Stewart McLeish Fine Art Photography: Blog en-us (C) Stewart McLeish Fine Art Photography (Stewart McLeish Fine Art Photography) Sat, 13 Sep 2014 22:22:00 GMT Sat, 13 Sep 2014 22:22:00 GMT Stewart McLeish Fine Art Photography: Blog 120 80 Running Bear (Part 3) aka Close encounters of the ursine kind! For those of you who missed Part 1 and/or Part 2, you can catch up by clicking on Recent Posts - "Running Bear (Part 1 or 2)" seen at the bottom left hand side of this post.

Actually, it's been so long between posts that you may want to read them over again anyway.

So, here we are again! Part 3 - finally comes to pass. Very sorry that the "a few weeks" turned into a few months. The reasons why could be a future blog!!

DAY 3:

We got up at 4:45, yes! in the morning! We gobbled our breakfast and then walked to the village to catch our boat. On the journey, we saw lots of wales sounding, diving (fluke-ing), twisting tin the water and generally frolicking. Very, very difficult to get a good shot. The boat was rolling in a 90' arc. Just as you lined up a shot the boat would slide down another wave and all you got was a shot of the water as we rolled into it! It was a complete 'fluke' that I got this shot :-)

Anyway, we eventually got onto dry land that wasn't heaving, and set off to find bears.

Here's one of the many we saw.... looks like he's saying "Who the hay are you?"

Next up was a waterfall - this one in fact!

We saw a lot of bears coming down both sides of the waterfall. We were on the right hand side and all the bears went to the left hand side of the river (body odor???? - OURS????!)

After taking lots of photos, we saw an alpha male bear come down the right hand side of the falls. As he was crossing to the left of the river, a smaller, (teenage?) bear waded across and they met in the middle. We could hear the young bear say, in a very derogatory voice, "Out the way granddad, I'm coming through!" Of course granddad started to show the young whippersnapper who exactly was boss of that there river!. They got into a tussle, debating the "who is the boss" question. They swatted each other, bit and did a few other nasties. Here's what it looked like:

We were enthralled. Finally the whippersnapper snapped, gave up and meandered off. Meanwhile, granddad, all adrenalized up, came across to our side of the river (well, the whole river was his and we were not willing to dispute that fact :-). He came down the path towards us and then sat down a few feet away, sideways on. Meanwhile, our bear guide suggested that we back away, very slowly!

The bear kept turning his head to look at us. Yawning (no he wasn't tired - yawning is a sign of stress for grizzlies) - hackles still raised and adrenaline coursing through his body. Of course, I wasn't scared! Oh no! We had a bear guide and we were paying him to "take a bear" for us. (Hey, POTUS (or potash depending on which country you're from) has secret service agents trained to take a bullet for HIM!), why couldn't our bear guide take a bear for us?

The denouement (de final moment) of the affair was that, wait for it!!!!, our bear guide looked at the bear and said in a cool, calm and collected voice, "Go home Mr. Bear, there's nothing here for you." Look, I'm not kidding here. The bear slowly got up, turned around and walked away! NO, I'm not making it up! The guide said to us that he had been guiding for 30 years and had never before had his bear spray out AND THE SAFETY OFF!!!!! See? I wasn't the only one who was scared!

Here's another shot of a similar incident - you can see how close this encounter of the ursine kind was......

Back to the cabin for a change of clothes :-)

The next day we went back to the falls, hoping to see round 2. The only "round" was us as we sat "around" for most of the morning with NO bears in sight at all!

When we got back to the village, we decided to have espresso and a cinnamon bun at the local caf (only open Thursday to Sunday from 8 to 2pm.). THWARTED! THWARTED! - out of cinnamon buns and the espresso machine was broken. All in all a very disheartening day! After a late lunch, we walked back down to the bridge to sit and shoot tremendously fabulous photos of bears frolicking in the water. NO bears there either!

The next day we saw hundreds of bears - well - maybe a dozen or so. This day is the day I got the photograph from whom this blog is named: Running Bear

Listen: once more, I apologize for the poor quality of the photos - I'm doing minimal processing on the fly, otherwise it would take years to get this blog on the road!

We spent a few more days in Alaska and saw a lot of grizzlies and a few other wildlife. It's a trip that I will always treasure.

My next blog will appeal to photographers.... the photo "running Bear" was on my reject list every time I looked at it until one day, years later, I decided to see if my painfully acquired, self taught skills in Photoshop were up to the task of making it a good photo. I will do a short blog on how I processed this photo, a before and after if you will - plus of course, all the steps in between. I think it turned out pretty good - what do you think?

Do Not Forget: If you do not want to receive these blogs anymore, please email me at and put "unsubscribe" in the subject line.

]]> (Stewart McLeish Fine Art Photography) Alaska Kadeshan Running Bear Stewart McLeish Tenakee bear bears blog blogger bloggers blogs brown close close encounters cub cubs encounters estuaries estuary expedition expeditions grizzlies grizzly lakota noise noisy part part two peninsula peninsulas photo photography photos picture pictures river rivers running salmon seaplane seaplanes sioux springs to be continued town trip trips ursine wildlife Sat, 13 Sep 2014 22:21:39 GMT
Running Bear (Part 2)


For those of you who missed Part 1, you can catch up by clicking on Recent Posts - "Running Bear (Part 1)" seen at the bottom left hand side of this post.

So, we saw lots of bears on our way up the estuary. Here's a shot of mother bear with cub. They had just had an argument, complete with a few slaps to the head from mum to cub, and, in the second photo they have made up although 'baby bear' was still a bit leery of mama's paws. The effect made it seem like they were dancing.

First the beginnings of the spat:

Making up (warily :-)

These two were called Chocolate & Praline (not sure who's the nut!)

Here's some more from Day 1 -

No, no, it's not a raccoon!

Who goes there?


We were all overawed by the sheer number of bears that we saw the first day.

I have hundreds of photos. Can't show them all :-)

BTW: I am processing these on the go from raw and am only doing the minimum necessary to post them here. One day when I have a lot of spare time, I'll process them properly!

Later on that afternoon we walked back to the pick-up point for the boat ride 'home'. We were tired. Speaking for myself - I was exhausted. My feet were very sore from walking over all those slimy rocks in wellies!

After stuffing our faces with as much food as we could, we just lazed around that evening, recovering from Day 1 and building strength for Day 2.

Before I go on to Day 2, here are some snippets of information about grizzly bears, quoted from Wikipedia:

"The grizzly bear (Ursus arctos ssp.) is any North American subspecies of the brown bear, such as the mainland grizzly (U. a. horribilis), the Kodiak (U. a. middendorffi), the peninsular grizzly (U. a. gyas) and the recently extinct California grizzly (U. a. californicus).[1] Specialists sometimes call the grizzly the North American brown bear because the grizzly and the brown bear are one species on two continents.[1] In some places, some may nickname the grizzly the silvertip for the silvery, grizzly sheen in its fur.

Since the mainland grizzly is so widespread, it is representative and archetypal for the whole subspecific group. Even so, classification is being revised along genetic lines.[1] Its closest relatives are the European cave bear and the polar bear.[2]

Except for females with cubs,[3] grizzlies are normally solitary, active animals, but in coastal areas, grizzlies gather around streams, lakes, rivers, and ponds during the salmon spawn. Every other year, females (sows) produce one to four young (usually two)[4] which are small and weigh only about 500 grams (1 lb). A sow is protective of her offspring and will attack if she thinks she or her cubs are threatened.

...... Most adult female grizzlies weigh 130–200 kg (290–440 lb), while adult males weigh on average 180–360 kg (400–790 lb). The average total length in this subspecies is 198 cm (6.50 ft), with an average shoulder height of 102 cm (3.35 ft) and hindfoot length of 28 cm (11 in).[7] Newborn bears may weigh less than 500 grams (1.1 lb). In the Yukon River area, mature female grizzlies can weigh as little as 100 kg (220 lb). One study found that the average weight for an inland male grizzly was around 270 kg (600 lb) and the average weight for a coastal male was around 408 kg (900 lb). For a female, these average weights would be 136 kg (300 lb) inland and 227 kg (500 lb) coastal, respectively.[8] On the other hand, an occasional huge male grizzly has been recorded which greatly exceeds ordinary size, with weights reported up to 680 kg (1,500 lb).[9] A large coastal male of this size may stand up to 3 m (10 feet) tall on its hind legs and be up to 5 ft (1.5 m) at the shoulder.[10] Although variable from blond to nearly black, grizzly bear fur is typically brown in color with white tips.[11] A pronounced hump appears on their shoulders; the hump is a good way to distinguish a black bear from a grizzly bear, as black bears do not have this hump." (NB: the highlighting is mine).

GULP! is all I have to say!!!

Here's a little trivia from our trip: When I got home and was reflecting on the trip, I realized that the most dangerous aspect of the whole trip was NOT the bears, nor was it the close encounters with these beasts that can be big, heavy and horribilis.... The danger came from our LACK OF FEAR!!!!!! (speaking for myself here :-)

DAY 2:

We got up very late (for photographers) - it was 7 am. We broke our fast and cleaned up as best we could.

Next we walked down to the nearest river and sat on the steel bridge and waited for bears. Everyone was quiet. It was very cold and I was wishing I'd brought my coat and some gloves. We waited quite a bit and no bears appeared. The salmon run was supposed to be in full swing but the weather had been very dry and the water levels were low, so, there weren't too many fish around. We decided to move on and hiked up to a place where we were expecting to see salmon leaping up a small waterfall. Here's an idea of what we saw...

and this.....

No bears though, so none of us got the quintessential shot of a bear opening it's mouth and having a salmon jump right in! But, look at the size-a-them salmon eh??

Some of you might be wondering how to get a shot of a fish in flight when it happens so fast you can barely see it with your own eyes. Here's how you could do it.... Watch the waterfall for a while and really look at the salmon jumping and roughly where they are appearing out of the water. this is pretty hard as it happens so fast that they seem to be gone before you can blink! Set your tripod up and aim the camera at a suitable spot in the water. Take a wider than usual shot so you catch the action in a broader spectrum. Set up your remote release, have the camera set to take as many shots as it can in the shortest time. So, on my camera it would be Ch (continuous high). Sit back, relax. Take a breath then look hard at the water (not through your viewfinder). The moment you see a fish appear, coming out of the water, press the release and take your multiple shots!

You should end up with a few good shots doing it this way.

After a while, we decided to walk back down the river. This is when you get your feet wet as your boots fill up with water as you traverse from one side of the river to the other.... not seeing the 'holes' until you are knee deep in one!

We got back to the bridge and sat there, legs dangling over the water, as we waited for Mr. Bear(s) to appear.

Finally one appeared. He was slowly wending his way down towards us, chasing errant salmon as he walked.

Here's a shot of him....


Look at them claws!!!!

Here he is again....

As you can see, he is just about at the bridge, wondering who all those strange looking animals were that were sitting there staring at him. If you look carefully you can see that his hunt for food has been successful: no napkins here so the bloody mouth is, well, bloody!!

Once he was under the bridge and down river a bit, we followed him. The bear caught a salmon, took it to the river bank, ate what he wanted and left the rest for any scavengers that were around. We followed him for a while, then lost sight of him.

Next, we went back to the cabin and had a swim in the ocean. It was nice to be clean again, albeit a bit salty!

After dinner we repaired any equipment that needed it and got everything ready for Day 3. The attending doctor repaired the various scrapes, cuts and broken blisters that we had and then we gratefully went to bed for some well needed sleep.

DAY 3:

you'll have to check back in a few weeks as this is TO BE CONTINUED!!


]]> (Stewart McLeish Fine Art Photography) Alaska Kadeshan Running Bear Stewart McLeish Tenakee bear bears blog blogger bloggers blogs brown cub cubs estuaries estuary expedition expeditions grizzlies grizzly lakota noise noisy part part two peninsula peninsulas photo photography photos picture pictures river rivers running salmon seaplane seaplanes sioux springs to be continued town trip trips wildlife Sun, 23 Feb 2014 16:55:28 GMT
Running Bear (Part 1)

"Running Bear"

There is, of course, a story behind this photo!

In 2010 I went to Alaska on a bear "shooting" trip. The only guns I carried were my camera and a number of lenses. I was part of a group of friends that included a bear expert to a secluded, "secret" place, to mingle with and photograph bears.

WHOA! Mingle with??? Ahem, well, more about that later.

We set off from Calgary on a BIG Jet and ended up in Alaska. From the airport there, the next morning, we took a small plane (gulp) to a secluded spot -  a village with a permanent population of 50 people. Here's a shot of our plane landing....

I'm not sure which was older - the plane or the guy waiting for us. riding in this plane was an adventure. The pilot was so tall that he flew with his door slightly ajar so he could fit into the pilot's seat (knee hanging out the door!). The plane, open door and all, was very noisy and we had to wear ear plugs.

I know you are thinking to yourself "Pshaw! how could he take photograph of the plane he was flying in - landing?" The answer, of course, is a secret! After all, this is ALL about photography, where secrecy abounds!!

Once on the ground, our baggage was picked up and loaded onto a boat to be taken to a nearby cove and unloaded onto the beach (it's true, honest!). We scoped out the town. Three seconds later, we'd seen it all! It's an old place with one main street - a gravel road wide enough for two ATVs to pass each other. That was the mode of transport, quads! Of course, if you didn't own a quad, you either biked or walked.

There was a public hot spring (no clothes allowed) with times posted when females were allowed in and when males were allowed in. No, the times never overlapped. Gender equality is a thing in the future for this place!

We hiked up a long pathway through a forest. The path was a couple of feet wide, muddy and overgrown with gnarled tree roots waiting to trip you up and send you and your gear sprawling into a mud bath. I think the walk was about twenty Kilometers (many, many miles to those of you who are still imperial). As it turned out, the walk was only (only!) two kilometers, all of it uphill! Well, I'm not used to hiking!

We finally got to our palatial quarters for the next eight days. A three room cabinet, ha! Freudian slip! I meant to say cabin! No running water and no electricity - (no, the toilet was NOT one of those rooms!). Primitive, pioneering, roughing it, trail blazing. All words that utterly fail to describe our new home. We retrieved our baggage from where it had been dropped off at the beach then hauled it up to the cabin.

There were two bedrooms at the back (room for 5 of us to sleep) and one larger main room at the front of the cabin where our expert, his girlfriend and young daughter slept. The main room, as well as being a bedroom, was also the living room, kitchen and dining room. So, where the hey is the toilet? Well, you walk down the path - there - and as you turn the corner, you will see the toilets.

YES!!!!! A double banger!! Just what we needed to set the right tone for our trip!

The Intrepid Explorers!

Now, to be fair, the view was astonishing. The bathroom window opened out to the beach and the ocean in front of us! We could watch ships and wildlife stroll by! OH! Was that the flash of binoculars????

Now, you've all heard the question - "Does a bear s*it in the woods?". The answer is, well, yes! and, so do the photographers!!!!

We ate dinner that evening. Salmon (yech!, eww or other words expressing disgust!). I settled for two fried eggs! There was a lot of chocolate being consumed as well. (I soon found out that that was because we were going to need the energy!).

The next morning we set out to go see the bears. Wash? Clean teeth? No running water? Well, (ha ha) There was a fresh water stream (up stream from the palatial loo) and we had to go and fill buckets with enough water for us to ablute in.

We rode a boat for a long time to arrive at the 'Bears' Den'. Then we walked for another very, very long time. Up the estuary.... mud flats, water holes, spiky grass, slime, rocks and many other impediments! Finally we saw some grizzly bears! Yes, bears, plural. Lots of them in fact! They were not too concerned about us. Reno (the expert) -

explained to us how to behave when in the vicinity of bears. Interestingly he said that the Alaska Grizzlies were more curious than aggressive. This is due to the fact that their foraging area for food is very small. They are fish eaters and hang around the estuaries feeding on the multitude of salmon to be found there. The grizzlies in Alberta are opportunity eaters but mainly berry eaters and have to forage over many square miles to get enough food. Because of this, they are more aggressive than curious.

We were instructed to keep fairly close to each other so as not to appear too threatening and that we could make as much noise as we wanted but NOT to talk. There was an awful lot of whispering going on!

To Be Continued........



]]> (Stewart McLeish Fine Art Photography) Alaska Kadeshan Running Bear Stewart McLeish Tenakee bear bears blog blogger bloggers blogs brown cub cubs estuaries estuary expedition expeditions grizzlies grizzly lakota noise noisy part part one peninsula peninsulas photo photography photos picture pictures river rivers running salmon seaplane seaplanes sioux springs to be continued town trip trips wildlife Tue, 21 Jan 2014 14:44:00 GMT
Stairway to The Gods  

The Pyramid of Kukulcan

Stairway to the GodsThe Pyramid of Kukulcan

I've always wanted to visit Chichén Itzá,

or, as I used to call it, 'Chicken Itsa'!

My opportunity to do so came in 2012 when my wife and I were offered an incredible rental deal on a villa in Belize. Now, I know you are wondering how a trip to Belize would equate to a visit to Chichén Itzá. Well, my question to you is,

'Have you ever tried to get to Belize?'.

It is not the easiest place to fly to without numerous stops and terminal changes. As it turned out, I invited my brother and his wife (from England) to join us. They checked it all out and said it was too far and too difficult for them to travel in one day. So, we looked at the maps and decided that an overnight stay in Cancun would be the answer. I had never been to Mexico before and don't enjoy the resort scene, so one night was OK with me. Then I realized that Chichén Itzá was only a fairly short bus ride from Cancun so it was an easy decision to stay in Cancun for a few days rather than just one. We stayed in Downtown Cancun, as far away from the resorts as we could. It was a great experience that will be the topic of a future blog.

The BIG mistake we made when we got to Chichén Itzá was to not hire a guide. I'm telling you this so that, if you ever go, you don't make the same mistake.

The upside of that mistake is that we will just have to go again! I took a lot of photos and you will see some of them in future blogs.

"Stairway to the Gods" is a photo of Quetzacoatl (the Mayan name) or  The Pyramid of Kukulcan or El Castillo. ((Kukul means “feathered” and kan means “serpent”. El Castillo means "The Castle" - Duh!!)

Can anyone pronounce "Quetzacoatl"?

Here now is a little information about Chichén Itzá (combed from 'I know everything' - Mr. Google)

"The stepped pyramid has a staircase on each of it's four sides. At sunrise and sunset during both the Spring and Autumn equinoxes visitors gather from all over the world to observe an unprecedented archaeo-astronomical phenomenon. The corner of the pyramid casts a shadow of a plumed serpent – Kukulcan- and as the sun moves, the shadow of the serpent slithers down the side of the pyramid to fertilize the earth."

So, when was Chichén Itzá built? There seems to be some difference of opinion here. An article by National Geographic (another icon of knowledge) says this -

"The stepped pyramids, temples, columned arcades, and other stone structures of Chichén Itzá were sacred to the Maya and a sophisticated urban center of their empire from A.D. 750 to 1200.

Viewed as a whole, the incredible complex reveals much about the Maya and Toltec vision of the universe—which was intimately tied to what was visible in the dark night skies of the Yucatán Peninsula.

The most recognizable structure here is

the Temple of Kukulkan, also known as El Castillo.

This glorious step pyramid demonstrates the accuracy and importance of Maya astronomy—and the heavy influence of the Toltecs, who invaded around 1000 and precipitated a merger of the two cultural traditions.

The temple has 365 steps—one for each day of the year. Each of the temple’s four sides has 91 steps, and the top platform makes the 365th.

Devising a 365-day calendar was just one feat of Maya science. Incredibly, twice a year on the spring and autumn equinoxes, a shadow falls on the pyramid in the shape of a serpent. As the sun sets, this shadowy snake descends the steps to eventually join a stone serpent head at the base of the great staircase up the pyramid’s side.

The Maya’s astronomical skills were so advanced they could even predict solar eclipses, and an impressive and sophisticated observatory structure remains on the site today.

This great city’s only permanent water source was a series of sinkhole wells.

Spanish records report that young female victims were thrown into the largest of these, live, as sacrifices to the Maya rain god thought to live in its depths. Archaeologists have since found their bones, as well as the jewelry and other precious objects they wore in their final hours.

Chichén Itzá's ball court is the largest known in the Americas, measuring 554 feet (168 meters) long and 231 feet (70 meters) wide. During ritual games here, players tried to hit a 12-pound (5.4-kilogram) rubber ball through stone scoring hoops set high on the court walls. Competition must have been fierce indeed—losers were put to death." (Yikes!!)

"Chichén Itzá was more than a religious and ceremonial site. It was also a sophisticated urban center and hub of regional trade. But after centuries of prosperity and absorbing influxes of other cultures like the Toltecs, the city met a mysterious end.

During the 1400s people abandoned Chichén Itzá to the jungle. Though they left behind amazing works of architecture and art, the city’s inhabitants left no known record of why they abandoned their homes. Scientists speculate that droughts, exhausted soils, and royal quests for conquest and treasure may have contributed to Chichén Itzá's downfall.

Recently this World Heritage site was accorded another honor. In a worldwide vote Chichén Itzá was named one of the "New Seven Wonders of the World."

Another source says -

"Chichen Itza rose to regional prominence towards the end of the Early Classic period (roughly 600 AD). It was, however, towards the end of the Late Classic and into the early part of the Terminal Classic that the site became a major regional capital, centralizing and dominating political, sociocultural, economic, and ideological life in the northern Maya lowlands."

Perhaps NatG's reference is not to when it was built, but when it rose to be a "sophisticated urban center". says "Roughly all sources agree that from approximately 550 AD to 800 AD, Chichen Itza existed mainly as a ceremonial center for the Maya civilization."

Any of you care to jump in here and educate us all?

About the photograph:

The original photograph looked like this:

Hey! I never said I was a great photographer!

As you can see, I worked my artistic talent on this in order to create a hint of the menacing, evil atmosphere of this monument (evil by modern standards - I mean, we don't rip the still beating hearts out of our citizens - unless you use taxation as the euphemism.

You can definitely see people in the shot and can probably not see the wire fence all around the pyramid.

I was too late in my quest to see Chichén Itzá as it used to be seen, in that, you used to be able to climb up and go inside the pyramid. Unfortunately, as of January 2006, you are no longer allowed to climb the temple.

So, there you have it - My first visit to Chichén Itzá

Leave a comment if you will. It might help me write better blogs!

Please feel free to pass this along to your family and friends.


]]> (Stewart McLeish Fine Art Photography) Archaeologists Chichen Itza Chichén Itzá Early Classic period El Castillo Kukulkan Late Classic perion National Geographic Quetzacoatl Seven Wonders of the World Stewart McLeish World Heritage site Yucatán Yukatan archaeology architecture ball blog blogger classic court early equinox evil geographic god gods heart heaven heritage kukulcan late maya mayan mexican mexico national new period plumed pyramid quest serpent seven sinkhole site staircase stairway taxation temple terminal toltec victims well wonders world worship Sun, 27 Oct 2013 18:52:32 GMT
Mother of the Earth (PachaMama)

I called this photo the "Mother of the Earth" because, if you look carefully, you will see the character, the suffering and the joys of life encompassed in her expression. To me, she is the epitome of the emotions of the global village we live in.

By the way, this photo won the first prize at the 2011 Calgary International Photo Competition, First Nations Category.

I took this photo in a market place in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. We (my wife and I) were there as the kickoff point for a trip to the Galapagos Islands and a sojourn through the Ecuadorian jungle of the Amazon Basin (I will be talking about this trip in future blogs).

I saw "Mother" as I was strolling (or roving :-) through the market place. She was selling some candy as she walked around. Using my seriously deficient talent for 'charades' I aped "do you mind if I take your photo?" Mother, using her superior talent for mime, nodded "Please, go ahead". I took a snapshot of her and gave her some money for her time.

You are looking at the result.

A year or so ago, I submitted an uncropped version of this photo to National Geographic as an entry into their photo contest.

see here for my complete portfolio of entries

A few weeks ago, out of the blue, "Tatiana" emailed me with some questions about the photo. We exchanged a few emails and the result was a re-education for me, and a re-kindling of my waning creative muse (as perfectly defined by the Oxford dictionary). 'What's in it for Tatiana?' you ask. Well, Tatiana was very happy to have contributed both to my education and my creativity.

Tatiana was concerned about the narrative I had used to describe this photo for National Geographic. I had said that Mother of the Earth was "homeless". This is how it all started.....

"The image is absolutely gorgeous, yet what caught also my eyes was the caption you used at the NGeographic site by calling the woman 'homeless'. I wanted to let you know that she is not homeless, but rather an indigenous woman, likely from Otavalo or similar place. Her weathered look may seem 'homeless' to us from a western perspective, but not homeless by far from a Latin American perspective. I share this with you since anyone reading that comment who comes from Latin America will likely make the same observation.
A more accurate caption is "Indigenous woman  from Ecuador"
I'm originally from Ecuador, but now live in the US.
Just wanted to share that.  :) ...though gorgeous image!!

When asked if she would like to share her thoughts about Mother's heritage, Tatiana agreed.

I've included some of the emails exchanged, in order, so you get the flavor. It is well worth reading through to the end :-)

So Tatiana is the first Guest Blogger on this, my first blog.....

Hello Tatiana,
Thanks for your interest in my photo and especially for taking the time to comment.

I "labelled" this lady as being homeless because of a number of factors. Her clothes were dirty and ragged, her feet were bare, her hands and face were also dirty. There were many other Ecuadorian people in the market place in Quito where I shot this photo. They were very different in appearance to "Mother"... well dressed, clean etc. This lady was begging and I gave her money in exchange for taking her photo. "Mother of the Earth" as I call her, has a very regal air about her despite the fact that she appeared to have led a very hard life. I certainly meant no disrespect to her and in fact am overwhelmed by the stories that are reflected in her eyes. I have her photo, cropped and printed on canvas (e-copy enclosed), in my kitchen and she and I spend a lot of time together. Every time I look at her she seems to have something different to tell me. I greatly admire the fact that she has made the best of her life and one day I would like to find her again, together with an interpreter, and listen to her stories if she would share them with me.

One other thought: The word indigenous is a very generic term and applies to the whole gamut of a country's original population: "originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native. "the indigenous peoples of Ecuador". I felt that it was too generic a word to use as I especially wanted to convey the difference between "Mother's" ability to survive her apparently tough life, complete with her sanity, wisdom and sense of humor, versus the easier life that other Ecuadorian people have.
The bottom line is that I meant no disrespect and do apologize if I appeared disrespectful.

Here's Tatiana:

Thanks Stewart for your reply.
I understand the perception and the concern on the word 'indigenous' and it's generic nature. Though, that's usually how people in Ecuador refer to people with strong Inca heritage within them from regions such as Otavalo, as seen in 'Mother'. Perhaps 'Mother' is a best description of the photo. Perhaps I react to this title mainly because I know our people have a very low level of homelessness. They are certainly poor, very poor and have much much less than even the average population, but as shabby as their homes and economic means may be... they have a home. Likely the most humblest of shacks, but they have it.  As well, their culture has great reverence for the elderly. The village, if not the family, will take care of them. They may be 'beggars' but it is for anyone that has white skin or is 'white like' (I'll include myself in here), yet it is more about asking those with more to share with them because they have less, not so much because they have no home or they are hungry.  You barely will ever see an indigenous person that is malnourished. Very unlikely. Our lands are very rich in the fertility of their soils - most of them are farmers or artisans.  She is likely barefoot because she has worked the land all her life, cultivating corn, raising pigs, milking cows and selling this at the Sunday market where she likely walked long miles carrying her stuff in her back... she has maybe raised 5-6 children, which they all have been carried tied in her back while selling her goods in the outdoor Sunday farmer markets in the central plaza, where she likely had a little stall and sat on the floor or a wooden box and displayed all her vegetables. She has likely carried huge loads in her back for her entire life.  Her weathered wrinkled skin is from the strong sun from our equator - sun hits us directly above our head, strong stuff.  
She is likely now done with much of this. From seeing her clothes, she still wears the typical clothes they have, tunic over head, blanket tied diagonally over her shoulders, gold necklaces very typical of Otavalo woman. The fact that she still wears her necklace to follow their feminine tradition and the cuffs of her cardigan remain clean and so are the tunic over them, tell me she likely still takes the time to wash them herself, likely by hand.  She still cares for herself. Dignity not lost.
In essence, your title of 'Mother' is absolutely right on. She is a figure of mother earth, 'PachaMama', as they call her. The Mother God of the earth in 'Quichua' likely her first language. And yes, you are absolutely right, she has seen a lot... painful things from life struggles as to life's mysteries.
Thank you for allowing me to share this. I grew up with seeing incredible women as her throughout my childhood.  I always visualized them as the ultimate women with roots coming out of their feet and their head pointed to our sun.  Extraordinary energies of femininity, strength, resilience and nature.  That is what I see in your picture, perhaps why it clashes so strongly for me when I see it labeled as 'homelessness' and what that represents in developed countries. Specially after seeing it in National Geographic, it saddened me that the extraordinary energy that you so expertly captured is underplayed with a title that may misconstrue what you have so intuitively expressed as your inspiration.
Regardless, it's just a POV.  
Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts.

Hi Tatiana,
OK, I'm convinced!
There is nothing I can do about the National Geographic entry & description but I can change all my other references to this indigenous woman.
Interestingly enough, the title of my photograph (the cropped version I sent you), whenever it is displayed, is "Mother of the Earth".
You and I seem to share the same reverence for this woman and her kin, whatever nationality.
There are thousands of women throughout the world that embody the characteristics that attracted me to her. If I were much younger
and rich, I would spend many years searching them out and recording their images for all the world to see and perhaps understand.
When I first started this photography hobby about 6 years ago, I used to write little stories about each photograph I published. The last couple of years, unfortunately, I have got away from doing that.
Your interest and the story of the history of this woman has made me realize that I must get back into doing that. I have a blog site
that I have never got around to using and am galvanized to start it up. With your permission, I would like "Mother of the Earth" to be my first entry and use the history that you have so eloquently narrated. I will credit you with the narrative, using your full name or, if you want to remain anonymous, I'd use only your first name. You have effectively taken what I thought I saw and changed my perspective quite dramatically. Now, I'm not anyone special, just an average Western 'guy', a "white" person as you say. The importance of this is that there are millions and millions of "white" people out there who would come to the same conclusions that I did.... perhaps they need the re-education that I got from conversing with you. I hope that you will allow me to do this.
One of my goals is to produce a book, dedicated to the people and things that I have seen, consisting of photographs and then their "story"... a little history, a little 'romance', something to make people aware of their surroundings and appreciate the things that make up our world.

"Mother of the Earth" would probably be the cover photo and "Grandmother" the back photo.

Thank you for inspiring me. I really appreciate it and I hope you don't object to my conversing with you.
Regards, Stewart

Hi Stewart,
Thank you for your reply.  I am super happy, honored and humbled that this little dialog inspired you! :) It's so important to be reignited to our creative sources.  Absolutely! your photography is fantastic! keep going! Thank you also for checking in if it's OK to include the write up.  Frankly I did not draft it thinking that it would get published, and I'm pretty sure the write up has lot of grammatical errors! ha ha.
Thanks, Tatiana

And, Folks, there you have it. I'm re-educated and re-inspired.... all thanks to Tatiana.

Tatiana, thank you from the bottom of my heart!

]]> (Stewart McLeish Fine Art Photography) National Geographic Otavo South America Stewart Mcleish blog blogger earth goddess guest image inca incredible indigenous mother old pachamama photo photograph picture tatiana woman Tue, 08 Oct 2013 22:05:12 GMT