Instead of freezing in Minneapolis as usual, I was able to travel in Mexico during the Christmas/New Years holiday this year, visiting Huatulco, Oaxaca, and Mexico City. It was amazing to see so much culture compressed and layered, getting glimpses of ancient to modern, urban to rural and all the colors in between. As with every trip, especially the ones with good food a comfortable exchange rate, I wish I had been able to stay longer. But we packed in lots of stops and sights and I tried to make the most of the photo ops I came across along the way.
This past year I’ve found myself taking more photos just for fun. Although I loved working in the high-stress, fast-paced newsroom environment, I felt like I lost some of my style after a few years at the paper. I was too tired at the end of the day to go out and play around with photography like I used to. I never stopped enjoying shooting and I am proud of the work I did but it was definitely work. And I feel like there is some part of the art of the medium that I had lost touch with.
To stimulate new creativity, I’ve ended up in new places and tried out new styles. Lynchburg photographer @jeremykeesee and I have gone out a few times to explore and photograph abandoned structures around Central Virginia. I never know what we are going to find and each location has a completely different vibe. After just a few steps down an empty hallway, paint chips crunching underfoot and beautiful light pouring in from broken windows, it is hard to resist the urge to start shooting. Every room tells a new story and every tiny detail holds some clue about the space’s past. In an abandoned house, there is always the question of “what happened?” And the sense that we may be the first (and possibly the last) people to visit these places since they were left to fall apart.
With no real “moments” to look for, shooting in these spaces, for me, becomes all about light, composition, and color–the fundamental components of photography. Moving through an empty building and using these elements to convey a mood is a meditative exercise. Shooting with another photographer can feel competitive but I have grown to really appreciate collaborative photographic efforts. I like comparing my take with another to see what we were both drawn to and how we saw the same scene differently.
I took a trip to attend a wedding in Vermont a few weeks ago and didn’t know what camera to bring. When I am hired to shoot weddings I bring my fancy DSLR with several lenses and flashes. But as a guest that setup it isn’t good for casual shooting and general portability. (Plus I always worry about people spilling drinks on it when I set it down to dance.) I considered one of my film cameras but, frankly, I’m rusty and I didn’t want end up wasting a bunch of film for no good reason. I shoot a lot with my iPhone but I’ve noticed that when one person has a phone out, other people take theirs out as a reflex which ruins the mood. So I decided to try out my new(ish) Holga Digital. It totally sucks and I would never recommend buying one but it was definitely the right choice for this trip.
To start with, it looks like a miniature version of the classic Holga. It is made of durable plastic and weighs next to nothing. There are two switches, one to select color or black-and-white and another to select f8.0 or f2.8. It has no screen to preview or review photos. The shutter speed is handled by some simple software; the metadata showed a range from 1/35 to 1/8000. There is some shutter delay that I don’t quite understand. The image quality is super low and it tends to put itself to sleep more othen than I’d like. That said, I ended up with some neat shots and some happy accidents. I lost a lot of shots I had hoped would turn out but I also discovered a number of keepers that I don’t even remember taking. I also loved that it was very non-intrusive. We like to review photos immediately (“Let me see that one!!”) which tends to lead to more photos (“Wait, take another one like this!!”) and/or a discussion about appearances (“No, delete that, I look terrible!!”). The Holga Digital left all of that up to chance and it left me free to actually experience my trip.
I was in Charleston over the weekend on a personal trip and found out about the “Bridge to Peace” unity walk. They expected 5,000-6,000 people to cross the iconic Arthur Ravenel Bridge at sunset to symbolize the city’s unity after the horrific massacre last week. I decided to go along and photograph my experience. Seeing so many people all come together at the same time with the same peaceful purpose was powerful and energizing. The local paper estimated 10,000-15,000 people attended.
I recently realized that I haven’t yet posted any photos from my new job at Randolph College. Like the students I photograph every day, I have learned a lot in this semester back at school. I’ve felt drawn to this school since I moved here in 2010. The spired, stately, brick buildings overlook one of the main roads through Lynchburg and they always seem to glow in the sunlight; out the back there are incredible views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Many of my first friends in Lynchburg were students or alums of Randolph. Which may not sound surprising until you consider that the school’s entire enrollment is under 700. Although I miss many things about the college life I see around me, I am very happy to be climbing my way out of the student debt hole rather than digging further in. I’ve kept busy on this 100-acre campus and enjoyed some different kinds of assignments for the school’s magazines and web sites. The title of this post is the school’s motto, which translates to “A Life More Abundant.” It is simple but really speaks to the heart of what, I think, secondary education can provide at its best (plus it makes you sound smart to use Latin words). This is a very random sample of photos from Randolph from the last year.
Keys for the Hill City is a new public art installation in Lynchburg: 5 donated pianos were decorated by local high school students and placed along Main Street for anyone to use. I have played them a few times in passing and regularly see people use them on their lunch breaks or while walking around in the evenings. We are all hoping they are treated well so they come back again next year. I followed students at Brookville for a month as they worked their piano and put it together as a slideshow after it was unveiled.
I was in the next town over when I heard there was a train derailment about three blocks from my apartment. Booked it back and was able to find some vantage points as local and state police pushed everyone back and secured the site. Last I heard no one was hurt but the crude oil that spilled will be terrible for the river health. More updates tomorrow, I’m sure.
I’ve been watching a lot of HGTV lately and covering this home renovation assignment was a bit like walking onto the set of one of their shows. A crew of volunteers with the organization Rebuilding Together Lynchburg had projects going in every room of this house. From a hole in the roof to old wires in the basement, this house, and its owner, were in need of some help.