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The Danish Sky Hangs Low

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you might ask yourselves: and where is Dominic Willoughby? Wouldn’t he be the first candidate to hold one of those pages?

Well.

He was busy trying not to lose a foosball game, because if he had lost, he would have had to have to sit under the table in the common area, until someone (anyone not in the know) calls his name.  Gotta tell ya, never have I seen Dom so sweaty/horrified/excited than at that foosball table when he finally scored a point.  Not at a 20ft-high jump, not before or after a scary drop precision on a railing. At a foosball table.

After this interlude, please proceed to viewing the photos of the closest town (Slagelse), which is technically pretty much the distance from my apartment in Roxbury to the studio in Somerville, and some I took at Gerlev Academy.

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Food People

{disclaimer: please note that it is illegal - and hence you are not allowed to - use any images on this website, blog, and in the post without my explicit permission. that means yes, usage: electronically, online, in print, and any other format. thanks for understanding and showing your respect for my work and profession.}

A while  ago I landed an assignment to photograph a hefty bunch of food industry folk of Somerville for a publication.  Given that there were more than just a couple of “portraitees”, and the fact that there is little wiggle room for creativity with the traditional “food industry folk” photography (kitchen environment, arms folded, piercing gaze along with a fierce smile, with occasional grocery pick of the day laid out on a table with an oversized knife beside suggestively hinting that the subject has undeniably strong ties with the art of cooking=BOOOOORRRRRRING!), my first reaction was to reject all the abovementioned staples and portrait my subjects on a more personal level, preferably outside of kitchen life.  Isn’t it true that what they are like in their non-business mode affects their style and performance in the food business?

I am not claiming to have unveiled some deep psychological layers in their personalities - there would simply be not enough time, given the typical publication deadlines (”yesterday”) - but I hope I have managed to provide a new look onto their portrayed personalities.

1. MICHAEL LEVITON / Area Four

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Michael works out in a gym.  Big deal, you say, so do I and the next guy.  The gym, however, is a bit special. Located in Dorchester, it offers a “start-it-over” program for ex-offenders who are looking to turn themselves around.  Besides being a great alternative to getting in trouble in the streets for at-risk youth, the non-profit InnerCity Weightlifting gives ex-offenders professional development opportunities as fitness trainers. That kind of awareness and attachment to something bigger than yourself earns a lot of respect.


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2.  DIMITRA TSOURIANIS / Daddy Jone’s Bar

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Dimitra is a native Somervillian, so we casually walked around her neighborhood, only breaking our leisurely chatting for the photo ops:  on the stairs of her parents’ house, the [closed for renovations] Cross St Bridge…

Perhaps because of the fairly recent transition from an employee to an employer, Dimitra didn’t seem to have a virtual wall of unattainable star status [although her brilliant flight up through the ranks in restaurant business would provide more than enough ground for it], that a lot of restaurant owners carry along as their cross of choice (side note: a few of those that I happen to know personally for a while are blissfully devoid of it, regardless of the brightness of their hard-earned esteem; side side note: notice, that instead of an expected orthodox cross, Tsourianis is showing the heart in the photo below).  Scott Kearnan, a former Phoenix and Stuff Magazine writer, described Daddy Jones’ drinks as “innovative yet unpretentious”, and if the drinks are anything like bar owners, this fits Dimitra perfectly.

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3.  Paul Christie / Spoke Wine Bar

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Paul is someone who instantly puts you at ease.  A quality that should be a prerequisite for anyone setting off to summit the Olympus of tending bar.  Not the “yadude” type that presumptuously backslaps you into his “bros” club, but rather a knowledgeable and refined professional who you can rely on when choosing a glass of old world wine or deciding on a drink without the unnecessary know-it-all, snobbish, or snotty attitude thrown into your liquid mix.

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4.   Michael Dulock / M.F. Dulock

Michael is not just a butcher, not even just a local butcher.  He is a loyal butcher, to New England farms that make sure your meats come from humanely raised, grass-fed, and healthy animals, and to his customers, ensuring, on his end, that he maintains this solid link between the farms and your dinner table.

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5.  Maximus Thaler / The Gleaners’ Kitchen

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Maximus is a freegan and has mastered the art of dumpster-diving to the point when he could fetch the quantities of produce to cook meals large enough to call for an establishment.  In this case I believe I may have strayed away from my rule for this set of portraits, and got Maximus in his “business” environment; however, given the extra-ordinary nature of said environment, as well as the business itself, I think there is some room for bending the rules.

6.  Tim and Bronwyn Weichmann / Bronwyn

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7.  Ana Sortun and Cassie Kyriakides Piuma / Sarma

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Going into the shoot with Ana and Cassie, I felt well-prepared for exactly the 50% of it: I’ve known Ana since a few years ago, when I had worked at Sofra Bakery (a middle-east/mediterranean inspired cafe in Watertown/North Cambridge area), an offshoot of Ana’s Cambridge restaurant, Oleana.  Cassie, however, I didn’t retain a clear memory of, although chances of our previous meetings were pretty high, given the very closely-knit food community in Cambridge and Somerville.  It’s a mob, essentially, in all the best connotations possible (if you are going to try and tell me that the concept of old school “mob” has never had any romanticized, adventurous appeal to you, you may want to stop reading this blog altogether [it's not you, it's me, I swear]).  The moment Cassie walked into Oleana’s backyard, which I chose as our backdrop, my preparedness confidence level rose close to 100%.  It made total sense, that a strong, willful, determined, smart woman like Ana would team up with a very similar type of personality.

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8.  Kevin and Ryan McGuire / Pennypackers

The brothers’ kitchen venture is located directly across from Tsourianis’ Daddy Jones Bar, which I have posted about a few paragraphs above.

They met me one by one, first Kevin (the businessman), then Ryan (the operations), and almost instantly the theme for the portrait became this “brothers band album cover”.  They are unmistakably a team, and a good one at that.  In situations like this it is absolutely perfectly acceptable (and smart, ahem) to let the vibe emanating from your subjects dictate the premise of the photo.

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9.  Mike and Oana Bandar / East End Grill

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Photographing for Boston University: BU Mens Rowing Team practice

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Being a freelancer, and a photographer at that, I often under-appreciate what facets of life around me I am exposed through my assignments.  I do have a good habit to offset this oversight: whenever I get tired of repetitive editing of large batches of photos, I simply jump into another folder of what I had shot previously and had thought of posting/blogging about, but never came around because of perpetual lack of time at the peak of a season.

Having finally managed to get my head above the water and catching up on breathing, I also find it to be a rather opportune moment to catch up on those very postings of photographs I am proud of, but never had a chance to show them to anyone but my client.  In addition, I feel like enough time has passed between the select photos being published that I will not ruin anything by posting them on my personal website.

All in all it was a great assignment, originally designed to take a couple of hours at dawn, but  at the end of the day turned into a two-day pilgrimage for me (through the initiative by yours truly, not through the client’s whip).  Reason being,  I really wanted to capture that part of the journey which, like a good kicker or a launch platform, defines the course of the journey itself: the getting ready, the slight shivering from the early morning cold, the nervous laughter, the warm up, the planning of the last details…  And I also definitely wanted to be in the middle of the action when the boys are in boats, and boats are in water.  I ended up shooting at one evening practice with what I thought was a beautiful pre-sunset light, until I got to shoot another morning, when the light turned out to be just breathtaking. 

You be the judge.

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Russia 2013

Last time I visited Russia was in June 2009, as part of American independent filmmakers crew.  Once the project was done, and so was my traveling across all of Russia (we filmed in Moscow, Barnaul, Omsk region, Tyumen), I paid a visit to my family and my hometown.  My impressions about that trip remain documented here as well, and if you feel so inclined, you are welcome to look at the prequel here: http://www.pedalpowerphotography.com/blog/?m=200906  and here: http://www.pedalpowerphotography.com/blog/?m=200908.

Each time I come back to the motherland, the excitement from the actual travel and anticipation of some magical reunion (because it would be against the very nature of any true traveler and adventurer to deny certain nostalgic lure and romantic mist present in the idea of a reunion and coming back) runs away in terror the moment I exit passport control.  Which is a progress, indicating considerable improvement of clerk-behind-counter attitude over the past few years.  Mind you, this time said attitude was given an extra challenge: apparently my four-year old photo did not provide enough resemblance to my current facial presentation, resulting in showing of both of my passports (in Russia we have one domestic passport and one international, for over-the-border wonderings), yet yielding no help from that.  Some four or more years ago, I would have expected this to cause enough grievance to the person in uniform for them to gladly turn their “concierge power syndrome” switch on and exercise their power to veto, to deny, to say ni no. And to be rude and condescending. Not this time.  The young lady in uniform actually smiled (something you don’t find as customary in Russia as you would in the U.S., more on this cultural difference here, although I must maintain that in my opinion this is typical for any big and busy city in the world: ) and eventually let me through.

Almost immediately the general unsettling feeling starts to settle in, as each atom in the air seems to carry one and only charge: anxiety.  This is something I’ve started to pick up on consciously from the beginning of this trip.  Even when nothing seems to justify or prompt said anxiety, it still instills every bit of existence of a Russian person.  Long gone is the era of hours and days long lines for kolbasa (a Soviet take on wurst (which was a good part of a typical breakfast or lunch open face sandwich along with white bread and butter); back in soviet regime - you don’t want to know what it was made of; very close to that pink paste that circulated the social media not so long ago, exemplifying how some sausages are made), milk, bread, flour, and, sure enough, vodka; of writing the number of your spot in line on the palm of your hand and taking the virtual “headshots” of people in front of you and behind, so that when you leave in order to check on your spots in other lines, often across town, and come back, not only you would know your place in line, but your neighbors-in-arms would too, and thus won’t beat you out of the line; of trading alcohol stamps for flour or bread or sugar stamps with sadly too many of drown-your-sorrows–in-vodka proponents; of bribing anyone with even minuscule amount of power being just another fact of life, like coffee-and-muffin is a fact of mornings here in the U.S.   Those days, and years, are gone.  Seemingly gone are the days of the dictatorship regime.  But hanging in the air, like a proverbial sickle and hammer, is the iron fist of dictatorship smoke.

Gasping for air after my not-so-little-anymore brother’s bear hug, I filled my lungs with whatever oxygen was available per breathing serving in the Sheremetyevo parking lot and ducked into my brother’s black Opel (a car brand that seems to be a trusted go-to option for quite a few Moscovites; somewhat like Subaru in New England, and in VT in particular).  My nose receptors got another culture-shock punch from a decent amount of air freshener.  Ok, ok, I’ll take that over smoke!…oh, never mind, that thought evaporated quickly in the smoke from my brother’s cigarette.  Let me make this clear: everyone smokes.  And by everyone i mean everyone. 10 year-olds, females, males, drivers, passengers, cops, doctors.  My brother, his girlfriend, their friends.  Alley cats and stray dogs.  And yet again,  the feeling of inescapable impending anxiety hangs over the city like the smog from all the exhaust and the cigarette smoke.  In order to survive, let alone thrive, in this city, one would have to embrace it the same way you would handle smoke.  Embrace and inhale.  That I did, but with the window open, which now or then I still am not entirely convinced helped or brought more damage from the car fumes.

On this note, traffic laws in Moscow were best summarized by my brother: “basically, as long as you don’t ram into another car, everything else is acceptable and whatever traffic laws are merely a suggestion”.  There seemed to be a pretty strict hierarchy going on in the seemingly chaotic interchanging of lanes, which looked like some strange and mysterious race with an invisible torch/baton being passed from one car to another.  More expensive cars had highest disregard for others (I am not even mentioning law here), on my presumed assumption that if a collision were to happen, even if the rich jerk were to be at fault, you’d still be in trouble, po-po or no po-po.  Another peculiar observation: one needs to begin their lane switching whilst still moving head to head with the car in the lane of your immediate desire.  Otherwise you are stuck with where you are for…I don’t know, I’d have to guess for a very long time.  Those who know me here and have had an opportunity to experience my driving (I think Meg Bilodeaux once said: “you drive like you race bikes like you talk”; I don’t know about the racing part, but people do talk fast where I come from), you can imagine what it was like in Moscow if I say I was beyond impressed with my brother’s driving.

Traffic jams held us hostage for about an hour, leaving another hour to get to my brother’s home.   Like 93-S, that part of highway is jammed regardless of time of day or year.  In between catching up and light wit ping-pong sets, I was looking out of the window, absorbing the gloomy view of mostly gray buildings and mostly gray sky.  I realize that to someone who has no value attached to those visuals, it must sound very depressing (and trust me, that it is too!), but to me it is also tender, and empowering, and in its own way, beautiful.  My whole perception of contemporary Russia and the concept of motherland is this metaphoric image of a scowling, torn, wounded beast, once beautiful and powerful, now just plain angry, with bald patches and dried blood on its fur.  A bit dramatic, but what are you going to do…

To get used to what was my city and my home for seven years, I walked, a lot, to exhaustion.  I would take breaks in coffee shops, enough to grab a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, warm up, look through the photos I have taken, and on my way I was again.  Long, wide streets, even though slightly changed in appearance, and with some businesses or facades gone or altered, narrow alleys, stretches of park alleys - all had memories to offer, that reminded me how rich in experiences my life has been, and how most of it is free of any regret; that alone is enough to reignite my love for this city, and for this country.  Yet again am I reminded that it’s not about geography of our existence, but people, experiences, and memories that we make and weave into this fabric of life.

Here are a few of the snapshots I grabbed along my walks, some with captions, some without.  I hope they help you see Russia from just another point of view.

Pushkin monument in one of the central squares in Moscow looks down upon the two clowns.

Pushkin monument in one of the central squares in Moscow looks down upon the two clowns.

Reproductions of famous artworks hanging outside of a shopping center

Reproductions of famous artworks hanging outside of a shopping center

more reproductions hanging on the outside of commercial real estate

more reproductions hanging on the outside of commercial real estate

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proof that Moscow is too, slowly but surely, giving some way to bicycling.  It’s going to be a very long and a very painful process, but I am glad to see the sprouts!

One of the pedestrian-only streets downtown Moscow

One of the pedestrian-only streets downtown Moscow

Lenin (and other historic figures) impersonators are a common find.  Makes for a very ironic and philosophical picture in modern environment

Lenin (and other historic figures) impersonators are a common find. Makes for a very ironic and philosophical picture in modern environment

Lenin and the ever-so-busy modern crowd

Lenin and the ever-so-busy modern crowd

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Fur, matryoshkas, and Soviet artifacts stand in the Red Square - just curious, do tourists still have any lust for those?

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architecture texture

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fancy bench and a fancy trash can in one of those pedestrian-only streets

fancy bench and a fancy trash can in one of those pedestrian-only streets

architecture texture

architecture texture

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One of many many many coffee houses in Moscow (this particular one is even called the Coffee House). Coffee shops sit atop each other on every major street in Moscow, often found in clusters of two or three different ones next door to each other, with another occasional one or two across the street. Doesn’t seem like a lot of competition, however, as all of them were packed.  Prices varied between $5-6 for a small latte, which dropped to under $2 in a small town my parents moved to (3 hrs north of Moscow by commuter rail).  Of note , as well, large portion of them are open 24/7.

Snacks and coffee inside the Coffee House. Crepes with strawberry preserves and cottage cheese (equivalent of) lightly fried patties with sour cream

Snacks and coffee inside the Coffee House. Crepes with strawberry preserves and cottage cheese (equivalent of) lightly fried patties with sour cream

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first book printing factory which also is known for the first printed book in Russia.

first book printing factory which also is known for the first printed book in Russia.

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Inside of another coffee shop (Coffeemania), which also boasts prints on its walls from a very famous and a very cherished animation movie (Hedgehog in the Fog)

Inside of another coffee shop (Coffeemania), which also boasts prints on its walls from a very famous and a very cherished animation movie (Hedgehog in the Fog)

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Cemetery trash/recycling

Cemetery trash/recycling

cemetery trail

cemetery trail

You will often find some token food and alcohol next to a deceased's tomb or grave, as a ritual offering to pay respects to the memory of the deceased.  Most graves have fences, even if purely symbolic, and a make-shift table to put the offerings onto.  It is customary to visit your relatives' graves to tidy them up.

You will often find some token food and alcohol next to a deceased's tomb or grave, as a ritual offering to pay respects to the memory of the deceased. Most graves have fences, even if purely symbolic, and a make-shift table to put the offerings onto. It is customary to visit your relatives' graves to tidy them up.

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and sometimes offerings are just that

and sometimes offerings are just that

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street musician

street musician

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GOOD NIGHT!

holidays

Today I was going to finish a post on my, well, by now, not so recent trip to Russia. But then I am supposed to do so many other things that I find myself not doing.

Like showing my affection for people by buying them more stuff.

Or buying myself stuff I want, not need, because surely, the very fact of you reading this means I’ve got my bare bases covered and then some more, in order of life priorities.

Or standing in line for That One Restaurant in the Neighbourhood to get a day’s worth serving of breakfast, which will make me go spend some more money in the gym first [because I wouldn't want to be labeled "ugly" as defined by the Concise Dictionary of Corporate] and then in stores, to make sure the majority around me agree that I am close to conforming with the definition of beauty [same reference as before].

Instead, I am sitting at laundromat and typing up these thoughts. As a side note, if I were to live strictly by the letter of what I am preaching, I’d be washing my laundry in my bathtub and drying it on a clothesline; however this would directly imply tying my hands from typing this post, and I feel it’s somewhat important to speak out about these things, even if most of my minuscule readership is the choir, because the alternative is not reaching out to anyone. And to be completely honest, I am too partial to some level of comfort, which is hopefully an honest result of balancing necessity with efficiency.

Every year, when the holiday season approaches, my entire being wants to crawl into a cave away from the so-called civilization, the mass craze about shopping, buying, spending, over-cooking, over-eating, gift-competiting, etc, etc. What “holiday spirit”? This? When you walk down any street and the flashiest, the brightest, the catchiest “decorations” are SALE and BUY signs and ads? When holiday tunes are paired up with “shop shop shop shop shop” words? When after your over-abundant Thanksgiving dinner MORE THAN HALF of the food is THROWN AWAY?! Now that’s some real holiday spirit right there. Nicely done. I am not even going to talk about the roots of the actual Thanksgiving, that had NOTHING to do with this overconsumption, with turkey itself (how the poor critter got entangled into this is still a mystery to me, and if I find more information on this, I’ll update this post), because it will send me on another raging beating around the bush. It’s not even about Thanksgiving, and it’s not about Christmas. Those are just perfect excuses to indulge into what this is about. It’s about over-consumption, self-esteem (lack thereof to be exact), and unwillingness to use the gray matter.

How much is enough? The correct answer is never, as long as it has enough selling value. On this note, I am getting kind of sick of hearing about corporate greed this, corporate greed that. Takes two to tango, ya know? Selling and buying isn’t a one party transaction. As long as you are willingly participating in this transaction, you are just as responsible for its outcome. And you are participating very much willingly. Sure enough, ads, and infomercials, and whatnot are created with the single purpose to sell you stuff; sure enough a lot of information programs consumers for exactly the wanting and buying action. But let me ask you this: are you a human being with a functional brain? Can you think for yourself? I am not using the “are you cattle?” simile because I am starting to believe that in a lot of cases the comparison would do humans a disservice… If you are unable to make conscious decisions (that’s what “corporate control” means, by the way, that you are completely incompetent of making decisions for yourself), it’s about time you start training that innate ability. You won’t survive without it. Don’t take my word for it, for it’s not mine. It’s those thousands of years of human civilization, and then millions before it, that prove it.

Corporations would not be profiting that much if consumers weren’t buying. If you were not buying into the fake images and substitutes for real values; if you were not trading your own values and your core for the comfort and reassurance that you “fit” into some made-up money-making standard; if you would think at least once a day “what would I like to be remembered for?”, “what’s my life worth?”, I am sure you would like yourself much more, and that the world would become a much better place to live. For everybody, not just you, here, now, not just you who was lucky enough to be fed, healthy, with a place to live, things to do, not at war, etc.

I’d still gather with the people close to me for the holidays, don’t get me wrong. I don’t actually crawl into a deep cave. But I wholeheartedly refuse to over-do because of the holidays. Since when is it a prerequisite that you must fill your stomach with three times its volume of food in order to have a good time with your friends or family? Sounds ridiculous, right? Then why do you do it? No over-eating, no over-consuming, no over-spending. If anything, I might increase my training dosage: after all it’s winter, and it’s cold here in Boston, training keeps you warm, and training parkour is by far the best being outdoors, free, and keeping you on your toes both physically (correction, balls of your feet is more like it, but close enough) and mentally. For any holiday season I would invite you to do exactly the opposite of what has become a sad habit: switch the direction to austerity, physical and mental health. And I encourage you to indulge in training your body, mind, and spirit this season, and every day. It will make you feel better, and will make you a better person too.

Happy training!

N

AntiBlackFriday Manifesto

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Wisconsin ADAPT Level 1 Certification and Jubilee

We are all mad here. We all stumble in darkness with arms outstretched forward. We all have our very own demons. In that we are all the same. As in we-are-all-perfectly-imperfect same.
A number of activities/sports/things in my life felt exciting, adrenaline-infusing, and sometimes even “extreme”. Not until I dove into parkour had I started to learn to love fear.  Looking into its face, breaking it down into its smallest parts, giving it a name, and committing to the fight with the first step into the ring.  I cannot describe the thrill, the mix of terror and excitement that fills my whole being, the-tip-of-the-knife sharp focus, the letting-go, that take over me the moment my feet spring off the ground.


At the risk of sounding like a devout preacher, I will say that there is so much more to this still young discipline than backflips off the walls (”oh, you do parkour??!! Can you do a flip?” “why yes, yes i can…will i? meh, no, not really.  that’s not what parkour is about”) and huge jumps between rooftops. Challenge, discipline, integrity, regime, constant pushing yourself out of the comfort zone in all senses possible, stretching the limits of personal impossibles, helping, being human. And more. It is actually a lot like martial arts.  There is a chance that part of this is spoken through overspill of the amazing experience I’ve had during the ADAPT certification and Jubilee in Wisconsin, organized by Wisconsin Parkour and Parkour Generations.
As I had confessed to a couple of my jumping cohorts, my heart has grown so big during the past week, and was exploding and imploding at the same time, unable to contain the energy and love from the parkour community.  I am still going through a withdrawal from Wisconsin experience, I am sad it’s over (though it’s never really over), but I feel so much more inspired and motivated. When I was not in action, I took photos, so please take a look below. Most of them depict the before and after of the action, since I was in the midst of the action itself.
And Wisconsin, I will be back

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“It’s a structure you can do parkour on, not a parkour structure” (c) Travis Travis and Wisconsin Parkour built a “live” structure that self-tightens in respective parts while other parts are being loosened by human impact.

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First day of ADAPT Level 1 complete. Chilling in the house of our amazing hosts. Scotsman Pete is getting his Britain education on.  In the U.S. of A. Obviously bewildered.

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Apparently “sassman” is one synonym for “scotsman”.’

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cuddle puddle is how we do sleep. ADAPT L1 candidates as shown in exhaustion after a day of training.

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Magic Al rose up bright and early to make us pancakes!  And then we put the sauteed banana-plantain-butter-maple awesomeness on top.  Because righteous.

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Synchronized teeth-brushing.

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the amazing home for a few days….

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our amazing hosts - Al and

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Nini!

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Dom: “Take something you’re bad at and make it your best thing; if you’re bad at kongs, become the best at kongs”. Amen.

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parkour and capoeira, how becoming.

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Quadropedal Movement takes no pity on no one, man… wee ones, and grown ups.

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During the Q&A: Q:  What’s your favorite place to train at?

A (James): … Pete’s bed?..

A (Dom):…umm…Pete’s bed!

A (Pete gestures as pictured above)

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Bewilderment, yet again red-lines through the story both in this post, and in the photo itself: from the face of monumental Lincoln to Pete’s, to Badger’s, to Grant Wee Rex’s…
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parkour devices
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and their owner

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concentration before climbing a mountain

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post-mountain MEATCAKE!

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Pete and Nini. I miss you both.

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hi creepy.

So one time one artist meets another…

Juliann Rubijono of MamaCasts stopped by my studio last week, and brought a few pieces with her to photograph.

Juli began mask study and lifecasting in her mid-teens, and has honed her skills and knowledge over the years.  Primary material is plaster, although she has successfully experimented with adding other substances to the mix, like metal.  Unlike most other castings, Juli’s final pieces are a work of art, as each casting is worked on further, embellished and personified with art paper, fabric, and whatever other material seems most applicable, befitting, and corresponding to the model’s persona and desires.

Juli’s natural intuition captures each of her model’s subtleties and brings out the most beautiful spirit.

Below are a few examples of her fine work.

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Green Mountain Double Century 2013

So this one time my buddy Myles O’Brien and I did a blissful cycling adventure consisting of roughly 230 miles in Western Mass, culminating with square-pedaling up the steep side of Mt. Greylock, which I threw a fit in front of; I bet if I had any more energy left over, I would have thrown my bike in the bushes.  All because the climb we had just finished minutes before, turned out to be about a mile longer, a bit steeper, no shade and I ran out of water.  We did end up beasting it up the mountain just in time to enjoy the sunset from the summit.  The whole trip took us 3 days, granted we were not racing. I am telling you all this to emphasize that the annual GMDC, at the distance of a fluctuating 205-210mi of primarily dirt roads, primarily running through VT, with its 25K of climbing (also a non-fixed figure), is typically won by the team of the fantastic trio: Matt Roy, David Wilcox, and John Bayley.  Usually, with the time between 16 and 20 hours, depending on weather conditions.

One of the most inspiring parts of this ride/race is the attitude of the fantastic three.  It’s..well…fantastic.  It may be pouring rain, 40 degrees, 15mph headwinds, and their 20th climb of the day on 15% grade.  As you pass them in the follow car, or passing nutrients over, or jumping out of the vehicle to grab that shot, you’d expect them to be exhausted, grumpy, foul-mooded.  They smile.  They ask about how you are doing.  And continue on with their pace, which is an amazement of its own: it’s almost like they are wired together, with their pedal stroke being perfectly synchronized with each other’s.

It’s about fourth year I’ve been invited to document this  randonneuring race, and to be honest with you, for the past couple of years I’ve been getting a bit of a worry that I might be bored out of my mind, having seen it all already a few times over and delivered photographs and video in the past.  The thrill and the spirit of randonneuring takes over each time, right about the start (4 a.m.), actually, no, earlier, right after the brain reluctantly accepts the reality of having to wake up at 3 a.m. and everyone starts to get ready in the motel room.  And each time I find something new, something different, that attracts my eye, also, because I am different, too, hence the vision.  This being said, please proceed to enjoying the photos from this year’s GMDC.  Occasional captions will hopefully keep you informed as well as entertained.

early beginning


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Fixing your cycling partner’s helmet is as personal as it gets. So much love.


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Matt Roy once (and repeatedly) said that if you are not looking around you and enjoying the view, while you are on a ride, you are doing it wrong.  If any of you have ever done a long(ish) ride, I am sure you can relate. If you haven’t, put that on your checklist: I guarantee that you will see so much more than out of a car window.  Along with the pace and effort of propelling yourself forward through nothing more than your own power, the time dimension changes drastically from what you are used to in the daily routine, and it literally opens both your eyes and your mind to the things you’ve considered familiar.  Not to mention you are bound to discover something new as well.  It’s that urge of exploration and discovery that every human being has in them…some have just chosen to ignore it. Do yourself a favor, don’t.

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Camaraderie, brotherhood, tacit helping each other… and boy, do not mess with Matt Roy!  :)


It feels borderline blasphemous to try to describe the joy and overwhelming sense of freedom filling up your lungs when you drink up that golden morning light bouncing through the saturated green lush of the woods.

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The essential part of any randonneuring endeavor - checking your gear, fixing as needed, and adjusting.

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What did I say about smiles and fantastic attitude? See?!

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The play of light and shadow has offered so many photographic opportunities, I might have let out a yelp or two…every now and again.

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We stumbled upon a cow farm, so naturally we had to pull over and get our animal fix. Especially Mo who seems to have a special ability to connect with any critter instantly.  Cows were all “WHAT’S UP?”

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And then I saw a run down train track up above.  Who in their right mind would pass up that opportunity???

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And once again, if it’s in your habit to look around, you’ll see things. Like that car that first attracted my attention.  When I got close to it to grab a shot of this antique, the shed next to it, that looked like a very abandoned form of something that was meant to be very temporary, back in the day, was producing noise that was unmistakably TV-produced.  I proceeded to composing my shot, half-hoping for, half-wishing against someone gnarly raging out of that shed with a shotgun in one hand and an almost empty whiskey bottle in the other.

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Or maybe not raging out necessarily. Maybe I’d just take my eyes off the viewfinder and feel the stare on my back, slowly turn…. and there is an innocent looking little girl with half her hair braided, half loose, old torn teddy bear in one hand, and…Oh well, we are not on movie set here. Moving on!


Despite the above-mentioned fact of not being associated with any kind of film production, the fantastic three were apparently emitting the celebrity vibe.  As soon as the rest stop was taken by a local general store, other cyclists started to flock around, take pictures and ask for autographs.  The fantastic three.

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You know what’s badass? Badass is when your back is all messed up because of a PhD dissertation that had you bent over it for months (that you successfully defend. mind you), but you still keep on riding, even if your superhero lycra doesn’t show a sign of the wounds hidden beneath.

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And like that, dandy style, you get your helmet on…


…and blow a kiss!  There is no stopping you, despite the plethora of stop signs. gmdc2013_111

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A-Listers Portraits for Scout Somerville: PREQUEL and Kristen Augenfeld

PREFACE

Mere coincidence describes a lot of happenstances in my life. Mere coincidence is how I had ended up at Scout Somerville’s opening reception back in February, through a friend forwarding the invitation to me the day of (probably the best way to get me to commit to an event anyway).

Ironically (because I’ve been told style and I are sort of pals), I never seem to be able to nail it with putting this candy of a girl into an appropriate wrap for a public event.  More often than not we just don’t sync, and I either end up feeling waaaay over-dressed, thus compensating somewhere in the dark corner with [usually] complimentary libations, or waaaaaay under-dressed (and I do not mean bikini), thus compensating with [you guessed it] complimentary libations.  Haven’t managed to get my tiny ass kicked out of any of those amusements, despite some half-assed trying. Working on it, though.

Anyway, that night, due to late notice, I was wearing my favorite pair of jeans (to be automatically assumed as starting to rip at crotch; first of all, that’s why they are favorite: you wear them until it’s physically impossible; second, I don’t own a pair that’s not ripping at crotch, bike fanatics will understand; for non-bikers, well, just call me The Mighty Crotch), hiking boots, and a lumberjack shirt.  At least the latter was matching the red carpet at the entrance - hoozah!  I somehow slipped by a beautiful black lady towering over me at least twice my height and assumed the “I just belong” look on my face. While I was stuffing said face with offerings from Garden At the Cellar (got my priorities straight), free beer in my other hand, I darted glances around, identifying network-worthy targets.

Bling-bling in the far end of the space in the form of photo flashes resembled light in the end of a tunnel, and off I went to chat with the photographer.  Who would have thought.  Photographer points me in the direction of the owner and the photo-editor.  Shyness shoved aside by half the beer (miracles present themselves to those who care to notice, mmhm), I introduce myself to the owner as a photographer, hoping to prepare the platform for the next pitch, which is to hopefully work with the magazine in the future.  She demands to know where my camera is.  While I do dearly love the galloping pace, that was a bit too intense of a start, I thought.  Turns out, they had an open call for photographers to come and shoot a fashion set up they had arranged at the reception, so she mistook me for one of them, which explained the “well now this is awkward” look on her face when I clearly presented a dumbfounded look instead of camera.  Luckily, I explain myself much more laconically when I speak, vs when I write, and we soon set up a date to meet, greet, and brainstorm some day after the reception.

This is approximately how I ended up with an assignment to photograph ten beautiful, smart, entrepreneurial, talented Somervillians.  The issue has already been published, so I feel at right to present here my favorite photographs from those shoots.  I will go in order of the shoots as they took place.

KRISTEN AUGENFELD

Kristen co-owns Boston Vintage Factory which, according to their own website, is “a D.I.Y. studio dedicated to keeping alive vintage fashion design and techniques (particularly between the 1930′s to late 50′s) as well as retro-inspired lifestyle subjects such as hair and make-up, art and dance.”

She and her partner Jamie offer classes in a small studio at Joy Street Studios (86 Joy Street, Somerville, MA), with all materials and tools provided.

Scout Somerville gave me complete freedom in choosing the theme, setting, and lighting for each portrait shoot in this series.  When it comes to portraits (please do not confuse with headshots), I always give preference to environmental set-ups over studio.  Given that Joy Street Studios is a stone’s throw from my base at Tiny Russian Studio, I’ve decided to pack up my little bicycle trailer with studio lights in addition to my usual photo gear assortment and bike over at the “golden” hour.

Few things can be more romantic and dramatic than a cycling photographer pedaling their bicycle with trailer in tow, that looks like a nomad’s two-bedroom, into the liquid gold of sunset.  Extra style points for hair down and glam shades on. It just started getting warm, too, so my pretty typical pre-session jitters were kicked to the curb, and I arrived some 7 minutes later, all grins and fuzzies.  The zing in the air was so pronounced that, when Kristen appeared in the doorway to let me into the building, I almost had it ready-to-go: “screw the photoshoot, let’s get Franzia, and sit on rooftop to watch this gorgeous sunset”.  However, my stunning model was dressed up so gorgeously herself, beaming smiles and - I think - the same type of fuzzies, that I knew my jitters kicked the bucket for a reason.  This was going to be a great shoot.  You just know it sometimes.  It’s like, occasionally, a fighter knows they’ve won a fight before they even walked out to the ring.

As we were walking to her studio, various scenarios for set-ups, lighting, and positioning started forming in my head.  Often times I can’t really decide on any of this before I meet my subject and connect with them (oh, those horrible - thankfully, very rare - moments when the connection just doesn’t happen).  Here, the connection was instant and very relaxing.

I knew I wanted a healthy mix between a modern “hip” fashion lighting and the typical 50s-60s pin-up lighting that renders this flirtatious mysterious glow.  Given the “vintage” hint, I toyed with a black and white idea, but once I stepped inside and saw the color scheme (turquoise and crimson, one of my favorites), the black-and-white idea joined the jitters at the curb.

Originally I wanted a generally dim, yet distinguishable background, with Kristen’s hair and/or shoulders lit from behind her.  Details are very important to me in any photo, and critical in an environmental portrait.  I look for them in every portrait of that type, regardless of who the photographer is.  I like when I can’t tell how intentional placement or presence of certain objects is; whether it was carefully thought through and brought into the picture by the photographer/stylist, or if it was a happy coincidence; or if it was elsewhere, but was moved.  I don’t like when in a photo that is supposed to look candidly “in-a-moment” I see objects placed too deliberately, too in-your-face, which I understand sometimes is inevitable in product-driven shoots, but that doesn’t make me dislike it less.  Or anything really, that screams “you staged that!”  That being said, I do realize I have a long way to go myself, and I learn something new and a little more with every portrait I take.

Here is the first take on Kristen’s portrait, with the background and the environment significantly darker than the subject, yet no extra effort is required from the viewer to detect the artork on the wall, books on the floor and couch, sewing machine.  The brighter oval on the back wall is a pure happenstance that I loved and let it be, and tried to use it in subsequent arrangements during this shoot.  To the left of the model there was a small coffee-table with a mirror top, so one of my lights bounced off producing this lovely reflection on the wall.

The two pillows were laid out symmetrically on the couch, and the couch was right next to the wall, so I moved it out a bit to separate my model from the background, and also create some room for back-lighting; as to the pillows, any pronounced and deliberate symmetry evokes just one very simple, very primal instinct in me: destroy it.  Which is exactly what happened to the pillows.

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When I looked at the image, I patted myself on the back in terms of getting the lights dialed in exactly like I wanted them on the first try (doesn’t always happen; a lot like with mountain biking: that one technical line that you don’t always nail, but when you do, you feel like you just won a lottery; or maybe you don’t, but I do).  Yet, I noticed something else, that I wanted to be more pronounced… If you look at the red pillar on the left side of the first photo, you’ll notice slight play of light and shadow from the window behind me and the setting sun trying to break through the curtains.

I adjusted the light a bit more, so that a more of the natural light was getting more in the picture, and opened up the curtains just enough to cast that through-the-window warm sun-setting light onto the pillar, but not on Kristen: I still wanted her to maintain that look we got in the first photo.  The reds that caught on fire from the sun came out delicious in the second photo, very coquette and berry-like.  I was pleased.

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I do love the horizontal and vertical lines that frame and dissect this photo, and how easily Kristen’s nail polish connects with the reds in the environment (we played with a couple of different hands positions and were happy to settle on this one).

When shooting for a publication or on assignment, I try to get the portraits of my subject facing in both right and left direction, due to page layout design, which is often not known till the last moment.  Plus, most people look slightly different when photographed from left or right.

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After I make sure I got what I had in mind and my vision has been interpreted well through what I’ve captured, I allow myself to play a little more, experiment, and deviate from the carefully constructed picture.  This is what I call safe experimenting. I am not putting at risk my assignment, I already got what I wanted, and happy with it.  Even if my experimenting doesn’t really meet my expectations and hopes, it will still be ok.  Besides, it’s silly to pass up an opportunity to learn something new, especially if you are like me, and learn best in a hands-on environment.  Doesn’t get more hands on than this.

Kristen’s studio had a little staircase that still played some ping-pong with the golden light spilling from the window.  We scattered books on the stairs, draped the metal shelving with pale blue fabric and moved the mannequin closer to the staircase.  And voila - cat-like porch happiness  on a warm spring evening.  Just what I wanted.  Not sure how much the print on Kristen’s dress contributed to the inspiration, but hey - subconscious is a powerful thing.

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The magazine ended up using two portraits, one for the 10 A-Listers in Somerville, another for a separate write-up on Boston Vintage Factory.

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Shout out to Kristen and Jamie:

Boston Vintage Factory: http://www.bostonvintagefactory.com

email: bostonvintagefactory@gmail.com

phone: 860-508-1017

twitter: @The_BVF

facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BostonVintageFactory

Kristen’s blog: http://thehandmadepinup.blogspot.com/

Shout out to Scout Somerville:

http://scoutsomerville.com/

twitter: @SomervilleScout

facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SomervilleScout