Bloganuary Day 27 Prompt: Where do you go when you need solitude?
I go to the woods. Maybe this is not true solitude as I always have my partner with me when I go hiking, but I always feel calm around him so I think it counts. I’ve been out there alone, too. I am lucky enough to live in a city called Corvallis, Oregon, just an hour and a half drive southwest of Portland, in the heart of the Willamette Valley. It has a swathe of wonderful, uncrowded hikes just a five minute drive away. It is one of the best perks of living here.
Just five minutes and I can reach world-class beauty that people travel around the world to see. One of my 2022 goals is to go on a hike somewhere new every weekend; or even if it’s a favorite trail, to just go get exercise, fresh air and be among the trees.
I get some of my best story ideas while hiking, too. Just that meditative action of walking along a trail and avoiding tripping on tree roots puts my brain in story mode. I just keep thinking “What if?” and drive my characters to impossible situations in my head, then I must race home and write it down in my process notebook so I do not forget it.
I even got new hiking shoes to make my new goal more tangible. It not only gets me out of the house in a covid-safe way, but it gives me a sense of adventure, gives me an excuse to do photography, and helps my mental health. Hiking is great on many fronts.
Following are some photos I took from a hike last weekend on a trail called Vineyard Mountain. This is a trail through a vast wilderness that is owned by the local land-grant university. Unfortunately, it is also used as an experimental forest for forestry programs so it is not entirely pristine. But it is beautiful and I am glad a small section of it has been preserved for local residents to enjoy.
Bloganuary Day 20 prompt: What is your favorite photo you’ve ever taken?
I don’t think it’s possible to pick one single favorite of the literally 10s of 1000s of photos I’ve taken over the last 10 years or so. I first ventured into photography with my first DSLR, a Nikon D5100, in 2014 or thereabouts. Prior to that I was a journalist and took photos on assignment with my work camera for small-town newspapers. My partner thought I had an eye and encouraged me to get a camera of my own, to finally abandon automatic mode and truly learn the inner workings of a proper DSLR.
At first I shot nature, landscapes and that sort of thing; then I decided I wanted to make it a side hustle, so I wanted to shoot portraits, and I needed a portfolio.
But I couldn’t get anyone to pose for me. One friend did a shoot with me that turned out great. I next turned to the Internet, to Facebook groups and later Instagram, to find models. My first foray into model photography was a Facebook post about a shoot workshop at Eugene photographer Allan Erickson’s home studio. This was a fantastic south-facing older home with wonderful natural light. I worked with a pro model and I wasn’t sure how I felt at first about art nude photography but soon I was hooked. I went back there many times in later years for future shoots.
Landscapes of the body.
Finally I was able to find more local collaborators, amateur models who did trade-for-photo arrangements (They provide modeling services, I provide shooting services and photos). This was for portfolios – some of them wanted to make it as professional models; others turned to sex work to make money and did boudoir or portraiture for the creative passion of it. Photographers usually made their money off commercial work like weddings and collaborated with models for their creative outlet. I ended up using freelance journalism to fund my photography habit, since I didn’t have it in me to hustle as a commercial photographer after all.
It was a fun scene for awhile. Thanks to an old group called ISOConnection and a now-defunct art nude site called Zivity, I was able to meet lots of models and photographers. The fun scene had a dark side, of course, as all these sorts of tight-knit communities do. Photographers taking advantage of models, and vice versa; unprofessional behavior; down to the flat out abusive kind of conduct, not just the wait six months to return any photos kind.
Did that for awhile and got burnt out on the scene, wound down my hustling and only did the occasional shoot when I felt really inspired, back in 2019. The pandemic hit in 2020, of course, and I stopped working with models for awhile but it was a long time coming. I needed a break. I thought I had quit for good; I had grown bitter about the community.
But still, I missed it. It was still a social outlet with fun, creative people, and I was feeling an itch to be creative visually again; so between outbreaks, I hired a pro art nude model and did another shoot this fall, which was great. Unfortunately, Omicron has meant I’ve suspended my portraiture work for the time being, but I’m keen to get back to it as soon as it’s safe again. I miss the light side of the culture. These are driven, creative people who love art and beauty – and often, cannabis.
This last spring I finally was able to upgrade my camera to my long-coveted full-frame. I now shoot with a Nikon D750. Photography is an expensive hobby, and the gear is only part of the expense – one of the things I burnt out on. Renting studios, traveling to Portland all the time. I loved many aspects of it but did I love it enough to spend what was essentially a decent side hustle income on it, precluding opportunities to travel or do other things with my time?
I digress; back to the photo. Gear is only secondary compared to what you do with it, how you use it, the composition you select. This was one of my favorite shoots from my intense years. I don’t want to get as intense as I had been in it; these days I just want to do a few shoots a year and only work with the same people, forming relationships to tell a series of portraiture work over time.
The model here is Devi, an Indian model from the Bay Area who goes by the moniker “Googlymonstor” on Instagram. I think this shot perfectly captures what I love about the art of body landscapes viewed with the female gaze. It’s probably one of my top five favorites from that whole five-year period; plus Devi herself was a wonderful person and a fun model to work with. This is why I plan to hire models a couple times a year, and collaborate with a few people the rest of the time. Shoots like this inspire me. Shoots like this remind me that a community is made up of people; some will bring you down, and some will inspire you to be the best artist you can be.
A collaboration with a model and photographer who are of similar abilities, vision and sensibilities is one of the purest artistic mediums out there. It won’t pay the rent, of the studio or your house. But sometimes capitalism alone cannot feed the soul. We need more than to just pay the bills. We need to survive, and then we need to live.
All natural light. Just shadows and curves. Nothing more to say.
I have no words for today’s blog post; I hope to speak to you instead through pictures. But I will introduce this post first. I live in Corvallis, Oregon, and commute to work in Salem, Oregon. Every week, I indulge my love of street photography. It is a reflective exercise, in a way, as I reach back to my roots and revive my passion for photojournalism and documentary photography. Capturing life as it happens; gritty, real, raw and true.
Every Friday when it’s not raining heavily, I have made it a habit to bring my camera with me to work. I walk around the downtown area to document its comings and goings. Salem’s downtown has a bit more opportunities than the downtown area in Corvallis, which is much smaller. I get bored less often in a new place. Not to say that Corvallis is not photogenic. Far from it.
This Friday, even with everything going on with the COVID-19 pandemic and business most definitely not as usual, I did my usual weekly photo walk. I am clinging in desperation to my routines these days to find order in the chaos. The weather was crisp and fine, approaching a pleasant spring and 60 degrees. I even had time in the morning for golden hour because traffic getting there was so light. It was eerie walking around these empty, ghost-town streets that normally bustled with people from all over the Valley. Out and about were mainly just delivery drivers, a few stalwart state workers like myself, and some teenagers here and there.
(And yes, I have been taking this seriously. I stayed home when I had a cold last week, and I am healthy again. My job is not easily telecommutable and I need to work. I have been socially distancing and washing my hands frequently. When I am home, I don’t go out except when I need food, or for some fresh air in nature, and staying far away from other people.)
Any of these photos are available as a digital or print for purchase; feel free to PM me on Twitter or email me to get copies. You may also donate to my Venmo if you support my artistic and creative efforts. https://venmo.com/denise-ruttan Every little bit helps these days when our budgets are stretched thin.
Without further ado, because I wrote more words than I intended, I present my photo essay. All photos shot by Denise Ruttan, March 20, 2020, Salem, Oregon.