Week in Pictures – May in Pennsylvania


What a gorgeous week of weather here in Pennsylvania. This past week I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time outside.  I spent last weekend in a small town in central PA visiting some friends which was a nice slow down. This weekend I’m looking forward to planting in our plot at the community garden!

I’ve been revamping my photography website and adding some of my newer still life images. I’m proud of the way my site is coming along. Check it out! tessadowns.com

I’d like to share some images from the past few weeks. I’ve been busy creating new photography postcards, editing new still life images and attempting to get my photographic work out into the world! It’s mostly a lot of “behind the computer screen” work so I hope to get it done so I can spend next week making photographs next week!

What’s inspiring you all lately? Drop me a note! Say hello! 🙂


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Morris Arboretum

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Patrick Dougherty: Stickworks

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Easter flowers

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Reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.

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Apartment hunting.

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Home still life

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Still Life Photography

Hello wordpress world! I’ve been a busy bee and have neglected my little bee hive blog of photography and craft . In an effort to return with a more consistent presence, I’ve decided to blog weekly every THURSDAY!

Look for me! I’m dedicated! I promise!


Happy Thursday. It’s Spring here in Pennsylvania and the weather is finnnnne. It’s been a relatively cool spring so these mid 60’s and 70 temps are more than welcome these days.

With Spring come rebirth and color and a lot of work. Teacher work. Photography work. Happy work. I have been subbing in at wonderful schools in the area and spend weekends teaching at an art center near by and in my spare time I’ve been sewing and photographing up a storm!

I’ll have to tell y’all about a book I recently discovered called “Wild Color” by Jenny Dean and Karen Casselman. “Wild Color” is about the processes of dying fabrics with natural dyes made from plants. This is so exciting to me to begin to dive in and really explore natural dyeing processes. It will be fun to adventure into natural dyeing techniques and I hope that you’ll share with me any knowledge or tips you may have.

Okay, the topic at hand!

I wanted to share with you all some still life photographs that I’ve been working on and experimenting with. I love styling my own table-scapes by adding mood, texture, color and the right light to showcase a certain curated idea or thought. Arranging and re-arranging objects that are sentimental along with natural materials collected from trips, adventures or right in my own garden is my newest obsession.

Enjoy these images I took this week in my ‘home’ studio. My studio ( simply a wooden table)  tends to move with the light and I’ll lovingly follow that sunlight depending on which window it’s coming through. So mornings my studio could be my living room and come afternoon my studio could be my kitchen. It depends and changes with the time of day! Way to be flexible! 😉

I was able to create these images in my living room while listening to Townes Van Zandt and drinking tea. Ah.

Oh, if I could only do it more often.

Enjoy! If you haven’t yet said hello to me, please do! I’d love to chat and discuss anything on the blog or something you’re working on or creating at your own home studio.

’til next time!


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still life 3

Europe 2013- California 2012

I just re-discovered folders of the photographs I took during the three weeks my friend Alia of Say Things with Color and I spent in Germany, Italy and France AND the images I took while driving the Pacific coast with my brother Jason the summer before that!

I think it’s about time I uncover, edit and share some of these images!

Stay Tuned!

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Gatherings- Side project made of linen

Linens for special gatherings.

Gatherings is what I’m naming this new undertaking. It was born out of my desire to have fabric napkins I could use when I had guests over for gatherings. Paper towels and little cloths work just fine, but I’m a maker! I can make napkins.

Determined, I wanted to create a napkin that I could use for gathering and I wanted to use my favorite fabric; LINEN! Linen is a beautiful cloth often used and worn in the summertime because it keeps the body cool and fresh.  Linen is clean and simple. It’s natural and earthy.

So my sewing machine has been kept busy sewing linens to create napkins and tea towels but I’ve also been creating half aprons, full length aprons and kitchen towels as well. I hand dye the fabric to match moods and personalities and decor. Cloth napkins add a nice touch to a sweet dinner or gathering for tea or coffee. It adds a pop of color and handmade feel.

My hope is to push this to the maxwith organic linens and natural dyes but for now I’m having a lot of fun experimenting, designing and creating.

So here’s to linen and gatherings both big and small.

Come see my etsy shop! gathertextiles.etsy.com

Sky Blue Napkins1

Summer tea towel

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Sky Blue Napkins tied up with a bow


Sky Blue Napkins

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Summer tea towel 3

Madelyn Photo Shoot November 2014

Last weekend I spent an afternoon in the last of autumn’s beauty to capture Madelyn, my niece,  in a set of portraits. It was a very chilly afternoon and in between shots she threw her jacket on and we shivered our way to the next location. Madelyn is a beautiful young lady so even though it was cold, her beauty shined through in the images.

Madelyn wanted to look serious and glamorous but it was fun making her laugh so as to capture the Madelyn I know…silly, fun, hilarious and sweet.

The series from that day is posted on my website tessadowns.com. Come check them out!









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Chad and Kira engagement session

I was thrilled to take the engagement portraits for my dear friend Kira and her fiancé Chad. I took a trip out to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania a few weeks ago and we were able to get some beautiful autumn shots of places that were important to the couple. Kira is beautiful soul and I’m glad she found such a loving partner in Chad.

I’m glad to have spent time with them hearing stories about meeting, first dates, falling in love on a motorcycle ride and their engagement story that unfolded on a bridge in the middle of the woods. I’ve heard these stories from Kira half a dozen times, but if was the first time I heard her talk about their courtship in his presence and with his input. It was truly lovely.

These are a few images I took with them during their session. If you visit my website tessadowns.com you can see more from the session. These are a few of our favorites that I wanted to share!

I travel for sessions and am located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. If you’d like to contact me to set up a portrait session or a wedding consultation you can contact me through my website.


Happy November everyone!

















Alaska continues

Here are some more images from Alaska. They are slowly starting to unravel and make themselves known. (I am finally getting around to editing the images 🙂



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forest trail near barlett cove









Countdown to Alaska



I am gearing up for my trip to Alaska next week with two of my brothers and my dad. Planning, packing and cleaning my apartment is top priority today. Last night I made maple scones and this morning I had one with some coffee while looking over trip itinerary. I had a dream last night that one of the cabins I booked near Denali National Park couldn’t confirm my reservation because I didn’t pay them on time. I woke up in a sweat! I double checked. They have us on record. phew!

It feels cooler today. Low 80’s here in eastern Pennsylvania. In Anchorage the highs will be in the low 60’s! Looking forward to a quick return to autumn temperatures and wearing a sweater at night…..annnnnd the serene beauty of theAlaskan wilderness, seeing the start line for the Iditarod, cabin living in the middle of nowhere, glaciers and Mount McKinley of course!

It should be one heck of an adventure.

 Here’s to the coming weekend, my birthday (Saturday) and adventures in Alaska!

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Maple scones!

Portrait of a Cell

This is  a series I made called “Portrait of a Cell; The Eye of God” at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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Cell doors

I was inspired by the light in Eastern State and the importance of the thin beam of light that fell into each cell. This light was often the only source of sunlight a prisoner was able to experience in one day. Sunlight is so important in my own life and the way most of us interact with sunlight is free choice and I started to think about what it would be like to have sunlight delegated or rationed out to me.  Often the prisoners, in the early days, would be allowed a short time outside but would wear a mask so as not to interact or communicate with other prisoners. Those who spent time in isolation did not have any access to light or communication to others sometimes for up to two weeks.

For myself as a photographer, light affects my work and they way I see the world. Light played a role throughout Eastern State Penitentiary and was an important way in which I observed and viewed the penitentiary. I was most taken with the way that light was designed into the penitentiary and the strict programing of the daily life of a prisoner.

John Haviland, the architect of Eastern State, called the window in the ceiling of each cell “The Eye of God” and designed the penitentiary as  a space for solitude, penitence and reflection on behavior. Observing these penitentiary cells made me reflect on how spaces we live in can affect our well-being and mental health. I found the cells jarring images of solitude and isolation and not hope and redemption as originally planned by Haviland.

July 2014

Tessa Downs Phototgraphy All Rights Reserved.

Cell 1

esp Cell  tessadowns.com





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Sights of Philadelphia- Eastern State Penitentiary

On June 26th I went to visit Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. It was an insightful look the massive penitentiary that stands in the middle of the Fairmount area of  Philadelphia. The penitentiary was designed by John Haviland and opened in 1829 on October, 25th. There were three original cell blocks ranging out from a central surveillance hub. In 1831, Four more cell blocks were added to accommodate more prisoners. These cell blocks had two floors so as to accommodate more prisoners. In 1877 Four more cell blocks were added between the original blocks and these cell blocks did not have outdoor access. The first image shows what the cell block looked like in the 50’s and this is what the cell block looks like today.

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Cell block in the 1950’s. Prisoner guard desk over seeing the block.

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Cell block as it stands today.

Each cell consisted of a bed, a toilet and a small door leading to an outside area. Not all cells had doors that lead to the outside.  The cells built later between the original 7 cell blocks did not have doors in the cells to the outside. There was a small window in the top ceiling of each cell that the architect called “The Eye of God.”  The doors to enter the cells were small so the prisoners had to bow to get through the door. The high vaulted ceilings in some of the cell blocks had tall vaulted ceilings and felt like  a cathedral at times. It is said that the penitentiary was not meant to simply punish prisoners, but push them towards spiritual reflection and change in behavior.

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Prisoner cell doors. An adult has to to step up and bow to get through the door.


Small prisoner cell. Measures 8×12 ft. The window above was called “The Eye of God” by architect John Haviland.

In seven of the cell blocks, cells had doors that lead to an outdoor areas. Seeing these cells made me feel like the prisoners were kept like animals at the zoo.

The doors leading from cells to outside are.

The doors leading from the prisoners cells to an outside area.

Prison walls are high. It’s a very claustrophobic feeling to be within the prison walls and in the cell blocks.

Outside area for prisoners.

Outside area for prisoners.

The outside walkways leading to a from cell blocks are claustrophobic. You feel small within the walls of the penitentiary.

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Looming walls surround the penitentiary and stand 30+ feet tall.

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Watch tower in the middle of the grounds.

The walls at close inspection were interesting. They were like looking at giant maps of cities. Roadways and land masses. I enjoyed looking at the walls.


Detail of wall

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Wall detail

To outside area

Outside walkway.

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Door leading to outside walk way. At the end of the walkway is the open outside area.

It was interesting to be inside the dark cell blocks, reading and learning about the history and then moving from inside to outside and how bright the light was and how amazing the breeze felt walking outside. Feeling the breeze on my skin after being within the prison walls for an hour felt fantastic. I can only imagine what this outside area meant to the prisoners.


Inside and outside.

What I found most interesting was the way light came into the pentitentiary. It was well thought out  by the architect. How much light to let in and where. Light affects us as human beings. It is an important part of a healthy life. The prison was dark. The cell blocks were tall and light fell in from high windows.  The penitentiary cells were small and dark save the small window above letting a small sliver of light into the cell.I had the chance to go down and look into the isolation hall. You had to walk down a number of steps and bend down in order to walk into a narrow and dark corridor. They said the prisoners did not see light. They did not have anything in their cells with them. They would sit sometimes for days and weeks. The lack of light and contact with anything natural was evident as some prisoners would go mad upon returning from isolation. Outside, to the left of the isolation pit, stood the remains of a green house. I saw this as a structure of hope or a looking towards the future for the prisoners. They used this as a way for prisoners to gain skills that they could potentially use in the outside world when they were released. Many of the prisoners, later in the use of the penitentiary, enjoyed going there because tending to the plants was a calming, enjoyable way to pass time.

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Green House in the yard

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Door to the green house

NEXT TIME:   ‘Portraits of a Cell’ – a personal series I put together.

 Eastern State cell muted


Have you ever visited Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia? Shoot me a message or leave a comment about your experience or any questions you have about this post!