Out of the Dark

26 03 2010

Preface: I don’t think I’ve ever written a purely emotional, purely personal post on my blog. Today is going to be different, and I’m going to fully give in to my ADD and just let this one come out however it comes out. Hope you don’t mind.

It’s a bittersweet day for me. Today I pack up my darkroom for the foreseeable future. It’s like burying my best friend and hoping he will breathe again someday.

Don’t be scandalized, and don’t start penning your “I told you so’s.” I’m not leaving film behind, and not getting modernized. No, it’s just the circumstances of life interfering. In a few days, my husband will be starting a new job in Charleston, South Carolina, and the kids and I will be staying behind for practical purposes. It’s time to reduce expenses and live simply, which means a move to a smaller and less expensive home. It means saying goodbye (for now) to my hideout.

My darkroom and I have been together for eight years. When life overwhelmed me, when people doubted me, when I doubted myself, when anger took over, when creativity was making me insane, through a marriage, divorce, and remarriage, the darkroom was my haven. In it, I learned not just about photography, but about discipline, emotion, patience (sometimes), and true self-expression. I made ridiculous mistakes and indescribable messes, celebrated triumphs that I never imagined, and at times drank and cussed like a sailor. The things I learned!

Packing up today meant going through literally thousands of prints, some good and some “rustic”, and remembering shooting and printing each and every one. It suddenly feels like it’s been a long journey. Sometimes I forget that in going from point A (the beginning) to point B (now), there were so many twists and turns and roadblocks and bridges. Photography began as an outlet for a lot of pain and anger, and eventually became an expression of self-awareness and appreciation of life in every phase, witnessed by four black walls. While my goal in those years was to express myself and to learn the (sometimes frustrating) craft of good photography, I somewhat inadvertently created a record of myself and those I love. Going through all of those prints today was a bizarre journey, a tangible flashback.

I found some prints from my friends as well. Andy, you taught me to value simplicity and embrace sarcasm. Kathryn, you were the first peer I ever envied, and that envy motivated me in the early days when I was frustrated. Thank you both.

I came across some other images that, though they aren’t technically great and/or remarkable in their own right, speak to me now and always. I love this one not just because of the message from the literary graffiti artist, but also because the image itself just isn’t great. I find it charmingly naive, from the days when I had none of the confidence in my work that I do now. I think I was wishing to be misunderstood so I could feel great.


Note that the inverse is rarely true.

This image of Baby Caroline from six? years ago has never really left my head, but it’s a bit too emotional for me to have ever displayed anywhere. For those who haven’t known me long, Baby Caroline was born with only three chambers of her heart. Her parents and doctors knew she would only have a few hours to live, and I had the great privilege (and sorrow) of being there through her birth to photograph her with her family. This was Caroline meeting her grandmother, and is the most bittersweet image I have ever made.


Baby Caroline

But while we chase art and beauty in our work, it’s important to remember that images like this one, just a little snapshot, can mean more than any piece of art we ever create. This is me with Baby Caroline, taken by her grandmother from the image above, who in her eleven days of life taught me more about photography than any book or mentor ever will. This is when I truly understood my mantra, that effective portraits are a side effect of a strong human connection. (To Caroline’s family, I will always keep the heart pendant she “gave” me near and dear to me; I don’t dare wear it for fear that I’ll lose it.)

CJ and Caroline

Me and my mentor

In the end, I suppose losing the darkroom really is losing a friend. I wonder if I spent enough time with it, I wonder what could have been and how I’ll get along without it. In the end, I suppose I’ll cherish the memories until I can have another. But it will never be the same. True friends can’t be replaced.

Thanks for reading.

– CJ


Babbling like a brook

22 03 2010

Hello, all. It’s been much too long since I’ve updated my blog. The speed (and severity) of life can get a little overwhelming at times, which tends to kill my brain cells and leave me wordless.

Fortunately, I have an easy out today. I can share with you a interview I gave to Inside Analog Photography Radio with Scott Sheppard. It’s a fun podcast, around 30 minutes long, and I somehow managed to sound nearly coherent. If you’re looking for a way to burn some of that pesky free time we all have too much of, please do drop by and listen at http://www.insidemacmedia.com/rss/iap.xml, or you can download it for free on iTunes. You’ll hear us chat about how I work, upcoming projects, my short attention span, and lots of other stuff.

For my digital friends, although it’s called “Inside Analog Photography Radio” there’s plenty of non film-related discussion in the interview. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

A more invested blog entry soon, promise.

– CJ

from a fun session in LA

from a fun session in LA

28 09 2009
National Velveteen

National Velveteen

There is no such thing as “bad light”. There is only light used badly. Sometimes you gotta use what you have — in this case, it was overhead florescent lights in an arena, with a tiny little bit of fill from a distant doorway. Many times photographers assume that it’s not possible to achieve good lighting when the light source is directly overhead; not true, Petunia. You simply have to have your subjects look up toward the light, or in the case of a candid like this one, wait for the subject to do so on their own, and be ready.

This one has a sort of National Velvet-y feel to it that really appeals to me. Fortunately, these horses have gotten used to the massive ka-chunk of my medium format shutter. I prefer to first do no harm. People look better on horses than in a crumpled heap under them.

La Dolce Vita

22 07 2009

I sometimes find myself too buried in serious, dark, heavy things. While I’m actually quite silly in person, I tend to focus (no pun intended) on depth and seriousness a lot in my work, particularly lately.

So I thought I’d share something light and fun, two words not frequently associated with either my work or with teenage boys. This is from last week’s vacation to the island cottage, my three offspring mangling each other. At the cottage, there are no such thing as stress, e-mail, groundings, and deadlines.

Enjoy an uncharacteristic light moment with me.

mangled children

mangled children