Week 35: Half & Half

Quite an open theme I had on my hands this week — half & half.  With my coffee? No, thanks, I’m talking something a little bit different.  What I automatically think of is a divide, more like an opposite type of project, but that wasn’t quite checking the “half & half” box in my mind.  So I went out in search of things that could fit the bill, and just so happen to find them in my back yard.

Summer is starting to fade…

It was literally just a few days ago that I was talking about a hot summer day, but with the slight change of the weather, and the fact that I was at the beach more like two weeks ago, things have started to take a turn for the worse already.  It’s also Labor Day weekend — the official end of summer.  While I haven’t received the notice, and have still been enjoying some hot, sunny days, other elements of nature apparently have.  I’m going to hold on to this nice weather for as long as I can, and will try to ignore the things changing around me.

It does prove for an interesting time of year, as well as some unique garden aesthetics.  While some things are in bloom, others have completely died.  Even within the same plant — parts are trying to grow, while others are giving up and conceding to the slowly cooling weather.

I’m enjoying both the literal and figurative expression of this theme.  Literally speaking, these plants are half dead, half living.  Plain and simple; a great example of a single object being split in to something which would be considered “half & half”.  Figuratively speaking, I see these as examples of life and death; new beginnings, closure for old issues.

I’m sure you all know by now that this has been a pretty interesting year for me, full of many changes and new beginnings of my own.  I’m sure you also know I like to work with opposites, and thoughts of life and death are often projected into my work.  Though I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted for this week, I did go out with a small intention to locate something along these lines.  Over the past few days I’ve started a new job, completed my first week at MICA, and have scheduled to begin my second new job in a few days.  It’s been overwhelming; I’ve been nervous, unsure, self-doubting, uncomfortable, and just plain scarred.  It’s also been the best week that I’ve had in a long time (except for vacation — the beach wins, hands-down, no matter what is going on in my life!).  I’ve also been happy.  Really, truly, eyes watering up, feeling excited, butterflies in my stomach, chills, engaged, inspired, motivated, happy.

For the first time in a long time I feel as if I’m within a group of like-minded individuals, and that I have contributed something of meaning.  I’ve also been able to let go of a lot of old ghosts haunting me by taking these steps in moving on.  It’s truly hard to grasp when I catch myself in the middle of it, but I’m at the begging of a journey that I have been wanting to take for as long as I can remember; a journey which I never though I would embark on.  Though I was unhappy, I fought for a very long time to hold on to the life I used to have.  I was afraid of change, and terrified of failure, both of which kept me in an unhealthy yet comfortable position.  I’ve made some extreme changes, and have taken some chances that even shocked me at times.

So while you may be viewing these pictures as I initially had, as images of the summer beginning to fade, remember that for the blooms to return next year, they have to start over, and let got of the seasons before.  In this case, life will come from death, and things that are half living now will be in full bloom again in a short while.  Letting go of old things will allow for new opportunities.  My life, which was being half-lived, will be in full bloom before I know it, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.

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Summer to the Rescue

After a busy week of waiting for my dog to act photogenic without any success, I gave up on my previous idea for the “superhero” project.  With time ticking away, I thought I would be at a loss again this week, since I haven’t found anything else to photograph.

Relaxing on a Sunday afternoon without any ideas.  That’s where I was a few hours ago.  Getting ready for a family dinner, after just spending all day out at a not-so-successful craft fair.  I’m a little tired, and a little more sunburned, but I don’t mind.  It was wonderful just being able to spend the whole day outdoors enjoying the warmth and sunshine, even if I got a little too much of it.  While pondering the days events, and hanging out in the back yard with the grill going, that’s when I thought of what could be a great example of a superhero for me:  summer time!

Yes, I know it seems like I can’t get enough of this simple thing, and I talk about it all the time, but I truly love it.  Summer is the time where I feel most adventurous, relaxed, inspired, motivated, and just simply happy.  I literally spend all year looking forward to it, and start missing it the second I realize that it’s leaving, if I’m not already planning on escaping to a place that can give me a temporary taste of summer.  It’s funny when you think of it; summer has no feelings, no intentions, no emotions, no deliberate actions.  It just comes and goes every year.  But it lifts my spirits, and for that I am grateful that this seemingly happenstance of a season occurs every year.  Maybe one day I’ll live in a place that is summer all year round — it’s not like I haven’t started thinking about it.

With everything going on, and running in and out of the house as “grill assistant”, I decided to take advantage of the summer day that we were all enjoying, and capture a few of the simple pleasures in life.  So enjoy my little summer sunday afternoon with the family.

Peek-A-Boo Sprout

I love a the little surprises you can find from nature, and I think this all started when I was little.  We always had a porch light that had an open glass/metal shade around it, and every year a bird would make a nest in the light.  My parents were thoroughly aggravated by this, but I always loved finding that little surprise in an unusual place.  Ever since then, I’ve always loved finding little things like that.  In watching the city where I grew up becoming increasingly over developed, I find it so nice to see little bits of nature and plant life popping up where it’s not supposed to, even if it was once where these things may have naturally been.  One summer there was a daffodil clinging on for dear life under a bridge for a major highway — I must have gotten beeped at a million times zoning out staring at this little flower and wondering how it got in such a peculiar place.  There’s also a school by my house which has always had a ton of ivy crawling up one of its walls.  It was cut down one year, but to my delight, it has come back in full force.

So today, as I was working on some botanical cyanotypes to use for the “nature” theme of this week, I stumbled across a little surprise.  I always go out to my balcony to develop my cyanotypes, since that’s the place in my apartment which get the best, and most direct, sunlight.  I have various plants and pots and such out there that I’m constantly peaking at to see if anything is growing.  A few months ago, I gathered all the seeds from the flowers that were planted last summer, and spread them around all the pots out there in hopes that anything would grow (I love flowers, but I definitely do not have a green thumb).  So I put my favorite seeds in the pots on the balcony ledge, hoping that they would get the most light and do the best.  The only problem is that since everyone above me also has a balcony, when it rains, or snows forever and then melts, I get a sort of waterfall effect on my balcony, splashing on to my plants and splattering mud and dirt everywhere.  It seems like with all the snow we got this year, and all the rain and storms as of recent, one of these little seeds popped out and landed in between the bricks of the balcony ledge.  So when I went outside today, there it was — a little baby sprout!  I don’t know how I missed it before, but it was a pleasant surprise today.  So I snapped a couple quick pictures of it, and there you go.  A better ode to nature than the cyanotypes which I have done before.  Though I love them (the cyanotypes, that is), I love finding these little peculiarities more.  Hopefully there are more sprouts to come; it’s been warming up, ever so slowly, and I’m desperately craving the spring and summer.  Enjoy!

Flora and Fauna

Well I’m excited to say that one of my outreach efforts for a previous week’s business challenge was successful!  Back in February, I started looking around at galleries and shops that featured local artist, and for some juried shows to enter.  So I stumbled across the City of Bowie’s page, and found an upcoming exhibit which would be great for the type nature photography I do.  The exhibit is Flora and Fauna, and features work centering around the theme of nature, plants, and wildlife.  Although I was hesitant and nervous, since this is the first show that I’m entering work in that is not in collaboration with school, I entered the maximum number of photographs (three) hoping that I would at least get one in.  To my surprise, all three were accepted! 🙂  So today I dropped off my work, and help set up the gallery/display spaces, also another exciting first.  I have to say, it was also a great confidence boost when the ladies coordinating the show strongly encouraged me to up the prices of my work, since they said I was grossly under priced, and would be surprised if the pieces weren’t sold.  So here they are, and if you’re in the area, stop by and check them out.  They show will be open from now until mid June, so you have plenty of time to see my work, and all the other great work there as well!

Cyanotypes!

The sun is shining away on this windy winter day, and you know what that means?  Cyanotypes!  I’ve been waiting for a day like this, and I’m happy to say that I’ve made good use of it.

Cyanotypes are probably some of my favorite things to do.  I don’t have the accessibility to a darkroom at the moment, as well as don’t have the space for it, so it lets me feel like I’m still doing some “film” development, kinda.  I was introduced to this process during the last photography class I took at school.  I was auditing the class, since they didn’t offer Photography III, and the professor gave me some pretty interesting projects, one of which was alternative processes.  I started off doing botanicals, and using some old book pages she had, and fell in love with it!

If you don’t know what cyanotypes are, you should look in to it!  Wikipedia does a good job of explaining it, but I’ll give you the quick and dirty on my process.  Cyanotype is a contact photographic process, which creates really lovely blue images.  To begin, you mix an equal part of two chemicals: ammonium iron citrate and potassium ferricyanide.  Yeah, cyanide.  Don’t worry though, it’s not going to kill you.  Though it is mildly toxic, I’ve never had any problems with it, and to be honest, I’m not particularly careful with it when using it — I’ve gotten it on my hands and constantly have my hands in the wash, and I’m still here!  I use a great kit from Photographers’ Formulary, where you don’t have to do any actually mixing of chemicals, and just combine “solution a” with “solution b”.  So easy.

Once you mix the chemicals, while in a darkened room treat your surface to make it photosensitive.  I personally use watercolor paper, and have had some great results.  It has great durability, and holds on to the emulsion well once you’ve completed your print.  One of my other favorite things to use are book pages, but they are much more fragile, so be careful.  You can use pretty much anything, as long as it is able to absorb the chemical solution — various papers, cloth, untreated canvases — so be creative!  Allow the treated surface to dry completely, I recommend even leaving it over night in a dark environment, and then you’re ready!  Your dried surface is going to be a light, almost lime green color when you treat it, but no worries, it will turn blue at the end!

Like I said earlier, it’s a contact printing process, so you could do either one of two things.  You can create your own negative, or for smaller prints, contact sheet style printing, or using medium format film, you can use actual negatives, and press it along with the paper between glass.  To make it simple, I just take apart a picture frame, using the back and the glass, and then secure the pieces together with paperclips or binder clips.  You want to make sure you have a good contact on your negative, otherwise you’ll end up with a fogged image, and lose a lot of your details.  I use Inkpress Media Transparency Film to create 8 1/2x 11″ negatives, and have had great results….when I follow the directions and print on the right side of the transparency!  They’re a little pricy, but super convenient in that I can just use my inkjet printer to make whatever negative I like!  Make sure you prep your image before printing as well.  Having strong contrast and clarity, as well as making a positive of your image through a photo editing program will ensure you get a good print.  The other thing you can do it treat your surface like a photogram, and place an object directly on top of your paper to create an image.  I still use glass when using objects, since I use flowers, leaves, etc., and in doing so, I’ve noticed you get a better outcome.

Exposure times will vary since, well, the weather is never the same from one day to another, and the sun’s position in the sky will move as you’re making your print.  I prefer to wait for a nice, clear sunny day, which keeps my exposure times anywhere from the 12-15 minute range.  You can gauge your exposure times by looking at your surface while in the light.  It will change from a light green, to a dark green, almost blackish tone.  Once you’ve reached your desired exposure, just rinse the print in cold running water.  I like to fully submerge my prints and gently agitate them prior to actually rising them.  The emulsion is delicate, so if you rinse too quickly, you’re going to wash your print away 😦 — so sad, I’ve totally done it.  You’ll see your print develop right before your eyes, changing from that weird dark greenish hue to an intense tone of blue with white highlights.  Rinse your print completely, so you don’t see any blue residue dripping from your paper and the water runs clear, and you’re finished!  Just lay it flat to dry and voila, you’re a cyanotype expert.

So there you have it!  I really love this process, and am thankful that I had a professor who thought outside the box and introduced me to this.  Check out my final prints below.  I made a couple of extras, so I may try my hand at toning them to change the color.  Stay tuned!