I take pictures

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In the spring of 2012 I received a grant from the AARP Foundation to produce a Web-based report on senior hunger needs in Providence’s West End Community. The result is Hungry in the West End, which will premiere on http://www.aarp.org/ri on January 4, 2013. Working with freelancer (and former Providence Journal colleague) Jody McPhillips, I have spent most of eight months on the project. The preview represents some of what we found. The final project includes more than a half dozen stories written by Jody and several hours of video I have shot and edited. Please watch the Hungry in the West End preview and log on in January to learn more about this important issue. Senior hunger is a problem is communities across the country; struggling, isolated seniors in some cases are practically invisible. Let’s change that.

The Swimmers

Melanie is 10 in this photo taken just before the start of a race at a 2004 swim meet. What is it? The blend of light and shadows filtering through the trees in the grove adjoining the pool area? Is it the goggles? Is it the the uniformity of the green and black Speedo swimsuits? I think it is Mel’s determined clinched fists that makes the photo. As swim-team parents know, swim meets are largely about waiting. And then it is time. Mel’s body language is loud and clear: “Okay, let’s do this.” This was taken with an inexpensive Olympus point-and-shoot. Just goes to show you…

Ferntastic

I did not plant the ferns in my garden. They were not there when we moved in back in 1998, but somehow they found a happy home, towering now over the day lilies and ground-carpeting lily of the valley. At twilight, their green luminescence stands out from the shadowy garden floor. They unfurl from fiddle-headed infancy each spring, delicate but hardy, oblivious to summer’s heat until they succumb to fall’s first hard frost. Real troupers. The blog begs for horizontal photos. But if I framed this photo I would print it vertically and un-cropped.

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Workin’ It

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An octopus is not a very good model. “Okay, work it baby” is not going to produce a glamour shot. Most of the time they quiver in a jelly-like heap, blending into a sandy bottom. That’s what this guy was doing when I started shooting. Maybe it was a reaction to the flash, but for whatever reason, he rose majestically to the middle of the tank and eyed me suspiciously for about five seconds, tentacles extended and that icy look in his eyes. The octopus tank in at the Save The Bay Exploration Center in Newport, RI, is in a darkened room about the size of a large walk-in closet; the tank itself a three-foot cylinder about five feet high. For me, it apparently was the perfect size: just enough distance from the subject, just right for the flash to illuminate this bad boy without overexposing and — perhaps because of the walls were painted flat black — no reflection off the plexiglass tank. Photoshop used mainly to fade to black some parts of the background, hide an aerator pipe and clean up a few smudges on the glass. Dare you to find a better octopus photo on the Internet.

Georgia Peach

The day my Canon 5D Mark II and 24-70mm f/2.8 L-seris lens arrived I could not wait to start shooting. Our dog Coco was my willing subject, and this is literally the first shot out of the camera. Coco is a kill-shelter dog that some good people drove from New Jersey to Marietta, Georgia and back to rescue. The group asked my friend Karen Sacks to provide “foster care” until someone would claim Coco. Along came my wife Faye and 12-year-old daughter Melanie. They had left the car at Karen’s in Teaneck and flown to New Orleans to spend a week volunteering in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Who knew the reward awaiting them? Coco is an indeterminate mixed breed of an indeterminate age who needed only some dental care and a little love. She is a gentle and, as you can surely tell, a wise old gal. Also, photogenic.

Swim Reflections

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The 36th Annual Save The Bay Swim takes place on Saturday, July 28. I shot Swim photos each of the eight years I had the privelige of working at Save The Bay. While I dreaded arriving for set-up in the early morning darkness, it was a great day to be a photographer. This favorite shot from the 2009 Swim appeared out of the corner of my eye. I had a journalism school professor named Jack D. Hubbard who impressed me early on with the observation that you could pick out the best reporters because their eyes were always darting somewhere other than where the rest of the pack was focused. They got the story others overlooked in their quest to be the best at reporting the obvious. In this case, everyone was watching the swimmers coming out of Narragansett Bay after finishing the 1.7 mile swim from Newport to Jamestown. Including my subject. Thanks, Jack. Here’s a slideshow of photos from my last Swim, back in 2010.

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Seth, Waiting Patiently

In the fall of 2003, my son Seth was hospitalized, diagnosed with Stevens Johnson Syndrome.  For 21 days he fought the ordeal — a rapidly escalating and horrific break-down of the autoimmune system. We were with Seth, 12 at the time,  every minute. One of the ways I coped with the stress was to write nightly email reports to friends and family, and to create a photo history for Seth, who was heavily sedated. Many of the pictures have not been widely shared as they are simply too painful. This one captures the solitary battle he so bravely fought. Seth won the hearts of the dedicated nursing staff at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. And everyone close to him was astonished by his dignity and courage.

Late Fall in Providence

Be prepared for sudden stops. It was late, I was tired, it was freezing and there was no truly safe place to park. But the sunset was spectacular, so I parked on a sidewalk and walked back to the Point Street Bridge. The bridge rail served as a tripod. ISO800, 1/100sec if you are interested. I see some photos where the photographer just could not resist pumping up the intensity in Photoshop. This is close to the original image. More important, it is very close to what I saw. Anything less spectacular and arresting I would have driven on. Most of the “work” had to do with bringing out the two fishermen in the foreground and cropping from the bottom to better obey photography’s “rule of thirds” aesthetic. But the most important thing I did to get this attractive photo was to park the car.

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Painted Faces

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Channeling Diane Arbus? It was not my intention nor was it immediately evident. Shooting at an environmental landscaping conference, I wandered over to the kids activities corner of large tent and found a talented environmental educator painting eyelids. This delighted kids both young and old. Of course, the peculiar part is that even with a mirror you can’t see your own painted face. This added to the mystique, but without much calculating the older kids reached for their smart-phone cameras and captured instant self-portraits. Though a little creepy, it was all quite fun. Back  home I converted the images to B&W and the Arbus aura took over. The absence of the festive colors transforms these kids into something right out of Village of the Damned. I love how the third image totally breaks the spell. And it made me wonder: What would Arbus kids look like if they smiled?

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Actress Dani Cameron

This is a character sketch of actress Dani Cameron, who appeared as Chief Det. Donna Williams in the award-winning Web series Red Circles. The crime thriller, a big hit  at the 2012 LA Web Series Festival, is produced, written and directed by my aspiring filmmaker son, Seth. I lend a hand, shooting production stills that are used in promotion and on the series Web site. The action shot (top) was challenging. The drama in this photo is in Dani’s facial expression – her dead-set eyes and particularly the shape of her mouth. You might easily imagine her just about to let loose with that last warning in a tense stand-off. You can’t pose that critical detail. Dani shouted “Freeze!” about 20 times before I was sure we had an image that worked. The rejected shots were almost comical. In an upcoming post I will share more from Red Circles as well as Seth’s new series, a comedy called World’s Worst Director.