“My unconscious guides me” Elsa Dorfman


I am feeling very inspired to create some photos today after watching Errol Morris’s “The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography. A beautiful film about a lovely and talented woman.

I miss my darkroom, film, Hasselblad, and Poloroid cameras.

While in art school my dad helped me set up a dark room and photo studio in the basement of my childhood home. I spent hours, music blasting,  processing film and printing black and white images on equipment bought, using credit card cash advances,  from a dentist who had lost interest in the craft. I don’t miss the feeling of panic in my stomach waiting for unprocessed film to turn out after adding the right chemicals, at just the right time, and agitating the film canister. But there was something very magical about watching images emerge in a tray right before my eyes. I can still smell the fixer on my fingers.

Something else I miss was working with my mom, the very best photography assistant ever. She and I would travel up and down the front range to jobs. When I was 24 I owned my own studio “Snowflake Snapshots” which I purchased from Mary and Joe Farace after working for them right after art school.

My Mom and I lugged hundreds of pounds of equipment in and out of locations, completing jobs, sending film to the processing company, fielding calls from clients, and having fun on the road. This was before google maps so my dad would help us plot our course for the day. We always, always got lost in Aurora. Why are the roads there so confusing?

One of our most meaningful portrait sessions was with a little girl with cancer who was getting treatment at Children’s Hospital. I had seen her in a news story and contacted her parents, who were struggling on many levels, to offer a free sitting. She was an angel and had the most beautiful eyes, and vivacious spirit.

My mom was a cancer survivor but we did not yet know that Viola, my sister, would die from cancer and that I would be diagnosed as well. We also did not know that following my diagnoses that my sons, particularly Austin,  because of a choroid plexus mass,  would be spending a great deal of time at Children’s due to a genetic abnormality that makes us and some of our extended family more at risk for any kind of cancer.

A few years later the pressures of small business ownership and no healthcare and a plum job offer in an entirely different field helped me decide to sell my studio. I met my kids’ dad, moved into a new to us home, and started a family.

I almost gave up photography entirely at the beginning of the digital age.  Is it a phone or a camera that I carry with me all day everyday?

I donated most of my dark room equipment to ARC a while back knowing that the chemicals and methods used processing and making photos from film was a thing of the past and environmentally unsound.

Slowly, I have come to terms with always advancing photo technology.

But I now realize, photography isn’t about the gear at all. It is the connection between you and your subject.

Thanks Elsa for reminding me.



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A Force of Nature

Yesterday, the wind in Colorado blew in a way that I have never before experienced. Running at dawn today, I came across fallen trees and broken fences but not even a whisper of wind. The force of nature.

Viola, my sister, was a force of nature. I was reminded of the morning that she died. The sun shone, the sky was blue, and birds were singing but our hearts were broken.  Anniversaries and birthdays are painful. While running, my mind reached for ways to honor her life.

I’m grateful for seeing her; in the sun as it hits the top of Longs Peak, in the corner creases of my parents’ eyes as they continue to love those of us who remain– losing a child whether it be to death or circumstances beyond anyone’s control is the cruelest loss–in the memory of the way Jon tended to her during her years-long illness, the way Anna is a Mother to Giles and an artist to the world, Phoebe’s fearlessness and love of nature, Craig’s sense of humor and way with words, Em’s creativity and love for animals, in Austin’s tenacity and love of music, in Carson’s abilty to find wonder in places the rest of us overlook, when holding Giles, and in Dean who knows how to help me pick up the pieces when my heart breaks all over again even though it’s been 5 years since she died. 10665070_10204823399608371_6668189524607350847_n

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A year in a life……2017


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Pueblo de Taos, New Mexico


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journalIt’s been nearly a year since I received the phone call at work from a nurse telling me I had breast cancer. A few days earlier I lay on a table awaiting a needle biopsy on the 3 year anniversary of the day my sister died from cancer. My mom had it too, but hers like mine was caught early and I am grateful to have her to lean on when things become overwhelming. Her mother died at age 30, when my mom was only 4 years old.

My 12-year-old son, Carson, describes cancer in a poem earlier this year titled “Family.”

“I didn’t tell you that I might have a mutated gene, that will make it more of a chance to get cancer. I didn’t tell you that my family has been pelted with cancer their whole life, because they have a history of cancer.”

A few months after my first two operations, we learn that my boyfriend Dean has melanoma that will require surgery.

Just as 2017 is starting, the most unsettling news of all is delivered.  It turns out Austin and I have a specific genetic mutation that makes us and other family members at a higher risk for a number of different cancers. An MRI performed on Austin reveals a brain mass. The experts at Children’s Hospital in Denver concur that as long as Austin remains free of symptoms, no growth occurs and has regular screenings it may not be cause for concern.

In 10 months three people living under one roof, including my 16-year-old son, are diagnosed with tumors.

At times, it’s excruciatingly hard not to get bogged down in the what ifs of this new reality. I don’t always do a very good job of being reasonable. I refuse to say we “are lucky.” There is nothing lucky about any of these diagnoses.

This year I am learning how to breathe. Sometimes that is the only way to get through to the next moment.

Today I page through my bulging medical journal with appointment note scribbles, doctor’s office business cards, grocery lists, and things I wrote down this year to remind myself to be grateful for what is good in my life.

Learning to walk, even when my legs want to run, because the rest of my body needs me to take it slow

Taking my great-nephew Giles Fox for his very first swim at Eldorado Springs Pool

Riding and talking with Austin as he drives a car

Having excellent medical care and insurance

Appreciating the warmth of friendship and kindness from every area of my life—-family, church, school, work, operating, recovery and waiting rooms

Marrying Dean, a thoughtful, caring, funny, and most considerate man and combining our two loving families

Being able to watch Carson as he gracefully glides down a mountain on skis

Witnessing both of my boys grow up to be really amazing young people

Living in the moment is difficult for me. I’m a worrier. Sometimes my mind wants to run even though my heart needs to take it slow. Breathe. Everyday I am learning.






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Wabi-Sabi: The Art Of Imperfection — Dodge & Burn

It’s a concept, an aesthetic, and a worldview. It’s also a phrase that doesn’t translate directly from Japanese into English, and the ideas behind it may not immediately translate in the minds of those who haven’t encountered it before. Put simply, it’s an intuitive way of living that emphasizes finding beauty in imperfection, and accepting […]

via Wabi-Sabi: The Art Of Imperfection — Dodge & Burn

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Wabi-Sabi: The Art Of Imperfection

It’s a concept, an aesthetic, and a worldview. It’s also a phrase that doesn’t translate directly from Japanese into English, and the ideas behind it may not immediately translate in the minds of those who haven’t encountered it before. Put simply, it’s an intuitive way of living that emphasizes finding beauty in imperfection, and accepting the natural cycle of growth and decay. The best way to learn about wabi-sabi is just to accept that it’s there – and to begin noticing examples of it in one’s daily life. –Laura Alta Language Services

Back in April,  I was sitting in my Doctor’s office being prepped for a needle biopsy due to irregularities found on my annual mammogram. The procedure itself was not as bad as I had anticipated. The waiting for test results is almost always the worst part of any procedure. That week happened to be the third anniversary of my sister’s death from breast cancer. She was 54.  My mom is a 20 year breast cancer survivor.  Her mom, my grandmother died at age 30.

A few days later the call came in, while I was at work, to let me know that I had cancer. It was a Friday morning.  Somehow I made it through the day.  We had a previously scheduled get together with our friends.  I decided being with our friends and our kids’ friends would be better than sitting around teary eyed trying to process this unexpected diagnosis.  I wanted this experience to be as positive as possible for my boys.  At one point Carson asked “Mom why are we having a party because you have cancer?” I explained it wasn’t because I have cancer but in spite of it.  This was the week Prince died. I painted my nails purple put on my kick-ass cowgirl boots and we sang, danced, played apples to apples and hide and seek and celebrated his spirit.  I also decided that I would choose purple as my cancer fighting color in lieu of pink.


The next few weeks were filled with calls, appointments, genetic testing, and scheduling, and sharing the news.  Telling our friends, family, volunteers, and work mates was painful.  Austin was so brave, extra helpful, and kind. Carson rubbed my back and kept me laughing with his sharp sense of humor.  Dean promised this only made him love me more.  Our family was unwavering in their support. My work and church family could not have been more supportive and loving.

One day early on I received a package from Anna my niece.  In it was a little monkey.  I had given Vi a mama monkey and a baby monkey to help her in her treatments.  Vi carried the baby monkey with her to all of her appointments and procedures. It sits next to me and my computer right now as I try to share this experience. My niece Phoebe sent me a beautiful picture of her space in Chile it shows a “TherRistra” of cayenne peppers from her farm.  When Vi was still alive we spent a few fun summer nights stringing chile ristras.


At the end of the school year we had a lovely family vacation to San Diego. We spent a lot of time on the beach listening to the ocean, playing checkers, eating yummy food, and enjoying each other. We had a bit of a harrowing experience returning to Denver the night before my surgeries–think planes, trains, and automobiles.


On June 7, with my mom, Dean, and Melody at my side (and countless other supporters in spirit), Me and my  purple toenails had a bilateral mastectomy with the first phase of reconstruction.  The procedure itself went as well as can be expected. Later, my nephew Craig kept me laughing and sharing his heart with me. Sweet Jessica, with the voice of an angel, sang me to sleep that first frightful night.


One of the most difficult parts of all of this was having to look at my surgery sight for the first time before leaving the hospital.  Dean and a wonderful nurse helped talk me through it even though I thought it would be impossible.

The pain, discomfort, and fatigue is pretty extreme but I feel like I am on the right side of my recovery. Most days are better than the ones before.

Dean, Austin, Carson, Mom, and Dad are the best caregivers a person could ever ask for.

My dear friend Joelle helped me get back into a running routine a year ago when we reconnected after not seeing each other since high school.  We ran almost 10 miles a week and talked about everything.  Even though I can’t run right now she surprises me with visits and inspiring talks.  Sharon my spiritual adviser always helps me to remember to breathe and remember what I can do instead of what I can’t.

ALL of my friends, church family, and volunteers, work mates (especially Susan and Erika) continue to blow me away with their kindness and support. Their thoughtfulness and generosity have helped me more than I can express in words.

…….”The truth about human beings is that we’re broken. The larger truth is that we heal. The even larger truth is that we heal each other. We have the power, often by the simplest of acts, to help each other heal.

The miracle isn’t the healing. The miracle is that one person decides not to stand aloof from another person’s pain. The wonder isn’t that people are healed, it’s that they’re loved like that. The greatest need we have is to be treated with care, treated like human beings, but because that’s so rare, when it happens it seems miraculous.

We say, ‘If you have your health, you have everything.’ That’s not true. Some people aren’t healthy, but they have something many healthy people would gladly trade for—people who pray for them, accompany them, don’t forget them: a circle of care. In such circles even people facing death may experience a kind of healing, even the dying find the blessing of life.”……..  Mary Luti

I’m struggling a little bit with finding that kick-ass cowgirl spirit that I had upon my initial diagnosis but everyday it grows and seeps out in one form or another.  I am determined to dance again and as Viola often said “never trade joy for fear.”

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There’s a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen – Anthem








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