What is “American Encounters”?

Yeah, it sounds like terrible English grammar, but the question is correct – what is “American Encounters”?

“American Encounters” came to me quickly. The muse of inspiration slapped me upside my head, and thankfully, I paid attention!

Photography – and pictures – have always been important to me. Photographs that we take – I feel – are documents of our own history. Since every one of us has a unique eye, the pictures we take are so different, and give us insight into our own minds – as well as the minds of others.

Traveling across America, I have taken the beaten and unbeaten path. I have sought out things that I normally would have never seen, and I wanted to protect those memories in photographs.

Pictures are never as vibrant as what we actually see. However, the development of memories relies moreso on the emotion that we feel when we see something. This is one of the reasons that I drive Sheryl crazy with some of my memories.

Although I was four years old, I can remember my Grandpa Rodgers stomping across the kitchen floor coming towards me, reaching for me. Why do I have that memory? Because of the emotion – I was excited, and happy to see him. And it still makes me feel good to recall that memory.

That’s why movies make us sad, music makes us happy, sports make us excited and we live the way we live – because of the emotions that are triggered at a given point in time.

“American Encounters” is my view of America. The America that I want to remember. The images conjure memories of where I was at a given point in time. Images of the American Southwest that I may never see again… the kitschy-ness of a nearly dead Route 66… some cool landmarks viewed from funky angles. Memories of the vast American plains… the warmth of the sun on my skin… the straight-up hugeness of California redwoods…

Our experiences in life are uniquely our own. No one has lived life the way I have. No one has viewed life like you have.

Sure, we can aspire to see things the way our idols see them – to experience things others have experienced – but it is always going to be different. “American Encounters” is my vision – my view – of life, and it’s something I wanted to share with the world.

I hope you have the opportunity to enjoy it.

St. Mary Star of the Sea


In 2010, we spent Christmas in Florida. While there, we spent a couple of days in Key West. We not only did a lot of walking, but we also rented mopeds for one of the days. As a result, we were able to see a lot more of the island than usual.

This photo was taken at the Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea. I love the Christmas decorations that churches put up – there are a lot of reds, greens, angels, poinsettias, etc. But having been raised in the Midwest, it was almost impossible to get a shot like this – an open air church (sliding side doors opened wide), with gorgeous, colorful flowers, and the sun shining all around us.

This was definitely a Christmas to remember!

The Cross


My mini obsession with photographing churches started in 1990, when I lived in Germany. The medieval cathedrals fascinated me.

St. George Church in Dinkelsbuhl was always under construction when I visited, but it was an amazing building. The Neresheim Abbey was just as fascinating. St. Lorenz in Nuremberg, The Cologne Cathedral, the list goes on and on. Seriously. On. And on.

When we moved to Las Vegas, there were churches, sure, but the Southern tip of Nevada prides itself on re-building itself, and rebirth. One would hope to see dusty, windswept, creaky old wooden churches, but there were surprising (or not) few.

This doesn’t mean that there were no churches in the Southwest – earlier, I posted about El Sanctuario in New Mexico. Santa Fe also had some really beautiful churches. Of course, there is also the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona.

Back here on the East coast, though, we have some of the richest  American history. And our country was essentially founded on religious freedom.

Fortunately for me, this means churches!

One of my goals now that I’ve completed school is to do church photography in the Southeast. The photo for this weeks’ post is the church in Corolla, North Carolina, near the Currituck Beach Light. I love the cross on top, and the one immediately underneath, above the door. This church is the original church in Corolla, but it’s obviously been renovated relatively recently.

Have you run across any cool or unusual churches in the Southeast? Let me know, so I can add it to my list!

El Sanctuario de Chimayo


Between Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, lies El Sanctuario de Chimayo. It is considered the Lourdes of America.

I mentioned in my last blog post that the desert is amazing. It is also very powerful. I don’t know if it’s the expanse of land between people, the calming silence, the tough way of life, or what, but there is something mystical about Southwest America.

El Sanctuario was built in the early 1800s, and is located in the middle of nowhere. People regularly make pilgrimages there, hiking the miles of New Mexico asphalt in search of something greater than themselves.

When they get to El Sanctuario, they are greeted by a calming statue of the virgin Mary, the sound of a nearby moseying river, and fences bearing rosaries of past visitors. It is said that the church has healing powers – there are walls covered in pictures of those who have been healed during their visit to El Sanctuario.

There are actually two churches on the grounds: the children’s church, which is decorated with bright, engaging colors, and the sanctuary itself. There are no pictures allowed in the sanctuary, but when you walk in and see the “Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas” (the crucifix around which the chapel is built), you are hit by a deep feeling that I can only explain as “something otherness”.

To the left of the altar is a small room, lined with more pictures of “the healed”, as well as crutches and canes that are no longer needed. This is the room of holy dirt.

The legend of El Sanctuario says that the hole dug at one end of the room is where the Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas was found. It is the dirt here that is said to contain miraculous healing powers.

Whether the legend is true or real, I honestly don’t know. I do have a little bag of dirt that I retrieved from that hole, though, and when I recall our visit, I am comforted by warm, calming memories.