Category: Photography

Which Way is Up?

LimbsPhotojournalists, as a rule, don’t shoot ambiguous photos.

Our photos are supposed to tell a story and clarify things for the reader (as in "a picture is worth a thousand words").

But former photojournalists who now own galleries do shoot photos that leave the viewer guessing.

For some reason, people seem to like that sort of stuff.

Like this shot from the masochism tango (otherwise known as our Friday hike up the Buffalo).

Yes, these are bare limbs against the fog, shot at the very top of the mountain.

But they could be a tree just about anywhere. And which way is up.

I let four fellow tenants at The Jacksonville Center look at this shot when it first came out of the printer and asked each to tell me which was the top and/or the bottom.

There were four different guesses. When it comes to fog shots, some of us don’t have the foggiest notion of what it all means. Which may be good. Or bad.

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Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

GhostFred First (of Fragments from Floyd fame) started planning this madness several months ago.

"Let’s hike up the Buffalo," he said with usual Firstian enthusiasm. "We can get some great shots."

Normally, this little voice injects sanity into my thought process and I realize that a 56-year-old body with bad knees, a bum hip and an ankle that’s been broken too many times should not be climbing up a mountain but insanity ruled and I agreed.


We set the last day of April (Friday) as the time for the great Buffalo Mountain trek. Friday, of course, dawned cool, cloudy and foggy and the little voice surfaced to say "don’t waste your time. The light sucks."

"It’s gonna clear," Fred declared. "Trust me. It will be worth it."

So we headed for the mountain after picking up a third partner in misery. Halfway up the mountain, Fred swore the fog would lift. I just swore as the knees, hip and ankle screamed for mercy.

At least the fog provided an errie backdrop for some good mood photography, including a tree that looked like a woman dancing (or perhaps she was warning us to stop and go back because she — unlike Fred — knew the fog would not lift).

And it didn’t lift. We made it to the top to find the view blocked on all sides by an ever-thickening layer of fog.

Faced with the harsness of reality, Fred finally admitted defeat and suggested we head back down the mountain to the warmth of the car and the sustinence of banana bread. "OK," Fred admitted, "so maybe it didn’t clear. But you gotta admit the climb was worth it."

Depends, I suppose, on one’s definition of worth. The fine companionship made the pain in the joints palatable and the light, while bad, provided some interesting opportunities. But damn, my knees, ankle and hip hurt.

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Singing the Blues

Catfish Keith

Fascinating evening at Oddfellas Cantina listening to Catfish Keith, a "country blues" singer and guitar player. He sings the blues all right and sings it well, along with some incredible guitar work. The only down part of the evening were the empty chairs in the back of Oddfellas. Those who didn’t show up missed a hell of a show.

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The Fog of Morning

FogThe view through the windshield was all fog this morning as I drove from the farm to the studio.

Fog to the left of me, fog to the right of me…stuck in the middle again, heading for work on a Sunday morning.

Looked like the beginning of a dreary day but then the fog lifted, the sun came out and Sunday turned into a reasonably nice — if a little steamy — day.

Traffic through The Jacksonville Center was steady, mostly curiousity seekers. Nobody ready to whip out their checkbook and pay to hang an original photo on their wall. This studio business seemed simple enough back when we started. Take pictures. Print pictures. Hang pictures on wall. Sell pictures. If you photograph it, they will come. They will look.

They will comment. But when, oh when, will they buy?

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Ah, Sunsets

SunsetOK, I admit it. I’m a sucker for sunsets (and sunrises). And Floyd County boasts some of the most spectacular sunsets (and sunrises) you will find anywhere.

This one caught my eye on the way home. Just enough clouds in the sky to add color as the sun disappeared behind the mountains.

One of the reasons I’m usually late getting home stems from just stopping and gazing.

When the moon is full, the rising and setting of that old lunar sphere also adds to the beauty of nature and I’ll stop on any road, crowded or empty, to photograph that beauty.

Such is the nature of photography..and the photographer.

Those who suffer from an addiction to capturing such moments understand it. Those who don’t understand are just plain losing out.

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Ass Ads

OK, I realize that in this commercial age, no opportunity for advertizing must be lost (just watch any NASCAR race to understand that) but when exactly did the butt become a billboard? Ass Ads 2

Take a look at the posterior side of shorts these days and you will find them emblazoned with brand names, school names or whatnot.

Label identification has come a long way (or short way). When even school stadiums now carry sponsor’s names, the age of commercialization is complete.

Or is it? In Taiwan, prostitutes sell space on their bodies for tattoo ads (condoms are a popular commodity for such art) and police cars in cash-strapped East St. Louis, Illinois, carry sponsor names.

And sponsors, knowing that any healthy heterosexual male is going to look at a nice butt in tight shorts, knows this is the way to sell the product, so to speak.

But what happens when the butt ain’t all that tight and the sponsor’s name is stretched across a broad expanse of backside that qualifies as a small country?

When it comes to butt ads, is bigger better? Should the butt be the size of a roadside billboard? Or is less what we need to see in ass-ver-tizing?

Stumbled across just such an example not long ago — a pair of shorts with the Abercrombe & Fitch logo. ass ads 3Abercrombe pitches its line of clothes to nubile young things whose figures are usually just this side of emaciated.

Not sure this view is quite what the retailer had in mind, although anyone who’s ever looked at Abercombe and Fitch’s now-defunct catalog knows a distinct lack of clothing fits more into their image.

Are we being sexist in even asking the question? Should we place so much emphasis on a lithe young body when most of the real world is a big broader in size and structure? Guilty as charged.

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The Joy of Carnivals

Carnival KidsWhenever Amy and I see a carnival, we have to stop: she for the funnel cakes, me for the chance to pull out my camera and photograph kids.

Carnivals bring out the kid in all of us. I’m not talking about the over-produced (and over-priced) theme parks like Kings Dominion or Busch Gardens, but the weekend carnivals that set up in vacant lots and strip shopping centers — the old-time carnivals that travel from town to town during the spring, summer and fall months.

They offer more value for the buck and the hint of sleaziness that should always be part of a visit to a carnival.

Carnivals are distinctly American (even though the roots of carnivals date back to the Middle Ages in Europe).

The first ferris wheel turned at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1892 and many of the carnival "games" like foosball are American creations. More than once, we’ve left a carnival with some huge stuffed creature lashed to the top of our Jeep.

Once, we had several, including one lashed to the hood like a prize deer captured in hunting seasons.

Put a kid on a carny ride and the smile turns on and doesn’t stop. I’ve got hundreds of images of kids at carnivals and hope to add hundreds more in the years to come. The next time you see a ferris wheel on the horizon, head for it. It will be worth your while.

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Saw the setting moon first while driving out of my driveway this morning, then again along Buffalo Mountain Road. Stopped several times to shoot it. Later, heading north on U.S. 221, saw this sight in my rear view mirror. Stopped again. Shot another series. Call it “Moonset.” As I head back to Arlington today, that

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Down by the Old Mill Stream

Mabry MillWith all due respect to the Friday Night Jamboree and its popularity, Mabry Mill stands as Floyd County’s most popular tourist attraction (although the county shares Mill property with Patrick County).

The Mill also ranks #1 on the Blue Ridge Parkway’s list of attractions and was even used as a backdrop for Salem cigarette commercials back in the days when tobacco companies could push their products on TV.

Like most Parkway attractions, the Mill draws most attention during the Spring, Summer and Fall months, but I’ve always liked to visit it during the Winter and early Spring, when the water in the Mill trace is diverted and the grounds are quiet.

Even now, as the grass returns to green and the weather warms, the Mill is a more a place of solitude, not tainted by the mass of tourists who will start arriving just before Memorial Day and pack the place until just after Labor Day.

In 1910, local resident Ed Mabry built the grist mill near Meadows of Dan, but the flat land lacked a stream strong enough to generate power for milling. He and his wife Lizzie began buying land to gain the water rights. It took them another four years to put together five small parcels of land and build an extensive flume system, complete with a small dam to store the runoff from rains and Spring thaws.

Mabry’s Mill used two sets of stones, one for grinding cornmeal and the other for a grain mixture fed to livestock. Mabry had many loyal customers and he complimented the mill with a blacksmith shop, sawmill and carpentry shop.

Mabry died in 1936 and his wife operated the mill until designers of the Blue Ridge Parkway chose Mabry Mill as a special scenic places to be preserved. Although the mill remains operational, it grinds meal only occasionally.

Mabry’s blacksmith shop and other parts of the Mill property form the Mountain Industry Trail, a collection that includes a blacksmith shop, soapmaking facilities and — of course — a moonshine still.

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Street Music

A fantastic day in the nation’s capital today. Sunshine, temperatures in the 70s. A great day to be out. When the weather is nice, the street musicians come out in force and Dupont Circle in Northwest DC is always a great place to hear some good musicians for free. Washington is more than politics, power

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