Capturing the real, raw moments of life through photography

We live in the day and age of scrolling through life. Scrolling through trivial information and scrolling through deep and important information. We scroll past photo after photo and thought after thought and rarely pause to truly think about what we are seeing and reading. Information slides in and falls out as quickly as it came.

We have become ghosts of ourselves.

When I first became interested in photography it wasn’t the posed, cheesy studio images that drew me in. It was the raw, real, authentic documentary photographs that weren’t technically perfect, that weren’t perfectly lit, and didn’t feature perfect expressions that lit a creative fire in me. These images tapped the brakes of a life careening ever faster forward and helped to facilitate a pause to help us focus on what was really happening in our little world or the world at large.

Images of a true, actual scene or event as it happened made me want to capture the same types of moments in the same way. In the images that I saw in magazines and books, I knew it was the moment and the feeling a person got from looking at them that mattered, not if they were edited in Photoshop with overlays or the softening brush. When I first started taking photos I had no idea what Photoshop was. I had little to no interest in digitally manipulating an image, something that some photographers, even those who call themselves “documentary photographers” do today. For me, true documentary photography means little to no alteration to the image. There are a few of my photos, therefore, that are not strict documentary, but the bulk include no changes, other than a conversion from color to black and white.

_dsc3730bw

My first camera was a film camera, an Olympus point and shoot. For the non-photographer, this means the camera didn’t feature interchangeable lenses and the back opened to load a film canister. It did feature an optical zoom lens, which, if you zoomed too far, would cause the image to pixelate severely.  I photographed mainly my friends and pets and a few vintage hats from the chest at my grandmother’s and none of it was remotely award winning. The photos weren’t even remotely interesting, but they captured people who were important to our family in everyday moments and therefore were worth more than any of the posed images other families had. My parents most likely spent thousands of dollars helping me develop film at local drugstores with very little to show for it, other than a few memories mixed in between the shots of me trying to figure out the concept of composition.

I had no idea what I was doing with the camera, to be honest. All the images were simple snapshots with very little thought to composition. I didn’t think much about composition or even know what it was. It was a photo that my dad took that sparked the idea of layering, even though I didn’t know what layering was. He photographed the daughter of a friend with the little girl standing in the foreground, eating an apple and smiling at the camera and behind her was her sister, playing in the creek down behind our house. It opened my eyes to the idea that photography didn’t have to be boring, but should instead tell a story.

I found myself fascinated by documentary photographers and photojournalists like Harry Benson, who traveled with The Beetles. I didn’t even know the name of many of the photojournalists whose work I loved, but whose photos I had seen in magazines and books.

(left to right, Harry Benson, Vivian Maier, Dorothea Lange)

I didn’t have the internet back then to learn more about the photographers whose work I had seen in history books or magazines. Yes, I’m really THAT old. But, yet not THAT old that I can’t remember when the Internet became more popular and the world of photography was suddenly at my fingertips. I can still hear the squeal of the modem connecting in our dining room.

But there was and is a downside to the internet. It invented scrolling.

Scrolling our life away and barely slowing down to learn from what is zooming by our view.

“It can be more difficult to penetrate deeply into the subject matter and really impact audiences. It’s so easy to like an Instagram photo without really digesting what it means because you’re just scrolling through it,” documentary photographer Award-winning, American photographer, Sebastian Copeland told Capture Magazine, an Australian photography magazine, in 2016. “There may be diminishing returns to the mass of communication that is being made available through social media.”
(Read more at http://www.capturemag.com.au/advice/the-power-of-documentary-photography#S2gJ8aR9lolWo6so.99)

_dsc6216

Writer Amanda Copp speaks about the idea of documentary photography slowing life down in the introduction to the same article Copeland was interviewed for.

“Today’s world feels like someone has slammed their foot on the accelerator and everyone is scrambling to keep up. Endless streams of information and people with limited attention spans have become the norm. Moments that slow people down in this hyper-paced world are few and far between. But documentary photography allows such moments to occur, as well as contemplation, consideration, and, maybe, action. These photographers, dedicated to documenting the world around them, gently apply the brakes on this accelerated world and capture the stories of things left behind. Many of the issues facing people and the planet today are slow and inching forward. While others are far more rapid.”
Read more at http://www.capturemag.com.au/advice/the-power-of-documentary-photography#S2gJ8aR9lolWo6so.99

I never have had the chance to travel the world to take photographs, as I once thought I would, so I’ve instead photographed my own life in the style of the photographers I loved. I never wanted to imitate them because we all see the world in our own way. I never had much of an interest in posing an image and hated when I had to do so at the newspapers I worked at – instead always asking for assignments where I could photograph the action. The action in our area wasn’t really “action.” I never photographed a protest or conflict, but an elementary school field day was always fun.

All photography is documenting something, of course, but documenting a scene as it is, as it was, and as it will always be within the frame poses a challenge for me that I enjoy as much as a portrait photographer revels in nailing the right expression.

_dsc9497

I’m grateful that I’ve chosen to capture the everyday moments of my family’s life and the  world as I see it through the camera lens. Looking back at images that documented a moment, instead of a pose, takes me on an emotional and visual journey that nourishes the soul like a hearty stew nourishes the belly.

For someone whose mind races around in circles most of the day, getting nowhere, documentary photography helps slow my thoughts down and almost forces me to notice the world around me, which I see as a good and welcome thing.

_dsc9517_dsc8989_mg_0188-2

 

Some of my favorite documentary photographers I’d encourage you to learn from and about, even if photography isn’t your chosen art form:

 

 

_mg_0201-2img_7719_DSC9201.jpg_dsc943607_09_16dsc_1696dsc_2703_dsc2175

_dsc1366

Find more of my photography at www.instagram.com/lisahoweler or on my photography site: www.lisahowelerphotography.com

Advertisements

Creative funks smell and feel funky

It isn’t unusual for me to hit a creative funk in the winter. Days are short, the sun hides behind clouds and it’s too cold to take the kids anywhere to explore.

I still try my best to take photographs inside the house, or whichever building we have sought shelter in from the nasty cold of winter, but honestly my heart usually isn’t in it until the warmth comes back.

This winter has seemed particularly long, probably because of the loss of my aunt in December and some stress my son was facing, but also the blasted cold weather and gloomy clouds.

DSC_7860With that Daylight Savings Time thing we do here in the States, we now have longer days (which simply means more daylight hours). This is a wonderful thing if you have sun and less exciting if it’s simply a gloomy, rainy or snowy day.

Last week marked the official  first day of Spring, but our weather hasn’t realized that yet and has remained cold, for the most part. This week we are supposed to have an upward trend and I’m hoping that will mean an upward trend in our moods too.

DSC_8308-2Despite the cold we have had sun and the sun makes the cold slightly less oppressive. It also creates some pretty lighting opportunities in some of the rooms of our house.

DSC_8313This week we are looking forward to mild, but still warmer, temperatures that will hopefully afford some more opportunities to escape the house and breathe in some fresh air.

So how about you, fellow creatives, or even you non-creative folk? What’s the weather like for you and what do you do when you find yourself in a creative funk?

The star

They carried the star up the steep, snow covered hill because the truck’s tires spun and sent the hunk of metal skittering sideways toward the old dirt road. In the end they left the truck in the field and slid the star, made of wood and strands of Christmas lights off the roof. Their breath steamed patterns out in front of them as they walked and the sun, a misleading sign of the outside temperature, cast long shadows onto the untouched surface of the snow that fell the day before.

Ropes were looped and tied and hooked on a pulley, the ladder was climbed and the star was hoisted with a couple reminders from father-in-law to son-in-law to “be careful of the lights! You’re hitting the lights on the tree!” But finally it was high enough and nails were hammered in to hold it in place.

Dad built the star several years ago and put it at the edge of the woods, at the top of the field and where people driving by on Route 220, across the Valley could see it. It has become a beacon, you could say. A beacon of good will, or peace, or joy or whatever it represents for each person who sees it. It can mean a lot of things for a lot of people but for Dad it is a sign of hope and the real reason behind Christmas. After all – isn’t that what the birth of Jesus was all about? Bringing hope to a hurting, fallen world?

So on this little hill, in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania my dad hangs his homemade, 50-some pound star, and with it hangs a little bit of hope – hope for health, for peace, for love for all, hope for the broken, the weary, the shattered souls.  And it reminds us who is the hope of the world.

Isaiah 9:6-7

6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

J* Family | Sullivan County, PA photographer

I loved photographing this family at their home in rural Sullivan County.

Their small country farm with their chickens and easy access to hunting land is my idea of an ideal place to live, since I grew up not far from where they live. 

Before I got there, Mom had one specific request; her daughter wanted a photo of her with her chicken.

It was so much fun to watch the children chase the white and gray rooster to make sure she could have her photo taken with her favorite farm animal.

If you’re interested in a storytelling session similar to this, at your own home, be sure to contact me via my contact tab at the top of the page, or at lisahoweler@gmail.com

Summer is here | Athens PA Child Photography

The Boy still has a day and a half of school, but it already feels like summer has arrived. We pulled out the sprinkler and then he became fascinated with the mud it left in our front yard and decided he should paint himself with it. I don’t remember him playing in mud like that before so this was a new one.

I treasure our summer days, especially now that my son is moving toward his tenth birthday this fall. These 9 years with him have flown by and I love watching him simply being a child, even if the mud he played in did clog our bath tub drain and possibly ruined a pair of his shorts.

In the modern days of technology and video games it’s a welcome sight for me when I see a child jumping in puddles or running through sprinklers or doing anything outside.

I hope this summer is much like last year and is filled with more outside than inside time.

This post is part of Melissa Firman’s 99 days of blogging.

 

Embracing the role of motherhood

For 13 years when someone asked what I did for a living I said “I’m a newspaper reporter”.  It made me feel like I had accomplished something in life. Four years of college, a degree, and a job in what I went to college for. I was a contributing member of society. I was a public servant, informing the community. I was important, at least in some small way, or so I thought.

Then I burned out on the news and, really, on people. I left newspapers, convinced my love for photography would translate into a successful business. Then I could say “I’m a photographer”

I left the paper for two reasons: to be home with my son and to start a photography business. When the photography business never happened I was left with . . .being a mom because in my mind I wasn’t a photographer if I didn’t have a business, which, of course, I now know isn’t true.

Just a mom.

Just.

A.

Mom.

I couldn’t imagine having to answer the question of what I did for a living with “I’m a mom. JUST a mom.”

As a kid, I’d never imagined myself a mom. I’d always pictured myself traveling the world as a writer and photojournalist.

My mom was “just a mom” and I had never looked down on her for that so I had no idea why being “just a mom” filled me with a feeling of personal failure.

Why was it bothering me so much to be “just a mom”?

I think the society we live in today, especially in the United States, tells moms that being a mom isn’t enough. The idea that being a mom is the best job a woman can have is very popular but only if a person can say “I’m a writer but I’m also a mom and that’s the most important job I have.”

If a woman can only say “I’m a mom. It’s all I do” I believe many look at her as if to say “is that really all you do?”

Last year I sought out a natural doctor for some health issues I’ve been having. She asked me what I did in my spare time. I started to tell her I was a mom so I don’t have much spare tome and she interrupted me “but what do you do for you?” I photograph my children in what I feel is an artistic way and told her but she shook her head in disapproval and I immediately felt that shame at being “just a mom”. Here was another woman, maybe even a mother herself, reminding me that I needed to be more than a mom. I needed to do something more with my life. I couldn’t just be a mom.

Other women shame each other into believing they need to be more than a mom but I don’t believe God desires there to be any shame felt when a woman’s sole job, so to speak, is “just being a mom.”

I’m working on accepting this title of mom, which I know sounds weird since I’ve been one for almost a decade.

I’m practicing saying “I’m a mom,” and not needing to add after it “And I am also a photographer.”

For me, photography isn’t a job, and I don’t want it to be. It’s part of who I am in the same way being “just a mom” is part of who I am and who I always will be.
 

Her little face | Elmira, NY Photography

This photo was taken by sitting the camera at an odd angle and not even looking into the viewfinder because I couldn’t get into the position I needed to get the shot I wanted. If I start Yoga up again maybe I can get into that position some day.. When I knew bending down was going to rip my back out more and give my chiropractor even more business, I put the camera on my knee and shot up because I desperately wanted that backlight around her cute little head. This shot was also edited in Lightroom to give the image even more of the feel I was looking for.