Sunday, April 5, 2015

Wrapping Up

Over the next few weeks, Nancy and I will make another visit to Roosevelt Island to hang the images for the bedroom and a digital picture frame. You would think that at this point in the project we would be old hands at this. Nope. The next stage is going to require some interesting logistical solutions. Very excited to see how we pull the bedroom together!

Here are a few images of the finished prints, hung in place in the apartment. 

This is the entryway/hall into the bedroom. As you exit the master bathroom, this is what you see. These are metal prints, made on aluminum. I wasn't sure I would like the frame-less approach, but after seeing the first three metal prints last month, I am sold! I love the depth of color that this process can provide.

This is the wall which I was shooting the laser level at in the last blog post. Imagine: each print requires two nails to hook onto the floating block on the back of the print. So in order to hang this arrangement, we had to find the exact spot for all 8 nails before being able to drive the first one. Makes hanging frames from a single nail seem seriously easy. I think companies who use this sort of hanging device should include a nailing template. A sheet of paper exactly the size of the print, with the mounting holes marked out... that way you can lay it out without having to split fractions of an inch at 1am while the apartment was finally dark enough to see the laser markings on the wall.

This is the guest bathroom. The image was made from the southern part of Roosevelt Island. I had just purchased a series of Neutral Density filters (ND) and was trying to capture motion blur from the sky and the water while the sun set behind me, over the Manhattan skyline. By the time I had started figuring out exposure times and settings, the light was very nearly gone from the sky. I think at the time this was taken, my exposure was close to two minutes. Luckily the Fuji XT1 has the ability to be triggered by my iPhone, so I could have it set up securely on a tripod, open the shutter and control the exposure manually. It is hard to imagine that to my eyes, it was totally dark at this time. There was zero color in the sky. But leaving the camera open for that long let in the most marvelous hues! Definitely something I want to spent more time exploring this Spring.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Project in the Big Apple

About a year ago, a friend of mine asked if we would be interested in taking on a photography commission. Having never done such a thing, I wasn't really sure what that entailed. The commission was to fill a beautiful apartment on Roosevelt Island with our photography. Site specific... fill these walls. Part of the deal was that we were invited to come to NYC and stay in the apartment while we scouted and photographed to our heart's delight.

The image creation took the better part of the summer with multiple visits to NYC and Roosevelt Island. Over the winter we edited images and tried to sift through the mountain of images we had created. Part of the process was figuring out what would look best on these walls. It's one thing to make a great image, but the best image - printed at the wrong size, or on the wrong wall - is just useless. The uppermost image is the southeastern most bank of floor to ceiling windows... facing Queens and eye level with the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan. From this vantage, you can see the old hospital being torn down to make way for the new Cornell Tech campus.

On our trip down last month to start hanging artwork, we realized we would need to measure the walls accurately, so that when it came time to place the artwork, it would end up exactly where we wanted it. This image is where we started realizing that even with the shades drawn, the apartment gets so much sun during the day, that our laser level lines were tough to see.

Everything coming onto the island arrives via FedEx or UPS, including the artwork and our gear. On our last trip we were shocked/appalled/scared to find one of the boxes with metal prints, quite crunched up. Luckily, the inner packaging kept the work in perfect order. Whew!

When you have twelve foot ceilings and big maps of the New York waterways to hang, you start with the big stuff first. Set a level for the whole room, and start measuring everything on paper. In this case, we were able to use a fantastic collapsible ladder. Perfect for apartment dwelling!

Nancy was absolutely essential during this process. Inevitably, one of us needed to be across the room shooting a laser level or judging space along a wall.. and the other person would be trying to hold the artwork flat to the wall. Each of these metal prints has two small holes bored in the foam block that allows the print to float on the wall. That means each piece requires two perfectly horizontally hammered nails that are also perfectly in line with all the other pieces in the cluster.

This last image is a slightly wider shot showing the laser level at work. Over two days we hung nearly two thirds of the artwork for the apartment. The next trip in April will be filling the bedroom with massive framed black and white prints!

Now that you have some idea what we've been doing during the installation, the next post will be the "finished" images... the "after shots" if you will.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Getting Up Early

Most mornings I struggle to get out of bed. There's always something that aches. Whether its my bad back or some weird post-surgical pain... there's inevitably something. Usually my first step to joining the land of the living is to ice my back for a bit, sip some tea and try to regain my wits. A handful of Tylenol or Advil and more tea. More ice for my back.

All of that gets thrown aside if the sky is lit up like this. To hell with waiting for my body to feel better! I am out the door in sub-zero weather in hopes of capturing the crazy light that is painting the morning snow! It is usually when I am standing by the road, in near-darkness with my camera happily clicking away as I make images... that I suddenly realize I forgot to grab a coat. And that I cant feel anything south of my nose. Yikes!

But, I am awake! And the camera is full of wild vivid images that ten minutes later had faded to merely pleasant. Totally worth the effort!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Thaw Is Upon Us

Taughannock Falls at Taughannock State Park, Trumansburg, NY

When the ice begins to melt and the creeks start to rise, it can happen very suddenly here. The past few days have been quite warm, especially when compared with the bitter cold we had in February and much of March. Three days now have been above freezing! That means that water is flowing freely. In some places, that water has nowhere to go... which means creeks backing up, ditches are full of icy water and even basements are flooding. My plan is to head down to the Falls this weekend to see how the melting has effected this wall of ice. I have a strong feeling that most of the ice will be gone by the weekend.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Getting Off the Beltway

In all the years I have driven up and down the East Coast on my way from Massachusetts to Florida, I have always skirted the downtown DC area by way of the Beltway. It has been on my list of places to visit, but never seemed like a good time. Last week was our school district's Winter Break, so Aurora and I hopped in the van and zipped 6 hrs down to DC. 

We had made virtually no plans. We had a hotel reservation and some ideas about taking the Metro into the downtown area. We had a dinner date planned with an incredible photographer and his wife... to talk about the business of photography. Other than that, I knew we wanted to see as many museums as we could fit into our short visit. 

Aurora had visited DC a few times with her mom years ago, always during the summer months. DC is mighty different in the dead of winter. The reflecting pool is drained. The grass is dead and frozen solid. Everyone was bundled up for an arctic blast when we arrived, despite the temps being around 30°F. We walked around in fleeces our first day, enjoying the respite from the wicked cold we left back home (-20°F with windchill). 

Washington DC was a fascinating place to visit. The museums on the mall could keep anyone busy for weeks! We only saw a few, despite that being our main goal. We saw the Native American Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Air and Space Museum, the Botanical Gardens and the Lincoln Memorial.

I'll post a few more images from our trip throughout this coming week. There was so much to see and enjoy that trying to cram it all into one blog post would be a huge disservice. Plus, there are just so many more fun images I want to share.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Look Away From The Camera and Please, Don't Smile.

Carol, playing in our kitchen a few years back. One of my favorite nights of food and music! 
Why do photographers expect their subjects to smile into the camera? Is anyone really happy to see the business side of a lens, staring at them across the space like a weapon? There is nothing friendly or inviting about being stared at by a device. I have struggled with this issue since I began taking photographs as a little kid (age six, for those who really want to know). Smiling eyes are certainly inviting, for sure... but telling someone to smile is like telling someone to "be happy"... on command. It has always struck me as artificial. I have preferred instead to capture the real underlying emotion. The unguarded moment where the true self appears... the moment that everyone recognizes and identifies with. The instant where the experience is shared without explanation or contrivance.

Nancy, vintage dress. 
This week as I have been editing images from weddings, in preparation for album design, what I have come to realize is that I love capturing that moment where no one is really aware that I am there. I am immersed in the interactions... rather than being the focus of that attention. No one smiles at me in that image...they are too busy smiling and talking and sharing with each other. Those are, without fail, my favorite images. Today I am sharing a few of my favorite images from the past few years. Images without smiles. Images where the subject isn't even necessarily looking at me. It is amazing what happens when you ask someone to look away from the camera. What appears and what slides away?

Nancy's first tattoo from Eddie Molina at Hand of Fate, Ithaca. 
Robert Dey, taken from outside the coffee shop in Trumansburg. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Scars: Seen and Unseen

Fuji X-T1, 55-200mm, at Sunset in February, 2015.  As the sun set at 15°F, ten minutes of photographing was enough for me.

Last week I caught myself assuming that someone I only met three months ago must already know about all the things that happened five years ago. How could someone know me now, and not know all of the crazy things that have happened to me since September 2009? Assumptions of course are fraught with illusions and confusion. This led me to think about scars. What do we show and what do we hide? What do we share and what has to be pried out of us?

Taken in June of 2009. Nikon D80, 55-200mm  A warm summer evening sunset on Seneca Lake.
Back in June of 2009, as my family and I took some time to hunt for beachwashed bottle glass on the shores of Seneca Lake at Lodi Point, none of us had any idea how radically things could change. A month later, I had my fourth bout of diverticulitis. After meeting with a gastroenterologist, I was encouraged to have my colon resected. On the morning that my daughter went back to school, I went in for surgery. According to family and friends, I was fine for a few days post surgery, and then things went sideways. The anastmosis (the rejoining of the two bits of my large intestine) failed. No one at the hospital noticed that I was in massive uncontrollable pain.

The next thing I knew, I was waking up and was unable to speak. Over a month had passed with me in a coma as my body went through numerous surgeries to deal with the sepsis and peritonitis. On my end, I couldn't wrap my head around what had happened. I was still doped to the hilt with all sorts of sedatives and antibiotics and pain killers. By the time a month and a half had passed in the ICU, I was moved to the rehabilitation floor to begin relearning how to sit, stand, walk and feed myself.

Rather than delve into all of the awfulness that happened in the ICU, what I really want to explore is the shock of discovering how alien my new body was. Every scar tells a story. Most of the time, we remember how we got that scar... what we were doing, who we were with, and there's a story to be shared.

On my 9th day on the rehab floor, I was finally able to stand for more than 5 minutes. Muscles were slowly growing back. I was encouraged to try to shower on my own, albeit with multiple nurses supervising. They wheeled me in in my wheelchair... helped me transfer to the tiled bench. Cold as it was, feeling the water splashing on my legs was wild! It had been nearly two months since I had washed my hair! Holding onto the grab rails, I stood and showered slowly. Always keeping one hand attached to the wall, I slowly explored my body under the hot water.

I was terrified of the colostomy the surgeon had left me with. I had no clue how to care for it. That would come with time and instruction. Lots of trial and error. But under the running water it seemed perfectly normal to be getting it soaking wet. I was scared to get the huge abdominal wound wet. The dressing was soaked, but the nurses reassured me that they could re-pack the wound once I was back in my room.

Trying to settle my nerves, I tried to take an inventory. What was the same, what was new? My legs looked like they belonged to a 90 year old man. All of my muscle was gone. I had tiny thin legs that looked so incredibly alien. Scrubbing my armpits I was shocked to find my big muscular arms had become almost like rubber wings. With no muscle filling things out, the skin fell off my bones. I was vigorously scrubbing my ribs when I came across a tiny scar, maybe one inch long, running horizontally on my right side.

That was new. Hmmm. I asked the nurses what it was from. Neither one had any idea. I asked the next round of nurses that attended to my wound as I was repacked for the day. No one seemed to know what had happened. I couldn't imagine how it related to the gigantic wound on my belly, but just the same, I had no clue.

In the afternoon, after my sessions of occupational and physical therapy, I was wheeled back into my room. Nancy was asleep on the bed adjacent to mine. The nurses helped me transfer to my reclining chair. There was a protein shake waiting for me... gotta consume all that protein to help heal that wound!

When Nancy woke up, I asked her about the wound on my side. She started explaining about how during the coma I had retained a massive amount of fluid. At one point I apparently looked like the Michelin Man... hands like catcher's mitts. During this time, the peritonitis was raging through my body. They had been unable to close the main incision due to all of the swelling and fluid retention.

As Nancy explained things, I had fluid collecting in my third space...the space between my skin and my fascia...which normally isn't full of fluid. In the space behind my right lung, enough fluid had accumulated to collapse that lung. If that wasn't enough, I had also developed pneumonia, brought on by being intubated for so long. In order to drain the fluid from behind my right lung, they made a small incision between my ribs, inserted a drainage tube and proceeded to pull that fluid out of me.

Learning about that tiny scar helped me realize that so many things had happened to my body that I had no recollection of. When the surgeon and the nurses came to clean the big abdominal wound, they were always very polite and kind as they tended to it. Debriding is the term for removing dead skin cells during the healing process. Sounds a lot nicer than it looks. From my perspective, I couldn't see what they were doing. Even more strangely, I couldn't feel what they were doing. If you have ever had a cut on your skin, you know that feeling when someone touches it. It HURTS. This didn't hurt. I asked about that, fearing that maybe infection was making it so I couldn't feel it. Turns out it was a one-two punch. One; I was living on pain meds, via my patch. Two: I was growing new cells... and fibroblasts, those basic building blocks for my wound repair, had no nerve endings yet. They wouldn't grow back at all in some cases.

Which leads me to the second scar. Thanks to Nancy's nightly wound cleaning, the big wound finally healed completely five and a half months after I left the hospital (nearly 7.5 months after the first surgery). Five years later, I have spots on my belly that still have no sensation. I have had four additional surgeries to repair all the damage from the first surgery. For the most part, they have been successful. No one sees these scars. Now that the colostomy has been reversed, and the massive hernia (big as a football!) has been repaired, it is hard to imagine what it used to look like. No one passing me in the grocery store would ever guess what had happened to me.

Which I guess is what prompted this missive. Walking out on the ice at Lodi Point late last week, I thought about how dangerous it was to be scrambling on the ice, trying to take photos in the incredibly cold weather. Five and a half years earlier, I would never have given it a second thought. After all of the experience of fragility brought on by repeated surgeries over the past five years, there is a part of me that wonders when the "new normal" will feel like old hat. How long until there are new scars that have nothing to do with that god-awful surgical debacle?

In closing, let me say that there are tons of stories still to tell from that time in the coma. Some of those stories are intensely personal. Some are painful. Some are downright confusing. If you're curious, just ask. I am always willing to take the time to share. And maybe over time I will add those stories to this blog.