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Glimpses of Haiti

Haiti is another country that seems to have an ongoing and evolving presence in my life. When I was a teenager, my best friends’ mom traveled there with her church and took slides that she showed us when she returned. I was fascinated and hoped I’d one day travel there. I got an opportunity in 2002 to visit when a friend was working there and invited me to come along for a brief vacation. The extremes of the country are definitely striking (the poverty and deforestation existing alongside the natural beauty spirit of the country and the people).

And then last month, I was given the opportunity to travel there again, this time for work. I felt privileged to have the opportunity because it’s such an historic time for the country. One year after the horrific earthquake, and amidst a cholera epidemic and a chaotic election process, it felt good to be given the chance to possibly help just a little. I worked with a local organization called Profamil who have clinics throughout the country that provide contraceptives as well as obstetric, gynecological and pre-natal care. I was there to do an assessment to determine the feasibility of implementing a computerized clinic system.

Not officially there to photograph, but still having my camera with me constantly, I was able to take photos here and there, capturing both the beauty and the more difficult reality of life.

Flying into Haiti, one is immediately struck by the landscape. Port-au-Prince is a huge, sprawling city next to the blue waters of the Caribbean and nestled amidst mountains.

The deforestation is brutal.

And it doesn’t take long before you see the camps that are home to nearly a million people, still displaced a year after the earthquake.

Yet amazing wealth exists too. It’s hard to believe that people live in homes like these in the same city where people are living in tents.

There are election campaign posters and graffiti everywhere.

And then “Baby Doc” Duvalier, the ex-President who’s been living in exile for nearly 25 years, showed up the week before I got there, just to add another level of chaos into the mix.

Nearly every day, we’d pass through one of the camps. And sometimes it seemed the conditions there were actually better than some of the other places people were living.

Up north in Port de Paix, the earthquake didn’t hit, but the poverty seemed even worse. And then I’d be surprised and see something beautiful like this little church.

Or this scene from my hotel:

It was always a pleasure working with the staff in the clinics. They welcomed us openly and often would hug us good-bye when we left.

They appreciated we wanted to help. They have so much work to do and not enough resources.

More than everything that is wrong and bad in Haiti, what stands out is the natural beauty.

The colors.

And the people.


Mayan Riviera Wedding – Playa Del Carmen with Betsy and Justin

Location: Iberostar Quetzal, Playa del Carmen Mexico
Couple from: San Francisco

Wow, has it really been two years since Betsy and Justin got married?

Before I was blogging, before I was on Facebook, Betsy and Justin chose me to photograph their wedding in Playa Del Carmen which is on the Caribbean side of Mexico, south of Cancun, in an area that is often referred to as the Riviera Maya (or Mayan Riviera). It was my first trip to that part of Mexico, and it really made a lasting impression. The water is so blue and the sand so white (as you can see by the photos below). And the resort they chose (the Iberostar Quetzal) had an amazingly natural jungle environment with various animals roaming around.

Betsy looked so beautiful and elegant, and most impressive of all was that she made her dress! Justin was the dapper gentleman who wasn’t shy about going along with my ideas to climb through a fence or put a Lucha Libre mask on to get some fun shots.

Happy Anniversary! Feliz Aniversario!
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Glimpses of Redhook – Brooklyn, NY

I first heard about Redhook from Eugene Richard’s book Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue. Amazing photography, but not exactly an endorsement for the neighborhood.

A couple of years later I found myself in Redhook photographing the opening day of the NY Mexican baseball league. (I need to get some of those photos online…finally.)

Nowadays, Redhook has become a bit trendy and is one of the final frontiers, as NYC residents keep searching further and further for affordable housing. It has a little bit of that NYC frontier feeling the same way the East Village had when I first lived there after college.

Here are a few glimpses that I photographed one afternoon while visiting.

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Flushing Meadow Park Lake, Queens

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The Lemon Ice King of Corona

The Lemon Ice King of Corona is a New York legend. I don’t know when I first heard about it but it was probably a good 15 or so years ago, maybe making one of the Best Of lists in either the New York Press or the Village Voice. It was always on my list of places to visit one day. But I lived in Manhattan and Corona, Queens seemed like a world away.

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Well now I’ve found myself living walking distance from the place, having recently moved back to New York City for the summer/indefinite future. I’m still getting settled and hadn’t made plans for the holiday, so I figured I should at least get out of the house and take a nice walk, and why not get an ice while I’m at it?
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The sign above the door says 25 flavors, but these days they’re up to 35+. Of course I had to try the lemon which of course was great although I have to say with having cut back on my sugar intake lately, I found it pretty sickly sweet (but that’s a compliment). I asked what the second most popular was — peanut butter. Peanut butter ice? Now there’s no bigger fan of peanut butter in the world than me, but peanut butter and ice? I was skeptical. But I gave it a try and loved it. Real chunks of peanuts even.

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To me, this place is everything that I love about New York City. There’s a little attitude (note the rules on their sign), but they’re customer service oriented and friendly too. It’s a specialty food place located where it wants to be, because they know New Yorkers love food and will travel anywhere for something good. In NYC, it’s not just about location, it’s about quality product. It’s got integrity and no bullshit. And it’s been family run for over 60 years. I love it!

Sugar Mama

Temp Transfer_020Lent is officially over. I’ve always thought of Lent as a great time to look at what I was overindulging in and try to abstain from whatever it was for 40 days. This year once again it was sugar.

I won’t say I was perfect, but for me it wasn’t about total perfection. It was more about looking at what, why, when, and how often I was eating sweet things.

During Lent, there were 3 birthday parties I attended and I’ll admit that I took one bite of each cake. Frankly, only one of the cakes was amazing and worthy of eating a whole slice.

I discovered that nearly all of the fruit juices available here in Puerto Vallarta (even the ones that proclaim “100% nectar”) have sugar added. I found exceptions with Jumex pineapple juice and another type of grape juice. And I happily drank the fresh “water” from a tender young coconut, bought from a nice couple who sell them 3 blocks from my house.

I confirmed what I already knew: when I’m tired and/or hot and/or feeling aggravated, I crave sugar more than ever. I was really dehydrated one day, driving home from substitute teaching. It was unusually hot and humid and I felt like I was going to pass out. And then I remembered I had a can of root beer soda sitting in the fridge (I probably drink one root beer in a whole year) and I broke down and drank it when I got home. Worth ever sip!

It was a hard fight with my boyfriend who’s a food pusher in general, and who consistently tried to tempt me with cookies, cakes, candy, and churros.

Ahh, churros! It turns out they’re the one thing I missed the most. In case you haven’t had the pleasure, they’re little sticks of deep fried dough about the size of a finger, coated in sugar and cinnamon. If you ever liked cinnamon toast as a kid, you’ll love churros. The best churros in Puerto Vallarta that I’ve found so far are made and sold in Old Town on the corner of Calles Aguacate and Cardenas next to the Santa Cruz church. (Hmm, sounds like a good topic for a future blog post!)

I will now allow myself a few indulgences (churros of course, Tres leches cake, a Snicker’s bar, a ginger cookie from the Deli, real maple syrup on my pancakes, oven roasted sweet potato and plantains covered with lechera [sweetened condensed milk] to name a few), but I’m planning to keep my sugar intake way down and think of it as an indulgence and not something I’m looking all the time.

Palm Sunday Puerto Vallarta Style

Palm Sunday (in Spanish El Domingo de Ramos) is celebrated in Mexico, like it is in the US, with the handing out of palm fronds . But what’s really unique is that the evening before, artisans (some who travel from outlying villages or even from other states) camp out in front of the city’s main church (Our Lady of Guadalupe) with a large variety of figures of both Jesus and the Virgin of Guadalupe crafted out of palm fronds, string, glitter and other materials. They continue working late into the night to be ready to sell to the church goers all the next day.

I’m always impressed by the creativity of the items they make and offer for sale. Each year, there are new designs and something interesting. I’ve been collecting this art for several years now and still think it’s the most beautiful and original Mexican artwork available in Puerto Vallarta.
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Mexico is a Christian country and this holiday is about Jesus but as usual, it’s really the Virgin who seems to predominate and stand out. Many attribute the adoption of Christianity by the indigenous people to Juan Diego’s sighting of the Virgin of Guadalupe. I think these depictions of the Virgin using these materials really shows the essence of that bridge between the “new” European religion and indigenous culture.
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Epoca (Puerto Vallarta Restaurant)

Location: Epoca Restaurant, Puerto Vallarta
Couples from: Colorado, Chicago

I’ve had the pleasure of both eating and working (which fortunately included some eating!) at Epoca Restaurant which is ideally located between the Malecon and Los Muertos beach in “Old Town” Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

The first time was in April 2007 when I photographed Kara and Jason’s wedding. Kara was laid back (in terms of wanting a casual wedding), high energy and fun. Jason seemed to be a perfect complement for her and also radiated warmth and happiness. I was really touched when they asked me to join them for dinner (despite only being hired for limited coverage) and I’ll always remember the pumpkin soup! It turns out that Kara also works with weddings and events doing coordination and floral design. Her business is cleverly named Pick Me and has a cute web address Love This Day.

My next job at Epoca was for a rehearsal dinner for Katy and Geoff. Rehearsal dinners are a great opportunity for more casual photos and a good warm-up for the wedding day shots. Everyone seems more at ease for the wedding day photos if I am there to photograph them beforehand. I’ll always remember Katy’s dress; it was so cute and stylish and could easily have been worn at a casual wedding.

I’m a vegetarian so I always appreciate when restaurants have vegetarian dishes on their menu. I’ve mentioned the pumpkin soup which I think is a specialty item, and I’ve also enjoyed the Spinach and Jicama salad, the Panela Crocantes, and the Chile Relleno.

I’d also highly recommend this spot for sunset drinks either at the bar or with your feet in the sand right on the beach.

Here’s a little slideshow with some highlights of events Epoca:

Engaged! (La Palapa, Puerto Vallarta)

Location: La Palapa Restaruant, Puerto Vallarta Mexico
Couple from: Chicago
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Reed was really excited to propose to Rhonda and wanted to find the perfect location. So many options here in Puerto Vallarta. It became a decision between a place up high with a great view looking down on the bay or a romantic spot on the beach.

I feel very lucky that he chose to hire me to photograph the proposal. It would be a bit of a paparazzi shoot because he everything to be a complete surprise. I asked him to send me some photos so I’d know what he and Rhonda look like and we made a plan to meet at La Palapa, one of Puerto Vallarta’s oldest and well-known restaurants.

I arrived a little early and scoped things out and talked with the staff so they knew what was going on. They had prepared a pretty table for two close to the water.

My assistant Jonathan was there to keep a lookout for the couple and act as my model. We saw the couple arrive and I was pretty sure Reed saw me too. He directed Rhonda to take a walk down the beach. It was easy enough to photograph from behind but photographing other angles without being seen was a little tricky. That’s where Jonathan came in, pretending to pose for me which allowed me to pretend to photograph him but really photograph over his shoulder.

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This shot in particular amazes me. I think it’s a great shot of Rhonda and it’s so cool that she’s looking straight into the camera but was completely unaware that I was taking her photo.Vallarta La Palapa engagment photos 005

It was such an emotional experience to be there with them, even if just from a distance. I felt so lucky to be a part of such a special event.

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Family Paradise (Family Portrait Paradise Village, Nuevo Vallarta)

Location: Paradise Village, Nuevo Vallarta Mexico
Family from: Colorado

Karah contacted me to photograph her and her family while they were visiting from Colorado and staying at Nuevo Vallarta’s Paradise Village resort, always popular with families. One nice thing about photographing at Paradise Village is the variety of locations/backgrounds available.

Sunset portrait sessions can be somewhat problematic because the sun is much stronger late in the day than most people realize. The intense heat can make people sweat (even in our less humid winters) and photos with people squinting into the sun are never attractive. Everyone wants that perfect shot on the beach, but when I first arrive for the portrait, we usually need to start in another shaded location.

This image shows how there is also some nice tropical foliage that makes a nice backdrop.
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This shot is cool and a result of an unintentional collaborative effort. I directed the kids over to a grassy, shaded location and their older son, being a 10 year old boy, immediately spotted the staircase and began to climb up. It wasn’t my intention but once I saw him on the stairs, I knew it was a good location.
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This is one of my favorites. I hope it’s a shot she’ll remember forever and will make her remember her first vacation at the beach in Mexico
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