Thursday, May 17, 2007


I’ve put myself “out there” for crowds for as long as I can remember. Something within screams, “PEOPLE! LISTEN UP! I HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY!” and I sing or act (or lately, post a photograph). Did it begin back in grade-school when I first tapped across the black stage boards and heard applause? Was it when the high school voice teacher heard me singing and asked, “Where have you been?” (Is it attention I crave)? For a long time I favored the performing arts because - frankly - I was better at them than I was at sketching.

My college career was pretty checkered. I was the first of my family to go to college, and even in my teenage naivety I realized that I should eventually come out of it with some kind of career. As it seemed to me, that career ought to be made from something I enjoyed doing, a piecing together of new-found college-taught knowledge and a love of… well, what? (I probably should note here that because my dad worked at R.I.T., I qualified for free tuition at most other colleges and universities; I also earned a NYS scholarship that paid all of my room and board costs. College for me was free, and if it hadn't been so, I couldn't have gone.)

My life’s passions to that point had been horses, nature, singing in coffee houses and “hootenannies,” theatre, writing, cheerleading, and a boy named Phil. The last two didn’t seem to have a future, and the first four weren’t anywhere in the curriculum at the college I was about to enroll in. I did a twelfth grade “I-search” paper on journalism, but during my first weeks of college, a wonderful teacher convinced me that geology was the major for me. I loved his class, although nagging at the back of my mind was the question, “What the hell kind of career is geology??” Luckily (maybe), I got sick – really sick – and had to drop out of college five months later.

I recovered and regrouped. As Bob Dylan was writing then, “Thought I’d had some ups and downs till I rambled into New York Town; buildin’s goin’ up to the sky, people goin’ down to the ground.” I transferred to a school in New York and registered as a sociology major. With three foster sisters, it was something I knew a little bit about. I hung out in the coffee houses of Greenwich Village every chance I got. Once I even sang on Washington Square. It was the ‘60s, and New York was where it was at. The trouble was, I hated the head of the Sociology Department. He was a sociologist, not a social worker, and he was a total jerk, so when I heard about a junior year abroad program in Austria, I packed my trunk.

Austria provided a liberal arts program with no particular major emphasis. Fine by me. I studied art history, French, German, philosophy, history – all interesting, and none of the program particularly difficult. At the end of that alpine school year, I couldn’t imagine returning to traffic and concrete, nor could I imagine that a person could do “social work” anywhere but in a city: chuck that career idea. I dropped out of school… again.

I worked as a dental assistant, sterilizing instruments, developing x-rays, making plaster models of teeth and handing stuff to the doc’s. After several months of being under-appreciated and underpaid, I got fed-up and quit. It was October, and the department stores were hiring Christmas help, so I applied and got a job selling lingerie. After Christmas I was offered my own department: Junior Lingerie… cute little bras for cute little boobs... and it was there one afternoon, by the escalator, that a passing photo student from R.I.T. snapped my picture. By evening we were developing things in his darkroom…

I met his friends and classmates at a party – photog’s all, and some musicians. I saw the movie “Blow-up.” I began singing with a small group we called “The Handful of Change” and two of us recorded the short sound-track for another photo student’s film. I modeled for a soon-to-be fashion photographer. Late nights I’d be at the jazz club where folks like Coleman Hawkins played after hours. I was in hog heaven and not missing school one bit.

And then, came the dawn…! It occurred to me that by using a camera, I could create what my clumsy hands could not. I could express the passions of my soul! There was an eight-week summer program at R.I.T. where I could take all of my freshman photo courses in intensity. My new friends were heading home for the summer, and they loaned me darkroom and camera equipment. I immersed myself in studio, classroom, and shooting assignments during the day and spent my night hours in a make-shift darkroom. I hardly ate during that time, using lunch hour to crop and dry-mount prints, wolfing dinner so that I could get down to my basement trays of developer, stop and fixer. I was the only student in the program who had no previous photography experience, and I was also the only female. I loved every minute of it, and despite my sizable experience handicap, earned a B for those “freshman” courses.

Two months later, three weeks into my sophomore year in the “Professional Photography” program, I realized I was pregnant.

Time passed. Photography, once a passion, became synonymous with family photo album. I don’t think John Lennon had yet said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans,” but I lived that.

Fast-forward thirty-eight years. The same Minolta camera purchased in 1967 for R.I.T. was still with me, although now at times the shutter was sticking open. We had both registered a lot of things. “Would you like a new camera for your 60th birthday?” my husband asked.

Although the decision was mine, he favored digital. Digital was the buzzword, but I wondered how a digital SLR could possibly compare to a good film camera. I thought of the people I know who fancy themselves photographers… gear queers seemed a more apt description… when all you really need is an understanding of focal length, aperture, film speed – and a good eye…
now a wizened eye…

Digital just couldn’t be as wonderful as the feeling of gently rubbing your fingers over a developing print, couldn’t substitute for the peace and joy I used to feel in the dim glow of the darkroom light or the brief illumination cast by the enlarger on paper. My mind zipped to building a darkroom but then tripped on the problem of chemical disposal.

We had a Kodak digital camera at the office, and I began using it. It wasn’t much of a camera (although considered quite better than average at the time it was purchased), but it showed me the possibilities. Husband continued to push digital. It was needed for website work and for his new enterprise and that would help justify the cost of a good camera. He literally led me to a wonderful camera shop above Ben and Jerry’s ice cream parlor in Burlington, and – at age 60 – I emerged with a new Pentax digital SLR.

I submitted one of the first pictures I took with the new camera to North Country Public Radio’s “Photo of the Day” web page, and it was selected. At the end of the year, NCPR asked permission to use that photo in a calendar they were publishing. Several months later, two of my three submissions to the Frederic Remington Art Museum “Amateurs Only” show were selected for exhibition.

Last fall I submitted one photo to Upper Canada Village’s annual photo competition, and despite competing with many wonderful submissions by many good photographers, I won a 2nd place. At the moment I am preparing for my first solo “show” at a local restaurant.

What is creativity, anyway? Why do some of us literally ache to express? Is someone a photographer, a sculptor, a poet, a dancer - or is there a more universal need that finds release in one medium or another, not really caring what the medium is? For me, the need to have a career has passed, replaced by the earned luxury of time to do what pleases me, and taking – and sharing - pictures pleases me greatly. This is my creative passion.

In this blog I have tried to post photos that give glimpses of the natural world, something I love and believe must be preserved. In this way, my photography supports those other things I am passionate about. Coupled with these images of the Wizened Eye have been stories, the photographic muse’s lexical counterpart.

Thanks to each of you who has visited my blog or website and left encouraging words, for to be an artist alone in the wilderness (with no audience) might be unbearable.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Remembering My Mother

There she is: the redhead in white in the middle of the fun. Behind her, in the white cap, is my father. This was a newspaper photo from the 1930s when she was Rochester, NY, city speed-skating champ and he was the city's men's tennis champion.

And here is a poem written by Shaman:

A wish

May we all find our
way to our mothers
today, or some day.
May we find
the mothers
we miss,
the mothers we wish we had,
and the grandmothers of our
where the love waits
And may we be wise enough
to say thank you for the gifts
they were able to give.

........................Written by Becky Harblin..... May 13, 2007

Happy Mothers Day to each of you who are mothers and who have or had mothers.

You may find more wonderful poems by Becky here.