Las Vegas Field Trip

This week, Kyle and I visited Las Vegas to see our friend Libby Winters who presently stars in the Mandalay Bay production of Mama Mia. Libby was awesome. It was her first role in a major production, and she was an absolute starlet – charming, engaging, and stunning (and she sings beautifully!) – in the 1800-seat house. Libby took us to the club at the top of The Hotel, where we had an amazing view of the strip.

Visually, Vegas was like a candy store for a kid like me. I spent a whole day walking around with the camera – there were just so many things to see! It was almost overwhelming to ponder the amount of production and money invested to create this completely fabricated environment where so many people flock for entertainment.

A taxi driver there told us that he was always amazed at how quickly things get built and torn down. We saw the brand-new Wynn, the construction site of the City Center (which will apparently be sold as resident condos right on the strip), and the sign for the old Frontier which has just been torn down – all within one city block.

There were immaculate indoor gardens, beautiful swimming pools, and gigantic bars, restaurants, and ballrooms. It was absolutely amazing how dense and large the city is, and how glaring its intention to create desire for things. Everything was designed to seem large and expensive – to create a sense of what one could acquire should they come into the funds. What better way to entice the dream of winning big?

It makes a lot of sense, yet there was such a falseness to everything, that I wound up feeling a disconnect from the humanness of the sense of desire – it was too heady to feel tangible.

Things are amazing insofar as they make you appreciate your life and feel amazing. But there is little achieved in heartless accumulation of things, and things not infused with love have accumulated en mass to create this giant disposable mecca of emptiness in the middle of the desert. The true value of this place, then, can perhaps be found in the critique of its absolute remove from a real human desire; it absolutely ignores the pursuit of the dream. Through pondering this absence, one is charged with the conviction to make their personal dream larger than what a fabricated environment has made possible. If the entire strip could be concocted with minimal heart and soul, imagine what our dreams could do if imbued with the same drive and funds. I left Vegas understanding more clearly the feeling of real richness that I get from so many wonderful experiences in my daily life, and that the attainment of wealth is to serve a greater good and to make the most of oneself, not for the falsification of one’s existence through material obsession.
Still, it was fun for me to play with all the visuals there. In addition to the shots of Kyle, Libby, and the strip shown here, I have posted a series to my flickr site (click to view).

Autumn in Brooklyn – A Local Excursion

Some days are just meant for strolling around and taking in the change of seasons. I find autumn to be such a contemplative time of year, as the days get shorter, and we spend more time in the dark. It makes me feel a greater urgency to get out and enjoy the daylight hours while I have the chance.

These are some shots from around my neighborhood this fall. One day, I went on a walk in the rain and snapped a few shots from under my umbrella. It was unusually warm, so it was
actually quite nice to be out with the fresh rain water falling. At one point, the wind really picked up, and I felt a little eccentric trying to hold tight to the umbrella handle and focus the camera at the same time.

For some reason, it is moments like that, with a the sense of teetering on the edge of socially acceptable behavior, that most remind me of what it’s like to be an artist. Not to intentionally push the limits of what is “normal” behavior, but to be so caught up in the moment that normalcy simply isn’t a consideration.

It was only when others passed me on the sidewalk that I had any self-awareness at all – suddenly caught – forced to wake from another sense of reality – wondering how I might look, struggling to take of photo of what must look like nothing out of the ordinarily, out in the pouring rain.

Ceramics – Part 1


For my latest project, I have collected various articles from nature, which I am going to imprint in clay in a pottery studio to make a series of Christmas ornaments.

Many of these I found along the street just walking through Brooklyn. I also f
ound shells in Cape May, NJ and East Hampton, and pine cones in Cold Spring Harbor and Colorado Springs during excursions this fall. As a play off of my
fixation with time passage, I thought it would be interesting to see fossilized traces of nature from summer and fall, for the express purpose of decoration for a winter holiday.

The holidays often become a time for reflect
ion on the year leading up to that point as our Western calendar draws to a close. It is also the darkest time of the year, a time for hibernation, a time of stillness before rebirth. Traces of the other seasons linger in our minds at this introspective time, and I hope that my fossil ornament series will serve as a symbol of that.

I took a hand-building pottery class in the spring, and so the next step in this process is getting a glazing lesson. I will be
glazing a cup and bowl I previously made at Brick House, in Queens.

With hand-building and glazing under my belt, I will begin my
fossil project by cutting round shapes out of clay, and using the objects pictured here to create imprints on each. They will be fired, glazed, and fired again before I string them and give them as gifts. I will document this process in photos, as well.

Children’s Portrait Event

Yesterday’s portrait event was a huge success! I rented a studio in Brooklyn for the day, and booked individual photo sessions with lots of little children. A big thanks to Anne Conover and Victoria Lam who assisted me for the day, and to K Studio for the space rental.

The kids were so much fun – we put on some rock-n-roll to get them excited. Once they got used to being on the white backdrop, they started to play with the camera and their personalities really shined! These are a few of my personal favorites from the day.


While studio day has now passed, I am continuing a holiday portrait special throughout the month – please email me if you’re interested in learning about the special rate.



transitive verb : to make better or more tolerable
intransitive verb : to grow better

Amelia is one of my favorite names. There is a character in my first short film, Metier, by that name. And, Amelia is now also the name of one of my favorite people in real life. My friend Frank introduced me to Amelia, his six-year-old daughter, who has cerebral palsy. I do not know a whole lot about the condition, but I do know that it effects a lot of the brain including motor and verbal skills. I know how frustrated I get when my hand-eye coordination is lacking, or when I can’t come up with the words to communicate what I mean, so I would think that it would be very hard to have a condition like Amelia’s.

However, when I am with Amelia, I don’t sense any difficulty. What I am overwhelmed by is a feeling of hope, of optimism, of doing one’s best without judgement, of not being afraid to try. Imagine that! Not being afraid to try! That is the energy coming forth from this 6-year-old, who somehow seems wise beyond her years, that life is easier than that, that we don’t have to be afraid to try.

I met Amelia only a year ago, when she was first learning to lift and hold her head up with some control. Now she holds her head up a lot! She even stands with balance support, and crawls on her own with encouragement. Amelia has exceeded all of her doctors expectations, and continues to improve! As I was leaving after our photo shoot together this weekend, Amelia, draped over her father’s shoulder, reached for my hand with hers. I didn’t remember her having this kind of motor control when I first met her, but I did remember that she always had her spark.

She had glimpsed at me during the first photo shoot we did together last winter, and suddenly, through the lens, I realized: She loves the camera. She knows what this is about. She is hamming it up! It was difficult for her to maintain eye contact with the camera, but she would lock in for a moment, and let me snap away. She could feel her connection with me through the camera, not as a child, but in the same way an actor or model connects with me through the camera – with a sense that there is an energy pulsing, and in a surge of that energy, things will align in my frame, and I will know to hit the shutter. There is trust involved in this, and Amelia sensed it. She offered me her trust. And I trusted her. I don’t need words to communicate with Amelia, and I think that is clear in the photos.

I am always so inspired when I see her. She is always progressing, always happy. It reminds me of the parts of me that are this way, and it makes me remember we are all here to live the life we have to the fullest. What that means for me is very different than what it means for Amelia. Nonetheless, it is my obligation to live up to it with zest and love – and without judgement – and she reminds me of this every time we hang out.

Have a look at Amelia’s amazing school! If you’re thinking about holiday donations, this would be a great cause to support: Standing Tall.

ICA – Boston

I just got the black and white scans back from my visit to the ICA in Boston, and wanted to share a few frames. I thought the look and feel of most of Boston was very “American-Revolutionary-War,” but the ICA really stood out as a piece of modern architecture. The ICA (which stands for Institute of Contemporary Art) was designed by architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and presently houses an exhibit by Louise Bourgeois featuring a huge, room-filling metal spider (I walked under it!), and a design exhibit that is essentially a snapshot into present-day design aesthetics. A lot of the design was not an unusual sight to a New Yorker who has access to SoHo shops like Moss, and whose friends and colleagues are modern artists with their nose in everything modern in order to maintain average-level clever quips over cocktails. I did however, come away with a juicy treasure of a lead into future decorations for my apartment – Seattle designer Jessica Smith’s line of ironic wallpaper! (Check out her company, Domestic Element.) Continue reading “ICA – Boston”

Holga Experiments – Part I

This is my Holga, nestled in the leaves of my moneywort plant, sitting upon the wooden bench I made in 8th-grade shop class.

(Please note that this Holga has been modified with colorful letter stickers spelling out the word, “Holga,” where the usual branding would appear. It also came from the manufacturer to create images in a square format. Many of them are designed to create vertical rectangles.)

A Holga is a plastic medium-format camera. I bought this one at B&H; for $20.00. I have found them for as little as $16.00, and am quite fond of giving them away as gifts or taking them to unusual places to shoot, like the ocean. Straight in. Big waves? No worries. It only cost $16.00-$20.00.

My photo lab came into some extraneous expired 120mm film, and I bought a lot of it for this and what will be future Holga experiments.

This time around, I used a roll of tungsten-balanced film in daylight (for the tech-savvy, you know what this means, for the layman, it means the colors would turn out whack). The assignment was to create an abstract piece of potential cover art for a new rock band, Sputnik Sweetheart (coming soon to Ever since spotting that Mick Jagger/jaguar shot by Albert Watson, I’ve been anxious to do some experimenting with in-camera double-exposures, so I decided to give it a shot on the Holga.

Because the camera is plastic and has one set aperture and shutter speed, this was a shot-in-the-dark experiment. I put the Holga on a tri-pod and did a double-exposure in bright sunlight on 64 ISO film. Man, did these shots blast out! I mean, WAY too much light got in.

However, in PhotoShop, I pulled it down to what could pass as an interesting 3-color print-making piece, and I think I got the band a unique piece of work after all! The image on the bottom is the unadjusted scan of the WAY over-exposed film, and the image on the top is the same image after PhotoShop tweaking (note that the colors could not be tweaked – other color information simply did not exist on the film). This experiment had a surprise twist in that I originally intended it as afilm-based project, but it turned out to be quite a fun challenge to manipulate the scanned image digitally. The quality of the film gave me the basis as a minimal image, and the benefits of technology allowed me to emphasize that minimal outline to the point where it conveyed the information in an interesting visual way. While some might say it is important to maintain the integrity of the medium (and often I agree – especially when it comes to shooting true black and white on b&w; film), in this case, starting with the film laid the groundwork for something creative that could truly only have been finished digitally. So, I consider this experiment a happy marriage of mediums.

Some things to consider about the flaws in this experiment: the film was expired. The film was tungsten-balanced slide film, which explains some of the strange color-cast, and also the lack of the 4-stop forgiveness of negative film. In other words, where another filmstock may have recorded more information color or detail-wise, even in bright sunlight, this filmstock did not possess those capabilities. A limitation? Perhaps. But when you are limited, you are forced to be creative. And, the little I was able to squeeze out of this film took the concept for the image in a totally different direction. It seemed to me ironic that an image with a futuristic setting and sense of minimalism could appear antiquated in the way that the print-making technique itself is antique.

Because of this, the image became about wondering if the viewer is meant to be looking backwards or forwards in time. There is a question of what this is a remnant of, and how it came to exist in this timespace. Was it the camera, the recording, or the subjects themselves that have transcended this time and space? I prefer images that beg questions of time. Time is one of my biggest fascinations, and I am always intrigued by the relationship between normal life, which moves forward inevitably, and the camera which attempts to freeze or capture it.

New England Aquarium Field Trip

Shooting in the aquarium gave me a lot of freedom in a funny way. I only had my Voigtlander Bessa-R rangefinder camera, and 160 speed color film. It was quite dark in the aquarium, so most of the time my shutter speed was around 1/8 of a second. Since I didn’t have a tripod, and the fish swam quickly, I knew that it was an exercise in “feeling out the instant.”

In other words, without the ability to be precise about anything technical, I was free to feel, and sense the colors, contrasts, swirls, motions, and textures instead. And while this led to blurriness in some cases, I noticed even that added to a feeling of otherworldly-ness.

I had emotional reactions to the visual experience of certain kinds of fish – almost as if responding to the expressions on their faces. For instance, the eel seemed suspicious and frightening. In the turquoise-toned image of the fish, he seemed to me like a ghost. The colors had an emotional impact, too. The very bright, multi-colored frame felt very happy, and reminded me of watching Finding Nemo. (There was even a fish that looked like Dori!)

The stingray seemed wonderfully elegant, and much more like a bird than a sea creature. But with the grid of the giant tank as a backdrop, that elegance became ironic, and maybe even a little sad. Whether or not it is possible that any of this emotional content was registering as I depressed the shutter I’m not sure – as I mentioned, the fish moved very fast – but in looking at the moments I managed to capture, it seems arguable that it was.

I took a class with photo editor/teacher Seth Greenwald, who would insist that our human instinct always deserved credit – that we are able to sense something in the moment we are observing, and as a photographer one learns to let that moment express itself on film by hitting the shutter at exactly the moment we sense it.

Seth would ask of a shot, “How did you do this?” And the shooter would reply, “I don’t know, I was standing there, and this just happened.” And Seth would said, “No! It didn’t ‘just happen.’ You were present. You were observing something.”

He emphasized that it wasn’t the tool, format, or even the skills we used that made an image work. It was something else, a sixth sense about a moment, an ability to tune in to something, an ability to press the shutter at that precise moment.

Of course, I have learned a great deal about tools to make the exposure and tonal quality of an image meet professional standards, and completely honor the value in that. But I have always felt strongly that the mastery of tools and skills should always be in service of something. There should always be a strong idea, emotion,concept, or even simply information to convey. And there should be a lot of integrity about what needs to be conveyed being held by the person trying to convey it – the photographer.

At the aquarium, with one simple tool, with practically no options, I was able to really tune in to the integrity of the subject. It wasn’t possible for me to be distracted by trying different lenses or exposures. I had only 2 rolls of film. There was no art director, there was nothing to sell. Just this sea life, living.

We say that sea life “swims,” I suppose. But there was so much subtle movement, with any of these creatures, involved in its propelling forward or just moving around. It was easy to get drawn in to their undulations, and sense their life-force. And sensing and honoring their existence made wonder if what we label “swim,” is nuanced enough to describe their lovely aquatic lives.

In closing, here are the jellyfish shots I’ve chosen to blow up for my wall:

Inspiring lecture with Albert Watson

As part of the PhotoPlus Expo, I attended a lecture with legendary photographer Albert Watson, and had the opportunity to view some his personal favorite work. It was quite moving to hear him speak – he is famous for shooting over 250 covers for Vogue magazine, yet as down-to-earth as can be (although not unaided by the ever-charming Scottish accent).

One thing he said that reminded me so much of what is important was, “If you’re a photographer, you’re lucky.” It is so easy to get wrapped up in the daily challenges of one’s vocation, and forget about finding the joy and love you have for it in your regular experiences. Here was a well-accomplished, world-renowned artist appreciating his own good fortune. Who am I to behave differently?

He also spoke about doing assignments that one is not thrilled with, saying “No matter what the assignment, you don’t get the day back.” In other words, yes, sometimes you will be assigned to do what you consider to be unimportant, uninspiring, or just plain annoying. But it is your day, your life, your art, and you owe it to yourself to try to make something that pleases you – to squeeze it in additionally to or, if you can manage, within the assignment. If one wants to get great, one ought to use every opportunity possible. And, in any case, one might as well enjoy the day!

In addition to being inspired by his words, I bought his latest book (which he signed for me), as a follow-up lesson to the slide show presentation during the lecture. Not surprisingly, given my specialty, I was fond of the reportage style images he did in China, as well as the more cinematic black-and-white editorial spreads. But overall, what struck me as much as the craftsmanship in his work, was the sense of “idea.” There is a palpable sense in his work of having a very specific idea to convey, and the images are charged with authenticity. His subject matter varies greatly, as does the concept behind his work, so it is hard to speak about it more specifically. But the consistency in the quality of his prints and the uniqueness of the ideas he created was flawless.

The one specific thing I will say is that the double-exposure he created of Mick Jagger’s and a leopard’s face is stroke of genius, both in its motivation, and in its reliance (as all photography has this reliance to some extent) on the absolute uncertainty of the luck of things aligning in the moment the shutter is released. (In this case, twice.)

I find great value in hearing great artists speak about their work. Just in speaking about the way things come together, a lot is revealed about their nature, and it is interesting to try to see glimpses of that nature in the work. It inspires me to trust in my own nature, and to let my work become a greater vehicle for that nature.

What this is all about.

Friday night, I set my alarm to catch an early train from New York to Boston. Before it went off on Saturday, I woke from a dream in which I was visiting my high school secretary to tell her I was going to grad school. My alarm started beeping, and I thought, “I don’t want to go to grad school. Do I?”

I am a photographer, and would like to consider myself a fine artist. However, I am more like a small business owner who knows how to market her creativity. Pursuing an MFA would certainly give me the opportunity to make my craft and artistry the real priority. But I love working, and am not sure I feel inclined to re-immerse in academia, being 7 years pleasantly removed from my undergraduate degree in film. After all, a working editorial photographer in New York City is not accustomed to subsisting on ramen noodles. But, film major or not, a liberal arts degree does not equal having been through art school, and I want to know the joys of playing with clay, canvases, graphic design software, and obsessively contemplating the great artists who came and went before me.

After weighing the pro’s and con’s, I decided to found the University of Sarah, and give myself my own MFA education. This way, I will commit to educating myself, without having to quit working and sequester myself to any place with quadrangles and cafeteria food. I have created this blog to document the process, and welcome – as in the discussion forum of a classroom – thoughts, feedback, and responses to any and all steps in this process.