Cultivating Beauty Within a Family

A few of my photographs are featured in an art show that’s currently on display at my church. The show is open to the public. If you are in Duluth this summer, pop in and take a look! (Unitarian Universalist Church of Duluth, 835 W. College St.) The show will be up until Fall.

This post is a presentation I gave along with other artists for a service today that was centered on the show and the theme of “cultivating beauty.”

The image that started it all (my first image that was critiqued in my photography class). Big Bay State Park, Madeline Island, Lake Superior.

During Christmas when I was a freshman in college, my parents gave me an Instamatic camera. I suspect my mother was the driving force behind this gift, as she had begun dabbling in photography. She was a member of the Duluth Camera Club and was starting to take classes with the likes of Les Blacklock and later, his son Craig.

I had fun with the camera and even used it for a visual communication class I took for my journalism studies. Then, when I graduated college, I graduated cameras. My parents gave me an Olympus 35 mm film camera. My mother showed me how to use it, thinking it would be a great way to document my next adventure, which was grad school through the Audubon Society’s Expedition Institute – a traveling school bus classroom that focused on the outdoors and environmental education.

How that camera survived a 20,000-mile journey across America without a camera bag, I’ll never know. But I used it to capture the beauty of the rugged landscapes we traveled through all those years ago.

Once I got into the workaday world as a science writer, the camera came in handy for stories I needed to cover. Eventually, it malfunctioned and, having to buy a camera by myself this time, I downgraded back to the point-and-shoot type.

After I had children, I noticed that my youngest son was interested in photography. He was only 6 or 7 when we went to Yellowstone. We bought him one of those disposable Kodak cameras so that he could take his own pictures on the trip. He enthusiastically clicked away at geysers and majestic elk. Then, when he went to college, I continued my mother’s tradition and helped him buy a Nikon digital camera, since he was interested in taking a photography class. He loved this beginner-level camera and soon bought his own, more advanced Nikon. He’s since started a side business in portrait photography.

I was interested in getting a more serious camera around that time, so I bought out his part of the original Nikon and it became my own. He showed me how to use it, but my phone camera was so much easier, that Nikon mostly stayed in its bag.

Then came the day when my boss at work suggested I take a photography class instead of the typical writing classes I take every year. She liked the images I was able to capture with my phone and wondered what I could do with more formal training.

I was taken aback by her suggestion. After all, I’m a writer, not a photographer. Taking photos was always just a side dish in my life – something I did while doing something else – never the main course.

The idea stewed during the pandemic until last summer when I felt it might be safer for such an endeavor. I found a week-long sunset photography class through the Madeline Island School for the Arts in Lake Superior. My job deals with communicating water research, so I figured I’d get some photos that would come in handy.

I already knew how to frame a photo, but an F-stop? ISO? What are those?

The class was a crash-course in camera settings. Each day, we offered up one image for critique by the instructor and our classmates. I’d never had an image critiqued before. With trepidation, I submitted my first – it was a greenish photo with pine branches against rocks and water. The instructor said, “This photographer knows what they’re doing. Who took this photo?”

I thought, “I know what I’m doing?” I identified myself and listened to his suggestions for a few improvements, glowing inside all the while. None of the other students had been moved to take a photo of that particular scene, and the instructor discussed how everyone sees beauty differently. He said, “You can take a dozen photographers out to a park and they’ll all come back with different images.”

Maybe there really was something to this photography hobby? Maybe I could be both a writer and a photographer?

I returned home with a big confidence boost, new knowledge of my camera and of the photo editing software. I loved having another way outside of words to capture the grandeur of nature that I see around me. Of course, the camera is much more limited than our eyes, but the photo editing software gets things a bit closer to what our eyes actually see.

I have my mother to thank for getting me started in photography and I am glad that my son continued this family art. I’m excited to participate in the UU Art Show – it’s my first one!

Russ and I recently returned from a trip to California that was centered around photography. My photographer son was along, and we had the chance to meet a distant cousin for the first time. As we discussed our lives with our cousin over breakfast, we discovered that she’s a portrait photographer, too, focusing on babies. On a hunch, I asked her what brand of camera she uses.

My son and I exchanged meaningful looks when she uttered, “It’s a Nikon.”

8 thoughts on “Cultivating Beauty Within a Family

  1. Keep thinking like a poet, my friend!

    “The formula for doing a good job in photography is to think like a poet.”
    -Imogen Cunningham

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