Mixed · Photography

Art Yourself

Digital painting from original picture

First there was painting.

Before Photography, painters and their brushes made use of light, composition and color theory to create art.

Then came the controversy about whether Photography could be considered an art form or not. Nowadays, with dedicated museums and the evolution of Photography, there is not so much questioning about Photography being an established visual art.

Nostalgia or traditionalism tend to dismiss new approaches. New ways of seeing the world. “Photography is for those who can’t paint.” Or, “it’s just mastering a machine, not being a master. Nothing but a description of reality.” Wonder what they would say about the digital oil painting filter…

Hey, anyone can paint a blob on canvas too… And unless it is one of my son’s beautiful-to-me kindergarten works, I will probably dislike it.

I define Art as a creative activity and result of expression. Just because something is artistic, it doesn’t mean that I have to like it. The term art does not absolve the piece from being good or bad according to each viewer.

I love going to museums and frankly have been behind in that practice. I need to schedule some visits in the near future. Here in Tampa Bay we have the MoPA, the Dalí, the Tampa Museum of Art and other good options.

But the world has a collection of wonders to offer…

For instance, take “Starry Night”. Years ago, my middle sister and I took my son to New York; it was fun to start seeing art through his eyes. I love doing that, seeing the world through his fresh lenses, one of the joys of motherhood. I particularly enjoy the MoMA and we were glad we stayed in a hotel walking distance from it.

“Starry, starry night…” Don McLean’s soft voice makes the soundtrack for this. Loving this painting may be considered a bit of a cliche, like saying the “Mona Lisa” looks smaller “in person”. After all I have a magnet on my fridge with the image of the masterpiece…

But if I let the snobbism towards cliches deter me from loving something, I’d be succumbing to the world of self-importance. Cliches are born for a reason: they are good things gone “viral”. But that doesn’t diminish the work itself. It may tire you, but it will probably still be essentially good.

But there is always this expectation that you are only erudite enough if you are able to mention the lesser known works, whether they be in music, books, movies or paintings.

Well, for Van Gogh, nothing was a viral cliche back then. “The Red Vineyard”, the only officially recorded painting sold in his lifetime? It’s still mind boggling to me… and it breaks my heart when I think how tormented he must have been. So much beauty and despair in one mind…

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh – MoMA, New York. Picture taken in 2013.

“Starry” makes me feel the winds of a warm evening, reminds me of the joy of seeing a bright moon in the sky when I’m driving. And my silent talks to Venus, the diamond in the sky. In my humble opinion, this painting can go both ways: sad and desperate, swirling in thoughts and emotions that are darker at night. Or vivid happiness through the shades of blue contrasting with bright yellow, breathtaking movements of a night covered in astral jewelry.

I played with watercolors and even took a class on Sumi-e, the Japanese watercolor ink painting technique. As my teacher always said, “it’s all about the flow”, with her distinctive Japanese accent. But it’s all just therapeutic to me – just adding images of my paintings in the same post as “Starry” feels sinful.

Sumi-e and Haiku
Sumi-e Bamboo

Art is smart. Chameleonic. It can be transformed from one medium to another without losing its essence: creative expression.

Whatever art form tickles your fancy, don’t forget to include it in your planner. It nourishes the soul, provokes thinking and beautifies the day. Visit a museum, paint or draw something, go to a concert, pick a play, read, write or buy a movie ticket. Just art yourself.

Thanks for reading.

Mindfulness · Photography

Birds Of Many Feathers

black swan
Angry bird?

I am not a birdwatcher, unless you count my childhood days of watching Big Bird, Tweety, Woody Woodpecker or Chilly Willy on TV. However, photography makes us look at the world around us in a more detailed way and that is why I consider it a powerful too for mindfulness. You become aware of many things that could have gone unnoticed if you were not purposefully looking for subjects.

I don’t specialize in bird Photography, but it is certainly a growing part of my portfolio. It all started with pelicans at the beach, and after I sold my first one, they started selling consistently, which made me pursue it more. Then came the seagulls, many Florida birds and even tropical species from Brazil – all made their way into my lenses.

bird images for sale
Clearwater Beach, Florida

I enjoy observing them before trying to get my shots. I feel weird even saying “shooting birds”, or any animal for that matter, so I’ll go with the standard term, photographing. Hypocritical, I know, as I am not a vegetarian, more like a quasi-vegetarian? The stubborn carnivore inside is finally content with a couple of servings of chicken or fish a week. Red meat once or twice a month… That’s the best I can do for now, and my mind’s defense mechanism (defending me from my guilt) dissociates animals as photography subjects from animals in meals. Not the case with macarons, as I mercilessly and shamelessly eat such subjects after shooting them.

Less about eating and back to photography. I use a bit faster shutter speed – 1/500 and above – for “still” birds in general, to make sure focus is sharp. But for birds in flight, go faster. 1/1000 at least. Like with any animal, including the human kind, sharp focus in the eyes are essential. If they are still, very still, you can go to slower speeds, but birds move a lot, even when they seem quiet. They turn their heads quickly and often, always aware of noises. They clean feathers, practice preening and are always looking for prey. Oh, and they sing.

You never know when they will take off. It is important though to allow yourself to observe them first, before worrying about the camera. Study their habits and understand their moves. That is a tip for pretty much any kind of action photography. Because yes, birds are always in action.

Most importantly, respect them and make sure to not disturb their environment. A good telephoto zoom lens like my 70-200 mm is always helpful in getting close without being too close. It’s general consensus that feeding wildlife can be harmful and even alter the ecosystem. I choose to not do it, even fish and birds. I prefer to be merely an observer, not a participant.

I keep my aperture small for decent depth of field, around f/8, and the bigger the bird… While editing, a bit of a touch up on texture and clarity usually makes a nice effect for enhancing their beautiful and unique patterns.

The constant advice is, experiment. Try, as a small weekend project, to photograph some birdies in your backyard, at the park or beach. Observe and practice without pressure. Feel free to make mistakes and do over. Free as a bird should be.

Mixed · Photography

The Redeemer's Welcome

How to combine two tourist attractions and landmarks in one photo? 

Visit one and photograph the other!

A Wonderful City

The “Christ the Redeemer” statue is the most famous postcard from Rio de Janeiro, and voted one of the Seven Wonders of the World. A huge statue of Jesus with arms wide open over the Guanabara Bay. I photographed it from the also famous Sugar Loaf, on a very cloudy day. Dense clouds resembling a blanket cozily wrapped around the mountain, a foggy scenario that gives any photographer a more unique capture.

The History

Image via personal portfolio by Luisa Wholley

 The statue was built through the collaborative work of artists from different nations. The artwork made of soapstone tiles was created by French sculptor Paul Landowski, and built by Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa and French engineer Albert Caquot. The face was sculpted by Romanian artist Gheorghe Leonida. Its conception started in 1921 and the grand opening happened in 1931.

The Art Deco style statue is 98 feet tall and the outstretched arms measure about 92 feet. It was placed on the top of the Corcovado mountain, standing 2,300 feet above sea level, and it can be seen from different neighborhoods in Rio, bringing a sense that the city and all Cariocas are being blessed. One may challenge that notion due to serious social, political, and economic issues. Nonetheless, it is hard to deny that the “Marvelous City” has been blessed with natural beauty, famous beaches like Ipanema, and the beautiful rainforest that covers the mountain, making a beautiful base to the statue.

Religion Is Optional

Although the attachment to the predominantly Catholic population in Brazil is obvious, admiring and visiting this landmark is not a matter of faith. Naturally, if you are a Christian, you may feel more rooted in your beliefs by staring at the serene and warm image that the statue represents. However, even if you have a different religion or none whatsoever, you are still going to experience a profound sense of power. The workmanship, labor, and grandeur of the sculpture make an impact on its own.

Imagine all that massive effort happening so many years ago! It certainly makes us wonder how they managed to achieve such an ambitious project without the conveniences of modern times. In the same way that the Egyptians built their pyramids, without any bulldozers and cellphones to communicate with crew members.

Therefore, if you are planning a visit to Rio, make sure to include a visit to the statue. It’s much more of a sin than going to Rome and not seeing the Pope, because the Pope is not standing there, waiting for you. The “Redeemer” is patiently waiting to welcome you. You can access the summit by train or car, but be prepared for many steps to reach the base.

Brazilians always say, “God is Brazilian”. A debatable statement, but the statue certainly helps the people of Rio feel proud when looking up.

Image via personal portfolio by Luisa Wholley

Mindfulness · Photography

Self-Gifting

I always like to get myself a little something as an early Christmas “self gift”. I started this tradition some time ago. It took me a while to differentiate being selfish from self-love. But if something doesn’t feel wrong in the heart, why force myself to feel guilt about a kind gesture towards myself? It certainly does not eliminate my giving to others. My family gets taken care of first. I try to work on compassion too, it’s a great time to be reminded of that. But if I love gift giving so much, why not put myself on the list too?

Truthfully, gifting shouldn’t be a calendar obligation, but something you want to do at whatever time. The holidays can indeed be extremely materialistic, for sure. Sometimes borderline ridiculous. However, maybe because my mom was an amazing hostess and passed the Christmas gene to me and I am stuck, I like to hop into the energy and work on thoughtfulness to get my loved ones something they would like and benefit from having. I am proud to say that most times I get it right and their smile or words like “how did you know…” make me childlike happy.

While I do love gift giving, it does not necessarily mean exchanging. I don’t care if I don’t get something back from anyone I gift – that doesn’t mean I don’t like it, of course, I just don’t put expectations, everybody has their situations going on.

I loved this shirt from etsy shop @allintheprint . I have an etsy shop and like to support fellow owners, if I can. Ok, that’s technically for my business, but I love what I do so much that sometimes it’s hard to tell apart. 🥰

Photography

Rough Patches

When a rough patch tends to linger, does it become a field? Or an ocean, as the expression seems to be linked to the maritime world?

For some reason that I won’t seek anymore, sometimes we seem to endure more hardships than the usual average. I believe this is a personal measurement, according to what “usual” means to you.

However, the notion itself is more universal, not a personal feeling or observation, otherwise “when it rains, it pours” wouldn’t have been invented – and used. But is it really a weather issue?

Feather cloud

In my native Brazil, the expression “the witch is at loose” serves as the idiom to express this vulnerability to unhappy happenings, as well as the need for someone to blame – the witch is the culprit whenever there is a series of unfortunate events.

In my younger years, I kept establishing deadlines for it to end, as if I could control the “unlucky streak”. A new week, new month and new year can be especially helpful as wishful game-changers.

I would also wallow more in self-pity and anger. The fact that other people’s lives were not as affected as mine seemed unfair, a personal vendetta from an unknown enemy against me.

In time, I learned that was very self-centered and untrue. I wasn’t singled out by the Universe to suffer. At the same time, we tend to hear that people in Africa are suffering more and, somehow, we should be ashamed for being sad for whatever reason – except for a loss or “serious” disease (are there funny ones?). Also not a wonderful strategy, as we should be allowed to feel and suffer as we un-please, through our own unique and very personal challenges. Nobody else inhabits our skin. And that doesn’t erase our empathy for others.

Fighting it seems to be mostly unproductive, in my experience. More helpful mechanisms such as learning to navigate, be more fluid – the maritime metaphors linger, easy breezy for this sea lover – and keep things moving has proved more effective. It’s like riptide. If you desperately try to swim against it, you drown. If you move with it and slowly find the long way around it, you’ll get out. Wet and shaken, but out. The hard part is not falling into despair while being dragged.

I also know a tiny bit better how it works now. Calendar rules do not apply and the ferris wheel – or rollercoaster – only changes to upward, well… when it does.

But it very often does change. That’s one thing I’ve learned. The impermanence of life and its moments. That means bad times too shall pass. And I come out of it. Sometimes wounded, sometimes stronger. But in calmer waters.

Like I mentioned, I stopped asking why. Learning lessons tend to call for a retake if the grade is not a passing one… but I am not sure that is the goal, it just makes sense to me that way. Although, many times, it’s hard to spot any lesson to learn at all, except for finding balance between action and patience.

If your rough patch overextends, or overstays, hang in there and know it will end. Deal with it in the best way possible to you, until it smooths out. I know, I know, easier written than done.

Last tip, forget the witch. No need to blame anyone. She has her own problems, if she was in witch jail and not enjoying her freedom, the whole time when things were smooth sailing.

Sailboat at sunset

Thank you for reading.

Photography

Mindful Communication

In many interactions, especially in the social media universe where our potentially anonymous state secures distance and our faces are usually restricted to a tiny thumbnail, people seem constantly tempted to voice their opinion at all costs. Yes, freedom of speech is a pillar of democracy and must be encouraged and protected. However, I am not talking about the what, but the how. The delivery.

Why is it important to make your words louder and stronger than someone else’s feelings? Why don’t we express our truth in a more mindful way?

Mindful listening is one of the topics I bring up in my Mindful Photography course. Because I believe mindfulness is a lifestyle where all activities intertwine and converge to the same outcome: a state of awareness and gratitude, with large spoonfuls of empathy. When you listen (or read) mindfully, you truly wait for the person to finish their thoughts. You look at the big picture and let go of the habitual need to jump the gun and judge, or elaborate a quick rebuttal. Many times, doing so while the speaker is still talking. We listen and prepare the answer at the same time, as if we were in a time constrained political debate on TV. And even worse, the reply many times is far from kind.

When we voice an opinion at all costs, we forget empathy. Compassion. The ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, or their entire outfit. By quickly judging a situation, we dismiss the possibility that we are all different. We are all unique and have different walks of life, experiences and what one person considers easy, another may see as challenging.

I also talk about the fragility of labels in the course. For example, a photo of a “beautiful” lily may convey joy to someone who remembers the time when they got a bouquet for their birthday. On the other hand, better yet, in the other person, the sight of the same lily can trigger sad feelings by reminding them of a loved one’s funeral. We are multi-faceted, dimensional, complex. Interestingly diverse.

Therefore, why not work on not making our communication flat, dull, stagnant or rough? Give your opinion, express your views, different as they may be. But if it needs to be delivered with ruthlessness, maybe it isn’t such a strong point after all. An opinion given without empathy is, indeed, just judgement. And judgment tends to create gaps between people who could otherwise be meeting in the middle of a bridge to enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Mindfulness · Mixed · Photography

Can an Old Tog Learn New Tricks?

Yes! Woof!

We are always learning in this tog’s life. Not only with new technologies, gear models, but with the subjects themselves.

Last night, I was insomniac and reached out for my phone. A notification with a message and a question from someone wanting to buy one of my pelican images. They wanted to know what type of pelican it was. Most clients are happy with my pelicans just to frame and hang in their homes or offices – even an RV owner thanked me once for one of my pelican images, now framed and traveling around with them. That makes me so happy. This time though, more info was asked before purchase, and I knew it was a brown pelican very common here in the Florida Suncoast. She wanted to know if it was the same type on her Pacific coast, so a quick browse informed me that apparently they are not exactly the same kind on both coasts, a few differences were noted.

Good to know, as my high-schooler is working on a Marine Sciences project about pelicans. I love photographing pelicans (those times when the word shooting is ambiguous so I use photographing) and that inspired him to choose them over crustaceans. As the good young man I raise, he asked his teacher if he could use my images in the project, but he wants him to make his own images, which is great. Except for the note he puts in the end that all projects will eventually belong to him. Copyrights seminar in order? Anyway, this will make for a wonderful mom and son session.

As Photographers, each subject becomes an opportunity for a learning lesson. That relentless thirst for knowledge that my photog Dad has passed on to me is something I so love about my line of work. The chance to grow as a human being is always behind the lens.

Off we went to chase the images. Even a dolphin showed up, but just before I could set my shutter speed to keep up with the restless Flipper. Blur happens.

Most of all, I loved lending my camera to my son and watching him click the big birds. I saw his curiosity, his eye developing right in front of my very own. Seeing him getting interested in what I do, and my father before me, was rewarding. My husband was chasing his images too with a smartphone and now wants a camera. My nephew is a videographer, I remember my sister turning one of the bathrooms into a dark room. The shutterbug is alive and well in this family, highly contagious. A different bug, one that makes us feel healthy and alive, connected with life, aware and in tune with Mommy Nature.

Mixed · Photography

Needs or Wants?

Since switching from Canon to the mirrorless Sony a7iii, I have been trying to restock my Pelican case slots with a couple of new lenses, as I like to stick to same brand all the way.

Now it is time for the telephoto zoom dilemma. I want the 70-200mm f/2.8 like the Canon equivalent I owned before, for its beautiful bokeh and low-light capabilities. But do I need it? Isn’t the f/4 lighter and plenty for my purposes?

Indeed, one of the reasons for the mirrorless path was weight. Tendinitis on both thumbs, lower back and neck issues made me opt for the less weight route. And now I am considering a heavy lens?

The 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 crossed my mind for the longer range and shorter price tag, but the aperture issue strikes again.

The fact of the matter is that as I grow older – without really growing beyond my 5’2″ height (being called fishbowl lifeguard and baseboard painter are just a few of the jokes I have endured throughout the years) – time has brought me the aches, but also some sort of wisdom.

No, I am not claiming to be wise, I wouldn’t dare, the image of the also shorty Yoda and his inverted sentences comes to mind, not my image in the mirror. However, I know a couple of things more than I used to. Moreover, I feel differently about certain things that now almost seem useless. Frankly, good health and my loved ones close are my true needs. The rest… are just things.

I don’t need the designer bag in the closet, or the fancy makeup. I need the bag that is helpful – and pretty too, just not necessarily a big brand kind of pretty. I seriously don’t think a mascara with a big tag and the decent one at the drugstore change the way my eyes will look. I am more for clean ingredients, and changing often to avoid infection, instead of clinging to the fancy cosmetics for a year just to avoid the repurchase.

Still, I am not saying that expensive things are bad. A nice Barolo is desirable. I wouldn’t mind a ticket to Paris. Because I am not talking about the things themselves, but about my relationship with them. I can still appreciate some finer things, I just know that they are not necessities, but luxuries I may or may not want and afford. The urge has lost its urgency, the desire faded. If they come, cool. If they don’t, warm.

“How come you played the lottery last week?”, one may ask.

Because now I would really know what to do, in case the gods of numbers decided to grace me with their dollars. Much more smartly than when I was younger. I would get some things. I would gift. I would donate. I would help – myself and others. But I only won 100 dollars on a scratchy, so maybe another time.

One thing I would definitely get is the telephoto lens without making my bank account cry and bleed. To be honest, my flat-out tired Visa doesn’t want anything but a long rest, forgotten in a drawer where it won’t be slid, inserted or CVV checked on any Photography gear site.

When I said in the beginning that I liked to keep brand loyalty to my camera, it is not a snobby move. It is just because I believe they work better that way (maybe a tad of OCD too). Honestly, it is one of those worthy expensive choices. Waiting to keep it all in the family is better for me than mixing and not matching.

If only I can pick which family member… I’ll let you know which one I chose, and review it later – as soon as I can consciously decide. A smart purchase I shall make.

Mindfulness · Mixed · Photography

The Aging Tog

Photography most times requires a certain amount of stamina. Strength, really. Outdoors especially. My usual list includes carrying the camera, lenses, a tripod or a monopod, aka my second best inanimate friend – camera is the first. Add sunscreen and water (Floridian here, I dehydrate just by spending 5 minutes in the garage).

A large backpack or my sweet and small NatGeo bag, depending on the photoshoot. But I also must confess something terrible…

…sometimes I wear a fanny pack. The horror!

*closing my eyes and lowering my head in deep shame.*

To my defense, I am a 1980s teen. Best of all, they leave me hands-free, while making sure I don’t lose my extra SD cards, driver’s license, car keys. I know, still an immense fashion faux-pas… but comfort over style sometimes wins. I do not wear high heels either. There, said it.

Back to the struggles. We photographers walk a lot. Chasing a bird or looking for a special spot, a unique moment to click and make the unparalleled image, which will rise above the snapshot category and make the professional certificate on the wall meaningful. Even in studio, it can all be physically tiring. Well, for this 80s teen here, it has been.

This year has been quite difficult. I have been struggling with many health issues that decided to bombard my daily existence. I feel older than I am. I feel… unwell. Yet, I feel guilty and try to make sure to voice my gratitude because whatever I have, it didn’t show something serious as in tumor, for instance. On my birthday in February, I got the lab results saying that I was menopausal. Can hot flashes light 51 birthday candles?

I have seen nine different types of health specialists this year. Four MRIs, blood drawn enough to feed Dracula’s family on Thanksgiving. I have a frozen shoulder. Bad and painful for anyone, but for a Photographer it can be quite limiting. I have a large herniated disc in the neck, polyps were removed on colonoscopy, vertigo (my sister calls it the Exorcist eyes, read on BPPV and you’ll understand), cysts on breasts and ovaries, aches and pains galore, sinus issues, tinnitus, hearing loss, and the freakiest of all, the weird numbness on my face that no doctor has explained so far. I seriously feel like an 80 year-old body is carrying my 51 year-old mind. Just take a look at my pill box, now upgraded to a times-of-day slots model. I feel like a worn out backpack bought only last month. It all happened at once. Have I sounded like a hypochondriac yet?

Well, to make it funner, I have had health anxiety my whole life. Childhood trauma caused by my mom’s aggressive cancer and death at 48. And that is a problem on its own, with a cascade effect. Most people, including some doctors, tend to think it is always the anxiety talking, instead of real illness. The stigma sticks more than Gorilla glue. And I understand they have reasons to think that way. I gave them those reasons. I worried about nothing, many times, I couldn’t help it. And when you cry wolf, even if not on purpose, you are alone when the wolf actually comes. “You are not sick “; “It’s all stress related”; “Stop going to so many doctors”. Mmmk, I’ll just suffer all these pains and discomforts, self-diagnose with stress and cease to try and find help. Sounds like a plan!

I have studied mindfulness meditation, got a certificate from UCF and a coach. I know the great power of stress in aggravating issues, even causing many. But I also know sometimes we get sick, no matter what. Proof of that is this all happened at a time in my life where I was in a really good place, not stressed. Just days before all major symptoms began, I was sipping piña colada and getting caught in the rain, on the Fourth of July. Photo proof:

Pina colada at cloudy Clearwater Beach, Florida.
Yes, we took shelter after my son took this pic. Except for my husband. He is a heathen. Clearwater Beach, Florida.

Another point is that, throughout this ordeal, I have been calmer and made quite good progress in terms of mental health. Not on antidepressants anymore. No anxiety attacks. Anxiety pills actually moved out of my nightstand to my medicine cabinet, “as needed” has not been needed. Done with therapy. Learned acceptance. Found the patience to be a patient. Funny, huh? When I really needed good mental health for real body health issues, I managed it.

Still, all that is affecting my daily life, and my work. Maybe it will all improve dramatically, or maybe it is the beginning of a different time in my life when I have to accept pain and limitations. My new doctor said, when asked why it all happened so suddenly, “sorry to say, but aging can happen that way.”

Bam! Ouch! And all the onomatopoeia and curse words available to express my dissatisfaction. I am only f*@#$g 51! I am not supposed to age before 80! Well, I am spoiled to have a 93 year-old that who still sails, but it doesn’t always work that way, does it?

I know I am going to keep fighting this stuff because my love only gets stronger. Love for my family grows like a mighty oak tree, via appreciation and communication. My son is my sunshine, my husband is a true partner. They both make even the dark days filled with natural light. A Photographer needs good light, so does the person. I am blessed with a whole family of amazing individuals, both near and far. Self-love has also been on an all-time high here, I need myself more than ever for compassionate self-care. Love for others, wrapped in empathy and non-judgmental practice. Love for my work, my Photography. I had to adapt, slow down, tell clients I won’t be doing certain types of shoot anymore. In a way, I set myself free to do the kind of Photography I truly love. And that is luck many don’t have, I am thankful for having amazing support, to be able to say that I love my job and perform it as I can. It’s a spirits-lifting gift.

heart in shape of ballon

Love does save the day. More like the year. The lifetime, actually.

Kindly,

Luisa