At First You Don’t Succeed

Tuesday ended up being a very interesting day. I had planned to take Laura in to work on my way, but she remembered she had a hair appointment north of town and it made more sense to take both cars. Then, on Tuesday morning, when we saw all the accidents that were going on in Allentown that morning due to the snow and ice on US 22, it suddenly became more sensible for us to revert to our original plan. So I drove her in, avoided all manner of accidents. But it left me waiting in the salon for an hour and a half that night.

Armed with the copy of Killing Floor by Lee Child, I was prepared to wait things out if it took all winter. I sunk into a zebra-stripe chair and dove in to my book. People came and went. The sun set. No snow was falling, but it was on its way that night. My mind wandered: could I go anywhere? Normally I’d find a sign to photograph, but I had pretty much tapped out the north end of the Lehigh Valley. Except…

The Roxy in Northampton
The Roxy, June 2010

Those of you who follow this blog will know that there is one sign I have been dying to get all lit up: the Roxy in Northampton. I’ve chronicled my woes surrounding this location before. I’m always there at the wrong time. Just a few weeks earlier, I spun by there again, only to be at least an hour and a half early. I determined that they must turn on all the lights just before showtime. I checked my phone. They were showing Frozen at 7. I looked at the clock. Quarter after six.

I went back to where they were wrestling Laura’s hair into submission and asked how long it was going to take. 45 minutes. Just enough time to see if I’m right. I jumped in the car and made my way over to Northampton.

Normally I’m a firm believer in neon magic hour, but I’ve been thwarted by this sign so often I was just willing to give it a shot. I bounced along the somewhat-plowed streets of Ironton, PA and eventually made it to my target at 6:30. Dark.

I yanked my book out of the back seat. This time, I was going to stay. I had just enough to read about Reacher fooling two assassins on his trail and shooting them in the back, when suddenly, a light appeared in my rear view mirror.

Roxy Theater in Northampton, PAI nearly cried.

Roxy Theater, Northampton, PA

I bounced around for about ten minutes, hitting it from all angles, until I realized that I had to go back and pick Laura up. She texted me when they were at the blow-dry portion of the program and I headed back into the car to go back and pick her up. So, cross this one off the list. At last.

Hotel Parking, Orefield, PA

A bit of sad news to report, although not unexpected. On our way to Laura’s hair appointment, we noticed the above sign had gone missing in the previous few months. The hotel was long since gone, so this was hardly shocking, but it will be missed.

What Gets You Through the Winter


It was cold today, which officially makes the winter redundant. The Northeast has been brutal this year, with wind chills in to the negative degrees. I haven’t been as active as I would have liked in the last two months, due to one thing or another, but somehow when I do manage to find a good sign to shoot, I manage to choose the absolute coldest of cold days. Earlier on in January, I got shots of the Kwik Shoppe in Shoemakersville. Beautiful sunshine, wind chills below freezing. The needle didn’t hit double digits (that’s Farenheit, metric system fans) until I got back home. It was so cold during this shoot, I was trying, with varying success, to hit the shutter button on my K-5 with my heavy winter gloves.

Kwik Shoppe, Shoemakersville, PAOh, was this a cold, cold day…

But I couldn’t argue with the results. There’s something about the winter sun that is noticeable in photographs. A harshness, hyper-contrast. Yesterday was such a day. Not a cloud in the sky, brutal sun, and the freezing point of the extremity of a female occultist’s mammary gland.

Check the picture below. I was just starting to take shots of signs in the summer of 2010 when I came across Schmoyer’s Dry Cleaners in the Mountainville area of Allentown. The building, I could tell, was closed, and in my mind I had to get a shot of it before the sign came down for good.

Schmoyer's Dry Cleaners, Allentown, PA

Nearly four years later and the sign still stands, despite the fact that the Dry Cleaners is all boarded up. I passed by a few days ago and noticed the tree that is in the above picture was no longer there. I figured it would be a good opportunity to get the other side of the sign, which is just as rusty and full of lovely neon bullet holes. And I also wanted to see what difference the winter sun made.

Of course, no one wants to go out into the cold, but I love taking shots that you don’t normally get. Different weather conditions, lighting scenarios, you name it. And I wanted to see if I could get the other side of Schmoyer’s, with the sun on it.

I headed down the hill on PA 145 and from a distance I could see it was going to be a challenge. There was still part of a tree obscuring that side, and the early afternoon sun was projecting shadows of that tree on to the sign. I parked and took a few shots, but I could tell this wasn’t going to be the result I wanted.

Schmoyer's Dry Cleaning, Allentown, PA front side

So, not wanting to admit defeat, I stepped through the snow to the other side. The winter sun was blasting away in vain against the cold, right behind the tree, imposing itself into my shot. I made the best of it and worked with it and not against it. I popped the flash on to augment the light on the face of the sign, and the results here were much better:

Schmoyer's Dry Cleaners, Allentown, PA back side

And for good measure, I tried it out in black and white, getting the bloom of the sun:

Schmoyer's in black and white

There’s a part of me that wants to hole up in the winter, but I see these things and I think, why? There’s so much that can be done out there, even though it’s difficult, even though the winds blow, even though the roads are still unplowed (you feeling me, Allentown?). And although the nasty bite of winter does its worst, it can’t stop the summer from coming. In the midst of all this, we press on. The longer we press on, the greater the chance that we capture something beautiful.

Nick’s Diner

IMG_0847One of the most interesting aspects of what I do here is the reactions I get. I’ll be covering this in greater detail in some future posts, but I just wanted to say how happy I was to receive word from the owner of one local business who appreciated a contribution I made to Instagram. One of my favorite signs belongs to Nick’s Diner on Tilghman Street in Allentown, so much my favorite that I think I’ve posted four shots of this sign alone. Giannis Nikoladis, whose family owns Nick’s, recently commented on a ghostly black and white I took: “Very nice picture…You did a beautiful job and thanks again for the picture”.

It’s the first time I’ve gotten a thank you from a business owner. When I got that a couple weeks ago, I was just over the moon. Thanks so much, Giannis, and here’s one of the first pictures I took at Nick’s in the summer of 2009, at “neon magic hour.”


I’ve also gotten together some diner shots and explain my love-hate relationship with diners in general on my newly-created diner page. And if you know of any good ones I’m leaving out, please let me know!