Monday, December 31, 2012

Lyon Family Portrait, December 2012

There is something very exciting about photographing folks that you've gotten to know over many years. I have known the Lyon family since Aurora started playing hockey. We're talking "not-much-out-of-daipers" kinda time.... and we have always laughed non-stop, through every get together. Didn't matter if it was a 10⁰F hockey rink, or sitting by Cayuga Lake enjoying a picnic.... we always laughed, joked and played. In this time, I have gotten to watch these kids mature into amazing young adults. Their attitude and fortitude is astounding. To be asked to compose some new family portraits was an honor and privilege. 

What I loved most was watching their faces, as whoever wasn't being photgraphed stood behind me (or beside me) making faces, telling jokes and otherwise distracting the talent. Made for a VERY lively, fun session! My face is still sore from all the laughing and giggling yesterday. I can't count the number of times I had to pull the camera away from my face because I was laughing so incredibly hard.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Getting Personal

I worked for Michael Cohen during my final year at Hampshire College. Trying to describe working for Mike is like trying to describe a forest. From far away, it was like any other production potter's studio. Up close, it was work. Hard work. Day after day. But when taken as a vignette, the richness of the experience is more apparent.

I'd like to write about a few of my experiences working for Mike. First, I want to talk about this mug. This is my mug. There have been many mugs to come out of Michael Cohen Pottery, but this one was made for me. Mike decided that he hadn't made his apprentices mugs in a while, and since we were a "new" crew, we should have mugs for our mid-morning tea/coffee/bagel break. Each mug would hang from a hook over the sink, hanging from that small hole at the base of the handle. Mike's production mugs were octagonal extrusions, usually decorated with a stamped stain pattern over glaze. Our personal mugs were different. They were all thrown. Instead of his usual extruded handles (which I made many many of)... this mug has a pulled handle. Subtle differences, but it meant the world to me.

How did I come to work for Michael?

Michael looms large in the Pioneer Valley pottery community, having been a production potter in the Amherst, MA area for almost 50 years. He typically hired apprentices from UMASS/Amherst's ceramics program. After I had been at UMASS via Hampshire a little over a year, I finally worked up the gumption to call Michael to see if he would take me on as an apprentice. After a brief phone interview, he agreed to meet me. He suggested I come out to his studio the following week. The day arrived, full of excitement and anxiety... and snow. Lots of snow. So much so that I couldn't dig my car out. I decided that rather than be late, I would hop a bus into town (30 min), then hike up to Mike's house/studio in Pelham. Uphill is a nice way to describe it. No sidewalks. Drifts on the side of the road were over 3 feet, and the cars were sliding around everywhere.

I arrived, soaking wet, and caked with ice, snow and road grime, about ten minutes late. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am never late. I apologized frantically. Mike laughed and commented that he assumed I would not be coming out due to the snow, but since I was there we should talk. So he and I walked around the studio; giving me the grand tour. I oooh-ed and ahhh-ed over his huge kiln. I was amazed by the giant racks of pots waiting to be fired. I marveled at his storeroom. Almost lost it when I saw his glaze prep room and materials storage. I was a kid in a candy store. We talked for about an hour, then he offered to drive me back to Hampshire. I had a job!

A week later he called to tell me his brother had died, and that he was busy tying up his deceased brother's affairs and would be putting the studio on hold for a while. He suggested that I call back in a few months. I was crestfallen.

As the semesters rolled past, I became more involved in things in the studio at UMASS. My work progressed, but I was still intent on working for Mike. We bumped into each other one day in the grocery store. He was so embarrassed about how things turned out... I was too embarrassed to call him and ask what was happening. In the end, we laughed it off. I started the next week. He bumped my pay up by nearly a dollar an hour from what he had told me a year earlier. I could live with that.

My first week working in the studio, I asked questions constantly. I had so many ideas, so many questions about tool, processes, etc. On Tuesday of my second week, Michael pulled me aside before we began working and brought me up short. He said something to the effect of: Just do the job, don't ask why, don't offer suggestion, just do the thing I told you to do. I was mortified. No one but my dad had ever said anything like that to me before. Here I was thinking that I was doing the right thing... I was humiliated.

A few weeks later, I was told that it was my duty on Wednesdays to bring in the bagels for the mid-morning break. I never let on that I was living on $100 a month for food, gas and clothes. Most of that money was coming from his employment, so the last thing I wanted was to appear ungrateful. One morning I was late and skipped the bagel run. I tried to toss it off casually when it came time to take our break. I said something to the effect of: I was late, outta cash and figured it was more important to be on time than to have bagels. Mike's son, Josh, was working with us at that time. Mike looked over at Josh and said  "You... bring the bagels on Wednesday. Don't be late!"

Then he turned back to me and said "Can you stay for a short bit after we finish up today?" I replied that I could. Later that afternoon (Mike always had us stop at 1pm)... Mike pulled me aside after I had finished cleaning up and he asked me how things were going. I told him I felt like I was getting into a groove and that I was enjoying the work, learning new things, etc. He asked why I hadn't asked for a raise if I was so broke. I muttered something about not expecting a raise. In typical Mike fashion, he laughed, jotted a note down and handed me a piece of scrap paper with my new hourly wage... it had increased by half a dollar. And I didn't have to buy bagels anymore! He made some comment about appreciating my timely arrival every morning. I couldn't have been more proud.

A few months later, as Mike was making a huge push to get work ready for his holiday sale, he was throwing non-stop. Day in, day out, the bats never stopped flying off his wheel. He affectionately called me Board Boy.... which at the time often sounded like Bored Boy. Basically, the job entailed taking away the full board of pots, putting it on the shelf, returning with an empty board and doing this quickly enough that he didn't have to slow down his throwing speed.

As I was cleaning up that afternoon, I realized that Mike's bats were made of particle board. I had always been told you had to use marine-grade plywood, with multiple coats of polyurethane. When I asked Mike why he didn't plywood bats, he pulled me up close and said in a very gruff voice, "Don't teach Granda how to suck eggs." I started laughing. I had no clue what the hell he was talking about. I had never heard such a bizarre expression in my whole life. I had to ask what on earth it meant. Apparently he didn't take kindly to a young upstart telling him that what worked for him was suddenly not good enough. I tried standing my ground, fully prepared to defend my position... and he looked at me and asked if I liked working there. Well, that settled it. I would just shut the hell up and not offer my ideas. You'd think I would have learned that by then.

Towards the end of my time with Michael, he decided that the studio needed to be cleaned and painted. Apparently in the thirty years the studio had been in use, it had never been re-painted. He hired a crew of cleaners/painters, but it meant that work in the main workroom had to stop for a few days. As we prepared to take the room apart, we started pulling stuff off the walls. Tools, stereo parts, you name it. It all came down. As we started taking down one of Mikes favorite posters we saw the most bizzare stain behind it. There, in black sooty-ness and shadow was the spitting image of Jesus with a beard. We laughed like it was the funniest thing any of us had ever seen. Even got my photo taken with the sooty Jesus. Sure beats seeing Mary Magdelene on a grilled cheese.

On my last week with Mike and Josh, we took one last photo of the gang all together. Each of us had wax lips in our mouths and we all gave the camera the middle finger. Somehow that said it all. It has been nearly twenty years since I was last working in Mike's studio, but in some ways, it was just yesterday.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Baby Oliver

Last week I was invited to photograph three week old Oliver Ginenthal. Such a cutie! Born a few weeks early, he has had a rough time, but is making up for lost time. He is so expressive and communicative. Jules and Jeanne were so kind to invite me into their home to photograph their family during such a precious time.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

More images of the When and If

These images were taken nearly a month ago, before most of the transom had been dismantled. There is a ton more information on the Cayuga Wooden Boatworks Facebook page.

This image is of the Edison steering gear assembly before removal.

Hull planks being systematically removed after sanding through the paint to reveal the wooden plugs that cover the long bronze screws which hold the planks to the hull's framing members.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Wendy and Renee - portrait session

One of the things I love most about portrait photography is when folks really get into the moment. It takes a lot of courage to really relax in front of the camera. I am one of those folks who hates being in front of the camera. When I find someone who LIKES being in front of the camera,  I love seeing the images that sing as a result. Renee and Wendy made this photo session perfect! We had such a great time. I photographed Wendy and Renee pretty continuously for about an hour, and we didn't stop laughing the entire time. So many great images and fun memories to go with them.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Removing the First Layer (in the rain)

This is a strange part of the process. Here, what you're seeing, is the sanding through all these old layers of paint, finding the screws at the butt joint of each plank. Then uncovering the bunghole, removing the wooden plug, uncovering the manganese bronze screws and finally pulling them slowly, carefully out of the wood. Oh, and they were doing this in the cold rain. Yeah. I think that was why they were in a hurry to get the new shelter shrink-wrapped.

Here the transom was covered with a quick tarp while everyone was working on cutting out sections. As each layer was uncovered, they got closer and closer to the inner structure of the boat.

Those are not giant termite holes. More bungholes. Every one of those giant manganese bronze screws is saved. Hopefully, my photographs, combined with the original plans for this boat will make rebuilding it "easy". Somehow, I think along the way, between the discovery of hidden problems and innovation, there are bound to be some new additions to this gorgeous boat.

Friday, November 16, 2012

What You Can't See

When this beautiful boat was pulled from the water at the onset of Fall, the When and If was a pretty, sharp-looking boat. Sure, she was worn around the edges, here and there... but overall, she looked good. When the guys started pointing out things that were wrong with the shape at the transom (at the back of the boat)... I was kind of mystified. I could see some minor jogs in the shape of the hull, but I assumed that was just part of the boat. They were patient enough to explain that due to design issues, and wood structural failure, the shape of a wooden boat can (and does) change.

In this image, they are trying to sight down the side of the hull, looking to figure out where the planks actually retain their curve for the proper length. The second image is from a session I did up there about 3 weeks ago. They had just finished building this framework, which has now been completely sheathed in shrink-wrap. Images of the new building and the teardown of the transom will appear here in the next few days.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Lake Ontario, Fairhaven Beach

Fall may not be the usual time when most folks visit their favorite beach, but for Nancy, Aurora and I, this is the best time of the year. For everything. The subtle palette, the gentle breeze, the total lack of crowds... just a fantastic way to spend a late Autumn day.

From a photographic standpoint, it is also ideal. When the sky is clouded over, the entire sky becomes one giant softbox. This makes for very gentle wrapping light. Unfortunately, today was not a day for portraits. Aurora shot a fair number in the town of Fairhaven, but I'll leave it to her to post those to FB and G+.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Prelude to an Illustration

Over the past few days, we have had a run of very foggy, misty, moisty mornings. Certainly a beautiful time to be out photographing the remarkable light, but also so tempting to just crawl back under the covers. Yesterday, I knew that my time with this light was growing short. Soon, Winter will be here and what is left of the moist misty light will be replaced by sharp bright snow. 

Part of what drew me outside to photograph this scene yesterday is that I have a client who has asked me to work on a few bookcovers for him. One of his stories that I am working on the cover for, is called We All Fall Down, and it set in the dark ages. The setting is dark, foggy, very mysterious. Rather than try to recreate that in Photoshop, I figured why not try to get it in-camera right from the outset. At this point, I am not sure how we'll use the final image for his book, but the design ideas are pretty wild. Check out Gordon Bonnet's books at 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Details of the When and If

Today was my second day photographing the When and If. I don't think I could have asked for a more picturesque autumn day; blue skies, light wispy clouds, bright sunshine, blue water, light breeze... and that lovely snap thanks to a late morning frost. The frost was still melting off places as I climbed on board the When and If this morning. A few minutes in the bright sunshine and everything began to thaw.

Trying to capture the intimate details of this amazing boat is like a kid in a candy store choosing just one piece of candy to purchase. It is overwhelming. I find myself dumbstruck by the complexity of the joinery and the means by which forms grow and twist. Tonight I am looking over hundreds of images I took today. The details are completely exhausting. Knowing that so much of this will be pulled apart, rebuilt, reshaped and restored to its original condition is so hard to imagine. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

New Jewelry from Linda Christensen

I met Linda a few weeks ago, on the recommendation of a mutual friend. After talking about her goal of getting her work into an online resource for artists wanting to wholesale their crafts to galleries, we agreed that we needed to push the image quality of her work.

I spent the better part of two days arranging and re-arranging her necklaces and earrings; constantly looking for ways to highlight the fossils and beach stones she loves using. Most of her glass beads are antique glass too, and I wanted to capture that age, if possible.

My previous experience shooting small jewelry centered around Nancy's glass beadwork (EarCandy) and some other assorted metalworked jewelry. This was a very exciting prospect. After all was said and done, I feel that the finished images speak of the quiet simplicity of Linda's vision.

Friday, October 12, 2012

When and If

I have not been posting images with great frequency this month. I apologize for my absence. I wish I could say it is due to us being on vacation or being too busy with work for clients. The real reason probably has to do with the time of year and my memories of the trauma that cycle through every year at this time. 

The good news is that I landed a fascinating assignment... photographing the restoration process of the When and If. In the words of the fine woodworker/ship builder, Captain Dennis Montgomery: 
The When and If was designed and built for then Col. George Patton later the General. This is the latest project to come to Cayuga Wooden Boatworks Inc. for restoration work. We will do some work this year and some next year. We will be posting more photos on the progress as we continue to work on her this season and next so friends spread the word about this and the other interesting and historic projects at CWBW. 
Aurora and I met with Dennis this past Monday, on a perfect Fall day. For three hours, we milled about, trying to figure out what angles would be best to capture this sailboat as it left the waters of Cayuga Lake to begin its restoration process. In the end, it was out of the water so quickly! From there it was driven, suspended from huge straps, to its resting place where the real work will take place. 

Check out Capt. Dennis Montgomery's Facebook page for the Cayuga Wooden Boatworks, and follow along as I keep posting updates about this whole restoration process over the next few months.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Joe and Aurora

Four decades apart ... and if you closed your eyes, you would never know it. Listening to Joe talking to Aurora about Joe Strummer and the Clash, while sitting at our dining room table last weekend was the most fascinating conversation I have eavesdropped on in a while.

Joe had the wicked good fortune to be allowed to photograph the Clash during their U.S. tour back in 1980 and 1981. His images are stellar! Good enough that he was a contributor to the recent film: The Rise and Fall of the Clash
Check out his images, and you'll see how amazingly talented he is!

Aurora has been a fan of the Clash since she was about 11 or 12. She heard London Calling and that was all it took. Guns of Brixton and Should I Stay or Should I Go turned her into a die-hard fan. When we added Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros to our family's collection of music, she fell in love with Joe Strummer all the more.

Joe was in town so we could all see the Indigo Girls in Buffalo with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Between all the driving to and from Buffalo, we had a chance to relax, catch up and share stories galore. Something about consuming sushi that really brings out my social side!

On Joe's final evening with us, Joe and Aurora agreed to sit for a quick portrait sitting. Probably spent too much time fussing with lights... and then WHAM... everything clicked. I love the quality of the light, wrapping around both faces, those leather jackets, and the expressions on each face. Such intensity, humor, seriousness and just a touch of fatigue. Great fun!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Living In A Tin Can

This weekend was the Tin Can Tourist - 5th Annual Northeast Regional Rally at Sampson State Park. Nancy has always had a soft spot in her heart for Airstreams, Shastas and Teardrop trailers. This pales though, when compared to her love of vardos (gypsy wagons). At this rally, we found trailers of all sorts. I would guess at over 30 different makers, maybe more. Lots of home made trailers. Copious amounts of restoration and refurbishing. Labors of love, all of them.

In some cases, they were a vintage moment captured in time. Some trailers were very obviously lived in all the time, kids and pets included. It was a fascinating mix, both of trailers and people. What was most fascinating was the sheer number of people we ran into that I had no idea participated in the Tin Can Tourist group. Made me realize that I need to get to know more of these folks. I know it isn't terribly practical for us to run out and buy ourselves an Airstream Bambi... but getting a chance to see how it would feel was definitely a treat.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Shorter Days and Longer Shadows

When the kids return to school and the air begins to have a chill in the morning, I am taken back. This week marks the third year since I went in for my colon surgery. So much has happened in these past few years. I've decided that rather than continuing to write about the coma experience on this blog, I am moving it to a new blog:

Feel free to follow along. I have reposted most of the stories from both of my older blogs... the clay blog and then the later photo blog. Where I could, I reposted the images that I included in my original posts.

I found one of my notebooks from last year, and realized that I had jotted down over three pages of notes with each line demarking a unique coma dreamtime experience. There is plenty to write and thankfully lots of time to make it happen. I look forward to hearing what people think on reading some of this material. It sure is odd seeing the words on the page as opposed to the memories in my head.

I guess this is the long way of saying that from now on my posts here will be about my photography process and the subsequent images. All the story stuff has moved. Please check it out and let me know what you think.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Surprises in Chinatown

Nancy and I spent this past Saturday walking through Chinatown in NYC. We had briefly visited Philadelphia's Chinatown three years ago during the NCECA clay conference. At that time we joked about how we had never visited NYC with the intention of just wandering through Chinatown. Absolutely worth it.

By getting off the main drag, we were able to be a part of the community as opposed to watching it pass by. I saw vegetables that I had never seen offered before in grocery stores. I saw more varieties of fish and shellfish than I have ever witnessed in our markets. And the smells! At noon, the aroma was fantastic... but by 5pm as we headed out, the fragrance became more of a stench. I blame the 85 degree day with nearly 100% humidity.

I think what I enjoyed most about our stroll through Chinatown (and Little Italy) was the constant surprise. We saw so many massage parlors, herbalists and pharmacies. They had at least one or more on each block. Just the same, there were gift shops tucked into the most tiny of corners and pockets of the street. Following Nancy, we ended up in an upstairs workspace for a business that primarily made frames for Chinese paintings and stone chops for use as signature stamps. While waiting for the gentleman to finish attending to other customers, I poked my head into his storeroom and stumbled on two tall glass bookcases filled with Chinese pottery from pre-historic all the way through export porcelain of the 1700s. It was the most amazing collection I have ever seen outside of a museum. Definitely was not what I was expecting. Surprises were everywhere this weekend!

There is so much I could say about this image... but in the end, if you don't think this is funny, nothing I could say would convince you anyway.

Friday, September 7, 2012

How Should I Feel?

Earlier this week this is how I felt.

Tonight, my girl is struggling with "friend" issues at school. It makes me mad when someone upsets my family. A few days ago I got a rather condescending comment on my blog. Left me feeling surprisingly vulnerable. I am sure the dizziness and vertigo aren't helping matters any.

I don't like feeling this stressed or angry. These issues will pass, with time. In the meanwhile, as I sit here staring at my feelings, I feel like for the first time I have been able to graphically show the tumult I feel... and somehow that visual depiction speaks to me. It isn't who I want to be, but it definitely is who I was at the time.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Hell is a Lonesome Place

Hell is a lonesome place.

Dark, wet, and sticky. Smells like the ass-end of a Burger King dumpster on a hot summer's day.

My friends aren't here. This is hell.

If I had friends here it wouldn't be so bad.

The tables in hell are made from perforated metal... large holes maybe an inch across, and then dipped in some grippy plastic. The tops of the tables curve downward slightly, like they were left out in the sun just a touch too long and started to droop.

None of the chairs in hell are comfortable. They either have no backs, or they rock side to side. Find the perfect chair only to realize that the back is broken as you lean back and nearly fall. Stand up and find yourself covered in itchy pet fur, bits of torn wool and reeking of stale urine.

In hell the televisions are always on. Nothing you want to see is on... but the TV strobes in and out of your vision no matter where you look. Compelling, numbing and terrifying at the same time. The audio track fails to sync so the newscaster's voice sounds too much like a detergent commercial.

Hell's designer should be fired on the basis of creating false promises. Everywhere that should be clean is anything but. Places that should be hidden from view, you are forced to walk through. Escalators that lurch and stagger. Handrails wait with splinters and smears of mucus left behind by toddlers too young to know better.

The custodial crew in hell expect everything to be recycled. Not just the good stuff. Everything. When you line up for your meal tray, and try to catch a glimpse of the kitchen, it looks like the food was just pulled out of garbage bags and broken milk crates. It is the smell that gets you though. The same salty, hot oil... the knowing scent of fried something or other. Your mouth waters before you notice the sickly sweet smell of rancid putrification.

In hell there are no bathrooms. Never mind a long line, there are no bathrooms. And worse still, you always need to pee. Every dark corner looks appealing as a place to stop and urinate until you realize that is exactly what everyone else has done. The pain comes in waves. Nausea mixed with sheer terror at having to keep waiting for a real bathroom. There has to be a bathroom somewhere. But there isn't. Hell's plumbing was designed by a general surgeon.

All of the voices in hell combine fingers on a chalkboard with toddler wailing. The resultant reverberation makes conversations sound like the clamor of an engine room on a cruise ship. In hell, you can see the horrific waves of halitosis as people cajole one another. Eventually, even your own inner voice starts to sound like your neighbor's cat in heat at two in the morning.

In hell, your fellow travelers are the bastards who screwed up everything they touched in your life. They are the assholes who broke your heart, teased you, molested you, chose you last for games on the schoolyard. Remembering the spilled milk, torn clothes, bitter iron in your mouth mixed with salty tears and the slurping back of the snot that just won't stop running down your nose... these are the people standing next to you everywhere you go in hell.

There is no view in hell. I tried for over a year to find a place from which to see out. I looked for a window, but all the windows just led to more halls, rooms, and escalators. There is no outside in hell. Everything is wrapped up in the dusty oily resinous exhaust that builds up between the acrid cleaning sessions that happen so infrequently. Touch anything and that grime finds its way on to you with even the slightest brush. Mirrors laugh at your reflection.

I kept waiting for a phone call in hell. All of the cell phones in hell ring incessantly. Not mine. I was surprised to see that there is cell reception in hell. Probably because of AT&T. To this day, I am not sure if that call would have been a pardon or my final sentencing.

I was in hell for over a year. Trying to tell time in perpetual twilight is like vertigo for the timeline.

Next week I begin the observance of my third year since entering the coma. This story was just one of many dozens that came from that experience.

Friday, August 31, 2012

If You Say "Misquamicut" Three Times Fast, You Win a Pony Ride

Okay, maybe not a pony ride, but you might just get to go sailing!

Or you might find yourself on the beach ...

Or smelling the beach roses...

Or staring into the knowing eyes of a beluga whale.
You just never know.

For the record, these images were taken by Aurora and Sandy during their vacation. Nancy and I were home for a staycation (someone's gotta watch the pup!). 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

What's Another Word for "Precious"?

These photos were taken during the first couple of years after meeting Nancy, while visiting her folks in Corning. For the past week I have been trying to find a way to write about the influence this time with them had on Aurora... and each time I go to write, I fail to find my words. Aurora started with two sets of grandparents, but before she turned four, she had four sets of grandparents. Time with each family was so incredibly different. The thing I find most remarkable is how these photos capture a very intimate time in Aurora's life. A time when she was so vulnerable, and yet very much a kid. Open eyed and ready to explore!

 Granny, Gramps and Aurora, getting ready for their parade. Wish I could have heard this conversation!

Gramps and Aurora, sharing the sunshine in the living room.