Pennsylvania Station, New York – Harrison Ford

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I love to photograph and can’t always wait for a commission to come along. So I use every opportunity in my day-to-day comings and goings to be creative.

I’m in and out of New York City’s Penn Station pretty regularly. Some time in the 1990s, the station underwent a much-needed renovation. Although it’s still a miserable place to be in, the facelift made the experience a little less like a dark and fetid basement.

One of the first decorative treatments I noticed during this 1990s makeover was this curious looking fellow pictured above. He appears in relief along the wall of the staircase that leads to tracks 20 and 21 of the Long Island Railroad.

Perhaps you may know who he represents. I’m thinking it’s some sort of mythological figure. I haven’t had a chance to find out and, if you can identify his origins, please enlighten me.

But over the past two decades, every time I pass by I keep seeing Harrison Ford – he of Star WarsRaiders of the Lost Ark, and Blade Runner fame.

And for the past two decades, I’ve been meaning to photograph him. Finally, I made up my mind to do it. I had my camera ready and, on the appointed day, I had the misfortune of finding him boarded up and the stairwell closed for repairs.

For the next week or so I would pass by to check when he would be released from his wooden incarceration. Finally, he was freed and I was ready with my camera.

If you’ve been to my workshops, you’ll be familiar with my discussion of the Dutch tilt. And given the weirdness of Harrison Ford silently watching me for over 25 years, I could not think of a more fitting angle from which to photograph him.

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Washington’s Master Bedroom – Vignette

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March 8 is International Women’s Day and 2020 marks the suffrage centennial. So I dedicate this photograph to the memory of Theodosia Ford. Here’s why.

If you were to ask the average person to name famous people from the American Revolutionary War, you will probably hear George Washington and the other Founding Fathers mentioned.

But naming a woman? Perhaps Betsy Ross will come up for making the first American flag, which is a story that many scholars reject as historically unsupported.

A quick online search yielded less than a dozen names of women who figured prominently during the Revolution. But none mentioned Theodosia Ford.

What is not readily known is that Theodosia twice offered up her house to Washington and his large entourage of officers. Having one’s home turned upside down by soldiers is challenging enough. But Theodosia was also still grieving the recent deaths of her husband Jacob, her father-in-law, and her infant daughter – and all while still caring for her four remaining children.

There is more to her contributions and sacrifices that space does not allow me to get into here. But I had an opportunity to explore this little-known region of history more deeply through a solo exhibition – The Diary of Theodosia Ford – at Women’s Rights National Historical Park in 2018.

The photograph above was part of that exhibition. The scene is from a corner of the master bedroom that George and Martha Washington used while Theodosia and her children slept in the dining room and sitting room. The image features a Windsor chair and a Chippendale-style table, which is an original Ford family piece.

The photograph was also published in a new booklet featuring my photography of the Ford Mansion that is available for sale at Morristown National Historical Park.

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Attic Clock

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Don’t forget that on March 8, all the clocks will “spring forward” for daylight saving time. The time will move ahead by one hour and we’ll lose an hour of sleep. But we’ll gain extra sunlight and the pleasure of knowing that spring is near – it arrives on March 19 to be exact.

The clock pictured above, however, will not be springing forward or backward. It has laid untickably dormant for what appears to be decades.

This was one of the many interesting artifacts I got to explore wandering around the large attic of William Floyd’s mansion in Mastic, Long Island.

General Floyd (1734-1821) was a Founding Father who served under George Washington during the American Revolutionary War. Floyd was one of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. His home was visited by James Madison and fellow Declaration-signer Thomas Jefferson.

Although the clock is old, it is not an 18th century artifact. It is of more recent vintage as Floyd’s descendents, remarkably, lived in the house continuously up until the 1976 American Bicentennial when they donated the house and property to the National Park Service (NPS).

This photograph is a rare view as the attic is not part of the house tour given by the NPS. The image has also never been exhibited or printed before.

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Longfellow’s Smoking Jacket

To celebrate Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s birthday on February 27, I thought I would present an image that has never been displayed in public or printed before. Indeed, even the subject of the photograph is a very rare sight.

One of the things I enjoy about being commissioned by the National Park Service, is the opportunity to see objects that are housed in the archives and out of public view.

Longfellow (1807-82) was a “rock star” poet of his day. And like any rocker, he enjoyed his smokes and indulged in them while lounging in the special jacket pictured above.

Oftentimes, it is I who cajoles the staff to bring me to the archives. But for this commission, I was happy that little prodding was needed. It was the Museum Tech’s idea to have the jacket photographed and, rather than photographing it in the clinical surroundings of a storage room, she brought it up to Longfellow’s study.

The jacket is back-to-back against Longfellow’s literary deity, Goethe, in the form of a white statuette on the poet’s standing writing desk.

And I will leave to your imagination what the mysterious figures on the upper right are all about.

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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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