Reflecting with Monet

 

Monet's House

Monet’s House

One of the biggest impediments to my photography practice has always been my emotions. I’m not talking about the self doubt – though that has stopped many a creative process throughout my life. I often find myself taken by intense emotions when witnessing the beauty, majesty, and soul of a place. And then when I snap that picture, the images seem to fall short of what I experience in that moment. Often I don’t see it until I get home and download the images. Wait, what? No, that does not do that moment justice! And then there are the times that I (being a chronic overshooter) am so overwhelmed by the sheer amount of images I took that I just can’t choose which images best match the experiences I want to share or the emotions that those experiences engender! The process is exhausting and I find it may take me days, weeks, months, and even years before I’m ready to finally wade through the folders and to share the beauty of what I have encountered.

Japanese Bridge

My family trip through Normandy (with a sidestep into Brittany) in May of 2016 was one such emotional ride for me. Finally getting to share that part of the world with my husband and my girls, while also discovering new gems I never dreamed would tickle my fancy was just magical. The sheer amount of photos and the attached emotional responses were overwhelming and while life was taking it’s customary chaotic turns for this gypsy Foreign Service Family, I never got the chance to just sit, edit, process the emotions, and share what it was about those places that touched my soul.

So here I am – 3 years later – finally ready to devote the time and confront the emotions that come with remembering, editing and sharing. My girls are now grown and that brings up new emotions while I edit, knowing that those times of us all together are going to be fewer going forward, making the process all that much more bittersweet.

HerrensatGiverny

My kids are used to me dragging them to places they are underwhelmed by – shopping malls, ancient gothic churches, caves, museums, national parks –  you know, pretty much anything when it comes to teenagers traveling with their parents. So I planned our trip to northern France knowing that I would probably be more excited about it than they would be.

When my oldest daughter arrived home from college I told her about the trip and asked if there was anything in Normandy besides Omaha Beach that she wanted to see. I was shocked when she came back to me and said, “Monet’s gardens look cool. Let’s go there.” Giverny is technically in Normandy. It’s just way south of the route we were planning to take from Brussels on the edge of the province! But given that this was a one of those few times she actually showed any interest in something even remotely related to French artists, I jumped at the opportunity and rearranged our itinerary.

Now, even I was not on the bandwagon for this particular destination before this. I mean, how many times have you visited the home of some historical figure and been completely underwhelmed? And while I love Monet’s paintings, I just couldn’t see how visiting his home was going to add any more to that appreciation, especially given the crowds, the weather, the possibility that we missed peak blooming season, etc. I could not have been more wrong!

Since I tucked this stop into our first day of travel, we arrived at a less than ideal time – well past opening. It had been raining on and off all day. We did find the group entrance ( I read on Trip Advisor that they would supposedly honor pre-purchased tickets and help you skip the line at the main gate) and were let in without a fuss – right in front of a huge school age group. Oh boy. This could get unruly…

But coming into this part of the garden first, going to the right and experiencing the water lily pond was just what was needed to start this little adventure off on the right foot. The gardens were gorgeous even though we were a little past peak bloom for many of the spring flowers. The paths are set up so that even with lots of people, you still get a good feel for the beauty of the pond, and can see for yourself the inspiration that Monet must have experienced himself. Sure there are some people in my shots; but I found that they often added a certain “je ne sais quoi.” And everyone was so well behaved. No pushing. No lingering too terribly long at each vantage point (I may have been the offender here). And I never felt too hurried, even by my own family!

The thing about the gardens is what do you focus on? The overall picture? The particular design of each garden? Individual flowers? The reflections in the lily pond? Oh I could spend hours playing with light, textures, and points of view! I get especially lost in the reflections and capturing that classic Monet feel.

Mindful that my daughters’ attention spans could only endure so much of my photographic fervor, I limited myself and we moved on to the house and gardens. They also did not disappoint! So many flowers! So many opportunities for the romantically nostalgic to get lost in dreams!

The house, however charming, is, well, a house. You’ve seen many a house preserved as it was (or might have been) from the historical time period it came from. But there are aspects about it that do have you imaging Monet and his family living there. For me those moments came when looking out of windows and doors into the gardens. And then there was his collection of Japanese engravings. It’s always interesting to see what another artist collects in terms of art and those items they choose to put on their walls that they did not create.

At the end of the visit, we all agreed that the experience was well worth the stop. Even my youngest, an artist herself with little interest in French impressionists (imagine my horror when she admitted that to me!), came away from the experience with more appreciation for Monet’s work. And so, a little bit soggy, we all happily piled into the car and headed to our next destination on my (almost) ultimate French road trip.

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My Last Sale at Embassy Brussels

 

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Where it all began – a very timid booth at the Information Fair!

 

It was a very sad week for me! I had my last showing at the Tri-Mission Association shop at Embassy Brussels. I cannot express how thankful I am to the Embassy community for supporting my work and encouraging me to push beyond my comfort zones in pursuit of more and more opportunities. This venture has been more successful than I ever would have imagined possible and I have learned so much along the way. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your purchases, for your compliments and for your friendship!

Though I know I won’t have quite the same, sweet, set up I do here at Embassy Brussels at my next location, I now have a basis on which to build and learn, and I hope to get my online presence up and running as successfully as my in person sales. To that end, I will be slowly transitioning my photos onto my sale page at www.brandy-herren.pixels.com. Here you will be able to continue purchasing my prints – framed, canvas, etc – as well as fun photo products for home, office, and personal use!

As a thank you, I would like to offer a 10% discount on my image markup on the sale site to my US Foreign Service community members. Contact me and let me know your name and your affiliation with the US Foreign Service and I will send you a discount code to use on your Arklahoma Muse purchase through the website.

Thank you and Happy Clicking!

La Brocante – En Couleur et B&W

Black and White or Color – Which is your favorite?

African Adventures – Photos from Zambia, South Africa and Namibia

Muli Bwanji?!

I have finally uploaded all the cards I have on hand from our lives in Zambia and New Zealand. My initial pass through the Zambian files have yielded quite a few gems and I took the time today to post some of them on my new page – African Adventures – Zambia, South Africa and Namibia. There are many more to come! Also, be on the lookout for the New Zealand page, coming soon. Please clicks through the photos and don’t hesitate to send me feedback and let me know what you think!

Zikomo! (Thank you in Nyanja)

Expanding My Horizons

Graslei Reflections

Graslei Reflections

Stadshal at Night, Ghent

Stadshal at Night, Ghent

This week I showcased my work at the US Embassy in Brussels and I have really enjoyed talking to my peers about photography, travel and Belgium.  Going through my portfolio so many times has brought something to my attention though.  I MIGHT be a little obsessed with Ghent!  It seems that every other picture is of some building, some church, some alley – IN GHENT.

Winter Stroll in Oostende

Winter Stroll in Oostende

So I decided that this summer I will make more of an effort to branch out a little more and spend more time in other parts of Belgium.  There is so much to see that I should have no problem finding great subject matter.  There are war memorials and monuments, beautiful parks and forests, beaches, more churches than my children ever want to see again in their lifetimes, festivals, monasteries (and beer tours!), universities, and more chateaus than you can shake a stick at (stay tuned on Observations of an Okie for pics of Denver shaking a stick at a château…). I look forward to getting out there and really exploring more of this awesome country and I promise that I will be careful if I happen on to some haunted, deteriorating building that just begs me to explore it – ahem.  There is also that suburb of Antwerp, slowly being abandoned that is covered in graffiti/street art. The list is truly endless.

Unknown Soldier at Flanders Field

Unknown Soldier at Flanders Field

But dear Ghent, fear not!  I am unable to abandon you completely.  You are so close and I can pop up for a stroll through your beautiful streets, visit with your lovely citizens and do some great shopping any time I want (I might even bring you new visitors and take yet another picture of St. Nicolaus’ Church).

Twilight!

No, not the teen vampire movie.  The time of day.  One of the coolest times of the day to be taking pictures, and one I can’t for the life of me seem to be in a position to take advantage of very often.  But on a recent trip to Ghent we were actually out after dark with our cameras and I was able to snap off a couple of shots while the sun was falling fast below the horizon.  I love twilight. I love Ghent. And apparently I love St. Nicholas Church.  I can’t seem to get enough of it.

St. Nicolas's Cathedral at Twilight - Ghent, Belgium

St. Nicolas’s Cathedral at Twilight – Ghent, Belgium

Luxembourg and The Netherlands

Hello!

I made an initial pass through my archives and finally created a page for photographs from Luxembourg and The Netherlands.  I have also made the discovery that my dearth of website worthy photos from Amsterdam makes a return trip an absolute necessity!  With any luck, as the weather warms up and the sun shines a bit more, I’ll make the pilgrimage back to these places with my lovely family so that they, too, can enjoy the sights (and I can get some shots of these cities that aren’t quite so grey!).  Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

Cheers!