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.
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.
Click…click…click, that is my camera’s heartbeat.
Step…twirl…leap, can you hear the dancer’s feet.
Movement forever frozen by the click of a shutter.
Flow and expression released in a flutter.
Click… the rhythmic forms are created.
Captured and released, never anticipated.
Click …click…click, that is my heartbeat.
The focus of a moment gives way to the subtle
but unmistakable, mechanical … click.
Playful, sensual, moody…click… I feel the beat.
A visual and kinetic form become one,
it is my dance now.
CLICK…. the heartbeat of the photographer’s dance.