My camera: the pen of my visual journal

Some people keep a written documentary, some a visual one. I happen to be someone who keeps both.

As you know, if you’ve followed this blog or my work at all, a lot of my images feature my children, which elicits comments such as “Wow. Don’t you have enough photos of your kids?” or “Geesh, your kids will never say you didn’t take enough photos of them.”

I’m never sure if these comments are meant to be sarcastic or sincere but the more they’re made, the more I gather there isn’t a lot of sincerity in there. Instead many seem baffled why I’d want to take some many images of my own children. They see it more as narcissism than documentation, I suppose, and maybe they think I’m bragging somehow when I post the images. I’m not actually sure. More likely, though, they are teasing and don’t mean to be snarky at all.

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My real purpose for taking the images is simply to document life as I see it and since I’m mostly home with them all day, they are who I see. Photography is like therapy to me. It is similar to writing in a journal. It’s a way to work out my internal musings, my deep questions, my efforts to understand a situation or a person or even an entire family, but it is also a way for me to slow down and simply notice the world around me.

Often, before I even take a photo, unless I’m shooting for stock photography, I think about what the scene means to me. Why do I even want to photograph what is happening around me? Do I want these images because of who or what is in them or because how the scene makes me feel? Many times I want to capture a specific moment on “film” (or memory card these days) so that when I look at the photo I am mentally and emotionally (maybe even spiritually) transported.

_DSC5937DSC_1879DSC_2915Almost every photograph I take is a desire to capture joy within my life. I rarely take a photo to capture sorrow but if I do it is so I can convey to someone else the heavy emotion of the moment, opening their eyes to the experience of someone else and maybe to try to change the future so similar situations don’t happen again.

I am sure there are some in my family who wonder why I would want to photograph certain situations in my life. When my husband’s grandfather became ill I sat by his bed many days as he slept. I never photographed him, but I did photograph the photo of his wife over his bed, the photograph he lifted his eyes to the day he was brought home from the hospital to be placed in hospice care. He was too weak from the stroke to move but he could lift his eyes upward and he wept at the site of the woman he’d been married to almost 65 years and who had died two years earlier.

The only time I photographed him laying in that bed was the day his older brother came to visit him, holding his hand, and speaking softly. It was one of his more alert moments in those days before he passed. In fact,  it wasn’t long after his brother’s visit that he slipped into a restful sleep and never woke again.

The moment between the brothers was private, intimate, sacred and part of me knew I shouldn’t lift my camera, but on that day the desire to document replaced the worry of offending a reserved and quiet family. It’s not as if I went all paparazzi on the scene. I remember quickly lifting the camera and snapping off two quiet shots and then putting my camera away.

If anyone in the family had witnessed me taking the photos I’m sure they wouldn’t have understood, and may not even today, why I felt I needed to take that photograph. Looking back, I still don’t why I snapped the shots. Maybe because the family was often so shut off emotionally that I wanted to document this tender moment to remind me they weren’t as shut off as I once thought, but simply struggled knowing how to handle painful moments.

Sometimes when we photograph a moment we are doing so to learn something from the moment, not only to teach someone else about what we saw.

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I’ve never shown anyone the image. It’s tucked away in a hard drive and maybe someday I’ll delete it. I’m not sure why I kept it and sometimes I forget I even took it, but then I’ll be looking for another photo and there it is; often showing up when I’m wrestling with a particular quirk of that side of the family. It’s as if God uses the photo to remind me that buried pain creates emotional distance people don’t know how to bridge. In other words, a person isn’t always rejecting us but something inside themselves.

When I  look at photography as a way to document, rather than only a way to create something pretty, I am able to let go of preconceived ideas of perfection. The world of photography opens up and leaves behind the constraints of technical refinement. Learning the technical aspects of photography is a good thing, even a necessary thing,  but being ruled by them is a creativity killer.

When I let go of the idea that every shot has to be perfect, that’s when I can pick up whatever camera I have on me, and document my world. No workshops needed at that point – just a desire to create and learn from what I capture.

Accessing my reason for picking up the camera creates personal art worth looking at.

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

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Dying ways of life and why we fight to hold on to them

When local farmer Scott Walrath recently told me farmers are stupidly in love with farming, I totally got it, maybe more than others who aren’t farmers would. For a long time I was in love with print journalism and now it, and farming, are two dying ways of life. I say ways of life because that is what both are. They are not occupations. They are something you live and breathe and that runs in your blood, dark like the ink in a press. .

DSC_8896DSC_5712-Edit_1In farming there is never a day off, always a cow to help birth or equipment to fix, or fields to work. In print journalism my brain was always working and thinking of the next story. Even if I was not at the office I seemed to always have my ears open to a tip or a feature story idea. Every person I met or place I visited had the potential of a news story or art for the front page. Art, in newspaper lingo, is essentially a main photo to anchor the front page and grab the readers attention so hopefully they will buy the paper.

More and more today, though, people aren’t buying the newspaper and even if they were, the paper to produce the newspaper is so expensive many papers are either raising prices or laying off employees.

New tarrifs on newsprint coming into the United States have raised prices more than 50 percent in some cases. The increase in expenses is leading some papers to drop the size of their papers down as they try to balance the decrease in demand, the rising prices and the difficulty with employing a staff. Small, privately owned newspapers, much like small, family owned farms, are being hit the hardest by the changes.

45bc5-lisar-howelerlisar-howeler58c50-lisar-howeler2ccopyrightlisar-howeler2ccopyrightI find myself trying hard not to think about a world without a physical newspaper to hold in my hand, one where scrolling on a computer or phone replaces the turning of the page. One where we no longer close our eyes and smell the ink, for me the smell of stories yet to be told. Similarly my brain often fights to silence the thoughts and frightening visions of empty barns dotting rural Pennsylvania’s landscapes of open fields, filled with corn or wheat or simply lush green.

Ah, those dying ways of life that a few of us still fight for, maybe because we are stupid, maybe because we are stuck in the “good ole’ days” or maybe because it runs in our blood and we can’t imagine doing anything else.

He listened to hear. Remembering a Wyalusing treasure

The line to the funeral home stretched down a long sidewalk to the driveway and inside there were more lines, weaving through rooms, people waiting to tell his family what he had meant to them.

We only have one life to live and he’d lived his well.

Was he perfect?

No human is.

But he was loved and loved back.

He smiled and laughed and made days better.

He made my days better when I saw him at council meetings or fire department events.

He made my dad laugh and shake his head often when they were in school together and afterwards.

Sometimes when you read someone has died you feel a twinge of sadness and you mourn briefly and gently because you knew of them but didn’t know them. Other times you read someone has died and you look down to see who just kicked you in the chest. You realize that ache right there in the center of your heart is your spirit cringing in shock and grief.

Tears rising from somewhere deep in your soul and they come suddenly, without warning.

That’s how I’ve felt before and how I felt last week when I read about the sudden passing of Wayne Felter, a friend of my dad’s and the cornerstone of the community I used to work in.

We’d stand outside council meetings during executive sessions, him and I, and Dave, the publisher of the weekly newspaper, the man who later became my boss. Wayne would tell stories about pretty much everything and Dave would often stop him and remind him I was there, young and a female. I guess Dave was trying to protect me from Wayne’s more salty tales, but few of them were inappropriate. 

Many times the story would end with “you ask your dad about that. That’s a true story.” 

And I would ask Dad and he would say “it’s true … for the most part” and wink at me. 

I never made it to talk to his family that day, due to a hot and tired toddler squirming in my arms and the long, winding lines.

I’m not sure what I would have said if I had reached them. I didn’t know them well enough to offer much more than a brief condolence and to be honest I was feeling selfish.

I glanced only once at the casket, only briefly from a distance and saw him motionless there. In those few seconds I knew that wasn’t how I wanted to remember him. I wanted to remember his smile, the twinkle in his eye when he was about to say something inappropriate for the moment or tease me, and his laugh when he’d succeeded in making someone else laugh.

As my dad said, Wayne made people who met him feel like they were worth talking to. He would seek people out simply to say “hello” and that made them feel special. There aren’t many people who do that anymore.

Today many people are distracted, uninterested and thinking about what they’re going to say next when someone is talking to them.

They listen to speak but don’t listen to really hear.

Wayne listened and heard and usually found a way to laugh at what he’d heard.

I will have to remind myself now when I visit Wyalusing that he’s not around anymore.

At least not physically.

The people of his tiny community will still see him, though.

Anyone who knew him, even only a little, will still see him.

They’ll see him when someone is sliding down frozen streets when they were supposed to be cindering or when someone is making a joke although others think the moment calls for seriousness.

They’ll see him when someone is laughing with a waitress or joking with the customers at the local diner. 

They’ll see him in his children and his grandchildren.

And they will see him when someone stops and listens – really listens – making a person feel they are worth being listened to. 

Jealousy, lost dreams and love

I scroll down the page and my heart sinks. Here I am again, feeling left out and less than.

A group of photographers met up and their meeting was full of creative opportunities. They’re all sharing photos and gushing about the chance to expand their artistic wings.

Comments on each other’s photos range from “amazing!” To “outstanding”. My photo, posted five hours ago, has three pity likes and no comments. In some ways I feel like I’m in high school again.

I look around my room

Our washer just died and I’ll most likely be packing up the laundry to visit the local laundry mat the next day.

The cat is screaming and I’m threatening to throw her in the street if she wakes up the kids. My bedroom is a mess and I know I need to add cleaning it to my list of chores. There are groceries to buy, diapers to change, playgrounds to visit, bills to pay.

Artistic outings aren’t a reality in my world.

I feel the envy rising up.

The comparison game is being played.

The dreams never realized are on my mind again, long after I thought I had succeeded in pushing them into the box marked “failed ventures. Move forward and don’t look back.”

It’s days like this that remind me social media breaks are needed and necessary and welcomed. To stop the voices, the comparing, the wishing, the envy and the hurt.

I look around me and my children are asleep next to me. The cat has finally stopped screaming and she’s asleep at the end of the bed.

I’ve been reading more about God and His plans for our lives.

I’ve been claiming His healing, listening for His voice.

I don’t know why some of my dreams were never realized or why I always seem to be on the outside looking in when it comes to the photography circle, but I know I am a child of the one true king, a mother to two amazing children, and success isn’t defined by accolades or attention but by love.

And I am loved.

And so are you.