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.
This 10 image slide set was entered into the essay competition at the DVCCC.
You say to yourself, “What is an east coast boy doing out west?” What else except, gearing up for a rodeo. I was in Cody,Wyoming for the annual Rodeo Stampede and attending a workshop being run by Bobbie Goodrich. We had access to anywhere in the arena. Having never shot an event like this before, I started to scout for locations and fire off some test shots. Trying to figure out the lighting, like where is the sun during the day shots and dealing with high ISO’s at night to stop the action, was proving to be a challenge. I was able to mingle with the people behind the scenes for quite a while before the action started. It is amazing to see how focused the riders were. When I came eye to eye with what they were going to ride, I could see why.
The moment to shoot had arrived. You could feel the tension in the air from the crowd, to the silence just before the rider says pull. For an instant, the loudest sound is the gate jolting open, then magic happens. I get lost in lining up my shot and trying to let the rider and bull do their dance. The crowd is pumped but I still keep focused on this brutal, if somewhat brief, 8 seconds maximum interplay between the cowboy and his partner. If you just listen to the crowd it will reveal everything, from a just missed 7.9 second ride to the inevitable buck off. Through the dust and lights, I start to settle down and get into a good rhythm with the camera, but at a very safe distance.
I have a great deal of awe and respect for anyone that would get on a 1500 pound bull for ANY amount of time. The awesome size and amount of power it takes for an animal of that size to get off the ground, is jaw dropping. Never mind the ouch factor of watching and wondering who will hold on for the seemingly unreachable time of just eight seconds. For me the revelation and god like powers of the rodeo clown were mind-boggling. They constantly step in front of these animals to keep the riders safe. It was like a dance with the devil and sometimes the devil won, to body slamming excess. I don’t know what goes through the rider’s mind, but my adrenaline is pumping. Action is fast and almost nonstop. I only get a breather, and this is sad to say, when a cowboy is ejected. The power and grace of such a huge animal is both exhilarating and scary to watch. Not many reach the coveted 8 second mark, while a lot just last a couple of seconds. When one skilled, and in my eyes, very lucky rider gets close, the crowd is deafening.
“So you still want to be a cowboy?” Well as for me- I am very happy to be on this side of the lens.
Part 2 of this post can be viewed here.