Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Abandoned Turnpike

     The last trip of the semester for the specialized nature photo class was to an abandoned section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  This trip was much anticipated by the class, for there was an extremely long tunnel with an awkward bend in it that prohibits one from seeing ends almost entirely when in the middle.  The walk to the tunnel itself was pretty far, very bumpy, and full of crickets and quite an array of butterflies.
     The tunnel is quite large in height/width and very creepy, so I made sure to load myself up with glowsticks before wandering into it.  It was the sort of place that you see stupid actors in horror and zombie films run straight into, as though it is the only choice for survival, only to be slaughtered by an invisible attacker in the blinding depths of darkness.  As the tunnel got darker and seemed to be closing in on us, I felt it was a good time to inform the friend I was hiking with that I have a major fear of caves, and that said fear extends to pitch black, 50 year old abandoned tunnels.  Conveniently towards the center of the tunnel, her flashlight died.
     I was expecting to see a lot more rubble within the tunnel, as well as graffiti, but the structure is holding up pretty well and artists seemed to prefer the concrete canvas out in daylight - can't say I blame them.  I do have the intention of going back to the tunnel in the summer because I would really like to wander through the doors at the ends of the tunnels and see what abandoned equipment, machinery, etc. can be found and photographed upstairs.
     Overall, it was a wonderful way to end the semester of adventures with the class, concluding the fun with a cookout after the 6 mile hike.  I really wish the class was a year long, but at least the experience gives me locations and inspiration to continue these adventures in my free time.






Sparkling light

Left to the dust

Fragile bed

Mt. Davis

     Recently, my class took a trip to Mount Davis, the highest point in the state of Pennsylvania.  It is a less than whopping 3,213 feet above sea level.  The highest spot is on the tip of a large rock (that, yes, we climbed on), where a little plaque is fused into the tip.  Before visiting the rock, I chose to climb the extremely shady look-out tower with some fellow classmates to get a wonderful view of the endless trees (with one pine tree surpassing the height of the rest) in the morning hours, as well as to feel as though we were at the truly highest point in the area as we gazed down on the rock below.
     Hiking around the area proved to be surprisingly difficult - I wouldn't suggest bringing along Grandparents for a picnic on the rocks.  We climbed, we slid, we jumped, and we crawled through tight spaces with packs on our backs and cameras in hand.  We led ourselves to the edges of boulders too big to jump around on, so we headed back up to a flat area on them above us to have a quick snack.
     It was interesting to see that we had not been some of the first to climb on the rocks in the woods, as we came across lots of garbage, some simple graffiti, and even a lost flip flop that reminded me of Stephen Chalmers' work - especially after professor Rolinson shared the story of a man being pushed off the rocks and sent to his unfortunate death.  Needless to say, I did not have a painful accident.  I simply enjoyed the fresh air, the beauty around me, and the freedom to venture through the outdoors like a child.

Telling time





Revisiting romance

Between the lines

Don't step on a crack...


Monday, April 16, 2012

Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium

     Last Tuesday, my class took a much different approach to exploring nature by making a visit to the Pittsburgh Zoo for a behind the scenes tour.  We started in the classroom, where we got to view, learn about, and pet some of the keepers' favorite classroom animals - I will be bragging for a long while about getting to pet an alligator and an adorable kinkajou!  We then got a tour around the zoo, including a visit in the lion house, where we got to hear about the 5 lions the zoo has, take pictures/videos, and listen to/watch the oldest female like beg for more raw horse and beef (yum!).  I was particularly excited to see the African painted dogs awake and extremely active because they were pretty boring and hard to see the last time I visited the zoo on my birthday.  After watching their hunting techniques on Planet Earth, it was interesting to witness their rowdy version of "playing around" with each other.  It's amazing how vicious something so cute can truly be.  And, of course, my favorite part of the trip was the hands-on visit to the Second Chance sea turtles building next to the PPG Aquarium, where we held baby sea turtles while learning of their stories and how the program assists struggling sea turtles.  Feeling the turtle's belly puffing out was one of the most astounding experiences of this entire semester (and in a very long time).  Although the trip didn't allow much room for me to build upon my final portfolio, it still provided great experiences and photo opportunities that I may never get again.

Pet me

Attention?! Yes!!

Lazy day

"Cute & cuddly, boys, cute & cuddly.." - Skipper




Monday, April 2, 2012

Stephen Chalmers: Dump Sites

     Photographer Stephen Chalmers came to Point Park University last Friday for our Speaking Light series.  Unfortunately, I couldn't make it to the event, but I had read about him and his work "Dump Sites" prior to the lecture.  Chalmers photographs seemingly normal landscapes that one would not really think twice about when gazing at the trees, tall grass, etc.  The only real physical difference between a peaceful landscape and Chalmers' collection of hidden areas is the fact that the latter of the two focuses on the grim side of the world.  Stephen photographs sites where serial killers dumped bodies (or parts of them) in the past - something one may not know while wandering through the mystical scenes to get a breath of fresh air.
     I think Chalmers' photographs really have an interesting vision of death and secrets hidden by life and beauty. He chose to title the photographs as the names of the victims who were placed within the nature scenes.  At first, one's mind is bound to considering the worry that these beautiful landscapes are cemeteries and, further, wonder what other places - that may have been personally visited - have been turned into grave sites without anyone's knowledge of it aside from the murderer.  But, ultimately, the photographs get the viewer to fade out the visual of a calming environment and to consider the lives of those victims instead.  This collection curiously - and rather dangerously - touches upon what death physically is.  The bodies of victims, whether mutilated or in one piece, are abandoned in a restful, unmarked place and lost forever.  Yet, when buried properly in a marked cemetery, people feel as though death's victims are still there & go to visit them, in an attempt to reconnect with the lives that left.  The series shows that both scenarios bring around the same result - the physical body is eventually lost to the Earth.  We'll never be ready to let go of these lives, but in both places one can stare at the world and wonder, speak, and come to a greater spiritual awareness.

"Dump Site" series:

Panhandle Trail

     For this week's personal shooting assignment, I chose to wander on over to my favorite trail after I got off of work.  Panhandle Trail in Rennerdale, PA is a decently short drive from my house, so I've gone there for different occasions - bike rides, fall food/music festivals, geocaching, photographs, etc.  I figured I could find plenty of trash along the sides of the trail easily, and I did, but I eventually started wandering deep into the bushes near a cave (which is off limits - they have a big scary sign that says so), finding trash that had just been piling up from whatever company that doesn't seem to want me on their property.  You'd think big, important companies that have intimidating private property signs made for them would be able to afford trash bins, but perhaps the financially friendly way isn't the eco-friendly way for them.  I photographed quite a bit of their mess, picked up some of it for crafting, and eventually fought my way out of the many bushy branches that persistently clung to my clothing.
     Before leaving, I visited my favorite large rock that sat next to a pond and giant rock wall to look at the reflections on the still water and the coy/goldfish that were swimming around (& wishing I had grabbed the bucket I photographed earlier to attempt catching one - I've been wanting a new fish for a while now).  While I was there, I noticed something dark moving around in the water, so I went near the edge for a closer look.  To my surprise, a frightened creature plopped into the water & under the layers of dirty leaves at the bottom of the pond.  Having a good idea of what it was, I searched and waited for it in addition to looking for the dark spot.  I found a tadpole swimming around above the leaves, which reminded me of the ones I had released there many years ago after taking care of them (they were pets from my dad's classroom - once they grew legs & began attempting their escape from the tank, we decided we better set them free). Soon, the creature I had startled resurfaced, revealing itself as a decent sized frog.  Perhaps that was my tadpole all grown up.  Thinking about the idea of taking care of nature, one object on the trail really stuck out to me.  At the beginning of the trail hung painted birdhouses, and with them a plastic milk carton with a hole cut out of it. I saw this as a sort of turning point with garbage, society, and my project.  I had been collecting garbage & small natural keepsakes throughout my trips this semester to craft with, and here I saw upcycling of found trash back out in the environment to help nature.  Where my crafts are more intended to get people to want their trash and see the possibilities with the objects they think are useless, others choose to turn the objects into something more valuable to the world than trinkets.  We both have a purpose, and essentially the same one, but seeing the jug made walking around in nature a truly fresh breath of air.




Eaten away

Off the path

Rocky cushion

Tired trees