January 12, 2015

From Observer to Participant: A Photojournalist Goes Tourist in Washington, DC

My day working as a photojournalist started at dawn to get set up to capture President Bush's noontime swearing in.

Family Affair

My day visiting Washington DC last summer as a tourist started at dawn as well, as the free bikes at my hotel were first come, first served. 

When covering President Bush's inauguration, I was loaded down with pounds of photographic gear and a laptop.  A plastic film camera and little digital camera fit in my fanny pack as I pedaled amongst the monuments.

All my prior visits to DC had been as a detached, somewhat cynical photojournalist, more concerned with finding out where the story was, taking dynamic images and meeting deadlines, than understanding my emotional landscape in the corridors of power.

Feeling from Stone
Therefore, years later, as a tourist, I was unprepared for the unbeckoned feeling of pride that swelled in my chest as I gazed upon the Washington Monument.

Muggy Morning

Or the powerful feelings of awe, anger and grief at the National World War II Memorial.

Moving Mountains

Further wheeled exploration led the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.  This other battle evoked similar feelings.

Echoes of Monticello

The view from a paddle boat midway between the MLK, Jr. Memorial and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.  As I began to consider Jefferson's "all men created equal" in light of his ownership of slaves, tarnishes on Dr. King's legacy came to mind.  I remember reading in the New York Times about the mixed feelings my Stanford African-American History Professor Clayborne Carson had when he discovered evidence of plagiarism in King's doctoral thesis.

Maybe these the flawed famous men can help me to accept my own human imperfections.

I hope this multiple exposure from my film camera symbolically conveys my searching:

Outside Looking In

After twenty years plying the photojournalistic trade I began teaching in 2006.  Popping out of class to cover reaction at a local community center to President Obama's first inauguration, I had nascent inklings of a desired shift from detached observer to participant in life.

Thus while continuing to shoot as a photojournalist, I also began experimenting photographically in a more artistic direction.

Inside Looking Out

Looking back, I realize I spent most of my DC photojournalistic days inside buildings like the White House, whether with National Security Council staff near the White House Situation Room, or in the Oval Office with President Regan.

Reagan: Actor Turned President
I loved what I did then.  And, I love what I am doing now.

December 11, 2014

A Snowy City (Site of a New Casino) Transports Me Back in Photographic Time

Leaving my car and heading to photograph the MGM Casino Design and Construction Information Session in Springfield, Mass., I stopped in my tracks.  A light snow fell and I carried a camera in a city.  The situation viscerally transported me back to 1977:  I was a high school senior, living in Boston with classmates, volunteering, studying urban issues, exploring a city in winter and taking photographs.  I knew I needed to attend to this powerful feeling, but my photojournalistic quarry waited.


My schedule prevented me catching the official presentations at the MassMutual Center, but I captured the networking aftermath, as people with services to offer for the massive construction project mingled with casino representatives.


Opportunities Knocking

Clutching a sheaf of opportunities, ranging from a community college that will teach gaming skills to the Massachusetts Casino Career Training Institute, Dave Dunaj calls a friend to share the bounty. 

Rock of Ages

Massachusetts Gaming Commissioner Bruce Stebbins listens as Mike Butler describes his view that the complex process of siting a casino is akin to a sports contest, with winners and losers.  Boston-based Mr. Butler works for Coldspring, a Minnesota granite company.

I Wish I Could Speak Spanish

Yaitza Monger, Julio Torres and Marilyn Santana represented the Massachusetts Latino Chamber of Commerce at the event.  The main focus of the MLCC is to help individuals start and manage businesses.  The MLCC is also a partner with MGM and works to connect minority business owners with casino related opportunities.

Stars and Flakes
Back out in the wintry wonderland, I shot some generic images for one of my online stock photography agencies.

Checkered Past

I then created one of my Reality-Based Abstractions, using the multiple exposure function on my digital camera.  I would not have developed this technique were it not for the experimentation that digital photography affords.

The title, Checkered Past, was crowdsourced on Facebook.


Here is a digital image of Springfield in 2014.  Back in Boston in 1977, I shot, developed and printed black and white film.

Turn Back Time

The same Springfield scene, converted to black and white.  As I prowled the city streets,  I remembered a three ring binder in which I collected photos and thoughts from the winter of 1977.  A precursor to digital blogging, here is a sample:

Self-portrait 1977

Back in 2014 Springfield, I recalled this 1977 self-portrait, so I tried a new one:

Self-portrait 2014

As a teen, I took pictures for the pleasure of exploring and documenting my world, without thought of commerce and/or publication.  Sometimes professional blinders limit creative freedom.

I strained to find a contemporary image like Door from 1977, but I could not find one!  Frustration mounted.  I then paused and reminded myself of the how-to-overcome-creative-blocks discussions I've had with my Cultivating Creativity students at American International College in Springfield.  I realized I was trying too hard.  I put my camera away and just stood in the snow, conscious of the flakes landing on my face.  I was briefly unproductive.  Feeling refreshed after a break, I ventured off the main street, and found these doors:

I am grateful that a journey into the past brought me squarely into the present.

July 28, 2014

Artistic Process - On Making a Chili Pepper for a Parade

Get Inspired : Make a Plan

Wire Armature
Exacting Experiment: Glue Stick and Paper - Must Be an Easier Way!
Paint Prep
Fun Times

May 24, 2014

From Making Civil War Swords to Protesting Monsanto GMOs: What These Old Trees Have Seen

On this international day of protest against the Monsanto corporation's production of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and chemical farming products, activists gathered in front of Chicopee (Mass.) City Hall to voice their opposition to Monsanto.

Bee Against Monsanto
The protestors claim that Monsanto products release neonicontinoids and other chemicals into the environment that are reportedly toxic to bees.

Across the street from the event stand the Cabotville Sycamores (one shown here, big white trunk).  During their close to 200 year tenure, they have seen a canal dug, a rail line laid, a city developed and industrial factories built.  Swords for Lincoln's troops, doors for the Capital in Washington, D.C. and Spaulding basketballs have all been made here in the Ames complex, the brick of which you can glimpse through the trees.

Despierta!    Dile "No" a Monsanto    Coma Organico
Patricia Sanchez lives in the former mill complex, now converted to apartments.  She holds the sign written in Spanish that reads in English "Wake up! Say No to Monsanto. Eat Organic."

Thinking about all that these trees have seen, from making swords to protesting GMOs, I felt kinship with my writer and photographer friend Benjamin Swett and his book:  New York City of Trees.  Swett writes in the introduction:

"Just as trees remove carbon from the atmosphere and hold it for many years in their woody tissue, so do they sequester the shared experiences of the people who live alongside them. The growth rings of trees contain, in organized fashion, physical manifestations of the world and of the human presence in it at different times in a tree’s history."

GMOs Have Got to Go

Several families came to protest.  Here, Kayden Beaulieu holds a Caique Parrot (the pet of another protestor) as her grandmother Nina Renshaw looks on.  Later, young Kayden walked to her car chanting, "Hey Hey Ho Ho, GMOs Have Got to Go", evidence that she had done some sequestering of her own during the event.

Jessiem, sporting a sign emblazoned with "Reality = Illusion", took a moment to commune with his smart phone.  I asked him about the mask.  "The government is hiding stuff from us, why not hide our identity?"


The group was mixed, likely brought together by a Facebook event.  While the Massachusetts legislature is contemplating passing a GMO labeling law, one protestor's sign read:  "Don't label GMOs.  Ban Them!"
Beekeeper says, "Monsanto is a Buzz Kill"
Linda Buckburn's bees have not been affected by Colony Collapse Disorder that some attribute to pesticides, but she advocates natural rather than chemical farming methods.

A plaque near the Cabotville Sycamores states, "The sycamores have survived hurricanes, floods, an industrial revolution and the onslaught of modern urbanization."  The protestors prod us to wonder if the venerable trees can survive the environmental impact of modern farming methods.

April 29, 2014

Skiing on a Frozen River :: Living Life to the Fullest

I sometimes join the excursions of the Putney, VT chapter of the Bill Koch League.  In this league, aspiring grade school Nordic skiers practice and race.

At the season's end in early March, I received the following email (italics, below) from coach Eric Aho.  (I subsequently joined the expedition and took these photographs.  Click images to enlarge.)

Hello Skiers:

For the first time in about 10 years the Connecticut River between Charlestown, NH and Herrick's Cove north of Bellows Falls, VT is frozen to a thickness of about 24 inches and is covered with a skiable crust of snow.

It is a rare New England winter experience to be out in the middle of the white expanse of the river.

We can ski north from Herrick's Cove a few minutes and find an eagle's nest.

Come along and ride on New England's very first highway!

I shot these images using a plastic no settings film camera.  Not sure what happened with the processing and scanning at CVS to produce the blue tinge.  However, I love the rough texture of these film images.  The look matches the blustery elements and exhilarating spirit of the life-affirming outing.

Coach Aho is also a superb landscape painter.

March 29, 2014

Black HIV/AIDS Awareness - Community and Connection - A Photojournalist's Heart Touched

Scrolling through radio stations on my way to teach art, video and photography at American International College, I landed at community radio station 90.7 WTCC and learned about an upcoming National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day event organized by The New North Citizens' Council, Inc. (NNCC).  The next day I headed over to the Mason Square Library in Springfield, Mass., to document the activities for The Image Works.

Welcome! - NNCC Program Director Richard Johnson
The event featured free HIV testing and flu shots, educational materials regarding HIV/AIDS, along with free hot meals.

Part of the photojournalist's job is to make connections and to develop a network of sources and ideas.  Fairly new to teaching and photographing in Springfield, I was encouraged by a warm welcome.

Bay State Community Health Centers Table
I asked NNCC Program Director Richard Johnson if the free food was an incentive to draw individuals to the event.  I learned that it was not an incentive.  "As a community, we tend to gather around food," he replied. "Not all folks have the opportunity to have a warm meal, so we wanted the opportunity to provide something."

Volunteer Food Servers
The volunteer food servers alternated between urging me to have a meal and to take pictures of them.  I declined a meal, as my belly was full.  I also questioned the appropriateness of taking food since warm meals are the norm for me.  I was especially aware of privilege after recently reading Mia MacKenzie's essay: 4 Ways to Push Back Against Your Privilege.

One ebullient volunteer kept after me to eat something.  Not wanting to be rude in refusing an offering of food, I said that upon completing my photography, I would have a small cupcake. 

Just Wear It - Free Condoms for Prevention
Work done, I took a cupcake and sat down near the particularly friendly volunteer.  However, her lightness was gone.  She barely acknowledged me.  I then saw she was looking at a projected slideshow of pictures of individuals who have died from AIDS.  She murmured that someone had said that an image of her sister was in the show.

This personal revelation suddenly jolted me from my detached photojournalistic outsider stance.  I began to feel deeply the meaning of music playing, Sarah McLachlan's I Will Remember You.

I Will Remember You
Feeling sad, I took this last shot on my way out:  Less photojournalistic precision, more emotional abstraction.  The strains of the haunting song lingered in my being.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day was started 14 years ago to focus attention on HIV in blacks and African Americans, the racial/ethnic group most affected by HIV in the United States. Blacks make up only 12% of the U.S. population but had nearly half (44%) of all new HIV infections in the United States in 2010."

February 28, 2014

Pencil Eyes - - Seeing with Art Tools

Midday:  Teaching drawing at American International College.  Cultivating creativity.  Readying students for next week's visit to the Springfield Museums.

Early Evening:  Attending art gallery event at UMass, Ahmerst.  Artist Kim Carlino and Curator Eva Fierst.  Seeing beauty and question marks.  Inspiring art and dialogue.  Listening.  Thinking of students at museum.  Compelled to draw. 

Artist, wearing Glasses
Night: Dining at Sakura in Northampton, Mass.  Buffet.  Man talking into cell phone earpiece cramming plate with sushi.

Man Lifting Himself Up
Eating and drawing.  Waitresses texting in Chinese.

Texting Waitresses
Noticing sketching, waitress saying, "Beautiful."

Pointing, saying, "This is you two texting."  Language barrier to communicating sucessfully.

Pointing, again, hoping: "Those are your ponytails."  Comprehending.  Calling friend over.  Laughing.

Screen Culture
Returning to texting.  Returning to drawing.