Twenny

Valerie standing in front of Sea Girt Beach wearing a pea coat
Valerie, standing in front of Sea Girt Beach in 2003. It’s a small photo and later than the year we started dating, but one of the only digital shots I have from our dating years.

July 20 was a Friday in 2001 and Valerie was in Richmond to move more of her stuff into VCU’s West Broad apartment complex. We had been hanging out and flirting since around April, when our mutual friend Kenny asked me to intervene in their friendly bickering about his long, luxurious eyelashes. Joking over AOL Instant Messenger led to group hang outs and awkward, nervous chats in real life. But I had a plan for that night. I was going to ask her out.

I think maybe nine of us met up to catch a screening of America’s Sweethearts, the sort of coordinated group effort you just don’t see after the days of campus ministry gatherings. Afterward the whole lot of us met up in Richmond’s Meadow Park to enjoy the summer weather and continued conversation. I kept looking for an opportunity to speak privately to Valerie so I could share my feelings but there was a hitch: her sister Elizabeth, 16 at the time, had travelled with her to Richmond. And she talked. A lot. Almost endlessly.

Eventually we walked back toward the block where many of our group lived and my friend Jake (one of the best men at our wedding) seized the moment on my behalf and pulled Elizabeth into conversation so Valerie and I could speak one-on-one. On North Morris, right beside the corral of apartment building trash cans, I glanced sideways at Valerie and muttered, “I like you.”

“I like you, too,” she said.

“Cool.”

I sheepishly asked if I could hold her hand and, after she assented, we walked on to sit and chatter in the shadow of Captain Q-tip (the now-removed Confederate artillery monument by VCU’s performing arts building) the way new lovebirds do.

The early days of our relationship were pretty corny, but they kept going. I learned to shut up and be okay with silence, and Valerie learned to open up and tell me what’s on her mind. She taught me most of what I know about art and I introduced her to some of New Jersey’s finer pleasures.

It’s remarkable enough that our marriage has lasted nearly 17 years (not bragging—marriage is hard!), but it’s also wild to me that Valerie stuck around for the 2.25 years that we dated. People change so much between the ages of 19 and 22 that it’s a wonder she still liked the person I was by the time we stood together at the altar.

And here we are twenty years later, aging together with our growing children. We weathered growth into adulthood together. I like to think that our time dating prepared us to face (and sometimes even welcome) the changes in each other for years after. I still like her. She still likes me. And I still think that’s cool.

Lensing

Saw this short, excellent video interview with cinematographer Roger Deakins about how/why he chooses lenses for the films he shoots. I enjoy this as a movie enthusiast but also as a stills photographer. There’s some conceptual overlap here when it comes to visual storytelling and the ways lenses affect framing, perspective, and so forth.

A Different Perspective: Akosua Viktoria Adu-Sanyah

In a recent post of mine, I griped in a post script about the profusion of mediocre white American dudes on YouTube in nearly every topic. I added that you can find great stuff out there from non-white, non-American, non-dude channels, but you usually have to dig for it. One of the ways I do that on YouTube is to check the channels tab for any given channel if I like their videos, because they frequently include other channels to which they subscribe. This has been an important discovery vector for me and is how I’ve encountered a number of channels to which I have subscribed over the past year.

Case in point is YouTuber Ava Silvery, or Akosua Viktoria Adu-Sanyah according to her website. She is a working visual artist (mostly photographer) whose videos have a beautiful and quiet documentary style. Her photography is varied and excellent, and she’s been on YouTube for about two years. But I was only subscriber #637! And the video at the top of this post has fewer than 200 views as of this publication. Perhaps Adu-Sanyah isn’t looking to build a huge YouTube following, or doesn’t want to deal with the maintenance, anxiety, and abuse (especially for women of color) that often comes hand-in-hand with more notoriety. But it’s criminal to me that we can get thousands of views for perhaps the 50th white guy “reviewing” a classic camera while something original never even bubbles up in my YouTube recommendations.

And why is that? Why did I have to proactively seek out channels like Ava Silvery? I show my kids one video about some pet otters and I get loads of recommendations for pet otter videos. But I follow quite a few photography channels, watch at least a dozen photography videos a week, and I have to search for great stuff like the video above?

I’m pretty bad about consistently posting on this website, but I do want to try highlighting some more great photography stuff that I find on YouTube from people who don’t necessarily look like me or come from the US. If the art I consume is coming from a fairly homogenous group of people, I can only expand my understanding of photography and its impact but so far.

Oh, and while this post is mostly about YouTube and the Ava Silvery channel, don’t sleep on Abu-Sanyah’s website. She has loads of her work up there along with some thoughtful writing on her family and projects.

New Lens Who Dis

Overhead shot of my D800 camera with 85mm portrait lens attached

I don’t remember exactly how long I’ve wanted a portrait lens for my Nikon, but it’s been a loooooong time. Maybe the obsession coincided with my intensified interest in photography in 2008 and the work of local awesome creative guy Ansel Olson with his own 85mm lens.

Last night, at long last, I took delivery of a near-mint copy of this lens. I don’t really have anything to show for it right now, but you can bet your bippy I’ll be taking some fresh portraits of my wife, kids, and anybody else who will let me over the coming months. This lens renders out-of-focus regions with a particularly dreamy aesthetic, so I’m sure to use it for plenty of non-portrait photos where a longer focal length works as well.

It’s always exciting to try a new lens with photography because it is quite actually a different perspective, and I’m thrilled to discover how I see things differently through this new (to me) glass.

Fatherhood

Me, holding my daughter in her first week on earth

Here I am, a geriatric millennial, and I’m about to write about daddy issues like I’m some kind Gen-x-er. But it’s Father’s Day, I have time on my hands, and the weather isn’t cooperating with my plans for a photo walk.

My biological father was mostly terrible. He ditched my mom for college money, physically abused my older brother when he was younger, and pretty much wasted every post-divorce weekend he had us by watching sports on TV while my brothers and I played with toys on the floor.

At some point in my late teens he seemed to make a noticeable effort to improve. Never to apologize, mind you, but all three of us boys recognized he was doing something different and we actually started to enjoy seeing him. Then he died when I was 26.

My stepdad, on the other hand, did a pretty good job of helping my mom raise a houseful of boys (including my half brother he had with her when I was 6). He treated us like his own kids, took care of us, and I still feel mostly positive about my childhood with him around. His style of discipline was regressive, but on balance we felt loved.

Then my mom left him when I was in grad school and he weaponized his resentment against her by withholding alimony as frequently and as long as he could get away with. When I confronted him, he dug in and felt like he deserved to behave this way because of her past misdeeds. We haven’t spoken since 2012.

Now I’m almost 40 with no father figure of my own and two kids who have to deal with me. I’m trying to be a very different sort of dad than either example I had, and I’m not great at it. We don’t do physical discipline in our house, but I still struggle with anger all the time. The number of episodes that have ended with shouting, then shame, then apologies are too many to count.

I’m also ideologically different than my dad and stepdad; they were both super socially conservative. I’m trying to help raise a daughter to be strong and independent, nurturing her nerdy and athletic sides. I’m trying to help raise a son that can resist toxic masculinity as much as possible (and struggling not to model it myself) while keeping his sweet nature intact. And I’m trying to help—that is, show these kids that it’s not just Mommy’s job to run the house and take care of them.

I spent a lot of my 30s minimizing the problems of my childhood because I know enough folks with worse and more numerous stories. But the reality is there are some real trouble spots from my youth, and a great many of them have to do with the father figures that were in my life.

Father’s Day, for me, has mostly become a day to be grateful for my own fatherhood. I don’t spend much time thinking about my own fatherly examples anymore. But I do earnestly love being a dad myself, and I’ll keep working on it. My kids don’t owe me anything, but I hope when they’re my age Father’s Day is less fraught. I hope they think of my parenting as a net positive, even if they don’t laugh at my jokes anymore.

Skyline Trees

Various trees in the Blue Ridge Mountains
Trees from a couple Skyline Drive overlooks near Luray, VA. Shot on 10-ish year expired Fujifilm Neopan 400 film on my Hasselblad 500 C/M.