Chants, Lamentations and Veneration

From darkness into light…from monochrome into vibrant color… from winter into spring, an emerging opening and flow rather than a fighting. There is a gentle stirring of one’s spirit with words like hope, light and resurrection because they emerge from a dying. Intertwined within this are rituals and traditions which ground us, give meaning and create bonds of friendships and identity.

Good Friday Service

In the Greek Orthodox religion, the Easter season is one of the most profound and holiest times of the year so I decided to experience and get a glimpse into the rituals and symbolism of the Good Friday service. First, when I walked into the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Elkins Park, PA, the 6th oldest Greek Orthodox community in the US, established in 1901, I was struck by the hospitality and warmth of the women who welcomed me. I was a stranger and they wanted to make sure I felt comfortable, giving up a front row seat for me, explaining what would be happening. This hospitality was as beautiful as the gold Byzantine icons surrounding me. There was a sacred richness mixed with that Greek love for life and I was totally caught up in it! A key for me was when I couldn’t tell which child belonged to which mother…all the women there were their mothers, hugging, kissing and tugging on clothes and fixing hair. I need more Greek friends!

A Mother and Her Son

In the front of the church was a richly decorated and elaborately carved canopy called a Kouvouklion which represents the tomb of Jesus. The women had spent over 3 hours that morning decorating it with spring flowers of white, red and purple. The ceremony began with readings from the bible, ethereal chanting from the cantors and incense flowing freely to remind everyone that their prayers flow freely to God. Then, gathering around the image of Christ on the cross, the men reached up to take away the nails while young girls (representing the women at the feet of the cross) held the white cloth waiting to receive the wooden representation of Jesus in death. It was then taken behind one of the three doors separating the nave from the sanctuary and referred to as the Iconostosis. An elaborately decorated tapestry with the image of Christ prepared for burial, referred to as the Epitafio, was then brought out and carried around the church as all present bow in veneration.

It Is Done

Venerating the Body of Christ

Woman bowed in prayer

Prayer by the Kouvouklion

After it was placed on the Kouvouklion, people young and old then began to line up with gestures symbolizing a deep and abiding faith. The sign of the cross was made followed by bowing to kiss either the feet or hands of the icon. The priest stated the generally, one does not kiss the face of the icon. Once again, the sign of the cross was made and then many people got down on their hands and knees and crawled through the bottom of the Kouvouklion to symbolize their willingness to enter unto death with Christ.

Man approaching the Kouvouklion

Entering into the death of Christ

Man Joining With Christ

Someone is Always There

Light in Darkness

These rituals become the pathway to enter into a mystery of God and visibly show a faith and belief. Even though there are many paths, an abiding commonality is that there is hope in the face of fear, that there is life in the face of death and that love holds us, heals us and carries us forth to ignite the world with kindness. I am so glad that I stepped into this new experience and am so grateful to all the women who so graciously gathered around me and made me feel at home and to Fontina Moller who first taught me the meaning of Opa, I held you in my heart as I walked through your church. Now on to Easter!

Buddhist Monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery, India

Buddhist Monks and the Mandala of Impermanence from Frances Schwabenland on Vimeo.

The Sacred Arts Tour is traveling throughout the US this year and it was very powerful experience to take in. Buddhist Monks came to Bucks County Community College for one week to share their art and wisdom.

Chanting with bells, cymbals ringing out and the steady rhythm of the drum beat served to consecrate the space and call forth the forces of Peace and Wellbeing. A puja table was set up by the window. Puja comes from Sanskrit and means reverence and homage. Items of offerings and devotion were placed on the table in front of a picture of the Dalai Lama. Bowls of water symbolized hospitality. Flowers symbolized samsara, the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Candles served to stir a desire for enlightenment while incense purified the air and symbolized that the teachings may flow out to all the world. Apples were placed on the table reminding all of our interconnectedness and the impermanence of life with the hope of cultivating gratitude throughout each day.

A blue square board was laid on the ground and the monks took out rulers, compasses and pens to design the sacred sand mandala that would occupy their total concentration over the next 5 days. This is incredibly exacting and can take up to three hours. Pots of millions of grains of brilliantly colored sand were laid out beside chakpurs which are narrow funnel tubes that when scraped together will cause sufficient vibration for the grains to trickle out. Being used together, they represent the union of wisdom and compassion.

The term mandala is an ancient sanskrit word meaning, “World in Harmony”. This ideal, multi- dimensional world where colors, lines and forms all have meaning, each is significant to fostering a heightened awareness of compassion. An intention for blessings is set as each grain is dropped into the design.

By day, monks sat crossed legged, huddled over the rasping sound of the chakpurs for hours. ( My knees and back would have been screaming out after the first 5 minutes!) White face masks prevented both breath or a stray cough from upsetting the meticulous design. Slowly, a lotus emerged in the very center of the sand mandala. Working outwards, white, yellow, red, green and blue petals took shape to represent faith, effort, memory, meditation and wisdom. Deities, walls, doorways, flames all slowly emerged throughout the week.

Just as the week began, it ended with a formal consecration session with the sounds of deep, masculine chanting. The ending was signaled by a simple ringing of a bell. Slowly, brushes began to move over the mandala. The colorful grains were swept into a mound of gray. Buddhism declares that in this world there is nothing that is fixed and permanent. Every thing is subject to change and alteration. As a photographer who tries to capture moments so they will live forever, it was so hard for me to see this beautiful work simply be destroyed knowing how much went into it. I think I have a lot to learn! They believe that suffering stems from trying to hold on to that which is impermanent and it is only through understanding and moving with impermanence that great changes can emerge. The end of life is usually accompanied by a burial, a return to the earth. The grains were placed into an urn and carried to the river. There they were poured out with the belief that the blessings placed in each grain would now flow out to the earth. So much to take away from this one moment in time. “Thanks to impermanence,everything is possible.” Thich Nhat Hanh

Partnerships of Possibilities: Kitchen Harvest & Untours Foundation

https://vimeo.com/175121932

Kitchen Harvest, Inc from Frances Schwabenland on Vimeo.

If you are lucky enough to spend time with Chris, you will be in the midst of poetry in motion! An artist of nature!

It was just after sunrise when I was introduced to the Kitchen Harvest garden. I am not a morning person but the thought of missing that golden light awakening those tender baby strawberries and shining on the newly formed dew drops that dotted the lettuce and broccoli caused me to shake off my stupor, run to set up my camera a not miss this moment of glory. Nature was putting on a show and I was lucky enough to capture it! Our conversation was casual but as Chris started harvesting the fresh vegetables he was going to deliver to his residential customers later that day, his words were poetic and profound. I now had to run to get my tape recorder to not miss a word of wisdom generated when one works closely with the earth! I was with a man whose spirit and livelihood is so intimately connected to the movements of nature. He spoke about the excitement of unearthing things growing below the ground. He used the words, “Magic” ,”Surprise”, “Nurture”. He spoke about patience and allowing everything its own time and pace.

Photographing the dynamic light and vibrancy of the garden, I couldn’t help but realize the contrast all around us. We were in the middle of a cemetery. Chris saw an empty, overgrown area and thought growth! Listening to him explain how the garden came to be, I understood and admired his deep appreciation and respect for the interplay of life and death. It has been a guiding vision for him.

On Wednesday, July 13, 2016, the Guardian reported, “Americans throw away almost as much food as they eat because of a cult of perfection, deepening hunger and poverty, and inflicting a heavy toll on the environment.” About 1/3 of all food scraps, about 60 tons, worth 160 billion, is wasted by retailers and consumers every year. According to the EPA, “Discarded food is the biggest single component of landfills and incinerators today.” When I first met Chris and asked him how Kitchen Harvest started, he replied that it has been a bit of a love story and after standing on the side lines photographing all that he does, I couldn’t have said it better. He and his wife, Timi, want/wanted to live differently, not being one of the statistics above. They wanted to give their new child, the freshest food possible while honoring the earth…respecting and not pillaging, renewing and not leaving barren. Thus, their son wasn’t their only birthing…Kitchen Harvest, Inc was started in 2010, the same year Cassidy was born!

The food waste from many residential customers, schools and institutions like Villanova University, restaurants such as The Sterling Pig Brewery and now the DNC all are working with Chris and Kitchen Harvest. The left over food, grains and lawn cuttings are all collected and taken to Linvilla Orchards where in 6 to 9 months, it is transformed into a beautiful, dark, healthy compost, not sitting somewhere in a landfill. The compost is then shared back with the community. The gardens and vegetables grown in this compost can be summed up in one word, “Abundant”! Not only does Chris transform waste products, he transformed me! He and his wife invited me to their home for a meal. I know this sounds corny, but I never saw lettuce so full and healthy. I never tasted anything like it. Who needed salad dressing? The anemic greens, so long a staple of my diet are a thing of the past! Together Chris and Timi created such a delicious alchemy of colors, textures and tastes. Cassidy, their son, told me that when he helps his dad weed, he takes them and pots them up because you never know what it could become! He was raised knowing that waste can be turned into magic!
I wish we all could realize that.

The Untours Foundation , under the leadership of Elizabeth Killough, works to alleviate poverty by providing low-interest loans or equity to individuals and organizations who create employment, housing and valuable goods and services in economically challenged communities. Untours fuels projects that are environmentally and economically pioneering, setting new models for which all businesses can strive. Their low-interest loan to Kitchen Harvest has helped Chris run his successful business. Working with Elizabeth, I am so honored to know such caring individuals who go above and beyond to make such a positive and lasting difference.

And They Laid Him In The Tomb

Spirit Rising

Spirit Rising

Naval Officer

Naval Officer

Eternal Love and Sadness

Eternal Love and Sadness

Guardian Angel

Guardian Angel

The Lion Of Eternity

The Lion Of Eternity

Throughout Christian Churches today hundreds of thousands of people around the world heard the words,
“Joseph bought a linen cloth, took Him down, wrapped Him in the linen cloth and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.”

A tomb, the final resting place where the epitaph is forged into stone, concrete and marble trying to bring a sense of permanence when confronted with the stark reality of impermanence. In late 1835, a grieving father John Jay Smith, noted that “Philadelphia’s living population has multiplied beyond the means of accommodation for death.” One year later, Smith with partners Nathan Dunn, Benjamin Richards and Frederick Brown conceived of Laurel Hill Cemetery. Three design concepts influenced every part of this new endeavor. It had to be situated in a picturesque location well outside the city; there would be no religious affiliation; and it must provide a permanent burial space for the dead in a restful and tranquil setting. It became the nation’s second major rural cemetery with a rolling landscape of 78 acres, horticultural plantings and eclectic architecture and sculptures. Laurel Hill was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998. Names such as Rittenhouse, Widner, Elkins and Strawbridge are just a few of the Philadelphia magnates buried here. General Meade and 39 other Civil War era generals reside here along with 6 Titanic passengers. Picnics, strolls, carriage rides and sightseeing were popular pastimes in Laurel Hill’s early days. This site continues to draw history buffs, ghosts hunters, joggers, bicyclists, nature lovers, sketch artists, and photographers. It has become a must see destination for tourists…Rocky came here often to visit his beloved Adrian! So on this day, I wondered down landscaped paths, camera around my neck, intrigued by ways tombs may provide a glimpse within.

The tomb of William Warner is both striking and unique. It was created by Alexander Milne Calder, the son of a Scottish tombstone carver who went on to sculpt more than 250 pieces for Philadelphia’s City Hall as well as the colossal bronze statue of William Penn that crowns the tower. This dramatic sculpture lying atop of the tomb depicts the soul escaping from the coffin and is often referred to as a prime example of American Victorian funerary art. Lions were used to signify the qualities of those laid to rest as well as serving to symbolize an eternal vigil. Ivy stands for eternal life. When I came upon a broken column, I knew a life was taken too soon or suddenly. Draped urns topped off headstones relating a permanent state of sadness and mourning for the family left to carry on. Obelisks and mausoleums with Tiffany stained glass windows attest in death to a life of wealth with the richest closest to the river. Angles were believed to protect people on earth and guide them to heaven. One gravesite definitely provides a glimpse of its inhabitant… with a large microphone and two seats from Veterans Stadium, one can sit for a moment to remember all the years of listening to the Philadelphia Phillies announcer with that distinct voice, the memorable Harry Kalas! ( I wonder if they can make a camera that large!)

When I came upon the bronze epitaph of General Hugh Mercer, I became very curious about the man in the tomb. It read, “A physician of Fredericksburg, Virginia, was distinguished for his skill and learning, his gentleness and decision, his refinement and humanity, his elevated honour and his devotion to the great cause of civil and religious liberty.” Words connected us… the living with the dead, the present with the past.

“Overlooking the river, there is a stone sculpture capturing the tenderness of a mother for her children. Henry Dmoghowski Saunders, a polish sculptor whose work is on display in the U.S. Capital poured his grief into this piece. The Mother sits holding her babies overlooking the river where they drowned in 1855 and she joined them in death two years later. All repose together. After completing this very sad monument, Henry, the father and husband of this family, returned to Europe and never returned to America.
Death becomes a teacher of life if we listen to the messages in silence. On this monument was the inscription: “We should count time in heart throbs. He most lives who thinks most. Feels the nobelest. Acts the Best.”

On this day of quiet reflection those who were laid in the tomb reminded me how I want to live!

Laurel Hill Cemetery “The Hot Spots and Storied Plots” tour is presented monthly – 4th Friday and 2nd Saturday tour series. It is a very informative overview of the cemetery’s long and colorful history.

Philly Aids Walk

Finished!

Finished!

I Am With You

I Am With You

Cheering On

Cheering On

Honoring A Life

Honoring A Life

Days Gone By

Days Gone By

This time last Sunday, I was returning home from the Philly AIDS Walk. I am working on a long term project which required me to photograph this event. It was the first time I attended and was totally impressed by the number of people who joined together to walk and run in order to support those touched by HIV and to help fund further research. I could have easily spent the majority of my time photographing this expansive sea of humanity but I chose to photograph from a different perspective.

Those with cancer may say, “I have cancer.”

While AIDS seems to consume one’s identity. When asked, most respond with “I am HIV positive.” As if they are the disease. So I decided to forego the larger picture and honor the individual. I walked through the crowd to capture the moments of strength, support and reflection.

The Divine Lorraine Hotel, Philadelphia, PA

After photographing at the Mummers’ Parade last week and spending a great deal of time on Braod Street, I thought it might be interesting to photograph the architecture along this most famous street which spans approximately 13 miles. Broad Street was one of the earliest planned streets in the United States (1681) and has a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. The most prestigious art centers, sporting complexes and historic architecture line this street.

The Divine Lorraine Hotel, located at the corner of Broad and Fairmount Avenue, was built in the late 19th century. This building initially symbolized opulence and luxury as a 246 room high rise apartment building with 2 ball rooms, in house staff and one of the first elevators in the city. It later became home to Father Divine and his congregation and was noted as the first integrated hotel in the city. Those wanting to join this religious cult turned their savings over in return for a room and had to abide by Father Divine’s strict rules. Richard Nickel posted a fascinating look at the history of this building, its inhabitants (Jim Jones was a member before starting his own cult which later committed mass suicide) and photographs of the interior of this now deteriorating and gutted building. A great friend and photographer, Conrad Louis-Charles shared one of his favorite quotes with me before I went off to shoot. “Don’t shoot what you see, shoot what you feel.” (David Alan Harvey). Taking this advice to heart, I went off to capture this boarded up, graffiti ridden shell as it now stands decaying. I am not sure what will become of it since it was just purchased by developer Eric Blumenfeld. He plans to convert the building into rental units with restaurants on the ground floor. May his vision come to fruition.

The Divine Lorraine Hotel
The Divine Lorraine Hotel
The Divine Lorraine Hotel, Phialdelphia
The Divine Lorraine Hotel
Divine Lorraine Hotel
The Divine Lorraine Hotel

Mummers’ Parade 2013 and New Year’s Traditions

“Tis New Year’s Day! What interesting traditions we have as we move from one year to the next. If I were in South America, last night I would have had a major decision to make about the color of my underwear…yellow would symbolize a hope for abundance. Red would show a yearning for love in the New Year and white would simply mean a desire for peace. I wonder how many people go to a tied dyed approach to get them all in! Scarecrows made up of old clothes are burned on the front lawn while the old calendars are thrown from windows. Speaking of which, I heard on the local news station yesterday that various and assorted items are dropped from high levels at the stroke of midnight…large potatoe chip bags, lebanon bologna and a possum drop in N. Carolina and Georgia (PETA has expressed their total distaste of this one). Here in Philadelphia for the past 113 years and still going strong, grown men (women referred to as the wenches brigade and children) all get dressed in feathers, sequins and umbrellas and strut their stuff up Broad Street and all of this is perfectly normal! They have perfected the art of partying for sure! I wonder what color their underwear is????????

Gifting of the Beads!The New Normal!Guess Who I Am!Here's To The Red, White and Blue!Long lines for the bathroom!The Mummers' StrutThe Strong!  The Bold! The Beautiful!Hey Philly!Your Normal Run of the Mill Rabbit on the Street

Our Lady of Guadalupe: The Faithful Celebrate

Parishoner

Parishoner

Still in Prayer
City Procession

Over the past few years, some leaders of the Philadelphia Archdiocese have become known for very grevious offenses. However, this past week, I was able to witness what the spirit of the real church looks like. St. Thomas Acquinas is a multi-cultural parish located in South Philadelphia. Members are from the Indonesian, Vietnamese, Filipino, Hispanic, African American, Italian and Irish communities. This parish is microcosm of the world. Although struggling financially, all are committed to being a beacon of hope for the neighborhood and the vibrancy of support and welcome is so palpable.

Five centuries ago on a hill in Mexico, Our Lady of Guadalupe appreared to the poor and abandoned. Speaking their language she promised protection and inspired hope. On a small hillside in the freezing cold, roses bloomed. The Virgin told Juan Diego to gather the flowers in his peasant cloak (tilma). When the flowers were laid out in front of the Bishop, there appeared the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe which was miraculously imprinted on the fabric. This cloak of a poor man touched by grace can still be viewed to this day. Over time, she was declared the patroness of the Americas and has endeared the largest number of pilgrimages in the world. On December 11th, in the cold night air, the people of St Thomas Acquinas processed over an hour and a half to the cathedral to join thousands of others filled with the same heartfelt faith,belief and joy. It was so inspiring for me to see the strength and faith of the men, women, children, old and young from all different cultural backgrounds sharing in this celebration. These are the acts that should not go unnoticed. Hopefully the video provided will give an small insight into the tremendous spirit!

Angkor Wat, Devata and Apsara

Yes, I will admit it – I have and use a vision board… a huge board with no white space left since it is entirely covered by the places around the world I hope to travel to. It is constantly inspiring and calling to me, “Wander in Wonder!” (I am going to start selling T-shirts with that slogan! Let me know if interested!) When I began this “VB”, Angkor Wat was my very first image. I was so taken by its ancient beauty, its dance with nature in a far off exotic land. Built in the early 12th century in the classical style of Khmer architecture by King Suryavarman II. It is considered to be the largest religious temple in the world. Angkor Wat has become the recognized symbol of Cambodia with a depiction on the country’s flag. I can remember very clearly the exact moment when we came around the bend and I saw it for the first time. It took my breath away… I was finally here! Words for these moments are so inadequate because it is truly a moment for the heart and not the mind.

I came to learn of a mystery that exists and presently has many learned men and women trying to unravel. As stated on Devata.org researchers are exploring the question: “Why do images of powerful and creative women dominate the largest religious monument on Earth and what did they mean to the Khmer rulers, priests and people?” Within the temple, there are 1,796 sculptures of women realistically rendered in stone. Some are dieties known as devatas and others are apsaras known as the sacred dancers to the gods. I was amazed by the preservation of these beautiful images over centuries and the unique differences in facial characteristics.

Even though many questions still remain regarding the extent of the feminine forces in the design and empowerment of the Khmer society, as Devata.org puts it: “Many women of Southeast Asia are still blessed with the feminine beauty, power and spiritual harmony that the ancient Khmers honored.” “We have only to look and continue trying to understand” and I might add, live out dreams!

Kefi

This past weekend in NYC, my friends and I walked into a restaurant located at 505 Columbus Avenue on the Upper West Side. This Greek restaurant with walls of white, dishes of blue and mosaics of waves in motion transported us to not only a place but also a spirit.  “Kefi” was the name chosen by the owners, Michael Psilakis and Donatella Arpaia, in order to capture “the bliss that accompanies bacchanalia”.  They succeeded…the food was delicious ! White zinfandel sangria, grilled octopus and the best tsoutsoukakia were only a few of the offerings.  I also became  caught up by the spirit of KEFI. About.com  states that this means one’s joy, passion, exuberance for life, one’s own style.  Can you picture Zorba dancing on the beach?!  So the rest of the weekend, with camera in hand, my focus became finding moments of kefi!  I hope you find yours today!

A Last Look at Fall in Valley Green

Valley Green is located on the outskirts of Philadelphia. This was one of the first pieces of publicly owned U.S. land to be preserved due to its scenic beauty…waterfalls, a covered bridge, winding paths calling to be explored and a welcoming inn and restaurant since 1850 (The Valley Green Inn)

Valley Green in the Fall from Frances Schwabenland on Vimeo.

Engagement Shoot, Phillies Style!

I love to do engagement photo shoots because I always have such fun being with the couple and the focus is just to have fun. My goal is to capture those special looks, the shared laughter, the touches and embraces that have become second nature to the couple. Tiffany and Vinny were so easy going and flexible, getting up for an early morning shoot without even having a cup of coffee! We did several looks at several
spots but couldn’t get to that breakfast until the Phillies shirts came out and this moment in time was immortalized with their love! Thanks so very much for a great time!