Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hall of Mirrors

Reflections are kind of fun.Mirrored surfaces. They're only self portraits to a degree - the face is usually obscured by the very camera and lens taking the picture. Perhaps that makes them more accurate a self portrait than an otherwise staged shot? I'd like to think so.

This first shot to the right was taken in the Spring of 2010. Dennis was my roommate for a good while, and we shared a common group of friends that stuck together well after High School. Often times we'd meet up at Starbucks, catch up on our exploits since the last gathering, have some fun, drink some coffee... a good time. And, being the group shutterbug, I always had a camera in hand to snap away during the meeting. It just seemed like the right thing to be doing at such a low-key, friendly rendezvous. This shot in particular was made with the 35mm f/1.8 on my old Nikon D40x. I liked how the sun bled over the back of his hat with how this image was metered... man, do I miss that lens.

Just a couple weeks later and I snapped myself in the rear view mirror of my good friend Roman's car as he gave me a most appreciated one-man tour of Pittsburgh and its surrounding areas. I've always had a curious affinity for Pittsburgh - something about the people and how every class of citizen seems to blend in areas of occupation, the way its landscape transitions from rolling mountains to river valleys to plateaus, how commercial districts feature sunset overlooks of long dead industrial relics, it tickles both my dystopian musings and love of people adapted to melting-pot culture. Roman drove me around the city quite literally for days, showing me grand waterfalls, dilapidated buildings and industrial foundries, overlooks that simply don't exist in or anywhere near my home town, and I couldn't help but to snap away furiously the whole time. Pretty sure this particular image was taken while we were some ways north of the city, north of his home town, just before he brought me to Beaver Falls and I took some gorgeous waterfall photographs. I'd love to revisit the area with him some day. Again, the 35mm f/1.8 treated me well.

May of that same year I involved myself in a volunteer organization that had quickly made a large footprint in the charity world. Although the group had two avid photographers, they felt a need for a dedicated "camera guy", and so I was brought on board to both help with rest stop activities during charity marathons and biking events and snap photos of their exploits as appropriate (and they are indeed a photogenic group). My first working event with them was the 2010 MS Chesapeake Challenge, a biking fundraiser run annually by the Maryland MS Society. The entire event surrounded a college which had graciously volunteered its spaces and services in support of the event. Aside from providing the empty dorms as sleeping spaces to volunteers for the 3-day event, the cafeteria was also open in the mornings, fully staffed and serving absolutely delicious breakfast. Before diving into action setting up rest stops and serving wearied bikers, we all had a chance to converse and relax ourselves in the most classy of college meal spaces. I hadn't yet picked up my new GF1, and thus was still shooting the complete Nikon system I'd spent years assembling. If I could return to this point in time, kick myself with a studded steal-toe boot and stamp "IDIOT" on my past self's forehead, I would. The D40x body was old, and the GF1 certainly served me well in the kind of shooting I had an interest pursuing, but I should have never sacrificed one to attain the other. My photo-documentation of the achievements of the aforementioned volunteer group continues, but without the system I had previously assembled it has certainly become a degree harder. Granted, that was when trying to photograph their actions with the GF1 - perhaps it will be different with the E-P3, especially when equipped with my as-yet-needed VF-2 (or VF-3) and a good prime. Oh, and the XZ-1 to fill in all the gaps.

Have I mentioned I'm in love with the E-P3 + fast prime + XZ-1 combo yet?

Anyway, the above image was snapped while having breakfast with the other volunteers. I mentioned that the sunglasses on this gentleman's face made him look like the Unibomber, at which point I moved in to snap a shot as the person sitting beside me saw an opportunity to play keep-away with his glasses.

Immediately following the weekend with the volunteer group, a good friend of mine from Philadelphia happened to visit for an extended weekend stay. This fellow photographer, Ted, is largely responsible for my current photographic musings and general direction. While I had always dabbled in the photography of abandoned and vacant spaces, while I had always found them fascinating, I never felt a particularly strong sense of motivation to pursue those subjects. Given how much Ted and I enjoyed each others' company to begin with, we began to make excuses for our rendezvous by calling upon our mutual interest in photographing our mutually appreciated subject. Not that the excuse was ever needed, we managed to have a good time regardless of whether or not we opted to explore on any given day, but it was an opportunity for us to deepen our relationship. Very few people shared the kind of interests we shared, and even fewer were willing to indulge in those interests with others. Exercising our in-common hobby brought the bond to a brotherly level.

While exploring a certain hospital, a partially spherical mirror caught our attention. It was the kind used to see around corners, an asset to avoid collision. Whereas most had been smashed to sharp daggers of glass, this one remained quite in tact. It called for a photo. Still a Nikon guy at this point.

And so a giant chasm in my people-centric shooting began. My interest in sitting at Starbucks to enjoy coffee with friends waned. Asbestos was my new calling cologne. Mold and mud and rot coated my vision, and flakes of rust peeled off from my muse. I proceeded to make the first mistake commonly made by those who feel invigorated by something new - I indulged it too much. The muse was pursued too hard. Recklessly, and with wanton disregard for personal safety and consequence. And honestly, it's a phase of inspired artistic pursuit I'm still not entirely clear of. But unlike the shortsighted person of the year past, I'd at least like to think I've assembled some sort of logic, a standard of sense by which to judge my yet-made decisions and actions.

This image, the last I can seem to find from the past year's hall of mirrors, bears a hint of my past foolishness. Though perhaps not a focal point, focused or all that clear, I can see the indent and bloody scab of a rusted metal pipe to the head I endured just hours earlier. A sendoff from the power station I had been photographing that day. It required me to make a panicked trip to the hospital for a tetanus shot I'd neglected to get prior. Coincidentally enough, my grandfather was taken to the same hospital that very day, and instead of directly leaving I spent some time with family, some of which had already been there for quite some time. Though the general sum of focus was duly placed on my grandfather, the stained bandage on my forehead demanded explanation, and not one to lie I retold my earlier adventure in detail. That may be the point at which family began questioning my exceptionally fringe lifestyle.

On the way home hunger struck, and so I pulled into the Taco Bell of my hometown to pick up food for myself and my partner at home. The light was nice, a good blend of twilight and colors as they were projected from the drive-through signage. It begged a snap.

Something wonderful about photographs, no matter the medium and no matter the format, single still moments captured conjure a wealth of memories.