At the midpoint of the Filter Photography Festival

I’ve taken a couple of weeks off from “the career” to focus on my photography…this week a series of short workshops, seminars and presentations by Filter Photography Festival and next week an intensive workshop with National Geographic photographer, Sam Abell, in Santa Fe.

Dogs at dawn. Workers and waiting at dawn. Havana Cuba.
Dawn in Havana Cuba.  Dogs, workers and waiting.  

At the mid-point of Filter’s 4 days, here are the things sticking in my head:

1) Filter is about ART.  Photography as ART.  It’s eye-opening to see the constructed projects that may begin with photos (the artists’ or someone elses’) but certainly doesn’t end with the photograph.  For some, there’s washing out bits with bleach, or putting the photo onto plastic and warping it, or cutting precise little holes in exact spots to add meaning.  It’s also photography with WORDS.  The metaphors explained.  Artist Statements to bring the viewer along…how did the idea happen?  what’s the process?  what does it mean?  what to see?   what thoughts should ride along with the photo when you view it?

2) The PRINTs.  LARGE prints.  On RICH papers like bamboo, kozo or deckled rag.  Portfolios brought in boxes and displayed on tables.  Eric Joseph from Freestyle pointed out that when we were in the darkroom years ago, “the paper mattered.”  It was an important decision in the darkroom.  We had our favorites for their warmth or texture, or cool smoothness….Ilford, Oriental…  But somehow with digital printing, paper was forgotten.  He was at Filter to remind us, to show us…to let us feel and see the differences…(and yeah, to sell us papers).  It worked.  I’m convinced.

3) Kelli Connell’s 23 questions for portraiture.  A technique to question yourself…quickly and periodically…to see themes and threads through which you view the world, and photograph from.  Wow.  More on this later.

4) Debbie Fleming Caffery’s sweet and sassy southern voice.  I can hear it still.  Her workshop was to be on sustaining long term projects, but instead turned out to be more of a portfolio review.  I showed up with glossy and puny Walgreens prints expecting to use them only to give an idea of my work…my project that needs sustaining…and articulation.  I felt like I was a day late and a dollar short.  Regardless, I learned a lot from listening to the dialogue of the others…the Artists.  For example, making selections to tie themes or colors or moods together.  The self-published books, and again the papers and the printing processes.  The possible sources for more knowledge, more photos, more words (or videos) to add to projects.  And the outlets…ideas for my big question of “What do I DO with the projects?”

The overwhelming response…that I’m hearing across Filter Photo Festival:  GET YOUR WORK OUT THERE.  Enter contests, print large and show in festival portfolio reviews, be active in social media, blog, and JUST DO IT.  Make your own exhibits.  Be tenacious.  Make connections.  And keep on shooting…keep on creating.

Heading out for Day 3.  But first, a dawn walk with Charlie on this gorgeous Fall morning.  Let the day begin.




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“Are you ok?”: Giving hope to shelter dogs

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about going with Judy early one morning to transport 10 rescued dogs on a 60 mile segment of their journey to Minneapolis.  A rescue mission that felt good…happy…exciting.  I had held a parvo-surviving puppy.  She was lucky to be alive.  Lucky to be out of the shelter on that sunny day and lucky enough to be healthy and on her way to a rescue.  I felt her little heart beating, felt her tiny breath–felt her sigh as she gave in to a few minutes of sleep.  I was happy and full of hope holding that little dog…so, so full of hope.

Later that day, after the transport was complete, we went to animal control…a place where hope is hard to feel.  This is the place where almost half the dogs who walk in never come out alive*.  This is the place where so many people who love animals have the sad job of collecting unwanted, lost or abused dogs and cats.  This is the place where volunteer doctors and staff work tirelessly to save animals, and yet have to euthanize many healthy and treatable animals simply because there is no more room.  This is also the place where rescuers go to begin their work, where saving a dog begins.  They identify dogs for rescue, posting and sharing snapshots to network the many homeless faces, hoping that just maybe someone somewhere will fall in love and they can pull a dog out of there.  Rescuers go to Animal Control often, especially when they know their fosters have room to squeeze in just one more.

The place is a maze of “pavilions”, rooms separating the animals into those ready for adoption, those being held as “evidence” for court cases, those in medical care, or those simply doing their time in hopes that someone will come looking for them before their 5 days are up.  There are no outside windows in these rooms full of cages.  The rooms can be loud with echos of barking, crying dogs.  Or the rooms can be silent…like the air has been sucked out of the place, like dementors have been there.

Today, we were there to look for a couple of dogs that had been posted online for potential rescue, to temperament test another.  I followed Judy and her scrap of paper with the cage numbers.  All those sad eyes on us.  All the life behind those bars.  Some of the dogs desperate for you to slow down, to look, to touch, to acknowledge that they are alive.  Other dogs cowered in the cages, terrified, trembling, lost and confused, and maybe broken forever.  These dogs seemed not to want anyone to look at them, to see them, matted and dirty, shrinking into the bright orange tile and concrete corners.

It is hard to witness.  I tried to concentrate on photographing Judy with the dogs, on learning what she was looking for when she studied their paperwork.  I followed her–her golden ponytail, her scrap of paper with the cage numbers, her voice.  And I watched her…I watched her muster her spirit, her smile, her hope in this hard place.  I watched her giving hope to each of those shelter dogs.  “Are you ok?” she asked each of them with a smile.  “Are you ok?”  Sometimes it was a question.  Sometimes it was a statement, willing them to be ok when options looked bleak.  Whatever it was, even if she spent only a second with each soul–it mattered.  That little heartbeat of a moment, a smile, a kind voice…It means everything…to the dogs…and to Judy.

It is a cruelly hard job for animal lovers to work in this place, to remain hopeful, to not give up at the sheer magnitude and the never ending streams of needy faces. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the dogs.

"Are you ok?"
“Are you ok?”, Judy asks. Judging from his scars, he may have been used in dog fights.
Reading this dog's kennel card while he waits
Kennel cards tell you a little bit about the dog’s history…maybe a name, maybe a former address or where he was found, maybe a bit about his tolerance of other dogs, cats or children.  The cards also tell you how much time he has left.
Pearl was scared and angry. Judy waited, talking to her about nothing in particular.
This smiling baby watched me as I watched Judy…After 30 minutes, Judy was still trying to convince Pearl to come out of her cage. Pearl would eventually get out of her cage for rescue, though this would not be that day.
One of the aisles of cages, in one of the many pavilions at Chicago’s Animal Care and Control.
“Unknown” name, found at an “unknown location”. Matted, dirty, terrified. This dog had 2 microchips and was waiting for the owner(s) to be identified and notified.
Aisles of cages, and always…always…a waiting face.
Judy noticed this mama had painted nails. “Who polished your nails and then abandoned you here? Where are your babies?”
“Are you ok?”

*  Most current (2011) Asilomar Accords records from CACC:  “Jan 1 holding 863 dogs.  Thru 2011:  Took in 11,115 dogs.  Adopted out 943, Transferred out to rescues/other organizations 3,407, Returned to owner 1,355.   Euthanized/Died in care:  5,477.  Dec 31 holding 793 dogs.”  (corrected math on records shows 796 dogs remaining.)  Please see for more information on shelters in your area.

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