James River Batteau Festival

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.


Golden Sunset

How many storms have I been through? How many sunsets? And yet some particular combination of temperature, humidity, time of day and location created this unreal scene. After an intense but brief lightening storm driving through Central Virginia, the setting sunlight wrapped the entire landscape and sky in a golden blanket. The colors are impossible to recreate on a computer but I recall the scene being every bit as vivid as these photos.




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.