We passed by the Queen City Diner this morning. It was packed to the gills with customers. “I’ve always wanted to get a shot of this place,” I said to Laura. “But not like this. At night. After it rains. I think that would be perfect.”
“Well, you should,” she said.
Again, it was just another one of those things that I haven’t done and I don’t understand why. I just haven’t. Well, I should.
And then I looked at the weather report for the day. Thunderstorms, in the afternoon. In February. The weather in eastern Pennsylvania this year has been strange to say the least. But no matter, and opportunity was presenting itself.
At 4:30, the storm raged through, sending garbage cans and cats and dogs flying, but in twenty minutes it was mostly over. We scrambled together all my camera gear and shot out the door.
It was still raining when we got to the Queen City, but not so much to be a bother. I took my tripod because the light was low and I wanted a shot as still as I could get.
I’m happy with the result, but I’m happier that we got out and did it.
There are many things that could be said about this year’s Super Bowl, but to sum it all up: everyone outside of New England and those without ties to New England wanted to see the Patriots lose. Not only to lose, but to be embarrassed. For three quarters, we, those who could not bear another Patriot win, feasted upon the thought that our dreams would come true. The Falcons? Merely a means to an end.
But we forgot, these are the Falcons.
Once the lead was squandered, and after it was all over, the faces on the screen began to talk of how this was the greatest ever, and how He Who Must Not Be Mentioned was also the greatest ever. Patriots, Patriots, Patriots. It would take a day before we got back to the Squanderers, with those sad, painful, and somehow irresistible post-game interviews. The one that got my attention the most was the one with Matt Ryan, Falcons quarterback and Chief Among Squanderers. They asked him, predictably, if he thought the Falcons had been, and more importantly, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan had been, too aggressive. To which he said, “Too aggressive? No. I thought Kyle did a good job. I thought we played the way that we play.”
The words the way that we play have echoed in my ears ever since. That’s fine, I thought, but that’s not the way that you win, obviously. Maybe you might concentrate on the way you win more than “the way that you play.”
And here’s where it changes. We often get in this same trap in life where we “do the things that we do.” Laura once got a fortune cookie that said, “when you do what you always do, you get what you always get,” which for a fortune cookie, is ridiculously insightful, and true. I began to reflect on the way that we play, about the things I do in my own life that are the way that we play.
For three plus years I took almost nothing but sign pictures. We were at some family function, and I had brought my camera, but I somehow managed to take a sum total of zero pictures. It’s not what I’m doing right now was my excuse. It was hollow and I knew it.
But it was important to realize what I was doing. There’s so much more to life than just one thing, or two, or even a handful of things. I’ve made a conscious effort to start taking pictures of things that are different, possibly mundane, but things that reflect what we all see around us.
One day, just recently, I saw somebody had left a chair out on the side of I-476 outside of Philadelphia. I really thought it would make a great picture, but for some reason I didn’t stop. The picture I had in my head was lost. I wasn’t going to get it back again. The chair wouldn’t be there tomorrow.
But, much to my surprise, it was. This time I wouldn’t do myself out of it, so I pulled over. I was extremely careful getting out of the car, and got this shot.
It’s moments like this that happen when when you step out of the way that we play. I put together a few of my favorite shots, outside the realm of signs or cars or (more recently) flowers, moments where I just pulled over and got out of the car, or just moments I brought my camera when I wasn’t really thinking that much of taking pictures. These are moments I will never forget:
I took this picture almost as a test one day while I was in Florida, but it’s one of my favorites. It’s not much of anything on the surface, just a lizard on a wooden door. Still, I’m drawn to it.
One morning outside my parent’s home. I stepped outside, most likely in my slippers, and got this one. It was the only shot I took that morning.
I was just out driving around Montandon, Pennsylvania, because what else do you do around Montandon, Pennsylvania, when I spotted an odd little building, adjacent to a field of cows. I took a few shots of the building, and the cows wandered over to get a good look at me. This one came right up to me, so I took a shot of her. I love this picture.
Ruts are easy to fall into. I fall into them all the time. If we step out of our “the way that we play” attitudes and replace that with “the way that is effective” or “the way that changes things”, we can do so much more.
It’s an odd feeling, getting flowers for the strict purpose of watching them decay, but by now, having watched a rose and an iris bite the dust, I was really getting into this new project. I walked in to the florist, feeling vaguely like a predator on the prowl, and carefully selected the new subjects.
What I chose was a group of hydrangeas, for a number of different reasons. For starters, I had never seen a dead hydrangea. They most often live in people’s gardens and spring back up each year. Also, there are so many groupings of small flowers, I wondered what would happen to them. Would they just wilt? Drop off?
I set up in the dungeon room in the basement on day 1 and took some shots. I was still getting used to my new Elinchrom flash heads and it went well over all, but these hydrangeas were so puffy and full it was hard to get all three in the same shot.
I tried again on Day 3. One of the hydrangeas had already started going downhill a bit, and I got my first glimpse of the inner workings of the flower. All of these wonderful purple veins began to appear, now visibly holding the blue and white blossoms. I had no concept of the intricate system that was created to give these flowers their shape, and now it was opening up to show me.
I realized it was a futile effort to try and get all three flowers in the same shot, so I transferred the individual flowers to their own vases. This is when things started to get really interesting. As the flowers drooped and the hairlines of each began to recede, they took on some strange, human quality.
One of the three in particular became a terrific subject for a portrait. I shot this one with the same care as you would shoot a person.
I realized later how great these flowers were for this project, because they didn’t just wilt and die, they transformed into something different. These hydrangeas became something new.
Already after a week, even in water, all three of the hydrangeas started to get decidedly crunchy. The leaves curled inward and were showing off their veins, just adding to the interest.
By now I had moved on to a set of Gerber Daisies, but I still kept the Hydrangeas around for test shots. One of my favorites of this latter group of shots I took was from a completely different angle. Somehow, and I don’t know if this just developed over time or whether it was like this to begin with, the stem of one of the flowers had magnificent curves to it, so I grabbed a few shots from up top to accentuate this effect.
The point of this project was never clearly defined to me until these particular flowers. Decay can be beautiful and that in part is what I set out to document, but that’s not where it begins or ends. A picture of a person on day 1 and a picture on day 17,000 can both be beautiful, and in completely different ways. We all recognize the beauty of a flower in its fullness, but once it goes past it’s prime, it gets tossed in the trash. But there’s something in every stage of life that is interesting, vital, and fascinating.
Here are the first few in the Death of a Flower series, the rose and the iris. Over the next few months I’ll be adding more to this series, including the Gerber Daisies, a couple of Proteas, Sunflowers, Ragusa Mums and Lilies.
As most of you do about this time of year, I over-indulge in Christmas movies. Lately we’ve been visiting the cheesy made-for-TV variety, the hastily-put-together genre that we can’t seem to get enough of. After a while of wallowing in that trough, you have to revisit the classics to detox, so, while we wrapped presents, we made our way back to Bedford Falls.
Here are my thoughts, in chronological order:
(when we paused at the ‘Directed by Frank Capra’ portion of the credits, to get some clear tape from the dining room table) What is that Santa doing down there, to the left of Capra’s credit? Is he in a kick-line? Shouldn’t there be four other Santas kicking right next to him?
The Angel Joseph is apparently the Constellation Orion. I’m betting that’s in the Apocrypha.
Word to the wise, kids. Don’t go sledding down a hill into a frozen pond when there’s a GAPING HOLE IN THE ICE at the end of it.
But then again, you can’t become a war hero later on in the movie if you don’t take risks.
So how did Harry luck out and not lose hearing in one of his ears, even though he was foundering in the icy water for at least 20 seconds until all the rest of the kids came over to save him?
Story of George’s life, I guess.
Violet Bick: trampiest 11-year-old ever.
Creepiest moment: when Clarence declares from Heaven, “I like George Bailey.”
What exactly are George and Harry doing upstairs that’s shaking the chandelier downstairs? Rough-housing? And can you actually picture Jimmy Stewart rough-housing?
Beulah Bondi plays Ma Bailey. She played a lot of Moms. She played Jimmy Stewart’s Mom in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. When Jimmy Stewart had a sitcom in the early 70’s, she played his Mom in that, too.
In case you’ve never noticed, that’s a moderately grown-up Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer who gets thrown over for George Bailey at the dance and eventually flips the switch to open the floor up to reveal the pool.
How did that pool/gym floor idea never catch on?
One of my favorite moments in the whole movie is George and Mary in the water, and he’s still dancing. Donna Reed is laughing so hard that I almost have to believe that wasn’t planned.
Favorite line in the movie: “Why don’t you kiss here instead of talking her to death?”
Things I’d like to know: while Mary is in advanced state of undress and in the hydrangea bushes, and just before George gets whisked away to see his ailing father, he says the line, “I’ll make a deal with you Mary…”
I think 1946 audiences may not have been ready for the second part of that sentence.
Harry was second team All-American. At his size. It was the thirties, all right.
Wait, wait, wait. Harry got married and no one knew about it?
Not even his mother, who (we assume) would have told George and Uncle Billy?
This seems impulsive.
Even if you have a good job in Buffalo waiting for you.
Bedford Falls looks an awful lot like Mill Valley.
In fact, isn’t that the clock tower in the background?
It’s generally accepts that Sam Wainwright goes “Hee-haw.”
I mean, obviously it didn’t affect his business interests.
“Making violent love” obviously meant something different in 1946.
So after George clutches Mary while she’s on the phone and tells her that he wants to do what he wants to do, and then gives in and starts making violent 1946 love to Mary, is Sam still on the phone? That would suck.
It also sucks to get married on the day the market crashes.
There’s not a person my age or younger who doesn’t snicker a bit at the thought of George’s two friends being Bert and Ernie.
Character Actor Alert: Charles Lane shows up in the scene as the guy explaining to Potter what’s going on in Bailey Park. That man played wiry, crotchety guys in Hollywood for 50 years. Even as a younger man he appears to be 55 years old.
By the way, just for fun, focus in on the dude standing behind Potter’s chair. The longer you look at that stone face, the funnier it gets.
Potter has a skull on his desk.
Potter also has a bust of Napoleon.
These are what are known as “warning signs.”
Christmas is finally mentioned in minute 76 of the movie.
Uncle Billy has a raven.
Uncle Billy has a squirrel.
These are also known as “warning signs.”
George looks like he hasn’t shaved for about three days when he’s in Martini’s bar, being punched out by Mr. Welsh, but he had to have shaved that morning, because he was obviously at work. All part of his bad day, I assume.
Wish I had never been born, the point of our whole story, comes at minute 103.
George’s alt-universe sucks for pretty much everybody but Nick. Looks like he’s doing a good business in Pottersville.
Pretty keen neon in Pottersville, too.
But maybe I’m missing the point.
George’s hair takes a beating through his trip to Pottersville.
But then, George’s car takes a beating in Bedford Falls. And his reputation.
And although everyone in Pottersville thinks he’s a loony, he can always go somewhere else.
Again, I seem to be missing the point.
Big finish: everyone shows up with money. That’s always a good ending.
Character Actor Alert: Al Bridge shows up as the sheriff with the warrant for George’s arrest (which he later tears up). Al Bridge was in every one of Preston Sturges’ movies and was consistently hilarious. Watch him in Hail the Conquering Hero and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek and you won’t be sorry.
They’re missing 8000 dollars. Think there’s 8000 dollars in that basket?
Sam Wainwright can wire up to 25,000 dollars. He’d just like everyone to know that.
Well, that’s fine, Sam, but we only need 8000.
At any rate, what happens to the extra cash? Just asking.
And I’d like to think that once Old Man Potter drops the amount of 8000 dollars in the bank the next day, the townspeople will come around and give us the satisfying butt-kicking Saturday Night Live sketch ending we’ve always wanted.
It used to bother me when I used to see someone’s Instagram feed entirely populated by pictures of that person’s cat. Or an Instagram feed that is supposedly “the cat’s account.” Well, it still bothers me, and that will never change.
But now that I am a cat owner, or at least a cat lessee, I can understand the temptation.
Cats, of course, are awake only about 7-10 minutes a day, so when they are awake, it is an event. So we document the event. The problem is, cats almost always have the same expressions which are:
This does not run the gamut of emotions. Not like a dog, who can smile, flop a tongue out, look sad, etc. “Scared” is too difficult to capture, because lenses fast enough to gather in such information have not been made. “Asleep” is too easy. So when you see an Instagram feed full of Cat, you tend to see “Mildly Awake” and “Half Asleep” in a grand variety of locations.
This isn’t especially fair to Cat. The personality of Cat is not easily reproduced in still images. Cat runs around for no reason. Whenever Laura takes out a nail file, he goes nuts and bats at it. He hisses at his tail. He drinks out of the tub. Video works for these moments, but a picture doesn’t tell the full story.
So we resist. Not only because of that, but very often, he stops doing whatever he’s doing when a camera and/or iPhone is whisked out.
But Cat does allow us one small indulgence: very often in the middle of his 23-hour, 53-minute nap, he will stretch. He’s developed this stretch so that it looks interesting, and well-worth documenting.
In fact, as it turns out, he is SuperCat. The World’s Laziest and Most Indifferent Superhero.
So, Cat Lovers and those who have close to half a million pictures of your own cat lodged in your phone, you’re welcome. For all others, move along. Nothing to see here. Now back to our regularly-scheduled programming.
After the first few shots with the roses, I moved on to a flower that was growing in our garden. One of the irises in the side yard had been knocked down by a storm, so we cut it away and put it in a vase. My original thought was to get shots with a very dark background, so I was waiting to take shots at night. I also had very little lighting, as I was still using the dorky little floor lamp I bought at Target rather than anything official and proper.
The results varied, but I found if I used my remote shutter and kept the camera on a tripod, I could manipulate the light to suit my purpose.
The above shot was on Day 5. This was probably my favorite of all the Iris shots I made using this method.
But then I decided that dangling a floor lamp with a bare 60-watt bulb wasn’t exactly the way to go about this. I also discovered that shooting in the dark could produce interesting results, but I couldn’t stop there.So I bought a couple of Elinchrom flash heads with softboxes to control the light better.
I also got the idea of escaping the living room to shoot in the strange recesses of our basement. We have a room at the front, underneath the porch, which looks like a good set for a horror movie. The iris was quite dead at this point, so it seemed like appropriate surroundings for a dead flower in a vase.
I kept the iris around far longer than I should have, until it got all wispy and fragile. I used it for test shots for a while before I got to my next subject, the hydrangeas. I continued to shoot in that odd basement room—and still do—with several other subjects, which I’ll share in the coming weeks. But here’s a test shot, taken about a month after I grabbed this one out of the garden, which may be the best shot I took that day.
Every year, we trek down to Daytona Beach, usually in October or November. It’s the time we use to get rid of all the stuff we’ve been carrying with us throughout the year. We were set to go down the last week of October, when all of a sudden The Weather Channel erupted with talk of Hurricane Matthew. It’s always difficult to tell with The Weather Channel, since they throw around words like “massive”, “deadly”, and “run for your lives” with alarming frequency.
The storm passed by a few weeks before our vacation, producing more damage than has been done in years. TWC was probably disappointed that the whole state didn’t fall into the ocean, but we can’t have everything.
The place we normally stay in had a little water damage, so we stayed in another condo in the same building. One of our favorite restaurants, Our Deck Down Under, lost about half of its pier and a ton of roof shingles, but it was open. Tia Cori’s, a must-visit while in Daytona, looked like nothing had ever happened. First world problems, we said. Oh dear, our view of the ocean will be sullied by a bit of construction.
The first night, we slept in fits and starts, struggling with stressful dreams, while outside, the ocean drifted softly into shore, depositing remnants of the long-past storm in the sand.
Our usual pattern is to take the proverbial long walk on the beach in the morning. Every year we talk over our current state of life and every year we come up with new, creative ideas to overcome our current state of life. For some reason, I would never take my camera. Each time we would take a walk, we would see something and say, “Well, we should have brought the camera.” And yet I never did. Maybe I was worried I’d drop it in the ocean, or sand would get in it, or an osprey would swoop down and steal it from around my neck, whatever excuse was in vogue.
Forget all that this year, I thought. I’m taking it along.
The ocean didn’t disappoint. The first few days, the sea’s offerings came in two separate packages; in the form of tumbleweed-like collections of reeds, and in strange, red roots.
The next few days, man-made objects made their way on to the beach, as if the ocean were tossing out its junk. One morning, we found close to fifteen beached flip-flops.
And then, when it seemed like the ocean had no more garbage to toss, we found this:
Most likely this television was on a ship, because it was encased in a metal box. How it got in the ocean is anybody’s guess, but needless to say, the ocean didn’t need it.
It is a great reminder of how little we really need. We’re fooled by the speed of life into thinking we’re accomplishing things, or we’re fooled by our own successes into thinking that we’ve achieved something, when in reality you miss so much if you don’t take the time. We walked and we talked and we got rid of our own junk on the shore, and wondered to ourselves how we could make these sorts of moments happen every day.
Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook or who have been following me on Instagram have seen my latest group of pictures, under the banner of “The Death of a Flower.” This started almost out of necessity, because a) I’ve photographed pretty much every old sign within a 50-mile radius and b) I travel so much for work I don’t really have time to go outside the 50-mile radius to find others.
It started back in May. The roses I bought Laura for our anniversary sat on the highest shelf of our kitchen, out of the reach of Cat, who has a tendency to eat plants, particularly the ones that are most harmful to him. The roses were out of sight and out of mind, and before we knew it, they were very, very dead. Laura went to put them in the garbage, and I looked at the one on top and said, “No. Look at that. Isn’t that interesting? I should take a picture of that.”
So we did some primitive lighting work, which consisted of one cheapo floor lamp from Target. Laura held that and I held the flower with one hand and took the shots with the other.
The results were good, but I would have liked to have seen pictures of what we looked like trying to take these.
Over the summer, I invested in some actual lighting, in the form of a couple of Elinchrom flash heads, and the results have been fantastic. I’ll be posting quite a few more in the weeks to come.
I started out as a Red Sox fan. More or less, I was born into it, since half my family is in the Boston area, and at the time when the baseball section of my American brain began to fire on all synapses, the Red Sox were in the World Series. It was the era of Yaz and Jim Rice and the oft-forgotten Fred Lynn, and Red Sox Nation (before Red Sox Nation was Red Sox Nation) was abuzz. They didn’t win the World Series that year, or make it to the playoffs the following year, or the next, and then there was Bucky Dent and Mike Torrez, and that was that.
I was too young to understand such anguish. Next year could truly be the “next year” we all waited for, and I could say it without the world-weary skepticism that permeates that phrase.
Around this time, my cousin Doc, who came from the Chicago area, came to live next door to us. He had been weaned on the Cubs, and was nourished by a steady diet of broadcasts on WGN and Jack Brickhouse. Nobody believes me to this day, but Doc once fell off his Big Wheel and scraped his knee, and blood the color of Rick Reuschel’s #48 came leaking out of the wound. True story.
He believed that I should be a Cubs fan, and since I was younger and had no older brothers or sisters to give me such guidance for the first five years of my life, I agreed.
The first few years of my life as a Cub fan were pretty uneventful. Since the Cubs were mediocre at best, they were not often televised, and since this was the day before cable was so prevalent, they were even less televised.
My parents took me to Myrtle Beach for Spring Break one year and the hotel had cable, and more importantly, WGN. I found out that the opening game of the 1982 season was going to be on, so instead of playing on the beach, I was holed up in the hotel room, watching the Cubs at the end of the bed. Doc had often talked about Jack Brickhouse, how he was this legend of epic proportions, so I was looking forward to actually hearing the voice that had called so many games. It turned out that the legend had retired, and some new guy had come in. I was disappointed. Who was this Harry Caray guy, anyway?
My Dad came in and wanted to know what I was doing moping around in front of a television when the beach awaited. The beach could wait. The Cubs had a new second baseman, Bump Wills, and I had to see how he would do. Dad sighed and shook his head, or at least, I imagine he probably did, because my eyes were glued to the screen.
And here I was, on Saturday, in a hotel room, eyes glued to the set as the Cubs made it to the World Series for the first time in my lifetime.
In between these two experiences, there were a few close calls, brushes with fate that ended poorly. 1984: the Cubs went out to a marvelous two-game lead in their series against the Padres, having destroyed them in game 1 at Wrigley. The Padres roared back in the next three games (it was only a 5-game series then, curse it), culminating in a moment where first baseman Leon Durham had a ball skirt through his legs in game 5, eerily prefacing Bill Buckner’s similar play two years later.
1989, they won the division, but in the playoffs, the Giants’ Will Clark essentially got a hit every time he came to the plate in the now-7-game series.
And of course 2003. I was at a wedding in Chattanooga that fateful day. They had the game playing on a bar TV where the rehearsal dinner was held, and at the time I was watching, no one had ever heard or ever dreamed of a Steve Bartman. I left that night, little knowing of the horrors to come. It would not be until the next morning that I heard all the gruesome details, that by one man’s sin, we would have to wait 13 more years for a measure of redemption.
Sidebar: those of the ESPN variety recently called on Cubs fans to exonerate said Mr. Bartman. Further, that other fans were also reaching for the ball that was untimely ripped from the womb of Moises Alou’s glove. Unfortunately for the radio personality who made such claims, there is photographic proof.
No good way to defend that, still to this day. Despite that, I wish Mr. Bartman health, long life. Thirteen years is a long time to live with such a weight. I even wish him to one day, return to the ballpark that has defined him. But probably after victory is complete. In a game that matters little. And that he is seated far, far away from the action.
Anyway, now is not the time to remember the past. Good luck to my ancient heroes as they maneuver their way through uncharted waters. Next year appears to be this year.
And my cousin Doc? He’s still baseball mad and bleeds Cubbie Blue. Check out his venture, Ballparks of America.
Growing up, my family had dogs. We had a collie named Heather, and then we had a cocker spaniel named Flurry. My grandfather had a dog, and so did my other grandfather. My uncles had dogs. Laura’s family: 85% allergic. They had some barn cats on the family farm, and one cat named Ralph who thought he was a dog. Laura’s favorite pet growing up was Bo, the black Lab with a penchant for bringing dead things home whenever her parents had company. We’re dog people through and through, so this would make you think that, even by some extraordinary accident, we would not end up with a cat. You’d think.
Last year, my brother-in-law was deployed to Japan, and it was assumed that sister-in-law Hannah and her cat would come alongside. Only problem was, the cat needed his shots to be let into the country. They were leaving soon, and since the cat also needed to be in quarantine for six months after his shots, there was no way they could put him on the plane. So we got a call, since we happen to be the only twosome in the family blessed to have neither member allergic, to see if we would be willing to take on a cat for six months. “This is only temporary,” said Hannah. “I’ll be back at Christmas to pick him up and take him back to Japan with me.”
Six months with cat. There are worse things. We said yes.
We cat-proofed the house. We wanted to make sure that there was nothing he could get into, because he has a reputation for destroying plants. We also wanted to make sure that there was no little crevice he could get into where we couldn’t get him out. First time in the house, Cat, whose real life I-don’t-respond to-that name is Coco-Nut, emptied himself out of his carrier and sprinted, as if led by a helpful star, to the one place we hadn’t taken care of, a small space between the cabinets and the radiator in the kitchen. He stayed there a day and a half.
Eventually he came out. Sadder but wiser, we put a board in front of that space in the kitchen. With that spot off-limits, he decided the living room closet was more to his liking. That would be his home for the next week. We put out food and water, which Cat must have indulged in while we were sleeping. I caught him in the hallway once in that first week. He froze, wide-eyed, and looked at me as if he was positive I was going to grab him and take a huge bite out of his head. So I didn’t move, figuring any movement would scare him. We stood there for a minute. I thought about reasoning with him, telling him that eventually he was going to have to get used to the new humans, but there’s always that pesky language barrier. I gave up and moved slightly, and Cat disappeared without a trace, back in the sanctuary of the hall closet.
As time went by, Cat started to come out. He acknowledged our existence. He allowed us, on occasion, and if he felt like it, and if the wind was blowing in the right direction, to pet him. And over the following months, we came to an agreement: we would say nice things to him and treat him like the cat we never had, and in return, he wouldn’t stop eating and die. This system worked well, and everybody seemed happy about it.
Four months into Cat’s six month stay at Uncle Scott and Aunt Laura’s house, we received a call from Hannah. As it turns out, there was a flaw in the plan. She wasn’t going to be able to bring Cat with her back to Japan on a military flight. Moreover, even though it was possible for her to fly on a commercial flight to pick Cat up and bring him back, chances are he would be stuck in customs for days, if not months. Cat, being the sensitive flower that he is, wouldn’t take well to such delays, and most likely would void section 2 of our agreement, viz. eating and not dying.