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.


Utica: My Photographic Journey

This is the historic Stanley Theater right downtown on Genesee Street. I saw Jason Mraz here two years ago, and it was fantastic. The theater was renovated and enlarged a few years before that.
Tones of home. This church is right next to the Utica Public Library, and I think it’s ironic that the sign is in English when the church is predominantly a Spanish-speaking one.
This statue graces the newly constructed traffic circle downtown. I love the smaller statues that make it up.
I imagine this candlelight park lit up at night with the light of a thousand candles scattered throughout. It stands beside the Planned Parenthood clinic.

Continue reading “Utica: My Photographic Journey”

Lights! Camera! Autographs!

I remember the first time I beheld a signed copy of a popular novel. It was one of those Lawrence Block tomes about a seedy character named Matthew Scudder, books that I used to eat up like Frosted Flakes. They were vapid, but somehow kept my interest the way few books did in the early ’90s. Then, I saw a book in a bookstore (I don’t even remember what book it was, but it was in Borders) that had a sticker on its cover that proudly read “Autographed Copy.” I wondered at how a book could blatantly lie like that, but then when I opened the cover, there it was, just as advertised, the author’s signature. I thought, “It’s got to suck to be famous because everyone wants a piece of you,” and then I realized that particular author wasn’t famous. Oops.

Then I became an English teacher and headed off to the mecca of all English teacher hangouts, the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) national conference, held in Pittsburgh one year. At the conference, to my great surprise, were all kinds of authors who sat at booths at prescribed times, and, you’ll never believe this, SIGNED BOOKS FOR TEACHERS. I know. I’m still trying to catch my breath over that one, and this was a number of years ago when I was at the Pittsburgh conference. I was like a kid in a candy store. I met Nicholas Sparks, Lois Lowry, Laurie Halse Anderson, that guy who wrote the Uglies series, and many more. I was hooked. Continue reading “Lights! Camera! Autographs!”


I was at the Mohawk Valley Down Syndrome Support Group Christmas party this evening, and it was a wonderful affair. This year it was the largest yet, at almost 300 people. It’s always amazing to me how many people you wouldn’t imagine to be there were there. It truly affirms the “6 degrees” theory. People I know from many other places were there for one reason or another, supporting with their money and their presence the beautiful lives of loved ones with Down Syndrome.

It’s a tough moment, finding out that your child has Down Syndrome, something you just can’t possibly prepare for, as I found out. But it’s also an amazing thing, to research, to find out just what you can expect, and to fight for every possible advantage you can give your child so she can achieve her ultimate potential. Then, to find a group that is dedicated to appreciating, and promoting the achievements and the lives of people with Down Syndrome in the area was a definite bonus.

The Mohawk Valley Down Syndrome Support Group is more than just a loose collective of people who have shared concerns. We are a family that honestly shares and cares for one another like I have never seen from another group. The generosity of people within the group knows no bounds, and events like the Buddy Walk, and Brody’s Buddy Ride bring positive media attention to the efforts of the group, as well as giving group members a chance to spend time together, to make those memories together that last a lifetime.IMAG0226.jpg

So, this evening I was in the ballroom at the Radisson Hotel in Utica, soaking up the atmosphere, eating good food, dancing, and taking pictures of my loved ones, one of whom just happens to have Down Syndrome. But the essence of the group is what is said on the party favor glasses they hand out. “I love someone with Down Syndrome.” She has Down Syndrome but it does not define or limit her. The sky’s the limit, and I am so excited to share the journey with her.


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