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Writing with a camera

In July I left my desk one Thursday morning and drove to Mount Lemmon with Brooke and Jeanne. Though my internal office manager frowned a little at this interruption in my schedule, I packed my art supplies anyway. After all, our day had arrived where we'd paint, sketch and create en plein air.

Once a month a group of us pick a green and cool-ish spot around Tucson to unfold our portable chairs and dabble for an hour. We absorb the world with our senses, translate it onto paper or canvas, then gather--kinda starry-eyed-- for a picnic.

That day I laced up my hiking boots and carried my dad's old Leica toward the trees. How pleasing to pad over pine needles and photograph a flowering chuparosa! For a good long while I watched a stellar's jay flash its blue-black feathers as it sat high on a branch. I even found a few tinajas-- small, rounded pools of rain water--sunk into a massive granite shelf.

Looking through the lens of a camera always slows my thinking. It's this direct window into the sweetness of right now.

This used to happen to me often during my years as a photo student. In the late 80s I framed people, textures and expressions in the natural light I loved. My friend Jon and I shot pictures all over Arizona. Later, we hand-processed and printed those black & white negatives, and eagerly watched our images develop.

I wilted the day a college professor said my photos should be more than pretty. She said they needed a story.

A story?

I didn't understand what she meant. I was hurt and defensive. I kindof tried to solve this problem, but I needed more living and effort and failure in order to gain perspective. Over time, my wonderment with photography fizzled, and my Nikon was nudged so far into my closet I forgot its inherent magic.

Until now.

The more I write, and the more I pause to stare at stuff through different lenses, the meaning of this "story" concept gets clearer.

The way I see it: if one morning of art-making can perk up my whole brain, it seems like these plein air days are as vital to my wellness (and creativity) as any hour behind my desk.

Wishing you good light, heart-y narratives and loads of color. :)


At Mt. Lemmon with the brilliantly creative Brooke Toles-Johnson, lead artiste and founder of our fabulous plein air art dates! Photo by Jeanne Fellow.

All other photos by Traci.

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