Pictorial History

Photographs of old buildings that were once busy factories, populated schools, adored homes and so much more hang on the wall. These buildings now sit abandoned, left to decay and be taken over by nature. Some of them are partially collapsed while others have been demolished since the photos were taken and now there’s nothing left but an empty lot or the looks of what used to be the foundation.

These are the Hudson Valley Ruins, a photography exhibit currently on display at the New York State Museum. (And I do recommend going to see this instillation.)

The photos are beautiful. From an artistic standpoint I loved the use of lighting, attention to detail, the textures and angles at which the pictures were taken. They capture the essence of the buildings – still beautiful with it’s boarded up doors, partially collapsed walls, broken windows, torn wallpaper, peeling paint and overall abandonment.

Each photo leads to a sense of wonder and, possibly, nostalgia. As I stood in the museum looking at these photos I found myself envisioning what they looked like in their prime – busy, bustling schools and factories, lavish homes.

Historically the photos capture a place that once was a prominent and important piece of the past. These buildings once produced goods, educated children and housed families among other things. Some of the buildings were repurposed before being abandoned while others were forgotten long ago.

I think that’s the sad thing about these places. While still beautiful in their own way, they’ve been forgotten and left to the forces of nature to destroy what once was grand. A lack of care has turned these buildings into so-called “eye sores.” I don’t believe they’re ugly sights to be seen. Instead, I think they’re interesting pieces of history. They’re meant to be preserved as best as possible so we can learn from them.

Any photograph, if we look closely enough, can be a learning tool. Every picture tells a story. They depict specifics about a person – their clothing, their personality, their inner being. Pictures capture a lifestyle. Photographs freeze the horror and/or the beauty of a moment. They’re a window to the past and hope for the future.

It’s said, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Maybe the saying is a bit cliched, but I believe there’s truth in those words. We can learn a lot from a photograph, if we’re willing to listen, look carefully with our eyes.

A Thought-Provoking History

Think of all the things you love – your family, your friends, your house, your country.

Now imagine you had to leave it all behind. Everything. Imagine it was a matter of life or death – and your life is precious. So you leave everything, take only what’s needed. Or maybe you’re only a child and your parents send you away to a place they believe to be safe. Either way you lose your home, your possessions, and your country. You’re separated from your family and spend half your time wondering if they’re still alive while the other half is spent trying to survive.

Recently I read Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys. It takes place during WWII. Thousands and thousands of people are making the long trek toward the port in the hopes of being cleared and placed on a ship that would take them to safety. The ship focused on in this book was the Wilhelm Gustloff, a large ship carrying about 10,000 people and destined for an ill fate. The events, as well as the ship, were real, but I hesitate to say much more since I highly suggest you read this book.

We can learn from history, even if it’s in the form of historical fiction. To think that these events actually took place and to think of what these characters went through is almost chilling. The characters themselves may not have been real, but they were based off real people. I can’t imagine leaving my home, fleeing my country and being separated from my family. I can’t imagine living in fear every day and constantly being on the run. Although, if your life is on the line, it’s really the only choice.

This is a time in history that has always fascinated me. I’ve never really been able to wrap my head around all the brutality. I’ve never been able to understand how humans could be so cruel to each other. But the one thing that’s always struck me in history, as well as in this book, is that somehow there is still a beauty and a lot of times that beauty is transformed into hope.

When I read things like this it makes me think that I have no right to complain about anything in my life. I still have my family and friends. I’m not being forced to leave my county. When winter comes I won’t risk freezing to death. I don’t have to fear for my life because of who I am or because of my ethnicity.

Again, I highly suggest this books goes on your reading list. It’s eye-opening and thought-provoking in many way. Not only that, but it’s simply a good read.

A Moment in History

A few days ago two friends and I took a little road trip to The Clark, an art museum in Williamstown, MA.

Road trip aside (which are always fun), I love art museums. I enjoy taking my time walking around to the different pieces of art. I like standing in front of each painting, reading the little card next to it and studying the brush strokes as much as the painting itself.

On display were works by artists I already loved, such as Monet and Renoir. There were paintings by those I had never heard of and those who seemed vaguely familiar. And there were those I found and fell in love with, such as Inness and Homer.

So what was it about theses artists that captured my attention?

Claude Monet, a French artist, is said to be a founder of Impressionist painting. Simply put, I have always found his work beautiful. When looking at one his paintings, I almost believe I could step right into it and become part of the image.

Pierrie-Auguste Renoir was a French painter who is said to have been the leading artist in the Impressionist style. Since I first saw Dance at Bougival a number of years ago (probably when I was in high school), I have loved his work. For me, seeing it in person was both a treat and an experience. The people in his paintings seem very much alive and ready to step off the canvas. There were a number of times when I thought how much emotion was expressed in their eyes and I found myself lost in them. Even his non-portrait paintings have a distinct beauty.

George Inness, American landscape painter, was influenced by those at the Hudson River school, the Barbizon school and the theology of Emanuel Swedenborg. The spiritualism of this theology can be vividly seen in Inness’ work as it matured. The lighting and realism of his work was gorgeous, at least in my opinion. I found myself able to stare at one his paintings for a very long time, feeling as if I could walk right into it.

Winslow Homer was a 19th century American landscape painter best known for his marine subjects. His work is absolutely beautiful and my love of the ocean made me immediately fall in love with these paintings.

While I was looking at these paintings, both by the artists mentioned here and the others I didn’t note, I was struck with a rather interesting thought. At one point in history the artist set up an easel and placed a canvas on it. He gathered up some paint and brushes and set to work on making what he saw with his own eyes come to life on the white canvas. These paintings capture a moment in time, people, a culture, a society. And long after the artist is gone, long after I am gone, these works of art will still exist for people to marvel.

Our Decisions Shape Our Destinies

Recently, I finished reading Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys. In a previous post (The Things We Take For Granted) I discussed another one of her novels, Between Shades of Gray, and as in that post I’m not going to talk the plot in detail. After all, I don’t want to spoil anything for those who may want to read either of these books. (And I do highly recommend them).

Out of the Easy.

The Big Easy.

The first line of the book is, “My mother’s a prostitute.” (And that sure does pack and punch.) With Josie as the narrator, this appears to be the way she describes herself, but I can only imagine there’s so much more to her as a person. As the reader, from the very beginning, I could tell Josie was different from her mother and more than a prostitute’s daughter. She didn’t want to be a part of that life. She was smart and wished to continue her education by attending college. An elite college. Josie dreamed of being more she was, more then the life she was born into.

The choices Josie makes throughout the book will shape her future.

The story is set in 1950 Louisiana. New Orleans. Josie lives in what is called the Quarters and it’s not the nicest place, for many reasons. Lucky for her she has a few friends who always have her back.

While I was reading, I had a few recurring thoughts.

First, even though I’m not yet a mother, I kept wondering how Josie’s mother could treat her so horribly. She acted as if she didn’t even want her (and maybe she didn’t). Her mother cared more about money then anything else on earth. She appeared vain and obsessed with looking young and beautiful. This attitude influenced her choices and put her on a path that led to some pretty shady people and events.

But we’re all entitled to our own decisions.

Josie was basically estranged from her mother. She wanted to leave New Orleans and had been saving since she was a child. I didn’t think it was fair that she was a smart girl who always did well in school, but because of her mother’s reputation, Josie was treated like trash.

But life is rarely fair.

Regardless, we can’t let obstacles stand in the way of our dreams.
I think my point is pretty straight forward. (Then again, maybe I’m wrong.) Either way, we are the decision makers in our lives. Everyday we make choices that shape our future, big and small.

Think of the decisions you make on a daily basis. Sometimes it can be as simply as what to wear to work or whether you should have that second cup of tea.

Now think of the major decisions you’ve made in your life. These are the decisions that have helped shape our lives over the course of time.

I know I’ve had to make some major choices in my life and sometimes these can be the hardest.

Everyday we come up against things we have to choose between, whether we realize it or not, and everyday we carve our path further and further and down life’s road.

Josie was born into a life she realized she didn’t want to be a part of. She didn’t want to be her mother. She didn’t want to be a prostitute. Her dreams in life and her ambitions were stronger than her living situation. She wouldn’t settle. Josie was faced with tough choices, but she always sided with the one that fit her morals and propelled her toward her dreams.

Just like Josie, I believe everyone has the opportunity to better themselves.

Isn’t that part of life, to overcome obstacles?

No matter your belief, I think we can all agree that the opportunities are always available. Sometimes they’re right at your fingertips and sometimes you have to fight for them.

Respect Your Elders, They Can Teach You Things

From the time you were a child you probably had your parents and various other people telling you, “Respect your elders.” I’m sure this put a sour look on your face (as it sometimes did mine) because you thought you were being funny, you were only being a kid, but you were really being disrespectful. The fact that your parents (and mine) were attempting to instill the idea of respect is a positive thing. They were trying to make you a better person, raise you right. They were trying to teach you to respect the people around you.

In today’s world, I don’t think the elder population is treated the way they should be, especially by the younger generations. Most of the time they’re brushed off, ignored, left alone. They are thought to be incompetent, a burden and even a drain on society.

This not respecting your elders.

And we’re all headed in the same direction, as far as aging is concerned.

The reality is, these people can teach us things.

Remember all those historical events you learned about in high school; WWI, WWII, The Great Depression, among many others. Have you ever asked anyone who was alive during that time what it was really like to have these things happening around them? Have you even thought to ask? Sure you can learn from a text book, but it can only teach you so much. A text book can’t relay the pain of losing a brother or a son to war. It can’t show you the joy on a child’s face after receiving a new pair of shoes. No, texts books can only show you the facts.

It’s been my experience that a first-hand account is best. Over the years, I’ve found you can learn more from asking then any text book could ever teach you.

I’ve often asked my grandpa to tell me stories about his experiences in WWII. I’ve asked him to tell me stories about his parents and immigration. I’ve asked him to tell me stories about the places he’s been, the things he’s seen and the people he’s met along the way. Sometimes I ask him to just tell me a story, any story.

My grandma’s the same, a vessel full of stories. I’ve asked her tell me what it was really like growing up during The Great Depression, if she remembers FDR’s Fireside Chats coming in over the radio. I’ve asked her to tell me what it was like to have brothers in the war, what they had to say about the combat of certain battles and how it felt when they came home.

I’ve asked my grandparents a number of things over the years. I love history and listening to people’s stories. I’m curious and want to know, to keep growing. I’ve learned things I never would have found in a text book, or even on the internet. Regardless, I believe it’s important to somehow record these stories, even if it’s by memory, because one day all these people will have passed on from this world and their stories will go with them.

My grandparents aren’t the only ones who have taught me a thing or two. I’ve learned from friends, family friends, my grandparent’s friends and the list goes on.

Back in January I wrote about a teacher I had in college who, afterward, became a friend. He was an older man, so most of the people in class wrote him off as just that; old. If only they could’ve seen how much he could’ve taught them. He told me numbers stories of old-time newspapers, of what it was like being an editor, what it was like being a reporter (and some of the things he did to get his stories would never fly in today’s world) and life in general.

It seems to me that the younger generations don’t know how to respect their elders (although, I’m sure some of you do). They’re brushed aside as people wonder, “What do they have to offer?” The truth is, they have so much to offer. They are a window to the past, which is just as important as the present and the future.

My suggestion, or challenge, to you is to show them more respect. Find a grandparent, a family friend, anyone you have a remote acquaintance with and have a conversation. Ask them what it was like growing up, what it was like to experience some of these big events. Simply ask them to tell you a story, any story. I guarantee you’ll put a smile on their face and learn a thing or two in the process.

Let’s Make Some History…And Music

I love a place with history; a place filled with stories, a place where those stories are forever embedded into the walls. Old houses, rundown hotels, mansions that haven’t been occupied in decades, and even newer buildings that are just now creating a history all their own resemble the places I’m talking about.

At the moment, the specific place I have in mind is Upstate Concert Hall. Hundreds of bands have played at this little bar/concert venue and I’m sure there will be hundreds more to follow. I haven’t seen all the bands that have come and gone, but I can imagine the stories that are held within the walls; every guitar chord, every drum beat, every crowd surf, every dancing crowd, every singing crowd. It’s all recorded in the walls, an unwritten record of the things that were, and after Monday night, three more bands have been added to the history of Upstate Concert Hall.

COLONY HOUSE
The screams from the crowd were as loud as the music when the venue lights dimmed and the stage lights glowed red. That first chord brought a spark of energy, like a match igniting, that would only grow and rise like a flame through the duration of the night.

Silhouettes.

Roll With The Punches.

Glorious.

When I Was Younger.

Those are only a few of the songs these guys from Tennessee played during their set. (When I Was Younger, the band’s first album, is musically compelling and, if you listen to the lyrics, they’re great too. The whole album is beautiful.)

As the band played, people danced to the beat and even sang along. The music washed over the crowd like waves and with each end note and every beginning note cheers erupted as everyone danced on. Even I couldn’t help tapping my foot and dancing around a little, but that’s not surprising. I love music.

After the set, I had the opportunity to speak with Caleb, who struck me as a very genuine, down-to-earth person. It always amazes me when band members can manage to stay humble. I think it’s because people are constantly falling all over them, praising them and maybe even worshiping them. It’s not hard to see how someone could grow a rockstar ego. So kudos to these guys for keeping it real.

As an end note, if you have tickets to see these guys on tour, well, you’re in for a treat. If you don’t have tickets, but have been on the fence, wondering if you should go or not, I say go for it. If you can still grab tickets to this show, I highly recommend it.

SIR SLY
The crowd really went crazy for this band from California. (I couldn’t help but wonder how cold these guys must be, since California is much warmer then the arctic blast of the Northeast.) During the set people were continuously dancing and screaming. It was the equivalent to a dance part.

There was a group of girls standing in front of me who took this idea of a dance party to the next level. They threw up their hands and started swaying back and forth, bopping along to the beat. It was interesting to watch and see how they were absorbed by the music and, in the end, acted like they didn’t care who was around or who was watching.

The band had a huge amount of energy that flowed into the crowd and bounced right back to the stage. And yes, if anyone is wondering, they did play Gold.

THE KONGOS
What happens when you take four brothers with incredible musicality and give them instruments?

You end up with The Kongos.

The floor, the ceiling and the walls vibrated with every beat of the drum and every pluck of the bass. The notes floated into the wall and seemed to be absorbed as they were recorded, becoming part of the place’s musical history.

Before going any further I have to congratulate Johnny on rocking the accordion. Not only just accompanying his brothers, but solos as well. That’s when he seemed to really let loose. You rarely hear accordion solos, especially ones this impressive. (The last time I heard an accordion solo this good was in March 2014 by Jerome Fontamillas, on the same stage.) This is just a small taste of the sweet rock n’ roll that was brought to this show.

Come With My Now.

It’s A Good Life.

I Want To Know.

I’m Only Joking.

During I’m Only Joking, every time Jesse hit the drums, two smoke rings would blow out from the stage and float over the crowd. It was a very cool effect for the song, but at a certain point there was so much smoke around him that I wondered if it was suppose to be that way or if the smoke suddenly had a mind of its own. Either way, I was hopping he could still see and wouldn’t start coughing as he continued drumming.

This group of brothers, originally from South Africa (now living in, I believe, Arizona), have created music that blends accordion, guitar, bass and drums. I find some songs to be more drum and guitar heavy, which isn’t a negative thing at all. If anything, I love that hard, raw rock sound. Then, when you introduce an accordion to the mix, you end up with a sound you just have to hear for yourself. (Seriously, go listen.) And it would seem that, based on their reaction, the crowd agreed. Each song was a hand-clapper and foot-stomper (but of course there were those that proved more mellow).

The lighting was amazing too. Beautiful. As a photographer the lights during shows always catch my eye. Sometimes I think I’m as captivated by the lighting as I am the music. There was one song in particular where a light green fell across the drummer’s face and the way he was illuminated was simply gorgeous.

During the show Dylan announced that they will be heading back into the studio to record their third album. Following this announcement the guys played two new songs. And lets just say that if these song are any indication of what the full album will sound like, then, I believe we’re all in for a real treat.

END NOTES
Three more bands have come and gone, but there will be many more to follow. The walls of this venue will continue to gather stories as the days go on and I can’t wait to be part of some of them; to whiteness history in the making, to feel the music pulsate through my body as it snakes it way through the crowd, to have the opportunity to speak with some of these band members. So lets do this again and for many years to come. Lets make some history. Lets make some music.

The Things We Take for Granted

What are some of the things you have in your life, big or small, that could be swept away in a single moment?

Loved ones.

Cherished objects.

Your entire comfort of living.

I recently read a book called Between Shades of Gray. It’s a story about 1940s Lithuania during the time of Russian occupation. This is a book I’ve been interested in reading for a long time, but for some reason neither of the two bookstores near me had it in stock. What a nice surprise it was to stumble across it one day. Even though I was already carrying five books, I knew I wasn’t going to put this one down.

During this time in Lithuanian history thousands of families were deported, some were separated and many died. Their destination; Siberia.

This book tells the story few are aware of, including myself, and I applaud the author. I’m not going to discuss the plot because that’s not the point of this post and I don’t want to ruin the story for anyone who may wish to read it.

Oh, and I do recommend this book.

The story is told through the eyes of Lina, a 15-year-old girl who dreams of being an artist. Despite the fact that she is ripped from her home in the middle of the night and taken away with her mother and younger brother, she never stopped drawing.

The characters in this book are fictional, but the events actually happened and they happened to real people. They were taken away from everything familiar, scared and confused. No one knew where they were going and no one was willing to tell them.

It isn’t until Lina is sleeping on the cold hard floor, thinking about her warm bed and goose-down comforter, that it really hit me. Who would have thought that sleeping in a warm bed could be considered a luxury?

As I read on, I think more about all the things I have in my life. I have a warm bed to sleep in every night. I have food when I’m hungry and warm clothes for winter. I have my family and my health. All these are things that Lina and thousands of others lost in an instant.

That’s one of the lessons I learned in reading this book, we take the things in our life for granted.

It’s so easy to do that it happens on a daily basis without us really noticing.

Despite the tragedy and the ugliness, there was also beauty in this story. In order to survive, people helped one another and stuck together. On Christmas they continued their traditions and when Lina’s birthday came she was not forgotten. Not only was there togetherness and family, but also hope and love. There was love for family, friends and strangers while hope seemed to help some survive.

Again, I don’t want to say too much and leave spoilers, even though I have just scraped the surface of this amazing story. I will say that this is a truly beautiful and touching book. I’ll admit, I cried several times while reading.

The things we have in our lives aren’t guaranteed. Life itself isn’t guaranteed. I don’t know about you, but I know I take some of the things I have for granted. We should appreciate the things we have, love the ones close to us and live every day like it could be our last. You never know what’s going to happen. Tomorrow it could all be gone.