Kirsten called me this past winter to photograph her baby bump and it snowed for a few days prior to the shoot. Lots of snow and cold temperatures were not going to stop us from getting those amazing outdoor shots. She looked gorgeous....
I thought I would share some of the images in case there are any other moms-to-be who were thinking of having a maternity shoot....and to remind everyone that this heat and humidity will eventually give way to sweaters and mittens.
There were some very beautiful shots sans clothing, but for privacy reasons those will be left for her personal use! She had a beautiful baby boy a month after we did these images.
Her daughter wanted to show off her belly with a ribbon wrapped around it!
They have been friends and committed to each other since high school - so romantic....
Jenny & Mike's Wedding Day at Patriot Hills in Stony Point
May 3, 2013
Lovely Jenny found her life partner at the school where she teaches. They chose beautiful Patriot Hills that sits on a hilltop in the Hudson Valley. I was delighted to capture her wedding day and have the opportunity to see other former photography clients who joined in the festivities.
Brendan turned one this month and his mom, Eileen, thought it would be fun to have a private "shoot" to commemorate the big event. I had the pleasure of photographing Eileen's wedding ten years ago and have now become their family photographer. Her son, Patrick, loves to pose for me - and only me! I can't wait to see the children at their aunt's wedding in May when I photograph them coming down the aisle as part of the wedding party. I have so many photos of Brendan, people are going to begin to think he's mine :~ } If only I was so lucky....
One morning I woke up with horses on my mind; perhaps I had been dreaming of them, or perhaps they called to me in some way. I put aside my thoughts of horses, which was not difficult since I have never had a speck of experience with them. You know the nagging feeling that haunts you--the feeling you have forgotten to do something important, but can't remember what it was? This nagging feeling continued to follow me around for a few weeks; it would not go away.
One day, while I was tooling around on Facebook, I came across a former client's Facebook page. We had recently connected and I honestly cannot recall if she friended me or I her, but I saw horses on her page. A big dong went off in my head and I suddenly felt the relief of finally remembering something long forgotten; the nagging feeling vanished. I realized I needed to begin photographing horses--didn't matter why--something told me to just do it.
Renee, a life time horse lover, kindly brought me to visit her friend Karen who had rescued two horses from slaughter; Karen had bravely agreed to let me into her paddock to photograph her horses. I'm sure she was a bit concerned when I showed up in sandals with a large DSLR slung around my neck. For those horse neophytes, the last shoe attire one wants to wear around a 1200 lb. stomping animal is sandals! Karen was a trooper and let me scrabble around her two girls, Arabel & Ella, shooting away and the "girls" graciously put up with me, perhaps knowing I was there with good intentions. At one point, I found myself alone with Ella and hoping no one could hear me, decided to tell her how happy I was she had found a good home, how sorry I was she had experienced pain and sadness, and thanked her profusely for letting me photograph her. When she put her head down and rewarded me with a snicker, I knew I was on the right path; there is something about being around horses that is totally enchanting.
Between my time with Ella & Arabel and my pending trip to a horse sanctuary in the Catskills, I had learned about kill auctions and horse slaughter. To my horror, it was explained the horses going to auction all have different circumstances that put them in harms way and most are healthy animals; I never imagined young healthy horses being used for food. Some horses are coming off the racetracks at three or four years old (very young) due to injuries and no longer being valuable as racers, horses who have been living with families and have been abandoned probably due to lack of funds to keep them, work horses who are no longer valuable to the farmers, and owners who have decided they don't want their horse anymore; they are brought to auction where kill buyers, who are employed by slaughter houses located in Canada and Mexico, bid on the horses. If the horse is not adopted out by a private buyer or a rescue organization, the kill buyer wins the bid and the horses are loaded onto double-decker trucks meant for cattle in conditions that cause physical and emotion trauma. They are transported over the border and inhumanely slaughtered to be someone's European meal.
It is a cruel story and I realized why I was "guided" to begin telling their stories and photographing them. It was time to listen to the rescuers and the horses who have a story to tell.
The issue of horse slaughter is very controversial and with such an emotional subject matter, finding viable solutions is difficult. Should horses be considered companion animals versus livestock? ( this blog writer thinks so ) Some horse owners feel if they were deemed companion animals, they would lose the "protection" of livestock transportation laws, but when speaking with animal activists and rescue organizations, they say there are loopholes used daily to avoid compliance.
In 2011, the USDA issued a final rule that amended the regulations under the Commercial Transport Of Equines to Slaughter Act to extend protections now supposedly afforded to horses being transported directly to slaughter facilities. The act that went into effect October 7, 2011, made several changes by broadening the application of the act to include the equines being transferred to a slaughter facility, including an assembly point, feedlot, or stockyard. Previously, the rule only applied to horses moved directly to the slaughter plant. Prior to the amended regulation, kill buyers would put the horses on double-decker trailers not suitable for horse transportation. The horses unlucky enough to find themselves on the trailers regardless of transport, are exhausted, frightened, and many arrive injured with no medical treatment availble. Just because there are regulations in place, doesn't mean they are adequately monitored. It always comes down to unscrupulous behavior and economics for those without a heart. The manner in which the horses are slaughtered is brutal and if the details of the slaughter were more widely known by the public, there would surely be an outcry.
There is also the issue of tainted meat being consumed; these horses have no drug histories accompanying them since they are not raised as food animals. Horses receive medications throughout their lives that are banned by the Food and Drug Administration and the EU. This issue alone should cause people from wanting to consume horse meat and how anyone could sell or serve this to their customers is baffling. The obvious solution, the humane solution, is to outlaw the slaughter of horses--period. They are sentient animals, social, and develop deep bonds with their humans. Thousands of horses were sent to slaughter last year with over 70% of them having been companion animals. There is now legislation pending about reopening slaughter houses in the states, which I find disturbing.
I have learned that over breeding of horses is a big part of the problem and contributes to the number of horses who find themselves at the kill auctions. Why not geld the horse? After all, we use this option for our cats and dogs--it's a standard procedure to solve a problem. Horse slaughter is an issue rarely discussed except amongst horse and animal activists; it certainly was not on my radar screen. The news channels ran a quick one night story about the possible reopening of U.S. slaughter plants, but one doesn't see it being a topic of continuing coverage. The story can go on forever and I am not even touching on the wild horse issues on land out west and what the Bureau of Land Management is doing to those herds. I will leave that story for a future blog.
Even after the sandal scandal, Renee and Karen drove me to Rosemary Farm Sanctuary located in the Catskills of New York, owned by Dawn Robyn and her husband. Former Brooklyn dwellers and talented artists, they changed their lives in the most drastic way possible and began a sanctuary for horses headed to slaughter. They now find themselves the stewards of 40 or so horses at any given time. It means long hard days feeding, watering, tending wounds both physical and emotional, fundraising, finding adoptive homes, and saving beloved animals from a horrific and painful end. The farm is nestled amongst green rolling hills where her guests can live as a herd until someone comes to adopt them. It is not unusual to see a horse running through her front yard, which I found to be hilarious, but no one else in my group even raised an eyebrow--just another afternoon at Rosemary Farm, I suppose. I don't know how Dawn finds the time to write such profound blogs about her experiences, her horses, and her daily life running a horse sanctuary. I look forward to one day reading the book she has yet to realize she will write...
Dawn comforting one of her horses....
Having the desire and curiosity to continue exploring the story of horse rescue, I decided to fly out to Fort Collins, Colorado and visit Amber Herrell, owner of Shiloh Acres Horse Rescue. Amber is a beautiful young woman who has close to forty rescued horses (and a sheep, goats, and a talented pig who dances and twirls for a treat) on a farm with an amazing view of the Rocky Mountains lingering in the distance. She was gracious enough to let a total stranger--who, I must admit, called, emailed, and basically stalked her until finally connecting--to come visit her farm. We agreed to meet early one morning to photograph her gorgeous horses and hear about how she got started in rescue. It was interesting to learn that although the two rescues were on opposite sides of the country, the stories about the fate of the horses were sadly the same.
Amber's family home is just down the road from a kill auction yard where back in 1999, she had gone to see what it was about and, not surprisingly, left in tears. Driving by a year later, something compelled her to drop in; her fate awaited her in a draft mare named Shiloh. Amber literally bought her on the spot from a kill buyer and Shiloh came off the trailer and went home with Amber that very day (after scrounging around for a horse trailer, hay, and other horse accoutrements).
Although Shiloh was only with Amber for five days before submitting to severe Colic, it changed Amber's life and consequently, saved the lives of all the horses she now takes in, loves, and adopts out. Shiloh was the fateful messenger meant for Amber and all her future rescue horses that cold winter day twelve years ago.
As I discovered with both rescues, fundraising is a big issue because the cost of horse upkeep is very expensive. The price of hay, which has skyrocketed due to drought conditions, makes feeding the horses a major challenge. These rescues rely solely on donations; often, these women feed and provide vet care out of their own pockets. Fundraising is difficult at the best of times, especially when there is so much need to conquer hunger, poverty, etc. Engaging people in the plight of horses can be daunting; doing so while working from dawn to after the moon emerges, is almost impossible. They cannot possibly do it by themselves and need help. Most donations come from animal lovers; people who have furry children in their homes and barns. The question I am pondering is how do I engage the public to support these organizations? I know it "takes a village," hearts who know it is important to give back to receive, to care for beings who cannot speak up for themselves... I just need to find them.
I will be traveling to different rescues around the country, meeting more amazing women who sacrifice their own financial lives for their horses. This project, if all the stars align, will hopefully turn into a book to raise money for the rescues I visit. My main objective is public awareness. As a society, we need to remember to be mindful of how we treat the earth and all of it's inhabitants. It will be a work in progress, a labor of love. I appreciate everyone who supports this project, you know who you are.....
I have made arrangements to learn more about horses since the largest animal I hang around with is a 17lb terrier. My steel toe boots are en route from Amazon, every horse book I could find is stacked by my bed, and I have made arrangements to spend time with a horse woman with 47 years experience to teach me horse body language, grooming, picking up their leg, how to get them off my foot should a hoof land on it (hence the steel toes), and how to put a saddle on. Riding horses? Well, not my primary interest right now--I just want to see them live quality lives. My fantasy would be to have lots of land with old draft mares living out their lives just hanging out munching while letting me love them.
Back to Amber and her rescue farm, Shiloh Acres. If I wasn't hooked on horses before, this visit took me right over the edge of the cliff. Amber let me roam amongst her draft mares and even though horse safety is always an issue and not to be taken lightly, I felt very safe amongst her drafts--the gentle giants. I found myself surrounded by curious mares who stood there as many of my brides do, showing me their best angles while I shot away. I finally put my camera aside and became present in the moment--it was the most amazing experience of my life. I felt like I was standing right where I was supposed to be; I knew I was on the right path by doing my small part in helping to save these amazing animals and in doing so, saving a part of myself.
Please visit my blog as more stories of rescues visited are posted.
If you would like to contribute to this project and make a donation to the rescues, please visit my Etsy Store - ViolettePhotoImages. There are beautiful images of the horses I photographed and 30% of the proceeds goes to the rescues where that horse was a willing model.
The forever sweet Eileen and her equally nice husband, Al, are former wedding clients from nine years ago; they had me back again to photograph the newest addition to the family, a gorgeous, cherubic, blue eyed little boy. Brendan's very mature seven year old sister, Kathryn, and his hilarious older brother Patrick, rollicked with me in their back yard yesterday--I could not ask for better models and yard playmates. Brendan seemed to really enjoy his time in front of the "professional" camera. I thought I was going to be able to bring him home with me after the shoot (he would just fit in my camera bag), but mom and dad preferred I come over and babysit anytime I wanted. :-}
Alex, Luke, and Eva...
It is a photographer's pleasure, a compliment to one's artistry, and an inspirational experience to be asked to photograph a family as the children grow. I have witnessed the changes in the boys over the past few years; they grew from mischievous little guys to these wonderful big brothers, watching over their little sister, Eva. They truly participate in the shoot and often come up with great ideas. I believe it is important to let the children be part of the creative process, to let them run around and be themselves. Some of the best images are a result of their being who they are...
Here are some images from our shoot this last weekend at Washington Irving's Sunnyside home in Tarrytown, N.Y.
Post shoot exhaustion....
Lately I have discovered a desire to photograph my hometown of Lewiston, Maine. It was a place I longed to leave as soon as I hit puberty and when the time came to pack up and finally embark on dreamed about adventures, I never looked back. I was going to conquer the world and it certainly was not going to be in this river town. Here I am years later looking at Lewiston with new, interested eyes. I am fascinated by the changes to my hometown and the surrounding areas. This desire, this yearning to return to my roots is amusing to me and my family--I guess one should never say never. I am quite interested in the people who have chosen to stay in Maine even during the roughest of times.
**This is Bill, a former commercial fisherman from Point Judith who now lives in the western part of rural Maine. You can see the struggles he has experienced etched in the lines of his face, but the Maine spirit is still present in those blue eyes.
My childhood memory of Maine is of a bucolic place, a constant visual and olfactory delight ~ the sharp smell of pine and my personal favorite, the heady smell of the ocean. This memory is why I never felt comfortable in a landlocked state; I find my dreams are of the ocean. There exists a diversity in Maine unknown to many--the people, geography, lifestyle, but there is also an unexplainable commonality amongst the residents of this magnificent state, which stubbornly clings to the edge of the Atlantic. Maine people are like the land on which they live, steadfast and solid; they are proud of their strength and resiliency. It was a place where I was surrounded by love and when I drive over the state line on the Piscataqua River Bridge from Portsmouth, N.H. into Maine, I know I am home again.
I will occasionally blog about my journey of exploring the nooks & crannies of Maine and the people who reside within them. It is always the people who make a place interesting, who bring heart to their environment; learning their stories will be both fun and entertaining.
You simply cannot visit Maine without having lobster while sitting by the Atlantic
I bet you never saw this type of enthusiastic lawn decoration.
Old Lake Inn located in western Maine
My parents patiently drove around back rural roads helping me find this famous sign
Back to Lewiston....
Since 1768, Lewiston has perched on the banks of the Androscoggin River in central Maine. It is perfectly located; it is an hour from the shore, an hour from pristine lakes, and in ninety minutes one can be hiking in the western mountains. The city grew as an industrial stronghold with the development of mills and factories built along the river at the turn of the century. One can still see relics of it's prior wealth from the few remaining beautiful historical building found in the center of town and other former grand neighborhoods. It's glory days began to wane in the late fifties when the mills started to close down one by one, bringing a change to Lewiston which has never really recovered. It has only been of late that this once thriving city has begun to reawaken--there is a resurgence in the works and one can feel the change just walking around. A new civic pride has emerged.
Lewiston has an interesting immigration history. It was the place where many Canadians relocated to come toil in the shoe factories. They arrived in Maine speaking only the French language and rebuilt their lives with the hope of creating a new and brighter future for their children. There is a small one block area that still exists called Little Canada, a gentle reminder that Lewiston was once the destination for foreign born dreamers. Around ten years ago, to everyone's surprise, Catholic Charities decided Lewiston would be a suitable location for Somalian refugees. It has taken years for the Lewistonians to get used to the idea of Somalians settling in their city and there still remains a vast divide within the community.
The economy has hit hard in Maine which makes people fearful and this fear leads to suspicion, anger, and resentment over welfare and the costs of supporting their new neighbors. The Somalian community, the first generation, are still acclimating to residing in a cold climate, living amongst a fairly closed community (even though I was born in Maine, I would still be considered an outsider by some old timers), and worshiping as a Muslim in a predominately Christian community. Needless to say, there have been challenges. Many Somalians are creating businesses, have children who are honor students, grateful to be out of a war torn country, and have eyes for the future. The angst is over those who are not taking advantage of the opportunities given, the way some choose to live in run down housing living off the state's limited resources, and the ever vast cultural differences. The next generation will, as those before us, pave the way and bridge the current gap between old and new.
I was only downtown briefly on this last visit, but was able to get "permission" from the "chief" to take Abdi Ali's photo. He came directly to Lewiston from Somalia and does not speak English....yet. Our commonality was our mutual use of hair dye which provided great amusement once this fact was translated to him. He was very proud of his red tinted beard.
I love photographing architecture in a city; there are always little jewels hidden and Lewiston has a few that have survived over the past one hundred years.
The following are a few historical Lewiston buildings and one business who is at least trying to be creative.
On the last day of my visit, I attended a Cajun concert in the renovated square amidst the new development of the former shoe factories, formerly known as Bates Mill. People were sitting eating their lunch on the veranda of a nearby restaurant listening to the musicians create their magic and the construction workers were taking a music break from renovating the old mills into what promises to be fabulous loft apartments. It is this renewed interest in revitalizing the once thriving river town that has me looking at Lewiston with new eyes.
Anika Hartje is a talented soon to be sixteen year old I have known since she was an infant. She is the lead in many productions, singing and dancing since she was a little girl. Her body of work continues to impress and she was asked back for a private meeting after going to her first modeling open call last week. These images were photographed immediately after on the street; we had only ten minutes of fun shoot time since the Boston skies grew dark and moody--the rain began to pelt down and we ran for cover. Anika did amazing in what little time we had to shoot and I know she will go on to be successful in all her pursuits.