Blog: Our Reality Show

Visual Storytelling
  • 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.

  • The Last Flight

    My father was a huge fan of the Jet Age-influenced modern architecture that found its way to the United States in the early 1960s. He was particularly fond of the Space Needle in Seattle and loved the design of the Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport, which looks like a flying saucer that has landed on its four legs.

    He also appreciated the design of the Trans World Airlines Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport, even though he never had the chance to see the famed gull-winged building that was dedicated in 1962.

    On Sunday, two days before what would have been my dad’s 75th birthday, I toured the terminal with Bernadette, a family friend and fellow photographer. The tour, part of Open House New York, was billed as the last time the terminal will be open before it is converted into the centerpiece of a $265 million luxury hotel.

    Designed by the celebrated Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, the terminal is considered one of the masterpieces of 20th-century modernism. Saarinen, who also designed the St. Louis Gateway Arch, wanted it to have sleek and flowing lines that represent a bird in flight.

    New York City was considered the birthplace of the Jet Age, which officially started in the mid 1940s but took off (literally) in 1958, when the Boeing 707 began service on a New York to London route. That was the first year that more passengers crossed the Atlantic Ocean by air rather than by ship, according to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

    The development of the Boeing 747 only accelerated the pace of air travel, but it also was the beginning of the end for the TWA Flight Center, which struggled to handle the larger planes and additional passengers. On Sunday, for example, organizers for Open House New York expected 3,000 to 5,000 people to be on hand for the tour, and the terminal felt crowded with half that number.

    Fortunately, unlike many celebrated buildings that seem to be randomly razed in and around the city, the terminal was included in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Last month, the state approved plans by MCR Development and JetBlue Airways plans to build a 500-room, six-story luxury hotel on the terminal site.

    The Mad Men-era terminal will become the lobby for the hotel, which is scheduled to open in 2018. For generations to come, the hotel owners promise, it will feel like 1962 again.

    Somewhere, my dad is smiling. 

    For more photos, see my Facebook page here.

  • Come Together: Right Now!

    My wife’s words rang through my head, at times louder than the music: “Damn those stigmas.”

    As parents of a child who has mental health issues, one of our largest fears is that she will use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. Mental health and substance abuse are linked in another way, through the stigmas that prevent many people from talking about them openly and publicly — as the illnesses they are, not just the poor choices we make.

    A new organization, Facing Addiction, is working to change that perception. And they took a huge step Sunday with UNITE to Face Addiction, a five-hour rally and concert that drew thousands from across the U.S. to the National Mall Sunday in Washington, D.C.

    Described as the first of its kind, the rally featured a terrific lineup of performers who cut across genres and generations. Featured were Steven Tyler, Sheryl Crow, Joe Walsh, Jason Isbell, The Fray, John Rzeznik of The Goo Goo Dolls, Jonathan Butler and Tommy Sims, who wrote “Change the World.” All have faced substance abuse issues or been affected by someone close who faced addiction.

    The audience, a vast majority of them recovering addicts or people who had lost a loved one, slowly grew throughout the damp and dreary day. Many carried signs with pictures of loved ones who had been lost to addiction; others were there because they are in long-term recovery. They cheered each of the artists, but individual songs or performers brought many to tears, especially when The Fray — a personal highlight, along with Isbell — performed “How to Save a Life.”

    Facing Addiction, a recently formed organization that has been working to focus attention on the cause, organized the rally. Officials with the organization say addiction affects one in three households and 85 million people in the U.S. It also cuts across all class, socioeconomic, and racial lines.

    Among the speakers: U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy; Michael Botticelli, a recovering addict who now is director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; and syndicated talk-show host and surgeon Mehmet Oz. Others included Emmy Award-winning actress Allison Janney, whose role in the sitcom “Mom” drew loud cheers; and former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who is battling a family legacy of substance abuse and mental illness.

    The biggest piece of news at the event was when Murthy, surrounded by three of his top staff, announced that his office has commissioned the first-ever Surgeon General’s report on alcoholism and addiction.

    And the numbers are there to justify it: Overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in people under 50. Stigma or not, that is a sobering fact.

    Damn those stigmas.

    For individual galleries of the performers, go to the Performances section. For a photographic overview of the event, go to my Facebook photo page.

  • 9/11: #NeverForget

    This has been an overwhelming week — both personally and professionally — on a number of fronts. And then I'm reminded of what happened on this day 14 years ago, and it puts those life moments into perspective.‪#‎NeverForget‬

  • A Visit to Aruba

    Earlier this month, Jill and I took our first non work-related vacation together as a couple in almost a decade. Having secured a great deal on a place to stay, we decided to go to Aruba, Aruba in the Caribbean.

    The beauty of the beaches and sunsets outweighed the extreme “Las Vegas on a cruise ship” feel of the island, where the economy is solely dependent on tourism. We stayed away from the kitsch as much as possible and did our best to do, well, nothing.

    That worked well, and our time away together was much needed. Of course, our good travel karma was lost with Jill’s luggage somewhere on the trip home. Three-plus hours in line at the Aruba airport (where you also go through U.S. Customs), plus flight delays and the aforementioned lost bag (still not found) meant we did not get home until almost 2 a.m., with a full week of work ahead.

    But it’s hard to complain too much when you see those beaches and sunsets.


    For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Chronicle of a Caribbean Sunset

    In life, few things are more beautiful than watching the sun fall slowly from the sky.

    Note to fellow shutterbugs who might be curious: Taking these photos off the island of Aruba, I played a great deal with the exposures and f-stops to achieve the variations in the photos you see. With a couple of exceptions, limited post-production work (cropping, minor color adjustment, definition) was done on these photos.

  • The Art & Humor of Vegetables

    Ben is a kid who doesn’t like to eat any food that hasn’t been processed at least twice, which turns every adventure with any natural product that is green in origin into a standup comedy routine. At 13, he’s getting better (or at least acknowledging) that eating fruit is good for you, but vegetables remain another story.

    Between shows recently, he was bribed (or shamed, depending on how you look at it) into eating a piece of lettuce, a cucumber, and a tomato. Asked whether he wanted dressing (aka sauce) to go with it, he asked his friend Neil, “What is sauce?”

    These pictures show my son performing his own version of dinner theater, And by the way, he ate 2 out of 3, but the chickpea-for-tomato trade went nowhere.

  • The Final Week

    The final week of "Ragtime" included Ben's fourth and fifth performances as Little Boy, with friends from Virginia's Metropolitan Fine Arts Center in attendance. Also, below are photos of the show's last day, including an after party attended by the cast, crew, and producers.

  • Helping NYC's Homeless

    New York has almost 40,000 homeless people — the population of my hometown — living in shelters around the city. After seeing a number of people sleeping on benches at the entrance to the Staten Island Ferry, I decided to see what I could do to chronicle the state of the homeless here.

    As New York becomes more and more expensive to visit, much less live, the number of panhandlers continues to grow. You can’t walk down the street without seeing someone asking for money.

    But you can help. Got two minutes? Have $1? Then take a look at the website, It's a philanthropic social challenge to see if 1 million New Yorkers can give just $1 each to help the homeless, poor, and hungry of NYC in 40 days, 11/22/2011 to 12/31/2011.

    I donated these and other photos to the cause, and several are featured in a video promoting the project (see below). Please consider a donation of your own.

  • Capital Hill in An Instant

    I caught these photos will attending meetings on Capitol Hill this week. Interesting what you can get with a phone, even if that is not my preferred method of photography.

  • Cherry Blossoms: 100 Years

    In 1912, 3,000 cherry blossom trees were bestowed on Washington, D.C. by Tokyo, Japan. Rooted strongly and surviving outside elements, the trees have withstood the test of time for a century in the tidal basin, which includes the Jefferson Monument and memorials to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr.

    The National Cherry Blossom Festival, a five-week event, snarls traffic around the basin as residents and tourist from around the world take a look at the trees in bloom. One recent, cloudy Sunday morning, Nicholas and I had a chance to photograph the beautiful flowers as they moved into peak form.

  • Abandoned: The School Left Behind

    Just off a state highway in rural North Carolina, a school that educated elementary-age children for almost 70 years sits vacant more than a decade after its doors were closed for the last time.

    For more photos and the rest of this essay, go to “Abandoned: The School Left Behind,” a new piece in the Visual Storytelling section.

  • Work Around the House

    I spend a lot of time in and around the Lorton Workhouse, the former prison that is now home to a local arts center. Periodically, I'll walk around and take photos of the slowly changing campus, hoping to catch things I had not seen previously. Here are some of my more recent attempts.

    For more photos, check out my Facebook album here.

  • Fathers, Family & Austin

    I need live music. It feeds my soul. Since my late teens and early 20s, when I lived in Houston, I’ve found myself in bars and clubs, absorbing the sounds of musicians telling their stories and pouring out their souls to crowds large and small. Usually small.

    Most of my family doesn’t understand this need; at least I don’t think they do. The music I typically enjoy is miles from the top 40, although I’ve been known to embrace the occasional pop song that is played ad infinitum on the radio. But mostly I appreciate singer-songwriters whose music strikes a common cord with who I am, who I’ve been, or who I wish to be.

    Jon Dee Graham cuts across all three. His music touches and informs; the honesty with which he writes and plays is something I related to immediately. He writes as a father and a husband who has acclaim and hardships in equal measure. I’ve been a fan for almost two decades, albeit one who has experienced the topics he writes about both vicariously and up close and in person.

    Like The Replacements, another band I tried to see but couldn’t manage to connect with live until a few months ago, my attempts to see Graham seemed thwarted at every turn. I’ve caught Dave Alvin, Steve Earle, John Hiatt, and Buddy Miller — other genre-crossing favorites in my ongoing music queue — numerous times. Other than one show in the mid 1990s when he was the opening act, I can’t begin to tell you how many times I missed Graham by a day or a week, seemingly caught in an inextricable conflict that prevented me from making that live connection.

    Still, I’ve bought everything he’s released, ranging from the music on mid-major labels (New West) to his self-released material. I made a contribution via mail when I heard of his son’s rare disorder, which led to a live album/DVD that I also purchased and lapped up with the fervor of the fans who’ve seen him live hundreds of times. I’ve read with envy of his weekly 17-year residency at the tiny, infamous Continental Club in Austin, and wondered how I could catch a show at the infamous small club in my home state’s capital.

    This past Wednesday, thanks to a fortuitous spur-of-the-moment trip and my wife’s indulgence, I finally managed to see Graham live. In Austin… at the Continental Club … with Jill and I sitting on a former car seat against the wall.

    And it was worth every penny, even if the cover charge was only $8. I gladly would have paid much more.

    These photos (plus the ones on my Facebook page here) tell the story of that night. They alternate between photos of the club and the groups we saw — Graham with his incredibly tight band, the Fighting Cocks, and his tremendously talented teenage son, William, leading his band, the Painted Redstarts.

    The best part for me was seeing my wife enjoy one of my favorite musicians in a club in my home state. The next best was seeing Graham standing on the opposite side of the room, watching his son perform and leading the cheers. Just like any other proud dad.

  • Art & Dance: Dallas

    The latest in the "Art & Dance" series featuring cast members from the 1st National Tour of "Newsies." These shots were taken on a break between shows in mid-May outside the AT&T Theater in Dallas.

    For more of these photos, visit my Facebook page here. 

  • The Shiner Pilgrimage

    Anyone who knows me also knows of my love for Shiner Bock, a beer made by a family-owned brewery in a tiny Central Texas town between Houston and San Antonio. Knowing I would be in Texas this month, I made plans to take a tour of the small brewery with my good friends Eric Kleppinger (who came down from Virginia) and Bernadette Jusinski.

    We made the 90-mile drive from San Antonio on a drizzly Tuesday morning, took the short tour (the brewery is in the middle of an expansion), then stopped by the gift shop and Howard's all-encompassing convenience store for a sample of the local goods before departing. A pilgrimage well worth it...

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

  • Barns & Buildings

    Living in rural North Carolina, I was always fascinated by the old barns and buildings you see while driving down the two-lane state highways. Recently, on a trip back to the state where I lived from 1993 to 2001, I decided to take pictures of some of them along NC 87 between Reidsville and Burlington and in Rockingham County as well. Here is an example, and you can see more by going to my Facebook photo page here.

  • After The Flood

    When my wife Jill asked, on the spur of the moment, if I wanted to accompany her on a quick two-day excursion to Austin, I jumped at the chance even though I just returned last week from a 12-day trip to Texas.

    Austin is one of my favorite cities, and given that Jill never had been here, I thought it would make for a nice opportunity to show her around. Little did we know that the flooding that has pounded much of Texas and Oklahoma for the past several weeks would hammer the state capital the day before we arrived.

    The last time I was in Austin was in December 2011, when the entire region was in the middle of a draught. But since early May, devastating thunderstorms have left Texas waterlogged. Sadly, at least 17 have been killed and another dozen were missing as of Tuesday evening in Texas and Oklahoma. Thousands in the two states have been forced from their homes and too many to mention have no power. More than 30 counties in Texas alone have been declared disaster areas.

    We flew into Austin, our plane arriving more than an hour late due to delays in Houston, another city also struck hard by flooding. The downtown hotel where we are staying is about a mile from North Lamar Boulevard, where the majority of the damage in the city occurred when Shoal Creek overflowed its banks on Monday.

    While Jill went to her meeting, I decided to take a look around, and walked down to North Lamar. Cleanup was ongoing at the Shoal Creek Saloon and a Goodwill store, where employees reported four feet of water. Remarkably, a 7-Eleven had reopened its doors for business — despite serious damage — after more than 30 workers came to help.

    By late afternoon, Shoal Creek was within its banks again, so I walked along the five-block trail from Ninth to Fourth Street amid the mud and silt. Debris, trash, and broken trees lined the trail. An dumpster could be seen across the way; the car that overturned nearby had been removed. A food truck was stuck, partially turned over, in the broken trees.

    Walking to the end of the line, I took out my iPhone and captured the images at the top of this entry. Crows, still covered in mud, washed themselves as the remaining water pushed through, at times rapidly even as it receded. I saw three snakes — probably water moccasins — curled up on the banks near Fourth Street and took my leave.

    It wasn’t what I was expecting when Jill suggested we go on this midweek trip. It was a beautiful day, although the ground remained so saturated that it was almost unbearably humid. We leave on Thursday morning, just before the rain is expected to return.

    For more photos, go to my Facebook page here.

  • Baltimore: The Day After

    I’m no longer a news reporter, but I am a storyteller. That’s why I drove to Baltimore on Tuesday, pulled by an inexplicable force to capture what I saw and heard.

    The constant barrage of stories in the wake of Monday’s riots left me navigating a strange mix of anger and sadness. Long fascinated by American history, especially the unrest during the era in which I was born, I could not help but feel we’ve taken a huge step backward.

    What I saw confirmed a long-gestating belief that we’ve not come as far as I naively hoped and thought 10 years ago. As a society, we keep making the same mistakes over and over, doomed to repeat them with each passing generation because things don't fundamentally change.


    I’ve long had a fascination with Baltimore, located about an hour from where we live. The city is a study in racial and economic contrasts, from the beauty of the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards area to the rampant poverty, unemployment and crime in the western part of the city.

    On Tuesday, I drove past the stadium where we took our kids to their first major-league baseball game. No games were being played; when the Orioles took the field again the next afternoon, the stadium was empty.

    I parked on Franklin Street and started walking, almost by reflex, toward the theatre where Ben has performed in two national tours over the past three years. But I was pulled, camera in hand, toward Pennsylvania Avenue.

    I started taking pictures, all the while aware of my surroundings on this beautiful spring day. I smiled when someone told me to be careful, nodded at the two kids who asked if I was going "down there" to take pictures, and watched the helicopters circling overhead. As I walked past the small shops and buildings, many boarded up or closed, I did my best to ignore the occasional person who yelled at me to take their picture. Instead, I took random photos of what I saw as I moved through the Upton-Druid Heights neighborhood and toward the CVS Pharmacy at the intersection of West North and Pennsylvania.


    The CVS, as we all know by now, was one of the businesses burned during Monday’s riots in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old African-American man whose spine was severed while in police custody. It follows similar incidents in several U.S. cities following controversial actions by police, most notably in Ferguson, Mo., last fall.

    African-Americans in Baltimore have long had a difficult relationship with police. In Maryland, one-third of the state’s residents who are imprisoned come from Baltimore, costing taxpayers an estimated $220 million annually. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Sun reported that the city has paid $5.7 million over four years to settle lawsuits that accused the police of using excessive force.

    Walking through Upton-Druid Heights on Tuesday afternoon, several hours before the 10 p.m. curfew imposed on the city, I passed groups of people standing on street corners and in front of small markets and mom-and-pop stores. Many buildings and abandoned row houses, once a symbol of stability for African-American families in the city, are crumbling.

    At one point, I overheard a conversation between two women, probably in their late 20s. One was almost yelling about her former boyfriend, saying that he didn’t have work, wouldn’t find work, and was stealing all of her cigarettes. She said she wouldn’t take him back again, no matter “how good he is,” because he tried to stash items stolen during the looting at her apartment.

    Her friend just nodded.


    Baltimore is the largest city in Maryland, the nation’s most affluent state. Since riots in the late 1960s, the city has lost one-third of its population, and manufacturing jobs have dropped by 90 percent. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income for African-Americans is $33,610, compared to $60,550 for white households in Baltimore. Almost one-fourth of the city’s residents live below the poverty line, and unemployment among African-Americans ages 20 to 24 is an amazing 37 percent.

    This is difficult to reconcile when touring the Inner Harbor area and parts of downtown. But it’s not hard to see when you walk through Upton-Druid Heights, where half of the people live in poverty and 64 percent of black males are unemployed, according to the New York Times.

    Driving into Baltimore, radio reports noted that the National Guard had been sent to Baltimore. But despite a strong police presence at the intersection of West North and Pennsylvania, where camera crews were set up outside the CVS and a large crowd held up signs and chanted their protests, law enforcement was largely scattered. A gaggle of helicopters flew overhead, circling above in the clear sky.

    The National Guard was protecting the Inner Harbor, several miles away. The police department, who some would say caused the situation in the first place, was stationed in Upton-Druid Heights.


    Just before I reached the drug store, I saw a group of adults and kids painting a mural on an old building. The group is part of Jubilee Arts Baltimore, an organization that provides arts classes to the residents of Upton and Sandtown-Winchester. Part of the Newborn Holistic Ministries, Jubilee Arts is responsible for many of the murals that dot Pennsylvania Avenue, most of them celebrating African-American history and exhorting residents to find community unity.

    One of the Jubilee Arts volunteers told me the adults felt lucky to be working on the mural that day. Their places of business were closed in the wake of Monday’s riots, and schools weren’t open.

    While I understand why many businesses were closed and the Orioles game was cancelled, I have trouble reconciling the fact that schools were not open on Tuesday or Wednesday. For kids living in entrenched poverty, schools offer stability and, often, an opportunity to get a healthy meal. I can see why school leaders decided not to hold classes, given the unrest and tension in the city, but I can’t help but feel the kids were done a disservice.

    “It was good for the kids,” the volunteer told me. “They needed some place to go.”


    Over the past several days, I’ve been reading about Baltimore obsessively. It has affected me in the same way Hurricane Katrina did for many of the same reasons. I can’t help but shake my head and wonder what it will take for things to change.

    What will it take for police abuse to stop? What will it take for people to stop taking advantage of others, capitalizing on legitimate protests and twisting them into moments of violence and destruction? Will we recede back into our pre-established positions and comfortable lives until the next time something like this happens?

    As I drove home, I could not help but wonder: What will it take?

    For more photos, go to my Facebook page here.

  • Writing, Photos in National Magazine

    My writing and photos are featured in the current issue of Diversity & the Bar, a magazine published by the Minority Corporate Council Association. "A Career Built By Opening Doors for Others" is a profile of Thomas L. Sager, former general counsel for DuPont Co. Sager helped develop the DuPont Legal Model, an industry benchmark and process for law firms to promote diverse and inclusive cultures while redefining how they measure success.

    Take a look by visiting

  • Nutcracker Dress Rehearsal

    Shooting "The Nutcracker" this year was a different experience than I've previously had. For one, I know my camera and the theater much better. Second, this year's version seemed much brighter and more buoyant than in the past.

    Also, it helped that Emma and Ben weren't in the show — even though I missed seeing them do it and hope they will again — because I was able to be much more objective and wasn't always trying to ensure I captured their work first.

    Finally, I spotted something I hadn't in the past that informed my choices of where to go and where to shoot. Much of the action this year seemed to be generated from the sides, rather than center stage, and by moving around a little bit I could get some fun angles. Also, during the dress rehearsal, I went directly to the stage and shot from there to get a different perspective.

    Here are three images from the shoot. I'll have more from the Sunday performance soon, where I was able to build on the lessons I learned from this performance.

    Live performance: It's never the same twice...

    For more images, go to my Facebook album here. If you'd like to purchase one or more of the images, go to my photo site by clicking on the E-store tab at the top of this page.

  • Nutcracker Candids

    This past week, I shot a dress rehearsal and a performance of MSA's annual production of "The Nutcracker." Here are a few behind-the-scenes shots, including the warm up, a view from backstage right, and some hardworking, tired kids listening to notes after a long rehearsal.

    For more, check out my Facebook album here.

  • Art & Dance Calendars Still Available

    You can still order your 2015 "Art & Dance" calendar and support the Metropolitan School of the Arts scholarship fund. Orders are being accepted through Dec. 1 and will be delivered in time for the holidays. Out of town orders also are accepted for an additional $4.50 shipping. Suggested donation is $20.

    Place your order now at the MSA studio in Alexandria or Lorton, or by filling out this form. Thank you!

  • Art & Dance Calendars Available

    This is the one that started the Art & Dance series — a shot of my son, Ben,rehearsing at the Lorton Workhouse. This image, and many more, are featured in my 2015 Art & Dance calendar now available as a benefit for Metropolitan School of the Arts.

    Suggested donations are $20; shipping outside Northern Virginia is an additional $4.50. To purchase your calendar, send me an email at or a message via Facebook.

  • Calendars Have Arrived!

    The first shipment of "Art & Dance" calendars has arrived. Orders can be picked up at MSA's Alexandria studio and I will ship calendars to those of you from out-of-town soon. There's still time if you haven't purchased yours yet, and you can see a sample at either the Alexandria or Lorton studio.

    Calendars are being sold for a suggested donation of $20. Click here to order yours today! 

  • Candid Moments: 2014

    Here are some candid photos I have taken while walking the streets of New York and other cities this year. If you'd like to see more, visit my Facebook album here.

  • Art & Dance, Part 4

    Here are more photos from my "Art & Dance" series. You can check out some of the newest ones in my Facebook album here, or by visiting the Visual Storytelling section.

  • Art & Dance, Part 3.2

    Today's Daily Photo is actually a set of three pictures from my "Finding Art in Performance" series focusing on "Art & Dance."

  • Close Up: Ballet Intensive

    My second photo assignment Friday — it’s been a very busy few days around here — was to shoot the final week demonstration for Metropolitan School of the Arts' summer ballet intensive. I took pictures at the first week demonstration the previous Friday, and many were your standard performance photos that try to capture what happened.

    This time, I decided to go for something a little different, focusing instead on close ups of the dancers' faces as much as possible to capture their concentration, preparation, and emotion. You can see the hard work that many of these kids put into this camp and training while having fun at the same time. It really is inspiring.

    You can see the rest of the album here.

  • Art & Dance, Part 3.1

    Here is the start of a new section in my ongoing "Art & Dance" series. I call this one "Finding art in performance." You can find more photos like this in my Visual Storytelling section.

  • Art and Dance, Part 1

    Consider this album a merger of separate interests.

    Because of my children and my affiliation with Metropolitan School of the Arts, I shoot a lot of performances. But live performances are the end result, not the work in progress.

    It’s rare, in fact, that I shoot rehearsals, or the art in the process of being created. The reason, quite frankly, is that I find it to be frustrating. As a non-dancer (actually someone who has problems putting one foot in front of the other without tripping), I look at the photos I take from a “Did I capture something cool?” standpoint, not whether I caught someone at peak in a particular move. Peak, however, is what is expected.

    My kids have taught me, often with some rancor involved, to check with them before posting something they believe to be inferior quality. And rehearsals are by their very nature a work in progress, where the mistakes will equal the sublime moments, so I’ve largely chosen not to take photos in those instances.

    This past Sunday, however, was a different story. I needed to take new headshots of Ben, along with a few photos for a portfolio his manager asked us to create. Ben wanted to work on a dance for a camp he is participating in this week, so I decided to tag along and see what I could get.

    I’ve wanted to expand my repertoire to include more “artistic” photos, not just captures of a performance in progress, and that was my aim with this shoot. I shot a lot, as you might expect, then went in and narrowed the photos down to an acceptable number (headshots still to come). 

    After some post processing, this is the result. I think it’s an interesting merger of art and talent coming together. If you would like to see more, go to "Art & Dance" in the Visual Storytelling section.

  • Art & Dance, Part 2

    If there’s one thing I’ve found as a photographer and journalist, it’s that things rarely happen as you envision them.

    This is an exception, and an example of several divergent travels and experiences coming together for an exceptional day with some extremely talented teens.

    For the past several months, I’ve wanted to stretch and move more into conceptual works involving people, combining photography and art direction. Most of my people photography revolves around candids or events. Portraits are still relatively new, and while my eye leans toward the unusual/abstract in a lot of the “wandering around” shoots I do, those rarely involve people.

    Last fall and again this past winter, I took a series of pictures under a bridge next to Garland Park in Washington, D.C. The area, which street artists have covered in graffiti and paintings, also serves as an impromptu skateboard park. The artwork can — and does — change regularly, so you never know what you’ll see on the next visit.

    The last time I was there, taking pictures as teens from Metropolitan School of the Arts worked on a music video, I mentioned to Ben and Emma that I wanted to take pictures of ballerinas at the park, thinking the contrast would make for some interesting shots. The concept has continued to stick with me, but finding a time to do it has been elusive.

    On a separate, Sunday morning trip to our nation’s capital, I walked around the Federal Triangle near the National Mall and through the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. The Reagan building has a beautiful lobby, while the stone walkway outside the Federal Triangle has a series of curved arches that were almost empty on a non-workday. I thought those places also would be good locations for this type of work.

    Several times this summer, I talked to several kids at Metropolitan School of the Arts about a “photo shoot” and they were enthusiastic. Then, after taking conceptual shots of Ben dancing a couple of weeks ago, the full idea came together.

    What you see here, and in the Visual Storytelling section, is the result of that effort.

    I have to thank the dancers — Sarah, Alex, Veronica, Katie, Lauren, and Bridget — who participated, as well as Ben and Jeremiah for their partnering efforts and Alex and Sam for coming along as well. And a special thank you to Veronica’s father, Rafael, who patiently drove the other vehicle and indulged us as we took photos.

    It could not have been done without all of your help and participation. Thanks again.

  • At Last, A Vacation...

    St. Thomas, Virgin Islands: Clear blue water, big skies, an abundance of pose-ready iguanas, history in the form of Blackbeard’s castle and an old Lutheran church, memorials and busts you might not expect, birds in the park, and some examples of extreme poverty. Here is some of what I saw with my camera during a recent vacation. To see more, go to my Facebook album

  • 'Footloose' Photos and Video

    One last plug for "Footloose." This was a huge undertaking — shooting and editing more than 2,500 photos taken over four days. The pictures are available for purchase and/or download in low- and high-res format at my e-store

    If you'd like to take a visual tour, check out this video that I compiled of stills from the Sunday performances. I think you'll enjoy it...


  • Let's Hear It For The Boys!

    Metropolitan School of the Arts' production of "Footloose" had an unprecedented number of boys participating in the annual production. These stills, set to a video slideshow, pay tribute to their performance. 

    You can purchase these photos at my e-store. Photos are priced at a reasonable $2 each for 4x6 images, plus shipping, and 5x7, 8x10, and 8x12 prints are also available. You also can download low-res images suitable for sharing on social media as well as high-resolution images.

  • Daily Photo: July 22, 2014

    Ben in mid-air during Footloose — June 2014

    Below is a video of stills set to music and highlighting performances from the Saturday show. You can purchase any of the stills at my e-store.

     A video focusing on Sunday's show will be posted tomorrow.

  • Not-So-Hidden D.C.: FDR Memorial

    Last week, we looked at Theodore Roosevelt Island. In this installment of “Not-So-Hidden D.C.,” it’s time to take a look at a smaller, though far more elaborate memorial honoring our nation’s longest-serving president.

    The FDR Memorial, tucked away on the National Mall, is dedicated to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the 12 years he served in office. The memorial, which was dedicated in 1997, traces U.S. history through four “outdoor rooms” that include sculptures and numerous quotes from the president.

    Designed by famed landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, the memorial was the result of more than two decades of work. It features a waterfall in each of the four “rooms” that represent the increasing complexity of Roosevelt’s time in office, which ran from 1933 to 1945 and encompassed the severe economic depression, the New Deal and its progressive social programs, and World War II.

    Sculptures include depictions of Roosevelt and his dog, Fala, as well as scenes from the Great Depression, such as waiting in bread lines and listening to FDR’s Fireside Chats on the radio. It also is the only presidential memorial to depict a First Lady; Eleanor Roosevelt is shown in a bronze statue that honors her work with the United Nations.

    A fascinating place well worth seeking out. For more photos, go to my Facebook photo page here.

  • Not-So-Hidden D.C.: Roosevelt Island

    One of the best “not-so-hidden” places in Washington, D.C., is actually an island on the Potomac River.

    Theodore Roosevelt Island, an 88.5 acre piece of land named after our 26th president, is considered part of our nation’s capital even though it is accessible from land only by a bridge connected to the Virginia bank. 

    Roosevelt was known as a great outdoorsman and conservationist, and the park’s “real forest” was designed to look like natural forest that once covered the island, according to the National Park Service.

    A narrow channel separates the island from the bank, while the main channel of the Potomac is between the island and Georgetown. The island is considered part of D.C. because the Virginia state line follows the southern bank of the river.

    The island, which is maintained by the park service, has various trails and a plaza that includes a statue of Roosevelt and several of his quotes about nature and the environment. It was purchased in 1931 by the Theodore Roosevelt Association and donated to the federal government, which waited almost 30 years to allocate funds for the memorial.

    First occupied in 1668 by the Nacotchtank Indians, the island was owned by the Mason family — aka George Mason University — for more than 100 years until a causeway stagnated the water in 1831. It has been uninhabited since the Mason family left except when Union troops were stationed there during the Civil War.

    A mansion built by the Mason family was destroyed by fire; today only part of its foundation remains on the property.

    The island is accessible only by foot — no bicycles or motorized vehicles allowed — and only during the daytime hours. It is a fascinating outdoor oasis and a step back in time.

    For other stories about off-the-beaten path places to visit in our nation's capital, click here for the "Not-So-Hidden D.C" archive.

  • Shooting a Conference

    A selection of the photos I shot earlier this month while on an assignment for the Graduate Management Admission Council's annual conference in Baltimore is now up in the Events section of my website. If you are interested in having me cover your event, contact me at

  • Daily Photo: June 10, 2014

    This is from a photo shoot at Williford Farms in White Plains, Md., of the principal cast of the Metropolitan School of the Arts' production of "Footloose," to be performed June 28-29, 2014 at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, Va.

    I took the stills and compiled a video essay, "Footloose: A Day on the Farm," that is being used to promote the show. The video is on YouTube, but you can watch it below.