Fort Warren Demilune

In working with the National Park Service, I get to visit many interesting places. The experience is also an educational adventure.

I never heard of a “Demilune” before until I was commissioned to photograph Fort Warren and other sites at Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.

The fort is a National Historic Landmark dating back to 1847. The Demilune is a crescent-shaped fortification that juts out from the fort from which an attacking force can be divided and fired upon.

There are historic sites where entry is guided by a ranger and distances are maintained behind velvet ropes and other barriers.

But Fort Warren and its Demilune are open to be freely explored. There’s an eerie beauty as one descends into the bowels of the decaying structure – especially as the last rays of the sun pierce the now defenseless space.

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Washington’s Conference Room – Fireback

For Presidents’ Day, I thought I’d offer this image, which has never been seen before other than by National Park Service personnel. Nor has it ever been printed or publicly exhibited. Even during a tour, it would not be possible to get a clear, head-on view of this cast iron fireback.

The photograph is part of a collection I was commissioned to create of the Ford Mansion in Morristown, New Jersey, which served as George Washington’s headquarters during the winter encampment of 1779-80.

This fireback sits in the fireplace of the mansion’s parlor, which became Washington’s makeshift communications center and dining room. It was here that his secretaries dealt with the General’s correspondence and military orders.

Ironically, the fireback bears the coat-of-arms of George III, the very king that Washington was fighting against. The royal motto – Deus Et Mon Droit (“God and my Right”) – appears underneath. “Oxford” on the lower left suggests that the piece was made at the Oxford Furnace in Warren County, New Jersey.

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Theodore Roosevelt’s “Entertainment Center”

The North Room of TR’s “Summer White House” was a place he designed for meeting with heads of state and other dignitaries.

The room, especially the Northeast corner, was used as a modern day version of what we would call a family entertainment center. The Victrola record player was acquired sometime after 1910.

Here, TR danced to the Irish tune “Garry Owen” with his grandson, Richard Derby. His sons entertained the family at the piano or playing a mandolin. These items are just a few of the 125,000 artifacts at Sagamore Hill National Historic Site.

The image is part of a commission where I photographed the mansion in a very unusual state: it was in the process of being emptied of its contents so that the structure could undergo an upgrade in its systems. The rare views and perspectives of my photographs are discussed in this video:

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Snowy Zig Zag

The 215 miles of the New England National Scenic Trail (NET) wind through 41 communities in Connecticut and Massachusetts. For the commission, it was suggested that I also photograph off the trail for context on its proximity to urban areas.

At the Farmington Valley, one need only drive 15 minutes from the trail before arriving at Hartford, the capitol city of Connecticut.

In Hartford, the closest you can get to a natural outdoor environment is probably the 694-acre Keney Park, the largest park within the city system.

I drove around Keney and, while it is certainly a nice place to visit if you live and work in the city, it does not offer the isolation and the vistas one encounters on the NET.

There were patches of snow melting away at Keney. As if acknowledging my presence, the snow and the trees did their best to welcome me by recreating a small stretch of the NET.

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Beautiful Killer – Brazilian Pepper

For one month, I lived in Florida’s Big Cypress National Preserve, a 729,000 acre swamp area that is vital to the sustenance of the Everglades.

While there, I created a series of photographs that were displayed as a solo exhibition at the park’s Visitor Center during its peak of visitation.

The exhibition drew attention to how beautiful and benign plants can have a dark side that gets unleashed if they are moved from their original environment to a new location. Native plants and animals fall prey after the imported visitor establishes itself and becomes dominant.

The Brazilian Pepper is an evergreen shrub that grows to 43 feet tall (13 meters) and is native to parts of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. When crushed, the leaves smell like pepper or turpentine.

Brought as an ornamental plant, Brazilian Pepper has rapidly spread within Big Cypress and throughout Florida. It shades out and displaces native vegetation and has already impacted some rare species.

The spread of non-native species is a global issue and is a problem with which Florida and the National Park Service has much experience.

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The Other Side: Pompey

February is Black History Month and this photograph was one of the prints on display during solo exhibitions I had at New York City’s African Burial Ground National Monument and other venues.

The burial ground, located in Mastic Beach, Long Island, is believed to be the site where some of William Floyd’s slaves are buried. Floyd signed the Declaration of Independence and was a General serving under George Washington.

My experience in seeing these lone crosses bearing generic slave names was profound. I wanted the photograph to suggest what I was feeling at that time.

I experimented with a special lens and with a flash – which I don’t use very often, especially outdoors – to create the distortions and blurs. So the effect was achieved on the spot rather than in Photoshop, which I only used to change the original color image into a sepia tone.

I had previously posted a News 12 report about this collection. Here’s the full uncut interview:

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Weir House Living Room – Valentine’s Day Heart

This fireplace is one of two in the living room of Julian Alden Weir’s house in Connecticut. Weir (1852-1919) is one of the founders of American Impressionist painting and his farmstead has been preserved as Connecticut’s first National Park site. You can read more about this fireplace on page 57 of my book Weir Farm National Historic Site (Arcadia Publishing).

I was commissioned to artistically document the interiors of Weir’s home before it underwent renovation and the beehive oven fascinated me. I prefer natural light, so I don’t use flash very often.

But for this image, I wanted to recreate a sense of what it might have been like for Weir or his family to open the door and to retrieve a hot loaf of bread during a cold, dark winter morning. So I placed a flash inside with an orange gel over the lens and remotely triggered it.

In addition to getting exactly what I imagined, the light of the flash went through an opening in the oven door and projected a heart on the wall. It was a beautiful and unintended surprise. The heart has made this a popular print.

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From the New England Trail Collection

 

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Heublein Tower

The National Park Service and its partners, the Connecticut Forest & Park Association and the Appalachian Mountain Club commissioned me to create an artistic photographic series to bring wider acclaim to the New England National Scenic Trail (NET), a 215-mile hiking route through 41 communities in Connecticut and Massachusetts comprised primarily of historic trail systems.

One of the many sites along the trail is Heublein Tower in Simsbury, Connecticut. If you ever had A.1. Steak Sauce or Smirnoff Vodka, then you have indulged in one of Gilbert Heublein’s products. He had the tower constructed on Talcott Mountain as a summer home.

At this height, the views of the Farmington River Valley and the Hartford skyline are breathtaking. But during a day that featured rain, hail, and snow, it was the dramatic view of the tower itself that drew my eye.

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From the Boston Harbor Islands Collection

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Gun Powder Magazine

The 39 acres of Georges Island is just over seven miles from Boston and the site of Fort Warren, a National Historic Landmark dating back to 1847. The fort remained in use for 100 years, including service as a Civil War prison where it held Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens.

The site is part of Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, and I was its first Artist-in-Residence. As such, I had the unique experience of staying on the island and sleeping in quarters above the visitor’s center. It was an eerily quiet feeling when the last tourists left by boat, and I remained behind with Boston twinkling on the horizon.

I rarely use flash, but it was pitch dark when I entered this gun powder magazine. I could not even see my hand in front of me, and I had no idea what the space looked like. My photograph not only gives you a view of the brickwork and wood floor slats, but the flash creates the effect of the explosion you don’t want to experience in a place that houses gunpowder.

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From the Big Cypress National Preserve Collection

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Egret Wings

The 729,000 acres of Florida’s Big Cypress Swamp feed its fresh water into the neighboring Everglades, which is essential to the health of the rich marine estuaries. The swamp is home to a diversity of plant and wildlife communities. A spartan government dormitory, just steps away from the swamp, served as my home for a month.

During my time there, I photographed National Park personnel grappling with ultra-deadly Burmese Python snakes. My New York City feet walked gingerly while taking care to discern alligators from fallen tree limbs. Although panthers have never been documented to attack humans, they were also on my list of creatures to steer clear of.

But beautiful birds abound. The slightest movement of my camera startled this egret hiding in the brush. This photograph has never been exhibited, but its dreamy, intimate, and delicate qualities make it one of my personal favorites.

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