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2010: Year in Review

2010 was probably the most challenging year of my life, with a number of personal and work events that pushed me to the brink a number of times. But, it was also the most productive year of my life in a number of areas, certainly with respect to photography. By the time the year was over I felt that I had reached a new level in my ability to capture the world around me. Additionally, I found a new calling in life on a political and social level, traveled and “adventured” like never before, and most importantly, spent an incredible amount of time with a diverse group of amazing people. To all of you, even those who aren’t represented here, thank you for letting me into your lives during the best (and worst) year of my existence.

Even though this is a pretty darn big post, the photos below are only a small selection of some of my favorites from the year. Click on a shot to go to the full post it was originally found in.

Ireland and Italy

I traveled to Europe with my sister and cousin, stopping first in Ireland to visit my brother before heading off to Italy.

Robin and Laurie

Two incredible women who are a true pleasure to be around.

Section 8 at the House of Blues

I got to shoot my cousin’s band from the stage at the House of Blues in Anaheim. That was definitely a cool experience.

Corona Del Mar

I’ve spent a lot of time doing photography along Corona Del Mar. This photo seems to be the one people like best.

Los Angeles Arboretum

I made a number of trips to the arboretum this year. I started the year barely knowing what an orchid was, but thanks to the arboretum and Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, I’m pretty much an expert now. :)

These are from two different trips.

New York City

One of the most amazing places I’ve ever been to, and I barely scratched the surface.

Studio Chaos

2010 was the year that I finally got a handle on studio lighting. I’m certainly not an expert, but this once mysterious discipline has let me in on some of its secrets. The first two photos are from some of my first sessions at my new studio. The self-portrait of me isn’t published elsewhere on the site, but since it’s the most obnoxious photo I took all year, I figured I’d include it.

San Diego Ruins

I spent a long time scouring the desert near San Diego this year looking for ruins and pictographs. I didn’t find either; instead, I found this ghost train amid some adventures too crazy to share.

St. Louis

The weather in St. Louis was hot and miserable during my trip, but the stay was one of my best photo experiences to date.

Khmer New Year

Thanks to a connection through my friend Nita, a temple in Riverside asked me to capture their Khmer New Year celebrations.

Huntington Beach Pier

The third most viewed photo I took all year. Having grown up in HB and spent considerable time there, I actually find shooting the pier pretty boring. This one afternoon with my cousin and brother, however, made me feel like a first time visitor.

Scranton, PA

Pennsylvania is awesome. If it didn’t get to negative one million degrees in the winter, I might consider living there. Thanks to Aislinn and Bruce for joining me on some fairly crazy adventures.

Lake Shrine

An unusual retreat in the chaos of LA. Take a blanket and spend time reclining near Gandhi’s ashes.

Team Chaos: Action + Danger

I’ve been single forever, so taking photos of my own kids isn’t possible, given that I have none. Luckily, my good friends have two adorable children that I’ve been fortunate to photograph on a number of occasions. The first photo shows “Danger” Declan in James Bond mode, smooth talking the ladies already. The photo of “Action” Abby in her tiger costume is one of my top 5 favorites of the year.

Christmas with the Moores

In pursuit of a Christmas card, I spent a day with my cousin Dan and his lovely bride Kim, as well as their two very big dogs. After we were done for the day and driving home, we lucked into an amazing sunset and a great place to capture it.

Trenton, my favorite photo of the year

As part of a photojournalism project, parents Wendy and John let me into their family for a few weeks as I documented life with an autistic son. I haven’t published the full set yet, as I’m still working with some other families to get a larger body of work together. For various reasons, this photo of their son Trenton, a dynamic and incredible little guy, is my personal favorite  of the year.

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Peacock Sunglasses 2: The Revenge

Location: Los Angeles Arboretum Subject: Flowers, birds, insects, waterfall

After my first trip to the Los Angeles County Arboretum, a friend asked me to take her. We drove up on a beautiful California afternoon during a brief window of free time I had. This time, rather than just stealing my sunglasses, the peacocks actively tried to kill me. Everywhere I turned there was a peacock lurking in the bushes, digging holes to hide lower in the grass (presumably to launch a sneak attack), and climbing trees, ready to lunge. In the end, we survived, but only barely.

Ok, so maybe they weren’t trying to kill me, but those things were true. The peacocks had the uncanny ability to be everywhere, and they really were in the trees, on buildings, digging holes in the grass, and so on. Next time I go I’m going to bring peacock food so that I can corral them in one place, you know, just in case.

While taking photos of the Queen Anne cottage, we paused to enjoy the curious turtles heading in our direction. We also noticed a bird diving repeatedly for something. After about 3 minutes of this, it surfaced with this catfish in its mouth.

Ants, walking on the very edge of a carnivorous plant; a small gust of wind and they would be lunch.

Another, wider take on the beautiful waterfall.

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Of Heaven and Hell

Location: Pennsylvania. Subjects: trains, flowers, ruined town, ruined hospital, other jazz.

I made my way to Scranton, PA, this past week on a business trip. Before I continue, let me extend thanks to Mark Sarno and Bruce Burke of Sarno & Son for being great hosts, and to Jo Ann, Erika, and Emily for continuing to be lovely company.

Also before I continue, let me suggest that no one ever travel with me. I have the worst possible luck with air travel. Delayed flights, engine trouble, broken A/C, bad weather, bird strikes: they’re all fair game when you fly with me. At least I’m charming (and humble!), so if nothing else I’m decent company.

After a seemingly endless day of travel, I arrived very late to Scranton and hit the hay. I have a strong interest in places with historical value or vintage style, particularly if it’s ruined and/or abandoned. To that end, the plan for Saturday was to visit the Steamtown historical park (think lots of old trains), to find the destroyed city of Centralia, and finally, to locate an abandoned and ruined hospital supposedly in the hills near Lake Scranton.

Steamtown National Historic Park

Steamtown traces the history of railroads in America, with particular focus on their role in the development of the coal industry (of which Pennsylvania is intimately tied). In addition to historical exhibits, the park boasts a number of active trains, a live repair facility, and a working turntable. They had a number of really interesting looking old trains on the various railways in the park, but most of them were off limits unfortunately.

This locomotive was in the repair facility. Note the missing engine parts in the front; I can only imagine the size of the equipment necessary to remove that part.

Throughout the day trains come onto the turntable, spin around a few times, and either go back out to the park for rides or into the service facility. You would think that a train turning in a circle wouldn’t be that interesting, but it actually is a decent spectacle. I took high ground to get this photo and laughed at all the ground-level suckers who got covered in soot and smoke once the train started spinning.

I should note that it’s cool for about 1 minute. After that it’s just a spinning train, and so I moved on.

According to my extensive knowledge as a hobo riding the rails, I can authoritatively state that all of these knobs are for the radio.

Workers in the iconic attire of train employees everywhere.

The Town That Was: Centralia

In 1962, a coal seam underneath the town of Centralia caught fire, likely the result of a badly managed trash fire in an abandoned coal mine. To this day the coal is still burning underneath the former town, having destroyed it in the process. (Fires like this are, unfortunately, very common around the world. Some, like the Gates of Hell, are natural gas fires. One of the oldest coal fires is estimated to have been burning for 6,000 years.)

After years of living next to and above the coal fire, the citizens of Centralia were eventually bought out by the state and federal governments and moved to other areas. Once they were gone, the authorities tore the city down (although some persist in living there to this day). Visiting the site now, very little remains. There are vacant lots and overgrown streets but not much else to signify a human presence. The two most striking indicators of the catastrophe are toxic smoke rising out of the ground in various places, and a  destroyed section of route 61, which suffered major damage as a result of ground shifts from the fire.

For a relatively short, but very interesting documentary on Centralia, check out “The Town That Was.”

Walking down the old part of 61 is both comedic and sad. In the last few years it’s been turned into an active graffiti canvas. There are a number of clever and beautiful tags, as well as some very funny–and very sophomoric–illustrations. Here’s one that greets you as you head south.

Arriving at the subsidence is weird. The ground is very hot (a reminder that the fire is not far underground), and white smoke rises out of the pavement in various places. The smoke wasn’t particularly heavy on this day, although I’ve seen pictures where it’s been really thick.  The whole scene looks (and smells!) like something from a Hollywood horror set. Below are two different parts of the damage.

Here are a few of my favorite tags.

There are 3 cemeteries within the boundaries of old Centralia, all within about a quarter mile of each other. The largest of the 3 lies very near to one of the most scarred areas (off South Street). These flowers were tied to a random corner of the chain link surrounding it.

This is a shortish long-exposure overlooking the Russian Orthodox cemetery, the smallest of the three. I stood in the grass just outside of the gate and tried to capture the light trails created from lightning bugs streaking over the graves. Having never seen lightning bugs, I was transfixed not only by their simple presence, but also from the haunting impression that I was witnessing souls at play above their headstones. Having stood there for too long, I was positively devoured by evil, unknown bugs in the tall grass.

After leaving Centralia I went looking for the West Mountain Sanitarium. Unfortunately for me, I was given the wrong location. As a storm moved in and the wind built, I found myself turning down an unmarked and overgrown forest road at midnight. Noticing that there was literally an eerie white light shining from deep within the foggy and dense foliage where no one lived, I decided to try again during daylight.

Longwood Gardens

I won’t spend much time explaining Longwood Gardens, other than to say they’re massive and simply incredible. If you’re ever near Philadelphia, you owe it to yourself to visit (particularly if you’re a fan of orchids, of which they have something like 900 varieties).

Here are a few more from my time at the garden. Click to enlarge.

Nay Aug Park and the West Mountain Sanitarium

On Monday I talked Bruce into trying to find the sanitarium with me now that I had the correct location. (When going to scary, abandoned facilities in the middle of an old forest, it’s always advisable to bring a friend. That way when the zombies, ghosts, or monsters attack, you’ve now got a 50/50 chance of survival).

Whilst Bruce finished up some work I quickly ran over to Nay Aug park, ran down to the gorge and took  like 3 photos before running out. The park looked really cool, but having found my primary target (plus a train hanging out on a bridge for some reason), I drove out to pick up Bruce and head up to the hills.

The West Mountain Sanitarium was built in the early 1900s as a place to help sufferers of TB. Apparently, it was abandoned several decades ago and subsequently set on fire a couple of times by vandals. Although it’s in rough shape (and very dangerous in some places), there are parts of it still intact. Throughout various structures one can find old beds, documents, and other signs of its former purpose.

Although the tubes are rife with stories of the place being haunted, the only other life form we saw was a frog in one of the basements.

Modern visitors have left their mark on a number of the buildings.

I originally planned to tell you that this was the site of the old crematorium where they burned the bodies of those that died from the torture experiments, but that would be dishonest. So instead, I’ll tell you that this was where they simply stacked the bodies of those that died in the torture experiments.  (No, not really. I don’t know what this was.)

The roof on most of the buildings had either collapsed or was in the process of collapsing. Ever the erstwhile cautionary, I merrily tramped my way under this one.

Oh look, a scary basement. Normal person: “let’s not go in it.” Jake and Bruce: “let’s see if there’s another entrance. Hooray!”

And there was. My flashlight well dead by this point, I could barely see as I sloshed through the creepy, wet, and very dark basements.

Old accounting paperwork, fused to a desk.

There were a number of these “you’re going to die” type signs throughout the buildings, telling you to look up, down, behind you, etc. Usually they pointed towards some hazard (like a big hole in the ground, or a dangerous ceiling above you). This one didn’t seem to actually pertain to anything behind me. It probably activates only at night, when there likely would have been a guy in a mask standing there.

And…a random chair stuck in the roof. So that’s nice.

Tuesday night I had a wonderful dinner with Mark and his wonderful family. Beforehand, he drove me by Waiverly, a very historic and proud part of the area. This was one of the last photos of my trip, taken of the community center (which was built to resemble Independence Hall). Although ruins are fun, living and active history is well worth a visit too.

I’ve come to really like Pennsylvania. Having just bought a new book on hidden and hard to reach ruin sites near NYC, I think a trip back to the region in Spring is in the works. With a number of incredible targets in mind, it should make for an exciting trip.

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Peacock Sunglasses

Location: Los Angeles Arboretum. Subject: Landscapes, peacocks, orchids, insects, other stuff.

After several dumb wrong turns, I finally pulled into the parking lot of the Los Angeles Arboretum in Arcadia. Because of the dumb wrong turns, I got to the enormous grounds too late in the day to cover it all. I’ll tell you though: what I did see was really impressive. If you haven’t been to the arboretum yet, I highly recommend a trip.

Seriously orchids, what’s your deal? You don’t make any sense.

Towards the end of my trip I needed to change lenses, so I stopped outside of a building. I set my sunglasses down on a table and promptly forgot them as I moved on. As I was leaving I remembered my glasses and went back to see if they were still there. The pavilion was lousy with peacocks, and as I approached I noticed a male one on the roof. In its mouth were my glasses. I’m not suggesting the peacock flew up there with them; maybe some kid tossed them on the roof. Who knows? Even so, one of the male peacocks is probably scoring chicks right now in his awesome new aviators.

This peacock family was my last photo of the day.

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Drowning on the Mississippi

Location: St. Louis. Subject: Architecture, flowers.

I was in St. Louis on business for Savvi Formalwear, and opted to hang around a couple of extra days to shoot the city. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m from California, but the weather was miserable. It was between 90-95 degrees with humidity north of 60%; I felt like I was drowning in hot steam.

I had planned on spending considerable time walking through and shooting Forest Park, St. Louis’s larger (but less interesting) answer to New York’s central park. Alas, the weather prevented me from spending too much time walking. Cabs worked but were pricey, and if I did try to walk around the sky would inevitably open up on me and my camera. The architecture in the city is amazing, and you can tell the city has a soul, but it was not one of my better trips.

Thursday afternoon found me at the New Cathedral, which is crazy huge and about 100 years old. I didn’t really get any good pictures of the exterior, so here’s a mediocre one for you.

This sculpture was pretty neat. Various parts of it, most notably the angel’s wings as wind chimes, made sound when the wind blew.

After the cathedral, Greg, Lauren and I headed over to the arch before their flight home. My afternoon photos of the arch are fairly boring, so I decided to go back near sunset (more on that in a moment). I spent some time in Forest Park before heading back.

Although the arch is interesting from a design perspective, it’s a fairly mundane visit. In a nutshell, the arch is very tall (600+ feet) and very arch-like. Basically, you stand in one place and look up at the arch, and that’s the extent of your trip to it. It has nice green space around it, including some wooded areas, so it’s cool to hang out at if you want to relax or picnic.

You can go in a non-air conditioned elevator to the top of the non-air conditioned arch, but I opted not to.

In any event, I arrived near sunset hoping to get more interesting photos, but also to try and avoid the heat. The heat really never went away, but the photos did get better. This photo is of the old courthouse, directly across the street from the arch. Built in 1826, the courthouse is not a large structure, but it’s a neat old structure set down in the middle of much more modern infrastructure.

The first shot at the very top of this page was one of my favorite long shots of the arch. In addition to the standard pictures, I took some time to work on abstracts of the exterior skin, one of which is below. I had hoped to cross the river and do some night time long shots, but it didn’t work out.

I had arranged for a helicopter flight, and after a while walking around the arch grounds, hopped in to do some altitude photos. With both the pilot and arch on my right I missed the money shot, but still got some photos I like a lot.

Banking over the river, interior and exterior.

Afterwards I headed north along the Mississippi in search of food. The river was angry and very high, and had risen enough to cover the lower pedestrian area as well as a big portion of the elevated street. With so much water movement, this poor chap never stood a chance.

On Friday I headed back to Forest Park, starting at the art museum. This shot is of the Grand Basin, directly north of the museum. Built for the 1904 World’s Fair, the Grand Basin is large and impressive, but sort of boring. The highlight of my trip around it was watching a family on two pedal boats delicately trying to transfer passengers. I had my long lens on in case someone took a spill, but they were more nimble than expected.

Here’s a shot from a spot on the water, shooting towards the art museum. The museum was nice, but compared to offerings in other large cities it was fairly small. A real plus for it is that it’s free, making it very accessible to groups that might not otherwise go.

The Apotheosis of St. Louis himself, riding triumphantly into battle against the Nazis at Waterloo…or something.

After the museum I cabbed to the Jewel Box, which turned out to be quite pretty. I spent my time walking the grounds taking in the beautiful ponds until it started raining. I headed up to the building to go inside and do indoor photos until it stopped raining, only to discover that I visited it on the one random Friday afternoon when it was closed for a private party. Hooray.

After a long, wet walk to a golf course, I cabbed it back to the hotel, grabbed my stuff, and headed to the airport much earlier than originally planned. With the early arrival and a very delayed plane, I spent far too long in the St. Louis airport (which, interestingly enough, has rocking chairs in the gate areas!). At least I got to fly home first class, so that was nice.

The ponds around the Jewel Box were full of frogs. I desperately tried to get a photo of one on a lillypad or directly under a flower, but they were too smart for me. Just look at this guy’s smug expression. Jerk.

I shot rain drops for a little while, but packed it up before too long.

I’m off to to Scranton and Philadelphia in two weeks, with–hopefully–a stop in the ruined city of Centralia, home to a 50-year-old mine fire still burning beneath the town to this day. Hopefully that will be a more productive trip.

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