Paul Goossens

Paul Goossens poses for a portrait in his home with "Photography's Traveling Journal," a collaborative project he is working on to represent Virginia. Photo / Ryan M. Kelly / The Daily Progress

The rawhide tie strings and exquisitely crafted cover of the leather journal suggest that the contents will be something special.

So far that's true, even though the task of filling the many acid-free pages has just begun. When "Photography's Traveling Journal" is complete, it will have traveled to all 50 states and will contain three photographs of a respected or scenic location from each of them.

The idea of the traveling journal is the result of a sleepless night that Vonda Jensen had nearly five years ago. Instead of counting sheep or pacing the floor, the wide-awake photography hobbyist starting thinking about her pastime.

"I kept thinking about how I could connect people through photography," Jensen said during a recent telephone interview from her home in Santaquin, Utah. "I thought about sending out a little knickknack and have people photograph it in different locations.

"But I wanted it to be more personal for the photographers who participated. I wanted it to be something that would capture forever their photographs, and that's when I came up with the idea for a journal to put the photos in.

"The first journal is a worldwide project that's still traveling the world after four and a half years. I have another that is traveling through Turkey, and the one for the USA is just getting started."

After being introduced to the work of local professional photographer Paul Goossens, Jensen choose him to take the three photographs of Virginia. So far, he has taken two of them, and he’s now open to suggestions as to what the third shot should capture.

"It's left up to the photographers as to what they want to shoot," Goossens said. "The one rule is that you have to photograph the journal in the picture.

"The first thing I did was go to Monticello. It's not the prettiest in wintertime, but it's the least busy, so I didn't have to worry about anyone being in the picture.

"I went in the afternoon knowing the sun would fall over the Blue Ridge Mountains and get warmer in color. I propped up the book and took a beautiful picture [of the mansion]."

For photo No. 2, Goossens drove up to Skyline Drive. This time, he placed the journal in the middle of the road and took a picture that captures the expanse of natural beauty that borders one of the most picturesque routes in the world.

There is no money involved in this photography project. Even the hand-stitched journals have been donated by Nicholas Daffinson, founder of Rogue Journals.

Goossens said he was delighted to have been asked to participate in the project. His reward is having others appreciate his efforts to express himself, and the state, visually.

An example of Goossens' work is the oversized photograph of a mallard duck swimming in a sea of gold and blue that graces one side of Barracks Road. The photograph was the winner of the first ArtInPlace photographic competition that was held a few years ago.

The winning photograph is responsible for Goossens leaving his job as an insurance adjuster after 25 years to do photography full time. He'd probably still be looking at crumpled fenders and writing checks, if not for his wife.

"My wife told me about the ArtInPlace photography competition," Goossens said. "She said that I had all these wonderful photographs that no one sees, and suggested I submit some of them.

"Right before the deadline, I sent in five photographs and forgot about it. Five weeks later, I got a telephone call telling me I had won. I got a sum of money for the right to use the photograph, and they had it enlarged to 25 feet, etched onto a piece of aluminum like a road sign and put next to Barracks Road.

"All of a sudden, I was known as a photographer. People started calling and asking me to take their picture, and I got so busy that I quit my insurance job."

Goossens continues to do fine art photography, but he has been doing more portrait work as his reputation for being able to capture the essence of his subjects has grown. His love of photography started when he was in the third grade and his uncle gave him a used Brownie camera.

"I've always fancied photographers and their visual images," Goossens said. "I loved photography, but my parents dissuaded me from going to art school, because often there's no money in it.

"So I got a degree in business administration. I got a job on Wall Street working in a cubicle as an internal auditor for an investment banking firm.

"I commuted 30 miles to work, which took two hours if the train was on time, the weather was OK and there wasn't a suicide on the tracks. I did that for a couple [of] months before realizing that just wasn't me."

Goossens quit the well-paying job and moved to Virginia, in search of a more peaceful lifestyle. He found that in Albemarle County, and thanks to his wife and a mallard, he finally was able to parlay his passion for photography into a career.

"The biggest joy I get is watching eyes light up when I show people the pictures I've taken of them," Goossens said. "It's a thrill for me to be able to show them that they are beautiful.

"I always like to meet them first over coffee, so they're not nervous going into the studio. When they're relaxed, I get a face that's more natural, and a smile that's more sincere.

"You may not know it's a sincere smile, but the members of their family will."

Goossens also finds joy in taking photographs of things easily overlooked. That could be an interesting pattern of cracks in a sidewalk, or the shape of a shadow.

The 51-year-old photographer's business card has a picture on it that he is particularly proud of. It shows a baby's feet being held in the father's hands in such a way that the fingers create the shape of a heart.

In addition to taking photographs, Goossens also offers a three-hour, one-on-one lesson on how to use, and get the most out of, a new camera.

"What I tell my students is that less is almost always more when it comes to photography," Goossens said. "Simple is better. Getting closer is better.

"I credit one of my economic professors for saying that photography is the art of subtraction. This is the opposite of painting, which is the art of addition.

"There's an arithmetic to a good picture, such as things should be off center a little bit. These are the kind of things they teach in art school, but I learned through study and experience."

One can bet that Goossens will bring all his talent and skill to bear on the final photograph he will take for the traveling journal. Each photographer also will include a short biography of himself or herself, as well as something about the subjects photographed for the book.

Jensen opened the USA journal with a gorgeous scenic picture she took while visiting Capital Reef National Park in Utah. She then sent the journal to Michelle Hendry in Oklahoma, who sent it on to Goossens.

When Goossens is finished, he will send the journal to Moe Chen in Maine.

Jensen said that, ultimately, she would like to see the journals become books, so all the photographers can have copies of their own.

A website is being created that will allow viewers to track the journals. Until that's completed, one can see some of the progression on Facebook at “photography's traveling journal.”

"I love the idea of connecting people who wouldn't normally interact with each other," Jensen said. "These projects have turned out to be a great way to connect people through photography.

"This has been an awesome self-discovery project for me. I've learned a lot about myself through working with so many people with such varied backgrounds.

"I've made relationships with people from around the world. This project has definitely inspired me as a photographer, and my hope is that it will continue to inspire others."

Those wishing to suggest a subject for the third photograph of Virginia can reach Goossens at 227-9200. His website is www.observationsintime.com.

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