The Carnton Plantation in Franklin TN. Home of John and Carrie McGavock.
Some things cannot be captured. No recording, photo or film can replace some experiences. Most experiences. Photography inside the home was prohibited and for once I was ok with it. I have respect for such boundaries today. The home, which is donned in Civil War period decor, was absolutely peaceful on the first floor. The parlors, studies and dining area are inviting. The eyes of the wall size portraits of John and Carrie are welcoming and serene.
As I ascended the strange narrowing and winding stair case to the second floor, I could not hide behind sexy and surreal black and white I intended to create. The rooms in which gruesome surgeries and amputations took place hit me head on. A crushing almost panicking feeling overcame me. The blood stained floors survive to this day. No spatters and drips. Much worse...Blood puddled and pooled here. I chocked on nausea. My son and I both experienced a sensation of rush. Like an unpleasant "I drank too much caffeine" buzz as described by my 15 year old boy. The scent of death was strong and intoxicating. I felt no real sadness or pity like I expected...even longed for. Only physical illness and stifling, heavy silence surrounded me. I tried to read the other tourists...Was it just me? Probably not. Our flesh and spirits seemed to absorb the energy in those rooms. The rooms were hot and oppressing.
A Brief History
The Carnton Plantation home was owned by John and Carrie McGavock in 1864. The home served as a hospital for confederate soldiers during the Civil War following the battle of Franklin. A five hour battle, mostly fought in late autumn darkness, led to 9,500 Blue and Gray soldiers dead, wounded or missing. 6,200 were the Confederates.
Carrie McGavock organized the care of the wounded and dying. The McGavocks tended to as many as 300 soldiers inside Carnton alone, though at least 150 died the first night. The 8 room home was so full, the porches and then the yard itself served to care for them.
The Devastating Aftermath
Well over 1000 confederate graves are located on the Carnton grounds. 780 identities were confirmed 558 were officially unknown. Carrie McGavock was named "The Window of the South" for her ongoing efforts to identify, respect and bury the dead. She dressed in black and grieved the lost since their family and friends could not. The federal soldiers killed during the battle of Franklin were moved to federal cemeteries. This is understandable considering the southern way of life had been devastated by the civil war.
I didn't learn in school how much impact the war had on the South. Freedom of the human beings used as slaves was indeed a GOOD. However, imagine having lived wealthy in the South and then losing all you had ever known. Imagine facing the fact that your way of life, your income, your property, would be taken away. Today, we respect life and equality as we learn about the suffering of the African Americans. But slave labor was used generation after generation. The families knew no other way of life. The newly freed slaves were displaced and many died as a result. There is always a suffering side in politics and war. What benefits one, takes away from another and a there is loss in Victory. We don't learn humanities in school. Only names, dates and a narrow point of view. The Metaphor
Ironically, and most interestingly, the name "Carnton" derives form the McGavocks ancestral home in County Antrim, Ireland. The Gaelic word "cairn" means 'a pile of stones raised to mark a memorable event or to honor a fallen hero.'
I very gratefully received a Rolleicord V as a wedding gift in June. I have always been passionate about medium format photography and I couldn't wait to try this beautiful machine. I used my digital camera set at the same ISO as the film as my starting point. I also shot the images in monochrome to get a better feel for the tonal ranges and contrast in the black and white film. My next monsterous challenge was to accumulate the necessary processing supplies.
Its off the Dodd Camera (Dayton) to get whatever I can to begin the process I studied for years in my youth. I bought a five pack of Kodak TMY 400. It was a good place to begin and I admire the films extreme latitude and speed.
In being completely digital for the past 10-15 years, this process has been an on-going lesson in patience. I had to order developer...and wait. Order a plastic reel for my 25 year old stainless steel film tank...and wait.
It was surreal experience. There is no back of the camera post-view. No histogram. No auto-focus. No exposure meter. I had to trust my gut, my focus and go. I made some interesting multi-exposures because I forgot the advance the film. I laughed out loud at myself and hoped for the best as I am still making this mistake.
Once I got everything together, I found my plastic reel did not fit the tank. This was discovered on the steep steps of my lightless basement AFTER I had spent an hour trying to load the film. I used to be so good at it!!! So I removed the film and put it safe in the tank. Angry and frustrated I actually considered processing it with no reel. As I prepared the bathroom for dip and dunk processing, my new husband, Jerry, came to the rescue. He removed about a half inch of the plastic reel's loading guides so it would fit the old tank. (Im cheap. I refused to buy another reel or tank) Now I had the challenge of loading the film on this altered contraption. Another half hour and I had the tank loaded.
My first development times and temps were rough. I started with D-76 mixed at a 1:1 ratio. I developed the first roll at the recommended temp of 68 degrees at 12 minutes. I got bullet proof negs and I think my thermometer was "off" The negatives were of good quality despite the over development thanks to the forgiving nature of T-max.
My next roll was developed the same way with two minutes less development time. A little better but still large grained and thick as a brick. I cut off MORE time and realized I was also over-exposing the film. My next roll was compensated and processed at 8 minutes. Much better.
My next painful lesson in patience "How do I make positives?" My enlarger has been in my mother's storage for 20+ years along with my timers, safelight and processing trays. Printing was not possible and I wanted them NOW. Of course! I am among the first born of a generation of "Instant Gratification" I think God has a sense of humor and was probably laughing as I learned the lesson in patience that day.
I don't have a film scanner and they are painfully out of my price range. What if I photographed the negatives on a lightbox? No lightbox? No problem. My first attempt was taping them to the living room window. Not a good plan. I got every doggy nose print sandwiched ever so grossly with my digital captures. I built a small light table out of two stacks of books, a sheet of 16 by 20 plexi-glass, and white paper. I created a sort of "bridge" with the plexi using the books and the plain white paper 12 inches underneath. I lit the paper with an off camera flash (sb-900) to force diffused light through the negs. The negatives were then shot at with the smallest aperture possible at 1/200 of a second. A 70mm lens was sufficient since the negs were big and did not require a macro lens. I shot with a Nikon D3 but my Nikon D5000 worked better bc it was lighter. I handheld the camera and simply lined up the edges of the negative to ensure minimal distortion.
The digital files were converted in Photoshop under Image-Adjust-Invert. The exposures were tricky as I copied them bc I was seeing a negative image on the camera back. I found the best conversions were made with a very precisely exposed digital file. It was best a little thin and shadow/highlight details were visible. I have found this exposure of the negatives to be the most critical part of the copy process. Not much luck in post trying to manipulate over or under-exposed digital negatives. I worked them in RAW as neg images, using Curves. Also I removed an color by zeroing Saturation. The exciting part was the Inversion process. From there I made small adjustments in contrast, burned and dodged. I added a sepia tone to some in Lightroom to enhance the mood of the images and preserve the "vintage" feel.
The following images have had minimal retouching to show the film scratches and other classic film imperfections. I think they add to the old-timey mood. Some scratches in the plexi-glass also show through. The good news about this is that I can take the best negs and purchase high quality scans. Im very pleased with the quality of this crude and almost savage process. It was inexpensive and very rewarding.
Today I photographed my wild wedding bouquet. I had to preserve the explosive colors. And so beginning, I took naturally lit macro shots of veiny textures and vivid colors. During the process, I felt a bit lazy and snap shoty. Im just coming off the bliss of my honeymoon in a woodsy cottage with two of our kids. I haven't been behind the camera in a few days except to shoot a couple of bugs. I experimented with the multiple exposure settings and (of course) off camera electronic flash outdoors. Nothing compares to the colors and contrast that can be created this way. It always takes a little work to light subjects this way but it is worth it to me.
Since my bouquet was also beginning to soften and wilt, the pressure was on to preserve it. I'm happy I took the time because it now has a permanence symbolic of my new commitment <3
This is a week in the life of a Peony. The ants are believed to be beneficial because the flower provides them with food. It is then easier for the double layered bloom to open up. These images were taken between May 25 and June 4, 2014.
After a busy week of wedding planning, I've been blessed with the opportunity to visit a doctor to face the seriousness of my sugar dependency. Its time to get professional help instead of basing my actions on assumptions and self-proclaimed expertise. I'm kind of all over the place as I rationalize my sudden NEED for strawberry Timbits. Since I ate the whole box already, why not have a whopper and ...gulp...a NON diet Coke?! While I'm inhaling a large fry, I am thinking about creative expression, influence, perspective, and how things don't always look as they really are_ BURP_ (excuse me) Especially those horrible mirrors in the bridal shops! Do they make everyone look 50 pounds heavier? Or am I in denial again? Lemme grab another Coke as I contemplate the horror of bathing suit shopping. Wait... Is that a sumo wrestler is a pink bikini in here with me? Or did I get the "fun house mirror" dressing room again?
I've been taught that everything we hear, feel, smell and see is processed by our brains based on our life experiences. For example, I feel liberated and hopeful when I hear the air conditioner kick on for the first time. But I feel fear and anxiety when I hear the awful, rotating needle sound of mosquito wings at bedtime. Depending on my mood and emotions, my perceptions are widely affected. If I am missing my son, the site of a mother and a baby boy might make me cry. The smell of burning wood may subconsciously remind me of a house fire in my youth. The smell of rescue vehicles takes me to the many fatal tragedies I've covered as a news photographer. Memories are triggered by senses and influenced by emotions, then stored away inaccurately. What can be trusted? What is Really Real and Really Not?
Emotions are not facts. Feelings are not facts. They change. Fact remain as facts so I rely on third party perspective and my fellow followers in Christ. This is my "spiritual eye" because it overrides ALL physical realities. In this state of mind, surrealistic photography and LIFE in general is more fun and exciting!
I've always been attracted to art that shows atypical perspective. As an artist. I like to manipulate a scene to deceive my viewer in a sort of sinister way. This makes creating images exciting for me. It lets me experience life outside of everyday realities and stifling routine... My images today are simple pictures of 'created' surreal subject matter. Technically, they are what I saw in camera. Burning/dodging and curves were used in Adobe Photoshop to enhance the pictures. Dark edges were added and the images were converted to black and white in Adobe Lightroom under the "creamtone" preset.
Top-This little guy is a starling skull on a stick. He is placed on top of a chicken foot and stood up on the blank page of an open book. Deep shadows and back-lighting create a nightmarish, pop-up book surrealism as he looks up at his viewer. Below- The bird skulls appear to be eating as they further distort reality. We know dead things don't eat. And if he were alive, his skull would not be featherless. He may be a zombie bird!
These sunflowers were photographed in the wild as they were. A flash was used to light them from a very low angle and black out the background to create the illusion of creepy solitude. It appears surreal because we don't see sunflowers lit this way. They grow in open places, and are lit overhead by direct sunshine. Had we always seen them lit from below, this picture would lose its lonely nature.
This is a honey bee on a wild flower. He is out of focus except for his legs. The low angle gives him a very strong presence. It is an accidental shot and a very unusually close look at a natural every day scene.
Wild Dog Smile
This is a wild dog skull found "as is" in the woods. To me it is quite disturbing because it appears to be a kind of grimacing creature coming out of the ground. The lower jaw bones are facing upward, with the nose down. We would normally see a dog's head with the nose up. and a snarl to go with the bared teeth. This one seems to have a sinister smile. The image was shot with very limited depth of field and careful composition to emphasize the monsterly illusion.
One of my favorite places on Earth. Buck Creek State Park. One side is cement, the other is wild fields. The fields are in light while the other side is in shadow. For me the "darkness" emphasizes the barren landscape on the dam side. It seems cold and lifeless. The little flower growing out of the black shadows gives the scene a sense of hope while the dam wall is a dramatic separation of the two worlds. I chose to keep the top of the dam wall cut out of the picture to strengthen the drama of the scene.
T-Rex Dead Leaf
This is a leaf. Again I used unnatural light to create this T-Rex. I figured I would get some texture in the leaf to emphasize the prehistoric shape but the texture also worked in my favor. A flash was used off camera and held very low to darken the background and make the dead leaf come alive.
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