I just got back from my third photography class here in Buenos Aires. It can be a bit overwhelming at times. Unlike the university classes I’m taking for credit, I’m the only native English-speaker and the class is not designed around my needs. In addition to a lot of fast Spanish, the discussions often involve technical photography terms which sound nothing like their English counterparts that I am so familiar with. But, I’m not complaining.  The class is fantastic practice for my Spanish (although I don’t think I’ll ever be able to roll those damn R’s) and everyone in the class, professor included, is incredibly patient and helpful with me. I even had a brief conversation about my 24-mm lens today with another student!

This past week, our assignment was to take photos to illustrate the different rules of composition. A pretty typical assignment but it was a fun way to challenge myself. It forced me to look for out of the ordinary situations. These are a few of my favorites – apparently I was particularly drawn to unique lighting this week. Enjoy!

Silhouette of tree branches in a park in Buenos Aires.

Palacio Hirsch in Belgrano "R", Buenos Aires.

A candle glows in the "Rotunda" Cathedral in Belgrano, Buenos Aires.

A drawing of John Lennon in Barrancas Park, Belgrano, Buenos Aires.

A view of the obelisk down a street in El Centro of Buenos Aires.

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Hanging With the Gauchos

August 29, 2011

This post originally appeared on August 22 on the University of South Carolina’s study abroad blog.

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Saturday we had our first excursion with ASA, the program I’m in Argentina with. The eight of us met our site director, Gaby, at a café in the center of the city and hopped in a van to drive out to the Santa Susana Estancia, about an hour’s drive outside Buenos Aires.  Irish immigrants built the estancia, an Argentine cowboy, or gaucho, ranch, in the 18th century. The beautiful, expansive property consists of the original main house, which is now a museum, the horse barn and the entertainment barn, as well as a lot of open land.

The old estancia house.

The restored kitchen inside the estancia.

As soon as we arrived, we were greeted with wine, juice and fresh, homemade empanadas. We meandered around the grounds and explored the museum, which has been well preserved. The house even has its own chapel, complete with a confessional.  After the museum, we walked to the horse barn for our horse ride.  They were the tamest I’ve ever encountered and we went on a much too short ride around the grounds.

A photograph of First Comunions hanging in the estancia chapel.

Kenzie lets her horse have a quick snack before heading out for our ride.

After pretending to be cowboys, a few of us braved the very large, incredibly rickety horse-drawn cart for another ride around the grounds.  That cart ride gave me an adrenaline rush greater than most roller coasters, simply because I was sure the wheels would fall off at any moment!

Around one, the dinner bell rang and all the guests rushed inside for traditional Argentine asado.  We chowed down on bread with chimichurri, traditional sausage and blood sausage and a variety of delicious salads while waiting for the gauchos to bring around the different meats that had been on the grill all day.  We had tender pieces of pork, chicken, and of course, steak.  We finished the meal with some pastelitos con dulce de membrillo, a type of pastry dough filled with jam made from quince and then fried and drizzled with honey.  So yummy!

A variety of sausage and meat on the grill for lunch.

The delicious pastelitos con dulce de membrillo we had for dessert.

During dessert, we watched a couple of dancers do a tango show and then they demonstrated traditional folk dancing and music.  At the end of the show,  many of the audience members, including yours truly of course, joined in for some high spirited dancing.

It was a very fun day and both my roommate and I were exhausted when we finally got home later that evening. I had been looking forward to this excursion most of all and I definitely wasn’t disappointed.

After dinner, we watched the gauchos play a variety of games with horses that I can't even begin to explain. But, they were fun to watch!

Recently I started taking an advanced photography night class at the Universidad de Belgrano, the university I’m studying at in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  My class consists of four older Argentine women, two Argentine students and three foreign exchange students (1 Colombian, 1 Canadian and 1 American – me). Mainly I’m taking the class as a way to practice my Spanish and meet some non-Americans, but it’s also a fun way to keep my photography fresh and hopefully learn something along the way.

This past week in class, we were give 30 minutes to explore the 19 floors of the University building we were in. We had to take 10-20 photos that showed different perspectives and we weren’t allowed to delete anything. It was a fun exercise and forced me to be more deliberate with each photograph that I took. Here are a few of my favorites from around the building.

This past weekend was a pretty eventful one. I spent Saturday at an estancia – a guacho (Argentinian cowboy) ranch- and on Sunday I went to a tango show that’s part of the World Tango Festival (to see the post I wrote about the festival for National Geographic Traveler, click here). Both days were pretty fantastic. Here are a few of my favorite photos from the weekend.

A dance floor in the main center of the World Tango Festival served as a informal milonga for festival goers. The older couples were the most fun to watch.

There were many tango clothing and shoe stands at the festival. Here, a sparkly display of tango shoes.

Legendary tango dancer, Carlos Copello performs.

A friend of mine, Kenzie, letting her horse have a snack at the estancia.

The horse I was riding. Taking photos while on horseback - not the easiest thing I've ever done.

Exploring Buenos Aires

August 22, 2011

I realize that I’ve been pretty bad about updating this blog lately. So, here goes, I’m going to fill you in on my recent travels in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the city that makes NYC look like a city filled with lazy people that sleep all the time!

This post originally appeared on June 26 on the University of South Carolina’s study abroad blog.

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This post is coming a bit late this week because I’ve had some trouble deciding what to write about.  My first week here has been quite busy so I’ll give you the highlights.

La Casa Rosada (The Pink House), the building of the executive branch of the government of Argentina, is brightly lit at night.

I finally flew in last Saturday morning after many delays and hours in the airport.  I think my delays were for the best though, because I sat next to an older woman on my flight who just happens to live only a couple blocks from my house in Belgrano (one of the 48 neighborhoods in Buenos Aires). What are the odds?! She was the nicest woman, and we exchanged phone numbers and addresses so I hope to see her again.

On Sunday we took a bus tour of the city with Gaby, our program director, and since then we’ve had a completely free week to explore the city.  I’ve seen quite a few things but my favorites so far were the Museo de Arte Latino-americano de Buenos Aires (MALBA), the Evita Museum, Recoleta Cemetery and the Japanese Garden.

I had heard a lot about the Recoleta Cemetery before I came here but words truly don’t do it justice.  I pictured a cemetery full of extravagant gravestones but Recoleta is more like a city of elaborate crypts and tombs than a cemetery.  Many of the eternal resting places of Buenos Aires’ wealthiest families are nicer than my house!  There is a saying in Bs As that goes “It is cheaper to live extravagantly all your life than to be buried in Recoleta” and after seeing the cemetery I can see why.

One of my favorite crypts in Recoleta - older and less extravagent than many.

A "street" in Recoleta Cemetary.

I adjusted quickly to the porteño sense of time: dinner is much later (usually 10 although my host mom feeds us around 8), many of the dance clubs or boliches don’t even open until 2 am, meaning coming home at 6 am is a normal night.  I’ve become quite a fan of spending hours sitting in a café sipping coffee or wine and solving the world’s problems with a  friend or reading a book.  Porteños (people from Buenos Aires) know how to relax and always have an opinion about everything – I think I’ll fit in nicely here.

A Spanish-style tortilla (an egg and cheese dish, this one with potatoes) - one of the many delicious meals I've had here so far.

Ta-Da! My New Website!

April 26, 2011

I’ve officially been working on this website for the past few weeks but the material within this online portfolio represents four years of hard work.  It took many mistakes and frustrations to get to this point but I’m proud of how far I’ve come in the past four years.  I’m excited to see what comes in the next four.

This experience also taught me how much I love web design – yet another field to consider! Please browse the website and let me know what you think. Enjoy!

NOTE: This page is best viewed in Safari, Mozilla Firefox, SeaMonkey or similar browsers. Internet Explorer will work but it tends to run slower and distorts some of the pages.

sarahmlangdon.com

A Year of Changes

April 21, 2011

This past Tuesday I defended my thesis for the University of South Carolina Honors College.  I’ve worked on this project for over a year now and I feel both sad and incredibly accomplished to see it finally complete.  Although, as my director Denise McGill wisely said, “Photo projects are never truly complete, just abandoned upon deadline”.  That pretty much sums up how I feel about this project.  It feels complete, yet there are many things I would love to go back and re-shoot or explore further.  But, I am incredibly proud of how far I’ve come in the past year and incredibly grateful to the Cashion family for letting me into their lives.

Below is the gist of what I presented on Tuesday.  If you have any questions, feel free to email me or post a comment below.

"When Emilee ran up to me in the airport, I thought 'Wow, she has gotten bigger'. I wasn’t gone that long, it was only about six months that I was away from the house," Joe Cashion said about his homecoming from a six-month deployment in Afghanistan.

Intro to Project

I first met Joe and Lindy Cashion on April 13 of last year.  They graciously allowed me into their lives to document their experiences with military deployment.  I doubt they knew what they were getting themselves into because I proceeded to spend nearly a year photographing and videotaping their everyday lives and sitting down with them for interviews.

Joe Cashion, a Public Affairs Officer for the Army National Guard, volunteered for a six-month deployment to Afghanistan. I wanted to document the struggles a soldier’s family faces during his deployment, to share the story of the Cashion family and their experience, and to give viewers a better understanding of the life of a soldier’s family.  Throughout the course of the project, I followed Lindy and her family through their daily lives, photographing both the simple moments and the big events all families experience, ultimately producing a fifteen-minute audio slideshow to tell their story

What I Learned/How I Changed

As a result of this project my photography skills, my interview skills, and my ability to connect with a subject all improved.  This project was very challenging, yet incredibly rewarding, in many ways.  One of the first issues I ran into was Joe and Lindy’s oldest daughter, Sarah’s resistance to being photographed.  While this was extremely normal behavior for a 13-year-old girl, it made it difficult for me to get to know her and to learn about her.  I finally realized that if I put the camera down and simply sat and talked to her, she was much more open with me.  I helped her with her math homework, I talked to her about school, what it’s like to be in college, I showed her my Facebook profile, we talked about boys.  All of this interaction helped me to get to know who Sarah is without needing to formally ask.  Once I started building that rapport with her, I noticed that she was much more receptive to being photographed.  That was a huge lesson for me – learning when to put the camera down.

I also became much more comfortable in my “photographer’s skin”.  Like many beginning photographers, I always felt uncomfortable getting inside people’s “bubbles”.  This project forced me to get over that in many ways.  First, at the airport when Joe left for deployment, I knew I only had one shot to get some good photos.  Therefore, I forced my apprehensions aside in pursuit of that goal.  Also, after a couple of visits to the Cashion house, I began to get very bored taking photos from the same perspectives.  To challenge myself and to enhance the quality of the photos for this project, I forced myself to try new angles and positions. I also learned to be more patient.  Rather than bouncing around from place to place, chasing a moment, I learned to wait for one to happen where I was.

Another challenge I encountered with this project came in the form of interviewing.  I repeatedly struggled with finding the right questions to ask.  But, I was very conscious of doing everything in an ethical way – I did not want to lead them to give me the answers I wanted.  But, there were times when I understood what the Cashions were trying to say, but they said it in a way that made it either difficult to understand or gave an impression I was sure they were not intending.  I learned that there are many implicit things about human communication that cannot be portrayed through a video camera or a tape recorder.  So, it’s up to the interviewer to ask questions that draw out the most articulate and thought out answers. 

Speaking of ethics, I was very conscious of ethical standards throughout this process.  I wanted to be sure that this story was told by Joe and Lindy and their family.  I didn’t want to narrate it.  I wanted it to be their story.  To me, the politics of the situation didn’t matter, any personal feelings or beliefs, positive or negative, that I held toward the military didn’t matter.  It was about what this family experienced during a military deployment and how that experience was indicative of other American families.  Because of this decision, I was very careful during my editing to remain true to what really happened.  While the story is not told in chronological order, I believe that it is not misleading either.  Throughout the editing process, I learned that what material you leave out is just as important as what material you leave in.

I also struggled with feeling like I constantly “took” from the Cashions yet gave them nothing in return.  I came into their home, was witness to intimate moments of their lives and made pictures of them.  I could not understand why they were so willing to let me in while receiving little in return.  I began to understand that they wanted their story told and they wanted this important moment in their lives documented.  I also realized that the best gift I could give them was to tell their story honestly and fairly.

Finally, I learned a lot about U.S. military.  I have little experience with the military and other than a few distant cousins, I know no one currently serving.  Honestly, I could go days without feeling like the current war even effects me.  I think that is partly what drove me to this project.  I wanted to know more about the current war and who it was affecting.  I knew there were people making huge, daily sacrifices for my safety and I wanted to learn about them.  I think the American public is very distanced from this war.   This story gave me a way to feel more connected to it.

In many ways, the Cashions were not at all what I expected.  First, I thought they would live on the base.  Second, I expected I would be paired with a young 20-something, newly married couple.  Instead, I met Joe and Lindy, married for more than a decade with two kids who lived in rural Ridgeway, SC on land formerly owned by Lindy’s parents.  In retrospect, it was the perfect family for this project.  I got to witness and document how a 13-year-old and a three-year-old reacted to their father’s absence – fascinating in both the similarities and differences.  I got to speak with Joe’s parents about their disagreements with his decision.  I got to witness life in rural South Carolina – something I was missing out on while I lived in Columbia.

I look back at the photos I was making a year ago and am shocked at the progress I’ve made.  This story gave me both the time and motivation to make mistakes and learn from them, to try new techniques and take new risks – all of which greatly benefited my photography.