Author Archives: juliephelpsphotography

About juliephelpsphotography

To take photographs means to recognize -- simultaneously and within a fraction of a second -- both the fact itself and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that give it meaning. It is putting one's head, one's eye and one's heart on the same axis. - Henri Cartier-Bresson

Aquadillos vs. Sting Rays

Georgetown Aquadillos vs. Forest North Sting Rays

Last weekend, the Georgetown Aquadillos went up against the Forest North Sting Rays in their third dual meet of the season. The kids did a wonderful job against a much bigger team and had a blast swimming their hearts out. If you’ve ever tried to take pictures in a natatorium before, you know the challenges an indoor pool presents. Shooting during a swim meet compounds those challenges as there are 25 timers, a myriad of coaches, several parents, a few judges and officials and various friends crowded onto the pool deck, all craning for the best view of the swimmers at the pool edge. It was fun– and EXHAUSTING! I forget how many ups and downs (like squats) I do when I am shooting something like this!

Over the past few years, I’ve concentrated more on the portraiture aspect of photography, and worked less in the photojournalistic side. I forgot how much fun it is to be in the center of the action as an invisible observer rather than the director of activity and cajoler of smiles. In photojournalism, you get what you can get–there are no do-overs, and if you’re lucky enough (and on top of it enough) to be in the right place at the right time, you can strike gold. In a swim meet with hundreds of swimmers– at an indoor pool where it’s actually hotter inside than outside– keeping your head in the game (or in the meet!) is more challenging than it appears on the surface, so capturing the gold is a bit more elusive. But I was excited for the challenge, and I look forward to the next time I shoot a meet!



Bluebonnets 2011

 

Oh, what a difference a year makes! On year ago yesterday, I was admitted to the hospital after a severe bleeding episode. I was about 33 weeks pregnant and NOT ready to deliver CJ. A year ago tomorrow, I was released, but with strict orders to stay in bed unless I was up going to the bathroom. After about a week in bed, my doctors thought it best to take CJ by c-section, 4-1/2 weeks before his due date. Following his birth, we were in the NICU for 2 weeks before being sent home with little CJ on a heart/lung monitor. I barely left the house.

What does this have to do with bluebonnets? Well, a lot, really. I love bluebonnets. I always have. I have pictures of myself in college playing in the bluebonnets in the hilltops surrounding St Edward’s. I have always taken pictures of them until they are withered up and dead for the year. Every spring, I almost get into accidents looking for the first blooms of the season, then almost kill myself throughout the season in search of the best patch. So, 2010 found me in the hospital for close to a month. The month of April. Bluebonnet season. I missed the entire thing. Didn’t get a single picture of my kids sitting amongst the blossoms. I took one picture of a bluebonnet in the parking lot of the hospital with my cell phone. Sad.

So when the forecast this year was for a weak bluebonnet season, I was crushed. No pictures AGAIN. (Insert super sad face here.) I still craned my neck while driving, hoping to find the perfect patch, but after the reports of less than average bluebonnets after a drier than usual year, I was resigned to the fact that there would be no pictures. Again.

And then I saw it. The PERFECT patch. But it was on private property. So I mustered my courage (after driving by about a thousand times) and knocked on the door. The owner was polite and kind, and said that I was welcome to take pictures of my kids on her property. So, a few days later, my partner in crime (and fellow photographer) traipsed out with our kids and took pictures. The images I got were less than what I’d expected, so I cajoled my hub and kids into going out again.

Once we were finished, the owner came out and talked to me. She thanked me for asking permission to use her field, but she was closing the gates. Apparently, too many people had taken the liberty of using her property without permission. She told me people had allowed their kids to run wild on her property and people were trampling bluebonnets at all hours of the day and night. Because bluebonnet patches are known to hide all sorts of things (um, like rattlesnakes) she was concerned about liability. She also works from home, so the constant distraction of trespassers and doorbell ringers (like me) had finally driven her to the breaking point. She’d had enough. I thanked her profusely for allowing me to use her field, and she locked the gate behind me.

I am sure that people will still climb the fence and unchain the gate, but I am happy that I didn’t do that. I’m happy that I had the courage to ask permission, and I’m happy that she said yes (she told me that she does not allow professional photographers to conduct shoots for money on her property– she even turned down three brides this spring). And most of all, I am happy that I have pictures of my smiling kids among the bluebonnets this year!

I hope that if you are looking for a patch, that you find one, and that you are respectful not only of the flowers, but of the people who own them. Happy bluebonnet season, y’all! I can’t wait to see what pictures everyone got this year!


Operation Cookie 2011

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge supporter of the Girl Scouts. I think it’s a wonderful organization that does a great job at empowering girls.

During Girl Scout Cookie time, I take pleasure in helping my daughter sell cookies. We go door to door, we have a booth with our troop, and we send Daddy to work with an order form and cookies. But what we really strive to do is support Operation Cookie. Operation Cookie is a program within the Girl Scout Cookie Sale in which people buy cookies and they are shipped to deployed soldiers and wounded soldiers in Veterans’ and Military Hospitals. It is the goal of the Girl Scouts to place one box of cookies into the hands of every deployed or injured soldier serving his or her country.

This is a cause that is very close to our hearts. When Mag was born, her Godfather was deployed in Iraq. We made it a point to send him care packages from home as often as possible as we knew the creature comforts of home were few and far between. When it was Girl Scout Cookie time, we made sure he had enough to share. And it meant a lot to him. So we like to share that feeling with guys and girls serving overseas who may not have someone sending them stuff all the time.

While some girls sell cookies by the box, Mags and I take a different approach. We sell by the case! For $42, you can provide 12 soldiers with yummy Girl Scout Cookies! What a bargain! In the 2011 Cookie Sale, Mags sold a whopping 22 CASES of cookies for Operation Cookie! We are so proud of her!  (Nope, this is NOT a sales pitch! But keep us in mind for next year! Each year, we try to exceed the previous year. It’s going to be tough topping 22 cases in 2012!)

Above is a shot of the girls in our Service Unit who sold cookies for the soldiers. Good job, RPSU girls!


My High School Class Ring

Damn. I am OLD!


Last Night’s Moon

Back in 1986, I remember my parents dragging me out of bed in the middle of the night to see Haley’s Comet. We all traipsed out into the yard with a bunch of our neighbors and saw this fuzzy thing in the sky. Being that I was like 13 years old and REALLY tired, I didn’t really care. But now, I’m kinda glad they made me get up and see it. I don’t remember it being anything spectacular– I am not 100% sure I really saw it, but I am glad to have the memory since it won’t be back again until 2061. (I know, I know. 1986 was the worst year in history to see the Comet, but, we were near the Equator in Panama, far from lots of light pollution, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.)

So when I heard about the moon tonight, I just HAD to shoot it. All the talk about how big it was supposed to be, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity, right? So I hoofed it out there after the kids went to bed, snapped off a couple or 20 shots of the moon, and came back inside to sit at the computer and look at the moon some more. Will the moon every be this big again? When it is, will I be young enough to care? Who knows. But it sure was pretty up there, shining brightly in the sky, breeze blowing. It may not be Haley’s Comet, but at least I will really remember it this time!

 


Zoe and The Stinkertons

Maggie with Zoe just after her diagnosis

In January, we lost Zoe, our sweet little nine-year old calico cat. Mark and I adopted Zoe as a kitten in 2001. Just after 9/11, people in Florida were going crazy, dumping animals in the shelters at an alarming rate, so the shelters were overburdened and over capacity. We found Zoe at a satellite branch of the Pinallas County SPCA and fell in love. Shortly after bringing her home, she developed an upper respiratory infection and needed to be hospitalized. Cha-ching! $1,000. Mark started calling her “Little G.” Several months after she recovered, she began eating things. String, dental floss, curly ribbon, silk razor grass. Cha-ching! Another $1,000. Mark started calling her “Double Down.” Then we got pet insurance, and after 2 more surgeries to remove foreign bodies from her intestines, we were dropped from the insurance company and deemed “uninsurable.” She seemed to have wised up, and after being banned from pet insurance, never needed extra medical attention again.

Until Christmas of 2010. At the beginning of December, Zoe began losing weight. She was constantly sneezing, so we thought that she was having another bout with upper respiratory. We took her to the doc who evaluated her and kept her under observation. She was sent home over Christmas and we watched her closely, administered fluids and force fed her. She never got better. In January, we took her back to the doc. She was not eating and losing weight rapidly. After several more tests, it was concluded that she had a cancerous tumor in her sinus cavity, and there was no course of treatment that could cure her. We made the difficult decision to end her suffering, and I held her in my arms as she passed.

About a week after we lost her, the kids and I were feeling very sad, so we started thinking about adopting a little baby kitten or two to get us past our grief. I visited the city shelter, and there were no kittens. We then called the county shelter, and they had just received a litter of three 5-week old kittens who hadn’t even been put into the system yet.

When the shelter told me one was a calico, we raced to the shelter to see them. A half an hour after arriving at the shelter, the kids and I walked out with three little kittens to foster—two females and one male. Since they were too young for adoption, we agreed to foster them for six weeks. We thought up names the rest of the afternoon. When we got home, we bathed them and cuddled with them, though they were very timid.

After about a week with us, we needed to change little Josephine’s name to Winston. He was boisterous and brave, going after Noelle, Maggie’s 1-year old cat with bravado. Cleo, the calico, was a timid little cuddle bunny, and Conan was the fire-red fuzzball who seems independent, but loves to be cuddled. We still weren’t sure we would keep them all—they were foster kittens after all. At the four week point, we decided that we were all just too attached to take them back to the shelter, so we made an agreement that in exchange for the kittens, I would assume all of their medical treatment.

They’ve now been with us for about six weeks, and while they are still timid, they are an enjoyable part of our family.  We call them “The Stinkertons” because, let’s face it, kittens are stinky little things until they get a little older! Winston and Noelle are the best of friends—they prefer to play with each other and spend time together more than with the others. And Winston goes EVERYWHERE in the house with Maggie. Cleo finds the craziest places to hide, and is faster than a lightening bolt. Conan is easy going, and allows himself to be caught and cuddled all the time.

The Stinkertons have been a blessing to our family. While they require a lot of work and smell up my half-bath (until they’re big enough to be free-range kittens!) they make us all smile. They haven’t filled the void left by our sweet Zoe, but they have made the transition easier on us all.

Winston, Cleo and Conan Stinkerton


But first, a little about me…

I’ve never blogged before, but since this seems to be the direction the world is moving, I think I need to go along for the ride.  Hopefully, I can manage to find meaningful things to say about photography and the work I do!

I’ve always been a bit of a photo-fossil, preferring the “old way” of doing things to the more modern way. I’ve only recently delved into the world of digital photography. While I prefer film and the more traditional forms of photography, it has become cost prohibitive for me to work that way any more. I still love the way photography chemistry smells. I miss fixer stains on my clothes and the vertigo that comes from going in and out of the dark checking on test prints. I still miss the  excitement of opening the developing tank and squeegie-ing off the wet film for the first time and the thrill of an image coming to life before my eyes. I miss using my lupe to see the treasures I captured that morning. I miss the ART of photography!

I always feel like I am complaining when it comes to the new wave of photography, but that’s because I can’t stand what has happened in the last decade. I hate that any schmo can buy a digital camera and Photochop and take a few online seminars and call him/herself a “Professional Photographer.” I hate that people can now click away a gig or two or three of garbage and “action” it through photochop until it’s no longer an art, it’s a computer skill. I hate that composition doesn’t mean anything any more because of photochop cropping tools. I hate that today’s “professionals” don’t know what the Zone System is and how they don’t care WHY it’s important.

In 1992, I declared Photocommunications as my major at St Edward’s University, and jumped into the darkroom with both feet. I’d already spent four years behind the lens and in the dark in high school, and was eager to take my photography to an entirely new level. When I graduated from high school, I’d been the photo-editor of my high school publications, and I thought I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I’d modeled throughout high school as well, and fashion photography seemed to be where I wanted to go. But then Sybil Miller introduced me to the beauty of documentary photography, and I was smitten. I loved the art of making something beautiful out of what was already there, not having someone else create something beautiful and taking a picture of it. I interned with a fashion/commercial photographer and hated every single solitary second of it. Though during my internship I had the pleasure of photographing wonderful people like Selena Quintanilla Perez, I quickly realized that it was NOT the direction I wanted to take.

So following my graduation from St Edward’s, I took my BA and went straight into the MFA program at the University of Texas at San Antonio. To say it was a mismatch made in Hell is an under statement. When I took my beautiful collection of documentary prints to the Fine Arts Review Committee and saw their puzzled faces, I knew I was in the wrong place. When the consensus of the Committee was that I should “blow my pictures up really big and paint on them,” I decided to quit and pursue other avenues. With all my darkroom gadgets packed neatly into storage boxes, I entered the Communications program at St Mary’s University and began to write. I still photographed a little, and I even did my 50% Master’s thesis in photographs, but photography was on the back burner and my backup camera was in mothballs.

One road led to another, to another, and then another. And eventually, I realized that I hadn’t taken a picture in years. The roll of film in my camera contained images taken so long before that I couldn’t remember what I’d shot. I’d worked in Broadway PR, corporate communications, advertising, built stained glass windows, and decorated my new house, but I hadn’t stepped into a darkroom in years. Meanwhile, the photography digital revolution was gaining steam, and I was oblivious. I even paid my wedding photographer extra to shoot film.

And then I got pregnant. And everything changed. EVERYTHING. I no longer had time to spend in the darkroom. And I no longer had to money to spend on developing roll after roll after roll of pictures. So I bought my first digital camera and I started learning all over again. Eventually I opened Forever Young Images in Pinellas County, FL and began shooting again. I shot families and children and rediscovered my first love. I found that I could take my documentary photography background and apply it to family photography. I documented my daughter’s first months (and later both of my sons’) with a passion, and remembered all the things I’d originally loved about finding the beauty in what was right in front of me.

Since then, I’ve learned a lot. Meaning, I’ve spent a lot of time in front of my computer learning “photography” all over again. I’ve learned that Photochop is a necessary evil, and that there is now a big difference between amateur cameras and professional cameras. I still don’t like all the digital manipulation I see out there. I don’t like 99% of the black and while images I see and I think there is not enough room on this planet for selective color photography. Ever. I have found my place in Photochop though. I’ve found that you can use it to enhance images, not create them. That you can make them better and that you can make them worse. That you can use Photochop for good sometimes, not always evil. And I learned that I can love photography again.

Join me as I journey through the digital world. Sometimes I make mistakes, sometimes I have silent victories. But be forewarned. I never ADMIT to using Photochop. As far as you know, everything I shoot is SOOC. As far as you know, I do not know what actions are, what workflow is or how to make things look all fancified. It’s magic. And it’s art. And it’s my first love, and I can’t wait to share it with the world.