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Movement, Healing, & HoopYogini™

Shani Blueford first entered my orbit last summer when I asked her to participate in my portrait project, #MyExistenceIsResistance (which will be on display at the April ArtHop in the Park Trades building). Through that initial conversation it became clear that, for Shani, the practice of hooping was not merely a hobby or athletic endeavor.

HoopWhat?

Movement educator and Master Hooper, Jocelyn Gordon founded HoopYogini™ in 2008. According to her website, HoopYogini™ is “a Holistic Conditioning experience that utilizes the modern adult-size hula hoop for flow, self-awareness and as a functional fitness tool to strengthen and stretch the body. HoopYogini™ is transformational fitness integrating hula hooping with hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation.”

Shani began hooping in 2011 and started her path (working with Jocelyn) to become a certified HoopYogini™ instructor last May. To become certified you must:

• complete a set of required readings (4 books on anatomy, philosophy, & the yoga sutras)
• complete an interactive manual
• complete either an online or in-person training
• practice, teach, and record certification videos

For Shani, the whole experience of learning and teaching HoopYogini™ has indeed been transformative: "It's been a journey leading me to so many good people and good times. To be able to teach a movement & mindfulness practice that has helped me through so much is one of the most fulfilling things I can do. Every time someone connects with the practice, get centered, and has fun all I can do is smile and feel whole. So much of the world is frightening and there are so many problems that seem insurmountable. Especially if you are working to create a different reality on our home planet-- the problems, fears, and risks stay heavy on the mind and body. Even in the face of all the parts of this existence that hurt and limit, I’m guided by the idea that there’s always a little something we can do to get free each day, even if just for a few moments. For me, I find a lot of that freedom inside of my hoop and inside the freeing movements that my body, mind, and spirit crave."

To teach HoopYogini™ you also have to have a certain level of skill with the hoop and a commitment to living mindfully. I've participated in the weekly HoopYogini™ classes Shani offers through her business, Emerge and Circulate: Wellness, Healing and Hoop Arts. At first I felt embarrassed to try and hula hoop. It felt like something I should know how to do. Some childhood skill that should have stuck with me. The truth is, I totally sucked the first few times. But once I learned some of the basic tips, and got my pride in check, I was off and rolling.

The mindfulness component wasn’t readily apparent at first to me. I just liked walking around waist hooping and feeling strong in my body. Despite my own investment in meditation and daily mindfulness practices, that connection with the hoop came slowly. It started in class, mostly around an exercise that cultivates gratitude. Gratitude has been central in my life for a few years now--it's a helpful tool to increase presence, calm anxiety, and focus the mind. The meditative connection crystallized for me one day when I was hooping and practicing what’s called a stall. This move involves rotating with the hoop at the same speed the hoop turns. This slows the hoop down and also looks awesome if done well. I explained to Shani how I love stalls. I love the moment where you’re spinning and the hoop synchs exactly with the speed of your body. “It stops all the activity up here,” I said, pointing to my head. She smiled, nodded, and said, “That’s Yoga!”  

One of the yoga sutras states, “When thought ceases, the spirit stands in its true nature as observer to the world.” That small moment of freedom is what the stall provides me, however brief. A moment of simply being, without all the weight of evaluation and comparison of past and future—all those familiar mechanisms of the mind.

Centered pose is a way of practicing Tadasana or "Mountain Pose," which is the foundation pose for many asana.

Centered pose is a way of practicing Tadasana or "Mountain Pose," which is the foundation pose for many asana.

When I heard my friend and fellow Kalamazoo poet, Danna Ephland, was teaching a class based in movement, the first thing I said was, “You have to call Shani and bring her to class.” Danna has explored the connections between movement and writing for years. Her series, Bodysongs, is a hybrid of creative movement and creative writing. Danna earned a BFA in dance at York University, Toronto and taught ballet, modern, and creative movement courses for years at Western Michigan University, among other places around the country.

Danna’s currently teaching a class in Western’s College of Health and Human Services. The class, “Healing Through Movement,” brings students from fields of exercise science, nursing, occupational therapy, music therapy, dance, and integrative health studies—to name a few—together to study movement modalities to heal the body, mind, and spirit. A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending and photographing the class Shani visited.

Of teaching the class, Shani said, "It was a fantastic and interesting experience to teach a full classroom of students who had no idea what they were getting into! I felt an excitement cloaked in shyness from both myself and the students as yoga mats were unrolled and hoops passed out to everyone. In most teaching situations I’ve always taught people who at least had direct interest in hooping, so it felt new to me to teach folks who had signed up for a more general subject of 'Healing Through Movement.'"

Danna and Shani both agree that movement can break through old ways of thinking.

I live my life in widening circles
That reach out across the world.
I may not ever complete the last one
But I give myself to it.                 
                            --Ranier Maria Rilke

Shani shared the above poem and then guided the students through the "spinal awakening series" with slow, controlled, yet free movements of the spine while holding the hoop in both hands. Danna remarked, "It is beautiful to watch a room full of bodies and hoops following her lead. As a class we later noted similarities of this spinal awakening with Anne Green Gilbert's "BrainDance" and yoga's six movements of the spine."

Shani showed off some of the more advanced hoop tricks and movement combinations. Danna commented that her demonstration was "full of flow and grace and quiet drama."

Shani showed off some of the more advanced hoop tricks and movement combinations. Danna commented that her demonstration was "full of flow and grace and quiet drama."

Danna told me, "I enjoyed how she discussed the diversity within the hooping community itself. There's a social side to hooping, and a flashy side, and then there are things like retreats, self-care workshops, HoopYogini™... a way of life, all of which is part of "flow arts" which has apparently captured the imagination and energy of young people all over the country. It's adult play, a key concept in my course, especially with our guest who led InterPlay."

Shani led students in learning to waist hoop, offering tips to keep it circling, maintain balance, control, and correct stance and hip movement.

Shani led students in learning to waist hoop, offering tips to keep it circling, maintain balance, control, and correct stance and hip movement.

Danna observed, "I wanted to try too, but there was no room and I also was happy to be able to observe this transformative energy filling the room with its healing pulse. The experience of and connections we've made among the various movement modalities we've tried this semester is rich learning. Moving bodies are healthier bodies, are bodies doing the work and play of healing."

I couldn't agree more.

#BlackLivesMatter + 24 Hour Project


I joined twitter earlier this year in order to be more tuned in to social justice issues in general, but specifically to follow activists on the front lines of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Twitter quickly became an unexpected place for me to showcase photography projects and connect with other artists & activists. A friend of mine, who I've organized with locally, brought the 24 Hour Project to my attention. As I recall, I was coming down with a cold at the time, but the opportunity seemed too good to pass up.

The call to action:

"International call to all photographers and photography hobbyists involved in the #BlackLivesMatter movement and its partner organizations. This year Black Lives Matter is teaming up with the 24 Hour Project to create a #BlackLivesMatter track of the 24 Hour Project.

The 24 Hour Project is a street photography project that seeks to document every-day life in multiple cities during one single day. Participants all over the world will share their city’s stories through one photo every hour for 24 hours on March 21st, 2015. This year’s theme is ‘The Human Condition’, and we want to narrow the focus to uplifting black life in this critical moment in history."

I knew I wouldn't be able to do the full 24 hours, but I did get going around 8am that day. I met many amazing people. Some exchanges were as simple as "Can I take your photo for a project?" and some involved longer stories. For those of you who pay attention to details, yes, I fudged the times a bit. It was not fully light out at 9pm in March. In order to launch the photos from my laptop, I had to take a series of them and then upload them by the hour. If I participate in a project like this in the future I'll try and think of ways to be more authentic with my time stamps. :)

The project itself was incredibly fulfilling and pushed me out of my comfort zone as an artist. Street photography requires the photographer to be on her game from the beginning. With most portrait sessions there is a bit more time to interact, get to know a person, and have a few throw-away shots. With street photography, you have to get the shot you want in 1 or 2 takes. I appreciated how this project allowed me to stretch and grow in this way as an artist.

In the order they first appeared:

"Friends" 9:37am

"Make Me Laugh" 10:34am

"Retirement" 11:36am

"Waiting" 12:58pm

"Daughter" 1:50pm

 "Father" 1:55pm

"Bus Ride" 3:08pm

"My Name's Michael Brown" 4:25pm

"Family" 5:40pm

"Whereas" 6:51pm

"Smile" 6:53pm

"Bowtie" 8pm

"Then" 8:54pm

"@FEARLESSnFREE" 9:36pm

"Paintin" 10:26pm

"Basic Reading List" 11:10pm

"Another Day" 11:50pm

Please follow me on twitter @KaitlinLaMoine to see projects released before they're posted on this blog. And don't forget to check out my facebook page and website!

~K

Where did Freshwater go?


Basically. I changed my mind. Artistic license allows this. :)

Facebook has probably alerted you to the fact that I changed the name of my photography business. For those that have been following along, I split my brand a few months back in an attempt to find mental clarity between "commercial" work and "artistic" projects. It didn't help. It made things worse.

I want to own all parts of my art equally & I can't do that in separation. So I decided to fold it all under the name Kaitlin LaMoine Photography. Freshwater has been good to me. I love the name and the brand has served me well. It allowed me to find my voice with some level of anonymity. I don't need that anymore. Nor do I want it.

The work I've been engaged in related to the #BlackLivesMatter movement has allowed me to explore, appreciate, and utilize my art in ways I haven't before. I'm proud of that and don't want to separate the different elements of my art that make me who I am.

Freshwater was my baby. It was something I crafted with my own hands, time, and talent. I'm proud of what it became. And I'm also excited for what it's evolving into. I hope you'll continue on the journey with me.

~K

I Am Kalamazoo4Justice Portrait Series


Hey Friends!

I've always been passionate about community involvement and networking and wanted a place to talk about issues of racism and racial justice. I joined Kalamazoo4Justice late last year and found a committed group of activists looking for similar outlets.

"Kalamazoo 4 Justice (K4J) seeks to change the social and political landscape through community engagement, public dialogue, and direct action regarding all forms of oppression, exploitation, and injustice, as they intersect with racism, both locally and nationally."

While we had the mission statement above, I wanted to explore a visual elaboration of why people had joined K4J. This led to my first series of portraits. Thanks to my friend Caitlin McWethy Bailey, who made our awesome K4J logo, I was able to incorporate this into the portraits.

At first I was frustrated by the sometimes blurry quality of the portraits, which I think was part a lens malfunction and part my inexperience with shooting under florescent lighting, but as the project continued, I learned to let go of my expectations for what the project should be and appreciate what it was. This is a lesson that comes around over and over again with grassroots organizing. Things emerge organically and at some point take on a life of their own.

I chose to make the photos black and white in part to simplify distracting elements, but also to echo the aesthetic of mug shot photos--to speak back to part of the system we are fighting against. I hope you enjoy the series!












To see more of my projects before they appear on this blog, please follow me on twitter @KaitlinLaMoine

Please also check out my facebook page and website.

@KaitlinLaMoine

Taken 12.5.14 at the Art Hop Die-In on the Kalamazoo Mall
Some of you may have wondered why Freshwater has been relatively quiet over the last few months.

Several years before her death, I asked my grandmother, LaMoine, whose name I’ve inherited, what it was she most feared. She paused a second before answering “War. And the impact war has on children.” What my grandmother valued most in the world was beauty. She'd sit for hours and watch the surface of Lake Walloon, often had bouquets of fresh cut flowers in the house, and had a keen sense of style. I think of her often when the sunlight catches the tree branches outside my window.


If you're paying attention to the pulse of the nation right now, there’s no question that we're caught in a state of war. The indiscriminate killings of unarmed black and brown women, men, and children, by law enforcement officers rings in our ears daily. It fills our newsfeeds. Rekia Boyd, Walter Scott, Jessie Hernandez, Eric Harris, Miriam Carey, Kevin Davis, Aiyana Stanley Jones, Yvette Smith, Meagan Hockaday, Akai Gurley, Tony Robinson, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Aura Rosser, the list goes on. And yet, communities are rising up, cultivating resistance, dialogue, celebration, and art. As Americans, we are caught between war and beauty, celebration and death, change and stagnancy.

Since late last year I’ve been involved with an organization called Kalamazoo4Justice. We are working to change the social and political landscape with regards to systemic racism and oppression, both locally, and in solidarity with the national #BlackLivesMatter movement. Much of my photography has taken place within this context. I haven’t shared much of that because I’ve felt a tension with doing so under the banner of Freshwater Photography. Not because I believe these issues aren’t front and center, or the complexity shouldn’t be placed in front of an audience. But because Freshwater was, from its inception, a commercial enterprise.

I’ve been chewing on the question of splitting Freshwater into another endeavor. Again, not because I don’t value the work I do with Freshwater, and certainly not because I believe in an artificial separation between art and politics or, more specifically, family portraits and the political. What I’ve realized is that the intention is different. The intention of taking senior portraits is different than the intention of photos at a protest or photography with an overtly political message.

This decision has been a hard one for me. I don’t want to give the impression that I feel my activist photography would negatively impact my commercial enterprise. What I have discovered, however, is that trying to blend the two has limited my artistic capacities on both sides.

To that end and with the spirit of my grandmother in mind, I’ve decided to create a separate brand of my photography. With a both/and approach, Kaitlin LaMoine Photography or @KaitlinLaMoine will be a space for me to investigate the messy entrails of the shift that is happening in America right now, the shift which is connected to larger changes happening across the globe. It is my hope that my pictures can both uplift, investigate, celebrate, and challenge the current state of affairs.

Here's a preview of one project related to Kalamazoo4Justice: I took a series of portraits with members displaying messages of why they're involved with the movement.
I recently joined twitter and will be posting many pictures to my account there, @KaitlinLaMoine. Future series will be displayed in a separate blog. At the end of the day, as several of my friends have pointed out, "It's all Kaitlin."

@KaitlinLaMoine is not just a space for protest pictures. I hope to engage in a series of projects which explore the nature of activism and the human condition. Over the next few weeks I’ll be catching you up on my recent activities. I hope you will continue to support my work and my growth as an artist, as you have so far with Freshwater. And don’t worry, for those of you who would rather just look at newborn pictures (which is totally valid in a world saturated with suffering) I’m not abandoning my work there. I hope to see you in both settings.

Kaitlin

Featured Artist -- Tyler McKinney (November 2014)

Tyler and I have known one another since we were about 5 years old. We haven’t had a substantial conversation in over 11 years. We meet in the Al Sabo woods to snap some photos, catch up on a decade, and most importantly, talk shop. With him is Josie, his always-by-his-side golden retriever.

http://www.freshwaterphotographyklm.com/

For Tyler, photography comes down to telling the story. In a recent post on his blog, he writes, “We want to feel important and be remembered.” Capturing the energy which tells the story of the moment/day/emotion is what is most important in his work.

When did you start shooting photographs? What camera do you use?

“I had a disposable camera in my hand since age 10. I started off with film photography in high school and expanded to digital from there. I currently shoot with a Nikon D80. I had a D800 which was supposed to be the newest and best camera but it didn’t seem that much better than what I had so I sold it. ”

http://www.tylermckinney.net

What’s your favorite thing to shoot?

“I like doing events. Anything that has a story. I try and make a story out of whatever I’m shooting. I like things that are different. I did one shoot with a guy who was a pop-lock dancer. Or one with my fiancé on a farm with horses. Anything I can go and do that has a movement to it and a story to be told.”

http://www.tylermckinney.net




http://www.tylermckinney.net/blog/2014/8/19/photography-the-art-of-capturing-subtleties

What would your dream job be?

“My dream job would be to do a behind-the-scenes movie on a movie set. You can tell a story about what’s going on, instead of shooting what you want the people to see, obviously—the movie, turn the camera the other way. What are these guys doing? How are they creating this? All the different emotions. Documentary style stuff, that’s what I wanna do.

I’m more focused on what’s really happening instead of what people want you to see--the product. What’s actually happening is way more interesting. I always watch the behind-the-scene’s clips when people post music videos versus the actual music video. That’s what sets artists apart. They’re more interested in how things are made. The process. There’s a curiosity there.”

freshwaterphotographyklm.com/

What’s an obstacle you’ve encountered with your photography?

"I guess the disconnection from life that social media promotes. People have become tourists to their own lives. They don’t want to experience things anymore, they wanna show it off. #Mondaycoffee #newshoes #happiness.

Photography can sometimes disconnect you from the experience that’s happening. When I saw myself getting the same photos all the time I knew I wasn’t in the moment and needed to set down the camera in order to really see again.”

http://www.tylermckinney.net

What are some pet peeves you have about photography/photographers/the industry?


“The number one thing that bothers me is the attitude that comes with it. ‘I’m a photographer.’ You don’t ever want an attitude as a photographer. I follow this guy on Facebook and he’s really informative but he’s so pompous. That ‘know-it-all’ quality just drives me nuts. I get it, you’ve experienced a lot of stuff as an artist, you’ve gone through it. But. You don’t have to be a dick about it. Especially if people come to you for help and you’re like ‘Oh, that’s a stupid question. Why didn’t you know that?’ I don’t get it. Why be stingy? They act like their information is gold or something.

The industry is so over-saturated at this point. I have a hard time calling myself a photographer. Anybody with a camera is a photographer these days—technology is so accessible. I can go to Wal-Mart and buy a professional camera. So anybody with a little bit of business sense can start a photography business. That’s a little bit irritating. It saturates the market so much that there’s not enough room for the people with real talent… you get this funnel effect where you’re all heading toward the same product. But at the same time, like you said, you have to find a niche, and if you can’t do that then you probably just shouldn’t be here."

http://www.freshwaterphotographyklm.com/

"Although I guess I don’t really have a niche yet (laughs) other than the fact that I’m different... I don’t shoot babies, I don’t care to do portraits that much… That’s why I consider myself a commercial photographer. I love working with companies—they tell a story. But you’re not going to make a living off of that. Whenever I have these conversations I think about where I fit in.”

freshwaterphotographyklm.com/

More peeves...

"I don't like when other photographers get smug about processing and say there are rules we need to follow. Who are they to say an image is bad just because the histogram isn't a perfect wave? I have a few over exposed photos that I meant to shoot that way, for example. Of course, there are many composition rules we should follow, like making sure horizons are straight (I hate Dutch angles), or trees or other objects coming out of a person's head. I’m also a firm believer in the rule of thirds, however, I won’t judge someone for shooting or editing something a certain way. There are plenty of things I’m not too fond of, but I like the idea of what they're doing and wish them the best at perfecting their craft the way they want to see it.

I wish people were more open to constructive criticism. I understand not enjoying someone bashing your work, but if someone is pointing out things that could be improved, we should listen. Too many people are good at giving criticism, but not receiving it.

All that aside, the end of the day, who cares? I like what I make, I respect the medium, I’m humble in the sense that I know my work isn’t incredible, and I’m always willing to help anyone who asks."

http://www.freshwaterphotographyklm.com/

Do you think you have to have a fixed place in the industry?


“These days, yes. There are SO many people practicing photography. You do have to find a niche. I don’t have enough of a passion for senior portraits. To put myself in that bubble where I’ve got to hustle for those jobs, especially if they don’t speak to me. I don’t want to be boxed in. At all. So I’m looking for jobs that are a little off that main course. There are many jobs I’m just not interested in. Like the antique car show at noon. At noon. What am I going to do with those shots?”(laughs).



http://freshwaterphotographyklm.com/

Any advice to other photographers?

“Don’t shoot anything that’s going to compromise your integrity to yourself or your art.”

http://www.tylermckinney.net

Tyler McKinney Photography:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram 

Blog

***

Thanks for reading!
To see the rest of the photos of Tyler, please check out my facebook page and website.
 
Josie says, "Stay Fresh!!"

http://www.tylermckinney.net

Radical 80's Rewind Party for Parent to Parent of SW Michigan

Do you have a child with a disability? Do you feel overwhelmed with their unique needs? Are you unsure of the resources, laws, or support systems in place to assist you? There are other parents you can turn to.

According to their website:

"Parent to Parent of Southwest Michigan is a non-profit community organization offering services at no cost to families who have children with disabilities or special needs. Founded in 1998, Parent to Parent serves families in 9 counties and collaborates with other organizations. Since our inception, we have assisted over 1200 families through mentor support, referrals, information, recreation opportunities, a bi-monthly newsletter, parent network meetings and informal social events."

You can learn more in their recent clip on News 3.

I first came into contact with P2P, last year, when my friend Alisha Krcatovich asked me to take photos at their All Kids Can Dance event. Alisha served on the P2P board for 4 years.

My dad, George Martin, has been an advocate for people with developmental disabilities, both at a state and local level, for over forty years. It is a cause very near and dear to my heart. 

Since last year was an such a blast, I decided to hop back to the 80's this year and party with the adults.

I hope you enjoy the timewarp!

















Jill Angell, Executive Director of P2P, rockin' out.




Sometimes the photographer has to take a break to jam a little.
Jill got slimed!


Please be sure to LIKE Parent to Parent on their facebook page.

Thanks for reading!
Don't forget to check out my facebook page and website.
Stay Fresh!!

Featured Artist -- Blake Eason (October 2014)


It all started with Blazo. 

  "Blazo was like Spiderman and Spawn. He was a ninja who wore boxing gloves because I couldn't draw hands."

Blake and I meet on the Kalamazoo Mall to catch up and talk about his art. Blazo was a comic strip character Blake invented as a kid. "Blazo controlled fire and eventually had horns, was an expert at swords, and had teammates with names I found in the dictionary. Nebula was one of them. He could pop in and out of dimensions."

It's safe to say Blake has always had an engaged imagination, fueled by many different things. He often works with music, ambient is best. "I'll close my eyes and imagine a scene playing out in my head." Then he tries to recreate the scene on paper.

"I believe art is therapeutic when you're creating or viewing it. Art involves imagination, technical skill, and the message you want to convey. You have to involve your own voice. But I'd say it's 15% talent and 85% hard work." He tells me he can spend hours watching TV and doodling. Practicing things like gesture or reference drawing. Skills that help you later when you're working from imagination. "Line making is a huge one. You have to build up muscles in your arm to make a straight line or a curve."


Blake is primarily self-taught. He's taken classes but only found a few that fit his needs. "There is so much free information out there. I already have the discipline of practice. I just do my own thing." This is one thing I've always admired about Blake. He isn't scared to try new things, or blend things that haven't been blended before.

"Some rules can be bent, others can be broken." Morpheus, The Matrix

As a kid the world has no limitations when it comes to art. The last few years, as he's become more serious with his craft, Blake's felt that constriction many artists feel. "Learning about new techniques and styles is good--but I used to worry that too much technical learning might somehow invalidate my ideas. For example, will studying anatomy still allow my imagination to do its own thing? Will that expand my art or constrict it? That fear isn't one I struggle with anymore. These days I'm just out to try everything, buffet-style, germs and all!"

One of the biggest influences on Blake's art has been anime, which is a style of Japanese animation art. "I like the style and stories, the variety. There's something realistic about it too even though it's fantasy. I couldn't relate to things like X-Men as well but the characters in the anime I read were more my own age, so I connected with them." Two of his favorite comic book artists were Adam Warren and Joe Madureira. "They were able to capture the Dragon Ball Z style--the big-eyed, exaggerated hands and clean, heavy black inks, and blend that with American comic books styles. You can see the influence going both ways. The 'God of anime,' Osamu Tezuka was influenced by Bambi."

I ask him about some of the biases or stigma surrounding anime. In my [limited] experience, anime is often something people roll their eyes about. Blake tells me, "I think people are annoyed people like it so much. There's also a certain snobbery about it. The assumption is that anime isn't 'real art,' that there's little technical skill involved." I ask if this has affected his own practice. "I'm going to do what I want. I like the form and it's fun. I won't have people's biases, or anything really, prevent my art."


Blake is currently working on a variety of projects. "One thing I'm working on is trying to be more expressive with my portraits, specifically with painting. I'm using brush strokes that are thicker and messier, rather than getting bogged down by fine details. Details are a comfort zone of mine. Having something look realistic, like a photograph, isn't my goal--it's a practice--when I do something realistic it's because the customer wants it that way. But I rarely work that way myself. With realistic drawing there is less chance to inject some of my own ideas. It's more fun to exaggerate or add a twist to something."

"I love the blues and jazz. I've drawn Nina Simone forever. She relaxes me, I listen to her music all the time."

Another project Blake has is his Curvy Women series.


 "I'm very skinny. I relate on the opposite end of the spectrum. I'm trying to gain weight and also be comfy as a skinny person. I see the conversation happening about body positivity and wanted to celebrate that." Blake tends to draw women more often then men. "I feel there's more room to play with drawing women. I'm trying to expand my skills [with drawing men] but it just feels like there are more options with women. Same with animals," he says laughing.

Other pet projects he's working on are a children's book and an adventure story graphic novel.

 Pico, a frequent character Blake draws

"My niche is something I've been thinking about recently. There are many artists out there and I'm open to many styles and mediums. So I find myself constantly exploring and experimenting with the techniques, but I feel like I've lost some of my personal voice that I would like to incorporate into the images. I spend time meditating to find out what's really important to me. Because with all the sources of inspiration, it's felt difficult to narrow down what I'm really passionate about."


Whatever comes next, I know it will be imagination-packed and fantastic. You can check out Blake's work on his website or Instagram, or see it live, in person, at Proper Possible (112 W. South St.) this Friday for ArtHop.

Thanks for reading!
Don't forget to check out my facebook page and website.
Stay Fresh!!

Featured Farm -- Harvest of Joy Farm

Local, sustainable, affordable, and delicious food is incredibly important to me. After seeing how much people enjoyed the post I did about my cousin Ben's Farm, I thought, why stop there? SO! In addition to a featured artist every month, I will also feature a farmer/farm--at least until the snow makes it impossible. This is my second season participating with Community Supported Agriculture or CSA. I thought I should explore the farm I "support" bit further.


Harvest of Joy Farm -- 2011 -- Amy Newday & John Edgerton, Owners

Amy's farm is located in Shelbyville, MI, right off 131. I pull in the driveway late on a Saturday afternoon and am immediately greeted by the farm dogs, Sunny and Bud. Bud hangs out with us under the picnic table as we talk about the farm.


Let's start with the name. "My friend Diane Glenn, who helped me start the farm and stayed on until 2013, came up with the title. We googled it to see if the name was taken and found a book about wine making with the same title. We just added farm on the end," Amy tells me, laughing. Why farming? "I don't know," she says, mostly joking. Amy grew up on the land she farms. Her parents own a (no longer operating) dairy farm next door.


Amy works as the Writing Center Director for Kalamazoo College and is also a local (fantastic) poet, in addition to running the farm. "When I was a kid I said I was going to be a teacher and marry a farmer. As an adult I realized I can be a farmer!" She explains, "With all the interest in local foods, it just seemed the time to do it." Yet as our conversation progresses, it becomes clear this passion for growing food is not simply market strategy.


John, who also helps run the farm these days (more on him later!) brings us a slightly overripe, perfectly splendid cantaloupe to dine on while we chat. Amy explains why she loves the CSA model. "Our food system isn't sustainable. Even the organic industry relies heavily on fossil fuels to exist. And if the weather fails, there goes your crop. [The CSA model] builds community resilience around food. It transforms a product-based economy into a relationship-based economy. When we have a food system with an economic focus, the worst decisions get made--it's one of the worst things we've done for our environment, for our bodies, and for our communities."

Amy tells me a little bit about the history of CSAs. They're an import! The model started in Japan in the 1960's under the name "takei," which translates as "putting the farmer's face on food." They made their way to America at some point in the 80's but have gained traction in the last ten years with the growing local food movement. The result is that instead of having a farmer with a product, if you join a CSA, you have an invested stake in the farm (similar to a co-op). You buy into the success and failure of the farm and of each season. Bumper crop? AWESOME. Late frost? Bummer.


Amy likes getting away from the "cash for product" model. Not only are GMOs becoming a scary reality but land erosion is a huge problem, not to mention fertilizer run off into rivers and streams, pesticides which are have not only created super bugs but whose chemicals are contributing to bee colonies collapsing and harming us. In addition, food that's grown for conformity has no taste!

All of these issues are important to her. But the most important reason she engages with what she does is to reclaim the skills of producing the food we eat. "The crop I'm producing is less important than the skills I've gained: seed saving, plant breeding, crop rotation, natural pesticides, composting, and organic growing."

 Ducks are great as a natural pesticide--they walk around eating undesirable bugs!

When I ask Amy what she loves about what she does--as opposed to the reasons why it matters--her whole face lights up, "Plants are my heros! They are amazingly resilient!" She shows me a patch of bean plants that have started growing near the house after John tossed out some old seeds. "Food is sacred. You take a being and put it in your mouth and it becomes you--not metaphorically, literally. And outside is awesome! Working with living systems. I'm facilitating this thing that is completely beyond me. I'm just fascinated by all of it."

Amy's Takeaway: "I'd really like to confront the attitude of elitism about healthy eating. This is not a luxury--this is basic--it makes up all the cells in our bodies. It shouldn't be a luxury to have food that doesn't give you diabetes, heart disease, or mental health problems. Food becomes this moral thing, as if the environment is separate from us. We're not being loving to ourselves by eating crap. I really wish eating was more respected and valued. We can all have it!"


Amy takes me on a tour of the farm. The whole operation spans about an acre of active vegetable production.

A large pond in the back area of the property supported by the Conservation Reserve Program. Amy discovers one of the ducks might be a male they exiled from the flock for being too aggressive.

FIELD GREENS!

Cukes!

A rare kind of tomato called Ruby Gold. John received seeds from Ben Quisenberry, who had a passion for saving heirloom tomato seeds, shortly before he died.

 Swiss Chard

Pole Beans!

Prettttty.

Buckwheat field

"My natural propensity to be distracted by the beauty of the world is served by working outdoors."

After my tour, I sit down with John Edgerton, who has been helping on the farm since 2013. John has a long history doing non-violence work. He spent many years teaching at the Center for Non-Violence in Fort Wayne, IN. He's been intrigued by CSAs for a long time and saw them as an opportunity to get back to the Earth.

Simply put: John wanted to interact with and grow food for people. "The best way to do food and farming is in community." John wanted to find a sustainable model for creating change. His passions are seed and plant diversity as well as food that is disease resistant. "Climate change is going to throw a huge wrench in [our food system]. It already has."

I ask John what connections he sees between his work in non-violence and working with the Earth. "We have to learn better how to cooperate and collaborate with nature and its dance. We've been taught that nature is violent too, yet the Earth is in deep symbiosis, cooperating on a deeper level. We are a part of a larger biotic community: plants, animals, people, all living things. This work allows me to explore and appreciate that. And also feel that tension."

John's Takeaway: "Be supportive of future generations who are trying to make connections with social justice and the Earth. If we tend the soil--after some difficult times--we may prosper and come into abundancy again."


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Featured Artist -- Fiona Dickinson (September 2014)


I have always appreciated the arts culture we have here in Kalamazoo. Growing up in here, it is impossible not to be exposed to the arts. My oldest sister is a skilled painter/drawer, my mother and I are both poets, in addition to two neighbor poets within a one block radius. The arts culture is an integral part of Kalamazoo. In many ways, the arts are Kalamazoo. 

As a way of continuing to celebrate and support this culture I've decided to feature a Kalamazoo artist on my blog each month coinciding with ArtHop. Stay tuned for visual artists, painters, graphic designers, photographers, poets, crafters, actors, and much more. Up first, we have the formidable singer/songwriter, Fiona Dickinson.

While she has a quiet presence, shy is not the word I would use to describe Fiona. Deliberate would be more accurate, and slightly intimidating. Born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and raised in Qatar, Scotland, and England, Fiona speaks with a soft, slightly husky, British accent. Fiona moved with her parents to the Kalamazoo area in 2000.

Her website describes her music as "Bjork-esque." I can see the resemblance. Fiona's debut album, Duende (2010), evokes for me a blend of Tori Amos' Little Earthquakes, Bat for Lashes' Fur and Gold, a dash of Bon Iver, and Pat Carroll's Glow in the Dark. Fiona's music is honest, intense, and refreshingly unapologetic.


I think of the term duende, which first came to me through poetry, as something which has a force to it. A power in and of itself that calls out from the belly. In his lecture, Play and Theory of the Duende, poet Federico García Lorca’s states, "The duende, then, is a power, not a work. It is a struggle, not a thought. I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say, 'The duende is not in the throat; the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet.'"

Duende means "little demon" or "ghost" in Spanish. And indeed, there's a haunting quality to Fiona's music and voice. As we sit down to talk about the album, this sound quality is the first thing I ask about. The answer? Reverb. Having never heard the term before, I find the concept fascinating. This technique is what gives Fiona's music its echo or "cathedral sound." A sort of "classical grooming up," as she calls it. Fiona loves what reverb can lend a song; she enjoys how, "there are notes that hide away and ones that poke through with the technique. It's great for harmony and also great at hiding any mistakes, say, if you're slightly out of pitch." Fiona argues that vocals are not always the most important component to a song (which is ironic since her vocals are so arresting), "Any technique is like a good conversation. You can't lay all your cards out at once; you have to ease into it." Reverb allows this blending.


The album is admittedly not easy listening. "It's a [emotional] release," Fiona tells me, "Duende is something that will make you cry, not make you thrilled. It makes you feel what is intense because that's what you need to feel. That's what I needed at the time from the music I was listening to and the music I was making." Much of the album grapples with coming to terms with her own experience of sexual abuse as a child. And indeed, a sense of suffocation and need for release comes through in her songs. Listening, that rawness is apparent. Songs Recalling Dreams and Do As I Please carry a strong theme of accusation and urgency in them, whereas the last song on the album, Winter is Coming, evokes a combination of both melancholia and rebirth.

Fiona says she left most of the lyrics pretty vague and instead wanted to translate her feelings and experience aesthetically. "I think one thing I enjoy that many female vocalists steer away from is allowing my voice to break, to be ugly. Even when the content is devastating, the sound [of other female artists' voices] is still often too pretty and neat. An overly polished sound is hard to connect with. I didn't want that with this album." Female artists I find who are skilled at this are Tori Amos, Ani DiFranco, and Neko Case, to name a few. It is a rare quality and takes a huge amount of risk. Will the harmony catch you? Will the intensity of the song carry the singer through that moment of letting go? For Fiona's music, the answer is a resounding yes. Her ability to match a moment of complete vulnerability with a gravely voice that catches at just the right point is consistently powerful.


Fiona started playing music seriously in 2009. Her intro to the music community here in Kalamazoo started at The Strutt. "I was performing there a lot and found myself among other artists who took me seriously and invited me to make music with them." Pat Carroll was one of the first to befriend Fiona at The Strutt. His music has had the largest influence on her work since the beginning. "He was a sort of musical soul mate in my eyes."

Other initial connections at the now defunct music joint included Grant Parsons, Andy Catlin, Grant Littler aka Gitis Baggs, and other members of the Double Phelix music collective. "I didn't know how to be at ease on stage-- there was more of a quiver in my voice--which is also where I was in my day to day at the time... It's hard to have something you write and think is good, but then think 'Can I perform this?' The community surrounding The Strutt helped me overcome those performance fears."

Samantha (Sam) Cooper was an early friend in the local music scene. When I ask Fiona if she has any "affairs" from her main projects she laughs, saying, "Sam is my affair. From whatever main project I have going on. And I'm passionate about it. For years now. It's great. Playing with her has given me much more freedom. Music theory is so mathematical. Sam helps with the practice of forgetting those boundaries."


What's next?

Currently in the midst of relocating to Grand Rapids (don't worry, she'll still be around!), Fiona is busy working on her second musical score for a feature length film from Brooklyn based filmmaker, Tyler Rubenfeld. "It's this weird trippy soundscape for a storyline where dreams and reality are quite blurred." She laughs, "Basically my bread and butter."


When asked what she enjoys most about singing/songwriting, she says, "I really enjoy pairing something ugly next to something pure. Beauty can't exist without something ugly, some shadow nearby. Beauty is in the flaws that we find."

"Duende was an Autumn/Winter album. I'm in more of a Spring/Summer space these days. Meaning, I’m finally opening up to working in the major key. The majority of songs being written for the new album have a real warmth to them. It truly feels as though I’m turning a new leaf."

I for one, eagerly await what comes next.
I highly encourage you to explore Fiona's music. Here is her website and facebook page.


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Don't forget to check out my facebook page and website.

Hill Valley Farm

This week's post is about my cousin Ben McMurray's farm, Hill Valley Farm, in Petoskey, Michigan. But first, let's introduce the main player.


Benny was my favorite playmate when I was young. We would climb trees, swing in the hammock, play cowboys, attempt to fish, or spend hours walking to the general store for the chance to walk home with brown bags bursting with candy.

He started out a wee bean but has towered over us for at least 15 years now.

 
You might know him from many of his other endeavors, such as Chief Nut at BNuts, where the motto is, "Life is Short, BNuts!"


Or perhaps you follow his incredible athletic endeavors on his blog, Riding With the Wind. Ben has completed two full Iron Man competitions in Kona, Hawaii, and countless other marathons, half-marathons, and triathlons.

Here he is, last year, at the Boyne City Triathlon.



Ben's favorite part of any race is the snack at the end.


But today is about Hill Valley Farm. Suffice to say, the place has come a LONG way. The previous property owner was a hoarder of epic proportions...

These are jars of hair, annotated, since 1984--just to give you a framework. That's 30 years of hair. This photo was taken in the pole barn, which I'm fairly certain was purchased for the sole purpose of holding more stuff.


There was a second house on the property that was also filled with items and beyond condemned. The basement alone was filled with car tires. 


I believe Ben added the baby doll head--though the head was on site!



There were about 200 of these "cheese" spread boxes.




A small shed contained nothing but Fresca bottles.


The first order of business was obviously a bon fire... which things occasionally exploded from.


Friends who helped were given their pick of the treasure.



All in all Ben filled a 30 yard dumpster several times over, had several pickup loads of recycling and lots and lots of bon fires. In total: 13,000 lbs of scrap metal was turned in. Thirteen THOUSAND pounds! 

I asked Ben what his top three creepy finds were: #1 hair #2 purse of syringes #3 visual drug identification kit.

After many (and many) months of work, things started to shape up nicely. 


 

Chicken coop!


Chickens!


New growth began. 


Over a year and a half later, here's what things look like now:
 
Ben invited the fire dept to use the condemned home as a controlled burn practice. This is all that remains. A "future root cellar," he tells me. 


After I pulled in the driveway I learned that his 34 chickens love to nestle under any car that comes in. Freaks. 
 

Cocky.



Here is farmer Ben. That's my Aunt Laurie (his mom) helping in the background.


And that crazy looking thing in his right hand is a white crested black polish chicken.

Have a closer look...


Food!


Squash


Carrots


Pumpkin


Melon


Peppers 


Broccoli 


There is also lettuce and KALE and cukes and all kinds of other things but these were the prettiest ones.


Hill Valley Farm's description reads:
"Once an overgrown and neglected property, the landscape at Hill Valley has been transformed into a beautiful hobby farm, with a focus on sustainability and getting back to good old country living."


I would say that goal has been accomplished.
That's all folks!

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P.S. Ben requested I make the photo of him look old. I like to grant wishes so here goes:
 

 

Poetry in Motion


As many of you know, I write and perform (well, read) poetry. When I became more serious about photography I wanted to find a way to bring the two art forms together.

One of the first venues where I tested out my new camera (back in 2009) was Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative. Fire was also one of the first places I shared my poetry as an adult-- so it's an important place for me. I enjoy catching poets in moments where their energy is at its peak. Here are some of my early favorites. 

Billy Tuggle


I don't recall this poets' name but I love this photo.




Alex


This is David Blair. These photos must have been taken in late 2009 or 2010. Blair was a Detroit poet with an enormous amount of energy and talent. He died in 2011.



 I remember when I snapped this photo it took no imagination to see him holding the world.


Preacher C, no doubt leaving us twisted up by his lyrical back flips.


More on Fire later. My path led me to Texas for a few years...into a whole new poetry scene. 

It all started with Julieta. The first open mic night I went to in the Rio Grande Valley was hosted by Julieta at Savory Perks café. Julieta is a natural emcee. I was captivated by her energy that night.


I was also lucky enough to drop in on an evening when Lady Mariposa was featuring. You can check out some of Lady's work here.


After that night I was hooked on valley poetry.
I soon met some of the other main players:

La Erika AKA Poeta Power


Rachel Vela, who started an open mic night called We Need Words


Daniel Garcia Ordaz, AKA Poet Mariachi, co-founder of the Valley International Poetry Festival and editor of El Zarape Press


Edward Vidaurre, AKA Barrio Poet, founder of Pasta, Poetry, and Vino


Okay, I cheated a little with this photo. I don't have a photo of Edward reading. One thing I loved most about the valley was that I got a photographer break. The talented Ileana Garcia-Spitz captured almost every reading perfectly; I was able to relax and just be a poet.

As a result, however, there are many holes in my documentation! Quick shout out to Brenda Riojas, co-founder of VIPF and fantastic host of NPR's Corazon Bilingue, Vanessa Brown, co-founded of VIPF and Executive Officer of Awesome, Jan Seale, 2012 Texas Poet Laureate, whom I am proud to call my friend, and ALL the other poets y poetas making the valley scene seen.

While I was in more photos than I took in the Texas poetry world, I did snap a few favorites. Here are a few of them:

Kamala Platt 

Linda Romero


Arturo Saldaña


When I left the valley to return to Kalamazoo I wanted to take the poetry community with me. Alas.. that wasn't an option. Luckily, as many of you know, Kalamazoo has it's own outstanding group of writers.

My mom, Gail Martin, put out her second book, Begin Empty Handed, in late 2013.



Well received, of course. 


I found my way back to Fire, and captured some shots at a performance by The Movement--a spoekn word, improv, music, vocals, all-of-it band.

Dr. Michelle Johnson, AKA DJ Disobedience, co-founder of Fire
 

Abbie Maikoski, AKA Abbie Star



Denise Miller, co-founder of Fire


2014 welcomed the first official Kalamazoo Poetry Festival.
 The featured poets were Aracelis Girmay & Ilya Kaminsky.



Everyone was happy. 
 
Traci Brimhall
For more Poetry Fest pics please go here!

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Puppies!

Hello Freshies!

I've taken photos of puppies (all dogs are puppies to me) since my parents brought Piper into the family over 11 years ago. Texas landed me with a litter of pups which amped up the delight. I even started a facebook page at the time dedicated to the "Valley Puppies." It's still there, though I never post on it anymore. As with all passions, my pet photography unfolded with a story.

It all started with Piper. Photogenic Piper is an angel with halitosis. She is especially fond of the snow.



Piper with her cousin Oakley in the background.


This is Sessi. She was not the nicest pup. She killed at least two chihuahuas in her life, but was always sweet to me. This photo was taken late 2009. She died a few months later. This is one of my favorite dog portraits; I find the overexposure striking. This photo made me realize I wanted to continue shooting portraits of animals.
 

This is Dulce. She is a hyper little bean who lives in Santa Fe. She spent the whole afternoon running around the yard like a maniac. This is the only photo I managed to snap of her that was in focus. 


This little demon darling is Lila Marie. 


This is Lila all grown up. Up to the same shenanigans.



Here is Liley with her wonderful mama, Rachel.


This is Barrett, or Bear Bear, Lila's brother.


Wait, who is that crazy Fraggle on the left?


Why that's FRIDA!! Frida came into the picture with a very infected paw. She had a long road to recovery, which involved many of her digits being amputated. Her unibrow is not the only reason her name is perfect. She was a trooper throughout every stage in her healing.


Frida and Brother-Husband Barrett got into all kinds of trouble together. 


Lila helped. 


All kinds.


Presenting: Adam Lee Wags II, Little Bear, Cruella, Peggy Sue, Cansancia Jones, Tenacious D, Sherry Dog, & Michael Jackson. (Face-plant puppy on the left is Cruella)


Adam Lee Wags II, named after my sister's boyfriend at the time--now husband! (See photos here). Adam 2.0 ended up staying with me. See more below. 


Little Bear, now Taco, lives in Florida.


Cruella, now Ella, lives in Michigan.


Peggy Sue also lives in Michigan.


Cansancia CJ Jones lives in the Rio Grande Valley.


Achooooo!


Tenacious D, now Monkey, also lives in the RGV.


Sherry Dog, now SherBear, lives in Michigan.
  
 
Michael Jackson lives in California.



After the puppies, four seemed manageable. Sometimes.


The puppies continued to fuel my love of pet portraits. This photo of Sherry was taken when I helped to arranged a play-date reunion between Sherry and Peggy Sue.


A few other pups: Here is Bella and Joannie. This is another of my favorite portraits ever.


Athena (Atty)


Zsa Zsa


Flaika


My babies, Frida and Adam, continue to be my ongoing inspiration and favorite pups to photograph. Their personalities connect directly with the camera lens.






And of course, there is always Piper. 


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Detroit Protest Against Water Shut-Offs.


On July 18th, I traveled with a friend to Detroit to protest the water shut-offs that have been happening there. I've always enjoyed photographing protests. The energy of the crowd is electric and there are endless opportunities for photos. So far, I've only shot at events I believe in, like March Against Monsanto and 1 Billion Rising, but it might also be fascinating to take photos for a cause I wasn't on board with. Maybe.

It was incredibly hard to pick which photos to showcase here, but here are a few:



 One thing I noticed at this protest that I haven't witnessed in the past-- this betrays my lack of involvement with the Twitter community--was how many people were on their cell phones the entire time.





The march walked through downtown Detroit to Hart Plaza. Along the way, protesters stopped to chant "Make the banks pay!" and "Turn the water ON!" We passed CHASE bank, among others.

Looking up, the windows were filled with employees. You can see a few in the bottom right-hand corner. 




This person had a giant paper mâché head of Michigan's Governor, Rick Snyder. There was quite a bit of hostility and blame directed at Snyder for the water shut offs. Protesters connected the water shuts offs with the appointment of emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, by Snyder. Citizens of Detroit have opposed the implementation of this law since the start.







Some signs were more direct than others.



This is one of my favorite photos of the day. Speaker, Maureen Taylor, state chairwoman of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, came out to support the protest. Maureen received a lot of attention after this video went viral earlier this month. She is a non-nonsense activist. I appreciate and admire her candor when dealing with issues that impact the citizens of Detroit.


Michigan nurses were out in full force. Nurses are the people who, after those directly affected with the shuts offs, are on the front lines of the crisis. Elderly individuals, children, and the disabled, are those most negatively impacted by not having access to water. Dehydration and infection are two conditions nurses have seen most often as a result of the crisis. 


This is another one of my favorite photos from the protest. The Great Lakes house most than 20% of the planet's fresh water. If the next world war is fought over water, as many have speculated, it would make sense that the rumblings of that war would take place in Michigan, among the poor and disenfranchised.



 
I'm thrilled I was able to participate in this protest, though sad that access to clean water has become something requiring protest. 

Yesterday, in what is hopefully a good sign, more control of the Water & Sewage Department was given to Mike Duggan, Detroit's Mayor.

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BLOG!

Hello Freshwater Folks!

Welcome to the launch of the Freshwater Photography blog. I'm creating a bit of virtual elbow room to introduce and embrace other projects I'm excited about.

This week: A fun outing to the Ann Arbor Art Fair to surprise one of my mom's long-time buddies, artist, Darcy Bowden. Her totally hot ceramics and prints were at FOUND gallery in Kerrytown, where she was the featured artist. Here is a tease of a few photos of her work.



And here are Darcy & Gail, old friends, reunited.


More posts to come!
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