Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sailboat Racing Photography -- Or, Say "Yes"


So…I love the water and I love boats – and I adore being out on the water in a boat.  But my work – my passion – my focus (pardon the pun) is photographing architectural details.  You know, those quietly unique objects that surround us, but that no one actually sees.  Things like ancient door knockers, or painted dragons on a ceiling or creatures carved into buildings -- those quirky, colorful, sometimes strange things that a highly skilled craftsman or woman took the time to mould or paint or sculpt.  They’re everywhere, we just don’t see them anymore because we’re very busy looking down at our cell phones. 

It’s not as easy as it may appear to get a really good, clean, interesting shot of those “details”, but I’m never happier than when I’ve gotten one to the point where I’d be proud to see it hanging in someone’s home or office.  I’ve had the occasional, brief flirtation with landscape photography and exchanged the sly glance with a cuddly creature.  For a while I was obsessed with nature…and tree bark, but they weren’t serious relationships.  I always go back to my first love -- the details.

Recently, I was invited to join a group of friends in Newport, RI to help celebrate a “major” birthday.  Coincidently, my very favorite neighbor here in Philadelphia was driving up a day earlier than I’d planned to leave, to photograph the start of the 2012 Newport to Bermuda sailboat race.  He invited me to join him for the long ride up and then spend the following day out on a boat with good friends.  I’d never met his friends, nor had I been to Newport, and I was itching to spend that gift-of-an-extra-day alone, roaming the town, photographing the thousands of charming details I knew must be there waiting to be discovered.  The mansions along the famous Cliff Walk could have kept me fascinated for weeks at the very least. 

Something kept tugging at me though.   A persistent little voice kept whispering:  “Oh, say yes.  How often are you invited to spend the day on a lovely boat?  Don’t be dull”.   In the end, the little voice won.  Rather grudgingly, I grabbed a camera with a decent zoom lens and figured I’d snap some fun shots of my pal as he photographed the race.

The day was glorious.  The sky was a stunning shade of turquoise with the occasional puffy white clouds billowing by and sparkling navy blue seas.  A refreshing breeze meant wind enough for a visually vivid downwind spinnaker start.  Sounds like I know my stuff, doesn’t it?  I don’t.  I just wanted to show off the only sailing terminology I know!  A downwind spinnaker start simply means that the great-big-pretty sails were up – and they were fantastic. 

The race began, I took my first photograph and couldn’t put the camera down.  Photographing out on the big wide water felt so…expansive!   I could almost feel my middle aged brain cells start to multiply as the sea air and the excitement of the race kicked in.  Photographing racing boats, from a boat, amidst hundreds of other boats and circling helicopters is a bit like trying to shoot while astride a horse – everything is in motion.  It was wild and very wonderful. 

My hosts for the day, and fellow boaters, were a delight – I felt like I’d known them for years – they made me a very warm welcome.  Sometimes the details can take care of themselves I’m learning…and always, always, say “yes”.

I hope you enjoy the resulting photos – I’ve attached a few here and you can see more at

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Heart of an Artist

The Heart of an Artist

Last week I experienced my first brutal art critic.  Certainly, in the few years since I’ve begun to call myself a photographer, I have been very lucky.   The urging of friends, following a summer trip to China, prompted me to cull, crop and agonize over a few dozen of the hundreds of photos I’d arrived home with.  Once I had a nice presentable portfolio assembled…I couldn’t imagine who might possibly want to buy them.

Thinking rejection might come more gently in the Midwest, I made my first sales attempt in Iowa during a visit to family.  I began with one of my favorite shops specializing in Asian antiques and one-of-a-kind metalwork furniture in the historic, funky, East Village of Des Moines.  Despite being kind of nervous and trying really hard not to show it, I sold five or six of my matted photographs that day which gave me the courage to continue going door-to-door with my portfolio whenever I happened to travel.  As a result, my photographs have been sold around the country in restaurants, shops, galleries and art shows. 

Late last summer I opened a shop on Etsy.  If you’re not familiar with Etsy, it’s an online international marketplace headquartered in Brooklyn, NY.  Sellers are from every corner of the world and their amazing, creative products are all handcrafted or vintage.  It’s fabulously fun and seriously addictive shopping.  You may find yourself wandering through the shops on Etsy for days if you’re not careful. 

In addition to buying and selling, another popular Etsy addiction is creating Treasuries.  Here’s how it works:  select sixteen items from sixteen different shops and arrange them artistically to create a piece of art -- a collage, or mosaic if you will, of the sixteen items.  A treasury may be random, or based on a theme, like the beach perhaps, or a color - pink is always popular - or an event, like Father’s Day.  Treasuries are very popular within the world of Etsy and creative-types may spend hours or days putting together the perfect Treasury.

This is how I learned I have the heart of an artist.  An Etsy member made a Treasury featuring one of my photographs alongside the work of fifteen other potentially tender-hearted photographers and titled it “Not Fine Art Photography”.  Through their comments, this person made it very clear that our work was not up to standard.  Several of my fellow photographers had already posted indignant, upset comments -- one declared their intent to “report” the treasury-maker for breaking the rules.

After my first moment of surprise, I experienced a little burst of fear and maybe just the tiniest hint of shame.  I had finally been found out – here was the confirmation of what I’d always feared: that I couldn’t possibly know what I’m doing.  Then, the moment passed and I chuckled as I discovered that I didn’t much care what my critic thought.  I love my photographs, which is probably the only reason I can offer them for sale.  I love the way they look and feel (I print them on very special paper) -- I love the rich, vibrant, textured color that I capture and painstakingly reproduce and I love the composition of the items in each photograph.

Vincent van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime.  Stephen King received thirty rejection letters before his book Carrie was accepted for publication.  Elvis Presley was fired by the manager of the Grand Ole Opry after just one performance.  Now I know why those artists persevered.  They were driven by a personal, unique vision to produce something wonderful and to share that creation with the world – appreciated or not. 

Ahhh, the heart of an artist.

Visit my shop on Etsy: