On Labor Day, 2014 I began a new documentary-style photo essay in collaboration with Dr. Mark Ibsen who owns Urgent Care Plus in Helena, Montana. We are telling a story with photos of his patients, of Mark and of his staff. We aren’t sure what the story will be yet — that will come when we see what the photos are telling us. For now, I am going to be spending time at the clinic and with permission from the patients themselves, documenting their time with this passionate, compassionate healer.
Watch my blog and my Brown Bird Studio Facebook page for progress on the photo essay, and for announcements of an exhibit which we hope to have sometime in the next few months.
Hands can tell so many stories just by themselves. Like eyes, hands are expressions of our history, our struggles and triumphs, our pain, sorrow and celebrations. Hands instruct. They argue. They heal, comfort and can hurt. Here are a few images from this week, from the first batch of photos that really pulled at my heart. I am curious what you think and feel when you see these images.
Thank you for looking and appreciating. I look forward to some dialogue about this project as we continue.
I love my mom so much it makes my heart feel like it’s going to explode. I can feel it in my chest. I feel it in my throat. I feel it in my hands and belly and spine. I know it in my eyes. I know this love in my mind and in my soul.
When I look at her — really look deeply at her — I see her for who she is and not just for who she has been for me.
I love to listen to her stories. I love to support her on my arm as we walk. Wrap my arm around her slender shoulders. Laugh with her. Bring her a cup of tea. Cover her with an extra blanket. Open the car door for her. Share our tears. Share chocolate. Watch her when she doesn’t know I am looking. Wash her hair in the kitchen sink. Cook for her.
I love knowing in the night, that she is snoring gently in a room just a few feet from mine … love knowing she loves me, because when I thanked her for letting me take these portraits of her, and for spending these almost-3-weeks with me, she hugged me and cried. We both cried.
Mom is 82. I feel more deeply connected to her now that I am an adult, than I remember ever feeling as a child. That is not to say I wasn’t close to Mom when I was little — maybe depth of relationship comes with the compression of time, with the way age matters less and less as we grow older. The difference between 80 and 60 is less than between 25 years old and 5.
Today I watched her through my lens. She knew I was looking. She knew my camera would capture every wrinkle and blemish, yet she relaxed and let me pursue something I have wanted for a long time … to capture the elusive portrait of someone who is part of me. Who is so deeply connected to me that when the time comes to let her go it will be the hardest thing I will ever do.
Maybe depth of relationship comes with changes inside me. Changes in that place of rebellion that still burns like a stubborn ember of fire. When I look in the mirror nowadays, I see my facial features softening, melting a little. I look like my mother. I am becoming a beautiful crone. A wise woman. Like her. When I see her through my camera viewfinder, I see myself in 20-some years. And I hope with all my heart, that I am as good and kind and loving a human being as my mom is.
Yesterday we made a pilgrimage I’ve made a half dozen times before. We drove to Freezeout Lake near Fairfield, Montana, to witness the annual spring fly-out of a hundred thousand snow geese. Our road trip was short and easy compared to the birds’ many thousand-mile journey. All we had to do was get up at 4:30 am — a totally uncivilized time of day for me (*whine*) — and drive a couple of hours. The geese (up to a half million) weren’t even midway along in their migration from central California to Alaska and the Yukon. Before arriving at Freezeout, the massive flocks of geese had made a 15 to 18 hour non-stop flight. Now that’s a journey!
Imagine sitting in your car in dark. Waiting. It’s too cold and windy to wait outside. For now. The engine is running so you can keep your feet warm. You roll the window down and hear a far off murmur.
Just before dawn the sky barely lightens. The murmur resolves like a jazz chord, into low-pitched honks and calls. You sip your hot coffee … turn off the engine. You are quiet. The prairie is quiet.
Suddenly you feel a pounding downbeat as several thousand geese erupt from the water’s surface.
The mass of black dots becomes a cloud of white. Throngs of geese lift in unison, creating a huge black and white spiral. Smooth backs reflect the twilight. Then the flocks head towards you out of the western darkness.
They are directly overhead in just minutes. Jump out of the car and listen! The sound gives you shivers. So many voices!
Look up! Life’s artistry lifts your soul. Snow geese fly in formations that shift and flex — they are writing poetry in calligraphic lines across the sky.
The incredible sound of that many geese flying overhead … going somewhere … makes me feel so connected to life. The sky and the prairie are inside me, those sounds are in my heart and my soul … I am filled with longing. To go … to explore … to belong.
Dear Readers: I appreciate you. For reading my words and for commenting. For looking carefully and engaging with my artwork. For telling me if and how I have touched your hearts. And I hope that somehow I have.
Here is your free calendar for March. These calendars are a gift from me to you because I want you to have something to remind you of a different way of seeing the world around us. And … well, just ‘cuz…
I’d love to know if you find these useful.
The calendars are free for you to download. I will try to post the calendars the first day or two of each month. The only thing I ask is that you use them only for your personal use. Please don’t sell them yourself. And please do tell your friends these are available. Thank you!
If I don’t have the size or proportion of your computer monitor, or if you would like one for a cell phone, please tell me in the comments and I will make one for you and post it here. This month I am posting two versions: the calendar below may be downloaded and printed for your wall or fridge. The one at the top of this post is desktop wallpaper for your computer.
How do I do this? Just right-click to save the image. Let me know in comments if you have any trouble. You can download and print either calendar. Late Winter Cheers from me to you!
I promised to post a gallery of the sled dog photos included in the exhibit, Ancient Bond. So here it is. Each of these is available for purchase as a signed, archival print. (See details below the gallery) Click on the photos to enlarge them. Watermarks are not on the prints.
Helena, Montana is closing in on a record February snowfall. The winter of 1936 set that record. I’m not sure how much snow we’ve had so far this month (usually our driest month of the winter) but, since last Friday, at least 18 inches of snow has fallen outside our house.
Snow is good. The mountains need snow. The soil, the prairies and farms and trees and fish, the rivers and air and people. We all need this moisture and I will be glad of it in summer when the grasses are crisping and crackling. When wildfires do their roaring, racing, burning thing…
The older I get, the less patient I am with the inconveniences of Montana winters. But the colors! Those colors keep me interested!
I go on at least one walk a day, but I get so cold in my bones that it’s just not as much fun as it was when I was younger and (ahem… ummmm) hotter.
it takes a day like today:
wide open skies
not a single cloud
mist hanging close
to the frozen earth
it takes this kind of day
how many different blues are inside the cold
… how many
colors belong to white
You knew that.
So … I hope these images inspire you to take some time and get out into the cold. Bundle up. Stay out until just before the sun goes down so you can grab a little of that incredible light into your soul.
And look. Really look at the colors that surround you!
Those colors will still be inside you on a summer day that tops 100F. When all you want to do is stick your head in a freezer. When you are wishing for some of that of zero-degrees-cold.
The Race to the Sky is Montana’s premier winter event. If you can make it to the official race start at Camp Rimini, or to the re-start of the race at Lincoln, you won’t be disappointed! It’s an incredibly fun event for families. I’m not a musher but I know a few — and I’m pretty sure the mushers and their dogs have fun too.
The 350-mile Race to the Sky is a qualifying event for the Iditarod. This year, the race starts on Saturday morning at 10:00 am. You can get more info about the race at the official Race to the Sky website here.
The walk from parking along the road, to the starting line at Camp Rimini is short. I like to find a place to watch up the trail — away from the crowds. When the dog teams come by where we are standing, they’re usually quieter and more focused. It’s a different (and equally fascinating) experience back at the actual starting line, where all of the dog teams are barking to beat the band in anticipation of taking off!
I am exhibiting the photos below at 1+1=1 Gallery in Helena. Please come by the gallery to see the show while you’re in town for the race. There is also an 8 foot antique dog sled on display in the gallery. All of these 12 x 18 inch archival prints are available for purchase (details at bottom of this post.) The exhibit will be up for one month, through March 2nd.
IF YOU GO:
335 North Last Chance Gulch. Open Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays noon to 5:00 pm.
Official Race Start near Rimini on Saturday Feb 15 at 10:00 am
Take Highway 12 (Helena side of McDonald Pass). At the bottom of McDonald Pass, turn south on Rimini Road and follow Rimini Road past Moose Creek Campground on the right. Watch for the snowmobile parking area on the right side of the road, park on right side of the road.
Race Re-Start in Lincoln on Sunday Feb 16 at 2:00 pm
Follow Highway 12 past Elliston and Avon. Turn right (north) at Highway 141 just beyond Avon, cross the railroad tracks, and follow Hwy. 141 for 34 miles to the end of the Helmville Road. At the stop sign intersecting Highway 141 and Highway 200, turn right (east) toward Lincoln and travel another 16 miles farther. Hi-Country Snack Foods is on the left side of the road when going toward Lincoln from the Helmville Road. Watch for the sign. The Race to the Sky starts and finishes under the big archway.
Do you love dogs? Have any wall space at home that just begs for one of these sweet dog portraits?
Are you a veterinarian or doctor? These beguiling portraits might be just the thing for your waiting room or exam rooms — imagine your patients connecting with the feelings evoked by these photos of care, love, enthusiasm and personality!
Do you have your own office? Can you imagine yourself connecting with one of these human-canine images when you look up from your work?
Picture a grouping of these striking portraits wherever you live or work, to remind you of the special bond we humans share with our dogs:
Sizes: most of the signed photos are 18 inches x 12 inches.
Paper: photos are digitally printed on archival Silver Rag Gloss (more of a luster finish) paper.
Quality: these are the highest quality digital prints I can find, made for me in South Carolina by a fine art printer. The colors and black and white tones are rich and the paper feels like a traditional cotton fiber based paper.
Price unframed: $100 each
Price for Ready-to-Hang prints mounted on Baltic Birch gallery panels: $200 each. These are light-weight cradled wood panels 1 1/4 inches deep, with natural birch sides. The photos are mounted with archival adhesive flush to the edge of the panel.
How to Buy: please let me know by email if you want to purchase one or more prints from this exhibit. [email protected]
If you missed the opening reception of All Things Sled Dog (and Dog) at 1+1=1, you can still see the photos at the gallery through March 2nd, 2014. We are located at 335 North Last Chance Gulch in Helena, Montana.
There are two exhibits by Maureen Shaughnessy at the gallery this month: Ancient Bond, an exhibit of sled dogs portraits emphasizing the dogs’ personalities and the bond with their handlers and mushers… and Charlie’s Closet, select portraits of Charlie putting up with being dressed up in human clothes.
Our Friday night reception was well attended. I began with a talk about how I shoot portraits of dogs, and try to build connections between the dogs (the photos) and viewers. Mark Ibsen followed with a humorous talk about mushing, using my photos to enlighten the audience about what the dogs might be feeling or thinking. He had the guests (and me) laughing and smiling. Dave Armstrong and several other old-time mushers attended and we even got Dave to give us some history about the Race to the Sky and the antique sled displayed at the gallery this month.
We had a mix of mushers and mushing-fans along with other dog lovers and a handful of photo buffs. I promised a couple of guests that I would post my talk, along with the 19 tips for photographing dogs, so I’ll do that in the next day or so. Check back later this week.
Thank you to my dear friends, Jaime for helping me hang the show and to Ema and Adia for your help with the food during the reception. Thank you especially to Tim Carney, who mounted the utility panels on the gallery walls and helped me serve wine and finance the exhibit. Plus you are always my greatest fan and helpmate. You’re awesome!
Please enjoy the opening night photos. If you see yourself in the crowd and want to comment, please do. Or comment even if you weren’t there.
All of Maureen’s photos are for sale.
The size of most of the signed photos is 18 inches x 12 inches.
The photos are digitally printed on archival Silver Rag Gloss (more of a luster finish) paper.
These are the highest quality digital prints I can find, made for me in South Carolina: the colors and black and white tones are rich and the paper feels like a traditional cotton fiber based paper.
Unframed prints are $100 each.
Ready-to-Hang prints mounted on Baltic Birch gallery panels are $200 each.