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Every Picture Tells A Story

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The Story is in the Eye of the Beholder

 

Photo by the author, ©2019 Karen Fayeth

My photography teacher and mentor holds regular photo review sessions where we, her students, come together to show our photos and receive feedback from the group.

The rules are that we show our photo but stay silent. The photographer says nothing while the audience to reviews it, forms their opinions, and then provides feedback. Once feedback begins we are allowed to answer questions but the preference is to stick to the aspects of the photo and not stray too far into the backstory of why, what, or how.

Our teacher learned this from her own mentor, the legendary Al Weber. It was how he worked sessions with his students.

There are plenty of juicy quotes out there in the world about how a photo should tell the story without further explanation. How the photographer should say what they want to say visually and refrain from adding more explanation.

I understand that view and don’t entirely disagree. In a different photoclub meeting a few years back, I had quite a spirited debate with a fellow photographer who insisted that the technical aspects of the photo were all that mattered and “telling a story” was unimportant.

I insisted that a photo that doesn’t tell a story is boring. We agreed to disagree.

His technically superior landscapes remain astounding in their quality and dull in aesthetics. My photos have something to say, but are technically imperfect. Both of our photography styles are relevant and fine. The artist makes their art as they see fit.

You see, I’m an unapologetic logophile — a lover of words. I’m a storyteller from birth and when I look at photos, I like to hear what the photographer has to say about how and why they took the photo and what it means to them. I find sitting in silence a challenge when I’m so creatively inspired by my peers.

Also, the story a viewer gets from my photo may not be the story I was trying to tell. I know, I know, that’s fine. Everyone sees art in their own way, through their own filters, and that is valid. Of course.

But sometimes, like the photo in the header of this story, I want the viewer to know more. I want you to feel what I felt when I took the photo. I want it to resonate on a deeper level.

So now that you’ve seen the header photo, I’m going to tell you the story.

t was the first week of this past December and I was traveling home to California from Tennessee. My itinerary said that I would fly on a small commuter plane from Knoxville to Denver, and then from Denver to San Francisco.

Riding on the very small commuter plane gave me no small amount of pause, in fact I wrote about it here:

My Fear of Flying

Before heading to the airport, I’d checked the weather in Denver and the news was not good. Snow. Lots of snow. Here I am flying on a very small plane right into the heart of a winter storm. Due to land in Denver around 6:45pm, it would be when the storm was expected to be the worst.

I was, to put it in crystal clear terms: Freaked Out.

Snow, small plane, winter, ice, terror, tired, just want to get home, will I even make it home tonight, I don’t want to die, pleaseohpleaseohplease… Like that, swirling around in my head. (Isn’t anxiety just so helpful?)

That header photo, the one with the beautiful sunset, was taken over eastern Colorado. Above the clouds was the most magnificent view of the sunset from the plane’s large window. The roiling storm clouds gave a great foreground. The contrast of blue and orange are a perfection of complimentary colors that only Mother Nature knows how to create.

Now, let’s be honest with each other: There are a lot of beautiful photographs of sunsets out there in the world. Plenty of astounding locations, views, and colors. My photo is surprisingly clear and well-focused for having been taken through a plane window. I used a Sony Cybershot as it was the best camera I had on me at the time.

I look at that photo and I love the brilliant colors, that I managed to mostly (but not precisely) center the sun, and the clouds make it very moody. But when I see that photo, what I feel is fear.

The dark and foreboding clouds below that gorgeous Colorado sunset were a metaphor for everything I was feeling when the shutter clicked. This photo was taken at the edge of the storm, you can see the ground on the right lower side. We had not yet begun to find the center of that winter storm when this photo was taken. It still lay ahead.

I should probably title the photo “Yearning for the Runway” because as I both watched and photographed that sunset, I kept visualizing over and over in my mind a smooth landing, pleading to the universe for safety.

Turns out by the time we got to Denver there had been a break in the storm and the runways were clean, dry and perfect. We landed pretty much as I had visualized. The snow was projected to start again soon, so after a little deicing, we took off late but made it home to SFO on time and intact.

I don’t know if telling my story makes you see the photo any differently. Maybe what you see when you read the story of that photo is different from mine.

I like knowing that my photo is more than just a lovely sunset, it’s my reminder that life is both precarious and precious.

And small planes are safer than I think.

Just wait until I tell you about my photo of a deceased ladybug.

This item first appeared on Medium, find more of my work @karenfayeth over there.


 

My Fear of Flying

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It never goes away, it can only be managed


Photo by Lucas Ludwig on Unsplash

“I love to travel, I just don’t like what it takes to get there.” — Me, before every trip

Last week I was delighted to pack by bags and head out on a business trip on behalf of my employer. My job gives me the opportunity to travel once or twice a year and I am happy to get out of the office and on the road. I really do love to travel. Anywhere. Large, small, domestic, international, if there is travel to be done, I’m in.

Over my life I have traveled a lot, not the “gold status for a lifetime” kind of amount, more like 3–4 trips a year, sometimes more. I’ve seen quite a few countries, with a whole lot more to go.

My first plane ride was at seven years old. My mom, sister and I traveled to Oregon to visit my mom’s family. We flew to Salt Lake City, changed planes, then on to Portland. I remember the excitement, the thrill of the ride, the joy at seeing how lush and green Oregon was in comparison to Albuquerque.

I love seeing places I have never seen before, just as much as I love going back to a place I know and remembering all the things I like about it.

One thing that hasn’t changed over a lifetime of traveling: I’m moderately terrified of airplanes. Okay, to be fair, I am not a nervous flyer gripping the armrest like a life raft, but I do have trepidation every time I board a plane.

I’m usually cool as a cucumber getting to and through the airport, but once boarding is called and I am on the jetway, the reality of what I am about to do takes hold. To cope, I have to run through a well-practiced serious of thoughts to calm myself down enough so I don’t turn around and sprint back off the plane.

What I am saying is most of the time I do just fine. I’ve gotten used to your average passenger plane, three seats on each side, air safety is pretty good, all of that. But it’s still a hard thing for me to give up all control of my fate, pack my ample curves into an narrow and uncomfortable seat, accept being sealed inside a tin can, and allow one human being to pilot me and my fellow passengers high into the air.

Every once in a while, my travels throw me a curveball. A few years ago I was beyond excited to be asked to travel to Porto, Portugal. I think I said yes so fast I broke the time-space continuum and said yes before my boss even asked the question.

However, when the day of travel arrived what I found waiting at the airport gate was the largest passenger plane I had ever seen in my life. I actually started laughing out loud. “I am not getting on that thing,” I said to nobody but myself.

A plane so large it needed a special gate at the airport to load. Called an Airbus A380–800, it’s occasionally referred to as a whale. This plane has two floors. It has an actual staircase inside. I mean, come on now.

Airbus A380 on MAKS 2011. Image from Wikipedia and used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

 

I had to sit down and really, really ask myself if I was going to willingly get on that plane and ride for the eleven hours needed to get to Frankfurt. On the logical side of my brain, I reminded myself of watching loaded C-130s take off from a nearby military airfield, so I knew this plane was possible. The dimensions of the thing were just more than my brain could take.

Well, this past week, I had the opposite problem. After flying from San Francisco to Houston, I was to board a small regional plane that would get me over to Knoxville. I have flown very small planes before, including one bumpy ride on a terribly noisy turboprop, but for some reason I was not prepared for the plane that awaited me at the gate.

An Embraer Air ERJ-145, new, shiny, sleek, and terrifying. I texted my husband this photo with the caption “aw, shit.”

Photo by the author, ©2019 Karen Fayeth

I knew I was going to be flying a small plane to Knoxville, I’d even made a joke a few weeks back about “Flying on a La Bamba plane.” When faced with the reality of the situation, the joke just wasn’t funny anymore.

When the glass door opened and I stepped out onto the tarmac, I began to run through my usual mental roll call of thoughts: “You are going to be fine, you don’t have to get on this plane if you don’t want to, these are professionals who do this every day, planes are very safe, you are safe, but you have choices.” And so on like that.

I locked up pretty good, but given my stubborn nature, I refused to let myself balk. I gamely walked up the ramp, got my stuff stowed, and crammed into the seat. I texted my husband, “I’m in my seat. I think I’m now wearing this airplane,” as it certainly felt snug about the hips.

This plane has two seats on one side and one seat on the other but is fairly comfortable. I was lucky to be on the one seat side, enjoying both a window and the aisle.

Once the doors were shut, I immersed myself in my book and did my best not to think too much about it.

If my trip to Frankfurt was riding a whale, to Knoxville I rode a sardine, and in both instances got there safely, on time, and no worse for the wear.

Look, fears and anxieties aren’t always rational, that’s kind of the point. I know flying is very safe, but my mind still has an awful lot of questions about the wisdom of being 30,000 feet above the surface of sweet, sweet Mother Earth.

One upside? The Sardine had nice big windows, all the better to capture a Tennessee sunset above the clouds.


Photo by the author, ©2019 Karen Fayeth

On Hideous Lizards and Good Brown Dogs

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It’s funny the things that stick with you. The seemingly forgettable details or moments that you look back on with fondness.

This past weekend, I returned home to New Mexico after a far too long two-year personal drought. Life, work, whatever, gets in the way (no excuse is good enough).

The occasion of my return was the high school graduation of my oldest goddaughter. At almost 19 she is no longer that curly-haired blonde toddler who captured our hearts. She is a smart, sassy, funny, talented and gorgeous woman and I’m a bit weepy right now just typing that. I’m so proud of her.

I have been working too many hours and it’s fair to say I dragged my ragged self onto a plane, glad to go home. Sometimes I feel like I wander a little too far away from New Mexico. I forget the foundation of my soul and going home never fails to readjust my mind, my very DNA. It gets me back to remembering who I am and what matters.

Plus I eat good when I’m there, and green chile itself will help anyone get right.

Each time I go home, I’m overwhelmed at all of the things that have changed since the last time I was there. El Paso is growing fast. The area around Las Cruces too. More cars, more buildings, more people. It’s crazy.

So then I start to seek the familiar. What hasn’t changed. What is there that I remember so I can have a touchstone. A “hey, there that particular thing is, just where I left it.”

The feedlots in Vado, for example. I was pleased to find them there, cows huddled under the water misters. The inevitable cow scent on the breeze.

The Organ Mountains. Craggy, uneven, and absolutely gorgeous. I see those mountains that once watched over my college education and smile, glad to say hello again.

So today at work when I was homesick, missing my best friend and the peace of her back patio, I started going through the photos on my phone to help me with the pain.

Did I find photographs of vast mountain landscapes? Did I see the faces of my loved ones? Did I have a whimsical photo of a cow?

No I did not.

All of those sorts of photos are on my actual camera. Weirdly, I took very few photos with my phone on this trip.

So I will share with you the two photos I did take. Memories I’m carrying in my pocket to remind me of home. This gives you an awful lot of insight into my muddled mind:

First, a photo of my goddog. I may have taken one or two photos of him in the past.



The gray hair around his eyes and in his muzzle makes my heart hurt, just a little

The second will take a little more explanation.

You see, to get back to Las Cruces, I have to fly into El Paso and while that’s not my town, over the years I’ve even grown a bit fond of that crazy place.

When I stumble off the airplane and into the terminal I find that nothing much has changed. Then my heart softens a little when I see the genuinely godawful carpet in ELP’s main terminal. Seriously, it’s so bad, it makes me sentimental.

Nothing says “welcome home” like lizard carpet. Apparently, I was so overcome I had to take a photo.



Not conducive to overcoming a hangover

And now I’m glad I did, I just found out today that the infamous ELP carpet is due to be replaced, like this month! Yipes.

That means next time, I won’t be greeted at the door by the funky lizards. And as my goddog isn’t getting any younger, one day I’ll roll up to my best friend’s house and won’t get to experience his side-angled lope and velvety soft ears.

That’s too much to consider. Right now, I will rest easy knowing that hideous lizard carpet and beautiful brown dog eyes remain just where I left them. I feel my connection to home, which makes sitting in this dull gray office just a tiny bit easier to take.





Both photos ©2018 Karen Fayeth, taken using the Camera+ app on an iPhone. Don’t steal ’em. Thanks!



Sweet Gentle Prague

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It was just a week ago yesterday that I found myself in the world class city of Prague with a personal day on my hands.

The work part of the trip had been both busy and exhausting. My coworkers all left for home that morning but I had a tourist Friday ahead of me. The challenge: To see as many of the must-see Prague sights as possible in one day.

Now just eight days later, it seems almost like a dream.

A week ago it was very real. So real I had a fair bit of anxiety and no idea what lay ahead. The Good Man managed to talk me down from nine timezones away and with a deep breath, I screwed up my courage and headed out of the hotel room.

As luck would have it, there happened to be a Metro station right under the hotel.

So this is where my journey began:



A simple suburban Metro station that would take me *everywhere*

The hotel where I stayed is in the suburbs of Prague, but the Metro is so damn good it was a less than fifteen minute ride and I emerged at the bottom of Wenceslaus Square.

I had done some reading before arriving in Prague and I knew a bit about Wenceslaus Square.

Well, I knew three things:

Thing 1) The square is dominated by a statue of King Wenceslaus. As in “Good King Weceslaus blah blah, on the feast Stephen, nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh, deep and crisp and even…”

What the hell is that song even about, anyway? Wait, let’s hold that question for another time.

On that day, I knew that Saint Wenceslaus is considered the patron saint of the Czech Republic.

So I walked uphill and gawked at the shops and restaurants and soon found myself in the shadow of the Good King and his steed.



That there is a gooood king

Thing 2) Wenceslaus Square is incredibly historic, considered the very heart of the city of Prague, and it is a World Heritage Site because it was on that very square in 1989 that the Velvet Revolution happened.

What is the Velvet Revolution, you say? I’m so glad you asked.

The Velvet Revolution is when the then Czechoslovakia decided it had had just about enough (MORE than enough) and threw off Communist rule. They then became their own self-managed country with a parliament.

This is a very, very big deal. It utterly changed the course of the Czech people. For the better.

I have a coworker who grew up in Prague. She left as a teenager in 1984. She said, “We had to leave. We had so much despair. We believed it would never change.”

It would eventually change, but it would take a few more years.

So I stood on this square, a lost little girl from New Mexico, and thought about how much happened right where my feet stood. How these people took back their own destiny.



See where all those tourists are? History happened there.

Thing 3) At the top of Wenceslaus Square, behind the statue and in front of the museum something particularly sad and historic happened.

In 1968, a student named Jan Palach protested the invasion and eventual fall of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union during what was called the Prague Spring. He did so by committing suicide by self-immolation.

“…Palach did not set himself on fire to protest against the Soviet occupation, but did so to protest against the ‘demoralization’ of Czechoslovak citizens caused by the occupation.” – from a doctor who treated Palach (wiki)

I think that sense of demoralization and despair runs strong through the history of the Czech people. In my experience, they are a very laid back and easy going people, but there is that sadness underneath. Well, maybe not sadness, just…world weary.

I wanted to find the small marker of Palach’s history that is embedded in the brickwork in front of the museum. I have to say I was greatly moved. There were flowers at the site, meaning people still remember and still care about what he did.



This is a simple but powerful marker

Well, that was a bit of a dark start to my day of exploration, but it also really touched me.

From there, I hopped back on the Metro and made my way to Old Town Square. The mood and attitude in the Old Town area could not have been more different.

The Old Town Square is beautiful, but incredibly overrun by tourists. Okay, sure, I was also a tourist, but you get what I mean.

Along with tourists there were an awful lot of flim-flam men (and women), grifters and pickpockets. At one point I stopped to look at maps on my phone to see if I was heading the right direction, and saw no less than three people make a move toward me.

San Francisco is a tourist town and I’m fairly used to this sort of untoward behavior, so each person got my patented City Stink Eye. The one that lets people know I am not to be trifled with.

They soon backed up, but that kind of predatory behavior was pretty rampant in the Old Town area. I was waving off sellers, beggars and all around questionable sorts left and right. I also kept a firm grip on my bag as I heard from several places that the pickpocketing is quite bad.

The main reason to be in Old Town, apart from admiring the amazing architecture, was to see the Astronomical Clock located at the Old Town Hall building.



Of course my favorite part was the skeleton

This clock was installed in 1410. Um, what? 14 freaking 10? Wow.

As luck would have it, I was there at about twenty minutes to the top of the hour, so I waited with all of the many tourists, in the rain I might add, to watch the clock’s mechanics at the top of the hour. A skeleton rings a bell, the animated figures come to life, and above the clock statues of the twelve apostles zip by and look out the windows.

It was very quaint and lovely, and I’m glad I saw it. Not much more to say than that. More than a Clark Griswald shrug, less than rapturous delight.

After taking some photos of the beautiful buildings on the square, I then made my way onward to the Charles Bridge.

The most famous of the bridges across the Vltava River, the Charles Bridge began construction in 1357.

You know how sometimes Europeans give Americans a wry smile when we talk about our deep history? Yeah, this is why. In 1357 they were building bridges that would safely transport my tired little toes across the same river some 659 years later. America wasn’t even a twinkle in the eye of Columbus in 1357.

The stroll across the bridge was certainly lively. Lots of people, lots of selfie sticks (ugh), quite a few pickpockets and an awful lot of Catholic statues. Like, a LOT of Catholic statues.

Felt like I needed to go to confession when I got to the other side, ba-dum, tish!

It was hard to pick just one photo from my walk across the river, but let’s go with this one:



The walk across the bridge was quite pleasing especially since the rain had moved on and a bright blue Czech sky emerged. Quite lovely.

The part of Prague on the other side of the bridge is known as Lesser Quarter, which I find quite a rude name. There was nothing lesser about this side of the bridge in my opinion. It is much quieter, calmer and less busy. It suited me just fine.

At this point, my legs, feet and bladder asked nicely if we could stop, so I landed at a coffee shop.

Over a lovely icy coffee, I tweeted exactly how I felt in that moment on that day.



As my legs relaxed, I listened to a group of four Czech students argue and debate and I watched life happen outside the glass door. I felt enormously contented. It’s those moments I will remember long after I’ve come back to my regular life. It’s those moments I wait for on each international trip I take. It’s what makes all of those long and ugly plane miles worth it.

Yeah. Seriously, may I never forget how good I felt in that moment.

Now fortified, I moved on to my last stop of the day, St Nicholas Church.

The guidebook I pondered over coffee told me that it was a beautiful example of a baroque church. I do like to see some of the old and over the top churches in Europe, so I was game.

The guidebook also mentioned the bell tower at the church. How it had been used by the communists to keep an eye on the American Embassy nearby, and that it offered some of the best views in all of Prague.

Impulse overtook me and I smacked down 90 koruna for a ticket and began climbing the stairs.

What in the utter hell was I thinking? One, my legs were already tired, two I’m in okay shape but stair climbing is tough, and three my asthma was like “hey, what’s up?”

But I kept climbing the spiral stairs and narrow ladders until it got more and more exhausting and claustrophobia inducing (and I don’t often struggle with claustrophobia).

At more than one point I had to remind myself that I managed to get myself into this situation and had to figure out how to get myself out.

My bullish determination kicked in and I made a promise I would make it all the way to the top.

Along the way I found the watchmen’s quarters, a sparse room with a small bed, rough wood table and open brickwork fireplace.

When there were windows, I looked out then kept climbing. Finally, I could smell the fresh air of outside and found myself at a narrow deck that encircled the tower. There was a guide there and she told me to go outside (I didn’t understand what the signs meant and had hesitated).

Wow. Truly. Wow. I was stunned at seeing all of Prague laid out before me.



The sky stippled with clouds and the sun began its slow descent toward the end of the day and there I stood taking it all in.

And hey, I wasn’t even at the top of the tower yet. After taking quite a few photos with both of my cameras, I kept climbing. The very, very top of the tower, at the end of 215 steps, was less interesting. It was low ceilinged, cramped, stuffy and the windows were small.

So I went back down to the narrow deck and took another spin.

With that, I declared myself done for the day. Ready to head back to the hotel.

I came down all 215 steps a lot faster than I went up and made myself dizzy. Wobbly on my pins, I chose instead to stop for some dinner and I’m glad I did. I found a funny little restaurant where they treated me nice and I ate something they called Slovak gnocchi, which a short Google search later assured me is actually a thing.

A very delicious thing.

I wanted to have a nice Czech beer alongside, but worried a beer would drop me right to the ground so I opted for something milder.

After eating my fill, I set out back across the Charles Bridge. The mood on the bridge had changed. I crossed east to west at about 2:45pm and came back west to east at close to 6:00pm. There were more people out and the Friday revelry had begun. It was funny how quickly the mood had shifted.

On the way back, I made sure I touched the two lucky spots on the bridge, once with my left hand for my husband, the southpaw, once with my right hand for me.



One of the two lucky spots, though a bit grim. So this priest was thrown in the water…

A nice twilight stroll and I soon found myself back at a Metro station waiting to head back to the hotel and the end of my stay in Prague.



There are quite a few more things I wish I could have found time to see while in Prague. The Apple Museum, the castle, and the art gallery, to name but a few, but I was grateful to have one full free day to see the best of what Prague had to offer.

Prague is a gorgeous, easy and fun city. I loved every minute of my time there and wonder if someday I will ever find my way back.

I suppose I can dream.

Meanwhile, at a week later I think my legs have finally recovered. Seriously, 215 stairs? C’mon!

And to the good people of Prague, I say děkuji for treating me so very well.






All photos ©Copyright 2016, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. Taken with either a Canon G10 or an iPhone6.





Ballad of the Ever Turning Clock

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Hoo boy, back in the saddle again after a weekend trip to my Fair New Mexico. Let me tell you, it’s hard to get into the ol’ groove after being back in my homestate.

I found myself in southern New Mexico over the past four days for the occasion of my goddaughter’s sixteenth birthday. She is amazing, beautiful, smart as a whip, sassy as hell and genuinely caring.

She has been easy to love since the day I first met her tiny little self. She was barely a month old when her mom brought her along and met me as I came off the plane at the El Paso airport. My world has not been the same since.

The occasion of her birthday celebration meant that I also got to see quite a few people I hadn’t seen in years.

The thing that really sticks out to me from this past weekend was not just seeing a lot of dear friends who go back quite a few years, but getting to know their kids.

Time has marched along and many of these kids are now teenagers or older. So much more than a fun lump of baby or a capricious toddler. They are getting to the age where you really start to see who these kids are going to be.

What a lot of fun to see what so many of my now grown up and responsible friends have created. Look, back then I would have voted some of my tribe to the sidelines in the game of propagating mankind, and yet, their kids have turned out pretty damn awesome.

As I hear about these kids moving into their adult lives, getting married, graduating college, being responsible members of society, I also had to sit down for a moment and contemplate just how fast time marches on. And on. And on.

So many times I found myself saying “Really? Working a full time job? Getting married? Graduating college? Wow. I remember the day you had that adorable baby. Damn.”

One old friend summed it up when she told me she’d just moved her youngest into her own place. “My husband and I looked at each other and said, ‘Now what?'”

Now what indeed. Friends who are around my age, kids raised, possibility of retirement on the horizon and a new life awaits.

Wait a minute, aren’t we going to a Corbett Dance tonight?

Oh no, Karen, that was twenty-five years ago.

Nina Karen needs to sit down. Bring your Nina a piece of cake, would you dear?

Those old hands on the clock keep pressing forward, ever onward, whether I’m ready or not.








Image found on freeimages.com