Before You Die

Make sure you live.

What is it about being 40 something that makes me think so much about death. I am definitely feeling life is too short. So much has flown by, and I want some time back. I spent a night in New York and felt twenty. Until midnight. Then I felt forty.

As I re-discover boxes and boxes full of old photos, I am transported back to other times: happier, sadder, thinner, fatter, and all....younger. Old photos conjure such mixed memories. I have been showing a lot of baby photos to my son, who is now 11. He doesn't remember, but he enjoys the stories that go with the images. He is enjoying my old wedding photos, which I saved for him even after I divorced his father.

I have been doing a pretty good job of living and loving, traveling and sitting still, laughing and crying, feasting and fasting. I am too rarely content with where I am or what I have done, seen , felt , been, tried, etc. and I could certainly be more patient with myself.

I think now might be intermission. Time to talk about the first half. Time to anticipate the second half. No one really talks about the end of the play, except in terms of what they want the playbill headline to read.

I am just in that middle place, not sure what to make of it all.

Photos of Photos

This may not make sense to most of you who are born and raised in the digital age, but I am a crossover child. Sometimes I feel I was born at exactly the wrong time: too late to be a luddite, and too early to be a fully techno-savvy computer, internet and camera user (though I'm doing pretty well). I have to work hard to keep up with technology before it steamrolls me. I borrow my sons Flip, but I have stacks of stored Super 8 film around here too. I have converted an entire closet into storage for my negatives, and that is not yet enough space, but I have been shooting only digital images since 2005. For four years before that, I was shooting film and scanning it to CD's. Now the files are so huge that I buy entire hard drives just for one job.

I have been working for the past several months on a huge reorganization of my office and files. In the process, I have discovered all kinds of prints and negatives that I had forgotten. A print stored in a box is no better than a digital file stored on a hard drive, and so I am on a mission to share.

One thing I have done for much of my life is to take pictures of pictures. I know it seems silly. Once you have the photo, why do you need another one of it? But there is more to it than that. I don't always have the original photo. They aren't always mine in the first place.

These photos can only coexist on my shelf. My mom and dad don't speak (these are photos of them circa 1958), my grandmother has passed away (I have one of her young, and one with my dad at a cousins wedding that I shot, and my first day of first grade with my sister and my favorite cat is a treasure to me. All these different times, brought together in the present, and now preserved as a group into the future...with some money and my own carved treasure from India.

I find that our photo collections change over the years. We add a wedding or a child. We subtract a husband or honor a father who has passed on. I love to photograph whatever is taped to the refrigerator, or sitting on the piano or the mantel, or the bedside table on the day a woman gets married. It marks a moment in time, usually when her mother's wedding portrait was the only bride on display. It might be the last day she will spend in that room surrounded by photos of her most beloved friends and family.

I have also noticed something important as I see the losses suffered by people whose homes were destroyed by disaster or computers just suddenly died. The internet is a great place to store your personal photos. My boyfriend lost most of the photos that were important to him, not once, but twice. They weren't backed up, and a simple computer fix turned into a hard drive erasure that was emotionally devastating for him. Decades gone in a blink. I worry about fire and water damage. I worry about theft and technological failure. I have triple backups of all my digital files. But of most of my negatives, I have the negative, and a an envelope in a box. If I lose one, I likely lose the other.

Today I pulled a batch of photos from my voluminous piles of prints and found a few worth scanning and emailing to myself. I will sleep better at night knowing that somewhere, out there, my photos exist in a safe place, even if I have no idea where that place is.

I am inclined to start a website for my son (I had the foresight to buy him a domain name several years ago) as a sort of virtual scrapbook that I can add to over the years so that he will always know where his baby picture are. I might save the most incriminating ones for his wedding, of course.

I will always take photos of my photo displays, because it reminds me of where I lived and what was important for me to show to and about myself at the time. Last weekend I was shooting a wedding with a friend in Cumberland Island, and I loved the photo displays in the houses there. These displays included paintings, photographs and all kinds of memorabilia going all the way back to their Carnegie ancestors. There were bones and found objects among the faded color and black and white images. I took photos of Gogo explaining some of those family photos to me. How amazing to see those same locations occupied by a different generation. Apparently, Bruce Weber had recently been there to photograph her. I knew he must have loved the same displays. The layers are incredible. I have a photograph of the bride getting her makeup done, while sitting under the wedding portrait of her father's mother. Those kinds of layers are so priceless to me. Few people think to take those pictures, because they see them every day. That is why I shoot reminds you of what you saw every day...because one day it will be gone. I am an archivist at heart.

None of these individual photos are mine, only the overall views. I took these while shooting a wedding at Hammersmith Farm, in 1994, for a descendant of the original owner of the property and the photos were in the house. Jackie Kennedy was married in this house, which belonged to her stepfather. Most people think of it as a Kennedy home, though I think of it as an Auchincloss home. Most of the people in the photos are gone. I think that makes the faded, torn photos that remain all the more precious.

Kim Bamberg's Glass is Overflowing

Kim Bamberg’s glass is not just half full, it is overflowing and making a big mess all over the counter and she is laughing hysterically because it is all so funny to her. Kim never stops laughing. Or talking. Or bouncing for that matter. There were times I though she and Tigger might be related. Kim is a wellspring of bouncing, boundless, happy energy. And no one works harder than she does to make sure that everyone else is taken care of. Except maybe her husband Adam, who clearly takes very good care of her.

Note her recent facebook post: Still dreaming of Paris... woke up to a fresh croissant (still warm!) and a cafe creme made by my husband... LOVE.

Saying that Kim writes a blog, or is a photographer, or is some kind of amazing travel planner, or any one thing in particular doesn’t do justice to her wide range of talents.

Before I met Kim, she was words on a page, informational emails about how to get to Poitiers, what to bring, and what to expect. Elizabeth deferred to Kim on most matters relating to the logistics of the workshop. I had seen her blog, Junebug weddings, a few times and liked it so much I tried to apply to join (turns out they only did West Coast vendors at the time, so I was out of range), and beyond that I knew very little about her, except that she was married a few years earlier at the chateau in Poitiers where we would all be staying. Her mother came too, working endlessly like Kim and Adam, behind the scenes, to pull off the wonderful productions of food and beauty for our constantly ravenous crowd.

I was a little surprised, then, to see her book, “Je t’aime” which was the product of a self-directed fashion shoot she did a few years back shot in and around the same chateau, using our same talented hair and makeup artist, Erin, and photographed in collaboration with Adam (also a talented photographer). No, I was a lot surprised, and completely unprepared. The book was so inspired and so beautiful that I could not really bear to look at it with the group of people that were hovering over it and ooohing and aaahing as it was passed around.

I waited until early the next morning to creep into the library, when it was quiet and empty. I sat alone in the big curvy chair with my coffee and her book in my favorite room in the chateau. I looked through the book forward, and backwards and randomly. I even took a few photos of some of my favorite pages. I felt transported into another, more beautiful world….the world through Kim’s eyes: sensitive, sensual, strong and sexy. I wish I had a better way to say I was blown away by this book. I have come to believe that, particularly among women, the photographs we take are a reflection of the people we are. I learned a lot about Kim that morning that surprised and intrigued me.

The book is a fashion story, complete with ‘behind the scenes’ photos of Erin touching up makeup, and Kim taking pictures. It was perfectly laid out and produced. Its small size made it precious. The matt paper and flexible leather cover gave it a supple tactile quality and a casual air that contrasted so elegantly with the power and weight of the images within. I had a whole new respect, bordering on awe, for the talent and sensitivity of Kim and Adam. And that was before they became our models for the day.

They “played” the bride and groom for one of our daily rotations. Mostly they kissed and played for a pack of eager photographers.

Often Adam waited patiently on the side while Kim, the bride, became the focus of our attention. They walked into the thorny bushes for us. They went anywhere and did anything we asked….with enthusiasm. Kim told the story of their wedding, and got the date wrong (Adam laughed). She told the story of her grandmothers wedding ring, which she wears, and she cried.

I think we can all learn much from Kim and Adam. I certainly aspire to have that kind of enthusiasm for life. No challenge or request seemed too big or small for them. Kim lives every day like there is no tomorrow, and then she can’t wait to get up and go again the next day. She is fearless. She is not afraid to laugh and cry and be goofy and not know the answers. She is very real, and very lovely. Adam treats her like she is a princess, and yet she is anything but. She was often schlepping people and things around, cleaning up, and doing laundry. They both worked like mad to make everyone else comfortable.

Kim loves to learn about people and places in order to share that knowledge with others, and then, every once in a while, she just makes stuff up. She tells a colorful story that could have been true, mixed in with some nice historical facts, and you never quite know where the lines are…..until she confesses. It occurs to me that this is where Kim lives….in a beautiful fairy tale world somewhere between truth and fiction….in the very best way. I love Kim’s happy world. I wish I could go more often.

On the day when everything shifted for me, she understood immediately. She didn’t want to tear me away from the nearby towns we visited, or the cemetery I found so inspiring. She intuitively understood how everything shifted for me and she wanted to do everything she could to respect and honor that.

I’m not sure what it means, but I shot 300 photos of Kim and/or Adam in a week in Poitiers. The camera loves this couple; people love them. They are magnetic.

New eyes

Thanks to Elizabeth Messina, I have more courage to post what is relevant and beautiful to me, even if it serves no greater purpose. If you like them, great. If you don't, I still like them.