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fotofest 2014

fotofest awaits I just returned from five intense days of fine art portfolio reviews in Houston at the bi-annual Fotofest. Fotofest is the world’s largest portfolio review which hosts approximately 45 reviewers and 130 artists per session (the five-day sessions run from March 15 to April 27). Photographers from around the world, me included, bring their work to be seen by gallerists, museum directors, collectors, art directors, etc. also from around the world. Every day we would meet one-on-one with the reviewers at linen-draped tables in the Doubletree ballroom. Everyone had opinions. Some reviewers loved the work (of any given photographer), some didn’t love it as much. I overheard one photographer in the elevator say that one reviewer praised his work and the next one said he should throw it in the trash. (Well–that’s not a very helpful review but most were more circumspect.)

For me, this was a very helpful event. I brought my newest work, the Rapture series. I got numerous positive responses, some great feedback. I met some people whose work I loved and I hope I will see them again. Among them, Toni Greaves of Portland who has a book about clositered nuns coming out soon (Chronicle Books). And Tara Bogart whose photos of the backs of women’s hairdos, set in classic ovals, is very compelling.

Houston is an incredible city for the arts. And especially for photography. For this event there was a special photographic exhibit of the work of 48 Arab photographers. I could go on and on but, for now, you get the idea. It was amazing.

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Recently a friend sent me this beautiful poem called One Heart by Li-Young Li. It sees like a perfect way to start a new year, or to start every day. I keep it taped to my computer screen.

One Heart

Look at the birds. Even flying

is born

out of nothing. The first sky

is inside you, open

at either end of the day.

The work of wings

was always freedom, fastening

one heart to every falling thing.

–Li-Young Li

I just returned from a two-week vacation with my husband, Ted McMahon, to celebrate our 25th anniversary. We sailed the Mediterranean from Barcelona to Venice on a Prairie Home Companion cruise with Garrison Keillor. Lots of music, good food and many sights to behold.

I got a chance to sit down and read a book (Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, which I highly recommend). But more than anything, I got a chance to take stock of my life, asking (as I have many times): am I doing what I want/should be doing with my life? Am I spending enough time with friends and family? Am I savoring day-to-day life?

The answer didn’t (and shouldn’t) come as an automatic “yes”. It is a real question that welcomes thought and I think (hope) we all ask ourselves this question now and then.

I am grateful to have a profession in photography and teaching that has given me a lot of happiness over a thirty-year career. Sometimes it is more demanding than I would wish. But I can’t imagine NOT doing what I do.

On my trip, I resolved to tweak things a bit. Try to spend more time with friends. Try for more art time. Find some time to read and play music. But overall, I love my life and am blessed by what it gives me in return.

What do you remember of your childhood summers? I remember orange pushups, the frozen sherbet in cardboard tubes. I can still hear the ecstatic noise of kids playing at the park pool, bombing off the high-dive and splashing all the girls in bikinis. I had a favorite sundress that my mom made for me. It had giraffes printed on it and it tied in bows at the shoulders. Other: The sweet smell of rain as thunderheads moved across the plains. The parades we would put on with wagons decorated like floats and girls dressed up in glittery gowns. I was the one twirling the baton.

I recently did a photo shoot for Avanti, a card company in New York. I worked with a gaggle of adorable four-year-olds on a sultry summer evening. They brought back moments that I relish being reminded of.  Thanks, kids, for the memories!

oh summer day!

Adieu © 2012

Today is the last day of my exhibit in New York. Time has gone so fast. From Robin Rice Gallery it moves to the wonderful Iris Gallery in Boston and Aspen. My images will hang in the Boston Gallery this summer–perfect for an exhibit with water and sky.

As I reflect on the months (and stress) of putting together the show, combined with other life events, such as the death of my friend Mary and the more recent death of our dear kitty friend, Maxx, I welcome the perspective achieved by time and distance. I am so grateful for this beautiful summer day, for the opportunity to create images that people buy to hang in their homes. I am grateful for friends who support me and for the creative life I get to live.

After a little break I will return to teaching two classes this summer through PCNW in Seattle: Natural Light Portraiture and also an intensive lighting course. And a book deadline for Amherst Media–my textbook of lighting for anyone who wants to learn what I teach. Due in August.

Here is one of my favorite poems by Mary Oliver. I kept it taped inside my bathroom mirror for years and years so I could be reminded of its message every day, not just every summer day.

The Summer Day

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?

Who made the swan and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean–

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down–

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?



small miracles

Today I stepped out the door to go for my walk. Under the pale blue sky and with no thought in mind except to walk, I happened to look toward our pink-flowered hawthorn tree where I noticed a pile of grass that seemed unusual, like the leftovers from mowing the lawn.

I turned it over. It was a nest that had fallen from the tree, a little sworl of grass and twigs vacated by the robins who had built it.

Inside the nest:  turquoise shards of egg shells from babies who had flown away. And some pink flowers.  How did they get there? Did a some person put them there after the nest fell? Or did the robin put them there?

I added some blue lobelia from our yard and photographed the nest under the the tree from which it fell. It seemed a small miracle to me.

The opening was fabulous! Wednesday, May 8 came as the hallowed date that had been circled on my calendar for many months. As it came down to the weeks before the exhibit, we were in flat-out mode: printing, framing, shipping. Everything had to work like clockwork. There were anxiety-producing glitches, of course. A call from the framer about a spot on a print that needed to be fixed. Done. A bad batch of framing material that needed to be reordered. Done. An extra-large print that needed to be shipped to New York but the shipping tubes were the wrong size. We got that fixed. Everything got shipped out with the help of the wonderful Julee Geier of Phil Borges Photography. And everything arrived in good shape in New York except for one tiny crack in a frame which my husband repaired with white putty. Whew!

It looks so beautiful! The walls of the Robin Rice Gallery were painted white so the images appear to float. On the morning of the opening, the heavens opened (perfect for a show photographed in water)! It rained a record three inches, flooded streets and some subways. But by 4:00, the clouds pulled away and the sun came out of hiding. When we arrived at the gallery, the sun was shining. Friends and colleagues arrived and filled the gallery for hours. Two friends sent flowers that added a special touch. At the end of the evening we had a party at a nearby cafe with an outdoor courtyard strung with twinkling lights. We played music, sang songs and toasted to art and friendship.

Few people realize how much work goes into producing a show. So it is with much gratitude that I thank friends who came from New York, Boston, New Jersey and even Seattle (!) to celebrate. It really means a lot to any artist when people show up. And a special thanks to my husband, Ted, who has given me so much support during the months that led up to the exhibit. And might I say, for the past 25 years of marriage! See more photos of the exhibit on Facebook.

Arabexque by Rosanne Olson © 2013

Arabesque by Rosanne Olson © 2013

Right now (as I type) we are printing for my exhibit at the Robin Rice Gallery in New York City which opens on May 8, 2013 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. This is a dream-based series called Rapture, based on life-long dreams of floating in the air. It’s exciting to explore one’s inner thoughts as art, to take an initial idea or feeling and translate it to a two-dimensional medium. I hope that the photographs will evoke feelings, memories, a sense of “being there” for those who look at them. If you are in NYC or planning to visit there, please come to the opening. It will be festive!

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Mary Gales

My dear friend Mary Gales died in Seattle on January 23. It was an unexpected and untimely death. For thirteen years she was my body worker, fellow artist, musician and friend. I have photographed Mary a number of times over the years and we had plans to do another photo session soon. She was a beautiful person in so many ways. I am glad that I have photographs of her so her family can use them to remember her. Several friends and I have set up an art scholarship in her name at Gage Academy. Death is very difficult to process in any circumstance. But an untimely death such as Mary’s leaves many people reeling and many questions unanswered. One way I have channeled my grief is to create a video and song to honor her. If you’d like to see it, click here.

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I recently taught at a portraiture class. When one of the students asked me how I work with people, here is what I said:

“To me a portrait is not just a picture. It is an exploration of (and with) the person who sits before my camera. My approach, which has evolved over 30 years, is to understand whom I am working with, how they see themselves and what they want to convey. It is a deep art which I half-jokingly call photo-therapy.”

The portraits above were all taken over a period of a few weeks: an opera singer, a pianist/composer, a writer, a young woman I have known since birth, the poet laureate of Washington, a cancer patient, an anniversary portrait, a mother and daughter, among others. Each photo has a story and a connection.

When I present the portraits, it gives me great joy when people get a little emotional or excited at being properly “seen.” When that happens, I know I have done my job of of photographing . . . and listening.

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