Photography Is A Natural For Manitoga Campers

If the saying ‘You’re never too old to learn something new‘ is true, then youth should loan itself to learning just as well. That being said, is five years of age too young to learn photography? Perhaps it might’ve been ten years ago when mobile phones hadn’t reached their zenith of ubiquity as seen in 2014.

Smart phone photography has contributed to making photography accessible to all, including children five years of age through eleven. Seeing youngsters snapping away with Iphones at whatever compels them is a common occurrence. With that in mind, I was thrilled with the opportunity to instruct five photo learning activities during Manitoga Summer Design Camp’s ‘Every Picture Tells A Story,’ at Manitoga / The Russel Wright  Design Center in Garrison, New York.

The camper’s ages ranged from 5 to 11. Several of the oldest campers were quite adept with point and shoot style cameras. Smart phones with cameras were just as popular. The control dials and settings quickly become a natural for kids once they get past their initial timidness with the either camera or device. Curiosity beats hesitation every time.

Instruction is important  because without it, youngsters will invariably and randomly photograph everything in sight. Although there aren’t film costs associated with digital devices, shooting without a ‘game plan’ doesn’t accomplish learning anything. The lesson plan consisted of three ideas:

  • The rule of thirds
  • Horizontal vs. vertical orientation
  • How close can you get

From these three ideas other lessons emerged as each group walked the trails and set out to see the environment through the camera lens. Having supplies such as extra batteries and film cards was one such take – away lesson. Another lesson learned was to be aware of the idea of  ‘place.’ It’s easy to forget safety when concentrating on the activity – even adults have been known to lose themselves in the moment of capturing a photo and forgetting there might not be enough room behind their feet, and quite accidentally fall down.

Building on the idea of place, I suggested photographing each other, and many did. It wasn’t portraiture, but several images hint at a document style of photography, (with a few photo bombs thrown in). I don’t discount the serendipitous picture because some of the best images are made that way. Seen below are selected images from five groups. All the campers had a good grasp of the concepts introduced. As they venture forward with better cameras, I suspect visual language will grow along with them.

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Property Valuation: Cause and Effect

I’m a fan of fantasy. Not the sci-fi kind, but rather the DIY home show kind that portray dreams come true. Take Yard Crashers for instance. Matt Blashaw, a landscaping contractor and a very attractive man, approaches and sometimes stalks, shoppers in home improvement stores. He inquires about their purpose and purchases are, and immediately launches his elevator pitch: “Take me home with you, and in two days you will have a totally new back yard!” The space will be transformed and equipped with top of the line water feature, gazebo or theme of their choice in two days, but in programming time, this magic occurs in 30 minutes. What’s not to like?

Another favorite is House Hunters. Wouldn’t buying or selling property be that much more fun if you only had to choose from three properties? There’s never any hiccup Hubbard clauses and buyers always get the house they want. If there are bidding wars, somehow the featured buyers win out every time! That is true fantasy!!

Television is a great tool for communicating the best scenarios. Once you tune out though, it’s back to reality. For property owners there’s nothing more real than a structure next door that has gone awry. When an owner faces hard times and can’t afford to maintain property, or worse than that, pay the mortgage, buildings like people, show their needs quickly.

Buyers look carefully at neighborhoods for signs of economic health for both commercial or home property purchase – that stands to reason. It’s no uncommon though, for any town to have good and ‘bad’ sections, and mostly what defines the bad, are blighted properties. One example of an entire city succumbing to poverty is Detroit. Photographer Kevin Bauman documented abandoned properties in 100 Abandoned Houses. Bauman’s photography takes the subject of economic demise, which is in and of itself is depressing and presents it in portfolio format. Each house pictured represents a record of a former life, when life itself was better. For history buffs, these buildings are roadmaps to architecture that most likely will meet their fate with a wrecking ball.

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Real estate markets can be a saving grace for cities. The same television programs that promote fantasy renovations also promote do-it-yourself projects.

Every property needs regular maintenance to function mechanically. Something as simple as power washing the deck can inspire bigger projects and sometimes the renovation bug catches on, turning a homeowner into an investor willing to rehab slightly distressed properties for profit – hence HGTV‘s onslaught of house flipping programs such as Flip or Flop,  Rehab Addict and Income Property.

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Historical groups sometimes rally to save  commercial buildings of note that linger too long on the market. That isn’t the case for residential housing.When extended unemployment or a health crisis impacts home ownership the results can mean financial devastation. Loss of income or life aren’t the only reasons properties become distressed. It’s anyone’s guess why owners give up caring for their homes, but certainly limited funds are contributing factors.

Signs of the times in Southington,CT such as these empty homes on Savage St., can be seen by drive-bys. A quick web search on Zillow reveals how many REO (real estate owned by banks) properties there are currently on the Southington, CT market. It takes a special someone with deep pockets, a love of renovation and the luxury of time to rescue bank owned real estate.

When blight finds its way next to where you live or work, it’s a stark reality. The proximity to an eyesore property may influence home values or even the likelihood of commercial real estate.  People generally like to shop and do business where it’s well populated.  One way neighborhoods, towns and cities thrive in any economy is when banks work with owners to modify loans so people can continue to make payments according to their situation. Hopefully the economy improves overall – empty houses and storefronts look lonely without people to care for them.

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The Walking Dead Bloody Up Hartford

A zombie meetup means one thing only: the chance and challenge to outwit the walking dead. Lifeless trolls invaded XFINITY Theatre and set out to infect as many humans they encountered. Thanks to Skybound LLC, those who attended The Walking Dead Escape witnessed bloody and ravenous sloughs of former humans chase and try to infect them as they navigated the zombie obstacle course. Watch video as officials announce the attack has come to Hartford and warn it’s not safe to leave the compound. Survival is anyone’s game.

If you fall into the category of ‘can’t get enough gore’ then this thrill seeking game is right up your alley. Participants played in one of four ways. ‘Survivors’ navigated the 1.5 mile  obstacle course and avoided any surprise zombie ghouls that popped out anywhere along the way. For a survivor to make it the decontamination zone, they must have successfully bypassed any contact with a zombie or run the risk of being infected by a bite that could turn the healthiest human into a flesh eating walking corpse.

The Walking Dead Escape

The Walking Dead Escape

‘Walker’ status signifies the undead zombies. Participants dressed with torn and bloodied (fake) clothing, were made up to look their best zombie selves. ‘Spectator’ status allowed participants to witness the apocalypse as family and friends escape attacks or found themselves with appetite for blood as attack zombies. Finally ‘VIP’ allows loyal Walking Dead fans to run the course twice, first as a Survivor and then a Walker. A Fanfest followed all the activities where zombies and walkers unite for photo opportunities, food, drink and memorabilia sales.

As long as daylight held out the dead were easy to spot. Their wayward trance-like walk looked half drunk and half dead. Blood spattered clothing and vacant stares were tell tale signs that life was gone, replaced by their growling hunger for killing. The first group set out at 6:00 p.m. but later rounds into the evening were most likely scarier without the benefit of light.

The Walking Dead Escape is an interactive obstacle course touring the nation. The event, produced by Skybound EXP, is based on the works of Robert Kirkman, creator of “The Walking Dead” comic book series, the source of inspiration for the popular television show of the same name and which Kirkman is creator and executive producer. Costs: VIP, $150; walker, $95; survivor, $75; and spectator, $20. For tour dates visit: http://www.thewalkingdeadescape.com/

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Day Trip of Urban Apertures

Street photography is challenging. It’s a specific approach to image making that can include people, typically in public places, but doesn’t have to. The photographer is on call when doing this style of shooting, to see life as it is happening moment by moment. It’s very different from setting up a portrait with a subject who knows they’re being photographed.

I visited New York Saturday to meet Orville Robertson who I hadn’t seen in decades. We considered where to meet if we were going to do ‘street photography’ and decided Washington Square Park would be active. The park which is usually popular, was filled to capacity with a Hare Krishna festival going on.

Orville Robertson

Orville Robertson

Food vendors occupied pathways leading to the center fountain which was turned on and children splashed about in the pool of water. Music and chanting sounded out loud giving energy to the atmosphere.

My own photography of people is usually assignment driven. Exploring the city with camera in hand reminded me of why I enjoy making pictures. I saw conversations taking place between people without hearing what they said. Snapping the shutter in time to facial expressions were clues to what dialogue was taking place.

I could only imagine the thoughts of those who walked or sat alone. Whatever I captured is conjecture. With this kind of photography, interpretation is always up to the viewer.

An urban landscape presents opportunity to see bits of history. Architecture is the calling card of former years. Along Bleecker Street one such gem has the ‘Mill House No 1′ impressed within the facade overhead an entrance that is boarded up. With an assist from Google I discovered the building was designed by Ernest Flagg in 1897 for Darius Ogden Mills, a banker, investor, mining and railway executive and philanthropist. Investor and architect shared a common vision – to improve the lives of those who could use help. Flagg was known to be an advocate for urban reform.

We had lunch and headed back to the park to photograph, and as we walked I started shooting, not sure exactly what I captured. I used a Sony NEX5 camera which has a flip-up window and allows me to shoot waist level using the window as my viewfinder. It is sneaky shooting – an indirect way of looking at subjects so it’s not obvious to them they are being photographed.

A woman entertained children as she transformed liquid soap into bubbles through a homemade contraption. It was a series of happy moments…simple and sweet.

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Dance For Fitness and Fun

What’s a person to do to stay fit when exercise bores you to tears? The idea of slugging it out alone gives inertia its weight. Disguising activity in a social setting can jumpstart intentions. Within a group dynamic there’s less time to focus on your own internal voice and more likelihood to achieve goals set for a specific activity while simultaneously knocking out a few of your own ‘get fit’ goals.

A group of line-dancers meet weekly at The Loop, an event space in Plainville, to do just that and practice ‘step’  moves. Together they make exercising less like work and more like fun. Instructor Aric Lemieux has been associated with The Loop dating back to 2008. Lemieux first worked as a DJ in July 2008 when the space was known as Celebrations Dance Hall, and then RockWells. In late 2009 Lemieux was asked to teach the class dance, and with the interest, he has maintained a following.

The class is held Wednesdays and is structured for all levels. Beginners’ form 6-7 with a lesson shortly after the doors open at 6:00 p.m.. The first hour focuses on entry-level to folks who have started already in line dancing. Intermediate level dancers practice between 7-7:30 followed by open dance for all levels.

The $5 admission is affordable for every budget, and according to Lemieux, what makes the evening most enjoyable is the group. “The venue doesn’t serve food or drink, but like any family gathering, we all bring something to the table. Sometimes a song or a dance or getting together before and after classes to practice something we learned from another group.”

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Lemieux calls The Loop his “home venue” although he has taught at Illusions and does guest spots and impromptu lessons around the area for fun. Lemieux said he takes Salsa, West Coast Swing lessons and will routinely attend other instructor’s classes, dance weekends, workshops, etc, which helps him stay in the “know” about dance moves.

According to Lemieux, most affiliates are geared towards country and the perception is that line dancing goes to country music. “Quite noticeably in our sessions, we play more than just country. We will try to pick multiple genres of music and find dances that may have something unique about them too keep the variety as broad as possible,” said Lemieux.

These dance lessons wind up being a unique opportunity to get out and about with others, make some dance moves and get exercise at the same time. Lemieux will post a recap of the featured dances on his site, Sound Train Music, that include links to the steps – a win-win for all!

Historic Building Restored Anew

Take a walk along Southington’s Rails To Trails and signs of yesteryear are hard to miss.Old buildings and remains of the old rail system that once ran along the Farmington canal can be seen beneath the grass. Freight transportation running between New Haven to Northhampton, Mass. carried Southington manufactured war supplies over the course of several decades from the late 1800′s up to the second World War.

Milldale

One building in particular called the Milldale Depot was quite the hub of activity in the height of its day. The Depot is located near the former Clark Bros. Bolt Co. building in the Milldale section of Southington.

The refurbished Depot opened in 2013 after volunteers worked on the structure. Owners of Southington Paint donated materials and time to give the exterior a bright new fresh coat of red colored paint.Eagle Scout Casolo painted the interior walls along with clean up provided by The Southington Parks and Recreation Department. Display cases built by the Kiwanis Club show artifacts donated by the Southington Historical Society.

Light Signal

Light Signal

The linear trail itself is an asset to Southington, and with the historic pitstop along the way, visitors have the opportunity to stop in and take a look back in time during a weekend walk. The Milldale Depot museum is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

Work gloves and box.

Work gloves and box.

Real Estate and Timing Your Move

Whether a first time home buyer or baby boomer who wants to make a move, the timing of a real estate transaction can determine how well the outcome is. Watching interest rates is one indication of predicting the market but when it comes to real estate moves sometimes choice isn’t a factor.

Sites like Zillow and apps that alert you to new listings are great for buyers. Running comps have real estate agents vying for customers. The Internet has given realtors a run for the money. Both buyers and sellers are savvy – who wouldn’t be? The tools are there..to some extent, free for the research.

According to Dan Lovallo of CTTalking.com Connecticut was ranked in the the top ten list of states for foreclosure rankings. To entrepreneurs specializing in quick flips, maybe this is good news. If you have cash to spend and some construction skills – have at it. For working folks trying to land a space to call home, the price point for Connecticut foreclosures isn’t the same as those areas where prices are lower overall.

A cursory search for Southington foreclosures yields 97 results on Zillow. List numbers vs. foreclosure numbers reveal stark differences in price for property. The price of $215,542 is Zillow’s suggested foreclosure price, or 31% below ‘Zestimate‘ home value of $312,381.

Screen Grab Zillow.com

While square footage accounts for how much house you get for the money, location often determines what people are willing to spend. The CT Post reported Connecticut’s average high school reading score of 299 increased seven points since 2009 out of a possible 500 contrasted with the national average reading score of 287. Reading and equally positive math scores in Connecticut confirmed favorable results overall for the state.

Housing market reports from The Washington Post indicate ‘stalling’ activity. The picture in Southington shows no signs of a deflated market.  Big houses selling for $399K suggest the town’s ability to attract a strong buyer base. Would you buy big if you could afford to, or have any of the lessons of buying outside the comfort zone influence your purchase?

Can you afford to buy new or does the idea of a foreclosed property in a good neighborhood present the right time to seize an investment opportunity? When it comes to making a property purchase, do yourself the favor and be a smart consumer. Shop for the best rates and take the time to compare school ratings. Lastly buy what you can afford, certainly no more – you need a little ‘living’ wiggle room.

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1579 Meriden Ave. Southington Foreclosure © Margaret Waage

Two Town Salute to Memorial Day

No doubt there were many participants this past weekend, all marching for Memorial Day. Two towns among several in Connecticut, Plainville and Southington, commemorated the event with parades, prayers, salutes and shots. Memorial Day is the kind of holiday that can be felt everywhere.

Facebook posts streamed images of flags, tombstones and graphic epitaphs reminding readers why the day matters  - and as a user of social media I read each communication that came into my timeline. One common reaction when flooded with ubiquitous messages is to skim past and get to the posts that offer something new. My intention was to read what each friend took the time share – their thoughts, their reflections.

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If you assume you know what people are saying and gloss over what may be their loss or their memory, you can miss what the medium has to offer. Social media is merely the tool. The connection, on the other hand, is the action each user decides to take when using the tool.

Plainville’s Fire and Police departments each held wreath ceremonies to honor those who have served and are presently serving. Bugles played a somber tune and those in attendance were visibly touched.

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Southington town officials spoke about war and prayer and why we were all gathered in the first place. To be reminded of war and its worst toll - death, is a powerful experience in a public setting. It is to see members of different armed forces from American Legion tear up remembering those whose only representation were family members. Children too young to comprehend the why’s of Memorial Day simply fidgeted about, until the gun salute impressed them to stillness.

For Plainville images click here: PHOTOS

For Southington images click here: PHOTOS

For Southington short remembrance click here: Facebook Video

Obscure No More: Vivian Maier Gains Fans Posthumously

Who was she? Who was Vivian Maier? We know she was a prolific photographer and if she were alive today she would have followers on every social media platform. If it were up to John Maloof, the man responsible for bringing her name and talent to light, Maier’s photography deserves the same rank and notoriety as many of her contemporaries, Robert Frank, Gary Winogrand, Diane Arbus and Mary Ellen Mark whose photographic styles defined an era. The difference between Maier and those who made names for themselves in photography is that Maier’s work remained hidden - tucked away in boxes of undeveloped film and negatives that had never been printed.

There are different levels of appreciation for Maloof’s and fellow director, Charlie Siskel’s 2013 documentary film, ‘Finding Vivian Maier‘. First there’s the historic aspect. Maier lived and produced a substantial body of work over the course of her working career. Maier was born February 1, 1926 in New York City and died April 1, 2009 in Chicago, where she spent forty years working as a nanny.

Maloof’s story of finding a collection of negatives at an auction, bidding and purchasing the collection, and subsequently tracking Maier’s collections of artifacts including clothing, souvenirs, 8 mm films, diaries, letters and miscellaneous mementos, is now part of the Maier’s story partly because the find was analogous to hitting a photographic jackpot and partly because the find represented a puzzle as to what motivated this unassuming woman to chronicle her life as defined by her role as caretaker of others, social observer of the goings on around her as she lived out her days.

Photos by Vivian Maier

Photos by Vivian Maier

Maloof, a real estate agent and historian recognized the value of the images after initially putting aside the work after purchase. When Maloof began looking at the negatives he realized the value of the images as they showed great street photography appeal for that genre. Maloof posted the photographs on Flickr, an online photography community for feedback, and thus begins his obsession with Vivian Maier.

As the story unfolds, curiosity about Maier grows partly because she was such a private person and her constant image making while nannying was different than what you’d expect from someone who spent their life in that capacity. She seemed to use her position of working class nanny, to be ‘seen and not heard’ beyond what she was there to do – care for children, to cultivate her craft. Only once during the film does Maloof uncover Maier’s intent on having her work printed. Maier made repeated efforts to conceal her identity throughout her life rather than to publicize her work.  Maier, collected everything from receipts to newspapers showing the horrific in news stories: rape, murder and human impropriety. The people who knew her, her now grown charges, revealed they saw Maier as an enigma and hoarder.

Maloof and Siskel let those who knew Maier tell her story alongside her photographs, which speak their own language. It’s a film worth seeing for anyone who likes photography. The mystery over what drove Maier to create her own legacy, albeit posthumously, is up to the viewer to conclude.

Flattered: Ten Questions with Margaret Waage

Recently I visited the Tumblr site and was surprised to see graphic content. I expect to see artsy content there, that’s what Tumblr is known for, but user be advised, especially if viewing at work! What’s great about sites like Tumblr is its variety from beautiful artwork to subversive works, and resourceful written works in between.

The Hungry Ghost Collective is aTumblr site that flattered me with feature ‘Ten Questions with Margaret Waage’ which is an interview format of and for photographers. It’s hard to be authoritative on something as ever-changing as photography, but what I discovered was it’s easy to talk about your own motivation to create. I take pictures to pay attention to life and the people in yours. It’s as simple as that…photography facilitates connection to the moment and what’s happening there. But the title of the blog Hungry Ghost Collective got me thinking about the hereafter.

What will come of all our collected memories after we are gone? Companies that cater to the rights of digital works have begun to enter the estate planning conversation. Digital assets are different from collections of negatives or prints. Once something publishes on the Internet it’s hard to control where it will appear through shares. Copyright will always be an issue, but until hyper vigilant measures for tracking and holding parties responsible are in full effect, content can appear in places the author did not intend.

One such company that provides a good roster of online services for digital estate planning is The Digital Beyond. For artists, photographers, writers, musicians or anyone who cares what happens to their stuff after their gone it’s worth looking taking a look.

Till then I’ll keep clicking!