Archives For photography

I got to spend a few days at West Liberty University last week, giving a reading and lecture, visiting classes, and chatting with students. Thanks especially to Steve Criniti, who invited me, and who organized everything, and who let me sit in on his British Modernism seminar, which happened to be about Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, and which happened to be the anniversary of her death (though we didn’t figure that out till later). Also thanks to Peter Staffel and his wife, who toured me around Wheeling, and to WLU’s graphic design student Corrine Martin, who created this awesome flyer with Fallingwater perched on a book:


I met all sorts of great faculty and students, but unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of people. Instead, here are a few views from the road. A strange combo of urban and rural along the Ohio River. I kept singing John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads”: Almost heaven, West Virginia…

This week’s WordPress photo challenge is saturated. And here’s an image that is saturated in color AND dripping with water: the cover of my new book!

Liliane’s Balcony comes out on Oct. 7 and is now available for pre-order. I would be really grateful if you ordered it. Free shipping, man. Direct from the publisher. They’ll have it in your hands in a little over a week.


Publisher’s Description:

Liliane’s Balcony is a multi-voiced novella-in-flash set at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Built for Pittsburgh merchants E.J. and Liliane Kaufmann in 1935, the house is as much a character as it is a setting. One September night in 1952, Liliane Kaufmann—tired of her husband’s infidelities—overdoses on pain pills in her bedroom. From there, Liliane’s Balcony alternates Mrs. Kaufmann’s mostly true story with the fictional narratives of four modern-day tourists who arrive at the historic home in the midst of their own personal crises, all of which culminate on Mrs. Kaufmann’s over-sized, cantilevered balcony. With its ghosts, motorcycles, portraits, Vikings, failed relationships, and many layered voices, Kelcey Parker’s Liliane’s Balcony is as dizzying and intricately beautiful as the architectural wonder in which it is set.

This week’s wordpress photo challenge theme is Foreshadow, which is something we writers try to do with subtlety and symmetry, and perhaps with a bit of surprise.

This setting of my photo-story is Okolicne, Slovakia – a beautiful town surrounded by the High Tatras Mountains near the border of Poland – in the summer of 2012. I am standing in the kitchen of an ancestral home, of sorts, with a relative who speaks no English, but with whom I communicate via smiles, nods, and frequent (like, really frequent) shots of Slivovitz and Metaxa.

It is approximately 8:00 a.m. – an hour that finds the rest of the world up-and-at-em but finds me semi-coherent if not still totally asleep, especially on a Sunday morning – and Josef pours me a shot of Metaxa. We toast one another: Na zdravie!

Why are we drinking a shot at 8 a.m. on a Sunday, and what might this moment foreshadow?


A trip to church, of course. After a short walk, we arrive at the church of Sv. Peter z Alkantara where my Slovak great-grandmother was baptized more than one hundred years ago. I take a seat next to Josef, and mass begins.


So, technically, the foreshadowing is the fact that it’s Sunday morning and I’m even awake.

This week’s photo challenge is From Above


This picture looks to me like the earth strung with lights, but it is actually a photo of a puddle at a Berlin biergarten. I love how the change in perspective makes you see things in a new way. Just like taking students to Prague and Berlin in 2011 helped them see the world differently. And spending time with students at a biergarten helped me see them differently! Here is part of the group:


(Note the lights and the trees in the background. They were captured in the puddle as we left.)

The Bohemian Bone Church

February 2, 2013 — 7 Comments

This week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is UNIQUE, and what is more unique than a church decorated with the bones of 40,000-70,000 people? (Actually, lots of other bloggers have some equally unique photos, so you should check them out.)

My version of unique is the Sedlec Ossuary, aka The Bone Church, which happens to have been my destination when I spotted the young Czech lovers from last week’s photo challenge (Love at 16:28).

The story goes that in the 13th century, the abbot of the church went to the Holy Land and brought back some Holy Soil that he sprinkled in the church cemetery. Suddenly, everyone was dying to be buried there! A century later, the Black Death was invented so that lots of people could die all at once. When people still continued to live, the Hussite Wars came along to try to finish the job. The little cemetery got too filled up, so a half-blind monk was assigned the task of unburying people. (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

But what to do with stacks of unburied people? Turn them into chandeliers and shields, of course!

Love at 16:28

January 26, 2013 — 13 Comments

I haven’t done a WordPress weekly photo challenge in a while, but how I can I resist this week’s topic: Love.

Last summer I went with classmates from my Czech language class on a day trip to Kutna Hora, an hour or two outside of Prague. To get to town from the train station, we had to take a bus through a run-down neighborhood of panelaks, those Soviet apartment structures that dominate the landscape of Eastern Europe.

A young Czech couple got on the bus, completely absorbed in one another, and I was so struck by these strangers that I secretly snapped a photo.


It’s hard to tell in the photo above, but the time was 16:28 (or 4:28 p.m. to us Americans), and that was my favorite accidental detail of the photo, that this moment of young love – fleeting as it may be – was marked in time. Later I made this small sketch with paint and pen.


Who knows if they are still in love? But they were in love at 16:28, and perhaps that is enough for a lifetime.

My 2012 in Pictures

January 5, 2013 — 3 Comments

In 2012, my theme was Live Lovely. And it was a full, lovely year.

I put together this photo collage as part of WordPress’s weekly photo challenge (from, you know, last week), and now that I’m finished I feel like this post gets dangerously close to the sort of blogging I try to avoid: the “here’s a record of my boring life” sort of blog. But pictures are fun, and these are the least boring parts of my year. Hover over for captions.

Once again it’s time for the Weekly Photo Challenge. This week’s theme: GREEN.  Since my photography is not really meant to speak for itself, here’s a Gallery of Green Art with a quiz. See if you can match the artist and/or relevant information to each of the images.

1. Van Gogh close-up at Chicago Art Institute
2. Some dude in flip-flops (at the John Lennon wall in Prague)
3. Monet close-up at Chicago Art Institute
4. NOT Monet (but could have inspired him). Taken in Czech Republic.
5. British people, who think anything can be made pretty and weird, even cannons!
6. Hans Christian Andersen (and me!). Technically he’s the subject, not the artist. Copenhagen
7. Me imitating Alfred Henry Maurer
8. Collaboration between Frank Stella and Santiago Calatrava hanging in building designed by Mies van der Rohe (yes!)
9. Unknown Art Nouveau artist, but maybe Alphonse Mucha, since it’s at an absinthe bar in Prague.
10. Frank Lloyd Wright
11. John Cage (okay, well, my winnings at a John Cage exhibit at DOX museum in Prague)

(If you REALLY need the answers, post a comment in which you beg for them. Be convincing.)

Alone in a Czech Town

October 26, 2012 — 15 Comments

How to get lost in the Czech Republic

I’m liking the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenges. Every picture tells a story, don’t it. This week’s theme is Foreign, which is what I was this summer.

I spent the month of July in Prague studying the Czech language. I was the only American in a class mostly full of Russians, and I never knew whether they were speaking to the teacher in Russian or in Czech. One of them, a college student named Svetlana, drove most of us crazy by constantly scratching the air with her overlong fingernails and calling out, “Mám otázka! Mám otázka!” (I have a question!)

The other students were from France, Germany, and Japan, trying to learn Czech, their third (or 4th) language, via English, their second language. But none of the Russians spoke English, and they made up two-thirds of the class, so we were really learning Czech through some combination of Czech and Russian, which stirred up some serious Cold War feelings within me. (That was a joke. Sort of.)

Alone in Česká Skalice

While in the Czech Republic, I wanted to go to Česká Skalice, a two-hour train ride from Prague, and the town where Božena Němcová grew up and got married. And where, in fact it was Rok Boženy Němcové: The Year of Božena Němcová, who died 150 years earlier. It’s a small town in the Czech countryside, and I was pretty sure no one would speak English, so it wasn’t until the fourth and final week of language study that I felt bold enough to venture there on my own. I skipped a day of class and bought a train ticket. And pretty much immediately got lost.

Already lost.

I wanted to leave a trail of breadcrumbs to get me back to the train station.

I saw more posters than people.

At last I met two cyclists, a couple who had stopped to check their maps, and I used my three-and-a-half weeks of Czech to ask them “Nevite, kde je Muzeum Boženy Němcové?” But no, they did not know where it was. I showed them my map, and asked, “Kde jsme?” (Where are we?) But they didn’t know that either.

I consulted the Tourist Map from 1966.

Then, in what felt like a perfectly literary moment, I found an older woman in her garage painting a chair. It felt like a literary moment because here I was, seeking the author of the famous Czech book, Babička (The Grandmother), which was set in this very town, and here before me was a grandmotherly figure who might be able to help me. So of course I said the first thing that came to mind: “Mám otázka!”

But it worked! I understood as she pointed tady (there) and then doleva (turn left) and then doleva again, and then na prava (it’s on the right). I understood that it would take about deset minut (10 minutes). And I made it.

Made it!

But perhaps the best part was when I returned to class the next day. I hadn’t told anyone that I’d be gone, and when we started class with our conversation practice, one of the Russians, Evgeny, started the discussion by asking where I’d been the day before. He said: “Stýská se mi po Kelcey.” I missed Kelcey.

And I realized I’d missed them too.

Evgeny is third from the left in the back. Svetlana was probably outside smoking.

The theme of this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge at Word Press is SILHOUETTE. So here goes. My silhouette photo has three stories, probably more.

The first is the historical story:

This is a statue in Prague of Jan Žižka — One-Eyed John — who, in 1420, led the Hussites (who preceded the Protestants of the Reformation) in a significant and successful battle against the Hungarian king who was supported by the Pope. (Blah, blah, blah, read more here.)

Five hundred years later, in the wake of WWI and the independence of Czechoslovakia in 1918, this statue was erected at the site of the battle, Vítkov Hill, as part of a larger monument to celebrate Czech nationalism. But before the monument was completed, Czechoslovakia began decades of occupation by the Germans and Russians, and their cute little national history was either ignored or altered.

For example, here are some additions made to the site by the Soviets who had their own story to tell:

The second story is literary:

In my (er, unpublished) novel set in Prague, my protagonist is taken to this site by her tour guide and romantic interest. He explains the significance of the various statues and signs, but he ultimately tells her more about the history of Prague than about himself. At this monument, she has an epiphany of sorts. But it’s relatively early in the plot, so of course she’s wrong.

The third story is personal (but it overlaps with the literary and the historical):

I first visited this site in 2005 as part of Western Michigan University’s Prague Summer Program. The professor of my Czech literature course took us there and that’s where I really fell in love with Prague and its sad statues and monuments that try to mean something but get changed, through history and its power struggles, into meaning something else – or nothing at all.

We walked around to the other side of the monument where there were two Socialist Realist statues, one of which was a model proletarian family: father, mother, baby; healthy and muscular; farmers prepared to reap the harvest. That statue, which was already outdated and a relic of a previous regime, became the foundation of my character’s epiphany mentioned above. And it repeats as a motif for the rest of the novel.

I was in Prague again this summer, and I finally made it back to this site, which factors so significantly in my novel and in my mind. It’s kind of out of the way and up a steep hill, and I got lost trying to get there, and I was thirsty and hungry and my feet hurt, but I made it! And at long last, the site has achieved its original intent: it is a National Monument, celebrating Czech history. I took the pictures of Žižka that I’ve posted here, and I wandered around to the other side to see the statue family that I’d written so much about.

But it was gone:

The missing statue.

It freaked me out. How could it be gone when it was so present in my mind and in my novel? Had it ever been there? Had I imagined the whole thing?

It also thrilled me. I was experiencing first-hand the problems of memory and monuments that are so important to any history. It’s just like Milan Kundera’s Milek says in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting:

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

Just before this quote, in the opening chapter, Kundera describes a 1948 photograph of communist leader Klement Gottwald in Prague’s Old Town Square. He was cold, so his comrade Clementis gave his fur cap to Gottwald to wear on his head. A photograph was taken of Gottwald in the hat, with Clementis in the background. But Clementis did not stay in the background. As Kundera says:

Every child knew that photograph, from seeing it on posters and in schoolbooks and museums. Four years later, Clementis was charged with treason and hanged. The propaganda section immediately made him vanish from history, and, of course, from all photographs.

Visual aid:

And history – or at least this blog post – comes full circle, for it is here at the Vitkov National Museum that Klement Gottwald’s dead body was kept on display for NINE YEARS, with multiple doctors working day and night to keep his body presentable to the public. Why? So people would not forget him. (Read the rest of that creepy-awesome story here.)

But a body is not a statue, and it cannot be kept forever. Just like a statue is not a body that lives and breathes. And a silhouette is not a statue or a body, just a shape, a suggestion of what is – or is not – there.