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The Soldier and the Squirrel introduces children to the Purple Heart

through a loving story of a friendship between a newly wounded soldier

and Rocky the squirrel with his backyard friends. This story began as a

blog during my first year in bed after my incident. With much

encouragement, it is now a book and has been placed in the

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum. Please watch the video

on the About page to learn for the Soldier & Rocky are changing children's

lives.

 

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Friday
Aug132010

Fifty Years and Losing It…

     You came, you shot, you conquered...or so you thought. That's what I did. On vacation. Until I lost my camera. No, not the big fancy one. It was the disposable waterproof kind, but it would have been better had I lost my big one than to have lost the images I had on that rinky-dink plastic-cased excuse for a submarine.
     It was more than a summer vacation to San Diego, it was my wonderful in-laws' 50th wedding anniversary / family reunion, and I was darned if I was going to miss one shot from that entire weekend. With my husband's crazy schedule, my weekends mostly booked out, and with four children scrambling around, any time we are all together is like oxygen shot through a cellophane muzzle.
     So, when the opportunity rose to go sea-cave kayaking in La Jolla with our relatives, I left Big Bertha on land and picked up that yellow disposable which leers at you from the Walmart checkout stand. The one which makes your husband cringe, knowing the film will never truly be developed, confirming his prediction of 12.99 down the proverbial sea-cave...
     As I strapped on my life jacket and helmet, I secured my 12.99 waterproof Hasselblad in my vest pocket and set out on our journey of exploration.
     Throughout our great sea adventure, I proudly snapped away at every breathtaking moment we would never forget for the rest of our lives: kayaking over five foot tiger sharks lurking the ocean floor, pelicans soaring overhead our gaggle of gluttons for adrenaline, the joy on the face of my child with her daddy paddling away with the cliffs peaking, the tides swelling, Joey agog at the seals perched on their protruding bellies...and I caught every moment. I wound that camera like an archaic sewing machine, intuitively searching it's spine for a digital readout or picture display. Click, wind, click, wind, click...
     After two breathtaking hours of capturing images that I knew I would develop and slip into our incredible weekend of family reunion and anniversary images, we returned to our car. I reached for my plastic Hasselblad. I searched through my bag. We drove back to the hotel. We got out of the car. I had lost my camera. My plastic, waterproof submarine image creator had vanished, with every precious water-splashed lens dropping...gone.
     My heart imploded like a helium balloon sucked into a vacuum. My memories were gone, I had lost such a simple object, but it was my best friend through that journey. We clicked, we wound, we clicked, it scoffed at me when I asked it to show me a picture, it smelled like chemicals...it was perfect.
     This made me ponder what made me most sad...was it that I lost the pictures, or was it losing a part of the process that makes capturing memories so special? In my heart, I will never forget those incredible moments. No one will ever take those memories from me, not even the sea, so perhaps it was the process which swells in my soul, an addiction with waves of fulfillment confirming the preciousness of life.
     I do have one photo from that day however, one I took with Big Bertha before we set out, of the kids in front of some kayaks. We were at the wrong kayak place, these weren't the kayaks we paddled in, and we all changed our clothes before we launched, but you get the idea...

 "Joe, Cassie May, with cousins Turner and Mason, in front of the kayaks we didn't use in the store we weren't supposed to be at, in the clothing they didn't wear..."


And a few others from our weekend...

"Cousins at Bay"



"Utopia"



"Peace"



"I <3 U"



"Wonder"



"Awe"



"Gillette Poster Child..."



"Our Little Bugs"



"Joe"



"Uncle Dave's DilEmma"



"Fifty Years"

Thursday
Jun102010

Aspen Bliss

Mount Sopris sprung through the backdrop emitting it's grandeur upon the back lawn of the prestigious Aspen Glen. Shakira and Noah, from Miami, juggled bipolar weather forecasts of pending storms (a continuing theme in my latest May-June weddings) yet won the meteorology sweepstakes with gorgeous skies and 75 degree winds. The most precious flower girl, Mollie, (with a touch of stage fright) melted the guests. They toasted Mother Nature with bubbly and danced the night away with stars a flutter and candles humming by outdoor fireplaces. As I sat under the pristine skies, having shot my last image, I reflected upon my job and realized...life is good.











Monday
Jun072010

Grace at the Jefferson

The skies taunted Grace & Adam for days, constant threats of thunderstorms and tornados...yet! Mr. Jefferson stood firm, seemingly emitting a protective umbrella of defiance resulting in a perfect day of simple overcast and fleeting humidity. Here are just a few samples of our session at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C., the ceremony took place on the West Lawn of the memorial that afternoon. This wedding was the perfect example of a couple who got it right, enjoying every aspect of their day, and chalking up any possible hiccups as simply another anecdote of their wedding day to share with their future children. Pure joy, pure love, pure bliss...it was MY blessing to know them, to cheer them on, and to shoot them...;0)

[gallery link="file"]
Wednesday
May122010

The Art of Balance


 Balance....If you Google the word (yes, I know google is technically a verb, but a name as well, ergo the capitalization, so live with it...;0) I digress...If you Google the word balance, you get fitness programs, health bars, scales, gymnastics schools, and most interestingly...disorders.
Yes, disorders. This is about the reparation of my own balance disorder.

According to the experts, with the lack of balance, you may feel as if the room is spinning. You may stagger when you try to walk or teeter or fall when you try to stand up, suffer vertigo, feel as though you are going to fall, feel confused or disoriented. I'm usually pretty balanced, or so I thought, give or take a vino here or there. But what happens when normalcy dissipates and suddenly your life becomes unbalanced due to elements out of your control? In our case it was a leak, two leaks, and toxic mold. A black furry Build-a-Bear type of fuzz that crackles when you think of touching it. It bathed the intestines of our drywall and threw us out on our derrieres and into an apartment with four kids and two dogs. Our entire downstairs had to be rebuilt, the kids were suffering allergic reactions to the furry beast, Emma on a nebulizer and Joe with asthmatic reactions, the house was deemed uninhabitable.


For many a night, snuggled in my favorite polar fleece jammie pants with little white bunnies in pink scarves, lavender oil slammed into the pores of my nasal passages, and the echo of Larry King dancing on the walls of my ear canals, my dreams had begun to take the form of Hitchcock, wavering with three dimensional angst and altered in a halo of distant obscurity. The upstairs neighbors vampires, stalking the corners of their apartment, renovating caskets with which to house their prey...

At first it was an adventure, something new. As my dear friend Lou said when she was diagnosed with the C-word, "Well, I'm looking forward to this actually, it's a NEW experience." So there we were, fleeing our home's C-word, and hovering the corner of a world we found completely foreign, trying to adjust.

In a matter of months, we have had to create an entirely new existence, and make it work for us, all the while the rest of the world stood strong, clients were still calling (Thank God), my husband still had to return to work, the children still had school, lessons, but childcare had completely bifurcated.
To balance work and home-life as a working mother is never, ever done alone. My friends jumped in whenever possible helping with pick-ups and drop-offs. 

Through this experience,  I've realized that as important as it is to have structure and balance within a home, it is just as important to have structure and balance within one's self. I had become so dependent on the physical structure of the home, the logistics of timing of schedules, the essentials of the daily calendar obeyance, that I had completely forgotten the importance of the balance within. I ate like a redneck at a meat-and-three diner. Exercise had become a verb simply used as an expression, and daily schedules had become a pacifier leaving me sucking away dependent upon the metronomic normalcy of life to feed me the oxygen needed for survival.

We moved into a tiny apartment, yet this apartment has taught lessons with a wooden ruler leaving precious splinters in the fingerprint of my soul. These are lessons learned which have breathed into us a new life-perspective.

You see, suddenly, as blessed as we still were of course, we had to now walk the dogs three times or more a day down a stairwell and through a gate to the boulevard roadside where our home's neighbors waited at the light to turn left to our old neighborhood. The occasional honk and wave of their hands, the uncomfortable nod and reserved smile, not wanting to show too much joy as they knew I was indeed now walking my dogs on the boulevard in front of our apartment and unable to return home. I'd wave and flash the largest smile I could muster which best complimented the roll of my eyes. Yet those walks woke something inside me which had previously grown accustomed to the laziness of opening the door to the back yard and dismissing the canines to the out of doors.

This was a sentence to take a new look at life. Those little walks outside, the obligation to my good furry friends, reminded me of the simplicity of smiling at fellow dog-walkers (while holding back my innocuously venemous Chihuaua with the Nepolean complex-mix and restraining my apoplectic Dachshund...) We had no childcare now, and I still had a company to run, weddings to shoot, clients to take care of, a husband who needed me present to help with insurance claims and raise our babies, contracting issues to address, as well as oodles of images to edit and laundry out the gege. I was back at square one, attempting to figure out HOW to "do it all". On top of all THAT, I turned 40.

Cathartic barely touches the surface.

Yet it was during this period of time major life changes were made, so that if life ever rears it's follically challenged head again, this girl is ready.

My entire system's internal ecosystem has been transformed from the inside out. Yes we were stuck in an apartment, but HEY, this building had a GYM! I exercised for the first time since my first child screamed in my ear! So what, one of my knees blew up like a blowfish with a bong, I was actually being healthy! Our increased visits to restaurants during our domestic expulsion made me realize the downstairs of our home wasn't the only thing needing reconstruction. I went on a complete health kick. Living in a small space made me realize that if I had to be stuck with myself in a small cell for the rest of my life, I had better like the way I FEEL. NOT look, but FEEL!!! Anyone who knows me knows there is not a french fry on this continent I have not overturned. No longer would I be labeled the Miracle Whip queen, or the Velveeta Princess (I'm not kidding...these are actual adjectives ingrained on my frontal lobe...).

My friend introduced me to the Flat Belly Diet way of life, and I'm born again. Look it up...your life will change.

So why is a photographer's blog talking about a domestic disturbance of the Home Depot kind? Because I've realized we can all try to do it all. We can all have balance when life is normal. But if I had had this other type of balance, the internal balance of a healthy lifestyle and healthier outlook on being internally balanced, this curveball could have been a much easier transition. It was during this transition that our lives were placed under the microscope and I realized what wasn't working. Even though everything had looked functional, it didn't mean I was present in the most intimate aspects of life.

In our apartment, our children share rooms, the youngest girls have decided that if we ever had to live in an apartment they'd do just fine as it is a glorified hotel in their eyes (only without the room service, maid service, spa service, concierge service...) We had birthdays in the park, walked around town and got to know our community better. The dogs have learned to walk on a leash, my husband has realized he really, really, really likes our house, and yes, our two teens, a boy and girl, have learned that they really do actually despise one another...and I have decided that no matter how busy life can be, I will never return to normal. Normal was redundant, expectant...As cramped as this apartment has been (we move back into our home next week) it is still not a tent in Haiti, or a shelter in Nashville or Oklahoma. We are blessed beyond words to know that our family, as dysfunctional as it can seem at times, is one which has been brought together
not only physically, but in spirit.

As excited as I am to return to our home, to have my workspace back, to put my photos back on the walls, a part of me will miss this little apartment. (A VERY small part of me...) But that part is one I need to keep close to my heart, as it taught me to simplify, that we don't need all of the "things" we thought we did. It has taught me to let house cleaning go a bit more and snuggle my babies more at night rather than do laundry. I've learned my children love art and coloring more than computer games, and I haven't visited Farmville once since we got here.

I love my home, my family, my friends, my clients, my life...and now with new balance the only teetering, vertigo, or nausea I am going to feel is from my arms spinning in relief as we re-enter our home, forgive it for it's indescretion, and remember the teacher with the ruler and the spintered fingerprints...forever.
Wednesday
Apr212010

The Tree of Wife

Sometimes a wedding is about the guests, sometimes it's about the flowers....this time, it was about a tree. A large oak cradled the couple in its belly. Fingered shadows tapping their skin. As the ceremony blossomed from this tree, so did our post-wedding session in a secret, hidden area of Los Angeles I shall only reveal upon death and scripture...ok, it's near the beach...ok, it's a state park, but that's all I'm sayin'...
Enjoy the magic of Jason & Anya. My rock and roll bride and groom, who are currently sipping from coconuts and learning how to say Humnnukunukuapua'a under a different type of tree...
[gallery]
Saturday
Apr172010

Headshot Trauma Remedy for BFA Grads

I do believe I have stumbled upon a remedy for the Theatrical Major Headshot Trauma...
Texas State University recently invited me to photograph the graduating Seniors of their Musical Theater and BFA programs, providing the graduating students with professional headshots with which to begin their acting careers.

In a two-day period we completed twenty sessions. Each session included hair and makeup by celebrity Makeup artist Dean Jason Hampton.

Throughout the process, a series of instructional elements were implemented with information necessary to achieve a successful photo session in the future.

In addition to being photographed, the students also received support in the following areas:
1.    Aesthetic preparation of skin, hair, grooming, Camera-Ready preparation for session arrival

2.    Selection of clothing: solid hues, attire appropriate for professional imagery as well as audition

3.    Lighting, posture, composition, textures of backgrounds

4.    Breathing techniques, posing options

5.    Make up techniques

6.    Hair grooming and styling

7.    Clothing selection and preparation

8.    Understanding and respecting the essentials of personal presentation in the world of audition

9.    Reflecting their self with confidence and appreciating the value of their personal self expression with pure validation of the power each individual holds within

10.  Encouraging self esteem and creating a platform of confidence from which they will be able to securely reference upon entering the entertainment field

Kindly view the Texas State University portfolio at
http://www.benskophotography.com/slideshows/tsu09/iframe.html

Bio feature on the Texas State website as Visiting Artist:


[gallery]
Texas State Promotional Collage for Senior Showcase:

Thursday
Apr152010

Newborn Parents

A tiny hand envelops his father's thumb

sensing the future through the ribs of his fingerprint

Holding it with a natural confidence

despite months of grasping through an ocean of fluid

longing for connection

His mother's hair tickles his nose

it crumples

he sneezes

she laughs

he looks

she stops

He is theirs completely

A bond

no one else could ever understand

could never fully comprehend

it is as unique as a snowflake cut from Nature's hem

Their voices bounce off his heart

the echo calms his soul ensuring him he is home

They speak of an angel

he searches their eyes

the reflection of his silhouette shifts in the light

He answers with a visceral tale of garbled glee

bubbles blossom from between his lips

Mother guides his tiny hand to cradle her cheek

closing her eyes

she breathes into his hair

translating his monologue of innocence

They now know the meaning of life

As simple as their bond is profound

The meaning of life is not only in the palm of their hand

it is holding it...








Tuesday
Apr062010

Rockin’ the Bump

Bumps are sexy. Perhaps it's the unexpected confidence some pregnant women find in the lack of desire or ability to suck in our tummies. The freedom of wearing elastic waistbands without judgment. It's a time when celebrating a bloated belly is the most natural and liberating feeling in the world of estrogen. Our DNA explodes with possibilities and our hormones collide in the euphoric wrath of orgasmic ash from which diamonds emerge without flaws...
Ok, perhaps this is true for some, for others the experience is one of a uterine cataclysm resulting in esophageal eruptions with women begging for relief from the cast of the porcelain gods.
Either way, there's an underlying feeling in some women to simply see themselves as the pregnant goddess they are. It's a time when their bodies could never be more naturally beautiful, when the life growing from within connects those around her like a web with saccharine threads collecting the energies of those yearning for a connection with all that is right and authentic in this world.
This blog is about celebrating not only life, but the beauty in its creation and the joy in embracing the process...of rockin' the bump...

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Monday
Apr052010

Shoot with Dean Jason Hampton

There are a few makeup artists I've worked with who's work truly takes my breath away.
Dean Jason Hampton is one of them

He is an artist

I not only view as a co-worker, but a dear and cherished friend.



Our shoot last Friday was for his current Spring/Prom Promotion:






Saturday
Mar272010

Bereavement Photography


It is the strangest thought to capture photographically the images of bereavement. When my grandmother passed, my father asked if I would bring my camera to the services. This was Tupelo, Mississippi, home of the birth of Elvis Presley. My grandmother, known to us kids as Mama Mary, was a bit of a celebrity in those circles, as my great uncle twice removed delivered Elvis in exchange for a sack of potatoes. No lie. Not even blue suede shoes...just a sack of potatoes.

So, with the quirkiness that begets a family memorial in Tupelo, we arrived at the service after having visited Elvis's little house, the one bedroom post-natal facility in which he took his breath, a few blocks from where my Mama Mary took her last.

You see, Mama Mary was the epitome of southern flair and hospitality. Visits to her home culminated in a sealed vat of sweet pickles and jarred figs. The trees were meant for target practice as squirrels scattered among the branches dodging the elements of confederate angst. Yet all seemed perfectly unsettled in the web woven from the beauty of Southern charm.

Mama Mary's passing was one we saw coming, yet could never truly be prepared for. In capturing her service it seemed as though I were armed with a lens protecting me from the obvious. By photographing the progression of the day I was able to somehow remove myself and process the event by observing as the fly on the wall, yet also allowing myself the indulgence of soaking in the tiniest of moments, the most intimate of moments, without feeling overtly indulgent.

The following is very personal, and it has taken a bit of time for me to feel comfortable sharing these images as they are quite intimate at times. I learned from this experience, that in capturing her passing, I owned the reality that she was not present. She had passed to another realm and I was only photographing the experiences of our loved ones mourning her loss. She however was free, and soaring, and loving everyone with the sweep of her spirit across the lens. The capture of these moments was not only healing for my family, but for friends who could not attend the services in person. Somehow her passing seemed not as much of an enigma, more of a personal experience they could hold on to and revisit even if through the virtual realm. Even now as I revisit her slideshow for my blog, my heart aches for her fingers settled on my shoulder, the smell of cucumbers pickling in her kitchen , and the aroma of gas leaking from her stove. With all of my heart, I know the world will never be the same without her here, but I also know the world is different because she was...

www.benskophotography.com/slideshows/tupelo