Wednesday, December 31, 2008

In Japan - Kyoto

"Dressed in a traditional kimono, furisode and okobo a young women training to become a geisha poses for a portrait near the Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, Japan, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2008."

Ever since my last trip to Japan, I always wanted to visit what one call one of the best preserved cities in Japan - Kyoto.

On New Years Eve, I finally got the chance to get there with some help from Vivo san, a friend I met last January.

We met him around 9:30 a.m. at Kyoto Station which is about a 25 minute train ride from Shin-Osaka station by JR Shinkansen line.

I wasn't feel that great in the morning because of my own mistake. One thing I've learned about different cultures is that no matter how much you hate something, you must act like you like it (or at the very least try it) because you do not want to offend them.

Well, I thought cracking a raw egg with soy sauce into a extremely hot bowl of rice for breakfast would be a good idea. That was until I realized the egg doesn't really cook in the rice as I expected. I could only take a couple bites and knew it would give me a rough morning.

Anyways, that didn't last long once I got walking around and some more food in my stomach. Especially after slurping up some zenzai or a sweet red bean soup with rice dumplings.

Throughout the day, Vivo san helped guide us around Kyoto so we could see a bunch of temples and shrines, including: the Kiyomizu Temple, Kinkakuji (also known as the golden pavilion) and Ryōan-ji, which is famous for its rock garden.

As we trekked around Kyoto by bus, taxi and tiny, one-car trains I realized we couldn't have done this all without a fixer/translator/friend. I am so glad we got to have his company, too. We'll meet up with him one more time before we head back home.

Of all the things we saw, seeing a young geisha in training and the golden pavilion were the most impressive.

While the photo of the young geisha is straight forward, it's just an icon of Japan that I could not pass up asking her to stand for a portrait.

To close the night, we had some sushi (believe it or not, only the second time I've had it here) in Kyoto Station before coming back to the hotel to pass out. I didn't even get to see any sort of celebrations because I was sleeping by 9 p.m.

Thursday I'll be in Osaka alone, with hopefully something to do. Since it's now 2009, a lot of things are closed, especially the first day of the year.

Happy New Year to all those in the United States!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

In Japan - Himeji

"Children play a game in front of Himeji Castle in Japan, Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008."

I am up way past my bedtime, and while I want to put my thoughts into another great day in southern Honshu, Japan, this is going to be a brief post.

Arriving in Osaka earlier this morning, I headed to see the famous Himeji Castle by JR train.

Unfortunately it was closed, so I couldn't go inside. Go figure, Monday and Tuesday were the only two days it was closed for unknown reasons. From what I understand it’s used a lot in samurai movies, so I am willing to bet that’s what it is. OK, maybe not.

It was still a breathtaking sight. I took way too many pictures of this static, white fortress from close and afar.

Following that, we headed for a pork cutlet lunch in the train station before speeding nearly 200 mph back to Osaka by the amazing JR train.

These bullet trains got their nickname perfectly. I’ve never traveled this fast (on land) before in anything, and I am known to have a lead foot when running late on the highways.

Since we are traveling up the country, the week pass is a perfect way to travel.

Anyways, to finish the night we went to Umeda Sky Building, a large infrastructure that overlooks all of Osaka and more. It was a perfect time to get up there as the sun set slowly behind the mountains.

And finally, any night in Japan wouldn’t be complete without a introduction to a new food. While we started the day off with a traditional Japanese breakfast, one could say we also finished off with a classic Japanese breakfast. Well, sorta.

The food of choice was a okonomiyaki, otherwise known as a Japanese pizza. It included all my favorites: bacon, scallop, shrimp, flour, mayonnaise, a thick, sweet brown sauce, mustard, and some other delicious ingredients. They mix all of these together and fry it up right in front of you and then top with the sauces.

I was so full, but it was one of my favorite dinners thus far into the trip. Mmm.

Well, heading to Kyoto again today to see some more of this great country.

Monday, December 29, 2008

In Japan - Hiroshima

"An employee of the JR Shinkansen train company stands inside their store at Hiroshima station, Monday, Dec. 29, 2008."

The journey continues and so does the horrific jeg lag. While I am again adjusting to the 14-hour time difference, it's still nearly impossible to keep my eyes open, no matter how exciting things are, past 8 p.m. local time here in southern Japan.

As I make my way up the main island of Honshu (from Kyushu, the third-largest island of Japan, yesterday) I first made a one-day stop in Hiroshima.

I left Fukuoka this morning and took the Shinkansen JR train to my hotel, which is a traditional tatami floor room and pretty amazing to say the least. But since I only sleep in it, it's not worth embellishing at this point in the trip.

The main reason for staying in Hiroshima was to visit what most call and rank as one of the top three scenic places in Japan - Miyajima.

About 30 minutes from Hiroshima, Miyajima is an island located at the terminal of Miyajimaguchi. Since it's surrounded by water, you have to take a ferry to get there.

It's a little, old village that had free roaming deer (no Lymes Disease thankfully) and a vast history dating back to 806 AD.

It was really, really fascinating. The floating torii (or big orange gate) of the shrine, is Miyajima's best known symbol. It is also host to the World's Largest Spatula or rice scraper, which I was totally joking about being the biggest spoon and just read in my visitors guide that it is.

For lunch I had devoured a pork cutlet odon (rice bowl) with a raw egg over rice.

Well, I could ramble on forever about this place. It was down right awesome and worth the trip. But the other reason for staying in Hiroshima was, well, to see Hiroshima.

Obviously the story with this city is the fact that is was the first city in history subjected to nuclear warfare when it was bombed by the United States of America during World War II.

With that, we visited the Atomic Bomb Dome. It gave me a feeling like the 9/11 memorial in New York City. Quiet and somber.

It was an odd feeling standing there as just about the only American around and knowing that nearly 350,000 Japanese lost their lives when this city was basically obliterated by a bomb. It's crazy to think it's been rebuilt, to..

Well, I can't take typing anymore at this table which is maybe a foot high.

Other than my back and legs hurting, after walking from 10 a.m., I am exhausted.

Tomorrow I'll pack my backpack and head to Kyoto and then to Osaka for a couple of days.

I'll try and post tomorrow (I already missed a day). Hopefully I'll have a chance to. Stay tuned.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Sleepless in Shinjuku

"A passerby walks past a glowing red advertisement sign in front of Shinjuku Station in Japan, Saturday, Dec.27, 2008."

We'll we made to Japan after being up for 30-hours straight and everything is exactly how I remember it - incredible.

Leaving Baltimore at 2:45 a.m. to get to the airport by 4 a.m. was tough. Then we had a layover in Houston and finally departed for Tokyo at 10:45 a.m.

Although the flight was a painful 13-hours, it was by far one of the most enjoyable flights I'd ever been on.

Each seat had a personal touch-screen LCD television that offered more than 250 movies and television programs among games and countless albums to listen to.

What got me through the flight included: The Wire, Entourage, Lost in Translation, and a couple other movies.

Once we got into Narita we picked up our JR train passes and hit the last leg of the journey - nearly two-hour train ride into Tokyo Station and then to Shinjuku.

To finish the night, we grabbed some sushi and then hit the hay. It was a long, sleepless night as we tried to adjust to the 14-hour difference, but we're adapting, slowly.

As far as shooting has gone, not much yet. Here is a quick image from the first night as we waited for our bus to takes us to the hotel. I only got about 50 frames off, but I'll be sure to try and update often as I can with more, better posts throughout our time here.

I must note though, my grammar and spelling will be atrocious I am sure as I adapt to the difference. It's really tough the first couple days.

Finally, will fly to Fukuoka this afternoon and then make our way up Honshu and back into Tokyo. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Enroute to Japan

"Bass and vocalist K.O. of Peelander-Z bellows lyrics in front of a crowd at the Otto Bar in Baltimore, Md., Saturday, Dec.20, 2008."

Well the 24-hour return trip to Japan has begun as I sit in the airport in Houston awaiting my connection to Narita-Tokyo.

As some may know, I was in Japan earlier this year and had planned on making a trip back this summer. But due to falling ill and then having an internship, the travel was put on a short hiatus.

But that is past now and travel through the main island and Honshu should be great.

I thought I'd update and share some pictures from Peelander-Z from Baltimore last weekend.

I must warn you though, these were after ingesting a few cocktails and were taken merely because I had camera on me to begin with.

Roth had heard they were in town when his buddy was participating in an art battle at the same venue.

Peelander-Z was a perfect show before heading back to the land of the sun. While they sing in English, they are a Japanese Action Comic Punk Band originally formed in 1998, and came into action when in New York City.

While they weren't the same "Peelander-Z" as some say they normally are (crazy costumes, antics) they still pumped me up and had my ears ringing for a couple days. I even downloaded a couple of their albums for the flight. In addition, I got a kick when I saw their label was called "Eat Rice Records."

Well, another short post as I am about to board the oh-so-exciting 14-hour flight to Japan. I'll try to update as soon as possible when I get there and update every chance I get.

Since I did not have a chance to do a favorite photos of the year be sure to check out the archives on the side bar from 2008 and if you're curious, search for Japan in the top right to see my posts from January 2008.

And if anything, see how much I crammed into my luggage.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays

"Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis pumps up the crowd during a Tennessee Titans third down during the second quarter at M&T Bank Stadium, Sunday, Oct. 5. The Ravens were defeated by the Titans, 13-10."

Since I will not be around for the holidays, I wanted to drop a quick note to everyone to have a great holiday and a happy new year.

Hopefully you've all been good and will receive what you asked for. As for me, I hope Santa will deliver me a tall stack of cold-hard unmarked bills. OK, I am kidding. Well, maybe not.

Even if he doesn't bring me the green cash, I did get myself a couple little gifts - Final Cut and some Crucial memory for the Macbook Pro - to go along with my new high definition Canon HV30 mini DV video camera.

If you haven't been good, I hope you make an extra effort today to make up for the bad you've done to get back on the good list before Santa makes his rounds.

Although I've had a tough year health wise, I have been good, so aside from my normal list of gifts, I also asked for the Ravens to clinch a playoff berth this weekend.

I won't be around to see if they do, I'll waking up by the time the game is over, but I am confident they will pull off a victory over the Jaguars. They've already doubled their win total from last season and have had a great season, especially with a recent upset win over the Dallas Cowboys.

Well, I am keeping this very short since I am very busy trying to get things done for Christmas and my upcoming travels. I should have one more post before I hit the road, but if you don't hear from me, have a great holiday and enjoy your time off (if you don't have the holiday shift that is).

Have a great holiday!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Right school, wrong gym

"Western guard Brielle Ward fouls St. Frances' Shatyra Hawkes on a drive to the basket during Western's 54-42 loss in the Breezy Bishop Showcase at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, Saturday, Dec 13."

Mistakes are made every so often. It happens and they are a part of life. In my most recent case, I was at the right high school, but in the wrong gym.

A standard Saturday night sports assignment, I needed to shoot some next day action of girls high school basketball at the Breezy Bishop Showcase at Polytechnic Institute - St. Frances versus Western to be more exact.

Having been to the school before to do some sportraits, I knew where I was going. Not to mention, the photo assignment confirmed my prior visits.

As always, I arrived well before the tip. I've never been one to be late to anything, and when I know I will be, I get gut wrenching nerves. I am not sure why I am always early or how that all got started. My only justification is because my parents were and are always late, or so it seems.

Sitting in the gym with 20 minutes to spare, I checked my exposure and thought about putting up some small Nikon SBs (lights) in the corners. The D3 was spoiling me though with a 1/640 of a second shutter at f/2.8 at 6400 ISO, so I decided to keep the frames per second and roll with ambient.

As I sat on the bleacher playing on my Blackberry, I noticed that the game would be running late, as during halftime of the current match-up, it was almost 7 p.m.

At 7:10 p.m., my nerves were starting. Why wasn't this game over yet? When was the game I was suppose to be shooting going to start? Did I miss it? Is the gamer suppose to start later than posted on the assignment?

Then with some luck, I asked the gentlemen sitting in front of me if I could shoot the roster of the two teams out of his program for captioning after the game.

When I told him what two teams I needed to shoot, he said, "You know the Western game is in the other gym, right?"

"Umm. Other gym?" I asked.

I had no idea the school had two gyms and here I was running late. Which I hate.

To make matters worse, the other gym was darker, packed (even with parents and other teams sitting on the baselines) and hot.

I missed almost the entire first quarter, but that was OK since I would actually be able to shoot the entire game before my deadline.

As the game went on, I was a little upset that I didn't have the time to put lights up because of sitting in the wrong gym. So I shot the entire game with a 85mm at f/1.8.

Despite being late, all went well, not to mention it was my second basketball game of the season and I was feeling a bit rusty.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Celebrate good times

"Baltimore Blast forward Carlos Garcia lines up his shot as Massachusetts Twisters goalie Paul Dellistritto tries to make the save during the second quarter at 1st Mariner Arena. The Blast breezed to a, 27-2, victory against the overmatched Twisters."

Celebrate good times, come on! Yeah, if you haven't guessed, they are the lyrics to Kool and the Gang's hit song. It's also the jam they blare from the loudspeakers at The Baltimore Blast indoor soccer games after they score a goal, and believe me, I heard it a lot last weekend.

When I was about six-years-old I saw my very first indoor soccer game. If I can remember correctly, my oldest brother Justin took Tim (next older brother than me) and myself to the game.

From what I can recall it was dark, crowded and I don't think I was feeling well (read: I simply missed my mother). Either way, some small memories of the match remain.

Putting that negative memory aside, I do have the positive recollections of The Blast, mainly from my younger years of going to the games with my soccer teammates.

Although the team went from The Blast to The Spirit (and now back to The Blast), the league in which they played at the time was in it's prime in the early '90s. I believe it was the in the era of playing Tag Team's "Whoomp! There it is" after a goal was scored.

Sorry, I must contain my excitement. My old teammate Eric, who was typically my Blast counterpart, and I used to play indoor soccer in his basement with the song cranked trying to reenact the Saturday night action.

As you can imagine with my enthusiasm, the arena was always packed tight and if you didn't know the names such as Mike Stankovic, Tim Wittman and Cris Vaccaro, you were looked at as being loony.

But my ties to The Blast stem further than my younger years only being a spectator.

I actually grew up playing along aside former Blast head coach Kenny Cooper's son on a team named after a former Blast hall of fame player - Keith Van Eron.

In addition, I also was brought up playing indoor soccer at an arena which was owned and operated by a former Blast goalie, Bobby McAvan. Ironically, I still play there on an unlimited team.

And my last connection to the team was playing against and then shooting current Blast GM Kevin Healey's son, Pat, at Towson University; he also just joined the squad as a player this season.

But enough about my past soccer youth and fusion with this ball club. I have not been to a game since I was probably 13-years-old, so needless to say, I was thrilled when I got the call to cover the first game of the season.

Before getting there I was already picturing the sights and sounds. Kool and The Gang echoing throughout the arena, the psychical play and soccer drama at its finest.

Yet all my memories, while still reminiscent, seemed to be flushed down the toilet when the arena was empty and I realized that the league only featured five teams total.

Too fulfill my excitement I brought my remotes and set one up behind the visiting team's goal and then shot 80 percent of the game from the third level of the arena.

The staff was really friendly, one woman even watched my locked up remote the entire game, the light was great and the access was even better. I am surprised they don't let photographers on the pitch like they used to allow photographers do in baseball decades ago.

Alas, my deadline was fairly tight, so I only got in two quarters of shooting. The Blast destroyed the Massachusetts Twisters, 27-2, and when I left during the third quarter it was still a shutout.

Overall, it wasn't the same as it was a decade ago when I was there last. But it was a fresh assignment that was fun and made me think of my youth and I did celebrate my good time. Hopefully I'll be able to snag another game before the end of the season to try and better my first take.

You can view more images here. I didn’t include a slideshow above because of their vast various sizes.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

That's bullspit

"Owner Bob Tibbs brushes White Squall, his young state grand champion Charolais bull, at Shadow Springs Farm in Havre de Grace. White Squall weighs 1,700-pounds and will be looking to win a national title during a contest in Kentucky."

Some photojournalist friends of mine and I have a joke about shooting assignments that involve animals. I tend never to get any while they are continually scooping up the fun animal based work. What do I think? I think it's bull-spit.

Over the summer I watched others, particularly Monica, get numerous animal assignments which were far some being serious news pieces.

From baby elephants sniffing her toes, pigs squealing as they eluded young boys trying to tackle them in the mud, to the famous (or infamous) face licking monkey.

After a while we began ragging on each other that these were the assignments that made the hilarious front page features when news was slow. Not to mention, they were a blast to shoot, too.

The funny thing is, once I brought it up in jest to others, everyone agreed that they too wanted the fun, loving animal assignments.

While I didn't get many this year, I got one that included goats, totally unrelated to my morning work one day, and you better believe I incorporated those fuzzy, horned creatures into a couple frames.

Months later I finally got my own animal assignment. It wasn't penguins who could the play trumpet or chipmunks that could act dramatic on cue. It was a huge cow.

Right up the road from my house, owned by a Harford County farmer, this bull weighed in at an astonishing 1,700-pounds. And what made this massive piece of meat worth mentioning in ink was he (at the time) seemed to have a shot at a national title during an upcoming contest in Kentucky.

With a snow white coat and weighing the mass of my old Honda in high school, this bull, White Squall, was among the country's best according to local cow experts.

Since then, White Squall didn't win as expected. From what we were told judges looked at his size, shape and structure - particularly his legs, feet and muscle. In addition, they inspected how well he represented his breed.

Well, I am no judge, but this was the largest animal I had ever witnessed up close in person. He won the largest animal award by me for sure.

At one point he laid down and I watched his hoofs as they easily smashed into the frozen ground like feet into three-foot deep snow. I couldn't imagine if I had been underneath him before he decided to rest and how badly I'd be injured, if I even survived.

What I also noticed was his brass ring in his nose. All my life I had never known what they were for, but apparently they are a must for show bulls in case their temperament goes through the roof.

The reporter and I hung around for a little over an hour talking bull and getting to know his owner and a little about both of their lives.

Nothing too exciting happened since White Squall was tied up following his bath. I didn't get kicked or stepped on either. From the minute I met this bull (I want to say cow so badly), I knew I wouldn't either. It was like a 2,000-pound white puppy dog.

After we left, I knew it wasn't the thrilling animal assignment I had been waiting to brag about to friends. But you should know I rubbed it in like it was the best of the year. Hopefully they fell for it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


"Howard County resident Milt Nelson of Clarksville unsuccessfully tries to extinguish a fire as other residents watch from a safe distance during the free Citizens Emergency Readiness Training at the James N. Robey Public Safety Training Center in Marriottsville, Saturday afternoon. Nelson did eventually put out the fire."

First off, before I even start pounding my fingers rhythmically into the keyboard, extinguish is one of those words that for the life of me I can never spell on the first try.

It's been put on the list with: definitely (which I always a "v"), among (which I always want to add a "u") and let's not for get supercalifristic expialidocious. OK, I kid.

This assignment read action all over it. Average joes. Firemen. And fire. A perfect mix of inexperience, experience and danger.

The idea of this assignment was that residents would get to practice putting out fires and other personal preparedness skills during a free Citizens Emergency Readiness Training hosted by Howard County Fire and Rescue.

Basically, professional firefighters teaching civilians correct fire extinguisher techniques, proper generator use and safety techniques.

However, weather was going to be a huge factor as I was told by the desk as inclement weather was expected to be in the region over the weekend. They were right, rain passed through the area, and although heavy at times, there was also not a drop at other times.

When I arrived I didn't see anything going on. I was upset that it was probably canceled. Fear not, it wasn't; there was just wasn't even a quarter of those who had signed up there.

It was what it was, I was just happy when I arrived that they were about to begin putting out fires while the rain was stopped.

They ignited a large metal box on the ground and let each resident attack it with the fire extinguisher.

It was fairly exciting as the participants ranged from about 30 to 80. Not to mention, in my life time I've never seen a extinguisher discharged, let alone on a fire.

Well, I found out quickly when I was dusted in the white chemicals when I stood in front of the fire and extinguisher what they were all about. Let's just say it was very difficult scrubbing it off of my coat and camera.

I think the firefighters got a kick out of me being covered in the chemicals. They probably saw it coming from a mile away, too.

Nonetheless, I went right back in for the close up shot and got covered again. This time I just kept my eyes and mouth shut and covered my camera.

Following the firefighting, the rain came pouring down and we were then ushered inside to learn some more safety. I sadly knew my action would then be over.

The inside portion was fairly uninteresting photographically, yet interesting audibly. So I made some frames and then decided to hang around when they veered off topic and starting talking about their brand new fire engines.

Learned a lot, but didn't make many frames inside. Alas, I did like this frame of this old man totally missing the flames. He was inspiring to say the least.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Grand reopening

"A guest talks on the phone outside at the historic McNasby Oyster Company, home to the Annapolis Maritime Museum, which marked its grand reopening at a party Monday, Dec.1. The $1.2 million renovation repaired damage done by Tropical Storm Isabel."

My "bag-o-tricks" is always in my back pocket. When to open it and put the contents to use must be used cautiously though. Yet when the lighting is bad, the room is overbooked and there isn't much happening, every trick is going to be a big part of the assignment.

The historic McNasby Oyster Company, home to the Annapolis Maritime Museum, marked its grand reopening with a party last week and I had to shoot a spread of standalone images, no story since it was already written about, including the front page.

What was noteworthy about this story was that the $1.2 million renovation repaired damage done by Tropical Storm Isabel and would again be open for the public to visit. When Isabel ripped through downtown Annapolis in September 2003, the 90-year-old McNasby Oyster Co. building was damaged badly and sat in 4-feet deep water at its floor level.

While it's not finished yet, they did line the walls with all sorts of art, including photographs and paintings to name a few, and of course, lots of artifacts and historic memorabilia.

When I arrived and found parking in the tight streets of Eastport I walked in and noticed this 7,000-square-foot museum was jam packed. Since the museum only had two rooms accessible, each 2,000-square-foot, the big crowd didn't have much room to roam.

Normally if I know I have a cover or front page, I'll work on finding that image first. This time, however, I thought I'd just blend in and try and find the moments that made this night momentous. That proved to be tough though.

With the drinks flowing, the chatting echoing the rooms and folks shoulder to shoulder, I was finding it difficult to make an image that wasn't a smattering of people merely standing around enjoying cocktails.

This is when I needed to break out some tricks and get creative.

The exhibition side of the two rooms was far less crowded, so I spent a good portion of my time in there making some nice images of people talking about where their home used to sit on old maps from 1868 to 1968, and others scoping out some old photographs and artifacts.

Once I felt I had enough from that room, I reluctantly returned to the loud, over booked "art" room.

Again, my tricks (you didn't think I'd actually spill them did you? Ha) came into play. The light was not too bad horrible and there was no room to walk. I actually had to go back to my car to get a 17-35mm because my 35mm and 24-70mm weren't wide enough to make anything significant.

With so many people crammed into a small area it was also hot. It was so warm that the windows on the entrance side of the building were totally fogged. I wasn't having much luck with the crowd, so I stepped outside to clear my mind and get some fresh air.

What I didn't know until I walked out the back door was that the museum hosted a large deck that overlooked the bay. It also had the iconic "Historic McNasby Oyster Company, home to the Annapolis Maritime Museum" sign painted on the wall.

This is when I knew I had found my front page image. I saw the frame in my head, but needed some sort of human element to bring it together. So I sat leaning against the railing facing inside for what seemed like a solid hour.

At this point I wasn't hot anymore, but becoming very cold as the cool air blew up from the water and I waited for folks to also wonder outside to cool off.

After waiting for at least a good 20 minutes, two visitors roamed outside. One woman was from news station and it wouldn't tell the story. Another guy was talking on his phone, but was no where near the door opening.

Then following shooting about 50 frames of an empty doorway, just about when I was about to give up and trash the idea of getting the frame, the guy started walking back toward the door and I laid on the motordrive like no other.

With a little bit of luck and good timing (and my exposure nailed down after a bunch of meaningless frames), I got the above photo. The two frames before and after this one would have not made for a good image. I got lucky.

After getting that, my confidence boosted back up and I returned inside and made images far better than the ones I had previously thought I'd transmit.

Overall, it was a tough assignment for what it was, but I remembered the little tips and tricks I always have in my pocket that I know will give me some confidence to push me through the little, no light, crowded assignments like these.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

99 problems but Philly ain't one

"A passerby talks on his phone out front of Cappucelo’s Meats as he inspects a window display at the Italian Market area in South Philadelphia, Saturday, Dec.6."

The rapper Jay-Z has a song called 99 problems, in which he sings, "I got 99 problems but a [woman] ain't one."

Well, that phrase came into play when we decided to go to Philadelphia on a whim yesterday. I got 99 problems but a Philadelphia ain't one. Or was it?

My weekend was slow, the slowest its been in a really long time, so randomly we thought we'd head to Philly for some famous cheesesteaks and see what else we could find going on.

I've been to Philadelphia a bunch of times, and most recently with my buddy Darnay who is a Philly native and cheesesteak connoisseur. He was the one who introduced me to the South Philly meat and cheese instant classic.

But it wasn't long after we left that our fun trip would turn into a laundry list of issues.

It all started when I realized that my car temperature needle was spiking. Now my car is fairly new and never given me any sort of real issues, so I knew something was going wrong.

Having been a gear-head, I knew to crank to the heat to save the car from overheating and breaking down. The only issue was that we were now driving with the heat blaring and windows down.

Once we got to South Philly, we had zero problems parking and the lines were relatively short considering the Army Vs. Navy football game, which was being held at Lincoln Financial, was just ending.

However, it was freezing and I think I lost a filling as every bite I took was horrendous pain. Yet another problem to the list.

After devouring some delicious subs, I remembered the Italian Market a couple blocks away, so we burned off the fatty, cheesy sandwiches and got a kick out of this little street. This is worth visiting if you're ever in Philadelphia. It's a very colorful area and loaded with features. It really reminds me of Rocky. I wish I could have hung out there longer.

Speaking of the famous film boxer, from there we jetted over to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see the famous Rocky Balboa statue. No issues there, other than it was frigid and since we had gone up late, it was already dark.

Before heading home we thought we maybe walk down Market Street and peek into some shops and grab dinner.

Well, at this point it was dumping snow and finding parking was anything but easy. So after an hour of circling we found a spot on the street. And it was close to a recommend, comfy sushi restaurant we thought we'd test out.

Yet again, although great sushi and a nice little, quaint restaurant, we were uninformed by Max that it was BYOL. Thanks, man! I kid. Although, what is sushi without some beer and sake?

Following dinner, our meter was running low, so we opted to just walk around in the winter white land.

Alas, although having a great time despite the cold, early sunset, toothache, and overheating car, we came to find out some inconsiderate driver had hit my driver side car door and left without notice or note when I was parked.

Nonetheless, all the problems we had, large or small, we had a good time and that's all one can ask for. Here are a couple frames from the streets.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Walk the line: freedom writers

"A student stands alone during a version of the "line game" where students stand before a line on the floor and then step onto it when they agree with a statement said aloud at Van Bokkelen Elementary School. These students were learning to express themselves with writing, more distinctly in journals, by Karen Gibson who based their exercises from the Paramount film "Freedom Writers.""

Often one will see people wince when they see a graphic photo. They feel it's objectionable content and are overwhelmed. One will also hear folks say that they cannot read a story any further when it's about loss and despair, too.

But that's not fair. Their actions are unjustified because the subjects, the people in these stories and photographs, don't have to simply look at it, they have to live with the conditions and environment they are in at that moment in time. Their story must be heard.

While the images I had to take on this assignment weren't graphic or difficult to capture, the story was profound. It made me want to share these girls story again after the article.

A couple weeks ago I walked into an elementary school in Anne Arundel County to document some "Freedom Writers."

These Freedom Writers were being taught by Karen Gibson, who had based their current exercises from the film which told a true story of an English class in a gang-ridden area in which the students came to respect their teacher and others after learning to express themselves with writing, more distinctly in journals.

As just mentioned, Gibson was doing the same with a small group of girls who also came from troubled families.

During my time in the school, the class played the "line game" - a game where students stepped on a tape line silently if they could answer yes or agree with a statement said aloud.

Things started simple with general questions that I could have stepped on the line for, such as: Do you like rap music? Do you have a pet? Do you have siblings?

But then questions turned serious: Who knows someone who died in gang violence? Who has seen someone commit suicide? Who has seen their parents have sex? Who has had bullets fired at their home?

These and other questions were jarring to an objective, young adult like me. I feel like I've witnessed a lot and am well versed with the daily news, but when you look around at a bunch of elementary school girls who have lived lives I've only seen in movies, it's heartbreaking.

As the game progressed, the students started asking their own questions, rather than a prewritten list by Gibson. This is when the courage showed, this is when I noticed they got the point of the game.

Several times during the game a single student would ask a question and then peer around the room to see if anyone would join her on the line and often no one did.

Here these young students were sharing things they are embarrassed to admit to strangers and classmates. But as we were told by Gibson, it's a huge relief to know that someone in your class could also share those same hardships.

Stories like this make me realize that I am in journalism for the right reasons. You can read the entire story here.

On an unrelated note: Thanks to Vincent Laforet for posting the audio of Platon from the Eddie Adams Workshop. Great to hear it again. Listen here.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Zombie Friday

"Olivia Stone of Dundalk attempts to hold as many bags as she can handle as other from the Franklin Woods Center checkout toys for their annual children Christmas party during the early morning Black Friday sale at Kohl's in Timonium, Friday, Nov. 28. The day following Thanksgiving, Black Friday is the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season."

I've learned to get up early and work, however, getting up in the wee-hours of the morning is anything but easy. Being forced from my sheets too early only puts me in an odd state that cannot be described.

Two weeks ago, I got the call that I'd be working Black Friday. It was a bit in advance, but I was up for the challenge. Well, aside from the getting up hours into the day following Thanksgiving. Winning the lottery seemed like an easier task than getting out of bed at 2 a.m.

It wasn't until Wednesday that I found out where and when I needed to be for my Black Friday assignment. When I heard I'd have to be in Timonium at 4 a.m. I cringed. My very next thought was I wasn't going to go to bed, I'd stay up all night. Yeah, right.

On Thanksgiving I watched each hour tick away until I needed to try and get some sleep. After scanning the television for anything but football, I crawled into bed, shut my curtains and laid there motionless at 6:30 p.m. It was the only time I was ever happy it got dark at 5 p.m. Ever.

Total silence. Total darkness. One million and one thoughts racking in my brain. I couldn't sleep. I estimate I fell asleep somewhere around midnight.

At 2:30 a.m., my alarm sounded. Surprisingly, without hesitation, I rolled out of bed, jumped into the shower, got dressed, and snacked on breakfast as I drove 30 minutes to my assignment.

Prior to getting to Kohl's, where I'd be allowed inside before the rush at 4 a.m., I had to shoot the line outside of Best Buy.

With my camera in hand, I was literally a walking zombie at 3:15 a.m. I pushed myself to stay awake. I even thought about grabbing a coffee, but I've been caffeine free since May, I wasn't about to break my new healthy habit.

Once I got moving, I slowly woke up. Conversely, the shoppers seemed to be sleepy.

At 4 a.m., the doors swung open at Kohl's and 150 or more shoppers crashed...wait...walked into the store like snails. No smiles. No stampedes. No punching. No kicking. No screaming. No fighting over GPS units.

All along I was expecting a rush of people, crashing into one another, toppling over shelves of toys, clothes and electronics.

But they weren't. I was utterly disappointed. It was like any other typical shopping day. Talk about being bored to death sleep.

After an hour of shooting, having some odd conversations with half asleep or half awake shoppers, I needed to file before 6 a.m. I don't even get up at 6 a.m., even if I do have an early class. I don't even get up then if I work an early shift. But I had a deadline then. I am still laughing at that.

Anyways, somehow I managed to compile coherent cutlines and move my images from my car without passing out in the parking lot.

After getting done shooting, I went back to bed by 7 a.m. and was up, again, around 10:30 a.m. Astonishingly, I felt refreshed. I guess being young has its benefits. Maybe not as resilient as a child though.

Nonetheless, it was a crazy experience. Only wish it was more exhilarating.

I did learn though that I can function on odd hours, granted it was a 14-hour difference when I was in Japan this past January.

As for the image, the above is one photo than ran the next day. It was my favorite as she kept getting loaded up with bag after bag by her friends. Most of the time what I post doesn't run or is an outtake.

Alas, I don't know how these shoppers did it. My time and energy really isn't worth getting up that early to save $20 on a television. I gave the Black Friday tradition some thought and there really isn't any material item that I want that bad, and there isn't anyone I would get up for to go shopping for at 2 a.m.

Color me ugly, but I'd rather not save the money and sleep.