Beale Street

Dave and I spent the weekend in Memphis, Tennessee this past weekend so I could attend a photography conference. I learned a lot, met some Facebook friends in the flesh and finally got to visit Graceland, a lifelong dream of mine.

Whenever David and I would make the long trek from northern Virginia down to Arkansas to visit his folks, we'd always drive through Memphis and I would invariably start begging him to make a stop at Graceland. It didn't matter that we had Meghan in the back seat, then later Joe. Every time we'd cross the state line into Tennessee, I'd begin chanting, "Graceland! Graceland! Graceland!" He'd never stop, but would always promise me that one day he'd take me. Well, he lived up to his word some 30 years later, but that adventure will be told at a later date.

Right now, I've got Beale Street to show you, Beale Street that was alight with the setting sun, small crowds of tourists (the big crowds would come later that night), music being played on every street corner, musical notes set in the sidewalk with the names of some of my musical heroes: Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, BB King, and of course, The King of Rock 'n' Roll himself, Elvis.  The bars were hopping, people were stopping to take pictures, sweat was flying off the acrobat that was doing flips and jumps down the middle of the street . . . what an amazing, historic and magical street Beale Street is.

paddling the white river

Oh, how I have missed this.

(All images taken with my Nikon D750 with the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. I used my Outex waterproof housing that I bought a few years ago, and now with summer coming and being around water once again, I really plan on utilizing it more and become better at underwater photography. It truly is a different world beneath the surface).

Adventure On Two Wheels

We set out with the best intentions last Monday morning and with high hopes for the beautiful weather that the weatherman predicted. We had the route programmed into Dave's GPS unit on his motorcycle. I had both our cameras fully powered up with fresh batteries and extra batteries stowed away in my camera bag. My big lens was tucked into the camera bag as well, in hopes of photographing the buffalo and any other wildlife we might see as we toured the wildlife refuge outside Lawton, Oklahoma, our final destination. It was a beautiful, clear skied morning with the pear trees in full blossom up and down our street and the sun was beating down warmly upon our backs as we headed out of our neighborhood and began our first overnight trip on the motorcycle.

We headed south, taking the backroads down to one of my favorite spots, Natural Dam, where we pulled over for our first leg stretcher of the day. We were happy and having a lot of fun. I threw rocks and skipped a few for each of the kids like I always do when I come across water. Dave was busy taking "hero" shots of his bike with his phone and seeing what was next on the GPS.

We climbed back on the bike and crossed into Oklahoma about 45 minutes later. 

And that was when everything changed. The skies clouded over, the wind picked up and the temperatures started to tank. At first we thought it would all blow over because the sun was fighting her way though the thick overcast every now and again, giving us a little bit of hope, but the warm weather we left behind in Arkansas and that we were hoping to return never materialized. With every stop along the route, I downed hot chocolate and cappuccinos by the gallon; in fact, I can't remember the last time I drank so much coffee during the day. I'm normally a two-cupper-black-only kind of coffee drinker and only in the mornings, but I made an exception that afternoon. 

But we pressed on, with me willing Lawton to hurry up and appear on the green highway signs and Dave battling the strong headwinds and keeping the heavy motorcycle upright on the small country roads. We were exhausted, cold and getting discouraged when we pulled into the tiny town of Pauls Valley for gas and yet another hot drink. I was standing inside chatting with the clerk behind the counter when Dave walked in, looked at me and said the most magical and wonderful thing I had heard all day: "I made a command decision and found us a hotel ten minutes away and canceled the one in Lawton. We're staying here tonight."

I would've hugged him except I was too busy wrapping my arms around myself to stay warm.

So, instead of photographing buffalo and elk, the next morning we got up and I photographed downtown Pauls Valley, Oklahoma. We toured the the working train depot (an Amtrak train pulled in during our visit and a freight train roared past 15 minutes later) and heard stories of the depot and the town from the museum's sweet curator. She had the most twinkly eyes. 

Dave and I got back on the bike, this time with new directions taped to the gas tank, hand written directions for a quicker ride home (the GPS on the motorcycle had our route to Lawton taking twice as long as it should've been, thus the overnight stay in Pauls Valley). Dave pointed the motorcycle towards home and away we went, both agreeing that Pauls Valley more than made up for the lack of any big wildlife we may've seen at Lawton. The wildlife we did see from the back of the bike were coyotes roaming the pastures, dozens and dozens of red tailed hawks, herds of deer and I even spotted the white head of a bald eagle high in the tree tops sitting on her nest. We saw brand new calves grazing near their mommas and little foals near theirs in the fields as we flew past. We chatted to each other over our intercoms until the batteries died, leaving us to our own thoughts. We crossed small creeks and big rivers. We drove over flatlands that reached as far as we could see and drove curvy roads that gave me tummy tickles. We met the nicest people along the way, all of them sending us off with good wishes and "be careful out there"'s. We never complained, seeing that there really wasn't anything we could do about the cold weather and the gusty winds. It was what it was and we experienced it together. 

But I have never been so cold in all my life!

PhotoCon 2018

Wow, I really don't even know where to begin, so let me just describe last weekend the best I can.

Oklahoma City. Peter Hurley. Dave Black. Learning the art of "the squinch" (it's all in the eyes). Light painting. Laughter. Learning. Hanging out with fellow photographers. Having somewhat more than an inkling of what was being discussed. Lighting set ups. Camera settings. Models. Understanding. A weekend getaway with David. Exploring Oklahoma City together. A private class with my very favorite photographer of all time, Dave Black (well, he shares my #1 ranking with Joe McNally). Feeling more confident behind the camera. Inspired to push harder, learn more, try out new things. Overcoming my initial response of saying no to new opportunities. Fellow photographers holding an impromptu photo shoot in the conference location's parking lot. Lots of "Ah-Ha!!" moments. A mental wish list of all the new lighting gear I'd like to acquire. Camaraderie. Realizing that my photos are meant to be shared, not for glory sake, but because I'm proud of what I make and those images deserved to be shared. The willingness to dive head first into shooting more people and portraits and maybe less food (people are far more interesting than food, I'm beginning to realize). A slow return to Instagram. Mentally exhausting, but in a good way. 

But most of all, last weekend was amazing because of all the enthusiasm and knowledge that was shared about this art, this craft, this passion, this beautiful hobby (for lack of a better word) that I get to share with fellow photographers. 

So . . . 

3, 2, 1 . . . SHABANG!!!

Amateur Hour

Amateur. You say that as if it was a dirty word or something, but “amateur” comes from the Latin word ‘amare,’ which means love, love. To do things for the love of it.
— "Mozart in the Jungle"

I visited the teeny tiny town of Prairie Grove Wednesday afternoon to do some thrifting and try my hand at street photography. All these photos were taken within a one block radius of where I had parked my car. A funny little story about the image with all the bright chairs lined up in front of the Ace Hardware store: as I was lining up my shot, an SUV stopped in the street to the left of me. I waved him on, letting him know that I could wait, that I was just wanting to get a picture of the colorful chairs. I saw him laughing as he pulled into the parking lot where I was standing and got out of his pick up truck, holding a camera, and told me that he wanted the same photo, too.

We both laughed and took our pictures, standing side by side. 

And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good
— John Steinbeck

Hitting The Road Again

Saturday we finally had a beautiful sunny day after the past two weeks of having nearly non-stop rain. David was itching to get his motorcycle back out on the road again for the first ride of the season, so that was what we did.

We set out around 9:30 in the morning, heading west into Oklahoma, taking the backroads and avoiding the interstate at all costs. You get to see more of the countryside and Real Life along the backroads. The air smells better and the sun feels warmer. We passed cows and horses, pigs and sheep. There were blankets of daffodils in the ditches and along the fence rows. And the big blue sky was endless, not quite as endless as my beloved Kansas skies, but it was close.

We stopped in Spavinaw, Oklahoma, birthplace of Mickey Mantle and a gigantic spillway and dam that spilled into a creek along a really pretty park (where the still photos were taken). We stopped along the creek and threw rocks and played for a bit before heading out again. We spent most of the day just wandering, going down roads that looked interesting and stopping for lunch when we got hungry. All that fresh air started making me sleepy and I kept yawning on the back of the bike. We stopped near the spillway of Kerr Dam where you can catch paddlefish, a fish that looks like a cross between a swordfish and a catfish and that we had no idea lived in Oklahoma. 

From looking at the pictures on the announcement board near the water's edge, I really wouldn't want to meet one while wading around in Oklahoma rivers!

When the shadows began to grow longer across the pastures and the light began to be softer, we turned around and headed east back to Arkansas and home. It felt so wonderful to be out and get a fleeting taste of spring after such a hard winter. 

(The video is from one of our side road explorations. We had no idea that the road had been washed out and it took us completely by surprise. Sorry for the poor sound quality - - - our  helmets muffled our voices quite a bit.)

"What Did You Do Over Summer Vacation?"

We saw the St. Louis Arch, posed with the First Family, rode mountain bikes, hiked and were attacked by mosquitoes the size of small horses. We found ladybugs crawling on buildings in downtown Milwaukee and stayed the night in a renovated life insurance building from the late 1800's. We marveled at beautiful motorcycles and wandered around the Public Market before strolling the promenade along Lake Michigan. We rode and hiked some more, this time getting soaked to the skin in a sudden downpour. (The threatening skies should've warned us.) We spent  Father's Day at the legendary Lambeau Field and David was like a child on Christmas morning. He literally glowed all afternoon. We even did the famous "Lambeau Leap". We wandered along the water later that evening and stumbled upon an amusement park that brought out the child in me. 

We saw skyscrapers and food trucks in Minneapolis and pastures full of storybook barns and beautiful skies. We saw lots of people and ate delicious food. We were quiet and we were silly. We saw lots and lots of things we'd never seen before and that was what we did on our summer vacation.

A Quick Trip To Paris

Meghan and I took off for the bright lights and big city of Paris Saturday afternoon. We thought we needed a good strong dose of arts and culture, see how the beatniks and ex-pats were doing, so we loaded up my little Crosstrek and hit the road for Paris . . . Arkansas, that is.

Had ya going there for a minute, didn't I ?

Paris, AR. is about an hour or so south of Fayetteville, in between Ozark and Clarksville. We decided to skip the interstate and take the Pig Trail, so named because of all the University of Arkansas students heading south to Little Rock to see their mommas and daddies on long weekends. It's a gorgeous roadway, full of curves and scenic overlooks, and a lot of fun to take David's motorcycle on. You can get lots and lots of tummy tickles as you wind your way down the mountain.

Paris is a sleepy little Southern town, once full of life, i'm sure, but now the downtown square is deserted, all businesses having moved to the outskirts of town or being driven out of business altogether by Walmart. The courthouse and square really look like they're straight out of a movie set, and the surrounding neighborhood is full of white clapboard houses with long screened in porches, covered in shade by big elm trees and maple trees. The few people that we ran into all spoke with a long, Southern drawl, as if the heat itself made talking difficult. They were as nice as could be and I could've sat and listened to them all day long. There's something really comforting and soothing to a good Southern accent, and Southerners do like to hear themselves talk.

Meghan and I wandered around the square for a bit before getting in the car and driving over to a coal miner's museum and memorial. There was a blacksmith shop and a miner's house, completely furnished with pieces from the time that the house was built, probably around the early part of the 20th century. The caretaker was the nicest woman, full of stories about the furnishings and the family who donated the house. In fact, she was your typical Southern lady, talking to us for a good hour and a half; I felt as though I was visiting with my grandmother. 

Visiting these kinds of places, experiencing the sleepiness of a quiet town square and the peacefulness of a warm spring afternoon where you can only hear the far away hum of cars and the very close hum of crickets brings out the daydreamer in me. I imagine what a town like Paris must've been like in its heyday,  the square coming alive with farmers coming in on market day, local women catching up on the latest gossip, kids running around up to no good, I'm sure. Then the long lazy summer evenings, families and neighbors gathering on long porches, swatting at the flies and murmuring in quiet voices, lightning bugs dancing amongst the tree branches. Just think how quiet it would've been, how connected everyone was to each other, no emails, no social media, no Netflix. It was just neighbors reaching out to other neighbors. Doesn't that sound wonderful? I think it does.

I think I was born in the wrong era.