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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When at first taking photographs, the human element can be very intimidating. Being shy about approaching people does not help in finding subjects. My love of photography acts as a kind of ice breaker. Unless it is street photography, I always ask, whomever I am shooting if it is okay. This initial introduction is like a conduit for what will hopefully come next. My interaction, from this point, becomes much more personal as we talk about their life stories and mine. I can connect with ones eyes which helps me better record the light that both dances on their faces and frames the subject. This brief conversation is what bonds us and connects my pictures to them.
Street photography, on the other hand, is still hard for me. You would think being somewhat shy, that this form would suit my personality. For some reason, without the personal interaction, I feel a disconnect during this type of shooting. The more I study and interact with this process, I feel the better I might become. The interesting part in street photography, and probably what brings me back, is that I can catch a more natural unfolding human story. Unlike anything else, these snippets of life always convey the human connection to my images.
Environmental portraiture for me puts it all together. I get instant feedback from my sometimes elusive subjects doing what is important, to them. With this type of picture-taking, I find I can tie all elements together, much like landscape photography. This connection can be instant or will develop over the course of the shoot. I feel this shared knowing is the bond we both experience. As my subject opens up, so do I… voices and stories turn into an instant slice of life, a frozen piece of time.
The human element in these pictures is what I am most passionate about. What someone sees, and what I try to emote, is what connects a single frame from my camera to what you actually view. Can you hear their voices, share in their existence, form a story? Then, the common denominator that bonds the stories I feel I can tell with a single image, is …. YOU.
Shadows for me, as a photographer, create depth and contrast in a composition. You can take it to an extreme level and show a very graphic picture, or go the other way to just bring out subtle effects. Shadows can bring your eye into the photo and almost guide it around the shot. I print and see very graphically, so shadows can present both the “Ying and Yang” to my photographs. This delicate balance of seeing and creating, can sometimes turn a viewer off or encourage them to explore the picture further. I like to think it stimulates them but I am not that naive to feel this will happen with all of my pictures.
Shadows can play with our emotions and bring a focus to the photograph which may help explain the story it evokes. This scenario is very important to me as I develop each photograph separately. A guided approach helps me see if this is truly what I want to present to the viewer.
Our photography club held a competition entitled “Shadows” and the format was color. The word color stood out loud and clear to me, almost as a challenge, to come up with an idea that would show this form in not just the black and white versions that I normally shoot. After many tries, I started to find what I was looking for in both subject and graphic quality. I still find myself very attracted to the graphical side but found out that by creating a color form for my shadows, it brought out another side, and not just black and white.
The shadows in these compositions I do feel compliment the photograph. They play with each other as well as challenge the viewer to open up and play right along side of it. Take the challenge… shadows are not just child’s play.
I had never before physically visited the Coal Piers in Philly. Mentally, I had seen shots from there and tried to visually picture what I could express about this place. After arriving at this isolated destination, my first thoughts were not how interesting this place was but, more like ” I am never going to see my car again”. You park about half a mile from the site, at the corner of 2 dead-end streets… not the best part of town. Finally giving in to all my worst scenarios, I started to walk toward the piers. I began to relax and when finally seeing the place -BAM. My mind and camera just took over and started to create different vignettes of what I saw around me. I knew immediately that I was in a metering abyss, with most images running the gamut from 5 stops over for the highlights and 7 stops under for the shadows. As luck would have it, when I finally reached my car, it was still intact. I knew the photographic journey was only half over. My next step was to experiment with the HDR process and see if it fit what I saw as well as what I wanted to express.