Blog: Our Reality Show

Visual Storytelling
  • 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 (http://easttexashistory.org), 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 http://glenncook.virb.com/msa-grads.

  • 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 http://wheelockfamilytheatre.org.

    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.

    #winter(ha!)2017

    • 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 www.wheelockfamilytheatre.org. 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 glenncook117@gmail.com. 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 www.metroyoutharts.org 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 www.careerwisecolorado.org or the CEMETS website at www.cemets.ethz.ch.

  • 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 http://glenncook.virb.com/new-york-zach--ben.

  • 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.

    POSTSCRIPT:

    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, www.doyouhaveonedollar.org. 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 http://glenncook.virb.com/freelance.

  • 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 glenncook117@gmail.com 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 glenncook117@gmail.com.

  • 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.

     

  • Lorton Workhouse — Another View

    For much of the past year, I have spent much of my time shooting photos in and around the Lorton Workhouse Arts Center, the former prison that was shut down in 2001 and converted into a space for artists and the Metropolitan School of the Arts.

    While the Arts Center has control over a number of buildings, much of the campus hasn’t been touched since Congress closed the District of Columbia prison and turned the land over to Fairfax County. The shuttered buildings in the rear of the facility, which are rapidly decaying, are not accessible to the public, and security patrols the area to prevent you from casually walking back into what is considered a dangerous area.

    On Memorial Day, however, I asked one of the guards if I could walk around back and take some pictures. The campus was closed and the traffic was light. He said I could walk around as long as I didn’t try to access the buildings or go through the chain link fences. 

    Here is the result… I'm really proud of this set.

    For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • A Day on the Farm

    On Sunday, I went with students participating in the Metropolitan School of the Arts production of "Footloose" to Williford Farms in White Plains, Md., to shoot publicity and program photos for the show, which will be performed June 28-29 in Alexandria. A videographer also shot footage of a tractor race that will be incorporated into the musical.

    These are not the publicity shots, but an attempt to capture life with 20+ teenagers, adults, and other kids invading a working farm on a beautiful weekend day. 

    For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Not-So-Hidden D.C.: Mount Olivet Cemetery

    In a town full of historic places to visit, you would be hard-pressed to find a more interesting — and off-the-beaten path — place than Mount Olivet Cemetery in northeast Washington, D.C.

    Located on Bladensburg Road and maintainted by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, the cemetery is one of the first in the city to be integrated. It opened in 1858 and features a fascinating web of crosses, markers, and tombs.

    Mary Surratt, the first woman to be hanged in the United States, is buried there. She was convicted of conspiracy in connection with the assassination of President Lincoln. Ironically, John M. Lloyd — a government witness whose testimony sealed Surratt’s fate — is buried close to her.

    Other notable internments include James Hoban, the original White House architect; former Supreme Court Justice Joseph McKenna, and Robert Emmet Odlum, the first person to jump from the Brooklyn Bridge.

    For more photos, go to my Facebook album here. For more "Not-So-Hidden D.C." stories, click on this link.

  • Year One: A Video Photo Essay

    I was there on the first day of school, and I dropped off a child on the last.

    In between, I had an opportunity to follow the students at the Metropolitan School of the Arts Academy with my camera, chronicling the first year of an exciting new venture that has impacted all of our lives.

    The result is this video, titled “Year One.”

    Our kids have taken classes at MSA (formerly the Metropolitan Fine Arts Center) since they were in kindergarten. The studio has been and remains a huge part of our children’s lives; Ben and Emma continue to dance there and Kate works in their after-school childcare program. The instruction and life skills they all have received at MFAC/MSA is second to none.

    Last year, MSA founder Melissa Dobbs decided to open a private performing arts high school at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton. Despite its fine public schools, Northern Virginia is sadly lacking when it comes to instruction that has a performing arts focus, and I believe Dobbs is a true visionary.

    In part because I was between jobs, and partly because Ben and Emma are satisfied with the mix of academics they receive in school and at MSA, we did not enroll them in the academy. However, I have been working with MSA for much of this year as a freelance photographer, taking promotional pictures at the studio, in various performances, and at the Academy. You can see many of those photos on my Facebook photo page.

    As a journalist, I’ve always wanted to follow a particular group of people for an extended period and chronicle some aspect of their lives. What I realized several weeks ago was that I had done just that with the MSA students, a group of high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors who come from all walks of life.

    From that first day in September, when I asked them to line up for the standard class picture and was rewarded with a batch of nervous, sleepy smiles, to the final showcase performance last weekend, I saw a group of teenagers grow tremendously in the areas of acting, singing, and dance. They come from a variety of backgrounds and places, some with great talent in one area and no training in another. What they have in common is a desire to grow.

    One of those students, in fact, is growing up with us in our home now. 

    ••••••

    Earlier this year, we took in Jeremiah Porter, one of Ben’s friends from New York, who started attending the Academy during the second semester. Jeremiah was a student at New York’s Professional Performing Arts School, but he has not had the training at the level that MSA offers.

    Bringing a fourth teenager into our home is not something any of us thought we’d do, but we’ve navigated the transition successfully. In some respects, we’re paying it forward because so many people helped us when Ben was in New York and on the road.

    What’s interesting, at least to me, is that New York — especially Manahattan — offers so many chances for performers, but it can be very daunting to find a focused environment if you don’t know where to get the necessary training. Places like Broadway Dance Center, while providing terrific instruction, are more a la carte, whereas MSA offers a continuous curriculum that starts in September and ends in June. And because a number of MSA kids want to eventually move into a career that will take them to places like New York, they are more likely to be focused here than if they were already in the city.

    Jeremiah, who came into performing somewhat late, recognized that MSA offered him that opportunity for focus, although he did not understand at the beginning how difficult it would be to immerse himself as fully as the school and studio require. Our goal was to give him the chance; it was up to him to take advantage of it.

    And fortunately, he has. After those initial transitional bumps, he’s become part of the extended reality show that is our life, and we’re happy that he’ll be returning to the academy and our home again in the fall.

    MSA has gone through a few transitions of its own during the first year, something you also might expect given that it’s a start up that was just a dream about 18 months ago. But it has been fascinating to watch and follow that evolution, to see the various kids grow with the school. I feel fortunate to have been a small part of it.

    Enjoy the photos and the video…

  • National Masonic Memorial

    The George Washington Masonic Memorial, located in Alexandria, Va., serves as both a Masonic building and memorial to the nation’s first president. The 333-foot tall memorial sits atop Shooter’s Hill, a site that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison seriously considered when deciding where to build the U.S. Capitol.

    The memorial was dedicated in 1932, a full 80 years after it was first proposed. A commissioned statue of Washington, in full Masonic regalia, was completed just before the outbreak of the Civil War and was later destroyed in a fire in Richmond.

    Movement toward the memorial’s construction began in earnest in the early 20th century, following the formation of Washington Monument Association of America, which built a memorial park on the site.

    Construction on the memorial, which has a tower designed to resemble the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt, started in 1922 and was finished 10 years later. The interior was not completed until 1970.

    Today, the memorial is available for tours for a small fee.

    For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • First in Flight

    The Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, N.C., is the place where Wilbur and Orville Wright conducted the tests that led to the first successful, sustained, powered air flights on Dec. 17, 1903. For almost four years, the brothers went to North Carolina from Dayton, Ohio, to take advantage of the area’s winds and remote location.

    On that day, the brothers made four flights from level ground near the base of the hill in what was described as “a heavier-than-air machine.” They had spent the previous three years conducing experiments from a 90-foot hill where a memorial was dedicated to the brothers in 1932. The massive, shifting dune was later stabilized and named Kill Devil Hill.

    The memorial includes a visitor’s center that features models and tools used by the brothers during their experiments. You also can see a life-size replica of the 1903 Flyer that was the first powered aircraft to achieve controlled flight.

    The site also has replicas of two wooden sheds that represent the world’s first airplane hangar and living quarters for the brothers. You also can walk along the actual routes of the four flights, and stop at small monuments marking their starts and finishes.

    The spectacular monument cost more than $200,000. It includes 1,200 tons of granite, 2,000 tons of gravel, 800 tons of sand, and 400 tons of cement.

    For more photos, got to my Facebook album here.

  • Currituck Beach Light

    If you ever visit North Carolina’s Outer Banks, be sure to check out the lighthouses that are still being used to aid navigation through the barrier islands that dot the East Coast. One of the best is the Currituck Beach Light in Corolla, N.C., where you can climb the 214 steps to a gorgeous view of the area.

    Currituck Beach Light has been in constant operation since construction on the 1 million brick structure was completed in 1875. It still uses the first order lens that comes on every evening at dusk and shines from 158 feet in the air at 20-second intervals.

    The lighthouse has been completely automated since 1939. Unlike others in the area, it was not painted, and the brick façade remains visible. The walls are five feet thick at the base and three foot thick at the top.

     

    For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Driving Through Storms

    I had to drive to Dover, Del., during the storms that pounded much of the United States earlier this week. The conditions did not lend themselves to much photography, but when I was forced to pull over a couple of times, I did manage to fire off a few shots.

    For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • 'A Wonderful Ruin'

    Even the architect who designed it called it “a wonderful ruin.” And that it is.

    Last month, several friends and I were among the more than 2,500 people who went to the site of the 1964-65 World’s Fair to gawk at the New York State Pavilion in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The rusted, vandalized structure was celebrated as the city marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the 1964-65 World’s Fair.

    The abandoned pavilion, with its three round towers designed by renowned architect Philip Johnson, will be open again this weekend as New York celebrates the anniversary of an event that evokes strong feelings of nostalgia for Baby Boomers but holds little relevance for those who weren’t born at the time.

    More than 50 million visitors came for a glimpse of the future at the fair, which featured heavy corporate sponsorship that is commonplace today. You can hear people talk about DuPont’s Wonderful World of Chemistry, General Electric’s Carousel of Progress, and life-size dinosaurs sponsored by Sinclair Oil Corp.

    “It was a real period of optimism, that life was good in the ’60s, but it was going to be great going forward,” Bill Cotter, a world’s fair historian in Los Angeles, told Reuters in a story published this week. “Unfortunately, life has not turned out to be quite as utopian as the fair.”

    In many respects, the New York State Pavilion mirrors the decline of the World’s Fair. Closed for decades, it has narrowly escaped being torn down while Queens leaders try to decide what to do with the iconic structure. The April 22 ceremony was designed to draw attention to the pavilion, which was designated a national treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

    Hopes are that the designation and attention surrounding the World’s Fair anniversary will result in the restoration of the pavilion, which includes the “Tent of Tomorrow.” The massive 350-foot by 250-foot “Tent,” which is surrounded by 16 100-foot columns and adjoining towers that stand 60 feet, 150 feet, and 226 feet, definitely has seen better days.

    In late 2013, the New York Parks and Recreation Department released a study showing the cost to stabilize the site would be about $43 million. Turning it into a multi-use facility would cost $72 million.

    The walk to the pavilion provided an opportunity to visit and photograph some of the other sites at the park, which was the site of both the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs. Among them was the 140-foot-tall, 700,000-pound, stainless steel globe that you can still see from as far away as Laguardia Airport.

    Already in New York, I made plans to go to the pavilion with my photo buddy, Bernadette Jusinski, and Ginno Murphy, Ben’s former guardian/our ”other son.”  A friend, Joel Newsome, accompanied us on the journey, and we saw another friend, Michael Zorek, who came with his family.

    We didn’t know what to expect when we left on the subway from Manhattan. Would anyone be there? Crowds were expected to be in the hundreds. When we arrived, the line snaked throughout the park.

    Despite waiting for more than two hours, we never made it into the pavilion, where you could gaze at the rust and pieces of the terrazzo floor, which once featured a huge map of New York state but has since been damaged by vandals and exposure to the elements.

    By mid-afternoon, we had to leave. Work schedules and a train ride back to Virginia dictated an end to the day, and the dedication ceremony ran late. Still, it was worth it to see the love people still feel for a more innocent time.

    And it was a reminder that nostalgia is always in style.

    For more photos, check out my Facebook album here.

  • MSA Benefit: More Live Theatre

    Another weekend, another challenge of shooting live performances. 

    This one, a benefit for the Metropolitan School of the Arts, presented a particular challenge. Held at the George Washington Masonic Memorial, the event featured performances by the iMpulse Youth Jazz Dance Company, Metropolitan Youth Ballet, Metropolitan Youth Tap Ensemble, students from the MSA Academy, and area professional musicians.

    The second annual event served as a benefit for MSA's Next Stage Building Campaign to develop world-class performance and educational facilities at the Alexandria and Lorton campuses. It was the first time MSA has used the Masonic Memorial facilities, and the lighting system had to be put up on the fly.

    I wrote about the challenge of shooting live events in a blog entry last month following a similar performance at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington, D.C. From a photographer's standpoint, that event was magical because the lighting was just perfect.

    The lighting was not the problem for this show, but the venue — despite its beauty — did present some issues. The stage was not large enough for the companies to perform, meaning they had to dance on the cement floor in front of the proscenium. That meant the dancers were too close for me to get a truly good angle, so I had to move up to the top of the theatre early on and stay there for the most part. 

    At that point, the overhead and side lights presented a number of hurdles. If the person was captured in the spotlight, that meant their face would be blown out and the shot would be ruined. In other places, the shadows were so dark that the dancers were obscured partially or entirely.

    I found some work arounds while shooting the dress rehearsal. Fortunately, I had seen many of the numbers in similar form at Atlas, so I knew what I wanted and knew what I liked. By the time the performance started, I thought I had it all figured out.

    Here are the results. 

    For more photos, go to my Facebook albums here and here.

  • Not-So-Hidden D.C.: Capital Columns

    The National Capital Columns are one of Washington, D.C.’s most unusual landmarks. Now on a natural knoll in the Ellipse Meadow at the U.S. National Arboretum in Northeast D.C., the columns originally were located on the East Portico of the Capitol starting in 1828.

    According to the Arboretum’s official website, the columns predated the completion of the Capitol dome. Once the iron dome was finished, the columns appeared not to adequately support it because of a design error, giving off an “unsettling illusion.”

    In 1958, the columns were removed during renovations to the East Side of the Capitol, but they weren’t relocated to the Arboretum until the mid 1980s. Today, they sit in an area of more than 20 acres of open meadow on a foundation of stones that were part of the original Capitol steps. On some of the columns, you can see the original markings on the stones from the quarry where they were taken near Aquia Creek in Virginia.

    “A reflecting pool fed by a small rivulet of water that runs down a channel in the steps reflects the columns and provides sound and movement,” the website states. “Gently curved paths mowed in the Ellipse Meadow invite further exploration; you can easily walk across the Ellipse where you will find a capital, or top portion, of one of the columns.”

    It’s in that “capital” where you can see the fascinating detail that was part of the original design. It’s a nice place to visit, especially in the spring.

    For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Not-So-Hidden D.C.: St. Thomas Parish

    Here is another neighborhood drive that became a history lesson, all because a gutted church building in Dupont Circle caught my eye.

    Washington, D.C.’s St. Thomas’ Parish is slightly off the beaten path for tourists who confine their activities to the memorials and the National Mall, but it’s worth seeking out. A neighborhood church built in the 1890s, the Episcopal congregation hosted political figures such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman and played a supportive role for in the civil rights movements for African-Americans and women in the 1960s.

    In 1970, however, arsonists set the original Gothic church structure on fire, gutting the building. Church leaders decided to remain in the same location, however, and transformed the Parish Hall into the low-key space still used today for worship. The rest of the building is used as a community center and hosts various recovery groups.

    What St. Thomas is known for today is its long-standing support of gay rights, part of its mission to be “a church for all people.” In the 1980s and early 1990s, the parish hosted memorial services and funerals for people who died from AIDS regardless of whether the person had been a church member. In 1992, the church named the Rev. James Holmes — an openly gay priest who had been in a committed relationship with his partner for almost 20 years — as its senior pastor.

    In 1998, St. Thomas developed a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions, one of the first to do so in the Episcopal church.

    What caught my eye, in addition to the still-standing shell of a portion of the church, is the adjacent community park that is used by the whole neighborhood. The park features an outdoor Prayer Labyrinth that is open to anyone 24 hours a day.

    I did not go into the church itself, at least on this day. Ironically, because I had been in D.C. for a meeting that ran until late afternoon, the church that is always open was closed until later that evening…

    For more photos, go to my Facebook photo page here.

  • Not-So-Hidden D.C.: The Oz Mural

    Dorothy, not Elvis, is everywhere.

    This week, while driving to a meeting in Washington, D.C., I happened upon this wall mural dedicated to the characters in the classic “The Wizard of Oz” and could not resist pulling out the camera for a few shots.

    The mural, painted in 2001 on a cinderblock wall overlooking the basketball courts at Stead Park, was designed by a group of graffiti artists that include Roger Gastman, also known as “Clear.” Gastman compiled the book “Free Agents,” which looks at the history of graffiti in our nation’s capitol.

    The painting occupies the entire side of the two-story building at 1633 P Street NW and includes the major characters from the movie, including (from left) the Wicked Witch of the West, Cowardly Lion, Dorothy, and Toto. The Scarecrow is in the middle right along with the flying monkeys, who also are seen over the Emerald City. (Unfortunately, due to age or rust, only the Tin Man’s feet can be seen to the left of the Cowardly Lion.”)

    According to the website StationStart.com, D.C. has long been associated with the Wizard of Oz, dating back to the publication of L. Frank Baum’s first book. The Emerald City frequently is seen as a reference to our nation’s capitol, and early working title for Baum’s book was “From Kansas to Fairyland.”

    “The title was later changed to ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,’” the website notes. “In 1900 the Democratic National Convention was held in Kansas City, Missouri. At that time going from Kansas to Fairyland meant going from the convention in Kansas City to Washington DC.”

    The website notes the numerous references to U.S. currency that are found in the book, including the green Emerald City (representing paper money), the yellow brick road (representing gold), and Dorothy’s silver slippers (later changed to ruby and now on display at the nearby Smithsonian).

    Fortunately, in making these interesting leaps, the website does not compare the Broadway musical “Wicked” to the current goings-on in Congress. But that’s a different story…

    For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Live Performances and Photography

    Shooting a live performance is similar to playing golf in the dark. No matter how many times you do it, no matter how good you think you are getting, there’s always a surprise in store. And usually, that surprise will trip you up.

    So imagine my surprise — shock, really — to be sitting at the Sprenger Theatre at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington, D.C., last weekend. The surprise was not that it was a difficult shoot, but instead how easy it was.

    Students from the Metropolitan Youth Tap Ensemble (MYTE), Impulse Jazz Dance Company and Metropolitan Youth Ballet (MYB) performed Saturday afternoon at the theater in “Anybody Can Get It,” a 60-minute showcase that was part of the Intersections Art Festival.

    It was a dance-filled weekend for Metropolitan School of the Arts’ three resident dance companies, and — because Ben and Emma are involved in two of the three — I had a chance to take pictures of their work.

    I had never been to the Atlas, which is on H Street Northeast. The theater was built in the late 1930s and showed first-run films until the 1950s and early ‘60s, then closed after the 1968 riots in the city destroyed many buildings and the area became downtrodden. It was restored a decade ago and is now a fantastic performing arts facility.

    That was evident as soon as the MSA students started performing and I started shooting pictures. The lighting and shadows not only captured the dancers in action, but also illuminated them in a way that I could capture with my camera.

    I’ve taken pictures of my kids’ performances — and other performers as well, both professional and local — for as long as I can remember. Like the best golfers, I have good rounds and bad ones.

    Several things make shooting these performances a challenge. First is that it’s live — no retakes or do overs — so you have to be on your toes and able to anticipate what is happening. Second, most of the time you are shooting in a cave, and it is difficult to get your shutter speed high enough to completely stop action. Third, because the performers are moving so fast, a flash does you no good. (And besides, flash is prohibited in most cases because it can distract the performers.)

    I’ve learned a few tricks along the way, and because I’ve shot so much over the past year, my photos seem to be getting better. Or at least I think they are.

    In addition to the tap, jazz, and contemporary ballet performances by the three companies, several students also performed solos at the event. In addition to the photos here, you can see more by clicking the link to my Facebook page.

    Later that evening, Impulse and MYTE students performed at the 28th Annual Jazz and Tap Festival at Northern Virginia Community College’s Annandale campus. For photos from that event, look to the entry below and for the “Jazz and Tap Festival” album on my Facebook page.

    Prejudices aside, I’m continually impressed by the quality of talent that we see at MSA. The kids who are part of these companies — most are in high school, although some are in the middle grades — are extremely dedicated to their craft and work constantly to improve. They are their own harshest critics and each other’s biggest supporters.

    That’s not to say everything is perfect; nothing in live performance is. But watching these kids over a sustained period of time — 10 years in our case with Metropolitan — you see steady and at times startling improvement from year to year, even show to show.

    I hope you are seeing some improvements in my pictures as well.

  • Not-So-Hidden D.C.: The Old Post Office

    Next time you are in Washington, D.C., and are looking for an off-the-beaten path place to tour, take a look at the Old Post Office Pavilion.

    Also known as Old Post Office and Clock Tower, the building is located at 1100 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, five blocks from the White House. The building, which is the third tallest in D.C., was used as the city’s main post office from 1899 to 1914 and then primarily as an office building. The city has never known, however, what to do with the structure.

    Several attempts to tear down the building were thwarted during the 1920s, 1960s, and 1970s and it received extensive renovations afterward. The latest development includes plans to turn the property into a luxury hotel run by Donald Trump.

    In addition to the facility’s stunning atrium, the primary reason to tour the facility is the pavilion’s clock tower. The 270-foot-high observation deck, run by the National Park Service, offers beautiful views of the city.

    While on the free tour, you also can see the Bells of Congress. Also known as the Ditchley Bells and donated to the United States for the 1976 bicentennial, the bells are replicas of those at Westminster Abbey. The Washington Ringing Society, a group of volunteers, rings the Bells of Congress every Thursday evening and on special occasions.

    For more photos, take a look at the album on my Facebook page.

  • Reflections: New York

    Reflections fascinate me as a photographer, and they weave their way into my pictures all the time. I’m not sure why reflections hold such interest, but they always have.

    The most interesting ones are in New York, in part because the buildings are so close to each other, but the ones that pop only come when the sun is just right. When that happens, you can see them everywhere you walk.

    Perhaps it’s the mirror that they shine on a particular building, place, or scene. Perhaps it’s the slight distortion and the imperfection that you see in the reflection itself. Perhaps that distortion is what makes the photo perfect.

    For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.