Saturday, December 20, 2014

2014: Certainly A Year To Remember...

I normally don't write big, year-end "this year is circling the bowl" sort of posts every December, but I feel  somewhat compelled to do it this year.

I've now been in Florida for right around 16 months. I don't know that I ever thought I'd end up moving here and, if I did, I don't know that I ever thought I'd stay. But it's been right and good for me, and has allowed me to feel grounded and, to some degree, mildly sane.

The year 2014 started, well, badly. I had planned a New Year's Eve celebration in North Carolina. Instead, my brother Greg and I were in New York, as our Dad was in the hospital, and he was not doing well. So, we spent New Year's Eve with Dad's friends; those people who he loved and cared for, and who loved and cared for him right back. In early January, the doctors said Dad would be going home, so Greg and I said our goodbyes and headed south, back to Florida.

On February 13, we got a call telling us that Dad was going to be moved into hospice. Greg and I, again, were on the road on February 15. At about 3:00pm that afternoon, my phone rang. It was Dad's longtime partner Judy. "Steve", she said, "He's gone". Those were the only words she could muster.

Dad passed away at 2:15 that afternoon.

We were somewhere in Virgina.

One of my favorite photos of Dad...


The funeral was almost surreal; the collection of mourners as diverse a crowd as you could ever imagine. It was comforting to see everyone who showed up, and I think it was a testament to the man everyone loved. During the eulogy, I commented that "JP" wasn't perfect; far from it, in fact. But, if he had been perfect, he wouldn't have been the man that everyone knew and loved.

Only a few months later, one of Dad's best friends (and, as a result, a friend to Greg and me, as well), Bert, passed away. Then, in what seemed like only a blink of an eye, another friend, Tucker, also succumbed to cancer. It was a difficult time; more for some than others, but everyone felt the pain of losing loved ones.

Somehow, we figure out how to live life without them. It may not be as much fun, but there's really no alternative.

The last photo ever taken of the three of us...


After returning to Florida, I found that my photography business had ramped up to a point, and then kinda' stagnated. I was determined to fix that. I opted out of the camp photographer job I had the year prior, instead choosing to remain in Florida for the summer. Along with working on my photography presence in town, I also started working at a local club as a bouncer. If working as a bouncer taught me one thing, it's that I really, really don't like country music. That aside, though, it gave me the opportunity to listen to a lot of live music (not all of it country), and it expanded my circle of friends.

At some point, I decided I wanted to head north. I would visit Maryland, Long Island, New York City, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I was gone for about three weeks, and got to see friends, family and loved ones along the way. And, sometimes, as much as you think you can handle a summer apart from someone, you usually discover you'd rather not. So, you take care of that.

A rental car and the road. Not a bad way to spend a few weeks of the summer...
 
I did a lot of shooting over the summer. While I didn't shoot as much as last summer, I shot, probably, far more than most sane people in the same period of time.

From a photography perspective, the highlight of the summer came on August 1. An old high school friend of mine is the team photographer for the New York Jets, and he got me on the sidelines at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey for the Jets pre-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts. I'm glad the Jets won that game because, let's face facts, their regular season has been a tad lackluster.

With my old high school buddy Al Perreira, on the Jets sideline at Met Life Stadium. I could've kept the vest, but they'd have kept my driver's license. It almost seemed like a fair trade...


I returned to Florida after a stop in North Carolina, and hit the photography head-on and with both barrels. I'd invested in new equipment prior to my trip north, so now it was time to invest in getting my name out there and making inroads into the public arena.

Since I'd moved here, I had the chance to shoot longtime friends Barenaked Ladies at the St. Augustine Amphitheater last November, and shot in that venue again when Daughtry came to town. I was able to use those photos as my resume', in a way, to get into the rotation as a house photographer at the Amphitheater and at the Ponte Vedre Concert Hall, about thirty minutes north of St. Augustine. Sure, it would be great if they paid me (they don't), but I get the opportunity to see some great shows and get some great photos.

Along with Daughtry and Barenaked Ladies, I've had the chance to shoot Earth, Wind & Fire, Phil Phillips, Goo Goo Dolls, Plain White T's, Richard Marx and Hall & Oates. Upcoming gigs include Sarah McLachlan, The Doobie Brothers and Marshall Tucker Band. So, yeah, I don't get paid, but I suppose there are worse ways to spend some free time.


The highlight of the year, above all others, had to be the celebrating of Mom's 80th birthday. Greg and I enlisted the help of his girlfriend Renie and her friend Ruth, and we threw Mom a bit of a wing-ding back in August. Not only were there a lot of locals in attendance, but also friends and loved ones from as far away as California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and even the Cayman Islands. Mom knew the party was going to happen, but she didn't know who would be there. It was quite a time, to be sure, and everyone loved seeing everyone else.

Mom and I dancing... Greg taking pictures...


August also marked the first time that I'd seen my daughter, Jessy, since I left San Diego in November of 2012; almost 22 months. I won't write a whole lot about that other than to say that I will never let that happen again.

Back on the photography front, the biggest "photography win" came with me being picked up by a new magazine here in St. Augustine: St. Augustine Social. I'm not only shooting for them, but have started writing for them, as well. It started with "Bloody Mary Monday", for the magazine's blog, which was the result of Beth and I enjoying tasty cocktails on a Sunday afternoon. It's morphed into a whole series on the best Bloody Mary's in town and that, in turn, has turned into me doing restaurant reviews for the print magazine. The first one will hit the street in February, and I'm pretty jazzed about that.

So, in a nutshell, that was my 2014. It started on a low and ended on a high, but I've really tried to keep things in perspective. Three years ago I never would've imagined this path for me but, hey, here it is.

The only thing to do now is see where the path leads...









Saturday, November 8, 2014

WIDOMSV - Part 8: The County Fair...

Suffice it to say, I did a Helluva' lot of shooting over the summer. From meeting up with old Navy friends to traipsing through dilapidated prisons, it cannot be said that I didn't do my level best to flex my photographic muscle over the summer.

So, don't you think it would be a given that I would welcome a break? Perhaps a slight respite from the hectic schedule of shooting, editing amd then shooting again that I'd found myself embroiled in?

Yeah, me neither.

Despite my best efforts, I kept shooting.

This time, though, is was kinda' hokey. Beth and I were on our way to the Wayne County Fair in Wayne County, Pennsylvania.

I vaguely remember, years ago, Mom and Dad taking Greg and I to the Danbury Fair in Danbury, Connecticut. All I remember is the long drive and, given that I was all of about seven years old at the time, I wasn't diggin' it. I don't know what rides we went on or what animals we saw or whether or not I ate cotton candy or deep friend bacon wrapped bacon, but I remember that drive. Three hours in the back seat of a 1965 Plymouth Belvedere II just wasn't my idea of a good time. I do remember the Danbury Fair being big, though. I mean, you know... really big.

I was looking forward to the Wayne County Fair because I knew it wouldn't be nearly as big and, as a result, could perhaps be a bit more quirky.

My suspicions, friends, were spot on.
The view from the Ferris Wheel. I think the parking lot was actually bigger than the actual fair...

One of the many "Hope ya' didn't eat too much" rides along the midway...

The Ferris Wheel at the end of the midway...

We got the the fair and quickly determined where we wanted to go, and when. Certain events take place only at certain times, and we didn't want to miss them.

Now, the be certain, county fairs are a big deal to a lot of people, especially in the more rural areas where farming is prevalent. To these people, the midway that attracts people like you and I are a nuisance. They're on hand to compete for ribbons with their pumpkins or their cows or, well, with whatever else you might find on a farm somewhere. The Wayne County Fair was no different:


One of the agricultural competitions...

That, my friends, is a very large... yellow pumpkin thing... with a blue ribbon...

I had a difficult time trying to find the interesting aspect of large vegetables not only being put on display but, also, judged. I guess the compelling aspects of such things are lost on me. What wasn't lost on me, though, was some of the food.

If you go to a county fair anywhere, you're bound to encounter the art of deep-frying. Things you would never think of frying are plentiful at fairs. Again, Wayne County was no different:

A deep friend Oreo. The only way it could've been better would've been if it was a Double-Stuf...


I don't even know how they would do that, but they did it. I have this funny little quirk about showing up somewhere and then leaving with diabetes, though, so I decided to pass on the deep-fried Reeses...

Let's face it: There's something inherently funny about farm animals. There just is. Or maybe it's just the farm animals you see at county fair; I dunno'. There were more than a few on hand, though, to make us laugh, and laugh we did.

I struggle with the question of how someone thought it was necessary to outfit their goat in woodland camouflage...

How YOU doin'?

And, just in case you like your farm animals to have a little more room to move, well, here ya' go. I thought it was pretty funny to hear how excited some people got over this. It's serious business to some:




And therein lies part of the charm (a big part, in fact) of a county fair. Nowhere else will you find garbage food, rides to make you throw it up and pig racing.

Next time I go to a county fair, I'm bringing my full rig (these photos were all shot with the Canon G12), my tripod and a whole lot of free time...

What I Did On My Summer Vacation - Part 7: International Boilerworks

Eastern State Penitentiary was definitely a highlight of my "I like to photograph abandoned buildings and places which sit in various, and increasing, states of disrepair" photo endeavors. But the famous places aren't all that are out there.

In the little town of East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania lies a rather large, and very much abandoned, factory. Despite its size, if you didn't know it was there, you would never see it and, if you didn't know where to look, you would never find it. It's been hidden away by years of overgrowth and neglect. International Boilerworks was built in the 1890's, and operated for just over 100 years before being shut down, boarded up and, from all indications, completely forgotten about.

The state of decay is impressive. While not in ruins like the Weatherly Trainworks, this factory; or what's left of it, has certainly seen much better days.

My cousin Lisa and I drove over from her home in the Poconos to photograph it. Lisa had been in contact with a woman who was with a local camera club, and who was willing to take us there. The property lies along some railroad tracks and, as far as I could tell, there were no "NO TRESPASSING" signs to be found. Still, it seemed as though we were engaged in something illegal or, at the very least, dubious. 

As we walked down the dirt road, the factory came into view.

It was huge.

One very small portion of a very big factory...

As we made our way closer to the buildings, it was evident that this place is visited frequently; probably by groups of local hoodlums building bonfires inside the factory and drinking beer (evidence of both was clear). There was no on there for the vast majority of time we were there and, in fact, as we were leaving, we saw a couple; probably no more than 17 years old, wandering through. They didn't pay us any mind.

This wasn't so much a photo trip to explore the past of some bygone factory. Instead, this was a photo trip that had the sole purpose of capturing the disparity of textures and colors that you might expect to find should you ever find yourself coming upon an abandoned factory as you wander aimlessly through the woods. Between the dirt floors and the concrete and the rust, it lent itself very, very well to photography:















I'd gotten sick after the trip to Eastern State (it's haunted, I tell ya'), so I wasn't feeling my best while shooting at International Boilerworks. While I'm pretty satisfied with what I came away with, I wouldn't mind going back some time to shoot it again. If nothing else, the further passage of time is only going to make it an even cooler place to shoot...















Wednesday, October 8, 2014

WIDOMSV - Part 6: Eastern State Penitentiary - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania...

It's been a while, but I was able to get in some shooting at a site along what I like to call the "Ghost Adventures Photography Tour".

"Ghost Adventures" is a show on the Travel Channel, and I'm a fan. So, when I get the opportunity to shoot a location that has been investigated on that show, I try to take it. In the past, I've shot at the Whaley House and Cosmopolitan Hotel in San Diego, Fort Niagara in New York, West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville, West Virginia and the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine. All were very cool, and all lent themselves well to photography (although the Whaley House was a bit cramped).

I was, therefore, pretty damn jazzed when my cousin Lisa told me that one of our photo trips while I was visiting in August would be to Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Back in 2009, the prison was investigated for the second season of "Ghost Adventures", and it was definitely one of the creepier episodes of the show.

We'll get back to the whole "ghost thing" later.

The prison lies smack dab in the middle of a working class neighborhood in Philly. It almost sneaks up on you (much in the same way West Virginia State Penitentiary does). Once within the confining walls of the prison, though, the city goes away. You can't see it, you can't hear it and you can't smell it.

Walk inside the prison, and Philadelphia is gone. All you have is the prison.

And it's bleak.

The prison was built in 1829, and it operated for142 years before closing in 1970. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. Criminals such as Willie Sutton and Al Capone were incarcerated here. Sutton actually took part in an escape of a dozen inmates on April 3, 1945. He was recaptured later that same day.

Walk through the entrance, out into the yard, and turn around. This is what you see...

Entrances to cells were small, and this was, apparently, with good reason. Many people believe that the smaller doors were in place to make it more difficult for inmates to quickly exit the cell to attack a guard...

Cell doors also had wooden overlays to help insulate from any noise...

A cell block at Eastern State...

A typical cell at Eastern State. Each cell was lit only by one port in the ceiling, known as "The Eye Of God", which was to suggest to inmates that "God was always watching"...

An old, decrepit supply cabinet in the medical wing...

Another typical cell...

A cell door...

Cell blocks were very, very ominous places...

Each of these cells held only one man...

Wherever you're going, it's a very, very long walk...

Inside "The Hub", which sits in the center of the prison's radial pattern...

A table with a checkerboard top...

The cells now sit in a state of "preserved ruin"...

Al Capone's cell. It was a bit more nicely appointed than the other cells...

Capone's cell in black and white...


A gate located in the church section of the prison...

The Guard Tower...


This is all that's left of the prison barber shop...

One of the two-tiered cell blocks...

From inside the prison yard, you can see the skyline of downtown Philadelphia...

A doorway falls victim to time. This was a doorway used only by prison staff...


Another view of a two-tiered cell block...


This was a room near the dining hall...

This was another portion of the dining hall. It's seen better days...

One of the more dilapidated cell blocks. It remains closed to the public...

A broken window not far from the dining hall...


To be sure, Eastern State is an ominous place. The walls are yards thick, and impossibly high. While these dimensions were certainly in place to thwart escape, some 100 or so prisoners did, in fact, escape the prison. Only one of those, though, avoided being recaptured.  In 1923, Leo Callahan and five other inmates built a ladder that they used to scale the east wall of the Penitentiary. His five accomplices were all eventually recaptured, but Callahan is still at large.

In the unlikely event that he was still alive, he would now be 110 years old.

The construction of the prison was such that solitary confinement was the norm. This finally ended in 1913, primarily due to space restrictions and overcrowding. At the time of its construction, it was the largest public structure in the United States.

So, back to the whole "ghost thing" for a minute: It's no secret that I believe in ghosts, hauntings, etc. Not long after arriving at the prison, I felt like I was getting sick. I mean, really sick. Up until we visited, I'd felt great. But that night, I was down for the count, and spent the better part of the next 20 hours in bed. Now, I'm nowhere near prepared to say that I was the victim of some malicious, ghostly attack, but it was pretty damn weird how, all of a sudden, I was pretty much completely unable to function. I would later learn that there have been other visitors who've reported the same thing.

The prison now operates as a tourist attraction, and it's open every day of the year. I highly recommend packing up your camera, your fears and your suspicions and going for it. It's definitely worth the visit...

Let's Talk Apps...

From time to time, I'll be talking about cell phone apps as I find good ones. Let's face it, it's almost impossible to get thro...