Tag: photographer Pennsylvania

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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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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

 

 

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

10 on 10 for March. Also known as my favorite photos from February and March so far

I am so ready for spring that my brain has literally gone into a sort of hibernation that involves denial that it is still winter and we will still be getting snow and ice and cold days that require large, puffy winter coats and knitted hats. If someone says “did you know we are getting snow tomorrow?” I look at them like a deer standing in the middle of the road, entranced by headlights. 

I’ve fallen deep into researching my family on ancestry.com so that has helped to distract me from the fact it’s still winter, but it’s put a bit of a halt in my photography, which is why this month is simply a collection of some of my favorite photos from February and the beginning of March. Included is a couple of shots from my farm project. 

This post is part of a monthly blog circle where we feature ten photos from a day or simply the previous month. ]To follow the circle scroll to the end of the post for the next link.

 

To continue the circle visit Anna Hurley and check out her beautiful photos!

How social media sucks my life from me and why detoxes from it are needed

I’m sure some will say I’m being over dramatic and maybe they will say I just need some will power but each day I find myself having to admit what I’ve read about the addictive nature of social media is true.

One day this week, I found myself obsessed with why my blog posts weren’t updating to my business page but instead to my personal page. I was searching support pages, asking in a photography group and becoming moyre and more agitated. In the meantime my dog had slipped out of the back fence and was wandering the neighborhood and the time table for us to leave for my parents before my daughter hit nuclear meltdown before nap time was shrinking.

I had to retrieve the dog from across the street, where he could have been hit. Our plans for the rest of the day were scrapped in exchange for a nap for the almost 2- year old tornado  when we might could have left earlier and snagged the nap at my parents if I had been focused on dressing us and getting out the door and not social media. I had also been checking my Instagram account.

My obsession with my Facebook page and social media in general, not too mention my attempt to promote my photography business, was throwing my day and life off schedule, I told myself. That’s when I set up the extension on Google Chrome that lets me block sites and promptly blocked Facebook.

Enough is enough I decided. I needed my life back. I needed to get my priorities straight. One of the first ways for me to do this was to quiet all the voices yelling at me through my newsfeed. Are all those voices bad? Not all, no. Many of the messages I read on Facebook and social media are positive.

The issue is the volume of voices. They twist my head back and forth and speed up my heart as I always feel I am a step behind in my faith, my health, my parenting, my life in general.

Is Facebook evil? I don’t believe so but I do believe it can take over our life if we let it and even without us realizing it. Before we know it voices whisper to us we are not as good as someone else in our circle of friends or our chosen profession because we see their highlights day after day in our newsfeed. We don’t see the sad days, the tough moments, their feelings of failure, their insecurities, unless we read between the lines of their shares of elaborate vacations, school accomplishments, and career successes. We know they have those bad days but somehow all we can see is the good and for some reason all we can hear is someone telling us we don’t measure up and we never will.

Even if I am not feeling inadequate by what I read, I do feel like I miss out on a lot of important and in between moments in my life by wasting time scrolling through news feeds and images of the lives of others. While reading about how to improve traffic to my site and therefore my business, I may have missed my daughter smiling at me and trying to get me to smile back or maybe I made my 9 year old son feel like he shouldn’t interrupt me for a hug and a story about his school day.

Lately I’ve been thinking about all the moments I’ve missed in the lives of my children because of my addiction to likes. I enter photo contests on Facebook and find myself disappointed if I didn’t receive as many likes on my photo as someone else did on theirs. How many times have I subconsciously based my worth as a photographer, and as a person, on how many fewer likes or comments I have? Too many times is the answer.

Prior to this latest wake up call, I had been having other wake up calls to the pitfalls of social media and about a month ago I detoxed from all social media for four days. When I came back on I reduced the time I spent on it and also implemented a new personal policy that I would only check social media after I had done my devotions in the morning. My devotions consist of reading my The Upper Room and Joseph Prince devotional apps.

I also removed the Facebook and Twitter applications from my phone and blocked Facebook through my phone internet browser settings. I kept Instagram because the interaction I have with fellow photographers there is positive and less about comparison. To me it feels more like a community than Facebook.

At that time I decided if I was going to be on Facebook at all I would use that time not to just click like on posts or photographs by family and friends and those in photography groups or pages but instead work to leave encouraging comments whenever possible. Not only would this take the focus off the negative and the underlying feelings of comparison for me but I hoped, and still do hope, it will force me to look beyond myself, my tendency to whine about situations, and help others to feel like they aren’t alone and that their words and art matter. Anyone who knows me personally knows

I failed at this challenge recently when I used an entire paragraph to whine about my failed photography business so I am, by no means, perfect. I take solace in knowing I am not alone in falling to the temptation Facebook naturally creates to complain. In addition I recognize we all have bad days, sometimes feel the need to vent and share our bad times with our friends. We can’t barf rainbows all day long after all.

If you have read this far, I hope you will understand that I am not suggesting you need to change your social media habits simply because I am. I don’t believe every person who signs up for a social media account is or will become, addicted. I do believe some of us have more addictive personalities than others and therefore need to put stop gaps in place to prevent ourselves from losing sight of what is truly important in our life.

Tips for a social media break or reduction that I’ve gathered personally or from others :

  • Turn off notifications in the settings of the social media aps on your phone to keep you from feeling the need to check your social media all day long (if it’s an emergency I would hope family and friends would call instead of text);
  • Turn off the notifications you receive in your email from social media outlets, which are another way they are trying to pull you into their world and subsequently push advertising at you, for one, but also keep you addicted. Again, not saying they are evil, but it’s necessary for their business to keep people coming back. It’s more of a business strategy than a malicious one, in other words
  • Set a timer whenever you use social media so you won’t find yourself wasting time on it. Do what you want to do there and get out, in other words
  • Set up two accounts on your computer, one for personal use and one for work and use a site blocking extension like Blocksite to block social media sites on your work account.
  • Remove your social media applications from your phones and digital devices. If you simply can’t stop wasting time on Facebook or Twitter when you should be doing something else, then it is time to go cold turkey and drop the aps completely. Yes, you will experience withdrawal but you will make it. There is a good possibility what you wanted to share wasn’t that important after all.
  • Replace your online “socializing” with in person socializing. Call some friends and ask to meet some of them for lunch. Maybe you and your spouse could use all that free time you now have to reconnect (emotionally and *wink* physically)
  • Fill the time you used to spend on Facebook with a hobby, journaling, reading, exercising, cooking, earning a degree at your local college

You don’t have to quit social media cold turkey or all together. There are benefits in simply setting time limits or enacting week long detoxing sessions. Some of the benefits I noticed after even my short detox:

 

  • better focus and a clearer mind
  • accomplished more during by the day on a personal and business level
  • less stressed. when I avoided getting sucked in to mindless scrolling it kept me on schedule for tasks that needed to be done at certain times, like waking the baby up early so she naps before I have to pick my son up at the bus stop or starting dinner so it will be done before my son’s karate class.
  • my children were less stressed because I was not only less rushed but more focused on them and their needs
  • less anxiety. I wasn’t bombarded with either political negativity or articles reminding me what foods and medicines are going to kill me or my children or even articles suggesting I need to pray more (those articles are not bad but I have a guilty personality and feel constantly condemned. Yes I am aware that’s not good and yes, it is an issue God is addressing in me and yes, I’ll probably write a blog post about it someday. You’ve been warned.)

In case you need even more incentive to break your social media addiction, articles about breaking social media addictions which encouraged (naysayers will say brainwashed) me:

http://jasondoesstuff.com/social-media-detox-recap/

http://mashable.com/2014/08/09/summer-social-media-detox/#5K29iHxoqiqT

 

https://stevecorona.com/how-30-days-without-social-media-changed-my-life

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/social-media-addiction/

A book for moms that really encouraged me to back away from social media, though I apparently forgot its’ points recently, was The UnWired Mom – Choosing to Live Free in an Internet Addicted World

Lisa R. Howeler is a wife and mom living in a small town located in northern Pennsylvania, less than a mile from the New York State border. She is a photographer, writer, chocolate lover, and one of those Jesus freaks your mama warned you about. Find her online at http://www.lisahoweler.com; www.instagram.com/lisahoweler; and Facebook, when she’s not detoxing from it,  www.facebook.com/lisahoweler.

Finding photo opportunities in unlikely places.

My dad had his knee replaced this week at a hospital about an hour from where we live. My mom can’t get around well and my brother is more than two hours from the hospital but I was able to travel there fairly easily, taking my 20 month old alone with me for the second trip. Since apparently our family doesn’t get out much, the first trip was like a family mini vacation, complete with sight seeing of the country side around the facility. I have to admit I was surprised how pretty the drive there was.

The hospital is located in a tiny Pennsylvania city called Montrose and is surrounded by farmland, cows, hills and trees. You have to drive though some 30 miles of wilderness then boom, there is the town and at the end of it a small hospital on the hill, almost in the middle of nowhere, though there are a few houses near it.

The second trip involved a lot of waiting for Dad to have physical therapy and deal with stomach issues from the pain killers so Little One and I explored the hospital, which isn’t really very active. It’s a beautiful, new building with long, empty hallways. I’m not sure why there are so few patients there, but it could be because the town itself is fairly small.

Of course I couldn’t resist photos of at least one of those hallways, especially when I saw blocks of light illuminating spaces of the hallway from skylights. I used the only camera I had with me that day – an iPhone. Sometimes I find photograph opportunities in very unlikely places. I’m not sure if it’s a blessing or a curse but sometimes I see a photograph in my mind and know it has to be taken.

This post is part of Melissa Firman’s 99 days of blogging and the 100 Days of Summer Photo Challenge.
 

Letter to my daughter

At 20 months of age you are insanely clingy and there are brief moments it drives me crazy.
“I need my hands free to push this cart! Good grief! “
“I brought the stroller so you would sit in it, not so I can carry you in the sling while I push an empty stroller and get bewildered looks.”

But those protests are quick ones because there you are, eye level with me, in my arms, secured against me with a sling, and smiling while you lean your head At 19 months of age you are insanely clingy these days and there are brief moments it drives me crazy.
“I need my hands free to push this cart! Good grief! “

“I brought the stroller so you would sit in it, not so I can carry you in the sling while I push an empty stroller and get bewildered looks.”

But those protests are quick ones because there you are, eye level with me, in my arms, secured against me with a baby sling, and smiling while you lean your head against me. You are safe here, arm up on my shoulder, tucked securely against my side, under my arm. All the people towering above you and the ceilings and world so high and far away aren’t as scary if you’re kept safe by the person who is the center of your world.

I can certainly relate to the need to feel protected and sheltered from a world that feels scary and overwhelming. I often long for my own safe haven as I force myself to leave the house when many days I instead want to hide away and not be seen. For years I have forced the introvert within me to be an extrovert and the introvert has decided she is no longer happy with that arrangement. 

Many nights I lay down thinking about and mentally preparing myself for the next day’s errands or chores that will require me to go into public; associate with the rest of the human race. I often try to find a way to avoid the trip, even going so far as to wonder if peanut butter sandwiches are okay for dinner simply so I don’t have to shop among the masses. 

Sleep comes only after I recite a verse that has become a daily mantra: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Sometimes I have to say the verse over and over while trying to chase away the anxiety that creeps up into my throat like reflux from a spicy supper. In the morning I remind myself I can’t be a hermit, no matter how much I want to. I have children to feed or take to the doctor. And I have life to experience because as much as life terrifies me it fascinates me.

The appropriate Christian thing to say is that God is my safe haven, the One who keeps me from living my life behind closed doors, and He is. But sometimes I don’t trust the way I should; I don’t listen the way I should. Thoughts overwhelm me and all I hear is condemnation and criticism. 

I pray so I can find comfort in the One who reminds me He is home even when I’m out in the big, scary world. 
I want you to feel comfort while I hold you, Little One.

I’m so honored to be your safe haven, your comfort zone, the person who you need to make you feel like you’re home no matter where you are.

So cling to me when you need to and I’ll cling back and treasure these simple moments of comfort.

Part of Melissa Firman’s 99 days of blogging and my Letters to My Daughter’s feature.