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.
Every year the Batteau Festival sneaks up on me, and every year I regret not taking the week off. Right now, a number of my friends are making their way from Lynchburg to Richmond on simple, unwieldy boats known as “batteaux.” Over eight days, 15-20 of these boats navigate the James River, accompanied by dozens of kayakers and stand-up paddle boarders who camp with them along the shore each night. They endure all kinds of weather as they make their way 120 miles through Central Virginia just as the river traders did centuries ago. On Saturday night, at least, the weather was perfect. After the sun set and candle lanterns glowed in the dark, I walked out onto one batteau that was tethered to the shore and felt like I stepped back in time. There was a warm breeze and all I could hear were frogs croaking and the rush of the water. Around one lantern on a nearby boat, several people sat talking, dressed historically as the original boatmen would have, in simple, loose, light-colored cotton shirts and pants. Of course, there are plenty of modern conveniences that help now—propane cookstoves, electric bilge pumps, weather tracking apps—but there is something valuable about preserving traditions like this one. I’m already looking forward to next year.
Each time Sara talked about the shoot she wanted to do, it got more elaborate, eventually including makeup and costumes somewhere in the woods. Then one Saturday afternoon in November, when we were both stressed out about other things and in need of a break, we decided to scrap the plans and just go shoot. We didn’t even know where we were going when we started driving.
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.
There are some great shots on Instagram from @alexpenfornis and @trashhand, and thousands of photos tagged with #abandonedplaces, #dilapidatedvisuals, and #discarded_butnot_forgotten if you want to see more.
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.