An Unlikely Muse

I am a communicator of ideas, words and images. I am a natural observer and recorder of life through multiple platforms of lingual and visual artistic expression. Some photographers are inspired by their children like Sally Mann was in her “Family Pictures” series, or they cope with the realities of an aging parent through documenting the process like Ed Kashi did in “Losing Herbie: Dad’s Slide into Dementia.” Others are moved by the physical shape and form of their lovers, or impacted by the power of an outdoor landscape. My first photographic muse was Shayna, a middle-aged, slightly gray, golden retriever.

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I was approaching 12-years-old when I picked up our family digital camera, a first generation Canon PowerShot, and developed a brilliant and completely original idea to take pictures of my K-9 best friend. In hindsight she was more than a family dog, Shayna was my first photography teacher. Every day when I came home from school, I would grab the camera and we would set off to walk the berm behind my South Florida home that runs along a breathtaking nature preserve. It was in the expanse of my backyard that I developed an appreciation for the outdoors, a love for all animals whether pawed, winged or scaled, and a passion for communicating the majesty and importance of conserving the world’s ecosystems.

230721_1915420599671_4133696_nMy love for visual communication began alongside my furry childhood companion. Even though my first photo story was technically a thousand-image series of a dog catching a Frisbee and sniffing flowers in fur-shedding glory, without Shayna my initial exposure to this story-telling medium may have never come to fruition. Exploring with her was more than an after-school routine, it contributed to a time of enlightenment during my pre-teen years that urged me to observe, absorb and record the world around me. I developed into a highly detail-oriented young adult who jotted down phrases in a moleskin notebook about my daily encounters. They were descriptive notes illustrating curiosities, quotes, ideas for poetry or article writing—I was seasoning myself for my undergraduate years where I would delve into the real world of reporting and draw upon those first lessons in observation with my K-9 and a camera. I came to learn that verbiage is an art form as much as the image.

Shayna lent me some old dog wisdom by means of her human-like grins and the reassurance of her wet-nosed nudges, facilitating an understanding of the fundamental aspects of photography and life: patience and timing. Taking pictures of the abundant wildlife of my backyard with a low megapixel camera was not easy. We would prowl on our bellies, her nose burrowed in the grasses and my camera framing something in the distance between the thick green blades. We would prey on our subject: my camera at my eye, finger hovering over the shutter button waiting for the decisive moment. It took patience to remain alert for the heron to spread her wings toward the sunlight ready for flight, and precision to anticipate the hawk’s capture of his snack in the marshland before us.

Photography became my unique form of meditation and a means of cataloguing experiences. I developed an obsession with the idea of preserving a moment in time and reliving it in a two-dimensional digital or printed form. I was in middle school the first time my photography was published. I won an online competition called “Your Shot” for my local newspaper. The photographic moment was of Shayna running toward me with all four paws suspended off the ground, her typical human-like smile on and our house blurred in the background. I would go on to be my high school newsmagazine’s photo editor, exploring my passion for the craft through the publication. My photo subjects shifted from dogs to capturing campus events, teacher profiles and the talented artwork of my peers.

229451_1915152192961_4526661_nShayna passed away in May 2011, and could probably win a Guinness World-Record as the world’s most-photographed dog. After the sunset, we would return from our expeditions and lay together on the Mexican tile floor of my home, cooling our bodies from the hot and sticky south Florida afternoon. I would look through the pictures from that day on the small digital screen, showing each one to Shayna for approval. I owe my pursuit of this photographic passion to Shayna, my unlikely muse. One thing is certain: if my dream of being a multimedia journalist does not prevail, I could always be a dog photographer.

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