Epilogue, Portrait Project.

As i was walking down the street the other day, my mind flinched,  I felt oddly naked, empty handed, and startled, realizing that i did not have my camera anywhere on me.  It was the first time in over 70 days.  I reached for it, almost gasping, then remembered my project was over and I was taking a break.  It was a nice feeling knowing that my compadre and I had become so close, yet it was also sad because I missed the edge that my project gave to each day.  Some days, I sigh a breath of relief knowing that I am not responsible for creating anything today.  Other days, I see people on my path who I desperately want to photograph, but instead just watch closely out of the corner of my eye and admire.  I wonder if this project got seeded deep enough in me to release the grip of fear that I was holding onto for so long.  I hope so.  I think right now, in the first week after, I am just taking deep breaths and appreciating what I accomplished.  I look back and see how the project was not exactly as I had planned, with glitches and bumps, and I am so incredibly blessed for that because in the words of one of my inspirations, Richard Avedon, "If you get what you expected, then it's a failure.  You have to be surprised for it to be magical."  Yes, Mr. Avedon, indeed it was magical.  I learned a lot about myself, not only as an artist, but as a person.  I came across triumphs, and I also sulked at my failures.  Over all, I not only got a portrait of 70 different people out there, I also got a portrait of myself and how my mind spins around inside my head.  

I really have to thank two people who directly and indirectly were responsible for my leap of faith to do this project in the first place:  Rob Novotny, and Scott Finsthwait.  Scott, for inspiring me with his '100 days of abstracts' project that he was creating when I first met him, and for always being my biggest fan.  And my dear Rob, who, when delving into our friendship, was my doorway to being able to talk of my dreams and fears with candor and rawness, and who encouraged me to take a risk.  

So, this project is officially "over", but it will remain with me every day, and I am already feeling the tingling of a follow-up project soon...  Thanks so much for everyone who tuned in daily to read the latest.  I absolutely loved hearing your feedback and feeling your support!  Mwuah!!! 

New Year's Eve, and the last portrait of my beautiful project

January 31st, and I needed a spectacularly sexy wig to bring in the New Year.  Living in San Francisco, I am lucky to have a plethora of choices.  After reading all of the reviews on Yelp and mapping out my closest options, I chose Helen's wigs on Divisidero.  When I walked in the door, it was like Candy Land!  Different colored wigs lined every inch of the walls, I was wide eyed and probably even let out a little gasp.  Then I saw movement from behind the counter and a round, inviting face smiled at me to ask if she could help.  "I'm looking for a long, red wig", I said, and just then my eyes fell behind her and I knew it was the one... "That one!  Can I try that one on?"  "Sit"  she said, as she motioned to the beauty station made up of a simple chair, brush, and hair dryer against the large mirrored wall.  With one swoop, she had my hair tucked into a wig cap, and then she wrapped my dirty blonde head with beautiful red lockes.  The bangs were a bit off, so she took the hair dryer and blew them down, then cut some of them to make it look just right.  I felt like I was at the salon.  We both looked in the mirror and smiled huge, and immediately I glimmered as I said "Yes, this is the one, I'll take it!"  She seemed as excited as I was, and after I snapped her photo, she was glowing as much as I was as well.  I'll be back to Helen's time and again... Maybe I'll even go there sometime instead of the salon, because you can walk out of her tiny little shop feeling like a movie star, and you don't even need it to be New year's Eve.  


69 chopsticks!

Last week when I was out on a run in Dallas, I brought my small Fuji camera with me tucked inside my sleeve, in hopes that I might run into good photo op along the way.  Towards the end of my run, I came across a few road workers who looked interesting, and I contemplated stopping for a shot as I ran past.  "I can get them on my way back"  I told myself, cooking up some nerve to ask them while I rounded the corner and ran to the edge of the housing complex.  On my way back, I saw them once again but I was paralyzed with fear.  I made a deal with myself, "Say 'yes' right now out loud, and I HAVE to stop and ask."  I agreed to myself, but as I came closer, I felt a cat tugging hard at my tongue, and all of the sudden I was gliding past them, almost in slow motion, watching my photo op dissipate in the humid, Texas air. 

'What does this have to do with the lady and the noodles, Shelly?'  Oh yeah, right.  Well, Bridget and I went out for Pho this evening and got so wrapped up in conversation that I almost forgot about my portrait of the day.  She looked up and saw this little old lady setting the tables and said, "Shells, get her for your portrait!"  I shook my head, "Aww, she's adorable, but that would be wierd, right?  I mean, she'll think I'm a nut just walking up to her and asking her for a photo..."  Bridget looked at me with a stare that screamed at me for caring what others would think.  "I'll go to the restroom, and on my way back I'll pass by her...maybe I'll ask."  I felt my Dallas run coming back to me now, and I didn't want to walk away defeated again.  Knowing that if i said "yes" out loud, I would have to get some cojones, I took a deep breath and uttered the word there in the stark bathroom stall.  "Yes."  There, it was done.  There was no turning back.  I came out with my camera around my shoulder, I adjusted the settings to what I thought would be correct for the light, and I walked with purpose.  After stopping to cringe at Bridget for a moment, I turned and walked around the partition, said hello to the little old lady, smiled, and asked if I could take her picture.  She was very shy, but smiled back and touched her hair as if to primp for me.  I asked her to pick up some chopsticks, so she grabbed two.. I said, smiling big, "No, no!  The whole bunch!"  She smiled even bigger and took a huge handful, looked at me, and gave me her best pose.  When I showed it to her, she giggled and blushed, and in her broken English said "thank ayou, ahthank ayou!"  With the fuzziest of hearts, I waived goodbye and wrapped my arm around Bridget as we walked away, and said to her, "Thank you...thank you..."  


"Roommates" with 68

When I returned from my trip I was expecting to have an empty house, pour a night cap, and crawl into bed.  To my delight, I opened the door and found Brandon and Dorothy on the couch.  Although I only have one roommate, Amy and I often invite our friends to come hang with the kitten units while we are out traveling.  Brandon and Dodo are buddies.  I found them snuggling together sweetly, and I happily changed out of my uniform and joined them.  We poured some chardonnay and stayed up for hours catching up and sharing stories of our week & talking of our New Year's plans.  

I lived on my own on top of a beautiful mountain for seven years, knowing that my little studio would be exactly as I left it when I walked in the door, it was peaceful and calm.  I was afraid to leave my nest and take my chances living with another person in the city, thinking that it would be a step backwards, worrying about getting in each other's way.  What I found instead is that living with someone, sometimes more than one someone, actually makes me feel more grounded, more peaceful.  You don't know what you'll get when you walk in the door, but it keeps the most beautiful thing about life alive:  Change.  Yeah, I still have fantasies of living in my own spacious loft in Williamsburg, but even in those dreams I am surrounded by other breathing beings who are filling me up with life.  


67th portrait of the day: Crew love

Camile had never been to the Fort Lauderdale layover hotel before, so when we arrived at dawn from our redeye, Josh was excited to show her the amazingly sexy pool.  We all dropped our bags in front of the breakfast buffet bar, and rushed to the stairwell which led us up in between the clear walls, shimmery water shining down and around us on all sides.  It was a stormy morning, winds gusting, so we made it quick. I pulled out my camera to get a shot before we ran back to our bananas, muffins, and chocolate croissants, and realized that it was all fogged up.  It had been in my bag on the floor near the galley door on the airplane, which, for those of you who don't know, is the coldest place on earth.  Cool thing is, it gave us this great halo effect.  


66: Daniel the fair guy

We arrived to the Fairmont late tonight, it was almost 11 pm.  There was a wedding in the lobby so it was obnoxiously loud and frantic as we walked in to the ballroom lit with Christmas lights and ginger bread houses.  I was thinking to myself:  "God, I don't want to come back down here...but I have to."  This was my first time staying here and as I walked into the room, my eyes lit up at the beauty of it, the wallpaper was exquisite, the art work on the walls were stunning, I even had my own dressing table with a gorgeous creme colored bench.  I set down my brush and make up bag and looked forward to getting ready there tomorrow.  It crossed my mind to stay in...but only for a moment.  I could not miss my portrait today.  I threw on a pair of sweats and sandals, packed my camera into my satchel, and walked determined down the hall to the elevators, hoping I would miraculously stumble upon a photo subject in the hallway so that I wouldn't have to leave the hotel.  Yes, tonight this project was a burden, but I had to shake it off and remind myself that it's about the adventure of it all, not just the photograph.  

I walked outside, and oh my lord!  It was much colder than I had expected!  Again, I hoped I could snap and run.  No such luck as I wandered through the animated Christmas festival that was happening just outside the door.  But then I noticed the carnival just across the street, there were lights flashing everywhere, floods of people gathering around the rides and games, and I thought "I'm in luck now!"  My feet were freezing off, as I had open toed shoes, and all I could think was that I was going to catch a cold trying to get this shot tonight.  I ventured on, determined, but then I felt a slight curl in my lip.  I found myself smiling at the scenes around me, flashbacks of carnivals from my childhood, and the burden was replaced with gratitude.  I walked up to the ping pong floaty dish toss and stood there watching one of the workers, he was so animated, bouncing around the dish toss pond squeezing a large, round stuffed toy.  We started talking as I asked him questions..."What's the biggest toy you've given out tonight?", "Don't your hands get cold dipping them into the water so much?", "How many days has this been going on?"  He said he's been there nine to ten in the morning till ten or eleven at night every night- oh, except for two- since it opened.  "When did it open?", I asked.  "Day before Thanksgiving, and it goes till January 5th!"  he said proudly.  He said he loved it though, and I thought he meant that he loved the thrill of seeing people come and try their hand at winning every day, seeing the kids play, interacting with the teenagers as they spent all their allowances trying to win a huge white teddy bear.... He clarified for me that "What I'm gunna love is the pay check!".  "Well, what are you gunna do with that pay check?"  I asked bluntly.  "Hmmm"  he pondered, Probably get a Play Station II, that'll be fun..."   I laughed and agreed with him.  In the middle of our chat I realized that I was having fun with this carnival guy and that I was privileged to have the opportunity to get a glimpse into his world.  I walked back across the dozens of Christmas trees and lit up trains with frozen toes, but a warmed up spirit, blessed to have met another soul that only my camera could lead me to.  


Christmas 64: Jorge

I actually loved the holidays this year.  I don't always, they tend to be slightly stressful, not to mention the holiday travel & crazy work schedules.  This year, it was a combination of many things that made my holidays happier than I can remember in a long time.  Family was beautiful, work was so much fun, and friends were truly special.  Jorge is a new friend of mine, we've known each other vicariously through others for the past year but have recently decided to become friends for real.  

Christmas morning, my roommate(s) and I woke up and poured mimosas, threw on holiday music, and cooked up enough to feed an army.  We had invited anyone who was in town to stop by and share the cheer with us, but ended up merrily drinking and eating everything ourselves.  We were so excited when Jorge showed up, he was our only guest!  We poured rounds of special hot apple cider and sat outside watching the night light up, trying to remember Christmas pasts, and anticipating the good things in the year to come.  He said this year would be easy to recall, as it was the first Christmas he had not spent with his family.  I'm used to not having my family around on Xmas day, but I was still thinking of them as we sat drinking my mom's magic recipe, and feeling blessed to have this new friend by my side.  



Xmas eve for sixty three!

Rounding out my shopping for the day, I stopped into our local wine shop to pick up some goodies for our Christmas party.  Not two seconds later, Evan here had talked me into a bubbly tasting.  Swirl has got this great little tiled counter at the back of the store where you'll always find friends kicking back and sipping on the latest selection of yummy liquids.  If you didn't know better, you'd have a hard time figuring out who was a patron and who was staff.  They are wonderful here, very laid back and never stuffy.  It's like having a glass of wine in your best friend's living room before you head off to a show.  I loved how Matt's shirt practically blended in with the countertop with its galactic flair.  He got shy about three frames later, and I turned to the two guys next to me for a chat as we all finished our Xmas eve cheer and wandered home to prepare for our feasts.



Portrait Project Day62! Bridget

You know those friends you can always call day or night, happy or sad, lovely or bitchy, no matter what?  Bridget is one of those.  She's my gal pal, my partner in crime, my wingman.  She'll tell it like it is, and never sugar coats, so you know you can trust her when she gives her two cents. This girl has true soul oozing out of her gorgeous tall frame and long auburn hair, her smile lights up the city when she's happy.  We know we can count on each other, and that's hard to find in a girlfriend, especially with our hectic lives. I love this girl to death! Now, for all you men out there, on the count of three..... 



Scotty and Duca: PP#61 in NYC

Scotty deserves an entire six volume mini series instead of just a blog entry.  How do I even begin to describe what he means to me?  Fourteen years ago, he met me at my layover hotel in Philly where he was living, and took me to a place called The Plough and Stars where I introduced him to Irish coffee.  It was a cold December day, we found a spot by the fire as we ordered round after round of Scotty's new favorite beverage and became fast friends while listening to the fiddler play.  

Since that night, we have moved across the country several times over, had scores of relationships, half a dozen pets, a million and one cocktails, shared hundreds of hotel rooms, lived together for three months, laughed and cried over too many phone calls to count, and have grown closer and closer as the years pass.  He is now my "air huzzy", and  we have fun planning grand adventures together in Columbia, Iceland, and St. Maarten...although we have yet to jet set off into the blue with each other.  He is the best husband a girl could ask for, and when I find my other husband, I will officially be the luckiest girl on the planet.  

Scotty & Duca. 

Scotty & Duca. 

Rounding out #59 with a double selfie!

Sometimes this project's beauty is in the fact that it just makes me get out my camera when I wouldn't have otherwise, and in these moments, there is magic created between friends.  Paul and I met two years ago when he walked into our camp with a megaphone and clown shoes and made an entrance no one could miss.  A few nights later, we found ourselves racing bikes to the edge of the desert together, getting to know each other through stories told under the full moon as it peeked in and out of the clouds.  We sat there in our dusty, open air theater for hours, watching the millions of scurrying blinky lights on the horizon.  Then we were drawn back in to the heart of it by the lure of music, and the rain drops started to fall as we danced madly to the night.  It was an unforgettable evening that created an enchanting connection, and fills us with smiles to our core. This photo reminds me of that night, it just makes me happy... and it wouldn't have existed if not for the PP and the desire to get to 73!

Me & Paul.

Me & Paul.


This is probably one of the only times that Justin has let me take his photo without wincing or turning away.  He is terribly camera shy, which is why I love this image of him even more.  It was just the two of us at a corner high top, talking about travel, the coming new year, and a myriad of other tidbits.  He and I can (and do) sit for hours on end discussing the depths of any chosen topic, I love how our conversations are filled with intertwining candor, digging below the surface.  I tell him all the time that he is too smart for his own good.  His brain is constantly going a mile a minute, grasping onto a million bits of information at any given time and trying to figure them all out at once.  He has a restless soul, yet it is precious and rare.  We are kindred spirits of sorts, living in both a daydream and reality, in a constant quest for the alchemy of transforming the two into gold. 



I can't run 55! (in skivves)

Another great SF tradition is the annual Santa Skivees Run in the Castro which benefits the AIDS foundation.  Basically, it's a jog around the block, but you get to do it in your underwear!   And, oh my, some underwear is smaller than others, let me tell you... Aaron and I went out for brunch just in time to catch the half deflated blow-up Santa at the finish line being sacrificed for raunchy photos by passers by.  We went across the street to the iconic local hot spot The LookOut, where we met up with friends who had "run" that morning.  It was packed shoulder to shoulder (or shall I say, butt to butt), and my feet stuck to the floor with each step.  We found Brandon in the corner alcove in his Christmas jammies and a margarita, and joined in on the last of the Santa celebrations of the year.  I think where I live is the true essence of the word "bubble".  There are few places on earth where you can find people coming up with so many excuses to dress up, be weird, and celebrate anything and everything in such fantastic ways.  One thing about living in SF...you have to have a good stock of undies!  



SantaCon 2013.54

Christmas holds a very special meaning for us here in San Francisco... Every year, there is a tradition that brings us all together, lets us share our holiday joy with friends, and encourages our true expression of Christmas spirit...

Yes, folks, I am talking about SantaCon.

But, this is not just your typical 1,000 Santas in a bar crawl kind of SantaCon, this is an exclusive SantaCon party on a magical bus put on by the one and only Bernard-Claus. For the "millionth year in a row", Bernard has organized only the best of the best to celebrate this glorious day riding around the city's highlights on a pair of busses with neon lights and stripper poles.  I mean, isn't that how we are supposed to celebrate the spirit of the jolly old guy in a red suit? ...oh yeah, and that guy with the long hair and a loin cloth?  Annette here is the lucky one who happened to have her birthday on this celebration of holy fun, so she got a private party stop at her own Mission hipster bar filled with cupcakes and balloons.  To say the least, we all had an unforgettable day, dancing till dawn with our Santa cohorts, rounding out 2013 with love, laughter, and red sparkly mayhem.   



PP52 with my class of Virgins

I couldn't have dreamed two years ago that I would fall in love so hard with the people I was about to spend five weeks with.  It was the November training class for Inflight Team Members of Virgin America, and we were the largest class they had ever had; there were over eighty of us.  For 5 weeks, we sat in class together, played games together, took breaks in Mt. Whitney together, stressed out with each other, laughed and cried with each other, and created bonds that will last a lifetime.  Each year in December, we go to recurrent training, and even though we dread the two boring class days, we secretly (and not so secretly) get really excited to have our mini reunion with a handful of Novemberites, aka "the best class ever".  This year was so much fun, I forgot the government required us to be there.  All we did was laugh.  Our instructor Sam was part of the reason we had so much fun too, he's an absolute gem, and we all swear it would be suicidal if he wasn't the one spending these 2 days with us.  Paulina here is one of my very favorite people at Virgin because of her wildly true spirit, and her realness.  She's someone you can have a deep conversation with about life & love, and in the next moment spit your drink out your nose because of her dry wit and priceless expressions. Our 'office' life is different every day, but at the end of it all we know that it is more than just our own metal tube hurling through the sky:  We have each other out there, supporting one another and laughing with each other across the world, and knowing that there are 80+ people who are our extended family, even if we only get to hug them once a year in the jet bridge!  




53 Portrait of my own mind

Sometimes, life throws you pancakes & beer, sometimes it throws you cat pee in your suitcase.  Today was a cat pee kind of day.  It was a curve ball I did not expect, and I was surprised how much it affected me.  I desperately wanted to take a portrait of someone today... Maybe this would be my somber portrait, maybe I would learn something amazing in the pushing through the vomit that was smearing my 'happy'.  It was one of the coldest nights of the year, and I threw on my scarf and gloves and walked down the street to wander and find some dinner.  Everyone was scurrying around, ditching out of the cold, walking briskly to their destination.  I thought I should stop at a street corner and just wait for someone to arrive who looked as if they wouldn't mind a stranger asking for their photo.  Then my monkey brain set in... "What is my purpose in this anyway?"  "Is it about a picture, or a connection?"  "Maybe this is stupid."  " There's no way to get a decent shot like this, just go home."  As I sat down, "table for one, please", at Mama Ji's, I eaves dropped on the tables around me and felt mildly entertained as I ate my bowl of chow mein.  Should I ask the waitress?  Or, maybe the guys sitting next to me...  I decided I was sad that I was stressed about this, I didn't like the feeling of "having" to take a photo tonight, was this part of my deal?  I knew it was, I knew that it's not all supposed to be fun & games, and that I would have to push myself through times like this, and I liked that fact.  But why couldn't I do it tonight?  I was resenting the person who made me feel so bad, but I also knew it was up to me to make my reality and not someone else.  I paid my check, thanked the beautiful server who I wished I could have asked for a photo, and threw my scarf back around my neck to walk the three blocks home.  I knew as I walked out the door that I had given up.  It was defeating, but I think it was a good lesson now that I look back on it.  I was forced to ask myself a lot of questions and go through my fears and contemplate my thoughts.  I did not get a portrait today.  Yet, I have a portrait in my mind of my own mind, and the swirls and dips it goes into when it's in distress, and I guess that's a portrait only I will get to see.   

Kenny's got crabs. #51

Every year, Kenny has a holiday party where he prepares massive amounts of magnificent crab & string french fries, throws down the brown parchment paper & crab crackers, and let's everyone act like savages and gorge themselves with buttery fingers! The house is filled to the brim with merry souls, drinking and sharing stories from their day, week, and year. It's one of my favorite nights of the year, going to the wee hours with a secret santa gift exchange that always ends with tears, mostly from laughter, but sometimes the from sweet sentiment between friends.  

This year, Kenny's crabs were shared in a more intimate setting.  There were just six of us, plus Elliot makes seven.  Kenny and Joe's beautiful son made the rounds with all of us, showing off his cuter than sin smile, running around with his Santa hat to greet guests, and making sure we knew he loves attention in whatever way, shape, or form we could give.  This sweet moment on the couch with Tall Paul was taken just before we carried him up to sleep, and then sat down for our own sweet moments looking at the people we love across the table and toasting to the new year ahead.  

Tall Paul & Elliot. 

Tall Paul & Elliot. 

Portrait day #50 in Portland!

Another favorite part of my stewie life?  Flying for free.  Or, more aptly put, the freedom to roam on a whim.  

My photographer obsession of the moment is a guy named Phil Chester.  I found him because someone posted a blog of his that caught my eye, and I spent the next five hours combing through every photo he's ever taken.  To my delight, I noticed that he was based in Portland, a Virgin city, so I took the chance and wrote him a personal email asking if he'd like to meet for coffee on my next layover.  Turns out, we arranged something much better.  I treated him to a flight to New York, and he treated me to a one-on-one mentoring day with him in Portland.  I got to soak up his wisdom and talent, and find inspiration in someone who is making his passions into reality.  I remember sitting there with him and thinking to myself, "I can't believe I made this happen!"  Last month, this person was an enigma, and right now, we are sharing conversation like old friends.  The saying crossed my mind about 'life begins at the end of your comfort zone'. I could have just admired him from afar, but I held my breath and stepped across my comfort line, and, wow! That was fantastic!  

The photo below is not, as you may expect, of Phil Chester.  This is Flannegan.  He was mattress-surfing at the same place where I was couch-surfing for the night.  $10, and I had the key to a stark little apartment on the edge of a great neighborhood to lie my head for the night.  Funny, from the minute I walked in to the time I left, Flannegan never left his bed.   I just saw this head sticking out of the blanket, a hello and a brief, friendly chat for a few moments before I walked down the street for dinner.  In the morning, he was still tucked in like a cocoon, but he peeped out a 'goodbye and safe travels' to me as I departed, and I smiled as I opened the door to a frosty cold morning outside.   




49, high in the sky

One of my favorite parts of working as a stew is when I get to go in the cockpit and take in the full panorama of the world below.  There are winding rivers and golden valleys of monuments, snowy peaks and speckled patches of a million lakes, colorful circles that span as far as the eye can see, and volcano peaks lined up so eloquently in a row.  The night time vistas are just as beautiful.  The Gods poked a thousand holes in a black canvass and let the light glimmer through in patterns that define a city.  Sometimes, when it's cloudy, you get to peek through for just a moment and catch a glimpse of life, and then you look up and see the planets shimmer for you out there in the blackness.  It's the most beautiful office in the world, and I envy the pilots who get the front row seats at this most spectacular and ever-changing show.  The time I have in the cockpit is precious, sharing quiet space with another person just observing the wonder of it all. Clem here is one of the good ones, his eyes still shine after a whole life up in the air.  He hasn't lost the magic, and it makes my day to share the awe with him, even for just a moment.