Thursday, May 18, 2017

Spring Book Report

My reading has been as far-flung as the pollen seems to be this spring.  It's all over the place!  Here are some of my recent reads that I would recommend:

I think Hillbilly Elegy deserves the accolades it's received.  This is a memoir of a life shaped by culture and dire circumstance. But I also thought it was a balanced view of how efforts for change, no matter how well intentioned from the outside, need to be done in concert with the folks that will be impacted by the suggested changes.  A thought provoking book -  at times chilling and, at others, uplifting - of a part of America that doesn't often make the headlines.

The Maisie Dobbs series is an enjoyable one, and I'm pleased that the latest edition to the collection doesn't disappoint.  In This Grave Hour, the 13th in the series, finds the our British female investigator trying to solve the murder of an immigrant who settled in Britain after WWI. (Yes, a bit spooky in its applicability to today's debates.) I continue to find Maisie an entertaining and engaging character.  Do you have a favorite series?  (Mine are almost all murder/mystery books.  Hmmmm.....)

Paul Kalanithi's book should be required reading for everyone (along with Being Mortal) about the choices we may choose to make as we near the end of our life.  This is sad, no doubt, but it's also humbling. And, I think it's important for those of use with aging parents to consider how we'd like to help them maintain dignity.

This time I got my science fix from The Soul of an Octopus, a charming and well written account by naturalist Sy Montgomery, of her experiences getting to know captive octopuses (no, it's not octopi, I've learned; you can't put a Latin plural "i" at the end of a Greek word), seeking to discover them in the wild, and marveling at their intelligence and individuality.   This was particularly compelling for me after our diving trips this past December/January.  We watched octopuses ink, change colors, and scamper about reefs.  I don't think I'll eat octopus salad again.

An octopus on one of our dives.
What have you been reading?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Bunnies on the Mantle

The stitched Easter bunny
Back in February, I showed you a canvas I had stitched.  Now the flat canvas has been transformed into a three-dimensional bunny that sits on our kitchen fireplace mantle for Easter.

The kitchen fireplace mantle
This is a wonderful time filled with faith, family, friends, and food.  I hope your weekend, whether it's spent in Easter or Passover celebration, is joyous as well.  


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Seeing the Light

Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled, 1994
From the Kitchen Table series

One of the interesting things I've discovered leading tours for the Picturing Love exhibition is that many people have a hard time considering a photograph from an art perspective.  Perhaps it's the predisposition that photography is "the medium that doesn't lie".

Well, photography is just as manipulated by the the hand of the artist as any other art form.

How is the photograph composed?  Has the photographer chosen to emphasize some elements and to hide others?  What's been cropped?  What might be just beyond the frame?  How does the decision to make the photo black and white vs. color influence our narrative with what we see?  The answer to each of these questions -- and more -- are the result of the photographer's artistic process.

I've been leading tours focusing on light.  Photography can't exist without light; it's fundamental to the photographic process.  However, photographers can choose to shoot in ambient light, enhance a setting with studio lighting, or increase/decrease the light in the dark room process. It's been a fascinating conversation point with guests.  In one case, the light serves as a metaphor for trust; in another, the light is as much a character in the narrative of the image as the people within it.  So I'd like to challenge you to consider light as you view photography.  Not passively, but as an active choice made by the photographer.  I look forward to hearing how this line of inquiry might influence your appreciation of the art form.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Love, Captured

Image from Katonah Museum of Art website
On Wednesday, we took the deep dive.  We started docent training for the KMA's upcoming exhibition, Picturing Love. I am fascinated by this exhibition.  All right.  At first blush this seems right up my alley.  But, I was intimidated.  We had 47 images that we needed to research, write about, and explain.  And, we had to be able to teach it all in two 2-hour sessions, sharing bios, making connections, clarifying process.

But, I'm in love.

I love, love, love this exhibition.  It includes such compelling imagery.  I've been surprised by the artists' process and intent, by the cultural context in which many of the images were created and the stories that are shared or intimated.  There are so many themes to consider in the exhibition within the  broader intent of showing how love has been captured on "film" by artists and the populace alike.  We're all interested in gestures of affection.

I'm leading the opening night public tour, at 6:30 PM on Saturday, March 18th.  I hope you'll join me.  If you can't make it to the KMA that night, I hope you'll find some other time to experience this fabulous exhibition.

Oh, and you can be part of it, too!  The KMA is encouraging the public to share their own images of affection.  You can send them in to or tag your pictures with #pinmypic on Instagram and Facebook.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Getting a Head Shot Taken

I figured getting my head shot taken for work would be a no-brainer.  I mean, how hard could it be?  I was wrong. It took two tries over two separate days.  Here's what I learned:

1) Know which side is your "good side".  We often prefer pictures of ourselves taken from one side or another.  It may be the way our hair falls or how one eyebrow arches.  Whatever.  If you have a preference, know it going in so (if possible) you can have your picture taken from that angle.

2) Get sleep the night before.  I didn't the first time, and "Blech" is all I have to say about that.

3) Be thoughtful about what you wear.  I'm sure you all know that solids or simple patterned tops are best.  Nothing too distracting.  And yes, you should wear something that you're comfortable in.... but not too comfortable.  Whatever you wear should rest smoothly on your form; if it's too loose fitting, the rolls and folds of the fabric will not flatter your figure.  Be sure to ask the photographer to check your collar is straight, your shirt fabric's not bunched up under your armpit, etc.  Clean lines will help, a lot.

4) Look like yourself. I was repeatedly advised to put on make-up so I wouldn't look washed out.  But I didn't put on too much.  I  don't regularly wear that much make-up and if I had put on a lot more, the resulting image just wouldn't have look like me. This isn't high-def TV after all.  That said, if you have the time and the funds to have a professional do your make-up for you, absolutely do.  But be sure to try it out a few days beforehand so you're not surprised with how you look.

5) Get to know the photographer, even for just a few minutes.   I was nervous.  I'd never done this before and it showed in the pictures from my first session.  It's hard to smile naturally in front of someone you don't know, especially when that someone might be asking you to continue smiling with your head at an angle, with your chin down, now close your eyes and open them again. Just taking a few moments to chat will help you relax and will likely result in a better picture.

6) Ask to review the proofs so you can choose the image you like.  A professional photographer will undoubtedly have a good eye, but only you can decide which image you like best, that represents how you'd like to be seen.  Try to keep control of that process.  A good photographer will try very hard to please you and will, if necessary, come back again if you don't like the end result after editing.

7) Be realistic.  No matter how little or much I weigh, I'll never have cheekbones.  I'll always have dimples.  My eyes have turned from blue to green.  It's how I look and that should be my expectation.  We should expect the editing process only to work with what we have, not to turn us into someone we're not... not even our selves from five years ago.  And so, here's me today...

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Taking Pictures

Leaf in blue ice ©Vivien Zepf
Nikon D90; image taken in early morning

My father tortured us as children, insisting that we do it "one more time", as in walk down the stairs again or point at that tree again.  Okay, it really wasn't torture; we did it so he could get the picture he wanted. But it sometimes spoiled the fun and might be why I don't take that many pictures of my own children.   Instead, I record where I am, whether in front of grand vistas, on a city street, or in my backyard.

Taking pictures has made me look more carefully at the world around me.  Sometimes I see things as I'd frame them in a picture.

For the last 15 years I've always carried some kind of camera with me.  I used my small digital camera until the lens -- literally -- fell off.  I make room in my carry-on for my big camera whenever we travel.  There's no way I'm leaving that baby at home.  And now that cell phone cameras are pretty darn good, I use it a lot too.  I can be an annoying person on her cell phone, but I'm stopping to snap pictures, not texting, tweeting, or chatting.

Subway lines ©Vivien Zepf

Because I also use my phone for work calls, it's not practical to get all sorts of supplemental lenses because I might be tempted stop what I was doing to put a lens on.  Nope, no can do.  I do miss the flexibility that a lens gives to picture taking, like depth of field.  And that's why I said yes to Tim's request to write a blog post about my photography.  Tim works for Light, a start-up with a new compact digital camera that merges different lenses to achieve high quality DSLR images.  It looks amazing.  Maybe I'll be able to get one some day.  (hint, hint Tim)

Monday, February 20, 2017


Our older daughter came in for a quick 24 hour visit and it was lovely.

We inhaled guacamole at lunch
We went to the American Museum of Natural History to visit the Titanosaur.  Sigh; one of my favorite places.
Can someone please remind me what trees these are from?
I can't believe the snowdrops are blooming; but then again, it was 57° today

Looking up to see cool lines and light
The cityscape reflections didn't disappoint
One of many bridges

I hope you've had a chance to enjoy family time, too.