Photography day at Betsy’s Cabin.

WP_20140726_14_31_28_Pro 1Notes on Photography day at Betsy’s Cabin.

Earlier this summer, before the 3DNC madness, several members of Players of the Stage (who also attend Ekphrasis) had a photography day at Betsy’s Cabin. This gave a chance for photographer Joshua, costume designer Besty, and several actors to showcase their skills. Here are some notes and images from the day.

JOSHUA (photographer): I was very nervous about the whole thing actually. I love to take photos, and my favorite subject is people. I have a lot of experience taking photographs of people, but it’s always been candid photos. In fact with the exception of two weddings I was asked to do once I have never done a formal photo shoot before, and let’s just say that it was a good thing that I was not the primary photographer at either wedding.

Don’t get me wrong; it is exceptionally hard to get a good candid photo. You only have one chance, one shot to get it right and so much can go wrong. Your subject will suddenly move. Something will come into frame. You’ll be so focused on the subject that you are shooting that you won’t noticed all the objects in the background that can distort the lines of the photo, distract from the subject, or otherwise annoy the photographer.10382226_10153120647259128_7829841508441903490_o

A more formal fashion shoot on the other hand should be a photographers dream. Ideally as a photographer you have complete control over the model, what they wear, how they look, composition of the photo, lighting, scenery, background, in short everything.

Yet, I was still nervous. I put more prep work into this shoot then I have ever done with any photo shoot before. I spent the two days prior to the shoot researching different poses, different ways to photograph someone to their best advantage. I insisted that Betsy and Andrew, both of whom would be arriving before me, scout the locations out that we were going to use and if possible send me stills of each location so that I choose the best possible spots. This part ended up being a bit superfluous though, as Andrew ended up arriving at the same time as me, and there wasn’t a terrible location to be had, and we ended up using all of them.

1502218_10153120645799128_5370725031167806479_oAlso unlike other photos that I had taken before that were more for fun or personal enjoyment, these photos were also going to be used to help promote Jeff’s upcoming film adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (both Betsy & Hudson would be playing roles in it) and would be added to a Betsy’s costume designer portfolio that she was assembling.

As Hudson wouldn’t be arriving until later in the day (He seemed to be under the totally correct assumption that we might … possibly … technically be trespassing for some of our locations and didn’t want to be around for the first part of the shoot) so we decided to shoot Betsy & Amanda first, so me, Andrew & his daughter Summerled, Betsy and Amanda headed out to the first location which was a series of small paths that lead to a small dock for canoes on the edge of large creek.

Betsy’s first costume was a colonial period dress & straw hat that would have been worn by a young girl followed by an English Regency Period (1790’s-1820’s) dress, similar to the type of dress that a Jane Austin character might have worn. Amanda’s first costume was a Medieval peasant girl’s dress which was later switched out for a Medieval noble woman’s dress (though several of us thought the dress made Amanda look more like a sorceress.). After we were done at the dock we headed to our second location, which was a cliff overlooking the creek with a number of waterfalls on the other side.

Once we were done with the waterfall location we headed back to Betsy’s Cabin to met up with Hudson, have a quick lunch and get ready for the next part of the shoot.

The second part of the shoot was character shots for Jeff’s Midsummer film and featured Betsy wearing her Hermia costume and Hudson in his Cobweb (one of the fairies in Tatiana’s entourage) costume. This part of the shoot was going quite well but unfortunately had to be cut short when Mother Nature decided to try to kill Hudson.10629438_10153120648924128_1124785882281965452_o

On the way to the second location for the afternoon shoot Hudson was bitten some kind of flying bug and started to have a very scary, but thankfully very minor allergic reaction. We, of course decided to head back to the cabin where Betsy, Amanda & Andrew took Hudson inside while I stayed outside to watch over Summerled.

After a while me & Summerled headed inside to check on Hudson and was shocked to see that what had started out as swelling red & white welts had appeared to turn into slimy green scales on Hudson’s neck & shoulders, BUT was very quickly relieved to find out that the “slimy green scales” were actually plantain leaves that Amanda had chewed up and administered to Hudson’s neck & shoulders to reduce the swelling.

It must have worked because in about 20-30 minutes Hudson made a full recovery and we joined Betsy’s brothers and their friends who had made a bonfire in the middle of the creek and we all roasted marshmallows.


AMANDA (model):  So basically my character in pink was your average, young, village woman and the green was a medieval – time lady. It was a lot of fun and slightly nerve wracking, trying to look ok for the camera. Josh gave some very helpful suggestions. Betsy and I went out earlier that morning to scout locations, so by the end of the day we had walked quite a bit.


10448514_10153120647354128_5087988483766559500_oBETSY (costume designer, seamstress, and model):

 All the costumes were the result of a need or free time combined with available materials. The blue children’s outfit in particular I made to wear as Polly Heckewelder for the Historic Bethlehem Blueberry Festival. Amanda and I did our own hair and makeup for the shoot, as well as provided our own jewelry.

It was a fun process, but took a little bit to get used to. At first I had to ask Josh what he wanted me to do, but as the day progressed he became more communicative and directive about what he wanted.

ANDREW (model and photo editor): Somerled and I set off for Betsy’s cabin late in the morning.  We’d borrowed my sister-in-law’s car for the weekend, with an after-market sound system and a sunroof, so we had a great drive up to the Poconos, music blasting and the wind in our hair, as God intended.  Our progress towards the cabin was punctuated by selfies texted from Betsy showing off some of the locations we’d be shooting in.

10547373_10153120646924128_2083960669915695803_oWe arrived about the same time as Josh.  Betsy and Amanda had gone up the night before.  As soon as we got there, the girls changed into their initial costumes and Josh changed into a photographer.  We set out on the road to shoot some photos.  Josh, Somerled and I rode in the bed of Betsy’s pickup truck.  Eventually we arrived at a place we could no longer traverse by truck, so we got out and hoofed the rest of the way.
As we walked, Josh shot some candid shots.  The path gradually became surrounded by bushes full of ripe huckleberries, which we picked and ate by the handful.  Since that activity seemed to work with Betsy’s first costume, Josh took some photos of her collecting the berries.
A little further down the path we found an little pond with an old wooden dock.  Josh took pictures of Betsy on the dock, and of Amanda nearby.  The girls went off somewhere to mysteriously change into their other dresses, and we continued on our way.
10582932_10153120645829128_4048099300921611949_oOur ultimate destination was the waterfall you can see in several of these photos.  Betsy led us along a rocky path, made wet from the fine spray of the falls, and we eventually ended up on the outcropping where we took the remainder of the pictures.
Finally, we headed back to [relative] civilization, where the promise of campfires and creek-wading adventures awaited us.  By the time we made our return, Hudson had arrived.  With some assistance he donned his costume, Betsy changed into her final costume of the day, and the two of them, along with Josh, descended into some stinking bog that I couldn’t quite be tempted to brave.
Eventually Hudson had some kind of allergic reaction to Nature, and Amanda saved the day by chewing up some kind of plant and spitting it out onto his chest in a bizarre sort of ritual.  It worked, his hives disappeared and the swelling went down, but by then everyone was ready to relax for the rest of the day.  We waded through the creek to a dam Betsy’s brothers had built, and a campfire they’d erected in the middle of the water.  We spent the rest of the day relaxing and playing in the idyllic mountain scenery, and all was good with the world.

Sentences, Music, and Nudity: Meeting Report 7 April

This past Monday evening, Ekphrasis hosted a very special guest: Tobias Emanuel Mayer, German pianist and singer-songwriter. Check out his website,

But first! We had the most exciting event ever….drumroll, please… hold your breath… wait for it…. A grammar workshop! That’s right, kids: grammar can be fun. OK, it was a bit more advanced than grammar: it was called “sentence stylistics,” and it was about how the architecture of a sentence carries its emotional impact. Take this passage as an example: the opening of A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway.

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.

Take a look at how the first three sentences are built, then at the last. Do you see how the last sentence uses polysyndeton (extra conjunctions) to string together lots of short independent clauses? Well, what’s the effect of that? The effect is to make the reader rush along through the sentence, feeling the meaningless haste of the troops marching and marching along in an endless, meaningless cycle. Isn’t that great?

OK, maybe I’m the only person on the planet who gets wildly excited about grammatical structure, but there you have it.

IMG_0293Anyway, then Tobias presented his program. He had prepared a series of pieces, interspersed with a meditation on the life of David. His talk was very inspiring, taking us through some of the moments in David’s life when he was closest to God. And the pieces of music he played were sweetly integrated into the mood of his meditation.

Here is his program.

Yearning for the Sound of Heaven:
Episodes of David’s Life – The Man after God’s Heart
A Short Concert at Ekphrasis, Pennsylvania, Mon., April 7th 2014

Music and Moderation by Tobias Emanuel Mayer

I. Living Water: How David’s journey began
Piano Piece No. 1: Lebendiges Wasser / Living Water

II. Yearning: David’s longing for God’s presence
Piano Piece No. 2: Sehnsucht / Yearning

III. In His Presence: Worshiping day and night at the tabernacle
Piano Piece No. 3: In Seiner Gegenwart / In His Presence

IV. Take Me to Your Sanctuary: The Vision “on earth as it is in heaven”
Song: Zieh mich in dein Heiligtum /Take Me to Your Sanctuary

I must say, his entire presentation was very moving. He has a very close, even mystical, relationship with Jesus, just dwelling and luxuriating in God’s loving presence. His motto is “Playing and Praying.” (I didn’t ask him whether that rhymes in German). He prays while at the piano, and God guides him into words and melodies. He plays at a local prayer chapel in his hometown in German, and often feels the Spirit moving him to play things he’s never played before and maybe cannot capture afterwards.

After Tobias played, we asked him lots of questions. We talked about where he is from, his education, his compositional process, and his inspiration. One particularly good question had to do with absolute vs. programmatic music. The questioner wanted to know what made a musical element match up to an event, emotion, or other topic. Take Beethoven’s 6th, for instance: What’s particularly “Pastoral” about that? How do its sounds suggest a story? Specifically, he wanted to know how those instrumental pieces, without text, mapped on to the life of David. Now, that’s  a good question in any language!

The answer was, essentially: They don’t. Tobias did not compose those pieces with the life of David in mind. Later, when he was asked to participate in a program about David, he chose his Scripture passages and pieces of music that he felt fit. They certainly were meditative and thus worked well with the thoughts he was giving us.


Andrew Stirling MacDonald at the piano

After Tobias finished his program, we had two more pianists. Later on I will post videos of these three performances.

Curt D. performed two jazz pieces: one of his own composition and another his Latin-style arrangement of Brubeck’s “Take Five.”

When Curt played, I got inspired to plan a future “Ekphrasis Live!” event at which we have all the visual artists exhibit their work, and the musicians perform for an hour each. We’ll do that this summer! Details are forthcoming.

Then Andrew Stirling MacDonald played an original composition that he wrote as a 21st birthday gift for Betsy G. The composition is entitled “An Old-Fashioned Girl,” after a book by Louisa May Alcott. Betsy was the first person Andrew met who had also read that novel. The piece goes through several sections, exploring aspects of Betsy’s personality, her sweet childlike nature, and her love of history.

After the musical section of the evening, we moved into visual art. Chrissie S., she of the many nicknames (most commonly “Momo”; sometimes “JoJo”; I call her “Mojo”), is taking an art class at her local community college. She shared a few drawings she made in soft pastels. Here is one of colorful cabbage leaves: IMG_0310

Momo talked about how she works in soft pastel, and that they are quite a challenge (they smudge very easily) and that she loves getting really messy with them.

Then she shared a first at Ekphrasis: two fine art nudes. I have a photograph of one below. We talked only a little bit about how she was uncomfortable drawing nudes at first (working from photographs, not from a live model), but that she very quickly lost her discomfort and discovered how beautiful this form can be.

IMG_0313After Momo finished presenting her pieces, Sharon G. brought two works-in-progress to share with the group for notes. The first was a graphite-pencil drawing of her nephew, shown from an interesting, top-down perspective. The photograph she’d used as a reference for the drawing included a bit of motion blur, and we had a brief discussion as to how that could (or whether it should) translate into the drawing itself. Sharon’s second piece was a project she’d begun work on five years earlier, and recently decided she’d like to try to finish. The drawing was of several pieces of a mirror, reflecting different parts of her face. She had originally intended to connect the mirror-pieces with another drawing in the background, and we discussed her new ideas as to how the piece could be finally brought together.

Earl P. continued his magic-colored-bread project. The bread he brought to this event was intended to be Mana-blue. He discussed some of the techniques he’d used to try to color the bread without using artificial food coloring. The bread did have a somewhat blue color to it, though it did not turn out as blue as he’d hoped. Next up is black, and we gave some ideas and suggestions as to the best ways to accomplish it.

Josh L. gave the evening’s final presentation, a series of photographs captured in his signature style, without editing or alterations to the original photographs.

With the night winding down and the person who had the keys to the building wanting to go home and get some sleep, the group decided to continue the fellowship and socializing at a local diner, where we met and whiled away the time until the wee hours of the morning.

— Written by Sørina Higgins and Andrew Stirling MacDonald

Photography by Joshua Lazarus

Here are some beautiful photos that Josh shared at our most recent meeting. Note that although he uses a digital camera, he does not edit the photos at all after taking them. Please leave your comments, questions, compliments, and critiques.



Christmas Pram


Cigar Texture






Betsy’s Hair

Night Monster

Night Monster

Quakertown Sunset

Quakertown Sunset

Rusty Wall

Rusty Wall



Stone Wall

Stone Wall

Sunny Flags

Sunny Flags