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An Uncut Weekend

My weekend started off with an early trip to photograph the US Uncut protest in LA. Unfortunately, the group never got very large while I was there, so I opted to take off and didn’t take any photos.  On the way home I stopped off in Long Beach to take photos of my friend’s puppy Gnocchi, and then met my cousin towards sunset to capture OC from on high.

My associate and friend Bruce arrived from the frozen lands of Scranton, PA Sunday morning. Whilst in the LAX area we drove to the Getty museum followed by the Huntington Beach pier so that he could tell his friends that he’s been to Huntington Beach. Also, to take photographs at sunset. Without clouds the pier sunset was sort of boring, but it was nice to be outside and not in the office.

This first shot is from Lemon Heights.

A view from the Getty.

Shooting puppies is more difficult than shooting hyper children. About the only time you can get a still portrait is when they’re too exhausted to continue. Here’s Gnocchi, dreaming of baby tennis balls.

Without much variety in the sky, I made my own. This shot has a slight shutter drag.

A resident at the Getty.

“Buildings on Mars.” An attempt at the unusual, looking inland from the shoreline in HB.

Lemon Heights again.

You got seashells in my pier photo. No, you got a pier in my seashell photo! (Sigh, I know I’m not funny.) My favorite of the weekend.

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San Francisco, [A]Bridged

I turned 33 today and decided that I should be out of town for my birthday weekend. My day job is still too hectic at the moment to go anywhere too far away, so I took advantage of my cousin’s generosity and that of his wonderful wife Laura and crashed at their San Francisco condo.

Before heading up I made a list of subjects I’d like to cover, much of which consisted of urban exploration. That is, abandoned buildings, train stations, etc. Unfortunately, with limited mobility and time this was not to be in the cards. So, with the help of websites like this one by Thomas Hawk I reduced my list to a manageable size and prepared to be selective and patient, neither of which I particularly care to engage in very often.

Previous trips to San Francisco had resulted in tough shooting conditions, or basically “every day” in San Francisco: cold weather, fog, rain. As luck would have it, this past weekend was the nicest one San Francisco has seen in the history of always. This meant very little in the way of clouds (sort of boring for photography), and a rare heat. It may have been in the 80s on Sunday.

The reason I mention this is because San Francisco is a city that can be done on foot to a certain degree, and I probably put in about 10 miles in two days. “But Jake,” you’re saying, “that’s barely anything. Even my wheelchair bound grandmother runs 15 miles a day, surely you can handle a paltry 10.”  Ordinarily this would be true save for two facts: first, I was lugging around my gear, which weighs in at about 30 pounds. Second, if you’ve never been to San Francisco it’s hard to imagine how hilly it is, but trust me, it is. If this applies to you, imagine a perfectly straight line that goes up and down for like 20,000 feet. That’s every street in San Francisco. Add a 30-pound pack and hot weather to that, and now you can understand why your grandmother wouldn’t stand a chance.  Also, she told me that she doesn’t love you. So there.

In any event, my plans didn’t call for shooting the Golden Gate Bridge as much as I did, but I really couldn’t avoid focusing on it. In the end, this trip became a study on the bridge and less a study on the city itself.

Before I get to the bridge, let’s meet Wally and Ziggy, my cousin’s two dogs. Wally (pictured here) is small and full of energy, but knows how to chill. Ziggy is small and full of energy, but is like a nuclear explosion who’s energy just keeps on growing.

Saturday morning we started near the Presidio at the Sutro Baths. Not much is left of them, but being a sucker for ruins I was delighted to walk amongst them. Here’s a misty overlook.

Low shot of debris in a standing pool.

Although it bugs me that people tag historical sites, I can’t help but be impressed by talent.

Next, we headed to Baker Beach so that I could scout a place to shoot the Golden Gate at sunset. The northern end of the beach is nude, so it was funny to have shot the bridge and then look at the photos afterwards, only to see the occasional very pink San Franscisan hanging out in the bottom corner. I figured it was safest to post a photo of flowers. :)

Another shot of the bridge, this time from the National Cemetery at the Presidio. The cemetery was peaceful and quite pretty in its way, and has some of the oldest burials I’ve personally ever seen in the States.

Another shot of the bridge, this time near the “Warming Hut” on Fort Point. In the distance is the yacht club where I got the shots at the bottom of this post.

I decided that I picked the wrong place to shoot sunset, so I decided to try my luck at the Palace of Fine Arts. I hoofed it over there and had time to kill before the light show, so spent time figuring out my best angles. At one point I was sitting on a bench waiting for the sun to go down when this eccentric woman rode by on her pink bike with music blaring, lights on her spokes, and bubbles flowing.  As she circled across the pond and into the palace proper, I got my telephoto lens out and waited to see if anything interesting would happen. This little girl was with her family and as the lady rode past, just darted happily after her in dancing, bubbily bliss. You could tell by the way her dad was frantically chasing her that it wasn’t a sanctioned event. :)

I took a lot of the photos as the sun set, but this one is my favorite. I like the sort of mystery in the building not being fully illuminated. 

A Sunday morning view of the city (and in the distance, the Bay Bridge) from atop one of the ungodly tall hills. That tall pointy building is the TransAmerica building, which stands at over 800 feet tall. Note how relatively close I am to the top.  This was supposed to be an “easy” walk to breakfast. ;)

I opted to skip out on the Superbowl and instead get to another spot across the bay to catch the Golden Gate as the sun went down. With a car at my disposal I ended up at the yacht club on Fort Baker with plenty of time to spare.   At the top of the hill lie the abandoned remnants of Battery Yates, a former gun emplacement that stood watch over the bay.  Here’s a detail of one of the buildings that the guns once stood on top of. 

A warning from a time when the buildings held deadly artillery.

As the sun started to get low I cursed the beautiful, empty skies, and pondered how to make my photos more interesting. I decided to try two things.

First, work on a meaningful foreground. As any student of photography will have heard, the best photos tend to have a fore-, middle-, and background.  While this seems obvious, foregrounds are not my strongest suit (although I think I nailed it in the cemetery photo). As a result, I spent considerable time trying to find a spot that would give me something of interest in the foreground and line up with the more important middleground.

The second thing I worked on was color cast. Very few photographers know this, but most dSLR cameras have the ability to change color cast in the camera, including color bracketing. I don’t normally like to do it in camera, preferring instead to do it in post-processing. However, with time to spare, I played around a bit. Each of these below was touched, but actually very little. The changing light as the sun set made the biggest difference.

For those of you wanting to try this, the fastest way to do it is via the color balance settings, which can usually be changed via a button or dial. Otherwise, look for color bracketing in your camera menu.

Here’s a shot of a rowing crew coming home.

The gentleman in this photo is called Michael Feldman. I chatted with him for a bit after capturing his silhouette against the bridge.  Here’s the scene he was painting. Earlier in the day, I had sat in the same place as his subject. Perched atop the bluff with nothing but the bridge, bay and strong wind on my face, I felt very small in such a large space. I live for experiences like that, which is why I love travel photography so much.

Although this photo has the least obvious foreground of any I took that night, it’s probably my favorite of the bunch. With the bridge lights on and the gradual transition to night in the sky, this photo captures the peace I earnestly felt at that moment. If you’ve never been to this site, I would strongly encourage you to make the drive.

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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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Motorcycles and the Art of Zen Maintenance

Location: Pacific Palisades. Subject: Lake Shrine Temple and Gardens

Recently, I decided to join a few photography groups. One of them is going to Lake Shrine in Pacific Palisades next weekend, but unfortunately, I can’t join them. I had a couple of hours to spare today, so I went up on my own. Located near the intersection of PCH and Sunset, Lake Shrine is a “Self Realization Fellowship” site. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I think it has something to do with a blending of Hinduism, yoga, and the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

The one thing I do know is that the grounds are beautiful, and although relatively small, well worth a trip. The facility was built in 1950, when I imagine it was a lot easier to lose oneself in meditation. On the whole it’s a peaceful experience walking the grounds, but when a motorcycle (or group of them) comes rumbling down Sunset the whole park takes notice.

Enjoy the photos.

This first photo shows a 1,000-year-old sarcophagus containing some of Gandhi’s ashes. Part of the “World Peace Monument,” it’s one of the first artifacts you encounter as you head into the grounds.

Nothing says “be still” and “quiet” like a noisy camera clicking away. ;)

This windmill was on the property before the temple facility was built. According to the visitor guide, it’s an authentic replica of a 16th-century Dutch windmill (although the chapel beneath it has been extended a few times).

You can’t see it, but above this waterfall is a large statue of Jesus wearing what appear to be leis. A smaller waterfall across the way has a statue of Krishna.

And last but not least, a small boat moored to the side of the windmill. Besides these small boats, there’s also a large house boat on the lake (which I don’t show here). This place is so eclectic, it’s fantastic.

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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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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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