A path to simplicity

I love simplicity. I seek it out and it seeks me. Summertime seems to bring it to the surface: the non-essentials are stripped away and longer warmer days slow me down and invite me to savor whatever inspires and comes my way.

So what is simplicity?

Simplicity is about finding magic in the mundane. It’s about an unlikely pair – a garden hose and a shoe rack – becoming friends. It’s a backyard garden party with a “cup rinsing region.”

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Before and after

I am often asked about the lack of before and after photos on my website. I’ll be frank and say it: as a genre, they all sort of look the same, and without context, I find them to be quite uninteresting.

Generally speaking, before and after for organizers illustrates various forms of disarray transformed into various states of tidiness, and predictably, organization. To my eyes, these “results” are partial results as they simply show physical and surface alterations that have occurred. Little is told about what has happened and not a thing is said about why.

When I use photography in the course of working with clients, it is a tool to document a process — before, during, and after. When I choose to share the photos, it is to tell a story about the journey — the benefits and changes for the client and the decisions and observations we made along the way. Oftentimes, the physical changes barely scratch the surface of the shifts that manifest for and/or within the people themselves.

For example, here is a set of before and after photos of the area beneath a client’s kitchen sink…

What do you see? A little less clutter and a little more organization? Yay! We like that. Mission accomplished. Were some containers moved or removed to make it look better? But of course! As before and after images, they do the trick, right? To make my point, the answer is “not really.”

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The start of a revolution

For starters, I haven’t started a revolution…yet! But this blog post is a bit revolutionary for me. This paragraph aside, the story you are about to read was penned by my partner, Sven, around a series of photographs I shot on a historic day in the sustainability movement. It was a foggy morning that found us on our way to Sacramento to pursue what we hoped would be our first true documentary collaboration. His recorder in hand, my cameras’ viewfinders taking turns at my eye, we’re happy to share the fruits of this creative jam session. The day was…

January 3, 2012: California becomes the sixth state to adopt law that allows the formation of corporations whose main purpose isn’t to make money.

A day at the Secretary of State’s office in Sacramento, where California’s first twelve businesses filed to operate as benefit corporations.

Vietnam Memorial, Sacramento
California Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Sacramento’s Capitol Park, only a short walk from the Secretary of State’s Corporate Filing Office, honoring Brien Thomas (B.T.) Collins, Vietnam War veteran and CA Assembly Member, who “never wavered in the belief that one should give something back to society.”

I hope five or ten years from now we’ll look back on this day and say “this was the start of a revolution, because the existing paradigm isn’t working anymore. This is the future.”

– Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia, California’s first benefit corporation.

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Elephants howling at the moon?

a child's drawing of an elephantFor about forty years and counting, a piece of blue paper measuring approximately 6×9″ has been tacked to the bulletin board in my father’s office. On that page is a pencil drawing of an orb-like elephant with crazy eyes and a strange little trunk. The word “elephant”, scrawled in capital letters, grazes the top of its back. The page is signed with a giant “D”.

During my college years, I borrowed this image created by my younger self for a project in a class on alternative photographic processes. I photocopied it onto a transparent sheet of plastic and used it as a negative.

The photographic print that resulted now sits in my office in a wooden frame that belonged to my maternal great grandmother. It’s an object imbued with the spirit of three generations and three incarnations. It fills me with wonder about a time that I do not remember.

They say an elephant never forgets, and so it goes that I share this tale and this silly little image on Elephant Appreciation Day. My drawing looks like a strange kind of heavenly body floating in a dark sky. It leads me to wonder if any elephants are trumpeting at the full moon on this night of the autumnal equinox.

Community art show at 18 Reasonss

18 reasons sign on guerrero streetFood, community, art. Oh wait, the sign reads the reverse: art, community, food. Either way you say it, my heartstrings, soulstrings, and stomachstrings are tugged and dance with glee.

For the next couple of weeks, the 18th Street Corridor Community Show at 18 Reasons offers a wonderful representation of local art and expression on the walls of this tiny and mighty multi-use space.

I’m excited to be part of this community-based endeavor and am represented in the show by the following two photographs.

black-and-white photograph of a horse
Horsescape, Sylt, 2006
black-and-white photograph of shoot the freak at coney island
Shoot the Freak, Coney Island, 2008

Happy new year, tree

Christmas tree on 24th Street, San Francisco

Each January I find myself both fascinated and saddened by the appearance of spent Christmas trees on the city’s sidewalks. It is not until I find myself sidestepping around them on walks about the neighborhood that I begin to reminisce on their behalf.

For many weeks, the tree was the pride and joy of a home and a beacon around which family and friends gathered for holiday rituals. Bedecked in an array of  family stories and tiny ornamental heirlooms, the tree stood in a place of honor holding court for the duration of its reign.

The festivities ended as quickly as they began. The new year arrived. The decorations were packed away and are at the ready for Decembers to come. The tree, however, has a different fate. Its bouquet is barely discernable, and the once pliant green needles have become brittle. There’s dread over the temporary mess that will be created when the tree is dragged through the house and out the front door.

At the curbside, the majority are now recumbent, naked to the world or barely concealed in large white or (ironically) evergreen colored plastic household trash bags. And then there’s the rare oddity, like this tree I came upon four years ago this week – a tree standing upright, evenly decorated with shiny silver and blue balls. It was still ringing in the new year with the help of a local who had come by with a can of spray paint and it’s new friend, the corner trash bin.