Thursday, May 8, 2014

Personal Thoughts regarding Photo Stories on the Disadvantaged for the Purpose of Academic Achievement.

What follows is an explanation of my thoughts regarding a failed photo story mentioned in THIS POST.  It is reasoning for my disinclination to shoot certain photo stories purely for the goal of achieving a good grade.  Feel free to share thoughts in the comments.




I hate the idea of doing photo stories for school on the homeless, the disabled, the diseased, the impoverished, or any other individual whom is representative of those who are disenfranchised.  Unfortunately, these are the kinds of topics and subjects professors and the administration at Metro State have decided to steer students towards.  I do not like these stories because they exploit the subject.  While no tangible benefit comes from a professional photo story on a disenfranchised or downtrodden individual, the hope is that professional mass-distribution of the story will cause people to take a greater interest in causes designed to remedy that which the story exposes.  Shooting a photo story such as this for a class is purely self-indulgent.  I am using the addictingly unfamiliar  and shocking images of those in need simply to get good grades while the individuals in my photographs have reaped no benefits from the images and never will.  How do I explain that to my subjects?  Moreover, how do I justify that to myself?  It's not incredibly easy to sleep in my plush, oversized bed knowing that the people I just used for a good grade are huddled in the stairwell of a parking garage at 16th and California St. in downtown Denver (true story).  How can I tell someone that I want to photograph them searching for their first dry shelter of the month just so I can get a good grade in one college course that costs more money than they will have for the rest of their life?  This is still ignoring the fact that I arrived on the location in a few-thousand dollar Jeep, wearing clean clothes, and toting a camera bag full of thousands of dollars of equipment.  It feels more like an exploitation of those in need for the benefit of my GPA than a civic service to benefit society.  I'm not insinuating that the homeless or the disadvantaged shouldn't be photographed - they definitely should.  But I do believe that photographers sure as hell better ensure that their images are designed to do good rather than simply reflect positively upon themselves, and I can't necessarily fulfill this when I am photographing for a grade alone.

Although I am upset that I wasn't able to see my original project to fruition, I am relieved that I don't have to submit a project that is based on a premiss with which I do not wholeheartedly agree.  In regards to the significance of my subjects having a "unique" story, that is another thing that I find offensive.  We are told to discover those with a "unique story".  Everyone on this planet has an experience unique from everyone else who has lived, is living, or will live in the future.  By trying to seek out disadvantaged people with "unique" stories, we are objectifying those whom we supposedly wish to uplift.  Who was it that decided that homeless people are all the same, and only a few outstanding characters have stories interesting enough to showcase?  Every homeless person had to become homeless - how the hell did that happen?  What is their story?  If they never had to become homeless, they must've been born homeless.  That sounds like quite the story, itself.  Every single person has a story to tell and to seek out those within a group who possess a "unique" story assumes that they are outliers of a homogenized population.  My desire to generalize and objectify the homeless is about as great as my desire to exploit them for a good grade.  

It was a careful consideration of these thoughts that led me to pursue a photo story on cycling rather then a second photo story on a homeless individual.


Patches the Dog watches as I photograph William and Carla.

The third-floow landing of a parking garage stairwell is chosen as William and Carla's home for the night.  

One last reassuring look is shared before William lays down.

Josh has a Girlfriend, Traveled, Raced Bikes and Took Some Pictures.

Lots of exciting things have happened since my last post three weeks ago.  A few days after that post, I was joined in Colorado by my girlfriend, Ginny.  Yup, that's right, Josh has a girlfriend - just let it sink in.  She's definitely the coolest girl I could imagine being lucky enough to spend my time with.  She is a top-notch mountain bike racer, is incredibly fun and for some reason she likes me (I can't explain it).  She was in town for a week to hang out and ride with me, but also so we could head over the mountains to Grand Junction so she could attend orientation at Colorado Mesa University.  I wasn't kidding when I said she's fast - Mesa has recruited her and offered a sizable scholarship for her to race bikes for them.  The coach is expecting her to be one of their top riders in just about every discipline.  Conveniently, there was a mountain bike race in Fruita the same weekend, just 30 minutes from Mesa.  Friday night we drove through the mountains to Grand Junction and were practically asleep by the time we got to the hotel.  Saturday morning dawned chilly and rainy - not what I had expected for the race that day at 11 a.m..  The two of us got some breakfast and then I headed out towards Fruita after dropping Ginny off on campus.  

The rain let up by the time I lined up to race but the damage had been done to course.  As we were beginning to assemble at the line, the Cat-2 and Cat-3 racers were finishing up but they looked more like a procession of weary, muddy hikers than competitors in a bike race.  The condition of their bikes was the only thing that looked more ragged than the riders.  After seeing the toll the course took on the races before ours, the organizers made a last-minute decision to shorten the course to a quick (13-minute) lap consisting almost entirely of dirt roads and doubletrack.  While it did save our bikes and bodies from the largely-unridable, muddy course, it also prevented us from competing in an actual mountain bike race.  A cyclocross bike or rigid mountain bike would've been the perfect choice for this new course.  Another change the organizers decided on at the last minute was to start all Cat-1 age groups with the Pro race instead of staggering each start by 1 minute.  Because of this, we all lined up and started in one big bunch, not knowing who was in our race and who wasn't being scored against us.  I spent most of the race switching between 2nd and 3rd with another rider as we worked together on the short, fast dirt circuit.  Not knowing how long the shortened race would take, I ate a gel 45 minutes into the race.  This proved to be a mistake because, one, it turned out we only had another 15 minutes to race and, two, I gagged on the gel and further upset my already uncomfortable stomach, causing me to stop on the side of the course a puke for a few minutes.  On such a short course, this brief delay caused me to fall to dead last place.  DFL (dead f**cking last) was not the result I wanted for my first USAC sanctioned race of the year, but at least it wasn't completely because I sucked... only partially!  Even before puking, my legs didn't feel as good as they should've.

After packing up in Fruita, I headed back to the hotel to shower and take a quick nap.  I then drove a few minutes from the hotel to downtown Grand Junction where I met up with Ginny to watch the collegiate criterium that was taking place that evening.  After watching a bit of that race, we had a delicious meal at my favorite restaurant in Grand Junction, Il Bistro, an incredible italian place.  The next day we got a late start, but made the most of our day nonetheless!  We headed to Fruita for some mountain biking under beautiful sunny skies and then drove through Colorado National Monument.  The good part for you is that here's the part with pictures!




Ginny snapped this picture of me confirming that we were not lost in Fruita.  

Somehow I have been lucky enough to end up with a pretty girl who wants nothing more than to ride bikes all day and talk about bikes all night.  

Ginny took some good pictures of Colorado National Monument with her phone!

Another one of Ginny's shots of the scenery at Colorado National Monument.



Unfortunately our week of fun had to come to an end and two weeks ago I took Ginny back to the airport to fly home to Maryland.  Interestingly enough, she lives in Towson, just 30 minutes away from where I grew up.  We didn't meet until she started racing bikes while I was in college and I parked next to her at the Greenbrier Challenge XC race near Frederick, MD in April, 2013.  

Anyway, I've spent the last two weeks not only looking forward to when I head back to Maryland for a visit in mid-June, but also taking pictures around Golden and gearing up for my last few weeks of the semester.  I won't bore you with the details of the final papers, presentations and exams I have since I am still coming to terms with the thought of boring myself with them.  I will share some pictures with you, though!



Coors brewery at night.

Clear Creek, Golden, CO

Clear Creek, Golden, CO

Washington Av. bridge over Clear Creek, Golden, CO

Washington Av. bridge over Clear Creek, Golden, CO






This past Sunday I headed to Golden's "local" mountain bike race - Battle the Bear, at Bear Creek State Park.  While not technically in Golden, the Morrison/Bear Creek area is directly south of Golden and only about 15 minutes away.  The race was a 30 mile course consisting of 3 fast, relatively flat 10 mile laps.  This was my first attempt at racing the the men's Pro/Open class.  I realized I didn't have the legs I wanted right from the start and began to suffer from allergies soon after.  Despite these problems, I was able to not get DFL and finished 10th out of 13.  While I know I could've placed much better had I felt more fit and actually been able to breathe, finishing reasonably in my first pro race given the circumstances isn't the worst feeling of all time.  Here are a few shots from that race, courtesy of a race photographer kind enough to do some free work for the Rocky Mountain Endurance Series.



Start of the Pro/Open Men race with the Cat-1 age groups behind us.

Pro/Open Men headed down the start to the trail.  I'm on the right of the main bunch, wearing a blue helmet.  Peak Cycles/Bikeparts.com shop owner, John Polli, is right behind me.  He finished 6th.  Yup, my 42-year-old boss is faster than me... and most other people.

Not super excited about how the race is going, but still glad I wasn't on a road bike.




As a project for my Photojournalism class at Metro State, I had to do a semester-long photo story.  I began to do my story on a homeless couple in Denver who had a relatively unique story* (see end).  After a few sessions and a couple of shots good enough the constitute part of a whole story, I got a voicemail from one of my two subjects asking if I could provide them with some food that evening.  At this point in a professional photo story, the whole operation is compromised.  It's a clear ethical violation to become involved with a subject by giving them any assistance and they weren't interested in continuing the story if I didn't give them any help.  They were friendly, but simply no longer interested.  Eventually I found a new story with one week left before the due date.  I shot that story on Wednesday evening, May 7, in Arvada, CO, just 25 minutes from Golden.  The story is as follows: 





Sam Cory (Peak Cycles/Bikeparts.com Downhill Team) hits the first few jumps on the XL line at Lake Arbor three days after a hard crash on his first attempt at completing the line.


With his Transition Bank bike, a shovel and two buckets in the back, Sam Cory drives to the Lake Arbor dirt jumps in his GMC pickup truck.

Watering jumps is an important step to successful jumping. Skipping this step will hinder jumping and damage the jumps.

Sam clips on his helmet and considers his warmup line over some small jumps.

Sam is not pleased with the crosswind coming from the north after completing a warmup jump line. He considers what to jump next.

Sam Cory jumping the second significant jump of the XL line at Lake Arbor.

Flying nearly 20 feet overhead, Sam Cory clears a jump on Lake Arbor's XL line.

After botching a landing on the XL line, Sam holds his knee in pain. His foot slipped off of the pedal upon landing and his knee hit the pedal.

Sam stands atop one of the landing of the XL line with his dirt jump bike, a Transition Bank.

Heading back to the car with his shovel and buckets, Sam has already vowed to complete the XL line at Lake Arbor.



That's just about all I've got for now.  This week we're currently finishing is my last week of classes for the semester and next week is my week of finals - oh boy!  I don't race this weekend, but I think I'll probably head down to Sedalia to pre-ride the Indian Creek RME race for the following weekend. That was the race that I puked at the start of last year before winning by 17 minutes (click that link for a great time!).  Anyhow, that's all there is for now... I had better start on my final papers.




*  I hate the idea of doing photo stories for school on the homeless, the disabled, the diseased, the impoverished, or any other individual whom is representative of those who are disenfranchised.  Unfortunately, these are the kinds of topics and subjects professors and the administration at Metro State have decided to steer students towards.  I do not like these stories because they exploit the subject.  While no tangible benefit comes from a professional photo story on a disenfranchised or downtrodden individual, the hope is that professional mass-distribution of the story will cause people to take a greater interest in causes designed to remedy that which the story exposes.  Shooting a photo story such as this for a class is purely self-indulgent.  I am using the addictingly unfamiliar  and shocking images of those in need simply to get good grades while the individuals in my photographs have reaped no benefits from the images and never will.  How do I explain that to my subjects?  Moreover, how do I justify that to myself?  It's not incredibly easy to sleep in my plush, oversized bed knowing that the people I just used for a good grade are huddled in the stairwell of a parking garage at 16th and California St. in downtown Denver (true story).  How can I tell someone that I want to photograph them searching for their first dry shelter of the month just so I can get a good grade in one college course that costs more money than they will have for the rest of their life?  This is still ignoring the fact that I arrived on the location in a few-thousand dollar Jeep, wearing clean clothes, and toting a camera bag full of thousands of dollars of equipment.  It feels more like an exploitation of those in need for the benefit of my GPA than a civic service to benefit society.  I'm not insinuating that the homeless or the disadvantaged shouldn't be photographed - they definitely should.  But I do believe that photographers sure as hell better ensure that their images are designed to do good rather than simply reflect positively upon themselves, and I can't necessarily fulfill this when I am photographing for a grade alone.

Although I am upset that I wasn't able to see my original project to fruition, I am relieved that I don't have to submit a project that is based on a premiss with which I do not wholeheartedly agree.  In regards to the significance of my subjects having a "unique" story, that is another thing that I find offensive.  We are told to discover those with a "unique story".  Everyone on this planet has an experience unique from everyone else who has lived, is living, or will live in the future.  By trying to seek out disadvantaged people with "unique" stories, we are objectifying those whom we supposedly wish to uplift.  Who was it that decided that homeless people are all the same, and only a few outstanding characters have stories interesting enough to showcase?  Every homeless person had to become homeless - how the hell did that happen?  What is their story?  If they never had to become homeless, they must've been born homeless.  That sounds like quite the story, itself.  Every single person has a story to tell and to seek out those within a group who possess a "unique" story assumes that they are outliers of a homogenized population.  My desire to generalize and objectify the homeless is about as great as my desire to exploit them for a good grade.  

It was a careful consideration of these thoughts that led me to pursue a photo story on cycling rather then a second photo story on a homeless individual.  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Six Month Update - Time to start posting again!

It would take a lot of words to relate all of the things that have happened in the past six months since I last posted a significant update.  Oftentimes, pictures can be the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down, so I'll try and use pictures as much as I can.  Hopefully I've reached a point in my shooting where the pictures will actually be interesting enough to keep people here to the end of the post!  Now that we're getting into the race season, I'll be updating more often with some more in-depth and detailed posts.  Please check out the pictures and leave a comment with any thoughts.  Thanks for reading!  





At the beginning of the fall, I had the opportunity to go on one last off-road adventure.  I headed up a favorite route above Fairplay, CO to the eastern side of Mosquito Pass.  I've previously posted images from my first two excursions in this valley - one time checking out the North London Mountain Mine, one time checking out the London Mountain Mill.  This time I couldn't make it to the mine because of the snow and there was a large group of people checking out the mill.  I decided to head up the gut of the valley to it's northwest termination, instead. 






After leaving Mosquito Pass, I headed north towards Breckenridge.  2 miles short of the resort town, I stopped to catch the sunset over Goose Lake Tarn.



I enjoyed a quiet dinner of Mexican food in Breckenridge and chose to get back home by going over Loveland Pass.  I was fortunate enough to have brought my tripod along and decided to try my hand at night sky photography.  The results were not as sharp as I would like, but it's better than nothing!









At the end of October, I headed back to Lees McRae College and Banner Elk, North Carolina for the first time since leaving the school in May.  Collegiate Mountain Bike Nationals was held on top of Beech Mountain, directly adjacent to town.  I traveled and lodged with my friends from Colorado School of Mines and our partners in crime from University of Wyoming joined us in the house we rented.  We made it to the high country just in time for the first cold snap and snowfall of the year.  Temps were sub-20 degrees the first day but warmed to nearly 60 degrees the second day.







Yet another trip through St. Louis coming back from Nationals!
L'Hospital was happy to see me upon returning to Golden!  Only at School of Mines would there be a dog named after a calculus rule.  





I was at home for a week during Thanksgiving break and for almost three weeks over Christmas break.  Hanging out with my family was awesome, especially playing with Sam.



Mom one-upped me with the camera body and lenses we got her for Christmas!


Extra cute, fluffy and cuddly.







In between the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks - the day before flying out for Christmas, actually - I explored the ghost town of Gilman, Colorado.  Gilman was a successful mining town located between Leadville and Vail, but separated from the two by over dozens of miles of forest and mountain ranges in either direction.  In 1984 the EPA declared the entire town and the immediate surrounding mines a superfund site, took control of all of the land, and proceeded to boot everyone out.  Absolutely everyone.  Not a person has lived, worked, or recreated in Gilman in the past 30 years.  I spent a day checking it out.












Mine shaft elevators.  The elevators were locked at the ground level, but I could feel cool, moist air from the mine below pushing out around the edges.  The moisture froze on every surface in this room, giving it an ice-age appearance.

This is what's left of the bowling alley after 30 years of vandalism.









At the end of my Christmas break, I headed to New York City for a long weekend with my friend Dan, who lives just outside the city.  I checked out the city's notable buildings, the subway, and then something a little more unique and unseen.  Letchworth Village near Palisades Mall is an abandoned insane asylum and orphanage roughly 90 minutes from New York City.  Opened over 100 years ago and closed during the end of the 20th Century, the institution has somewhat of a dark past.  For over 50 years after the village opened, it was common for the mentally disabled to be completely disowned by their families and given to the state.  Those individuals too disabled to refuse consent (mostly children) were used as guinea pigs for a wide array of medical tests and scientific experiments, often resulting in the death of the subject.  Post-mortem lobotomies were standard procedure at Letchworth throughout the facility's active years and they maintained a gallery of brains in the hospital building.  


Since 2013 was the last year for the legal sale of incandescent light bulbs, these will likely be the last traditional bulbs to burn in the first house to ever have electric lighting - J.P. Morgan's house.  


Brickwork on the smokestack of Letchworth Village's powerhouse.



Vandals had ripped the faces off of hundreds of CPR test dummies found in a supply building and scattered them in dozens of other buildings.

Hospital building, ground level.

The view from the third floor of the hospital.






The second week of 2014 brought USA Cycling's Cyclocross National Championship to Boulder, Colorado, just 30 minutes away from my apartment in Golden.


Allison Arensman, Brevard College

Tyler Coplea

Sam O'Keefe

A masters 35-39 racer on the run-up.  A spectator was offering shots of beer to racers, but this one decided to take the whole can from her other hand.  The crowd went nuts.

Dylan Knutson, Lees-McRae College

Tim Johnson, Cannondale Cyclocross World






I've headed to a few good punk and ska shows at the 7th Circle Music Collective in Denver this winter.  Entry is free, but a donation of at least one dollar is essentially required.  100% of donated money is split between the bands performing on a given night and all of the staff are volunteers.  7th Circle is for independent and underground music only, catering mostly to punk, ska, metal and acoustic/folk music.  Punk and ska are the mainstays.














Chad Lovings, the current head mechanic at the shop, is working on starting his own custom frame building company.  He is currently finishing his second frame - a fillet-brazed cyclocross bike.









During the last week of March, I drove to and from Austin, Texas to race a Leadville 100 qualifier.  I stopped at the ruins of an old ghost town on Raton Pass in Colorado to see the last remaining structure - a mission-style church - on the trip to Austin, and visited an almost ghost town in New Mexico on the way back.   During my five day stay in Texas, I stayed two miles from the course in Smithville, a town of 3,000 people about 45 minutes southeast of Austin.  I cannot say enough good things about that town.  It has an incredible amount of charm, history, friendliness and authenticity.  The historic district has endless blocks of well-kept, picturesque victorian homes of all sizes and colors.




Sunset over Raton, New Mexico and the Rockies.

The view from a bed in a caboose in Smithville, Texas, the location of the race.



Another Caboose view.


Although a few residents remain in this New Mexico town, the church is among the growing number of abandoned structures that already outnumber maintained buildings many times over.








That's just about all I've got to share for now.  As it usually goes with posts spanning this much time, I'm sure I've missed a fair amount of detailed stories... anyway, I'll be back to my regular posting this race season, starting with a trip to Grand Junction and Fruita this upcoming weekend.   Although it's been 70 to 75 degrees and sunny for all of the past week, we've gotten a few inches of snow today and more is coming overnight.  It is spring in Colorado!