Saturday, February 23, 2019

The South Side Streets

For this week, I decided to highlight my neighborhood. The streets that I live on have a 'melting pot' style of living that I've never encounter in any other part of the city. If you walk the main strip long enough, you start to spot the many differences, and I've learned that it took many years to get to where we are today. So, let me share some findings while I include a few street photos that I snapped.

According to the history, the foundations of South Side Pittsburgh started way back in 1763, when King George III gave John Ormsby about 2400 acres along the Monongahela River as payment for his service during the French and Indian War. The 2400 acres were divided into South Pittsburgh, Birmingham, East Birmingham, and Ormsby. [South Side Facts]

In 1862, those four boroughs were annexed into the City of Pittsburgh, at which point, it became the beginning of South Side. The area became known for its glass industry in the first part of the 1800s. However, by the 1920s, most of the glass factories moved away from South Side, thanks to high taxes and limited real estate. [South Side Facts]

In 1854, B.F. Jones and James Laughlin began American Iron Works, which became the Jones & Laughlin Steel Company in 1902. J & L would use the rivers to bring the raw materials and ship the final products of the steel company. [South Side Facts]

In 1873, steel began being manufactured at the J & L South Side Works. Materials were transported across the Hot Metal Bridge. By 1949, J & L spanned 100 acres of the south shore of the Monongahela River. [South Side Facts]

In 1986, the last J & L South Side Works facility shut down and all the buildings were demolished. However, the area soon became the location of new businesses, homes, jobs, and recreation. [South Side Facts]

Now, South Side is the location of about 10,000 people and home to one of the largest Victorian
streets in the United States: East Carson Street. The entire street is, in fact, designated as a historic district. In recent years, it has become the home of large student populations because of the easy commute to the large universities in the area. [Wikipedia]

Living here today, it feels like a meld between the young and the old. The historic locations and buildings feel as if you're walking through the late 1800s and early 1900s, however the attraction of the younger population has helped to create a younger vibe among the businesses and residential areas.

More images can be found in my gallery. Sorry for not having more. I'd like to do a follow-up and explore more of the historical aspects next time.

Until then.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Escape to the City: Part 1

I believe I mentioned before that I made it my goal this year to try my hand at a little street photography in my spare time. Well, that's exactly what I've been working on here and there. My first round of photos are still in the final stages of being edited, which will hopefully soon go up on my website, along with some updates to the format of my photography portfolio, which is much needed.

I took to the streets as an exercise to clear my mind and some toxicity that I had been feeling. Just doing a little sightseeing can really do some good when you are in a bad place. There's something about the downtown when the sun goes down and the artificial lighting everywhere bursts into a character of color and expression.

Observing the lighted paths, ambient noises, night crowds, lingering traffic...something about it stimulates me. Through a camera lens, a new life is formed and observed in ways that a naked eye could not perceive and the unassisted mind could not comprehend.

I didn't really have any particular pattern or technique as to how I was shooting the buildings or streets around the city. I simply walked a predetermined path downtown and found what looked visually appealing.

So, maybe I'm not the person to ask what determines street photography. According to a quick Google search, street photography, also know as candid photography (in some respects), have no determined conditions met within a public place. It is defined by chance encounters in the urban environment. Actually, street photography doesn't even have to take place in an urban environment to be considered street photography. To sum it up to the best of my ability, it is simply a result of a public record in a natural situation. [What is Street Photography?]

It cannot, in any part, be staged. Otherwise, it is no longer something that is candid by nature. Everything is real. These are pictures that capture a reality in its rawest form. With that, there is a sense that we could see the best and the worst in humanity in just one instance. You've those images that capture significant moments in our history, such as The Burning Monk, by Malcolm Browne. How does that make you feel? That moment happened. That man was burning alive. He died in that very spot. This is the raw energy that can be felt in the unstaged moments of candid photography.

Granted, anything that I captured isn't nearly as dramatic, but that example was used to drive home

the idea of the possibilities of street photography.

I hope to continue this adventure through the seasons this year. If you like what you see, let me know. If you don't, tell me how I can make it better.

More selections from the streets can be found in my updated gallery:

Until the next excursion.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Climbing into 2019: projects, writing, and WordPress

I've been meaning to create more updates on this blog, but again, I've been slammed with more work than ever before as things start to transition once again in my life. While it's challenging, I'm also learning to appreciate time management more than I ever have before. Projects that have been backed up for weeks (sometimes months, even) are getting some daily attention as I start to understand the importance of time and how little of it we have.

I've been trying not to put my podcast on hold, but that was unfortunately benched while I realign a few things. However, it will soon be time to bring back some of the things that I love to do and want to share with you.

Let me also say that the motivation that I needed came from seeing you all creating wonderful things yourselves. I forgot that I know and interact with so many talented and artistic individuals and I'm really eager to work with you all again.

It's not just being more active in a creative respect. I've been more conscious of my overall health as I am edging towards the end of my 20s. So, I'm making a promise to myself to start taking better care of my body and my mind well before the time that New Years resolutions are made.

So, speaking of the new year, welcome to 2019. The start of the year is promised by many to be the start of something fresh, something new. What do I have to offer up to the New Year Gods? Well, promises. Like so many others. Promises to myself. Promises to those close to me. A promise to not fade away. To be forgotten is worse than death. Or so I've read.

But hey, this is always a great way to start. If I have in writing, I have something with a little bit of weight.

While I'm trying not to mention it on this particular blog (as it's more related to digital media, film, photography, etc), I have made the move to completely revamp what I'm doing with my writing, because I really want to make that a large focus for this year. Check it out.

WordPress was the first big move that I made. Used as an open-source management tool, WordPress has a lot of power behind it, with an even more powerful community that is using it. It is a place where anyone can create the webpage they desire. Utilizing themes, WordPress allows the user to easily create their ideal website or blog. The themes that can be used can also originate from the user, utilizing web design practices and interfacing. However, there are many resources available for those who aren't as savvy in basic design, HMTL, CSS, etc. There is also plenty more features that I'm failing to mention.

I'm just looking for something basic that I can build upon. So, basic designs and easily developed interfaces are part of my initial blog. Later, I'll be looking into more advanced design techniques and possibly sharing some of that on this blog.

WordPress, it seems, helps connect users to more accessible communities, providing many social
options, including the ability to interface with others with similar goals or interests. This is something that I've been lacking. I need people that can help build me up and vice-versa. Also, what good is my writing if I don't give it a little exposure?

So, I've laid out how I'm starting this year. I will also be making a few film investments in the near future, because I'm not completely out of the game and have plenty of vacation days saved up. Oh, and photography. I'm investing more time in photography. That'll be the focus of my next blog post, actually. Please contact me if there is anything that you need me for or if you have something you want to collaborate on.

See you in 2019.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The great photo migration of 2018: RIP Flickr account

Flickr is dead to me. No, really. As of this year, I cancelled my Flickr Pro service and began migrating everything off of the platform.

This is the end of an era, as I've been using Flickr since I purchased my my Canon T2i back in 2010.

While the service has definitely served its purpose, I am trying my best to unify the tools and resources that I use as a creative. So begins the migration to another platform. While it is definitely going to be a bit of a difficult process, I have pulled all of the images from my Flickr account and plan to dump them onto my personal website.

Now, you might be thinking, "why didn't you back up all of your raw images on on a hard drive?" Well, I tried. And then I moved. Several times. And packed my things. Which got separated. Several times. And files kept shifting around. And computers got updated. And hard drives crashed (that was a nightmare). So, I basically could spend some time to gather together the files I want from various locations, or I could just download them in bulk off of Flickr and be done with it. I chose option B. If I ever need the original quality images, then...I'll cross that bridge when I get there.

Anyway, Flickr is not what I remember it used to be. It forced me into a paid plan, then gave free accounts the same perks to entice newer users, so then I stopped paying for it. By that time, I realized that I had better resources at hand. Google slowly became the place where I kept a majority of my images, and that's not even counting professional photography. Plus, I had the option to make any albums public, essentially making it another photo portfolio. And now, I have my personal website, where I in the early stages of creating my own photo portfolio (web design is love/hate for me). So, I'm dropping Flickr. And taking my pictures with me.

It took some digging to discover how the process of exporting photos is handled on Flickr. I found the option to export my albums under the Camera Roll tab.

Under that tab, it gives you the option to select each album in your account, and with that, the ability to download those albums, each into a designated ZIP file.

In hindsight, Flickr does give you some analytics to monitor, if you're into that thing. Numbers aren't really that important to me. At least not now.

The next step for me will be to get everything dumped onto Google Photos and my personal website. The website is a constant work-in-progress, so that will also give me the opportunity to update some things.

Oh hey, is that my film reel on the front page that I haven't update in probably three years? Maybe that will be my next project. I will definitely have more to come on the management of portfolio items.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Film contests, time, & deadlines

Last month was the annual 48 Hour Film Project for Pittsburgh. I've participated in several of those contests in the past, even taking on the role of team leader. Unfortunately, for this contest, I had to step away. I've probably touched on this before, but it's great experience that really tests your talents as a creative. It's also one of the most draining experiences I've ever been a part of, which is why I elected to sit out this one, in any capacity.

While it is fantastic to work towards that goal of creating a film under time constraints and work with my friends in colleagues around Pittsburgh, I've become a little hesitant towards working long hours on set to reach that goal. Not that it happens every time. And sometimes it has to be done to get the job done. I understand that. It has just been very taxing in the past, so I needed to step away from any offers to participate this time around.

I'll be back in the game next time around. Maybe even in a leadership role, like I swore I'd do again. In the meantime, I never got a chance to share the film projects I worked on late last year. I had some photos I wanted to share from both shoots, which I finally uploaded to my website. I've been moving everything off of Flickr and migrating onto my own website in order consolidate on creative content locations. Check them out if you get the chance. It's always fun to capture the magic that happens on set.

For a little background on the photos, I had the opportunity to participate in the horror-themed 48 Hour Film Project, something that I've become familiar with over that last couple of years. As I just mentioned, I have led a couple of teams in the past, but my ever shifting and busy schedule has led me to take a back seat on the more recent projects.

It's nice to take a less prominent role on set, after working as a Director of Photography over a majority of last year (on the set of Body Farm). I've been asked to work as a gaffer or grip on various other occasions, but my day job always had to take priority over the course of this year. Thankfully, a few contests cropped up that allowed me to help with some filming on the weekends.

As I've mentioned previously in my blog, the 48 Hour Film Project is something that I've become very familiar with over the past few years. As a team leader for both Suture Films and Cipher Eye Media, I was able to work with a great group of talented individuals in all aspects of the filmmaking process. Of course that also included all of the costs and frustrations that came with being involved with the whole process, including the lack of sleep and unexpected hiccups in the process (camera overheating issues, editing software crashing, etc), which I experienced a lot of during my team in charge of teams.

After my third outing as team leader, I decided to help out on an 'as needed' basis, as my crewmates became busier with their lives and I battled some personal demons. As I also mentioned before, I eventually had to take a break from the film scene in Pittsburgh to get some things in order.

2017 proved to be an improvement over the disastrous 2016 that I endured. Anyway, not to get too personal, but I eventually became eager to return to that film grind that I loved and missed so much.

So, when the projects rolled in for 2017, I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of them. Pittsburgh's 48HFP also hosts a horror-themed contest in the fall (closer to Halloween). The guys at Reckless Amnesiac (of Hobo Hunters fame) put together a team to participate in the event.

I was invited on by the team to assist with audio recording and any other duties that required extra hands on set. As always, it was a pleasure to work with these guys.

Since I had only operated sound gear a handful of times in the past, this was a bit change to operate a boom and recorder on this production. Sound had never really my thing, but I had always understood the importance of getting good sound on a shoot (something that could be overlooked newer filmmakers).

With the change on responsibilities on set, there always comes the process of thinking of how to efficiently do those responsibilities to the best of your ability. I had the think outside of the box, as this was a different department than what I was used to. How do I get close enough to the actors in wide shots? How do I keep up with actors while they are moving, while also avoiding the frame while the camera is moving with the actors? These were questions that I constantly had to ask myself.

The Reckless Amnesiac crew is also good at finding very unique and appropriate locations to shoot at. This was no exception. They had tracked down an abandoned house with old, creepy objects that were left behind: the perfect location for a horror shoot.

As a side note, the South Side Slopes (our shooting location) have many, many steps. It feels like they go on forever when you're carrying around production equipment. I still get horror flashblacks.

Anyway, the inside of this house was every bit of weird, gross, and intriguing, making it one of the more interesting shoots that I've been on. The dedication, professionalism, and good nature of the crew also made this a very fun shoot to be on, even after we had wrapped in the late hours of the night.

The final product is a film called Infective, which is available on YouTube.

Moving on from that, I was invited to assist with a different crew a month later. This time, I was back in the camera department, assisting with any lighting setups and camera needs. This shoot was very unique, as it allowed us to explore facilities available at Point Park University and Pitt and utilize them as shooting locations.

The contest, the Four Points Film Project, follows the same basic idea as the 48HFP. The result was an awesome little film called Low Probability.

 I enjoyed assisting in this film because I had the opportunity to work with individuals that I had never met before, providing a different approach to the filmmaking process and showing me different techniques.

It was a great new experience, complete with unique locations and some real insight to the screenwriting process. Once again, it was a late wrap, but I was very happy with how the film turned out and hope to work with this group of creatives in the future.

Speaking of screenwriting, I've decided focus more on writing going forward. While I won't be completely leaving the filmmaking scene, my focus on writing will take up more of my time, meaning less film/video/content production (for the time being). I will be updating frequently on how that process is going and what I've learned in the process.

In the meantime, I hope you are all still feeding your creative needs. Feel free to contact me for any assistance in the future.


Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Inspired Traveler

Though I've not traveled much in the past couple of years, it has always been in the back of my mind. When can I get away and how can I afford the luxury only select few can afford?

Well, it also hit me that time is very limited and traveling is often used to inspire artists and creatives. I, for one, have been looking for something to kick-start the creative writing that I've been holding off for far too long.

My personal belief is that travel can help to move along the constipated condition that is known as writer's block. Travel can also be used as a motivator, helping you to find the right creative state of mind.

Sometimes it's important for me to remember my priorities when I have so many things going on in my life. Stepping away from the chaos of everyday life helps to re-prioritize your daily tasks and find the time to let your creative energies flow.

In my ever growing struggle to maintain a personal life, juggle several hobbies, produce content, work a 9-to-5 job, and freelance in both video production and writing, several things tend to get lost in the shuffle and priorities constantly shift on a daily basis.

For example, my podcast has a total of nine episodes recorded, only six of which are currently out. Two were recorded back in January, but due to the constant barrage in my ever shifting routine, I had to bench a couple projects while I got a few other things sorted out.

Life as usual.

Anyway, to escape from the constant grind of things, I was able to make a trip to the city of Minneapolis. Originally planned as a trip to see one of my favorite bands play (Closure in Moscow),  we mapped out some fun adventures as we scoped out the city.

This had been the first time that I had gotten away in about three years. In that time, I had forgotten the true importance of getting away.

Certain college and university institutes actually provide the opportunity to study something called Travel Writing. Particularly, Chatham University comes to mind.

When I was applying for graduate programs about six years ago (christ, I'm getting old), I looked into the particular Fiction Writing program that was available through Chatham. It was interesting because it placed an emphasis of moving around to faraway locations and using that experience to help get the juices flowing.

As writers/creators, we are constantly pulling from our real-world experiences to create a world beyond our own. Travelling certainly has its perks, as it gets you away from the daily repetitive grind to show you something new and exciting. We can ultimately expand on ideas with this fresh take on the world around us.

Even just having a "staycation" can help with clearing a cluttered mind, filled with the fragments of our "important business" that we take priority over. How doI benefit from stressing over our short-term accomplishments in our 9-to-5 grind? It comes down to just wasted time and money that has to be thrown away to the rising costs of living.

Of course, we're all wired differently, so maybe my needs are much different from yours. Some people do very well with the time that is given to them, and I always admire that. Unfortunately, I can get drained by the barrage of repetitive work, which is why I find such love for an "escape" every now and then.

If you find yourself in a tough spot creatively, just remember that it's important to step away from the routines of life and explore something new, helping to provide something fresh to bring to the table.

To see more from my trip to Minneapolis, please check out my newly updated photo section on my website (Sorry it's not more organized. It's still a work in progress).

Until next time.


Monday, March 12, 2018

Behind the camera with Reckless Amnesiac

After discussing the next big project by Reckless Amnesiac, I was offered to assist with the first two episodes of the hilarious series known as Hobo Hunters. It was a fantastic experience and I'm always honored to work with the legendary Ian Altenbaugh and Joe Bucci.

SHAMELESS PLUG: For more on the series and the creators, check out the second episode of the Decipher the Media Podcast
Photo credit: Rebekah Lehman

So, I figured it would be a good opportunity to talk about it in my blog. How did it feel to get back behind the camera after wrapping the long-in-development Body Farm? Obviously, great. To work on a comedy series that spoke to my dark sense of humor...well, that's what made this so wonderful.

We shot two episodes in one weekend. Each episode only took up a day of production (about 10 hours). Working with these gentlemen before, I know what to expect. The level of knowledge and professional demeanor of these guys was directly reflected in the quality of the production.

I was lucky enough to be one of the two on camera in a two-camera setup. It gives me a bit of envy when I work with a camera like the Blackmagic. My personal setup throughout Body Farm was a Canon EOS 6D with an L-series zoom lens, so I've always wished for something more. Unfortunately, Blackmagics were always a bit out of my price range, so it's always great to work with one on a production.

Photo credit: Rebekah Lehman

The only difficulty I experienced with this production was the physically demanding aspect of a documentary-style production. Carrying around a rig all day took a lot out of me. My shoulders and arms were extremely sore by the end of the weekend, which is probably a direct reflect of how out-of-shape I am. I guess that's more reason than ever to get back to the gym.

I'm hopeful to have a camera setup like this in the near future. In the meantime, I'm just happy that my background in camera operations still finds a use in the local community of filmmakers.
Photo credit: Rebekah Lehman

The strongest aspect of Hobo Hunters, by far, is the writing. Ian and Joe clearly know how to write something that is both hilarious and socially relevant. Sure, the comedy might not be for everyone, as it pokes fun at topics like religion and cultural stereotypes, but it does so in a way that is relevant to today's bubbling climate. It teaches you that you shouldn't take life too seriously.

It especially speaks volumes to me.Maybe this wasn't the creators' intention, but we, the audience always draw our own interpretation of an artist's work. In this case, that was my interpretation.

Maybe this will finally be the fuel I need to hop back into the world of writing after such a long hiatus. Time, always being my enemy, will tell.

In meantime, I am grateful for being involved in another project from these fine gentlemen. We'll certainly cross paths again soon.


Photo credit: Rebekah Lehman