Behind The Photo
Every photo has a story. Much more than just a shutter speed, f-stop, and ISO. These are some of those stories.
December 13, 2017 - Original Post
Life is weird. I took this photo almost two years ago, back when I still didn’t really know how to use a camera. If you inspect this photo critically, you can notice all of the flaws it has, most of which were my fault. The photo was shot at far too low of an aperture, leaving most of the cityscape out of focus. If you look very closely at the floor of the skyscraper below my friend, you may notice that something has been photoshopped out of the shot. I left my camera bag sitting there, even when I knew I would be taking a photo in that general direction. I also was still using auto-focus almost exclusively, so my old crop-sensor Nikon decided to focus on the green copper casing of the roof rather than my friend, dangling above the city. The original edit of this photo was quite gruesome as well, the colors were off, the snow wasn’t highlighted, and the skyscrapers in the distance were all but invisible behind a white haze. I also broke the lens hood on the Tokina lens I took this photo with, opted to put it on lopsided, creating a black shade on the top right of each and every image I took for about three weeks before I figured out what was causing the issue. Even with all of theses flaws present, when I re-posted this photograph on my Instagram last evening, it received the third most likes of any photograph I have posted this year, and that number is still rising. I’ve never never been one to grovel over Instagram likes, but this intrigued me. I thought maybe it was just because everyone is snow-crazed due to the amount of precipitation we have gotten lately and are expected to get through tonight, and that may be true, but these results really made me think about why I got into photography in the first place. Originally, I wanted to capture memories. When I think about my favorite photographs I have taken, almost all of them are encapsulated by memories I am very fond of. This photograph, even though a lot of the mechanics were far from sound and I didn’t take the time to ensure my bag was out of the way, captured a great memory. It was early March of 2016, and my colleague and I decided to brave the awful weather to walk around downtown for a few hours. It was a week-day at the tail end of my Spring Break, and although I had to work later in the day, I figured I might as well try to get some snowy shots. We decided to check out a few building lobbies to warm up and to get out of the damn near disrespectful weather surrounding the city. One thing led to another, and we found ourselves atop the roof of one of my favorite buildings. Even before falling through an abandoned building I was never much of a climber, but I have a number of friends who love it. I can understand that there’s a sort of thrill involved with climbing onto of things, but eh…just not for me. I’m far too scared of heights and far too uncoordinated to even give it a go. My friend wanted to snap some photos of me on the tower he is hanging off of in this shot, and after climbing to a fourth of the height he made it to, I climbed back down. I was cold, wet from the snow blasting me in the face, and far too scared to go any higher. I’ve always told people that I thought the view from this roof was pretty average. I stand by that statement, but I have also always said even in its mediocrity, this rooftop was great for portraits. I took a number of photos that afternoon I was happy with, but all of the shots that I ended really liking were portraits of my friend. Even the shots where he wasn’t dangling off of a 36 story building were pretty cool, too. After shooting from the roof for a little longer we opted to head back down to the ornate lobby of the building to warm up and take a few more shots. After finally warming up our hands we trekked back into the blizzard in search of more photographs. None would compare to this one, but a few did turn out. We almost made it onto one of the more behemoth rooftops of the city, but that’s a story for another time. I will always remember this photograph, not only for what it captured, but because of the memories it holds and how it makes me feel. I wouldn’t ever attempt to get onto this roof today. Not only is rooftopping in Detroit significantly harder than it was back then, but it just doesn’t interest me as much as it once did. I’ve had my adventures in the sky, and these days I find myself shooting downtown less and less. I yearn for adventure, and this photo reminds me that it can be found almost anywhere. We went into that building to warm up our hands and I ended up taking one of my most iconic photographs of my short career with a camera. Things were simple back then. I miss when things were simple. As I write this post, sitting at the folding table in the corner of my room, snow is falling outside my window. Even though it isn’t as easy for me to drop everything and go out shooting like it was two years ago, I am hopeful to capture another image that makes me feel the way that this one does in the near future. I was watching one of the final episodes of The Office recently, and however foolish it may be, a quote from Andy Bernard had me thinking. "I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days, before you’ve actually left them.” I’d like to think that I’m still in the good old days, but I guess there really isn’t any way of knowing that. Here’s to the good old days, I guess.
This photo was only possible because of chance. Without a number of things happening on this day, this photo would have never happened. I suppose that’s true of any photograph, but this one always stood out to me. This particular photo is my only one to date that has been reposted by a major Instagram feature account, and because of that I made a number of new friends online, which I think helps me to remember each individual random event that occurred on that unseasonably warm day. As I’ve talked about before, I find myself taking photos alone a lot of the time. This is especially true in the winter months, which I guess I understand. It’s cold, the roads are hazardous, and your camera battery lasts about as long as the Sandy the pony ride at Meijer. I enjoy meeting people in the winter, though. I don’t think people are as conceited or fake in the winter. We’re left alone with our thoughts too much, and forming words seems like a chore. I think that people are more in-tune with themselves in the winter as well, which is why I feel that I have made some of my better friends and memories in the colder months. Time and time again friendships break in the warmer months, only to be rekindled once we calm down and settle into the winter. I found myself walking around Corktown with my camera, wearing a pair of jeans I purchased in the 10th grade and a Grant Hill jersey I got at the Goodwill in my hometown. Safe to say, I looked damn good. I had parked out front of the old train station, as I often did, as to not have to pay for parking. I hadn’t really walked around Michigan Avenue before other than as a child going to Tigers games or for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade every March. I had posted on my Instagram earlier in the day to see if anybody wanted to link up and take some photos, but had yet to receive any responses. I decided I would take a stroll around Corktown to see if anyone replied before heading to a rooftop for sunset. I made it all the way down past the Detroit Institute of Bagels, jaywalked across US 12, and headed back down the avenue. There were people here and there enjoying the restaurants of the gentrified strip, glancing towards me as I passed, camera in hand. I finally made it back to the end of the strip and perched myself outside the CPA Building. I pulled out my phone and saw I had a message from a photographer I had yet to meet, asking if I wanted to shoot in 15 minutes when he was out of work. I agreed, and asked where he wanted to meet up at. We decided on an old cold storage warehouse I had visited a number of times which happened to be one of my favorites, but he had yet to trespass inside. I was excited to head back into this building because I had lost my intervalometer, a device that allows you to time out your photographs among other things, in the south stairwell the week before. I made my way through Southwest Detroit and parked a safe distance away from the building. My new friend pulled up shortly after, and we crept through a tattered fence and slid underneath broken plywood into the ancient Albert Kahn designed structure. We began exploring the behemoth warehouse, taking photos every so often to document our travels. Once we reached the upper floors, I noticed many of them had standing water. It had downpoured early in the morning, enough so to wake me out of a deep sleep. I didn’t know it at the time, but this rain would eventually be one of the factors that created the image I would later take. I was wearing converse, so I tried to avoid stepping in the puddles but that didn’t work out so well. We found ourselves on the top floor of the building, with wet shoes, exploring the last level before heading up to the rooftop. It was on this floor that I saw a mask lying on the ground, one I could tell was made to resemble the white mask from one of The Purge movies. My new friend asked if I would put it on, and after dousing it with a water bottle I had been carrying I complied. I never saw any of those photos, not to say that they didn’t turn out, but maybe they just weren’t ‘right.’ We decided to go up onto the roof, new mask in hand, to take in the view. It didn’t disappoint, per usual. At the time, I was somewhat obsessed with taking selfies. No, not the stupid filtered-to-shit-duck-face-selfies my uncle makes fun of on family holidays, somewhat-profession-looking-but-still-idiotic-selfies. Like I said, we are all a little more conceited when its warm. I took a few selfies with the cityscape behind me whilst my new friend explored the rock-covered rooftop. After a while, we felt that we had both taken shots we were happy with, and decided to head out. I asked if we could take the darker and creepier south stairwell to look for my intervalometer, and after a small explanation we were walking down the crumbling steps. I had my mothers flashlight drawn, looking for any glimmer of light that resembled the small screen of the device. I remembered hearing the thud about halfway down my descent, but couldn’t exactly pinpoint where I was when it left my possession. After a very slow regression, we were at the bottom of the concrete escalator, and there it was. Not a scratch on it, either. You can make fun of my cheap-o device purchases as much as you want, but I’ve dropped iPhones less than two feet and caused more damage than 5 stories did to that little guy. After we got back to our vehicles I was able to examine it more, and other than a little bit of condensation under the plastic screen it was fully functional. This would turn out to be yet another cog in the machine that created this photograph. Oh, you thought I already took it? Naw, we’re just getting started… after marveling at my somehow functional intervalometer for a couple minutes, we saw that the sun was very low in the sky and knew we had to act fast. I knew of a very similar structure on the opposite side of town that was blown wide open, and we decided to head that way. My new friend had yet to trespass in this building either, so I was happy to be able to show him two new spots in just one day. This building, although very similar to the one we had just explored, was far less interesting on the inside than the other. Not as much graffiti, very dark due to a lack of windows, and still smelling of the rotten meat that had sat inside its walls for years. Even with all that said, the building was somewhat of a folklore legend for my friends and I. The first time we had tried to trespass there, we were about halfway up the staircase and a woman, seeming to be about a floor above us, started screaming at the top of her lungs, ‘THERE’S NO FREE RIDES…YOU HEARD ME, THERE’S NO FREE RIDES!’ Immediately after hearing this, we darted down the stairs and back to the safety of our car. We sat on the hood of the vehicle for a while, listening to, as we now call her, the 'No Free Rides Lady,’ screeching all by herself atop the abandoned meat packaging facility. The legend was only further expanded upon when a good friend of mine told me that when he was exploring the structure, a man in a suit and tie came out of one of the floors, told them they'd better leave, and walked back into the darkness. This building just attracted all kinds of different people, I guess. I decided the rooftop would be a great time to tell my new friend both of those stories, so we set off up the stairs once again to see what fun we could get ourselves into. The view was as beautiful as ever. This particular rooftop was always one of my favorites. It had some of my favorite graffiti and boasted a top-five view of downtown, well, at least in my book. We wandered around a bit, checked out each of the elevator shafts, peered up at the water tower, and eventually found ourselves in the corner closest to downtown snapping photos of the skyline. The sun was setting, and as I turned around to peek at the doorway to ensure we didn’t have any company I saw a shot I wanted to capture. It was a shot I had captured before, the water tower and elevator shafts jutting out into the sky, but water had pooled, as it often did, directly in front of where I was sitting. There was far more water than usual, most likely due to the downpour that had woken me up that morning, and the entire rooftop was reflected onto the puddle. I set up my camera, fiddled with my settings, and captured a few images I was happy with. I asked my new friend to stand on the edge of water line so I could snap a few photos of him reflected in the puddle, but even after that I wasn’t quite content. I knew I could do it better. I thought I should take a time-lapse of the scene, thinking the cloud movement and setting sun would make for a nice little video, but as I went to grab my intervalometer the mask I had found at our last location fell out of my bag. That gave me an idea. I placed the mask over my face, put my hat back on, and cued up my intervalometer. After I hit the start button, I ran out and stood just past the water line and let the shutter click a few times before returning to my camera to see the results. They were fine, but I still wasn’t happy. I ran back and forth, capturing a couple dozen images of myself standing in different places, posing differently, and experimenting with different camera settings. In doing this, I once again got my feet wet, and decided I might as well go the full nine yards. I ramped up my shutter speed, compensated with my ISO, and set my intervalometer. I started the timer, jogged to about three feet from where the water started pooling, and jumped. At the time, I felt like Woody Harrelson in White Men Can’t Jump, Michael Jordan in Space Jam, or a Badger at the end of the third quarter on a football Saturday. No matter how triumphant I felt, the first five images made me look more like Carl Wheezer. I looked awkward, out of place, and uncoordinated. Back then I was still shooting with my Nikon D5300, which was pretty slow at processing images. The little green light finally turned off, and two more images appeared in my library. In the final one, my mask was falling off, and a little blob of water had just struck my lens. It’s a fine image, but after I looked at the second to last frame I knew I had accomplished what I was trying to capture. My foot was just barely poking the surface of the water, shooting droplets into the air just enough to be seen in the reflection, and the tip of my hat in the water was just barely touching the bottom of the image. I may have been soaked, but I felt accomplished. After a few more minutes my new friend had taken all of his photos and I had rung out all the water I could from my socks. As it was growing dark we snuck back down the stairs quietly, as to not awaken the 'No Free Rides Lady’ or interrupt the suited man’s important business meeting. As I look back on this photo, over a year and half after taking it, I still enjoy the final results. It makes me miss days like those, especially on days like today when I was stuck in the house all day. I also miss the graffiti that used to cover the entirety of that rooftop, all of which was buffed clean with an ugly taupe paint job. I also miss the days when everything felt new and exciting, especially compared to today when everything feels overdone and old. Just like the seasons, I think creativity goes through cycles. Even though I might not be feeling great about the images I am taking at this point in my life, I hope that a year and a half down the road, I will remember some of them as fondly as I remember this image. Only time will tell, I suppose.
This was a day I don’t think I will ever be able to forget. I was in my second semester of my senior year of college and had booked a flight to Florida to meet up with some friends. I, being the poor college student I was and still feel like today, booked the cheapest possible combination of flights to get myself to Palm Beach. It turned out that the best combination was to book a Spirit Air flight from Detroit to Philadelphia, connect to a United Air flight to Palm Beach, and then on the way home take the train from Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale and fly direct back to Detroit. It wasn’t exactly the perfect route, but damn if it wasn’t worth the $150 I saved on travel. I headed over to the airport with just a small bag and a little bit of money in my wallet, happy as could be. Once I arrived I discovered that my flight to Philadelphia had been delayed an hour, which wasn’t a huge issue, but I was running low on time to transfer to my United flight once I landed in the City of Brotherly Love. After waiting yet another hour, it was delayed even longer, so I began to get worried. I whipped out my laptop and tried to see if I could take a later flight to Palm Beach from Philadelphia, realized it would cost me almost as much as the flight itself did, I decided to wait it out. Another hour passed, and Spirit canceled my flight. Most of the passengers were college students trying to get somewhere for spring break, so everyone had their laptops out trying to determine their alternate route. I found out that I could reschedule my Spirit flight for free the next day, and also could move my United flight for a small fee, so I decided to go with that route. I was pretty disappointed because I ended up losing 30 hours of vacation time, and I had to sit at the airport for even longer while I waited for my father to pick me up. When he arrived we decided to go into the city to get a bite to eat because my birthday was only a few days away and we had not celebrated. I was still feeling pretty upset about my canceled flight and missing out on all the fun for that night in Florida, but the prospect of a free meal had me excited. We decided to go to one of my favorite joints, a bar in the Cass Corridor that serves 40ozs and stellar mac n cheese bites. We each had a beer and ate some greasy bar food, chatting about how my major was useless and my plans for the future, you know, the usual. After dinner we decided to drive around the city for a bit, my father had never spent much time there so I decided I would show him around for a while. Snow had begun to fall, which was another bitter reminder of the lovely weather I could have been experiencing if Spirit hadn’t canceled my flight. It was truly a frigid evening, one of those evenings you step out into and automatically know its February. No other month could be so damn cruel. As we approached the North End I noticed some smoke reaching up into the overcast sky, so I told my dad to head in that direction. I had chased fires a number of times, and I had my camera so I figured it might be worth checking out. Fires had always intrigued me, not so much in an interesting way, but more so in an absolutely-fucking-terrifying way. Most of the fires I had chased in the city were vacant, but each time I stumbled upon an occupied home or apartment on fire, residents sitting on the curb watching their entire lives burning before their eyes, I couldn’t help but feel crushed for them. Nobody asks for their home to catch fire, and apart from insurance fraud and arson most fires occur by accident. Fires affect entire communities, and this one was no different. We pulled up to the row house just as the fire department was arriving. The dwelling appeared to be vacant, but not the kind of abandoned building you see instagrammers romanticizing, the kind that still had an owner that cared and stood a chance of rehabilitation. The fire seemed to be growing larger and larger, so I jumped out of the truck, grabbed my backpack from the backseat, and set off on foot toward the flames. Neighbors had gathered around to watch the place burn, talking in small groups, pointing up at the flames every so often to offer a different point of view of the tragedy unfolding before them. I took an entire lap around the structure, snapping photos as I went, chatting with those standing around the building. I watched the fire from behind the structure for some time, inspecting the old children toys and play equipment still occupying the backyards of the individual apartments of the row house. As I started to walk out from behind the structure, peeking at my camera to see the images I had just captured, I almost bumped into a man standing alone watching the flames from the side yard. I apologized, he nodded with a smile and turned back to the flames. I asked if he knew whether the building was occupied, and he told me it had only just recently been closed up completely. His aunt had lived there in the 90s, and he lived just down the block. I offered some words of condolence, stating that it seemed the firefighters had the situation under control and most of the building would probably be saved. He shook his head in disbelief, looked down at his feet, and replied with a smile, ‘shit, let it burn down. They’ll want it gone when they take over this neighborhood anyways.’ I didn’t really know how to reply, but after a silent moment I responded that hipsters would probably pay an arm and a leg to live in a historic house that had burned down only to be been saved by the community, which got a laugh out of my new friend. I wasn’t sure what to say after that, and I saw my father looking anxious in his car, so I replied, ‘you stay safe out here, alright?’ and started walking towards the road. He asked the same of me, looked at the snow-speckled grass below him, and eventually back up at the flaming apartments his aunt had once called home. Even though it wasn’t his own place, I could only imagine the thoughts going through his head. Birthday parties, family gatherings, holidays, babysitting, hundreds of hours of memories, burning into ash before his eyes. Even though it was frigid outside, I understood why he seemed so intent to see the entire process through, waiting to see if they actually did have the fire under control before his short walk home. Just before I jumped into the car, I configured my camera settings with frozen fingers and snapped this photograph. Each time I look at it, I can feel all the emotion that I received in conversation with my new friend and the burning sentiment that encompasses that evening in my memory. On the ride home I didn’t think much about what had happened on that night, but when I finally returned to my basement apartment, sat in my warm bed and drank a piping cup of hot cocoa, I truly began to dissect the incident. There I was, feeling shitty about myself and how hard my life was because I had to take a later flight to get to my vacation, while a neighborhood lost one of its organs. Albeit, nobody had lived in the structure that burned, but I still couldn’t help but feel a little silly for my sentiment prior to arriving at the fire. On this Thanksgiving Eve, I can’t help but remember this day, the fire, and the man on the side yard. I have driven through that area over a dozen times since that night, and I always keep my eyes open for my friend. I haven’t seen him, but on each of those trips I am reminded of how truly lucky I am, and again realize that no matter how bad things may seem at the time, things can always be much, much worse.
November 15, 2017 - Original Post
It has always amazed me how the actions of one person can affect me. Even the smallest of arguments, with the right person, can send me off into a spiral that leaves me feeling distant from the rest of the world. I think it’s this quality that leads to me doing things by myself a lot. Don’t get me wrong, I love being around people, exchanging stories and different view points, but getting into an argument with someone I truly admire, especially when things do not end well, really throws me off. Before I picked up the camera I would drive around, racking up thousands of miles in my car, just to get away from my thoughts for a while. If you go into my mother’s basement you’ll find hundreds of burned compact discs that I made for such occasions. The first car I ever owned was a 2003 Chevrolet Impala that I named Hermione (don’t ask) and it had a CD player. The entire stereo would often not work, leaving me in silence, reminding me of the first 21 Pilots song I ever heard. Eventually I got into photography, and when I experienced these feelings I would again find myself behind the wheel, this time with a camera in my passenger seat. I think college was the loneliest era of my life, which doesn’t really make sense. I had more friends in college than I had in high school, I had more close-knit relationships, and upon first glance I looked happier. But I honestly don’t think the person most people saw back in those days was the real me, and the few people that actually saw the real me and accepted me for it, didn’t stick around. Because of that, I found myself taking photos in the city a lot. It was my escape from the fake facade I had created for myself at college. It didn’t help that I hate most aspects of school in general either, but that’s a different story completely. The day this photo was taken I had gotten into an argument with a girl I had been seeing, which had me feeling somewhat distraught. Even with that weighing heavy on my mind, I had to go to Detroit to meet up with a venue manager to plan an event I had a stake in, so the day seemed hopeful. It was a rainy winter day, the kind that most photographers wouldn’t dream of shooting in, but I brought my camera regardless. I always say that you never know what kind of beautiful mess you might find yourself in. I left town after my last class, giving myself a couple hours to adventure before I was scheduled to meet at the venue. I drove the entirety of Grand Boulevard, which is one of my favorite drives in the world. It’s really polarizing, even though most of the drive seems the same if you really dig into the environment you start to notice the details that separate the neighborhoods of Detroit. The east-side always felt tough to me. The west-side felt flashy, more du jour. Southwest always seemed the most like a neighborhood, or at least there was more left of the old neighborhood there than elsewhere. Detroit is a different place in the winter than in the summer. Even on the most desolate streets you see people in the summer, but in the winter you won’t see anyone for blocks. Maybe that’s why I feel lonely in the winter, because I truly am more than ever, alone. That day was no different, especially with the snowy-rain pounding my windshield, the outskirts of the city were empty. This was even more evident after I left Grand Boulevard and headed further east, fringing on Grosse Point Park. The contrast between city and suburb couldn’t have been more clear. As I approached Alter Road I saw freshly plowed streets, sidewalks that had been recently shoveled to accommodate those trekking on foot. The two areas were but a block apart, but two completely different worlds. Having to accommodate for weather and shoddy roads, I decided I better head downtown for my meeting. I made pretty good time so I opted for the free parking rather than paying to park close. I had shaved my raggedy facial hair and slicked back my typically unmanaged hair for the meeting, and even though I knew this was fine attire for the circumstances, starring at myself in the mirror of the bar at the venue I felt oddly fake. I looked something like the other side of Alter Road, but felt like Detroit underneath. The meeting went well enough and the event ended up working out, but human interaction after hours of self-evaluation always wears me out. I felt drained, unhappy, and cold. I wanted to go home, but fog had rolled in and I told myself I couldn’t leave without going to Belle Isle first. Even if I didn’t plan to take any photos, I thought I was bound to see something beautiful that would cheer me up. I took the outer route around the island once, then decided to cut across the middle and take Central Avenue through what I always called the wilderness of the island. That ended into Lakeside Drive, which was my way off of the island and also took me past one of my favorite views of the city for the second time. If you catch it just right, you can see the bulk of the Detroit skyline rising out of Lake Muskoday. The year before I had walked out onto the lake to get a better view and photo, only to fall through the ice into the freezing water. I was able to keep my camera dry and crawl out, but I haven’t attempted that since and probably won’t ever again. My entire trip around the island I had seen two cars, both of which were State Police, which I often saw on the island and was nearly ticketed by twice over the years for what they called ‘trespassing.’ I’m not too sure how I can trespass in a state park, but we can talk about that another time. As I turned onto the bridge the rain picked up heavily, dumping buckets onto my tiny windshield. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the Detroit Boat Club being rocked by the wind, waves crashing over it’s docks. Fog was hovering partially over the ancient structure, giving it an almost haunted feel. I slammed on my brakes, readied my camera settings, and sprinted out into the monsoon that engulfed the MacArthur Bridge. I did what I believe is called a ‘spray and pray,’ a tactic that basically means holding down your shutter, taking as many photos as possible, and getting the fuck out of there. It’s quite useful when you know you only have a moment to capture an image, or in this case, when you’re getting dumped on by mother nature. I got back into my car and drove across the rest of the bridge. As I looked to my left, rain water dripping down my face, I saw nothing but fog where the city would normally be. I was always fascinated by fog, but never cared to understand the actual science behind it. It felt better as a mystery. By the time I got onto the highway I was starting to warm up, so I carefully placed my camera in front of the heating vent and started on my slow journey home. When I finally got to edit the photos, only one turned out, the very first one. On each of the rest of the images there was at least a million-and-one water droplets on the lens. I printed one of those shots, with the water droplets, and put it in a little frame. I don’t really know why I did, but every time I see it I remember how I felt during that period of my life, and how I never want to feel as caged as I did then. If you have followed my art from the beginning, with its many ups and downs, you will know that there have been a number of downs since this photo was taken. But hey, I’ve gotten better at keeping water off my lens, so I guess there’s that.
November 8, 2017 - Original Post
This was one of the first photos I ever took that I was actually happy with. I had never had a nice camera before, but I had always taken pictures. When my family would go on road-trip vacations as a child my mother would buy me disposable cameras. To this day, one of the greatest photos I have ever taken was in the fourth grade on a family vacation out west…but that’s a story for another day. When digital took over I saved up and bought a point and shoot camera, but nothing that was capable of what I truly wanted to do. I don’t think I really knew what I wanted to do, but after I finally got a DSLR camera my sophomore year of college I somewhat figured it out. I was growing eerily sick of the sheltered bubble of a town my school was in and needed an escape. I felt like everyone was striving for individuality, but nobody was willing to leave the bubble that our educational status created around us. I started coming to the city as much as possible, driving around in my little Chevy, experiencing a place that truly reminded me of home. I don’t think I knew at that time how much this city would end up changing my life, but looking back, I’m glad I didn’t. Seeing all the beauty Detroit had to offer with naive eyes was truly blissful. I knew a bit about the history of the city that had stolen GM from my hometown almost a hundred years prior, but driving around in those early days, it really felt like nothing I had ever imagined. I had been to big cities before, spending time in Chicago while visiting family and vacationing on the east coast once as a kid, but Detroit was different. Everyone I met came off as kind, genuinely interested in why I was wandering around with a camera. I still love those conversations today. I found solace on the east side. It was so green, the summer air flowing through the uncut grass, untrimmed trees, and my unmanaged ginger hair. Although I was born in an urban center, I grew up in rural area (or as I like to call it, bum-fuck-nowhere), so the empty lots intrigued me. It looked like the rural backdrop I had grown accustomed to, but it sounded and felt like my roots. No matter how many historical photos I see or stories I hear from old timers, I cannot seem to imagine how full of splendor this city once was. I’m not saying it isn’t now, I just think the grandeur has transformed into something new, unique, and oddly familiar. Even though this wasn’t exactly a happy time period of my life, I will always remember that era fondly. Everything was simple. I used the automatic settings on my camera due to a lack of competence and was too scared to ask people to come out and take photos with me. I was alone in a city I knew almost nothing about, with my camera, a bag of books, and nowhere to be. I don’t think I will ever feel as alive as I did in those days. Countless times I would get lost, but by not allowing myself to use a map I figured out the confusing layout of the city pretty quickly. I took this photo on one of those astray adventures. I had driven and walked around the area a couple of times prior to taking it, watching block parties held by Detroiters on vast numbers of connected empty lots, getting passed by teens on ATVs, and starring at the empty city airport across the street. Upon this visit I was quite literally alone, and the sunset seemed to be a fitting image. After I snapped this photo, I walked back to my car, sat on the hood, and drank my Faygo for a while. I could never find Faygo back at school. I had grown accustomed to drinking it growing up, so the lack of it saddened my taste buds. Even though it was already October the weather was unseasonably warm. I remember being so happy that I wasn’t back at my house, and when I returned home I was excited to report to my friends about my adventures. They probably thought I was crazy, hell, I still think most of my friends think I am, but seeing photos like this after sliding my memory card into the slot on my shitty computer make it all worth it. It's far from the most technically perfect photo I’ve ever taken, but it will always be one of my favorites. ‘Nature takes back what used to be hers.’ That was the Instagram caption I chose for this photo years ago. I think this photo was a turning point in my mentality as an artist, even back then I knew it wasn’t a perfect image, but it gave me a drive to constantly work towards bettering my art, myself, and my life. I think a lot of people get stuck trying to figure out what they should do next, when in reality all they need to do is get out there and it will unfold in front of them. Cognitive action makes art, planning alone doesn’t. Today, my life is far from perfect, but I’m still working towards something I know has the potential to be great, and best of all, it’s completely mine.
November 1, 2017 - Original Post
I’ve always been a firm believer that it's better to be lucky than good. It might not always work out, but some of the best photos I have ever taken have been given to me from the fickle hands of lady luck. The summer would die in a few weeks, and I was cramming as much shooting into its final days as I possibly could. I found myself shooting alone most Summer nights, but when I was asked by a girl that I’d had a crush on for ages to explore the city, I couldn’t help but say yes. A few other photographers had said they wanted to meet up too, so I figured it could be a fun night. Back then we were still somewhat obsessed with trying to find new views, sneaking onto rooftops with open doors or faulty locks to get a glimpse of the skyline that was only typically seen by security workers on their smoke breaks. I don’t find myself really doing that anymore, but for whatever reason, at that point in my life it seemed important. When I walk downtown with friends these days it's different. I look up at the skyline and can remember each and every rooftop I have taken photos from distinctly, each telling a different story about a different time in my life. Every time I walk by this particular building, I can’t help but smile. It is by far the best view I have ever experienced, and it was truly an adventure I will never forget. My friend from school and I met up with my some photography colleagues of mine and we made our way onto a rooftop that happens to be visible from this picture. It’s far shorter and much more modern, but it does offer pretty great views of downtown. We managed to find ourselves atop the structure around sunset which was absolutely stunning. I had been on this rooftop a number of times, but anytime you’re taking in something beautiful, especially with new people, its special. I was, after all, trying to impress this girl. The first roof was nice, but I knew we could do better. It was the end of summer, so in my mind it was go big or go home. After the sun had set and we left our first rooftop, we decided to ride the People Mover around the city for a while. It isn’t exactly the most exhilarating thing in the world, but riding an empty train through panoramic views of the city is pretty fun. It was already dark anyways, so I knew that we had all the time in the world. We ended up hitting another rooftop I didn’t find very interesting. It was modern and had a few unique views, but nothing I was all too desperate to take photos of. While my colleague took photos of my friend I just sat on the edge of the roof, looking over the manufactured plateau onto the empty street below knowing how easily this all could end. But at the time, I was happy. I always felt that the skyline was full of benevolence in the summer. On nights like these I truly felt untroubled. When winter hit and I took in the same views I had in the Summer a handful of months before, I would feel lonelier than I ever had. I love the cold, and I love winter, but it often leaves me feeling depressed. They always say that the most beautiful art is created out of sadness, and I often feel my winter images are far better than those I take in warmer weather, but I won’t get too far into that. As I stood overlooking the city, I felt powerful. I felt happy. Taking in the skyline building by building, I saw that my entourage on the opposite side of the roof was ready to depart. I took one last glance at the city and walked to the door. We were back on the streets, tired and ready to get some food. On our way to the car, we walked past a construction crew taking their break outside a once abandoned skyscraper, now being renovated by Bedrock. It wasn’t uncommon to see crews like this in the city, I could name off at least a half-dozen buildings that had a similar fate within a four or five-block radius. About half of the men were enjoying a smoke, the others sitting on lunch pails, buckets, or whatever else they could get their hands on. It was at least 11PM at this point, and I was genuinely curious why they were working so late. I walked over to the group, my posse trailing shortly behind me, and inquired of the man closest to me. I ask why Dan Gilbert was working them so late, and he replied with a smile that they had to demo the entire interior by next week, so it was early mornings and late nights until then. I didn’t expect such an honest response, so I inquired further. I asked if he was the foreman of the project, he shook his head and pointed over to a man sitting on a bucket smoking what I believed to be a Marlboro Menthol. I wanted to ask for one, but I didn’t think such an inquiry would win me any points with the girl I was trying to impress. He looked over at us, flicked his cigarette into the alleyway, got up and started towards the building door. Just before he was out of earshot, I blurted out something he must not of heard. He stopped, turned around, asking what I had said. I replied, “will you let us up on the roof?” He replied with a smug look, “shit, you wanna climb 38-stories?” I looked back at my friends, smiled, and nodded, “absolutely, sir.” He looked rather shocked, I mean, I probably wouldn’t have thought a bunch of hipster-looking kids would have climbed over 400 feet just to take some photos, either. He smiled, “Aight then, I’ll take you up in the elevator then if you’re that committed.” We quickly shuffled into the 80-some year old structure littered with construction equipment and dust from the interior demolition taking place. We all crammed into the elevator, and it began to rise. He explained that the elevator often ‘jumped’ on the way down, because it was so old and hadn’t had any maintenance in years. That didn’t exactly warm my heart, but I was ecstatic to be inside a building that had long been on my hit-list before the renovations were announced and it had been sealed up. We eventually reached the top floor and exited the shaky elevator. They had already demolished this floor, and it was a shell of what it once was. I knew that the top floor had once been law offices, but after those had folded it became a bar that offered panoramic views of the city and expensive cocktails. We found our access to the roof of the building and I was immediately blown away. You could see the entire city. Each and every building of the beautiful Detroit skyline, all of the spoke streets that run out of Campus Martius, New Center way off in the distance, the Ambassador stretching over the river, and oh so much more. I didn’t imagine we would have much time before our new acquaintance wanted to head back down to work, so I set off in all directions, taking photos each-and-every-which-way. After I had captured most of the angles, one last spot caught my eye. Book Tower had always been my favorite building in the city, and the Broderick was also a structure I admired. This view showed both towering over the north end of downtown, with Woodward blazing a trail out of the city. The Fisher Building, glowing in the distance, acted as a beacon calling those who lived in the North End and further to come back home. The Tigers had played that day, so Comerica was still illuminated, as was her sister, Ford Field, just across Brush Street. The skyline of Detroit is truly immaculate, especially now that more and more lights are returning to it. After I felt I had taken enough photos, I just stood there, experiencing what I knew only a handful before me had. The building is scheduled to reopen in the next year to two, and I’m pretty excited about it. I hope the top floor is once again some sort of observation area, and although I will most likely never be as high as I was that night, I would love to be able to experience a view like this just one more time. After a few minutes, our guide gestured for us to get back into the elevator, and we hopped all the way down to the ground level, back onto the streets of the city. The feeling of your two feet on the pavement after being so high is always eerie to me. I get the same feeling when I get off an airplane, but different. It isn’t as strong. When I’m coasting at 30,000 feet, it feels normal, I’m supposed to be there, business as usual. But finding myself some 400 feet above a city who’s inner mechanisms I could never possibly understand, internalizing its every turn, crevice, and cranny, almost felt surreal. I don’t really get that feeling anymore, not from climbing to the summits of the city, anyways. We set off for our car, grabbed some food, and went home. I’ll never forget that night, or that view. This is one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken.
Oh, and if you were wondering...that girl and I never hung out again.
October 25, 2017 - Original Post
This is my least favorite photo I have ever taken. It honestly doesn’t have much to do with the photo itself, but the situation, the outcome, and the aftermath have led me to hold a particular hatred for it. It's weird how certain non-physical things can hold a special place in our memory. A song can enchant us into deep thought about those who are no longer in our lives, a movie brings back memories of our childhood, or a photo capture moments that will never be forgotten by all those who lived through them. I can honestly say that this photo changed my life. I was having a great summer until the accident. I had been working the same job, hanging around the same clowns, and working on my photography as much as I could possibly bare. Looking back over my short career as a photographer, I always felt, at the time, that I was pushing my limits. If I had to pick a time period that I learned the most about myself as a photographer, it would be that summer. Sleepless nights, early sunrises, and an ex-girlfriend that made me want to get out of Ann Arbor. The city was my haven. I would sleep in Riverside Park, taking in the skyline for hours only to find myself atop an abandoned building to experience the sunrise over the city that truly never sleeps. That summer I became who I am now, and my accident was definitely a part of that transformation. It was late summer, and a few friends and I decided to meet up at a local bar to have a burger and a few drinks before a photography meet-up downtown later that night. The place had a killer selection in their jukebox, cheap beer, and huge burgers. I was in heaven. After we had our fill, we rode downtown to meet up with other photographers on a rooftop. We had been promised free booze and food, which was all I needed to hear considering I was broke and the expenses of another school year were looming only a few weeks away. I also knew other friends would be there, which was a plus. The event was fun enough, and I got to meet a number of photographers I had known only via their online personas. It can be weird finally putting a face to a name, but it is fun to see if someone stacks up to their online profile. The bar stopped serving alcohol, so we decided it was time to split. A friend had parked her car in a garage a few blocks away, so we set off to walk her to her vehicle. After we had dropped off our friend, I got a phone call from another photographer who had just left the event. She explained to me that an abandoned building that had long been on my hit-list was busted open by some unknown hero, and that we should hustle over there. We did exactly that, our camera bags bouncing in the now chilled night air. We arrived to see that our friend was correct, the doors were wide open, alarm sounding quietly inside the ancient structure. Our friend was waiting at the fence, and upon our arrival informed us that it had been like this for about 20 minutes and that nobody had come in our out in that amount of time. Maybe it was our nonchalant late summer mood, maybe it was the booze, or maybe we were just stupid. But over the fence we went, darting through the open glass doors. We found ourselves inside a Spanish Gothic designed theatre, one that was missing most of her ornate pieces, but for the most part intact. I had researched the building dozens of times before, and most in the city know about this gem, but I am one of the few I know who have seen it with their own eyes. We hastily made our way up onto one of the lower roof levels of the structure, hanging out there for a little while before descending once again into the ostentatious theatre below. We took our time to snap a few photos, including this one, which I was quite happy with at the time. We saw that some other friends had joined us, but I wasn't concerned with that. I wanted to get higher. I knew that the office tower of the building was quite tall, and I wanted to get up top. I began looking around for my route to the summit, but it was nowhere to be found. I finally found what I believed to be my way up, and started my trek. I got to a dark stairwell that looked a little risky, but I knew I had experienced far worse before so I began to climb. As my second foot hit the metal frame of the stair I heard a loud crack. The crack was immediately followed by my feet falling out from under me, and naturally I tried reaching out to grab the ledge, the wall, pretty much anything that would stop my fall. Everything I reached for broke off and started to fall with me, and I was locked in a free-fall alongside the staircase that just given out from underneath me. I never really believed people who claim situations like this feel as if they take minutes, not seconds, but after going through it I can confirm this is the case. I finally landed with a thud, camera still in hand. Adrenaline pumping through my veins, I threw off one strap of my backpack and tossed my camera into it. I looked up from the dusty floor I was now laying on and could see a glimmer of light from where I had fallen, what looked to be about three stories above me. I had finally caught my breath, so I decided it was time to try and get up. I pushed myself up with my arms, but as I began to get up I felt a sharp pain in my right foot. I tried to stand, but the pain was becoming unbearable so I just sat on the ground. I howled to my friends, who unknowing what had just happened, began to call my name. They eventually found me on the ground floor, jaws dropping in disbelief at my current state. We all knew that we needed to get me out of there, and fast. I was tossed onto a friends back, and we began our escape. If you remember earlier in this piece, I said we hopped the fence to get into this particular building. I could barely walk at this point, let alone do anything that resembled a hop, so I was stranded alone on the inside of the fence. My friends and I frantically exchanged ideas over the hedge, and eventually our…ingenuity...freed me from my cell. I was out of the building, but far from free from the worries this accident would cause. Before I knew it I was in the back of my friends Jeep, bleeding all over her cloth interior. Within minutes we made it to the hospital, the first of many visits over the course of a month or so. I ended up shattering my heel (causing surgery), getting 12 stitches, acquiring a blood clot in my left leg, collapsing part of a lung, bruising my rib cage, and catching pneumonia. All that for a damn picture. The physical issues eventually healed, but mentally I approached photography differently after the accident. Not being able to take photos for almost half a year was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. Yeah, physical therapy is a bitch, finding people to push my wheelchair to class was embarrassing, and having to tell the story over and over became tiresome…but getting back into the hobby I devoted my entire life to proved the most difficult. Over that 5 month period my mentality was crushed. I had no creative outlet, and all of the creativity that I once channeled into my camera was now seized up inside of my already unstable psyche. Looking back, it reminds me of when rappers go to jail. Everybody thinks that they will come out and have bars on bars from sitting in their cells with nothing but their thoughts, but that is rarely the case. When you can’t practice what you love, you don’t hatch new ideas. You don’t grow. You don’t innovate. I can’t compare my experience to being in jail, but I think you understand what I’m trying to say. I was caged. I won’t say that it was all bad, I did learn a lot during that period and I was able to launch my website with all the free time I had, but I will say that I came back from that accident a different person. Its really easy to take the simple things in life for granted until you lose them. I know a lot of people will probably just like this post because of the photo that accompanies it, and most won’t read nearly this far. But if you have made it this far, you probably understand what I said in the beginning when I called this my least favorite photo I have ever taken. Hey, can you blame me? It’ll probably hang above my mantle someday…but until then, fuck this image.
October 19, 2017 - Original Post
I don’t normally go into abandoned buildings alone. Not that I ever feel unsafe, it's just that certain circumstances have led me to try and avoid such things. Falling 3 stories in an abandoned theatre, only to be dragged out by the same friends I climbed the fence with an hour before, is one of them. My distaste for wasting shots was greater than my moral conduct for such an action, though. I had one frame left on my roll of film, and I was planning to drop the roll off at the lab that evening on my way to visit my mother. I was trying to think of a location I had not visited in a while, a place I knew I had already logged enough hours at to act quickly upon this visit, but also a location with nice smooth colors that would pop on the emulsion of the expired Fuji Superia roll I had loaded in my camera. I knew of a small little synagogue, one I had visited for the first time somewhere in the middle of 2015 and a number of times afterwards. I really liked spending time there. It was the kind of religious building I wish I had spent time in growing up. It had an old-timey feel to it, seeming to be the kind of place important community members once attended, everyone knowing each other, and the religious head of the building truly looked out for their congregation. I had no idea if this was the case, but for whatever reason, that’s how I had always pictured it. I decided to head over there, knowing the gentle overcast day would provide some nice lighting for my singular photo. Every time I walk into a religious building, abandoned or not, I am reminded of my own experience with houses of religion. Having been raised in a rural community outside Flint, the church I attended growing up was quite small. Although my town was a fraction of the size of Detroit, my church was larger than the synagogue I now stood in. Whenever I think back to the days when I found myself in church every Sunday I am reminded of the book I was forced to read in the second grade, 'Because of Winn-Dixie' by Kate DiCamillo. I remember the author stating that her father’s church had no pews, so members of the congregation brought their lawn chairs and scattered them around the former store. Although my church did in fact have chairs of its own, around the holidays or Easter-time they would always have to bring out folding chairs from the back to accommodate those who only found themselves in God’s house a couple times a year. Now that I have joined that crowd, I take the discomfort my ass goes though sitting on those metal chairs as a punishment from God for only coming every so often. Standing in the middle of the abandoned Synagogue for the first time some two years before, I realized that I knew literally nothing about the Jewish faith. I had attended a public university that was known for their large Jewish student population, but other than a few things here or there, I knew nothing. I wandered around the tattered house of worship, stepping over the once ornate pews as I made my way towards the altar. I had photographed the front of this building a number of times, with both my digital and film cameras. The shots would always come out alright, but I still wanted to capture it in a unique way. From my place on the elevated surface, I stood in front of my congregation, feeling less powerful than ever looking at row after row of dilapidated pew. I began to imagine the sadness that the last Rabbi of this congregation may have felt, looking out over his empty temple one last time before closing the doors for good. I am sure this sight would make him cringe. It was in that moment that I tried to imagine Detroiters from all around the neighborhood shuffling into the building during Yom Kippur or Hanukkah, realizing that there were no seats remaining, and returning to the vestibule. Leaning up against the side wall was a stack of metal chairs, each one ensuring its rusty screech heard by all as it was taken into the other room and opened to be sat on. You’d better believe, no matter the denomination, only being religious on holidays can be uncomfortable on the lower back. I heard a dog barking a couple houses down, which I had heard on previous visits as well, and decided that was my cue to leave. I aligned the viewfinder of my Canon, snapped this photo, and hastily exited to my vehicle parked a few blocks away. For once, when my mother asked if I had been going to church, I could honestly say that I had.
October 3, 2017 - Original Post
I fired up the engine of my grandfather’s Pontiac and let it begin to heat up. Although it was already Spring, it was unseasonably cold. In Michigan, you really never know what you’re going to get weather wise that time of year. I kind of liked it that way though. After the car warmed up a bit, I started flipping through the CDs in the hand-me-down case my brother had bargained for at a garage sale years before. Finally, I settled on an album that frequented my CD player, the album XXX by Danny Brown. This album became a favorite of mine immediately after hearing it for the first time when I was in the eleventh grade. My parents were getting a divorce at the time, and I remember sitting in my room listening to it ear-drum-rattling-ly loud while staring off into space at the banner of a university I would attend two years later. Although this album came into my life during a rough patch, I’m still fond of it even now. I put the CD in the system, and per usual it spit it back at me hastily. I fogged the back of the illegally burnt compact with my breath, its warmth hazing the scratches from numerous drops onto a number of dirty car floors. The system decided to accept my offering this time around, and I heard the screech of Danny Brown’s voice yell ‘Check!’ The car’s small interior finally began to warm so I removed the comforter I had used to keep warm the night before, throwing it into an already cluttered back seat. My windows had frosted overnight, but the heat was beginning to erode the previous night’s work on my windshield. I grabbed my AE-1 from the passenger seat, checked the film count, and shifted into drive. As my car started to meander down the avenue, I noticed that morning was beginning to take hold of the city. I could see the occasional 9-5er through the windows of curtain-less homes, sipping warm beverages, watching myself and others who started their day before the sun comes up head out into the still dark morning. As I drove further and further out of the city center, I saw less and less of this. I began to regret my CD choice, as the tone of ‘Die Like A Rockstar’ was a little too loud for me at six-something in the morning. I knew what was to come, so I let it ride out. I really didn’t know what I wanted to shoot that day, but I knew that the skies were in my favor. I love shooting on overcast days. I don’t have to worry about the sun’s rays gracing the front of my lens causing a flare, and I always enjoy the out of focus parts of a cloudy-day image. I didn’t have anywhere to be. So I drove. Most of my time shooting those days was dedicated to looking for cars. Although I really didn’t know nearly as much as it might seem to others, I loved cars. I was raised on cars. Pretty much every member of my family worked for GM or a related company in Flint at some point. I couldn’t tell you a damn thing about anything under the hood of your car, but I could tell you the location of at least a couple dozen cool cars around Detroit. You could find them everywhere. Sitting next to homes, just off the back porch, on the street with tires that hadn’t seen fresh air in years. I think I was so attracted to these cars because I someday hoped to be like their owners. Purchase an old beauty with the hopes of fixing it up, coming home from work every day to find it just where I left it, waiting for me to bring life back to her rusty interior. Often I would come across owners who had come onto hard times, hesitantly setting For Sale By Owner signs inside the windows of their prized projects. I could only imagine how hard this must have been for most, like an inventor forced to sell the blueprints to a project he was never allowed to complete. It was at the very moment Danny Brown serenaded me with ‘so guess who's the little bitch, that’s you! You must suck a lot of dick, that’s true!’ I saw something quite peculiar, but not all that uncommon in the city. It was an old gray sedan that had almost the entirety of its front end ripped off, obviously to be used on another car or to be parted out. I often would think about how somebody could even think about doing this to such a beauty, but after examining my license one summer afternoon a number of months later I realized that I too, after all, was an organ donor. After snapping this photo with my frigid AE-1, I figured that the dogs barking behind the car my cue to leave. I got back into my grandfather’s Pontiac, rubbed my hands together to prepare for the cold steering wheel, and drove off in search of more rusty gold.