This Photo Contest

I fancy myself a burgeoning photographer. Not the kind who transforms weddings into memories. Not even the kind who captures the zeitgeist of an ordinary moment and makes it extraordinary. I just want to be someone who takes pictures I enjoy, and that others can enjoy. I blame Instagram for this, for the idea that everyone and anyone can be an avant garde photographer, that everyone and anyone can do what so few have done exceptionally well throughout the course of history.

But it’s not just Instagram, if I’m being honest with myself. When I was a kid I remember getting out the chunky old camera, loading it up with film, and heading out to the backyard to see if I could catch worms doing what worms do. I didn’t like pictures of myself, preferring instead to be behind the lens, figuring out how to perfect the scene. I still like figuring out how to perfect the scene.

Four years ago the Utica Public Library started a photo competition, wherein 70 (or however many) photographers chose their own scenes to share with the community. The entries were judged in one or more of several categories and winners of each category announced after three weeks of hanging in library’s main gallery.

It took me FOREVER to decide what picture I wanted to enter, because we could only enter one, but I was more than certain I wanted to be included in the inaugural contest. For some reason I was enamored with bridges that year, so one day when I was driving past one I had passed many times before I stopped. It was raining out, so I wasn’t about to get out of my car. And I didn’t have my camera with me, but I had my phone. So I took one shot through the windshield, in between the wiper blades swiping away the rainwater, and it came out just as I hoped it would.


There was just something about it that spoke to me, and speaks to me even now, even with the rainy windshield in between me and my subject. Somehow it got entered into the “Social Commentary” category in the contest and won honorable mention. I was honored.

The next year I wanted to do something completely different so I decided not to take just one picture and let it be. Instead I decided to head to Herkimer and do an authentic photo shoot. Only, I had absolutely no clue what I would end up doing, what subject I would end up picking, or how the picture would turn out. I only knew I had two weeks until the contest entry was to be submitted and I still had nothing.

Herkimer led me on some strange paths the day I went down there with my camera and hopefully also with some imagination in tow. Nothing stood out to me, however, even though I took over 20 photos that day. As I was driving out of town, though, inspiration struck hard enough to make me turn around. There was just something about the school buses slanted in their parking spots that hit me. So I took a photo, and after fooling around with my photo editing software, this is what I settled on…


I called it “Flamingos.”

Keeping with tradition I received another honorable mention, this time in the category of “Striking Use of Color.” But I just wasn’t satisfied with all the standard static shots of inanimate objects. I decided for the third iteration of the contest I would photograph something animated. So I studied the cats who live here and I took various pictures of them. Yet they just weren’t cutting it. That’s when I came up with my brilliant but daunting idea.

I would have a photo shoot with a human being, something I had never done before. Once I had it in my mind, though, I couldn’t get it out. However, I didn’t have much time once again, once I had finally decided I would have a human subject. Luckily for me I work with someone who fit the exact profile of what I wanted for my human subject, and who was also available for a block of time to shoot.

We met at the Utica Train Station on a cloudy Tuesday morning. I was a little worried about the rain, but it had helped me before, so I wasn’t too concerned with it that day. I told myself I would take as many pictures as I could, in as many poses as I could, and I would pore through them later until I found the exact right one to submit to the photo contest.

And 55 photos later, here’s what I decided on:


I called it “Looking Glass.” It was a totally unexpected shot from the enclosed crossover bridge connecting the tracks going Eastbound and Westbound. I just told her to stand there and look out at the tracks and she delivered, the reflection kind of ghostly in the window, and the architecture of the building evident through the glass. Producing it in black and white gave it a stark realism that I loved from the start.

I received honorable mention in the “Black & White” category.

And now it’s one year later. I’m not really sure what I’m submitting yet. What I do know is that I’ve already taken whatever picture I will eventually submit. I’m leaning toward the “Nature” category, something I decided shortly after I found out when submissions are due, because I had never tried it before. We’ll see if I end up going that way after all because I have a few “Architectural” photographs that I might decide on.

Whatever I choose, though, I think I’ve found something that will last a lifetime, even if it’s just a hobby. Even if the only thing I ever submit photographs to is this contest once a year. I’m just excited to be behind the lens.


The Love Your Spouse Challenge

Okay, so I’ll admit I hadn’t really jumped on board with all of the challenges that seem to have exploded over the internet in the past few years. All this bandwagon stuff, and whatnot. So I wasn’t dumping ice water all over myself back in 2015 even when it seemed like everyone else was. There’s miles of video to prove it. I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten behind any quick moving movement like that before.

Until now. My best friend was participating in what is called the “Love Your Spouse” challenge, in which you post a photo of you and your spouse once a day for seven days. The photos can be from anywhere and from any time period, so long as they show both of you. Some people do it differently and take photos specifically for the challenge, while others have pictures that include them and their spouse, but aren’t necessarily just the two of them.

For me I felt like if I was going to do it I was going to plumb the depths of photos we have of ourselves (most of which I begged to have her take the shot with me — bad hair days be damned). So that’s what I did, and every day so far I’ve stayed true to one thing and one thing only. Does the photo encapsulate who we are as a couple in some way? If it did then I included it.

Today is Day 6 of the seven-day challenge, and I’m quite proud of the 6 photos I’ve chosen so far to represent us. I’m so proud of them that I decided I don’t just want to post them to Facebook and see how many likes they get. I want to display them out here, in a medium of my choosing, in my own world, and so that you (my dear subscribers) can observe them as well. I’m including my motivations for each one as well. Oh, and I’m sorry you won’t get to see photo #7, but I decided I do want an up-to-date photo of us for that one, so I’ll be taking it first thing tomorrow. You know, if it’s a good hair day…

Bruzzy's Reception
Photo #1. 2002. We had just met the year before — online — and I had just moved to upstate New York. One of the first things I did was to accompany this lovely lady to a wedding. It reminds me of when everything was still fresh and new. Look at our smiles. It’s one of my favorites.
Before Rob's Wedding (2)
Photo #2. 2012. I fast forwarded to 10 years later, and to another wedding. We were in Philadelphia getting ready for my oldest friend’s wedding. I was a groomsman — the first and only time I had such an honor — but my wife stole the show. I forgot how much I loved this dress, but that smile is eternal.
Ireland Pictures 067
Photo #3. 2003. Here’s to jumping around in time, but this one spoke to me. Glendalough, Ireland. These ruins of ancient monks’ quarters were breathtaking to behold, and I would have never seen them if not for the planning of my wife. Married less than a week, we enjoyed our honeymoon on the Emerald Isle, a place I have always wanted to go. I wish we could go back.
Photo #4. 2013. I don’t even remember what we were dancing to here, but my wife reminds me that apparently this was her “wedding dress” for a few weddings we were invited to over the course of a few years. Don’t be fooled. I have no rhythm, but she dances with me anyway. That’s love.
Photo #5. 2012. Somehow I feel like this was 2011 instead, but my phone said 2012, so I’m going to go with it. My wife doesn’t like to take photos with her glasses on, so I decided to try it on for size. I couldn’t see a thing, so I just directed my smile toward the blob I thought was the phone. I think it came out okay.
Grad Party Day Pictures 032
Photo #6. 2003. This picture was taken two days before our wedding, two days before we would embark on our Irish honeymoon journey. I believe my mother took it. It was at my undergraduate graduation, a wild endeavor that was supported 110% by this lovely lady here. It’s fitting for the challenge because even though she wasn’t quite my spouse in this picture, she was.


Empire State of Mind: A Photographic Retrospective

For the past year my oldest child had asked over and over again when she could go to New York City, and over and over again we’ve answered, “We’ll get there at some point.” Of course the mythical “some point” just seemed to get pushed further into the future each time she asked, and finally we figured it was either now or never. So we put the wheels in motion, figured out a day when we could go, got the logistics in order, and today was that “some point.” It was incredible.

Now, I’ve been to New York City many times before, but each time is something special, and the last time was nearly 10 years ago, so this time was even more incredible, especially since I was finally seeing it through the eyes of my children.

Track 1. We came in on the NJ Transit Train, and it was difficult to figure out which train we needed. In the end we chose the right one.

The first decision we had to make was how we were going to get to the city that never sleeps. The options were:

(1) Driving in

(2) Taking the train in

(3) Some kind of mixture

Now, if you’ve ever driven in NYC then you know no one wants to drive in NYC, and we were no exception. We would have spent half of our time either driving the streets aimlessly looking for a parking spot (and getting honked at), or parking in a ridiculously expensive parking garage and still having to brave the traffic in and out.

So my wife came up with #3, which required renting a vehicle here in Philadelphia, driving it to Newark, and taking the Transit Train into the city, then doing the reverse to get back to the city of brotherly love. Not only was this option by far the cheapest, but it kept us out of the traffic of the city and kept us flexible if we had to stop along the way for restroom usage and the like.

Then there we were, in New York City, in that Empire State of Mind. Now, we live in New York State, but The City is a whole other animal indeed. It’s like living in Florida but never going to Disney, and when you finally get there it’s better than you’ve ever dreamed.

This is a statue we saw on 32nd Street as we headed into the city proper, and it spoke to me in some odd way.
The Hotel Wolcott had green railings on its balconies that gave it a nice rustic look without seeming out date. I could imagine living there.

Our destination was the Empire State Building because Alexa would make a darn good engineer. A while ago what first sparked her interest in world buildings was a book given to her by my wife’s boss that pictured and detailed several prominent architecturally famous world structures, among them the Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower, and of course the Empire State Building. She was fascinated by every single one, and memorized their details, so desperate she was to keep them in her mind.

Because we live in New York State it seemed only natural that we would make it our first stop on the world tour, but because we live far upstate it wasn’t practical to try and make a day trip out of the ride that is a little over 4 hours from where we live. It made a lot more sense to come visit my mother in Philadelphia, and have her come with us. And that’s just what we did, turning it into a wider family trip that included not only my mother but also my nephew, who is home from college for the summer.

So we left New York to go to New York. Go figure.

But then came the mind-numbing wait. If you’ve ever been to the Empire State Building before then you know what sort of long lines await you if you’re not willing to pay the exorbitant prices to go to the head of the line and straight to the heavenly elevators. At first the two young children were just fine, even though we had to cut into a never-ending line of middle schoolers on a field trip to the great edifice. But as the hands on the clock kept moving and we seemed no closer to actually getting to the famed 86th Floor Observation Deck, the natives became restless. So I took some pictures along the way, in what my wife described as “the neverending line.”

One of the famous 10 elevators at the Empire State Building.
Such an iconic lobby, with an authentic desk attendant and everything (he’s hidden here).

Then, after about an hour and 20 minutes of waiting we were finally herded into one of the illustrious elevators like sheep, slammed up against other tourists from all over the world, and whisked up to the 86th floor, and to the observation deck that also awaited. Alexa was just worn out by then, but when she saw the open-air deck she was in her element, floating on cloud 9. We went out and the wind was brisk high up there. Luckily for us it wasn’t raining at that point, so we were able to look far out, and far down (which freaked my wife out), and there were a series of “Oohs” and “Ahhs” that seemed to go on forever as she pointed out one building after another. “That’s the Chrysler building, isn’t it?” she asked me at one point, and I was again amazed at how much she files away in that brain of hers.

86th Floor Observation Deck, looking through metal eyes.
The View to the Top. Empire State indeed.

And around we went. Alexa just couldn’t get enough of all of the myriad views afforded to us from up so high. The heights didn’t affect her one whit, although my wife had to retire inside after just a few minutes with Madeline. I was on duty, though, pointing out each building and trying to help her see the islands far out to sea.

We took a ton of pictures, not many of which actually came out great, but what I noticed most were the sheer numbers of people up on the observation deck, not the buildings down below. They were speaking a plethora of different languages, some of which were familiar to my ear and some of which weren’t. I guess I realized for the first time how big these famous landmarks truly are. I should have gotten it while in the long lines waiting to get up there, but somehow what was transpiring on the deck was more symbolic.

But we were one big organism up there, moving around each other like dancing amoebas in a petri dish, pausing for photographs, then moving seamlessly past while nodding acknowledgement at each other. It was a special bonding moment, even though we said few words to each other. I took a lot more pictures down below to commemorate the moment.

Lady Liberty presiding over the ships that pass.
The Freedom Tower, rising high into the sky. I only wish we could have seen the Ground Zero Memorial. Next time.
I am always mesmerized by the Flatiron Building, and it caught my eye straightaway.

It was such a wonderful feeling to know that we were able to give that to Alexa, that we finally made one of her dreams come true, and she was ecstatic as we rode the elevator back down to the lobby, with a small stop at the gift shop to get some commemorative t-shirts for her and her sister. We were exhausted from the wait, but it had been well worth it, just to say that we were there, that we did it as a family. There were walls of photographs on our way out of celebrities posing at the railing or elsewhere in the famous building, but while it was great to see those familiar faces, the best ones were the smiling ones of my real family after a brilliant day in the big city.

Miles of smiles from the inner sanctum on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.


Family Portrait

Thriftway-BOW-1When I was a kid family portraits meant getting dressed up in our Sabbath finery and heading down to the Thriftway where a company would apparently come in expressly to offer cheap portraits to families that couldn’t normally afford them, or just to people too cheap to get a real one commissioned. A harried woman would shuffle us into a line, usually a long one, of similarly dressed people who were probably also from the poorer section of West Philadelphia, and we would wait our turn.

As the line moved forward we would start fidgeting, because my sister and I were young and getting a picture taken wasn’t very exciting to begin with. Mom and Dad would hush us when we began getting rowdy and remind us that we were representing them when we were out in public. We would sigh, but so quietly they wouldn’t hear us, or they would pretend not to hear us, and stop moving around for a minute. Then when all had calmed down we would get into it again because it was still so boring.

Before too long, though, we would be called to go inside the makeshift studio, which was really just cleverly constructed sheets bisecting a larger room that always seemed to be a storeroom repurposed for the day, or for the week, depending on how long the photo folks would be in town taking our money in exchange for photographs we might or might not like.

I mean, back in those days we didn’t get to see how the photos turned out until they were finally printed, at least two weeks later, when we would come back to the Thriftway to pick up the envelope left for us at the service desk. My parents would hold their breath, obviously hoping that us kids had put on our brightest smiles so they could hang the picture up on our living room wall without feeling embarrassed. And inevitably we would have put on those good smiles because we knew what would happen if we didn’t.

As we got older the back of the Thriftway was replaced by the actual Sears portrait studio, and the other people in line were replaced by folks with actual appointments. The makeshift room was replaced by several photo rooms that were equipped with state-of-the-art cameras and lighting. But none of that changed my mood about it. Taking family portraits was just a waste of my time when I had other, more important, things to do. I would sit there in the chair waiting to say “Cheese!” with a frown on my face. But then the instruction came and a brilliant smile replaced the somber expression.

Two weeks later we would go back to Sears and the pictures would be immaculate. They made us look like a perfect little family, even though by that time Dad was out of the picture — no pun intended. We were immaculately dressed with brilliant smiles on our faces. No one seeing them would guess that it had been such a trying session, but we would always know. In fact, when I look back at those photos that’s what I see in my mind’s eye, not the smartly dressed happy family. I see the chaos that was barely visible underneath the smiles, but I also see the way we eventually dealt with all of that chaos, and it makes everything worth it.

It makes me grateful that we were forced into those studios across the years, because regardless of anything else those memories are important, now more than ever. As I’ve gotten older and I now have a family of my own I know now how precious having physical memories can be because we grow, we change, and things never stay the same, but the pictures remain, a reminder of that time and place.


Photographs of Philadelphia

My recent trip to Philadelphia gave me a greater appreciation for its architecture and ambiance. I took a lot of photographs of the experience, of the moments strung together and separate that to me made up the City of Brotherly Love on this journey, the ones that also spark up nostalgia. Here they are, in no discernible order…

Frank Rizzo, Philly legend. And a girl.
Tourists taking video of the festival at Dilworth Park.
Subway entrance. We were heading North.
The neverending line at Jim’s Steaks on South Street.
There’s always a bride at City Hall.
Sidewalk art gets a new definition.
Acrobatics at the Pumpkin Festival on 2nd Street.
The outdoor living room.
Library fountains.
City Hall fountains.
That social message at the Love Park.
That iconic Clothespin.
Pumpkins on a stoop on Christian Street.
The Julian Abele mural on 22nd Street.


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