Last August, I spent a week at Sunset Lake in Benson, Vermont with my wife, daughter and friends. I spend 90% of my time in the city so this was a very welcomed change of pace. I hadn’t been to Vermont in many many years and forgot just how rural is it. I encounter more strangers in the first five minutes of my day in Philly than I did the entire week we were there.
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.
The outer cape (wellfleet, truro and provincetown) has a certain romantic majesty that for me never seems to fade. This may have something to do with the occasional day dream I have of working as a lowly deck hand aboard an 18th century whaling ship. I’ve made the trek out to Truro countless times over the better part of the the past decade to visit Tasha’s (my wife’s) family and each time I come away feeling humbled for having the privilege of experiencing such a monumentally magical land (and sea) scape. so here’s a rather long gallery featuring eighty photos from my latest trip which took place this past late August/ early September.
Last month while visiting the in-laws, my wildly creative artist mother in law Deb Mell and I collaborated on some photos of her two grandchildren (and my niece and nephew) Zara (4) and Beckett (4 months). Earlier in the summer we had all visited D.C. and popped into a handful of museums including the Hirshhorn. At some point Deb and I found ourselves strolling silently through a photo gallery more or less unimpressed until our gazes became simultaneously fixed upon a single image of a harshly lit lone figure standing in the woods. It was delightfully creepy and I was not surprised when she asked if when I visited next we’d subject Zara and Beckett to a similar sitting. So here it is. Two creepy kids in the woods.
Natasha and I went wandering through the Forbidden Trail along the Wissahickon Creek the other day. We climbed steep slippery slopes (stairs provided to aid hikers), encountered threatening wildlife (some dog playing in the water) and forded the deep rushing whitewater river (wading up to our ankles to cross back to the side of the creek our car was on) All in all a lovely wander.
I Spent the day at Peace Rock in Hamburg, PA with a lovely group of friends. I didn’t want to bring out the top level gear as I knew I’d be swimming most of the time and leaving thousand’s of dollars of camera equipment on the sandy shores while I swam around seemed unsettling. So I decided to dust off the trusty ol’ 7D and I’m quite happy I did. Been relying on the 5D MK III for quite some time but sometimes you need the high frame rate to catch all the craziness that unfolds around you. It was 40 feet from the top of the rock to the river below and despite having jumped 15+ times this old dude put me to shame with this one rad dive. Well done sir. I will never have the guts to join your ranks.
I loaded up the photos into iMovie and put this little clip together. Sound effects added for your viewing pleasure.
On May 24th I participated in a photo show at a pop up gallery in the Frankford section of Philadelphia. The temporary gallery space is called Destination Frankford and the theme of the show I contributed to was Rediscover. The opening was great and the photos alone from that day necessitate their own post which is soon to follow. Leslie Kaufmann who is at the helm of the project really is a visionary and has accomplished something quite spectacular. Please visit the Desintation Frankford website for more info. The third and final show in the series is opening tomorrow and will run through July 26. It revolves around the theme Reanimate and features work by the Philadelphia Sculptors.
Here’s my bit
“The idea of trying to rediscover Philadelphia, which has such a rich history, was initially stifling. I attempted to flesh out a series that explored the physical change that the city is currently undergoing. It’s hard not to notice all the new condo developments popping up overnight like weeds in the summer time. What I ended up focusing on was not change but the ordinary surroundings in which I weave through on a daily basis. I focused on the often-ignored scenery that I pass by on my way to work, the store, bike riding and so on. I brought that backdrop to the forefront and at each location found a piece of scrap wood that I would use to present my image on. This not only allows for a visual representation of where I’ve been but a physical one as well. I ended up discovering the weird yet pedestrian environment I generally ignore and used gave new life to what would most likely end up as rotting garbage. ”
Check out the images below, before they’ve been transferred and the final product. The transfers don’t photograph too well but look killer in person. I printed them 11″ x 17″ and cut the wood i found down to fit.