Blog: Our Reality Show

Visual Storytelling
  • Andy Grammer in Concert

    Here's a story about two of my professional worlds — music and event photography — colliding.

    Last week, I shot the American Staffing Association's annual conference at National Harbor. For the finale, ASA brought in pop star Andy Grammer and his band in for a private concert for attendees.

    Currently on tour behind his 2017 album, "The Good Place," Grammer was scheduled to play in Baltimore the next evening, As a result, Staffing World participants saw a 90-minute show with his six-piece band.

    Grammer played a string of hits — “Keep Your Head Up,” “Fine By Me,” “Honey, I’m Good,” and “Good to be Alive (Hallelujah),” among others — in an energetic and well-received show.

    To see more photos, go to my Concert Photography page.

  • Side Roads: New Hampshire

    Taking a side road and seeing where it leads you is one of my favorite things to do when traveling. Those opportunities are rare, however, and I can’t help but feel like I’m missing out on a lot every time I'm in a new place.

    This was especially true during the ongoing saga of this month's 10-day trip to New England. Throughout the adventure, Mother Nature let me and everyone else know she is in everlasting charge. (No shock to the folks there I realize, but still…) The arrival of fall meant the weather ping-ponged all over the place — sunny and warm one minute, cloudy and cold the next, wet after that.

    Nowhere was this in more evidence than during the 20+ hours I spent in New Hampshire, the bridge state on my trip from Vermont to Massachusetts. Traveling alone — my friend, Eric, had left Vermont early due to a death in the family — I dodged clouds and raindrops and found a couple of sunny/cloudy moments to take pictures.

    These photos were taken in Sunapee and on the grounds of the Fells House, a lakeside estate that was originally the summer home of John Milton Hay, who was Abraham Lincoln’s private secretary during the Civil War and Secretary of State from 1898 to 1905.

    To see more photos, go to my Facebook album  here.

  • Side Roads: Cape Cod

    The fourth and final album from this month's New England adventure focuses on Cape Cod, where my wife and I stayed at a friend's beach house for two-plus days. As it was throughout the trip, the weather was flaky, with a beautiful sunset one evening and two solid days of rain that accompanied us all the way back to Boston. These photos were taken in three places: Provincetown, Wellfleet, and Hyannis.

    To see more photos, go to my Facebook album  here.

  • 'Mean Girls' Marks Oct. 3 with Media Blitz

    Oct. 3 is big in Mean Girls lore, so the show had a number of things lined up to celebrate the day, starting on Monday with the appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers and continuing with a supersized media blitz.

    First up: My son can certainly tap a pencil.

    A feature was posted on featuring photos and biographical information on the show's 15-member ensemble. The idea behind the feature was "a take on OG mean girl, Marie Antoinette."

    Here is a behind-the-scenes video that includes a brief interview with the boy toward the end:

    Meanwhile, another video from the MathLit trio was posted in honor of the Oct. 3 celebration, featuring a special guest appearance. It's hysterical.

    And finally, before last night's show, the cast was joined by Tina Fey and  Jonathan Bennett, who played Aaron Samuels in the 2004 movie to unveil West Fetch Street to the world.

  • Engagement Photos: Nick & Conner

    After Jill posted about last weekend’s engagement party for Nick and Conner, several folks asked why we didn’t have any photos of the happy couple. Other than taking a few pics before things got started and a couple of crowd shots, I stayed happily busy in my role as the groom’s dad.

    That said, I have taken a couple of sets of engagement pictures over the past few months, and as things get closer to the big day in mid-February, thought I’d share them with you. So in the spirit of celebration — something we all need these days — here are some pics of last week’s party intermingled with my first born and his lovely bride to be.

  • Smugglers Notch

    A true highlight of a 10-day trip that covered large parts of New England was spending an afternoon with one of my best friends seeing sites in his home state of Vermont.

    Throughout the trip, the weather was decidedly unpredictable, a mashup of sun, clouds, fog, drizzle and rain. It was all three last Sunday, especially as my friend Eric Kleppinger and I approached Smugglers Notch.

    Referred to as “the notch” by Vermonters, this mountain pass separates Mount Mansfield — the highest peak of the Green Mountains — from Spruce Peak and the Sterling Range. Its name comes from Thomas Jefferson’s Embargo Act of 1807, which prevented the U.S. from taking part in trade with Great Britain and Canada.

    Vermont’s proximity to Montreal made the state a convenient trade partner, and Jefferson’s embargo — an attempt to prevent American involvement in the Napoleonic Wars — caused great hardship. Smugglers Notch was a way to carry goods and herd livestock illegally.

    Over time, Smugglers Notch was used by fugitive slaves as an escape route to Canada. When the one-lane road at the peak was created for automobile traffic in 1922, it became a convenient way to smuggle liquor into the U.S. from Canada during prohibition.

    Eric told me these stories as we approached the summit on an overcast Sunday morning. Fog and mist rolled in as we moved toward the notch itself. We parked and got out — the area is popular for hikers — and I took these photos.

    To see more from my "Smugglers Notch" album, go  here.

  • Collecting Experiences

    As I see it, a person’s life is a collection of experiences, big and small. What I love about this work are the types of experiences it brings to my daily life. Each job — whether it’s a photography assignment or a freelance story — provides new opportunities for learning. Each trip to another place represents another chance to be creative, and then share what I see with my eyes.

    Hectic? Yes.

    Chaotic juggling at times? Certainly.

    Scary to be out on a creative and financial limb? Definitely.

    Blessed? Absolutely.

    I would not be able to do this work without the support of Jill, my wife and partner in this life, and my family, friends, and clients. I am eternally grateful to each and every one of you who takes the time to look at my work, show me what you like, and help me in the search for ways to improve.

    I hope you enjoy my collections.

  • Visiting Vermont

    Earlier this week, I posted a series of photos from a recent trip to Smugglers Notch at the top of the Green Mountain in Vermont. Here are more photos I captured on the visit, showcasing the changing leaves, the beauty of the landscape, and a 1939 Hudson found in a backyard.

    To see more photos from "Visiting Vermont," go to my Facebook album  here.

  • Daily Photos and Happy Birthdays

    While shooting at a conference earlier this week, one of the attendees sat next to me at lunch and asked, “How long have you been doing photography?”

    This question usually comes up at least once or twice when photographing a multiple-day event, and my standard explanation is pretty simple: When I was working in newspapers and school communications, I had to know my way around a camera, but I became really interested in it about a decade ago. After getting laid off in 2013, I turned it into a business to supplement freelance writing income and it’s taken off from there.

    The attendee, like me a middle-aged man, nodded and asked several more questions about the subjects I like to shoot, the types of equipment I use, etc. As the conversation wound down, he asked, “What was the one thing that really spurred your interest in this type of work?

    That answer, too, is relatively simple: My dad.

    My father was a middle school art and history teacher for most of his career, but his first love — besides my mom — was visual arts. Drawing, painting, sculpture — he could do it all and make it look easy.

    Conversely, I can’t draw a straight line while using a ruler. My painting skills are such that I usually have to bring in a hazmat team to clean up while I go buy new clothes. And my sculptures all look like the mashed potatoes that Richard Dreyfuss used to visualize the mountain in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” (If you want that visual, I’m sure it’s on YouTube.)

    Nine years ago this month, I was spending several days a week in New York with our youngest son, who was in rehearsals for a show, and found myself navigating a series of two and three-hour gaps. Sometimes I’d go back to the apartment or find a Starbucks to work, but two or three times a week there just wouldn’t be enough time to get back or to be truly productive, so I picked up my camera and explored.

    I had never taken “fine art” pictures before, but soon found myself looking for the types of things that would attract my dad’s eye. A year-plus after his death, I thought it would be a neat way to pay tribute to him and found that it kept him closer to me. Soon I posted photos online and folks said I had a good eye for it, so I pursued it further.

    Why tell this story now? Consider it a late birthday present.

    As I returned to the task of editing conference photos this morning and realized how it’s been some time since I’ve updated the blog, I went to my “Daily Photos” folder from this month to assemble the picture you see here.

    On almost every photo, I see my dad’s influence, whether it was in capturing something he would like, or in photographing the lines I cannot draw or the paintings I can’t paint.

    In those times, I realize my eye is his and through my eyes (and others) he lives on.

    My father would have turned 78 yesterday. Happy belated, Dad.

  • 'There's No Leaving New York'

    Photos from There's No Leaving New York, a two-day festival featuring Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit and headlined by The National. To see my review, go to my Music: Live & Otherwise blog. To see more photos, go to my  Concert Photography page here.

  • Places: Washington National Cathedral

    As a photographer who loves architecture, I’ve long been fascinated by the imagery you can find in churches, so it is somewhat surprising that — until last weekend — I had only been once to the Washington National Cathedral.

    Gary Rubin, a photographer friend, and I shot photos of the cathedral on a weekend excursion in 2016, but most of the photos were outside and in the Bishop’s Garden. Time and circumstances prevented us from truly exploring the inside — the cathedral is the second largest church in the U.S. — and I vowed to return at some point.

    Last Sunday, another longtime friend (Cecile Holmes) was in town for a journalism educators conference. Cecile and I have known each other for more than 30 years since our days at the Houston Chronicle, where she was the religion editor and I briefly worked on the features copy desk.

    Cecile, now a professor at the University of South Carolina, had arranged a tour for the journalism educators group with Kevin Eckstrom, one of her colleagues who now works as the cathedral’s chief communications officer. She invited me to come along, and I jumped at the chance to learn more about this fascinating structure and take some photos.

    You can see the results here, including several photos taken during a quick 5-minute visit to the seventh-floor overlook at the back of the chapel. With limited time and lighting coming from all sides, the photos from up top — scattered throughout the album — were a challenge to get, but I’m pleased with the result.

    For those of you interested in history, here are some facts we learned during the 90-minute tour:

    • Formal name: The Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington.

    • Affiliation: Episcopal

    • The longest ongoing construction project in Washington, D.C.’s history, work on the building started in 1907 and ended in 1990.

    • Designated by Congress as the “National House of Prayer,” the cathedral is funded entirely from private sources. Fundraising has been ongoing for operations and maintenance, as well as repairs following the 2011 earthquake that damaged parts of the facility.

    • State funerals have been held at the cathedral for three American presidents — Eisenhower, Reagan, and Ford. Woodrow Wilson, the only U.S. president buried in Washington, D.C., is entombed in the cathedral. (Also buried in the cathedral: the ashes of Helen Keller and her tutor, Anne Sullivan.)

    • The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., delivered his last Sunday sermon on March 31, 1968 from the cathedral’s “Canterbury Pulpit.” He was assassinated the following week in Memphis.

    • Based on various Gothic architectural styles from the Middle Ages, the cathedral has more than 200 stained glass windows. One, which honors the landing on the Moon, includes a fragment of lunar rock in the center.

    • Befitting a national memorial, the cathedral has a mix of religious and secular decorations. It includes statues of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, tributes to America’s war veteran, and state seals that are embedded in the floor of the narthex.

    Thanks to Cecile, Kevin and the group for allowing me to join them on the tour. I highly recommend taking some time to see the cathedral if you have the chance. For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • 'Wonka' Photos Finished

    This is the last post with information related to the “Wonka” photos that have been posted over the past two weeks. The 1,000-plus pictures from the show have been broken down into seven sets/albums. Each has been posted to Metropolitan School of the Arts' SmugMug website.

    To see highlights from each show on Facebook, clink on the links below and you will go to the corresponding album.

    Ensemble/Principal Cast: Shows 1 & 4

    Ensemble/Principal Cast: Shows 2 & 3

    Class Dances, Show 1

    Class Dances, Show 2

    Class Dances, Show 3

    Class Dances, Show 4

    Class Dances, All Classes

    The process of working on a show as large as "Wonka," which involved hundreds of children and four performances in the same week, can be daunting. I've written a blog entry that explains the process behind shooting and showcasing each performance. Find it here.

  • School Photos: Caroline County, Md.

    What I like most about photography is that it gives me a chance to look at familiar things from another perspective. And everyone is familiar with the elements that you see in a school — the playground, the logos, signs, and murals.

    Combine that with an opportunity to collaborate with people I respect and admire, and you have a great time working together on a project, such as the one I did last month in Caroline County, a rural farming area on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

    Just after students were released for the summer, I was hired by Sandi Barry to take photos of the exteriors of the district’s 10 schools. Sandi, who became the district’s public relations coordinator in January, is a longtime colleague and friend from the days when I worked with the National School Boards Association.

    Sandi and I collaborated on various projects during her tenure at the Maryland Association of Board of Education, and it was obvious from the start that we share a number of things in common. One is an interest in photography, and we have talked on occasion about looking for ways to work together since I went out on my own.

    The task at hand was to photograph the school exteriors for use on the district’s website and in framed prints that will be displayed in the board room. The only rule was that no students or staff could be shown.

    As we discussed the project, Sandi said she also wanted me to look for things that “catch your eye” to see what I could find. The challenge was to creatively illustrate the things and places we pass by daily and rarely take time to look at or study. A photographer’s dream job, in my opinion.

    This selection represents just some of the photos; about one-third of what I took is in my Facebook album here. In addition to the school photos featured in the album, I also included a few landscapes, two photos of a church that has been converted into a meeting space, and photos taken of the Chesapeake Culinary Center, a restored building that opened in 1901 as the Caroline County High School.

    I’m curious to see what you think of the result, and grateful to Sandi for the opportunity to collaborate again.

  • Shooting MSA's 'Wonka'

    Anyone who knows me understands how much I enjoy shooting live theatre and dance. That said, photographing a live event — especially when it’s something you’ve never seen — can be daunting.

    Even though my skills have certainly evolved since I started shooting our kids’ dance recitals almost a decade ago, I’ve seen time and again why some compare photography to golf. No matter what, there’s always room for improvement.

    After a year away, I have greatly enjoyed shooting photos during the 2017-18 season for Metropolitan School of the Arts, which concluded last month with the annual spring production/recital. This year brought us four performances of “Wonka,” an adaptation of the famous children’s story.

    Photographing a show this large is both a marathon and a fascinating challenge. Four dress rehearsals in four nights, with class dances mixed in with the narrative, make up the three-hour show, which is then performed over a weekend.

    One goal I’ve always tried to meet is to photograph the director’s vision through my eyes (or eye, as the case may be). That means walking around and trying different shots from different parts of the auditorium, which is something you can do when shooting a dress rehearsal. At the same time, I work to be as inclusive as possible — taking photos of every dance and every group as they are on stage.

    The result is a lot of photos — about 6,000 shot for this particular show. It’s both the blessing and curse of digital photography — shooting way more than you might need because you can delete the image rather than pay for a print.

    Once the performance is over, that’s when the “job” part of this task truly begins: How do you take 1,500 photos from each of the four shows and present a selection in a way that:

    • Is not overwhelming.

    • Is fair to as many of the participants as you can capture.

    • Presents the show — and studio — in a good light.

    • Makes people want to come back for more.

    So, as I start to post photos from the show, let me explain the process.

    This year, MSA has purchased a license for a SmugMug website, where you can download watermarked photos for free and purchase prints/high-resolution downloads at a low cost. (The website is at Parents and students can go here and download the photos for free (with our shared watermark), or purchase prints/downloads at a low cost.

    As much as parents and their children want to relive the memories of the show, sorting through masses of pictures puts a huge strain on the eyes. I’ve tried to break it down in a way that makes sense and allows you to find the photos in an organized manner.

    Sorting and cutting down the number of photos is the first phase. With double casting for many of the principal roles, I merged the ensembles from shows 1 and 4 and shows 2 and 3 to get the best possible representation of the narrative. Those are where these photos are from and they are the first albums you will see.

    I’ve tried to make sure every class dance is represented by at least one photo (usually more). Class dances from each show will appear in separate albums in the coming days, except for the ones that were featured in all performances and will be separated into a fifth album.

    Once the culling, sorting and organizing is complete, editing the photos (mostly cropping and color correction) begins. Each album is uploaded to the SmugMug site, and then I cull through the photos again so highlights can be shared on social media.

    Don’t worry: The photos on my Facebook page and MSA's are less than a third of what is on the SmugMug site. In all, more than 1,000 photos will be uploaded to SmugMug from the show.

    I’ve attempted to be as thorough and complete as possible. It’s not a perfect system, and chances are I’ve missed some things, but I hope I’ve captured the spirit and hard work that went into this show.

    If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email at, and enjoy the photos!

  • Families Belong Together March

    An estimated crowd of more than 30,000 people rallied in Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Park Saturday to protest the Trump administration's immigration policies. The "Families Belong Together" march and rally was held despite steamy, stifling hot weather in which temperatures reached the mid 90s.

    In addition to speeches and performances, the rally featured a march from the park to the Department of Justice offices, and a fire truck that sprayed water outside Lafayette Square offered children and adults a chance to get away from the heat.

    The rally was one of more than 600 marches that were held Saturday to protest the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that separates children from their parents at the border.

    To see more of my photos, go to my Facebook album here.

    And finally, take a look at this CNN report on the march and you might see some folks you recognize.

  • GMAC Conference Photography

    Last week, I shot the Graduate Management Admission Council's annual conference in Boston June 27-29. Photos were edited on site throughout the conference for an event-concluding slideshow that aired at the end of the final general session. Included in the final slideshow were photos taken after the last session started, providing the audience with a full picture of the overall meeting.

    Here is the slideshow.

  • Photos on GMAC Stage

    I'm shooting the Graduate Management Admission Council's annual conference for the fifth time, and was pleased to see my work from previous years in both the exhibit book and on the main general stage. Kinda cool...

  • Freelance Articles Posted to Site

    Nine freelance articles published since April have been posted to the New/Recent Articles section of my website. This includes three pieces in which I also shot the photos. You can access them by clicking on the links below.

    Working Vacation (August 2018): Despite what naysayers believe, the idea that summer is just a two-month vacation for educators could not be farther from the truth. While some take on second jobs to make ends meet, others dive into learning more about their profession so they can come back stronger in the fall. Written for American School Board Journal.

    All About the Money (August 2018): It’s always a good thing for the public to know how tax dollars are being spent. And, given the struggles many districts have faced due to cuts that date back almost a decade, it is incumbent on school leaders to paint an accurate and ongoing picture of the financial challenges they face.  Written for American School Board Journal.

    Education Abroad (July-August 2018): Study abroad programs are going through a slow but steady evolution. Now in almost every college and university in the United States, the size and structure of these programs vary depending on student demand, faculty support, and the individual institution’s long-term goals.  Written for International Educator. 

    Generation Why (June 2018): The Valentine’s Day shooting that killed 17 at Florida’s Stoneman Douglas High School could represent a tipping point for student activism and civic engagement. No longer content to sit on the sidelines, these students — led by Parkland survivors — are marching and protesting at a rate not seen since the Vietnam War. Cover story and photographs for American School Board Journal; to see more, go to the Visual Storytelling section. 

    No More Game of Phones (June 2018): The measures schools have taken to enhance security have evolved greatly in the almost two decades since the Columbine High School shooting. However, internal communications when a situation erupts have always been a sticking point. Solutions that work well and easily often are overlooked and underrated, complicated in part by an ongoing unease about what technology can and should do in crisis situations. Written for American School Board Journal.

    Working with Alumni (March-April 2018): As U.S. colleges and universities work to boost international recruitment efforts, alumni who have graduated and returned to their native countries are sought after resources. But working with alumni can present a series of challenges if you don’t have the proper elements—organization, resources, and understanding—in place. Written for International Educator.

    Full STEAM Ahead (May 2018): In a small Tennessee community, three schools have been turned into the first K-12 STEAM cluster in the nation, systematically incorporating arts (A) into the traditional science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculum. Written for Techniques, the magazine of the Association for Career and Technical Education.

    Rogue on Board (April 2018): A rogue board member who hogs the spotlight, constantly stirring things up, can derail even the best-run school districts. Time that can — and should — be devoted to more pressing matters is spent addressing issues raised by a member who has no individual power but uses the position as a bully pulpit. Written for American School Board Journal.

    Preschool Push (April 2018): More than a half century after Head Start was initiated, questions persist about how to best serve young children, as policymakers, parents, and school leaders wrestle with the question, “When should a child’s formal education begin?” A growing research base shows that high-quality pre-k programs have both short- and long-term benefits for students, but bringing those programs to scale remains challenging due to long-standing questions over funding and teacher quality. Written for American School Board Journal. 

  • 10+1 Photos & Moving All Over

    It's been a busy past few days, with two shoots, a large D.C. banquet, family visits, a mini-reunion with longtime friends from North Carolina, and wrapping up our move from Lorton to Old Town Alexandria.

    This week brings trips to New York (for another shoot) and Pittsburgh (for another family move) before returning home to take photos of Metropolitan School of the Arts' production of "Snow White."

    More photos coming soon, I promise, but for now I'll leave you with a few from MSA's "10+1" show earlier this month.

  • Emma's Life as a Resident Educator

    I’ve always said Emma is the best writer in the family, and her storytelling skills are in evidence both in this beautiful video and in the short blurb she posted tonight about her year as a resident educator (RE) at Point Park. Congratulations, sweetheart! Your mom and I are so proud of you!


  • 'Stuart Little' at Boston's Wheelock Theatre

    I've been fortunate to shoot five shows over the past year and a half for Boston's Wheelock Family Theatre, including last month's final dress rehearsals for "Stuart Little." The final mainstage show of the 2017-18 season, this fun and entertaining theatre experience ends its run on Sunday.

  • The Story of Generation Why

    My oldest son received his master’s degree on Thursday. Less than 24 hours later, a 17-year-old gunman killed eight of his classmates and two teachers in a high school only 16 miles from my childhood home.

    The shooting at Santa Fe High School was and is disturbing for all the reasons you can imagine: Another senseless loss of lives. Another incident of gun violence in a country marred by decades of it. Another realization that, no matter how many steps local districts take, preventing someone determined to come into a classroom with a firearm is perhaps just … not … possible?

    My four children are 25, 21, 20 and 20. Ben and Emma were 16 months old when Columbine occurred. Kate was 2 and Nicholas was in first grade. We count ourselves lucky that nothing like this happened to them when they were in school.

    What does that say about our society?


    This school shooting was the third in eight days and the 22nd since the start of the year in the U.S. It occurred just three months and four days after 17 were slain at Florida’s Stoneman Douglas High School, which led to two student walkouts and the March for Our Lives events across the nation.

    I was at the March in Washington, D.C., taking photos and working on a freelance story about youth who were galvanized by the movement started by Stoneman Douglas students. I didn’t write the headline for the story, which looked at whether the Florida shooting could lead to a new era of civic engagement, but believe it is perfect.

    It reads: Generation Why.


    That’s the burning question asked first and most often when something like this happens. We are on an endless search for motive, a trend that will be the path to answers. Camps form within minutes, if not seconds, on social media. The phrase “thoughts and prayers,” no matter how sincere in intent, now is considered a synonym for doing nothing.

    At the March, I interviewed more than 20 students and adults for a series of portraits that would accompany the story. (Some are in the magazine article; you can find the portraits in expanded form here.) I was struck by the kids’ determination not to go through life afraid of going to school.

    Despite our need to understand why something happens, we are stubbornly resistant to one-size-fits-all answers, which leads to an endless round robin of he-said, she-said rhetoric that does no one any good. It’s not guns; it’s people. It’s not people; it’s guns.

    Grieving quickly turns to shouting. Nothing happens. And we wait, knowing that it likely — inevitably — will happen again.

  • Places: National Civil Rights Museum

    The 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination prompted me to revisit photos from my 2012 tour of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. The museum, which opened in 1991, is located in the Lorraine Motel — where King was shot on April 4, 1968 — and various historically significant buildings in the neighborhood.

    The museum chronicles the history of the Civil Rights Movement from the 17th century to the present. An exhibit that runs through this December, for example, looks at how events in 1968 are connected to today. Examples include sections looking at how King’s Poor People’s Campaign compares to Occupy Wall Street and how the Memphis sanitation worker’s strike is connected to today’s Fight for $15 minimum wage protest.

    King was shot while standing on the balcony outside his hotel room, located one block off Main Street. He had come to Memphis to lead a nonviolent march that supported the sanitation worker’s strike. The hotel, which is located one block from Main Street, was long one of the top destinations for African-Americans to stay in segregated Memphis.

    While I’m certain the photos in this album no longer truly capture the site today, you can see the visceral power and emotion that a tour of the National Civil Rights Museum generates. As we look at King’s legacy and struggles that remain relevant today, it is an essential place to visit if you’re ever in Memphis.

    To see more, go to my Facebook album here and look for a new "Places" album coming soon.

  • Random Photos: New York City #2

    Random photos taken during recent trips to New York City. After going to Manhattan only a handful of times in 2017, it's been fun walking around the city with my camera again. To see more photos in this series, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Random Photos: New York City #1

    Random photos taken during recent trips to New York City. After going to Manhattan only a handful of times in 2017, it's been fun walking around the city with my camera again. To see more, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Two More Weeks: The Resilience Project

    Less than two weeks left to see my exhibit, The Resilience Project, in the Arches Gallery at the Workhouse Arts Center (building 9). The gallery is open Wednesday through Sunday.

  • March for Our Lives: A Sample

    Photos from today’s March for Our Lives taken from the 6th floor of the Newseum. More to come soon from this moving event.

  • The Resilience Project: An Exhibit

    Next month, I will be the featured artist in the Arches Gallery at the Workhouse Arts Center. My show, "The Resilience Project," will be up from March 7 to April 1 and will include work by the students I'm teaching at Holmes Middle School. An opening reception will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. on March 10.

    The Workhouse was kind enough to issue a press release on the show, which will feature 28 photos that focus on how people adapt in the face of day-to-day stress, adversity, trauma, or tragedy. Resilience often is associated with cataclysmic events, but it is knitted through the web of everyday life.

    Here’s the quote they used: “These photos, taken over the past several years in multiple states, tell the stories of recovery from some of our nation’s worst natural disasters as well as dedicated artists and athletes who have been faced with obstacles while pursuing the craft they love. They also illustrate the determination of historically marginalized populations as well as the struggles families go through in day-to-day life.”

    To see more on the show, go to #artsfairfax

  • Artist Residency: Teaching on Resilience

    On Friday, I started teaching a unit on visual storytelling to a group of 20 seventh- and eighth-grade students at Holmes Middle School in Annandale, Va. The class is part of my artist-in-residence program sponsored by the Arts Council of Fairfax County.

    Irony was in abundance, as my dad taught middle school art for more than 30 years and my wife's first job as an assistant principal was at Holmes Middle School in North Carolina almost 20 years ago. And despite being a parent of four and a longtime presenter, I was more than a little nervous. Middle schoolers can be a tough crowd.

    The first class — others are scheduled through March 1 — focused on portraits and composition using mobile phones. The students' engagement and answers were terrific, and they spent a few minutes taking photos of each other outside. It was fascinating to see how quickly these digital natives caught on to what I was talking about.

    One point I tried to make was that you can get an interesting photo anywhere, even a parking lot where nothing is going on, if you think outside the box about composition. While we were outside, one student asked me to demonstrate and, with my iPhone, I shot the photo below and showed it to him.

    "That's pretty cool," the student said. And with that, we were off and running.

    Tomorrow's class will introduce the theme of the students' project: resilience. I'll have a PowerPoint, videos and my own work to show, and then we'll get down to the nitty gritty of planning what they'll be working on for the next few weeks. I will keep you posted. #artsfairfax

  • Thank You!

    A huge thanks to everyone who came out last night to see reception for my show, “The Resilience Project,” at the Workhouse Arts Center. More than 100 people walked into our gallery in Building 9 during the three-hour Second Saturday Art Walk.

    The gallery is open Wednesdays through Sundays and the show runs until April 1. I’m so grateful to Jill, Nicholas and Conner for being there last night (and putting out an amazing spread of food), and to friends old and new.

    Thanks again. #artsfairfax

  • The Resilience Project Exhibit is Up!

    My featured artist exhibit, "The Resilience Project," is on display in the Arches Gallery (building W-9) at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton through April 1. A reception will be held as part of the center's Second Saturday Art Walk from 6 to 9 p.m. on March 10.

    Included in the exhibit are 28 photos focused on the theme of resilience, as well as photos taken by students from Holmes Middle School in Annandale. The student work is part of the Artist in Residence program I'm participating in thanks to the Arts Council of Fairfax County.

    Come see my work! To read more about the exhibit and get a preview of the photos on display, go to

  • Places #15: Nashville Morning

    It's a question I ask often: What happens during those in-between hours in cities that rarely sleep?

    Even though I'm a night owl by nature, I find most of my best shoots take place early in the morning. There's something about getting up before everything that surrounds us starts moving again.

    Last week, I was in Nashville for the second time in four months. The first was to photograph a conference, which combined with the bitter early December temperatures, gave me little time or inclination to roam around downtown.

    Working on a freelance story, I didn't have much time on this trip and Mother Nature again was not cooperative. But I managed to sneak out just before 7 a.m. on a cloudy morning, just before rush hour and the rain arrived, and capture these photos on and around the strip known as Broadway.

    Hope you enjoy these. To see more from this series, go to

  • Lone Star Strong Cover Story

    Here’s a good Sunday read…

    In September, three weeks after Hurricane Harvey, I went to Texas to write a story and take photos on how schools were recovering. The result is the cover story of month’s issue of American School Board Journal.

    You can see the story and layout, which includes more than 30 of my photos, by clicking on this link. If you’d like to read just the narrative, go to this page on the National School Boards Association’s website.

    I've also done a narrated slideshow that the accompanies the story. Take a look below:

  • Pick 'em: A Curated Best of 2017

    Over the past several months, I've been shooting a series of conferences/performances, writing freelance stories, and taking headshots. That's the good news.

    The bad news is this blog has been a little neglected during that time.

    I have been updating the blog with things you missed, one of which is this gallery of your favorite photos from 2017. You can see these and others in my Facebook album here.

    All of these are for sale, in whatever size or configuration you'd like. I think they'd make great gifts, nice sets of cards, etc. If you're interested in something, send me an e-mail or message on Facebook and I can get you a price list.

    I hope you enjoy taking a look at some of the random things I see, and I promise to be back with more soon.

  • MSA's Company Project

    This past weekend, I shot my first show in almost a year for Metropolitan School of the Arts, taking photos of "The Company Project | EVOLUTION."

    The 90-minute show, focusing on the theme "Past, Present, and Future," featured innovative pieces designed by MSA faculty and guest artists. Members of MSA's pre-professional dance companies — iMpulse, Metropolitan Youth Ballet, Metropolitan Youth Tap Ensemble, and dynaMYTE — performed with local musicians to choreography by Tiffanie Carson, Jaqueline Doherty, Stephanie Dorrycott, Sara Hart, Jared Jenkins, Roxanne King, Charles Renato, Roger C. Jeffrey, and Caroline Frankil Warren.

    It was a pleasure to be back shooting a show at MSA, and I'm looking forward to returning next month to work with them again on "The Nutcracker."

    To see more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Wheelock's 'In the Heights'

    This week, I returned to Boston’s Wheelock Family Theatre to photograph its production of “In the Heights.” The first show of Wheelock’s 2017-18 season, Lin Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning musical opens tonight and runs through November 17. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays with matinees at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

    Wheelock Family Theatre, which was founded in 1981, is the fourth largest theater company in Boston. Its mission is to provide “professional affordable theatre that appeals to people of all ages,” and the organization also provides education programs on site and in the Boston public schools.

    This is my third time to shoot a Wheelock show, after working on “Billy Elliot” and “Charlotte’s Web” earlier this year. It is a pleasure to spend time with a group of creative and dedicated volunteers and professionals who love their craft.

    For more information about the theatre, or to get tickets for the show, visit To see more of my photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • MSA's "The Nutcracker"

    It wouldn't be the holidays without an appearance from "The Nutcracker."

    Earlier this month, Metropolitan School of the Arts presented its annual production at the Ernst Cultural Center in Annandale. I shot parts of two dress rehearsals and two of the four shows. Highlights are posted here and on my Facebook photography page.

    As part of an arrangement with MSA, I have made photos from “The Nutcracker” and other shows dating to 2013 available for free download at All you have to do is right click on the photo and drag it to your desktop. You also can share individual photos or entire galleries on social media by clicking on the share icon at the bottom of a photo.

    Low-cost prints without the MSA watermark can be ordered from SmugMug and delivered to you via mail. Cost of prints is $1.50 for a 4x6, $3.50 for a 5x7, $6 for an 8x10 and $7 for an 8x12. To get prints larger than 8x12, contact me at or via private message.

  • Cold Weather Memories of Hot Stove Times

    As 2018 begins, we’ve just passed the halfway point of the baseball off season, a striking reminder that another nine-month marathon is soon to be upon us.

    After all of last year’s drama— Farewell 2017, we survived ye — it’s easy not to think about baseball now. It’s not time yet, with temperatures ranging from toddler to tween and a nonstop barrage of college and pro football games on every channel known to man. (I’m still waiting for the Hallmark Bowl to fill in the gap between the Christmas and Valentine’s Day movies, BTW.)

    Regrouping from the holiday season, I started thinking about the unfinished business of 2017 and returned to this essay, which I started writing while on a plane to Denver the week after the World Series. I’ve noodled with it at times over the past two months, but never found the way to finish it. Because, like so many things that occurred last year, what happened just seemed too unreal.

    My hometown Astros — losers of more than 100 games for three consecutive years earlier in the decade — won the first World Series in their 55-year history, soon after my adopted Washington Nationals imploded in a way fans of Houston teams find all too familiar. They became the first team to beat both the Red Sox and Yankees to take their first American League pennant. They exorcised the Dodgers, long a painful memory from their days in the National League West, and won two of the most thrilling games ever in route to a 4-3 Series win.

    As a lifelong Houston fan, I couldn’t wait for the end, knowing the other shoe was about to drop. Heartburn and heartbreak have helped fans of Houston teams keep Rolaids and Tums in business for generations. If a Houston squad was finally good enough to find a way to blow it in spectacular fashion, they were guaranteed to do so.

    Until 2017, the most unlikely of unlikely years.


    Sports are embedded in my DNA by my grandparents, parents and place of birth. Growing up, football was the obvious game of choice, but any dreams and aspirations of being a star athlete quickly met the twin realities of poor coordination and tortoise-like agility.

    Given that we didn’t have many kids in our neighborhood — who would want to play with a clumsy turtle, anyway? — I mostly contented myself with throwing a football at neighborhood trees while playing imaginary games in front of nonexistent fans. Other than sandlot games with friends from another neighborhood, any attempt at playing in an organized setting was nothing short of a disaster.

    Still, I loved the game and read about football all the time, collecting books and manuals and learning about as many trivial aspects as I could. It was something I shared with my grandmother, who jotted notes about games and players on scraps of paper that she never threw away. (Earlier in her life, she also was rumored to bet on Saturday’s games before Sunday church.)

    From the late 1940s through the mid 1960s, my dad’s family took numerous trips to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, 120 miles west of Longview, to see games. I still have most of the programs, and a prized possession is from the 1927 Rose Bowl that my grandfather attended. (Note: Stanford and Alabama tied 7-7 in a game — dubbed the "the football championship of America" — in a game that broke all attendance records at the time.)

    After I was born, in 1965, my parents and grandparents mostly contented themselves with watching football on TV. The Dallas Cowboys were rapidly becoming America’s team; it was easier then to cover up the hijinks Peter Gent later chronicled in North Dallas Forty (still a great read). Given that we lived near Houston, I rooted mostly for the hometown Oilers, even though they didn’t give us anything to cheer for at the time.

    Following the Oilers in the early to mid 1970s was the equivalent to being a Cleveland Browns fan today. And, for some time, Houston and Cleveland shared the same sad sack tendencies — complete with paper bags on fans’ heads — when it came to all the major sports.

    In Texas, baseball was just one way for people to occupy themselves between the Super Bowl and training camp.


    Despite being the fourth largest city in the U.S., Houston is a town of many communities. If New York’s five boroughs are the equivalent of 1,000 small towns, Houston seemingly has almost as many pockets, thanks to a lack of zoning that comingles homes and businesses on every street corner.

    This, in part, is what helps Houston keep its contrarian, frontier-like sense of individuality, but the community historically has been too spread out and too divided in its loyalties to truly get behind a team. Combine that with some historically bad decisions by team owners in all the major sports — the Oilers’ Bud Adams was the worst, although various Astros owners were close behind — and you could not help but feel like the bastard stepchild of the other major markets.

    For a brief, shining period in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Houston’s teams seemed to get their act together, only to fall agonizingly, frustratingly short in big games. The University of Houston became the only team in NCAA history to make the Final Four for three consecutive years and not win the college basketball championship. Not once, but twice, the Rockets lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Celtics (They won back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995 when Michael Jordan, ironically, was trying to play baseball.)

    From 1977 to 1980, the “Luv Ya Blue” Oilers were arguably the second-best team in the NFL, but they were in the same division as the Pittsburgh Steelers, which won four Super Bowls during the decade. In 1981, Adams fired Bum Phillips and proceeded to go on a decade-long rebuild. Then, four years after the worst collapse in NFL playoff history, a 35-3 lead that became a 41-38 loss to the Buffalo Bills in 1993, Adams abandoned the town all together for Nashville.

    The Astros, which opened the Astrodome just a few months after I was born, were lousy for more than a decade before finally breaking through in 1980. Six outs from advancing to the World Series, with Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan pitching, they lost to Phillies in what is considered one of the greatest series in baseball history. The next year, they lost to the Dodgers in the playoffs. In 1986, they lost a Game 6, 16-inning thriller to the Mets with Cy Young winner Mike Scott waiting to take the mound the next day. The Phillies, Dodgers and Mets all won the World Series that year.

    The Killer B’s of the 1990s seemed to forget their bats every time they encountered the Braves in the playoffs, providing a template that the Nationals have followed to a tea. The Astros reached the World Series in 2005, were swept by the White Sox, and then proceeded to land in a baseball sinkhole.


    Given the aforementioned lack of coordination and athletic ability, combined with heaping dollop of nerddom, I’ve never had a large circle of male friends. The ones I’ve had, however, share a love for baseball.

    At this point, I could tell stories about several who are Mets fans, but I won’t. Just know that I love you despite holding a 31-year grudge against your chosen team, which brings me to the 1986 NLCS.

    Brian, a college friend from the University of Houston, and I went to many Astros games together, including the infamous Game 6 when the team lost to the Mets in 16 innings. I was writing a story for the Texas City Sun, my hometown newspaper, and Brian managed to sneak into the press box because he worked on the sports desk at the Houston Post at the time.

    Press boxes were much different in those days. Sportswriters smoked and drank during games; beer and hot dogs were free, as was the accompanying indigestion. Given that computers were in a nascent phase, and “portable” PCs were the size of small cars, most still scribbled their observations down in notebooks and called their stories in to the newsroom.

    I worked nights, and I didn’t write sports, but my then-boss said I could go to the game as long as I didn’t drink. Brian was under no such restriction, having somehow secured the game pass on a night off. When the game went into extra innings, I called John — my boss — and asked if I could have a beer.

    “Sure,” he said, scrambling behind the mounds of paperwork that were clogging his desk. “But just one.”

    In the 14th, I called John. The Mets had just gone ahead and it looked like the Astros were going to lose. He said I could have another beer. Billy Hatcher homered in the bottom of the inning to tie it again, so I finished the beer and called John again. He said I could have a third.

    Finally, in the 16th, the Mets scored three runs to take a 7-4 lead. The Astros came back with two in the bottom half of the inning, but it was not enough. Almost 5 hours after the game had started, the Astros — and Brian — were toast. I called John again and he was so disappointed in the result that he said I could stay.

    We remained in the press box until they threw us out. It was the last time I had that level of access to my hometown team. The next year, at age 22, I left the Sun for the first time.


    Flash forward almost two decades. I’d been gone from the Houston area since 1993, having moved to North Carolina and then on to Northern Virginia in 2001. In 2005, as Ben tested out coach pitch baseball, I was wearing an Astros cap and struck up a conversation with a fellow fan.

    Little did I know then that Eric would become the brother I never had. His love for the Astros stemmed from a brief family stint in Texas, and had never abated even though he spent the majority of his childhood in Vermont.

    The Astros were great in 2005, advancing to their first World Series, a highlight during a tough year. Jill’s mom died and my father continued his downward slide. Brian, in many respects the other brother I never had, had died by suicide the previous fall. Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and Houston was soon filled with evacuees who had no other place to go.

    I went to Houston as Game 1 started, wanting to be part of something and to meet a mutual friend for a toast to Brian, who should have been there. The place I had wanted to go, a bar he had taken me to in the mid 1980s, had closed the previous week, so we made do at a hole in the wall. The Astros were swept in four games, a fitting end to a melancholy year.

    I brought Eric a placard and a World Series cap. He promised to do the same for me when the Astros made it back to the series, not knowing then that it would take 12 years, another hurricane, and a last-minute trade for them to return.


    2005 also was the year the Nationals brought baseball back to Washington, presenting me with a dilemma. I still rooted for the Astros, and occasionally went to games when the teams — one lousy and one rapidly approaching bad — faced each other in D.C. Eric and I went to Houston a couple of times to see games and my family.

    After Astros changed owners and moved to the American League in 2013, in the midst of their historic rebuild, I found my allegiance slowly shifting to the Nationals. Even though they have become the new masters of playoff heartbreak, Washington fields a competitive team.  I’ve also been a National League fan my entire life — one of those people who likes small ball and strategy and hates the designated hitter — and had trouble dealing with Houston’s move to the AL.

    As Houston became more competitive, however, I slowly started to follow them again, rationalizing that I could root for one team each in both leagues. The fact the Astros and Nationals share a spring training facility made me even more interested, especially when I had a chance to go with another friend — Tony Jones — to Florida this year.

    The laid-back nature of spring training was a welcome respite from the start of a crazy year, and set the table for a season that was expected to be great for both teams. As a fan, I was nervous when the squads faced off in a meaningless spring training game, only to have the best possible result — a 6-6 tie after 10 innings.

    With our kids grown and our nest mostly empty, Jill and I purchased a half-season ticket package to the Nationals, and looked forward to seeing what would happen in 2017. I went to games with friends and clients, and Jill and I managed to catch more than 20 games together. We both enjoy the leisurely pace and the conversations we have with others at the ballpark.

    As summer progressed and the Nationals dominated their division, we hoped this would be the year they would get over the hump. Meanwhile, the Astros raced out to one of the greatest starts in major league history, only to fade after the All-Star break due to injuries to some of their best players.

    And then, in the dog days of late August, Hurricane Harvey hit. The Astros acquired pitcher Justin Verlander moments before the final trade deadline and, for once, put the wounded city on their backs.


    Two weeks after Harvey, I was back in Texas, working on a story for my former magazine about how schools were affected by the hurricane. Having grown up and/or lived in many of the affected areas, I was compelled to go back and see what had happened. It was the same feeling I had 12 years earlier, a need to return to my roots.

    My former boss, John, had retired several months earlier. His home in Dickinson, a community only a few miles from where I grew up, had several feet of water. My mom and sister did not have damage to their homes, fortunately, but the area was devastated.

    Twenty-five years after I left the Sun for the second time, John and I got together to reminisce about the old days. Our times there were so hectic, crazy, and fun that we had much to talk about, and it was nice — despite the hardships he and others were dealing with post-hurricane — to get the chance to renew our friendship.

    I spent seven days reporting and taking photos in Texas, following the trail of the hurricane, and needed a break by week’s end. I’d been watching the schedule and it looked like the Astros could clinch the division just before I left, so I asked John if he wanted to go to the game. Much to my surprise and delight, he agreed.

    We pre-gamed at 8th Wonder, a brew pub filled with memorabilia from the Astrodome and the teams of my childhood, that is located near the ballpark. Sitting in the padded, loud-colored seats that had been removed from the Dome, I thought about Brian and the memorable 1986 NLCS game, and texted pictures to Eric and Tony.

    The Astros won that day, clinching the division and setting the table for their memorable playoff run. I returned to Virginia and, with Tony, watched the Nationals lose a crushing game 5 to the Cubs. Baseball’s endless capacity for happiness and heartbreak was still in force.


    After the Nationals’ loss, my attention shifted solely to the Astros. Hopes were high when they won their first two World Series games in team history to go up 2-1 on the Dodgers. Eric and his wife, Mary, embarked on a memorable trip to Houston for game 4. The Astros lost 6-2 as the Dodgers tied the series at two each, but that didn’t dampen his enthusiasm. He also kept his promise, bring me back a placard, shirt and cap from the game.

    My son, Nicholas, and his new fiancée Conner were in town for Game 5, and we saw the end of the wild 13-12 Astros victory after attending an invited dress rehearsal for “Mean Girls” in D.C. Seeing my worlds — parenting, the arts and sports — comingle in a single evening was almost too much to take.

    The Dodgers came back to win Game 6, and Eric and I agreed to watch Game 7 together. Unlike the drama of the other series games, the finale was almost anticlimactic, except for the end result. A 5-1 victory lifted the 55-year curse, one that started three years before I was born.

    Eric and I stood in his front yard, almost unable to process what had just happened.

    Say what you will about the negatives of sports, how we seem more obsessed with games than learning, how precious resources go into high school Jumbotrons when they should be spent on other, more important things. But sports also have a unique ability to unite and bring people together in a special, almost unspoken way. I consider myself lucky to have these memories.

    So here I sit, two months later, waiting for it to start all over again.

  • Two-Show Weekend: Sister Act

    I felt somewhat guilty about seeing Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer perform on Sunday night at The Birchmere. My wife and I had just returned from Chicago earlier that afternoon, and we’d seen Green Day just three nights earlier. I’ve been on the road for five of the past six weekends, and the work was piling up. Family members and lifelong friends were dealing with the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Harvey, and Texas was — still is — on my mind.

    Little did I know that seeing — and photographing — this sister act would be such a salve for the soul.

    On a short tour to promote “Not Dark Yet,” a stunning and mesmerizing collection that is their first album together, Moorer and Lynne talked about their heritage and the bond they share as sisters. It’s a bond that has been forever cemented despite horrific violence (their father killed their mother, then himself when they were teens), lives on opposite coasts (one in L.A.; the other in New York), and disparate personalities (Lynne, three years older, is the introvert; Moorer just completed a memoir).

    Nashville musician Rick Brantley opened the show, and was joined by Lynne and Moorer for his song “Hurt People,” a beautiful moment that offered the promise of things to come. I spoke briefly with Brantley between the sets, and he said that watching the two sing together will “blow your mind. Their sound will put you in a trance.”

    I’ve seen Moorer live several times, the first time at Joe’s Pub in New York when she was eight-plus months pregnant with her son, John Henry, and then as part of her then-husband Steve Earle’s band. I saw Lynne years ago and have most of her albums in heavy rotation.

    Brantley was right. Together, they were better than I could have imagined. At points, they would glance at each other as only siblings can, wordlessly helping the audience understand their “Sissy” bond.

    Performing all 10 tracks — nine covers and one original — from “Not Dark Yet,” plus songs from each of their catalogues, their voices blended seamlessly as the selections ranged from family staples (Louvin Brothers, Merle Haggard, Jessi Colter) to the unlikely trio of Nick Cave, the Killers, and Nirvana.

    But it was the title track, a Bob Dylan song from his Grammy winning “Time Out of Mind,” and the sole original, “Is It Too Much,” that resonated most strongly. Dylan’s song, one of his best, is both a sad reflection on mortality and a message of hope. “Is It Too Much,” a song about the sisters’ family history, reaches out to others in pain. Sample lyric: “No one else bears this heavy load/Bring it here to my side…Don’t you know you ain’t by yourself/I’m right here to help you lay it down.”

    Appropriately, the sisters donated proceeds from the sales of their T-shirts to victims of Hurricane Harvey, a generous gesture that showed the compassion they have for others in need. The donations are small in the light of the scale of the destruction, but you start somewhere. After all, the message is about uniting in the face of tragedy.

    Postscript: This morning, as the tour moves to Chicago, Moorer posted a childhood photo from a family trip to Texas. Today would have been her mother’s 73rd birthday.

    “The loss of her feels deeper somehow this year — maybe because we're out here singing together and we both miss the third part she would've chomped at the bit to add. Maybe because she would've been so proud of us. Maybe because we know that she IS proud, looking on, and cheering for us,” Moorer writes.

    Moorer then addresses her mother’s death, and her father’s horrifying decision.

    “He and he alone took her beautiful spirit out of this world. He was able to because of two things — she didn't know how to fight back and he had a gun. The most harrowing and frustrating thing about domestic violence is that it wears down a person's spirit in such a way that most women forget they are in charge of their own lives. I wish someone had been able to tell our Mama that hers was worth more than she ended up believing it was.”

    These sisters, now both older than their mother was at the time of her death, honor her memory every time they walk on stage. They certainly did Sunday night.

  • Two Show Weekend: Green Day & iPhone

    Live music — and most live performances, for that matter — is one of my favorite things to photograph. I’ve been fortunate to be close to some fantastic performers over the years, but it is difficult to get into that select group of freelancers who can score the elusive photo pass.

    Without the pass, it’s impossible to bring a professional camera into a large show. So, like everyone else, I take photos with my iPhone and opt for the abstract rather than realistic look.

    That’s what happened on the first of a two-show long weekend that saw my wife and I closing out August with a trip to Chicago, where we saw family and the band Green Day live at Wrigley Field.

    It was the first time Jill and I have had the chance to go to Wrigley, and Green Day put on a terrific show. I also enjoyed pushing the phone to its limits to see what I could get. Sometimes it’s nothing but bad blur; at others, the phone can surprise you.

    Part 2 of this weekend is the Allison Moorer-Shelby Lynne show at The Birchmere, which does not have the same restrictions on professional cameras, thank goodness.

  • Life in 7 B&W Photos

    I was challenged recently to post seven black and white photos of my life, with no people and no explanation. Here’s what I came up with.

  • Art & Dance: Return to Hickory

    Last month, my son Ben and I returned to Hickory, N.C., where he taught master classes at Sonya’s Dance Academy and I did headshots and this new installment in the Art & Dance series.

    The setting was a section of downtown that is under construction in front of the old City Hall, which houses the Hickory Community Theatre. A huge part of the arts in Hickory — many of the students at Sonya’s studio perform there — the building it is housed in has a fascinating history.

    The City Hall building opened in the 1920s with a full auditorium that was rented to Paramount studios as a movie theatre in the 1930s and early 40s. The second balcony, which has not been used since the 1940s, was segregated and the seats were wooden slats. Some of the original seats remain.

    All of these elements made their way into the shoot. To see more, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Places #13: Gatsby's Grave

    One of America’s literary icons, the person responsible for high school students around the world learning about the Jazz Age, is buried in a cemetery next to a busy intersection in a Washington, D.C., suburb.

    F. Scott Fitzgerald’s path to the cemetery of St. Mary’s Catholic Church was as troubled, in some ways, as his life. It took 35 years for “The Great Gatsby” author, who died in 1940 at age 44, to be buried in the Fitzgerald family plot in Rockville, Md.

    Fitzgerald, whose life, marriage and work have been the subject of countless books, films, and TV shows, was a notorious drinker and raconteur. But the reason he initially could not be buried in the family plot was because he was a lapsed Catholic. A parish priest said Fitzgerald’s failure to go to confession and take communion regularly was enough to keep him from being buried in “consecrated ground.”

    His wife, Zelda, paid to bury Fitzgerald at the Rockville Cemetery, which is a mile from St. Mary’s. Then in a sanitarium in Asheville, N.C., Zelda did not attend the funeral. When she died 8 years later, Zelda’s casket was placed on top of her husband’s because she had only paid for one space.

    In the mid 1970s, members of the Rockville Civic Improvement Advisory Commission contacted the Fitzgeralds’ only daughter, Scottie, who was living in Georgetown. Fitzgerald’s posthumous fame had grown to the point that visitors had started flocking to the cemetery and were creating a ruckus.

    Scottie said her parents were meant to be buried at St. Mary’s, which by this time was happy to accept the graves. The bodies of the Fitzgeralds were moved to the family plot at the church cemetery in 1975. Zelda’s casket was again put on top of her husband’s.

    A stone covering the grave has one of Gatsby’s most famous lines: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

    For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Places #12: Elvis’ Memphis

    Forty years ago today, I was sitting in the lobby of Scott White Hospital in Tyler when I heard the news: Elvis Presley was dead.

    I’ve written about my family’s history with the King of Rock and Roll, but this Places entry is related to Graceland and Sun Studios in Memphis, where more than 100,000 visitors have descended to mark the annual Elvis Presley Week. I made the pilgrimage in September 2012 and took these (and countless more) images while basking in the city’s musical history.

    Elvis-related tourism is worth an estimated $600 million annually to Memphis’ economy. Graceland is second only to the White House as the most visited home in the U.S. Sun Records, where Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash (among others) made their first singles, draws 160,000 visitors a year.

    As Mojo Nixon once said, Elvis is everywhere. Go here to see my 2013 essay, “My Grandmother, Dad, and Elvis,” and here to see the rest of the album.

  • Places #14: Houston’s Blast of Color

    While reporting and taking photos for a future story on how schools in the Greater Houston area are recovering in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, I decided to go to the George R. Brown Convention Center, the primary shelter site for the American Red Cross. Three weeks after Harvey made landfall, then dumped more than 50 inches of rain on the city and surrounding areas, the shelter still houses more than 1,000 people.

    Driving down the Avenida de las Americas, the street in front of the convention center, I was struck by the colorful strips of table cloths, shower curtains and painters drop cloth that are part of Arcade, three separate installations designed by Texas artists Sunny Sliger and Marianne Newsom of The Color Condition.

    The streamer sculptures, dubbed Hopscotch, Double Dutch, and Red Rover, were installed prior to Harvey and will remain up through mid-November. They provide a welcome respite from talk about the hurricane, as visitors can see them create new colors as the light changes and the wind gusts.

    On a hot and extremely humid afternoon, as reporters from Houston’s TV stations prepared to go live with stories on the status of the shelter, I saw a small child ignoring her mother’s admonitions to leave. I talked to another photographer (Mickey Lawrence of Urban Exposure Media) who was taking a break from storm coverage and had brought someone along to photograph the strips of colors and light.

    To see more of what I captured, go to the Places section on this website, or visit my Facebook album here.

  • Following Harvey's Trail

    Earlier this month, I spent a week taking photos and reporting a story on Hurricane Harvey for an upcoming issue of American School Board Journal, the National School Boards Association’s magazine. Having written on the aftermath of natural disasters before, I wanted to understand Harvey’s far-reaching impact on communities and schools in the wake of the late August storm.

    Being there from Sept. 11 to Sept. 18 gave me the chance to follow Harvey along much of its 300-mile path from Rockport, near Corpus Christi, to the Louisiana border. At this point, cleanup was kicking into gear and schools were just resuming in many of the impacted communities, although it will be some time before those near the storm’s eye will be open again.

    In the hardest hit areas, the loss was overwhelming. Contents of family life spilled out into yard after yard and neighborhood after neighborhood, mixed with swollen sheetrock and the growing presence of mold. “Strong” was the byword used in many communities as they demonstrated an unheard of level of resilience in the face of an economic and environmental tragedy. The generosity of others — some fellow community members, some total strangers — was constantly on display.

    The story will appear in the November issue of the magazine, and I’ll be sure to share it here. For now, follow my camera on a day-by-day journey through a state that is injured, but not broken. And check out more photos on my Facebook photography page here.

  • Photography, Art & Dance

    This is an edited narrative of a presentation I gave at the National Dance Society’s annual conference on Aug. 4 in Norfolk, Va. Photos included in this blog entry were taken during classes offered to area students and attendees at the conference. My wife, Jill, also was a keynote speaker at the conference, talking in separate sessions about mental health and bullying.

    The purpose of this session is to talk about the role of the dance photographer so you can capture and promote the work that you do as educators and studio owners. But first, let’s start with a bit of background — the “why” you’re listening to this person on a sunny, summer Friday afternoon.

    Here’s what I’m not:

    • A painter, or sketch artist: I can’t draw a stick figure or a straight line with a ruler — that type of talent skipped from my father to his grandchildren
    • A singer: My wife and oldest son are the singers in the family. I lip-synch “Happy Birthday.”
    • A dancer: My son and daughter have that down, thanks to their mom and her excellent coordination. I have to look down to make sure both feet are moving in the proper order.

    Here’s what I am: A photographer, writer, storyteller, husband, father, and the son of two teachers. I learned my way around a camera out of necessity while working as a journalist and communications professional, and was told I had an eye for it.

    Like many parents, I found myself taking pictures at my kids’ major events, including their dance recitals. The limitations of my camera and lenses made it difficult get much, however, and I did not know enough about dance to capture the proper technique.

    Over the last four years, since going out on my own, I’ve learned how to capture the art of dance, both in performance and in various settings that make up my “Art & Dance” series. This series, primarily focusing on young, pre-professional dancers performing on city streets, in an abandoned church, in a creek, in a subway tunnel, and under a bridge, among others, has been profiled in a Northern Virginia arts magazine and has been the subject of three exhibits at a local art gallery. You can see my photos on my website —

    What I’ve discovered is that these types of photographs are powerful marketing for educators and studio owners. So let’s spend a little time looking at photography, the basic technical information you need to know, and ways you can broaden your audience.

    Getting the Right Equipment

    Photography is, like any art form, both independent and interdependent. Yes, anyone can take a picture, and technology has made it easy to capture beautiful shots with our phones. But if you want to shoot dancers, especially during a performance, your iPhone won’t do the trick. In fact, rather than promoting your brand, it dilutes your impact.

    The reason, not to get too technical here, is cell phones do not have what is known as an SLR, or single lens reflex. This allows you to focus, click and — if your light and shutter settings are correct — stop action. Your phone camera can’t do all of those things at once, especially in dim light, and it can’t do some of them at all.

    So that means you need “a real camera,” and depending on the complexity of what you’re trying to capture, the reality is that a “real camera” and good lenses don’t come cheap.

    Here’s why: Going beyond composition, photography comes down to two things — light and speed. This is where photography is most interdependent. If the two are not in sync, it will be difficult to capture what you want to achieve, even if everything is perfectly composed and in focus.

    In most performance settings, you will need a camera that can handle low light really well. This is where ISO, the setting for how much light you allow into the camera, comes into play.

    If you’re shooting outside, you can normally set your ISO on 100 (brightest), 200, 400, 640 or 800 (getting dim, but still light out). When you’re indoors, you likely will need your ISO settings to start at 1600 (if you’re lucky), 3200 (if there’s good lighting), and 4000 or 5000 (most common).

    Although technology has improved greatly, it’s still hard to find an inexpensive camera that can shoot with the speed you need at ISOs of 4000 or 5000 consistently without too much “noise,” which affects the sharpness of your picture.

    This is further complicated by the speed factor. To stop a dancer’s motion without blur, you need to have a shutter speed of at least 1/200th of a second. Anything less — whether you’re outside or inside — and you will get blur. Sometimes you can get a flash to sync at 1/200th of a second, but I haven’t been to a performance yet where you can shoot photos with a flash.

    So if you decide to take this on yourself, remember these things:

    • Get a camera body that can comfortably handle an ISO of at least 4000. (To do that, you’ll need one that can shoot at an ISO of up to 25600, because that means the camera’s sensor will be able to handle 4000 without too much noise.)
    • Set your shutter to at least 1/200th of a second.
    • Start shooting.

    Shooting a Live Show

    Photographing a live performance is one of the most difficult and demanding things I’ve done. You have to learn how to anticipate the action, and find ways to shoot so that both technique and emotion are captured. Yes, you want the leaps and jumps, but it’s also about telling the story of the work your students are doing.

    This again, speaks to the interdependence of photography. Understanding the story being told on stage is key to capturing the big moments, and the small ones as well. Knowing generally where the performers will be positioned also is helpful.

    In most cases, a photographer will not shoot the actual live performance, but a dress rehearsal. This prevents you from disrupting the paying audience and gives you time, in case anything bad happens, to ensure that you get decent shots. It also offers you flexibility because you can shoot from all areas of the performance space.

    What happens all too frequently is a photographer will set up in the back of the auditorium and shoot from the same spot. This does capture the show itself, but it prevents you from getting those small moments of emotion that help you tell the story.

    So what does this mean for you?

    • Talk to the photographer beforehand. Let him or her know what you’d like to see captured — the big and small moments — but give the photographer the flexibility to surprise you.
    • Let your dancers/performers know in advance that someone is shooting the dress rehearsal and/or show itself.
    • Given that you are capturing a live performance, be prepared for things not to be perfect and know, generally, how that will affect what you choose and use to promote your work.
    • If there is time, consider setting up certain scenes to be run more than once so the photographer can capture the action from multiple angles.

    Storytelling and Photography

    You have millions of ways to tell stories today. Video, stills, audio, the written word. You are in a visual medium, and social networking — despite the political wars many get into on Facebook these days — is geared toward the visual.

    This should be a great match, so why don’t you invest in it? And why do you accept poor quality, or opt for the cheap stock art, rather than focusing on your performers? As you put your shows and performances together, do you think about how you will tell the story to the outside world?

    Folks are interested in process, the “how” of you put something together. Behind the scenes videos, photos, and short narratives are increasingly popular because of the online world’s endless thirst for content. You don’t have to have high production values for these types of stories; simple iPhone interviews often will do.

    As the performance nears, this is where you need to engage a professional photographer and talk about telling your story. Consider having a promotional shoot that can be used for posts — posters, post cards, online posts.

    Finally, as the show/performance nears, have the photographer shoot the dress rehearsal. Let your cast know the photographer has free reign to walk around. Say you want 10-15 shots to use for social media purposes immediately; the additional photos can be sold or made available for download to parents.

    There are many ways to do this effectively, but being willing to partner and plan is key. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve been asked to shoot something at the last minute. The photos turn out decently, but they would be so much better if I had the opportunity to meet and plan beforehand.

    Make It Work for All

    I understand that your bottom line on these types of performances is often razor thin, and photography is the first thing to get cut when finances are tight. But you can be creative and original in ways that are fair to everyone involved.

    This is my pitch/plea to you: In addition to remembering the photographer in your planning, be prepared to work out some sort of financial arrangement for the work he or she does.

    Many photographers I know are willing to go the extra mile for their customers, but free is not acceptable. Think about how you feel, as a business person, when someone constantly asks you to do something without compensation of some sort.

    As fellow artists, we understand the financial constraints you’re under, but you can make it work. Telling a photographer he or she can “sell” pictures in lieu of a shoot fee is, unfortunately, a nonstarter. We are in a share society, not a sell society, where consumers feel like they can get their music and media for free.

    Here are some things you can do:

    • Offer the photographer a shoot fee or a per diem in exchange for the right to sell prints on your own.
    • Add a small extra fee for photo services to your recital fees or master classes to offset your cost.
    • In return, work with the photographer to make a selection of photos available for sharing on social networks. Usually, these will have the photographer’s watermark on them so that intellectual property rights are not violated.

    That’s it, really. If you know your audience, assess your needs, make marketing your story integral to what you do, and work with your photographer and your students to tell it, your audience will be much more engaged in the great work you do.

  • Places #11: SF & The Summer of Love

    In 1967, at the height of unrest in the U.S. over Vietnam and social/racial issues, as many as 100,000 people swarmed San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in the hopes of “creating a new social paradigm.” Today, the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love is being celebrated in a remarkable exhibition at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park.

    Titled “The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll,” the exhibit features posters, photos, interactive music, light shows, costumes and textiles that tell the story of a summer in which artists, activists, writers, and musicians converged on the Bay Area neighborhood.

    The de Young exhibit, while celebrating the hippie culture and flower power, does not gloss over the problems that ended the Summer of Love almost as quickly as it began. Haight-Ashbury was not equipped to handle the crush of people, and the neighborhood rapidly deteriorated due to overcrowding, homelessness, crime and drug use.

    However, the legacy of the Summer of Love lives on to this day. As the museum says in a digital exploration of the exhibit, “The social developments in San Francisco and the Bay Area in the 1960s as epitomized by the Summer of Love catalyzed a set of ideas that would eventually lead to new norms: the birth of the natural food industry, concern for the environment, sexual liberation, and challenges to the nuclear family. The era’s political and social activism had a significant impact on the course of American history. The counterculture touched every facet of American culture, offering alternatives to the mainstream that still flourish today.

    It is a fascinating exhibit, well worth your time if you can make it to San Francisco between now and Aug. 20. These photos attempt to capture what I saw during an afternoon walk through.

    For more information, or to take the digital tour, go to To see more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Places 9 & 10: Pikes Peak & Seven Falls

    Last week, after Jill’s conference ended in Denver, we took some time to explore the beautiful state of Colorado, but rain and clouds marred a portion of our visit to Colorado Springs. Still, we forged on to Pikes Peak and Seven Falls, two locations that anyone visiting the state should see.

    Pikes Peak is one of 53 “fourteeners” in Colorado, and the 14,115-foot summit is higher than any point in the United States east of its longitude. Named in honor of explorer Zebulon Pike, the trip included a treacherous 19-mile drive to reach the summit, with stops at centers at the 6- and 12-mile points.

    The clouds were threatening at the first stop, and by the time we reached the summit, temperatures had fallen to 36 degrees amid sleet and drizzle. I later learned that the summit has a polar climate due to its elevation, which means it can snow year-round.

    What I found interesting about Pikes Peak is how commercial it is, in part because it is not part of the National Parks Service, and that gives parts of it an odd theme park feel. Also, the switchbacks on the winding drive, which look like EKG results from the sky, take your breath away almost as much as the thinning air.

    Next, we went to the Broadmoor Seven Falls, a series of cascading waterfalls in the South Cheyenne Creek in Colorado Springs. A privately owned tourist attraction that opened in the 1880s, the falls were purchased after severe flooding and restored by The Broadmoor in 2014. 

    The falls are beautiful, but by late afternoon, the cold and rain helped us make the executive decision not to climb the 224 slick steps to the top, especially after we learned someone had fallen when we got there. I did manage to get a few nice pictures though.

  • Places #7, Part 2: NOLA Candids

    A couple of weeks ago, I posted an album featuring images taken during two walks through New Orleans last month. As I mentioned, persistent rain throughout the week I was there provided limited opportunities to take photos outside the conference I was shooting.

    Here are some candids of people I captured during those two walks. All comments welcome. To see the other album, go here.

  • Places #6: Louisiana Swamp

    On a cloudy, soupy and humid Sunday, with less than a day to kill before I started shooting the first of two conferences this month in New Orleans, I decided to go on a tour of a Louisiana swamp.

    The tour of Bayou Barataria started at the dock of Crown Point, located just 12 miles from the French Quarter and adjacent to the Jean Lafitte National Park and Preserve. Lafitte, the infamous pirate, used the bayou as his “highway” to New Orleans.

    The tour included bayou views of a 200-year-old above ground cemetery known as the Indian Mound. We also saw herons, a couple of pelicans, and the inevitable alligators.

    A couple of interesting facts from our guide at the Louisiana Tour Company:

    • The major difference between alligators and crocodiles is gators hibernate for 3 to 4 months a year.

    • Male alligators typically grow up to a foot a year until they reach 6 feet. They continue to grow — reaching up to 13 feet in length and more than 500 pounds — but the rate slows at about age 6.

    • Female alligators are smaller and grow less quickly than males. They can reach 9 feet in length and more than 200 pounds.

    • Alligators are color blind. It’s one reason they like, believe it or not, marshmallows. It’s true; I’ve seen it up close.

    All in all, an interesting experience and an opportunity to take some fun photos.

    To see more photos in the Places series, go here.

  • Capturing Conferences, Telling Stories

    Conference photography is a growing — and highly enjoyable — part of my business. Earlier this month, I shot the APMP Bid and Proposal Conference in New Orleans and the Graduate Management Admission Council’s annual conference in San Francisco. I already have three more conferences scheduled in November and December and am bidding on several others.

    The best conference photos, in my opinion, tell stories using visuals rather than words. Nothing bothers me more than the photographer obstructing the views of both the speaker and audience, so I try to remain as unobtrusive as possible. Unless it is absolutely necessary, I do not use flash during sessions, because this has the same disrupting effect on the speakers and audience at a live performance or show.

    APMP, which serves professionals dedicated to winning business through proposals, bids, tenders, and presentations, holds a three-day professional conference for its members. More than 900 attended this year’s June 13-15 event, the largest in the association’s history. Over three-plus days (including preconference sessions and portraits for the board of directors before the meeting started), I shot and edited more than 600 photos, completing the task before leaving New Orleans to visit family in Texas.

    This marked the fourth time I’ve shot the GMAC annual conference, held June 21-23 in San Francisco. Each time, I cull through the edited photos to produce a 2- to 3-minute slideshow of highlights that is aired during the final general session.

    An aspect of my journalism career — working on deadline — also has helped in my approach to conference photography. I carve out time during breaks and in between sessions to dump and edit what I’ve shot. Typically, you shoot three to five photos for every one you keep, so this approach gives me a running tally of what I’ve got, and allows time for more shooting if necessary.

    This year, for the first time, the slideshow came as close to real time as possible. I had a backup from the first two days already completed, but wanted to see if I could push the envelope. I took photos from the final morning of presentations, went out, picked the best, and edited them. I then shot photos at the start of the 90-minute final general session, edited the best, and added those to the slideshow as well.

    When the slideshow — see below — aired, audience members saw about 15 photos that had been taken that morning. In that respect, the photos told the whole story of the meeting.

    To see more of my conference work, go to To contact me about shooting your event, send an email to

  • Places #5: Box 344 & The WPA Post Office

    The Longview Post Office, built during the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration and open since 1939, holds a special place in my family’s history.

    The town, about 125 miles east of Dallas, is where my parents grew up. The post office at 201 E. Methvin Street opened in 1939, the year before my father was born, and my grandfather was the assistant postmaster there until 1964, the year before I was born.

    Like many families, my grandparents used a post office box rather than home delivery. Even after he retired, my grandfather would dutifully drive the two miles or so every day or two to get the mail from P.O. Box 344. After he became ill, my aunt or another family member would get the mail for my grandmother, who never learned to drive.

    Earlier this month, my mom and I started the long process of moving my aunt back to her hometown.

    I’ve been to Longview only once or twice since 1989, the year my grandmother died. Each time I’ve returned, I’ve wanted to see what has changed since my childhood. The older, south side section of town where my dad grew up has fallen into decay. The post-World War II era Pine Tree area where my mom grew up has changed as well, though not as much.

    Remarkably, the post office remains the same, a step back in time.

    In addition to the post office boxes, which are the same as I remember them from my youth, a massive oil on canvas mural titled “Rural East Texas” remains in the lobby. According to the website East Texas History (, Thomas M. Stell Jr. painted the mural in 1942 “to celebrate the history of farming in East Texas and demonstrate how mechanization changed the agricultural industry.”

    Stell, described by the website as “a master portraitist who strove to connect his work with the viewing public,” was the WPA’s state director of the American Index of Design and a professor at San Antonio’s Trinity University.

  • MSA Senior Portraits

    The Metropolitan School of the Arts Academy, which opened in 2013 with 15 high school freshmen and sophomores, graduates its second class this June. With the first class, I did a series of portraits at the Lorton Workhouse, incorporating the students’ chosen art form into the aesthetic of the former prison.

    This set took a new, though somewhat familiar, path. In all but one instance, the students wanted to use the Workhouse, where the soon-to-be graduates spent three of their four high school years. The familiar setting, however, lent new opportunities for creativity.

    The result is “Multiple Exposures.” I’m interested in hearing what you think.

    To see the photos of all the MSA graduates, go to

  • Family Reunion

    The six Cook-McFarland cousins have not all been together in more than four years, so it was great to have everyone (including Conner, Nick's significant other) in the same place this past weekend in Boone for Jill's family reunion. These pics show they were quick to pick up where they left off...

    To see more photos, go to my Facebook album here.


    The Hodges-Love family reunion drew about 50 people to Oak Grove Baptist Church in Boone over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. It brought together family members from Jill's maternal grandparents, many of whom we haven't seen in years. Here are a few photos; the rest can be seen in my Facebook album here.

    Meanwhile, as part of the event, I took a series of shots of old family photos to display in the room. Below is one; you can see the rest by going to this link in the VIsual Storytelling section of the website.

  • Places: American Tobacco Campus

    When my oldest son moved to North Carolina as a toddler, we lived less than a mile from the American Tobacco Company plant. Today, Nicholas still lives in North Carolina, just a mile from the place that was home to the cigarette maker’s primary headquarters.

    But times have changed greatly over the last two decades for everyone involved, in oh so many ways.

    For me, the move from my native Texas to Reidsville, N.C., in 1993 represented a huge personal and career risk. Over the eight years I lived there, life as I knew it took a series of seismic shifts. I got a divorce, met the love of my life, remarried, had three kids in a calendar year, bought a house, changed careers and found lifelong friends.

    I also saw a town and region face a series of seismic shifts of its own, as its economic drivers — mainly textiles and tobacco — left either gradually or almost entirely during that time.

    A few months after I took over as managing editor at The Reidsville Review, the town’s largest employer was sold by its parent company. More than 1,000 employees — almost 10 percent of Reidsville’s population — lost their jobs because the American Tobacco Company was no more. Today, the plant that once employed more than 1,500 people and dominated the northern part of the town is only a shell of itself, with only a handful of workers plying their trade for a company that sells cigarettes in foreign markets.


    Several years earlier, in 1987, American Brands closed the American Tobacco factory on Blackwell Street in downtown Durham. This, combined with declines in the textile industry, was a huge blow to the town on many levels; the company had been founded by the Duke family after which the university nearby is named.

    For more than a decade, the tobacco campus remained vacant, a gigantic hole in the center of town. But in 2004, the Capitol Broadcasting Company started a $200 million renovation effort that has led to both an economic and cultural renaissance in the city’s downtown area.

    The American Tobacco Campus, as it is now known, is home to office space, restaurants, and entertainment venues. The Durham Bulls Athletic Park, one of the nicest minor league baseball stadiums in the country, is adjacent to the campus, as is the Durham Performing Arts Center, the largest of its kind in North or South Carolina. The area attracts more than 2 million visitors a year.

    Today, small businesses form a strong restaurant and entertainment district throughout the downtown area, luring back 20-somethings like my oldest son and his girlfriend to Durham, where they live in a converted textile factory about a mile from the American Tobacco campus.

    Durham is cool — not Kool — again.


    The past two decades have not been as kind to Reidsville, located in a rural area just north of Greensboro about 60 miles from Durham. Like many former factory communities across the nation, Rockingham County has struggled economically, and is facing a population decline.

    The tale is all too familiar. Within a decade after the Reidsville plant was sold, The Review was a shell of itself as well. Started in 1888, around the same time that American Tobacco came into being, it has been sold twice since 1997, consolidated with two other community newspapers, and seen its frequency cut from daily to twice a week.

    Over the past couple of years, I’ve gone back through Reidsville during my trips to North Carolina. On one recent trip, I went past The Review building and the former American Tobacco plant and thought again of how their fates — caused by an almost simultaneous explosion of the Internet and the new global economy — seemed intertwined and in some ways interchangeable.

    Say what you will about big tobacco, and there’s plenty to say about that, but there’s no denying that the collateral damage caused by any major industry going through rapid decline has generational impacts. I’ve seen this first hand in journalism, my chosen field, with overworked staffs in small and midsized newspapers being sliced to the bone as the institutions that served communities for decades consolidated or closed entirely. Too many of my colleagues, hard working people with an invested interest in their community’s future, present and past, have found themselves out of work and scrambling to make ends meet.

    When I moved to North Carolina, I took some time to revisit You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe, the state’s most famous author. I thought again of that book as I drove by the three houses and apartment where I lived, marveling at the snail’s pace in which small towns change, and recalling the tumultuous times that so dramatically changed my path.

    It is a place, like my hometown, that will always be part of my history. And my son’s.

    To see more photos from this essay, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Charlotte's Web at Boston Theatre

    For the second time this year, I was fortunate to go to Boston to shoot a show at the Wheelock Family Theatre, a small regional Equity house on the campus of Wheelock College. Last Wednesday and Thursday, the cast of “Charlotte’s Web” conducted their final two dress rehearsals before opening on Friday night.

    As with many shows that focus on kids, the children in the cast were split into two companies, with the adults doing all the performances. I especially appreciated Wheelock’s total sense of inclusion in casting both the children and the adults. It gave this classic children’s story an even greater sense of universality.

    Also fascinating was the aerial silk choreography, which used fabric suspended from the ceiling to transport Charlotte (played by Caroline Lawton) around her web as she writes various words about Wilbur the pig (Michael Keita Hisamoto). It really is something to see.

    “Charlotte’s Web” runs through May 14. For tickets and information on the theatre, its classes and its mission, visit

    For more photos from the show, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Bucket List: MLB Spring Training

    Scratch one off the bucket list. Thanks to a good friend, Tony Jones, I had the opportunity this weekend to go see two spring training games involving the Washington Nationals in Florida. The first was a road game in Jupiter against the Miami Marlins, followed by a day of activities at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the new stadium that the Nationals are sharing with the Houston Astros.

    The Nationals and Astros (my hometown and other favorite major league team) squared off Saturday in the new stadium, which is part of a 160-acre complex that just opened this month and is still being completed. It was a win-win game for me.

    The best part of the weekend was getting to see the ballplayers and coaches up close during warmups and batting practice. Of course, given this week’s return of winter to the Northeast, the weather in Florida wasn’t bad either.

    Enjoy the photos, and see more in my Facebook album here.

  • Early Morning: Arlington Cemetery

    One thing I greatly enjoy — and don't do enough — is going out with other photographers on shoots. It's a great way to talk about the art and craft of what we do, and I always learn something new.

    On Sunday, just after the clocks sprung forward, longtime friend Gary Rubin and I went to Arlington Cemetery. We had no real agenda and no places we had to go. The result is a mixture of random things that caught my eye and a few takes on some of the iconic images at the national cemetery.

    Traditionally we associate Arlington with its simple white markers, which are provided free to families by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. There are a surprising number of elaborate gravestones, however, which prompted me to take a look at the story behind them.

    According to Robert M. Poole's book, On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington Cemetery, privately purchased markers were permitted from 1947 to 2001. The sections with these markers, most of them near General Robert E. Lee's former home at the top of the hill, are nearly full and the cemetery generally does not allow new burials. Older sections of the cemetery have a wide variety of private markers placed prior to 2001, including an artillery piece

    Arlington, which was established during the Civil War after the Union seized Lee's home and grounds, is a massive place — 624 acres — making it impractical to try and cover everything in a single morning.

    Enjoy these takes by visiting my Facebook album. I hope to return for more photos soon.

  • Random Thoughts: It's Not Spring Yet (!)

    A few from the “It’s Not Spring Yet (!) Random Thoughts” file….

    • Welcome, my friends, to the day that never ends. All I want to do is go outside, go outside...

    • Spring-like weather. Spring-like allergies. And then the temperature drops 60 degrees. It’s a rollercoaster ride that never ends.


    • Why I don't like Duke basketball...

    • Professor Chris Poulos touts a word he learned at a dinner in 2013: exhaustipated — too tired to give a crap. (Courtesy of my friend Mike Clark)

    • The new PP: Potty Police.

    • I interrupt this political commentary hiatus for a moment to note a contradiction. Our president puts his name on everything ... everything. And yet, he doesn't seem to want the health care bill to bear his name. Of course, as another friend noted, the phrase "Trumpcare" is an oxymoron in and of itself.

    • And finally, you gotta wonder if Steve Earle would be on Jeff Sessions' iPod...

    Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

  • Ben & 'Billy' in B&W

    My son, Ben, is performing tonight and Saturday as "Older Billy" in a special guest appearance as part of Wheelock Family Theatre's regional production of "Billy Elliot: The Musical."

    I went to Boston during Thursday's blizzard to spend time with my 19-year-old and took a few shots at this morning's rehearsal with Seth Judice, who is playing the title role.

    With appearances in "Law & Order: SVU" and the "Newsies" movie next week, the boy is well on his way to an adult career. But for a brief time at least, it's nice to see Ben return to the show that dominated much of his childhood.

    Bonus photos: I took the photo below of Ben and Salma Hayek after she saw the show in Boston during the national tour in 2012. Right: Caught this picture of the boy with the “Newsies” poster during a lunch break today in Boston.

  • Back to 'Billy Elliot'

    Given our family’s lengthy history with “Billy Elliot: The Musical,” it felt a little strange to see — and photograph — the show after three-plus years away. But anyone who has read my blog knows that being part of a theatre community means you will inevitably encounter circle backs, in which a show returns to your life in an unexpected way.

    Circle back is what I did for two nights last week, watching from behind the lens while shooting “Billy Elliot” production photos for Boston’s Wheelock Family Theatre. On Feb. 10 and 11, our son Ben will have a circle back of his own when he teaches master classes and plays the role of Older Billy.

    Moving any large show into a smaller regional house can be a challenging logistical task, but the cast and crew have done a terrific job. Thanks to Linda Chin Workman for bringing me in to photograph the show — I also took headshots for several cast members — and to everyone for making me feel welcome.

    Here’s a taste of what I saw — and shot — over the two nights. Some of these photos are being used in reviews in local newspapers and online, a nice bonus.

    If you are in the Boston area, you can see the show through Feb. 26. Buy your tickets by visiting Ben will perform as Older Billy at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10, and 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11. He also is teaching master classes for youth ages 8 to 16 at 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. on Feb. 11.

    To see more photos, go to the Performances: Theater/Cabaret page or my Facebook album here.

  • Signs of the Times

    At last weekend's Women's March on Washington, I was drawn to the vast variety of signs and messages directed at our nation's new president. To commemorate the historic day, I decided to create a collage of the various messages and make it available to anyone interested in purchasing it.

    Titled "Signs of the Times," the print also is available with a foam core backing. If you are interested, send me an email to A portion of any profits will be given to one or more nonprofits that served as "Partners" on the march. 

  • One Year Ago: Snowzilla

    It's hard to imagine, on a sunny yet breezy and brisk morning, that this was the scene just one year ago today when Winter Storm Jonas (aka "Snowzilla) slammed the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area.

    The storm, one of the largest in the area's history, brought more than 2 feet of snow to the region. Schools were closed for more than a week and remnants from the storm could still be seen when the next snowfall hit a month later.

    As the storm moved into the area, longtime friend Joe Frey and I embarked on a trip into the District of Columbia with plans to take pictures. The conditions rapidly deteriorated, however, and all of these photos were taken from inside the truck with the windows rolled down.

    What’s memorable about this storm, which brought as much with it in one push as the back-to-back “Snowmageddon” that dropped 30 inches on the area within a six-week period in 2009-10, were the people who were walking around a mostly deserted D.C. At times, it felt like an episode of the “Walking Dead.”

    For more photos, go to my Facebook album here or over to the Visual Storytelling section of the website.

  • Photos from the D.C. Women's March

    An estimated 500,000 people descended on Washington, D.C., Saturday to show their support for women’s rights the day after the presidential inauguration. The march, which started with speeches and performances at 10 a.m. and did not finish until late afternoon, was an incredible demonstration of support for women as well as traditionally marginalized groups.

    The large number — organizers had originally predicted 200,000 — of people overwhelmed cell towers. The Metro system set a record with more than 1 million riders on Saturday alone.

    That said, the event was peaceful and largely positive. More important, no arrests were reported the day after 230 were jailed during protests by self-described anarchists in D.C. for the inauguration. #WomensMarch #WomensMarchOnWashington

    For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Art of the Street

    My father was a visual artist who painted not one, but two large murals on the living room wall in my childhood home when I was growing up.

    I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler.

    That said, I’ve always been drawn to large murals, especially knowing that an artist’s creation can be painted over at any time and lost to the whims of boredom, creativity, or both. This is especially true with graffiti and street art.

    As a photographer, I like to find ways to show the artist’s work, but with a twist. Rather than capture just the image that an artist has created, I rarely opt to shoot straight on. Using a different angle, or taking it from another spot, can occasionally illuminate the work in an interesting way.

    Although graffiti is and remains illegal, with the potential for some stiff fines, Washington, D.C., has joined other cities — Philadelphia immediately comes to mind — in supporting the growth of public art. Open Walls DC, for example, holds “mural jams” to paint the walls under the overpass at Garfield Park, but you must get a permit.

    I find myself returning regularly to the bridge under Garfield Park on H Street in southeast D.C. to see what has been created since I last visited. (It’s a great place for portrait shoots, too.) These photos were taken during three to four stops I made over the past year. For more, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Apprenticeship Story Published

    Apprentice Approach, a freelance story that looks at how schools in Colorado are adopting facets of the Swiss apprenticeship model, appears in the new issue of American School Board Journal. You can read the story the story I wrote here and see a slideshow of photos from my trip with the delegation in the Events section of my website.

  • Lincoln Memorial Photos

    A family tradition has always been to visit the Lincoln Memorial when NIck is in town (see below). This year, I decided to capture a few extra shots while we were in our nation's capital.

  • Thank You for a Fantastic 2016!

    A huge thank you to everyone who helped Glenn Cook Photography to its best year yet. This is a snapshot of the clients who hired me to take their headshots and family photos in 2016. I've also shot a variety of meetings, events, and conferences for nonprofit and corporate clients in addition to fine art and dancers.

    I hope you'll consider hiring me for your photo and/or writing needs in 2017 and beyond.

    Thanks again!

  • 'The Music of Hair'

    Metropolitan Youth Theatre concluded its second year with a sold-out winter concert, “Let the Sunshine In: The Music of Hair,” Friday at MSA’s Alexandria studio. The show, directed by MYT co-founder Chad Vann, featured the work of 12 area high school and college students and a three-piece band led by MYT co-founder James Woods.

    MYT was founded in 2015 by high school students Vann, Woods and Sam Cornbrooks (now in college in Manhattan) to give area youth the opportunity to create and perform in shows while learning all aspects of theater. The group, which has drawn student performers from both Northern Virginia and Maryland, has already done “The Last 5 Years,” “Rent,” “Songs for a New World,” and “Spring Awakening” in its brief existence.

    Two more shows, including a production of the Tony Award-winning musical “Chicago,” are planned in 2017. For more information, visit or follow the group on Twitter @metroyoutharts.

    For more photos from the concert, visit my Facebook page here.

  • Nick's Birthday Surprise

    Surprised the oldest on his birthday yesterday in Durham. It's the first birthday we've spent together since 2009.

  • Happy Birthday, Ben & Emma!

    Birthday Month, Parts 2 & 3: Wishing the happiest 19th to Ben and Emma, separated by distance in body but always together in spirit. We love you both so much!

  • The Many Faces of Brian

    As a photographer (and parent), I truly enjoy working with young actors, dancers and performers. My goal is to take photos that capture their personality in a professional way without losing the spirit of who they are.

    Last year, while taking photos of Metropolitan School of the Arts' first graduating class, I took students to settings around the Workhouse Arts Center. The goal was to integrate their art with the workhouse surroundings, and the result was a very successful shoot.

    Around that time, I mentioned to Brian Perry (then a junior whose focus is on acting) that I wanted to find a way to capture his many expressions for his senior photos. When the time came to do his headshots for college auditions, I asked him to sit against a wall and give me faces.

    Here is the result from a very enjoyable afternoon.

  • Becoming CareerWise in Switzerland

    CareerWise Colorado, a statewide initiative that aims to place 20,000 high school students in apprenticeships by 2027, led a delegation of educators, state government and nonprofit leaders, and workforce development officials on a five-day tour to Zurich, Switzerland, last week to study the country’s apprenticeship programs.

    Led by officials from CEMETS, a division of the KOF Swiss Economic Institute, the tour included site visits to Libs, CYP, Zurich Business School, Swisscom, and EWH-Zurich, which provide a variety of training programs to Swiss students. In Switzerland, 70 percent of students choose to do apprenticeships in more than 200 occupations.

    CareerWise, a nonprofit that formally launched in September with the support of the state’s governor and several large Colorado companies, is inspired by the Swiss model for connecting employers and educational institutions.

    CareerWise Colorado’s goal is to serve about 10 percent of eligible high school students in the state within 10 years. Starting in 2017-18, businesses and corporations in the fields of information technology, financial and professional services, advanced manufacturing, and hospitality will offer high school juniors and seniors paid, on-the-job learning experiences in high-demand fields.

    One highlight of the trip was a visit to the Bern home of U.S. Ambassador Suzi Levine, a leader in the initiative to implement Swiss-style apprenticeship programs in the U.S.

    Ambassador Levine and her husband, Eric, were gracious hosts and described in detail their passion for bringing the model to K-12 schools and community colleges in the U.S.

    To see more photos, go to my Facebook albums here and here. For more information, visit the CareerWise website at or the CEMETS website at

  • Life on the Road

    In a post earlier this week, I mentioned our crazy travel schedule and how thankful I am to have so many friends and family (biological and extended) willing to spend a little time with us on this journey.

    So here's a small photo summary of the last five weeks. (Roadmap not included.)

  • Art & Dance: Zach (With a Guest)

    I’ve been fortunate to know Zach Manske and his family for the past five years, ever since he and our son, Ben, shared the title role in the national tour of “Billy Elliot: The Musical.” Zach, who lives in Woodbury, Minn., was named “2016 National Senior Male Outstanding Dancer” last month by the New York City Dance Alliance.

    A couple of weeks ago, Zach was completing a summer intensive at Julliard when I had the long-awaited opportunity to take his headshots and add to my “Art & Dance” portfolio. Ben, who is auditioning in New York, came along for the shoot, which took place in front of Lincoln Center and at Central Park.

    As you might expect when you have not one, but two excellent dancers, the shoot was great fun. But the best part of the day was seeing these two young men, who became friends during a high pressure and intense time as kids, pick up right where they left off, urging each other on and enjoying a chance to perform.

    For more photos, go to

  • Ryan Adams & Amanda Shires

    Last week, while in Salt Lake City, I had an opportunity to see Ryan Adams & The Shining with opener Amanda Shires on tour at the Red Butte Canyon outdoor amphitheatre. The setting just outside the University of Utah campus was beautiful, complete with an almost full moon.

    Adams, one of the most prolific and diverse musicians of the past two decades, has been dipping into his extensive catalogue for the past couple of years. A lovely highlight from the show was his duet with Shires on "Oh My Sweet Carolina."

    Shires, the wife of Jason Isbell (another favorite), has a new CD scheduled for release in mid-September. Nothing has been forthcoming — yet — on Adams' next project.

    For more photos, check out the Performances section of the website or visit my Facebook album here

  • National Park Centennial

    In honor of the National Park Service's centennial celebration (#nps100), here are a few of the hundreds of photos taken during a recent trip to Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. Several are from the scenic route en route to the park, a beautiful site itself that follows along the Colorado River. The National Park Service was created on Aug. 25, 1916.

    To see more photos from this album, go to my Facebook page here.

  • iPhone Storytelling: Billy Joel

    Continuing what has suddenly become a music thread….

    Billy Joel became the first performer to play three times at Nationals Stadium on Saturday, and he did so despite a torrential downpour that delayed the start of the concert by more than an hour.

    You can't carry a "professional camera" into events like this without a press pass. (I would not have brought my camera in anyway, given the rain.) However, this is one of those times when iPhone photos usually come nowhere close to the images you can get with a regular camera.

    Still, if you're lucky and recognize the shutter delays, you can occasionally get a decent image.

    Let me know what you think of these and the ones on my Facebook page here.

    Joel, as usual, was terrific in concert. He hasn’t written new music since the early 1990s, but embraces one of the best and most popular catalogues with enthusiasm. In turn, the rain-soaked crowd embraced him.

    “What’s it like sitting there with a wet ass?” Joel asked the cheering crowd.

    Fortunately, after seeing the Piano Man multiple times in multiple places (North Carolina, Madison Square Garden), we splurged and bought tickets on the stadium turf. No wet butts for us.

    Unfortunately, we were among the large contingent of the 40,000-plus fans who came to the concert via Metro and were left stranded due to the storms, which delayed the show by more than an hour. Thanks (or not) to “SafeTrack” maintenance, the subway system closed at midnight, and there was no way we could see the encore and make it to the last train.

    Joel even made a joke about the troubled transit system — “Is the Metro running tonight? … So basically, you’re (expletive).”

    With no warnings in advance from stadium officials or Metro — a transit worker at the Navy Yard said they had not even been told about the heavily promoted concert (cough) — we were stuck with a long wait and a very expensive Uber ride.

    The show was still worth it, though.

  • GMAC Slideshow from Annual Conference

    Here is a 3-minute slideshow of photos I took at the Graduate Management Admissions Council's annual conference last week in Washington, D.C. The slideshow aired at the beginning of the conference's final general session.

    GMAC has been an outstanding client. I've shot the council's last three annual meetings as well as other events and staff portraits.

    Send me an email or give me a call if you are interested in having me shoot your conference or event. Hourly, half-day, daily, and multiple day rates are available.

  • MSA Academy Holds 1st Graduation

    Ten graduates from the first class at the Metropolitan School of the Arts Academy participated in commencement ceremonies Friday at the Workhouse Arts Center.

    Having taken pictures when the school first opened in September 2013, it was a pleasure to do so again as parents and family members celebrated the accomplishments of the class.

    There were plenty of laughs, a few tears, and — befitting the performance nature of the school — a number of opportunities for the students to show off their music and acting skills. Congratulations to all!

    To see more photos from the event, go to my Facebook photo album here.

  • Back to Summerton

    Note: Today is the 62nd anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that led to the desegregation of America's schools. For the 50th anniversary, I made several trips to Summerton, S.C., where the first of the five cases that led to Brown was filed. Last month, for the first time in more than a decade, I returned to Summerton. This is what I observed.

    If you would prefer to read this report in PDF form, download it here. To see the previous stories I filed for the Brown v. Board anniversary, go to my Award-Winning Stories section.

    For someone who doesn’t like cars much, I spend a lot of time behind the wheel.

    Between commuting and long rides to far-flung places, the miles are starting to add up. I have to take my wallet out of my pocket, just like my dad did, or my back starts to hurt. I need to get out and stretch more often, even though that adds time to the drive.

    I was thinking about these and many other things as I moved our daughter’s things home from Florida to Northern Virginia — a 900-plus mile commute — last month in a Budget rental van. Because the van’s top speed was 70 mph, no matter what the law allowed, common sense dictated that the ride needed to be broken up into two longish days.

    The advantage was that I had time to think and ponder. I also could stop to take pictures at several places along the way.

    One such place was a return visit to Summerton, S.C.

    First to Footnote

    Sixty-six years ago, a group of black residents from South Carolina’s Low Country filed a lawsuit that eventually would change history. Four years and one day later, on May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court made sure of that.

    The court decision in Brown v. Board of Education led to the eventual desegregation of our nation’s public schools and helped spark for the Civil Rights Movement. The roots of Brown, however, started in Summerton, a fact that is better known now than it was when I first went there in the fall of 2003, if only slightly.

    I was collaborating with a longtime friend, Cecile Holmes, and a group of her journalism students from the University of South Carolina. Cecile grew up in Columbia, about an hour from Summerton, and as a longtime religion editor, was interested in the role of African-American pastors in the fight against segregation. I was interested in the history and in the effect it had on education in the Clarendon District 1.

    Working with Cecile’s students, we went to Summerton seven times between September and December 2003 to learn about the community, its schools and what led to the lawsuit. The results of our collaboration were published in my magazine, American School Board Journal, as part of a 50-page special report marking the Brown anniversary.

    My story, “From First to Footnote,” looked at events before and after Briggs v. Elliott, the first of the five cases that eventually became Brown. The legal action started in 1947, when petitioners led by the Rev. Joseph A. DeLaine sought a bus so black children would not have to walk as many as nine miles each way to school.

    A subsequent lawsuit, filed by farmer Levi Pearson, was dismissed, but service station attendant Harry Briggs and his wife, Eliza, sued to challenge the “separate but equal” status of blacks. They were represented by Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first African-American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

    For the story, we conducted extensive interviews with DeLaine’s children as well as current Clarendon officials and Joe Elliott, the grandson of the school board chairman named in the lawsuit. At the end, Joseph DeLaine Jr. — the torch bearer for his father and the lawsuit — said he might have to reach out to Elliott, who found himself ostracized when he started speaking in favor of integration.

    It was a small sign of hope at the end of a long and tortuous saga, one that saw families lose their jobs and homes. DeLaine Sr.’s church was burned by segregationists; he fled the state and never returned. U.S. District Judge Walter Waring, who supported the plaintiffs, was forced to resign his position and leave South Carolina altogether.

    Kill ‘Em and Leave

    The year after the Brown v. Board decision, a man from Barnwell, S.C., released the first of his many hit singles and embarked on a fractured version of the American dream. James Brown’s “Please Please Please,” released in 1955, started a six-decade career that saw him crowned as the “Godfather of Soul,” the father of funk and the forefather of hip-hop. He is the most sampled artist of all time.

    Brown’s childhood — he was born to a teenage mother in a small wooden shack near the Georgia border, about 100 miles northwest of Summerton — was not unlike many black children in the South. Growing up in extreme poverty, moving from town to town and house to house, he left school after the sixth grade, had a brief career as a boxer, and spent time in a juvenile detention center after a robbery conviction.

    “Nothing is simple when you’re poor,” author James McBride writes in Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul. “Poverty, for example is very loud. It’s full of traffic, cussing, drinking, fisticuffs, wrong sex, anguish, embarrassments, and psychic wounds that feed all sorts of inner ailments and create lots of loose ends.”

    What makes McBride’s book, released this spring, such a fascinating and gripping read is that it’s not a traditional biography, but a series of profiles of the people who played a role in Brown’s life. What emerges from the book is a man full of contradictions, driven by such an unshakable fear of loss that he trusted no one.

    “Behind the looking glass, behind the bluff and the ranting, the rages, the hollering, and the shouting, was a man so torn by conflict that he snuck off to smoke cigarettes so that no one would see him,” McBride writes. “Here was a man who rarely drank or cursed or let down his guard in public — which meant in front of people, in front of anyone, period; an incredibly lonely, overwrought, and sensitive man. A man who lived alone inside himself.”

    On one hand, Brown valued the promise of education for poor children — black and white — and helped calm communities inflamed by violence during the Civil Rights Movement. On the other, he treated his band members, wives, and children terribly and distrusted banks so that he left gigs with paper bags stuffed with cash.

    “If you want to keep your money,” he told one of his band members, “bury it in your yard.”

    No Outsiders

    I was in a rental car with Illinois plates the first time I drove through Summerton in the fall of 2003. We were just starting our reporting, and I wanted to get a feel for the place before we met with DeLaine’s children. I quickly found that outsiders weren’t welcome.

    As I drove down U.S. 301 and then onto Main Street, a police car pulled in behind me. I was heading toward the old Scott’s Branch High School, where there’s a small marker honoring the original plaintiffs, and had moved into the “other side of town.”

    The patrol car’s lights flickered and I pulled over. The officer checked my driver’s license and asked what I was doing. I explained and then was allowed to leave, but the random check shook me. The officer looked me in the eye and told me to “be careful”; I wasn’t sure what he meant.

    This past April, no one stopped me as I drove down the same street in the moving van. I’m not sure if folks weren’t paying attention, or whether the fact that the van had Georgia plates on it was a sign.

    Eventually, I found my way to Liberty AME Church, the site where the original petition that became Briggs v. Elliott was signed. I had to navigate around roads that were partially or fully closed due to floods last fall that devastated the Low Country. Even though 19 people died statewide in what was described as a 1,000 year flood, no one from Clarendon County perished. Many lost homes and property, however.

    As several men worked in and around the church, I introduced myself to the Rev. Robert China, who became Liberty Hill’s pastor in November 2014. China, a South Carolina native who is not from Clarendon County, showed me around the church and talked about the hardships of his parishoners. He showed me with pride the original petition, which was framed and hanging on the wall.

    “There are a bunch of roads still out, even though it’s been six months,” he said, referring to the flooding. “You’d think they could have done something to fix them and help our folks get back on their feet, but that’s not how it seems to work around here.”

    China talked about the church members attending a play In Charleston on the case, and how a museum in nearby Sumter is featuring an exhibit on Briggs v. Elliott. Later, when I mentioned that Joe DeLaine Jr. and Joe Elliott appeared on a panel together after the play, one of the church members shook his head.

    “Well, what do you know? I guess time does change some things.”

    Words, Context Matter

    In May 2004, after my magazine story was published, Cecile invited me to speak at a Brown v. Board panel in Columbia. Also on the panel was Edwin Darden, a longtime friend and colleague who has taught me more about race and race relations than I would have imagined possible.

    Ed, who was raised in New York City, has worked with schools for years, helping to ensure that boards, administrators and teachers look at education through an equity lens. We don’t always agree, in part I’m sure due to our backgrounds and past experiences, but my trust and respect for his opinion is paramount.

    I took Ed to the Summerton Diner, the white restaurant in the middle of town. Despite the mid-May humidity, there was a palpable chill in the room. The waitress was polite, but like the officer I had met months before, it was obvious that Ed — who is African American — and I weren’t necessarily welcome. When we left, he was visibly shaken; at the time, I’m not sure I fully understood why.

    You could say that children of my generation don’t know what it’s like to be part of a segregated education system. At 51, I’m part of the first group of students who went to integrated public schools starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s, so if you’re threading the needle of the truth, you would not necessarily be inaccurate.

    But as one of my first editors reminded me: “Words matter.” More important, as Ed likes to say, “Context matters.”

    Race and Power

    Naively, I grew up thinking that integration was how things worked, that segregation and overt racism were going away. After all, wasn’t that the law?

    My hometown district was racially mixed, increasingly so as I moved from grade to grade. The prism I used to evaluate people was not based on skin color, but on attitudes, work ethic, and the like. As a kid, I had no frame of reference or understanding about the deep, ingrained attitudes and beliefs of the people around me.

    I was reminded of that again that day with Ed at the Summerton Diner.

    Even though institutionalized racism was no longer legal, the institution had not been taken away completely. Far from it, in fact. And all it takes is one look at the many regressive practices and policies of the past two decades to see what should have been obvious all along.

    Racism, at its very core, is about power.

    It’s about holding on to power and using it to control others. It’s about dictating movement in the status quo on your terms, a distorted version of “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” And when that power is threatened, when the shifts in the status quo go against our beliefs and values, we fight rather than adapt. At that point, power matters more than words or context ever could.

    Thank God some people — in Clarendon County, in Topeka, Kansas, and in other places across the U.S. — chose to fight the power.


    Thirteen years after my first visit, Summerton remains the best example of time moving slowly in small Southern towns. If you read my story, “From First to Footnote,” about the Briggs v. Elliott case, you might be interested to know what has happened to many of the sources mentioned in the piece.

    • In September 2004, Congressional Gold Medals of Honor were awarded posthumously to Harry and Eliza Briggs, the Rev. Joseph A. DeLaine, and Levi Pearson.

    • DeLaine’s children — Joseph Jr., Ophelia, and Brumit — spent years talking about the case and its impact on their family. Joe DeLaine Jr., 82, who served on the presidential commission that oversaw the 50th anniversary commemoration of Brown, lives in Charlotte and remains active with the BDP Foundation, the nonprofit that is working to help educate Clarendon school children about the case and improve opportunities for the district’s students. Ophelia DeLaine, now 79 and living in Florida, wrote a book on her father and the case. Dawn of Desegregation was published by the University of South Carolina Press in December 2011 and remains in print. Brumit, also known as B.B., died in 2012 after several years of poor health.

    • The Levine Museum of the New South’s interactive exhibit, “Courage: The Vision to End Segregation, The Guts to Fight for It” debuted in Charlotte in 2004 and was shown in New York, Baltimore, Los Angeles and other locations before returning to Charlotte again in 2011. It is on display now at a museum in Sumter, S.C.

    • U.S. District Judge J. Waties Waring, whose dissent in the original Briggs v. Elliott lawsuit was the first against “separate but equal” schools and served as the foundation for Brown, was honored with a life-sized statue at the federal courthouse in Charleston, S.C., in 2014.

    • Sadly, it’s no surprise that desegregation failed miserably. Today, signs in Summerton point you to Clarendon Hall, a private, almost all-white school promoting “Excellence in Education in a Christian Environment.” No mention of Briggs v. Elliott is found on the Summerton website, although you can read about it on the Clarendon County website. 

    • The public school district, Clarendon 1, is all but ignored. But thanks to the efforts of Rose Wilder, who was recognized as South Carolina’s Superintendent of the Year in 2014, Clarendon 1 now is the second highest performing among South Carolina’s high poverty schools.

    The ongoing challenge for the district, in addition to the high poverty rates of many of its students, is to increase enrollment. Because Clarendon County's overall population has declined, so has enrollment, which is down by more than 30 percent over the past decade and now stands at just under 900 students. 

    The district has started advertising with billboards along Interstate 95, using the theme “Come Grow With Us.” Ironically, a majority of the children on the advertisements are white.

  • A Memorable Night on Broadway

    "Tuck Everlasting" made its formal Broadway opening Tuesday at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York. Jill, Emma and I drove in from Virginia and Nicholas flew from Nashville to see Ben in his first "adult" role.

    Here is a photo chronicle of our day and night, which included subway rides, a visit to Sardi's, the Gypsy Robe ceremony for the Tuck cast (covered by Broadway World), the show, the red carpet treatment, and a premiere party at Tavern on the Green. A memorable time was had by all, that's for sure.

  • Ready to Bloom

    Spring break tourists hoping to see the cherry blossoms at peak bloom have been a little disappointed, as Mother Nature’s, well, nature has been moody at best the past several weeks. A spike in late-winter temperatures had some forecasters pushing the peak date up to this past weekend, more than two weeks earlier than the average of April 4. However, a cold snap accompanied by drizzle and heavy winds pushed the forecast back a few days.

    I had hoped to catch the peak along the Tidal Basin after shooting a conference in Washington, D.C., on Monday, but with temperatures in the mid 40s and a gusty, wet wind, I had to settle for a beautiful sunset instead.

    Fortunately, forecasters say the blooms have withstood this most recent spate of cold and will start to peak later this week. According to the National Park Service, the blossom peak will last 4 to 10 days, a period in which more than 1.5 million people likely will head to the Tidal Basin to continue a decades-long tradition that started when Japan gave the trees to the United States as a sign of the two countries’ friendship in 1912.

    For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Turning Tables: A Photo Q&A, Conclusion

    Conclusion: Being interviewed by an aspiring teenage photographer — the director’s cut. This section focuses on the “Art & Dance” series.

    What led to the “Art & Dance” series?

    My twins, Ben and Emma, are dancers (as was their sister, Kate, until she was in high school). So, as the family photographer, I found myself taking pictures of their recitals, just like I did with Nicholas and his theatre/music performances in high school and college. For a long time, I had to take hundreds of pictures just to get a few I liked.

    And there are reasons for that.

    First, I shot a lot of pictures indoors, and until I got a good camera body (Canon 5D-Mark III) that works well in low light as well as a number of F2.8 lenses (the expensive ones), I was working at a disadvantage, especially indoors.

    Second, I usually shot performances, which meant that I sat in the same place and tried to capture things on a stage. That was both fun and boring at the same time, because I had to wait instead of create, and I had to rely on lighting that was completely out of my control.

    In 2014, I was looking for a new creative challenge, one that was more conceptual and artistic. I was always told that I had more of a news eye than a conceptual one and, for a long time, I believed that, but I wanted to challenge myself because it was something I hadn’t done before.

    That’s when I came up with the idea of taking pictures of dancers in natural light and in unusual settings. This is not a unique thing; you can find countless images all over the web. But it solved two concerns for me: 1) I wouldn’t have to worry about slow shutter speeds and sitting in the same place all the time. 2) I could see if my conceptual eye (the Art) could match the skills of the performer (the Dance).

    What challenges did you find in doing this?

    Unfortunately, at least at the beginning, I shot the “Art & Dance” pictures the same way as I did the performances. As someone who doesn’t dance, I didn’t understand the “peak” and missed it over and over, as my kids took pains to remind me constantly.

    Things changed for me when I realized that I needed to try different angles. I do that in my other photography, but why not dance? Often when I sit I can capture peaks because my eye is at the same level as the dancer’s jump. And the more I practice, the better I get at it, both the photography and the art direction.

    As a dancer, you have an advantage because you know that part. But you will still need to practice, practice, practice. Photography is a form of art just like dance is, and you can always find ways to improve.

    For the first three parts of this series, go here, here and here.

  • Turning Tables: A Photo Q&A, Part 3

    Part 3: Being interviewed by an aspiring teenage photographer — the director’s cut. This section focuses on starting and running a business.

    Did you always want to own a photography business?

    Growing up in the days when we had film and not digital photography, I never, ever thought I would do something like this.

    I’ve always been primarily a writer and editor. Photography was something that interested me, and I really enjoyed doing it while working for small newspapers in Texas and North Carolina. Traditional studio portraits, however, are often more technical than artistic, and for the longest time I thought that was the only way I make a living through photography.

    When I moved into communications, and became a one-person publishing unit, I started paying more attention to the visual presentation, especially as I took photos. The problem was I did not have the technical skills, or the patience and aptitude to learn those skills in a way that could make me successful solely as a photographer.

    Understanding how to get my camera to do what I wanted so I could capture what I saw was more frustrating than fascinating, especially in the days when post-production was spent inhaling chemicals in a pitch dark room.

    That has been eliminated thanks to the digital explosion, and enhanced by a chance to pay tribute to my dad. It’s also served as an opportunity to explore that I never thought I'd have.

    How did you start your business?

    On a rainy day in 2012, my oldest son (Nicholas) needed headshots for school. Of course, he was leaving that day, so we had to be creative, especially since I didn’t have studio equipment.

    I was extremely nervous about doing them — nothing is harder than getting professional quality shots of your own family — but they turned out well and I found that I liked the challenge of portrait photography, especially without the constraint of being in a studio.

    The next year, I was laid off from my job and became a freelancer. I started offering photography as part of my services when I felt like I finally had the equipment and the skills necessary to make sure my customers would be satisfied with my work. I’ve been fortunate that most of my clients like my work, and the business has grown in new and unexpected ways. 

    What have you learned from running your own business? What are the challenges?

    I learn something new every day. I’ve had to learn how to juggle many different writing and photography projects at once while still trying to raise a family, something that is not unique to anyone who does this even if our circumstances (and skill sets) are a bit different. Like any business, this one fluctuates in a feast or famine way, and that can be challenging.

    My wife is an excellent time manager, and being the one with the out-there creative gene, I’m not. I never have been, so it’s something I have to continue working at constantly.

    Purely from a photography standpoint, I still struggle at times with my technical skills (especially in the area of retouching). They are not where I’d like them to be yet, although I’m getting better. It’s not something that comes naturally, but I’m working at it.

    What have you enjoyed the most?

    I genuinely like meeting new people and working with them on various projects, whether its through interviews for stories or going on a shoot. When you have a chance to work together in a collaborative way, like we’ve done for the “Art & Dance” series, that’s always a lot of fun.

    Increasingly, I’ve learned how to enjoy art directing a shoot. This was something I never thought I would be good at, because I didn’t think I had that level of creativity to create something out of nothing. I find it really fascinating.

    Tomorrow: Concluding with Art & Dance. For Parts 1 and 2, go here and here.

  • Turning Tables: A Photo Q&A, Part 2

    Part 2: Being interviewed by an aspiring teenage photographer — the director’s cut. This section focuses on tips for beginners.

    The question seemed pretty simple: What tips would you give to someone starting out?

    My response: It's all a matter of what you want to do, and how much time you're willing to invest. The beauty of digital is that if you don't like it, you can delete it, and it doesn't cost anything. So go out and start taking pictures.

    Find new ways to challenge yourself all the time. Don’t rest on what you’ve done yesterday. Look ahead to tomorrow's opportunities.

    Think about composition. Don't be afraid to bend down or look around, and take the same shot from three different angles. Keep the ones you like and delete the others. The more you do it, the better you’ll get.


    What does someone just starting out need to know about equipment and lighting?

    I’m not a technician by any means, but here are some very basic things you need to know:

    • Digital SLR vs. iPhone: Yes, you can get great shots with many of the point-and-shoots that are out there, and the iPhone's camera is really nice. BUT: A good digital SLR gives you flexibility (faster shutter, no delay, broader range, more settings, different feel in your hand). Your dad mentioned that you received a digital SLR for Christmas and that’s great. You’re off on the right foot.
    • Lenses matter, too, often more than the camera body. This is where you start to spend the bucks. Each lens gives you different abilities/opportunities (sharp foreground/background blur, panoramic view, zoomed in view) and, depending on how much you're willing to spend to make your photos pop, greater clarity.
    • Try different angles. Generally, when you’re taking pictures of people, it’s best to be at eye level, but not always. Take pictures from a long way away and up close of the same subject. Look up, look down, and take several different pictures of the same subject from a variety of angles, then see what you like best. 
    • Fill the frame as much as possible, with an eye toward the crop. You don’t want dead space in your picture. You know those pictures where people stand in the middle of the photo and there’s all this space on either side. Unless you’re trying to do that on purpose, you need to get closer to your subject. (But not too close, because you can lose some things too.)
    • Remember the crop. Most digital cameras produce files with a 4x6 ratio. If you are producing 8x10s, then you’ll need space at the top or bottom to accommodate the crop. Also, if you have to crop the picture too much, you’ll lose quality on the image, so that’s why you need to be as close as you can.
    • Shutters and speed: If you’re trying to capture action (such as sports or dancers), you need to make sure your shutter speed is at least 1/160th of a second. (1/250th or 1/300th is preferable.) Unfortunately, this also means you’ll have to push your ISO (how much light goes into the camera) way up if you’re shooting indoors. Depending on the camera body you have, it can be difficult to push the ISO up to much more than 3200 or 4000 and still get a good picture. Higher end cameras can go to 6400 or 12800 and get something that is acceptable, but still not ideal.
    • Flashes and stopping action: Most flashes operate at 1/60th to 1/125th of a second, and it’s hard to stop action without blur that way, which is why I often am outside for most of my dance pictures. Also, available light is almost always the best way to go because of the way it lights the skin, but that’s just my personal preference.

    Tomorrow: Starting and running a business. For Part 1, go here.

  • Turning Tables: A Photo Q&A, Part 1

    Recently, the father of a 13-year-old girl wrote asking if I could help her with a class project by answering some questions about photography. The dad explained that his daughter — a dancer and a big “Newsies” fan — had started following my work because of my ongoing “Art & Dance” series and had gotten a camera for Christmas.

    As a dad, it’s hard to turn down this type of request, especially when a parent takes the time to ask for help for his daughter. As a photographer, I’m more collegial than competitive, and always happy to help others.

    Answering her questions was an interesting exercise. Since Jill and I reached 50 last year, we both find ourselves reflecting on why we do what we do, what drives us to continue, and what we like/dislike about our roles in this life. As the child of two teachers, this was my teachable moment, an opportunity to explain  the craft I've come to love.

    Over the next four days, I’d like to share edited — and in some cases enhanced — versions of the responses. (Call it a “director’s cut” if you will.) If you follow my writing and this blog, chances are you’ve seen some of this before. But I hope you find it an entertaining read nonetheless.

    What was your inspiration to become a professional photographer?

    My dad was a visual artist who could paint, sculpt, or draw anything that came to mind. I can't draw a stick figure, but I've always had his eye for composition, just not the creativity (or sadly, the fine motor skills) to create something out of nothing.

    When I first went to New York with our son, Ben, in 2009, I thought of my dad often as I was drawn to the visual explosion that is the city. Dad died in 2007 and never visited New York, but in so many ways, the stuff I see walking around serves as a constant reminder of his interests, insights, and influence on my life. Also, when in New York, I spend most of my time on foot as opposed to in a car, so I see things differently when I’m there.

    On a beautiful spring day, I took out my camera, started taking random pictures of the things I saw, and found I have a knack for it. I shared the photos to Facebook, found my friends liked them too, and just continued with it. 

    What do you like most about photography?

    Capturing moments in time, whether it is through the dance pictures, an unusual or visually interesting place, or through portraits I take of people. People seem to appreciate that I can do it and like my work, which is very gratifying.

    Photography also has allowed me to make connections I never would have imagined — such as the one I’m making with you right now — and several folks from far-flung places have said they became interested in picking up a camera after seeing my random noodlings. I've been lucky to go out on photo shoots with a variety of other weekend warriors, all of whom I've learned from and whose talents are greater than mine.

    Here’s what I say to anyone who has an interest in taking pictures: Try it and see what happens. You might find you like it and have a previously untapped talent. It’s something you can do alone or with others. It gives you a chance to be creative in ways you might never have imagined.

    Next Up: Learning the basics.

  • Winter Storm Jonas: Visual Storytelling

    A photo essay with text about the recent blizzard that crippled the Washington, D.C., area is now up in the Visual Storytelling section. The related Facebook album posted to my business site has been viewed almost 2,000 times, received more than 120 "Likes," and has been shared by 72 people.

  • Art & Dance: St. Louis

    Seventeen months after Ben's journey in "Newsies" started, and more than a year after the first "Art & Dance" shoot in Charlotte, we embarked on one last try on the morning before his final performance.

    With five fellow cast members, the shoot took place on the roof of the Fox Theatre, more than 12 stories up and with beautiful views of St. Louis in the background. 

    To get to the platform we used at the top of the theatre, we had to climb up a steep slope. The last few photos in this album were taken by Ben and his roommate, Josh Burrage, from the slope.

    I may be brave, but I ain't balanced... Enjoy.

    To see more photos from this shoot, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Art & Dance: Central Park

    Most of the photos in the “Art & Dance” series are taken quickly. The shoots generally last no more than a couple of hours. But this particular series, captured in Central Park last weekend, was done in a hit-and-run fashion. We didn’t have much time — about 45 minutes to be exact — to take pictures of several iMpulse dancers. So we went to a section of the park near the entrance at Columbus Circle and got these.

    There’s something to be said for working fast, I guess…

    To see more from this shoot, go to my Facebook album here or check out the "Art & Dance" section on this website.

  • iPhone Experiments, Part 2: New York

    New York is where photography moved from being a hobby/ business necessity/family requirement into one of my great passions. The positive response I received from Facebook friends after posting albums of the New York-themed “Street Scenes” in 2009-10 is, in large part, what pushed me to improve my skills and eventually pursue photography professionally.

    Although the amount of our New York travel has decreased significantly over the past 3-4 years, I always have my camera when we visit the city. Except this time.

    With only an iPhone and a lens kit Jill gave me for Christmas, I took these pictures during a recent trip that was nice mix of business and pleasure (mostly the latter). Over three days and three nights, we went to myriad places in various sections of the city, and my phone (or at least its camera) was buzzing.

    Curious to see what you think of the results. All feedback is welcome!


    For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • iPhone Experiments, Part 1

    Over the past several years, a camera has become my constant companion. I hate when I see something and don’t have what’s necessary to capture it.

    For Christmas, my wife gave me a kit with two lenses for my iPhone, hoping (I’m sure) that I won’t lug my camera and accompanying accessories everywhere I go. On a recent trip to New York City — Jill’s Christmas present — I decided to give the kit a try.

    As a camera, the iPhone is great, although it has some major limitations (lagging shutter, poor in low light, and increase pixilation when zooming). It also operates on a different crop ratio from my regular full-frame camera, which affects composition. So when you pair up those shortcomings with being on a moving train, you create some definite artistic challenges.

    Here is the result, taken on the Amtrak between Baltimore and Trenton, N.J. Would be curious to see what you think.

    For more photos from this experiment, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Happy 18th to Ben & Emma!

    Happy 18th birthday to Emma and Ben! You have both enriched our lives in so many, many ways. Your mom and I love you more than you can ever begin to know...

  • Christmas Memories Through the Years

    Christmas memories from over the years. Happy holidays to all...

  • Happy 19th to Kate!

    Our oldest daughter. Our last December birthday. Our beautiful Kate is 19 today (December 27), having developed into a woman who combines childlike wonder and increasing adult maturity with a touch of old soul. We love you, sweetheart!

  • Comeback Season

    “As a journalist, I’ve always been fascinated by two subjects: The intersection of high school sports and community and how schools recover from trauma, whether it’s a natural disaster or a terrible event. The story of Sayreville has both.”

    Those words are the start of a six-minute slideshow I wrote, edited and narrated to accompany my cover story that is featured in the newest edition of American School Board Journal.  The story focuses on how a New Jersey school district responded to a hazing scandal that forced the cancellation of the 2014 high school football season.

    The slideshow is designed to give readers more insight into the reporting and what I learned during my two-plus days in Sayreville in late September. It also is a showcase for many of the more than 100 photos I took during the trip. Three of those photos appear in the story and on the cover of the magazine.

    I am extremely proud of this "Visual Storytelling" package, which examines the effect the scandal had on district leadership as well as students. The photographs give you a sense of the town and community, which strongly supports its high school athletes. The writing looks at how, after the resignation of the athletic director and the involuntary transfer of a Hall-of-Fame football coach, Sayreville’s team returned to action this fall with new staff in place and a heightened awareness about the effects of hazing and bullying.

    You can read the story, titled “Comeback Season,” online for a brief time here, or you can download a PDF here as well. Check out the slideshow too, and let me know what you think of this approach in the comments.

  • Art & Dance: Helping Others

    Sometimes you have to “Just Dance.”

    That’s what a group of children and adults have done at a local school in the village of Chittenango, N.Y., since a fire destroyed their studio in late September. And this Saturday, they’ll dance again in a fundraiser to benefit the rescue workers who put out the blaze.

    “We are a small community that needs to take care of each other,” said Michael Quirk, a Chittenango native who opened Just Dance Studio seven years ago. “During our time of need Chittenango has stepped up and helped us. We want to give back to show our thanks to this great community.”

    Chittenango, located about 15 miles east of Syracuse, is a small village best known as the birthplace of L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The village holds a three-day Oz-Stravaganza! and has a yellow brick road on both sides of Genesee Street, which houses Chittenango’s main business district.

    Just Dance Studio, which has 87 students ages 3 to adult, had its facilities on the first floor of a two-story brick building on Genesee. Late in the evening on Sept. 24, a fire started in a second floor apartment and quickly engulfed the building.

    The students were dancing the next day at the local high school.

    In early October, I took a brief business trip to the Syracuse-Rochester area. Stephanie Wicks, a longtime friend and co-worker of Jill’s, mentioned the fire and what had happened.  “You probably could get some good pictures,” she said.

    I contacted Quirk and his sister, Kelli Handzel (the business manager), and offered to take photos of several of the studio’s students to raise funds for the rebuilding efforts. We agreed to meet on a Saturday afternoon the day before I left outside the studio building, which has been condemned and will be demolished.

    Ten dancers, ranging in age from 7 to 11, were there with their parents. Many were wearing Just Dance T-shirts, and all had costumes. We took photos at the studio, went to the Chittenango Volunteer Fire Department, where a festival was being held, and then to Chittenango Falls State Park.

    Most of the photos in my “Art & Dance” series are of pre-professional and professional dancers who have been immersed in years of training. This shoot served as a reminder of why kids get into it in the first place — they like to “Just Dance." 

    Saturday’s recital, which will be held from noon to 2 p.m. at Chittenango Middle School, comes as the volunteer fire department continues its annual fundraising campaign. Taxpayers fund the trucks and most of the department’s emergency equipment, but repairs, maintenance and upkeep of the building and grounds are paid for with donations.

    Tickets are $5 at the door. Dance and fire safety demonstrations are planned, along with flu shots, a 50/50 raffle and other activities. Quirk is using the recital as an opportunity to “reveal” where the replacement studio will be located.

    “We are very lucky,” he said during the shoot. “This community has been so supportive. At the same time, many people thought we wouldn’t continue to operate or just close up shop, so we need to make a statement that we’re still here and we’ll be even better. For many of our kids, dance is becoming their primary activity. They enjoy it too much. We enjoy it too much to just walk away.”


    To make a tax-deductible donation to the Chittenango Fire Department, mail it to 417 Genesee Street, Chittenango, N.Y., 13037. For more “Art & Dance” photos from this session, go here.

  • Abandoned Detroit: A Snapshot

    Like many photographers, I love a good architectural ruin. And there’s no better set of ruins in the U.S. than the city of Detroit.

    Over the summer, Jill and I took a driving trip from the Motor City, Toronto, Syracuse and New York City that served as part vacation, part work for us both. At the start of the trip, while Jill was attending a meeting, I went on a four-hour morning tour of abandoned buildings with Motor City Photo Workshops.

    I enjoy visiting different cities with my camera, shooting the random things I see as I acclimate myself to the new surroundings. But in Detroit, I needed someone to show me around.

    The tour could not make a dent in the mass of vacant commercial buildings, factories, schools, churches and homes in this once-thriving, long decaying industrial city, which has lost two-thirds of its population since 1950. Capturing even half of what is there would take weeks, if not months. And each place a different security set up (or not) and a different view on trespassing. Having a local tour guide was a necessity.

    Our tour consisted of an abandoned Chrysler plant, a vacant church, a rapidly decaying library, and the former United Community Hospital. You could not help but be somewhat captivated — and depressed — by what you found inside.

    These are some of my photos from the tour, which ended just in time for me to take photos of teenage dancers in an abandoned church. (You can see those photos by checking out the “Art & Dance: Detroit” album.)

    I wish we could have gone to more places; these were not some of the iconic tour sites I’ve read about. But perhaps I can do that on another day.

    Hope you like what you see… For more photos, go to my Facebook album.