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.
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.
The light that flows openly over…
It accentuates the beauty
Highlights ones’ curves and
Exposes the deep dark crevasses of the soul.
Follow the light…
For it will yield the human form
Bring out a voyeuristic curiosity
Make the luminescence a vulnerable path to our inner vision.
Create a brilliance on the imperfect form…
Let the lens reveal
Let It expose a unique vision
This cold mechanical device has now bonded with the radiance of the
‘Human Landscape’ .
These images were created after shooting the ‘Human Form’ on 3 separate occasions. I guess… “third times a charm”, as the light, models and location proved to be the difference. I would like to thank Frank Veronsky for providing the venue and guidance and to Noah and Jackie for being my canvases for the day.
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 “.
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.
My last trip for the summer of 2012 was to Banff NP in Alberta, Canada. Like many other parks, both in the US and Canada, this location has been and continues to be shot by some of the best photographers in the world. While I do not include myself in their ranks, I do study the work they produce. I use what I have seen of their photographs, to both guide and inspire my own work. Seeing the light and perspective that these photos captured aides me to focus my vision of this iconic place. Below you will find shots that I felt were from my minds eye, which is not to say I did not take the classic shots. I hope this will help shed some light for others, on what made me create these compositions.
I had seen this first shot many times before. The rocks in front brought my eye into the larger picture so it enabled me to include a foreground element. It solidified a balance and completed the shot for me. The subtle light on both the back mountain and the foreground, do not compete with each other but instead helped finish the story for the viewer.
After a short hike uphill, I could envision the picture I wanted to take. I shot a standard wide angle that included the whole lake and mountains. It had a nice composition but it was still missing that Aha moment. The shot you see above came to me on my walk back.
I kept glancing over my shoulder, watching the light and reflections in the lake. By using a longer lens to flatten the perspective, I then framed the image with the trees. The final piece to this puzzle came when I converted it to B/W.
These next two compositions proved to be very special to me. This was my first time on a glacier. Most are very high up and take a lot of hiking to reach. Often the trek required some really small steps in order to keep from sliding on the ice. I was amazed at how dirty the ice was at the lower levels. It appeared much whiter higher up where there was less movement. To show the expanse and give it a sense of place, I included people in this wide shot. Next, I tried to create flowing abstracts and still not lose the feeling that this was part of the glacier. The curves and a slow shutter helped blur the moving water and made this stand out both in the camera and the final print.
Some days of my trip proved very rewarding. You can go seven days without the perfect sunrise, as I have experienced many times before. One morning I found a very accessible lake just off a main road. The problem was finding the right angle and foreground to match the beautiful sunrise that was quickly forming. The next obstacle was to try and not cause any ripples in this super calm lake as I was just inches from the water. In the final composition I had just the right light on the mountains and the reflection of the clouds.
On the last morning of my trip, I visited a place called Lake Louise. The views of this vista were breath taking and I took the standard shots but it still seemed unfinished until a cloud bank came in. It was just what I needed, my camera eye went into overdrive. The clouds provided the drama element and by turning it into B/W, it sealed the deal and thus ended my trip on a high note.
Through my experience…. always take the standard shots, pictures that come easily, but don’t forget to take a second glance at the scene. It will help you create something different, and often unique…. you may find that iconic shot replaced by an unforgettable and truly original composition.
As a full-time teacher and, when I can find the time, a casual photographer, I constantly juggle family, job and outside interests. Travel and photography are my chance to unwind and be a little creative while experiencing a different place from my everyday routine. I do not always succeed with combining both but, I am more committed once I leave the comfort of my home. One trip that would best exemplify this was the one I took to Ouray, CO, the “swiss alps of the west”.
As usual I have to escape the east coast via the dreaded airport, and in my case that means Philadelphia International. As most people know, this first step can be a crap shoot with delays, weather and just an overall gloomy vibe that surrounds you. I often cross my fingers, and anything else I can find, to bring out the “nice travel gods”. By the time I make it to the Denver airport, which also includes a transfer to another plane, I find my gate and follow stairs that lead down, and by down I mean way ‘basement like’ down. I had never transferred this far to another plane until then. I found myself tracking what seemed like an unending maze of ropes and passages until I found the exit door. I opened it and froze for the moment as I saw the tarmac. Half expecting sirens to explode and 10 TSA agents to tackle me… hey that would have probably been exciting except that my travel plans would have ended. To my utter surprise, a very cheerful attendant pointed to the plane… can we all say “now thats a small plane”. It turned out this was where my adventure began and hopefully did not end… on a twin prop plane that literally flew straight up and then down to yet another first…. one of the smallest airports I have ever been to.
The town of Ouray is wedged between mountains on all sides, one road in and one out, and let me tell you it is a really dynamic road which is called the “4×4’s into the San Juan Mountains for the next five days. I traveled in awe thinking what kind of people it took to carve out these twisting roads just to reach their mines deep in the hills. What seemed isolating for early settlers, just beamed with beauty. The calm stillness in the air and the grandeur of the mountains still yet to climb, left one breathless… and in my case, it was compounded by the altitude. The out lying areas were of a time long past, with their decaying buildings and overgrown mines, but the wildflowers and snow-covered mountaintops just welcomed you with open arms, and encouraged the clicking of shutters.”. There are no guard rails just beautiful vistas on all sides and I was there to breathe it all in, if I could just keep my eyes on the road! My group would be taking large
All my travels seemed to end on a note of both joy and a little sadness. The happiness came from being immersed in a place which I saw with new eyes. A place, that on the surface seemed to be withering and almost swallowed up by the elements, I found beauty in the old wheels and homes that were left behind, chronicling life from another era. The sadness I felt was in knowing my adventure had ended. What was still left was the meeting and sharing with like-minded artists and viewers… rekindling memories of my experience with photographs that captured moments that were both aging yet ageless.
The pace of the world can be a challenging place to even the most progressive of cultures. A place that will never catch up, to the world around it, is Smith Island in the Chesapeake Bay. Not only has the so called outside world failed to overshadow this place, but it is also where its residents don’t care what other people think of their way of life, which is to continue on as in the past.
The island has its own rhythm and the residents have a “outer banks brogue”, which I liken to the accent I have heard in many of the outlying fishing villages on Maine’s coast. The sad part for me was knowing that this island community is dying. With many of its full-time residents being over 50 years old, the younger inhabitants are leaving the island culture and not returning. What impressed me the most was the hospitality of just about everyone I met on the island, from the captain of the ferry who brought us from Crisfield, MD to Tom Horton a local writer whose home I stayed in.
The “watermen”, as the local crab fishermen are called, were unwavering in their daily ritual of trawling for crabs. I watched as a very adept but weathered septuagenarian plied his trade by dragging, and then pulling up by hand, a sea rake that entangled the crabs. Talk about back-breaking work, which is the norm around the island for both young and old, as they very rarely miss a day of work. The salt marshes seemed endless around the outer island but our guide and host Tom, easily navigated our group from Tylerton to Ewel which are the two biggest villages in this area. Tylerton, the smaller of the two, is where I stayed, was separated by an inlet from the bigger island. This separation from the mainland way of life gave me the perspective I needed to photograph this vanishing culture. The isolation permeated my vision, as the fast pace of my daily life was now acted out in slow motion, punctuated by the click of my shutter.
While dinning on crab cakes, soft shelled crabs and their famous 8 layer cake can hardly be called roughing it, you can not escape the feeling that you are witnessing history in its most unescapable form… documenting a way of life that may not be seen again, but will forever be written and read about.
Like a hand searching for the right time to create
You can feel its outstretched fingers… slowly, steadily
Reaching out… back and forth like a great tide
The hand of Fundy
Its daily ritual… forever etching its rhythm into your soul
Which appendage will the hand point to… misty, foggy
Anticipate the ebb and flow, what next… sunny, moonlit
Only the hand knows
My body and mind, now are one with this hand that has guided my inner vision.
How do you decide upon a destination? I ask myself that question almost every time I embark on a new shooting adventure. I find the most apprehensive part is just meeting my group for the first time. Our guides (teachers) become the focus during this initial meeting. It is make or break time, and then I find out they both share the same name, Doug. Although the names were similar, what becomes very apparent, is that these two individuals are as unique as the place we are about to shoot in.
The place was “Grand Teton NP” and our two teachers were Doug Johnson and Doug Ness. You know you are in a good place when you are met with a smile and a fantastic sense of humor. Doug and Doug would guide, advise, and lead by example through the next six days. Both had a sense of place and a very personal attachment, having been here many times before. I had signed up with Rocky Mountain School of Photography before, and they should be commended for their choice of instructors.
We divided into groups to make it easier to car pool around the many destinations in the park. My group consisted of Michael and Lisa and can you believe, they were teachers like myself. Our banter between shoots was as wide-ranging as the park itself. Rants about the world, our profession, likes and dislikes flowed like the streams we were about to see. Intimate talks about family and life brought us full circle.
Throughout the days, we visited and revisited sites within the park. Up before sunrise to catch that perfect glow on the Teton mountain peeks. The reflections found at String and Jenny lake were not to be missed. Mormon Row drew us back many times and the experience was as special and distinct as the people around me.
A place can, and usually does, produce a bond that is both exceptional and singular. But what makes this journey special were the bonds, camaraderie and lasting friendships that were cultivated throughout this trip… only unparalleled by the magical beauty of the Grand Tetons.
I’m always looking for new places, experiences and meeting people who enrich my daily routine. But sometimes I simply yearn for the comfort of an old sweatshirt, broken in sneakers and familiar surroundings. Sort of a home away from home. Maine holds that comfort zone for me.
I have attended Maine Media College workshops for many years and still manage to find new ways to view its “nooks and crannies”. The town of Rockport is usually my base of operations and is the perfect respite for just kicking back and contemplating what to shoot next. I have taken classes in everything from, how to shoot with a digital camera to, advanced techniques in adventure photography. In between classes and especially early mornings and evenings, I can experiment with what this place has to offer. Exploring the harbors, people and hidden abstracts keeps me coming back each summer.
The photographs shown here were not taken specifically for class assignments but are the results from the influence of the area and its people. My favorite people to talk to, outside of the workshops, are the vendors. I always tell them where I am from and ask how they found this fantastic place. They almost immediately tell me a little bit about themselves, but more importantly, a story about a town in Maine they grew up in or settled in. This exchange of backgrounds and history resonates inside me and every time I make plans to visit, it expands my horizon while searching for new venues.
From the first mouth-watering bite of a lobster roll, creative imaginings of the children, serene beauty of the seaside communities, to the graceful silhouettes of the boats, and shared moments between friends…. Maine is so much more than that.