Be Inspired by Brenda Gottsabend


I open my eyes. Light waves pass through my cornea and pupil, then hit the lens, which sends them, upside down, towards the goo-jelly retina. Rods and cones sort out shape and color, then dump the information on my optic nerve. The picture zings off to a cortex which tells me that I see a coffee cup, a pencil, words across a screen.

That’s my vision. It’s the way vision works for most people that I know. Brenda Gottsabend is an exception. Her eyes unearth a certain magic beneath the veil of the mundane. For Brenda, a scrubby pane of glass provides a window to a story. Shadows and geometry have voices. Architecture sings. Rain puddles are portals to a new perspective. Reflections really do make you think. The world, in Brenda’s eyes, is an unfolding transformation. You never know just what you’ll see.

You might chalk it up to a clearer cornea. A better goo-jelly retina. Faster nerves. But in the end, it’s Vision. After almost 30 years as an IT professional, Brenda gave up her job, her benefits, her matching 401 contributions, and free cable tv, to go back to school in graphic design. And find her eye.

I met Brenda through a beginning bloggers’ contest on Judy Dunn’s website. We didn’t win the contest, but we got something even better. Over the last year and a half, we’ve become friends and creative partners. Brenda’s photographs are the heart of Wing-Feather Fables. Even after a year of working together on this project, I still get a delicious thrill when she sends me new images. What stories will I find there? What wonder? Her work fuels my imagination.

It is my distinct pleasure and a huge honor to have Brenda as my guest today. I know you will, like me, be inspired by her Vision. Framed by her eye, those light waves are never just a coffee cup, a pencil, or words across the screen. They are amazement.

Brenda guest post 1-Delicate-Repetition

     “I took to photography like a duck to water.”
Berenice Abbott

For most of my life, I had little interest in photography as a medium of creative expression. During my children’s growing-up years, I was a grudging photographer at best, taking snapshots of the requisite big moments, mainly because such parental behavior was expected.

No, my creative spirit was fed through other outlets. Over the years, I dabbled in many creative endeavors, from beading to crochet, a decade-long relationship with rubber stamping and the paper arts.

Photography, however, was never on my creative radar. After all, photography was much too technical. There was all that business of f-stops, aperture, exposure, shutter speeds and reciprocal triangles. Darkroom processing and smelly chemicals. Lugging around big cameras and lenses. There were flashes and reflectors and light meters. And besides – what in my immediate world was photo-worthy? No, photography was definitely not for me.

Then a tsunami of change flowed through my life. After 30 years, I left my professional career and went back to school to study graphic design. I loved it.

Except when I discovered that one of the certificate requirements was a Digital Photography course.

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I entered the classroom filled with trepidation. I was the only student with a point-and-shoot digital camera instead of a dSLR.  I just knew this was going to be a disaster of major proportion and an excruciating 8 weeks.

It wasn’t, in fact, a disaster but a revelation.  I became the duck and photography my water.

I believe there are things that come into our lives only when we are ready for them. And I was finally ready for the lessons photography had to teach me about myself and the way I view the world.

It has been four years since we found each other; four years of walking the streets of my hometown, seeing it with brand new eyes. Because that’s the thing about photography – once you learn to “see”, you can’t “un-see” – your vision is changed forever.

I used to believe that great photographs could only be created in sublime locations. How could the humble streets of Canton, Ohio compare to the great cities of Europe, the pristine beaches of the Caribbean or the majesty of the Rocky Mountains?

But this is the gift photography has given me: to understand that everything – the mundane, the familiar, the commonplace – is an opportunity to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Brenda Guest Post 3-Fire-Reflection

And it is this transformation that explains why photography is part of my daily life, even on those days when I must force myself to pick up the camera. It isn’t about whether the result is a fantastic or memorable image but rather the thrill within that quiet moment of discovery, when something new is seen.

From the vast array of photographic possibilities, I am carving my own way, making choices. Patching together the things that work for me and eliminating the things which don’t. Ignoring the “shoulds” and the “musts”.

I am enamored with shadows and reflections and geometry; with lines and shapes and light. I can’t really explain the attraction. Why my eyes have become sensitive to their presence. Rather than question, I am trying to be still and see. To train my lens on the images which have meaning for me – which trigger that electric jolt of recognition – “this speaks to me.”

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My goal is to see the world, in all its imperfection, as something exquisite. And then share it.

 “Find awe,
let it shake you,
melt you,
lift you,
then share it.”

From The Good Life Project “Living Creed”
by Jonathan Fields

Brenda Gottsabend is a photographer who chases sunlight and shadows, searching for magic with which to fill the frame. Having retired from the corporate world in 2011, she now packs her days with photography, Photoshop, blogging at How to Feather an Empty Nest and a daily dose of dark chocolate. In her role as a volunteer graphic designer for Nest, she has discovered her life’s calling – proving the adage that it’s never too late. Prints of her work are available in her online shop.   

Where will your vision lead you today? What will you see differently, with new eyes?

22 thoughts on “Be Inspired by Brenda Gottsabend

  1. Pingback: Be Inspired Guest Post | How to Feather an Empty Nest

  2. I love it when Brenda talks of once you see, you can’t unsee . . . I felt much the same way when photography opened my own eyes. It was as though the world became a whole new place. I first questioned why I was drawn to Brenda’s blog (not being one for lines or geometric shapes) but I gave up questioning it a long time ago. It may be that her images provide something I’m missing, something I myself cannot see. It may be that they convey more than the obvious, something deeper. It may be Brenda’s love of her subject leaping off the computer screen. Whatever it is that draws me to her blog, I’m hooked. The collaboration between the two of you has been amazing and there’s nothing I look forward to seeing more than winged feathered fables appearing in my blog reader.

    • Kathryn – thank you so much. What strikes me the most about your comment is that you are drawn to my images despite the fact that they aren’t your normal style. I love that – the idea that we find something we, ourselves, are missing or don’t see through the work of others. And our world and our art is made bigger because of it.

  3. Really inspiring, Brenda. I came to my artistic calling later in life (writing) as well. It’s amazing how it can transform our outlook, isn’t it? I’ve always been awed by the images in Wing-Feather Fables, and the creative communion you and Lisa achieve is wonderful to behold. Congrats, to both of you!

    • Yes, perhaps it’s because our calling came to us “late in life” – when we have the wisdom to recognize how precious it really is.

      I pinch myself every month – knowing I am part of this wondrous collaboration with Lisa. What better gig could there be for a photographer?

  4. Oh, my dearest Lisa – I hardly recognize myself in your words. I hardly recognize myself in my own 🙂 Thank you for this opportunity to share my story with your readers. (Had to smile at the possibility that I have a “clearer cornea. A better goo-jelly retina” – my optometrist would beg to disagree.)

    And just so everyone knows the truth – it is my strong conviction that Lisa could write an amazing and imaginative fable if I sent her a photograph of a blank white wall. She doesn’t need me – but I sure am glad she lets me hang around.

    • Ah, it’s all so true! Thank you for being a guest and sharing your capital-V Vision. I’m glad I have you for inspiration. 🙂

  5. Your photographs are so beautiful. And I agree — photography helps me see things through new eyes, too. It’s one of the reasons I like to take most of the photos I use in my blog. Great guest, Lisa! And it’s nice to meet you, Brenda!

    • Julia – seeing through new eyes – photography’s greatest gift. And it’s a pleasure to meet you as well. Thanks for reading my story.

  6. Love the portrait of you Brenda! I’m a long time fan of your work, so lovely to see you here sharing your vision. I totally agree that the gift of photography is in capturing the everyday and mundane – and I am always fascinated that that subject can be interpreted in such a massive variety of ways. You are such an inspiration, I am constantly learning from you. Thank you for sharing so freely your process and your work.

  7. Becs – thanks so much for stopping by and reading my story. It IS fascinating the myriad ways that each of us interprets the everyday world. I learn constantly from the vision of photographers like you – each of us different and unique.

    (And that portrait is my new online “face” – dipping my tiny toes in the world of self-portrait – an area in which you inspired me greatly.)

  8. Wow, Brenda. The thing that amazes me in your story is how you found a passion and a gift you didn’t know you had and how you are now using it to make the world more beautiful for all of us. And, as As a former teacher, all I can say is what a testament that is to lifelong learning!

    I remember when you and Lisa met through my blog and how you almost instantly connected with each other, right there in the comments. It is truly a gift to be able to capture the mundane things in life and help us see therm in new ways. I really envy that. And now the series where you team up—your image with Lisa’s writing, is something I always look forward to.

    Thanks to Lisa for turning the blog over to Brenda today so she can share her vision with us.

    • Judy – Lisa and I have you to thank for the connection that we made. Isn’t it amazing how this technology of the internet gives us the means to do that? To bypass the physical miles that separate us and create a community and partnerships that are based on shared vision. I will be forever grateful.

      And no one could be more surprised than me to find myself a photographer. Ten years ago, if you had told me this would be true, I would have laughed and laughed. One never knows the surprises the universe has in store.

  9. I met Brenda through Kat Sloma’s Find Your Eye courses over a year and a half ago. From my first glimpse, her work attracted me in a very visceral way, even though it’s very different not only from my own style but from the sort of art that usually appeals to me. Though I don’t have Lisa’s gift for writing them, I too find stories in Brenda’s images. The uniqueness and beauty of her vision often simply takes my breath away. Thank you, Lisa, for this deeper look. And Brenda, I love your self-portrait. I hope we’ll see more of them.

    • Lee – it is especially meaningful to me that you are attracted to my images even though they are so far removed from your usual artistic preferences. I can’t think of a better compliment – that I manage to draw you in despite the differences in style.

      I am still working up the nerve to explore self-portraits – this one was taken on one of those rare days when I had on make-up and had just returned from a hair-cut so I looked the best that I possibly can look – insisting on “perfection” in the way I present myself to the world is still something with which I struggle.

  10. I love getting a chance to hear more about the other half of Wing-Feather Fables in her own words. What a lovely collaboration you and Brenda have!

    • Rabia – my collaboration with Lisa is one of the highlights of my creative life. Thank you for reading along with my story.

  11. I’m so glad you featured Brenda. I follow her blog and am inspired by how she sees and creates beauty out of the ordinary. She is also a great writer.

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