December 27, 2016

Fortune 29: Medium-Good Luck

Japan - Basho's Path November 2016 with Sam Abell and George Nobechi

After a very brief stay in Tokyo, our band of 12 photographers led by Sam Abell and George Nobechi left for Nikko via bullet train, local train, and very-local bus. Our first stop was the expansive Thoshogu Shrine complex, the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu. This was where I was first introduced to Omikuji, Japanese fortunes. They are available to purchase from small self-service boxes, usually for 100 – 300 Yen (100 Yen is roughly equivalent to $1 US) located throughout the shrine and temple complexes we visited.

Omikuji are not like the simple “You will soon embark on a long trip” fortunes found in the American fortune cookies we get at Chinese restaurants. The fortunes are long and list specifics about many aspects of life including personality, relationships, career, studies, and the future. I was warned by George that they range from great blessing to great curse in 12 steps: great blessing, middle blessing, small blessing, blessing, half-blessing, future blessing, future small blessing, curse, small curse, half-curse, future curse, and great curse. The custom is that if you get a good fortune you keep it with you. If you pull a bad fortune (curse!), then you tie it to a tree or stand so that you will leave the bad luck behind.

From my first introduction I was intrigued, but apprehensive. I did not need any new curses to follow me around. Since most of the trip was organized around visiting the temples and gardens that Basho documented in his writings “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” there were plenty of opportunities to challenge the fortune gods to provide me with some good news. But I waited. I waited until one late afternoon at the Yamadera Temple. Overtaken by the spirituality and immensity of this mountain-side temple complex, I bought a little bell-adorned pouch containing a small polished stone and, of course, my omikuji. Later that day George translated Fortune 29 for me.

Fortune 29: Medium-Good Luck

After a very difficult struggle, your luck will turn for the better. You are tough in the best sense of the word with strong power for recovery. With unexpected help from those around you, your loving relationships will also be good. The trust and effort you have accumulated will be rewarded so that your luck in your career will rise and you will be blessed with good fortune. For your studies, right now is the time to test you. If you get back your roots, and work diligently, you will eventually see the light and things will come to fruition.

Japan - Basho's Path November 2016 with Sam Abell and George Nobechi

Japan - Basho's Path November 2016 with Sam Abell and George Nobechi

Japan - Basho's Path November 2016 with Sam Abell and George Nobechi


December 25, 2016


Japan - Basho's Path November 2016 with Sam Abell and George Nobechi

During my brief visit to Japan all I noticed at first were its similarities to every town or city that I’ve visited. In the big cities there is plenty of commercialism and in the towns lots of focus on tourist-oriented shops and restaurants, visitors, and people with their cell phones. With time, however, I began to notice the small differences.

When our group arrived in Kanazawa, we started to see trees strung up with twine and wondered about the meaning. At first glance it just looked like the trees were decorated as triangular caricatures of Christmas trees (it was November after all). After asking some questions, I learned that it is called Yukitsuri or “snow suspenders” and used to protect the tree branches from breaking during the heavy wet winter snows in the area.

Japan - Basho's Path November 2016 with Sam Abell and George Nobechi

I saw this caring for trees not just in the big important Kenrokuen Garden, but also in the small neighborhood parks and city streets. Stringing up the trees is labor intensive and done by hand with tall ladders, twine, bamboo poles, and a team of gardeners. I was quite taken by how they care for their trees and began to see it as just one manifestation of the general sense of respect one appreciates in the Japanese culture.

From my simple 2-week visit I cannot make any generalizations on how the Japanese culture compares to the California culture I live in. I do not know how their centuries old nationalism, homogeneity, and work ethic affects their daily happiness, sense of freedom, or creativity – three things I value highly. But I can take away a lesson about caring to remind myself to take care of the people and things in our lives in the same manner that I witnessed the care for trees in Kanazawa.

I hope that this is a lesson that I can also pass on to you with these simple images.

Japan - Basho's Path November 2016 with Sam Abell and George Nobechi

Japan - Basho's Path November 2016 with Sam Abell and George Nobechi

Japan - Basho's Path November 2016 with Sam Abell and George Nobechi

Japan - Basho's Path November 2016 with Sam Abell and George Nobechi

Japan - Basho's Path November 2016 with Sam Abell and George Nobechi



December 19, 2016

Personal Documentary

Hair Ritual

Over the past two years I have worked on two personal documentary projects. The first is a short “day in the life” documentary of my parents after they had moved into an assisted living apartment. It was shot over the course of 4 days as part of a photojournalism workshop. The second, a longer and even more personal story, as I followed the first four months of my husbands slow recovery from Gillian-Barre Syndrome.


Both of these projects were extremely rewarding. These images not only have special meaning to me, but from them have emerged a small set of images that each stand on their own as fine photographs. In these photographs, I had unique access to intimate and subtle moments, and it was that unique access that produced the very best of the images.

The challenge of a Personal Documentary project is to use the trust afforded by personal relationships to take your best photographs. These are not snapshots or “I was there” photographs. These images need to pull together all the components that create a great photograph – story, light, color, gesture, framing, line, position, tonal contrasts, and the relationships between objects – to tell us about something for which you have a front row seat.

Japan - Basho's Path November 2016 with Sam Abell and George Nobechi

I spent two weeks this past November traveling through Japan with Sam Abell, a retired National Geographic photographer and mentor of mine. Sam believes strongly in keeping a photographic diary. He uses all the same care and skill capturing images for his diary as for his assignments. He believes that there is great power in documenting your daily life and those around you.

I encourage you too to start your own personal photographic diary or personal documentary project. It is the holiday season, a time for families to get together for special occasions with special decorations and customs. There is plenty of photographic material. Did the dog knock over the tree? Did the grandchildren open other peoples presents? Did flour fly everywhere when the mixer went bizerk during your holiday cookie baking extravaganza? Did you experience your husband/wife/child/grandchild/dog/cat bathed in late afternoon window light quietly absorbed in a good book, or more likely texting on their phone?


December 10, 2016

Portraits of Japan

Japan - Basho's Path November 2016 with Sam Abell and George Nobechi

Produce market on the street leading to the Yamadera Temple

For most of 2016, my photography focused exclusively on my husband’s journey through illness and recovery (see our blog Chick’s GBS Adventure). Finally, on November 4th, I boarded Japan Airlines flight 61 from LAX to Tokyo to join Sam Abell, George Nobechi and Sante Fe Workshops for a 14-day photographic journey of Japan to follow the first half of Matsuo Bashō’s travels as documented in his narrative diary: Narrow Road to the Deep North.

Our trip took us from Tokyo to Nikko, Matsushima, Hiraizumi, Yamadera, Kanazawa, and back to Tokyo. I was not prepared for what I would see – cities and small towns, lakes and temple gardens, swan boats and giant chrysanthemums.

Here are a few portraits of my journey.

Japan - Basho's Path November 2016 with Sam Abell and George Nobechi

Oko Nikko (Upper Nikko)
Surrounded by nature and beautiful lakes

Japan - Basho's Path November 2016 with Sam Abell and George Nobechi

The road leading to the Geibikei Gorge

Japan - Basho's Path November 2016 with Sam Abell and George Nobechi

Matsushima Bay
One of Japan’s three most scenic views

Japan - Basho's Path November 2016 with Sam Abell and George Nobechi

Selling tea in the Tea House district

Japan - Basho's Path November 2016 with Sam Abell and George Nobechi
The 10th floor view near Tokyo Station
October 30, 2016

A Sweet Moment


My blog has been quiet for some time as I haven’t been photographing much beyond the  Chick’s GBS Adventure images of my husband being treated for and recovering from GBS (still an on-going recovery).

At first I thought I would use this space to do a compositional analysis of some of the images, but I couldn’t do it. It felt too artificial and I just want those images to speak for themselves emotionally.

But today I finally unloaded a card-full of images from about a month ago – a casual trip to LA’s China Town with my husband and friend. Never one to pass up a reflection shot, I captured this sweet moment.

In a few days I leave for a photography trip to Japan. It will be the first time that I leave my husband alone since he became ill in January. Although his recovery is going well and he has caregivers to keep him company during most week days, I will miss him and he will miss me profoundly. Here is a little moment to keep us together.


May 17, 2016

Chick’s GBS Adventure – The First Image

In mid-January my husband, Chick, became very ill with Guillain-Barré Syndrome and we began to document his illness and recovery in a blog Chick’s GBS Adventure. In this series of posts, I will explore many of the images from a photographic perspective. You can read the background for this series in my previous blog post The Story Behind Chicks GBS Adventure

The First Image


The Imagery

By the time we received Chick’s diagnosis, he was fully paralyzed from the neck down and I had moved into the role of primary advocate. There are many layers to the story that are told in this one single image. First is my dominance, larger and in the foreground, against Chick’s subordinate role. However, my image is transparent while Chick’s image is lighted, thereby drawing the eye. Chick’s image is also one of the few things in the frame that isn’t impacted by the reflections. The fact that Chick is looking away gives a subtext to the gravity of the situation. The hospital room is also clearly recognizable. The superimposed buildings provide the context of a large medical facility and the two people entering the building in the lower right hand corner could be any visitor. Finally the darkness provide the mood of seriousness and uncertainty.

The Physical Setup

This image is a picture of Chick in his room taken as a reflection while looking out (or at) his window after the sun had set. My image and the room are all in reflection. The building, parking lot driveway and city lights are as seen through the window. Chick’s room was mostly dark with the exception of the light over his bed. The reflection is strongest where there is the most light in room, drowning out the scene outside. Darker parts of the room have the weakest reflection. Since I am only dimly lit, my image is ghostly with the scene and the lights of the city outside superimposed and shining through.

The Composition

Over the course of the late afternoon and evening, I took many images of this scene. As the sun set the lighting and color would change from sunlight, to the blue hour,  and finally darkness with contrast from the city lights. It was well after sunset when this visual emerged. In composing the frame, I had to be ultra aware of the corners and edges, carefully placing myself and balancing the monitor above Chick’s head in the upper right with the parking garage kiosk in the lower left, being careful not to cut off the corners of either of these two elements. The blank white wall in the upper right corner is somewhat problematic and I toned it down in post-processing as best as possible. Inside the room, the scene was rather static, but outside were a changing set of small details. In the end, I carefully held the framing while I watched only the lower right-hand corner waiting for the right configuration of tiny people to complete the composition.