This isn’t the first time I’ve attended the New York City Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Parade by any means. I make it a point to attend annually, not just to hone my photography skills, but to show my support and help celebrate this slice of NYC.
But this year, something was different.
Every year, the parade is a complex mix of pageantry and color, pride and happiness, with a dose of somber remembrance and social consciousnesses thrown. This year had all those things, but there was something else in the air. A wonderful look of celebration burned brightly in the eyes of every participant, as well as spectator. Just the day before the parade, the NY State Senate passed, and Governor Cuomo signed the Same Sex marriage act, joining only 5 other states that allow marriage to be based on love and not gender. It was another step forward along the path of granting all Americans equal civil rights.
I tried to capture some of this joyous attitude, as well as the pageantry and colors and all else that goes into the pride parade. My brother took the year off, enjoying to watch and not march, but a close childhood friend did pass us by, and it was great to see him so happy and celebrating the day.
Kim and I watched for a while – not only was there a lot to see, but I had new gear to play with. We finally headed home as the parade passed our spot, on it’s way towards Greenwich Village. When the crowds reach the Stonewall Inn, where the gay rights movement began over 40 years ago, the parade ends.
But maybe this is the year that won’t happen. Maybe this year even though the parade will end physically, it’s spirit will carry on, state to state, until we, as a nation, allow two people – regardless of gender – to dedicate their lives to each other. Maybe this is the year the rights we are supposed to be granted under the constitution will apply to every citizen.
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” – Dr Suess
Wikipedia defines light as the portion of electromagnetic radiation that is visible to the human eye, responsible for the sense of sight. It defines sight as the ability to interpret information and surroundings from the effects of visible light reaching the eye and color is the visual perceptual property corresponding in humans to the categories called red, green, blue and others
Confusing, cold, scientific definitions which give the answers needed, but fall short in describing the feelings of lights, colors, and most of all sight. It in now way captures the essence of fireworks exploding in the sky. or the way the world seems to change when you drive past a police cruiser, lights ablaze on a dark stretch of highway – or even more so – when one pulls you over. It can’t begin to paint the picture of candles providing the sole illumination in a lover’s bedroom, the neon of the Times Square or the blinking lights of a Christmas tree, and the light up Santa half buried in the snow.
I remember being a young boy, on vacation, in a strange hotel room, waking up in the middle of the night. My parents and sister were all sleeping, but I lay in bed gazing out a gap between the curtains. There was a road outside, and every so often a car would come along, I would watch as the headlights began as two white points the distance, growing larger and larger, then once it passed the hotel, turned to two red dots which grew smaller and smaller into the distance.
Lights inside the darkness, color surrounded by blackness, and the beautiful gift of sight to bring it all to us, how does anyone even begin to describe that?
Sometimes it’s just stuff. Sometimes there’s no hidden meaning, no deeper message that lies beneath the surface of what you see at first glance. Sometimes a rubber duckie is really just a rubber duckie. There are days when that’s just the mood I’m in. Light. Easy. Simple. And maybe just a tad bit goofy at the end. Enjoy.
As the miles rolled under the tires and we got closer and closer, the grip around my throat got tighter. What was looming ahead of us was as big as the great outdoors and despite the fact I was driving like a low flying rocket, part of me wasn’t looking forward to reaching my destination. I tried to vocize it, and all I could manage to get out was “it sucks he won’t be there”.
Thanksgiving weekend in Stroudsburg PA could only mean one thing – Railroad Earth. The band grew out of this area and every year they come off whatever tour they’re doing, they come home. I’ve been seeing them since 2005 in the Sherman Theater, a beautiful old theater and pretty much the only venue in this isolated place in the northeast.
Every show at the Sherman has been with Bob, and in fact he looked forward to this yearly celebration in his own backyard. He’d start bugging me about it by August.
Last year Bob slipped after 9 years of sobriety and the methadone he shot stopped his heart and dropped him dead on the floor of his house, walking distance from the Sherman. It was the biggest heart I’ve ever known and his end was tragic and stupid.
His death haunted me the whole year. Its been an eventful year, to say the least, and not having Bob there for counsel has been rough. Around the summer I announced to anyone who would listen that I was going to the RRE Thanksgiving shows even if I had to walk there. Now I was going, and with every exit sign I passed I contemplated turning around.
Then Kim mentioned the sky.
Being an afternoon in late fall the sun had begun setting. It found holes in the clouds and it’s rays shot out and filled the sky with really trippy patterns. Soon the clouds on the horizon parted and the half the sky became as bright as day as the rest turned dark as night. As we drove along the clouds in the sky thinned out and long purple streaks filled the sky. I laughed because I knew it was Bob. I pictured him playing with the big dials that controlled the sun and clouds with that big goofy grin he always had when he was up to no good. As we crossed the Delaware river the sun slipped below the horizon.
Yes, Railroad Earth blew the roof off the place. Friday night they burned the place down and then on Saturday they rebuilt it only to burn it down again. Bob would have loved the shows. I had my camera, found a nice spot at the foot of the stage and shot away. Friends surrounded me, and it was so good to see them again. Over dinner before handed we toasted Bob and then danced our asses off, even Kim, who was right in the thick of it for both nights.
I have a lot of “internet friends” who I’ve met over the years, most Bob met as well, but he always had one up on me. Well she was there Saturday night, to my surprise. Haha Bob. She gave me such a great hug too.
I came away feeling, for lack of a better word, healed. The music washed over me, and when they played “Seven Story Mountain” the words really dug into me.
“Its a seven story mountain
Its a long long life ahead
Got to find a light to fill my heart again.”
That’s when I felt Bob slap me across the back of the head again.
Yes he’s gone and I’m gonna miss him until the day we meet again, but that’s not gonna be for awhile. In the meantime he’s gonna be pulling some strings to get me amazing skies and mind blowing shows. Its not about what I’ve lost, but about what I have and about all I have yet to receive.
Like next Thanksgivings RRE shows at The Sherman…
This was a weekend of gifts.
Saturday was clean out day. My parents and I are cleaning out and fixing up the basement of the house, getting a new drier, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc (To emphasize the work involved.) On Saturday morning, a dumpster was dropped in front of the house and by Saturday night, it was full. Dad served the cold beers all day, Mom took the kids out and I had a few great friends to help me accomplish the rest.
We worked through the day, and by the time we were done, my kids had returned and were finished with what they had to do in my apartment. A secret, of some sort, or at least that’s what I led them to believe. See, I turn 35 this week, and since I had my kids this weekend, we were celebrating. I got a crown to wear, pizza and beer, and some really cool presents, but the best part was that all the people I really love were there with me. Its all I really wanted for my birthday.
Sunday me and the boys headed out on a mission, we were in search of the ocean.
When Jackster and I crossed the GWB a few weeks ago, we watched the Hudson river float by, and I began to tell him about messages in bottles floating in the sea. His eyes turned big and he asked if we could do that. So Sunday morning he and I sat at the table and we wrote out notes, that gave his name, my email address, and the request to contact us when the note was found. We wrapped the bottles up in tape and drove off to Sands Point. The three of us stood on the beach and tossed the bottles we made into the current with the highest of hopes. Jack and James threw pebbles after them, and I watched them bob up and down in the waves until they had disappeared from view. I told Jack that I couldn’t see them anymore and he said “Awesome…” and went back to throwing rocks. Yeah, I know it’s a 50 50 chance they’ll ever be found, but hey, we can hope right?
We left the beach and explored the rest of the preserve – itself a gift from the original owners to the public to be enjoyed for the beauty it is. We found a nice quiet little spot on the side of a pond and the three of us played, pretended to fish and camp out. It was a beautiful gift, the gift of time alone with my boys.
I regrouped with my mom in the basement to survey the cleanup after I brought the boys back to their mother. My mom and I had already been to home depot to look at new lighting and a new dryer, and to be honest, I really just wanted to go relax. I was contemplating feigning a heart attack to get away from her when she finally said, “Here, you have this.” and handed me a dusty old metal box.In an instant, my heart stopped when I opened it. Inside was a precious gift, something I never expected to have, and something I’m still so childish about, that I have it sitting in the desk next to me, as if me being away from it would make it disappear again.
My grandfather’s camera.
It’s a Kodak Graflex and it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen simply because I know he held it in his hands, his eye looked through it.
Then she said to me “He’d be so proud of your photos.” and I couldn’t think of a thing to say.
I never met James Killeen, but my whole life I’ve been told how much I’m like him. When I took up photography the deal was complete. He was a photographer, self taught, and more talented than I could ever hope to be. I used to sit with my Grandmother and make her tell me stories of the man in the self portrait with the fedora and the smoke curls circling around his head. When the time came, I named my first born son after him in the hopes that maybe he’d be able to capture some of the essence and spirit I had only heard about in all those family stories.
So the 65 year old camera sits here now, next to my Nikon D90.
Maybe they’re sharing stories. Maybe my D90 is telling it about the day we had and the Graflex is responding, “oh yeah, that’s nothing compared to the day’s we’re gonna have.”
Until I get the Graflex working, here’s some shots from today…
I find it most ironic.
After a year, almost exactly, of living off Uncle Sam and getting my weekly unemployment check, I’m back at work. As if that wasn’t good enough, I’m back doing what I did in the past, and I didn’t have to settle for a minimum wage monkey job. I work for a company that’s been around so long, I don’t really worry about it going under. They’ve given me a laptop, a cubicle, a blackberry, and a paycheck every week. Best of all, they like me, and so far they keep wanting me to come back the next day.
I work in the three data centers the company owns, two existing ones, and one that we’re bringing online soon. Its that new facility that I’ve been going to every morning. Its a beautiful facility, and very secure, and that’s where the irony comes in. Every door where I swipe my ID card past the reader and then lay my finger on the scanner to verify my identity before gaining access has a list of rules on it. Rule number one is always the same. “No photography in the data center.”
We’ve been breaking that rule, however, but it’s not what you think. Since the guys in suits aren’t gonna come by to see whats going on, I took my mom’s old point and shoot to work and I’ve been documenting our progress. I uploaded the photos on Friday into the company library and actually got an “ata boy” for them. Again, ironic.
My D90 has been in its home above my PC unused on a daily basis since I started. I get up in the morning, suckle on the sweet teet of the coffee maker, check my daily round of blogs and sites, and get ready for work.
And all this time, that tree outside my window watches me. It’s beautiful. A brilliant burst of color, and if I didn’t know better, I’d swear that my parents bought this house because of the autumnal grandeur of that tree. Yet, all I’ve done was glance at it as I walked through the kitchen to the coffee pot and back. I mean I had to go to work, I’m a data center technician, and we don’t have time for trees, I mean we don’t even have time for photos at work.
Then it dawned on me that I wasn’t at work yet.
But then again, does what you make who you are or does who you are make what you do?
I grabbed my camera, and ran downstairs, passing my dad reading the NY Times who didn’t even blink that I was in my PJs and heading in the back yard. I was only out there for a few minutes until the cold got to me, but in that time I remembered something that I had forgotten.
Yeah, I’ve got a job, but I’m also a photographer.
I’ve often thought that Bruce Springsteen, my brother and Fort Lee are some of the only redeemable parts of New Jersey. Anyone who knows me knows I’m only half joking. My first trip to Fort Lee was in High School with the short lived Msgr McClancy Hiking Club. We took the subways north, walked across the George Washington Bridge and into the park. We trekked back, made it home but never scheduled another trip. None the less, that one adventure left a permanent mark in my memories and I always found myself glancing to the cliffs to the left as I drove across the GWB.
This was my weekend with my kids and as I drove to work Friday morning I thought about what we could do to keep us all out of trouble. James was sick and staying with his mother so it was just me and Jack. Always up for something, he was excited when we left Queens and headed north.
Fort Lee Historic Park is located at the original site of the American encampment during the Revolutionary War. Brave men stood their ground against overwhelming British forces in 1776 and allowed George Washington & his army to escape the area. It helped set the scene for the famous crossing of the Delaware a few years later, and eventually, the British surrendering. A Hundred and Fifty some odd years later they built the massive George Washington Bridge right next to it.
Jack and I walked across the bridge, tossing pennies off the side to see how long they’d take to hit the water. The enormity of the whole thing left Jack awestruck and he enjoyed being so high in the air until he realized the shaking he felt was caused by the traffic rumbling by. He suggested we walk back to the car and go to that wooded place I had told him about earlier.
The park was pretty much the way I remembered, made even more stunning in the beautiful fall colors. Jack played with a remote control truck he brought and I took some photos. We wandered along the paths and overlooks and reached the batteries which were once built by the soldiers defending these cliffs. Jack abandoned the car and found a way to scramble up to the top of them. I tried to explain why they were here but Jack wasn’t hearing it, until I mentioned George Washington.
“That’s his bridge!” Jack exclaimed. “Sure is.” I responded and tried to explain the harsh conditions that Washington and those early patriots faced to keep their dream of our freedom alive. Jack went along playing, leaping from embankment to embankment.
“This place is awesome!” He yelled to me. “Its just like I’m in poptropica!”
Poptropica is the online game that my son is currently addicted to. He and I spend hours together guiding his character through complex puzzles as he leaps and jumps along from building to building, over trees and rocks and whatever else gets in his way.
I looked around as Jack continued bringing his online universe to life. The beauty of this small slice of mother nature nestled on the cliffs over looking the George Washington Bridge was amazing. I wondered what it looked like through eyes two hundred and thirty years ago. I tried to imagine the conditions they faced. I thought about their bravery to lie their lives on the line for just the idea of freedom.
“What’s next dad!” Jack called out, bringing me back to present day. He ran off into the woods, and grabbed my camera and followed.
A year ago, I blogged.
I remember feeling that day, as I wrote, the desire to hone my HDR skills, and to grow as an artist, so I thought I’d look back and see what the year has brought.
I’ve spent quite a few hours studying the work of the great masters Jason St. Peter, Lincoln Palmer, EasyPix, the genius Andy Hornby and the HDR magician Louis Trocciola. I’ve made notes of their techniques, the way they frame their shots, and their subject matter. I’ve exchanged emails with them, chatted, and picked their brains on the subject. I’ve learned little bits from all of them and added them into my skills. I bought what I consider to be the best HDR program on the market, Dynamic HDR by Mediachance, which in my opinion blows Photomatix out of the water. Coupled with Lightroom (which is the rock that my photography software is built on) and Photoshop, I’ve created a strong arsenal of HDR tools. My Nikon D90, which ironically, I prefer without the bracketing feature, delivers the images I take with unmatched clarity and color.
But there’s still something needed for a perfect HDR shot. I wish I could tell you what it is, but part of me feels that I’m still searching for it. Sure, I see it occasionally. The way a tree looks next to the path in the snow, or the way another path disappears into the autumn trees. A ship sitting in a river, docked along side a pier, my kids playing in the church steps or Rob delivering a power chord as he jams along with The Midnite All-Stars. I can’t even describe what it is a see, but as occasionally, when I look through my lens, I see the world in layers of light and color.
It doesn’t always work, and sometimes I make some pretty crappy HDRs, and those never see the light of day, my ratio is getting better and better.
That’s what I’ve done in the past year, lets see what happens in the next one…
Here are some of my favorite HDRs from the past 365 days…
With the strong summer sun sneaking away into autumn, I grabbed Time Out magazine and flippd through it looking for something to do. As if the editors were aware of the situation, I found an article “Things To Do Before Summer Ends”. There on the list was a place I had heard about, but never been to, The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. I grabbed Jenn McGowan, who grabbed her daughter & friend and off we went deep into the bowels of Brooklyn.
Ok, “deep in the bowels” isn’t that accurate, but it was in Brooklyn, nestled on the side of Prospect Park. It was the first trip there for all of us, and I was amazed how I had never been to this beautiful spot in my city. Jenn and I walked around clicking away as the girls tried to find the prettiest flower for her to shoot, and the ugliest for me. (Kept them busy, didn’t it?)
We wandered the manicured gardens, which were blooming in some spots, past bloom in others. We watched the turtles in the Japaneses pond bask in the sun, and would chuckle at the rare siren or car horn in the distance. For awhile we felt we were as far from downtown Brooklyn as one could get, strolling along in a floral paradise.
The lily pads in the reflecting pools were brimming with dragonflys which danced from flower to flower. The girls raided the gift shops, and even I got a “starving artist” pin. We walked through the greenhouses, each dedicated to “dessert”, “rainforest” and “temperate”.
I’ve commented in the past that I often view taking of flowers are boring, and my mind hasn’t changed. However, no one could ever deny the absolute beauty of a delicate flower. No one could ever not be amazed at the unique detail that gets poured by mother earth into every single petal on every single flower that blooms.
We left the gardens amazed at the beauty we had just witnessed, and I was happy I found another treasure of New York City.
What makes a person take a photo? Since the invention of the camera, people have been choosing what moments to immortalize on film, or in my day and age, in a million pixels. Sometimes its an easy choice, a birthday, a wedding, Johnny coming home from the war, a moment we want to remember every single detail of, no matter how minute, so we press the shutter and save it for eternity.
Maybe it’s our way of beating the system. It’s our attempt to stop our kids from growing. Its our way from keeping our loved ones alive. It’s the only way possible to stop the sun from setting on that magical day we’re having.
But what if there is no birthday cake or bride and groom or happy child running through the daises? What if it’s just a field of wildflowers? Or a tricycle? Or swing set next to a tree? Then what makes a person take a photo?
I was asked this question, and I had no answer. Instead I went back to taking photos of that swing set, because I had this nagging feeling something was there, but for the life of me, I had no idea what. So I kept shooting thinking maybe I’d find it.
I was lucky enough to escape the city for a day with friends to a country home which was only 3 hours away from my front door but felt as if it was on the opposite side of the earth. My cell phone didn’t have signal, there was no internet connection, and to be honest, I didn’t miss either. We spent the morning working replacing the beams under the house, crawling around in the muck and the mud, and finished filthy but proud of our work. The massive amount of grass was mowed after the tractor was fixed twice. I built a bonfire, flashing back to my years in Boy Scouts, and I’m bursting with pride that it went up with one match. I fed the fire to a tremendous blaze, and as noticed by my friends, I raised the tempature of the entire Catskill Mountains by nine degrees for the night. My real goal, however was the get it big enough to be seen from space.
Despite all the technology that was left behind, my shiny Nikon D90 seemed grossly out of place. Even so, I gripped it tight as I strolled through the grass and woods. Through my lens, I saw more than the grass and the woods, something harder to describe. The country house I was brought to was a special place, just an ordinary house to most, but to my friends and their family, it was home filled with memories of laughter, love, all those moments that make life worth living. I felt an odd pressure as I shot, a challenge to capture that spirit, and maybe that’s why I took so many photos of the swing set, maybe that’s what I was seeing.
Or maybe it was just shadows on a rock that caught my eye. I really don’t know. But as long as I have friends who love me enough to take me up to their magical country home to try to capture it’s spirit, and – dare I say it – fans who want to see the results, I’ll keep shooting.