A new year and a new beginning

Drew Griffin and Lisa Schaffner

Drew Griffin and Lisa Schaffner

Amid the sniffles, sneezes and viruses of the post-holiday season, I was privileged to be able to attend the opening reception for my new exhibit with Monica Rao, entitled Within Me, held at the Gallery at UNOS. Monica Rao is a professionally trained artist who recently returned to her artistic roots. She is married to Virginia Commonwealth University president, Dr. Michael Rao.

Sonja Moore and Monica Rao

Sonja Moore and Monica Rao

 

Throughout the Christmas vacation, I had diligently matted and framed my works in anticipation of the January 10 opening. I cursed the amount of time it took and asked myself repeatedly why I had bothered. Once everything was ready, I peered closely at the result and eventually stood back deep in thought. I knew from the start that the basis of my exhibit would be my series of photos based on the core values. But, I was asked to submit some additional pieces and that’s where the head-scratching began. I had seen some photos of Monica’s works and knew that she painted abstract canvases. I’ve always struggle with what one could loosely term “inventory”. I have neither the time nor the space at this point in my life to be prolific.

ValuesSo, I was torn. I had some pieces already framed. But, they were what I would call “standard” photos. And, I knew they would contrast too greatly with the abstract paintings hanging close by. So, in a last minute mad dash, I opted to show four additional pieces that were far more abstract. Three of them began life as straightforward macro shots. One actually started out as an iPhone snapshot. By including those pieces, I felt the exhibit would be more cohesive.

Silver Dish

Silver Dish

Once I had decided on the final nine pieces, I felt relieved but also much more confident about my choices. Exhibiting to me is a risky business. I feel as if I’m baring my soul. How will they be received? Do I stand by my work? Am I satisfied with what I’ve produced? Do I truly care how others feel? As I stepped back and looked, I knew I felt happy. It’s a peaceful, contented place. A place to strive for. A place worth working towards.

Douglas D'Urso

Douglas D’Urso

The evening itself was a festive occasion, with refreshments provided by the Bull and Bear Club, here in Richmond. As the wine flowed, people talked about art, life, love, relationships and everything in between. I was so grateful for the presence of friends who had turned out on what was a typical, miserable January evening. I was pleased to get the feedback and hear the comments about my work and felt spurred on to continue down this crazy and circuitous path. I now know that I want to push the limits of my creativity. I now know it’s OK to be cerebral in my approach. I now know it’s OK to take this wherever I want it to go.

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Finding Value in What I Do

Last year, I was in the middle of a photographic project for a dear friend when he died unexpectedly from pancreatic cancer. I completely shut down creatively at that point and decided there was no point in pursuing the project any further as he would no longer be there to appreciate the results. Since then, I have been taking lots of “pretty” pictures but have not felt particularly engaged with my subject-matter.

Excellence

Excellence

Recently, I decided I needed a new photographic challenge. I needed something to sink my teeth into, which would force me to think and push myself further than I had over the past few months. Recently, the company where I work, the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), started on the long road of implementing corporate core values. I have been extensively involved in the roll out and I began to latch onto the idea of pursuing my personal reflections on those same core values through my photography.

As I thought further about those values (stewardship, unity, trust, excellence and accountability), I decided to push myself intellectually. In my view, it would be too easy to portray the notion of trust, for example, by photographing the loving eyes of my dogs or the notion of excellence by capturing a home run at the local baseball field. That would just be too literal, almost too easy. So, I decided to restrict myself to nature and then push myself even further to take all the photos in one location, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond, Va. Nature is my favorite photographic subject therefore why not stick to an area I enjoyed?

Accountability

Accountability

Some subjects were immediately more accessible than others, so I started out with the less challenging ideas. The easiest for me was the notion of excellence. When I think of excellence, I think of the pursuit of perfection. While acknowledging that none of us is perfect, I thought long and hard about perfection in the botanical world. The first example that sprang to mind was the bloom of an orchid. When I envision an orchid of any variety, I always think of the perfection of the blooms, their delicate appearance yet resilience to life in their surroundings. While wandering through the Conservatory, I stumbled upon the most amazing examples of Phalaenopsis. I needed to look no further.

Unity

Unity

In thinking about accountability, it struck me that inherent in accountability is a notion of reliability. If I am accountable, I can be relied on to admit when I make mistakes or do what I say I will do. In the same way, nature can be relied on to follow patterns and habits. We can rely on nature to have seasons and hence, we anticipate the same cycles from one year to the next. In the spring, the bulbs and trees bloom, essentially fulfilling a pre-arranged commitment. Therefore, a tree blooming in the early spring became my choice for accountability.

Unity in nature was by no means a stretch. It obviously implies, as with any other realm, the coming together of individual or disparate elements to function as a whole. My immediate thought on unity was the petals of a flower forming a single bloom on a stem. As I wandered through the gardens, one flower in particular struck me as I walked by. The stem appeared topped off by hundreds of petals both shaggy and smooth, forming one massive unified bloom. Each petal had a function yet the whole was greater than the sum of its parts, the whole more beautiful than each individual petal.

Stewardship

Stewardship

Trust

Trust

The value that kept me thinking the most was that of stewardship. As I thought about stewardship in my life, I thought about managing resources and looking upon those resources as things of great importance. Resources could be tangible or less so. Creativity is a resource I attempt to manage wisely, for example. But, in nature, where could I turn to find those examples of stewardship? And then, there it was right in front of me. I saw a butterfly carefully going about its business, whether gathering nectar or moving pollen. As the butterfly moved from one plant to another, it was carefully managing those resources entrusted to it.

As I thought about the notion of trust, I realized that those whom I trust in life are those upon whom I can depend. I can lean on the them in the tough times and they are there to support me at any point when I need to be buoyed up. So, in nature, stalks, stems and trunks fulfill that function. I could find no better example of that support than in the vast array of spring tulips standing rigid on their stems swaying in the breeze. I too am up or down, depending upon the breezes of my life, but I’m constantly held up by the trust I have in those around me.

And so, my musings on values be they personal or corporate, evolved into this project. It’s been good to stretch my creative wings again as I wait for the next “big” idea.

A word about the tints. Each photograph has been tinted a particular color for a reason. The corporate values have been associated with a particular color so I decided to tint the photos in a fashion that was reminiscent of those colors. It was intended to be a gentle reference rather than a literal translation.

Important:The ideas expressed above are my personal ideas and reflections and are in no way linked to or the opinions of UNOS or anyone associated with the organization.

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Back on Home Turf

As an adult, any trip back “home” can be fraught with emotion. And, on a recent trip back to my home town of London, I traveled with a slightly different eye – that of a tourist. I decided before landing at Heathrow Airport that I would take some time away from familial duties to walk around town with my camera  and take photos more with the eye of a tourist and less with the eye of a home town girl.

Greenwich Park

I walked around the suburb of Blackheath, where I grew up, with a very different eye this time. I walked streets I had been down so many times but studied doorways and facades in ways I never had. Even my old primary school now became an object of architecture. I viewed the building where I learned to play the piano with fresh appreciation. The old station, where I had hurriedly caught so many trains, became an object of history. The shops and pubs became the focus of a more mindful attention.

I headed into central London with the same desire – to really see things for the first time. I wandered somewhat aimlessly around Trafalgar Square, Westminster and the Embankment, swimming against the tide of tourists on an uncharacteristically warm and sunny day. My camera was not out of place and I could enjoy the anonymity behind my Canon. I blended into the sea of Nikons and iPhones, indiscriminately snapping views that would no doubt end up in some digital garbage dumps of jpegs. But, as I strolled, again I saw things I had never seen before. I saw details on windows and doors, the colors of flags and pennants, the texture of stones and bricks. I could breathe again after the suffocation of the crowds. And, at that moment, I fell in love again – with my old home town.

 

The Shard

The Shard

 

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A New Year

Andre ThomasAt the end of last year, I lost my best friend. It was unexpected and it was so premature. In losing my best friend, Andre Thomas, it occurred to me that I lost my cheering section, my one-man fan club. Andre had faith in me when I had no faith in myself. He pushed me and cajoled me when I wanted to stop. We talked endlessly about this website, about creativity, about doing what we love. And he died. And I stopped. And, I realized only recently that I hadn’t taken any photos in several months. When I’m under a great deal of stress or facing great sadness, my creativity shuts down. I no longer see the world through that kind lens. Nothing fits any more. Nothing feels right. And, nothing makes sense. But, I sat down a few days ago and heard Andre’s voice in my head. He was nagging me and complaining loudly that I still hadn’t launched the site and I wasn’t taking pictures. So, Andre, to quiet your chatter, here it is. No more excuses. No more hesitation. The deed is done. This one’s for you.

Over Christmas, I went to see the Dale Chihuly exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. When the exhibit came to town, I wasn’t immediately drawn to it. I was a little hesitant but decided to go after I read a piece about Chihuly’s “insistence” that his art be photographed. It is so unusual to be able to take your camera to an exhibit and be allowed to take pictures. That grabbed my attention. I was so glad I went. There are times when I fight with my camera, when I feel I don’t know enough about all the buttons and settings and wished I knew more. But, being forced to take low light pictures with no flash spurred to really think about what I was photographing and how I was doing it. Thank you Andre and Dale Chihuly for starting 2013 on the right foot.

 

 

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Putting It Out There

UNOS Exhibit

I attended the opening for the UNOS exhibit with some misgivings. While I generally have confidence in my own talent and abilities, I don’t always have confidence in my ability to shrug off criticism.  As I looked at the other works, I reminded myself that ultimately it was more important what I felt about my work rather than what others felt. Intellectually, it’s easy. Just tell yourself that the opinions of others are less important, that you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Emotionally, however, it’s easier said than done. We all want to be appreciated. We all want accolades. I did indeed get some great feedback. But, more importantly, I felt how vital it was to continue my venture because it’s something I want to do no matter what.  Whether people buy or not. Whether people are critical or not. It’s something I want to do for me.

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Welcome to Kenwood Gallery

Azalea

Tonight, Friday, September 7, 2012, I will attend an opening at the Gallery at UNOS. The event, entitled Memories Past & Future, is a joint exhibit between artist Linda C. Hollett-Bazouzi and UNOS employees. This is my second time showing at the Gallery at UNOS.

I will be showing two pieces – two digital photos printed on canvas – and each time I show my work, I approach each event with a mix of trepidation and excitement. It’s hard to put yourself out there, as the saying goes. You open yourself up to the potential for both praise and denigration.

Lilies

These two pieces (Azalea and Lilies) represent something of a departure for me. I have always rather frowned on post-processing techniques and preferred seeing what came directly out of the camera. I even shy away from cropping my pictures and have tended to be something of a purist.  But, on this occasion, I decided to fiddle around a little in PhotoShop just to see what happened. I resisted the urge to crop the pictures and attempted to give each shot a more painterly quality. All in all, I think I’m OK with it.

The opening reception is from 5:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

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