Listen to the story behind the photo below!
Three years ago, Thanksgiving day, I crawled through a hole in barbed wire fence, and I haven’t been the same ever since.
I thought about it a lot on the 3 hour drive down.
If these places were easier to get into would I still do it? If they made that abandoned house into a museum, I bet I would come up with an excuse to not go. But here I am breathing black mold and asbestos, chasing something that no one worships, at least not anymore.
We walked back into the real world around 3:00p.m. and my legs burned. I tried to clean the mushed ceiling tile goo off my pants and shoes in the diner bathroom. I washed my hands and black rivers danced down the drain. I went with the greek plate and ate like I hadn’t seen food in years. I always liked a place that went in heavy with Feta.
I finished and kicked my leg out of the booth and sat sideways as I watched Jordan relish in his French dip. That food could have been dog shit or delicacy but we couldn’t tell because of the soft fuzziness of the afterglow. I looked around and kept trying to readjust my eyes, my brain in some deep processing loop. I feel drunk.
We had walked for 7 hours straight, up and down dilapidated towers, and across a sleeping giant. In and out, up and down. I had never even seen a squash court up close, let alone a marble penthouse bathroom, but I did today.
Flash light, shutter click. Flash light. Next room.
“Wait, be quiet.” I held my finger straight up and swirled it when I knew it was time to vacate, not making a sound. We left quickly, and quietly.
“Nevermind, it’s an animal.”
After awhile your visual sense shuts down. You just shutter click and go through the motions. You hope all that practice just becomes muscle memory. Can photography even be that, you wonder?
When you lay down at night you absorb into the mattress, you fall halfway down. Like a marshmallow soft after a campfire. Your body rings like an ear does with tinnitus, except this is the universe calling out.
Your alarm goes off, piercing the darkness in some nondescript hotel.
And you do it again.
Below are a few of the images from our last big urbex outing!
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.
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.
4. Story behind the Photos: “Through the Eyes of a Child.” It’s no secret I love the Fair. A capstone of the summer heat, you can clearly see the diversity of people, running into limitless excess. The air is always hot, with an ever-changing scent of fried food and the smell of warm, over-crowded people. The scent changes with every few steps you take. For a person who likes to study people through a lens, the Fair is what I would call a target-rich environment. Every type of photography exists and can be taken at the fair. I work the barns for animals and the farmers that care for them, the night to get long exposures of spinning rides, and the people for the street photography potential. It’s a safe place to practice photography and you don’t have to bring rations. Here is a photo of Gracie enjoying the fair from her stroller with her parents, Mike and Jamie. Adults can rope off the sensory overload of the fair, but how can the child make sense of what the fair is? Strip away all of your clear logical thought and understanding, then you’ll look at the fair through the hearts and minds of children. The reflection inside her glasses is exactly what the fair looks like to me, when I think of what it looks like to her.
3. Story Behind the Photo: Letchworth Camping “The bigger picture.”- As you age, you see your life through a different lens. Around age 26 your prefrontal lobe starts to firm up the way a fresh egg firms up on a cast iron skillet. This is your brain on change. You start to understand the world from a bigger perspective and you’re able to see the world from more places than just from the bridge of your nose. My twenties was mostly a haze of me and my ego, what I wanted, and I how I thought I should feel. My thirties started to become a little more complex, a little less about me. Instead my thirties kept writing the story of the energy behind the matter we see everyday. In your twenties you see the house, you sit in the living room; you take both for face value. “I’m in a house, in a living room; it’s nice,” you would say. In your thirties you see a home, you see the love, you read into the deeper story of the people that occupy that space. That living room starts to become less about the stuff, the matter, and more about the energy. I got little glimpses at first, little vignettes about parts of life I disliked. When I was younger I thought boredom was to be avoided at all cost. I thought boredom was the absence of meaning because I only saw the exterior shell of the situation. In my thirties boredom became a special treat. I learned to embrace boredom when I had it. I also was able to realize gratitude in where I was, who I was with, and how the day unfolded. I learned to own gratitude. I started to see when I looked critically at my life that I should not look at the face value, but deeper below it. Here is a picture I took of my wife and our thirties at Letchworth State Park, overlooking the falls below. Our first camping trip of many, where boredom would be welcomed.
2: Story Behind the Photos: Quiet Riot. You would have to live under a rock to not know teaching and learning are under attack in this country. As teachers we feel helpless. Cogs in a machine helpless. Jen, Larisa, and I quietly boarded a coach early in the morning in East Syracuse and sped off to our state capital. It was like heading into war. Bus after bus of soldiers. No guns, our weapons, were markers and grammatically correct signage. A polite group of people who were sick and tired, of being sick and tired. You could see it on their faces. We knew complaining about our plight in the teachers’ lounge was going to bring no relief, but how on earth would shaking a sign matter? We went that day to make a very small ripple in the universe. There was an uneasiness in the group as we stepped off the last stair and were led to the rally. We had never trained; teachers are good at turning the other cheek. I brought my camera to tell the story. I walked around the reflecting pool of Empire State Plaza and headed to the back of the crowd. It was a huge concrete oasis, unusual buildings with large facades lining the rectangle. There was a lot of shouting and lots of signs and I had to get away. My introvert kicked in and I needed quiet time. I walked to the back, what seemed like miles away from the shouting crowds. You could hear the megaphones in the far distance. On my way back I spotted this man, sitting on a bench, fighting his own way. No screaming, no shouting. Just a determined man with his Diet Coke. I asked if I could take his picture, and he quietly said yes. I wonder what he taught? Was he an introvert or a pacifist? He held his NYSUT umbrella and fought the good fight. He was making a ripple in the universe. I wish I had asked him his story, I bet it was a good one. Here is the photo of the man that day.
Story behind the Photos: “Gratitude” The young waiter said loudly, “too much, too much” after we had tried to order one item from each section of the menu. He was trying to protect us from ourselves. We were still trying to figure out ordering on our second night in Rome. We sat for hours, marveling at the food off the beaten path. The restaurant looked like a movie set, a movie set of what an Italian restaurant was supposed to look like. Drinking wine and saying how lucky we were too many times to count, was to become the theme of the night. The emotion was a mix of excited, in love, and scared shitless for me. It’s hard to be out of your comfort zone, to be that person, who has no idea how things work. I was glad I married the woman across the small table, she was a great travel planner, and went with the flow in new situations. We decided over espresso to go for a midnight walk, one of our favorite activities. A quiet stroll would round out the night nicely. We payed, looked around one last time, and knew that was the best it got. That feeling deep in your gut of supreme gratitude, we both had it. Our gratitude tanks were full. We stepped out on the street and started our walk, no direction at all. I used my camera and tried to capture the feeling of the moment, but I knew it was futile. The water on the cobble streets, the warm spring air, the smells, my camera would miss all of that. Here is one of the photos I captured that night on the walk.