“Fire and Ice” was the name of the annual festival held on High Street in Mt. Holly, New Jersey. The fire in the title refers to a chili cook-off contest. I stayed immersed in the ice part of this, very crowded at times, event. This was my second year, with the first being very enlightening and the temps on the warm side… lots of melting. Opposite of last time, the temps were a perfect 19 degrees in the morning which steadily rose to a toasty 23 by noon.
The forming of a three-dimensional figure from a solid piece of ice was fascinating to this photographer. My challenge was to try and create an image with depth on a flat surface. That surface never wavered, whether viewed on the screen or in print format. These artists visually saw the figure they wanted to create within that one-dimensional surface. I watched in amazement at how a crude block of ice transformed into a glistening piece of art. The process seemed rough and loud at times because of the tools that were used, but the end product was well worth the wait.
On the shooting side, this year was just as challenging as the year before. For a photographer, bridging the gap between bright sunlight and deep shadows provided one heck of an exposure dilemma. I looked at it this way, take the risk and maybe come away with the reward. Getting in close was foremost on my mind. I wanted to show the grit and emotions of the artists and deliver that to the viewer. Mixing shots of what is around at an event, with the core of what is happening, fell into place for me. From the huskies and their smoldering eyes to the whimsy of the people around, I blended into the crowd. With the click of my ice-cold fingers, I began to capture frozen moments in time. I could only hope to bring as much depth and artistry, from around me, into my photographs. Each time I shoot an event or place I try to peel away the layers of what I see and feel. In this case, I developed a feeling of ‘oneness’ with the artist… both chipping away until we had created a body of work.
I was treated to an early gift this season… it was a dusty, old, dark, and very magical treat to this photographer’s eyes. The present I am referring to, was my visit to the last intact silk mill left in the US. Built in 1907, and known as Klotz Throwing Company, it is located in Lonaconing, MD which is about a five and a half hour drive from where I live.
On rare occasions, you can feel a presence of history in a place. I felt it instantly, when I set foot inside this mill. What also set the mood was the ambient light I had to work in. The smell and feel of a past life lets your thoughts drift back to when it was a booming factory. Seeing the thousands of spools, and their links to the machinery, led you to actually imagine the sounds and visualize the people who had worked on the factory floor.
Throwing, as used in the name of the mill, constituted pulling and twisting the raw material into a thread that was used in the making of garments and later parachutes. By the 1920’s, the mill employed 359 workers. Just imagining that many people in the factory, made you realize how it must have been an incredibly busy place. The town alone, with its tiny twisting streets, seemed to be developed and tied to a company mindset where everything and everyone relied on the factory. A railroad passed through the center of town which helps to better understand its location since, WV coal mines were not very far down the road. Klotz Throwing Co., just like the Nation, went from feast to famine during the depression which was closely followed by WW II.
The mill went through a number of growing spurts that saw sanctions on raw silk from Japan, which almost closed the facility, to the start of a synthetic silk called rayon. By the 1950’s, silk demand was dwindling and the workers’ pay had also declined. In 1957, due to the poverty level of wages, they decided to strike and without warning, the owners closed the factory. The mill was shut down so quickly that to this day when you arrive on the second floor, you can still find a room with bins of shoes and other personal belongings. This sudden abandonment lends to the atmosphere of human trauma and decay that you can still feel permeates the building.
We see it throughout our nation… factories and businesses, both large and small are closing. Like a spider’s web, each thread spun is interconnected and leads to the center. The heart of our society is also woven one thread at a time. That thread of life is not just a single factory in Lonaconing but also one that connects us to each of the families that worked there. This emotion is as prevalent today as it was on that factory floor, where each incomplete severed piece of silk thread represents a family’s hopelessness…. or rebirth.
When at first taking photographs, the human element can be very intimidating. Being shy about approaching people does not help in finding subjects. My love of photography acts as a kind of ice breaker. Unless it is street photography, I always ask, whomever I am shooting if it is okay. This initial introduction is like a conduit for what will hopefully come next. My interaction, from this point, becomes much more personal as we talk about their life stories and mine. I can connect with ones eyes which helps me better record the light that both dances on their faces and frames the subject. This brief conversation is what bonds us and connects my pictures to them.
Street photography, on the other hand, is still hard for me. You would think being somewhat shy, that this form would suit my personality. For some reason, without the personal interaction, I feel a disconnect during this type of shooting. The more I study and interact with this process, I feel the better I might become. The interesting part in street photography, and probably what brings me back, is that I can catch a more natural unfolding human story. Unlike anything else, these snippets of life always convey the human connection to my images.
Environmental portraiture for me puts it all together. I get instant feedback from my sometimes elusive subjects doing what is important, to them. With this type of picture-taking, I find I can tie all elements together, much like landscape photography. This connection can be instant or will develop over the course of the shoot. I feel this shared knowing is the bond we both experience. As my subject opens up, so do I… voices and stories turn into an instant slice of life, a frozen piece of time.
The human element in these pictures is what I am most passionate about. What someone sees, and what I try to emote, is what connects a single frame from my camera to what you actually view. Can you hear their voices, share in their existence, form a story? Then, the common denominator that bonds the stories I feel I can tell with a single image, is …. YOU.
I get excited when I hear of an event in my area that I have never photographed before. My thought process is even more stimulated when the event is of a culture that I am not very well versed in. The celebration of the Chinese New Year in Philadelphia was one such event. It was to be the “Year of the Dragon” and the SJ meet up group was organizing this venue. It helped me get into the thought process by taking a train into the city and then walking up to Chinatown. As I approached my destination, I could see an arch that stretched from one side of the street to the other. I felt like it was welcoming me into a world and culture very different from mine.
As I meandered through Chinatown, the many signs and unique smells almost made me forget I was still in the city. The “Suns”, a local group of dancers and musicians, were preparing for the parade. They planned to stop at various businesses in the area and offer a blessing for the coming year. There was a brightly colored dragon which was serpentine in its shape and length. To create movement, there were dancers under the dragon that bobbed and weaved from sidewalk to sidewalk. The other elaborately decorated dragons were manipulated by groups of 2 that made their way to designated store fronts throughout the morning. This signaled a whirlwind of choreographed movements that symbolized bestowing a blessing onto the stores. The deafening sound of firecrackers mixed with drums, moved me in a crisscrossing pattern. Crowds were led by the smoke and the undulating progress of the dragon dancers while I attempted to capture the essence of what was happening. Looking around at the people watching this spectacle, I could see wonder and awe in the children’s faces, contrasted by a sense of pride from the older hierarchy.
Whatever way the new year is celebrated around the world, in Chinatown, the “Year of the Dragon” was set to a drum beat and punctuated with a bang. Whether a participant or spectator — just being there and sharing the moment was a blessing in itself.
I decided to join a meet-up group to shoot the Quickcheck Balloon Festival at Solburg Airport in Whitehorse,NJ. Having seen pictures of balloon events out west, I was curious about what I would experience here on the east coast. It rained the night before and the start of the day looked bleak. Lots of overcast skies and some rain were predicted. I thought that since my destination was over an hour’s drive away, maybe the weather would improve. The heavy clouds never cleared but the rain held off.
After parking my car, I took a long walk to a very large field filled with vans and trucks. Still no balloons in site. Then suddenly people came out of their vehicles, as if on cue, and unfolded large sheets of very colorful material which they spread out on the grass. Looking around, I still was not able to get a sense of what was coming next. Teams of helpers and pilots were starting to fill the deflated shapes by blowing air into them with fans. These huge fans were replaced by burners which heated up the air and made these colorful shapes rise.
And rise they did, from all over the field. The balloons transformed into many different shapes and sizes. There were balloons that took on the shape of a butterfly,cow and even a soda can. The many teams that launched these colorful wonders came from all over… Canada, out west and many from the east coast. The pilots of each balloon were very informative and gracious in answering my many inquiries. As I tried to maneuver to get a shot of the inside of these behemoths, the colors and patterns drew me in like a bug to light.
Everyone was excited to see them rise, if only to be stalled in mid-air by tethers attached to their trucks. Up, up and away was not to be this day. The cloud cover was too thick and the weather radar did not show much promise. It felt like a sporting event paused in mid-air. Even though deflation was near, I did not feel deflated. This experience had lifted my spirits and left my mind’s eye free to capture the possibilities by chronicling the occasion.
I had never before physically visited the Coal Piers in Philly. Mentally, I had seen shots from there and tried to visually picture what I could express about this place. After arriving at this isolated destination, my first thoughts were not how interesting this place was but, more like ” I am never going to see my car again”. You park about half a mile from the site, at the corner of 2 dead-end streets… not the best part of town. Finally giving in to all my worst scenarios, I started to walk toward the piers. I began to relax and when finally seeing the place -BAM. My mind and camera just took over and started to create different vignettes of what I saw around me. I knew immediately that I was in a metering abyss, with most images running the gamut from 5 stops over for the highlights and 7 stops under for the shadows. As luck would have it, when I finally reached my car, it was still intact. I knew the photographic journey was only half over. My next step was to experiment with the HDR process and see if it fit what I saw as well as what I wanted to express.
WoW…. what a day. I joined South Jersey Meetup Group for photography venues and critiques. My first meetup was at the Cross Keys Airport in Williamstown,NJ. Met Lou Dallara one of our organizers and went over where we were allowed to shoot. From there it was time to get oriented to where the divers would be dropping. And boy did some of them swoop in from seemingly out of nowhere. Sometimes shooting in and around the sun was both challenging and quite creative. Tried isolating the divers and getting my timing down. I then went on a journalistic approach and tried to build a story around me and the divers experience.