Motivated by Loss

Death may not seem like a topic for motivation. However, the emotions we experience with the loss of someone in our family a friend or just someone we spent time with are powerful currents of perception. We can’t avoid the loss of people in our lives just as we cannot escape our own departure. It is a shared perspective, but a truly unique, experience. It is an emotional cocktail of grief & relief when we say Rest in Peace.

For me, imagery plays an important part in that grieving process. When I look at the world around me I see transitions that I can relate to the cycle of life. The Natural World provides some comfort when I see all around me the passing of one phase of life leading to a new beginning.

 It doesn’t matter if it is natural or tragic, sudden or prolonged, in another part of the world or on our street; when we hear the news of the passing of someone that was a part of our lives we react to a new reality. Our lives do go on but with something missing.What remains are memories. We look to our past experiences thru a curtain of loss while remembering the moments we shared.

I find solace in water.Constantly in motion, rain, clouds & streams evolve as they journey to the sea. The diversity is amazing just like the experiences in our lives &those we shared those times with. There is no returning to the moments of life that have drifted by.

After hearing a National Park Ranger say “Water Always Wins” I have often found myself repeating it. It is also a metaphor for the fact that death is an inevitable part of life. I see each of our lives flowing downstream into something larger than itself.

Some find comfort in the dogma of religion. It offers a path to understanding questions, which have no answer. Our grief is enveloped with families & friends in a communal ritual of customs to honor the life of the deceased. Time does not heal all wounds. The new reality has a scar we can’t ignore.

The inspiration I get from death does not have a direct impact on my photography. It has more of an impact on how I will try to use the days ahead of me with the memories of people I have lost.  I try to see things in ways others may ignore. With my camera, which is an extension of my mind’s eye, I try to capture images that show the world I am living in. It can make my life seem fuller. Calm waters.


Motivated by a New Opportunity

01I don’t consider myself a competitive person. However, I enjoy the challenge of capturing compelling images of others in sporting events. Mud on the Mountain at Seven Springs seemed like it would offer a variety of new opportunities for my mind’s eye.

02 copyThe weather was cooperative & the runners were enthusiastic subjects. Unfortunately, I had not done enough planning to know where the Mud Pit or other messy locations were & missed one of my primary goals of photographing tight muddy faces.

03A wide perspective the scale of the challenge, an important part of the story. It sets up the impact of tight shots. Atop the Laurel Highlands, I found this migration of competitors that reminded me of images from the Klondike Gold Rush. It’s a different environment & perspective from climbers in single file hiking up a snow-covered pass. In my mind, the push of human endurance was a common element. I also imagined the stark contrast when the terrain was snow covered with skiers speeding in the opposite direction.

04This is my favorite tight action shot of the event. I had spotted her with the war-paint mask as a flight of runners was preparing to start. I immediately noticed attitude & knew if I saw her on the mountain she would have emotion & character on her face. I had found a good position with minimal distractions in the background as runners exited wading thru a lake. She was one of the 1st runners thru after I was in position. Her determination is profoundly obvious.

05In addition to the 7.7-mile run/hike up & down the mountain, there were 30 obstacles. I had zero experience with this type of event from a visual perspective. I wanted to explore perspectives. Although there were “elite runners” competing to win, I believe most of the athletes had a personal goal or focused on just finishing. I did see teamwork as well as athletes helping others beside them. I recognized Mud on the Mountain was as a true personal sporting challenge where collaboration met compettion.

06I’m not sure when or why the Halloween tradition of costumes seeped into many large events. These are not the typical outfits of the competitors. However, they do stand out! Full disclosure, I knew they were a trio of characters but I really had no idea who they were from. When they told me they were from Super Mario I felt foolish for my lack of gaming pop-culture.  My gamer engagement ended at Pac Man. If you don’t know ask.

06a copyI had walked around this climbing challenge 360 degrees before I found a position where the background was clear of distractions. Each runner found a unique way up, over & down. I had good framing with the lines of the wooden structure & the blue sky. Now all I needed was somebody to insert something other than their butt into the frame. Until I sorted the images I had no ideas she had stuck out her tongue when I pressed the shutter. It certainly wasn’t a reaction I anticipated. I knew the elements were in place for a good shot & her expression made it a winner.

6b copyEven though I never made it to the muddy challenges, this shot comes close to what I had seen in my mind’s eye. In this image, there are many stories on the face of this athlete. I find it interesting how the curving contrasting double necklines & the hint of the Batman logo set up his face while the horizontal orange headband divides my attention. A bad hair day can be a strong element. This is another one of my favorite portraits.

6cI believe it is rewarding to put challenges in front of you & attempt to go over them. It can be physical challenges like this event or exploring your creative skills outside of your comfort zone. That is what motivated me to go to this event with my camera. I might go again but if I do I will make sure I do the necessary planning to get to the muddier parts of the course. I can’t speak for any of the competitors that were on the mountain on that glorious spring day, but from my perspective, this runner is a good example of what this event is about. Giving your best attempt at doing what you set out to do.

 

 

 

Capturing the Moment in Sports

I look for moments highlighting the sport, the athlete or capture an interesting moment.

 

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The thrill of my career doing instant replay for live sporting telecasts was when I could take the footage of terrific camera operators & get it into the show.  Now with my still camera, sporting events are wonderful challenges to capture a story. Photojournalists are charged with getting the winning moment. I look for moments highlighting the sport, the athlete or capturing an interesting moment. It isn’t just winners who display emotions but many competitors have dramatic expressions. Panning the subjects adds the feeling of motion to this frame. I took the opportunity of the multiple laps in this race to find the best shutter speed to get the effect I was looking for.

02       Indeed racing sailboats is a competitive sport. However, my appreciation is the challenge the sailors have with harnessing the wind. Images that show the unseen force has on the sails highlights the beauty of the boat design. There are diverse styles of sailboats as well as “points of sail” which define how they move in relation to the wind. For sailors it is an ever-changing juggle of physics, geometry & nature. For photogs finding the balance of lighting & background with a subject with 360-degree options can be frustrating.

03Athletes talk about “space & time”. In this image of the Pittsburgh Rugby Club one opponent is flatfooted & one is changing direction as the ball carrier has full stride very much in control of space. Often in sports where numerous players are interacting, my favorite images involves multiple players. Close-ups have personal drama, but the nature of the sport can be best shown in shots where 2, 3 or more individuals are involved.

04 copyDuring my career I had the privilege of being places few individuals were allowed. I did my job in a professional manner & respected athletes & the fans. Working for NJ Devils, my responsibilities didn’t involve the game. I found hockey tremendously difficult with the speed, the obstacles & constant change of direction. I was always impressed with how Marty Brodeur acted in practice, in the locker room & after the game.  So I chose him to concentrate my on.  Also, he stayed basically in 1 position. I admire his concentration as Evgeni Malkin is ready to pounce on a chance to get the puck past him.

05One of the ancillary advantages of photography is you give your own images a title. I call this one is “Pass the Ketchup Please.” After the pros morning skate a group of hockey enthusiasts would frequently take the ice. I called them the AHL the Afternoon Hockey League. If the title makes you smile it is a good thing.

06 copyI just recently discovered this fascinating activity. A combination of surfing, sailing, wind surfing, wake-boarding, snowboarding & hang-gliding, I would describe it as dancing with the wind on water. Initially I was disappointed that my position on a cliff overlooking the water was so far away I couldn’t get tight shots of the athletes as they launched themselves into the air. I then realized that the wider shot, which included the sail, was the best way to illustrate this sport.

06aSometimes a moment catapults your mind back to an image without warning. As a pack approached an early turn during the 1500 I was looking at getting a group shot of the runners. Although I didn’t see, or capture, what caused the fall, I reacted to the mishap. Moments after snapping my shutter the iconic Sports Illustrated image of Mary Decker on the ground during the 1984 Olympics flooded my memory. I now follow David Burnett who took that shot. His legacy of work is very impressive and inspiring.

07I just bought a 28mm & was looking for a subject to tune my eyes to this prime lens. It was afternoon in late fall with the sun low in the sky. I drove by a skate park & saw young men on boards. I observed them doing tricks to determine a good position. Most positions had terrible backgrounds. In the bottom of the bowl there were no distractions. I also noticed the shadow of the lip on the curved bowl.  I waited until this skater, & his shadow, were in the right position. Gravity is a subtle subject in this picture.

08Crew in competition or practice displays power, grace & symmetry. In my mind, this image as the 8 “Boys in the Boat” still working together as they end their workout on the Charles River represents the teamwork necessary for this sport. The boat had carried them gliding across the water. Now, they carry their shell to the boathouse.

11I was watching these students with envy on a beautiful fall afternoon. The Tech Dinghies are not the most beautiful boats on the water but they have a charm all their own. When I realized newbies were getting experience on the water I saw the potential for this encounter. I think the lesson for both boats was “Be aware of all that is around you!” Also good advice for a photog!

12 FinalI’m not a photojournalist & many of my images aren’t intended to document life so I’ve become ethically comfortable with editing my images. I’ve also learned my comfort zone with PS tools. I especially like how I can manipulate a shot with shortcomings into an acceptable image. I was slow in recognizing the opportunity of this position on a balcony until the last heat. The focus is off but I did capture/freeze “The Moment” I was looking for and altered it enough to make it a respectable shot of what my minds eye envisioned.

This is my 14th & final…for now…posting about Cuba.

The one word that I would use to describe my experience traveling in Cuba is compelling. As I hoped, the opportunities for photography were everything I expected. My plan was to immerse myself, albeit briefly, with people to gain a perspective & document their way of life. The narrow glance I observed was insightful & rewarding. Somewhat unexpectedly I opened a window to personal introspection that will resonate with me for a long time.

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The one word that I would use to describe my experience traveling in Cuba is compelling. As I hoped, the opportunities for photography were everything I expected. My plan was to immerse myself, albeit briefly, with people to gain a perspective & document their way of life. The narrow glance I observed was insightful & rewarding. Somewhat unexpectedly I opened a window to personal introspection that will resonate with me for a long time.

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My decision to avoid Havana was helpful in minimizing cliché images & experiences. The smaller cities were more open to personal interaction. With few exceptions I easily engaged people with just a smile. In conversations thru my interpreter, politics was seldom a topic. My curiosity eclipsed any preconceived ideas I had about their day-to-day lives.

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I saw typical differences between young & old, city & rural, men & women even professional vs blue collar. What surprised me was a disparity of standards of living. Communism in Cuba is far from the theory Marx had advocated. I didn’t witness anything I would describe as poverty or affluence. However, I saw a comfortable cohabitation between those with more opportunities & a more comfortable way of life than others. I also recognized a discrepancy with access to & use of technology. Most of the digital divide coincided with age.

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Cuba has the natural resources of climate, beaches & tropical waters that attract tourists. Since the mid 90’s non-US tourism has provided a significant percentage of hard currency to the economy. The Cuban government owns most hotels. There are a few International chains but uncertainty has stalled investment. I find it difficult to believe that trinkets, restaurants & service jobs to the tourist industry can provide both a long term & broad based impact on the overall economic well being of the people. This is especially true if the government continues to keep restrictive oversight on commerce.

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The topography of the Cuba is diverse. Their are 9 UNESCO sites, 8 National Parks & 7 Biosphere reserves in this nation roughly the size of PA. I only took time to briefly explore 1 Bio reserve, which was impressive. There are numerous examples or environmental programs including organic & self-sustain farming. I got the impression many of these were out of necessity rather than altruism. However, the one dominant fact is that surrounded by water, it is easy for the government to control access on & off the island.

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The majority of people I interacted with have only known life under Communism. Some challenges they face have roots that go further back than 3 generations since the revolution. The Cuban people are far from illiterate or in ill health. Education & health care have been priorities of the Castro brothers & now economic reform has become a goal of Raul. Change is happening. However, over the past 5-10 years the pace is faster than it has been the precious 4 decades.

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For many Cubans on meager pensions & low paying government jobs their lives are Spartan. Food is rationed at Bodegas at subsidized prices with proportions determined by age & gender. I visited Orlando Zayas, my guides’ grandfather, in his 400 sq foot apartment. The space fronts a busy street & he rents a few square feet to enterprising merchants. He is content & fortunate that family lives close & visit frequently. He enjoys watching baseball & complained that boxers today were nowhere near as good as Joe Louis or Kid Chocolate. Talking about his life he said, “Communism does not work”.

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My primary goal was to photograph individuals & document their lifestyles. Generalizations can be dangerous but I can confidently say I was warmly greeted buy a population that is easygoing, resilient & enjoys life. Lacking commodities we take for granted Cubans make the best out of the situation they are in…even if they have to bend a few rules. Daily life is simpler & slower. Personal interaction is routine. No doubt there are problems but the people I met were upbeat. When I asked what made people so happy I was told, “We laugh at our problems so we have lots to laugh about”.

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I believe an individual’s work ethic is a reflection on their character. I saw many examples of confidence, problem solving, & a resourcefulness to work with what they have without complaining. Although the tempo of work isn’t equivalent to our expectations, Cubans have few distractions & a persistence to get the job done. They are proud of the work they do with their hands & find happiness in their accomplishments not their possessions. I have deep respect for what Cubans have archived with only the basic resources.

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The elements of culture are common. Art, music, literature, religion, food, architecture & fashion are things I observe when I travel. The details of these expressions make people & places unique. I have had very little exposure to Latin American. The rich culture of Cuba was a wonderful new vista. I observed a flair for painting that was cultivated after the revolution when national schools of art were created. In contrast to the many examples of architectural decay, the diverse art was a peak into the bright light of the soul of the people. In a society with few outlets for expression I sensed a passion in their demeanor for artistic freedom.

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Children give us examples of how we can enjoy life & accomplish more when we cooperate with each other. When I observed children I thought about my friend Mark Zinnoni. His mother fled Cuba’s oppression & he wasn’t happy I was going there because he felt it diminished the possibility of freeing Cubans from oppressive Communist rule. I respected his opinion & looked forward to sharing what I saw & experienced when I returned. Unfortunately he passed away before I departed. I like to think he would have enjoyed my perspective of the Cuban people. Amid the hardships there is a joy for life & hope for the future…emotion & optimism that were part of Mark’s character.

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Like most people when I read or hear about a place it is impossible have a deep understanding. Our perspectives, no matter how broad, lack the important element of a personal connection. Although many individuals I only met briefly, they will be a touchstone to my understanding of our neighbors. During my trip I was formed a deeper relationship with my guide Lidear. On my last night there he invited me to his “humble home with his family for a simple dinner.” For me it was an honor & a wonderful epilogue to my trip. As hurricane Irma was striking Cuba it was him and his family that were in my thoughts. I wish nothing but the best for him, his family & the people of Cuba whom I now know just a little bit better. I hope that my blog postings have opened the curtain just a bit to allow you to see the Humans of Cuba.

I would greatly appreciate any feedback or comments on this or any of my postings about Cuba.

The content of these postings are based upon my observations, conversations with my guide, interviews with people interpreted by my guide & interactions I had with people I met. Any mistakes are entirely mine with no intention to mislead.