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A New Day…

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6am in the rain.

The sound of raindrops on my umbrella.

The sound of tires on wet pavement.

House lights come on.

Street light go out.

The city begins to wake.

I like how the air smells,

How the light looks.

So I snap a photo.

Then hop a bus to work.

Another day begins.

Stalking Bellocq.

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 “We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us.”

— Ralph Hattersley

So I just returned from New Orleans. Well, two days ago. But in many ways the city is still with me. The uniqueness of the place has not fully sweat from my pores. This was my fourth or fifth time to New Orleans. The first time I was there was the late 80’s when I lived and worked there for a very brief time. But I haven’t been back in almost twenty years. I’ve also never been there during August. I was expecting the heat and humidity but nothing could have prepared me for it. As one local commented on the heat, “Yes, it pretty much sucks the oxygen out of the air.” I had gone there for a bit of relaxation, and to take photos and drink beer. I accomplished all three.

Whenever  I find myself in an old historic city I can feel the ghosts of those before me (metaphorically, not literally). And  sometimes I’ll create my own sort of walking tours. In Greenwich Village, for example, I did a bit of research and walked around to places where Khalil Gibran lived, worked, and drank. In San Fransisco I hunted the old beat hangouts of Kerouac. And thus on this trip I stalked E.J. Bellocq.

Bellocq worked as a commercial photographer in New Orleans about 90 years ago, mostly in the French quarter where he spent his entire life. But he also had a secret side to his life in photography. He kept secret that besides his day job as commercial photographer he also photographed the prostitutes of Storyville, which at the time was a legalized red light district.

This at first may seem a bit pervy…a guy photographing prostitutes and not telling anyone about it. But it is the contrary. Yes of course some of the models are shown unclothed, but many were partially or fully clothed. He showed them in the places the lived and worked. In short, he showed their humanity. And it is beautiful. Keep in mind that while prostitution was legal having these photos at the time was not, they would have been considered pornographic and could have resulted in jail time at the very least, and even worse in many ways, personal and public disgrace. Click here to see a good representation of his work.

It’s interesting to note that his photos were never developed in his lifetime. Plates of his photos were discovered in an old slave’s quarters on St. Peter Street behind the Preservation of Jazz. Many of the plates were water damaged and some even had the faces of some of the models intentionally scratched away. There is a great article written at Exquisite Corpse that goes into this in more depth, to read that story, click here.

The morning after my arrival to New Orleans I headed out to St. Louis Cemetery #3 as this is where I had read that is remains were buried. I thought I’d pay him homage, but to no avail. On this day the temperature peaked in the mid 90’s and at the cemetery there was no shade. It hurt to walk around. I often visit famed cemeteries in historic places and was surprised to find that not only was there no office to offer information there was no information to be had anywhere. There were a few tours going on and I interrupted them to ask information but no one could offer any. Seeing a worker’s van down one of the long rows I approached it to find a man sleeping in the air conditioning. After startling him awake he did offer me general advice but nothing concrete. I approached another worker, this one spoke broken or at least heavy accented English. I am usually pretty good at picking up an accent upon hearing it but could not place this sweating and jovial man’s language. It wasn’t until he spoke into his walkie talkie that I realized he was speaking a form of French…Cajun French. But alas, still no info.

The cemetery is vast and as aforementioned has no shade so I began walking back towards the road to seek the shade of a tree. But not wanting to give up I googled additional info as I walked. Sweat was literally dripping from me and onto the screen of my iPhone. I emailed a person who had posted a picture of Bellocq’s grave and surprisingly she emailed me back right away. Unfortunately she could not remember the exact location but only general area. I did go back and look again but to no avail (though I did find the family tomb of Chef Paul Prudomme). At any rate, with the risk of severe sunburn or heat collapse I left the cemetery but  know that I had likely walked right past his grave as they all look so similar.

Over the course of the next few evenings I did what I came here to do…walk around and take photos. The temperature would dip to about 80F in the evening so it was still rather stifling. As I  walked I’d make a point of stopping at addresses that were once home to Bellocq’s studios…Rue Conti, Ursulines, Burgundy. And I’d try to  imaging what it must have been like to haul that heavy photography equipment of his day through this heavy heat.

As I walked I also thought about all the places I have been where I myself have walked at night with my camera on one shoulder, tripod on another, and a belly full of beer. In many this was a sort of deja vue as I had walked these same streets thirty years prior with a camera and tripod. In those days it was with my old 35mm camera, whose prints of that time are mostly lost or packed away in some box in an attic or closet in which I cannot find. When I was here during that time I was so young and had no idea of all that lay before me. I have done so much since then…have changed so much but at the same time am still very much the same. And it occurred to me as I walked that I was not only stalking the ghost of Bellocq but also that of my younger self.

To read a very nice article written about Bellocq for the Smithsonian, click here.

Urban Simplicity.

N.F., ON, CA.

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So I’ve had the past few days off of work, on a sort of staycation to save money. But I wanted to do something out of the norm and took the #40 bus to the Falls. It picks you up in downtown Buffalo and drops you off in downtown Niagara Falls, one city block from the Rainbow Bridge. And all for the whopping price of $2 (here’s the schedule if you are interested). Anyhow, I wanted to be at the Falls as the light changed but when I arrived I was a bit too early. So I walked up the very touristy Clifton Hill and had some pizza and a truly over-priced beer. Thus satiated, and it approaching dusk, I walked the mile or so down to the overlook on the brink of the Horseshoe Falls at Table Rock Center. After negotiating my way to the perfect spot, I set up my tripod, put the camera on it, and snapped a shot. I then took the same shot every 15 or 20 minutes. These photos are the result. After the first shot, because of the light change, I had to use a slower shutter speed (which I love), and that results in the sort of smooth look the falls take on in the remaining photos.  Click any photo for a larger view. To see a series of photos from this same spot from about 2 years ago, click here.

Urban Simplicity.

Chasing Light…

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So as many of you know I have been voluntarily car-free for a few years now. It does have it’s hardships now and again (I’d be fibbing if I said otherwise) but the good far outweighs the negative (as is with most things in life). This said, one of the things I love about being on a bike is seeing all that is around me and in all weather conditions. And two of my favorite times to shoot photos are dawn and dusk. I am up at dawn a few times a week for work but usually do not have time to take photos, thus most of them are shot at dusk. The French have a phrase for these times of day…l’heure bleue (the blue hour) because of the distinctive blue hue the sky often takes and the way colors are enhanced. A camera has three ways in which one can manipulate how much light enters it and for how long, this is called the “exposure triangle.” There is also, of course, post-upload software to help enhance photos. But with the camera itself, and the software, nothing can compare to what natural light offers to a photo. And with this in mind–when I have the intention of going out to take photos in the evening–I usually time it…I check the sunset time and head out with enough time to set up my camera and have a beer or glass of wine. The thing is I often under-shoot the time, meaning I cut myself short and have to hurry. Sometimes I think I must look like a crazy person; the waterfront is about 2 or 3 miles from my house and I can only imagine the sight of me…a middle aged guy on a bike pedaling as fast as he can while looking at the sky. The perfect light only lasts minutes, sometimes seconds; one minute can drastically change a photo’s look. This is why I think of it as “chasing light.”

Urban Simplicity.

A Poem by Edwina Gateley…

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 Photos taken at Buffalo Harbor 7.12.15

Let Your God Love You

Be silent.

Be still.
Alone.
Empty
Before your God.
Say nothing.
Ask nothing.
Be silent.
Be still.
Let your God look upon you.
That is all.
God knows.
God understands.
God loves you
With an enormous love,
And only wants
To look upon you
With that love.
Quiet.
Still.
Be.

Let your God
Love you.

Urban Simplicit

This is Bob…

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This is Bob (Bob Dendy to be exact…sorta like dandy only with an “e,” he told me). Just when I thought I’ve met every eccentric person in Allentown along comes Bob…wearing striped shorts, wide tie, suspenders, colorful sneakers, and socks pulled up tight. I was out doing one of my favorite pastimes (though I haven’t in a while)…going out for a few beers and taking photos of my eclectic neighborhood. Anyhow, I had a beer and was waiting for the light to change as my favorite time to take photos is but there is still light in the sky which gives it a lovely blue hue (hence it’s designation). And there I was, a pint of beer in my belly and feeling somewhat stunned from lack of sleep, setting up my tripod, when I hear, “Hello…hi…what are you doing?” It was Bob. He was carrying a milk-crate full of stuff and told me he was an educator. When I asked who he educated he told me anyone who would listen. So I listened; I love to hear peoples stories. It turns out Bob is from Toronto; apparently grew up there and here. When I asked if I could take his photo he darted in front of the camera, “Well if you want to. Just tell me what to do.” And when I asked him if he would hold his crate of stuff he grabbed it and said, “Oh, now you want to make it real.” We talked for about 20 minutes, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It turns out there are a lot of coincidences in our lives. When we parted and shook hands I could tell by the callouses on his hands that he has lived a life of hard work. He never did tell me what he taught, but I learned a few things from him. I learned (or at least remembered), that everyone has a story, and this is what I find fascinating. I declined his offer to stop by his place for a beer (turns out I know the person that owns the house he lives in), but nonetheless, people like Bob are what keep life interesting, at least for me.

Urban Simplicity.

Not since 1885…

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The above photo is of the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site, which is where Teddy Roosevelt was sworn in as the 26th president of the United States after the assassination of William McKinley in 1901. The building was originally built in 1839 as a a sort of army barracks outpost to ward of those crazy Anglo-Canadians (wink wink). But that’s not what this post is about. This is about what happened–or didn’t happen–in 1885, which actually has something to do with today. If you notice the photo above is on an ever so slight slant, that is because my fingers were in pain from the cold as I held the camera. Today nearly set a record. In February of 1885 Mark Twain (former Buffalonian) published the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the Washington Monument was dedicated, and Grover Cleveland (former mayor of Buffalo) was inaugurated as the first democratic president since the Civil War.  But also, in the 145 years since the weather has been recorded there was only one day that was colder than today, and that was February 11, 1885 when the temperatures did not reach above -4F. Today it made it to -3F. That doesn’t even make sense to me when I use it in a sentence…”today’s high was minus 3″…I understand the words but how they are arranged seems confusing. The house I live in was built around 1860, and with my steam boiler churning away and logs roaring in the wood-burner it is nice and toasty, but I can only imagine how they kept warm 130 years ago. And with the roller-coaster weather we consistently have these days, if you happen to be a climate change denier please un-follow me and this blog because there is no longer anything to deny. Anyhow, below are a few more photos I took this evening. I was actually warm on the bike (which is pictured in the bottom photo), but when I took off my mitts for just a minute to control the camera my fingers began to sting; it hurt to breath sometimes so I kept a scarf around my face which froze with my body’s own condensation; when I blinked my eyelashes would stick together from watering/freezing. Tonight’s low is supposed to be -14 and I have a two mile ride at 8am, so please send positive energy my way. Click any photo for a larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

Stop Making Sense…a few things I saw while riding my bike today.

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I don’t have to prove…that I am creative.

~David Byrne

So I mentioned recently that I–like so many others–have been ill with the common cold. And because of this I have been basically doing nothing around the house…sort of self-sequestered. And because of this my spirits have been low. If there are two things that bring me down they are physical inactivity and creative inactivity…so this has been the perfect storm. Thus said, this evening I bundled up–layer upon layer–and loaded some camera gear on my bike and went out on a very cold evening for a very slow ride and a few photos. Physically I am not cured, but emotionally and spiritually I am. It is, in fact, just what the doctor may have ordered. Click any photo for a slightly larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

On the waterfront…

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Today I went down to Buffalo’s Outer Harbor in search of the elusive snowy owl that has taken up home in Western New York. And no, I did not ride my bike the six miles each way in these frigid temperatures, I used Buffalo Car Share. To be honest, I actually contemplated it but am glad I did not…the high today was like 15F and when I got to the shore of the lake the wind was so strong that I had to lean into it and brace myself to take a photo…my hands were frozen (as I took my leather mitts off to adjust and snap the camera) and I had to remember to hold the lens cap (which is attached to the camera by a string) or the wind would whip it around and it would smack me in the side of the head. Thus said, I have to admit that it was nice to find refuge in the warmth of a car in between photos. But alas, I did not see a snowy owl…or a fox, or a coyote, or a deer, or a falcon, or an eagle (all of which live in the area). In fact, the only “animals” I did see were other photographers in search of snowy owls. But, despite the wind burning and bone chilling cold, I really enjoyed myself and was in awe of the power of Mother Nature, and was (and still am) thankful to live in proximity to such an incredible natural resource (it’s a 20 minute bike ride in nicer weather). Anyhow, click any photo for a slightly larger view.


Urban Simplicity.

The view from my handlebars on a crisp winter’s evening…

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Urban Simplicity.

Playing with light, color, and motion…

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“The principle person in a picture is light.”

~Edouard Manet

So yesterday I took the metro bus to Niagara Falls. Even though I live very close to to this incredible natural wonder I rarely get there. I went with the main purpose of taking photos, and being there was sort of like being a tourist in my own backyard. The bus ride incredibly cost a mere $2.00 each way and dropped me off  just 500 feet from the Rainbow Bridge (if you are local and would like the bus schedule, here it is). I arrived in late afternoon and, after having a lunch at an inexpensive Indian restaurant, walked across the bridge and was immediately thrust into tourist-ville. I walked about a mile down to the horseshoe falls and snapped a few photos but really wanted evening photos during l’heure bleue, and also later when the falls were lit with colored spotlights. I had time to kill until the sun began to set, so I walked up the uber-touristy Clifton Hill and had a couple over-priced but really delicious Canadian beers. After the beers were drunk, the sun had begun to set, and I felt sufficiently satiated, I headed back out to the horseshoe falls area. To capture that point when the sun has set but there is still light in the sky is often what I try to do. It is, I feel, one of the most magical times of the day, but you really only have a window of about 20 or 30 minutes. It’s all about the light, it really is. And this is something that fascinates me about photography…learning how to manipulate it. There are three ways in which to manipulate light and motion using your camera. Please excuse me if you are a pro or already know this, as I feebly attempt to explain this in the most basic terms and description…because this is really for myself as I am an ongoing student. Anyhow, the three ways are this…ISO, which adjusts the camera’s sensitivity to light; a high ISO makes the camera more sensitive, allowing more light to be captured, but it also creates a lot of “noise,” or distortion in the photo, thus most often a lower ISO is desired. The other two ways are aperture, which adjusts how much light is allowed in the camera, and shutter speed which not only allows how long the shutter is open–allowing light into the camera for specific lengths of time–but also purposely blurs certain images when a slow shutter speed is used. Why, you may ask, am I boring you with this? Because this info is pertinent to these photos and why I have four of the same photo but at different camera setting and at different times of the day. The two most distinct examples of this are in the first two images below…they were shot only about a minute apart. The next one was shot after the sun had just set, and the one after that after the sun had fully set and they began to illuminate the falls. The very bottom photo is one I took as I walked back towards the bridge on my way home; it is, of course, the Skylon Tower with lights shining on the falls. And lastly (or should I say firstly), the photo above is of the American Falls as seen from the Canadian side at night. One final note…though I have been to the falls multiple times in my lifetime, when I approached the edge of the horseshoe falls I was quite literally in awe. It really is incredible to see them so close. It really reminded me that I am not in control of anything. Click any photo for a slightly larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

A cold evening ride and a few things that I saw…

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Last evening after I left work–after rushing around a busy kitchen all day–I really needed some fresh air and the evening felt so crisp and nice I grabbed my camera and went for a brief ride. I headed down to Canalside because I wanted to see the brand new ice rink that just opened. While there I rode through the Naval Park and past the USS Croaker (pictured below), and on my way home I rode down desolate and quiet Main Street, which is currently being rehabbed to bring cars back but also inclusive to bicycles and pedestrians (second from the bottom). Anyhow, the ride was just what I needed, and I thought I’d share some of the pictures I took along the way. Click any for a larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

A few things I saw while riding my bike recently….

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Urban Simplicity.

The view from my handlebars on a crisp autumn evening…

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Urban Simplicity.

A few things I saw while riding my bike this evening…

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It was chilly and blustery this evening. Really blustery. I had gotten out of work early and then abruptly invited to an impromptu bachelorette party (yup) and when it ended just as quickly as it began I found myself a few beers in and it was only 5pm. I couldn’t just go home, I thought. So despite the chill and the wind I packed up my camera gear and rode down to Canalside.With the summer season being over it was essentially empty, and it was truly beautiful. Anyhow, I took a bunch of photos at dusk and and then early dark. Theses are a few of my favorites. Click any for a somewhat larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

Moon Stalker…

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Okay. So first of all I have to apologize for all the moon photos. But I really couldn’t help myself. If you saw the super moon you know what I am talking about. It was just so incredibly beautiful. This is really a continuation of this post, where I went out and took photos in the moonlight while standing on the Michigan Avenue Bridge. The photos on this page were actually shot over the course of two night, all from the same vantage point of the Bird Island Pier but at different times and using different camera adjustments. The only three photos that were not facing east towards Buffalo are pretty obvious in this group…two below this text is an image of the point where Lake Erie spills into the very mouth of the Niagara river and begins it’s 25 mile trek to the Falls, and below that is the Peace Bridge, and the last photo is the sunset looking west at Canada. Sorry again if I’m boring you with so many photos…it’s so peaceful out there on the pier at night and I shot more than a hundred photos. These are just a few of my favorites. Click any for a larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

The Peace Bridge in the Evening…

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I shot these while out on a bike ride this evening. I have been in love with Buffalo’s waterfront this summer. It runs along two sides of the city and is so easily accessible by bike and is such a sanctuary. For those who are reading this from other parts of the country or world, the Peace bridge is the bridge that crosses the Niagara River from Buffalo, NY to Fort Erie, ON, connecting the United States and Canada. And this is right in my back yard. The top and bottom images were shot from the exact same location (from the lift bridge over the Black Rock Channel) but and hour apart (notice what the change of light does to the photo). The middle photo was taken when I rode about halfway out the bird Island Pier.

Urban Simplicity.

The view from my handlebars 5.28.14

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Allentown

Buffalo, NY

Urban Simplicity.

A couple things I saw while riding my bike today…

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 Well, I said I wouldn’t do any “work” today–Memorial Day–but I did. Worked in my garden, did some writing, stuff around the house, etc. So after dinner I was sort of driving myself a little nuts and thought I’d go for an evening bike ride. I of course snapped a few photos along the way. Here’s a couple of them.Click either for a slightly larger view.


Urban Simplicity.

A Photobomb and a Few Words…

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I may have mentioned before, but for me at times photography is a form of stress relief and in some cases even therapy. There is something about looking through a lens and focusing on something–whether it is a full city scape or a close up of a leaf–that takes me inward and to a soothing place. Not always, but sometimes. And I’m also finding it can be a bit of comic relief as well. Anyhow, yesterday, after working a day-long shift facing a stove I thought I’d snap a few photos on my way home as a way to chill out a bit. The first photo I took is the one above. I had the camera on a tripod and set on self-timer as it was dusk (l’heure bleue), which is my favorite time because the light really shimmers and intensifies. And as the camera was beeping and ready to shoot a guy–who I do not know–runs in front of the camera just as the shutter opens saying, “I wanna get me my picture taken.” Thanks random guy…this still makes me smile and laugh.

Urban Simplicity

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