Tag Archives: Family

I’m the photographer who says poop

Bathroom humor? Not exactly my cup of tea. My mother would have never allowed it. In my family, bodily functions either were frowned upon or simply did not exist. The mere utterance of the word “caca” would have provoked desert deprivation for days… and if you know anything about my mom’s baking abilities, this is not a risk you would ever be willing to take. So caca became the much more poetic lala. For cake sake.

Zap to 40 years later and you have one pretty screwed-up adult. Moi. Laid back and uptight at the same time, all wrapped up in a small neurotic package.

The day started early. I packed cameras, lenses, and all the other good stuff, grabbed a latte with a few extra espresso shots, and met Julie, Barbara, and the two terrors for a photo shoot at the Arboretum. I had photographed the kids on many occasions but when they are so young, a few months elapse, and you find yourself in front of very different little peeps… And there always comes a time, ALWAYS, when the dreaded “cheese” comes into play.

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One day the kids give you the most natural smile in the world, then, perhaps victims of school photographers (note the perhaps if you happen to be a school photographer), the kids start grimacing painfully every time you point the camera in their direction. It takes a whole lot of patience and coaxing to get them back to being themselves. And sometimes, the habit appears so ingrained that nothing works. If you ask them not to smile and just relax, this is what you get:

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But sometimes a miracle happens and you see the light!

abb_032Look, the statue is NAKED!!!

Naked. That’s all it took!

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After this, piece of cake. When you find a cow, you must milk it for all it’s worth.

abb_043POOP!

abb_090Shake your BOOTIES

abb_101The frog is PEE-PEEING!

So here is the sad truth. I have become the photographer who says poop. I feel quite certain my mother would disapprove greatly of this pathetic turn of event, but I discovered I would really do anything to get that shot. Sigh. Julie recommended the book “Everybody Poops” to get over myself. It really seems like a good idea.

Nevertheless, I still much prefer the images of pensive children, the ones where, if they smile, it’s subtle, and if they don’t, they are simply caught being themselves.

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I wish I had a more serious photograph of the little dude, but after the first time I said poop, there was no going back. Point of no return was reached. The kid had a smile plastered on his face for the remainder of the session. Perhaps I would have been a happier kid too had I been allowed to say caca. Just writing this word is enough to make me feel guilty and ashamed.

Some say you never recover from your childhood. Isn’t that the truth?! But today, after this session, I definitely feel one step closer to my deep-down buried inner scatological self. I’m just not sure it’s such a good thing… I need to go call my mom.

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Have I mentioned lately how much my brother sucks?

So, there I am, in Brussels, minding my own business with a good book in front of the fireplace when Chris arrives with camera bags. “We are going to the Christmas Fair. One Leica for you, one for me. Let’s do it!” A film camera? How very… retro! I have not used one of these since 2001. I can’t even remember off-hand how to load the film! My brother is in fact completely passive aggressive on this one: totally setting me up for failure while giving the appearance of being the good brother who shares his toys.

Not being naturally mechanically inclined, I struggle loading the film while keeping all the parts in my little hand. My brother looks on, acting as if I were the biggest idiot he has ever seen. I may be, but no one has to rub it in.

As we drive to downtown Brussels, I resume the situation in my head. It’s dusk (very little light). We will shoot against the Fair’s lights (exposure compensation guesstimate required.) I’ll be using manual focus on moving targets for the first time in a gazillion years. I also happen to be as blind as a bat. I remediate this small impediment for a photographer by adjusting the diopter on my camera, but here… I’m shooting blind.

If that’s not setting up someone for failure, I don’t know what it is! Have I also mentioned how cold it is? It’s FREEZING out there! Have I mentioned my inner wimpitude? If it’s less than 55 degrees outside, it might as well be Alaska and I stay put in a heated house where humans are supposed to remain if they possess an ounce of common sense (which is obviously not the case for my brother.)

74130001The accordeon is popular in winter because it allows the use of gloves. Guitarists must be starving.

74130002Real cheese cut by an elf!

74130003Yummy! Durum! Turkish Sandwiches. Expensive Turkish sandwiches!

74130004Smoking warm wine and skinhead (either that or planetross took his shears to the poor fellow’s head.)

74130005Two photos of the warm wine because I like the smoke and I was hoping the little girl would get warm wine too and I could get a scandalous photograph. She got a soda. I was sorely disappointed.

74130006My favorite merry-go-round in the whole wide world: le Manege Magique.

74130009A little out of focus but I wanted to show the cool submarine. Chris thinks I’m fixated on getting technically correct images and I need to let loose a little. He calls me a stick in the mud basically.

74130008The pterodactyl seems to be one of the kids’ favorite rides.

74130010Poor kids that ended up in the hot air balloon instead of riding a dinosaur.

74130011After parents fought over the octopus, ungrateful little girl of the winning mother yawns and looks bored. She is not coming back to the fair anytime soon.

74130012The Eminem shirt is ruining my ambiance!

74130013This could have been taken decades ago. No Eminem shirt. No outward signs of modernity.

Then it was time for serious business. Messy business. Smooltebollen. Delicious beignet-like five minutes in your mouth five pounds in your buttocks type of deliciousness covered in powdered sugar. We put the cameras away. “Seven for both of us?” my brother asks. “Try fifteen!” I reply totally offended by his lack of good judgement. After we ate seven Smooltebollen each and fought for the last one, we drove home not feeling very well.

So I completely fell in love with my brother’s Leica and I bought his Hasselblad. I needed a light camera for traveling and ended up with massive studio equipment. That’s what I do. Chris never brought back the Leica. He likes to give me a little taste of something then take it back… So the M6 is on the list, right after the 5D Mark II, right after paying the bills and all the other stuff you have to pay.

A Family Affair

Before the blossoming of home computers, families still took time to make photo albums. I take time to raid the family albums. It’s my family too, after all. If you look up on the menu bar (the one that’s… up, not on the side), you’ll notice a new section called Album de Famille. That’s where my crazy family is tucked away. I’ll update my album with new photographs often so if they amuse you, check again in a few weeks!

my-crazy-auntsMy crazy aunt Tita and My crazy aunt Nanou in the sixties

A pony club sans vodka just ain’t the same

Zbigniev Wierbitszki owned a pony club in the outskirt of Brussels. Zbigniev liked his vodka and many gymkhanas turned into small dramas when he poured with a light hand (at every gymkhanas.) A pat on the back became a shove accompanied with a big hearty laugh (and many Polish words no one could understand) and if his whip caught you by surprise, it was not tender… but all in good fun.

From these formative years spent on tiny Shetlands, I have kept the best memories, which is why, when I got contacted by an area pony club to provide images for its website, I was very happy at the prospect.

btrinity_007b-copyIt was a pony club with sheep, goats, and chickens too

btrinity_036b-copyCaring for a horse teaches kids responsibilities… and problem solving

btrinity_050b-copyPhotoshop allows you to take the person holding the horse out of the photograph

trinity_102In my time, kids wore stylish black helmets but nowadays they dress up like shadow stormtroopers

btrinity_053b-copyPonies get stuck in weird places sometimes

btri2_021b-copyKids generally enjoy a little ride but the little boy was terrorized

tri2_096That little girl was stylin’. I even asked her where she got her boots.

ctri2_119cShe was the perfect model too, smiling as she jumped the fences!

btrinity_123b-copyAfter all the riding, the girls threw a wild tea party

btrinity_143b-copyIn my pony club, we never wore white gloves. We were much too busy ducking the whip to indulge in such civilities.

I danced my first tango in public at the end of a pony club summer camp. I was 8 and leading the poor boy across the arena, dipping him deeply at each end. This earned me 100 points and a ribbon. At the time, I had a HUGE crush on my dance partner, Eric Bockstal, but nothing ever materialized from it. I think I may have somewhat emasculated him.

Leo, seven years later

“So how much am I going to get paid?” Leo asks. A good question indeed… but coming from a seven year old, slightly unexpected.

“How much do I get for being a model?” he insists.

“Well, Leo, you get the glory that comes with appearing on my site.” He eyes me suspiciously as if my sole purpose in life consisted of ripping off little children. “I want money”, he says in a tone reminiscent of Addie Loggins in Papermoon.

I have known his mother, Isa, since the mid-eighties, when we attended school together in Brussels, formed a student union, fomented a revolution, and went our separate ways. My path led to Texas, hers to Thailand but always with a foot in Belgium.

Christmas 2001: I found her with child. I had not expected it. I knew nothing about it. I rang the doorbell and she opened the door with the tiniest wee baby in her arms. The baby wore a strange hat. That was the future negotiator in chief, Leo.

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Luckily, I had my camera with me! It’s not as if I would not have come back to photograph him but you have no idea how difficult it is to park in Brussels when you have completely lost the habit to parallel park in spots as big as pocket handkerchiefs.

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A year later, Leo is up, not yet running but close!

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The baby is adorable and not asking for money yet.

Unfortunately, during the next few years, Isa, Leo, and baby daddy Claude spent all their winters in Thailand, on beaches of white sands and turquoise waters. Can’t say I blame them, especially if you live in gray and rainy Brussels, but in the midst of all this whirlwind of international travels, meeting became difficult… until the munchkin began elementary school last year then the nomads got stuck.  The following photographs were taken this Christmas and you will notice that while Isa still looks exactly the same, Leo has morphed into quite a little man.

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Next year, I think I’ll have to show up with a pile of cash and pots of money. That kid drives a hard bargain.

The Many Faces of Circe

“Circe, go wear something fancy and I’ll take your photograph, okay?”

circebellyCirce the Belly Dancer

Circe, the seven year old daughter of my friend Fred, decides that “fancy” means belly dancer outfit (complete with socks.)  Before I take her portrait, she checks herself out in the mirror and sucks in her little belly. After a few pictures, she flies upstairs to change into something else.

circeperruquePreparing to emulate Marilyn Monroe

Circe is not in the mood for classic portraiture. She trades in the oriental costume for the Marilyn look. She then reclines on the settee and looks at me from under her eyelashes appearing slightly underwhelmed.  The portrait is vaguely disturbing, even more than I had anticipated, but the rule is to let her do and wear whatever she wants.

Circe has a new idea for a fancy outfit and tells me it will be a surprise. She will call me when she is ready. Five minutes later, she screams my name from the top of her lungs even though I’m just in the room next door.

circelionne1Circe and the lion

In her happy messy room, Circe, dressed like Tarzan’s Jane, is lying on her bed with her favorite lion… and the little stick to beat him into submission.

I ask her to find something a little more simple and she comes back in a white dress.

bcircefenetreCirce a la fenetre

I hear a bit of commotion outside the room, open the door, and find myself facing Catherine C., my neighbor from 35 years ago. I had not seen her since she had moved from our street in the seventies but I recognize her immediately! Weird! I ask Circe not to move while I go downstairs to meet her husband and children. One thing leads to another and before I know it, I’m having a cup of tea and cookies. More exactly tea and a cookie. The confections had all been made by Circe and taking a bite out of them is a mere impossibility. We all sit around chatting and dutifully sucking on our cookie, trying not to break any teeth.

Half an hour goes by and I suddenly remember poor Circe. I grab the camera and run up the stairs. This is what I find when I open the door:

circequiattendCirce who awaits

She has not moved an inch but looks mildly resentful (and freezing.) I have now created some abandonement issues in that sweet abiding little girl and I’m not feeling very proud of myself.  The mood has soured and the session appears over. I am not used to being obeyed. Who in their right mind would obey me anyway?

This session was photographed with a medium format film camera. I went back to film for the first time in many many many years, only to find out that in Dallas, you cannot find a lab with an old-fashioned dark room!

The Very Hairy Christmas Card

My sister faked cancer.  She faked not one, but two cancers. If you are going to tell a big lie, you might as well fabricate an even bigger one for maximum effect. In the end, it turned out that her stomach and esophagus cancer surgery was in fact a gastric bypass to rid her of her obesity.

My sister and I are not on speaking terms. Blood may be thicker than water but when you put your 75 year old mother through the ringer with imaginary health problems, my blood thins out considerably. Seriously. She even attempted to turn the situation around by claiming that her lies were a cry for help and that my failure to recognize her anguish denoted a clear lack of compassion on my part. Nice try.

With my habitual  Christmas foreigner abandoning me to go frolic in the Argentinian Pampas this year, there would be no Christmas dinner with my sister and I sitting at the same table. Instead, she gave her son a card for me with the strict instruction to open it only the next day, on Christmas.

The card was in a white envelope with a small golden bow.

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It was a pretty thick envelope and all evening, I kept wondering if perhaps it contained a letter of apology (way overdue.)

The next morning, in bed with a good book and my morning coffee (it’s unbelievable the number of books you go through when not blogging!), I looked at the envelope on the night table begging to be opened with its cute little bow.

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The card looked very average. In our family, we always go for funky and the Golden Retriever carrying Christmas ornaments definitely did not pass the originality test. Very unlike my sister. I opened the card.

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Eek! Eek! Eek! Hair!!!! I kid you not. With roots! My sister cut all her hair off and stuffed them in my card. My instincts kick in. Or woman’s intuition, whatever you may want to call that special 6th sense. I think my sister is not going to apologize. I can just feel it with all my mighty powers of deduction. I push the hair aside.

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What did I tell you?!  The use of English remains a mystery since French is our first language, but nevermind the semantics. This is my first hate Christmas card ever! I didn’t even know such thing existed. In retrospect, the use of the golden bow on the envelope seems quite deceiving when coupled with the nice curvy handwriting.

I’m going to take the hair and make a little pillow with it.

Just kidding. I’m going to keep this card for the day my body is found in a Belgian gutter, stabbed to death by a hairless assassin.