Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 - The Year in Pictures

Tess Yuhas, 7, takes a break between her heats of a junior swim meet at Willow Run High School in June. (photo by Lon Horwedel)

Even though most of what I put on this site deals with the written word, I do make my living by communicating through visuals, so I thought it only fair that I end the year with a collection of my favorite images from the past calendar year.

2010 was my 26th year as a professional photojournalist, and each and every year I'm amazed at how much variety my job continues to provide for me. I'm lucky that way. Whether it's true or not, I feel most folks would probably trade jobs with me in a minute if they could. I may not make a lot of money, but money couldn't buy some of the things I get to experience, the people I get to meet, or the front row access I have to history as it's being made.

My job lets me freely interact with all walks of life. I'm openly invited into people's lives and events. I can walk inside police lines at fires and accidents and I never have to wait in line as long as I have a camera in hand and a credential around my neck.

The purpose of my job is not only to share those experiences with the public, but also record them for the sake of history. I am first, and foremost, a visual documentarian of the world in which we now live - at least as far as it pertains to the city of Ann Arbor and it's surrounding areas.

The following is a slideshow of 50 or so images from 2010 - a year that included everything from the President of the United States, to kindergartners saying goodbye to their school on its last day of operation, and, of course, everything in between.

Hope you enjoy it.

(note: To see the photos full screen, hit the play arrow, then click on the diagonal arrows that appear in the bottom right corner of the slideshow window. If you want to see captions, click on the show info tab at the top right of the screen.)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Carded - A decade's worth of decadence via the family Christmas card

The Horwedel family Thank You card for 2010. (photo by Lon Horwedel)

Everybody has their thing at Christmas.

Some folks bake … some folks decorate the tree … some folks light up their house until it looks like a landing strip!

Me? … I do our family Christmas card.

I’m not really sure how, or why I started doing our card, I just know that at some point it became my thing, and before you knew it, it become a tradition while also earning me somewhat of a reputation. A reputation, I might add, that’s getting harder and harder to live up to.

At first I was like everyone else. I went card shopping at the store looking for a nice design, or something somewhat original. But that was before I had kids. Once you start a family, things change drastically in the Christmas card world.

For instance, I’m not sure, but I think it’s pretty much mandatory that once you actually have kids, you must start plastering their picture on the annual family Christmas card – usually a pose involving some sort of fancy family vacation taken somewhere exotic during the course of that calendar year. For added bonus points, a lengthy letter describing that awesome adventure, or how awesomely perfect your family was during the year, accompanies the card.

This is all fine and good, and perfectly acceptable behavior for Utopian Christian folk. But that hardly describes me, or my family, and I sure wouldn’t want to bore anyone with details of long weekends spent at baseball tournaments, or a family vacation to, say… Lake Erie?

Naw, the family adventure letter wouldn’t work for me. But family pictures? - Now that I could do.

My first foray into putting my three kids on a Christmas card was innocent enough - easy too. After all, they were little tikes at the time - all under the age of four when I first decided to grace our cards with their likeness.

That was the year 2000, and to this day it’s still one of my favorite cards. The kids were so cute, so innocent, and yet, you could almost sense it coming. Maybe it was Ella sticking a light up her nose, or maybe it was Eamon’s diaper loaded to the brim. Whatever it was, I should have known - yup, these kids were going to make great models for years to come and this Christmas card thing was gonna be a lot of fun!

Now I’ve got it down to a science. Each year the list of card receivers grows – this year it was well over 200. For one week I turn into a Christmas card machine - everything from brainstorming the idea (I usually have next year’s idea a year ahead of time) to executing the shot, printing and cutting the cards, and, believe it or not, buying the stamps!

Yes, it’s true, I put a lot of thought into the stamps - I have to make sure I buy a fair amount of seasonal stamps that don’t say Christmas on them anywhere for all our Jewish friends and non-believers.

For the past decade my cards have evolved from innocent, to anything but. But the one constant has been my three kids on the cover of the card. It’s been fun to watch them grow up with each card, getting more sarcastic with each passing year. So, here, in chronological order, except for the year 2003 (have no idea what happened to that one) are a decade’s worth of family Christmas cards – Horwedel style!


Aren't they cute? I plopped all three down on a bed sheet by our back door and wrapped them in chili pepper lights. During the shoot Ella began sticking the lights up her nose and Eamon let loose with a thunderous dump (why do you think he's smiling?) They seemed to enjoy it and a tradition was born.


Shot the picture at the Briarwood Mall. Have no idea what the hell Ella is looking at. The picture is still innocent, but starting to use a little play on words in the text.


I was still recovering from a near-fatal liver abscess, but I managed to get up enough strength to shoot a picture of the kids wrapped in Christmas wreaths from our front porch. The play on words continues!


The very last of my innocent cards - the kids in front of our tree.


Ah, the kids are starting to hit their stride. Ella came up with the idea of "Horror"wedels - pretty clever I thought. To pull it off, I had the kids hang off the edge of the bed upside down so their hair would hang down, then I flipped the image so it looked to be standing up. The vampire poses and facial expressions are something I wish I could take credit for, but it was all them.


Starting to hit full stride with this one. Took the idea from the opening scene in "A Christmas Story" where Ralphie, his brother Randy, and Ralphie's friends have their faces smashed against the Higbee's department store window checking out the goods. To pull this one off, I photographed everyone (except the cat, Eamon shot that one) with their faces pressed against the plate glass window of our front door. To give the illusion of being in a round ornament, I made sure we all bent our fingers back a little, then I photoshopped us all into a photo I took of colored ornaments.


More photoshop magic. I took a picture of the Santa at the Briarwood Mall (real beard and all) and then I had the kids pose in certain ways I knew would work to make them "Santa's little helpers." I particularly enjoy Ella's face as she works the snarls out of Santa's beard.


The idea hit me one day ... what's every kid's worst nightmare and every parent's threat?

Coal in the stocking! Well, someone has to mine that coal, right? Thus, Santa's dirty little secret - the coal mining elves of the North Pole.

I went nuts on props for this one. My wife did a great job making up the naughty list, I found some head lamps to use as miner's hats at T.J. Maxx, the shirts I made with a stencil and a red Sharpie, but best of all, the coal is actually real! (thanks to my brother who scored me a box from the Sandusky, Ohio coal docks). The photo was taken in the doorway of my parent's cellar, which doubled nicely as a mine shaft. Oh yeah, the cigarettes are fake - bought them at Middle Earth in Ann Arbor.


Once again the idea hit me one day when my son woke up with the worst bed-head in the history of bad hair days. I told him he looked like someone off a wanted poster in the post office and the next thing anyone knew, I was taking mug shots and my wife was designing the poster. For a little extra touch, I smashed a candy cane and an ornament (one of the same ones from the 2006 card). We reused the coal from the previous year as well.


My spoof on "Twas the Night Before Christmas" was a result of my kid's inability to focus on anything longer than 10 seconds without their damn phones taking over their lives. The irony of this shot is the fact that both my daughters were being punished for using their phones too much, but to get the shot I actually wanted them to text, so I had to give them their phones back while I shot the picture. Of course, they ended up dragging out the shoot as long as possible so they could continue texting - those expressions are real. My son came up with the idea of adding the gibberish text to his picture to go along with his goofy face.

I have no idea what next year's card will bring, nor do I know how long my kids will continue to be active participants. But I think I can safely count on at least five more years of creative fun with them - hopefully more, and who knows, maybe someday one of them will take over completely and the Christmas card thing will officially be theirs!

Nothing could make me more proud.

Merry Christmas!