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Take Me Home 11/14/2015

 Take Me Home

black and white image

 Ups and Downs, Rockport, Maine

This ogoing series was inspired by my 87 year old mom who often says she wants to go home. When I ask her where home is the answer varies each day. Often she cannot tell me where it is but just knows it is not where she is at. The road images in this series could have been captured many places in this country. Some of you may feel as if you have driven or walked these same roads though logically you know it is unlikely. They may evoke a memory, make you feel homesick, inspire you to hop in the car and go on a road trip. I sense in my mom a longing to return to an earlier time, a familiar place that remains elusive in her mind. I would give anything to take her there.

We live in a mobile society. Often we spend large periods of our lives residing in different places. Sometimes it is hard to decide what place to call home. Is it the place where you are currently living or is there another sense of home that is connected with an earlier time that resides in your memory and heart?

My mom suffers from Alzheimer’s and her short term memory is gone. However there are some long term memories that she can still access. I wonder if the place you are born and grow up in is imprinted on your brain much the same way that newly hatched ducklings imprint on the first living thing that they encounter after birth. Do those first encounters remain attached to your brain when all other memories fade away?

My mom has lived in several places since she moved from her childhood home in Dexter, Maine, including Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. All she remembers now is Maine.  And all of us who talk to her on the phone reside in her imaginary Maine, also. Though she is living in a nursing care facility in Pennsylvania she alternates between thinking she is at a bed and breakfast, the airport or at the house of a childhood friend.

One thing is for certain, she does not think she is home. Several months ago when my mom could still articulate well, I asked her what it felt like to have the memories disappear.  She said she can sometimes see the memories floating in her mind just out of reach. She knows they are there but when she tries to reach out and grab them she can never quite reach them. I think that when the memories start to go you find yourself grasping for something familiar and what is more familiar and safe than home? The problem is that without any memory you do not know where home is.

When I talk on the phone with my mom now, she has a difficult time carrying on a conversation. She is cheerful and upbeat, asking how I am doing (though I am not sure she knows who I am). She almost always asks me if I can take her home. On the  occasions that I have asked her where that is or where she wants to go she can’t come up with an answer. She clearly does not know where home is but knows it is not where she is at the moment. Today she told me that she is ready to go back to Dexter. When all other memories of home have left her, that pull to her childhood still remains.

So now when I am out on back roads or walking down paths in local parks I find myself asking, ” If I were dropped here from the sky and did not know where I was would I be able to look around and find the right path home? And….Is home a physical place or is it a place in time?”

More images from this series can be viewed in my gallery section on this website. More Images

 black and white image

Leaving

 

What We Leave Behind 11/12/2015

cyanotype portrait

The Nest, Cyanotype on Fabric


My 88 year old parents are dealing with memory loss and dementia. I have been watching them disappear before my eyes for quite some time. When they decided to move out of state to my brother’s home after living close by for 13 years I felt a need to capture the loss I was feeling, to document this major event. I had recently been to a photo gathering (Shootapalooza) where we as a group created a mural size cyanotype on fabric. It was the first time I became aware of the availability of pre-treated cyanotype fabric by the yard. I decided to experiment with it. 

At first I thought I would simply do a series of large scale pieces using many of the things they were leaving behind. Then I decide to incorporate my parents themselves into the pieces. My parents were willing models. Because of their age and the mobility issue of getting up and down off the ground I explored other options and came up with the idea of using a queen size bed on wheels. It was placed in my garage. The fabric was placed on the bed, my parents placed on the fabric and then they were wheeled out into the sun for a 10-15 minute exposure.


 
image vicki reed

They were wheeled back into the garage and if a second exposure was necessary to add dimension to the first image, they got off the bed and I added various things to the space where they had been laying. I then wheeled the bed back out for a shorter second exposure. This all took place in my driveway on a busy street in my town and beside a walking path. Never once did anyone stop and ask what I was doing. As a matter of fact no one seemed to think it was strange to see two elderly people lying on a bed in a driveway with music playing. (I often played music for them, mostly the Tony Bennett Station on Pandora as he is my mom's favorite.)

 
After the shoot while I was rinsing the fabric in the bathtub, my folks sat on the back porch enjoying the gardens and birds, sipped fruit smoothies and ate pastries from the local bakery. It was a very difficult time for me to anticipate their leaving but these lovely shared afternoons lessened the pain and sadness. It was also a stressful time for my mom who does not like change. As the time of the move grew closer, the anxiety of it all overwhelmed my mom so she would no longer leave their home even to make a large portrait that she enjoyed doing. I had many more ideas for pieces I wanted to create and I am continuing those using the clothes and items that they left behind. 

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Spooning and Dinner Plate Series Installation


In addition to the large scale pieces I have created a Dinner Plate Series. Using my parents’ dishes and silverware I created cyanotype pieces and added image transfers to them. The photos are some that I took as well as old family photos. Some of these were made into placemats and are part of a table installation. The table cloth was created by contact printing a hand crocheted bedcovering made by my great grandmother onto cyanotype fabric. I will be adding more pieces to this series as I complete them and get them photographed. More images can be viewed in the gallery section of my website. More Images


cyanotype portrait

The Embrace ~ Dinner Plate Series

 

cyanotype portrait 

 Gramp and Nana
(My great grandmother who crocheted the bedspread used in the making of the tablecloth for the table installation.)

 





Conversations: Stories from Creative Lives 1/10/2014

Thunderchicken and Vicki circa 1978


As part of the Conversations Series sponsored by the Cedarburg Art Musuem, I will share my journey from rural Maine to the Midwest and how it has influenced my photography. Adventures along the way include the Masai Mara of Africa and a skydiving clown.


The space at the Cedarburg Art Museum is charming and intimate making for the ideal spot for artists and non-artists alike to gather over a cup of home made soup and a beverage. Space is limited so register early.
 

$15/person (includes soup, beverage and cake) 

Call the museum or email to register.

262-377-6123

info@cedarburgartmuseum.org


Cedarburg Art Museum

W63 N675 Washington Avenue

Cedarburg, WI 53012


*I will give a little bit of background on where I started out and how I got to where I am today with my photography. I will share a few stories and adventures from the journey. It is my mom's 86th birthday so there will be cake!!


Regarding the image: Yes that is a skydiving clown. Yes, that is me wearing a parachute, strapped to the bottom of a plane with the door off. I was younger then. The parachute was for my own safety in case I fell out of the plane while photographing. I was shown the pull cord and told, " Never mind. You will be so panicky if you fall out, you will never be able to pull it."

The Growing Season 6/29/2012
A new body of work
Bleeding Hearts 3

 

For the past year and a half I have been experimenting with a new body of work. For the first time in the 35 years that I have worked in photography I have become obsessed with a project. I have been passionate about many other areas of my work but this is the first time that I hate to have to go to bed at night and can't wait to wake up in the morning to work on the project. 
 
Due to the nature of this project- working with live plants and flowers in bloom I feel compelled to capture as many images as I can before everything wilts or dies. Even within this project I have separate projects,one of which is capturing roadside weeds and wildflowers. I now have to be careful when driving on back roads not to end up in a ditch because I am focusing on all the plants along the side of the road.


These images seem very simple but they take me many hours to create, both in preparation and post production work. The work is all digital and for the first time I am not restricted in size for the final image. With my film based work, 11"x14" is the largest size that I can print in my wet darkroom. These digital images can be printed LARGE, some up to 5'.  I have printed several at 24" by 24" to start with and the scale is definitely an important factor in the power of the images. I do not understand why, but these images appear three dimensional even though they are two dimensional prints. An artist friend describes them as sculptural.

 

Leaf Dance



 Living in the north, we are accustomed to having a limited growing season. Because we have long winters, the short growing season in the summer seems more precious. For me, these images and this project show the contrast between plant life and our life. Our growing season need not be short or restricted to a particular time in our lifeline.


Dandelion


Moonwalk 2/23/2012
Winter at Harrington Beach

This winter has been so mild that I have had few opportunities to capture snow and ice photos. The fields are bare, none of the fluffy white stuff to be found. In January, the only place I could find anything interesting was on the shores of Lake Michigan at Harrington Beach State Park. It looked like the surface of the moon, with the snow craters and moguls.

I was very interested in capturing ice and frost patterns. It was so cold that I could actually watch ice crystals grow at my feet on the water that had pooled away from the shore. It was such an amazing experience I captured a bit of it on video. This is not a time lapse video! They were actually growing that quickly.

This video has been acquired by The National Geographic Channel for an upcoming TV movie.







Here are a few more digital images from my afternoon moonwalk.













I didn't find the intricate ice patterns that I was looking for but it was a fabulous day to be outside with my cameras even if it was a bit cold. Fingers are frozen! Time to head home!



Of Dragonflies and Flycatchers 6/8/2008

My husband and I and my folks spent the past weekend at our cottage on Kelly Lakeand conditions were right for us to witness the emergence of dozens of fireflies. My fisherman dad sat at the end of the pier, pole in hand while my mom sat on the steps to the pier catching some sun. Being my normal photographer self I of course was taking a few pictures. My Mom seemed to be captivated by something on the rocks beside the steps so I walked down to see what was going on. “Dragonflies”, she said.

Memories of summers in Maine were filled with these insects that seem to be a cross between a helicopter and a bi-winged airplane. We called them darning needles in Maine when I was young and I remember hearing the story that if you misbehaved they would sew your mouth shut which evidently I never took seriously. I know for a fact that I misbehaved frequently enough to warrant such punishment but I don’t recall being particularly worried when dragonflies occasionally lit on my arm. They were frequent companions when we were hiking through the fields around our small town and I loved their shimmering colors but I can’t say I ever gave them much thought or wondered how they appeared each summer.

My family had a cottage on the lake in our small town in Central Maine and I remember seeing empty bug casings clinging to the side of our pier or on nearby rocks. These papery ghosts could be scary looking when you were little. The cigar shaped bodies with spider-like legs would float away on the wind if you were brave enough to touch them. I never was interested enough to ask what had happened to what was inside these shells. I must have assumed they were what were left of an ugly dead bug.

Dragonfly Nymph

 

This morning as I looked at the four or five dragonflies resting on blades of grass and dead leaves I noticed several empty casings nearby and I finally realized that the ghost shells had been dragonfly nymphs. I looked around the area and found several more shells clinging to the sides of the pier and the rocks lining the shoreline. Not far away from them I saw dragonflies resting in the sun waiting for their wings to harden so they could fly away. In the beginning when testing their wings they would only fly a short distance and seemed to land on my mom and I with great frequency. I either moved to the sun until they flew away again or gently moved them onto my finger and set them back on a sunny rock.


There were no iridescent body colors that I remembered from my youth but when the wings caught the sunlight they seemed like glass mosaics.


I know now that dragonflies don’t develop their color until several days after molting. There are over 450 types of dragon flies inNorth America and I am not sure what species these were. I would love to believe they were a Saffron-Winged Meadowhawk or perhaps a Red-Waisted Whiteface simply because I love the sound of the names but they were probably Lake Darners.

Dragonfly nymphs can live in the water for up to three years molting several times before they crawl onto land and molt one last time into a dragonfly. While underwater they are veracious predators eating mosquito larvae and even feeding on small fish. As flying adults they feed on mosquitoes and other insects before they die at the end of summer. They are pretty handy to have around.

After the excitement of the dragonflies we retired to the deck where we were happy to see our resident Great Crested Flycatcher couple back this year. They appeared to be building nests in two of our birdhouses. They work very closely together and are vigilant scouts for the houses. They take turns perching on a nearby branch and keeping a lookout while the other one flies in with a mouthful of twigs to add to the nest. They were not happy with us being there, chirping angrily at the inconvenience of us but we kept our distance, sitting on the deck quietly reading a book and they got on with their work. I’m not sure why they are building two nests. Perhaps the male is doing it for insurance. “Hon, I built you two nests this year. Pick the one you like the best.” How could he lose?


Later in the summer when the young have hatched we love watching their little heads bob into view as the parents arrive with food. And much of the food that these dilligent parents will feed to their young will include the dragonlies that are just beginning their short lives. The circle of nature never ceases to amaze me. Then in a few months in late summer we will arrive for a weekend to sadly discover all of the activity done and will know that the young ones have left the nest.

My husband's dream for a few years has been to see a pileated woodpecker up at our cottage. It seems everyone else in the family has seen one and recorded it in our bird book. For Buz it has been very elusive. One will fly by our deck just as he has turned to say something to me so he misses it. Driving on a back road one flies in front of the car when he is looking down to adjust the volume of the music. Only a lapse of a second but enough to make him believe I think that we have all been making up our sightings.

Well late in the afternoon on Saturday he called me outside and said, "Listen to this woodpecker!" It was such a loud sound I said, "That HAS to be a pileated!" We tracked down the tree and there the large prehistoric looking creature was, the proverbial 'Woody the Woodpecker' attacking a dead beech tree. Maybe I will be able to capture one with my camera sometime! This image is NOT mine but I included it so you would know what we were looking at!

Hmmmm... now that Buz has crossed this off his wish list I wonder what he will dream for next!

The Kayak, Me and the Camera 7/31/2007
 
We were at our cottage in northern Wisconsin this past weekend and on the ride home my husband shared a few paragraphs from a book he had just finished reading. It was about a father and his son who sailed the inland passage (precursor to the Intercoastal Waterway) from Massachusetts to Florida and back on a 24 foot catboat in 1912. The father, Henry Plummer kept a journal of the year-long trip and when he returned home assembled 700 handmade copies of a book recounting their adventures. Attracted by the excerpts my husband dangled in front of me, I’ve been lured into reading the third printing of this classic, The Boy, Me and the Cat. If you are not intimidated by the plethora of sailing terms (most of which mean nothing to me) you discover Henry has a lovely writing voice and a great sense of humor. My husband lamented the fact that Plummer never wrote anything else but I am wondering if he wasn’t really lamenting the lack of having such an adventure.

Unlike Mr. Plummer, my adventures are of a smaller scale and so is my boat. I don’t haul turtles onboard and make soup of them while marveling at the colors of their shells and the dignity of their heads. And much to the relief of the farmers in the area I don’t shoot stray cattle on shore to further ward off hunger. (Evidently, perfectly legal in 1912) However, every time I slide my kayak into the water whether it is a lake, river or tiny pond it is an adventure of discovery for me.

Pecor Lake


This past weekend I explored small Pecor Lake located just a few miles from our cottage in Oconto County, Wisconsin. Though I have a boat loader for the top of my car to hold my kayak I have never installed it so I put down the seats in my PT Cruiser and slide the thing in the back of my car to transport. It’s okay if I am just going a few miles but I do intend to install the top carrier before our trip around Lake Superior this fall.

I knew that Lake Pecor was a gem even before I retrieved the kayak from the car because there was tall reed grass growing in the perfectly still water by the boat landing. I spent a half hour wading in the water photographing the patterns that their reflections made while fish nibbled at my feet and toes. Every time I was startled by a bite I jumped, causing ripples in the water and disrupting the perfect reed reflections. I know there are no piranhas in Wisconsinbut a school of adolescent bluegills can create quite a feeding frenzy when there are brightly painted toes in the vicinity. (Note to self- when fishing for bluegill paint a dot of #133 “Femme Fatale” on the worms)

After a Bite

I love the shallow draft of my kayak that allows me to paddle close to shore among the lily pads and submerged logs. Though Mr. Plummer’s Mascot had a shallow draft he found himself aground on many occasion due to storms, tidal changes, etc. I haven’t got stuck yet but the wind has occasionally pushed me into shallows where I have rested gently on a soft murky lake bed. This often happens when I am frantically trying to focus my camera as my subject floats out of the frame. A firm push off bottom with my paddle usually sends me on my way.

On my first kayak forays I only took my Holga camera. It would not be ruined if it went into the water because it is plastic and has no electrical components to short out. Plus it only cost $17 so if I had to replace it, it would not be too painful. As my confidence in the kayak and myself grew I added equipment to the camera bag nesting between my legs. Soon my point and shoot digital and my 35mm SLR shared space with the Holga. And I always seem to share space with a few spiders and miscellaneous bugs....but no four-legged creatures so far. I had a friend relate a story of taking a canoe for the inaugural paddle of the summer only to have a mouse crawl up her leg while well away from shore. Her husband tried to calm her by pointing out how scared the mouse must be to find itself adrift but I don’t think that was of much comfort. I check my kayak carefully each time now before I step in! Perhaps Mr. Plummer was very wise taking along a cat on his voyage but I’m pretty confident it would be more bother than worth in my small vessel.

I have found each lake has its own personality. Pecor is small, quiet and friendly to paddleboats, canoes and kayaks. Jet skis would be obscene. (Frankly, I find them obscene on any lake.) Though small, Pecor is large enough to host an island that would be fun to explore. I skirted the shore of the lake marveling at the patterns on the submerged branches and logs.

I noticed a single stem of reed that bent over the water to form a perfect heart shape. I spent 14 minutes paddling back and forth trying to take a photograph of it. To get a shot like this I anticipate the current/breeze, get in position, gently balance the paddle on the top of the kayak so it doesn’t fall in the water, grab my camera from my lap and shoot as I float into just the right spot. As soon as I put down the camera and grab the paddle I am obviously way out of position for another shot so I begin again. If I want to bracket the exposure or use different cameras this could be an hour long affair- thus the wise choice of a 1-person kayak. It would drive anyone else along for the ride insane. Of course there are the times that I am perfectly in place and realize I forgot to advance the film or discover too late I am totally out of film. I watch the shot drift out of the viewfinder as I not so silently reflect on how stupid I am.Sometimes it’s impossible to get the shot I want and I come to understand the fisherman’s frustration of dealing with ‘the one that got away.’

Fish were jumping close to shore as I progressed around the lake and I immediately thought of my dad. I had no idea what the fish were but they made too large a splash to be little pan fish. We would have to come over with our canoe and poles. Maybe we would skip the #133 for the worms and hope for bigger game. I paddled into the center of the water lilies at the far end of the lake enjoying the two different species – one cuplike with butter yellow petals and the second with white spiky petals and a yellow center. I drifted among the sea of green circles listening to the bees gather pollen from the purple flowers on the nearby shore.

Lith Photograph/ Holga Camera

I took a leisurely paddle around the small island trying to find an easy place to beach the kayak. With the mass of tangled roots and vegetation around the edge I decided to wait until winter and explore the interior with snowshoes. A paddle boat with a young girl and boy passed me as I headed back to the boat landing and my waiting car. We smiled and nodded, not needing to do anything more to acknowledge the beauty of the day.


For more photos in the series go to:
The Kayak, Me and the Camera Set
on my Flickr account.

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Take Me Home
What We Leave Behind
Conversations: Stories from Creative Lives
The Growing Season
Moonwalk
Of Dragonflies and Flycatchers
The Kayak, Me and the Camera
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