Who Are You?

Fingerprints and footprints, as we all know, are one thing that can identify us because there are no two prints that are the same.  Six billion people means six billion different prints.  Astonishing isn’t it?  We have only a few different hair colors, hair textures, eye colors and skin shades but there are billions of options when it comes to human prints.  Now this begs the question as to whether that number is actually infinite, but you can ponder that one on your own.
I took this photograph in Mexico while on holiday.  I love, love, love Mexico!  That is a subject for later however, tangents can be fun memory trips.  I was walking up some steps near the beach, which is why the steps were covered in sand.  As usual, I had camera in hand and my eyes were wandering and looking for the next photo opportunity.  When I looked down to find the hidden steps so I wouldn’t trip, I saw the footprints and thought how amazing they were.  Tennis shoes of different types and bare feet of different sizes all so perfectly presented.  Each print was perfectly discernible but yet they overlapped in the most striking way.  When I got the photograph back, I started to wonder about the people to whom those prints belonged.  Admittedly, at the time I was more interested in my next cerveza so pondering the prints then, was way too complicated.
Which brings up the question now (after another obvious tangent) of who are you and me for that matter?  Our prints belong to us and cannot be changed.  Yet, I think people have the tendency, definitely the ability and sometimes just a strange desire to present themselves as who they are not but who we think they should be.  These prints represent people.  People I never saw and people I can’t even imagine.  They could have been locals or tourists, men or women, girls or boys or all of the above.  I can only let my imagination run wild as to whom these prints belong and who these people really are.  But you can know someone for a long time but even then, can we really know a person?  Had I found the owners of these prints could I have looked at them and known who they are as individuals just from the physical appearance?
Sometimes I question my intuition, not always, but sometimes.  Recently a couple things came up in my life that really made me question my intuition.  Something was telling me my impression was wrong but emotions and feelings seemed to corrupt my reaction to listening to my intuition.  Why do we deny our instincts when they are absolutely screaming at us?  I had an impression of someone in my life that I thought was dead on.  I thought the footprints were obvious, naked and hid nothing.  I was wrong. The shoes that were worn presented what the wearer wanted me to see.  The evasiveness that I see now plain as day was brushed aside by my feelings, while my intuition was just blaring in the back of my skull, and I simply didn’t listen.  My impression was based on what was presented to me and intuition was saying, “honey, something is off, way off.”
Admittedly, when I meet someone for the first time, my tendency is to look at his or her shoes.  They reveal everything!!  They make a much better first impression, well truer impression, than the face that is before me at eye level.  Scuffed shoes means the person doesn’t care about the details.  Old shoes means the person could be lazy or doesn’t care.  New shoes that are obviously uncomfortable can mean a person who cares about how they look but is perhaps shallow or a person who cares how they look and will just plain suffer for fashion.  I’ll fall into that last category quite often admittedly.  Tennis shoes are not in my vocabulary.  Oddly, this shoe discussion has come up four times in the past four days.
There are many things we do or wear that reveal who we really are and then there is that mask we wear to hide who we think we are.  That mask may even change according to mood, the person we are with or who we think we are supposed to be at any given time.  It is very sad I think.  I’m guilty of it likely because of personal insecurities.  Is it the same for everyone?  I certainly don’t know and neither do I want to presume.
So, what do I know now?  I like tangents.  Seriously, though, those footprints from the photograph are definitely long gone.  I have woken up and plainly heard my intuition.  I’m sure I will not listen to it again in the future more than once.  The plans in regards to what my intuition was warning me about have not yet come to fruition and most of all, my shoes will always be uncomfortable and highly fashionable.

Facade

I’ve just returned from a networking party.  I would have never gone to the party alone but I was invited by a friend, so I decided to go.  I’m so glad I did because I ran into people I knew, but I never would have done it had my friend not been there.  I’m a total wallflower.  People never believe me on this but it is true.  I’ve heard it over and over about how I have an outgoing personality and am warm and inviting but that’s after the first introduction.  I’m a mouse until then and hell if I know why.  Once the “first move” is made I’m OK but I’m never one to initiate a conversation in a group setting.  My façade is the one of the beautiful woman who is so self-assured that nothing bothers her.  WRONG.
As I have aged, hopefully gracefully, my insecurities have waned greatly.  My high school reunion is coming up and I have a strong feeling I’ll see again where a lot of my insecurities were born and bred; it helps a lot that I’m expecting many of my former classmates to have lost their hair, grown exponentially in girth and have added a few dozen wrinkles.  But I didn’t say I was completely confident and over my resentment of the bullies I endured in school.  So, on a recent trip to Las Vegas I had a late dinner at the bar of a hotel off the strip.
When I travel alone I love to sit at the bar.  I guess it is where my comfort zone lives because you always feel like you are not “alone” or getting the looks of “ohh, poor her all alone”.  Of course I had my camera with me and the ambient lighting of the bar was fabulous which consisted of muted warm lights except for blue votives on the bar.   I took the far end by the TV, which had some obnoxious commentator going off about some mundane subject like it was the last day of life as we know it.  There were two couples on the other side of the bar and my eye, of course, casually watched their story unfold.  The key to this photograph was the reflection and the unknown of who belonged to the glasses, the hands and the reflections.  Yes, I saw their faces but I actually tried to blank them out because sometimes you can see more in a gesture than in a facial expression.  What I saw in each of their faces directly was just a façade.  I watched the hands on the wine glasses, the plates of food on the bar and watched the reflections of facial expressions in the high gloss of the bar itself.  The extension of their bodies became what was real.  You can smile when you don’t mean too, so your gestures end up telling the true story every time.
I’ll start with the two white wine glasses in the forefront and the people to whom they belonged.  They were very comfortable with each other, though it was the kind of comfortable though that comes with time, a lot of time.  They were in their late forties, perhaps early fifties and from out of town.  OK, that part is obvious as we were in a hotel bar in Las Vegas but bear with me.  They didn’t say much to each other or the bartender.  The hand movements were slow and methodical and when I watched, their facial expressions mimicked their hands.  They would rarely look at each other and when they did it was a glance.  When they spoke to each other it was minimal.  Now, I’m not an expert in reading people but I think it is obvious that with this couple the flame was burning out, or completely gone and sitting in the bar helped to pass the time.  The façade here was one of we are just fine and happy to be here but in reality it was not coming off that way at all.  It was difficult to watch them because their lack of connection with each other made me feel like an intruder.
Now, let’s move on to the much more interesting couple at the end of the bar.  You can see her reflection in the bar top.  She was a bit older than me, full of life and very animated.  The gentleman she was with was more subdued but honestly, I could only really see the back of his head; so he could have just been enthralled with her and quite the conversationalist himself.  I’ll be perfectly blunt here and say, both couples understood they were getting laid as soon as dinner and the last cocktail were over.  This couple showed a bit of childishness in their expressions and the giddiness carried over to when they held their glasses or took a bite of food.  The hand would hold the glass and gestures would have to be restrained from letting the liquid spill over the rim.  When taking a bite of food it was with a smile and nodding enthusiastically to what the other was saying.  It was amusing to watch them but they were also obvious.  So what was the façade each one wore that night?  The one that we have all worn a time or two, the one that doesn’t reveal what we ourselves are afraid of because we can’t reveal this side, our true side, to others too soon in fear of judgment, personal insecurities or abandonment.
Five people from different places and in Las Vegas for different reasons are sitting at a bar and each wearing a different façade.  A beautiful woman giddy from the thought of being alone with the man next to her and he just as enthralled with her, and both on their best behavior and putting their best foot forward. Then there is the other woman of average looks and her partner for the evening just going through the motions for another day.  Then there is myself with no one to impress, no one to tolerate and also wearing a façade which consisted of a person minding her own business and most definitely not.  I’ll have to be honest and admit to being the one wearing the most deceitful veneer of all.

Impact

My father has been in the National Guards since 1965.  He went to war for the first time when Iraq invaded Kuwait.  Now once again, he has just returned from Iraq where he spent one year “boots-on-ground”.  His job was driving for miles back and forth across Iraq to provide supplies and support for the Fourth Infantry.  This was his job and he accepted the call to duty.  I admire that quality greatly.  I learned early in life from him that there are times when you just have to do what you have to do.   Accepting the inevitable and unchangeable just makes it easier.  However, this was a major life change for my father that greatly impacted many of us who know him.
I gave my father a job when he left and it was twofold in purpose.  First, it gave him something to do and to think about other than being in the middle of a war where he wasn’t wanted and where he certainly didn’t want to be. Second, it gave me insight into his life and the lives of Iraqi’s in the way I love and understand best through photography.  I sent a camera, film and the objective to not stop taking photographs and he complied as all good soldiers do.  To my surprise however, he impressed me with his vision and I now wonder if my inexplicably innate photography skills may have actually come from him.
My father took about 1000 photographs while he was in Iraq and Kuwait but unfortunately, some of this film was lost in the mail.  He says he took many of the photos while imagining me sitting by his side on his endless journeys.  He hoped he was capturing photos that would tell the story of his life and travels while in Iraq.  My dad took this job very seriously and impressed me greatly not only with his ambition to do a good job and satisfy his daughter’s whim and fancy but with the fact that he actually did a good job.
He took many photos that would likely bore an uninterested person and he took many photos that made you look twice, think and reflect.  They all helped to tell the story of a soldier at war.  One photo in particular hit me immediately and it is a photo I get lost in and can imagine taking myself.  I may however, would have actually over thought it and the fact that it was so quick of a decision and reflex on my father’s part to take the photograph is part of its allure.
The photo is of a solitary man walking in a plowed field, head bent down and dressed in a robe and head scarf. There is a bar in the photo and you realize it was taken out of the window of a military truck moving down an Iraqi road but it frames the man perfectly.  It was just a split second decision by my father to take the photo but the impact of being the voyeur of a voyeur really hits me.  I’m still trying to come to terms with the force I’ve been hit with by this man that I will never know. I know it is odd. He is just a man, whose face I can’t even see, who lives thousands of miles away and lives a life I will never understand.  But what is his role in the universe and why did he enter my thoughts so strongly just from a photograph that I didn’t even take?
Here is a man isolated in numerous ways.  He is in a country at war and possibly wondering if life will ever get better while those in uniform are likely wondering if they will get back to their better lives.  He is in a field that is not producing and does he even have the means to make it flourish?  He is walking alone, looks lonely and this is highlighted even more in the photograph by the vehicle window bar framing him perfectly.  This image is so simplistic but with imagination, knowledge and heart it becomes a whole lot more than a man walking alone and you have no choice but to wonder how his life has been impacted since men and women like my father started to cross his path.  Here, for a moment in time, are two men who live thousands of miles apart with completely different lives who cross paths for but a split second but both just hoping life gets better than what it is now.  That is what my imagination, heart and knowledge of the situation tell me.
My father going to war was an unwanted impact in my life.  This photograph of a strange man has made an impact I have yet to figure out.  For my father, he is a mere sentence in the story of his life at war and my pops just doesn’t see it as I do.  But for this strange man, this is the complete story of his life from which he likely won’t escape or even want to leave.  This is his country, his homeland, his field, his dirt, his birthplace and the place where he will most likely die.  Does he live and will he die alone just as he walks unaccompanied in this photograph?  No one, absolutely no one, will ever know because this man doesn’t know that I even exist let alone that I am wondering about his life based on a photograph taken by my father.  Am I reading more into it than I should?  I think that is what makes this photograph an art piece.  I really want to analyze and understand not just view what is before me.
My dad is safe, has a warm bed again and is happy to be home.  What of this man in the field?  This war is not yet over for him but I hope he is safe and warm as well, even with the unwanted impact on his life that he still suffers.

Here are my photos of my dad’s return…

Inspire

Why is art supposed to move and inspire us? Art is found in ancient caves and under incredible security in multimillion dollar buildings in Paris, New York City, Florence and Rome and hundreds of other cities. How is it that we found some items to be particularly moving and important or of any value? Why do we need someone to tell us what art is suppose to be? Does saying something is priceless really make it priceless? Why do we favor one work of art by the same artist over another? Why does one medium thrill us and another bore us? I’ve seen the Mona Lisa, and I was not impressed; not with the painting itself, although other works of art have moved me more, but with the atmosphere of her location. Under this thick case, with soft lighting and a line in front of it that you cannot cross, all you can see is her smirk and sparkling eyes. Then you hear twelve different languages around you all trying to decipher what she is all about. As you make your way through the touristy crowd to get a better view, someone taller comes along and stands dead center in your view. Honestly, I’d rather stand in a cave looking at a simpler painting that is a thousand years old rendering an outline of a human form created by human hands.

I love art and I am completely fascinated by the known and unknown creators, the mediums they used to create and the history behind their pieces. Egyptian wigs, chairs and toys can be seen in the Metropolitan Museum in New York City and considered art because of the intricacies that embodies them. It is amazing when you start to think about the anonymous person who wove these tiny braids for a wig and the unrecognized painter who painted bright colors for toys. And then seeing Michelangelo’s David in Florence, I had no idea from photographs that this sculpture was more than life size and just as beautiful as you hoped it would be in person. So here, we have the unknown artists and Michelangelo. We all know Michelangelo to be an eccentric and incredibly talented in many ways, but does knowing this makes his work more inspiring to the human soul than an unknown? Why do we have a need to analyze art all the time rather than just letting it automatically overwhelm the spirit and bring us to an emotion we didn’t have before we saw the piece?

When I see something that makes me want to pick up my camera and photograph it, what motivated me to do so? Did something truly inspire me or did it all just “click”? I’ve never had the nerve to have a gallery show because I couldn’t bear the thought of being criticized, and most importantly I couldn’t stand to hear people say, “I wonder what on earth possessed her to take that image?” In all honesty, I really don’t know the answer to my question. For the most part, I just see something and feel the desire to pick up the camera and capture it. Perhaps I look where others may not, but that is just being observant. That “take a breath and stop moment” happens often than we think in our busy lives. Many people don’t just stop to smell the freaking roses and are missing out on moments that could inspire them in some way if, they just stopped to notice.

When I was walking around Paris on a very wet, dreary day, I saw the leaves just lying sporadically below my feet and could see the texture of their crackly, dry forms lying on a wet, cold surface next to a dark stone wall. The combination of textures and lights and darks and reflection were just fascinating. Honestly, I didn’t know how the photo would turn out but I had that ‘Ahh’ moment and knelt down and took a few photographs. I wasn’t looking for the moment, it just came upon me and I was able to just stop and let it inspire me.

As I look at the image that inspired me, I can remember the exact day and the mood I was in. I had feelings of loneliness and sadness with a sudden desire to hold the hand of almost anyone. I felt as if this sadness would go on forever, and that there was no one to see and understand what I was experiencing. Did my feelings set the mood which, inspired the image or did the image I see at the time, a photograph in my head, inspire my feelings?

Perhaps art exists so that we can be inspired to think and feel and question and know that there is no right answer. While we may not have the time to look for ourselves as to what can inspire us on a daily basis, thankfully, there are people who take the time to interpret and show us what should be seen and appreciated.

I think it is wonderful to travel around the world and fight crowds to discover art we hadn’t seen before, especially when the art itself was created in a quiet moment, in a quiet place, by a single person who found the vision to create. Maybe it is just like the inspiration to create a small piece of the human form by placing a hand on a wall and outlining the human touch.

What is Old?

Shortly after I moved to San Francisco eleven years ago, I got a job as a production assistant for a film crew that was heading to the Philippines. I was thrilled at the prospect of going there and I was very excited about seeing a true third world country. I had been to Mexico, but Acapulco was much too touristy to qualify. When you can decide on Italian, French or Steak House for dinner, it is not a third world experience. The Philippines are beautiful. Manila is hot and humid and way too many bugs. The rice fields are old Asia and just amazing, and so are the people. The beaches are absolutely breathtaking.

This photograph is one that I took near the ancient rice terraces in northern Philippines. I saw them and thought how endearing it was to see grandpa helping to take care of his grandson. I was stunned to hear that grandpa was 72 years old and the boy was actually his son. This tribe, lived in huts, walked around either naked or wrapped loosely in red cloth and lived off the land and the rice terraces. They are also a very small people. Averaging about 5’4” tops, I felt like a giant towering over them at 5”10”.

I was shocked when I saw the place where they lived and how they lived but I was just utterly astonished when I found this father and son. This was so completely different from the life I had experienced. Life here was simple. No televisions or phones and no home could be seen for miles. Life is what is truly appreciated and revered in their world. Of course, it helps when there is no money or goods to desire beyond something to eat or smoke.

I can look at this photo today and feel the heat and humidity, smell the fires burning and food cooking and remember laughing more than I had in a long time. These people were giving, caring, accepting and fun. Life is just simple and you accept what you have and make the most of it. Here is a man who isn’t concerned that he may not live to see his son grow old enough to marry. One night he got lucky and low and behold, he got lucky again with a son. End of story. There is no worry to make sure he brushes his teeth at night, no college fund, no X-Box or Game Boy and certainly no TV. It is about being a part of the community and doing your part to live a good life no matter your age.

I just had my 37th birthday and I still have problems turning 37. OK, it has only been a week but it still sucks and the feelings are not waning. I’ll spend a lifetime hoping to be as happy as the Filipino tribal man and living as simply as he does but I live thousands of miles away in a world that is filled with concrete and steel and every tree has been planted with purpose, not by nature. I live in a world of credit cards, bills, gas stations, grocery stores and accountability for all of my actions. My tribe won’t take care of me when I’m sick or feed me when I’m hungry. Getting old is not fun in a privileged world or what we think is a privileged world.

I Spy…

We are all guilty of people watching and we all have been caught staring at some point or another. But I have leFine Artarned to watch from afar with a camera and a long lens and really study my subjects. I can get up close and personal and no one is the wiser. I can watch, imagine and pretend I am a part of my subject’s life and they never know that for a short moment in time, their lives are impacting someone else. So completely unbeknownst to them, I have made them my muse.

While sitting in a Paris café, I saw a man sitting slightly ahead and below me. I could see over his shoulder and see his face perfectly when he looked toward the street. Had I been sitting in some typical American diner, my impression of him would have been much different. But I was in Paris on the Rue de Rivoli. I knew this guy had to be more refined than what the sideburns, wrinkles and basic black clothes would have said to me in America.

In America and my experience, he was a truck driver, a construction worker or a factory worker. However in Paris, France, on this shopper’s dream of a street, he had to be something else. The way he drank so specifically and with such purpose from a cup and saucer. The fact that he used cream but not sugar said to me that he was a man’s man in some strange “Misti” way of thinking.

I watched him for 20 minutes or so, just wondering how he lived his life. I had my camera at the ready as always. His face was interesting and I wanted an interesting moment. A moment to remember when I looked at my pictures back home in my little apartment in San Francisco; where, I would again try to imagine his life and remember my time in that café, in Paris, last fall, on a rainy afternoon, just watching time go by. Then he pulled out a cigarette.

The sky was dark and dreary and rain was ready to fall. Nevertheless, this man was sitting outside, doing what most Parisians love to do and we in foggy San Francisco just can’t. They enjoy sitting outside, drinking coffee and most likely smoking while watching the world go by as they pause for just one moment in their busy lives to reflect. Americans really need to learn this fabulous habit. We always seem to feel this need to move, to do, to be and to control.

It took him three tries to light his cigarette in the moist atmosphere that surrounded him. This gave me the opportunity to time taking his image at the perfect moment. I only wanted him, the light and the cup on the table in my frame and I only got two shots before his hands went down.

Looking at him in my photograph now I see how much more refined and less weathered his hands are compared to his face. I again wonder what he did for a living. I again wonder what or of whom he was thinking while sitting at that café. I am still wondering if he ever knew even subconsciously that for 20 minutes he was a part of my life and just never acknowledged it to me for his own reasons. Perhaps playing his own game with me.

I have numerous photographs of people I have seen for a split second in my travels around the world and I will never see again. I still look at these photographs and wonder about the people in them. I wonder if they completed what it was they were doing when I saw them. I wonder if their lives got better or worse after that moment they were in my life. I wonder if they ever do what I do which is to wonder about the lives of strangers and let them run wild in their imaginations.

I wonder.


Memory Lane

Am I age obsessed? It’s highly likely. I don’t really think so but if you asked me and I really thought about it I guess I would have to admit that I am a little age obsessed. Now, what do I mean by age obsessed? I mean holding on to my youth through beauty regimens, time at the gym and holding on to notions and memories from the past. I am definitely guilty of all these things. If it comes in a tube, bottle or jar and an esthetician can do it, I’ve done it. I spend time running on the treadmill because my doctor says I have high blood pressure but honestly it’s because I want to stay a size six. However, with age comes wisdom and damn am I thankful for that.

This photo was taken of the lead singer for Erasure. They played recently in San Francisco and they sold out five nights at the Independent. Erasure? Really? Yes, Erasure. The Independent holds only about 300 people but they sold out and sold out quickly. I listened to Erasure when I was young. I’m proud to be a product of the 80’s, we had the best genre of music. It was the cusp of Punk and the beginning of New Wave and Alternative and songs spoke to your emotions which were likely to be about anger, not surfing, ala the Beach Boys. I couldn’t afford to see my favorite groups back then. First of all, I would have had to go to Detroit because no one played in the town where I’m from originally. Second of all, I was working three part time jobs to put myself through school, and back then minimum wage was $3.50. I make a little more now and I am clearly making up for lost time. In one week I saw Peter Murphy, Erasure and Lenny Kravitz. What is on my iPod? Well, everything from Al Green, Johnny Cash and Tom Jones to Audioslave, Coldplay and Flipsyde.

When I saw Erasure that night, of course I reminisced about the old days. I was astonished to see the men of my youth as middle-aged men singing the songs of 20 years ago. Seeing the wrinkles and the balding head makes you remember just how old you are. A real shocker though was when I saw the Sex Pistols. Talk about middle aged paunch but there they were, the Sex Pistols. I even got back stage on that one. Not what you think it is cracked up to be I assure you. The greatest thing about that show however was the two high school kids I met while standing in line waiting to get in. They had taken the train in from the suburbs and were dressed to the punk hilt. It was fabulous. Behind me were even more and mixed among them were people older than me who were balding or in need of covering up the gray roots. It made me feel young. I really, really like that. I didn’t get much of a childhood at all so this may be my way of living out my youth. I don’t care however because I’m having a lot of fun and I know this keeps me young at heart and I would rather laugh until it hurts than cry until I die.

Most people will guess that my age is somewhere between 25 and 28.  I love, love, love that. What I am most happy about though is that I’m not actually living in the past. It may not seem that way, but the last thing I want to do is to live in the past. It was not pleasant and the good memories are really few and far between. What I do is enjoy the past with a wider heart and a wiser mind. I’m not stuck in the past. I lectured at a high school photography school once and a week later saw three of the kids at a concert that included a lot of the current bands like The Killers. I was buying beer and they were making a poster. They thought I was totally cool and the best part of it was, I felt cool and I wasn’t even trying. If I were trying, I’d be living in the past.

It’s funny but in high school I so wanted to be accepted and a part of the cool crowd. I never fit in with anyone really. My friends were from the “outside” and many of them are still my friends to this day. Also, the friends that I have today are the greatest and most eclectic group of people. I adore them all and don’t need to prove a damn thing to any of them. My twenty-year high school reunion is coming up in two months and I know that I will be the cool crowd and after, I will walk away and not look back. Yes, I am youth obsessed and wouldn’t change it for a million dollars.