Amish. The Long Way Home.

Late last September, after a shoot in Harrisburg, I decided to take the long way home through Pennsylvania’s Amish country. Despite having lived in PA on and off since 2001, I hadn’t visited this storied step back in time since I was a kid. With no real frame of reference, I typed the one restaurant I remembered from when I was ten into my GPS and set out for the Good and Plenty. The 45-mile journey would take me through the heart of Lancaster County and into the warm and welcoming past.

I never did make it to the Good and Plenty. The landscape was so inviting and accessible, I decided to pull off the highway and ramble through the farmland. Like John Muir supposedly once said, “Throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence.” While I may not always live by this philosophy, when the opportunity presents itself, I go for it.

I came across all you would expect to see in Amish country: children innocently riding scooters (they’re not allowed to ride bikes), horses pulling families slowly and deliberately down a country road and livestock lazily grazing in the late summer sun. I wandered through fields of corn that were indeed as high as an elephants eye, came to a clearing that was swarming with more bugs than there are stars in the sky and watched a hot air balloon softly sink below the distant tree line. The one oddity that caught my eye was the horse and buggy only section at the gas station. Although It was fully equipped with a garbage can and shovel.

It was nearing dusk and I had no idea how far I was from home so I hopped into my car and set the GPS for Philly. Turns out I was only 68 miles away. After about five miles on this single lane “highway” I was met with a road closed sign and was forced to reroute. I circled around to investigate and discovered the reason for the closure of this bustling thoroughfare was a parade. Guess John Muir was calling again. It took a few more loops but I finally found a parking space next to a few horses tied to a fence.

I walked the few blocks down the road towards main street and tried to blend in. This was no easy task with a giant camera dangling from my neck. I was clearly an outsider there acting as a voyeur. I’m usually not shy or apprehensive when it comes to shooting strangers in a strange place but I didn’t want to come off as if I was on Amish safari. I was genuinely excited for this parade and just wanted to document the experience. That however can easily be construed as exploitation.

The crowd was about twenty percent Amish, five percent minority and seventy-five percent civilian white (as in not Amish.) I posted up near a family who clearly claimed their spots much earlier in the day. I’m pretty sure they had eaten breakfast and lunch there and were just moving on to dinner. A friendly gentleman wearing an Eagles hat to my right who was not with the group pointed out that I was facing the wrong way and to get my camera ready because the parade was set to kick off any minute. He asked where I was from and when I told him Philadelphia he gasped. He’d lived in this town his entire life and had never been. Need I remind you I was less than seventy miles away? He asked if it was difficult to park downtown and what Reading Terminal Market was like. I told him he should come see for himself. This he took as an invitation to meet up. We exchanged emails then a parting handshake. I’m still waiting to hear from him.

The parade finally began. The Grand Marshall’s Dick and Jean Risk kicked off the festivities followed by generations of tractor drivers and the Lancaster County Alternate Dairy Princess. The last glints of sunshine were fading fast so I turned my camera on the crowd for a few final shots before heading home. As the golden hour turned to dusk I drove off but not before stopping to get a few more shots to properly close out my day. I guess the beauty of living in Pennsylvania can be summed up by the fact that you can spend the day shooting portraits in the middle of a “city” then stumble upon an Amish farmer plowing a field by horse at sunset. 

I also feel this post might best be enjoyed while listening to this song by PHOX. The whole afternoon had a rather slow motion sort of feel to it.

Julia Cherniavskaya

A few weeks back winter stepped aside and for a short moment, we had a glimpse of summer. I seized the opportunity to step out of the studio for some warm weather portraits.

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Snowday Cinemagraph

I’ve been wanting to play around with making a cinemagraph for a while and was looking into picking up Flixel but decided to experiment in photoshop. luckily we had a giant snowstorm pass through which provided the perfect opportunity. I dusted off the ol’ 7D for the job as it was wet as hell outside and didn’t want to compromise the primary gear. I don’t shoot much video so after a quick refresher I convinced the inimitable Fabricio Rodriguez to take center stage in the middle of clearfield street under a well placed street light. Looked purdy and we shot about ten seconds of footage which was all we needed to complete the process. Took one pass at this PHLEARN tutorial and produced this result. Thanks Mr. Nace. 

snowy day cinemagraph in Philly

Christmas Sunset in Truro

Christmas out in Truro on Cape Cod is always unpredictable when it comes to weather. We’ve seen flurries, blizzards, squalls, drizzles and this year summer. Temperatures peaked close to 70 and by 4pm I was able to lure everyone down to Corn Hill Beach to witness this extraordinary sunset.

Christmas Day Sunset

Christmas Day Sunset

Christmas Day Sunset

Christmas Day Sunset

Christmas Day Sunset

Christmas Day Sunset

Christmas Day Sunset

Christmas Day Sunset

Christmas Day Sunset

Christmas Day Sunset

Mother Nature

As the wife of a photographer, Natasha often falls victim to my camera. After being together for ten years, I’ve shoved my lens in her face upwards of ten billion times. It’s gotten to the point where I know not to point  it in her direction anymore. That being said I wasn’t going to let the opportunity to shoot maternity photos of her while visiting her parents out in magical Cape Cod pass me by. It took some convincing but she eventually acquiesced and here are the results.

Natasha Mell-Taylor Maternity

Natasha Mell-Taylor materniny

winter cape scapes | 13 variations on a cape cod scene

Took a wander a few days before christmas through the estuary adjacent to corn hill beach in truro out on cape cod. it’s a lovely place. the thoroughfare in which you can travel is dependent on the tides as is the scenery. because of the low winter sun and the rapidly shifting clouds the light was erratic and i either had a bright and cheery moment to capture or a dark and dreary one. which do you prefer?

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Farmhand Handyman | Philadelphia Urban Farming Volunteer Bryan Thompson-Nowak

I Worked on a few stories for Grid Magazine’s January 2015 issue. Pick up a hard copy to see the photos/story that corresponds to my earlier post Playing in Dirt.

Farmhand Handyman

Volunteer and grant writer brings many skills to East Kensington’s Emerald Street Urban Farm

 

Philadelphia Urban Farming Volunteer Bryan Thompson-Nowak brings many skills to East Kensington’s Emerald Street Urban Farm
Philadelphia Urban Farming Volunteer Bryan Thompson-Nowak brings many skills to East Kensington’s Emerald Street Urban Farm

 

Bryan Thompsonowak says volunteering at the Emerald Street Urban Farm has made him more invested in the neighborhood. | Photos by Jared Gruenwald

When Bryan Thompsonowak, 37, was young, his father, a bricklayer and “all-around handyman-type of a guy,” taught him to not be afraid of trying new things. He applied that lesson when he tackled the construction of a three-bin compost system and a rainwater catchment system at Emerald Street Urban Farm in East Kensington.

The farm’s managers Nic and Elisa Esposito needed to expand their volunteer base because they were expecting their first child. That’s when Thompsonowak stepped up, volunteering on Mondays from May to October.

“It’s nice to have a project close to home, and it’s not just the work; it’s the people that you’re there volunteering with,” says Thompsonowak, whose last name is a result of combining his and his wife Sharon Nowak’s last name.

Founded in 2009 by Elisa Esposito and the former farm director of Marathon Farms, Patrick Dunn, ESUF reclaimed and transformed five vacant lots in East Kensington. The farm, which sits a few doors down from his home, offers produce through a weekly donation-based farmstand and several pick-your-own community garden plots. The core group of about a dozen volunteers also runs an outreach and education program.

Philadelphia Urban Farming Volunteer Bryan Thompson-Nowak brings many skills to East Kensington’s Emerald Street Urban Farm
Philadelphia Urban Farming Volunteer Bryan Thompson-Nowak brings many skills to East Kensington’s Emerald Street Urban Farm

The East Kensington Neighbors Association has worked closely with ESUF and various other organizations, such as the Kensington Community Food Co-Op and Hackett Elementary School, to improve the East Kensington neighborhood. President Clare Dych helps lead the various sectors of EKNA in addressing the concerns and actions of the community by hosting monthly meetings to discuss zoning and planning within the neighborhood, and by promoting the Clean Up and Green Space Committees that work to protect and maintain the local parks.

This past spring, the farm received a $1,000 grant from the association to support the farm and their youth programming. “ESUF has given so much to the East Kensington neighborhood, all on a shoestring budget, and we felt it was time to give back,” Dych says in an email.

Thompsonowak also wrote an application on behalf of ESUF for a grant provided by the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust given to nonprofits that further the field of ornamental horticulture through education and research. Esposito was blown away: “This went beyond the commitment of coming out every Monday. If we get the grant, it will be a huge game-changer for us.”

Philadelphia Urban Farming Volunteer Bryan Thompson-Nowak brings many skills to East Kensington’s Emerald Street Urban Farm
Philadelphia Urban Farming Volunteer Bryan Thompson-Nowak brings many skills to East Kensington’s Emerald Street Urban Farm

This winter, Thompsonowak, who’s also a graduate student of the Longwood Graduate Program in Public Horticulture, will continue the program through the University of Delaware with hopes of advancing his career within public gardens. But he won’t be too far from the farm.

“Volunteering at the farm has made me more invested in the neighborhood,” Thompsonowak says. “Being a part of something that is 100 percent good for the neighborhood is great.”

 

Playing in the Dirt | Laurel Valley Soils

Last week I went out to Laurel Valley Soils for an editorial assignment. Laurel Valley is an Avondale, Pennsylvania based manufacturer of soil and compost based products for wholesale to garden centers, landscape contractors, sports turf installers, and nurseries. I love dirt. I love digging in it with my bare hands, planting seeds into it and pulling plants out of it. Chances are that if you meet me anytime between early spring and late fall I’ll have dirt under my nails from digging around my garden. So when the opportunity to run around this giant dirt box came my way I jumped at the chance. Learning about where commercial soil comes from has always been of some interest to me especially since I developed a debilitating gardening addiction. Jake Chalfin, the sales manager whose portrait is at the end of this post was kind enough to give me the full rundown of how this process works, where soil comes from and how different mixtures and created.Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils

Dave and Buddy. Fishermen.

It was a beautiful day today and I had a few spare hours this afternoon so I decided to head down to South Philly in search of something to photograph along the Delaware River.  I find myself shooting down there quite often. It’s a pretty photogenic area and it seems each wander I go out on I find a new and interesting subject. Today I parked just along the entrance to Pier 68. When I got to the edge of the platform a man aboard a tug boat called out to me.  He seemed pretty chipper and just wanted to chat. His job that day had him piloting the boat from the dock to the middle of the river where an oil barge called the Chesapeake was anchored. That’s it. Just back and forth multiple times a day. I didn’t catch his name but if I had more time I would have talked my way on board. Next time. As our conversation trailed off, an older fisherman sitting in a camping chair opposite the boat waved invitingly over to me. There were no immediate introductions. We just started having a conversation as if we were picking up where we left off the day before. He was surrounded by gear one would use to fish in various stages of wear as well and other random items like a bag of unopened Rice Krispies and Walmart shopping carts. I eventually asked him his name as the conversation was getting rather intimate. Dave is Korean and has lived in Philadelphia for 34 years. Or was it 43? Either way he left Korea behind when he was a young man and hasn’t returned. Despite having lived stateside longer than I’ve been alive he still spoke with a rather thick accent and I had trouble making out some of what he said. I did gather quite quickly that he is rather devout as the topic settled on god. He was a little taken aback when I told him I lean more towards the agnostic but understood my point of view. I asked him which particular sect of christianity he followed. He told me none. He wasn’t catholic, protestant, snake handler or presbyterian. He said he simply followed the word of god. I liked that. I honestly don’t understand all the divisions within the religion anyway. It’s all just jesus isn’t it? At this point another man walked up and plopped himself into a chair adjacent to the river. He didn’t seem at all concerned with this random photographer hanging about and just started chatting with us as if he was privy to the entire conversation. His name was Buddy I think. Well that’s what Dave told me at least. Buddy, a lifelong Philadelphian is probably sixty to seventy years old. He’s very soft spoken, polite and knowledgable about fishing. He had just returned with more beef livers to use as catfish bait. Despite being happy to chat he didn’t want me taking his picture. The only explanation he gave was that he was playing hooky from work and didn’t want to get caught. I assured him these photos would only end up on my blog which maybe three people read. Dave at this point started talking about his younger days. He had been an avid photographer and purchased an underwater camera to take out on fishing trips back in Korea.  He then reached into his backpack and pulled out about ten folded pages with incredible black and white images of young men fishing in the 1960’s. He named a few of the men as his relatives and pointed out a few shots of himself. They were stunning. I assumed that Dave and Buddy had been fishing together at this spot for decades however they’d only connected recently. Dave had been calling Pier 68 his personal fishing spot for years and Buddy was stationed at the next pier down just fifty feet away. A recent influx of new anglers forced Buddy to move. Dave called Buddy’s spot North Korea, his spot South Korea and the water separating the two the DMZ. I wanted to ask him more about life in Korea before he emigrated but he didn’t seem to want to go down that road. He just kept saying how Philadelphia and the United States are the best places in the world. We chatted a bit more about bread, beer, politics and how to properly bait a hook. I had to get going said my goodbye’s and walked off just as casually as I’d come, assuming that no proper farewell was needed as next time I visit we’ll just fall back into the same old comfortable conversation.

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