Cora's Cowgirl Yodel

Cora Rose Wood

Cora Rose Wood

I first met Cora at the Western Music Association Awards and Festival where I was serving as an official photographer in 2007 when she was just approaching six years old. There was a crowd in the lobby of the host hotel and when I made it to the center to see who was singing, there was this little gal with a guitar as big as she was belting out a western song. When she stopped singing and the crowd moved away I introduced myself to Cora and her Mom, Laurie, and asked if I could make a portrait of her. I knew she would be more animated if I let her sing, so asked her to sing me a song she made up herself about her pony. She cocked her head, took a deep breath and lit right into a song…eyes on mine, she sang some of the cutest lyrics about how much she loves her pony(made up on the spot, by the way). She punctuated the end of the song with an exclamation point of the brightest smile. The photograph here is of that exclamation point. I’ve since come to know Cora and Laurie and count them as friends and have learned to brace myself when I see my Cora-kins at gatherings as when she sees me she runs to me and jumps up into my arms and wraps those cowgirl legs around my waist.

This year at a gathering in Sierra Vista, Cora was the only one brave enough to come outside on a cold, blustery day so I could photograph her by the blooming trees. Although her hat kept blowing off and she had to chase it, we persevered and created this wonderful portrait of her (complimented by the buckle she won in barrel racing competition). When she was ready to release her first CD, I had the cover image ready. I’m honored that the Wood family chose me to provide the photography and CD design for Cora’s Cowgirl Yodel. Cora has a big voice tucked into a little gal, and she has been tutored by Janet McBride (who tutored a young LeAnn Rimes and also the grand-children of the Von Trapp family). I encourage you to give Cora’s CD a spin.  Cora’s Cowgirl Yodel , which includes seven songs and three poems, is available for $13 postpaid from: Wood Western Music, c/o Laurie Wood, HC 63 Box 18C, Saratoga, WY 82331. Read some of Cora’s poems and more about her here  on the cowboypoetry.com website and visit her web site, www.woodwesternmusic.com, Cora’s Page, which includes audio and video clips.

 Cora Rose Wood's CD Cover
Cora Rose Wood’s CD Cover

 

 

 

 

    

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Living Art: Calf

Living Art: Calf

Living Art: Calf

     Miracles in the “ordinary”. Art in the “mundane”. Blessed inspiration for the creative spirit. These images dance at the at the edge of my vision and catch my attention. When I turn to acknowledge them, they are revealed with focused clarity through the veil of this often chaotic world. My love for all things living comes to rest on this one living piece of art. In gratitude, I accept the gift and bring a photograph home with me to share with the rest of the world.
     In the dark livestock barn at the local fair, this young calf lay in a small beam of light that had found it’s way through the roof. It was a chilly, breezy day and the calf was curled up in this one sacred spot of warmth and sunshine. I wanted so much to kneel beside it and run my hands through it’s soft coat, but knew that would cause it to awaken and these fair animals get so little sleep. Instead, I quietly moved closer and composed this image. This image reminds me to find the blessing of calm places that live in even the most chaotic environments.
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Treasures: Textures

Texture from Ruidoso, NM

Texture from Ruidoso, NM

 

     Textures. We see them, feel them, incorporate them into our images. I treasure them. Every nuance and gesture, movement of light and shadow that paints them. I bring them home as artifacts from my texture treasure hunts. And when I’m on assignment, I can’t help bringing some home tucked into my image files like gems in my pockets.

     Often, they are a work of art “intact”. Perhaps I’ll crop in to a particularly interesting section and enhance the image, massaging it gently until it feels like I felt when I brought it into my heart rather than just what the camera captured. They become canvases for other images to nestle into, backgrounds for design projects and I play with merging other images into them with Photoshop’s blending modes.

     Can you tell what this texture is created from?

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Le Cadeau du Cheval Mural: Press Release

Panel 101: Cadeau du Cheval Mural

Panel 101: Cadeau du Cheval Mural

 

This press release was issued Thursday, September 18, 2008

(The print of the mural mentioned below is available through http://www.muralmosaic.com/Horse . When Lee recieved her artist copy, she very generously mailed it to me as a gift. Lee and I have become friends over the last year and we continue to collaborate. I look forward to more adventures with her.)

Cadeau du Cheval Mural:  Art and Photography

 In May 2008, Lori Faith Merritt was contacted by Lee Mitchelson (a renowned artist in Flagstaff) to provide photography for her submission to the amazing mural project, Le Cadeau Du Cheval.  She chose to represent the Morgan horses of Almanzo Wilder (Laura Ingall Wilder’s husband). Lori Faith scheduled a special photography session with a man she had photographed several times in Tucson, with the interesting name Robert Morgan, who has several Morgan horses. The resulting image was painted by Lee and is included in the mural at the juncture of the flank of the mural horse.

 The resulting mural wall is an amazing collage of art by many artists. The mural website says there will be a print available of the wall soon, and it is said they are working on a coffee table book. The wall is now in Canada, and will be touring.

 From artist, Lee Mitchelson:

I needed an extraordinary horse photographer with the gift of faith, someone who would be open to my ideas and willing to be trusting of me for some artist collaborations. I saw Lori Faith Merritt’s name. That was intriguingly appropriate. I saw perfect instinct in her work. Our professional relationship fell into place immediately and so did our kinship.

Lori works with such gut-level involvement that she is inside what she is photographing. She trusts her own judgment and she is a believer in possibilities. That translates into the faith I need. As an artist, I have collaborated in years past with a world-famous equine photographer as an illustrator for his books. I mention this only because those clever photographs have been for me completely surpassed by Lori’s work, and she has done it without the need to enhance or contrive anything to make horses different than the enchanting beings they naturally are. I have asked that she consider using me to illustrate her books when she publishes them! She brings something more to it. Maybe the warm and timeless breath of the warrior-angel horses are beside her. The raw beauty of Lori’s Mustang photos goes so far beyond what I can easily speak of. It feels like the hand of God on the back of my neck, like electricity, to see something I understand and love shown such honor. Primal.

Please visit this link to read more about the mural and the artist: http://www.muralmosaic.com/Horse/Panels/101.html

Lee’s website is http://www.mitchelsonsmountaingallery.com

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Audrey Hankins: First Light

Audrey Hankins: First Light

Audrey Hankins: First Light

    
     Audrey Hankins is a woman of leather and lace. Leather saddles, lace kitchen curtains. A cowboy poet who first impressed me with her poem Hollyhocks as I sat in the audience at a cowboy poetry gathering and who later impressed me with the way she brings poetry into her every word and gesture, I am blessed to know her now as a dear friend.
     When Audrey approached me to provide the photography and design for her first CD of cowboy poetry, I felt honored and was excited. I knew that the vision I had for this project would fit her very well. Good friend to both of us, Jim Jones, would supply the music to dance around her words and recite one of her poems as well.
     For a project like this, although I can do all the photography for a CD in one session, I prefer to spend some time with the artist. For Audrey, I visited her at her home in Wickenburg and stayed with her for a few days, photographing in several locations and talking until the wee hours of the morning about our lives and her dreams for this CD as we sat at her kitchen table and started to bring the images and design together.
     Audrey’s son lives in a nearby “horse town” and we went there so I could photograph horses, cattle, and a windmill for the center foldout in the morning light. I worked with the image to create a sepia toned artpiece with “hand colored” horses. The next morning, pre-dawn in uncomfortably cold weather, we headed into the desert east of her home and I laid on the ground, face down in the dirt and stickers (almost backed into a prickly pair as I moved to find the perfect composition), and created an evocative sillouette of Audrey in the first light of day. When we got back to the house and warmed up over coffee and toast, I brought up the images for her to see. Until then, she had another title for the CD. The image that is on the back traycard of her CD got us to talking and inspired her to rename it after one of her poems (the first poem on the CD), First Light. The blessing of that image made the cold and stickers insignificant. The cover/autograph page/inner traycard images were created at the ranch of her close friend Suzi Killman, western singer/songwriter and daughter of equine artist Hildred Goodwine. Audrey loves the cover image as she says it conveys a “come on in and have a cup of coffee” welcoming feel.
     The CD turned out to be as “Audrey” as can be…warm and welcoming and full of stories that are like the woman herself, a bit of leather and lace/sunshine and strength. First Light, which includes 17 original poems, is available for $17 postpaid, from Audrey Hankins, P.O. Box 688, Congress, AZ 85332. You can find out more about Audrey, read a few of her poems, and take a look at her poetry books here: http://www.cowboypoetry.com/audreyhankins.htm#Light
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"Stable" Enlightenment

Muck Stalls, Carry Water

Muck Stalls, Carry Water

     There is a story in ancient zen wisdom of heading out on the path to find enlightenment. Upon discovering a mountain,  first “the mountain is a mountain” then “the mountain is something else” and upon enlightenment you discover that “the mountain is a mountain” again. That truth and the saying “Chop Wood, Carry Water” inspired me to create this photographic print that hangs on my wall to remind me of the importance and truth of simplicity and hard work in the service of others.
     The image is of Kristin True of the White Stallion Ranch, whom I met riding towards the light of dawn as she started the day in service to her horses. I photographed Kristin and one of the WSR staff for a music project with Donnie Blanz for Blue Highways TV (division of RFD-TV) for a song called “Paint her Real” and after photographing them as they worked I can say that these ladies embody this ethic in everything they do.
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Sweet Laughter

The Honey Bee Dance

The Honey Bee Dance

    
Sometimes you have to stop and smell the prickly pair flowers. I was in my back yard photographing the new spring blooms last year and the bees were ecstatic. We’d just had a rain and when the sun came out the blooms exploded into life. This little guy had me laughing so hard I’m glad I had image stabilization on my lens. He would land, dive through the pollen, and resurface like a cliff diver. When he grabbed the stamen with his front legs and sat down on the pollen my curiousity brought me closer. He took hold of that stamen for dear life and pistoned his back legs like he was riding a bicycle. And the look he gave me is priceless. I still laugh when I see this image!
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Step Up into T.L.C.

Nancie Roarig, Dillon, and JJ

Nancie Roahrig, Dillon, and JJ

     In May of 2005, I photographed a wedding on the east side of Tucson that included a horse-drawn carriage ride for the bride and groom. I had an image “in my heart” that I spoke with the bride about and she loved the idea and so Two Loves was created during the wedding. (Two Loves will be discussed in a separate posting.) I loved the Clydesdale, Doc, and took a brief moment to thank the woman who drove the carriage and then dash back to the wedding. Later, I tracked down the woman to offer her a print of Two Loves and my relationship with Nancie Roarhrig was begun.
     Since that day, Nancie and I have come to know each other well. I have designed and now maintain her website, photographed for and designed her business cards and postcards, and provided photography on site at TMC pediatric wards that show her very important work. I even brought a 40″ Palomino gelding home somehow knowing that he would make an incredible therapy pony. (Yes, there will be a separate posting on Dillon, shown here in the photograph accompanying this entry.) I called Nancie on Easter morning a couple of years ago and offered him to her and the dream of his therapy work has proven to be very true. Beyond the business part of our relationship, we have the blessing of having found a friend in each other.
     Nancie is a nurse who has taken her need to nurture far beyond her job. She runs a non-profit organization called Step Up into T.L.C. Inc. (Theraputic Loving Caballos), whose mission is to “focus on bringing smiles, fostering therapeutic healing, both emotionally and physically and building self-confidence and social skills through people interaction with our horses.Our program provides this opportunity to children and adults with special needs, at risk youth, elderly/senior groups and the terminally ill.” In addition to the compassionate therapy work Nancie provides for seniors and children with her Clydesdale, JJ, and minis and ponies (including Dillon), she also provides pony rides for birthday parties and to fulfill the wishes of ill children. She’s even been known to rescue a horse or two.
     I believe in Step Up into T.L.C. and Nancie 100%. She is honest, authentic, and one of the “truest” souls you’ll ever meet. I invite you to visit her website, http://www.stepuptlc.org , and learn more about her work. And if it moves your heart to do so, consider donating something toward her cause. You’ll be glad you did.
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Cowgirl's Reflection

Cowgirl's Reflection

Cowgirl's Reflection

    A few years ago I attended a photography workshop with Jay Dusard, who is an iconic cowboy/western culture photographer, at the (former) Portreros Ranch in Tubac. In the early morning light we had two models in western garb with their horses available to us and we were working with the man as he moved in and out of the light of a large tree. I maintain awareness for opportunies other than what is right in front of me and I turned in a circle to see if I was missing anything. Often, my favorite images come from the space “around the main picture” and this example is one of those images. Waiting her turn, sitting easy in the saddle with her face turned up to the morning light, was our other model…both horses relaxed and her obvious enjoyment of the coming warmth on this chilly morning evident. I moved away from the group quietly to better compose the photograph and created this image, titled Cowgirl’s Reflection.
     I approached Jay and showed him what I was seeing. The morning light was just right to create a reflection on the still pond by the barn. The next 15 minutes or so were spent as a group photographing the model as she stood and rode on the other side of the pond, as we enjoyed the beauty of the scene.
     This image has a dreamy quality. What most people don’t see right away is that the reason for the mysterious feel of this photograph is this: It is upside down, showing the reflection in the water only!
The Cowgirl's Looking Glass

The Cowgirl's Looking Glass

    
The second photograph was made a few minutes later. Which one is your favorite?
 
 
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Inspiration Out of the Ashes

Flowers in the Santa Catalinas

Flowers in the Santa Catalinas

     I have lived in Tucson since 1969 with the Santa Catalina mountains as the backdrop to much of my life and a sanctuary for my soul. I was devastated when the mountains endured horrific fires in 2002 and 2003. This year during one of my visits, I was walking through the forest just east of my beloved Girl Scout camp, Whispering Pines, and gathering images from the mountain like a bouquet to bring home with me. There is still a feeling of loss although I can feel the re-birth.
     I came upon a fire burned trunk of a pine that had exploded in the heat. The entire center of the tree was gone and all that was left was about three feet of what was once a magnificent sentinel. Coming through a crack in the bark was a small bouquet of flowers, the roots grounded in the soil and mulch of the tree’s center. I was transfixed, exultant, blessed. I knelt in front of this small miracle and let the tears come, my spirit deeply touched and somehow renewed.
     This was the most beautiful bouquet I gathered on the mountain that day. The beauty of the flowers live in my heart.
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