Chiaroscuro Peppers

Assignment #5 of my year-long photo challenge inspired by Henry Carroll’s Use This If You Want To Take Great Photographs is from page 117: Freeze the frame exactly 57 minutes and 32 seconds into your favorite film. Take a picture inspired by what you see.

I picked my favorite movie in a heartbeat: Amélie, or if going by its French name Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain. Amélie is a wonderful romp by director Jean-Pierre Jeanet that follows the life of Amélie Poulain, a young woman spurned to do-gooder action by accidentally finding an old metal box of childhood memorabilia hidden by a boy who lived in her apartment decades earlier. Not only do I love Amélie for its charmingly-quirky story, but I’ve always found it visually stunning without fully verbalizing why. This assignment changed this.

The 57 minute and 32 second frame of Amélie led me here:

Screenshot 2017-03-02 21.46.55

Amélie at 57 minutes and 32 seconds


Our heroine, Amélie, is in red, just left of middle of the frame and at the tip of the prominent, short cross line. She’s in a train station after having just returned from visiting her father for the weekend and having tried to encourage him to travel more. Amélie’s father  withdrew from the social world and into his fascination with garden sculptures after the long-ago death of his wife, Amélie’s mother.

While I adore, every aspect of this story, I wanted to take Carroll’s assignment literally: Take a picture inspired by what you see. When studying this scene without considering it in the larger context of the movie’s plot, here’s what stood out: a high angle, shadows, lines, green, yellow, and pops of red. After studying this frame and going back to re-watch Amélie, I finally figured out why I loved the visuals of this movie so much. Nearly every color in the film is painstakingly coordinated into tones of green, red, and yellow. In researching how Jeanet did this, I ran into a blog by Christopher Meurer that discusses this briefly and gives a few more glorious still examples:

So there I had it. I needed to create a photograph with one or more of those elements-a high angle shot, shadows, lines, green, yellow, and pops of red. Several ideas crossed my mind. Inevitably, the weather and time boiled these down to concentrating on light, shadow, lines, and color, which brought me to Chiaroscuro Peppers:


chiaroscuro peppers, 5/26 inspired in 2017 by #UseThisPhotoBook

More about Chiaroscuro here if you’re interested:

Up March 31: Photograph a shadow, from page 23 of Use This If You Want to Take Great Photographs.



Get to Work!


This is a great short about art, creativity, and persistence to give you a creative boost to get out there this weekend and do some work.

“The most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work.” – Ira Glass

Many thanks to my wonderfully creative friend, Stina French, for sharing this with me!

It closely echoes Chuck Close’s motto for creative work, a snippet that came to me by way of another of my incredibly creative friends, Nicole Dube:

“Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work. And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will — through work — bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art idea.’ And the belief that process, in a sense, is liberating and that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day. Today, you know what you’ll do, you could be doing what you were doing yesterday, and tomorrow you are gonna do what you did today, and at least for a certain period of time you can just work. If you hang in there, you will get somewhere.” – Chuck Close

I completely agree with both. Now get to work!



inspiration, 2016




ascension, 4/26 in 2017 inspired by #UseThisPhotoBook

Assignment #4 of my year-long photo challenge inspired by Henry Carroll’s Use This If You Want To Take Great Photographs is from page 43: take a picture that only works in black and white.

While I love shooting noir and totally would have gone there with this assignment, a little birdie recently suggested I shoot more street photography. Sure, her encouragement suggested that I venture out of the suburbs and into the city for this endeavor, but my schedule and my thoughts whispered “baby steps…” This *could* have been seen in the city, right Fatima? So, for this assignment, both a genre that is largely digested in black and white and a subject that couldn’t be photographed in any other light–the absence and sum of all colors.

Up March 15: “Freeze the frame exactly 57 minutes and 32 seconds into your favorite film. Take a picture inspired by what you see,” from page 117 of Use This If You Want to Take Great Photographs. I’m pretty excited about this one! I haven’t even checked it out at the precise frame, but my favorite movie pick is Amélie. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out!!


My lovely, Iranian-born friend. In our many-year friendship, I’ve never seen her in a headscarf, so I was hesitant to ask her to put one on. In fact, I didn’t. She offered. And when she did, her eyes lit with such beauty it made me cry. She had a whole basket of them, all different colors. I asked her if she’d let me photograph her in one that means the most to her. Generously, lovingly she donned the last scarf her mother was able to shop for on her own, a soft, grey knit with flower detail and colorful fringe.

There is a bit of home in all of us, regardless of where we are or where we’re from. And we always return, if only in our minds, to as Majid Naficy says, “stand on my rooftop and pick stars.”


Yellow 1, 2, 3

I haven’t worked with many models in the past. For whatever reason, I shy from attempting to translate my ideas with the help of others. It makes me hyper self-conscious. This is most definitely a quirk of mine that I’d been wanting to break. But, when one of my drop-dead gorgeous, dearest friends, Simin, asked if she could model for me, I couldn’t resist.

We spent the afternoon last Friday working through various poses, outfits, and props. She was encouraging, unrelentingly patient, and sweet. Thank you for modeling, Simin, and being so supportive. You are a *gorgeous* creature! More Simin photos to come soon. I’m hoping this series is the start of a new and exciting journey. :-)

Many thanks to Thuy of Hier & Haines Salon in McLean, VA for her hair styling prowess. She’s my personal hairstylist, too. She is amazing.

And a special thanks to Nicole Dube for helping make this happen. She lent me that lovely, navy, retro suit Simin is wearing and was (and continually is) an undying source of inspiration.  You are my rock, lady!

The Corner


The Corner, Beauty in the Banal: 3/26 inspired by #USETHISPHOTOBOOK

Assignment #3 of my year-long photo challenge inspired by Henry Carroll’s Use This If You Want To Take Great Photographs is from page 15: show beauty in the banal.

Once a symbol of reprimand, the corner has lost its meaning as I age. I pass it every day, multiple times. It takes many forms but serves the same purpose: perimeter enforcement, life containment. But it no longer symbolizes forced pensivity, and for the most part, it goes unnoticed. I take it and its ordinary purpose for granted.

Yesterday, on a school field trip with my eldest to the National Portrait Gallery, the corner reasserted itself, sneaking up to remind me of its original meaning. “This is the spot,” it demanded. “This is the spot where you will sit and think about what you’ve done.” But I rebelled. I stood and stared for a moment, raised my camera in defiance, and ran.

Up Feb 28: “Take a picture that only works in black and white” from page 43 of Use This If You Want to Take Great Photographs.

Question Your Subject: Taking Portraits of Johnny Cash, Obama, and More – Interview with Martin Schoeller | LensCulture

picture of Steve Carell taken by Martin Schoeller

Steve Carell. From the series “Close Up” © Martin Schoeller

Just wanted to share a fabulous interview with super photographer Martin Schoeller, courtesy of LensCulture. In it, he shares the secret to making intimate portraits and some incredibly inspiring advice for new photographers:

“Get off your phones and computers—they don’t take good pictures. Everybody is so obsessed with them now; we are all turning into constant consumers. Original ideas come from experiences and the people around you…produce a lot of work, rather than spending your days retouching mediocre images. Don’t spend too much time looking at other people’s work, it just makes one feel that everything has been done.”


Source: Question Your Subject: Taking Portraits of Johnny Cash, Obama, and More – Interview with Martin Schoeller | LensCulture

Evidence of the Missing


Re-photograph a photograph: 2/26 inspired by #USETHISPHOTOBOOK

Assignment #2 of my year-long photo challenge inspired by Henry Carroll’s Use This If You Want to Take Great Photographs is from page 47: Re-photograph a photograph to change its original meaning.

My interpretation of the assignment took me into old photo albums to show the life-cycle of the candid family photograph. What was once meant to convey life, love, energy, can now only serve as a record of the past for today’s generations and, inevitably, the evidence of something missing. And so, the meaning of our family snaps change over time, from one type of celebration to another: a celebration of what is to a celebration of the missing.

Up in two weeks: “Show beauty in the banal” from page 15 of Use This If You Want to Take Great Photographs.

Use This 4 Great Photos


First Childhood Memory: 1/26 Inspired by #UseThisPhotoBook

My good friend, Nicole, gifted me a copy of Use This if You Want to Take Great Photographs: A Photo Journal by Henry Carroll for Christmas. It’s an inspiration book that includes 123 assignments to  prompt photographers who “sometimes feel a little short on ideas and inspiration.” Hello. That’s me.

For a little fun and to just get shooting again, Nicole, Charles Dube, and I have challenged each other to a 26 project: 1 shot guided by an assignment from the book every 2 weeks. I’ll be posting my results via this blog, Flickr, and Instagram. You can follow Nicole here on Instagram and Charles here on Flickr.

Our first assignment was: “Photograph your earliest memory”

Now that is a slippery task. Can you visualize your first memory? Are you sure that was your first or did another memory precede it? And if that was your first memory, is it wholly yours? Or is it a construct of stories and photographs?

I struggled with this one, trying to navigate amongst memories that I thought were mine, memories that were formed via stories of others, and memories that were formed via old photographs. In the end, I realized that my first memories aren’t visuals at all. They’re feelings. My experience of them is still strong but the visual details are fuzzy, much like a dream. This left me figuring out how to translate those feelings into visuals.

So my first memory? We lived in a rural area outside of a small seaside town in South Carolina. My parents raised chickens in our backyard. We kept them in a large, open pen and an attached, enclosed roosting area with nest compartments for them to lay eggs and rest.

As a kid, I helped with general chicken maintenance–feeding them, gathering eggs, mucking the roost, etc. Every so often my parents would slaughter one of them for dinner, chopping it’s head off with a large axe. And every time it was chicken-killing time, I would run into the house, plug my ears, and hide just inside the door, behind the refrigerator until they were done. I couldn’t bare to watch or listen. Once the ordeal was done, I’d help soak and defeather the chicken. The smell was horrific and sickening.

Start a new photog project for 2017? Drop me a note about it in the comments section below. I’d love to check it out!


What’s Happening? Merry Everything!

The last several weeks have been a whirl of prep for my second appearance at the Market of Curiosities. If you’re unfamiliar with the Market, back up and click on that link. It’s a hip, happenin’ craft show held every year early December in Carlisle, PA. I know; I know. Visions of crocheted doilies may be dancing in your head when you read “craft show.” But venders at the MoC have sworn to bring you only the hippest creations. Check out the vendor list for yourself.

My photo bestie, Nicole Dube, and I have participated in the market 2 of the last 3 years. Our first year, Nic and I ran a smashingly successful circus-themed booth. This year we wooed the crowd with a hipster-inspired “Merry Everything” booth.

I pulled together the backdrop with a few 1 in. X 3 in. furring strip boards, that I stained, painted, and distressed. (Pictures of this process below if you’re curious.) The ever-resourceful Matthew Bennett, of Plan B Designs, worked out the logistical kinks of supporting our 5 ft. by 8 ft. backdrop. And Nic worked her designer flair by procuring vintage flannels, accessories, and props from the coolest vintage spot in Carlisle, Miss Ruth’s Time Bomb.

The result of all this hard work?


A totally adorable photo booth, right? Many thanks to our models, Hillary and Jared!

Mark your calendars for the first Saturday in December 2017 because you will not want to miss next year’s Market.

Merry Everything!

Pictures from the backdrop creation process:

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