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”!
Since growing up between two of the largest cities on the east coast, one being Philadelphia and the other New York, you would think I would be familiar or at the very least comfortable with them. Actually that is the furthest from the truth as I grew up in the pines of south jersey, so visiting anything with more than 2 stories was both illuminating and many times quite confusing. When traveling to the city of choice for this post, “NYC”, I relied on the calm but monotonous one and a half hour ride on a train which would deposit me at Penn Station in Manhattan. This put me right in the center of where my quest to document 4 visits to this urban oasis would be fulfilled.
My first trip took me to lower Manhattan’s financial district. The structures and how the light reflected on them truly fascinated me. Peering up and down the streets and trying to make a connection with my camera was a task that was made easier by one of my guides, meet-up planer/photographer Martin Joffe. He had made special arrangements to shoot inside the “Woolworth” building. When I stepped inside this place, I was immediately sent back in time, where money translated to some of the most opulent decor one could imagine. The juxtaposition of the old to more modern architecture, was eye-opening to say the least.
The next visit to NYC was to shoot in Chinatown and my guide would be street/portrait photographer DC Fahsbender. Imagine the street noise and traffic of a big city combined with the unknown elements of a different country. The signs, language and most of the people being of a different culture, brought my lens to a place, both old and new. While I walked up and down the narrow streets of the many shops, I felt swept along by a current of people. By inviting the culture of this place in, I was able to slow down and click away.
A little further over would take me to the East Village, with its mix of old and new, which was evident from its late 19th century architecture to the present. The hispanic flavor of this part of the city was apparent just by viewing the restaurants and hearing the rhythmic music that echoed down many of the small cross streets. My lens once again gravitated to the people, whether they were engaged in a pickup basketball game or played dominos on the sidewalk.
Last, but not least, would be my trip to the Williamsburg Bridge and its namesake on the other side. Walking across, while overlooking the traffic and parts of the city, was not a sight to be missed. The pace of the people riding bikes and driving over this bridge was perilous at times, unless you stayed on the right side of the yellow line. From the view up high, to the street art down below, this section of town had me using pan blurs and structural composition to express my take on a walk across a busy city bridge.
Upon looking back at my little adventures to the Big Apple, I would not have changed a thing. I met some wonderful people and had great knowledgeable guides to help point which way was uptown or downtown and… which way was home. Although I would not trade where I live, the experience of urban life certainly made my camera happy.
When visiting a place that has any history I always try to find the back story and related articles that can shed light on the subject. Letchworth Village is one such place. It is located in Rockland County, NY which for me was about a 2 and a half hour drive from my South Jersey home. While driving, I ran through some facts about my destination in my mind so I could better visualize the place, and try to figure out how to document it when I arrived. Opened in 1911 as a state of the art facility for the mentally ill, it closed in 1996 amid documented abuse of the patients and staff. Like many of the facilities from this time, the word asylum was to offer sanctuary and protection for its patients, but over time this shelter became a house of horrors for many. For me, growing up and reading the after effects of these places, the word “asylum” took on a whole other dark and menacing connotation.
After finally arriving, I had wanted the day to be gloomy and overcast, so to set the mood and background to what I perceived my experience would be. A little disappointed, I was greeted with a beautiful sunrise and bright skies. The initial look and feel of the place was anything other than beautiful. The buildings and grounds showed the decay and overgrowth that I had expected. What was unexpected was the way the ivy created a brilliant backdrop of different shades of red, yellow and orange. This impact of color, along with the decay, let my mind travel in a different direction. Suddenly the colors complemented the decay and changed the mood from melancholy to a more uplifting outlook on this place. Exploring, by myself and with other photographers, the many buildings and fall colors became a driving force in helping me find the beauty that existed in the exterior of this so-called sanctuary. Finding refuge from the bright outside light in a huge 3 story power plant, I began to feel its dark side only to be startled by the almost heavenly, broken and dirt stained windows. Again and again the light and colors blurred the lines between the past and the present.
This dichotomy of decay, sunlight,fall colors and disturbing history brought an almost uplifting shift to my compositions. I can’t thank Marty Joffee of AIP enough for making this available to us and also letting me shed a different light on the often horrendous side to the word “Asylum ”. Depending on our perspective, we can dwell on the “what was” or, as I hope my photos will help you, choose to view the beauty of life and “what is”.
Sakura, in Japanese culture, translates to ‘Cherry Blossom’. This festival was scheduled to happen at a special park in Philadelphia. With my interest and curiosity tweaked, I decided to try and capture it through my lens.
drums beating in time
maidens twirling and frozen
The atmosphere of a festival can be both intoxicating and informative, especially one from a different culture than what I grew up in. Suddenly all that is foreign, becomes a reality into which one can immerse their senses.
bright circular fans
smiles and rhythms flow with pride
a past brought to life
While walking from one end of the park to the other, trying to catch each event can become a challenge, but the subconscious snap of my mind and shutter revealed its own rewards.
the essence in a single pond
zen like images
The aura and satisfaction that a few hours away from home can bring to ones soul helped me develop a more trans-formative outlook on the world… lets pass it forward!!!
Long ago, man domesticated and trained horses for both work and pleasure. Although in time, their use in today’s economy has been diminished by machines, we still have the pleasure of viewing their grace and beauty in various sports. Along with their powerful size and fluid movement, one can’t help but be drawn in by their soul-searching eyes. With that kind of compelling ‘bait’, this year I eagerly attended three different horse events: Jumping (Saugerties, NY), Polo (Brandywine, PA), Racing (Wilmington, DE).
First up, horse jumping…. I have never before been exposed to the immense size of these horses. The grace and power of being able to lift their weight and also a rider, seemed effortless. In order to prepare shooting the actual event, I used the warm up ring to time and find the right angles. The light in the competition ring was overhead and very challenging, as was finding the right position to try and keep out background clutter. The movement from one jump to the other was like anticipating a quiet storm. The approach was slow and calm but then a blast of power was emitted only to ease back into a methodical trot.
Next up the sport of Polo… not knowing the sport was the first hurdle, but the hardest was yet to come. I set out to find an engaging spectator, one whom I could ask questions. The questions just spilled out from this rookie… how do they score, which way does each team go, are their time limits etc? All were answered with a great sense of knowledge and pride by a duo I had accosted who were also proud parents to two of the riders. I found out the teams came from all over, even as far as Argentina, and when in the US they play in a circuit that takes them from the east to the west coast. My quest began when I tried to find the right combination of action and develop a personal connection. The easy part was the side to side, back and forth movement of the teams. The hard part, as usual in team sports, is to isolate the subject to get a unique connection with the sport and its participants.
Last, but not least was horse racing… not a betting man myself, I was befriended by one who does on a regular basis. I found out about the weight of jockeys and how it plays a part in what the horse carries. The horses also raced on dirt and an inside grass course. Getting a shot of the inside of the track took a lot of ‘up, down and under’ rail maneuvering. The riders, owners and horses seemed to have a connection when racing but when finished, I did not find a loving relationship or bond like in the previous venues. I believe this was in part due to the money being spent and the very high-strung nature of the horses. This was evident especially when they finished a race, as many horses just wanted to keep going. Timing was key to almost all shots here, as you would place yourself in one position for each race and compose frantically as they blew by.
An intimate connection to the horses was not achieved in these outings as I originally thought would happen. I believe this had to do with each being a viewer’s sport while the deeper connection would exist with the people who raised and trained them. For me this heart-felt, soul-searching event would have to happen at a later time when my interaction with these noble animals would not just be play but on a more personal level. As I viewed my pictures, the competitive-nature of this magnificent animal is apparent, but if you look more closely… you can get the feeling he is just ‘horsing around’ with us.
Dancing is something I only dream I could pull off, but when utilizing photography, it becomes a different story altogether. By combining inspiration from Lois Greenfield (dance photography), Frank Veronsky (portrait), Denise Ippolito (creative-motion) and some street cred from DC Fahsbender, this has become my second attempt at shooting dancers. To give you a small snippet of what this involves, I would like to break it down for you. The recipe… throw 6 professional dancers into a narrow but high ceiling bowl (room) is key, as they need room to breathe (jump). Next, set up lighting and camera… the camera is very old school, meaning you get only one click before you have to reset the shutter… this is where personal taste and timing come into play. Tether this camera to a computer with a screen to sample (view) the results. As you can see, there are a lot of ingredients that are needed, including the right combination of music, movement and intuition.
Magic seems to happen when you start to feel both the music and a dancer’s interpretation. Timing, and an awareness of what will happen next, is what turns an almost shot into a perfect capture. This capture is what is very hard to connect with, as it only appears in milliseconds. If you could see my out-takes, you would fully understand how fleeting this is. The joy I get, is interacting with the dancers to create that moment. With no background in dance, I have to rely on my quick finger and an eye for composition.
When finished, I am able to open up the captures in my digital darkroom and discover what a dancer’s movements have created. Their forms react to the environment, and with a leap, twist or spin, their human core emits a note that is just as perfect as when played on an instrument. That sound (moment) is caught and then processed to create my own composition. I hope my photographs help you both see and hear the beauty in LIFE’s dance.
To be so dedicated to one thing can sometimes be isolating… unless, you are a re-enactor of a bye gone time. Whether it be a huge piece of history or just a small intimate moment, to the enthusiast it seems just like yesterday. Their wealth of knowledge can be just as transforming as their choice of costume.
I had the privilege of shooting a piece of history at Jockey Hollow in Morristown, NJ as part of the Adventures in Photography meet-up group led by Boris Hardouin-Deleuze. While very small in contrast to a Civil War event which spanned several miles and had hundreds of participants, this firsthand event was no less important to the enthusiastic volunteers. Set during the Revolutionary War, the location depicted a small encampment, complete with tents and the life that transpired around it. The venue and time of day forced me to compose in small snippets rather than the grand scheme so often envisioned in large-scale events. I also choose to edit and develop my captures with a similar recipe. This recipe came about from experimentation and my inner vision of what the event spoke to me as a photographer. Through the use of filters in NIK software, and finishing touches in Lightroom, I was able to apply this to each of my compositions. While true to my vision, the actual events from that time period might take on a more drab, less polished and even dated place in history. This manipulation… recreating a past event, fits my vision and passion for documenting what was seen with what I envision my path in photography to be about.
Seasons… a common occurrence around the world. Where I live on the east coast of the USA, I get to experience all 4 of them. While taking photos around the US and abroad, I have mingled, interacted and shared with people from all over. The discussions included favorite places, and fantastic lighting, to name a few, but most times it invariably ended when we delved into places and times that are closest to what we call home.
My home, which is located in the middle of a state forest in south Jersey, is one such place and this year my season of choice is inescapably winter. The frigid cold mornings, that brought frost and fog also opened my minds eye to every subtle optical shade of this season, and was without compare. I say ‘was’ in a whisper, as to not invoke the wrath of mother nature’s possible late spring snow… AGAIN. The change in temperature, the leaves gone and the first signs of ice on the ponds and lakes, helps slow down my busy life. I await the first snow like a child but, for a very different reason. Snow, that comes at night, is as haunting as it is soothing when I walk and bathe in its silence. The perfect snow for me is the one that happens during the daylight hours, for this is when I get to play. This year brought many different kinds of storms… wet sloppy, large flaky and mind-blowing sideways. The light that was hidden during a storm, when caught early enough, gave off just the right amount of color to make one want to stay and capture its ever fading hues.
I created this blog post as a kind of peace-offering to the weather gods. First to say thank you for letting my camera catch every subtle shade this season had to offer but also to pray I do not have to shovel my plowed in drive way for another third time in a single DAY!!!!!
Peace ‘Mother Nature’… I still love your “COOL” sense of humor.
All aboard for a blast to the past, a “Trolley Graveyard”. Before embarking on this workshop shoot I had preconceived ideas of what I would encounter, as I had shot old trains in Connecticut about a year back. The venue in CT provided wide open spaces that showcased the trains, along with overgrowth that reached over 6 feet high in many places. After my initial eye-opener to the area, I slowly made my way to the back of the property. You might say it was literally the end of the line, in so many ways, as the tracks ended and the overgrowth was even harder to get through.
I approached this place in a backwards type of planning, for when hiking in and past the trolleys, I would take mental notes on what to shoot on my way back. This proved very rewarding as most of the group started in the front. I could line up wide and distant shots without human ‘ghosts’ walking in and out of my long exposures. The trolleys gave up their past, through patterns of decay and framed windowless panels of the fall, throughout the day. Exploring and creating, while trying not to trip on stumps, played out like a game of where not to step. The overcast day provided the perfect flat light I needed to expose the colors and decomposition found all around me.
When the time came to process these relics of a time well past, I was torn between color and black and white. The colors found at this time of year spotlighted and gave the trolleys an almost peaceful place to rest their rusting bones. When the right image was flipped to B/W, the past came alive… you could hear the sound of bells and metal screeching on tracks… the area seemed to come to life again. When turning back after my trek, I could truly feel that this was their last stop… castaways in the woods but comfortably paired with each other as if to say “we are home… just out of service.“
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.
As a photographer, I seek out new places, people and creative concepts where ever I go. This could be overseas, in the US or, in most instances, very close to home. Living in a state forest has many pros, but one con would be that you have to drive just to get milk, let alone find a unique venue as in this post. Driving is not always just traffic and mindless waiting at lights. It can be a welcome activity after being in a classroom for five days. One such drive took me north along the Delaware river to a crossing point into PA, this crossing is made up of two towns… New Hope on the PA side and Lambertville on the Jersey side. While exploring the Jersey route, I came upon a very interesting structure, and after a closer inspection, found it to be a training facility for fencing. It was closed at that time but I took note of the high windows which I believed would let in enough light to shoot and possibly stop any action within. I waited a couple of months, while corresponding with the owner of the fencing company BCAF, and was delighted to be able to photographically document the following activities.
I made two visits to make sure the light and the fencers were well covered by my lens. The light inside was almost too bright at times, but the alternative would have been worse. Viewing the rhythm of this graceful sport took some time. Just trying to get into position so I could align the light with the fencers took some refining and adjusting. I quickly found the atmosphere both soothing yet explosive. The coaches and students worked very well together, so well in fact, that I could feel the mutual respect they displayed toward each other. All fencers’ faces were rendered almost emotionless because they were hidden by black mesh. I was very surprised that, with the right light and detailed processing afterward, these featureless combatants came alive. Their code of discipline, responsibility and respect, coupled with good sportsmanship, was evident throughout my visit. It was refreshing to see the bumping of elbows and the saluting of ones opponent when matches were completed. This for me was the essence of understanding sport and respect given to your adversary.
Without getting in too deep with the history of fencing, I would like to point out, what other athletic pastime can be portrayed as both an art form and sport? Something with this much discipline seems to both educate the mind as well as the body, therefore… it could never be viewed as pointless.
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
In a photo trip, many feel it is “just about the picture”…. for some it is…. but for me it is about enjoying the validation of my place in the world. When I truly immerse myself in an extended shoot, be it 1 day or 11, I try and bring a positive energy with me as I interact with the people and the place I am at. In Moab,UT this was truly encouraged from my first meeting with our workshop leader Richard Bernabe and his assistant Tom Schmitt. You could just feel the vibe when he described what the place had revealed to him since he has been there many times before. Our group began to meld over the next 3 days as we shot and got to know one another… the venue, and especially our stellar breakfast landing point “The Love Muffin Cafe”, sure did help after rising by 3am and leaving at 4 to reach our destination and catch the perfect light.
When looking at a map for the town of Moab you instantly realize just how out in the middle of nowhere it actually is. But one person’s ‘out there’ is literally another’s ‘dream’. For me it was the later, with Arches and Canyonlands NP located on either side. Our group explored Arches each morning and early evening to utilize the best lighting. I can only describe my feelings as if being on another planet with stone formations jutting out from the desert floor. The reds and yellows were almost overwhelming, especially when the first rays of the sun hit them. That glow stayed with me for what seemed forever as we searched for the best this park had to offer.
One night shoot in particular, created such a memorable visual impression. We had hiked in and set up under nature’s beautiful arches and waited for the night sky to light up. I am not exaggerating as ‘light up’ is an understatement. On the east coast we have what is called light pollution so we see a varied amount of stars. In a place like Moab, that has virtually no light pollution, the overabundance of stars you see can almost seem unreal. You would think being out in a strange place in pitch dark would be unnerving but just the opposite happened to me. Knowing the people and hearing their stories about family and life became very communal in nature.
What can you say when a place speaks to your soul and the people around you bring such peace back to your life. Moab and its surrounding parks is one such place.
We must commit ourselves to becoming good stewards and guardians over the inherited portals to our past.
I had a fantastic opportunity to shoot in the Adirondacks for a couple of days with Mark Bowie. Our group would be trying to capture the night sky as it coincided with a new moon. A new moon is the darkest of moons and this would provide less light pollution in the dark skies. I normally see only about four bright stars, due to light pollution from Philadelphia, NYC and to round out this Bermuda Triangle… Atlantic City. This bleeding of light makes it difficult to see and shoot very dark skies, as it creeps up from the horizon and illuminates low-lying clouds and atmospheric humidity.
When in upstate NY, the lack of this light pollution was quite evident from my first night out in the field. It seemed like ‘twinkle overload’ from the amount of stars that could be seen by the naked eye. Perfect conditions surrounded me… very little cloud cover and almost no wind activity. Having only seen the Milky Way in static pictures from science books, I had to prepare myself to sit back and take it all in. This spectacular show seemed to stretch and arc right above me, in an endless stream of pulsating lights. Techniques for shooting at night vary but often share some very similar and sometimes frustrating dilemmas. In my case it was how to focus in the pitch black. My solution, and possibly yours, lies in the ebooks that Mark Bowie, David Kingham and Roman Kurywczak have produced. Some of the photos you see, seem to be lit by a super flashlight. This was not the case, as illumination was actually street lamps and house lights that when exposed for long periods, fill the area in a nuclear luminescence. At other times just the diffused light from a town on the other side of a ridge was enough to create a moody backlit scene.
As many of you know who follow this blog, I am not one to sit around and wait for the next star show to appear. Waking early after staying up late can lead to sleep deprivation or in some cases a magical morning shot. A couple of mornings greeted me with a deep mist and rising fog over the warm waters, while other times, filtered light illuminated the cloudy skies. My outlet is photography and the adventure in finding and shooting things that I have not experienced before. This search lead me to Inlet, NY… where I could sit back and unplug my very busy mind and truly connect with nature. Try it… you just might find yourself energized by the worldliness that surrounds us all.
Many times I have been privileged to shoot awe-inspiring locations, but what I found more fantastic, was to uncover the world within. Discovering with my lens another world that is actually right in front of my nose, can be an eye-opening experience. Whether a subject is found in nature or from objects that have been discarded, I find that these tiny things evoke a surreal almost other worldly composition.
I am usually drawn to the big picture, a grand landscape or fast-moving action shot. For me macro, or close up photography, is none of these. It calms my mind and slows the body when I immerse myself in this world. Light still plays an important part of seeing and creating a dynamic photo. But what really sets it apart, are the details. I get lost in them, almost to the point of distraction. As with other types of photography, you have to take the chaos out of what you see and produce a shot that the viewer can immediately engage with.
When doing macro work I close out a lot of what is around me. This helps me bring the ordinary, and at times the overlooked, up close and makes it more personal.
In the summer, I usually look forward to visiting Maine. I primarily go to take classes at the Maine Media College in Rockport. On my most recent trip, I included a couple of extra days so I could shoot part of Acadia NP with Stephen Johnson. He was also going to be my instructor at the college. Needless to say, weather plays a very important part in outdoor photography, sometimes fog, rain or extreme sun can throw a wrench into getting a good shot. My motto is “ you can’t shoot it if you are not there “, so I just kept my fingers crossed and prayed to the photo gods. I know nothing is ever perfect but I always try to make the best of what is presented to me at the moment.
The above composition was taken on my drive up to Acadia. I had stopped for my yearly “lobster roll” in the town of Wiscasset. The most publicized place there is “Reds Eats” but, it is normally packed and I really hate lines. Just across the street is “Sprague’s Lobsters”, which has a beautiful deck overlooking the inlet, and shorter lines so it was a no brainer. While eating and dodging gulls, the sky became overcast and shadows started opening up around the pilings. I observed the clouds, along with the movement of the gulls, and was able to dial in a shot that had all these qualities and yet spoke volumes about the intimate serenity enjoyed in nature.
About 2 hours further up the road, this amazing cable bridge came into view. I immediately turned around and found an outlook point and started framing pictures, from very wide to more isolated. The last comp here is a cropped version of my larger photo. I loved how the dark shadows formed a ‘V’ down each side while the clouds were a bonus and added a much-needed background. FYI… the Penobscot Narrows Bridge was finished in 2006 and is located in Fort Knox NP.
A day later I finally made it into Acadia NP and came across one of 16 cobblestone bridges which criss-cross the park. I was fascinated by its structure and how it seemed to frame what was on the other side. After shooting many variations I turned my lens to some of the many plants in this area and found this fern which drew my eye and camera down its spiraling fronds.
Now was the time near sunset to drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain. Clouds and an overcast sky made it very difficult to get a decent sunset shot. After circumnavigating the top of this mountain, I came across many lichen covered rock formations. They took my camera in many directions until this almost perfectly carved cross came popping out. I am still amazed at how many colors nature presents to me in the outdoors.
The next day I decided not to fight the crowds of summer and take a trip to the opposite side of Bar Harbor. Schoodic Point Road toward Winter Harbor turned out to be the perfect choice. No crowds and many pull-offs to hike out and take in the view. The first shot was made after a short hike through the woods where I found the fog just starting to lift. I noticed a sailboat tacking back and forth so I waited until it was parallel to the dock. While waiting for the boat to come back, I looked down at what was crunching beneath my feet. Shells… thousands of them, all cracked open. I learned that gulls drop them on the rocks to break them and then eat the mussels. To me they formed this wonderfully colorful ode to why I was there. Sometimes it is not to make the iconic most oft taken picture but instead, be witness to what is around and embrace it. The last photo was at Winter Harbor, on the point, and the sun was now at its apex … noon… kinda like the bewitching hour for photographers. I strolled out to the slippery point and concentrated on the shadows and how the tide and waves were moving in. I learn a lot about the area and myself while shooting. Just like the rhythm of the ocean around me… take it in, flow with it and do not fight the moment. Just being there is what life’s all about…. I do not dismiss those iconic places, as I will be back when the crowds dissipate and the skies open up, hopefully with a fresh eye and a new “ point of view “.
Drove up to Wallkill, NY for a photo shoot with the Ridgewood Meetup Group. It was organized by Martin Joffee and run by Mark Lasser. Our group would be shooting “quads”… four-wheel motorcycles at the Waldon Motocross Track. Usually when I think about MX racing I envision the 2 wheeled variety of bikes, but these riders left nothing to the imagination. They were just as fast and high-flying as their speedy cousins.
I had access to the whole course, which could be seen in its entirety from the entrance. At first glance it appeared very hilly and there was a lot of dirt…. I mean, dusty, muddy, loose, clumpy… you name it and I stepped and even tasted it, because when these riders get going they can really move that dirt around. It took a while to find the right vantage points for each jump, bump and turn and to also get my timing down. There is always a lot of trial and error when shooting any fast event, lucky for me they do it over and over again. The engine sounds would give you a clue to how fast and then how high they would launch from one of the many hills. The problem I came across was trying to figure out where they would land and then be in position to capture it. When covering an event like this, finding and waiting for the action to appear is essential. You need patience and a certain amount of luck. You also need to be very conscious that ‘what goes up, must come down’. The fact is it seems to not be an exact science with MX racers. Just as my photo adrenaline kicked in, so does their competition gear, and sometimes it got stuck in high. Some landings were as graceful as a dancer and other times you just wanted to look away. I was struck by how fast these four-wheeled bikes could go and by the end of the day, also how loud they could be.
My ears were ringing and I am still cleaning the dust and mud off my equipment but… ya gotta love the atmosphere, and for me the end product… pics that emoted the sound (loud)… the pace (fast)… and the taste (dirty) !!!!!
I woke up very early Sunday morning preparing myself for the hour and a half drive ahead of me. I was off to shoot in the NYC harbor on what seemed, at the time, a large raft. I met the captain, Bjoern Kils and found out he grew up in northern Germany where I was born… the world just keeps getting smaller. I kept eyeing the craft and after stepping on board, was transfixed with how stable and open it was, great for the type of photography I was hoping to encounter. Our captain was the perfect host, as he kept our safety, weather and position on the boat a top priority. Bjoern, being a photojournalist full-time, would guide and position our boat into areas that would optimize our shooting opportunities. He filled our group in on the history and background of all that we would pass by that day. The wind and chop of the open bay made me more thoughtful of just how incredibly hard it must have been when hurricane Sandy hit this area.
For myself, I found out early on, that standing and shooting on a moving platform was a 50/50 experience. When the wind cuts across the bow, I had to place myself on the opposite side or better yet…duck behind someone. Ocean spray can do wonders to an otherwise dull bridge shot! Around each corner was another scene, ready to be captured and tamed by my viewfinder. I realized early on that the symmetrical formations in front of me were not unlike the landscape pics that I normally line up in my camera. There was a surreal quality to many of the compositions I encountered throughout the day. What struck me more than once was the beauty in an otherwise extremely urban seascape. The angle and perspective which presented itself was priceless, thanks to the captain and his craft’s maneuvering.
I grew up being driven, and later driving myself, past all the refineries, airports, rows upon rows of homes, and miles of turnpike exits to reach relatives and downtown NYC. What I was exposed to, on this trip, was another completely different layer in my quest to photograph my adventures. “Industrialized Symmetry” accentuated and enhanced the harborscape that surrounded me everywhere. This seemingly simple trip opened my eyes and lens to the world of the outer edge of NYC.
A big thanks to Marty Joffe of the Ridgewood CC meetup group for finding and organizing this one of a kind photo excursion.
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.
We have all heard the phrase but, you have not seen nor felt its literal meaning until you have set foot in this park. What a gem! It is located just a little over an hour north of Las Vegas near a town named Overton. On a map, this park looks very navigable as it has only a couple of main roads in and out. Now that’s on paper, but in reality, the enormity of what it covers can only be experienced by parking your vehicle and actually setting foot on one of many trails. There is Balancing Rock, Elephant Rock, just to name a few of the many more such sedimentary formations. I mention this because I was very happy with my choice of going with an experienced photo guide. Without his insight and direction, our group would have definitely missed many unique and mind-boggling beautiful vistas.
Our sensei for this 2 day adventure was Joe Rossbach. He is a truly gifted photographer who has traveled and explored this park many times. Joe took us down, around and over numerous rocks and paths until we could visualize what he saw. The sky was very dramatic, with rain clouds building in the distance. Waiting like hyenas for their prey to be exposed, we were rewarded with subtle but very specific light. We could just sit and be in awe of the natural beauty that was in front of us all. Our group was guided to a small slot canyon, which I for one, would have never found nor been able to maneuver through.
During the two rewarding days spent on this trip, I was reminded of how special it is to be willing to open one’s visual and personal senses to the not so obvious path. By taking the one less traveled, I learned a very crucial lesson…. don’t just seek out a map but find a time proven reliable guide!!!
There is a special pull about a water environment that keeps me going back. I grew up near the water – canoed and kayaked on it, played and swam in it. Now I create pictures of its reflections, the shore line and in Newport Rhode Island, the sailboats on its choppy waters. The chance to shoot large racing class boats up close and in action, drew me to this outing.
A group of us met at the harbor to really test our skills at taking photographs of these sleek fast sailboats. I would be shooting from a chase boat that bobs and weaves with the rhythm of the race. Just as I had done in the past, when shooting an unfamiliar event, I studied the subtle movements first. I watched the light as my position changed on what seemed a very unstable surface. This was due in part by our smaller chase boat which moved in tandem with the larger ever-changing sailboats. Trying to compose and expose turned out very challenging at first but, once I got my sea legs working, I started to anticipate the movements of these graceful crafts. I relaxed and clicked away. It was amazing to see how much work it took to keep the wind in their sails while speeding toward a distant finish line. The teamwork was at times static and then very frenetic when the right amount of wind turned up the pace of the race.
After the race, I was introduced to the many varieties of boats on the water at any given time. From small and large sailboats, both young and rustic in form, to speed boats and even the immense Queen Mary. The size of the latter can only be really appreciated when at water level from about 20 yards away while staring up and watching the sky disappear. Reaching shore from a long day of shooting and after what seemed an hour, my body and equilibrium started to settle down and become grounded once again. The group was treated to some land shooting of lighthouses and fishermen plying their trade. When the occasional boat would drift by, I felt my pulse quicken while remembering the excitement of the race environment I was exposed to earlier in the day.
Eventually I settled back into my land lubber legs where even the call of the water couldn’t replace a stable surface to work on, create and compose – until the time would come when I would feel its magic pull again.