Kemp & Brynn

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My sister and I were close as kids.  We lived across the river (literally) from our school friends, and we were often the only playmates the other had.  Nevertheless, I knew which buttons to push to get a rise from her, and I was like a churlish child on an elevator for the first time pressing all of them at once, at times, just to see them light up.  To my memory, she only paid me back once, when I was six or seven and learning to rollerblade.  I fell, and she tried to help me up with her foot…on my back…twice…  If this is the worst that I can remember, then I suppose we had a pretty good relationship.

Since we had kids (Claire’s daughter, Brynn on the left, and my son, Kemper on the right), however, we have grown much closer.  It may be the newfound maturity on both our parts, but I would like to think that we are just in a better place to be even closer than we were growing up.  She is a single parent, and a damn fine one.  My dad and I have both taken on the male figure in Brynn’s life, and in many ways I think that this has made me grow up even faster than just having two kids of my own.

I love seeing Kemp, Brynn, and now my daughter Nora, all playing together.  Kemp is gentle and kind with both girls, and very protective.  Brynn mothers Nora, and Nora adores them both.  We had the chance to spend a good chunk of time together in North Carolina over the New Year, and it is the best family vacation that I can remember.  Everyone was on their best behavior – even me – and the kids played constantly together.  This photograph was taken on a short hike on the property to an amphitheatre that was built for the boys’ camp that existed on the property in its earlier life.

Although I was trying to get Kemp and Brynn to pose for a shot, this one is candid.  It perfectly captures Brynn’s childish pleasure at being with the whole family (especially Kemper), and Kemper’s sly amusement at the world itself.  I love this shot, and I smile every time it comes up on my photo album that I have playing in my office at all times.  Claire and I were close, but I know that we want our kids to be even closer.  I think that is, ultimately, what we worked towards growing up without even knowing it.

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Steve at the Falls

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My family became the subject of a number of portraits during our post-Christmas vacation in Brevard, North Carolina.  On the whole, the portraiture was done mostly willingly (except my mother, who loathes having her picture taken – much like me).  I did not push her, except for one photograph with the grand-kids and one family portrait, which even I deigned to sit for.  This photograph was a candid of my father admiring Schoolhouse Falls in Panthertown Valley.

Although the falls were admittedly beautiful from the front, the view from behind the falls was something else entirely.  We had met a sweet older lady on the hike, just as we were about to turn around, who advised us to take ten minutes and hike to the falls that were running more strongly than she had ever seen due to the rain and snow melt.  She said that if we were careful, we could even hike behind the falls, which piqued my curiosity.  As soon as we turned the corner onto the side path, we heard the crashing of the falls.  The hike was easy to the falls itself, and I took a number of photographs of the falls that I have added to my portfolio “Falls.”

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Climbing

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My parents have identical photographs of me at Kemper’s age climbing amongst the rocky shores of Maine and up to the narrowest branches in the trees in our yard, which in hindsight (now as a parent) was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad practice.  Kemper is a bit more grounded than me, less of a risk-taker, which is why in his almost six years, he has not yet broken a bone.  By his age I had already broken both of my wrists (at the same time), a few ribs, and a number of toes.  I look back at this period of my life and laugh, though as a parent, I cannot imagine what I put my own through.

Kemper found the supine trees on Boneyard Beach at Big Talbot Island, which have been the subject of many posts in the past, and though they were only feet off the ground, he was still tentative in climbing them.  I urged him, almost begged him, to overcome his fears and climb.  As you can see by the wry smile on his face, it was a worthwhile pursuit.  Of course, once I got him to climb one without incident, every new one we came upon needed to be ascended, which made for a fitful photography session of the trees, but was great fodder for capturing him candidly enjoying his boyhood.  When we were in North Carolina last week, he had shed his fear of climbing somewhat, and mounted the rocks on the property with great aplomb.  Still, he was more keen to slosh in the creeks and melted snow puddles with his wellingtons.  He is grounded, and this will undoubtedly bode well for him in the future.  Breaks are a part of childhood, a part of life, but his caution may let him escape the many breaks of bone and heart that I experienced.  This is my hope, perhaps a naive one, but my hope no less.

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Kemper

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How my son has changed in the brief time since I took this candid portrait of him sitting on the parapets of his appropriated, improvised stone castle on the beach in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California…  This is my favorite picture of him at this age, then just four, and now about to turn six at the end of January.  I took a number of shots with him looking the camera dead to rights, but something, perhaps a wanton setter or retriever frolicking in the surf, caught his eye, and the shutter released at just the right moment to capture him as I see him often, wondering at the world, a younger version of me–for better or worse.

I have a distinct sense that he will eclipse me with photography.  His sensibilities and sensitivities are beyond his years, and he is patient and kind.  He is gregarious, unlike me, and perhaps he will be more comfortable approaching a stranger for a portrait.  Above all, he is curious.  He has not yet ceased to find awe in the smallest things, which it took me years and a good macro lens to rediscover from the bowers of my childhood.  We are going to North Carolina just after Christmas and for the New Year, and I will bring my old camera and kit lenses to see what he will be able to find through them.  His attention span is limited, but his wonder of nature will, I think, balance the scales appropriately…or it could be a quick introduction to a skill for which his maturity is not yet prepared.

Like the rock in this photograph, which he gravitated towards as if he were a satellite, he has a favorite stone perch in North Carolina, though it is not a castle there, but the great jutting precipice in the Lion King movie from which Simba was introduced to the kingdom.  The Lion King rock is on the property of a family friend where we stay, along the drive to the upper cabin, and scarcely will the wheels have stopped their revolutions before he is unbuckled and hastening towards it.  Perhaps this year he will be able to climb it by himself, a feat he has yet to master.  If so, I fear we will see little of him that first day.  I was like him as a child, happy to be within myself amongst nature and my own thoughts on any manner of subjects.  Perhaps this year, I will send him out with a camera in hand to find what he finds interesting or beautiful.  Photography has been a window into my psyche, and perhaps it will give me an even better view into his.

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Among the Ferns

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These bracken ferns on the moors in Yorkshire are substantially shorter than those in the lake district; nevertheless, they nearly engulfed my wife, Anna, as she tried to follow the path cut between the fiddleheads that popped out from the skeletons of heather, long since overcome by the dark green ferns.  This photograph was taken at dusk outside of Haworth, England, where the Brontë sisters lived and wrote.  Their stories were heavily   influenced by the moors and the hardy people who lived on them (especially Wuthering Heights).  Indeed, in this photograph, on the horizon to the left, there is a lone sycamore next to the barely perceptible ruins of a farmhouse (Top Withens), which is said to be the inspiration for Wuthering Heights.  My mother-in-law grew up among the ferns on the moors, and she is closer to nature than anyone I have ever met.  Yorkshire does something indelible to a person.  The first time you walk over the top of a moor and look down into the Worth Valley at the train steaming along the tracks towards Leeds, you realize that you are in a living snapshot of a much simpler time.

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Silhouette

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The word silhouette is derived from the name of Étienne de Silhouette, a French finance minister who, in the mid eighteenth century, was forced by France’s credit crisis during the Seven Years’ War to impose severe economic demands upon the French people, particularly the wealthy.  Because of de Silhouette’s austere economies, his name became synonymous with anything done or made cheaply.  Prior to the advent of photography, silhouette profiles cut from black card were the cheapest way of recording a person’s appearance.  I think that this silhouette of the female photographer on the rock is one of my best black and white compositions.  The mist and morning layer in the background contrasts sharply with the wet stone in the foreground, with the tiniest break in the line of the outcropping (in perfect thirds, I might add) made by the photographer.  I cannot say that my eye was drawn to her initially, but once it caught her, my eye became curious and could not look away – and if I did, I was always drawn back.

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Stillwater Cove

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This photograph, which is part of my Solitary collection, was taken a little after sunrise on the banks of Stillwater Cove in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, just below Pebble Beach.  The photograph is hazy, as the Soberanes fire was burning uncontrolled in the highlands during our visit, casting everything in a sepia glow.  This little sailboat was bobbing amongst the bull kelp and sea otters that frequent the cove.  I was captivated by the lone person on the bow of the boat, who sat there unaffected by the world that was only a hundred yards or so from him.  I, too, was by myself this morning, lost in the beauty of the cove, though the dogs on their morning walks brought me back to reality as they rollicked in the waves.

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