What does a year bring to one who loves family, devotes countless hours to work and tries to express themselves through photography. Well for me it was not only life changing but mind challenging. It started last year and like a clock that stares back at you, it announces milestones in dangling updates, as each test is scheduled, viewed and double checked for errors. There seemed no errors were to be found. Like the constricting body of a snake, each squeeze signified a darker end. PSA levels rose until, April when they elevated way above the norm. The invasive, but essential, biopsy was scheduled and once again the mind paralyzing wait for that meeting I would both dread and embrace at the same time. The initial shock and reality that all 15 biopsies would return a positive verdict. My ride home made easier by a mother never willing to let one of her children go, trying to exude a positive exterior while hurting beyond belief inside. For me it is so hard to watch others suffer so I try to internalize my sadness and see past tests and surgery.
The answer to the above question… HELL YES! It can take the life and soul out of your spirit… especially your soul. The alternative answer, and the one clinged to this summer… USE cancer, just as it forces itself on you and the ones you love. Use it to motivate. Use it to bring a calm reality to expectations… USE IT UNTIL IT DIES. The alternative, is unacceptable… it is doing its best to crush not just your body but that soul that makes you who you are.
Planning family visits, and especially photography trips started a year prior. The logistics of saving and finding what will fill that creative spirit produced a lot of mental legwork. Just as cancer was working its evil plan for the following year, I would do the same until both would collide in July, two weeks prior to my leaving for a visit to see my youngest daughter and grandchildren. I can only tell you what I decided… I chose to live as best as one can even with a dark cloud constantly following. The verdict was Prostate Cancer and dates for tests and surgery were set into what seemed like slow motion while the angst of waiting ran head on in my desire to rid myself of this deadly parasite.
The solution was to immerse myself into my happy place… photography. My cathartic travels started in Maine by participating in a natural light Portrait class lead by Matt Cosby. For six days I was exposed not only to his spirit, but as I learned the spirit of the class, especially the people I interacted with in order to learn their story. Thinking about the cancer did not come up until the last day when Matt asked… “so what are you going to do when you get home?”. Suddenly cancer reared it head and with tears in my eyes I shared with him what was waiting for me. I told him I was there because… I chose to be and did not want cancer to control any more of me then it had already. Next I would travel to Nova Scotia and then on to my next class in Newfoundland with Dave Brosha and Wayne Simpson. This would also be about portraits but included learning the use of lights. I listened to how they fell in love with photography and stressed the human spirit in their subjects. It touched my soul like no other workshop I have attended and would help me on my long ride home. I finished up in NL on a landscape shoot with photographers Curtis Jones and Wayne Simpson in Bonavista, NL. What struck me most during my time there, is the backstories both would share with us. The “why” became almost as strong as the technical aspects of their journey. Finally, after arriving home and taking inventory of my life and hospital tests, I embarked on a weekend photoshoot in an old steel town in PA named Johnstown. This was a creative lighting portrait class with Joel Grimes… I am amazed at how much of himself Joel gave to everyone including the models. During the day, creating and learning side by side with other photographers, talking with family each night set my mind up for my next journey.
Surgery would come and go just as the cancer that tried to overtake my body. What is present… the spirts of those around me. Friends both old and new stay in contact and call or send letters, and especially shared travels, experiences and life lessons. I am reminded that we are never alone… family is a constant in both encouragement and support. I embrace everyone of the souls I met this summer, I know part of their story and now I can share part of mine, through the photographs I took and the creative spirit that still dwells deep inside.
When people hear that I am from New Jersey they automatically presume that I am very familiar with travel in the big cities, namely NYC. Growing up in the rural areas of south Jersey, I can not even tell people an exit off the Garden State Parkway, as is a common form of location indicator for north and east coast residents. So hearing that Princeton Photo Workshop was conducting a Subway shoot, I was all in. I knew I could find the NY Penn station by traveling from a Hamilton NJ train stop, which in the end, would lead me to our tour leader Alan Kesselhaut and his wife Barbra. The plan was to shoot the old subway line going north one weekend and then on the next one, go south to the WTC transportation hub, which is commonly called “The Oculus”.
Traveling with a group was perfect for me as navigating underground proved very challenging for someone who finds exploring in the Pines more familiar. Not seeing the sun only compounded my lack of sense of direction but having our teachers easily guide us on and off trains, made shooting underground a lot more calming to me. The sounds, smells, murals and performers stood out at each stop. Even the everyday commuters were not bothered by our group of snap happy photogs. Finding compositions could be challenging at times, with all the movement of people and trains. I perceived darkness and tight spaces to be a challenging factor when shooting, but was relieved to find many areas with enough light, as long as you remembered to change your camera settings to adjust for your surroundings.
I found talking and comparing notes on settings, with members of our group very enlightening. It was Alan’s positive outlook that pushed us to try new settings, compositions and the telling of stories, that made this event much more than a “shoot and go home” venture.
No there were no flying monkeys or evil witches down there, even though it felt like I was relocated from Kansas to a world filled with characters from OZ. From the underground performers to the otherworldly serene world of the Oculus, I would not have passed this trip up, but… there is still “No place like home”!
CAUSE… one definition really sums it up for me : “a principle, aim, or movement that, because of a deep commitment, one is prepared to defend or advocate.”
In any country the mention of the word WAR brings up many opinions and emotions but mention “Civil War” and you get a deeper connection to it, be it via history, location or DNA. My visit to New Market, VA brought on a combination of all three.
My initial plan, born out of dreams of being a photo journalist at one time, was to really give a feeling of the loss and grittiness of war in this place. To shoot alongside the soldiers on the battlefield…. (sound of screeching tires)… I was abruptly awakened from my dream of grandeur when I had to inquire about the yellow tape and fences that seemed to prevent me from my task. A man dressed in official period garb informed me that this re-enactment was as true to what actually happened and, unless I was of period dress and carried a working camera from that time, my place would be on the sidelines. As it turned out, the sidelines rekindled in me a vision of curiosity and, with my gift of gab I proceeded to stop and question various people dressed in full period clothing. What I received was everything from, hey what kind of camera is that, to where are you from and everything in-between. This personal type of interaction forced me to envision portraits and open up my subjects to create a history lesson about the time and place. The more I shot and listened, the more this place came alive, helping me realize this battle was one of the last Confederate victories and that control of this area had to do with food to feed the vast amount of troops there and in the future. I was treated throughout the day to a living history that would have been lost within the benign pages of a high school lesson. The conversations enlightened me to the loss and courage that had occurred just yards away. Eventually the barriers melted away and vignettes appeared, punctuated by the cannon’s deafening fire.
The thinking of which side one was on, quickly disappeared, once I fully immersed my self into the personal side… the side that today is only talked about and remembered after so many years of loss… the cause seems to almost disappear when the lens captures faces, actions, and sometimes even the whispers that are interwoven into a reenacted part of our history.
In the past 2 months I had a very rewarding experience to do some photo shoots with Matt Christopher. Imagine being able to go up into an attic and rummage through books and objects from past eras that you grew up in… that is how it felt to me. The three places I visited below, brought back this deja vu type of experience to me. Looking through the lens and bringing back past life events, seemed very real to me at the time. Each room or object had a story that I hoped could be awakened through my compositions. I divided my visits into three sections that would represent each place visited.
The first was an abandoned slate mine. I had visions of going deep into the earth of the actual mine, only to be slapped back to reality when our guide explained that all the water from the winter flowed down into what looked like a football sized shaft, no tunnels or rails down into the earth… still frozen. The exploring of what was left, provided many vignettes of the past… from machinery and patterns of rust, to the left over slate mine just yards away.
The next chapter, from this ‘blast back to the past’, was found not far from where I live… an old theater in the city. Trying to find parking in an area that has not seen the best of times in quite a while, proved an adventure in itself. What struck me, from the minute I entered, was how colorful this place was. It still had more than enough dirt, dust and cracks to keep me entertained for the rest of the day. The back stage was a favorite of mine, as just looking out to the seats one could easily envision a packed house for the opening night of a movie. Exploring the rooms was a real treat, especially the projection room. ‘Whoa’, did that bring back memories of my being a projectionist back when film was shown on 20 minute reels and you had to switch from one projector to another.
Last in my odyssey of reliving the past, proved to be my most creative… an immense lace company in the middle of a steel town. The sheer size was evident when I was given a map and cell number in order to reach both the guide and our instructor. We were told to buddy up in order to lessen our chances of getting lost…. well 10 minutes in and we were both lost. The many levels and pass-throughs, some blocked and others just passable, proved both exciting and frustrating. To give you an idea of just how large this place is…. it had its own bowling alley and gym, complete with a stage for its workers. Creating in this environment was a joy, from the large open rooms to reflecting pools of perfectly calm water, it seemed to bring back both the echoes and activities of days gone by.
Each of these venues not only let me chronicle my explorations but to also bring back a memory of my past… reawakened through the lens and somehow brought back to life… truly unforgettable on so many levels.
This is the second post from my visit to Iceland and as always let me know what you think.
My trip out of the country began with a marathon run thru the airport and only ended when I was greeted by my couch when I arrived back at my home. My destination was in Iceland and I found it true to its moniker “Land of Fire and Ice”. Upon viewing it in person, I was very cognizant of what had happened millions of years ago, but with one very important difference… it was now 2013.
The land looked as if it had just cracked open yesterday and this was made more evident by its active volcanoes. I traveled in a 4×4 and van, with a small group of 8 photographers. I had mixed blessings on most of my trip by being with and without rain. The ‘with’ enabled my pictures to develop the drama and contrast needed to expose the real Iceland. The ‘without’ made it much more comfortable moving around and not having to wipe off my lens every minute. Trekking high above the island’s floor, I was presented with the fantastic colors of the highlands in Iceland. The way the browns and greens meshed and melted together, created a wonderful palette in front of me. As I stumbled over frozen lava fields and sweeping views of meadows and mountains, I just sat in the open wilderness and thought how lucky I was.
Throughout my stay, I was able to visit very small hotels that provided exquisite meals made on the premises. The trip took me from the city life in Reykjavik to beaches and miles of mountains and waterfalls. The beaches were covered with black sand and beached ice which took on the look of a grand crystal glass shop stuck out in the middle of nowhere. Finding the right composition amongst the millions of ice formations can be overwhelming to say the least. I traveled by small boat through the ice fields to the birthing place of all these ‘ice cubes’… the glaciers in Jokulsarlon. From the silence of the water to the clicking of shutters I was in my element, creating and seeing what I had only glimpsed at in books and magazines.
I finished up my trip back at a familiar site… waterfalls. Visiting waterfalls can get a little confusing, due to the sheer number of them. This last one Seljalandsfoss was complete with weather challenges… rain, wind and cold. I knew I was not home in 90 degree heat the minute I stepped out of the van. Walking first in front of this grand waterfall to going behind it, was both a challenge and a culmination of my visit to this island of ‘Fire and Ice’. Even though trying to compose in the rain was difficult, the true beauty of this place reached out and embraced me. If I was to mentally file my trip to Iceland, it would be under ‘O’… “Once in a Lifetime”.
PART 1 of 2
Englishtown, NJ was the site of a photo shoot that was done through a meet-up group called ‘Adventures in Photography’. Some people may wonder WHY a meet-up group? Well for me, working full-time and having family as a priority in my busy life…. the problem is, how do I fit in a big passion of mine… photography? The easy answer is to seek out different venues that will help me satisfy my camera ‘A.D.D.’ and yet fit into a hectic life. Groups like ‘Adventures in Photography’ feed my shooting appetite by offering different events and locales. The Tough Mudder Event was one I could not pass up. I feel you have to be a little curious, and at times adventurous, to fill the addictive jitters one gets when not shooting for extended periods of time. This event turned out to be a 7 course feast for the eyes and some other senses described below.
It takes a sense of humor above all to even think about participating. Most people competed in groups and this camaraderie was evident all around me as these herds of happy, wet, mud covered participants found their way through each obstacle. When you view the images, as I did many times during the editing process, my sense of taste was put on notice. TASTE you say… yes… just look at what they went through. Mud seemed to find its way everywhere. Taking these shots, hearing their groans and watching the different shades and textures of mud make its way into every orifice, stirred this curiosity. Happy to say I did not experience the taste, just witnessed the aftermath of facial contortions. The sights and sounds were non-stop, from leaping off platforms, to my favorite… crawling through ‘real’ electrified wires. What was very clear throughout this spectacle of self-torture, was a constant hand given to help and encourage anyone with or behind them.
In my mind you would have to be very adventurous, a lil’ crazy, have a great sense of humor, while a low sense of taste and smell would be helpful. Most of all, you would have to be one tough mudder… or at the very least, have one who will drag you through all the obstacles.