Today I honor my ancestors. I honor all the women who stood and spoke in their power. May they rest well. May we live well as we continue moving forward in the footsteps of giants.
For a few years now, I’ve wanted to do a road trip focusing on historic African American Women. The pillars for me are Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman. I’ve been mapping out sites they lived and worked for a while.
Throughout March and April this year, I finally got on the road for an extended trip. This one wasn’t focused on African American Women exclusively, but it was deeply saturated in African American history and culture. However, because I AM Woman is named for one of Sojourner Truth’s speeches, I truly wanted to make sure she was part of this road trip. So Battle Creek, MI was added to my route. I visited a monument dedicated to her and her grave site at Oak Hill Cemetery.
We think of history as being so distant, but standing at Mother Sojourner’s grave site made me very aware that her time was not so long ago.
In 2009, I had the pleasure of meeting Nnamdi Okonkwo at an art show in Manhattan.
Pictured: Nnamdi Okonkwo, Sculptor, with Resolution
A couple of years ago I started following him on IG and told him I was looking forward to the day I could purchase my first piece of art from him.
Have you thought about what your first real art purchase would be? I’ve long suspected mine would be sculpture. Something three-dimensional.
When I moved to New York City in 2005, I began visiting art galleries. My favorite one is on Central Park South. There’s some beautiful work in that gallery. But even if I could swing the exorbitant price tags, the pieces I liked best didn’t really reflect me.
When I met Nnamdi with his lady Resolution, I wanted to lean in, take a seat and speak with them both. Not only did he speak to me but so did his work.
Last month while on a cross country road trip, I asked if he was available for a studio visit. He was. I visited and it was the highlight of my trip and a true joy I will remember throughout my life. I placed an order for two small sculptures, “Joy” and “They are Waiting.” I wanted to select art that not only reflected some of my physicality, but also expressed where I am spiritually and emotionally. My whole life is long waits dotted with bursts of joy.
The below video shares some of my exploration of Nnamdi’s studio as well as his graciousness in opening his space and answering my questions. I’ve also added pictures of him from the art show in Manhattan and of me sitting with his “Friends” monument installation in Harlem in 2012. I refer to this statue as “Sisters,” in the video but please note “Sisters” has three more figures than “Friends.”
When we sat to talk in his studio last month, Nnamdi started off by saying he remembered meeting me all those years ago. My first inclination was to dismiss his comment. Then I had to reject my dismissal. He and his work had made such an impression on me I’ve literally remembered one of his pieces with me as a figure in it (see video). ☺
We live in a superficial world where people change their interests with the shifting winds seeking instant gratification. I’ve never been one for the quick fix. I’m purposeful and methodical. I come through on the follow-through eventually.
For those of you who may be beating yourself up for taking too long to do something or acquire a wishlist item, remind yourself it’s your life to live at your pace. When you’re in a comfortable enough space to do that unnecessary, but pleasurable thing, your satisfaction will have no limits.
Check out Nnamdi Okonkwo’s work at http://www.nnamdiart.com. Yo can find him on IG (@nnamdiart) and Facebook (@nnamdi.okonkwo.96).
“In my indigenous culture, womanhood is venerated. In my sculpture I want to express the noble virtues of humanity such as empathy, love, humility and inner strength which women possess. The voluminous shapes are aesthetically pleasing and intoxicating to me, but why also serve to emphasize the largeness of the soul of womanhood.”
All my travels are planned with the intention of conducting myself as a cultural photo-journalist of sorts. However, without fail, I return home, transfer my travel photos to my hard drive and essentially forget about all the good intentions I had for my images and travel notes.
This week, I’ve been focused on creating an attractive online portfolio to better promote and share my work. While reviewing example portfolios, I came across a lovely minimalist style with simple headings: People and Objects. I have a lot of work to do before I can trim down to that level of simplicity, but I can work with the spirit of the concept and have begun organizing my work under People, Places, Things, Ideas, Change and Books.
Pyramids at Giza
While sorting through years of images to select portfolio samples to represent my work, pyramid shots from my 2019/2020 trip to Egypt stood out. Giza was the third pyramid site I’ve been to, which led to a search for pictures from prior visits to other pyramid sites.
Pyramids at Chichen Itzá and Uxmal
My first flight and international trip was to the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico for my high school senior trip. We spent a morning at the ancient Maya city-state Chichen Itzá site and honestly, that was the day I fell in love with Mexico. Fourteen years later, I visited a friend in Mexico City and we took a day trip to Teotihuacán, an ancient Aztec city.
“The Maya originated around 3,000 years ago in present-day Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and Mexico.”
Correction: My photo albums are in storage but I took pictures of my high school scrap book on my phone. Another Maya site, Uxmal, was also visited. The below images were taken on 35mm film, possibly on a been a Fuji in 1993.
“[Uxmal] is the largest, most elegant, and most important ruin site in the Puuc area. The Pyramid of the Magician is a truly magnificent structure….The majority of the structures seen today date from 600-900 A.D..”
The Mayan Ruins Website
Pyramids at Teotihuacán
By the time I got to Mexico City in 2007, I had been living in New York City for two years and I didn’t think there was another city that could blow my socks off. I’ve been happily mistaken several times on that score. Americans talk about being the best and biggest at everything and I never realize how indoctrinated I am with such rhetoric until I explore other environments. Mexico City secured Mexico as one of my favorite countries. The architecture, colors, style, sounds, history is so present and available every where you look – and it’s a short flight from anywhere in the United State! During my visit I got to see an excavation site in the center of town where the ancient city Mexico City was built on was discovered. Amazing!
“Teotihuacan was founded as early as 400 B.C., though the largest structures of the city weren’t completed until about 300 A.D.”
The below images were taken with my Olympus digital camera that held a whopping 1mb memory card at the time (2007). I had never edited any images from this trip until now, they were all hazy, flat, and mostly uninteresting. I certainly didn’t capture the awe of the place. I didn’t do much editing, but removing most of the haze was enough to make them look good. Lightroom does wonders! I stitched some together in Microsoft ICE, adjusted color and sharpness on all and did some final touch-ups in Photoshop. Fourteen years after they were taken with a digital point and shoot. I’m so glad I don’t delete images! 🙂
There’s always a distraction! Today’s creative detour was a redesign of my photography logo. I’m packing for a move and planning on doing a cross-country road trip. My mind is set on having my logo on the side or back of my car. Of course, I’m hoping to pick up some business during my travels. 😉
Which one do you think will stand out best on the road? It’ll be either a window decal (really dark windows) or a door magnet (small silver car).
The opening of the The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC was a big event for me. I had been looking forward to it for years and truly tried to score tickets to any grand opening event. It opened in its state of the art designer building in September 2016. I wasn’t able to reserve a slot online until May 2017. The museum was truly in demand. They are still issuing “timed-entry passes.” Despite being free, availability is limited. See how the museum is honoring Dr. King’s memory here.
I made a weekend of the DC visit when I got my ticket to the museum. It became a weekend focused on African American presence in the Capital of the United States. An added bonus for being able to enjoy a colorful Eco protest in front of the White House. This was the cherry on top of a great American weekend in Washington, DC.
In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and holiday, I’m sharing some images from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial built to honor his life and work. I arrived to the memorial just before twilight on April 30, 2017. It was a beautiful spring evening well-suited to reflecting on profound ideals from a great man. Quotes from the stone walls surrounding the MLK Memorial are shared below in the slideshow. Photos from my 2016 visit to the Center for Civil and Human Rights can be viewed here.
I take a lot of pictures. Especially since I got a digital camera. Even more so since I started buying 125GB memory cards. And I save everything. I just did a quick scan of my image catalog and I have at least 152,000 images on my mobile drive. That doesn’t include anything on my desktop, laptop, phone or tablet – possibly another 10,000 combined on those.
Before 2009, all my photography was on film. I was all about snapshots. Being artsy wasn’t a priority. I wanted to capture moments. Around that year, I purchase my first digital camera, perhaps an Olympus with zoom. It could hold a couple hundred images on the memory at a time. Much more capacity than film, but not enough when you want to photograph everything.
In 2011, I invested in my first DSL, a Sony A33. I knew I wanted to eventually become a paid professional photographer so I had to get serious about my gear and skills. Practicing with different lenses, prime and zoom, in different settings for varying purposes allowed me to get extremely comfortable with being in the background and observing life from a pensive compositional view point.
Over the years, I’ve photographed vacations, visits, weddings, births, funerals, corporate, community and social events and nearly all of my travel. Nature has been my true love, however, trying to capture light in an image, the way it moves over a scene, changing the mood and color, is fascinating. The moon in all its stages is mesmerizing. Great shots of the sun are illusive. As are images that do the stars any justice. Then there are trees that I stalked through their seasonal cycles. Every spring in New York City, saw me searching out budding tulips as well. And over the last couple of years, I’ve been improving my skills with self-portraiture.
In 2018, I felt I was ready for an upgrade and ready to start hiring myself out for photography work. I purchased my Sony A7iii and beefed up my gear kit significantly. I had already been the unofficial official photographer for my group’s legal conferences and other events at work for about seven years. And by that time, I had been photographing demonstrations for social justice (against police brutality and state-sanctioned murder) for nearly four years. I had quite a portfolio, all I needed to do was cull and focus the work.
Focusing on my strong suits, however, is difficult when I enjoy doing everything, and perhaps my best work isn’t necessarily the most financially lucrative. See social justice photography. Or satisfying. I’ve had friends tell me that some of the images I took of their weddings and receptions were better than the photos they paid a premium for. But who wants to be a full-time wedding photographer? I don’t mind the occasional wedding, but that’s a lot on a regular basis.
Over the last year, I’ve been hyper-focused on upskilling. At the beginning of the second week of January 2019, I had just returned home from two weeks in Egypt and Ethiopia. Perhaps about 3200 photos were taken on that trip. While I was there, I knew I was documenting for collections and art, meaning, I wanted to create artwork from the images and do some travel writing as well. One of my investments that year had been a Sony 12-24mm wide lens, an upgrade from my Rokinon 12-16mm. It was purchased for my real estate photography, but I love it for travel, nature and portraiture.
In the summer of 2018, I began working on a photography project called I AM WOMAN. I had a vision for the images as I took them, but I didn’t have the skill to create the end result. That didn’t stop me. Somehow I knew I would learn what I needed to know in order to accomplish my vision. That’s the primary reason I don’t delete my photos. As I review the images I took in 2018 of nearly seventy women, I’ve realized that what stood out to me at the point of the shoot, and even during the initial reviews, are not necessarily the same things standing out to me as I edit for my photobook. As I’ve learned to use Lightroom, Photoshop, Microsoft ICE and Topaz Labs effectively to enhance my photography I’ve learned that even dull and dreary images can be fantastic elements for a composited image. That knowledge has kept me from mass purging.
For example, one of my gleeful moments in editing I AM WOMAN, is the final composition of Lyn’s image. One thing I’ve been adamant about for this project was that the women come as they are. I wasn’t interested in glamor shots or over-stylized images. That being said, looking through the images while trying to build a cohesive collection for a book, many were uninspiring. So I looked for ways I could enhance the image without altering the appearance of the woman. During one of those exercises last month, Lyn’s final happened.
Lyn was photographed in Columbus Circle in the center of Manhattan. Neither of us were interested in representing Columbus at all. Even less so in a work about Black Women in America. I had already had several shoots in Central Park and the one before Lyn was in front of the Time Warner building shops. A great thing about NYC is the great many backgrounds you can get within the span of a block. We tried to focus on the JOY and GLORY on the pedestal of the monument. Though this is one of my favorite images for its simplicity, it didn’t seem to speak to others.
More than two years after the image was taken my skills caught up to my vision. Lyn’s word is Resilient. Stone is a good representation of resiliency, but how much better is a Sphinx than a monument Columbus? The Sphinx image was taken during my last visit to The Met Museum in 2019. I had the idea of merging, compositing and juxtaposing images, but I couldn’t figure out how to put images together to make them look like one.
Well, technology also caught up to my vision. My first photo project was a calendar in 2004. I hired a photographer and photo-editor. For my second calendar a couple of years later, I tried my hand at editing some images in Photoshop. I was hopeless. The task seemed impossible as a lot of the work required a steady hand to remove objects and trim around pixelated edges. Now with a click or two and some close touch-ups elements are easily isolated. Just like that, I can go beyond my initial vision without alternating the presentation of the Woman or subject.
It also helped when I realized I don’t have to follow any rules, only my imagination. Therefore, I can create whatever flows from my thoughts and present it in whatever way pleases me.
I have never sought to be perfect in anything. I only seek to be present and do what I can with what I have. What I’ve learned is what I have increases over time, as does my effective use of my skills and resources.
This project has been my heart focus for a couple of years now. When it first came to mind, I had no idea how I was going to achieve a cohesive product because my thoughts for it were/are all over the place.
Despite very sound advice to focus on one theme, idea, pattern and font to carry throughout the project, I don’t think, create or interact like that. I’ve photographed over fifty women in six states at different stages of their lives from completely different backgrounds. The one thing they were all asked was: What word would you use to describe your womanhood? (My theme.) From that we went about trying to portray each woman and her word in an image. (Completely different styles all around.) Aside from the question and their interest, very few had much in common. So as I edit these images, my primary goal is to make each one stand on its own and hopefully, as individuals they can be a collective together. That’s an overall hope for my life as well.
In 2018, I hosted a number of mini photo shoots for women interested in free photos and possibly being part of my final project titled, I AM Woman. The portrait sessions took place in New York City, Chicago, Gary, Milwaukee and Phoenix. The various backdrops include skyscrapers, water, desert, green parks, and museums.
Though I wanted interesting backgrounds, the backdrops were not a focus or priority. The locations were chosen for convenience and diversity. New York sort of lead the charge here as I held about six sessions around town. One was a practice shoot with a former co-worker in Central Park North. My second practice shoot took place at a women’s conference in Harlem. The third shoot was someone else’s photo project that I asked to join in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Permission was granted to tag alongside her photographer for my own shots and I offered to share my work with her for her project. After this, I scheduled my own sessions and accepted whoever showed up. Battery Park, Central Park, Columbus Circle – the City is certainly a huge part of I AM Woman.
Meeting in open, well-populated landmark locations seemed to work well. All the women were, for the most part, comfortable and almost immediately at ease.
In Milwaukee, the meet happened at the Milwaukee Art Museum. The landmark architecture of the Burke Brise Soleil, designed by Santiago Calvatrava, had to be the backdrop for this Great City on a Great Lake.
At the end of the shoots, I didn’t think I had done such a good job capturing the building. It was blurry and cut off in a lot shots. In others, the angles were unattractive. Again, since the building wasn’t my priority, I went about selecting the images of the women that best represented how they saw themselves.
Luckily, I don’t really delete my digital images. Years ago, I decided to keep everything I shoot with the belief that what I don’t like today will be amazing to me tomorrow. Because of this, editing the images for I AM Woman is exposing a great deal of possibilities by blending images I would normally do nothing with into images that need a bit of umph! I stitched four such photos together that didn’t work by themselves to get a great final image that will be the background of one of my portraits from that day in the final cut.
These were shot with my Sony A7iii and Rokonon 14mm wide lens; composited with Microsoft ICE; color and cropping were done in Lightroom; removals and smoothing done in Photoshop; and final finishes were done in Topaz Labs Impression. What do you think?
I try to avoid funerals, but my elders are passing and I feel honor bound to show up in some way. This month, I attended a service via Zoom for the first time. Honestly, a remote memorial doesn’t feel quite real.
My paternal grandmother died in December 2012. The following spring, her surviving four sisters hosted a memorial for her in Chicago. I was the only member of my grandmother’s line to show up, though she had three surviving children, many grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. My dad preceded her in death, as did my brother. My sister had been hard to connect with after our brother’s funeral. I had been living in New York City, isolated from family, so the thought of connecting with my grandmothers sisters was ambrosia for me. They knew who I was and I was familiar with one or two, but I didn’t really grow up around them. So, I was eager to sit and listen to their stories.
In April 2013, Great-Aunt Juanita hosted her living sisters and their descendants in honor of their recently lost sister, Jurl, my grandma, near Chicago. I traveled with my camera and captured some great candid shots, family groupings and intimate portraits. The sisters also brought along photos of their gatherings through the years. I’ve photographed a few funerals and gatherings in honor of loved ones over the years. As morbid as the subject may sound, the images are full of joy and love.
In 2015, I returned to Chicago for a conference and was happily able to connect with three of my great aunts at Great-Aunt Faye’s home in South Chicago.
In November 2019, I was compelled to attend my Great-Aunt Cherrie’s funeral in Gary, Indiana. She was the eldest sibling of thirteen Stuart children born in a small town near Little Rock, Arkansas.
On December 1, 2020, Great-Aunt Faye left us for the light on the other side. Her daughter reached out to ask if I had any photos of her from Aunt Cherrie’s funeral last year. I found quite of few of her from last year and my prior visits in 2013 and 2015. She was a light and a joy.
Today I did my first photography presentation to a K-5 class in Southern Tucson.
I’ve been subbing and yesterday, I had a conversation with teacher about where we were before Tucson. When I shared about Harlem, she mentioned that her lesson plan this week included a comparison storyline between New York City and the small town of Alden in Upstate New York. She then asked if I would mind speaking to her class about my time in New York City. I immediately said, yes and, “I’ll bring some pictures!”
Well life being what it is, I didn’t have time to sort through thousands of images on my hard drive to select what I considered to be kid-friendly – food, animals, parks, etc. When I got to school today, I stopped by Ms. Joseph’s class to tell her I hadn’t had time to search my photos the night before. She was like, “No, problem, just talk.” I immediately saw that I wasn’t getting out of the K-5 presentation I had agreed to. On the way back to my first post of the day, I realize I had a photo archive in my pocket on my Instagram feed.
The classroom equipment in this school is sort of space-age in my opinion. Computers, laptops, a transparency projecting machine that looks like a reading light! I’ve been hard-pressed not to let my awe show. Because of the excellent classroom tech, I realized I could simply connect my phone to the teacher’s workspace to project my images on the white board at the front of the class.
It all went off without a hitch and now I’m a hit with the five year-olds! 🙂 I can’t tell you how they made my day! Later, in the halls, at lunch and during end of day dismissal, they and their teacher, made sure to tell me how much they enjoyed my presentation, which pictures were their favorites and how others should get to see them as well.
So here, I am sharing some more. All images below were taken for my real estate IG account @ljonesrealtor. Connect with me there.
The skyline, architecture and buildings have individual and combined stories.
I LOVE Central Park!
Brooklyn Bridge Park is like a state secret
Harlem is part of my heart.
Lady Liberty represents the spirit of the City
ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the
sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:
Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life, learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.