Friday, February 27, 2009

Encroaching darkness

"Finding warmth in the sun on the 100 block of North Frederick St. in downtown Baltimore City, a homeless man lays on the sidewalk as darkness encroaches his position, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2009."

One of my favorite things to do is take street photos. There is so much that we overlook on a daily basis and there are so many stories on the street.

I am easily inspired by the uninspiring, especially in Baltimore City. I see so many fascinating people, faces that I just wish I could interact with and learn more about. It's just so frustrating that this city is so dangerous. The drugs, the violence.

It's a shame my access to this city is pretty much non-existent because I would love nothing more than to document the city streets of Baltimore.

Moving on, I shot the above photo for numerous reasons when I had to head downtown earlier this week.

My eye was immediately drawn to the technical and aesthetic aspects of the scenery when I first walked pass this gentleman. I loved the textures; the light, the lines, and tonal range. Not to mention, there was a human element to complete the frame.

When I passed him the first time on the 100 block of North Frederick St., he was sitting facing across the street. But I didn't have my camera - which was beyond me.

Roughly 30 minutes later, I walked by him again on my way back to my car. He had moved down the sidewalk to stay with the warmth of the light, sun.

Already kicking myself for not having my camera, I continued on my way to my car and got my camera. I couldn't not shoot a couple frames.

When I returned, he was then laying down against the "No Stopping" sign. While in my mind I was thinking that it didn’t read the same as before and it may be hard to read, I still shot.

Something I was feeling drew me to this environment. There was something beyond the quick speed graphic; there was more meaning on symbiotic level.

First off, I should mention that homeless can easily be taken advantage of, but given the climate of today's global economy I feel there is more of an appeal to this type of photograph.
Many people fear being this man right now, out on the streets without a job, unable to meet deadlines of major payments and struggling to afford their homes. That's the current life - the tough financial situations, bankruptcy and job cuts.

I obviously shot this in color, but saw the environment in a desaturated light to give the frame a cold, somber mood that it was.

Everything sort of came together when I looked at the frame on the back of my camera.

The darkness of cold shadows encroaching back as he attempted to stay warm. The rustic corrosion of the block which could speak of his evaporating energy of struggling to survive on the cold streets. More obviously, the "No Stopping" sign, which he obviously could careless about representing his will and strength to do anything he can to stay warm and survive.

Alas, the most predominantly in my eyes, the lines of block representing prison bars - a prison - that he cannot escape. Whether or not this metaphorical prison is the weather or the depression of his life situation - trying to survive the best he can - it spoke to me.

It’s rough out there now. It’s not even the first quarter and newspapers are still dissolving like sugar in a cup of hot tea. The Rocky Mountain News has gone to bed for good just this week. It’s depressing.

The job market all over is weak, the stock market is down and foreclosures are at an all time high.

This image is nothing more than reality of the United States in its current situation.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


"Georgetown Prep's Eric Fessell spins under John Carroll's Ryan Owens as he attempts a takedown during the 135-weight bout at the independent schools state tournament at McDonogh School, Saturday, Feb. 14, 2009. Fessell won with a pin."

I cannot agree more with Drew. When I cover a wrestling match it not only ranks as one of the smelliest sports and can get a bit awkward at times, but the thought of getting ringworm from lying on the mats definitely runs through my mind the entire time.

With that said and out of the way, and I must note that even the 100-pound kids could kick my ass, that this year has been the first I've ever covered wrestling, let along this many matches. And without a doubt, it has become one of my top sports to shoot.

My reasoning, which I've probably mentioned, is the pure fact that there is so much emotion in the wrestler’s faces. It doesn't matter if they are 100-pounds or 300-pounds, it's all relative - it's all real.

Last weekend I found myself again ringside, this time for a tournament which sort of threw me into a spin.

My biggest gripe with shooting wrestling is figuring out who is wrestling whom. It's not as straight forward as shooting say a basketball game where players have an individual number that links up with the roster for captioning.

With wrestling, there sometimes is a predetermined match list, but once someone drops out of a match everything gets screwed up.

You can shoot the book where wrestlers sign in, but most of the time the little sophomores running and keeping stats only get their last name and don't have the best handwriting.

While I've created a nice system to keep me less stressed worrying about who is wrestling when and who, last weekend I almost had a panic attack.

It was my entire fault because I showed up early and was running around like a chicken with its head cutoff trying to photograph three different rings and then attempting to get the weight and names of the wrestlers off a chart with only numbers. I was so confused.

I frantically started asking kids and parents for help, but then things calmed down when they set up for the finals (that I was suppose to shoot) with first and second place contenders in the middle ring. In addition, they had a printed sheet that I could photograph that included all the information I needed.

Things went well and they had some exciting matches. This is my favorite frame, although it didn't run. My frame that ran was very story telling of a three-time champion getting upset, and in my frame, slammed to the ground.

While I may not have ringworm, yet, I will probably be shooting more wrestling as the season comes to a close, and more and more county and state matches persist. Until then, I will be scrubbing down my arms after the matches. Where is the bleach?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

What's under a pony tail?

"Rachel Warns apprehensively looks over at her cousin Madeline Crowley as she prepares to have 10-inches of hair cut off for the purpose of donating their hair to Locks of Love for the fourth time at Shear County Styling on Feb. 13, 2009. The 12-year-old, seventh grade cousins first donated their hair when they were in first grade."

I was always glad I wasn't born a girl for the simple fact that I hate getting ready to go out. Hair salons are proof that being pretty can be an obsession.

Last weekend I drove to northern Baltimore County where money meets farm country. Where expensive a lawyer's car sits in a driveway across the street from a wooden cutout silhouette of a man shooting a gun that occupies the front yard of farmer Joe.

While diverse, one thing is common - there isn't much to do up that way. Friday night football is a main attraction every weekend in the fall.

As for my assignment, I had heard of before, but never witnessed it or read about in the paper. It was called Locks of Love.

I called it "LOL," although it should not be compared to the Internet abbreviation for "laughing out loud." This is a serious organization that makes wigs for children who lost their hair due to illness or chemotherapy with donated hair.

My assignment was a bit of a challenge. I was shooting a pair of giggling 12-year-old cousins, Maddie Crowley and Rachel Warns, rather than one quiet middle aged woman.

As they sat side by side at Shear County Styling in Parkton I tried to get them both in the frame so I wouldn't have to resort to a posed portrait.

The two girls were good as gold and acted as if I wasn't there the entire time. Although, one of the stylists was pretty salty. And when I say salty, I don't mean rude, but unpleasant. From the minute she saw me, she told me not to take her picture.

While the girls said they were excited before facing the scissors, neither were particularly nervous, or so they say. To me, Rachel looked a bit anxious and uneasy. I think I would be too if I was having more than half of my hair chopped off.

As they pulled back the contrast of thin blonde hair and thick brown hair back into pony tails and snipped them off, I had to do my best of not only avoiding the snippy stylist who didn't want her mug taken, but getting two giggly teenagers in one frame.

I made sure to get the obligatory cutting of the hair as they each had 10-inches cut. But these were some of my favorites.

After the snipping, I figured my job was done. Time to skip out and get a beer with friends. But then for some odd reason I thought I should get that classic, posed portrait of them holding their pony tails with their new short dues.

But that's when shooting two teenage girls in a salon came up and bit me in the ass. Each of them had their hair washed and styled, which took nearly 30 more minutes. I got it and then jetted. Thanks to one of the mom's for hurrying them along knowing I wanted to finish the assignment with a posed picture.

And to answer the title. What's under a pony tail? A pony's ass.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dem bones

"As they learn how jaw bones work, six-year-old Arron Ray of Owings Mills pulls against teacher Stephanie Tommasello as (from left) Gabriella Lee, 5, watches Andrew Ray, 6, and Derrick Singfield, 9, try to help him pull him away during the "Dem Bones" program at the Irvine Nature Center, Saturday. Children examined skulls, bones, owl pellets, and other animal artifacts."

Woah. What happen? What day is it? What time is it?

I'm sorry - my eyes have been glued to my desktop computer whenever I have a free minute as I've been watching the live feed of the POYi judging. Been seeing some awesome photos and also some snoozers.

Nonetheless, it's great to hear the words of the judges (other than "out") as they determine some of the best pictures of the past year from around the globe.

Might find myself still glued and doing the same the next couple days, too.

Anyways, when photographing kids it's either hit or miss. What I mean is that they either stare down the barrel of your lens the entire assignment or they ignore you the entire time.

I always hope for the latter. I mean, I pray for the latter.

When I walked into the Irvine Nature Center, I was expecting 30 screaming children who all wanted to have their picture taken as they learned about bones, examined skulls, bones, owl pellets, and other animal artifacts during the Dem Bones program.

But my luck changed and what I thought what might be a large group was downgraded to mere five children and an instructor.

From the start the kids didn't even acknowledge that I was even in the room, and they were fairly well behaved, too. This made my life so much easier.

They started by asking questions and then moved onto handling some skulls and smaller bones. My editor wanted some shots that actually showed the kids examining the bones rather than them sitting around staring blankly at them.

The room was pretty small and the light was nice with big windows. Since these kids acted like I wasn't there, I didn't have any trouble getting close and catching some nice, cute moments as they pressed their little faces against tiny magnifying glasses and inspected "dem bones."

My favorite frame was when I caught a kid doing something I probably would have done when I was that age.

Near the end of the session, I saw him inspecting this one fossil very closely.

First, he turned it over a couple times as he looked at it and then ran his fingers across it to get a sense of texture. Then he shook it next to his hear to see if it was hollow and made any noise.

By this point I am thinking in my head, "What is he going to do next?" I was literally on the next page before him.

As you probably guessed (if you didn't already see the frame) he then proceeded to sniff it, so I moved in a bit closer for the next moment to unfold.

I knew exactly what he was going for as he snuck a little taste the fossil with no one,
except me, looking. I totally thought he would try and chew on it next, but he didn't.

I thought it was endearing and funny, although the picture may not scream that to a reader immediately.

In the end, I forgot to move that photo, although I don't think it would have ran anyways.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Detail of Japan

"A young boy protects his snacks from being eaten by seagulls in Yamashita Park in Yokohama, Japan on Jan. 3, 2008."

I waited exactly one month before I allowed my taste buds soak up the delicious flavors of sushi following my return from Japan. I should have waited longer though because I have never been so uninterested in sushi here in the United States as I was last Friday.

While enjoying indigenous foods is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in a foreign county, I miss so much more about the land of the rising sun than the rice...and my meals. I have reverse culture shock.

One month ago, I returned from a two-week venture throughout mainly Honshu, Japan - my second time in the country. I traveled from Tokyo to Fukuoka, Fukuoka to Hiroshima, Hiroshima to Hemeji, Hemeji to Osaka, Osaka to Kyoto, and then finally back to Tokyo again.

This time I was joined by Kate, and again, my local friends I made last trip, who helped us make sense of this country I love.

As we hopped from plane to plane, train to train and hotel to hotel we found ourselves in a mix of new and old. Many places where one could easily imagine themselves in a different time - future or past.

From standing on the streets of Hiroshima that was subjected to nuclear warfare in 1945 and feeling nothing but despair, to sitting in a crammed sushi restaurant feeling pure joy as I ate the freshest fish in the world, to being swallowed by crowds of people in a crisscrossing crosswalk in one of the world's most populous metropolitans feeling as small as a piece of sand; there really isn't much more to say than Japan is simply fascinating in so many different ways.

Many say it's a long journey on a fast train. I felt as if it was fast journey on fast train. Each time I go, I stay a little longer only wishing that I could have stayed a couple more days.

While I am still finding difficult to completely understand their culture, from their gestures and ways of life, I still have the same perceptions as I did last time.

Japan is host to some of the kindest people on earth. Not only are they generous, but it’s the safest country in the world. Japanese make an American, like myself; see how rude we truly are and how perfect their culture is.

OK, so they aren't really perfect, but if I had to sum up the country in one word it would be perfection; and maybe that's why I love it there.

I strive for perfectionism everyday, but I know I’ll never be perfect, nor is anything or anybody.

Yet that isn't to say I am going to quit. That's why we practice what we love - with ultimate goal of reaching perfection. Enough about me, I guarantee anyone who has been to Japan will say the county is full of detail.

Everything Japanese do involves passion. They are incredible people doing incredible things, mainly dealing with technology and electronics. As an outsider, I find this passion and attention to detail to be a strong correlation with their self-discipline.

While it can be totally chaotic in their major cities (and everyone is drunk in Tokyo), their morals and ethics of life should be a lesson for everyone to follow. That can easily be backed up by one of the lowest crime rates on the planet. They are taught not to disrespect their family in any way.

One of my favorite things last time was getting lost in Tokyo. The mixture of lights and sounds, smell of cigarettes and this other distinct scent I simply cannot describe, perfect placement of vending machines on each corner, unbelievable crowded commutes, and worlds within worlds all made me never want to leave.

However, this trip I found myself engulfing myself in the rich history of the county's past. Don't get me wrong, I was again fascinated by Tokyo. I mean fashion trendsetters in Tokyo make women in New York City look like 13-year-olds trying to wear makeup for the first time. And I love that. That new different wave of youth and energy. Yet there is just something so pure about the old ways of Japan.

It goes back to the attention to detail and the quiet temples and gardens that are so sureal. The primitive ways of life that are still practiced with no worries or cares. I enjoyed this way more.

While I still did not see and shoot everything I wanted to this trip, including sumo wrestling, the Tsukji Fish Market or eating sushi ryokan style, I miss it. I miss it all.

I've come not only to enjoy my times in Japan, but to respect their ways of life. I feel so nostalgic just writing all this. I miss the food, the people, the entire culture. I cannot wait to go back one day and see even more that I have not seen. I cannot thank my friends enough for all they did. You all are extraordinary people.

But traveling does this to me. It opens up my eyes to the reality of live. While it may not change all of my perceptions, habits, and maybe even values, it does change the way you view life. Americans have this overriding desire and notion to be powerful and perfect. When you step outside of that way of life and see things differently, it's a refreshing recharge to life that cannot be viewed any other way than with travel.

Anyways, enough words, right? Here are some of my favorite frames from my trip. And I threw some others in there as well. It's the Internet, I have unlimited ones and zeros. Enjoy.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Spotlit wrestling

"Reservoir's Taylor Sims wraps up River Hill senior Scott Trench during the 171-weight bout in which Trench won in 1:46 at Reservoir High School, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2009. River Hill topped Reservoir 33-30."

Sometimes you get what you wish for even if you don't actually wish upon a star.

I was chatting with some friends about my first installment of shooting wrestling when I said in jest that I really wanted to shoot a prep wrestling match where they turn off all the lights and use one of those giant center overhead spotlights.

While I wasn't fully joking the light, it was something that had been on my mind. And then, well, I got my chance to abuse that light Thursday night during my second time shooting wrestling.

After not being fully content with my first attempt at the sport I needed to fill that negative void I had stirring in my mind. I had to top my last take.

But what got me wanting to shoot the overhead spotlit match was a combination of three things.

First was an image of friend and fellow Baltimore photog Chris Assaf. He captured a killer moment where wrestler had sat in the center of the ring dejected with great light during one of these lit matches. It was perfect telling moment and had beautiful light. So I'd be lying if I said that image wasn't correlating with a big spotlight and wrestling.

Second was the horrible lighting and backgrounds at the last match I shot. I love taking advantage of a clean, solid background when I can. A spot light would do just that.

The third would be when another local shooter reminded me during the first match I shot that these types of dramatically lit events still take place, more conveniently for me at John Carroll High School, which is about 20 minutes away from my place.

I had thought about just going up there to shoot for the heck of it, to clear my mind. Little did I know, I wouldn't need to go out of my way to find a match like it.

After grabbing dinner with some friends, photogs, my buddy Matt Roth was actually heading to shoot wrestling for the night. Since I could have either gone home and did nothing or shot for myself with no tight deadline, I opted to tag along.

Before we went I asked him if the light was any good. I wasn't going to fight horrible light for nothing. But to our surprise, the match was exactly what I wanted. A huge overhead lamp. I was pumped.

I took advantage of it and had a blast. I made some images I am happy with and some I didn't. At the end of the night I felt a sense of accomplishment as I topped my first go at the sport.

This match up between two high ranked prep school was perfect, too. There was a lot of emotion...and blood.

I am still wondering why it's not covered as heavily as basketball. Here are some of my favorites.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Wrestling light

"Sprawled out on the corner of the gym, four children find the wrestling showdown of the top two wrestling teams in the area boring as they fight to stay awake at Mt. St. Joseph High School, Jan. 30, 2009."

While versed in many styles of photography and having been shooting various editorial assignments since I began college I am still experiencing many "first" time things.

Case in point - wrestling.

Up until last weekend I had never seen a live wrestling match nor had snapped one frame of the intense sport. Which I still find surprising.

When I was in middle school I remember throwing a blank VHS tape into my parent's VCR so that I could record the final match of the Monday night on WWF before bed. I was obsessed with it. What can I say? They have good marketing toward teenagers.

Whether I was in my backyard using my 13-foot trampoline as a makeshift ring and tossing my friends around or pile driving another friend (I swear it was an accident) into a cement basement floor - I thought I was Hulk Hogan.

While this was just a phase, it did teach me how to be a good actor. Yeah, I thought it was real at the time. But who doesn't when they are young and naive?

Anyways, enough about my heavy weight champion of the world wannabe days. I was pumped when I got the assignment to cover the showdown of the top two prep wrestling teams in the area.

What I wasn't so pumped to hear was that it was at Mt. St. Joseph High School. To fill you in, this is by far one of the darkest prep gyms in Baltimore. I am talking 1/250 @ f/2.8 @ 6400 ASA. Yeah. Dark.

I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of what I would need to stop the action, but for some reason I opted to leave my lights in my car because from what my friends told me, keeping track of names and wrestlers is a challenge in and of itself. It didn't want to have to tear down and waste time.

As the night progressed, I was having a good time and shooting mostly from the top of the stands to get a nice clean background...and some faster shutter speeds.

But then it dawned on me as my deadline creeped closer and closer. Are my names going to match up with the book and images?

Luckily, I bumped in to Go, who is currently interning at Patuxent Publishing. He had been keeping better track of the matches. He gratefully let me shoot his handwriting to help match up with my photo notes and chicken-scratch.

Since both of our notes weren't perfect, I skipped out to my car to transmit a bit earlier than I normally would just so I could get things right. Go figure too, it was freezing cold and my gas light was on. Let's just say I should have moved my images from inside the gym.

While in the end I got everything correct on my own, I wasn't completly satisfied with my take, although the shot that ran told the story of Mt. St. Joe getting a last minute "lift" in the final match to take home the victory.

Alas I would get another go at wrestling. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Ambidextrous thoughts

"Lake Clifton guard Karee Watson (No.31) fouls St. Frances Wayne Sparrow (No.3) in the face as he drives to the basket during the 13th Annual Basketball Academy at Morgan State, Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009. Lake Clifton won 63-54."

Punxsy Phil casted a shadow early yesterday morning, meaning we will see six more weeks of winter. Great! Can you sense the sarcasm?

Whether or not the fuzzy, furry create saw his shadow, I'll probably still be shooting more indoor sports and stories until spring comes and the warm weather is upon us.

A couple weeks ago I was sitting on the baseline of a match-up between two of Baltimore's top city men's prep basketball teams and for some reason I kept thinking about what makes certain athletes standout from the rest.

I have no idea why, and I am not really sure why I am trying to come up with a essay about it, other than it makes sense to me.

Let's take Michael Phelps, who has won more gold medals than anyone in Olympic history, and recently found himself in the news again, yet, this time in a negative light.

Here is an average American with an ability to leave his competition strokes behind in the pool. Of course, he trains hard, uses some of the newest technology in swim gear and has an amazing body structure that some say give him an extra advantage.

But if you put all that aside, when it comes down to it, he is just a faster swimmer. Simply put. It's a clear cut answer, but if you want, you can look deeper at the situation and see what really makes him better. It's sort of a open minded thought that can be dissected a million different ways.

Then I got thinking of when sports become a staple in ones life - high school. I started thinking of things that make prep athletes better at sports than their peers. While I got a nice list, one of the most dominant is being ambidextrous.

This skill is one thing I was always taught from a young age to try and improve. I was told it would separate me from the pack.

Take any sport: soccer, lacrosse, basketball, hockey, baseball, football, etc.

Being equally skillful with each hand means the ability to do things your opposition cannot.

In soccer, if you can kick and shoot with both feet, you have an advantage.
In lacrosse, if you can pass and shoot with both hands, you have an advantage.
In basketball, if you can dribble and shoot with both hands, you have an advantage.
In football, if you can run with the ball with each hand, you have an advantage.

And the list goes on. But it's true. If I look back at athletes I thought were better than I was, they had the ability to do more than just one thing. They were more than a one-trick pony.

And with that thought in mind, got me thinking about life. Anyone successful has more than one thing they do well.

I like to consider myself that way. I can do a little bit of everything, and if I can't do it well, I am always trying to better myself.