“Close to Home”

Sunday evening, I returned from spending three and a half days in Port Townsend. While PT is only two and a half hours away, I came home to that feeling you have when you’ve been away on vacation a while and you notice details like how much the wisteria on the gate has grown, how the leaves on the dogwood have started to change color, and how badly the front of the house needs painting.

Ironically, I was in Port Townsend feeling far from home for the “Close to Home,” workshop led by Stuart Sipahigil, and Ray Ketcham. When my daughter asked if I’d learned a lot in the workshop, I told her “yes, but not in the way that you might think.” “Close to Home,” as Stuart presented it, is a concept, not a recipe. Stuart isn’t interested in teaching anyone how to operate their equipment so as to achieve better photographs, he’s interested in helping photographers see differently; to see their own personal environments as ripe with possibilities for wonderful images.

To that end, he and Ray offered exercises such as plunking each of us in a spot for one hour with the instruction that we were not to move – not even 10 feet. When Stuart pointed at me and then at the bike rack sitting at the edge of the sidewalk in front of the not yet open bookstore on the main road in “downtown”, I looked at him incredulously. Seeing nothing immediately, I asked if I could at least climb on the bike rack (which I did). Anyone who knows me knows that asking me to stand anywhere for one hour is a major challenge.  Of course the bike rack perch yielded more than I could have initially imagined and I actually came up with a couple images that I really like! 

Each of us was also given a personal assignment that we had half a day to work on. I was given the boat harbor – not the harbor in town where visiting tourists moor their pleasure craft, but the working harbor south of town.  I had no idea what to expect there. I arrived early Saturday morning fortified by a large cup of coffee. Four hours of making photographs later, after searching for and trying to effectively represent the “soul” of the place, I desperately needed food. Making my way up the hill to the farmer’s market, I plopped down in the grass in the sunshine with an enormous fresh salmon sandwich for a brief respite, digesting the morning and hoping that the memory cards in my bag held the feeling I had discovered in the harbor. I had so much fun that I think it would be safe to bet that I’ll be found haunting docks in Seattle some time soon to add to that collection of images.

While I spent the days in Port Townsend, I spent nights sleeping in front of a fire in a rough summer shelter/cabin about 45 minutes away with only the mice for company. The cabin sits on a piece of land my family has owned since I was seven. I left there early and returned after dark every evening. I watched the sun turn the Olympics pink in the mornings above a layer of low fog sitting on the mirror smooth water. In the context of “Close to Home”, I saw all of this with different eyes and realized that though nothing there is unfamiliar, it can all be fresh and new every day if I only open my eyes and pay attention. I think Stuart will be happy to know that I ended up, on my last morning, camera in hand, at 7am, lying in the wet sand of the beach.

If I had to choose one image from the whole weekend, it would be this one.

One morning, as I drove towards Port Townsend on Center Road for the umpteenth time this year, I was struck by the beauty of the valley and pulled over. I jumped out of my car, imagining the photograph I wanted to make. To my disappointment, I evidently terrified the cows grazing in the foreground of my photograph, and they took off running away from me before I had a chance to press the shutter once. I fired off a few frames anyway because it was a pretty scene, but it wasn’t what I was after. As I turned to walk back to my car, I noticed the cows on the other side of the road with the fog in the trees behind them. Contrary to their pals across the road, they apparently were not afraid of me, as they actually approached the fence separating us. I giggled to myself as I stood there, thinking about how all I needed to do was stop, slow down and pay attention. Though this image was made outside the framework of the workshop, for me it captures the essence of what Stuart was trying to convey.