What’s My Style?

When I tell people I’m a photographer, they frequently ask about my “style” of photography.  This used to be a really easy question for me to answer – landscape.  I took this photo of a stand of trees dusted with snow  almost 20 years ago with my old Minolta.  It’s one of only a handful of film images I deemed worthy of scanning.  The original is color, but it works better in black and white, so I desaturated the scanned copy.  It’s still one of my all-time favorite images.

This classic shot of autumn trees reflected in a pond was taken 6 years ago, a little more than a year after I switched to digital.  These types of images dominated my photographic style for the 20+ years I used film.  Most people call them postcard photos.  They mean this in a complimentary way – they are the type of photos that most people want to be able to take.  Nicely composed, exposed correctly, in focus and “pretty.”  I have taken thousands of photos of like this, it’s something I can almost do on autopilot now.

This reflex comes in pretty handy when I’m on vacation, I always come back with lots of great photos that make entertaining slide shows.  It impresses people.  But over the last few years it’s become sort of boring.  So I’ve been trying to evolve my “style,” for lack of a better word.  If you look at the photos in the “Random” folder on my website photo album, you’ll get some sense of what I mean.  I also have a few sprinkled in with the conventional travel photos.  My husband likes to say that my favorite photo from any given trip is the one that looks like it could have been taken anywhere.  An old bike leaning against a building in Amsterdam, for example.  I think it’s because the photo with the recognizable icon (like a windmill) is always tinged by the postcard or snapshot feeling, no matter how good it is.

This doesn’t mean I’ll stop taking the postcard shots.  Just that I’ll keep trying to go beyond them.

Blue October

My obsession with Blue October started innocently enough.  I heard the song “Hate Me” on XM and it felt like a punch in the stomach.  I can’t say that I related to the meaning of the song in a literal way (not having personal experience with drug addiction) but something about the incredible emotional pain being expressed touched a nerve.  I suppose a psychologist would have a field day with that.  At any rate, it was enough to make me go out and buy the album without hearing any of the other songs on it.  I ended up loving every single song on Foiled, so I went online and purchased  Blue October’s 3 previous studio albums.  Plus a live CD and concert DVD.

I started reading about the band and checking their tour dates online.  On October 13, 2007, my husband and I saw them perform live for the first time at the Myth.  It was amazing.  They are a heavy touring band with a very dedicated fan base and their live performances are mesmerizing.  At the show I ran into Jill’s daughter-in-law Carolyn.  It turned out that her brother was a huge fan and had introduced her and Dan (Jill’s son) to the band.  It was one of those wild coincidences that make you realize how small the world is sometimes.  Every time I mention to someone that Blue October is my favorite band, I get a blank look.  They just aren’t widely known.  And here I was a show, running into a family member.

That show marked a high point just before a very dark time in my family.  Four days later Jill died.

Blue October spent the majority of 2008 working on a new album, so we didn’t get an opportunity to see them that year.  Approaching Normal came out in March 2009 and they went on tour to promote the new album.  From mid May through mid June we saw them at the Rave in Milwaukee, First Avenue and the Hub in Fargo.  The shows were all great but a little “Groundhog Day” since they did every single song from the new album in order and only included a few older songs at the end.  The photo at top is of me with Jeremy Furstenfeld (drummer) after their show at the Rave.  One of the many really cool things about the band is that they will come out and meet fans after the shows, as long as you’re willing to hang out long enough.  So I have photos with each of the band members.  Plus an autographed t-shirt.  Yes, I’m a groupie and no, I’m not ashamed to admit it.  I don’t understand it but I embrace it.  We all have our obsessions and this one is fairly harmless.

I started thinking about my history with Blue October recently because I just purchased tickets to see them at the Rave in Milwaukee again.  Wisconsin has banned smoking in bars and the band is doing more of a mix of old and new material, so it should be an even better show than last year.  The date is October 7th.  I’ll be thinking about Jill.

Mid Ohio (Aug 8)

It NEVER gets old.  It doesn’t matter if the drive was excruciating, the hotel appalling and the weather disgusting.  When you win, nothing else matters.  Being in the winner’s circle after a race is an experience that cannot be adequately described.  It’s nothing that can ever be taken for granted.

This was an outstanding weekend for Target Chip Ganassi Racing – the team took home wins at Watkin’s Glen in both Grand Am and Nascar and at Mid Ohio in  IRL.  Chip won every race he competed in this weekend.  I’m not sure any other team owner has ever won 3 major motorsports events in one weekend.  I doubt it.


We’ve got a long drive tomorrow and then just 8 days at home before we head to Sonoma.

Race results – Dario 1st, Scott 5th.

Mid Ohio (Aug 7)

Much earlier day today.  We stopped at Bob Evans for breakfast again, even though we could have made the free one at the hotel.  I’m getting to be rather fond of Bob.  We got to the track right around 10 am, just as the early practice was ending.   In the interest of fairness, I’m including one of the photos I took of Dario yesterday.  I could have included it with yesterday’s post, but it seems like cheating to have more than one photo per post.  As you can see, one of the tricky aspect of photographing drivers is that they are almost always wearing massive sunglasses.  I think your status as a driver is largely determined by the size of your watch and your sunglasses.  Keep in mind that most drivers are not very big guys, so the sunglasses and watches look even more enormous by comparison.

We were able to watch qualifying from the booth of one of the support races’ teams.  It was shaded and had 5 screens showing views of the track.  Which is nice, since Mid Ohio doesn’t think it’s necessary to have a jumbotron anywhere near the pits.  We also had a chance to talk to Scott’s wife Emma, who is one of the sweetest people you will ever meet.  Both cars were fast, Dario qualified 2nd and Scott qualified 5th.  Overall, a great day.

Guess where we ate dinner?  No, not the fabulous martini bar.  We went back to Bob’s.  I am swearing off Bob’s tomorrow.  Of course that means breakfast will be at the Golden Arches.

Mid Ohio (Aug 6)

At least we were able to sleep in on Friday morning.  We missed the hotel breakfast, okay we didn’t really “miss” it but we didn’t get out of the room until well after they stopped serving.  The only place to eat near the hotel that isn’t fast food is a Bob Evans.  I was only vaguely aware that there is such a thing as a Bob Evans restaurant and my perception put it in the category of a Carl’s Jr or a Culver’s.  My husband assured me it was more like a Southern version of IHOP.  He was pretty much spot on in his assessment.  I would even give Bob an extra point for having more variety than IHOP.  I had a turkey and spinach omelet that appeared to have about half a turkey stuffed into it.

We arrived at the track a little before noon.  This would normally be hideously late for us, but our only practice for the day started at 4 pm.  The weather was gorgeous and the track is amazing.  It’s like a compact version of Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

I shot quite a few photos of Scott and Dario as they were getting ready for the practice.  Dario is really easy to photograph.  He almost always seems relaxed and is often smiling.  Scott is much more introspective and sticks closer to the control booth in the pit, which throws him into shadow.  After 8 years of opportunity, I still don’t feel like I have a really great photo of Scott.  I did get some good ones today and I’ve included one of my favorites here.

After practice wrapped up at 5, we headed for Mansfield looking for someplace to eat.  Just when we were thinking we would have to settle for a dive bar or a diner, we found a great martini bar that also served individual pizzas.  Best lemon drop martini and best margherita pizza.  Ever.  Sometimes the serendipity works.

Mid Ohio (Aug 5)

It’s called Mid Ohio because it’s in the middle of nowhere, Ohio.  The closest “city” to the track is Mansfield, population 50,000.  Which creates two problems, no easy way to get there and no place to stay when you arrive.  The obvious route takes you through Chicago, right around rush hour assuming you leave Minneapolis around 8:30 am.  Since we tried this on the way to Watkin’s Glen and ended up spending two hours crawling into the city, it didn’t seem like a good strategy.  So we went south through Iowa, crossed Illinois and left the interstate just east of Joliet to take Highway 30 which heads due east to mid Ohio.  But it was rush hour and we discovered that Highway 30 has a 45 mph speed limit and stop lights through Illinois into Indiana.

It was ugly.

Since we had no way of knowing when the highway would (presumably) enter a more rural area with a higher speed limit and no more traffic lights, we went north after passing Gary and picked up the interstate.  By the time we reached our stopping point, Upper Sandusky, it had taken us nearly 14 hours to drive a little over 800 miles.

Just to be clear, Upper Sandusky is nowhere near Sandusky.  The website for the Comfort Inn I had booked contains this disclaimer: This hotel is NOT near Sandusky, OH or Cedar Point Amusement Park. It is 80 miles south of Cedar Point. Apparently this is quite a point of confusion for many people.  I didn’t really want to stay in Upper Sandusky either, but every single hotel in Mansfield was booked.  I checked every day for two weeks before we left, praying some team would release a room at a decent hotel in Mansfield.  But alas, no.

So here we are, at the Comfort Inn in Upper Sandusky Ohio.  In the largest hotel room I have ever stayed in.  With a separate living area complete with sofa, desk and kitchenette.  An enormous bathroom with two sinks and a giant whirlpool tub.  Sure it’s a little dated and our non-smoking room was probably converted sometime in the past decade, but hey it’s huge and the A/C works so great, right?

That’s what I thought until I walked into the bathroom and found that the toilet had been used after the room had been cleaned.  And not everything had been successfully flushed.  At first we assumed the toilet was clogged but Tim flushed it and it cleared.  I’m not sure if that made it better or worse.


I have been fascinated with photography nearly as long as I can remember.  I still have some black and white photos that I took when I was 8 or 9 years old.  I brought a 110 camera on family vacations and to summer camp.  When I got into high school I started longing for a “real” camera.  At the age of 16 I dipped into my savings and bought my first SLR (single lens reflex) camera.  It was a Minolta and I can still picture the face of the Dayton’s employee that sold it to me.  (Yes, they sold cameras back in 1980)  I still have that camera, boxed up somewhere in the basement.  It was manual focus and the only plastic part was the little wheel that wound up the film as it was exposed.  I used that camera for over 15 years and the only repair it needed was the replacement of that little plastic part one time after all the teeth had broken off.

I switched to digital in 2003.  I didn’t intend to, but I rented a digital SLR in Phoenix and took photos at the zoo for a day.  One photo convinced me to switch.  This photo of an iguana.  I was completely blown away by the detail in the scales of its skin.  I bought the camera within a week and I have not shot a roll of film since.  I’m on my 5th digital SLR now and I’ve taken over 12,000 images with my most newest acquisition – a Canon 5D Mark II.

In between my posts on travel and racing, I will be writing about my journey as a photographer and some of what I hope to accomplish going forward.  These posts will probably be more introspective and less amusing than some of my other ones.  You can just skip them if you’re not interested.  I plan on including a photo or two with each post to illustrate the point I’m trying to make.  I invite you to comment on the photos.  It’s okay to be critical, I am my own biggest critic and I almost always find that something could be improved in every photo.

Today’s post is dedicated to my good friend Jane, who is a tremendously talented photographer and my new number one blog fan.  Keep shooting!

Modern Art (July 30)

I went to the Walker last week with my mom.  I  had promised her a mom/daughter day as a way to thank her for looking after our house while we have been traveling.  And for doing unplanned favors like receiving large boxes of wine from UPS.  The intent was for her to decide what we would do, but she’s not very good at making decisions.  (She will be the first to admit this – I have to help her decide what to order when we go to a restaurant)  I am not a big fan of modern art (that’s an understatement) but I love the sculpture garden and the restaurant gets great reviews.  Plus I haven’t been there since the Walker completed its big expansion 5 years ago.  In fact, the last time I remember going was to a Picasso exhibit when I was in high school.  I figured it was about time to give them another chance.

Bad idea.

First of all, it was raining/drizzling the day we went so we quickly walked through just a small part of the sculpture garden.  Enough for me to be impressed by how much it’s matured but not enough to really enjoy it.  Second, it was FREEZING cold in all of the galleries.  I get that you need to keep the art climate controlled, but refrigerated?  My poor mom had a sweater on and was still miserable.  I felt like I was in a meat locker.  Third, modern art sucks.  Really, really sucks.

I put art into one of three categories:

Stuff I like.  It may or may not be great, but I would hang it on my wall if I could afford it.  Monet, Rembrandt, Van Gogh in the unaffordable category.  Robert Ransom, Edie Abnet, Barbara Gurwitz in the affordable category.  (I have paintings from all 3 – Google them if you want an inside look at my personal taste)

Stuff I appreciate.  I recognize the talent that created it, but I wouldn’t hang it on my wall.  Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns.  Lots of lesser known artists that I couldn’t name.  Of course this is just personal taste, like music or interior design.  I don’t expect everything in a museum to appeal to me personally, but I can still appreciate the artistry behind the work.

Crap.  The kind of stuff that only seems to be art to galleries and art history majors.  A white canvas with words spelled out in masking tape.  An arrangement of junky clocks in a corner.  A plastic ice cream soda cup.  I don’t think video qualifies as art even when you fill 9 screens with it.  Damien Hirst does a lot of stuff that I don’t think qualifies as art.  Hey, if you want a cow that’s been severed in half and preserved in formaldehyde in your living room, go ahead.  But don’t call it art.

Unfortunately, a large part of the Walker’s collection falls squarely into category three.  So I don’t think I’ll be going there again except to visit the sculpture garden and eat in the restaurant.  Which is awesome.

Edmonton (July 23-26)

We decided to power straight through on the drive home from Toronto in order to get an extra day at home before heading out to Edmonton.  My tolerance for riding shotgun is now up to 15 hours in a day.  After less than 48 hours at home we were off again, but this time we flew.  Our rental car was a lipstick red Toyota Yaris that had the crap beaten out of it.  Cracked windshield, multiple scrapes and dings.  The cost was $16/day, so I think it was a fair deal.

Edmonton is famous for the West Edmonton Mall, which was built by the same developers who did the Mall of America.  The Edmonton mall is bigger.  A lot bigger.  The only reason we went there was to find a movie theater, as we had a few hours to fill one afternoon.  We ended up watching Inception in IMAX.  Pretty mind-blowing.  We also went to two museums at opposite ends of the spectrum.  One was a brand new art gallery with all modern art.  It was worth it for 2 exhibits – one on MC Escher and one on Warner Brothers cartoons.  The other was a throwback to the 50’s – complete with dioramas and butterflies stuck to boards with pincushions.  There was a beautiful temporary exhibit featuring wildlife photography, otherwise it was pure kitsch.  We passed up the opportunity to make paper sack puppets, the featured activity for the day.

Plenty of good restaurants in Edmonton and we stayed in a real hotel.  Sadly, the A/C was inadequate for the passive solar heating our room experienced during the day.   We came close to camping out in the hallway, which was at least 10 degrees cooler than our room.

The race itself had one of the craziest outcomes we’ve ever seen.  Both Scott and Dario ran well all day and Scott was able to complete a pass to move into second place with just a few laps remaining.  We were celebrating our second and fourth place finish when Tim pointed out that all of the photographers were converging on Scott.  Not the supposed winner.  Turns out that Helio was penalized for blocking Will Power (his teammate), thereby allowing Scott to make it past Will into second place.  Helio did not serve the penalty (a pit lane drive through) so he was charged with 20 seconds, moving him into 10th place.  Result:  double podium for Ganassi!!

Race results – Scott 1st, Dario 3rd.  Yeah, baby!

Toronto (July 15-18)

In theory it wasn’t a bad plan.  After flying back to Buffalo from Phoenix (via Minneapolis, ironically) we would pick up our car at the airport, drive across the border and spend the night in Canada.  This would keep us from having to make the border crossing first thing in the morning, when I assumed it would be the busiest.  The flight was scheduled to land at 10:30 PM and the hotel was less than an hour’s drive.  We would be in bed by midnight, easy.  Or so I thought.

The plane scheduled to take us from Minneapolis to Buffalo was held up by severe weather in Green Bay.  So we waited and we waited.  By the time we actually took off it was after 10 PM.  When we reached the hotel it was after 2 AM.  The man at the desk who shuffled out when I rang the bell was less than excited to see me.  I was right about the border crossing though.  We were the only car behind 3 semis.

Continuing our hot streak, Toronto was in the high 80’s with oppressive humidity.  We made a lame effort at some sightseeing and then holed up in a bar for a few hours before checking in.   Once again I had tempted fate by booking us into a B&B.  A very non-traditional B&B.  It was one of 5 rooms over an art gallery, run by a family that owned the gallery and lived on the 3rd floor of the building.  But still, a B&B.  It did have central air but no thermostat for the room.  It was very nice, reasonably priced and relatively close to the race course.  I would recommend it to anyone traveling to Toronto.  But we won’t stay there again.

At least we had a shady spot to watch the race.  Both cars were running in the top 5 most of the day, until Scott was forced into the wall late in the race.

Race results – Dario 2nd, Scott 20th.  I hate Ryan Hunter-Reay.