…and the oppressive heat wave that is strangling the city continues for another day.
The only good thing about weather like this are the afternoon end of the world thunder storms we get. The sky gets this greyish black color, the wind starts to blow hard, and the temperature drops briefly.
And then boom. Fat drops fall from sky. Thunder booms through the air and the entire world lights up with a crash of lighting. The drops fall faster and faster until everything is covered in a solid curtain of rain. Some people run for cover, others dance in storm. In minutes though, it’s gone. The storm clouds move on, and the heat returns. The puddles that were formed only a little while ago on the concrete dry up and disappear. The trees and plants do all they can to hold the precious water they just harvested. Tiny drops sit on their leaves and petals. To a flower, it’s a matter of survival, this tiny drop of water provides what it needs to make food, to grow, and to make it until there’s another summer downpour.
I’m no stranger to nature. As a boy scout, I went camping with my troop almost every month for years. In my teens, I was chosen to head to Philmont Scout Camp in New Mexico, in the heart of San Cristo mountains. You couldn’t ask for a more rugged and natural setting.
But I live in New York City, where we seem to compartmentalize our nature. Little squares set aside in the middle of this metropolis reserved for nature. The term “vest pocket park” is the name given to the tiny oasis of green that pop up around Manhattan.
Nature in California seemed different though. As we drove down the Pacific Coast highway, the beauty and majesty of mother nature was surrounding us, getting thicker and thicker as we drove deep into Big Sur. I could never do it justice if I tried to describe it in words, so let me try it this way. My first knowledge of the Pacific Coast Highway was on one of those lists of “Places To See Before You Die”. After being there, I think it should be a requirement of life, maybe on a list of “Places To See So You Can Know What Life Is Really All About”. Now I can’t wait to see the all the other places on the list.
As usual though, Max Creek added their touch to situation. Kim and I left Monterey early and was one of the first visitors to Point Lobos State Park. We hiked along the rocks that jetted out into the Pacific. Waves crashed around us. Sea Lions barked below and birds of all kinds played in the air above. In the distance, we could see dolphins jumping in the water. It was a surreal scene for city slickers like us. We couldn’t imagine a place like this actually existed, much less that were standing there. As we took in the heaviness of the entire scene, from seemingly nowhere, Creek broke out with Mark’s keys leading into Scott signing “Something is forming on the edge of the universe…” and Kim and I just stood there, smiling, nodding our heads with a collective “yeah”.
The only thing that broke the mood was me realizing that no, the band hadn’t followed us, set up, and surprised is with a morning serenade… it was the ringtone to my phone.
But the nature was real…
More photos of my 2010 California vacation can be seen on my site here…
“A friend is one who knows you and loves you just the same.”
Which is why I guess Eugene didn’t bat an eye when I showed up at his place with my camera. “Come on, I need photos.” I told him, and we drove to the park. He picked a spot he liked, a spot he usually went to on days where there wasn’t much to do. He sat on the bench and put up me with snapping shots of him. We chatted about this and that, enjoying the slight chill in the autumn air.
I had some photos in mind when I thought of shooting Eugene, but right away I could tell he was comfortable and didn’t my prodding so I decided to get my ideas of of the way. We did a few things, and then I said what was on my mind. With out hesitation, Eugene took the hearing aid of his ear, and held it in his hands. As he did, he shrugged off my concerns and said “It’s a part of me… and there would be no way to capture me without showing it.”
We moved on, walking along the park. He sat at a bench under a large tree and looked up. “I’m an architect.” he said. “I love just sitting and looking at the structure of things. Why don’t people look at things anymore? When was the last time people just stopped and looked at clouds?”
We wandered along, along the baseball fields. Eugene looked over the fields, told stories of his old high school football days, and gazed through the fences.
As we headed towards the playgrounds, we chatted about this and that, the quite unimportant chatter of friends. I met Eugene only a few years ago, but since then he’s become a rock in my life. The buddy that’s always there, always ready to help. He’s shown up to clean out my parent’s basement – hardhat in hand, to my kid’s birthdays and to many a movie night. He’s as quick with a joke, as he is with a solid piece of advice.
Eugene was the one who suggested the swings. He swung back and forth and I looked at him thinking that he found a way to remember back to the days when being in a playground was the epicenter of joyful day. The sun set behind us, and the chill in the air got stronger, so we packed up and headed back to his car.
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?”
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.