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Dirt Floor Recording Studio

The hills are alive, with the sound of music…. Alright, I mean the woods are alive, in Chester anyway where Eric Lichter has made quite a name for himself producing music at his Dirt Floor Studio. For the whole story by Jason Simms click here:

James Maple and Eric Lichter goof around in the studio while cutting a new single for Maple's upcoming recording. Lichter is the owner and operator of Dirt Floor recording studio in Chester. Eric Lichter grew up in CT and after living in NYC for much of his 20s returned to open a recording studio, now located in a historic home in downtown Chester. This operation is different because he records to tape using vintage equipment, he coaches artists and he'll play whatever instrument needed.

James Maple and Eric Lichter goof around in the studio while cutting a new single for Maple’s upcoming recording. Lichter is the owner and operator of Dirt Floor recording studio in Chester. Eric Lichter grew up in CT and after living in NYC for much of his 20s returned to open a recording studio, now located in a historic home in downtown Chester. This operation is different because he records to tape using vintage equipment, he coaches artists and he’ll play whatever instrument needed.

The place is set back from the road on a shared driveway that splits halfway up. I walked into the house and Springsteen was playing on the turntable, a man with a ‘fro from the 70’s stepped up and greeted me with a smile, hi, I’m Eric Lichter. It was like a flashback to the seventies, he reminded me of a young Bob Dylan with the hair and sunglasses, or was it Sly Stone or, Jimi. Wasn’t sure but I could tell there was a good vibe going on as I was introduced to James Maple, Dustin Meadows and Studio Manager Scott “Skip” Lyons. Maple was there to cut a new song and I had the privilege to spend the next couple hours emersed in the artistry as they weaved a song from bare acoustic guitar, raw vocals and a variety of instruments that both Lichter and Maple would play for background harmony. For more photos click here:

Here’s a short video I put together of my time spent with the crew at Dirt Floor:

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Super Bowl XLVIII

The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks will play for the NFL Championship at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, February, 2, 2014. The week leading up to big game turns into a media circus and for the football fan the NFL has created the largest “Fan Festival” by blocking off over a dozen city blocks in Times Square with a variety of events. I will try give a glimpse of the things I encounter along the way with a series of Instagram photos.

Hope you enjoy…

Gearing up for the "Big Game", I went out and purchased a new hat for Super Bowl XLVIII, MAD BOMBER meet @AngryJohnnie. It's supposed to be a cold night, but hey it is New England after all.

Gearing up for the “Big Game”, I went out and purchased a new hat for Super Bowl XLVIII, MAD BOMBER meet @AngryJohnnie. It’s supposed to be a cold night, but hey it is New England after all.

To follow along VIEW HERE:

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“Everything you need for a year-round business, all lost in a day,”

Hartford – Louis Sanzaro IV looked around his wrecked office Tuesday morning in a warehouse destroyed by fire the night before. It reminded him of his seven months in Iraq. “It was just like Fallujah or something” he said later. “That’s what it looks like.”
2014.01.07  Louis Sanzaro IV stood amongst the ruins of heavy equipment that was once his landscaping and construction company. He suspects the fire started in a new truck that had some electrical problems, he said. Fire officials continue to investigate the cause.

2014.01.07 2014.01.07 Louis Sanzaro IV stood amid the ruins of heavy equipment that was once his landscaping and construction company. He suspects the fire started in a new truck that had some electrical problems, he said. Fire officials continue to investigate the cause. Photo by JOHN WOIKE | woike@courant.com

Sanzaro got a call about the fire about 11:40 p.m. Monday from an acquaintace who saw that the back of the building was burning. Sanzaro raced to the scene from his Wethersfield home and watched his livelihood go up in flames. For the rest of Christine Dempsey’s click here:

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A Time For Giving Thanks

Living in an increasingly divided, tumultuous and complicated world, the Thanksgiving holiday offers an opportunity to truly reflect on our personal blessings. For many, the value of these blessings is even more treasured as they reflect on times of struggle. To some, adversity came long ago. Others are in the midst of difficult challenges today. Yet finding genuine reasons to be thankful can help us to persevere. There is a time to focus on our troubles for it helps us to recognize them, confront them and, with luck, overcome them. But our nature also demands time for reflection, which helps us establish our priorities, realize how much we depend upon each other, and remain humble. Here we offer you the stories of a few individuals who have faced challenges in their lives, and their brief reflections on what makes them grateful.

I asked one question “What are you thankful for?”

Giving Thanks

Dan Crowley, Simsbury

On April 9, 1942, U.S. General Edward King surrendered to the Japanese army after a battle on the Philippine peninsula of Bataan. Dan Crowley and a group of other soldiers didn’t obey that order — they fought on. Swimming to the small island of Corregidor, in Manila Bay, Private Crowley somehow dodged the artillery for nearly a month before being forced to surrender. The horrific World War II event that followed is now known as the Bataan Death March. U.S. and Philippine soldiers suffered unspeakable atrocities, and later, Crowley was enslaved 2,000 feet underground in a copper mine until Japan finally surrendered in September of 1945. Through the years, Crowley shared those memories with a fellow P.O.W. and best friend, Harry Johnson, who also survived the experience after being lucky enough to be dug out of a pile of corpses when someone heard him moan. That friendship ended three years ago at the passing of that kindred soul. Over the last year or so, Crowley also lost his wife of sixty-six years to cancer, and has been pre-deceased by his sixty-two-year-old son.

Crowley answers my question about thankfulness and shares his stories with so much passion and perspective.

“I’m thankful to be alive. Thankful that I was somehow chosen to still be alive. All my friends, who I was with in the rotten Japanese slave labor camps are dead,” he says sitting in the drivers seat of his bright red 1997 Mustang Cobra sports car. “I savor life, the Simsbury resident says. “I was in bad shape for a while. No corporation would hire us, when we got home. I went out and sold on my own for straight commission.” Crowley is also grateful for his family, especially his father who he learned so much from, and his wife, who’s parting advice to him was to find a young woman and enjoy life. So what is he doing with the life he is lucky to keep living? “Eat, sleep and make love,” he punctuates with a hearty and sustained laughter.

At 2:00 p.m. on December 7, the state of Connecticut is dedicating a bridge in the Weatogue section of Simsbury the “Bataan Corregidor Memorial Bridge.” Crowley will be communication with the pilots to perfectly time the military fly-over.

“I’m thankful that finally recognition is being given to the memory of the men of Connecticut and throughout the United states,” he says. Crowley has led the effort for years, saying, “his is not about veterans, it’s about those who died in the battle and aftermath as prisoner slave laborers. They must not be forgotten.”

VIEW FOUR MORE  STORIES HERE

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Greenpeace Captain Peter Willcox

More than a month after Norwalk native Peter Willcox was arrested by Russian authorities on a piracy charge during a Greenpeace protest in the Arctic, his wife, Maggy Willcox, talked to him on Monday for the first time since the ordeal began.

“He sounded strong and positive,” she said of her husband, the 60-year-old captain of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, which was towed to shore by the Russians. Dubbed the Arctic 30, 28 members of Greenpeace, plus a photographer and a videographer, have been in custody since two activists tried to hang a banner on an oil rig to protest drilling on Sept. 18. For the rest of Christine Dempsey’s story click here:

Maggy Willcox has a photocopy of her husband, Capt. Peter Willcox of Greenpeace, who is being held in Russia on piracy charges, taped to the back window of her car. Willcox, his crew and his ship - The Arctic Sunrise, were remanded in the Barents Sea and towed to shore by the Russian government. Willcox put the charges this way: "The whole charge of piracy is ludicrous."

Maggy Willcox has a photocopy of her husband, Capt. Peter Willcox of Greenpeace, who is being held in Russia on piracy charges, taped to the back window of her car. Willcox, his crew and his ship – The Arctic Sunrise, were remanded in the Barents Sea and towed to shore by the Russian government. Willcox put the charges this way: “The whole charge of piracy is ludicrous.”

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Slackline 101

Slacklining is a practice in balance that typically uses nylon or polyester webbing tensioned between two anchor points. Many people suggest slacklining is distinct from tightrope walking in that the line is not held rigidly taut (although it is still under some tension); it is instead dynamic, stretching and bouncing like a long and narrow trampoline. The line’s tension can be adjusted to suit the user and different types of webbing can be used to achieve a variety of feats. The line itself is usually flat, due to the nature of webbing, thus keeping one’s footing from rolling as would be the case with an ordinary rope. The dynamic nature of the line allows for tricks and stunts. Slacklining has quickly become popular due to its simplicity and versatility and its ability to be practiced in a variety of environments. Those who participate in slacklining are often called “slackers”.[1] -Credit Wikipedia

Caroline Smith, of Lexington, Ky, practices her slacklining between two trees in the Davenport College courtyard at Yale as a sliver of the moon rises Tuesday evening. Smith is a senior majoring in psychology and finds this form of exercise is very relaxing, similar to yoga requiring balance and calmness.

Caroline Smith, of Lexington, Ky, practices her slacklining between two trees in the Davenport College courtyard at Yale as a sliver of the moon rises Tuesday evening. Smith is a senior majoring in psychology and finds this form of exercise is very relaxing, similar to yoga requiring balance and calmness.

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Schemitzun: A Feast of Green Corn & Dance

Tribal nations from across the Northeast Region gathered for the 21st Annual Feast of Green Corn & Dance at the Mashantucket Cultural Grounds Sunday afternoon at the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Eastern Connecticut.

Tommy Ninigret Harris, 31, and his girlfriend Christina Strano, 26, exchange a nose kiss just before Harris competes in the men's northern traditional dance category at the Feast of Green Corn & Dance at the Mashantucket Cultural Grounds. Harris says both he and Strano are descendents of the Nipmuc tribe. Tommy Ninigret Harris, 31, and his girlfriend Christina Strano, 26, exchange a nose kiss just before Harris competes in the men’s northern traditional dance category at the Feast of Green Corn & Dance at the Mashantucket Cultural Grounds. Harris says both he and Strano are descendents of the Nipmuc tribe.

 

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In Search of The Hartford Urban Man

 

For a project titled The Hartford Urban Man, Joyce Bolaños and Carmen Arroyo of Viva Hartford Media earlier this year surveyed 100 single males, ages 21 to 40 who live in the city. Intending to debunk the stereotype of the young urban male, Bolaños and Arroyo interviewed guys who normally do not make news headlines or police blotters. They questioned why these men choose to live and work in Hartford. They also asked about birth control, monogamy and what men look for in a partner, among other topics.  In collaboration with Viva Hartford Media and The Hartford News, I  produced studio portraits and a companion video of a dozen of the men surveyed. While viewing the photo gallery, you can read excerpts of each interview by clicking on the caption icon at the upper right of each image.

Michael Friebus, 24, lives in the Frog Hollow neighborhood of Hartford and a retired saber fencer. He was a member of the Puerto Rican national fencing team. "I've travelled around the world. I've been to South African, Iceland, Puerto Rico, all around the Caribbean..."

Favorite things about Hartford: Nightlife. Bushnell Park. The people. The diversity. The women. Green spaces. West Indian culture. The city’s historic architecture. Proximity to Bradley International. Constitution Plaza. Hartford Hospital staff. Small-town feel. Trinity College. Bars and restaurants.

Monogamous or Play the Field? Condom Use? 68 percent prefer monogamy, 18 percent choose to play the field, 14 percent say they are undecided on monogamy. On condom use, 63 percent say they use condoms, 25 percent say they don’t, 12 percent report occasional use.

What is the Hartford Urban Man initially looking for in a partner? 43 percent say they first look for sexy, elegant and physical attributes; 34 percent say personality, especially someone extroverted, loyal and humorous; 18 percent say stability; 5 percent say a certain level of education.

Wish List: Tropical island vacation. 93-inch TV. A day off. Dodge Charger SRT8. Rosetta Stone software. Be with family. Go home to Virginia. Stress-free life. Good health. Help others. Someone to love me for who I am. Rims for my car. World peace. Spend more time with loved ones. Create more memories to last me another year. Happiness, joy and peace. New iPad. To be able to have one more day with my godmother who passed away.

Read More »

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50 Cent – Boxing Promoter

Mike Oliver’s last bout was 20 months ago in Puerto Rico, a loss to Juan Manuel Lopez on a technical knockout in the second round.

Oliver, a Hartford featherweight, needed time to recuperate from that fight. He rested his body and mind, stepping away from the sport that consumed his life.

50 Cent - Friday Night Fights

Curtis Jackson III — otherwise known as a rapper 50 Cent — announced Wednesday afternoon that he will be the promoter for the ESPN “Friday Night Fights” show at the Connecticut Convention Center on July 5th which will feature “Machine Gun” Mike Oliver, one of the Hartford and New Haven boxers on the ticket. The event is billed as “50 Cent’s Birthday Bash” because it comes the night before the rapper turns 38. To read Paul Doyle’s story or see more photos… Read More »

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Preserving History

When I arrived at the Manchester History Center to photograph Mary Dunne, President of the Manchester Historical Society, she gave me a tour of the historic mill that the society purchased in 1999. We strolled through the main level looking for a backdrop that best described the atmosphere of the building and the work that has been done to it. Dunne took me to the first floor which still has a few original weaving looms along with other historical pieces. I love old factory buildings for all their large windows, wood floors and high ceilings that offer wonderful natural light for an environmental portrait.

We decided on a main meeting room that is used for events and lectures because of the natural light and simple decorations for an upcoming Holiday event. It helped that the sun was obscured by clouds and a light snow was falling outside to diffuse the sun. Dunne was a little apprehensive at first, like many subjects that don’t necessarily feel comfortable in front of the camera, but after a few shots to check the lighting she began to get feel comfortable. I checked the photos and decided the first pose and placement of her in the scene wasn’t quite right so we tried a different angle.

The resulting photograph produced the look I was trying for. The large windows behind her provided a nice framework and allowed the mill building across the street to be seen and by now Dunne was beginning to let her personality show. I really like the joy she displays while sitting in a place she has a passion about and making the center a legitimate museum for the city of Manchester.

Pro Tip: Environmental portraits can be tricky at times but with a little creativity and a great subject things will fall into place once you get rolling. Search the facility for a place that will not only show the features of the place but allow the subject to feel comfortable. Try a variety of lighting and choose what works best, sometimes your first choice is not always the best so don’t pigeon hole yourself into one vision. Use a shutter speed that will allow the natural light to fill to your desired level, a slower shutter will give more fill, too much will blow out the background. Make sure your main light source is in a softbox or an umbrella to soften the flash and set the flash to a little stronger setting than the background light to make your subject stand out from the background. I normally like to hoot as wide open as the lens will allow but this time I went somewhere in the middle to give greater detail to the buildings features as well as the subject.

Camera: Nikon D300s, lens – 17-55mm set at 17mm, aperture f/5, ISO 800, shutter 1/125, color balance cloudy setting to give a slightly warmer feel to the photo.

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End of Summer

Where did the summer go? That question seems to always arise once Labor Day, the “unofficial – End of Summer”, arrives. The summer seems to go quicker each year as I get older, a week at the shore in the middle of it all is my greatest respite from the daily grind of life.

As the next season approaches I felt it was worth a look back on the summer and some of my favorite images.

The “Transit of Venus”.

I was sent to cover the transit of Venus, a once in a lifetime event at the Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium in New Haven. It had been cloudy all day and there was little hope when I left Hartford that the sun would be visible as the tiny planet made its pass across. But with some patience and a little luck the clouds began to breakup around 6 o’clock and by 6:30 the grand event began.

The planetarium provided me with a large neutral density filter that knocks out 99.999% of the sun’s harmful rays to allow me to capture the photo of the sun. As I was shooting the crowd that had gathered for the show, Jason Archer picked up the filter and used it to look at the transit as other used special glasses to catch a glimpse. I like the effect the filter gave, almost like a portal looking out into space as the the overcast clouds are reflected on the surface.

Hartford Courant reporter Hillary Federico took a “shot” with Dom Basile, a certified firearms instructor, as he gave her pointers and a little backup while test firing a M16 machine gun at the Metacon Gun Club in Simsbury. Basile talked about the recent spike in female gun use in advance of the “Women on Target” program which will be held at the club later this month.

Assault rifles are a hot buzzer topic, love or hate them, in the right hands – like a trained instructor, police or military officer, they are a weapon used to “keep the peace”. But in the wrong hands, they are a merciless machine that devastates lives. On July 20, 2012, a little less than a month after this photo and article were published a man in full body tactical armor entered a movie theater in Aurora, CO., for a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” killing 12 people and injuring 58 others, the highest number of casualties in an American mass shooting. One of the weapons he used was an assault rifle.

The Travelers Championship had to be one of the hottest golf tournaments I’ve covered at the TPC at River Highlands in Cromwell. Chris Stroud tries to keep cool with a wet towel over his head during the second round of the 2012 Travelers Championship golf tournament at the TPC River Highlands in Cromwell Friday. Stroud shot a 68 and finished the day at -1.I think I got heat stroke after the Pro-Am Wednesday. The heat and humidity also took a toll on UConn women’s head coach Geno Auriemma as he had to be removed from the course after 13 holes on a golf cart and received I.V. fluids at the medical station back near the clubhouse.

One other thing you can usually count on during the week of the tournament is rain. Jon Martel of Bristol heads for the parking lot after play was officially suspended for the day during the second round of the 2012 Travelers Championship golf tournament at the TPC River Highlands in Cromwell Friday. Martel is a volunteer with Webster Bank and is the Hole Captain on the 2nd hole during the tournament, he and the players will be back on course at 7 am to complete the second round and the cut will be made.

Another thing you can count on, is a first time tour winner hoisting the trophy on Sunday. Marc Leishman kept the streak going after posting a score of -14 as the leaders were still out on the course. But the final four holes proved to be disastrous as each that held the lead squandered their opportunity leaving Leishman with his first tour victory.

Leslie Gordon, an instructor at the Yoga Center of Collinsville, helps lead a new class that incorporates yoga and paddle boards.  It is based on paddle boarding, which is a very hot new water sport. Paddle boards look like big surfboards, but you stand atop them with a paddle and paddle around. They are selling like crazy. And now people are doing yoga on the paddle board. A yoga studio in Collinsville has a teacher who leads yoga sessions on paddle boards on a calm section of the Farmington River in Collinsville.

Andrew Haraghey, 16, is a rising star in the sports world as he claimed 5 gold medals in the 2011-2012 Disabled Sports USA Ski Tour this past winter. Haraghey, of Enfield, has cerebral palsy and is training to compete in the 2014 Paralympics which will be held in Russia. He’ll be heading off to Mount Hood in Oregon on July 10 to begin on slope training.

I used a stencil template that Andrew and his mom had made from cardboard to cut out stars that they would sell in his fundraising efforts.

C.J. Martin takes a shot as he passes a guest watching a chucker at Giant Valley Polo Club in Hamden Thursday evening. Matches are held every Sunday afternoon and sometimes spectators are treated to live music as a backdrop to the action. The shoot was for the “Parting Shot” feature in Hartford Magazine, which is now under the CT1 Media umbrella of publications.

Vernon resident Andrew Badecker, 25 (as of July 28), quit his last ordinary job in 2007 after winning $7000 playing online poker. Having already dropped out of college, his parents kicked him out of their house. Since then, he’s gone on to win more than $2 million playing poker in professional tournaments and online. He lives a suitcase life, always traveling and never in one place for more than a couple of months, while consistently confronting the challenges of being a so-called gambler and the realization that he doesn’t have a “normal” life.

When I walked into the house of Andrew he was wearing a tank top and ironing a yellow shirt on the kitchen table.As we talked he explained he normally wore loud colors and bold sunglasses so when I saw his yellow shirt and the color scheme of the living room I knew where I wanted to take his portrait. Two lights, one with a softbox a grid to direct the light and another behind him to illuminate the colors of the two walls behind him. I bold and brash portrait for a guy that likes to make a statement.

This was one of those “Bad ideas gone worse” situations. After torrential rains caused flash flooding in Naugatuck this pickup truck was resting on the edge of a parking lot that had be eroded away by the rain.

So after assessing the situation these guys figured they had a plan to get the truck off the egde and safely onto the parking lot above. Things don’t always ended up like you planned as these men found, once the truck started going forward the weight shifted and over the side it went. Now they had a real problem.

Juan Morrero of New Haven holds onto his nine year old daughter Anysha (L) as her twin Tenysha enjoys the cool water at Wadsworth Falls in Middlefield rush over her Monday afternoon. Morrero said he hadn’t been to the Falls in about 14 years but thought of it as the family was looking for someplace different to cool off.

Mike Roberge of M&M tennis court company in Bristol spreads the red paint that will outline the courts at Plainville High School Thursday morning. Roberge, of Bristol, was working with Joe Foran of Farmington on the project that will be finished in time for school. I climbed the fence surrounding the courts to get a high angle, much to the amusement of the workers.

After a micro-burst ripped through South Glastonbury August 10th knocking power at the Glastonbury Hill Country Club, Tim Smith waits with his daughter Colleen Elizabeth Smith, her flower girls and bridesmaids for the start of her wedding. Severe weather delay the ceremony for over an hour and a half as the bridal party and guests had to navigate through back roads to get to the country club due to downed power lines and trees all around the area. Since the storm had knocked out the power the reception was moved to the Inn at Middletown which was able to help out the newlyweds on short notice.

Diana Benza of Bristol grabs a handful of balloons from Bob Irvine as they set up for an engagement party for Benza’s brother Alex Irvine’s daughter Annie at Elizabeth Park Wednesday evening. The happy couple thinks they are attending a birthday party for Letitia Benza, the grooms mother. Annie and Alex are from Wethersfield.

The sun set on top seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland during second round action Tuesday evening at the New Haven Open at Yale tennis tournament after she retired during the the second set due to a right shoulder injury. Radwanska lost the first set 6-0 to Olga Govortsova of Belarus and was down 2-1 in the second before retiring.

I’ve never covered the US Open and likely never will but I’ve enjoyed covering the tennis tournament in New Haven throughout its history. I’ve been able to shoot the stars of my generation, Becker, Lendl, McEnroe, Aggasi, Blake, Monica, Lindsay, Steffi, Venus and many more. There are certain times of the day that I like the best, late afternoon and the very beginning of the night match, especially when the sunsets.

Twenty seven teams from across the country and Canada pushed their limits of endurance and strength during the final day of the 2012 Connecticut SWAT Challenge at Reservoir #6 in West Hartford Thursday afternoon. Members of CSP #1 (Connecticut State Police) run with a few tires chained together during one obstacle on the course.

Actor Kevin Cottle works the fly rod during filming of Connecticut “Still Revolutionary”, the second TV spot for its tourism campaign. This time, instead of going to the shoreline/Connecticut River valley, they’re going to Litchfield County. The iconic West Cornwall Covered bridge over the Housatonic provides the backdrop for this scene.

Being a native of Connecticut I love to take rides into Litchfield County. My dad would pack my mom and brother into the car and we would take road trips to People’s Forest, Kent Falls and other places in the northwest part of the state. It is a wonderful place to take a “Sunday drive” when the foliage is in full display.

With matching “Barbie” backpacks, dresses and shoes, twins Raelin and Aubrae Oporto, 7, are led down the hall by mom Tricia Dunn as the new Bristol West Elementary School opened Thursday as students arrived for the first day of class.

First day of school, that goes back a long way.

Tonight my assignment fell through in Rocky Hill so I took a little ride along the Connecticut River. If you venture off the beaten path there is a dirt road that follows the river from Wethersfield south to Rocky Hill through corn fields and grass lands. I used to water ski on the Connecticut with a cousin or old friend years ago so I sometimes search for someone out enjoying the evening. As Labor Day begins, take a few moments to relax, enjoy a cold one, spend time with family and most of all be grateful for the little things in life…

…because before you know it, you’ll be saying, I can’t believe its Christmas already. Just 115 shopping days to go.

As I was driving home I decided to take a drive to a place I like to stop once in a while to watch the moon or sun rise. Tonight a Blue Moon rose above the city of Hartford.

Goodnight Moon:
…Goodnight room
Goodnight moon
Good night cow jumping over the moon
Goodnight light
And the red balloon
Goodnight bears
Goodnight chairs
Goodnight kittens
And goodnight mittens
Goodnight clocks
And goodnight socks
Goodnight little house
And goodnight mouse
Goodnight comb
And goodnight brush
Goodnight nobody
Goodnight mush
And goodnight to the old lady
whispering “hush”
Goodnight stars
Goodnight air
Goodnight noises everywhere

–“Goodnight Moon”, text by Margret Wise Brown

Have a safe and enjoyable weekend!

 

 

 

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Making That Commitment

Javier Soto, 35, (at left) with his Little Brother Alex, 14, at the Fairway Batting Cages in South Windsor.

I am continually reminded of the incredible people I encounter with my camera. A Cornell graduate and Pratt & Whitney economist, Javier Soto likes to hit the batting cages this time of year with his Little Brother, Alex. “One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most is going out for batting practice with Alex. Something very simple, right?” While his Ivy education and job title speak for themselves, they don’t paint a full picture of Javier. Exceptional mentor. Yankees fan. Maybe a Red Sox fan? Car show aficionado. “It’s about spending quality time together,” Javier tells me in our interview. “And that’s how things change, right?”

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Imagination Gone Wild

 

“But the wild things cried, “Oh please don’t go – we’ll eat you up – we love you so!”
And Max said, “No!”
The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws but Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye.”
from “Where the Wild Things Are,” by Maurice Sendak

I was fortunate to be assigned to photograph renowned children’s book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak at his Ridgefield home in 2006 to accompany a story being written by Courant arts writer Frank Rizzo in advance of the children’s opera “Brundibar,” in which he collaborated, to be presented in New Haven.  Sendak died this week at age 83 in Danbury after suffering a stroke.  He leaves behind a body of work that will leave indelible marks on generations of children.  His iconic “Where the Wild Things Are” is at once strange and captivating.  I always marveled at the “monsters” he drew that blurred the line between fear and fascination, revulsion and charm.  When my son, Will, was little, I read “Where the Wild Things Are” to him dozens of times.  I always imagined a little bit of Max in Will, and how perhaps he related to Max’s escape to the land of the wild things after being scolded.  Here are a few of my favorite images from my brief time with the late, great Maurice Sendak.

 

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Michael Douglas – Meeting the Man

When I was asked if I would be interested in taking a trip the NYC to photograph Michael Douglas for an upcoming ARTS cover I jumped at the opportunity. Douglas was being honored with the 12th Annual Monte Cristo Award from the Eugene O’Neill Theater, a place that he honed his craft growing up in Connecticut.

I have been a fan of his from his early work in “The Streets of San Francisco” with Karl Malden. Really enjoyed his role in Wall Street, Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct. Besides my editor Sherry Peters said “Who knows, maybe Catherine will be there!” Yes indeed, this could be very fun.

The shoot was to take place at the couples Central Park West apartment. When I arrived I was disappointed to see the building shrouded in scaffolding and netting due to repairs on the exterior but the view from their living space was still breathtaking on this early Spring afternoon.

Douglas was running a little behind but his assistant was there to greet me as reporter Frank Rizzo had arrived a few minutes earlier. The spare time allowed me to check the place out for a suitable location for a portrait and photos during the interview.

A fine Steinway & Sons piano sat in one corner with little pieces of tape on the keys to help Douglas and daughter Carys learn the notes.

As I walked around the spacious quarters I heard a clicking sound that only one thing I know of makes on hard wood floor. I was standing near the entry when in walks Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Stunning is all I can say. She greet me and welcomed Frank and I to her home. The window light in the apartment is gorgeous and so is she. I felt odd wanting sooo badly to take a photo but I wasn’t there to photograph her. I didn’t want to act like some star struck paparazzi but I guess in some ways that is what I ended up being as I snuck this shot as she and her assistant were leaving for an appointment. Oh well, maybe next time I’ll be asked to take her portrait…

 

When Michael arrive I asked him to sit on the couch facing the windows in the sitting area as he talked about his career with Frank. The background setting was a little busy but the photographs were telling a part of his life that added to the story.

On August 16, 2010, it was announced that Douglas was suffering from throat cancer and would undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatment. The cancer and treatment seems to have taken a toll on him and at 67 he’s beginning to look a lot like his father Kirk.

He lost over 30 pounds during treatment and was tired a lot but today he seemed to be doing better and gaining weight back.

When he looked back at a portrait of him taken during filming of “The China Syndrome”, which he both produced and starred in, a glint of his past showed in his expression.

As the interview wound down I was hoping for a chance to get him alone for just a couple of minutes to get a simple portrait, one with little distraction in the background but he politely declined as he was growing tired. “Besides, you must taken some good ones during the interview, no?” Yes, but as a photographer I always hope to walk away with that one image that just says it all. That’s difficult to do when you are shooting during an interview as facial expressions can be fickle while people talk, reflect, etc…so I wasn’t going to push it with him.

As we were leaving I kept trying to angle him into the doorway that had a couple of richly stained panels and a clean background as the window light fell off. I think he knew what I was trying to do so it was kind of a cat and mouse thing. He’d give me a glance every once in a while as he talked to Frank and let me get something close to what I was hoping for.

I guess between the last two images I like this one the best for it’s simplicity. Now if I could have only gotten him to look my way, if only for a moment…

Pro Tip: Shooting actors and entertainers can be a very satisfying or frustrating depending on their time, personality, assistants or the setting available. Working with reporters on these assignments can be just as trying but nothing is predictable so take a deep breath and have fun.

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Workin’ It

 

It was my good fortune recently to be given an assignment to photograph veteran jazz pianist Emery Smith at his home in Hartford’s Blue Hills neighborhood.  The assignment requested a portrait of Mr. Smith to go with a story running April 22 in the Arts section in advance of his appearance in the Baby Grand Piano series at the Hartford Public Library on April 29.  Upon my arrival at his modest Cape on a quiet street, I had to knock a few times before he heard me since he was inside playing piano at the time.  When he came to the door, he greeted me warmly and invited me in. I asked him where his piano was.  He led me to a small room where his baby grand sat snuggly surrounded by shelves of books, knick knacks, and stereo equipment.  Although the assignment asked for a portrait, I asked him if he wouldn’t mind sitting down to play while I took pictures.  I don’t necessarily think a portrait has to have the subject sitting staring into the lens.  Some of the best portraits capture the subject working their craft.  Smith willingly obliged and as I began setting up lights he started playing a string of jazz numbers that delighted and soothed me as I worked.  The room was a challenge, and its cramped space left me little room to work with. I tried several angles to see what worked best.  The problem:  how to eliminate some of the room clutter to make Smith stand out without losing all the ambiance.  I started with one light with a small soft box on the other side of the room.  I liked the way the light skimmed Smith’s face and lit his hands, but I would need a higher angle to avoid my light.

I started moving the light back toward the side wall to get better illumination on Smith’s face, but lost light on his hands in the process.  In order to avoid the bookshelves behind his head, I had to take a lower vantage point, but still needed to move the light back further behind the piano top.

Now the soft box was hidden, but it was illuminating the rest of the room too much.  And I still had to add light to Smith’s hands.

I added a second light fitted with a grid and a snoot to direct the light onto Smith’s hands. As it was, I was shooting from a tight corner with no room to maneuver, and I had to place the light just to my right, up against the wall.  I wanted the viewer’s eye to go to Smith’s face and hands, rather than to the surroundings.  I also thought darker tones would better fit the subject, since when I think of jazz, I think of a dimly lit, smoky room.  But there was still too much light spilling into the room from the soft box, now at a 90 degree angle to Smith.

By replacing the softbox on my main light with a snoot, I was able to achieve the effect I was looking for, highlighting Smith’s face and hands in a dramatic way, while leaving hints of his environment.  An hour and several adjustments later, I had my shot – serenaded the entire time with Smith’s silky tunes.

Once I had my shot, I asked Smith to pose for a more traditional portrait in case it worked better with the story.    At the very least, it would be good to have for our files.

Working in tight spaces can be challenging, but with perseverance and trial and error, problems can be solved.

 

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CL&P Problems Continue

After the October Nor'Easter, a power crew connected John Schurman's house incorreectly, sending 220 volts through and frying several appliances as well as his main box. In trying to get money from CL&P, he had an angry interaction and was arrested for threatening. Now he's on probation, and out hundreds of dollars. Schurman is a colorful character who is known for his large Christmas display, all of which was dark this year in protest of CL&P. His son Jeremiah, 9, was also photographed.

John Schurman and his son, Jeremiah, 9, stand by the stump of a tree that fell into power lines during the October snowstorm. CL&P incorrectly restored power to their house and destroyed nearly all their appliances. The company not only devalued their claim, but had Schurman arrested for threatening one of their customer service representatives.

When power was restored to the Schurman’s home after the freakish October snowstorm, lights popped, a vacuum exploded and both of the families’ television sets were toasted. Crews had inadvertently mixed the lines causing 220 volts of power to pulsate through their 1932-built home frying almost all their appliances.

Connecticut Light & Power admitted the mistake, and promised to make amends by sending them a check for their damage. However nearly six weeks later had not acted. Almost daily the John Schurman and his wife called the company for updates.  Not flush with cash these days, Schurman said they really needed the money to replace what they had lost.  When the company finaly sent the family a check, they had subtracted about $1,000 for devaluation, and had had Schurman arrested for threatening one of customer service representatives.

Schurman said in better times, he might have used a lawyer in his court appearance, but having never been arrested before, and being told it was a minor offense, he thought the case would probably get thrown out. He was wrong however, and Schurman was given Accelerated Probation, by the judge.

Schurman said he is talking to the media because he wants to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen to anyone else. “It was a nightmare,” he said.

 

Please read Dan Haar’s column on this by clicking here. As it turns out, CL&P made good with Schurman, giving him a check for $3,000 and giving him their apologies.