A Visit to My Hometown

In November of 2017 I took a trip back to southern New Jersey to attend my 50th high school reunion. As background, I was born in Camden, NJ in 1949 and lived with my parents in my grandparents’ home for one year. We then moved to Ocean City, NJ and lived there for about 4 years before returning to Camden and moving back in with my grandparents. The home we lived in was built by my great grandfather and was quite large. It was attached side-by-side to another home, occupied by a family that was the grandmother and aunt and uncle of the boy who became my best friend. At some point my grandparents moved out, into a nearby apartment building and my sister and brother came along. We lived in that home until I was 14 years old and to this day I can remember every square inch of that home. Often when I go back for a visit, I take a few hours to return to that Parkside neighborhood of Camden and on this visit I took my camera and explored the neighborhood and downtown Camden.

_DSF8167.jpgWe lived in the left hand side of this side-by-side duplex (where the man is standing) and despite a few changes, it looks very much the same. Camden has had some very tough years, leading the nation in homicides during some of them, but the Parkside neighborhood, particularly along Park Blvd. where our house was located, still looks pretty nice. Our house had a garage in the back and behind the garage was a big dirt lot with a few additional garages. That was our sandlot where many happy hours were spent playing ball and sometimes just throwing a ball against the painted strike zone on the back or our brick garage.

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I walked down the alley to the back lot and found that it no longer existed as it had. There were fences, trees, brush, trash and this additional deteriorating garage. Our sandlot was gone!

A block down the street though stood the most beautiful high school that I’ve seen to this day. Camden High School, “The Castle on the Hill”.

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My dad graduated from Camden High in 1943 and I had looked forward to going there but we moved to the suburbs when I was in 8th grade. I could see it though from my bedroom window and always loved that view. Camden High was recently demolished and now no longer exists either. When I visited, it was being prepared for demolision. I’m glad I visited in time to take a few photos of it.

I then decided to take the long walk to my elementary school on Wildwood Ave. It was about 5 short blocks which no longer seem long at all!

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My dad also attended Parkside School and though I went to kindergarten in Ocean City, I went from 1st to 6th grades at Parkside. It looks pretty much the same also except that I think it had a nice wrought iron fence when I attended and now has chain link, sort of making it look like a prison!  As it does now, it had a blacktop playground back then, and separate entrances for boys and girls. The boys entered at the end shown in this photo but the little addition sticking out was not there then.

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Across the street from Parkside school was a little corner grocery store where after school we would go and buy 1 cent and 5 cent candies and candy bars. That store is now boarded up but another on the opposite corner is in operation.

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A block away from the elementary school and the grocery store is Haddon Ave. Still lined with stores and their apartments above, back during my childhood we shopped at a kosher deli, a toy store and a barber shop on this block. The spot where I stood to take this photo was the location of the Parkside Theater where we would often take in the Saturday matinee with cartoons before the feature, for a quarter. At the end of the block on the theater side of the street was the drug store. A block either way on Haddon Ave. were and are now row homes, some nicely kept up while others are boarded up.

When I lived in Parkside it was primarily a Jewish, Black and eastern European ethnic neighborhood. It was a great melting pot to grow up in and I miss that diversity today.

After exploring my old neighborhood I drove the few miles to downtown Camden where my grandparents owned a store that my parents also worked in. Downtown Camden has also changed in some ways and stayed the same in others. It’s once vibrant downtown has been cleaned up and modernized but is a much slower place than it was 50-60 years ago.

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Camden City Hall is still an impressive sight and has a nice park in front of it. The store was a few blocks west, toward the Delaware River. Across the street from the store was the main headquarters and factory for Campbell Soup. During the summer the streets were crowded with trucks stacked with baskets of delicious Jersey tomatoes, destined for Campbell soup and becoming cans of tomato soup. Often at corners where the trucks made turns, baskets of tomatoes fell off and were either crushed of picked up by the public, depending on their condition.

The location of the store is now an empty lot in the middle of the block. The rest of the block looks pretty nice. Campbell Soup moved it’s production plant but it’s property is now covered with what I believe are their corporate office buildings.

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A block further west on Market St. still stands the original building that housed the RCA Victor Corporation. It’s now been converted to “The Victor” luxury waterfront lofts with a beautiful view of the Delaware River and the city of Philadelphia on the other side. At the top of  “The Victor” is the iconic stained glass trademark of RCA, Nipper, listening to his master’s voice, one of the most recognized trademarks of the 20th century. Campbell Soup, RCA Victor and the New York Shipbuilding Corp. were the 3 largest employers in Camden during much of the 20th century and made Camden a fairly major industrial city.

The last sight on my Camden visit was to tour the battleship USS New Jersey (BB-62). I’ll have to do a whole  separate blog post on that, but from the deck of the battleship I got a nice view of the Ben Franklin Bridge stretching across the Delaware to Philadelphia on the opposite side. Another icon of Camden.

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Learning More About a Friend and an Art Form

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I’ve known my friend Maria Kaiser for approximately 15 years. We got to know one another as members of the Cleveland Photographic Society and she and I share a love of photojournalistic/documentary photography. I also knew that Maria did some printmaking and I had seen a few of her print creations. What I didn’t know however, was that she was a serious printmaker! Last year she held a print show at the Shaker Nature Center and I saw for the first time her zeal and skill in this art form that I knew little about. Her printmaking is spectacular and I wanted to learn more about it.

Amazingly, Maria works on her prints several times a week in the printmaking studio at Cuyahoga Community College and the studio is less than 100 feet from the classroom where I teach digital photography. I asked if I could visit some sessions and was given permission by printmaking instructor Keegan Adams.

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Instructor Keegan Adams conducts a critique session

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I learned that there are many different techniques of printmaking and all involve many complicated steps using different tools, chemicals, inks, plate materials and papers. I visited the studio on 4 different occasions, observing and photographing many different steps and techniques and speaking with a number of the other artists working alongside Maria.

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Images are made on different types of materials, wood blocks, metal plates, plexiglass and others just to name a few. The images are made through etching, carving and engraving on these different materials. The tools used are varied.

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Maria uses a Lawson solution to transfer one of her photos directly onto a metal plate for printing

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Keegan Adams demonstrates some engraving techniques

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Maria engraves on a coated plate

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Instructor Keegan Adams mixes an acid solution for etching

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Fabiana Olivier prepares a plate for etching

After the plates are produced they are prepared for printing by mixing inks and applying them to the plates and then run through a press to print on various types of paper or other materials.

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Maria adjusting the pressure on the press

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My fifth visit was to view a show at the college’s gallery where many of the artists I had been observing were exhibiting their work.

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Cookie Kless displays her artwork

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Maria Kaiser and Instructor Keegan Adams stand by Maria’s artwork

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Sally Baden displays her complex print

The printmaking process was fascinating for me to learn about and I may have to sign up for some classes to learn how to do it myself. The creativity and possibilities are endless.

I’d like to thank Maria, Keegan, the Visual Arts Program at Cuyahoga Community College and of course all of the artists who welcomed and tolerated me looking over their shoulders and clicking my camera while they worked.

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Lost in Digital Art

A few days ago I posted this image, or should I say digital art, that I produced from a fireworks image I shot in 2014.  It got a lot of attention and lots of likes and comments on Facebook.  I was playing when I produced it, wanting to make something different from the typical fireworks shots I’d been seeing.  It’s one of my idiosyncrasies, wanting my photos and art to look different. 

The original image looked like this:

Original fireworks tentacles

Shot in 2014, it reminded me of the tentacles hanging down from a Portuguese Man of War or a Jellyfish.  It was strange enough as it was but I decided to play some more so I flipped it over and added it to the top of itself to form a mirrored image top to bottom.

Mirrored image — synapses

Once I had the mirrored image, I applied a radial colored gradient to the image and played with the blending modes  and opacity (all done in Adobe Photoshop CC) to come up with the final image at the top of this post.

Playing with different blending modes and opacities, I also came up with some other looks that were pretty far out there as well.  Here’s another I saved. It reminded me of a bloodshot eye.

Bloodshot eye

It’s fun playing and taking photos to the world of digital art. The possibilities are endless and it’s always a creative adventure.

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Remembering Summer

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With temperatures dropping into the single digits tonight and lake effect snow in the forecast, my mind turned to a warm summer day back in July.  I was at the Fairport Harbor Lake Metropark beach waiting to see some of the tall ships as they prepared for the day’s Parade of Sail.  I spent the entire day there, on the beach, shooting beach scenes while waiting for the occasional tall ship shot.

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While wind sailors sailed and lifeguards watched, kept swimmers safe and interacted with sunbathers, the beach was active with muscle builders, football tossers, and others just enjoying a beautiful day at the beach.

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It will be quite a few months now until we return to those warm beach days. Enjoy this view until then.

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The Death of a Barn

Rome, Ohio barn

Rome, Ohio barn

Back a few years ago, 2013 to be exact, while barnstorming I came upon this farm in Rome Twp. Ohio which was up for auction and had a beautiful old dairy barn and silo.

In June of this year, I returned to find the barn in a state of demolition.  It looked like perhaps some of the lumber was being recycled as the barn was being somewhat carefully disassembled.

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The barn, largely still standing was now open air with the loft walls having been removed.

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The immensity of the barn became evident as I got closer and caught a glimpse inside.

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Then, once inside, the sheer volume and complexity of it’s construction became clear.  It seemed a shame that this barn, still quite sound, was losing it’s life.

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Yet, in one corner of the barn I found this nest of barn swallows.  There was, at least for some short period of time, some life in this barn after all.

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Back to My Photo Roots

Lately I’ve had to urge to go back to my photo roots of shooting black and white street photography.  Last week I took 2 days, one rainy and one sunny, to roam around in the heart of downtown Cleveland capturing street scenes.  Here are a few that I liked.

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Evidence of an Existence — Time Ran Out

Time Ran Out

Time Ran Out

On a cold Sunday afternoon last weekend, a friend and I went out looking for something to photograph.  As I’ve done many times during the past few years, I guided my car out into rural Geauga and Ashtabula Counties in Ohio.  The recession of a few years ago had a severe impact on parts of these counties.  We came upon a deserted home and barn and stopped to take a look.  As we approached the house, we found that the front door was gone and the house was wide open all around.  Looking inside, the floors appeared to be intact and secure so we ventured inside.  The deteriorating clock was lying on a piece of furniture just inside the door and seemed symbolic to me, time had run out on this residence.

Where did they go?

Where did they go?

As we investigated further we found a home that seemed to have been abandoned but not emptied.  The open dresser was still full of clothes.

A sad reminder of past residents.

A sad reminder of past residents.

A photo album was left to deteriorate on the floor, showing children or grandchildren who perhaps occupied this farm house.

For Better and ......?

For Better and ……?

A Mother’s Day card signifying “better days” and perhaps sadly suggesting worse days to come.

Evidence of a human existence.

Evidence of a human existence.

Did the house go into foreclosure?  Did the family just up and leave?  Did they pass away and other family, if there were any, just abandon the property?  So many questions came to mind as we explored further.

The living room.

The living room.

The kitchen.

The kitchen.

The living room and kitchen, still full of furniture, cookware, dishes and another clock suggesting that at 11:55 something ended.

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What once appeared to be a very large barn, partially collapsed, now served as a canvas for graffiti.

The entire period of time exploring this property become increasingly mysterious and sad, wondering what happened to the occupants of this home and farm.  The possibilities are many and the days since shooting it have been full of wondering, imagining and writing stories in my head.  All sad however.

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