Shadow Dancing

One of my favorite quotes on photography comes from Julia Margaret Cameron, the 19th century British portraitist who took up photography late in life and said of her first experience:

“From the first moment I handled my lens with a tender ardour, and it has become to me as a living thing, with voice and memory and creative vigour.”

That quote is the inspiration for my Instagram tag, tender_ardour, which of course is also the name of this Blog.

I have to laugh when I think of the first time I held and used a camera myself. I was 8 or 9 years old and I was thrilled when my dad let me try out his old 110 camera. These were introduced by Kodak in 1972 and the technical quality wasn’t great. I didn’t understand why the scenes I composed in my mind weren’t fully realized in the final prints, but I was getting a taste.

When I was 10, my best friend, Andrea and I borrowed her dad’s 35mm camera for the day and took turns photographing in her neighborhood. I was getting hooked, and I longed for a camera of my own.

My older sister, Eve saved up her babysitting money and got one of the first Kodak Disc cameras that came out in the 80s. On a family trip through South Dakota, she let me take a few shots with it. We hiked together in the Badlands and I photographed our shadows cast on the side of one of the towering buttes at dusk, its spire still glimmering orange and purple hues as the sun light softened in the distance. The scene was ideal for a camera of any quality to capture something wonderful.

Our parents had the film processed at a drug store somewhere along the way and we got to see the pictures the next day. My father was a man of few words, which is why some of my most vivid memories from childhood are moments when he spoke directly to me. He told me that if I ever entered a photography contest, I should submit that picture of my sister and I shadow dancing in the Badlands of South Dakota.

When I was 15 and entering 10th grade, I signed up for photography courses through a program called Career Center, which was offered through the Omaha Public School system as part of the high school curriculum. My parents lent me the money to purchase my own 35mm camera for that program. It was a Pentax K1000, and I used it throughout much of my time as a BFA student at the Kansas City Art Institute as well. Then I started experimenting with medium formant cameras. The first one I acquired was a Yashica mat 124 and later, when I started grad school for photography in Buffalo, I purchased a Pentax 67, and eventually a Hasselblad 500c.

I now shoot digitally almost exclusively, and I’ve owned numerous DSLRs. The technology is vastly different than when I was tinkering with my Dad’s old 110 camera as a kid, and it continues to evolve. For me, the feeling of excitement when holding that camera for the first time came more from the creative possibilities brought on by a new tool, than from the tool itself. All these years later, I still get that feeling when I set out to take pictures wherever my camera leads me.

Snowvember Portrait

Here I am on top of the giant snow pile created by over 10,000 dump truck loads of snow following the monstrous “Snowvember” storm of November 2014 in Buffalo.

My favorite pictures of myself are the ones photography friends have taken of me out and about with my camera.

Photo by Matt Kenny

Molly Jarboe by Matt Kenny, 2014 Infrared Filter

Sunday Morning Run

Bluebirds, indigo buntings, a rare red squirrel, a flattened frog carcass on the path and a chorus of frog friends croaking a funeral song from the pondlets in the woods.

Sight, sound and smell, all tapped during our Sunday morning run as the faint aroma of skunk filled the air at the end.

Spring is finally here! 💦 🐦🐿🐸🦨🌳

Words Stirring Inside

In the face of inaction, act.

When there is uncomfortable silence, speak up.

There will be those who resent you for this, because they mistake being first as the most valuable thing.

Far more important than being first, is being brave enough to be first.


Vanishing Species / Forever Stamps

In the time of coronavirus, every tidbit of news that breaks through the noise and touches our awareness has the potential to become ingrained in our overall experience in meaningful ways. What manages to stick can be very personal. How will we look back? What will the sensory triggers to remembering all of this be?

During these challenging times, the already struggling United States Postal Service is under threat in favor of privatization and corporations. This is also due to a long and winding presidential grudge against Amazon, the Washington Post, the media and ultimately, the truth. So to show support I purchased stamps. I enjoyed browsing the wide array of themes on the USPS website and I finally landed on the ‘Saving Vanishing Species’ set pictured with this post. It resonated with me because of another story popping in and out of my sight lines on a daily basis now.
Horrified, and admittedly captivated, Jeff and I watched the entire Tiger King docu-series while sheltering at home in Buffalo, Ny. It’s easy to dismiss the show as merely spectacle, and from what I’ve read, it appears that it was edited and engineered with the goal of creating a golden nugget of money making entertainment. But there’s more to it, I think. As the series unravels, we’re introduced to the ultra tan, roadside zoo keeper, Joe Exotic. His wild hairstyle and paranoid rants against his arch enemy, Carole Baskin eerily mirror our own president’s demeanor as he rails against imaginary foes like the “fake news media” and the Deep State in his daily coronavirus press briefings. But what struck me most about Tiger King is the rare glimpse into the subculture the show’s cast of unseemly characters reveals. I was already skeptical about the idea of wild animals as pets, but I wasn’t fully aware of the atrocities that were laid bare here. There are far fewer tigers living in the wild than living in captivity. Less than 5% of captive tigers in the US belong to one of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, meaning the rest fall outside of federal oversight. Further research tells me that “poaching and illegal wildlife trade is the most immediate threat to wild tigers. Every part of the tiger, from whisker to tail has been found in illegal wildlife markets.” Learning this and seeing how the big cats were treated in the show, caused me to feel deep sadness for the animals. In a time when 20,000 + Americans have died and the president is incapable of expressing even a hint of empathy, this kind of sadness can take a firm hold. In my opinion, opening ourselves up to witnessing potentially unpleasant things can help us gain perspective. Tiger King activated something in me, and as a result I want to do more. I know my $13.00 purchase of first class stamps is not going to save the tigers or the USPS, for that matter, but I can be a voice for change and I can do more.
When the stamps arrive in the mail, I’ll add them to the small collection I’ve accumulated over the years. When I come across them again in the future several things may come to mind. I’ll remember sheltering at home with Jeff, a new found empathy for tigers, and a feeling of searching for some kind of meaning in it all. I’ll also remember the rage I felt upon realizing that this attack on the post office is an attack on the November election.