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 a rich 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 have a nerd crush on Nietzsche; 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. 

. . .

One last thing. While I'm chatting about creative nourishment, I want to mention Gathering Light - my online photography salon. One participant said she thinks of it as a special treat she gets when she finishes her work each day. It really is like a little nugget of goodness, a warm brownie of inspiration, a creampuff of creativity...I love it so much. Gathering Light includes regular doses of photo inspiration (interviews, creative exercises, discussions about living the creative life) and a sweet, supportive forum for sharing images and receiving feedback. If you're searching for some extra inspiration to encourage your next steps, and if you could use a little company on the creative path, it might be the perfect next thing. You can jump in today and get all the October content in one fell swoop. If it's dark and rainy where you are too, it might add a dash of extra light to your day.

Ok - back to my books and tea. Hope you have a restful day out there!

 
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Nine Beautiful e-Courses, 72-Hour Sale

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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.
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Portfolio Building Q + A: Part One

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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. 

I'm also launching a lovely, supportive monthly photography salon called Gathering Light. It's everything I wish I had when I was first making my way in the world as an artist. Gathering Light is a beautiful motivating force - an invitation to take bold new steps with your photography. We have a fantastic, diverse group of creative folks signed up already, and I have a wonderful collection of inspiring posts and interviews I absolutely can't wait to share with you.    

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, 
Laura

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...

EARLY REGISTRATION FOR MENTORING STUDENTS: OPEN NOW
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!
Laura

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

A lovely library in the hills above Seoul.

A lovely library in the hills above Seoul.

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 government in Korea is really committed to public health. There are lovely hiking trails all over the place and every park has exercise equipment for folks to use. They really do use it, too. I couldn't help giving this whirly shoulder stretching contraption a try when I was hiking in the hills above Seoul with a friend.

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. 

A Picture of Gratitude

I thought I'd share a story about the making of a photograph. It's one of my favorite recent images. To me, it expresses a sense of gratitude and beauty, despite life's messiness. 

I made this image of my 97-year-old grandfather on a recent trip to New York. It was kind of a tough trip. There was a moment when he expressed disdain at a dinner I'd cooked and threw it out the window "for the birds." We weren't in the most beautiful setting, either - but I still happened upon a little moment of beauty and grace that made me happy. I made an audio recording about how I created the image and what it means to me. I adore the idea that we can find (or create!) beauty even in less-than-ideal circumstances, and I hope the story of this image helps you to look at your environment with fresh eyes. Enjoy!

Photos & Bean Cakes: Adventures in Japan

I'm in Japan right now for the Mt. Rokko International Photography Festival - a lovely portfolio reviews event in the mountains outside of Kobe. It's truly a destination-location event. The scenery is stunning. I'll be giving portfolio reviews for the next couple days, along with a lecture about portfolio building and a mini workshop for young photographers.

I lived in Japan when I was a kid, but this is the first time I've been back since I was about eleven years old. I'm really looking forward to seeing fresh, contemporary Japanese photography and speaking to photographers about how to promote their work internationally. I'm also using this opportunity to eat as much omochi and ningyoyaki as possible. Because nothing beats pounded rice and bean paste when it comes to comfort food. Oh my, it's good.

Here's a little video about the event, so you can see what I'm up to:

Fantastic robatayaki restaurant in Kobe. Yum!

Fantastic robatayaki restaurant in Kobe. Yum!

Veni, Vidi, Selfie!

Six of my images are included in a sweet little exhibition curated by Douglas Beasley - Beyond the Selfie: Going Deeper into Meaning and Metaphor. The show also includes work by Jenna Erickson, Sheryl Hess, Wing Young Huie, Caitlin Karolczak, Joseph O'Leary, Sarah Rust Sampedro, Manuela Thames, and Douglas Beasley.

I was surprised by the invite for this show - I don't think of myself as a selfie photographer. But, the reality is I've been photographing myself fairly often for the last couple years. I began making selfies during a time of transition in my life, as a way to inhabit and celebrate my body more fully. Using an iPhone instead of my usual medium-format film camera allowed me to make quick, easy, casual images, which added a lovely spontaneity and flexibility to my process. I didn't take the images seriously at first, but I'm growing to appreciate the new language of mobile photography. I'm not trading in my Rollei just yet, but it has been enriching to play with a different medium. In Minnesota? Stop by for the show, on view June 6th - July 14th at White Bear Center for the Arts. You can also view more of my selfies and mobile snaps on my Instagram page.

Beyond the Selfie exhibition at White Bear Center for the Arts

Beyond the Selfie exhibition at White Bear Center for the Arts

Speaking of selfies, an exhibition I curated with colleague and friend Laura Moya is currently showing at LightBox Photographic. The show is entitled The Elevated Selfie: Beyond the Bathroom Mirror. Clearly, we had a psychic connection with Doug Beasley when planning this exhibit. 

The show includes the work of 35 wonderful artists, along with narratives about their lives. Not only do the images really transcend the expected, the narratives bring home the fact that making selfies can be a profound and cathartic practice. 

The Elevated Selfie will be on view at LightBox Photographic until June 7th and will then travel to the Griffin Museum of Photography for an exhibition July 12th - September 16th. 

Spring Retreat

March 25th - 27th, Hidden Lake Retreat

My spring retreat is just around the corner! The retreat is an opportunity to slow down and nourish your photographic practice in a beautiful, peaceful setting near Mt. Hood. Our weekend will include in-depth discussions on aligning the creative process with personal values and experience, finding the creative voice, and making photographs that go beyond “pretty” pictures. We'll also explore guided relaxation and mindfulness meditation practices designed to deepen the quality of attention we bring to creative work. The weekend will center on reinvigorating artists uncertain about their next steps in order to bring new focus and energy to their practice. There's still time to register if you'd like to join me.

GuatePhoto Exhibition & Adventure

Our Critical Mass Top 50 exhibition at Casa Santo Domingo

Our Critical Mass Top 50 exhibition at Casa Santo Domingo

It's been a whirlwind over here. I got home from China and hopped on a plane a just couple days later for the GuatePhoto International Photography Festival in Guatemala. We presented our Critical Mass Top 50 exhibition at a stunning venue in Antigua. Casa Santo Domingo was built on top of the stone ruin of an ancient monastery. It's breathtaking. The whole town is gorgeous, historic, and brilliantly picturesque. GuatePhoto planned a number of tours and events for our little group of curators, so we got to see a nice variety of galleries and museums while we were there.

It was a little intense to be in Guatemala. I've traveled all over the world, and have almost always felt safe. In Guatemala it was a little different. I'd heard it was dangerous before I went, but I assumed it was mostly hype and we'd feel safe when we got there. I assumed the locals would feel safe and comfortable in their own city - but it turns out they don't. 

We arrived at the Guatemala City airport late at night and all the shops inside were closed. A driver for the photo festival was waiting for us at the curb and we asked him if we could stop for water on the way to Antigua, where we were staying (it's about an hour away). He said it was too dangerous to stop - we had to drive straight through. We saw a burning car by the side of the road as we drove through the dark, deserted streets leading out of the city. I later read about a van that was stopped and attacked on that very road recently - everyone on board was killed.

A couple days later, we were taken back to Guatemala City for a gallery tour. Each gallery has a guard standing out front with a big machine gun across his chest. We were shepherded around by nervous guides who were very careful to keep our group close together. It was nerve wracking, but we did have a chance to see some truly top-notch photography by vibrant young Guatemalan artists. The art scene is thriving. We also had a hopeful chat with one of the event staff members who told us artists were freer to express themselves than they had been in the past.

Despite the challenges, the folks at GuatePhoto put on a wonderful event. I ate well, met lovely curators and photographers from around the world, gave a little lecture one day, gave portfolio reviews another day, and had fun poking around Antigua with my camera. It's such a culturally rich, vibrant place. Hopefully the political situation will continue to improve and it will become a safer spot to travel. 

A little snap from the market in Antigua.

A little snap from the market in Antigua.

At the lovely El Convento Hotel where I stayed. 

At the lovely El Convento Hotel where I stayed.