Inside The Ohio Diaries

A few months ago my wife suggested we take a road trip to Ohio to visit family. I love road trips, and I thought this would be a good way to kick off the summer. At the same time, there have been some things I've wanted to do differently with my photography. Nothing along the lines of radical changes, but minor tweaks to my workflow and some experimental approaches to shooting in general. Thus, The Ohio Diaries was born.

The crux of The Ohio Diaries was a challenge I gave myself to shoot exclusively without editing or post-processing while, at the same time, defining a consistent style across the family of images that would comprise the project. In short, I was very pleased with the results, and exceptionally pleased with the experience overall. When all was said and done, I shot more than 800 photographs and created a series of narratives focused on self-reflection and contemplation while on the road. 

To achieve the unique look of the images throughout the project, I shot exclusively with my Fujifilm X-T2 mirrorless camera with the color profile set to Classic Chrome. In addition, I made a series of custom profile changes to achieve the overall look I wanted. My intention was to produce deep shadows and strong, contrasty images that were somewhat subdued in color, save for a few particular spots of saturation. From the results of the project, there are some minor things I would do differently next time, but overall I feel the product of my efforts matched exactly what I was hoping for when I initially set out to create The Ohio Diaries.

In the future, I may talk more about the specific settings I played with in the camera to achieve the visual style for The Ohio Diaries, as well as the next round of modifications I make to correct some of the visual artifacts that didn't work as I intended. In the meantime, if you haven't already taken a look through The Ohio Diaries, you can re-trace the journey by following the link below.

Let Summer Begin and Never End

Memorial Day weekend has arrived, and with it, the luscious greens and yellows of nature have blossomed across the landscapes. Every year at this time I am reminded of just how saturated the colors of our surroundings can be. It's as though we grow so accustomed to the flattened hues of winter that our brains forget what summer looks like.

Along with the vibrant backdrop of early summer, the mornings are bright and warm again. The sun peaks up over the horizon each day before our alarms buzz, and outside, the birds sing and chatter and chirp. At the opposite end of each day, the aroma of barbecue persistently hangs in the air, and the songs of birds are replaced with the din of lawnmowers and power tools from far-off neighbors.

If Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of "True Summer" then Labor Day weekend is assuredly the unofficial end. And while Labor Day seems impossibly far away from this moment in time - this moment of bursting color amidst the reawakened world around us - we know deep down it will come all too soon. The only hope for staving off the inevitable, then, is to make every day of summer count for something special.

The Running Man

On the last weekend I lived in Ithaca, I took my camera and roamed around the commons for the afternoon. My intent was to capture the place in images so that I'd have something to look back on. I wanted to remember the place for those lazy Sunday afternoons, when the streets weren't jammed with students and the day visitors were headed home. On this day, I captured the usual pictures - the flowers, the murals, the storefronts - pictures that would fit perfectly in just another "Ithaca is Gorges" or "I (heart) New York" tourist guidebook. It wasn't hard to make everything seem so quaint and idyllic because, quite honestly, Ithaca easily appears very quaint and idyllic. 

A few hours into my afternoon, I felt I had enough shots to call it a day. I walked toward the eastern end of the Ithaca Commons, toward Aurora Street, mentally assembling the photo story I would construct from the pictures captured. It would be a great nostalgia piece to look back on - those three years living in the Southern Tier of New York. But like any town, things aren't always as pretty or as simple as they seem from afar. I was thinking this very thought as I stood on the corner of Aurora Street, waiting for the light to change, directly across from my favorite snack place, Collegetown Bagels. In a split second, I glanced up and saw a man running toward me along the steep hill of Seneca Street, barreling down the center of the road like an out-of-control soapbox car. He was hanging on to an overloaded shopping cart that was rattling and banging along the asphalt; one of the wheels was stuck in an awkward, turned position. The cart was completely jammed with about-to-burst garbage bags filled with scavenged cans. The man's shoes didn't fit properly either, and with each over-striding footfall, the soles of his shoes made a "flap-flap-flap" sounds as he struggled to hang onto the hurtling cart. On the opposite street corner, a few college kids (holding their seven-dollar coffees) pointed and laughed while a nearby set of adults looked as though someone just spit in the holiday punch bowl. The running man looked briefly to his right for oncoming traffic at the approaching intersection, then to his left, where we caught eyes. He grinned, I smiled. For reasons still unknown to me, I reflexively gave him a thumbs-up, and worked quickly to capture this picture.

Of all the pictures I took that day; for all the different images I captured with the intention of memorializing that town... this was the only one that meant anything to me, and it will forever be my favorite.

Spring

There was something different in the air today. It was subtle, and one could argue it might have merely been a figment of my imagination, but I felt a sense of renewal swirling about the atmosphere. A feeling that suggested something new may be coming. Something better. It's been a long, hard time recently - there have been days where I've sworn things couldn't get worse, only to be proven wrong in the days that followed. The evening news alone is enough to test the best of us. Compounding this tough stretch of road has been the gloom of winter. Oh yes, the winter, with all of its lifeless dark of shortened days and frigid temperatures. But change - that's what it is, that's what's different - change is in the air.

The subjects of snow and weather and seasons are recurring themes for me most years around this time. A symptom, perhaps, of someone who's spent a lifetime rotating through the four seasons but really only prefers three of them. I get a little stir crazy in the winter months. What starts as a fondness for that first, light dusting across the richly colored earth every November, inevitably turns to an anxious dread of each additional inch of snowfall come March. But as it does every year, April comes and brings with it the cleansing showers and the budding branch tips. Birds sing their songs in the mornings, and those mornings start earlier and brighter. It's here now, just getting underway... spring. Spring was in the air today. And even when the world isn't working correctly and the pieces that make up our lives don't seem to quite fit, I can breathe in that spring air and know that everything is going to be okay.

Stella

Six o'clock in the morning and Stella came crashing down with a vengeance. Yesterday afternoon, 24 hours after the start of daylight savings time, I savored the view of golden light spilling over the flattened corn fields as I drove home from work. The damp earth had been free of snow for nearly two weeks and the asphalt underwheel was a crackled and dry, dusty white. It was nearly seven p.m., a realization that caused me to do a mental double-take after being conditioned from a winter spent driving home in the dark. Outside, the air may have been chilly, but spring seemed inevitable. Meanwhile, over the airwaves, newscasters talked on the radio of Stella. Stella - an angry nor'easter barreling toward the northeast under a dome of rapidly decreasing pressure. It would be a storm to remember, the meteorologists promised.

And a storm to remember, it was. With just one week to the official start of spring, Stella apparently had a point to prove. What started early in the pre-dawn hours as nothing more than speckles in the atmosphere, the snow began to fall at a rate of two inches per hour by the time my morning coffee was brewing. By mid-day, Stella had been upgraded from a storm to a blizzard, and the whole of New York State declared a state of emergency. When early evening arrived, mounds of snow blanketed the yard like a powdery ocean, heaving up and out of the yard like I've never seen before. Blue light poured into the house as Stella began to retreat; swirls of powder blew about like hyperactive plumes. From the inside looking out, the world was a snowy blur, and water dripped down the windows like the tears of a winter past.

The Geese Return

I can't remember if I've ever written the story about the geese in the Vischer Ferry Nature Preserve. Or, more specifically, the story of being a runner trying to coexist with these geese when our paths collide. During the summer months, not a morning goes by without the geese congregating. In the pre-dawn hours of most days (save for winter), the cacophony of their honks and their squawks fill the local atmosphere. Most of the rest of the time, these fine-feathered Canadians gather in their gaggles and spend their days floating around the various bodies of water in the preserve. They're beautiful, and the landscapes in these parts wouldn't be the same without them.

The problem, however, arises when my friends the geese get things confused in their little bird minds and mistake my act of running for exercise to be something of an act of war. One day last summer I was running alongside the Erie Canal in the Vischer Ferry Nature Preserve - on a trail that bisects several bodies of water - and (literally) about fifty geese happened to congregate on the same trail about a quarter mile in front of me. I could have turned around and gone back the way I came, but that would have been a five mile run back home. To go straight, as planned, I would have been home in two miles. "They're just birds" I thought. 

As I approached the geese, about a third of them were on either side of the trail, in the water, while the rest of them were in the middle, walking toward me on the narrow piece of land that we shared. A couple of them locked eyes with me and started making a fuss. Hissing, flapping, yelping! I slowed my gait, and they started charging! I changed directions and started running the other way, eventually stopping to turn around and see ourselves in a total standoff. I clapped, yelled, and stomped my feet to no avail. They hissed more loudly and flapped their wings in a frenzy. I think I may have even heard a few of them laughing. Eventually, I had to take a fallen tree branch and carry it forward through the pack of them, swinging it left and right to intimidate them. Even then, they barely budged... they simply parted a tiny little bit (still yelping and huffing at me), creating a passage only wide enough for me to slink through. Waving my tree limb all around, I finally passed by the majority of them before breaking into a full-on sprint and heading home.

That was not the only time I tangled with the geese - they can get pretty excited! But I have to say that in the winter months, long after they've departed for warmer climes, I miss them. So recently, as the weather slowly creeps into the dawn of a new season, and flocks have gradually started returning to the area, it's been a welcome homecoming. Hopefully the next time we meet face-to-bill, they'll remember I mean them no harm.

Soaring

It's 5:01 in the evening and the sky is on fire. Beside the river, geese are squawking and other critters are flipping themselves into the water. A calm breeze blows over my skin and in the distance, I can hear a plane approaching. At first it's nothing more than a subtle din from somewhere over the horizon, but it soon grows into a rumble. Far in the distance, a loon flies from the water, leaving behind only ripples. Beyond the clouds, blinking wingtip lights appear and the sound of the incoming aircraft intensifies. Meanwhile, the sun continues to set and the golden light spills over the river. Night is coming, and the plane continues to descend. It's nearly overhead now, and the atmosphere swirls around the giant machine while the engines roar. The wheels are down; the air is vibrating; and in less than five minutes, this mechanical bird will touch down to earth. Shortly thereafter, all is quiet again.