receive suggestions about how your work could be stronger, and to get insider information about what different professionals are looking for. In short – serious emerging photographers can’t afford to miss these events.

Attending a portfolio review doesn’t have to feel intimidating. Portfolio Review Boot Camp includes helpful essays, audio lectures, and interviews with seasoned review professionals from the museum, gallery, publishing, and media worlds. You’ll also get direct feedback and advice on your preparation details, so you can feel confident you’re making the right choices. Registering for a review is an investment – it's essential to make the most of it. You can absolutely knock your upcoming portfolio review out of the park. This class will help.

The course includes insightful audio interviews with Alyssa Coppelman (Oxford American, Harper’s Magazine), Michelle Dunn Marsh (Photo Center Northwest, Minor Matters Books), Wally Mason (Sheldon Art Museum), and Dina Mitrani (Dina Mitrani Gallery).



“This course was outstanding from three points of view: Laura Valenti was remarkable. She shared, guided and kept us engaged which can be tricky with online learning. The workshop design could be a model for other groups. I have yet to see anything like it. Lastly, the wealth of information, access to expert interviews, and the experience of the participants was so much more that I had ever expected.” -Lesia Maruschak

“This has been a great week! The interviews were fantastic and invaluable for helping us get an idea of what different types of reviewers are looking for. Laura Valenti’s critiques were thoughtful and to the point and I loved her enthusiasm. It really shows she cares about giving us a great resource and wants us make a good impression at reviews. I’m very happy I signed up!” -Meike J. Paniza

“The Portfolio Review Boot Camp has been such a great experience, thank you so much Laura! I have learned a lot and met inspiring fellow photographers. Every day I looked forward to the class and was very sad when it ended! Will definitely recommend it to other photographers.”
-Shari Yantra Marcacci


“As a photographer who is just starting to learn about the importance of portfolio reviews, this course was invaluable in providing practical guidance on preparation.” -Michele McCormick

“Loved the class – all three elements were very informative: the guidance provided directly by [the teacher], the recorded interviews, and the links to additional material. The class is also a great opportunity to interact with other photographers, see their work, and hear their thoughts on both their work and yours.” -Phil Eidenberg-Noppe

“This was a super little primer for me! The structure is logical and ever so helpful! I loved getting to interact with other artists and hear and see what they had to say.” -Vanessa Powell

“This class was very helpful! It was great to learn the “nuts and bolts” to prepare for a portfolio review, and to hear different opinions on that. Also, the interviews were a fantastic way to hear about a reviewer's perspective.” -Caroline MacMoran

If you can't fit this class into your schedule but want to be notified when my next offerings go live, sign up here and I'll keep you in the loop:


Fallow Periods & Creative Nourishment

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Inspiration comes and goes in the course of the creative life. Sometimes I feel jazzed and intensely driven - sometimes I'm at a bit of a loss. I've been an artist long enough to not feel threatened by creative downtime. I know it's just a natural part of the rhythm of things. It's an opportunity to recalibrate, to check in with myself and see what needs tending, to rest.

I strongly believe in the importance of creative input. We can't produce all the time or we'd probably go crazy. We need time to stop, to look around, to read, to experiment, to think new thoughts instead of churning over old ones. Whenever I feel creative lassitude creeping in, I know it's time to nourish myself with inspiration from other sources. That always lights me up. 

It's so common for artists to berate themselves when they're unsure of their next steps, when they're not producing (or not producing to their expectations). What if we were to shift our view of fallow periods and approach them with a sense of openness and curiosity? What if we welcomed them in? How would it feel to embrace the spaciousness these periods bring?

I always think uncertainty is a necessary part of the creative process. It would be tiresome to be certain all the time - and no one would invite us to parties. I'm thinking now of what Nietzsche says about certainty: it's never truly available to us, and why struggle to secure a tiny handful of it, when we can have cartloads of glorious possibility? I'll take the possibility, every time. I like to think of fallow periods as incubators for new growth. We wander around for a while dabbling in this and that - and then we hit on the next big thing. 

Lately, I've been more overworked than anything else. I've been pushing too hard on my projects, forgetting to come up for air. I need a forced fallow period. And so, I'm taking most of the week off to read and watch storms roll in over the Pacific Ocean. On deck: Lila, the fourth book in Marilynne Robinson's Gilead series; Beyond Good and Evil, because I kind of have a nerd crush on Nietzsche right now; Fortune Smiles, Adam Johnson's dark new short story collection; Buddhist Psychology by Geshe Tashi Tsering, a look at the many ways our inner climate shapes our reality; and, because I love the way poets talk about the creative process, Mary Oliver's gorgeous meditation on art and life, Upstream. I have an afghan handy and a warm dog at my feet. I'm primed to soak in a little possibility. 

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Nine Beautiful e-Courses, 72-Hour Sale


I'm excited to announce a collection of e-courses and e-books that will get you unstuck and light up your creative spirit. There are courses on photography, wild creative writing, wearing your joy, growing a creative business, and so much more. I'm tickled pink to be part of such a fabulous lineup of creative women, and I'm really happy to share this bundle of goodies with you.

My e-course Candela: Finding Inspiration Through Photography is included in the bundle. It's a special, self-study version of the course, so it's a rare chance to get all the Candela content at a much lower price. Plus, you get EIGHT other amazing courses with these wonderful, wise women: Andrea Scher, Kelly Rae Roberts, Susannah Conway, Sherry Richert Belul, Laurie Marks Wagner, Jena Schwartz, Jennifer Lee, and Karen Walrond. Don't miss it!

Just $99 gets you immediate access to 9 different e-books and e-courses.
Sale ends at midnight PDT on Thursday, October 12th.

Portfolio Building Q + A: Part One


I often get questions from photographers about creating portfolios. Are portfolios a collection of "greatest hits" or a group of images on a theme? What if you have a solid theme but the images don't look like they relate to each other? How many images go in a typical portfolio? Is a portfolio for print or the web? Do you need a portfolio to apply to a competition or exhibition? There are a lot of misperceptions about portfolio building, so I thought it would be fun to host a Q + A. Folks sent in some great questions and I recorded my answers. 

If you'd like to really dive deep into this topic, take a look at my Visionary Portfolio e-course. I offer it a couple times a year. Creating a photography portfolio can be an incredibly meaningful personal practice. It's also a way to really refine your vision as an artist. I hope the Q + A helps clarify the process so you can take your next steps with more energy, inspiration, and confidence.


Q + A Part Two

In the second installment of the Q + A, I talk about portfolio presentation. I got a lot of questions about showing portfolios at portfolio review events, so I go over print sizing, paper choices, writing powerful artist's statements, and other helpful details. As someone who has run portfolio review events and served many times as a reviewer, I've really seen it all when it comes to portfolio presentation. In part two, I'll share what I think are the best practices. I also include a helpful list of the top 16 portfolio review events in the U.S. and abroad. If you're considering attending a portfolio review event, the list will be a helpful starting point for your research.

Enter your email below to receive the next installment and list - it will hit your inbox in a jiffy. 

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New Offerings, New Creative Mojo

 Image by Fritz Liedtke

Image by Fritz Liedtke

It's a big, exciting week for me. I'm really happy to introduce my brand new website. I'm incredibly proud of it. As if a new site wasn't enough, I also have new course offerings, new images, and a fresh, colorful new vision to share with all of you. I put a whole lot of heart and soul into all of it, so I really hope you like it. 

Upcoming Offerings...

My most popular e-course begins on Monday. Light Atlas truly shifts things in a big way. The first time I ran the class, I was blown away by how much students evolved their vision in the space of six weeks. I designed the whole class to stimulate change - and it happened in such a powerful, beautiful way. I love teaching this class and watching all the transformation happen - and this is the last time I'll run it this year. If you need an extra spark to propel your creative efforts right now, I'd love you to join me in class. You can register for the e-course à la carte or you can add one-on-one mentoring for extra guidance and support. I still have a few mentoring spots open. 

If you have any questions about my new offerings, feel free to reach out. I'm happy to help you decide which course is right for you. Hope you can join me!

Happy photographing, 

Two Lovely Exhibitions

 Exhibition catalog for Honoring Trees (image by Heather Binns)

Exhibition catalog for Honoring Trees (image by Heather Binns)

I just juried an exhibition for PhotoPlace Gallery in Middlebury, Vermont. The theme was Honoring Trees. There were so many gorgeous submissions - so many artists with poetic, beautifully creative sensibilities. It was great fun to go through all the work and pull together a show. I'm always much more interested in images that show deep interpretation of the subject - rather than images that just show what things look like. The images in this exhibition go far beyond the straightforward, so they're a joy to see. 

The physical exhibition opens on June 7th and runs through July 1st. The extended online exhibition will be available permanently on PhotoPlace's website. You can see all my selections and all the info about the exhibition right here. If you happen to be in Vermont in June, stop by to see the show!

I also just served as the special select juror for the Kuala Lumpur International Photo Awards. The theme this year was Defining Family. KLPA really pulls out all the stops with this competition - they draw entries from photographers all over the world. I chose the winners for the photo-stories competition: Demetris Koilalos (a powerful series about Syrian refugees in Greece), Alain Schroeder (a touching portfolio about funeral traditions in Indonesia), and John Paul Evans (a sweet, whimsical series of portraits of the artist and his partner). The exhibition will open on September 9th at White Box Gallery in KL. 

 KLPA 2017 award winners

KLPA 2017 award winners

Light Atlas is Open!

Today's the day! Registration for my brand new e-course, Light Atlas, is now open. The six-week class is jam packed with creative inspiration - it's my best e-course yet.

Light Atlas is an immersive six-week experience that sets the stage for a more wholehearted, nourishing photographic practice. We'll shake up our seeing, toss patterns out the window, and invite a fresh new vision to emerge. We'll explore what it takes to create poetic, magical, transcendent images filled to bursting with heart and soul. The e-course includes beautiful audio slideshows, creative prompts designed to help deepen your seeing, interviews with visionary photographers, in-depth guidance, and so much more.

I created the e-course as a response to a really common challenge photographers talk about: the challenge of making images that show strong personal vision, images that go beyond the run-of-the-mill pictures anyone could make. Is it possible to cultivate a more nuanced, evolved, powerful artistic vision? Absolutely! We're going to do it in this course. If you need some extra pep in your step and an extra spark of creative mojo, I'd love you to join me.

You can register for the e-course by itself or choose the mentoring package if you'd like even more one-on-one support during the class. I meet with all mentoring students via phone (or Skype) to do in-depth personal goal setting and image review sessions. It's a lot of fun.

Class begins on May 15th! I'd love you to join me. 

Wide Open Spaces & Creative Inspiration

 Receding tide and rainstorm.

Receding tide and rainstorm.

I spent the last few days out at the Oregon coast recuperating from Photolucida's portfolio reviews - the full-immersion photography event we run every two years. It was intense and fabulous - and really tiring. So, the wide open space and fresh ocean breeze were wonderfully grounding and nourishing. 

While I was there, I interviewed two lovely, visionary photographers (Heather Evans Smith and Ervin A. Johnson) for Light Atlas, my new e-course. After an 80-hour work week, it was an incredible gift to sit and look at the ocean while having inspiring, beautiful conversations about the creative process. We talked about pushing boundaries with our work, exploring the surreal, experimenting with extreme vulnerability in art making, art as activism, following up with flights of fancy, and creating sacred workspace. The recorded interviews (plus so, so much more) will be included in the new e-course....which opens for registration on May 2nd! I can't wait!

On that note...

If you're excited about Light Atlas, I just opened registration early for the e-course + mentoring option. There has been a lot of interest in the class and spaces are limited. If you enroll with the mentorship option, you're guaranteed a space in the class. I love to work with people one-on-one. Here are the details:

When you register for the e-course + mentorship, the course will include a phone (or Skype) call with me and a review of your past photographic work, your website (if you happen to have one), or any portfolios or extra images you'd like to share. Mentoring is a nice opportunity to chat about personal goals and challenges and to map out next steps with more guidance and support. Mentorship sessions are jam packed with ideas, detailed feedback, and actionable, personalized advice. Students often write pages of notes and come away excited and motivated to take their next steps. If focused one-on-one help is what you're craving right now, I'd love to work with you.

Portfolio Review Craziness

 Photolucida 2015, reviewing room at the Benson Hotel

Photolucida 2015, reviewing room at the Benson Hotel

I'm about to spend four days up to my eyebrows in photography at Photolucida. We spend two years organizing this event and it is a doozy. We'll be hosting 150+ photographers from all over the country and world, plus 60 gallerists, museum curators, photobook publishers, magazine editors, and collectors. We pair them up in many, many, many (!) twenty-minute meetings over the course of four days. The photographers display their images and the reviewers give them helpful feedback. Photographers walk away with new connections, offers to exhibit and publish, and tons of new ideas about their work. It's wildly inspiring and profoundly exhausting at the same time. Whew! 

 Photolucida 2015, Portfolio Walk at the Portland Art Museum

Photolucida 2015, Portfolio Walk at the Portland Art Museum

Anyway, what it got me thinking is this: creating a portfolio can sound nerve-wracking, confusing, or out of your league - but the reality is that it just takes intention and time. You don't just trip over a finished portfolio. Portfolios don't happen effortlessly for talented photographers. If you haven't made one, it's not because you're a wreck of an artist - it's just that you haven't given the process focused energy and attention. Yet.

Intention + Energy = Better Art

When you do give your art real energy and attention, amazing things happen. You start to see more connections between disparate images, styles, and techniques. You start to see threads of meaning and consistency - and you start to gain greater direction and purpose as an artist. It feels really good to start making real progress like this. 

Portfolio building is essentially a way to go deeper than any single image can take you. You find a subject you love, and then you immerse yourself in it. It feels rich, engaging, and supportive (because, your subject gives you direction). I love teaching about how to do this, because it's a process that has given me so much joy and fulfillment over the years. My Visionary Portfolio e-course comes up a couple times a year. Join me if you're interested in learning how to create a portfolio of your own.

If you're in the Portland area and you want to get in on the Photolucida action this weekend, come out to the Portfolio Walk at the Portland Art Museum (Fields Ballroom, Mark Building) on Thursday from 6-9pm. We bill the event like this: "See more photography in one night than most people see in a lifetime!" It's really true - it's a massive education in contemporary photography. It's also really inspiring to see what other artists are doing. I'll probably be running around like a headless chicken...but it would be great to see you. 


Ten Years of Wandering

Ten years ago, I went to the Trappist Abbey in Lafayette, Oregon for a Day of Mindfulness - a one-day Zen meditation retreat. The monks welcome groups from many different contemplative persuasions to their stunning 1,300-acre sanctuary. Interestingly, they even have a zendo-like meditation space, because their founder was deeply inspired by Eastern philosophy. I've been on retreat there many times, often for four-day silent retreats. I was there the other day and realized I'd been quietly walking the same trails and looking out the meditation hall window at the same lovely trees for a full decade - and it really struck me.

I spent a good portion of my life moving every couple years, bouncing around Asia, changing homes so much I'd often wake up in the night unable to remember which country I was in. Because I grew up in such far flung places, I'd never even revisited a childhood home until recently, when I was back in Korea for a photo festival. To think I've been wandering the same Oregon trails for ten years of my life is kind of amazing. That kind of continuity is not something I'm accustomed to. 

Every time I'm at the Abbey on retreat, I spend about half of each day hiking and photographing. I make quiet little images inspired by my love of the place. Photography really can be a mindfulness practice, a tool to help us appreciate the present moment in a more charged, focused way. So, I tromp around in the puddles, snag my sleeves on blackberry vines, stand and breathe and rejoice when I'm lucky enough to see a buck or hear an owl hoot - and I make photographs that feel like little moments of solace and grace. Once I ran up to the top of the Abbey's mountain and stood exalted, panting, and muddy while the trees swayed above me, and it felt like heaven. Every now and then in my wanderings, I happen upon a humble, DIY shrine tucked away in the woods, the pet project of one of the resident monks. A few colored stones from a fish tank, a woven belt, a baseball hat as a tribute to a monk who loved the game, a crystal hanging from a branch - there's even an old, weathered ironing board in a very out of the way spot with a little shrine set up on it. 

 Praying Figure, Woodland Shrine

Praying Figure, Woodland Shrine

One reason the Abbey is so dear to me is that I've seen it change dramatically over time. When I first visited, it was thickly forested with lovely but overgrown "crop" trees from previous landowners who had used it as a tree farm (the monks still practice some forestry on the land, to support their living expenses). A couple years later, they mounted a large-scale restoration project to return some of the land to its original state - a grassland and oak savanna. The first years of the restoration were shocking. They cut the trees and burned the rubble in massive piles that smoked ominously for days and made the ground run black with ash in the rain. It looked post-apocalyptic for a good two or three years. We'd do walking meditation along charred, muddy paths and I'd look out my window at night and see the brush piles glowing red on the hillside. 

Slowly, though, the land came back into itself, as it always does. The savanna began to thrive. The ancient oaks that were choking in the thick of the plantation growth have air and light around them again, and they look magnificent against the open sky. It's amazing what ten years can do.

I've changed a lot in the last decade, too. I was just 29 when I got lost there for the first time, and I'll be 40 later this year. It took me a decade to learn every trail. I love how photography can help us connect more deeply with the places we love. Of course, we can use photography to trace changes in a landscape, but it seems to me it's also a practice that helps us explore the evolution in our lives. I've wandered and photographed at the Abbey when I've been stressed about my work life, giddy on the cusp of a new adventure, heartbroken and isolated, and happily in love. Who knows what the next ten years will bring. Whatever else may happen, I imagine those same quiet trails will be there, patient and welcoming as they always are.

I can faintly hear the hum of the city from inside my home here in Portland. It's comforting to imagine the land out at the Abbey, now quietly settling in for the night. Perhaps there's a light wind in the grass, maybe a few deer are stepping softly along my beloved, familiar paths, maybe the chapel bells are ringing out over the landscape. I often think about the beauty and power of impermanence, and the Abbey is certainly a reminder of change. But, it's also a lovely expression of constancy - at least in the span of my one, small life. As William Stafford wrote, "There’s a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change.....Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding. You don’t ever let go of the thread."

 Sakura, Spring at the Abbey

Sakura, Spring at the Abbey

Building (Happening Upon) a Portfolio the Organic Way

I thought I'd share a new portfolio today - and chat a bit about how I created it. I surprised myself with this body of work. I made the images over the course of the last two and a half years, without a real plan, and without the awareness that I was even building a portfolio. I just made images of scenes that moved me, scenes that felt charged in some way. A couple weeks ago I realized the photographs belonged together, and I also realized they told an important part of my story.

The last two and a half years were a transitional time for me. I began the series when I was in the thick of a divorce - and finished it surrounded by deep love and happiness. The images are inspired by the meditation instruction to return to the breath, and they're a celebration of the beauty of impermanence. The title comes from the Anapanasati Sutta, also called the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing. It's a very simple, lovely Buddhist sutra about calming the body, coming back to the breath, feeling joy in the body, and realizing the impermanent nature of things. So, the series is called The Full Awareness of Breathing.

I always feel that our images have a lot to teach us, and I definitely have more to learn from this body of work. I'm sure I'll be able to speak about it more fluently at some point in the future, but I thought I'd share the new images with you now. 

You can see the whole series here. I had no idea then that I would develop a whole portfolio from that first little seed of an idea. I just knew I desperately needed to stop, breathe, and relax. The photographs became part of that healing process, and part of my subsequent transformation and growth. It just goes to show that if you photograph a subject you find compelling for long enough, you can wind up with a meaningful group of images. It's an enjoyable, organic working method. There truly doesn't need to be a plan of attack for everything - art thrives in an environment of openness, curiosity, and experimentation. Making this portfolio has been a cathartic, grounding process, and it feels good to share it. Maybe it can even bring you a tiny bit of peace and relaxation. I hope so!

Sending warmth, joy, and creative inspiration your way!

Spain, Morocco, Portugal!

 Wandering in Sevilla, Spain

Wandering in Sevilla, Spain

My sweetheart and I just took a trip to Spain, Morocco, and Portugal. Back home, a major snow storm shut the whole city down for ten days. There was also a flu outbreak so widespread it warranted a CDC advisory. Sheesh. Where we were, it was in the sixties and there were trees full of oranges all over the place. Winning! January is the perfect time to get out of Portland. 

We ate and photographed our way through Barcelona, Sevilla, Cordoba, Rhonda, Tangier, Chefchaouen, Granada, Lisbon, Evora, and Sintra. Highlights included strolling around the Tangier medina eating delicious Moroccan msemen pancakes with peanut butter and honey, visiting the Alhambra, a magnificent 13th century palace fortress, soaking in a hamam with star cutouts in the roof, and seeing the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's ridiculously beautiful church. The light! The way it filtered through the space was unlike anything I'd seen before. Gaudi truly was a visionary.

We heard Fado in Portugal, saw Flamenco dancing in Spain, and caught some great impromptu Flamenco music in a little pub in Sevilla one night. We ate olives at every meal and flipped out about how good the olive oil and honey tasted. Most of the olive oil in the States is adulterated with cheap, plain oils and the honey is often cut with corn syrup and colored (and not labeled accordingly). Google around for info on fake olive oil and honey if you want a sad reality check. It's easy to get used to eating the crummy stuff, so we really enjoyed having the real deal at every meal. Delicious!

We also toured the historic Jewish area of each town we went to. One night we wandered through the narrow cobblestone alleys of the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona and saw a man lighting a menorah in the window of a lovely antique store. The glow of the candles, the historic street - a truly beautiful moment. The combined Christian, Muslim, and Jewish history in the area makes it really rich aesthetically and culturally. We fantasized about going back someday and renting a house in a tiny Spanish town for a few months. He'd write a book, I'd write another e-course, we'd improve our Spanish and learn Flamenco guitar. One can dream!

I'll share some of my photographs as I process through them. There are a few in my Full Awareness of Breathing portfolio, though they're not identifiably "of Spain/Morocco/Portugal." When I travel, I typically like to make photographs that describe my experience rather than shooting all the key attractions. So, the pictures are much more interpretive than journalistic. Here are a few of my initial favorites, below.

All in all, a truly lovely adventure!

 Alcazar, Sevilla & Henna, Morocco

Alcazar, Sevilla & Henna, Morocco

 Morning in Cordoba, Spain

Morning in Cordoba, Spain

 Light, Alhambra

Light, Alhambra

 Monestir de Pedralbes, Barcelona

Monestir de Pedralbes, Barcelona

Notes from the Seoul Train

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I just got back from a trip to Korea for the Daegu Photo Biennale, a great new photo festival about two hours from Seoul. I just had a few weeks back in the States and then I jumped on a plane back to Asia again. It was a little nutty.

There were curators from all over Europe and Asia at the festival, and we spent a couple days meeting with Korean photographers and reviewing their portfolios. Afterwards, I hopped the train back to Seoul and spent a week exploring my old home turf.

I lived in Seoul from the time I was six months old until I was seven, when we moved to Japan. Being there brought back all sorts of memories I didn't know I had. One morning, I walked by a group of ladies practicing Qigong. They had a little boom box playing Arirang, an iconic Korean song. I hadn't heard it since I was a child, but the first few strains brought tears to my eyes. Over the course of the trip I also remembered some Korean words we used when I was a kid, "pali pali!" and "kapshida!" (hurry up and come on). And, I had the chance to visit my childhood home and stand in my old backyard - a truly bizarre experience. It was decrepit and overgrown, and someone along the line thought it was a good idea to add brutalist architectural elements to a traditional Korean home, but it was the same spot. It was the first time I've ever been back to a childhood home. 

The whole trip was fantastic, but I had one perfect day that really stands out. I spent it wandering around the grounds of the historic (16th century) Changdeokgung Palace in the sunshine and strolling through the bustling streets of Seoul eating bean cakes. Heavenly. You know how sometimes you feel grounded, centered, and on top of the world? That's how I felt. I felt at home. It was a gem of a day and I'll carry it with me for a long time. All in all, a wonderful trip!

 A little diptych from Changdeokgung Palace

A little diptych from Changdeokgung Palace

Sharing the Love: Student Images from Meditations on Gratitude

Just wanted to share a little love today, so I created a slideshow of beautiful student images from past Meditations on Gratitude courses. If you need a little pick-me-up, this might be just the thing. This is just a sampling of the many wonderful images students have made (wish I could share them all!).

I love, love teaching this e-course. Every day, the online classroom is bursting with vibrant student images and stories. Sometimes I get happy tears in my eyes looking at all the heartfelt images students post in the course. It's a lovely counterpoint to all the violence and fear reported in the news. We could all stand to see more joyful photographs, don't you think? It feels healing to be part of a community dedicated to sharing images of things that bring joy into life. It really doesn't get much better than that. It gives me hope. 

The next session of Meditations on Gratitude begins soon. We're going to focus on making images of the things we love, the things we're grateful for, the things that bring us joy. It's a powerful way to infuse the creative practice with more personality and meaning. By the end of the course, you'll be able to surround yourself with images of all the things you're grateful for in life. It's a rich, happy, life-affirming adventure - and I honestly can't wait for it to start up again. If you need a little creative kick-start (or an extra dose of happiness), I'd love you to join me.   

Thanks to all the artists for sharing their work! Click on the first image to enter the slideshow.

Meditations on Gratitude

"Now is the only time. How we relate to it creates the future. In other words, if we're going to be more cheerful in the future, it's because of our aspiration and exertion to be cheerful in the present. What we do accumulates; the future is the result of what we do right now."  -Pema Chödrön

I like to think that each click of the shutter is an opportunity to come back to the present - to appreciate something that is happening now. So, photography is essentially a mindfulness practice. It's a tool that can help us bring more awareness and gratitude to our daily lives. Photography can be like a little meditation, in a way.

When your attention is calm, focused, and clear, it also really impacts the images you're able to make. You might notice more details in the way light fills a space, or pick up on subtle nuances of expression and emotion when you're making a portrait. You might really see how your subject interacts with your background, and wind up making stronger compositions. It's helpful to approach photography as a rich personal practice rather than a technical/mechanical exercise. And, when we think about it like this, we're able to make more meaningful images.

I’ll be exploring these ideas in my upcoming e-course, Meditations on Gratitude. The course includes three creative photo meditations each week, audio lectures, essays, interviews, and a healthy dose of feedback and creative support. If you want to get moving with your photography again, or if you'd like to put more intention into your creative work, I'd love you to join me.