Friday, October 26, 2007

Dr. Zinn's Last Experiment

Dr. Zinn's Last Experiment,
Specimen in Preservation Solution

Power poles spring up from late summer cornfields like robots frozen in battle march. Giants without hearts since the cold war ended and all the UFO’s went west to the desert with hopes of selling out to road side souvenir stands and made for TV sweeps week documentaries. Everyone is out for a quick buck. "Take the money and run" is a universal concept as well as bad classic rock. The ray guns of childhood are in the attic and the decoder ring has lost a few letters. Memories of monsters now yellow and smell like they have been packed away for years, wrapped in newspapers of the day. They smell like the inside of a thrift shop. The world got small and when it did, it became slightly less fun.

Johnny Quest sold out. He lives on my block, dives a minivan, and mows the lawn every Tuesday night. He's a midlevel manager in sales. Now, his only outlet is fantasy football and light beer. I’d call him out, but what’s the use. We both know that you don’t find adventure in soft shoes and Brooks Brothers slacks.

The bank's lawyers sold off all of Dr. Zinn's specimens in an effort to liquidate his empire of evil in order to make way for another phase one cul-de-sac. The old man was sold out to build a strange, sterile, neighborhood with identical houses with no trees or power lines. The image above is one of Zinn's last remaining experiments, I found it in a thrift store just outside Westchester County. I didn't buy it because I didn't want to contribute to the downfall of an icon.

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Urbex 1

[Left] Abandoned Warehouse
Undisclosed Location

Image part of
The Inexact Science of Abandoned Places:
A Photo Essay of Urban Exploration in a Post-911 World

Three nameless people stand in an undisclosed location. This image is part of two current photo essay projects, The Inexact Science of Abandoned Places and (Infra)structrure.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Nauset Light Cross Processed

Nauset Light

Cross Processed E6 in C41

August was the last time we were on the Cape. The days were cool and the nights were cold. The summer's humidity dome had collapsed a few weeks before. Now, the warm weather is gone and I feel cheated. This is the first year without 90 degree beach days along the Atlantic.

Going back to Truro soon. The sky has changed color with the change of seasons. I have some medium format star trail photos planned, weather permitting.

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Chinatown Jumble

[Left] Umbrellas
New York City

One my favorite palces of any large city is its Chinatown and I never miss the opportunity to go exploring with my camera.

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Virginia Creeper

Virginia Creeper
Visher's Ferry Nature Preserve
Clifton Park,

New York

Parthenocissus Quinquefolia

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Marketing 101

[Left] Man With Sign
Times Square
New York City

Not all marketing geniuses are are weasels in squeaky shoes and Dockers dropping buzz words and shifting paradigms. What you don't see, just out of frame right, is a line of high school kids lining up with money in hand. Tax Free.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Plywood Sans Serif

[Left] Classic Signage
Menands, New York
35MM Kodak Print Film

The typography of the sixties is still out there, hidden behind layers of national franchises, beauty supply stores, and strip malls. Beautiful hand made plywood helvetica knockoffs with shifting x heights slide down off kilter baselines.

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[Left] Fiddler
Newbury Street,
Boston, Massachusetts

The eyes tell the entire story.

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[Left] Whiteout on Cascade Mountain
Adirondack Park
Essex County
New York

Disposable Waterproof Kodak 400
One Time Use Camera

The latest and greatest isn't necessarily the best. Too many times I have seen photographers touting the megapixels they shoot with. Really, who cares? Megapixels don't necessarily equate to image quality and they definitely don't compensate for creativity. Seems like every gear driven endeavor contains a faction that equates how good you are with what you buy.

My collection of cameras spans two decades. Seems like I can't pass an antique store without scanning the window for an old and exotic camera. As a designer, I am drawn to cameras as functional pieces of art. As a photographer, I love experimenting with a new camera and discovering its unique image qualities. Each camera has its own personality. Although I still shoot a majority of my professional work in digital, I love film. I shoot with disposables, polaroids, toy cameras, old 35's, medium formats, twins lens reflex cameras, and a Quaker Oats pinhole camera I built in art school.

I took the image above with a disposable, waterproof, Kodak 400. My hiking partner and I climbed Cascade in thigh high virgin snow in the dead of winter without snowshoes. The last thing I wanted was the extra weight and worry of my DSLR. Part of the fun of shooting with old, hoopty cameras is overcoming the technical challenges.

Droppin' History: Alberta Korda captured the iconic image of Ernesto Guerava with a camera that in today's dollars would have cost $40. The most reproduced image in the history of photography, Earth Rise, captured on the 1968 Apollo 8 mission to the moon, was taken with a modified point and shoot camera.

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The Once Loved

[Above] Antique Car Sequence,
Coxsackie, New York
Kodak 400 Color Print Film

All prized possessions eventually suffer this fate.
Entropy can only be held at bay for so long.

Storm front moving in today. I am headed to the mountains.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Delivery Bike

Delivery Bike

Somewhere in the East Village
New York City

I love discovering the strange cycling mutations of New York City messengers and delivery people. Equally impressive are the nerves of steel required to thread one of these frankenbikes through the rush hour traffic around Chinatown, risking life and limb, just to deliver hot Kung Pow chicken.

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The Invaders

Woman in Red Beret

Somewhere in the East Village,
New York City

Kodak Supra 800

The woman in the red beret stared at a point miles past us as she announced the arrival of the invaders inhabiting the unused subway tunnels under New York City. She claimed to have first hand knowledge of their plans, which included and command post and staging area in the abandoned subway tunnel under Central Park from 57th to 63rd and Lex.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007


[Left] Surfer's Memorial
Newcomb Hollow Beach,
Wellfleet, Massachusetts

Cold day on the New England coast. Rain and white water above the high tide line. The ocean coughs up strange objects of unknown origin: a green and white flip flop, a blue barrel, remnants of a commercial fishing net, a toy horse, a few feet of yellow nylon rope, wood of various sizes, and a Sherman Williams painter's cap. Empty beach parking lots mean all the tourists are down cape at the mall. Makeshift memorial stuck in the sand for an unknown surfer.

The rain blurs the words the way mascara runs with tears.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

House at Coast Guard Beach

[Left] House at Coast Guard Beach

This hundred year old Coast Guard house overlooks the open Atlantic. Its beams have weathered some of the worst weather on the east coast, including the devastating Blizzard of '78 (a stormfront so powerful, it sucked Henry Beston's famed Outermost House out to sea.) This image was shot digitally for a design project promoting a fundraising initiative for the preservation of historical architecture on the Cape.

The days are getting shorter, but the temperatures are still in the mid 70's with 90% humidity. I have a few cycling related projects planned this week. Tonight, I am researching cyclocross races across New England. I love the battlefield vibe of a good cross race on a wet day. Images of muddy winter courses have changed little since the races of 1940's Belgium. Getting some epic cross photos is definitely on my tick list for winter.

There are nothing commercially available for mounting cameras to bikes, kayaks, snowboards, or any other unstable moving object. I have been building camera mounts for years from cannibalized tripods, climbing gear, neoprene, and stainless steel hardware from Home Depot. Over the years, I have accumulated an entire self of bombproof mounting options for bikes and snowboards. I started building prototypes in the mid 1990's from small plastic Ultrapods, frame pump mounts, cork bar tape, and Blackburn bottle cages. Attaching a camera housing to the downtube of a mountain bike isn't exactly a new concept, but every year I feel the need to make my contribution to the collective body of extreme angle cycling photos. The shortened days and rapidly degrading color pallet of the landscape give this project an increased sense of urgency. The gray landscape of winter in the Northeast is quickly approaching.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Cutting Down the Hillside

[Left] Trees in Fog at Sunrise
Orlando, Florida

Scrapped the kayak trip at the last minute. The morning was warm and sunny and the notion of peak foliage lured me to Vermont. I am not a fan of cliché New England landscape photos, however, finding myself with an empty schedule, I was gone. Taking New England photos in Autumn is like shooting fish in a barrel. Much like wedding photography, autumn landscapes are emotional and visual plagiarism. The upside is R7 currently has a few design projects that will require fall imagery. I will file the day’s images away in the stock photo vault for a few months. In hind site, my time would have been better invested in a trip to the Gunks and some late season rock climbing photos.

“Fancy cutting down all those beautiful trees to make pulp for those bloody newspapers and calling it civilization.”
-Winston Churchill

As I sit here typing this, I can hear the sound to falling trees. Our neighborhood is the epicenter of two construction projects, a complex of $300,000 condos and an office complex. A few miles away, green farm fields evaporate into dusty craters as heavy machinery clears the way for yet another strip mall. Any undeveloped land is a suburban sin. Trees fall so some ill conceived start up business can have an office for a few months and then go belly up. Progress marches on.

I suffer from a severe case of why-can’t-it-be-like-it-was when I think of the neighborhoods of the early 80’s. I miss the diversity of mom and pop stores, pharmacies, and restaurants. Every neighborhood is a rotating cartoon background of chain stores and restaurants. There is nothing pleasing or imaginative about the office parks of the late 20th century. Squares built of squares to house people sitting in squares staring at illuminated squares. Trees are always the first victims. Humans are remarkably efficient at clearing away in one afternoon what has taken nature decades to build.

The above image was taken with department store Kodak Gold 400 color film using a flea market 35mm. Sometimes when you travel, you have to make due with the materials on hand.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Infrastructure as Art

[Left] Wharf Infrastructure
Provincetown, Massachusetts
Summer 2006

[Below] Canal Street Station
New York City
Winter 2001

The world under the city is beautiful and seldom seen.* I took this image of the underside of McMillian Wharf in the summer of 2006 and I just rediscovered it tonight on a laptop I seldom use.

The image of Canal Street Station was my first time back in New York City after 911. The city I knew so well seemed different and surreal. I set my 35mm to infinity and shot this image of an unknown woman carrying groceries to the train.

* That is, except if you are looking to head uptown at rush hour and the 6 is down above Astor Place. Canal Street Station becomes a maze of white tile mosaics and long corridors that always seem to lead to the wrong side of the street. Up the stairs, the sidewalk vendors sell bootleg Sean John and $10 Gucci glasses to bargain hungry tourists from somewhere near Syracuse.

Last minute kayaking trip tomorrow. Tonight, the cameras sleep in their waterproof housings.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Good Luck is an Illusion

[Left] Statue
Somewhere in Vegas
Las Vegas, Nevada

"Fools wait for a lucky day."
-The Buddha

Is the smile good luck or ridicule? Watching down on the double down. Everyone has a smile when they want something. I thought of this as the midwestern kid in the denim jacket talked to me as I waited for the monorail to take me to somewhere near the Luxor. He was one of those guys with a vacant smile. A smile without joy used as a device. He seemed like an isotope of one of those characters in a Marlboro ad. He seemed unstable enough to give me low grade anxiety about riding uptown with him in the same abandoned train car. Too many $20 margaritas and late night TV shows.

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Bodega as Refuge

[Left] Bodega
New York City
Summer, 2005

Cold bodega air waits at the glass door. I snapped this photo just before I crossed the barrier that held out the 91 degree New York city afternoon and the bone collectors with chipped teeth and paper cups with a few dirty coins and endless stories that leave them stranded in the city with no way to get back to Buffalo. They always seem to be one dollar away from salvation.
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Winged Figures of the Republic

[Left] Winged Figures of the Republic
Black Canyon,


Everything is bigger out west. The landscapes, the hotels, the all-you-can-eat buffets, and the bar tabs. There is no no denying that the world lost a bit of soul when art deco was deemed irrelevant. At least now there are plenty of abandoned big box stores turned highway churches. There is nothing subtle about modern architecture. Everything is a box made up of smaller boxes. Everything is made to assault the senses.

Bronze Sculpture: "Winged Figures of the Republic" by Oskar J.W. Hansen

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Observation Deck

[Left] Tidal Pool
Nauset Light Beach
Eastham, Massachusetts

The warm weather arrives as swarms of tourists descend on the Bourne rotary. The locals look toward the summer invasion with mixed emotions. A simple equation: the revenue is needed, but the sudden population boom makes life harder. The increase in summer residents increases everything. Gas prices rise, lines at the Ben and Jerry’s snake out the door, beaches fill up at 10am. You can’t have paradise without the infusion of outside capital. The summer may seem chaotic, but for year-rounders, there is precision in the absurdity.

People measure life here by summer seasons.
The seasons come and go as do the traffic jams and rear end collisions along Route 6. The summer is invaded with interlopers in minivans with cargo carriers, endless, black SUV’s and BMW’s up from Boston. For the locals, it is the price of living here.

The Cape depends on the countless people who travel here every year with hopes of a few days of a life less ordinary. Kids mug for one time use cameras. Vacation memories to be stored, undeveloped, in a small 24 exposure cardboard container. Oversized beach umbrellas bloom like flowers in the mid morning heat. There is a delicious sense of rebellion in being at the beach at 10am on a Wednesday. Where would you be right now? Staring at a computer? Having the same conversations about the same obvious observations? Discussing morning traffic over paper cups of coffee service coffee?

Roadside ice cream stands burn bright under bent neon. Up in Provincetown, the lots are all full and Commercial Street is a sea of shoppers, people watchers, vendors, and drag queens. There is a sense of crowding and of limited space, but these are the memories that will endure into the winter, when there is no green and the daylight seeps out in mid afternoon. But for now, life is easy. Your desk is empty and you are still securely insulated in dislocation of a week away. Your time away is a precious commodity and there is still plenty to enjoy.

All over the cape, people feel the distance and space in different ways.
* At day’s end, a man stands on the observation deck above a national seashore beach. Slowly, he scans the horizon through binoculars looking for information in the blackout of the Atlantic. It is an opportunity to use his binoculars for something more exciting than trying to discern the make and model of the neighbor’s new TV set. He feels like the star of a National Geographic Special, like what he is doing is supremely important. The wind whips at the beach grass below the wooden platform and he thinks to himself how we would give almost anything to be capable of bottling the feeling of nights like this one. Behind him, the world could fall away and it wouldn't matter at all. Stores could cut the lights and close without notice, there could be breaking news of celebrity DWI's, the cable could be out, the network down, spam could be closing down the inbox with promises of something for nothing, but it wouldn’t matter. He would trade all the Monday nights wasted watching football for just one evening like this one, once a year. None of it matters right now. The ocean smells beautiful. He exhales in the same way, at day’s end, beach grass exhales moisture back into the air.

Soon the teeth of night will be upon the observation deck and that would be just fine. He could stand there all night, watching the colors change before eventually fading to a black that is impossible over the city where the light pollution muscles the stars out of the sky. But tonight, he could stand there and watch unattached lights moving in the darkness. Boats travel under the cover of night and there is a story attached to every deck light out past the white crescents of the breakers. Darkness and distance erase pattern or logic. He could stand there. Stand there until the cold beats him back. It is times just like now that are perfect for speculations that are often buried somewhere far below the day’s chores. It is perfectly O.K. to philosophize while standing on the edge of something as large as the Atlantic. For that brief instant, your place in the world is completely understood. Raising such questions in the over engineered confines of a Starbucks seem silly. But here, as the salt air whips around your legs, the moratorium on clichés [even this one] has been lifted. Live it to the fullest because you know, somewhere in the places in your mind that never seem to quiet down, not far from the surface, the knowledge that real life is waiting for you exerts a gentle pressure. You will be back chasing down actionable tasks soon enough. Paradigms need changing. Quotas need to be met. But for now, the world falls away, nothing exists outside the black framed circles of a pair of $200, waterproof, nitrogen filled, digital zoom binoculars.

* For an enhanced experience, please read the above aloud while at a coffee house while wearing a black sweater, oil paint splattered jeans, and a paste on goatee. A monotone beat generation drawl is strongly recommended. I wrote this after an evening's photo session on the Cape in 2005. Listening to Soul Coughing' s classic Screenwriter's Blues, I amped up the fake spoken word drama. I was sitting in the car at the edge of the Nauset Light Beach parking lot. Less than a hundred feet to the east, Nauset Light swept the horizon with light at regular intervals. A man dressed in that psuedo-safari gear and a Tilley hat stood at the edge of the observation deck staring out into the blackout over the Atlantic. Vacations bring out all the gear accumulated from a year's worth of trips to Eddie Bauer and L. L. Bean. After all these years I still can't explain why some men feel the need to look like Magnum PI while on vacation. I wondered if he was the typical, suburban American: 2 weeks vacation and hundreds of hours of overtime in order to keep a McMansion and 2 luxury SUV's afloat.

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Monday, October 15, 2007


[Left] Elevation Marker,
Panther Mountain,

Shandaken New York

[Below] View from Giant Ledge,
Panther Mountain,

Shandaken New York

“Many come to the wilderness that they think will save them from the evils of a more crowded world.” –Sheila Nickerson, Disappearance

Last minute trip to Panther Mountain in the Catskills yesterday.

Seems like everyone in the state of New Jersey had the same intentions. We just wanted to get out for the day, nothing more. There were no agendas, no heavy bags of cameras and lenses, no lighting logistics, no racing the sun, and no stress. I took along an old 35mm, just in case.

The parking lot was full, and the trail to Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain was well worn from a weekend’s traffic at peak foliage. Everywhere humans go, there is trash, this is a universally true statement. The trail to Panther is evidence.

I am used to heading out midweek, so the crowds took a little adjustment: people in jeans and sneakers on a muddy rock garden trails, people smoking cigars and cigarettes on the rocks on the upper mountain, the usual assortment of weekend warriors in crispy, new gear from their local EMS, a few through-hikers with backcountry packs, and one scary guy with a brand new knife in a hard plastic sheath that reached from his belt to just above his knee. As we passed him, I wondered what he thought we was going to encounter on a crowded trail up a pimple of a mountain. People want to get out and use their toys, no matter how ridiculous that look.

The weather on Panther was an mix of cold wind and spitting rain, but the sun in the distance painted the fall colors in vibrant oranges and yellows. There was a warm autumn day somewhere, but not where we were standing. As we reached the picnic table sized rocky summit of Panther, a Japanese man appeared. Wearing thousands of dollars of spotless, new gear, he looked as though we was plucked out of the pages of Rock and Ice and airlifted to the summit of Panther Mountain. He stood for a minute, contemplating the view, before pulling out a cell phone and placing a call. As he started shouting in Japanese, we turned and left. I kept repeating Sheila Nickerson’s quote in my head as we passed group after group of sneaker clad hikers asking directions and moving far too sluggishly for 4:30PM on an October afternoon.
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Friday, October 12, 2007

Hard Won Truce

[Left] Hoover Dam Moonscape
February Sun Behind the Fountains at Cesar's

The landscape surrounding the Hoover Dam is pure science fiction. It draws in the large American rental cars from Las Vegas like a mother ship’s tractor beam pulling back an invading force. Angular lines of steel and concrete rise out of knotted, and seemingly uncontrollable red rock. Architectural outcroppings look out over expanses of desert air cut into slivers by miles of power lines. There is a hugeness that can’t be described adequately on letter sized paper or a screen full of pixels. Nothing but real life will do it’s scope justice.

The heroic scale of the Hoover Dam’s achievement is breathtaking. The clash of rock and cement speaks of a time when strong backed workers braved the elements for dollars a day in the constant blood feud between the natural world and the manifest destiny of the United States. Now those two forces appear to exist in a hard won truce, but only a temporary one. The force of nature will eventually win out. It may not be in this lifetime, may not be the next. But eventually, the pressure of the water molecules against man made surfaces will win out. Time is on the side of chaos. Always is.

The highway leading out of the neon distractions of the Las Vegas strip winds out through glass and moving light into the low slung streets inhabited by check cashing storefronts, taco stands, Starbucks, and electronics stores. Eventually, the architecture increases in size as the hulking prefab Christian churches that ring Las Vegas come into view. Corrugated steel boxes painted in the earth tones of the southwest give the impression of a military installation and not a place of salvation. Opportunity communities. And their placement just outside the largest adult playground in the world is more tactical than coincidental. They are a sort of installation in the war of the self appointed righteous against the vices of the Vegas strip. Much like the Hoover Dam holding back millions of tons of water, chaos will win out. It is only a matter of time. Always is.

With the warehouse churches falling from view, the horizon opens up. The only indication that the Hoover Dam is lurking nearby is the constant presence of power lines. Everything in Las Vegas plugs in. Everything is illuminated on the grandest of scales. Vegas sucks electricity like the tide drawing out before a tsunami. Only there is no crescendo. No wave. The draw is staggering but it is constant. Huge transformer stations route power to where it is needed. The grid holds strong against the demands of Danny Gans, Wayne Newton, and the Blue Man Group. Their counterfeit reality burns bright, night after night at $100 per ticket.

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Train Station, Parts 1 & 2

Part 1, Renesselaer:
[Above] Train Station in Fog, Renesselear, New York

I captured this image of the Renesselaer train station over the course of a week in the winter of 2006. The days had been mild and wet for upstate New York in December. As the nights cooled and then warmed, a dense curtain of fog would descend on the city. This weather pattern lasted for almost before winter's trademark flooded into upstate. Out every morning at 4.30am, I wanted to make the most of the warm weather and abandoned streets. In total, I spent five mornings at the station in order to achieve the perfect lighting and composition. During that time, I developed a friendly rapport with the workers at the small coffee stand inside the main entrance. I became known as the “the guy with the tripod.” They thought I was press, and for reasons of accessibility, I never corrected their misconceptions. After shooting for the day, I would sit at the round, metal tables of the café and answer emails while backing up the morning’s images onto my laptop. Watching the morning’s commuters grew into a welcomed diversion. The following are the notes from that week:

Heavy rain falls and settles into the low spots. The imperfections in surface are impossible to hide as water finds entry into everything, through expansion joints, through the sills of the portico, in the zippers of a backpack. Tempted by gravity, from thousands of feet up, water molecules gather and barrel earthward seeking out the exposed patch of skin on the back of your neck. The cold water continues downward before being absorbed by your shirt collar. What a way to start a Friday. The weather makes everything feel heavy and uncomfortable.

I sit in the train station and watch people with bags pass by. Urgency and velocities vary, but they are all headed somewhere. Some for pleasure, others for profit. The lucky few are able to combine the two.

The interior of the station is darker than usual and the rain adds to the weight of travel on the last day of the week. A woman walks by pulling a suitcase on wheels. She thinks to herself about getting out of the city tonight. It is going to be hell. A Friday afternoon rush hour is like a full moon. It drives them crazy. Makes sane, rational people do things they won’t describe to anyone. The pent up energy of the workweek is expelled with nowhere to go. Like a ricochet, it bounces off the interiors of cabs, cars, trains, and subways like the bullets in cartoons.

I take it all in.

If I were catching a train south, I could never be this tranquil, but today is like any other day for me. There is a café anchored to the east end of the station. I listen to conversations and try review the morning’s images. The manager loves gay club music. The sounds of Cher, Animotion, and the Pet Shop Boys echo through the marble veneered interior, probably making it as far as the boarding platform before losing momentum. There is something slightly obscene about so much synthesizer at this hour. The music is a constant source of tension between the Amtrak conductors and the café staff. One wants silence, the other, diversion. Thinly veiled insults are passed back and forth. No one ever wins but neither side takes the conflict that far. The café has the coffee and at this hour, no one wants to alienate the only source of caffeine.

I imagine back-stories about the people rushing in from the rain.

A woman and a boy walk in and sit at the table next to mine. The boy has no left ear, only a scar. I wonder how many fights that will get him into when he gets a bit older. They sit for less than a minute and then leave. They walk in an irregular arc through the station trying to figure out where to go. Travel is disorienting. All the stories here are temporary.

A man walks in wearing a backpack with a yellow rain fly. He is dressed in shorts and a Gore-tex shell. In a sea of gray suits and black trench coats, the yellow rain fly stands out like a flower growing in concrete. As I watch him disappear around the corner that leads to the departure deck, I feel the clock close in. Time for me to start my day. I had forgotten the joys of people watching and that is a necessary skill for a professional photographer.

Part 2, Poughkeepsie:

[Left] Woman with Monocle
Poughkeepsie Train Station, Poughkeepsie, New York

I love the feeling of train stations at night. The empty parking lots under cones of light are no different, and just as beautiful, as a dark lake under a blanket of stars. At regular intervals, trains appear out of the darkness, heading north out of New York City. You can hear them coming, like a monster in the ink. But the brute, angry, sound of an air horn doesn’t fit their elegance. Internal cabin lights skirt along the edge of the Hudson and dance more gracefully than they ever could under the harsh analysis on the daylight. From the far shore of the river, trains travel like mercury poured over black velvet. From the distance beyond their sound, they are nothing more than light traveling north. The night hides the small details and allows for romantic generalizations in much the same way black and white movies seem more distant and sublimely mysterious than vivid color. The color is too close to real life, and aren’t we all in some way looking for a life less ordinary? If even for an instant?

A train station suggests possibility in much the same way a map represents escape. The final part of the equation is intent. You can see it in the faces of the people getting off of the train from Grand Central. Stepping off into the night, their shoes still carry the dirt of New York City in the grooves of rubber soles. People in the midst of travel have purpose and momentum.

At this time of night, the interior of the Poughkeepsie train station feels almost sacred. The massive interior chamber is dimly lit and the air is heavy. As quiet as a library and as empty as a church, the hardwood benches look like pews bolted to the floor at odd angles. The giant chandelier is crown of jewels that is long past its prime. The last remaining artifacts of a broke down empire. Everything is covered in the film of overuse. Scuffs and gouges cover the floor from years of traffic. Frames around the ticket counter have been painted and repainted countless times giving them the rough and pocked texture of commercial fishing vessel fighting the corrosion of the Atlantic. In contrast, the marble countertops and railings have been worn smooth by millions of fingers and elbows. Through their overuse, the details of the station are becoming timeless in the way that is easy to understand and hard to describe. They are details that are the targets of complaints, but will be missed when replaced with prefabricated glass and aluminum. They won’t be missed until they are gone. And then they will be mourned.

It is easy to envision this station as the jewel it once was in the time when trains were the only method of long distance travel. We lost something as a culture when we each bought a car. 18 miles away, the interstate cuts a science fiction, sterile, and untouched path from north to south. The thruway has no crowing jewels to invent stories about. Concrete no-where’s and automated toll booths don’t provide the same sort of escapism. They are constructed of the vivid color that can be so ugly. As a collective, we are no longer inspired by the subtle. Disposable glass and brick façade restaurants anchored by oversized gas stations and enormous bathroom facilities offer the only refuge from the 75 mile per hour rhythm of the Thruway, but offer something less to the imagination.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

River Street Gothic

This broken line of rooftops greeted me every morning in another life. Not literally another life, just another time. The mood and sky in remind me perfectly of my large, cold apartment by the river. Sounds of the neighbors echoing off of hardwood floors. Sub woofer bleeding through the ceiling as the online gamer freak upstairs saves the universe from alien attack just in time for sunrise. That is, when the sun did rise. It always rains over Gotham, and the city is always the color of November. The lady who used practice ballroom dancing in the window of the apartment across the street was the only color in an outdated television landscape. I don't miss the city. Not one bit.

I captured this image with a 1950's vintage Argus C3 35MM on Ilford HP5 pushed a stop. Camera choice seemed to fit the subject.

I miss chlorophyll already and it's not even mid-October.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Lightning Strike

This image of a lightning strike was captured early in the 2007 summer season as it impacted somewhere to the north and west of downtown Albany. Thanks to the recent advent of free municipal WiFi, tracking thunderstorms through urban areas is more feasible than ever. This particular afternoon produced a broken string of severe weather stretching from as far north of as Glens Falls to a few miles south of the Capital District. These fast moving weather patterns are typical for this area in the summer months.

Live Doppler web loops are amazing in the fact that individual weather cells can be tracked in real time with projected storm paths,wind speeds, precipitation types, and amounts. This data allowed me to set up to capture some of the worst weather of the afternoon. In the intervening months, this image has taken on a life of its own, generating usage requests from local news media, weather buffs, and one Albany based hip-hop band. Currently, the image has been submitted for publication in various magazines.

It is no secret that I am a weather geek. The spare laptop in the R7 office is constantly on the Doppler loop of upstate New York and New England as I am always looking for heavy weather to shoot. I am the only person I know who actually finds the blogs on Accuweather interesting. Back when I was a competitive cyclist, I would take great care in studying the forecast and its possible deviations. There is nothing more sickening than being 70 miles from home, riding wide open farm roads, as the western horizon turns the color of a bruise. You know you are going to get hammered, and there is absolutely nothing that can be done but ride the miles home and hope for the best.

More than once I have had a stranger's car pull along side to shout reports of possible tornado sightings. This form of communication is insidious because there is absolutely no way of knowing if this person is an alarmist kook or a truly concerned Samaritan. Regardless, such rides amp up the stress level considerably and peg heart rate monitors into their upper zones. Post ride bullshit sessions were animated in the same sort of way soldiers coming off a mission are animated. In retrospect, some of those road and mountain rides are my fondest memories of riding and in many ways I miss them. I don't ride anymore. After too many near death experiences I can't bring myself to go out and battle SUV's on the roads of upstate New York. I still mountain bike, but not as much. I am a trail runner now. I love running in a way that I never felt about cycling but running is primarily a solitary sport and there are times when I miss the camaraderie of a hard ride in hot weather with a fast moving cumulonimbus on our heels.

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Monday, October 8, 2007

Heavy Weather

Today is Columbus Day and I was originally planning on catching up on some photo and design work. I didn't want to get caught up in the holiday traffic and I especially didn't want to drive somewhere to do some shooting only to find all the parks and lakes inundated with people. Fortunately, the weather collapsed around 2 p.m. bringing heavy rain and fog. I took this as my cue.

Quickly packing the cameras in dry bags and rain covers, I made my way to Grafton Lakes State Park. The park is at about 1,000 feet and is approaching peak foliage. Usually 10 degrees colder than the city, Grafton has strange, foreboding, weather patterns that either make for interesting images or monochromatic rubbish. Most people don't usually head out during a torrential thunderstorm, so, I figured I would have the park to myself. There was a time in my mid-20's when I would only hike if there was a storm of some sort forecast. At the time, I was addicted to the speed and momentum of cycling [both road and mountain], and hiking seemed mellow. By then I had read too many epic mountaineering books to be satisfied by a simple walk in the woods. I still love to get out into the weather when I can, except now, I gravitate toward the happy medium of trail running.

Today, the intersecting fronts and resulting temperature gradient produced varying layers of fog that combined the peak foliage and green leaves to make for some interesting shooting. The real treat was having the park to myself [this is a difficulty no matter what day of the week]. The forest was absolutely silent.

Today was one of those rare occasions where the photos match the mood.

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Sunday, October 7, 2007

The City on the Hill

Imagine falling in love with a city.

It doesn’t really matter what city that may be, or where it's located on a map.

Now imagine growing very familiar with the energy of that city as it becomes one of your easy places to get away to. Streets become calendars that through the years come to hold the punch lines of jokes and the endings of stories. All the different trips in the different seasons with the different people come to build a shared history between you and that city. It is a city that provided the backdrop and soundtrack to a million escapes. All the nights spent in coffee houses arguing the finer points of Howard Zinn and drinking exotic tea from chipped flatware are written in some forgotten journal. It is a city that became the launching point for weekends in New York City and the last stop before returning home from Boston.

I met Henry Rollins there.
My wife and I had a picture taken with Mike Doughty there.
Saw Beth Orton play a small club date there.
I discovered Meat Beat Manifesto there.
Played hooky from horrible jobs there.
It is the city where I designed the 7ID logo there on a napkin at the reading table of a Starbucks.
And most importantly, it is a city where I hung out with strangers, former friends, archenemies, past infatuations, and one slightly insane bookseller from UMASS Amherst.

Now imagine that the city you thought you knew so well was actually keeping a secret. It is a secret so hidden that its discovery is enough to change the way you look at the world. Now, this change isn’t melodramatic, nor is it earth shattering. Your perception may only shift for a day or a week, but you are still changed enough to remember a time before and after this secret was discovered. And when you think of the time before you know what you know now, you think to yourself: “How could I never have known this?”

You begin to feel a little foolish, but then the foolishness transforms into curiosity.

I discovered Northampton, Massachusetts by chance. One slow summer afternoon I drove there for no apparent reason but a change of scenery. I can't remember the year, but it was probably 1995. As always, I had my backpack, journals, and an SLR. Upon arriving, I was immediately taken with NoHo's charm. Consistently voted one America's top small arts towns, Northampton is a blend of hip and hippy, new age and postmodern, New England charm and big city chic. There were times in my 20's when I would drive the 75 miles down the Mass Pike just for dinner at my favorite cafe. [Fire and Water and its vegetarian chili has since disappeared and is sorely missed.] The warm lights of city coffeehouses were a welcome diversion from my empty downtown apartment and long work weeks.

Northampton quickly became a favored escape route. When life would grow too boring, or tedious, or contentious, a day spent in Noho would straighten out the world and return color to the sky.

Almost 10 years after my first afternoon in Northampton, I discovered the city on the hill.

Just a couple of hundred yards past Smith College's athletic field lies an abandoned hundred year old hospital complex. Northampton State Hospital opened in 1858 and operated until 1996. The hospital was built in the "Kirkbride" style [named for the architect Thomas Kirkbride] featuring a central core of administrative offices with patient wards extending from both sides in wings. Today, the campus appears to be a confusing jumble of service buildings, medical wings, worker’s dormitories, and steam tunnels. It is hard to imagine that this hospital ever seemed like a safe place for healing the demons of mental illness.

By the turn of the century, the hospital came to serve as a last option for those with nowhere else to live. At times the population swelled to over 2,100 patients, not including staff and groundskeepers. Over its vast history, mental heath treatment has changed drastically, but inside the hospital’s walls, barbaric therapies were commonplace. Due to the advent of psychotropic drugs in the last half of the 20th century, many patients were able to live normal lives outside the structured and controlled environment of an asylum. As the modern media matured into a 24 hour news cycle, state hospitals began to receive negative press for deteriorating and inhuman conditions. The once negative stereotypes attached to mental illness were beginning to wither as rates of recovery began to rise. Health Care privatization provided more options to potential patients thus leaving state hospitals as a last resort. Eventually, this would prove to be too high a hurdle for state run hospitals to clear.

On Thursday, August 26, 1993, the last eleven patients left Northampton State Hospital for a new psychiatric unit a few miles away at Springfield Hospital.

I discovered the hospital in much the same Columbus discovered America. You can’t discover what is already there. I was there on a weekend trip with my wife. Reports of the hospital on the web had spiked my curiosity. I wanted to see it for myself. Walking up the hill to the main portico was like approaching a stopped clock. Abandoned trees, 6 feet across, guarded the perimeter of the hospital. The wind blowing through open windows and doors brought the combined smells of musty attic and rotting wood. But it was the size of the place that was amazing. Northampton has the development pattern of any New England City. The term used in Massachusetts is “thickly settled.” The hospital grounds sat in the midst of a bustling city like a vacuum; outside sound was neutralized by dense vegetation, foot high grass grew though cracks in abandoned service roads, and shutters would open and close in the breeze. Such a vast track of undeveloped land is an anomaly in a city the size of Northampton.

I only managed an hour at the hospital. That night, back at the hotel room, as I reviewed the images on my camera, I was amazed that this hidden city had existed all this time and I had never known. In the intervening years, I have visited the hospital numerous times with more extensive camera gear in hopes of better lighting. The image above, from my first trip, is the one that I love the most. It has been a few years since my last trip to the hospital but I can’t help keeping tabs on redevelopment efforts. Today, the hospital grounds are the focus of an all too common battle between preservation and profit. I tell myself I should go back one last time before the grounds are razed and turned into light industrial space or a Lowe’s. Maybe this fall. I miss Northampton like a long lost friend. I no longer have either the time or motivation to drive there for a meal, but any time spent in Northampton is a welcomed escape. That hasn't changed.

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Saturday, October 6, 2007

Herring Cove Lifeguard Station

Tonight, I am in the process of reviewing images from the summer. It's the time of year when I make the determination what will be available as stock images on other sites, what I will keep for myself, and what I will file away in R7's vault for future design projects. The last decade has eroded the profession of graphic design. Today, it seems like everywhere I go I meet a fellow designer, or aspiring designer. [And I live in a small market] It also seems like there are a million shell companies on the web that amount to nothing more than a person with a computer and some spare time. I created R7 [Called Seven Ink back then] in 1993 and I pride myself on being able to offer original photography as well as progressive design. In many ways, photography has taken over R7's primary focus. Photography has yet to be eroded in the way design has. Anyone can buy a design application and use a template and produce something passable, but not everyone can go out and take a really successful photo. Until the technical barriers of photography are simplified and sold, I will take refuge with my cameras from the cliches of the design world.

Herring Cove Lifeguard Station is another favorite from summer 2007. We were on the Cape for a week in August when I shot this sunrise photo. I must have driven by scene thousands of times since I was a child, yet, I never considered exploring Herring Cove's possible images because of the proximity of Race Point and its 2 antique guard stations and secluded lighthouse without road access. I managed a few really good shots from that trip and this is one of them. This was our first real trip with our newborn, so, sleep came at a premium. Not realizing that my focus would be more directed at our newborn daughter than photography, I packed enough camera gear for a Himalayan expedition. I should have just brought a DSLR and a film SLR, lenses and a tripod, but I packed for every contingency. I always do. I even had intentions of shooting star trails surrounding Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown. Next time I will be more realistic.

Shooting this image is a great memory. The morning was warm and the roads were deserted. The world was inhabited by a few surf casters, neoprene surfers, shore birds and me. Looking at the image now, the architecture seems slightly old-world Cuban or maybe Caribbean. I especially love how the building seems nestled in the dune grass. This print is available up to 30 inches on metallic paper with custom reclaimed wood framing options.

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Old Troy Hospital

There is obvious difficulty in capturing a clean landscape within the city. Often, the photos in my portfolio look peaceful, but they rarely are. Many are the end result of some mad dash through rural roads or city streets in hopes of beating the sunset. This photo of West Hall on the R.P.I. campus is one of my favorite images from this past summer season. It captures a hot, late summer/early fall day perfectly. The foliage is full and colorful, the sun is warm, and the sky is conflicted. Troy, NY is a city on a hill, and for this reason, provides a perfect vantage point to observe approaching weather. I tracked the thunderstorm as it moved in from the west, over the Hudson River waterfront and past downtown. I sat and waited for the darkness to pass behind the golden brick facade of West Hall. Luckily the sun was low on the horizon and beginning to turn orange which provided perfect illumination. Winter in upstate New York has a very limited color palette, these autumn photos are the last opportunity to capture a landscape with vibrant color before the snow falls and completely redefines the way the world looks and feels.

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Beach House Landscape

I love clean, symmetrical landscapes, especially when depth of field is used creatively to reduce the scale of the subject. This shot was a throw away from a day of shopping in Provincetown. The house and umbrellas look solitary and isolated, but in reality, they are nestled between two boutiques in one of the thickest parts of P-Town. After years of shooting using the rule of thirds, I am beginning to shoot more symmetrical landscapes on purpose.

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