Ever been to Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market? Well, if you haven’t, then I would suggest that you add this place to your bucket list, and do it soon. But before you visit this food paradise at the “City of Brotherly Love,” there are a few things that you must get out of the way, or come to terms with, to be more precise. For starters you must convince yourself that all food products in the world were meant to be eaten. Then you tell yourself that dieting is a bad thing, but unchecked consumption is a virtue. Follow that with some brainwashing on the benefits copious amounts of pork, beef, and Provolone cheese to your health, and then you will be mentally ready to tackle this heaven of culinary extravagance. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of lighter, salad stuff at the place, but this is Philly we’re talking about, and that to me means only one thing: go big, or go home. Dinic’s over-the-top pork sandwich? Must you ask. A few Amish filled doughnuts dripping with glaze? Why not. A block of Peach corn bread? Can I get an Amen! So as you can see, overindulgence will be the least of your problems at the Reading Market. Your greatest problem will be resisting the temptation to camp overnight so you can be the first in line the next morning. It is that good of a place and one that I’m sure I will be visiting many times in the future, but only after I’ve given my body a rest.
Don’t know about you, but for me, Philadelphia has to be one of the most incredible cities in America. And while the city has a somewhat “working class” reputation with outsiders, once you get to discover it in some detail, you’ll come to realize that the city is better described as eclectic and culturally complex. Sort of like where the rough seas meet the quiet shore kind of place. World class museums and cultural sites sit only a few blocks away from down-to-earth wonders like the Reading Terminal Market. Hang around the popular JFK Square for a few hours and you’ll get to see people from just about every level of society. Wedding parties having their picture taken under the famous “LOVE” structure at JFK Square muscle endless amounts of tourists for their ten-minute spot in front of the cameras. Walk farther afield down Walnut St. to Rittenhouse Square and Washington Square Park and you will be rewarded with some of the neatest urban spots of any city anywhere. Add to this the fact that people actually live and interact all over the urban landscape, and you will get one of the best places for people watching and street photography on the East Coast. Philly is definitely not your sleepy, little town where watching grass grow has been elevated to an art form. The city is definitely alive with activity, and no matter your disposition when you get there, you won’t be able to resist becoming alive along with it.
Not sure whether it was nostalgia or mere curiosity, but I couldn’t resist the impulse to go and photograph the old Florida Avenue Market (or Union Market, as it is commonly known today) one last time before it disappears forever. No wrecking crews there yet, but there is no doubt that major developers in the area are already salivating at the mouth about the money they will make when this part of Washington, DC is finally brought to the 21st Century, so to speak. Not that progress in of itself is a bad thing, mind you, but rather that it is not clear at this point how much of the old market’s character is to be retained and how much of the new development will make the area undistinguishable from so many other developments in the area. In talking to one of the displaced butchers yesterday, it was obvious that he was lamenting the magnitude of change in the area and the upscale transformation of the market. I can’t help but share some of his sentiments, as I was kind of fond of visiting the cavernous warehouse businesses where all sorts of products from Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia were on sale by immigrants with heavy accents, but whose rhythmic sale chants were exotic melodies to my ears. A bit rough, a bit chaotic, but a place like no other in the area. As it disappears in the name of progress and modernism, I can only wonder whether I’ll ever hear again those imagination-inducing, linguistic melodies that so easily transported me to those far-away markets around the world. I’m afraid progress has its very unique way of dealing with those voices.
Going over my photographs from recent trips to Europe, I came to the realization that I had spent a lot of pixels photographing bicycles. In fact, it became clear that I was working the scenes with the meticulous care of a photojournalist photographing a major sports event. But why? Why bicycles of all things? Maybe it has something to do with nostalgia, or memories of growing up, or perhaps a simple fascination with the fact that an old technology remains alive and well to this day. Not sure what the case is, but the seeming compulsion to photograph these two-wheeled marvels is alive and well in my photographic psychic, and judging from what I see in places like Flickr, I don’t seem to be alone. Perhaps it has to do with the setting, as the older character of some European cities make for the perfect travel photography backdrop. All I know is that if I were a novelist, there is no doubt that one of these photos of lonely bikes on desolate cobblestone streets would be the subject of the opening scene in one of my novels. How’s that for imagination?
I’ve written about the Ricoh GR before, but the little wonder just never ceases to amaze me. This “backup camera” is simply one of those technological feats that when paired with its natural street photography habitat, could easily challenge any DSLR out there. Not that it will necessarily give you any more dynamic range or sharpness, but rather that when you consider what the little rocket brings to the table, its shortcomings are easy to forget. You see, when you are out and about trying to record everyday life and scenes on the street, the GR is almost unparalleled in its ability to silently move in, snap that photograph, and capture that scene. Quick, silent, and covering enough photographic real estate to make sure nothing is left out of that picture. With its snap mode and ability to quickly compensate for available light, this little camera and its large APS-C sensor will be about as close to ideal as you’ll ever get in the street photography arena. Perfect? Nope. But when I leave my Leica M240 at home for the day to hang out with the Ricoh GR, that’s telling you something. Will it replace the incredible Leica out on the street? Absolutely not, but it will surely be in my pocket when every time I venture out to capture bigger photographic game.
Much is written about eclectic neighborhoods around the world, but after so many years of traveling, I have to say that the Dupont Circle neighborhood in Washington, DC will give any one of them a run for their money. No two days are alike around the Circle, and if eclectic lifestyles are what you aim to discover, the Circle has those in abundance. Passionate environmentalists, one of the largest gay community in America, staunch advocates of Julian Assange, artists, performers, retirees, incredible restaurants, trendy bars, and nationally-ranked chess players, to name a few. This all adds to a treasure trove of the human condition for a photographer. No other neighborhood in DC has this vive, and no matter how many times I visit the place with my camera, I find it impossible to get tired of it. In fact, the place is like a never-ending play, with new scenes constantly taking their place on stage in order to keep your interest and your attention. And you know what? It works just right for me.
If there’s such a thing as understated greatness, the Buddy Holly memorial and Texas Walk of Fame in Lubbock, Texas must be such a place. Not that I traveled all the way to Lubbock with the purpose of visiting the Buddy Holly Memorial Park, but rather that it would have been inconceivable to travel to Lubbock and not visit the park sandwiched between Cricket Avenue (named in memory of this famous band) and the Buddy Holly Avenue. The classy, yet small, memorial to Lubbock’s prodigal son is actually quite impressive by its sheer simplicity. A statute and some plaques commemorating some of the area’s great artists is all you’ll find in the perfectly manicured park adjacent to the former train station that now houses the Buddy Holly Center. The somewhat isolated area at the edge of town seemed to receive an occasional trickle of visitors while I was there, but slowly and quietly they kept on coming to pay their respects to the musical legend. A humble tribute to a boy from Lubbock who died a premature death, but who’s music and artistic influence will no doubt live forever.
Stockholm is not an easy city to get lost at. With its incredible public transportation system and orderly rhythm, getting lost is something that you really have to work at when visiting. But like in most of the great cities of the world, the city can easily be divided into places where tourists hang out and places where the locals go about their everyday lives. It is the latter that interest most photographers and creative people, even if the touristy places are also a necessity if you are ever going to understand the history and grandeur of these famous cities. Such is the case in Stockholm, where visiting the busy Sergels torg and the beautiful, horseshoe-shaped Nybroviken harbor area are a must. But so are the more off-the-beaten-path places like the Katarina-Sofia hilltop neighborhood with its cobblestone streets and its quaint, tree-shaded parks like Mosebacke torg, always blessed by the lazy, yellow light of a northern summer sun. So it is possible to get lost in Stockholm after all. In the process you are sure to discover not only the beauty of an ancient city, but also the wonders of a life with a more humane rhythm and balance. It is nice to know that such places still exist and that such a life is still possible in this modern, hectic world. Maybe it has something to do with only having a somewhat homogeneous population of about 9.6 million in the entire country (about half the population of New York state), or the fact that most of the year the country remains sun-starved and indoors. Who knows. Whatever the reason behind that lifestyle is, there is no denying that it is there nonetheless. Just don’t try getting a pizza delivered to your front door at midnight on a weekday. That, my friend, is why the Swedes come to our neck of the woods for.
It has definitely taken me a long time to visit this jewel of the north, but the long wait has only made me enjoy this glorious city that much more. Stockholm, Sweden is one of those places that is much more than a city. Yes, it is absolutely gorgeous, with beautiful architecture and incredible views that seem to pop right out of a postcard. But more than that, Stockholm seems to be a state of mind, a place that for those of us coming out of the über busy, constant stress western part of the world, seems to have almost a zen quality to it. Don’t get me wrong, the place is quite busy on its own, but you can’t spend more than a few days in the city without feeling that there is a certain rhythm to life here that is somehow lacking in our personal worlds. When visiting the residential area of Hornstull in the southern island of Södermalm, I actually met couples of professionals around 10:00 AM at a café who were actually enjoying a cup of coffee and a croissant together before going off to work. That’s right, 10:00 AM, couples, moving as in concert with the slow, yellow light of a morning sun. Who are these people?
No doubt the city itself has a lot to do with people’s attitudes towards everything from work to family life. A conglomeration of islands, Stockholm is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty that is best appreciated during the warmer summer months. The busy city center of Norrmalm rapidly gives way to the incredible middle island of Gamla Stan, or Old Town, anchored around the imposing Royal Palace and Parliament building. And then, there’s easy-going Södermalm, with views of the city of Stockholm that will take your breath away. Perhaps more than any other area in the city, Södermalm personifies the quintessential Scandinavian lifestyle, at least as the rest of the world imagines it. Beautifully old architecture around the cobblestone streets of Bastugatan and Pryssgränd, eclectic and trendy in the SoFo (south of Folkungagatan street) district, and idyllically laid back around its western Hornstull waterside neighborhood, Södermalm appeared to me to be the perfect place to live and raise a family. The incredible city views along the Monteliusvägen trail and the hilltop hangout at Mosebacke Terassen only add to the area’s incredible charm.
But there’s a lot more to Stockholm than Södermalm that I will be addressing over the coming days, even when fully aware that nothing I say here can truly capture the full scope and wonders of this great city. Even now when my feet are firmly planted back home where the skies are not as blue in a 24/7 world of take-out coffee and fast food restaurants, I’m finding it hard to release my mental grip from around that Stockholm state of mind. Don’t know how long I’ll be able to hang on to that feeling, but I’m going to try as hard as I can not to loose it.
Remember the fun days of summers from your youth? Well, they’re still there, even if these days we are mainly occupied with work, achievement, and all sorts of other important things. However, after watching this summer youth program along the Potomac River yesterday, I started to think about a conversation I once had with my college professor brother. Having asked him why he had chosen to remain a college professor for life in the place he did instead of entering the corporate world to make the big bucks, his reply kind of took me by surprise. He pointed out that while he recognized the earning potential of those who toil at their work all year round, he had made the conscious decision to choose a career where he “had not worked a single summer since his high school graduation.” Summers were his to engage in all sorts of personal projects and activities, and that long-term freedom must certainly have a value that cannot be measured by dollars alone. Fun? Summers off? Freedom? You can only imagine what was going through the head of yours truly, a never-summer-off dedicated public servant who spent most of his professional life in the United States Marine Corps. So here I was with my camera at the Washington Sailing Marina recording how much fun summers can be, thinking about how few of them we will have in our lifetimes, and realizing that my brother was a genius for the choices he made. It took a bunch of laughing, giggling, sun-drenched youth fumbling over sails and choppy waters to remind me of that.
I am convinced that driving along country backroads is a sure way of discovering all sorts of photographic wonders. Not that this sort of observation will lead to a Nobel Prize any time soon, but rather that in today’s busy world, driving for pleasure has become a rarity for too many people. If you are old enough to remember the family Sunday ride, you’ll know what I mean. It was all about the ride, and about looking around. A visual journey where time and speed were always subordinated to the thrill of discovering something new (or different) along the way. The rides were fun, unstructured, and rewarding. Sort of like sitting behind a glass window in a coffee shop watching the world go by, but with wheels. These photos were the product of one such ride along the Virginia countryside. Amazing what you find when your eyes insist on seeing.
Never gave this photograph much thought until I started to look at it in greater detail. Certainly, the contrast between the photo’s foreground and background could not have been more stark. In some sense, the photo is almost a reflection of the state of society in many of our major metropolitan areas, where the distance separating different worlds sometimes comes down to just a few feet. I can only wonder whether these worlds are conscious of each other’s existence or whether they have become numb or invisible to each other by now.
Photographs with lots of dark, contrasty areas are not generally my thing, but sometimes I can’t help but be intrigued by the mystery they convey. Not that I’m out to capture such photos as a matter of routine. In fact, more often than not they just happen without any degree of planning. Such was the case with this photograph, which I captured upon entering an indoor business plaza and seeing the gentleman walking down a dark, arched hallway. The photograph just emerged in front of me, and before I knew it, I brought my Leica to my eyes, focused, and hit the shutter release. Did I forget anything in the process? Yeap. To my surprise, I had failed to worry about two of the key components of a proper manual exposure: aperture and shutter speed. Being quick kind of took over from being perfect, but the results truly conveyed the mood of the scene that had unfolded right before my eyes. Perhaps there is some merit after all in the absence of perfection. I need to remember this more often.
Think that you have to travel to Scotland to find great whiskey? Then think again, because some great spirits are being concocted right here in your Virginia backyard. That’s right, just where the mighty Blue Ridge Mountains give way to the undulating plateau of Rappahannock County, the Copper Fox Distillery is quietly producing award-winning whiskeys and spirits that you have will not easily find at your local liquor stores (at least not yet, but check out the press they have received). These are not your average high-volume, mass-produced products for a global market, though. On the contrary, the whiskeys and spirits coming out of Copper Fox are handled by hand in relatively small batches that reflect the artisan’s approach to producing low-yield, high-quality products. During one of their scheduled tours, it was quite surprising to see how bottles were being handled one at a time with the painstaking care characteristic of a Swiss watchmaker. And while the distillery has been around since the year 2000, modernity appears to live well hand-in-hand with traditional methods of craftsmanship that are so rare in today’s world. One barrel at a time, Copper Fox seems to be putting Virginia whiskey on the connoisseur’s map. So what did I end up bringing home after my short trip down River Lane Road? I went for their signature Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky (Batch No. 107). I am definitely no connoisseur, but I already have plans to enjoy this elixir as if I were one. Cheers.
Do you nap? If you are like most people, you probably won’t admit to it, even if you secretly grab a “z” or two throughout the day. For some reason, the old siesta trend has never taken much of a hold in North America. Coffee, mid-day power walks, and slacker phobias make sure that this doesn’t happen. Where Europeans and Latin Americans see rest, people in the good-old USA see laziness. Not that a little rest nap is less needed in the USA than any other place in the world, but rather that in the name of über-productivity, you are not getting paid to doze off while on the clock. Oh, sure, you can chat all day at the office and waste time like the best of them while getting paid, but napping? Just forget it. But as these photos show, sleeping in public places may be a new, socially accepted trend in America. For the modern worker, this could be a much-welcomed development. Going out for lunch can now be combined with a quick power nap at a park bench. No park benches where you hang out? No problem. Any flat, solid surface will do, as the only requirement seems to be that the surface be uncomfortable (which will send the message that you are not trying to get too comfortable). Knee up or knee down? I would recommend knee up because it conveys a more dynamic pose, which implies that while you are flat on your back, you do intend to get back to something productive soon. Who knows, this may just be what you need to move your career to the next level. What level will that be? That I’ll leave to you to find out.