Visit Bloomington

I love Bloomington!  As a student at Indiana University, Bloomington became the first home that I chose myself.  And even (nearly) 15 years since I last lived there, it’s still one of my favorite towns anywhere.

I was thrilled in 2016 to collaborate with Visit Bloomington on a cover story about the renovations at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall for their visitors guide.  Last fall we took on a broader look at Bloomington in two parts. For Part One, I scoured the streets of Bloomington checking out everything from restaurants and bars to trails and public art.

Part Two is top secret and will be released in early May.  Follow Visit Bloomington on Twitter (@VisitBtown) and Instagram (@visitbtown) to see the news first hand.

Personal Legend Project: Sareh Azizi

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Sareh Azizi, 15, Violinist & Student

Sareh lived her first 13 years in Iran.  She began to play violin at age 10, but her family had to keep it a secret, as “western” music is strongly discouraged.  Later that year, she and her sister were attacked by police when they saw her carrying her violin, which left Sareh with a permanent injury to her leg.  When confronting the police for attacking his daughters, her father was arrested and jailed for a month. From then on the family was harassed by the police on a regular basis, so they left their town to seek a safer place to live.

A neighbor in their new town had a son who teaches at Indiana University.  Through him, a video of Sareh playing violin was shown to a professor of music.  Sareh was then invited to participate in the IU Summer String Academy in 2014.  She received a visa to travel here as a student, and was accompanied by her father.  Her mother and sister are currently in Turkey as they await word on whether they will receive asylum in the United States.

Sareh’s story of bravery and perseverance is a great reminder of how lucky I am to live in a society where I can follow my path without fear of persecution.  Sareh overcoming such adversity proves to me that nothing can keep me from my Personal Legend if I am persistent and stay on course.

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The following set of six questions will be answered by each of the subjects.

1)  Some people call it a “true calling” or their “life’s work.”  In the book The Alchemist, author Paulo Coelho calls it your Personal Legend. What do you consider to be your true calling, or Personal Legend?

I believe my calling is to be a violinist. I see myself on a stage, playing for people’s enjoyment. I also picture myself writing music and conducting an orchestra.
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2)  When did you first realize that this was your calling?

I was 10 years old when I first heard violin music on a TV, through a satellite dish. I wanted to learn to play the violin! My dad got me a small violin, and I started playing the violin and had a few lessons, but then the police in Iran smashed my violin and badly injured my leg. For two years, I was unable to play. Then my dad purchased another violin and I started again. Two years ago, I was invited to participate in the IU Summer String Academy in Bloomington, Indiana. Coming to the US was a wonderful chance for me to pursue my calling in a way I could not have done in Iran! I am grateful to God and to the people I have met in Bloomington for giving me this opportunity.
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3)  People often become completely engrossed, losing track of time or outside concerns while performing tasks related to their calling.  This might be referred to as being “in the zone” or “flow.”  When do you experience this most often?

I don’t think that I am often “in the zone,” but I enjoy mastering and memorizing pieces of violin music. I like to interpret the composition so that it conveys what I am feeling when I play it. When I am performing, I thoroughly enjoy the interaction as I share my understanding of the musical piece with those who are listening. I love to play and share music with others.
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4)  What is the greatest challenge or obstacle you’ve faced in pursuit of your life’s work?

Growing up in Iran made it almost impossible to pursue my dream of being a musician. In Iran people, particularly girls, are not allowed to play “western music.” A policeman shouted at me that I should be studying the Koran, not playing a violin, before smashing my violin! I learned to play the violin secretly, by listening to violin music that I heard in our home via a satellite dish that was hidden from the police when not in use.
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5)  What has pursuing your Personal Legend taught you?

I have learned the joy of playing the violin and giving people enjoyment. Music is as important to me as breathing! It is not just a hobby.
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6)  What piece of advice can you offer to others seeking their true calling?

When you have an opportunity that “knocks on your door,” make sure you take advantage of it, and go with it to the best of your ability. Follow your calling, whatever it is!

 


Are you following your Personal Legend?  Tell us about it in the comments below.

Subscribe to the blog, or add us to your RSS feed to follow along as we post a new set of images each day for the next 30 days.   For background on this project, check out our first post in the series.

 

Personal Legend Project: Chris Elam

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Chris Elam, Mosaic Artist

Chris Elam, a Bloomington artist, was introduced to me by Kirby Melick when I was in town photographing on Tuesday.  Watching Chris at work, and seeing the nature of his chosen medium, I was not surprised to learn that he had attended Seminary.  There’s something meditative and spiritual about the process of mosaic.

It was also interesting to me how he spoke reverently of the ancient practice of “classical mosaic”, using tools largely unchanged in thousands of years.  I enjoyed his great appreciation for the history of it.  The photos below depict a classical mosaic and tools, as opposed to “tile mosaic” for which he uses modern tools.

You can see more of Chris’s work online on the Sycamore Tile Works website.

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The following set of six questions will be answered by each of the subjects.

1)  Some people call it a “true calling” or their “life’s work.”  In the book The Alchemist, author Paulo Coelho calls it your Personal Legend. What do you consider to be your true calling, or Personal Legend?

I personally think we have lots of “callings” in life and are likely always being “called” to something if we are in tune with ourselves and the present moment. These “callings” are things that have drawn us into their orbit and things for which we’ve had the courage to enter, things that have gravity and significance for us personally. For me, doing mosaic work has become one of those “callings.” It’s something I used to call my ghost, that thing that just kept on haunting me, until I gave it notice.

After having given myself to it, now it’s something that I do that gives me challenge while allowing me enough freedom to play and perhaps allows me to fulfill some inner need or impulse that I may not fully understand. Mosaics are not my “True Calling”, though. I could have been just as likely to have been called to carpentry or painting or writing. It just so happened that my path brought me to mosaics and it stuck. 

There is another sense in which we have to recognize that however wonderful our calling is, it cannot be everything. If a “calling” becomes everything, then we risk our fire burning out or our work becoming mechanical or insincere. Our “True Calling” is important because it informs these smaller “callings.” It gives them a foundation and will help sustain us when the fire does go out, which it inevitably will. My “True Calling” is to become my “truest self,” or in other words, to become the best version of myself that I can realize in this lifetime. To do that requires cultivating mindfulness and practicing being present to yourself, so that you can be present to others. I have always found that the hardest work of an artist is not the techniques of production or creating beautiful pictures but the work inside myself.

2)  When did you first realize that this was your calling?

After graduating from Seminary back in Illinois and burning out on thinking too much, something within me was crying out to work with my hands. I managed to find a local carpenter whose work I admired and he took me on as an apprentice with really no experience at all.  It turned out that he also installed tile and I slowly became his head tile installer. During two challenging tile installations working with him, I realized that I could do this work full-time and be quite happy.

Not long after that, I attended a “Green Building” conference in Chicago and met a woman by the name of Francine Gourguechon who was doing mosaic installations in architectural settings and I was blown away by her portfolio. It really opened my mind to what possibilities there were in tile. I began looking a little deeper and discovered the Chicago Mosaic School, the only school of its kind in the States dedicated to the origins of the medium. After my first workshop there, I realized I had found my people and my life began taking a new course.

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3)  People often become completely engrossed, losing track of time or outside concerns while performing tasks related to their calling.  This might be referred to as being “in the zone” or “flow.”  When do you experience this most often?

I am often quite engrossed in whatever project I am working on, although I think it was worse when I was purely a tile installer.  There were far more details to manage in doing a bathroom or kitchen, keeping the subs on track, making sure the materials were there on time, communicating well with the client, managing the money, and doing the work day-to-day.  It became hard for me be present to myself and my family at home and in our community. 

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Now that I’m working in the studio, I am still engrossed in what I do, but I feel like I can leave it there and return to it more seamlessly. Creating mosaics is very slow. One of my teachers would say that “mosaic pays homage to slowness!” I am naturally a contemplative type and I think mosaics have given me a tangible way to discern and express the thoughts and feelings and emotions that come when you are trying to be present to this life.  It’s a kind of working meditation.

4)  What is the greatest challenge or obstacle you’ve faced in pursuit of your life’s work?

There are a number of challenges that come with trying to live as an artist.  I spend four days a week by myself working in my studio, so it can get lonesome sometimes. There is the challenge and stress of trying to make sure you will be able to pay the bills and sustain this thing you feel called to.

It can seem like nobody is really watching. I know a lot of artists say that you just have to do it for you and nobody else, and I think ultimately that is true or you won’t keep going. But for an artist, having an audience completes the act of making art. It doesn’t have to mean that I’m having ground breaking discussions about my work, but the occasional shout out from others helps me to know someone out there is getting what I’m doing.

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As I alluded to before, the greatest challenge of being an artist is cultivating an interior life that gives you something to say. The thin divide between art and craft is in what is being communicated.  Art usually is trying to say something while craft is trying to be something.

5)  What has pursuing your Personal Legend taught you?

I have learned that art is sacramental much in the same way that churches teach – “a visible sign of an inward grace.” In the case of art, Beauty arrives as a grace. I’ve discovered that my hands, at times, may create a physical something that when encountered impresses on the viewer some grace or some presence, some beauty.  For me, there is nothing greater than being able to participate in such an event.  But I am also aware that, as an artist, I do not have the power within me to make Beauty arrive whenever I want.  Sometimes it comes, sometimes it simply doesn’t. It is a mystery how all this works, but I think it is important to not think too highly of yourself and just keep giving yourself to each act of creation and see what may come.   

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6)  What piece of advice can you offer to others seeking their true calling?

My best friend, who happens to be a therapist, recently shared a piece of wisdom that he had heard from one of his teachers in graduate school and I have been thinking recently how often it applies to “calling.” He said, “There are two kinds of people, fools and cowards.” It would be too simple to say that we are just one of these. At times we are fools and sometimes we are cowards. In my life, I have certainly been both, but I do think I’ve often lived the life of a fool, going for something when there wasn’t a clear path ahead or no guarantee that it would work. Following after a calling, in my experience, requires a leap. It may be a calculated leap, but it is a leap nonetheless.

For me, I spent a lot of time in my 20’s figuring out my identity. I think having a clear sense of self – who you are and where you came from – gives you the courage to leap when you need to leap and keeps you on course.  Mindfulness, introspection, practicing the present moment, whatever you want to call this awareness is invaluable in finding your identity, but ancestry, genetics, and a sense of place is important too.  Too many people are lost because they are distracted by all the bullshit around them – the demands of society, technology, the pace that we live life. That coupled with no sense of heritage or family origins is a medicine for disaster.  I really liked reading Parker Palmer’s book “Let Your Life Speak.” He makes the case that if we are present to ourselves our lives will speak back to us the thing we should do. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, has also been influential in my life making me aware of how interconnected we are with each other’s plight and how our ancestry affects what we have to work with in our own journey toward calling.

My advice is to get to know yourself and allow yourself to be the fool you were called to be. In doing so, you will inspire countless of other fools to do the same.

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Are you following your Personal Legend?  Tell us about it in the comments below.

Subscribe to the blog, or add us to your RSS feed to follow along as we post a new set of images each day for the next 30 days.   For background on this project, check out our first post in the series.

 

Personal Legend Project: Kirby Melick

Kirby Melick, Kirby Custom Woodwork, Bloomington, Indiana

Kirby Melick, Kirby Custom, Inc.

Kirby Melick makes furniture and cabinetry on his 13-acre property in Bloomington, Indiana.  His business Kirby Custom, Inc features custom fine cabinetry and furniture including kitchens, vanities, bars, doors and more.

He begins his workday at 4 a.m.  I sauntered in at the leisurely time of 6:30 to start shooting before sunrise. As someone who occasionally buys pine and plywood to construct half-conceived, utilitarian pieces; I found it inspiring to watch a master craftsman work with large slabs of high-grade hardwoods.

Kirby Melick, Kirby Custom Woodwork, Bloomington, Indiana
Kirby Melick, Kirby Custom Woodwork, Bloomington, Indiana

The following set of six questions will be answered by each of the subjects.


1)  Some people call it a “true calling” or their “life’s work.”  In the book The Alchemist, author Paulo Coelho calls it your Personal Legend. What do you consider to be your true calling, or Personal Legend?

I believe my true calling is to use the Lord’s gift of life to create objects from the forest woods in order enhance daily living and contribute to the success and quality-of-life of others.


Kirby Melick, Kirby Custom Woodwork, Bloomington, Indiana
Kirby Melick, Kirby Custom Woodwork, Bloomington, Indiana

2)  When did you first realize that this was your calling?

Not until I was willing and able to accept that what I originally imagined my true calling to be, was in fact not.  I took many wrong turns before I realized I was heading in the wrong direction.  The hardest part in life can be accepting who you are.

Kirby Melick, Kirby Custom Woodwork, Bloomington, Indiana
Kirby Melick, Kirby Custom Woodwork, Bloomington, Indiana

4)  What is the greatest challenge or obstacle you’ve faced in pursuit of your life’s work?

I have often found that I am my own worst enemy.  Living up to one’s expectations of themselves is challenging.  Confidence and courage to overcome is the focus of daily meditation.
 

Kirby Melick, Kirby Custom Woodwork, Bloomington, Indiana
Kirby Melick, Kirby Custom Woodwork, Bloomington, Indiana

5)  What has pursuing your Personal Legend taught you?

Life is beautiful, if you allow it to be.  My path was ahead of me all along, but only clear in hind-sight.  Faith is the key.

Kirby Melick, Kirby Custom Woodwork, Bloomington, Indiana

6)  What piece of advice can you offer to others seeking their true calling?

Listen to the world around you, the strengths and values you have that ‘lift up’ those that surround you, and find a compromise between your ‘dreams’ and your calling.  Often times our ‘dreams’ vary greatly from our strengths. True happiness, for me, is not in fulfilling a dream, but in helping others to accomplish their greatest purpose, or their true calling.
 

Kirby Melick, Kirby Custom Woodwork, Bloomington, Indiana
Kirby Melick, Kirby Custom Woodwork, Bloomington, Indiana

Are you following your Personal Legend?  Tell us about it in the comments below.

Subscribe to the blog, or add us to your RSS feed to follow along as we post a new set of images each day for the next 30 days.   For background on this project, check out our first post in the series.

 

Personal Legend Project: Annie Eakin

05_annie_0102Annie Eakin, Annie’s Clothesline

Annie and her mother Dede founded Annie’s Clothesline in 2008, working together to design and produce children’s clothing.  I caught up with them in Bloomington, IN as they prepared for their biggest event yet, the Country Living Fair in Nashville, Tennessee, April 22-24.

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The following set of six questions will be answered by each of the subjects.

1)  Some people call it a “true calling” or their “life’s work.”  In the book The Alchemist, author Paulo Coelho calls it your Personal Legend. What do you consider to be your true calling, or Personal Legend?

I believe it is my Personal Legend to make a positive impact on other people’s lives. Annie’s Clothesline has provided me the opportunity to be a stay-at-home-mom and impact other peoples lives through clothing. My mother and I began the business in 2008, shortly after I had my second daughter. Working from home allowed me to be with my children. From the start we both agreed that Annie’s Clothesline would not overwhelm our lives so we could still make our families a priority. 
The business was also strongly inspired by the opportunity to offer clothing to girls that is age appropriate and offers colors and styles that are alternatives to those common in popular stores; specifically those styles that are too short, too small, too pink, or too purple. We offer a feminine style for girls that allows them to look like girls, not like girls in women’s clothing. 
Annie’s Clothesline is part of my Personal Legend because it gives me the opportunity to influence a little girl’s life by empowering her through clothes that let her feel like a girl and not an object and I can also be the parent I aspire to be by staying home with my children.

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2)  When did you first realize that this was your calling?

There are many experiences that I can attribute to leading me to my Personal Legend. I know it is part of who I was born to be. I can recall taking a “career” test in 3rd or 4th grade and the result of mine was social worker. I completely rejected that idea but what I did learn from that was that I like to help people and to bring something positive to someone else’s life.
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3)  People often become completely engrossed, losing track of time or outside concerns while performing tasks related to their calling.  This might be referred to as being “in the zone” or “flow.”  When do you experience this most often?

I probably get the most lost in my Personal Legend when I’m trying to sleep. I lay awake thinking of things I need to do next and what I can accomplish tomorrow. I will wake up thinking of tasks to complete or things I need to say to others. 

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4)  What is the greatest challenge or obstacle you’ve faced in pursuit of your life’s work?

The greatest challenge to accomplishing my goals is myself. Always. I have high expectations of myself and when setting high goals it becomes overwhelming and can sometimes discourage me from accomplishing any goal at all. I want to do my best at everything I do and to be the best person/mother/wife/daughter/seamstress/athlete I can possibly be.

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5)  What has pursuing your Personal Legend taught you?

My Personal Legend has taught me that just as I think I know who I am, there is more to discover. I began the business with my mother to create quality children’s clothing, to be able to spend time with my husband and kids, and to do something with my mother that we both love. After our first big show, four years after founding the business, I realized that I’m an artist too.

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6)  What piece of advice can you offer to others seeking their true calling?

My advice to others seeking their true calling is to not be distracted and keep focused on your main goal. We all get pulled in different directions. Focusing on what your true calling is and keeping that in mind in times of doubt, or when considering new opportunities, is what will keep you on the path to accomplishing your true calling. 

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Are you following your Personal Legend?  Tell us about it in the comments below.

Subscribe to the blog, or add us to your RSS feed to follow along as we post a new set of images each day for the next 30 days.   For background on this project, check out our first post in the series.

 

The Whole Story

Whatever I’m shooting, my aim is to document all aspects I see, so viewers will have the most complete picture possible of people in a certain place and time.  What people wear says something about their personality.  Showing surroundings creates context for the subjects and expands the viewer’s experience.  When I’m physically close to the subjects, the viewer feels closer to the subjects, both in a physical and emotional sense.

When shooting sports, it’s not simply about action.  It’s about emotion and effort as well.  Moments of defeat are as powerful as moments of triumph in showing a person’s level of passion and commitment.  I feel that it’s important for both my subjects and viewers to know that photographing someone in a moment of pain or defeat isn’t about exploiting their emotions.  It’s about honoring their dedication and pursuit of a greater self.  I want a broader audience to increase their understanding of, and respect for, the subject and others who share their experiences.

These images from the IHSAA Track & Field Finals on June 6, 2015 are a good example of my pursuit.

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