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…
So we took a trip up to the house to turn the water off for the winter. It was pretty damn cold and nasty, and honestly, I don’t want to know how much colder it could get. My readers know how me and the winter don’t get along.
Moose wanted company on the ride up, moral support as he calls it, and promised me exquisite autumn landscapes painted with the beautiful brushes of mother nature. He got the company, I got cold and rain.
We got to the house, did what he had to do, I’m still not sure what it was, but we poured antifreeze in the drains. The bottle promised that it would protect to -50 degrees, again, I don’t want to know how cold it gets up there.
I walked around the house and property as Moose poured the fruit punch looking stuff down the drains and took shots of the wet trees just starting to turn. Everything around me seemed to be in a weird place, balancing on the edge of summer and fall. The cold rain wasn’t heavy, just annoying. We wrapped up what we came to do, locked up and headed down the bumpy road that lead back to civilization.
“There’s a waterfall not far off the road. You wanna stop?” Moose asked. I looked out at the drizzly day and thought about it. “No.” I finally responded. “But you know what? We passed a cemetery on the way in. Can we pull over there? I know everyone thinks I have a sick thing for cemeteries, but there was tree in it that really gave the place some character.”
“Sure.” Moose responded.
A few minutes later he stopped the car and I walked across the road to the Claryville Cemetery. The rain had stopped, but the sky was still overcast and gray. I walked up to the tree I saw as we passed, and took some shots. I wandered along the roads, lost in the world of framing, light and exposure. I was snapped out of the sound of Moose’s footsteps.
“You see the dates on these things?” He asked. “They’re pretty old. 1825. 1850. 1840. 1874. They have been here a long time.” I began to notice the dates and he was right. These stones had seen many autumns underneath this big old tree. Moose and I walked around, and then headed back to the car.
“Thanks for stopping.” I said as I took a photo of the old church on the edge of the graveyard.
“No problem, kid.” Moose responded. “Hey, look at the tree in the middle of it. It’s perfect, I mean, how could we not stop?”
I wonder what a road feels like.
A road is the thing that takes us from point A to point B and back again. It speeds by under the tires of our big fuel guzzling SUVs without even a glimmer of appreciation. Sure, perhaps we’ll glance out the windows at the trees whizzing by, ooh and ahh at the houses and scenic views, but mostly they go unnoticed.
Today I left the house with a new word in my pocket. Its a word that should have been so simple that I could have completed it by the time I reached the corner, but something wasn’t there today, I couldn’t see anything through my lens, no matter how far I walked, especially when it came to seeing that word. I walked farther along until I came to a pretty busy road that runs through a park, one of the biggest roads in Queens. It gets pretty wooded, the two lane black top snaking through a forest which most of the area would look like if not for the work of man.
The word I had come to look for had already slipped so far from my mind that I could barely even remember it. I carried my camera in my hand listening to the whizzing cars rush past me. In between them, the silence of the woods returned only to be shattered within seconds by another passing car. As I walked, I became aware of the road. My eyes drifted along and I began to notice not only the road, and as I said, how ignored and unloved it was, but even worse what was left along side of it. Trash littered the curb, things tossed out a car window, discarded by the owner.
We live in a society being eaten alive by our own garbage. I don’t want to interject my own feelings on global warming or how we’re beating our planet to a horrid death, so I’ll just leave it as saying I was appalled by the litter around me.
I looked at all the trash around me, I looked at it through the lens of my camera, and when I was done, I did something I never do when shooting, I destroyed what I found. Using a plastic bag I found at my feet, I cleaned it up. I picked up the trash laying along the road, stuck it in the bag, and threw it all in the garbage can supplied by the nice people who run the park
My life is in a bad place right now, I have little control of my fate, I’m desperately looking for break, praying for a way to get back on my feat, with very little that I can actually take control of. But this… this I was able to fix… so I did.
Yes, I know it will be back tomorrow, and no I wasn’t able to get all of it, but the bits that I did not only made me feel good, but made that stretch of road that much nicer to look at … if someone else would ever decide to slow down and appreciate it.
Oh … and I left the toilet… it was too big to carry.
The worst part of autumn is rain.
Autumn rain brings wind, and wind rips the leaves from the trees, stripping away the rainbow cloaks they get to wear for a brief time. The streets of New York City become carpeted in fallen leaves, now soaked and heavy with water. Shortly after the rain stops, doors open and out from the warmth and comfort of their homes come people prepared for battle, armed with rakes and shovels. They quickly begin their work of clearing away the wet mess left strewn across the sidewalks and lawns, stuffing wet colorful piles of leaves into black garbage bags. The bags get tied up and placed at the curb where they’re thrown into the backs garbage trucks and promptly disappear.
And then fall is over.
The weather gets colder. The friendly nip of the wind develops into a vicious icy bite. The once magnificent trees are now nothing more than bare skeletons. Night falls earlier, and it always seems to be dark and cold.
Christmas comes quickly, and for a brief time the winter is almost lifted by the twinkling colorful lights hanging in windows. The cold is almost chased away by the warmth of the holiday spirit. Before you know it though, the holidays are over, and New York City shivers through a few more months of winter.
I hate winter. I hate the cold. I hate autumn rain because I know winter is right around the bend.
So despite my dislike of the current situation and my tendency to worry about the future, I decided to walk out my front door and see what I could see. What I found is that the rain had stopped momentarily and the wind was gently blowing through the trees. I strolled down the colorful blocks of Queens as leaves slowly fell from their lives on the branches to their death on the sidewalk. I felt as if Mother Nature herself was throwing me a ticker tape parade.
It was beautiful. For an afternoon I didn’t think of the winter ahead, I just enjoyed the autumn rain like I had never enjoyed it before.
I’ll voice a pretty unpopular opinion of mine.
God/Yahweh/Buddha/Allah/Whatever does some pretty fucked up shit. I’d love to sit down over a few beers with him/her and discuss autism, SIDs, and a whole host of birth defects. Later on, after shots of Jack Daniels we’ll discuss rapes, molestations, hurricanes, mudslides and finally 9/11.
But even if my Dad and I disagree on the first paragraph, we do agree on what he kept repeating today… “I hope they have fall in heaven.”
Autumn is when they days slowly grow shorter, the wind gets a distinctive bite to it and the trees shake away their boring green overcoats to show off an brilliant display of colors that would put any big box of crayolas to shame.
Yes, we have trees in NYC, and yes they even have leaves, and fall in NYC is an event no one should miss. Of course, taking a drive an hour north through Harriman State park is an even better way to experience the majesty of this season.
IMHO who ever is behind the scenes, pulling the strings is getting alot of things wrong… but Fall is definitely something that’s right.