Throwback Thursday...

Well, this is not a very deep throw, but it does go back..

I rarely go anywhere without a camera, and often carry several of them. While it’s true that if you have a phone you have a camera, in my backpack I generally have one digital camera, and two or more film cameras of varying formats. I imagine as I get older and the bags get heavier, I will pare back, but until then, I trundle on…


There are many types of distracted drivers. Some are daydreamers, some (most?!) are using their phones, some might be lost and looking for directions, and others may be more interested in conversations with other passengers then to give proper attention to what is happening on the road in front of them.

I am none of these. I am distracted searching for photo ops.

So it was while flying north up Route 70 near Durham, NC that I came upon the scene above. Hardly believing what I was seeing, I slammed on the brakes and pulled off the road as quickly as I could. Plowing through the underbrush I worked my was as close to the scene as I could. If I had taken the time I might have noticed the service road nearby and made my way more easily. But that would not have been nearly so dramatic. Or as much fun.

If I have the time, I like to spend some time looking around and trying to visualize what I think I would like the final image to look like. Other times, I like to play around just to see what I might discover. This was one of those in-between situations. I had some time, but not a lot as I suspected the scene would change quickly as the crew went about the work of removing the crane from the baby’s forehead.

I made several versions of this but this is the one I like the best. I have a closeup of the baby’s face which illustrates the damage the crane has done, and the baby’s obvious displeasure, but I think the panoramic version tells more of the story. We see the surroundings, the tipped over crane and the damage it’s caused. We also see the workmen along the side of the crane which gives everything a sense of scale.

All-in-all, we have all the components to tell an interesting story.

Throwback Thursday...

Here is another favorite of mine, and not just because the Sabres won the game.

This image was made on April 14, 1996. I know this because I still have the ticket stub! The game was between the Buffalo Sabres and the Hartford Whalers and was the last game they would ever play in the old Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. Otherwise known as: “The Aud.”

Buffalo Sabres vs. Hartford Whalers April 14, 1996

The great thing about images like this are that they have the ability to immediately take you back to that moment in time. I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast this morning, or even if I did, but I look at this photo and can instantly remember everything about that night. Thinking about how many games I had attended with my dad. How excited we were when Buffalo finally got an NHL team. Listening to the games on my transistor radio while hiding under the covers in my bed, long after I should have been asleep.

Even going back to the days of the Buffalo Bisons, our AHL team. The Pepsi logo on the old jerseys. How dark and scary the old building seemed as young boy. Crushing soda cups to make them “pop”. The sound as it echoed throughout the building. I can still hear it today. And the pick up hockey games with other kids as we kicked the cups around in the hallways between periods. A large slice of my childhood, encapsulated in a single photograph. Such is the power of photography.

Prior to the game, I had called the department at city hall responsible for the maintenance of the building and politely inquired as to the possibility of having a bucket filled with Zamboni ice. After a long stunned silence, the man on the other end of the phone gave me the name of the person to ask for. So immediately after the game, I ran back to my car, returning with a five gallon pickle bucket. I made my way down to the basement where the Zamboni’s were parked and assuring the maintenance crew that I had the appropriate permissions, requested that I be able to fill my bucket with ice from the Zamboni.

Another long stunned silence ensued, this time accompanied by an incredulous stare. After several awkward moments, the older man in charge directed a younger man to fill my bucket for me. I wouldn’t be insured if there happened to be an accident, he explained. How nice that there was someone to do the work for him, I thought, as I watched my bucket being filled with ice. After a short time my bucket was filled, and thanking the crew profusely, i was on my way, delighted with my souvenir, their quizzical eyes following me as I exited the building.

Over time, all relationships evolve and change, and the ways we, as viewers or keepers of memories relate to images, are no different. While the memories come flooding back, how we respond to those memories will often change over time. What I could never have anticipated at the time this image was made, was how it would change for me.

The following season, the Hartford Whalers would move south to Raleigh, North Carolina and become the Carolina Hurricanes.

Several years later, although for far different reasons, I would follow.

Who knew?

For the technically minded, this image was made with a swing-lens panorama camera much like the one I used for the church image from a few weeks age. It just uses a larger film format. The distortion and curvature in the image is a result of the changing distance of the foreground and middle view and that of the view to the edges. As the lens rotates, the distance to each element of the view is changing. The edges are further away than the middle, so therefore it looks closer. Our eyes correct for this but the camera lens cannot. And the distortion is made worse by me tilting the camera down to include all of the ice surface. So I’m really messing with with all the optical planes here. Oh well,..

So while there are many technical ‘problems” with this image, I still like it a lot. It tells a story of a time and place that is extremely important to me. And in that, it’s perfect…

Throwback Thursday...

Well, since we’re already way back in the Way Back machine, let’s look at a couple of color images. I would hate to leave the impression the world of my youth only existed in black & white. Not so.

That would be my parents…

Karen & Gary Wedding

Sandy & Dave

The image at the top, of Karen & Gary, was the first wedding I ever photographed, and the first time I ever intentionally created an image for someone other than myself. I was still in college at the time. Karen was a co-worker and well aware that I rarely went anywhere without a camera.

As both she and Gary were also students, they had little money and so enlisted the help of family and friends to plan their wedding. Karen and her sisters made all the food. The reception was at a state park covered shelter.

The bottom image, of Sandy & Dave, was the first wedding I ever photographed as a working “pro”. We’ll leave the definition of “Pro” for another time, but it was the first time I was actually paid money to photograph for someone. Livin’ the dream, baby! Ain’t life grand?

Well, sort of…

At both weddings I was accompanied by my best friend and frequent co-conspirator, Joe. We also go waaay back. And I mean, Waaaaaaay back. He’s also one of the most creative people I know. When I look at some of my early work, during the period we spent a lot of time working together, I think it’s some of the work I like the best. But more on that later…

Karen & Gary gave us money for film, a bottle of Jack Daniels and all the food at the reception we could eat and stuff in our bags to take home. Sandy & Dave paid us $350, proofs and album included. Not a princely sum, but certainly a long way from all you can eat and steal.

At Karen & Gary’s wedding, we owned 2 camera bodies and 3 lenses between us. No flash, no tripod, no accessories, no nothing. By the time we got to Sandy & Dave, our first real wedding booking some three years later, we still didn’t have an extra camera, but we did have a tripod, a flash and 2 more lenses. Definitely moving up in the world.

We never actually set out to be wedding photographers, but for some reason when you told someone you did photography, the first thing they wanted to know was if you shot weddings. At least that’s how it seemed in those days. Eventually enough people asked and we said yes. Why turn down money?

Like any newcomer, I operated under the belief that to compete you had to work the same way every other professional did. If they’re successful doing things a certain way, why should I be any different? So I spent a lot of time looking at other photographers work (not so easy before the internet!) and learning as much as I could about other studios and how they operated. And while I got better at it, and the business grew, it never felt right.

In truth, while I had no idea what I was doing at Karen & Gary’s wedding, I like the images a lot more. The images from Sandy & Dave’s wedding were set up and lit just like everyone would have expected. Hands in this position, the flowers here, and the dress laid out just so. And while all that’s good, I get little emotional satisfaction from many of them. There’s no story there. Or at least not a story told very well. While there are many images that told me what the day looked like, there was very little that told me what the day FELT like.

I think these two images illustrate the differences well. In the first image we see the bride and groom leaving the church. A hand throws rice in the lower left which leads our eye directly to the bride and groom. As they duck for cover, they appear to be laughing. The camera is on a slight angle, accentuating the lines of the steps and railing, making it a little more dynamic. And with the slight blur of the rice and the couple, a sense of movement. We see people in the background laughing. A boy at the top of the steps is staring. We wonder what he might be thinking. We are engaged with the action. We’ve been drawn into the story. Don’t we want to know more?

In the second image, we have a portrait of the bride and groom. They’re posed like every other bride and groom you’ve ever seen. They’re kissing. Probably because I asked them to. The image is sharp and will lit. So what? I don’t know the story. I have no idea what it really felt like that day. At least not from this photo. But that’s how it was done in those days.

In the first image, I’ve broken just about every rule there was for proper wedding photography. Arm cut off? Horrors! What’s with the diagonal? Why so crooked? Why so far away? And it’s blurry! My God! Put down the camera! What an amateur!

Yes, yes I was. And I liked what I was doing better that way.

It took me a long time to realize that I didn’t need to make images like everyone else. I needed to make the images I wanted to make. If I made them for myself first, for the way I saw the world, I would like them more and so would everyone else. And that changed everything.

I still occasionally make images intentionally for other people., but these days, I do it mostly for myself.

And I like it better that way…

Throwback Thursday...

Going way back in time for another favorite image made while wandering, this time while visiting family in Marietta, OH. Not sure of the exact date but I think it was made in either the spring or fall of 1979. I do recall that it was a damp and overcast day.

Lucky Man

I also can’t recall what the rest of my family was doing while I was meandering but I am eternally grateful to the space I was often allowed during family time to go off on my own and gather images. A practice that continues to this day.

This is another example of the “point & shoot” process I employ with my film cameras (as I described in my previous post). The weather was also working in my favor that day as the overcast sky evened out the light while still producing shadows with details. As I like to say: “I’m using God’s softbox”! My favorite kind of light.

I was walking along the waterfront, and as I passed this building, I heard the door open. As I looked over the man looked up at me. I raised my camera, composed quickly and clicked the shutter. The man smiled and waved, I did the same and walked on. The whole exchange probably took place in less than 5 seconds. The exposure was probably around 1/60th of a second. Preparation, meet opportunity. Although it was lucky that I happened to be walking by at just that moment, I find that the more present you are, the more moments you’ll have.

Looking back, I can’t help but marvel by how at ease and comfortable the man was with being photographed. I don’t know that this would be the same today. I am sometimes confronted by people who demand to know what I’m doing even when the camera isn’t pointed in their direction. (In fact, I was once photographing some trees in a public park when a women driving by pulled over and demanded I stop. Seriously, I kid you not.) Apparently a dumpy middle-aged guy is more threatening than a young, wild bearded red-headed freak. Times change, I guess…

However, this image almost ceased to be. It was one of the last frames on the roll of 36 exposures. Thinking I might have something really special, I quickly shot the remaining frames and proceeded to wind the film back into the canister. In my excitement, I forgot to push the film release button on the bottom of the camera and got in 2-3 good turns before I realized something was wrong. After a few panicked moments, I figured out what was wrong and wound the remaining film back into the canister.

I knew I had damaged the film but I didn’t know how badly or at what place on the roll. I only knew it was toward the end, which is where this image would be. So I had a couple more days and an 8 hour ride home to fret and ponder what to do about my mistake. Pure torture!

When I finally got into the darkroom and removed the film, I discovered I had really ripped up the end of the roll. I spooled the film as carefully as I could onto the developing reel and placed it in the tank. Unfortunately, film must be agitated during processing so this was a step I couldn’t ignore. More torture! But 30 agonizing minutes later, I pulled the film from the wash and could see the roll was completely developed and the only damage to the film was to the sprockets, which were totally ripped apart along the last 5 frames. Instant relief!

Further examination reveled that there was a small section of this image that wasn’t developed. One of the loose sprocket pieces must have lain up against it to prevent development, so there was a short line that ran along the bottom left edge of the image. Early printed versions of this image are cropped along both the left and right side which makes for a slightly taller and narrower print. Current versions, thanks to the miracle of digital technology allowed me to have the defect retouched out, and now we have the full framed image.

Throwback Thursday

This is one of my favorite photographs, and also a great example of what you can capture when opportunity meets preparedness.

Kids at Play

This photo was taken in the Black Rock section of my hometown, Buffalo, NY. during one of my many walk about’s. Unfortunately, the business is no longer extant.

When I’m out on one of my photo walks, typically I will take a meter reading and set the camera aperture and shutter speed to my preference. Depending on how bright the day is, I’ll use either an f8 or f11 and set the shutter accordingly.

Then, I pre-focus the camera using the depth-of-field scale to as close as possible with infinity as the farthest distance. And off I go. This is my version of “Point and Shoot”. I still use this method with my film cameras today. Mostly because I’m still using them! Modern digital cameras with the auto everything’s require far less pre-planning. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

When I look back at some of my older work, I often wonder what the place is like, where the people are and what they’re doing today. This photo was made sometime around the fall of 1978. That would mean the girls would be entering middle age. And that’s one of the greatest things about photography. In this photo, they’re kids forever…