Lessons From Myanmar

Life on the Water

Life on the Water

Home on The Lake

Home on The Lake

A very common site to see while in Burma are people smoking both long and short truncated cigars called cheroots. Rudyard Kippling mentioned them in his famous, “Road to Mandalay” as he described his Burma girl:
“An’ I seed her first a-smokin’ of a whackin white cheroot, an’ a-wastin’ Christian kisses on an ‘eathen idol’s feet.”

Burmese Woman Rolling Cheroot

Burmese Woman Rolling Cheroot

The color of cheroots can vary from green to black and are made with a mix of tobacco leaves and pieces of bark. The smoker may enjoy a distinctive sweet taste when honey, star anise, tamarind and jaggery are added into the tobacco mix. (Being from Philadelphia, I had no idea what jaggery is but discovered that it comes from the sap of palm trees and is mixed with sugar cane juice. We just have the Liberty Bell, not many palm trees!). Cheroot filters are made from small corn husks and it is all rolled together in thanal-phet leaves with sticky rice acting as the sealant. In the midst of stilted villages, floating gardens, fishermen balancing on one foot and small havens where cultural traditions are still carried on, the Inle Lake region is a must see for any traveler wishing to get caught up in the magic of Burma. We saw girls sitting crossed legged, hands moving at lightening fast speed as they separated the spices and rolled the leaves of these subtle fragrant cheroots, following in the footsteps of generations before them.

Woman In The Fields Taking A Break

Woman In The Fields Taking A Break

Having A Good Laugh!

Having A Good Laugh!

Love That Smile!

Love That Smile!

Twinkling Eyes

Twinkling Eyes

Reflecting and Relaxing

Reflecting and Relaxing

Here Comes Another Smile!

Here Comes Another Smile!

Often, older, older women whose faces have been deeply etched by the forces of nature are photographed puffing on cheroots with smoke snaking around their serious faces. We are so drawn to the wizened crone characteristic and the stories that lie beneath those many lines and wrinkles. Actually, there are 98 photographs of these women on Google Images (I counted!) So many photographs are both striking and compelling but I noticed that there were only 8 where the women were smiling. If this is an enjoyable past time, I wondered why such an absence. I will probably never know the many back stories to those photographs but I would like to share my experience with these women. Let me begin with a quote. An 18th century German composer, Robert Schumann stated, “The artist’s vocation is to send light into the human heart.” David Heath and Win Kyaw Zan are two men I hold in high esteem as true artists. I was so fortunate to have their mentorship throughout my recent trip to Myanmar. There is such an obvious brotherhood between David and Win. It has been forged during their 16 adventures together, documenting life and traditions hidden away from the Western world for so very long. I was thrilled they brought me “into the fold” and made me feel like family… but then that is what I saw them do time and time again with many others, which brings me to the main point of today’s post. Sitting in thatched huts or out in fields, we too were drawn to photograph these brown skinned, weathered and wise women enjoying a good smoke! We could have photographed with a long lens, never making our presence known while in a way stealing something from them and or we could respectfully enter into the intimacy of their world and not miss out on an amazing opportunity. David and Win went for the latter. Outgoing and fun loving, the camera went down while their smiles, introductions, compliments and jokes brought about quick friendships. We all lingered and laughed and loved every minute! The Burmese women easily allowed us to photograph them. They showed us the pensive look, but now they also flashed those wonderful smiles that were definitely contagious! The “strangerness” melted away into that “light being sent into the human heart” and we were family, connecting continents, cultures and hearts. I was so fortunate to travel with two masterful photographers. They encourage and challenge me to truly be mindful of the artist’s calling. May we all discover that vocation and pass it on now…it is so needed and our children are watching.

Watching with Hopes and Dreams

Watching with Hopes and Dreams

“Feeling It” Series

Dreaming

“Dreaming”

Her hands in steaming hot water and surrounded by dirty pots, one can only wonder what this Amish woman is thinking about as she gazes out the window. Is there contentment in her heart or longing…or a bit of both?

Feelings, Mood and Taking a Different Path

Childhood and Summer

As a photographer, I have spent years trying to master the technical and will happily continue for many more if I am lucky… it is a constant! When I am able to get that tack sharp image I am thrilled. In fact, that type of image was one of the aspects which first drew me to photography many years ago. So often I would look at an image and discard it if it wasn’t in focus. Creativity though is thinking out of the box, trying different things, playing and having fun, going down that overgrown path. So I decided to do just that…to create an image that is more about the mood and the feeling…the universality of feelings in a very simple image. Abandonment!

My first image is an attempt to capture the moments we are able to just stop, enjoy and just get caught up in curiosity and exploration…here’s to summer and childhood!

The Harpist: Another Way of Storytelling

As a visual storyteller, I have always been drawn to the power of the still photograph. One image can convey so very much and if strong enough, bring one to stop and breathe it in. I chose to create another way of relating the powerful and gentle story of Marilyn Lemke who is receiving chemotherapy for her second bout with breast cancer. Marilyn allowed me to come into her home and listen as she shared her life story. A former teacher who decided to play her harp at the bedside of those in hospice. It was there that she met Nancy Ostroff, a hospice nurse. Nancy saw first hand how soothing the music was and she and Marilyn became quick friends. Nancy began taking lessons from Marilyn every Monday. At other times, Marilyn has travelled around the world with Jerry Lacey while sharing a relationship spanning decades. Both were such valued and strong supports when Marilyn learned her breast cancer returned. They now sit by her side at every chemo treatment, doctors’ appointments and recently surgery to remove a brain tumor. Marilyn has made a choice to approach each treatment in a very gentle way . She visualizes each drop as a cleansing while playing her harp throughout. I had the great honor of seeing how her music brought a peace and certain joy to the infusion room at Fox Chase Hospital. Rather than stay in each small section of the room, curtains were drawn and patients were all talking. Before Marilyn began, the only sounds were that of machines and quiet whispers. Her music drifted in and melted that sterile, secluded environment. Marilyn is still very much a teacher by her gentle example. I was given a glimpse of very strong bonds of love, courage rather than fear and peace rather than war. I am so very grateful.

Portraits from India

“Namaste” is used by those in India to both greet and say goodbye. The meaning is: The God/Goddess Spirit in me recognizes and honors the God/Goddess Spirit in you. While saying this, one bows to the other. I found this to be such a beautiful way to really be totally with the other person and the Indian people that I met were masters at this! I was a total stranger and yet when I approached someone requesting the take their portrait, I was never turned away but welcomed in.

When I travel, I find myself constantly drawn to photograph the people. The camera becomes the connection between hearts and eyes when language fails. Through the lens, I saw incredible beauty and character and we always shared a smile. “Namaste” became much more than a word.I hope you enjoy the video below.

Entrusted with Special Moments


As a photographer, I have had such amazing opportunities to travel but I also feel so very privileged when I am entrusted with capturing the beauty of family moments.  These are sacred moments in the cycle of life.  Recently, I have also been asked to help prepare loving video messages to be shared with one’s family in conjunction with a written will as a lasting reminder and gift.  These are truly legacies of love.  Through it all, I have met incredible people and have been taught how important it is to be in the moment and never miss an opportunity to tell others how much they are appreciated.