Another run with a fading Memorial

Vets Memorial

It still looks pretty good from the exterior, but the interior is slowly dissolving into nothing but framework. In spite of this, I was still able to eke out one more shoot and conduct photographic trials with a new model. Introducing Christian…

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I first noticed Christian in a popular model networking website and was intrigued by his looks. He’s a very malleable sort, interested in challenges of the locations I frequently employ. He made it known that he likes the atypical in photography. I hoped he’d be fun to work with.

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cb5He moves. He’s playful with his expressions. He gives the camera various looks without exaggeration. He seems quite at ease in front of the lens without camping it up or overdoing it. He also loves the “darkness” of the images but doesn’t let that sentiment become overbearing. Actually, he’s pretty fun to shoot!

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So now I think I have another creative spirit to work with. Unfortunately I threw him into this situation, the threat of demolition was too close to attempt a test shoot. He responded admirably. Now I look forward to future endeavors.

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Sunday Scouting

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With my trigger finger getting a little itchy after the last couple of fun shoots, I realized it was time to find more accessible locations for further work. I have a couple of great models with the potential for a few more and it would not do them justice to work in the studio when these few urban relics still exist.

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urbex4So having a unusually sunny winter Sunday at my disposal with relatively comfortable temperatures, I decided to check out a couple of spots I noted near my last shoot location that demanded my attention. The light was terrific!

urbex6 urbex7It’s always a little risky checking these places out by yourself, so I took my trusty little alarm with me just to keep an eye on the car. It also helped alleviate the danger by having a police vehicle parked a few streets away with me visible – I’m sure he was watching me just to make sure there was no illegal activities going on. I snapped my pix and moved on! Logging these sites for future reference.

Dreaded Guard Dog and Alarm System

Dreaded Guard Dog and Alarm System

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Utilizing a Columbus Landmark

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Vaughn is back! It has been a long time since I have had the access to another abandoned structure, but this is very different from my usual suspects. This is a building that has had a vey long performance history in Columbus, deemed obsolete and placed on the list for demolition even though it has been used almost daily until that day it closed. Another developers pipe dream… there’s money to be made on the land it resides.

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Granted, it may not be the most beautiful structure downtown but it IS the home of the great Arnold Sports Festival named after Arnold Schwarzeneggar who has come to the city every year since 1989 to promote fitness. But no more! Arnold is out in the cold too! So it seems only fitting to celebrate the physical form in this empty building.

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So it was my wonderful model Vaughn who first answered the call to action the visually explore and record a space soon to disappear. Unfortunately this also required dodging areas of active demolition, but Vaughn always is game for whatever environment you place him. Never shies away from a challenge. Of course, this is what yields an exciting image.

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So it has been exciting to photograph in a building that has so immediately been abandoned and is awaiting the wrecking ball. So many times in the past my locations have been abandoned for quite a while, their histories seem so long ago. But with this place there’s a ghostly sense of recency. Not even enough time for dust to settle or cobwebs to form. A few more shots and then it’s gone…

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A Quiet Moment in Vienna

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I love cemeteries! I don’t know exactly the draw, but I can describe the feelings I get from them. It’s not really a feeling of remorse or sadness. It’s almost like peace, tranquility and reflection all come streaming through. The living tend to avoid these places, which is why I think they’re so interesting. To see how people want to be remembered… it’s their last final method of displaying wealth and status. Yet, they are still forgotten. No one visits daily except the ones who work here to plant the next victim. An example of the futility of life.

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Yet I find these silent places of interest. Sometimes I stop and listen to hear if anything comes from below, as if those legends and stories we’ve been told as children are true. But the architecture is astounding! All of these amazing examples in human scale. They are more realistic versions of the mega-scale tombs of the distant past… pyramids of pharaohs, huge temples of kings, etc.

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But what I especially enjoy are the really old cemeteries that the public has not protected or maintained. Overgrown, hidden, they tempt the eye and the mind with curious questions. This is the Vienna Central cemetery. Still being used. While the new sections are meticulously groomed, the older sections which have no supporting families lie to waste away.

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It allows me an opportunity to pass through history vicariously and mock the dead because in the end, we all end up in the same place being slowly devoured and reclaimed by the earth. And in Europe, there is a more refined and expressive use of the materials. Cemeteries are not just endless rows of cloned marble, each one is an individual piece of art. And there’s a sort of “deadly” rivalry to see whose is more beautiful!

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Even the rotting details are amazing. In the U.S., I have utilized graveyards a few times due to these factors I’ve mentioned above. Yet the European cemeteries still beg to be photographed with models. Sometimes I see the amazing statuary and imagine what a living being could yield in these places. Someday… I hope…

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Thanksgiving… a time to share…

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Sometimes you just need the quiet to gather thoughts and gain perspective. It’s with these times of silence during the holidays that sometimes the best inspirations arrive. Recently my focus has again returned to the figure in space – especially in space that has been overlooked or forgotten. Somehow there is some subliminal connection between the effort and importance given to these edifices which we create and so quickly toss aside and how humanity views the existence of human beings.

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As I look at the images I make, I keep sensing the need to emphasize those aspects the really make humans unique from other creatures. The amazing achievements that celebrate mankind.

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The images from this posting are long overdue. They are from a shoot with a new model named Bruin and were taken in Columbus. I still have a few locations that have always intrigued me but somehow I forget because I see them daily; so familiar almost to the point of insignificance. But the clock is ticking even for these structures. The city strives to improve its appearance and loathes the ugly industrial past. Everyone yearns for the Disney perfection.

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I hope I can keep up with the advancing and eminent changes around me. They still provide an incredible canvas to explore with the figure. The best consideration is that none of these images will ever get reproduced. Those physical characteristics are forever gone!

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Back in the Saddle…

Threatening Sky

The concept behind my blog has always been one of sharing thoughts and ideas, of vocalizing methodologies behind my work and to gain a modicum of feedback from my work. Being an artist and not feeling the need to produce just for the sake of quantity, I am also threatened by other personal life issues that sometimes block the creative forces behind my photography. And it seems that the older I get, the more keenly aware of these outside issues to the point where they almost stifle day to day living.

It’s easy to label these situations with a word, such as depression. But it’s very different when you’re on the functional side of these conditions. You don’t see anything but the darkness and for some reason nothing can seem to pull you out of this quandary except the caring words and wisdom of loving people.

I have been plagued by this “Black Dog” as Churchill called it, for many years. Being sensitive to the human condition, it has become increasingly problematic while facing the immense issues that plague our current society… on all levels! It is only through the assistance of good strong friends that I have been able to get back up, see new light and consider a new direction that is still true to my roots and prior vision.

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It’s been a long hard journey, but I’m back to the part of my life that gives me the most joy and fulfillment. There are still a few bumps, but I believe that I still have more to give. I have had my camera through most of this departure, still taking pictures; not knowing their meaning. But I know that these will fit into a bigger picture and help form a vision yet to be explored. Decay, architecture and the male figure have always been major tools in my vocabulary. It’s now time to create some new sentences.

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The Old Ohio Penitentiary – revisited

Looking north toward Ohio State - dining halls and factory buildings

Nothing can compare to the overwhelming solemnity of the Old Ohio Penitentiary which used to sit prominently at the end of Neil Avenue near the Scioto River in downtown Columbus. The city has done much since it’s demolition to eliminate the heinous blot that this prison cast on the remainder of the city. Owing its construction to original stockades and prisons built early in the city’s life, its final stone edifice was constructed with prisoner labor in the mid 1800’s and served to function until the mid 1980’s when it was finally abandoned by the State. I was fortunate enough to have some great photographic connections to gain entry shortly after the Pen officially sealed its gates in 1985. There was only one point of entry – the main Administration building – through two large barred gates, their locking mechanisms now cut off. A single guard watched the whole facility from one tiny dank windowless room near this main entry – only a small black and white TV provided some diversion from the looming silence beyond. He gave us a nod and a warning – don’t go into any of the old towers – they were unstable and don’t go into any basements – rats! That was my initiation speech into the world beyond.

G Block interior which ran parallel to Neil Ave.

The interior of the cellblocks were nothing like I could imagine. Tall 6 level stacked cells formed free-standing units in the middle of these great stone and brick buildings. The outer cages that sealed these floors had recently been removed as well as all of the locks. This is easily understandable, anyone accidentally locked in here may have no hope of rescue!

Guard tower and holding area for vehicles coming in from Neil and Spring.

Of course, once you were through that main gate and actually entered the yard you realized how entirely futile an escape could be. The wall – a cold stark divider between yourself and the world you once knew. This was a world in which someone could disappear forever – yet so close to the present!

Looking east toward Nationwide Building and High St. Factory buildings surround and the tiny fire dept building in red

Looking west toward Buggyworks building where I had my studio. Neil Ave. is just behind the wall.

Looking south across the yard toward the Main Administration Building. Dining halls to the left.

Looking southeast across yard to AEP building - funny how AEP turns its back on the prison

In spite of the aging color of these images, these shots of the Pen were early in its abandonment. It was rather eerie to see all that remained in the buildings. It was as if everyone just disappeared and left everything where it lay. One of the most fascinating buildings to explore was the old James Infirmary – the facilities hospital. X-ray plates scattered all about. Old rusting beds. Dental tools still in their trays. Crutches, wheelchairs and false limbs waiting to assist. And the ever present iron doors and gates. You began to loose count of how many barriers you’d walk through in order to move from one area to another. And the darkness made it all the worse!

Storeroom in the infirmary

Another exam room/storage room

A dayroom

And the counting goes on… bars, cages, doors… When you would initially walk into through the main gate in the Administration building, you’d pass through another small room that had a huge numbered panel on the wall with every key imaginable for every door. Even that appeared daunting! How to pick your correct combination of keys from about 500 that would get you out! Escape really was futile.

Iron grilled door to cellblock

Iron gate that led to honors dorm

Gate and door that lead from honors dorm to outside world

Large wooden door that covered solid iron door entering into cellblock

When you are young, it’s surprising how small your world can be. You look at the world through the eyes of a nascent soul. And as a photographer, you watch everything – gleaning bits of visual information to construct a vision that hopefully no one else has seen or recognized. To me, the Pen was like a huge wrapped mystery that everyone was afraid of but no one wanted to discuss. To me, it demanded exploration and some visual resolution. All adults seemed to forsake this place. To me, it demanded a voice.

Interior of Administration Building

More of Administration Building

And the more I explored this forbidden zone, the more stories I saw buried in the debris. Forsaking our history and others histories for a progress without substance.

Isolation - completely dark with only two vents on the side

The side of the Death House - home of the electric chair

One of the Eastern Towers separating the main yard from the Honors Dorm

This is my first run of images from my first exploration of the Old Pen. Several subsequent visits were mainly shot in black and white for less documentary reasons. Those images will follow in a future entry.

My companion on my first mission - my brother Jack. Digital amends the flaws of film

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A Visit to the Motel

Nothing like a visit to a deserted motel on a beautiful fall day. Dry leaves scenting the air with pungent mustiness… blowing in and out of doorways… clogging corners. And what better model that Vaughn.

Vaughn is as easy going as they come. A pliable young man who loves the camera – a mutual arrangement. And it seems like the more unusual the setting the more Vaughn enjoys the situation.

A lonely place, this motel, with lots of empty rooms – mattresses still in many of them. Old furniture warping and blistering from the weather. I was terrified when a cat suddenly jumped from behind some of the old bedding and darted out an air conditioner opening. These places always leave your nerves a bit on end.

With this last image, let me remind the reader that it was Vaughn that I experienced my only public intrusion –  a father and his kids walking into our nude shoot at a quarry stream. This motel is very close to the road – an intersection of 2 major thoroughfares -Vaughn dutifully performs the task at hand.

We also had the tremendous luck of a wonderful southern breeze giving the effect of a wind machine without the hassles. Unfortunately it also was bringing a storm with it – but that didn’t show until later in the day.

This shot will eventually work it’s way into one of my Alger Boxes, a project that has lay dormant for a few years now – objects and images slowly collecting.

Vaughn was a great symbol of strength and beauty among the ruins. I enjoyed the use of vintage clothing to emphasize the timelessness. Always a favorite of mine.

The last image is another ironic quirk to my adventures with Vaughn. At the end of our last bit of shooting (another entry with more images from this day), I needed to whisk him back home for another commitment. When asked whether he wanted a quiet location to change back into his street clothing Vaughn suggested I just drive and he would change in the car. The irony came about when we were stopped at a nearby traffic light and encountered a group of Chinese people protesting the plasticizing of bodies for profit sanctioned by the Chinese Government. Their signs posted above Vaughn’s naked body as he was changing proved to be an image that will always provoke laughter.

Posted in Figurative, Portraiture, Urban Exploration | 2 Comments

Fun and fabulous… Matthew

Sometimes you stumble across a person who seems to enjoy the creative energy, draws from it and bursts forth with his own brand of modeling kinetics. Matt is one of those individuals. Drawn like a moth to the flame of artistic expression, he dances in the light producing incredible images on the walls!

Pardon my metaphors, but there is some truth to this… Matt moves and twists and turns and bends and expresses his physical nature in a ballet that any artist could appreciate. Very little guidance is required – you just turn him loose and begin shooting. Sometimes, like a toy that starts to drift off a table, you have to redirect, but then the expression continues.

He’s fun and boyishly attractive with no airs to corrupt the image. A beautiful face, a wonderful smile and a figure of soft curves that move with unending grace.

A visual cherub or nymph… equally at ease in both urban and natural environments.

And he’s energetic on the set as well. Light-hearted conversation contradicts the almost somber imagery. But don’t be fooled, he enjoys this as much as I do and tosses a bit of play amongst the sketches.

These photos were all taken during one day-long shoot a few years back before Matt moved out of camera range. The Zanesville location again provided a wealth of opportunity. An impoverished area unfortunately yields the best locales. Someday I hope to work with this young man again.

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AJ a’plenty!

Ahhh, AJ! A really handsome young man from the Dayton area who initially was resistant to the thoughts of doing nudes. A strong striking face planted strongly on a light lithe body which enthusiastically sought great photographic opportunities where ever possible.

Work with AJ began in the studio – it seemed an appropriate environment in which to visually assess a new model. It quickly became evident that AJ was very adaptive and open to concepts beyond the norm.

There was never any fear or hesitation. There was always a sort of “bring it on!” attitude. Every time the bar was raised, I could see AJ thinking of what method he’d use to jump over. It was exciting on both sides of the camera.

And, of course, there was that wonderful body of his. Not a single ounce of fat – every muscle availing itself to the eye. I strongly believe that the more AJ and I worked together, the more he viewed the results, he became more comfortable with nudes as well, realizing that this was just another level of the whole modeling experience and one that was not to be ashamed of due to the quality of the images.

I’ve always been drawn to models who are modest about their build – they have a definitive musculature that seems to come about naturally, not steroid-induced or from gym hyperactivity. They are the guys that are blessed with the best… and they are attainable… they live with us, or next door to us, talk to us and are humble with their looks.

And they don’t mind being comfortable in front of us…. or, at least, this is my naive ideal. It’s just great when someone fulfills that notion like AJ… a visual treat!

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