Thursday, October 25, 2012

Red and Blue South Lawn Fountain

Did you know that the President of the United States lives in a National Park?

The White House grounds and surrounding parkland are designated as a National Park and maintained by the U.S. National Park Service. That's why you'll often see uniformed park rangers milling with Secret Service agents throughout the White House and Ellipse areas.

It is also the reason why the landscaping is so beautiful around the White House. Each season, the gardens and plants are refreshed with colorful plants like these flowers surrounding the South Lawn fountain. The red flowers are a perfect contrast to the bright blue water of the fountain.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Real Oval Office

Besides being a photography fan, I'm also a political junkie. While I don't enjoy the barbs and ugliness of political discourse these days in the United States, I am a lover of the theory of the democratic process and the practice of American politics done well.

As such, some of my favorite books, films and television shows are set in the world of politics. "The West Wing" is my favorite TV show of all time, which is saying a lot since I'm a avid television watcher and have collected several favorite shows over the years.

My love of "The West Wing" is due to two reasons:

  1. I'm a devotee of its creator and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and his commitment to forcing his characters to "walk-and-talk" smart, thought-provoking dialogue; and
  2. I wish Martin Sheen's character on the program, President Josiah Bartlet, was a real U.S. president, so I could vote for him.
(NOTE: A close third reason is that I wish Josh Lyman was also real person, because I would date him, but that's another story for another blog post.)

After watching (and re-watching) seven seasons of "The West Wing," I feel very familiar with the President's Oval Office. The show actually created a replica of the real Oval Office in a sound stage in Los Angeles as a set.

During those "The West Wing" marathons, I never imagined that I would one day be standing this close to the real Oval Office. You can see the exterior of the Oval Office in today's photograph. Just down this path and to the left is the door the President uses to enter and leave his executive office. From this position, you can see the curvature of the room that makes its oval shape.

While President Obama was at Camp David during my visit, a co-worker who visited the day before just missed seeing him enter the Oval Office during her White House garden tour. To be only steps away from such an important room is very humbling and awe-inspiring.

Once home following the White House garden tour, I felt compelled to watch another "The West Wing" episode and hear that soaring theme song one more time.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monumental View from White House South Portico

Ever wondered what the First Family sees when they step out on the balcony of the South Portico? Just a few national monuments. No big deal.

Taken with my back towards the White House back door, this photograph captures what the U.S. President and his or her family would see every day -- the Washington Monument on the left, the Jefferson Memorial in the distance and the South Lawn fountain in the center.

In between the fountain and the South Portico is a large lawn area where the First Family hosts events like the annual Easter Egg Roll and the location where the President's helicopter, Marine One, takes off and lands.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

View from Inside the Fence

See all the people standing in front of the South Portico? Yeah, all of those people -- my fellow tour attendees -- made my White House garden tour a challenging photo excursion.

People were everywhere. Just to take this photograph, I had to muscle in between visitors who had stopped to take a photo of themselves with the White House in the background. It was the most common photo set-up of the tour -- lots photos taken of people with the White House.

I, on the other hand, didn't even take one image of myself with the White House. I wasn't interested.

All of my photos focused only on the building, gardens and fountains a part of the South Lawn. This postcard composition of the White House is the only one I took that included people just because there was no way to avoid them. Sigh.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Touring the White House Gardens

Today's photo is not of any ordinary white house. This is an up-close and personal photo of "the" White House -- the official residence and office of the President of the United States and the President's family. This is the residence at which all U.S. presidents since our 2nd President of the United States John Adams lived.

How did I get this close to the White House you ask?

Twice a year, the White House South Lawn is opened to the public for free self-guided tours of its gardens during the autumn and spring seasons. Luckily, I was able to secure a ticket today for the last day of the fall season tours.

So, I spent this Saturday morning walking around (and photographing) the South Lawn and seeing the famous Rose Garden, Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, the White House Kitchen Garden and much more in person for the first time.

Being so close to the South Portico or  the"back door" of this infamous house was such a thrill. It was also a bit surreal as well. In the coming days, I'll share more of what I saw and learned during my South Lawn stroll.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Honoring Latin American Leaders in Central Park

At the Artists' Gate entrance to Central Park located near 59th Street and Avenue of the Americas, there is a series of bronze equestrian sculptures of great Latin-American leaders. The trio join the more than 50 fountains, monuments and sculptures honoring notable historic and literary figures from around the world.

This image captures the sculpture of Jose de San Martin, an Argentine general, who helped Argentina, Chile and Peru gain independence from Spain. It is a smaller-scale replica of the original monument located in Buenos Aires, Argentina depicting the Argentine general leading his armed forces into battle.

Like many of the public artwork on display throughout Central Park, this statue was a gift from the City of Buenos Aires to the City of New York.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Roots and Wings

If I could design a logo to represent children, I would design an image of a bird sitting on a tree branch. It would remind us of one of my favorite quotations regarding the best gifts we should give children:
There are two gifts we should give our children: one is roots and the other is wings.
Like birds living in trees, we must help children build a home and life to dwell and grow. At the same time, we need to teach them how to fly like birds, to be bold, fearless dreamers who are not limited by life's conventions or even the Earth's gravity.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Angel of the Waters

The Angel of the Waters sits on top of one of the most photographed and filmed fountains in the world -- the Bethesda Fountain located in Central Park's Bethesda Terrace.

Frequently seen in movies and television shows filmed in Central Park, the angelic figure was designed by Emma Stebbins, the first woman to receive a public commission for a major work of art in NYC. The fountain's sculpture beneath the angel was designed by other Central Park architects.

Each time I visit Central Park, I'm drawn back to Bethesda Terrace and this magnificent fountain. I love how the bronze angel appears as if she is just landing where the water sprouts on top of the fountain. She seems as if she's just hovering, barely touching the water.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Creating a Childhood Wonderland

One of the most common stories I heard at the mental health consumer conference I attended this week was the story of childhood trauma. After suffering many years of mental illness and/or addition to cope with these unfortunate experiences, these brave people are working daily to face their past and continue on the path of long-term recovery. Every day, they work to be people who break the cycle of trauma in their families and communities.

While no one's childhood can be blemish-free -- a perfect childhood just isn't possible -- every adult, whether they have children of their own or not, should strive to create communities where children can live safely without fear of abuse and trauma.

Childhood is just so precious. We adults too often forget that truth and instead litter children's development years with the garbage of neglect, abuse and other preventable traumas. We owe it to the children in our lives to be more aware of our actions and words and save them the heartache and self-abuse that follows childhood trauma into adulthood.

If we too are victims of trauma, we must commit to take the steps necessary to recover from our own past traumatic experiences in order to be better parents and role models and break the cycle of trauma in our families and communities. This is not an easy or pain-free journey, but perhaps we all should be as self-reflective as the amazing people I met this week and confront the past in order to bring ourselves and children in our lives into a happier, healthier future.

I hope that the young girl in today's photograph sitting with a statue of Alice in Wonderland in Central Park is living a childhood filled with love and support and that trauma is missing from her life experiences so far. If this isn't the case, then I hope there is some adult in her life who observes the signs of trauma, mental health and substance use challenges early and provides her the recovery support and resources she needs to start healing before adulthood.

Unlike in Alice's fictional Wonderland, we don't have magic pills or cake to fix all of our problems. Instead, we must band together as a community consciously raise the next generation of young people to be loving, happy and resilient by being an example.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Thinking Shakespeare

More and more cities are placing public art displays through out downtown and business areas to draw visitors and beautify neighborhoods. People, especially tourists love photographing them.

When photographing sculptures, don't just focus on the front of the statue. Instead, walk around the piece while looking through your camera's lens and/or viewfinder  to discover new and interesting compositions. Those perspectives may be from behind, to the side or even from below the piece.

Creative positioning of your camera can result in unique views of a familiar sculpture, such as this statue of William Shakespeare in Central Park in NYC. Taking this photograph from behind the sculpture emphasizes the artist's depiction of Shakespeare in deep contemplation.

Perhaps Shakespeare is thinking of the next play he will write, or just wondering how he was going to settle his debts and support his family in Stratford-upon-Avon. I don't know. It's a mystery.

Friday, October 12, 2012

I'm Hans Christian Andersen

I've always been a lover of fairy tales. I inhaled them as a child, and now as an adult, I'm drawn to television shows and films based on those familiar stories. While the Grimm Brothers fairy tales were king in many households including mine, we also loved Hans Christian Andersen, a Danish author of such tales as "The Little Mermaid," "The Snow Queen," and my favorite of his tales, "The Ugly Duckling."

To be honest, my love of Anderson's stories is due to my love of another person -- the actor, singer, dancer and comedian Danny Kaye. My sister and I watched any movie starring Danny Kaye. We just loved his silliness and effervescence. Watching him perform always made us feel happier and more joyful.

Kaye starred with Bing Crosby in our Christmas favorite, "White Christmas," but it was his turn as Hans Christian Anderson in the 1952 fairy tale musical of Andersen's stories that stayed with me. Whenever I think of Andersen's story of "The Ugly Duckling," I always hear Kaye singing the song of that story from the film in my head. Decades later, I can still here the melody, lyrics and Kaye's voice in my memory. It's remarkable.

So when my sister and I came across this sculpture of Andersen and the Ugly Duckling in Central Park,  I needed to stop. As I photographed the statue, I reminisced about the author and his imaginative tales, but also replayed my childhood friend, Danny Kaye, singing that beloved song to a self-conscious little boy. "There once was an ugly duckling ..."

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Learning A New Language

This week, I've been immersed in a new language and it's riveting. I'm not talking about a foreign language like Spanish or French, but a cultural language of shared experience.

For the past few days, I've met and learned from the most fascinating people -- persons with lived experience with mental health and substance use challenges.

They are not only consumers: they are also advocates who have revolutionized the way the world perceives -- and how health professionals treat -- people with these challenges.

Like any other fighters for civil rights, they have fought for their right to direct their own care and be a decision-maker regarding their treatment and recovery.

These inspirational people have taught me many lessons so far, as well as a new concept -- sustainable hope. Their stories and resilience reminded me that we should not just strive for flashes of hope, but make choices that sustains hope to make it last longer in our lives.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What Are You Looking At?

During photo excursions, I take a lot of photographs. And when photo trips take place during busy periods in my life, I rarely find the time to review and edit photos. As a result, I frequently forget what I've taken.

When looking through my May NYC trip photographs, I was delighted when I rediscovered this gem.

I've blogged in the past about how challenging wildlife photography can be, so when I discover that I've taken a cool portrait of an animal in the wild -- or in this case Central Park -- I was thrilled!

This "What you talkin' 'bout Willis?" look this NYC squirrel gave to the camera in this moment was priceless.   I'm happy to find it and share it with you. While it may not be award worthy, it's definitely a sign I'm making progress on learning how to time when to push the shutter button and capture animals in the wild.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Always Rediscovering NYC

When planning new trips, one can't help but reminisce about past trips. Earlier this year, I returned to one of my favorite cities -- New York City. What made this trip special was that I was able to introduce NYC to my sister for the first time.

Getting the opportunity to experience the City through her fresh eyes was such a joy. And New York is so sprawling that it is difficult to visit the same spot twice. As a tourist there, you're always discovering new sights and sounds.

On my sister's NYC bucket list was visiting American artist Robert Indiana's LOVE sculpture near the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). I had seen the LOVE sculpture in Free Love Park near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but did not know that its original resides in New York.

Even though I've visited MoMA before on past trips, somehow I missed this bold and colorful sculpture standing at a corner in mid-town Manhattan. I'm pleased that this time we didn't miss it.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Conflicted Seasons

A little bit of this and a little bit of that. Here's a little bit of summer and a little bit of autumn all in the same frame.

According to my friends, the Capital Weather Gang, my neighborhood should be in peak autumn color by the end of October. I'm thinking it might be a little sooner than that, so I'm going to be keeping my camera close at hand.

When the foliage flares into color, I'm going to be ready.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Autumn is Here

Autumn is here, and the trees in Northern Virginia are changing color already. See today's image as evidence.

Good grief, autumn is here? Where has the year gone? Wasn't it just autumn?

While I'm looking forward to saying farewell to 2012, I didn't expect the year to pass so quickly. Soon enough autumn will be over and we will be greeting the holidays and the arrival of winter.

And chances are good that I'll be saying, "Good grief!" again.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Around Every Corner

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, it feels like around every corner there's a national monument.

Even from Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, you can still see the Washington Monument which is located in the District a good distance from the Potomac River.

It's a nice view for those resting at Arlington, and a special perspective for visitors stopping by to pay their respects.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Monuments Everywhere You Look

One of the best parts of living near the District of Columbia is that everywhere you look, you might see a historic landmark or national monument.

Whether you're driving in a car or walking around the District, at least one monument is often visible in eye-lines. As you can see in today's photograph taken at Arlington National Cemetery, I could see the United States Air Force Memorial. What you can't see here is that over other shoulder, the Washington Monument was also visible.

For landscape photographers, this is a dream scenario. In this dream, every corner could offer opportunities to frame pr position a frequently photographed monument in a new way.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Constancy of Light

I've been trying to write this post all day today. Each time I would get a moment to add a few words, I would be interrupted and I would need to place the post on hold. This evening, I received some sad news and realized that the reason this post has been in hold all day was that it needed to wait until now.

One of the joyful things about the arrival of autumn is the vibrant palette of colors that are introduced into our environment. Brilliant, warm colors like red, orange and yellow are added to our landscape, bringing light into our lives.

In truth, there isn't a season that doesn't offer us light:

  • Winter's snow reflects light;
  • Spring's bright colors manifests light; 
  • Summer's sun brightens our neighborhoods with light; and
  • Autumn's changing creates light as well.

As the seasons change through the year, the days may get longer or shorter but light -- in some format -- is always present. Light's constancy is our reminder that no matter how dark the day may seem, there will always be light. Somehow, someway, light will exist in spite of cloudy skies or dark days.

Even when you feel alone and lost, just look around you. Once you adjust your vision to see the light present in nature, then you'll find it easier to see light present in other locations, such as people and situations.

Light is all around you, so please hold on if you are in despair. With a little practice, you will learn to see it again. Eventually, your vision shift to allow you to see more light than darkness and inspire inner courage to face the new day.

But until then, let the people around you who do see light in you and in your surroundings be your mirror. We'll show you the light until you start seeing it yourself.

Like light, love is constant too.