Category Archives: Blog Post

Stone Carving A Coffee Table

If you’ve taken the time to look through my web site you’ve  probably noticed my Graveyard Gallery. My wife and I have always liked strolling the old colonial graveyards of New England, reading the inscriptions and wondering about the people and the time in which they lived. About ten years ago I became interested in the iconography associated with the stones of the eighteenth century and began to read/study about Puritan symbols and their application on stone grave markers of the period. So it was only natural (well to me any way) that when I picked up my camera again that I started photographing the stones and the wonderful carvings. (We’ll leave the question of  “are photographs of others  art really original” alone for now)  As I studied the images I began to appreciate the creativity these men had rendering beautiful images using only the simplest iron tools and their own physical talents.

 

 

Some of the symbols, depending on the age and/or the carver were very simple and plain. Others much more complex and rich in symbolism regarding the fleeting time spent in this world and the promise of  the life that follows our demise. All are evident on the head-piece at right – found at the old burial ground in Plymouth Massachusetts dating from 1743. Fleeting time – the hour glass, mortality – the skeleton and resurrection – the plant sprouting from the skull are all powerful symbols even today and would have truly resonated with devote Christians  of the eighteenth century

 

This weekend I had an opportunity to learn more and begin to gain a better appreciation of the work that went into making these stones. By doing so I hope to be able to  better represent through my lens the works these fine craftsmen rendered so many years ago. I took a two day “beginners class” in stone carving with Adam Paul Heller in West Warwick Road Island. Being challenged to draw a decent stick figure I was a bit apprehensive about the class but wanted to understand the process in more depth. (I also have this idea about carving our tombstone and getting some practical use out of it as a coffee table, after all a typical stone is damn expensive and … but we’ll leave that for a later post.) Adam is a great (and patient) teacher and I came away with what I was looking for as well as a new hobby and possibly a new coffee table.

…..although that might be a few years off yet.

Also posted in Uncategorized

de·crep·i·tude (d -kr p -t d , -ty d ). n.

… the quality/condition of being weakened, worn out, impaired, or broken down by old age, illness, or hard use.


The Mill located in Lonaconing Maryland first opened its doors for operation in the Spring of 1907 and closed them for good in the midst of a labor dispute in the summer of  ’57. It was a Silk Mill that spun raw silk, from Italy and Asia,  into fine thread for use in the US textile industry during its glory years in the first half of the last century.  The Mill now closed longer than it was open, miraculously has not changed much within its confines over the past fifty four years. Machinery,tools and other artifacts were left  as they stood the day the doors were  locked for good. The building unmaintained to a large degree looks its age, windows broken, leaky roof, dust and pealing paint are the order of the day – in  a word decrepit – a perfect place for photography.

 

The current owner, Herb Crawford, a retired teacher does what he can to keep the mill standing but its an uphill battle. Early in 2011, as I understand it,  Herb started letting small groups of photographers enter the space with tripods and gear as a way to raise funds for the mills upkeep. Attempts have been made to gain state preservation funding but given the current economic climate and state budgets being stretched not much progress has been made.

I was most fortunate to be part of a group, that visited the mill in mid December of 2011. The group was small, maybe ten in all, and was made up of mostly full time professional outdoor photographers – some whose works I have admired for some time. Needless to say I was a bit apprehensive on the six hour drive from home to my hotel near the location. I arrived late and hit the sack anxious for the festivities to start the next morning.

Tony Sweet my sponsor, if you will, is a great professional photographer and instructor with whom I “studied” the previous fall in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I had heard of the trip to the mill and reached out to Tony to see if there might be room for one more and was happily surprised when there was! The group congregated at the mill  around 8:30 to shoot the exterior and be ready for  the doors to open at 9:00AM.  A light snow had dusted the ground and continued to fall as we arrived and prepared to go inside. From the start everyone was very welcoming and friendly, sharing ideas and locations within the mill from previous visits. In all a great group of people.

 

Once inside (no heat so it was still cold) it was like a time capsule. Machinery, tools, papers and personal effects were all around the mill and available as willing subjects. We had the run of all three  floors and could move objects as needed to match our vision. The only caveat being that if we moved a bucket it had to be put back to catch the water dripping from above.

The snow I mentioned before, reflected through the large industrial windows, combining with the days overcast to create a giant soft-box effect for subjects near the windows. There were countless subject opportunities affording all manner of mood and atmosphere.  It’s no wonder some of the group has been back to the mill five or six times. I’ve already figured out a number of things I didn’t get to or will do differently when I return in February.

As to the title of the post, “decrepitude”, I think subjects that exhibit this characteristic strike a cord with many people. For me it’s two things:

  • first as a photographer its the texture, mood and atmosphere of an object or location;
  • and second  is the feeling of nostalgia/history that’s evoked by a place or a thing and the wonderment about the people that interacted with it way back when.

Links to more images & information:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also posted in Photo Locations

Help Portrait 2011

In December 2009 and again this year I had the great opportunity to participate in and be part of the “Help-Portrait” Community. Help Portrait is a one day global event started by photographer Jeremy Cowhert that allows photographers to give back to their communities by using their skills to create meaningful portraits of people in need.

In 2009 my wife and I volunteered to be part of the Hudson Valley effort held at a local church in Warwick NY. Everyone was very unsure as to what to expect or how the day would turnout.  After the initial hustle and bustle of setting up and checking lights and equipment we waited…and waited – none of us really sure if anyone from a local battered women’s shelter would turn up.

Shortly after noon, as I recall, the first van arrived and we all got very busy very fast as family after family came through. It was a very hectic afternoon and it was most definitely one of the most satisfying! The feelings generated within all the volunteers by the women and children’s reactions as they looked at their “proofs” and chose their print was truly out of this world!

At the end of the day all the volunteers left with the understanding that they had made, if only for a day, a positive impact with these families.

You can watch a short video from this years event by clicking here.

 

 

Sometimes what You’re Looking for is Right Under Your Nose

A freak October snow storm a few weeks back dropped over half a foot of heavy wet snow across the Northeast. Saturday afternoon and evening were punctuated by sharp cracks as over weighted branches buckled under the strain of the heavy snow accumulating on limbs still covered by leaves.  I felt this would be a great environment to make striking images combining colorful fall leaves set against a bright white snowy background.

I had two locations in mind as I headed out the door that snowy Sunday morning. The first was “The Bedford Oak”. This is a majestic 500+ year old tree that, when I scouted it the day before was covered with turning leaves. In my minds eye I could see the branches covered in snow and looking very surreal. I was also concerned a bit about the weight of all that snow on those branches. Unfortunately as it turned out downed trees and power lines blocked several of the approaches I tried forcing me to turn my attention to my second target of the morning.

I‘ve photographed this trestle several times and made this image in the fall of 2009. It was one of those chilly November mornings we get in the Northeast where there is frost on the ground and a heavy mist hangs in the air and lingers until the rising sun burns it all away.

I had been watching those trees for several weeks hoping to catch them at peak color. The combination of the bright fall color, the strong earth tones of the bridge and the mystery of the mist all combine to make this one of my favorite images.

 

So my initial thinking was that snow would add a very different dynamic to the location and possibly  make for a totally different image of the abandoned railroad right of way. (the trestle is located just west of the Goldens Bridge Metro North Railway station RT 138 Goldens Bridge New York)

When I got to the spot I realized right away reality was not going to match the scene I had in my head. I worked the location a bit trying different perspectives (high/low, super wide to telephoto)  and while I’m pleased with several of the images nothing really came close to my original vision. A bit disappointed I headed home to my waiting shovel and cold dark house (no heat or electricity).

 

Fortunately we regained our power early that evening  and when I processed the mornings images I had all but forgotten the first set of images of the day were right in my own back yard.

This was exactly the type of shot I’d been anticipating! I had completely forgotten about the bench and tree after I headed down the driveway chasing the images I had in my mind.Thinking about it now, I know the scene appealed to me as I walked out the door or I would not have taken the shot but it was overshadowed by my preconception of exactly what I was going to photograph. This is a trait I struggle against all the time –  It’s very important for me to not to limit myself  and truly recognize what’s right in front of me. Fortunately this time I did.

Also posted in Photo Locations

The Road Trip

After a September where I didn’t pick up my camera in any meaningful way at all I decided I needed to do something different to kick start the creative process and get me out of my photographic funk…..but what to do? The situation reminded me of a very inspirational movie I once saw many years ago….. it was time to….. ROAD TRIP!

I’d been researching possible locations that might afford both good fall foliage and the opportunity to photograph waterfalls – always a favorite subject of mine. I looked at my not so organized notes and mapped out a route from home in Westchester County NY through North Central Massachusetts. Three stops, two waterfalls, an 18th century grist mill and 270 miles of driving…Oh Boy!

Yes I’m well aware that there are things, even waterfalls, closer to home to photograph but I knew I needed something really different to get me going.

I’m a big believer in sun rise/set light for landscapes but the weather on the appointed morning (thankfully) was forecast to be rain early followed by clearing and sunny skies by mid day. Not ideal but manageable with the added benefit that I could sleep in a bit and might even get some “dramatic sky” early on.

My first stop Moore State Park in Paxton Mass was an unexpected cornucopia of photographic opportunities! The small, 400 acre park had no less than four different shooting environments and I ended up spending much more time than anticipated. My original objective was only the colonial grist mill. I had to fight my usual tendency to “stick to the schedule” as I explored the park and found worthwhile subjects in unexpected locations. I’ll be heading back in the spring to capture the many flowering shrubs as they come into bloom.

(Yes, that’s as dramatic as the sky got that day.)

 

Next up was Royalston Falls in Royalston MA. I opted for the shorter hike by driving the “unimproved” road (they weren’t kidding) in my Jeep. It got so bad I stopped and asked a gentleman walking down the path if I was in the right place. As my wife can attest this too is very much against my nature but again it paid dividends. Andy was kind enough to climb aboard and serve as my guide as we navigated the goat path road to the trail head and then (hiked) down to the falls. My thanks to Andy for taking the time and having the courage to guide me to the falls I don’t think I would have stuck with it based on the directions I had in hand.

 

I found myself heading out to my final stop Bear’s Den Falls in New Salem in fading light. (I love my GPS) A very short hike had me at this very unique location where legend has it  Native Americans gathered in 1675 to plan attacks on local settlements during King Phillips War.

So, the four  main “take aways” are: 

1.      its good for the creative process to shake things up from time to time

2.      it’s sometimes good to deviate from “the plan”

3.      the internet is good but locals always know a heck of a lot more

4.      time for the gym Andy was retired (I assume) and kicked my butt on the trail

______________________________________________________________________

More Images from “The Road Trip” can be found at my “Recent Work Gallery

Resources used in planning this trip included the following web sites:

A really neat site with 360 degree panoramas of many water falls by Jan and Christy Butler

The Trustees of Reservations

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation

 

Also posted in Photo Locations

Blogging? Really?

Hi all! – Well, I’ve decided to try my hand at blogging – No snickering from the usual suspects please. I’ll be writing periodically, no set schedule, no predetermined topic or direction. Mostly I’ll be writing about the locations, challenges and experiences encountered while creating my images.

My hope is  to provide some insight to my motivation and creative process, not only to you the reader, but really for my self as well. By slowing down and digesting what I’ve done and how I’ve gone about things and relating those experiences with others – I hope to improve my personal process and share at the same time.

Well, we’ll see how this goes.

Tom – October 29, 2011