Thank you?

Thank you Notes

My Messy Desk


This week, I’ve been thinking of several topics of interest to write about, but then, I sat down and wrote all my thank you notes for the thoughtful gifts family and friends gave me last weekend for my birthday. As I was writing these notes, all different sizes and designs scattered about my desk, it got me to thinking about the art of letter writing, and writing thank you notes.

What has happened today, that this beautiful form of communication and gratitude has diminished? Some people blame it on the younger generation, but maybe that’s not fair, because we were all younger generations at one time or another. And, some people blame it on technology. It’s just so much easier to send a quick email thank you, or even a text thank you. Does that still hold the same sentiment?

There is nothing like walking to your mailbox, pulling out a stack of mail, separating it into the requisite piles – bills, bills, bills, junk, junk, junk, then, what’s this? Your eyes light up, you quickly flip the envelope over but you know whom it’s from because you recognize the handwriting! Yes, handwriting. That’s something isn’t it? Everything else in that pile gets pushed aside and you open that special letter. Maybe it’s a birthday card, maybe it’s a thank you note for something you’ve sent, and sometimes, it’s just a wonderful letter catching you up on a friend’s life.

While you sit in that chair, absorbed in the note you just received, you’re transported somewhere else, to a friendly, familiar, kind, warm place. The piles of bills and junk recede from view, and you make a connection. Why not continue this beautiful art form? My mom required my brother and me send thank you notes for all gifts, from all occasions – birthday, Christmas, even a childhood Easter basket or two! And, we’ve both kept up the habit. It was a great habit to instill in us.

I talk to friends, like myself…my age and usually older, who appreciate and continue to practice this art form, but see many of their own family’s younger generations – grandkids, nieces, nephews – not acknowledge a gift sent. Not even a text. It’s not about receiving thanks for something you’ve sent as most of us send gifts out of love with no obligatory return. It’s more about the personal connection. It’s a time to re-connect with a cross-country relative. Yes, you can do that on Facebook and the like, I get it people! But when you take the time to write a few lines, say thank you and tell your great aunt, or grandparent how you’re doing, or what’s coming up in school, believe me, it goes a long way!

For a good read check out the book, More than Words. Illustrated Letters from The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art by Liza Kirwin. This is a wonderful collection of letters that include illustrations taking the practice of letter writing to an artful place. I bought two copies about a year or so ago…one for me, and one I sent to a good friend in Alabama. We still enjoy corresponding with the art of letter writing. And, yes, we still text, email, even FB…although me, very begrudgingly.


“Letter writing is probably the most beautiful manifestation in human relations, in fact, it is its finest residue.” – John Graham (1886-1961) Painter


What is home? According to the dictionary, it’s the place where one lives permanently. Honestly, I think there is a lot more to that word than meets the eye. When I think of home, I think of the familiar. I think of good memories, people I love, and people I miss.

After having read the book Hold Still by Sally Mann recently, I also watched a great DVD about her work. A friend bought me the DVD Blood Ties, which talked a lot about Mann’s early work, the images of her children that caused a lot of controversy, and her motivation for shooting imagery near and dear to her heart. I thought of home. Most of her images illustrate home to me – a place where her kids were comfortable – clothed or not – and played freely. A safe and secure place where memories were made.

I teach a lot of photography classes, and I can recall several instances where I’ve had students say to me, “…but I don’t go anywhere to get good photographs.” I’ve always told students to push outside of their comfort zones, get out of the familiar and shoot new things. But, then, I also catch myself brainstorming with them and saying, how can you make home interesting? How can you photograph your definition of home, and illustrate the warmth you feel, the people you love, the comfort within that brings you back each evening?

Here’s an image that illustrates home to me. It wasn’t made at my physical house, but at the home of my aunt and uncle in Savannah. Savannah is home. Vicki and Phil are home. This great lawn chair – my uncle’s chair that looks out on his yard – is home. All of these things, including this chair, are memories of home, warmth, comfort and love.

Hideaway, Pt. Wentworth, Georgia

Hideaway, Pt. Wentworth, Georgia

I’m working on a project and had a bit of a dilemma, as I want to shoot this project in a rather experimental way. I need to be close to home, and my darkroom, for my ideas. Immediately I thought, oh how boring…taking photographs around my house rather than on some exotic adventure. But, then I realized, home can be that exotic adventure…it’s all in the way you look at it, it’s all in your perspective. I’ll be glad to share those as well. Soon enough.

For now, here is another interpretation of home. My grandfather – I made this image in college, and just dug it out recently. A good reminder to not throw any of your old images away – you’ll look at them differently in 26 years.



Entrepreneurial Spirit

Jazz LPs


I’ve had a chance to play with some new ideas in photography this week, mainly, what might be classified as commercial photography. I’m working on how I can sell the fine art of listening through the visual art of photography!

Using a combination of strobe lighting and/or natural lighting through the ambiance of the space, I am working to create a mood that one might have as they fine-tune their listening skills via an experience in sound. Also, through photographs, pulling out visual cues that surround the space, adding to the anticipation of the experience.

The new venture is still under wraps. We’ll announce soon enough, but for now, it’s all about the photography and experimentation to get this new adventure off the ground.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the word entrepreneurial. Here’s what the dictionary says:

            Entrepreneurial: (adjective) characterized by the taking of financial risks (I’ll say!) in the hope of profit; enterprising.

            Enterprising: (adjective) having or showing initiative and resourcefulness.

Now, there’s one of my all-time favorite words – resourcefulness! I push that in my studio classes, constantly. I admit I harp on it all the time.  My students are told on day one (which, by the way, is Monday!), do not tell me there is “nothing to shoot” in our prop closet. First, bring your own props…be creative and second, if I see that #$%@! blue vase one more time…

For as long as I can remember, Randy and I have been talking about owning our own business(es). We made this happen just over six years ago with Spotted Dog Excavating. You really do just jump right in and learn as you go. As a friend of mine says, it’s like jumping off a cliff and growing your wings on the way down. Learning everything from taxes to general liability insurance to worker’s comp to marketing has been interesting and fun. Not to mention, I know a whole lot more today about underground utilities and infrastructure than I ever thought I would!

This next, new business adventure is going to give me another creative outlet and, I’ll work hard to populate that new website with creative photography, and who knows where it will lead. I have a preliminary sketch of the new logo, too! But, alas, I’m not a graphic designer so I’ll give the big reveal once it is polished nicely by a pro!

Spendor Speakers


Creative vision, and all the great entrepreneurs who came before inspire me, and this week, we can celebrate one special entrepreneur, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre. On August 19th, 1839 his invention, the daguerreotype, was finally made available to the world. Step-by-step his process was explained. Can you just imagine all the new photography businesses popping up all over the world?

Georgia…or Savannah on my Mind

Two topics that peaked my interest collided this week – a discussion about the book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and architectural photography.

Last Friday, Randy and I had dinner with some of his audiophile friends and their wives. The conversation came to Savannah, and then to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. If you have not seen the movie, don’t! Read the book first…then see the movie. It’s an intriguing story about Savannah, and true…mostly…depends on whom you talk to in Savannah. Than again, most Savannahians wouldn’t admit too much truth in the words that grace those pages. Southerners, specifically Savannahians (let me be more direct – the ones I grew up around) don’t cotton much to the trifling words of Yankees. Yes, the author, John Berendt, is a Yankee. The story revolves around an antique dealer, Jim Williams, and four murder trials, the last with an acquittal, in the murder of his assistant (male prostitute, lover, you decide), Danny Hansford.

Anyhow, as I recalled the story, and the wonderful Bird Girl statue on the book cover that could be found in a cemetery not a mile from my teenage home, I thought about Savannah and how I photographed the Mercer-Williams House (the site of said murder) when I was in college for my architectural photography class.

As I was pulling together my architectural photography class handouts this week, and getting sucked into reading articles and thinking about my own architectural photography course all those years ago, I decided to pull my photos of the Mercer-Williams House and see what I did 25 years ago. I have not looked at these specific images in a long time, but being reminded of the story and the assignments I give my students each fall, I decided to take a look.

Blast from the past

Mercer Williams House, Savannah, GA

Mercer-Williams House, Savannah, GA

Pulled from my negative archives, I found two beautiful 4×5 images, each with exposure brackets. Now, with a 25-years-of-experience-critical-eye and my adjunct instructor’s brain to contend with, I decided…not too bad. I gave myself quite a critique. I listed all the things I’d mark off if I were my own student today, but I decided to scan them and share them here anyhow! 429 Bull Street…the site of a murder.

I shot these way back when on a Cambo 4×5 camera that my school offered, and used T-Max 400 film. The negatives were processed archivally, and were clean and beautifully preserved when I pulled them out of my archives. For my architectural photography students past and future (countdown…14 days), these views are a ¾ perspective, and a detail shot.

429 Bull Street, Savannah, Georgia

429 Bull Street, Savannah, Georgia

Like many homes in Savannah, the Mercer-Williams house is haunted, and many say the ghosts of Williams himself, and Danny Hansford walk the halls, and that of a young boy who died at the home in a tragedy that preceded Williams’ residence. Ghostly or not, it is a beautiful house with a wonderful history and I’m glad I photographed it for an architectural photography class assignment!

Oh, and the name Mercer…that would have been General Hugh Weedon Mercer, the great-grandfather of the legendary songwriter, Johnny Mercer. And, Johnny? He’s buried in Bonaventure Cemetery less than a mile from the house I grew up in!

Do I Belong in the Past?

This week, we remember a great photographer who died on August 4th, 1927. Eugene Atget was a Parisian commercial photographer by all accounts, who would have probably been left unknown to most of the public had it not been for the efforts of the American photographer, Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). While working in Paris as a young photographer, she was introduced to Atget by the great Man Ray. She became close friends with Atget, and upon his death, tracked down his negatives (glass plates) and prints to ensure their safety and his place in the history of photography.

Why do I ask the question, do I belong in the past? I was reading an excerpt about Atget by renowned photography historian, John Szarkowski. He described Atget, “To a casual observer, he might have seemed a typical commercial photographer of the day. He was not progressive, but worked patiently with techniques that were obsolescent when he adopted them, and very nearly anachronistic by the time of his death. He was little given to experiment in the conventional sense, and less to theorizing. He founded no movement and attracted no circle. He did however make photographs which for purity and intensity of vision have not been bettered.”

I thought about that word, anachronistic, describing a person or thing that is chronologically out of place. Because Atget used an earlier photographic process – one involving glass plates and a bulky large format camera at a time when he could have adopted much “easier” or “portable” processes (for timeline reference, the Kodak No. 1 handheld camera was released in 1888) he chose to work with a “dated” process thus dating him. Most of his work was produced after the turn of the century (1900-1927), and during this time, photography was rapidly changing. Much like today – digital technology continues to grow leaps and bounds. Cameras become smaller, lighter, and less expensive. The technology is truly astounding – think of HDR, or the ability to digitally remove someone in a photo, just because you might not like them. It’s not like the days of tearing a printed 4×6 in half when you break up with that trifling boyfriend.

I thought, am I anachronistic? I love my darkroom, more than my DSLR. I’ve been spending time this week, as a matter of fact, printing some new images to submit to an upcoming show, and testing my Second Amendment negatives to determine how I’m going to present this body of work. I was in my darkroom, making gelatin-silver prints and wondered, am I anachronistic?

I came across another great article to help answer my question. The title of this article is Film Photography Makes a Stunning Comeback. Okay, so you can guess what this is about! In the article, the author discusses why some commercial photographers choose to include film in their arsenal today, and why “everyday” film shooters love what he says is “…difficult to define, but easy to see.”

“Film has a quality that is unique; a beauty and tonal warmth that digital cannot match.”

He talks about the longevity of film versus digital files, and likens some of his argument to the popular debate of vinyl versus MP3 files (NO comparison in my book!). And, finally, he references a telling comment to sum up his discussion,

“The way people shoot has changed. Film has become a more considered approach; something people invest time in creating.” – Professor Steve Macleod

As for me, I’ll answer my own question. Do I belong in the past? No, I do not belong in the past. According to UK-based Ilford Photo in a survey of film users last year, 30 percent were under 35 years old! Seems I might just be hip again!




After watching a couple speakers during the RNC last week in Cleveland, and then Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in Philadelphia last night, I was moved to look back through my own images taken from the 2008 DNC in Denver. I remembered the electricity that night in 2008.

Now, mind you, this is no political rant, nor a blog post with efforts to sway you to vote one way or another. In fact in full disclosure, since 1988, my first presidential election, I have voted all parties and I don’t vote straight tickets. I consider myself a moderate, or as many like to classify an Independent. This applies no matter local city or county elections, state elections or national elections. Period. I vote for the person that I think best suits the job and aligns with my personal feelings on specific issues that are important to me. Period. I tend to be a big picture thinker…and look past just one person. Period.

As Rhett Butler might say, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn…” who you vote for. It’s your business.

Back to the national conventions…I was lucky enough to get a press pass with a friend of mine and we ventured up on that last day of the DNC, August 28th, to see what we could photograph. I remember being amazed by the energy and buzz in the air. The organizers moved the last day – Obama’s nomination acceptance speech – to Invesco Field from the Pepsi Center. Of course, it sat more than 75,000 people whereas the Pepsi Center just 20,000. Good move on their part

Captive Audience

Captive Audience

It was a beautiful late summer evening. No chance of rain and the sky was just amazing. I do remember that. And, it wasn’t too hot, or too cold. In fact, it was just right that evening. He got very lucky. I did get a spooky feeling when I noticed the snipers hanging out on the upper perimeters of the stadium throughout the whole evening. I snapped a few photos of them, nothing to write home about, just a document of my experiences.

So what did I notice, and why am I talking about this today? The excitement and the unity are what I noticed then, and that is what seems to be missing today from the conventions. I watched different parts of the RNC last week – for one, Donald Trump’s nomination acceptance – and what I felt was lacking was energy in the crowds. That same energy and buzz I felt in Denver. And, watching the DNC last night, same thing…Michelle Obama did her part to rev up the crowd, but it still seemed to lack the energy. Maybe television just doesn’t do it justice. Maybe you have to be there to feel the energy. But, for me, maybe it reveals something more…voter fatigue? Is that a thing?

What are the buzzwords this year? We all remember Hope and Change, but how about this year, Republican or Democrat? I’d say Unity is a good buzzword. Seems this has been a struggle for both camps what with the Cruz missile in the Trump camp, and those passionate “Feel the Bern” supporters in the Clinton/Kaine camp. Here’s an assignment for you all, look for signs of unity in your own neighborhoods and take note. If you have a camera in hand, create a great shot. When I look back through my images – overwhelmingly all Obama supporters – I see great swaths of people with the Red, White and Blue in unison. That is unity to me.

So, whether you are red or blue…or float in a state of purple…look for those signs of unity and see what you come up with. Maybe start with a combination of red, white and blue.