I recently had the invite and honor of going on a photo workshop, with Rich Lewis into 4 different areas of the Pinelands. Many who know my background of having grown up in Browns Mills, raising a family in Chatsworth and recently moving to Southampton, might scratch their heads and ask why I would go with someone into “my backyard”. There is a pretty simple answer. As photographers we sometimes isolate ourselves from those who shoot around us. I have always been very open to new perspectives even in an area I am very familiar. Rich, besides being a very good friend, has a unique and really personal take on the Pinelands, so I couldn’t pass that up. I have grown immensely in both vision, technique and camaraderie because when I opened myself up to the visions of others… besides the saying “keep your enemies close” really fits… LOL.
We started at sunrise, at the Franklin Parker Preserve with a 25 degree morning which kept everyone moving right along. There is nothing like watching the sunrise over a long stretch of bogs. First the sky gradually changes, then the light plays with the foreground until finally it dances and highlights the many open spaces. This is serenity for me, sharing a home space and talking about our craft to one another I felt very blessed. It still surprises me after shooting countless times in and around my home that I always can find something new.
Next location was a cedar swamp, where just the mention of the word swamp is enough to turn most adventurers off. Rich guided us to a place just off the main road, one I had driven past countless times but always took for granted… big mistake. Lucky for us there was a raised path, so there was no mucking around. The light created many shadows and presented a challenge to create a picture from the chaos that was all around. For me, the reflections in a frozen puddle made it all worthwhile.
Further down the road was an abandoned brick factory which had been transformed into a “graffiti and paintball haven”. Talk about really stretching your shooting and composition skill-set, well this is the place. With so many bright colors in the middle of the forest, it almost seemed surreal.
Last on our list was my actual backyard… Lebanon Lakes. Finding a “not to familiar shot” here was challenging, but as before, if you just open up and drink in the ambience, it will appear. What also awakened in me were many happy memories of walking my dogs here as well as showing my daughters the many wonders that could be found… their favorite… frogs ! As I closed my eyes I could hear my wife’s laugh, it was unmistakable, in both vibrance and warmth… I knew I was truly HOME.
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.
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.
Inspiration, whether it be stumbled upon, pushed toward or forced into, can be a powerful motivator. My ever-increasing thirst for improvement led me to discover a photographer named Mike Moats. I was instantly pulled in by his compositions, both found and created, which he called “Tiny Landscapes”. His laid back approach inspired me to look closer when shooting an event in the field and at home.
The next step in my learning how to walk, through this type of photography, came more like a big push… or ‘shove’ towards what was actually in front of me all along. This enlightenment came when I was privileged to attend a solo showing by fellow photographer Pat Worley. Her creative eye on what could be done with flowers, light and most of all one’s take on art, was electrifying, to say the least. Seeing prints blossom from the almost mystical to up close and personal, was the final nudge for me to explore what I had overlooked in the past.
I jumped in with both feet, and a couple of not so gentle hands, by taking a workshop with Denise Ippolito. Two things drew me to this choice… one being the venue, Longwood Gardens, which was a place I had never shot or even visited, and the second being Denise. I knew she had a strong vision of what she liked to create, but what took me by surprise was how impactful this vision would be on my photography. The many teachable moments and discussions she presented, were priceless, as it opened my mind and lens to endless compositions. Denise, Joe and Lou led by example and guidance throughout this venture for me into a secluded, but extensive living environment. Their familiarity with the place, was enriched by them also being outstanding creatives themselves, helped me to find not just the standard shot, but forced me to look further and to think outside of my self-imposed box. The true test of any teacher / leader is not just about their portfolio, but what they can share and inspire in others… Denise is a true teacher.
Having been tripped, pushed and forced to see what others already knew about flower photography… this softening of my ‘edges’ has truly reinforced my mantra of to always be willing to grow and learn, but most of all… create.
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.“
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.