6. Story behind the photo: "Light at the End of the Tunnel” Great pictures never happen when you expect it, rarely when you need them, and never, ever, when you are desperate for success. Brad and I had parked and walked into Beaver Lake on a brisk fall Saturday. I got out of the truck, packed in my gear, and grabbed my tripod. The lesson that day- at least what I had planned- was using tripods, fall foliage, and using macro lenses. At least that is what I wanted to teach him. I, of course, would learn a different lesson altogether. Photography, like a lot of other disciplines, can’t be pushed from within you. You simply can’t force out good work. There has to be a flow to it. That flow starts in your mind in a way that is hard to summarize in writing because it comes from the part of the brain that is non-verbal. My secret weapon that day was not tripods, filters, or specialized gear. It could not be packed in my bag. It was in my mind and in my heart. I have found through tons of photo outings that if my mind is in the wrong place, I miss the great pictures or they simply don’t appear to me. I am almost positive it is because, when I’m not in the right mindset, I can’t see what is beautiful. That day, early before our meeting, I got up just like I always do, went downstairs and walked over to the microwave and set the timer for 20 minutes. I walked over in the darkness and sat in my favorite chair, red pillow tucked behind my head as it is countless times. I leaned my head back, got comfortable, and tried to clear my mind. I focused on my breath, the area just below my nose and just above my lip. Deep and clear I pulled in air, holding it in and slowing my breath. Clearing my mind is tough for me; I am constantly strategizing, constantly worrying, always thinking about what’s next. This fog is the kiss of death for something creative like photography. At first I struggled to think of nothing, to let my mind sit empty. After a few minutes it cleared. I reached a point between my thoughts, where true calm exists. I sat for twenty minutes until the timer broke the silence. I came out of my self induced trance and my body felt numb, but very relaxed. I was happy, confident, and aware. On the days I clear my mind, I always have great success making photos. We walked to our first spot and my open mind gave me this shot, the trees, the colors, the lines. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, maybe because it was supposed to be, or maybe because I could see it clearly- either way, I was glad I got that lesson.
I guess I’m not sure where to start. I guess I’ll start with our fixer, “J.”
I reached out to “J” over instagram for a cool little find he had posted. From the images and videos he shared it looked to be an abandoned artists studio perched above a river. From the artifacts I saw in the video I knew two things. One it was pretty much untouched, and two it would not stay that way for long. If Jordan and I wanted to preserve anything we had to do it before kids tore that place apart.
Jordan and I got up super early Saturday morning and drove the 90 minutes to pick up J. Of course Jordan and I were chatting so I missed the exit. We picked up J a bit late but headed right to the location. We scrambled through a scary looking basement and climbed up a set of metal ladders with a bit of an acrobatic move.
What we found was an abandoned hydro-electric station on the river turned art studio by a truly remarkable man. He was a pilot, architect, art Professor, color theorist, and hammer collector. His paintings are on display at MoMa. He designed and built a synagogue and a home. He also flew over Nagasaki days after the bomb dropped and survived in the ocean with his crew for 6 days on a raft.
I could go on and on about the good things, but this man also had tragedy in his life. He lost his daughter at age 29 from a freak accident after the car she was driving hit a horse that escaped its pen. He outlived his wife and most of the others he knew. He lived till the ripe old age of 96.
I am still in awe.
I found lots of books about Bresson and Brassai in his studio so I processed these images dark and mostly in black and white as I think the late professor would have liked.It seemed fitting. Click on the images below to see them larger.
Some photographers come home after a shoot and dive right into their images to edit and post them as quickly as possible. Their images hit instagram almost immediately. In this instantaneous world this seems like almost a no brainer, or is it?
Professional photographer Ben Long advocate to sit on your images and wait to edit them. He likes to wait to edit which helps him disconnect from his images and look at them in a more objective light. When you edit right away he argues, you are too emotionally attached and therefore make mistakes when judging the merit of your images.
I tend to take a balanced approach and try to look at the images and flag my best images but then revisit them at a later date. My editing timeline tends to follow this trajectory:
Directly after the shoot/that evening: Import and backup my images. I also rate the images and pick my keepers. I tend to also edit a few of the best images and post them.
A few days later: I dive in a bit deeper to the keepers and the top 5-10 images. I usually post a few more to social media and work on the images that need a bit more photoshop or heavy processing as time allows.
Winter time: During our long winters here in Syracuse I tend to revisit large projects and try to take more of a creative approach. I will try more adventurous edits and try pushing the processing to a heavier look. Sometime I will get inspired by a certain look or video and try to push my processing in that direction and see what happens. This is my opportunity to get creative and wild in my processing and I tend to create virtual copies in Lightroom and try editing a few different ways.
What do you do for editing? I would love to hear about your process in the comments below!
Below are a few of the images I have been reworking from our Italy trip in 2013 using a heavy handed black and white style to emphasize line and shape. Our days in Venice were very dreary and the clouds and rain made shooting difficult, therefore the editing was very difficult in color and had a moodiness throughout. This style of editing lends a hand to that moodiness.
Story behind the photo series: “Willow Bay.”
In a busy kitchen he wipes the sweat from his brow as he moves a large pot from back to front, burner to burner. Watching and tending 4 pots, making sure each is properly tended. A stir here, a spice added, he moves quickly and with poetry of motion. He wipes his hands and returns the towel to his shoulder. Nothing gets burnt, nothing boils over. He watches each delicate mixture, with a skill and deft that only a seasoned professional can accomplish. There is only one problem, that busy cook is you, and that stove is your life. Bear with me.
Your life is a 4 burner stove in a busy restaurant kitchen. Hot and with high emotion each gas burner is an area, or domain of your life, you must balance. Your burners are as follows: Your self, your family, your job, and your friends. Spend too much time tending one and you lose track of the other pots and pans. We try so hard in our adult life to tend each fire, spend time with our loved ones, maintain our relationships with our spouse, give our all at work. But at what cost? What are you leaving out? In life there simply, always is, a trade off.
My guess is you achieve balance by giving up the burner, that is you. In the back, there is a small low saucepan, that is yourself. It is a simple pan, and with a few ingredients, it can really shine. That’s your secret. You neglect to take care of your self, to take time out of your busy day to work on you. When you do finally get in some me time, you feel guilty. You work, you love, you do, but you forget to- "not" do. You must stop to survey the entire stove from time to time to see the bigger picture of how the meal is progressing.
You must take time to make your life healthy, happy, and worth living. Leave time for yourself. Pick up a hobby, or an activity, that is entirely satisfying, to only you. Sit at work and do nothing if that makes you tick. Make a slow cup of coffee, sit and enjoy it. Feel ok about not always being busy. Know that somewhere, sometime, a pot will not get stirred, a dish might fail, and your stove might get messy. Be ok without the balance everyone tells you, you must achieve.
The picture above is me trying to re-balance my life, to stir the pot inside myself. My hobby in photography has allowed me to disconnect with the other areas of my life and re-connect with my sense of self. I took this photo on a warm fall afternoon, school had started to become more difficult and I needed quiet escape. I grabbed my camera, went down to the park, just to walk and not be seen, to think, and maybe shoot a picture or two. I thought about my life and how dammed busy I had become, and I wondered what I had lost. I cleared my head, and hung out over the water looking for fall leaves.
“Everyone Wants to Feel Important."
In 1936, a man by the name of Dale Carnegie published a book titled How to Win Friends and Influence People. The book would go on to change the world and influence not only its readers, but anyone met by its minions. Today, it is still a popular book read by millions wishing to makes sales, climb the corporate ladder, or simply understand people. The ideas contained in the text are incredibly powerful and should only be used for good. Many also believe the book single-handedly crushed the value of introverts and told the world that extroverts were clearly the better hire in a culture that values money above everything else.
The book- for me, at least- explained a small, curious corner of my life that was un-explainable. I had always had trouble understanding why people did what they did, and how they made the large and small decisions that defined their lives. It was always puzzling to me how people operated. The book resonated with me and helped me understand a very valuable point that I had always been missing about people: "Everybody wants to feel important.” Over and over in the book, Mr. Carnegie gives examples and antidotes about people wanting to feel special, feel loved, and just be important.
The drive to feel important and belong is one of the strongest desires we, as humans, have. Often throughout my day I repeat the phrase- "everyone wants to feel important." It explains why a student comes in and just goes right into talking about himself and what he did, and holds your attention for as long as he can. I smile and listen because I know he needs that moment. The saying perfectly explains adults on Facebook, how we want to explain who we are, get love, and have people know us. Facebook shows who we want others to see. I believe Facebook is 99% fake; I blame myself as well. We post what we “want and need" people to see. We try so hard to pound the square peg into the round hole; we desire only to fit. We are simply trying to feel important.
Here is a shot of a farmer from Weedsport who was selling potatoes at the Farmers' Market in Syracuse. I took Brad out on a shoot to focus our attention on people and the art of street photography. I noticed him because the box truck behind him created the perfect frame, his blue green eyes and soft gentle features made him stand out. We asked about him and his farm. He seemed to have no ego about himself. However, it must have made him feel good to know that someone cared about the hard work he does, day in and day out, not just how cheap his potatoes are. Maybe he wanted to feel important that day, or maybe he was just being nice- either way, he let me have my picture.
Our first urbex stop was a bust so we stopped at this abandoned car dealership today.
Click the images to enlarge them.
LeMoyne Manor was one of those explores that is right under your nose as you're searching the internet for abandoned buildings. I had driven by it every single day, dropping my daughter off at daycare. So glad Jordan and I got to tour the building a few times before it came down.
The property was steeped in history. Built as a mansion by the famous architect Ward Wellington Ward in 1916 it was a beautiful property overlooking the lake. Later it became a banquet hall and motel where many people in CNY had their wedding. In the 1990's the property also served as a halfway house for recovering drug and alcohol addicts. Plans for the space include retail and luxury apartments starting in 2019.
Scroll down for more images.
I tend to go on a lot of tangents, and lately, maybe it's my age but I have been listening to and reading a lot of philosophy. Whether it be Alan Watts, Wayne Dyer, or Bucky Fuller I am fully engrossed into it now in my life. Why at this point in my life am I falling down this rabbit hole is a whole other story.
The kicker is, and maybe this is just my own glasses I am viewing the work through, but they all seem to have the same message. I keep getting the same lesson.
The big idea said many ways is:
1. The universe is rigged in your favor.
2. The universe is conspiring to fulfill your wishes.
3. Stop trying so hard and just let it happen.
So this brings me to this set of photographs. I went down to the city to continue my Syracuse street project and I decided that instead of hunting for street photos I would fish for them. This involves finding a cool scene or location and waiting for interesting people to walk through it. This is definitely different than the way I typically do street photography, where I typically hunt for images by walking many blocks looking for interesting things to photograph.
I found a cool scene with a set of stairs and sun peeking down the alley just to the south of the courthouse. I set up on a small bench and just waited with my camera. The problem was everybody who was coming through the scene was taking a ramp down instead of the stairs I wanted them too.
As I sat longer, I started to give up. I checked my watch. But in my mind this idea that the universe was rigged in my favor kept coming back to me. So I gave it more time.
About the time I said, "OK I will give it five more minutes and I will move on," a national grid truck pulled up onto the sidewalk blocking the other ramp, even going to so far as to put cones up. It was magic! Now people were forced down my set of stairs and I sat there shooting pictures every few moments in glorious succession.
So here are the photos from that outing and a few more to explain the space. I threw a few others in from the day at the end of this series.
I crossed out the 2018 as soon as I did the math for the new dishwasher. The small crayon drawing of our future camper had been hanging on our fridge for 3-4 years and we looked weekly at Craigslist but at this point, it was over.
Our pocketbooks were exhausted because we were deep into a bathroom remodel, it was the end of summer, and our dishwasher finally threw in the towel.
All we were looking for was a used Rockwood Roo, 19' or less, with a dinette and couch, in incredible condition.
No big deal, nothing specific!
The problem was after searching season after season, people either held on to the Roo's or they were destroyed. We had looked at a few with holes in the floor, soft spots or complete water damage. I just didn't want another headache.
On Tuesday night at 11 pm I spotted Mike's Roo, and it could not be in better condition. It was almost too perfect. I emailed and set up a time to see it the next day. Unbeknowst to Jen, I also booked a one night stay camping trip, because I just knew we were going to buy it.
That Saturday afternoon we pulled into Fillmore Glen State Park, for our first camper experience. It was more of a, "OK we need to figure this being a camper person thing out, kinda trip." I kept referencing the huge pile of user guides and manuals for each system. We packed simple- hotdogs and smores and those tiny little boxed camping cereals- and headed off. Everything went amazingly well and we had figured out each system, and on Sunday we headed home, but unfortunately our education was not over.
Just after I said, "Wow, look at how bad the roads are as soon as you get to Syracuse," I heard a loud boom, and the trailer swerved. We hit a huge pothole and it blew the tire and rim apart. I limped to an offramp but could not get off the highway so I had to change it while the cars on 81 blew by us. Everybody was ok, but that tire and rim have seen better days.
I guess we got a thorough education. Here are the images from that trip.
Another free style shooting day that ended checking almost every box.
I was able to do some landscape photography, and also find an abandoned building and get some outside shots of it. I filled up with gas station coffee and I focused my efforts on the area around Montezuma Wildlife Area, Mentz, and Port Byron.
I walked past him and instantly noticed the pipe. I paused knowing I had to ask for a portrait, and cataloged for a connection.
3, 2, 1, Go.
"I don't see too many people smoking pipes around here anymore."
My old roommate was Irish and smoked a pipe every Sunday and the smell was the same so I lead with that. He agreed to a photo and said he too was an Irishman and loved his pipe.
Nice guy. Took it this morning on our Sunday walk.
We were driving around Crawford Texas with the GPS off just enjoying the gravel roads and the beautiful scenery. Our Jeeps AC unit was struggling to try to compete with the 102 degree heat outside. The earth was dry and parched except for small masses of low trees like mesquite and live oak. Each homestead was landmarked by fencing and some type of large metal gate.
Every once and awhile a truck would pass us and the white stone gravel would create a cloud that carried off long in the distance. More vehicles than not were large pickups with lifted tires and cattle catchers on the front. I looked deeply into each cab hoping to see a cowboy, but they were just regular looking people, going about their day.
I had my small fuji x100t with me, and Jen was driving letting me jump out to get pictures whenever I spotted something. Just about the moment she said something I was wishing for- a truly Texas picture. I was thinking of what would really sum up our time driving and the ideas of gravel roads, long fence lines, or big iron gates moved through my mind. A second later I was thinking about symbols of Texas and, of course, my first thought was of a longhorn. Sadly all we had been seeing were horses or traditional dairy cows and they were mostly way out in the fields or hiding under the low trees.
A second later she said, "Um, there is a cow back there with big horns."
"Really?" I said. "Let's go back and see it, I was just thinking how cool it would be to see one."
She turned around and we saw this big guy and I shot maybe 10 photos of him as he posed. What I loved was how perfectly framed he was, with dark foliage in the back and a small delicate tree above him that was perfectly lit by the sun. The tree was almost glowing and he stood perfectly still as I shot a few images. I need to keep processing these images but I got a few I am happy with.
Here is another batch of look up/architectural/street photos from our last walk in the city. It was early Sunday so not many people were out to actually photograph.
As many of you know, Jordan and I have been going down to the city to do street photography for almost a year or so to stretch our photographic skills. It hasn't been without its challenges and I can remember sitting in coffee shops drying off or hiding from snow/wind. Photographically, it has become one of my favorite genres, because I get to spend time with Jordan, and create photos, while feeling more connected to something bigger. This type of work is hard to do as introverts, but I feel both of us growing.
Last month, Jordan found out about a program called Art in the Windows and asked if I would be interested in applying for a grant. I said I was, but I was so busy with landscaping and drawing that he would basically have to do all of the leg work. He did and we were awarded a 750 dollar grant and now have our artwork on display on Salina Street in downtown Syracuse until September.
To celebrate, we would like to have a small get together at the Evergreen on Water Street around 6 pm on August 3rd. Our thoughts are to gather there, then take a gallery walk to view the images, which should not take long as there are only 6. Then, go back to the Evergreen to share a few drinks. We would love for you to join us!
Street photography is such a hard genre to pin down.
Is good work photos of people in spaces, and what is a good ratio of humanity to space? What if you capture a lonely street scene with only one person, vs a street filled with onlookers? What percentage is the right percentage?
Anyway here are few images from our last outing where, incidentally, very few people passed by early on a Sunday. So this is "street-ish."
In the time it took for us to take a few steps toward William, I thought about how truly lucky I am for all of the things I have been given and how generous life has been with me.
He looked up from his seat and asked, "Can you spare some change?", as I dug clumsily for my wallet.
I handed him some money as I asked what his name was.
"William Wallace," he said in a deep, muffled tone.
I asked if I could take his picture and I tried to get him to smile a few times as I knelt down and took three frames, but each time he kept his hand at his pocket, and gave me the same stare.
As I am leading up to the evening where Jordan and I are having a small gathering to show off our street work used for the Art in the Windows grant I wanted to reflect on something that has become so apparent lately.
"This is a world of action."
Getting the ideas for anything is the easy part, and you can say anything that someone will let you, but the real work of this world is still a physical one. Hitting the streets every single week, camera in hand in good time and in bad is what the essence of photography or dare I say life is.
I almost want to tell people who have such positive comments about my photography that it simply isn't the eye or the training or the gear, it is just going out to do the work. I want to be honest, I come away with far more terrible pictures than usable ones and I am no different than anyone reading this story.
"I made a commitment, that's it, that's the dam secret."
To be as honest and transparent as possible I will post some images from the more recent outing on Sunday. These are not instagram bangers, but are so important to the constant march of practice.
My alarm went off sometime before 4:00am, but I'm not really sure. When your alarm goes off that early, you jump awake as if something is wrong. It took me a second to realize why I was getting up. Bryant pulled up in his white pickup at 4:45, but heroically he had already been up for hours. Urbex is a labor of love.
Last night we had decided that today would be a "School Day," and that we would go to 2 locations, both beautiful abandoned schools. One gritty and one pristine.
My plan was to just enjoy the work, move slower, and break out of my comfort zone by using mostly a 50mm prime lens. On your second time around these places you are afforded few luxuries except maybe taking a deeper cut photographically. I decided to really work the details and to notice the finer points. I would read the text, and see things I had not seen on the first go around. I let the lens shape me and the work.
Also I knew Bryant was really good at what he does, and it would be hard to compete with his photographic skill. I wanted to compliment the images he was taking, and maybe take the less obvious images. Enjoy the images below, I will add more as I process them. Jump over to nightfoxcreative.com to see more of Bryant's work!
Story behind the Photos: “ Signs” We wanted to take an RV trip across New England but that got scrapped as soon as we saw the price. It was cheaper to fly to San Francisco and spend a week exploring the Bay and going to wine country. She had no idea I was going to propose. She loved wine, lights, and fancy dinners and I knew if she was going to be my wife, this was the perfect place for us to start. Weeks previous I had landed a huge landscaping job and I was stressed from the pressure cooker to exceed my own expectations. I was distant and I blamed it on the job, but I was nervous about a ring, a proposal, and the resulting marriage. A loner by birth, I was scared. How does one even go about proposing? I have to admit, I wanted a book, or a concise Youtube video on the topic, but the way someone else does it is irrelevant. How you propose has to be about you, and her, and the time has to be right. You just have to know, you have to feel it with every ounce of your being. I leaned against her parents kitchen counter and asked if it was ok if I married their daughter, and they said yes. I secured a diamond, and the trip to here began. On the trip, I was acting really weird, paranoid, and a bit distant; it was hard not to. I thought I would lose that dam ring. I kept checking my bag, almost like someone who is nervous about setting their alarm for work the next day. Checking, rechecking, every time she went to the bathroom, I double checked that damn ring. We spent a few days exploring San Francisco, then rented a car to drive up to Napa Valley for the night. At Sterling Winery we rode a gondola up to the top and I knew this was the place. She had a beautiful dress on and looked so good, I lost my train of thought. Every time I went to drop down on a knee, someone would come by. I was sweating, and gave up; I couldn’t do this with anyone else around. On the way back down on the gondola I gave myself a mental pep talk and came up with a plan. Closer to the car there was a secluded vineyard and I could lure her out there with the bait of taking a few pictures. She agreed and we spent a few minutes taking picture of each other. I saw my chance and got down in that soft dirt, and here we are today, married with a beautiful daughter. I wondered back then if I had seen a sign, or knew, that it was right. How in this life of endless choice do we choose a direction? When I got home I developed my images and saw this grape leaf that overlooked our proposal. If you look closely you can see a perfect heart shape cut out of the center of the leaf. What cosmic energy had caused nature to leave us that sign? I’ll never understand, I just know to trust it.