I have been given a gift in my mid-life: discovering new family members I never knew existed. They have been so incredibly welcoming to me as we spend hours trying to catch up on years. We first met in May at a local “Open Studio Weekend”. My 2nd cousin Betty married Laszlo Bagi, a Hungarian born local artist and as I came to find out, an artist extraordinaire. As soon as I saw his pen and ink drawings, etchings and silkscreen prints, I was in awe of his talents and had to know more. Laszlo’s subjects ranged from his memories on a farm, a simple life with many siblings in a Hungary that no longer exists, a piece capturing his grandparents home with the path he had to walk each day to get water. There was a silkscreen of a large black and purple crucifix standing by a small road into his town which was a gift for his mother many years ago. Forests he explored and Philadelphia historical buildings all found new life through his touch. Back stories were pouring forth and I knew I needed to capture them on film. These were such precious memories that should not end up as fleeting ones.
Laszlo was most gracious as I became his shadow with a camera. The excitement I knew when I would watch images emerge slowly in the confines of a darkroom was the same as seeing the magic created in his studio. “I love to see the colors reach out, hold hands and marry each other”, he told me. I held the very first pen set that he ever owned and this oh so gifted man made sure I had a new sketchbook and a set of his watercolors to always have with me when I travel!
So many moments impacted me during out time together, but when I started to film the responses to my innately curious questions, it was then that I had a very profound appreciation for all this man had gone through and all he has given. As a teenager, he saw his beloved country destroyed and taken over. Leaving family and friends, he walked for 7 days to Austria to escape a fate of hanging only to walk into the fate of being a refugee and housed in a camp. Here I was interviewing one of the few remaining people who knew first hand of the atrocities of the Hungarian Revolution. Laszlo came to this country though the compassion of Eleanor Roosevelt. He went into the United States Army (101st Airborne) and was stationed in Germany where he met and married my cousin Betty who was working in Special Services for the US government. An immigrant to this country who has spent his life in the service of others and who each day feels compelled to bring forth something beautiful.
Today at times, we hear the word “immigrant” used in a decisively pejorative context. Hundreds of thousands of people are given that one word descriptor without deference to their own individual stories of life, love and hardship. Many are herded, judged and separated. Years ago, our former president’s wife interceded to bring those in the refugee camp to America heeding the words, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” I feel so fortunate to now know a man named Laszlo, my cousin! The name in Hungarian means “glorious ruler”, a name of honor and dignity. When we move past the word “immigrant”, we may be fortunate enough to come to deeply know a person by name and for me, it was truly glorious!
With special thanks to Betty for opening her beautiful home and generous heart to me day after day! Much love!
More of Laszlo’s work can be seen at his website: Laszlo Bagi.com
It would be a wonderful meeting of the minds if the famous stilt fishermen of Sri Lanka came together with yoga instructors! They could both share wise insights into the art of balance, patience and cultivating stillness. Along the south shore line of this island off the coast of India, between Unawatuna and Welligama are wooden crosses dotting out into the ocean. After World War II, people were in need and the spaces available to fish along the shore line became very crowded. The fishermen of Sri Lanka then created a solution that is unique to this country. They took a wooden cross bar called a petta and used twine to tie this to a vertical bar and anchored it into the ocean’s floor. During sunrise and into the early morning, they can be seen climbing onto the stands and practicing an amazing balancing act for hours, holding onto the pole with one hand and reaching out to fish with the other. They carry everything they need in their turbans and attach a plastic bag to the ritpanna (stilt) for the catch of the day, spotted herring or small mackerals. We were fortunate to spend three days with them, photographing with beautiful light enhancing the mood and the moment.
These tanned Sri Lankan men sit attentive to the movements above and below the waves as the hours pass by. I could learn so much from them! Take little and be in the moment! Now I am off to practice my “Tree Pose”!
I want to express my sincere thanks to Prebuddha Jaysinghe of Sri Lanka Holidays for helping me organize our trip in every way. Prebudda answered every question quickly and thoroughly and offered so many suggestions with a photographic perspective in mind. Anyone wishing to go to Sri Lanka, you would have the very best if you contacted Prebudda at firstname.lastname@example.org Also, make sure you ask for Ravi as your guide. We had great fun with him as he showed us the beautiful sites of his country! Just let them know Francie recommended them!
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.”
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
“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.
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.